JOANNE COATES

University: London College of Communication

Graduation: 2015

Genre: DocumentaryLandscape 

Websitewww.joannecoates.co.uk

Artist StatementLiznojan means to learn whilst following a track. This series allows for a new experience with nature to take place through the activity of walking. Both poetic and ambiguous in nature, the work channels larger issues though avoiding the grand narrative. Liznojan is the work that allows for a new experience with nature to come forth. Spending nights in the wild, finding a way through mists in bogs and trenches, something very different occurs. To rediscover the landscape for what it is, one must go back, search forgotten histories. People belong to the landscape. Their histories are embedded within the land. This is a union between a mythical fiction and the English everyday, in order to create a sense of ambiguity and unease.

 
From the series Liznojan    

From the series Liznojan    

 
 
From the series Liznojan

From the series Liznojan

 

What are some standout moments from your time at university? Being able to bring your work to the attention of others and gain feedback on how to improve is vital at any stage in your career and university teaches you the importance of sharing these ideas so that they can grow and become informed decisions. Theory lectures were especially important to my understanding of contemporary photography and visual arts practices. Working with other mediums was also important to me, such as letterpress, screen print and book arts, I was lucky enough to be at London College of Communication where this facilities were readily available.

What are the biggest influences on your photography? Robert Macfarlane is a huge influence and he was everything I wanted to explore and more. He has this really fascinating connection and commentary with nature. I really feel that a new experience with nature is available for my generation. Macfarlane talks about how the eeriness of the English countryside is a cultural and political response to our current fears. I think this fusing of the supernatural and the occult with nature and everyday Englishness is, as Macfarlane puts it, “…an attempt to account for the turbulence of England in the era of late capitalism. The supernatural and paranormal have always been means of figuring powers that cannot otherwise find visible expression. Contemporary anxieties and dissents are here being reassembled and re-presented as spectres, shadows or monsters.” I found this really mind blowing. 

 
From the series Liznojan  

From the series Liznojan  

 
 
From the series Liznojan

From the series Liznojan

 

Another major influence is WG Sebald and The Rings of Saturn. Sebald really flipped my idea of what ‘place’ means, and of place as an experience. Paul Graham’s work has also been a major visual influence on me for quite some time. I read his essay The Unreasonable Apple which talks about how it’s hard to define a certain type of photography within the art world, and the act of experience itself. It really helped me think about what I do and to understand that a poetical work can be free, and not restrained or defined by the restrictions of genres. Alec Soth is also a huge influence. 

Tell us about any commercial work you have undertaken. I work for a studio in Leeds two days a week for more commercial portraiture. Commercial work I try to base around my own work if possible. I have worked for Skipton building society in the past year, mainly documentary portraiture and also for Birdsong, again documentary work for their blogs. 

Where did your project stem from? Liznojan means to learn whilst following a track. This series allows for a new experience with nature to take place through the activity of walking. It is both poetic and ambiguous in nature. Liznojan is a union between a mythical fiction and the English everyday, in order to create a sense of ambiguity and unease. The series came from my need to avoid the grand narrative that we are provided with both as part of history and the everyday. I used to be really rigid and set strict boundaries when it came to my personal work. However, I feel photography is now at a stage where the act of taking a photo is not sacred. As an artist I try to find a way in which the ‘now’ can be reached visually, and how this act of experience can be expressed to the viewer in a tool that remarkably alters and holds time still. This is really about experiencing place and nature. 

 
From the series Liznojan  

From the series Liznojan  

 

As your project is ongoing, what is the next step? More journeys! In my free time I am still working on Liznojan, it is a project that needs solitude and time. Each time I make new work for the project I think of how it speaks and effects the project as a whole, so I’m taking my time over the final set of images until I feel the work is complete. 

What camera did you shoot Liznojan on? The project is shot all on film, though I don’t use a certain format or a certain film. I feel that what photography is about now, is more than using, for example, a medium format or large format camera alone. The cameras are my tools, and some are better adapted for certain places than others. The large format can slow the walking experience down but that also has its merits. I use a variety of films too. I want the project to be in the moment, all about the experience. There is still something about film that allows for an alchemic magic to occur. It increases the awareness of being in the moment. Within that experience there are no barriers. I feel a digital camera works in a very different manner. I just really love the magic and dream-like quality that comes when working with film.

Could you tell us about any new work you are involved in. I recently made a zine called Spider Island which looks at life on a artificially created collection of islands in the East of Amsterdam. This almost mythic island utopia has its problems. Designed and built to solve the housing problem in Amsterdam and to bring together different social structures. Like many housing projects the plans are easier to design than the space is to live with. The different income groups are left segregated. The Netherlands is beginning to change with a reduction of budgets for development aid, stricter asylum policies and an increase in anti-European sentiments. Social housing sits next to luxury homes. The island was built whilst in the throes of an economic growth period; this is coming to an end. Huge billboards announce more and more housing to be built, luxury homes whilst the social housing already shows signs of decay. Development has slowed due to the recent recession and economic crisis. Spider Island looks at life on the margins and the in between spaces of the island. Using the myth and folklore that surrounds spiders as a metaphor for the creation of this urban housing hub. I’m also working with a Riso print maker collaboratively on new work. I’m headed out to Scotland in January and February (2016) to continue with a body of work and take it in a new direction too. 

 
From the series Spider Island

From the series Spider Island

 
 
From the series Spider Island

From the series Spider Island

 

As you are newly graduated, how have you found the transition from being a student to graduate? I always made my work away from university, as my works were made on solitary walking excursions. I’ve found the transition pretty easy, but I think the key is to keep busy. I went to work in Amsterdam for Unseen Photo Fair and to make new work out there, as soon as I got back I moved to a new city and started a new job at a studio a few days a week and worked freelance too, on the other days I got my personal work in. The things I miss are being able to work in the darkroom for days in a row and also feedback on my work which I think is vital. 

What are your aspirations for the future? This is a tough one because I feel really I have so much to learn and I’m just at the beginning of my artistic journey. I have two exhibitions I’m currently preparing for so that’s going to keep me a little busy for the short term. I’m also working on a new collaborative project with a printmaker and making new work in Scotland. So for the short term just focusing on making all these things work successfully.