A conversation between Katerina Jebb and Jerry Stafford
Katerina Jebb is an artist who works with photography and film. Her first retrospective show ‘Deus Ex Machina’ runs until the 31st December 2016 at the Musée Réattu in Arles. She has also worked within the fashion and commercial industry for clients like Comme des Garçons perfume, LVMH and Kate Moss for COTY. She has more recently collaborated with actress Tilda Swinton and curator Olivier Saillard on a series of conceptual performances in Paris, ‘The Invisible Wardrobe’ , ‘The Eternity Dress’ and ‘The Cloakroom’. Her photographic and filmic collaboration on these projects are documented in a book ‘Autre Couture’ published this year by Rizzoli.
JS : You have a privileged relationship with the Musée Réattu in Arles . Can you tell me how this developed and why you find the museum such a complimentary context for your work?
KJ : In 2007 Olivier Saillard introduced me to Christian Lacroix who was curating an exhibition at the Musée Réattu for the following year and he invited me to be in the exhibition.
Michèle Moutashar, the director of Réattu for over 35 years included my work in several exhibitions over the years.
Years later I met with Pascale Picard the present director and she proposed that we work on a solo show comprising 20 years of my work .
The Musée Réattu is a magical place thought to be situated on a powerful energy field . It’s so beautiful and ancient and it makes one aware of time and the relevance of history. There is an unpredictable quality about the place and a sort of secrecy which I love . A lot of what I have done over the years is quite obsessive and also quite secretive and so presenting 111 works in the context of these ancient stone vaults is very gratifying.
JS : The show is called ‘Deus Ex Machina ‘ . Can you explain your own relationship as an artist with technology?
KJ : Deus ex Machina , God in the Machine , is a word play and in a similar way I play with machines. I believe in sentience and metaphysical worlds and the work is simply my way of making believe or continuing my faith in a higher force, one which goes by many other names.
I‘m attracted to contradiction and duality and I like the fact that Deus Ex Machina is defined as a plot device in the theatre or in a novel to create a solution to an improbable circumstance or quite simply the literal Latin translation meaning 'God in the Machine’ . This has obvious connotations for me as I use a machine to create my work and what appears from this machine vaguely resembles religious imagery .
I am not myself very technical but I’m attracted to technology and the possibility of using it in another way and so I’m interested in bending the original parameters of technological apparatus . In 1937 Erwin Panofsky wrote in an essay which was published in Transition . ‘ It was not an artistic urge which gave rise to the discovery and gradual perfection of of a new technique , but it was a technical invention which gave rise to the discovery and gradual perfection of a new art.‘
If I hadn’t discovered the scanner , I may still be working with scissors and sellotape.
JS : You often work with the female form or an extensions of it? As a female artist is it a conscious decision to explore the human form within the boundaries of your own gender.
KJ : Actually I don’t really differentiate between genders or about how or what one creates and explores. I think that one simply does it instinctively, whether your are a man or a woman or a transgender and the only prerequisite is that you unravel yourself , or pull ideas out of yourself to get from one point to the next . Yes if you are a woman you explore with what you are armed with , intuition , multi facetedness , breasts , fertility and the ability to give birth to other humans. I want to work in a bisexual way and try to disarm myself of all that feminist diatribe . The decision to make the Real Doll series wasn’t based on my being a woman , I believe it stems from the fact that I have a curiosity to investigate and document social phenomena which I find fascinating. Let’s hope that we are able to intuit what is most compelling to us .
JS : Men seem to be represented in your work more often than not by associated objects rather than by their physical presence , such as in the photographs of Balthus’ ashtray or apron or with Picabia’s pencil sharpener.What do these male reliquaries evoke for you?
KJ : This is an interesting question. I find men as fascinating as I do women , however I possibly have a predilection for the aesthetic plasticity of women as subject matter. The possessions of the male artists speak to me of absence and of the power of that which remains long after one’s demise.I am inexplicably attracted to industrial and mechanical objects and abandoned spaces which to date have been male domains but that’s not to say that I won’t make inventories of female spaces in the future.I’m not aware that it’s a deliberate choice but then what one does is often born from unconsciousness urges .
JS : You work both in the photographic and in the cinematic mediums? Do you see film as an extension of your photographic work or an independent mode of expression?
KJ : They are fragments of a body of work which have coalesced to form a whole. It’s difficult to separate mediums in as much as they all flow together into the same river. Hopefully we have reached a point where artists work with a multiplicity of mediums enabling them to access and interpret the universe and beyond .