A GRADUATE OF GOLDSMITH'S COLLEGE, COLLINGS-JAMES HAS ESTABLISHED HERSELF AS A RECOGNISED NAME WITHIN THE CONTEMPORARY ART SCENE. HER RESPONSE TO WHAT SHE CALLS "THE PREDICTED SENSORY OVERLOAD OF MY GENERATION" IS CHARACTERISED BY THE CLOSELY CONSIDERED SEXUALITY OF HER WORK, WHICH IS UNDERPINNED WITH FEMINIST PERSPECTIVE AND POTENT SUBTLETIES.
LAST DECEMBER, SHE SIMULTANEOUSLY PREMIERED HER FILM, THE DESCENT, DURING ART BASEL MIAMI BEACH AND AT LONDON'S COB GALLERY. MANDI LENNARD CAUGHT UP WITH COLLINGS-JAMES IN THE BASEMENT OF ACE HOTEL LONDON SHOREDITCH TO DISCUSS A CRAZY YEAR, KU KLUX KLAN, AND VAGINA CHATS.
Where are you?
PHOEBE COLLINGS-JAMES At the Palace [Skateboards] party for the launch of their new Reebok shoe.
Who's your partner in crime?
PC-J Sean! I made a phosphorescent skirt for his film for Visionaire.
Who are you?
PC-J I'm Phoebe, artist and dog lover. I just had a solo show, The Flesh Is All You Have, Mortify That And There Is No Hope For You at Ritter/Zamet in London. The title is from a short James Baldwin documentary from 1963 called Take This Hammer. It was a rigorous monologue focusing on the civil rights movement at the time and the effect it would have on America as a nation. He was an exceptional writer and speaker. What interested me is how the truths he told can be applied now, especially in a society where we are becoming increasingly disembodied. The oKoKoK plaster sculptures from that show were first made with the material in mind. I wanted to catch the plaster falling. It was about a descent or transgression. Before I knew it, they had taken on the form of KKK hoods or ghosts. It's interesting to see The Chapman Brothers have used them in their show at The Serpentine. Maybe there is a collective consciousness, an awareness of extremist symbols and how horrifying and fascinating they can be.
What impact does London have on you?
PC-J The attitude of a city always has a big effect on me. The way I move through it, what I'm eating, reading, what kind of gossip I overhear...
Last year things really took off.
PC-J Yes, I fell completely in lOve with Mexico City, which is incredible. I've never been anywhere like it. There was a really wild energy there. People seemed to want to do new things and were not simply looking to America or Europe for reference. I was there for a month for a show I did with Preteen Gallery, which Gerardo Contreras runs. We'd done a few things together off-site in Europe, then he invited me to show at the main space. I showed a series of chewing gum pictures called Strange Fruit/Juicy Fruit.
How has your work been developing?
PC-J I've got the same instinct, but I think my perspective is constantly changing.
What is your 'thing' as an artist?
PC-J Ha, mess I guess. I'm interested in our excesses, both material and physical.
What's your proudest moment?
PC-J Two of my friends just had babies! It was pretty mind blowing hearing their post-birth chats, comparing experiences; pretty graphic vagina talk.
What are you looking for?
PC-J Something that gets me excited, or all riled up. I like to gain pleasure in the act of making the work. Squashing eggs with my feet in my Sortir in Oeil video was great. Somewhere between disgust and delight. I think it was Bataille who said our desires begin at the very point we are most repulsed.
What compromises do you have to make as a young artist?
PC-J I try to make as few compromises as possible when it comes to any pressures from let's say a gallery, although I can see that you have to be strong as an artist to stay true to your own path, especially if you are young. In terms of execution, the compromises from maybe being broke or having limited materials are part of the work's narrative. I do have a bit of a magpie-like obsession with shiny things—lights, glass, bronze, and gems, so I guess I would like to do more with bronze.
How do you challenge yourself?
PC-J Painting was a challenge; I was wary of working on canvas. I thought it would be too limiting, too steeped in a history that I didn't think I was interested in, also limiting in the gestures I wanted to make, but I found a way. By removing the structure, working on the floor with an unstretched canvas, I'm able to manoeuver in a way that feels like I'm using my whole body. The last show was purely painting, a series called Flesh Tint and the Sculptures.
Can it get lonely creating new pieces of work?
PC-J I keep things quite close until an idea has manifested itself. I like the solitude at the outset, when I take the time to think. Then I have Poppy come in to help me. She worked with me over the summer on some bigger work when I needed extra wo-man power. That was nice and it stopped me from going a bit mental. I usually talk to Sean [Frank, Collings-James's boyfriend] about ideas, or my friend, artist Lewis Teague Wright.
Are your ideas free-flowing?
PC-J They usually come at night just as I'm trying to go to sleep. I think it's something about sensory deprivation that helps me focus, but it also means I don't sleep enough. I used to wake up with scraps of paper all round my bed. Now I have my iPhone on my pillow.
Where do you like to go out in London?
PC-J Brunswick House in Vauxhall is the best place to spend an afternoon or evening.
What do you listen to when you are working?
PC-J NTS, which is an online radio station based in Hackney; you should listen!
Matthew Stone has been a bit of a mentor. Were you part of !WOWOW! [the South London creative collective that started in 2003]?
PC-J No! I didn't step foot in South London until I went to Goldsmiths. My family is old-fashioned East End; they don't go south, which in hindsight is so ridiculous! I also hadn't heard of it really; I was in another bubble. Matthew is always pushing me to be braver with my work. I met him post-!WOWOW! We met out one night and he sweet-talked me into being part of his work. I don't really like having my picture taken, but am partial to running around naked, so I said yes, and he captured me in one of his painterly photographs of tangled nudes. It's really important to have support and critique from people you trust.
photography mandi lennard