EYESIGHT / LABORIOUS / RESOURCEFUL / COMPARTMENTALISE / ACCEPTED FORMS
Spencer Dent is a 3rd Year Fine Art Photography student studying at GSA. Take a step In-Studio as they talk us through their practice and influences, from Judith Butler to the Arts and Crafts Movement.
Tell us a bit about yourself and where you're based.
I’m based in Glasgow currently but I’m originally from London. I’m non-binary and I’m happy with any pronouns really! Someone told me recently that people have said I don’t say hi to them on the street but my eyesight is awful so I literally just can’t see them. That’s not really relevant, it's just been playing on my mind.
What do you make & how do you make it?
My background is in photography but now that mainly acts as a starting point for my work rather than the finished product. At the moment I’m trying to make work that feels more laborious, like weaving. The work I create when I weave seems to have more of a sense of time and effort tied up into it which ends up being so much more satisfying than how I used to produce work. My current weaving work is all about my gender identity. I’m translating graphic shapes of makeup I’ve done on myself into my weaving as a way of talking about expressions of gender identity. The concept sort of expands on Judith Butler’s theory of gender performativity, which basically says that gender is a construction built through repetitive performative actions, and the repetition of these actions creates our conception of gender. I develop on this by acknowledging that while performative, these actions are extremely important to a lot of gender non-conforming people, including myself, as they are used to signify or code to others and themselves how they may identify. I’ve also explored gender through moving image from a slightly different perspective. In this work, entitled ‘pietà’, I explore how Western capitalist, colonial and imperialist powers demonise queerness and femininity. I’ve referenced the Pietà, a Christian art motif that depicts the Virgin Mary grieving over the body of Christ. In the work, I pose in the Virgin Mary’s position, wearing what is considered appropriately masculine, formal business attire and hold feminine clothing that creates a figure which takes the place of Jesus. I sit fairly still and slowly look over the clothing, contemplating my potential had my identity and self-assurance not been formed by western ideologies of gender. I’ve also been super interested in how nature is commodified for human convenience, more specifically wealthy Western humans. I’m trying to explore lots of different facets of this idea through lots of different mediums. I did some work on it last year where I used casting and cyanotypes to explore the idea but this year, I’ve been more focused on moving image and textile work.
How do you think your practice sits in today's context?
In a way, I think I tend to divide my work into different sections. I seem to compartmentalise different pathways of work and research that I’m exploring and keep them fairly separate. Right now, my work sits in lots of different contextual backgrounds. Some of my work sits in what seems to be a 2nd wave of the Arts and Crafts movement. Originally, the Arts and Crafts movement became popular in the late 1880’s in reaction to the Industrial Revolution. Now, this ’2nd wave’ seems to be motivated by the current climate crisis and while my work doesn’t really reference this crisis directly, the work and conversations surrounding it have definitely inspired me. Although my work around gender is based off personal experience, I think the influx of artworks and exhibitions focusing on the topic of gender have helped me to feel confident to make work about it. I think just seeing other work about gender helped me realise that that was something I wanted to focus on, which I think I knew but I was holding myself back from doing. Part of the reason I was holding myself back probably came from a fear that people wouldn’t really take it seriously. A lot of discussion around gender non-conforming people seems to imply that it’s almost a sort of trend rather than the reality of some peoples' identity and that I think stopped me from exploring it earlier.
What has been your biggest challenge to navigate?
With a lack of an actual studio space or facilities this year I think everyone's had to be super resourceful. Although it is shit, having to be more creative in terms of making work has turned into one of the most enjoyable parts of my process. I built my own loom out of materials I found on the street which I don’t think I would’ve really tried before this year and the satisfaction of making something from scratch that is actually useful to you and your practice is really fulfilling. I think a big hurdle also is just generally having more self-confidence in my ideas and work. I feel like I’m always second guessing every decision I make in terms of my art. In a way that’s good because I end up with what feels like meticulously planned and thought-out work but overthinking ideas and making can stop work from flowing intuitively, so it’s probably something I’m always gonna be balancing in my practise.
What's next on your practice-agenda? Goals, projects or any upcoming shows perhaps?
I’m becoming increasingly interested in trying to break down the accepted forms and genres of art. I’ve been making a series of moving image ‘still life’ works which I want to continue. This recent film work attempts to play with the innate format of a still life through movement. I film myself constructing and deconstructing a still life composition to include the process of arrangement. By doing this I’m hoping to create something that is both a still life but also a moving image work. I also want to expand on my weaving work with an idea that incorporates lots of other mediums. With this idea I would be able to expand into using photography, sculpture and so on, to create a multimedia piece which makes a broader, hopefully more comprehensive statement, on being someone outside of the gender binary. It would also use the loom not just as a tool but as a sculptural element in the presentation of my work, allowing it to be an object in its own right, with its own meanings and connotations.
Favourite studio food?
Greggs vegan sausage roll, every time. I’m literally obsessed, and I think my record is 4 in one sitting.
Something interesting you’ve seen this week?
I went up to Dawsholm park recently which is super pretty and they have highland cows and a cool view of these gas holders.
Final words of advice?
Make up your own advice, that's what I do and I’m still alive so it can’t be that bad