Jennet Thomas was born in Hatfield, England and lives and works in London.
Thomas studied at Camberwell and is currently a Senior Lecturer in Fine Art:
Print and Time Based Media at Wimbledon College of Art, University of the Arts
A conversation between Leigh Sneade and Jennet Thomas on the 31st of October 2010
Leigh Sneade: I am intrigued by your title for the show. I’d like to know more about your use of shape and colour as a device in the work.
Jennet Thomas: Well, the title comes from the monologue in the video, the authoritarian voice that talks about; ‘the Pain Shape, the Lost Shape, the Broken Shape’. In the skewed logic of that world, these are some of the gestures that babies make when they are born. So ‘The Advice Shape’ refers to this alternate way of seeing, of decoding. I also wanted to evoke that sinister authoritarian tone; Advice is a word that implies you need help, you need comfort from someone more powerful and knowledgeable than you. I’ve been using seemingly pointless abstract shapes and colours right next to very ordinary things in my narratives, as a way of suggesting another way of seeing within the everyday - that there might be structures of meaning, signs just out of our grasp that we can’t quite decode but we perceive are there. You could relate this to psychosis, but also various insights in Post-structuralism and Visual Rhetoric theory!
LS: I enjoy the parallel of the curtains on screen and then the placement of their hanging behind. Also the symmetry of the stands placed centrally in the gallery. You spoke about the degree to which people think something is intentionaland that often being far more than it really is. To what degree is this symmetry integral, intentional? Or how do you feel about this symmetry?
JT: I read a lot of hard pop science about perception; I never fail to be amazed at how humans are hard-wired to see meaning and significance within the random/ unintentional. Patterns and order give us pleasure, slightly disordered patterns even more so. Symmetry is like a love bomb, especially complex symmetry - I try to use it sparingly.
LS: Symmetry is like a love bomb, this is great! I am a little scared of the man/woman. Should I be? Or are you wanting him/her to instil the opposite perhaps, a sense of calm?
JT: Oh yes be afraid… be VERY afraid. That Nurse creature is the agent of a great invisible, ubiquitous power, it wants you to calm down and answer the questions, get diagnosed, get Advice, not feel the strangeness. It wants you to Play the Game.
LS: Watching the film I get the same feeling I would get when i was younger when the TV channel would lose signal and you are left with the still of colour, shape and the young girl. What do you think of my observation in making this link?
JT: I’m not quite sure what phenomenon of TV reception you are talking about – but I like it! Do you mean the Test Card if the broadcast goes wrong? If you get that feeling then the piece is working on you how I intended. Our relationship with TV is deep and complex, and embedded in our psyche since infanthood; as young children I am sure TV gives us what many would call ‘spiritual’ experiences, and we carry those memories with us. It also teaches us how to ‘receive’; to be passive and accept the didactic power relationship with that nice Presenter inside the glowing frame. I use this almost archetypal figure of ‘The Presenter’ a great deal in my work; mine are now usually unreliable, speaking in code, but still hold some magic power over us. I remember also being very fond of the colour test card as a young child- (I am old enough to have been a little kid through the transition from having only a Black and White and then- wow-a Colour TV!) I loved the black and white grid lines the test cards had too, which feature a lot in ‘The Advice Shape’; as a reference to the idea of visual bar code. Test cards are a bit like TV’s moment of Modernism, of abstraction, they feel so ludic. I’m very aware of the recent appearance in everyday life of those rectangles of what look to us like black and white ‘white noise’ but which are in fact code. They seem to be everywhere now for our Smart devices (but not us) to read; for plane tickets, website addresses, identity checks...
LS: I couldn’t tell throughout whether the music was in sync or not. I would be sure it wasn’t and then was definitely sure it was. Please tell me something about the use of the music or sound to the work.
JT: A particular use of sound and music is really important to how I work. Like symmetry it is affecting stuff – everyone knows that the music played withan image overwhelmingly affects how we read that image. I am continually shocked at how relentlessly sound tracks are used to manipulate us on supposedly ‘factual’ TV – I remember when they first started using that portentous drumbeat on BBC news headlines - that was a shameful day. What I am doing with this sound track is highly manipulative, as some of the images are quite emotive and excessive, but sometimes this manipulative system falls apart and becomes chaotic and unsettling, dissonant, contradictory; I had great fun with this. I am interested in setting up rules and then screwing with them, making a puzzle with a number of solutions that are all true, but the truest solution is the awareness of the condition of the puzzle.
LS: So much going on, the very best kind of puzzle. Thanks Jennet.