Q&A with Emily Speed

Façades/Flats, 2012 at Oredaria Gallery, Rome. By Emily Speed. Photo: Michele Alberto Sereni

You were nominated for the prize by Sally Tallant. Have you worked with her before? How does she know your work?

Sally invited me for a coffee shortly after she moved to Liverpool to look through my work. Thinking back, she did ask me a lot of questions although I didn’t suspect her motives at the time. I was just really encouraged that she was taking in interest in artists working in Liverpool. I have made new work for the Bluecoat and Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool this year though, so my name might have been especially visible in the city.

Out of that short meeting, she suggested the writing of Gogol to me and specifically two short stories; ‘The Nose’ and ‘The Overcoat’ – both of which are incredible and could easily feed into my work. This shrewd awareness of what I might like makes me think she has a good sense of what I am doing (or trying to do), but no, I haven’t worked with her before and so I’m looking forward to the conversation event.

Is being based in Liverpool important to you as an artist? Does it impact upon the work that youproduce?

It is important because it means I can afford to be an artist (just about). I love my studio group too (The Royal Standard) for their ambition and determination to make things happen. That kind of energy is good to be around; I don’t do well if I’m too isolated, however much I like the idea of it. I think there are a few things about the city that permeate much of my work, but certainly the fact that it feels incredibly precarious. There is both demolition and construction happening everywhere and some areas in Liverpool feel like they have an incredibly delicate social balance, like things could tip over at any moment.

It seems like you have been travelling a lot lately. Given that your artwork often references architecture, does visiting other cities and countries change or influence your work?

Travelling in itself is like enforced rest which helps my brain put all the fragments and half-ideas together. I do love seeing architecture in other countries and the networks and connections that exist in the layout of a city. As well as absorbing the shapes and construction methods, I really look for the stories around architecture when I’m staying in other places. Often the things that interest me are spaces built in a different time that are no longer useful, like the empty 90’s shopping malls in St Louis (it is cheaper to just build a new one when necessary). I have spent the most time in Rome this year, working with Oredaria Gallery on an exhibition. It was a real luxury to be able to travel to the different towns built by Mussolini and visit buildings like the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana in EUR, which is perfect in my eyes, but it sits empty as its history/origin has rendered it difficult to use.

I think these encounters can take a long time to filter through into work though. For example, I recently realised that the reading rooms I’ve been making might have a lot to do with me living in Japan ten years ago and spaces like tea rooms. I can be quite slow in realising those connections sometimes.

Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, Rome

Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, Rome

What projects and exhibitions are you working on at the moment?

I’m making new work for the Northern Art Prize exhibition and I have a two-person show with Hayley Newman at Castlefield Gallery in February. I’m pretty excited about this as I’m hoping to work with acrobats again (as I did with Human Castle for Edinburgh Art Festival). Hayley is also a bit of an art hero of mine, so I am incredibly chuffed that Clarissa Corfe, who’s curating the show, saw a link of some kind between our work. Plans are forming for 2013, but until then I’m trying to get my head down into some quiet research and making in the studio. I have had a fantastic couple of years but it hasn’t left much time to reflect or plan, so it’s definitely time for a short breather.

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