Matthew Johnstone’s artwork explores how digital media alters, influences and enhances tangible objects by presenting his own sculptures on a video or slideshow screen. Wonderland sat down with the artist to hear about his upcoming exhibition, Totally Unprofessional.
Can you tell us a bit about Totally Unprofessional?
The show at the Green Room involves objects that I have produced sculpturally that are physical, tactile objects but they’re only there as screen-based imagery. So they’re three-dimensional forms that have been reproduced as images and will then be shown as digital slide shows. My interest is in the absence of those objects and also in representing them as imagery within a digital non-space where you might lose the tactile, physical quality that those objects all have.
How are you presenting those objects digitally?
I’m showing an image of those objects using the modes of display that are all fairly common to commercial advertising or the type of screen technology that you see in shopping centres like the new Westfield out in Stratford. So it’s almost being shown in a way that references more familiar advertising imagery. I’m also fairly focussed on creating a taste for those qualities that a physical object might have or a physical process might have, but one that can only be accessed through interfacing with those objects or images, via a screen or something like that.
So you intend the screen to soften or fragment that original message of the sculpture by itself?
More than anything being fragmented or taking away from the quality that a three-dimensional form might have, I think when you move that into a virtual or a digital space, you’re presented with an entirely new set of possibilities in terms of how to deal with those sorts of elements. I often combine it with other elements of works that I’ve already made that might be taken from videos or images. Then I regurgitate those elements and reproduce them again as a slideshow or an image.
This is your second solo show, is there a vulnerability to doing a show by yourself?
There is part of me in the work, there is something that I want to say that obviously I sent a great deal of time thinking about and trying to develop so you feel fairly exposed. You know that you want there to be a discussion around the work. The response is something that is going to affect you either way. It’s going to have an impact, so my concern would be that the work doesn’t create any kind of discussion or any kind of dialogue.
Are you comfortable with people interpreting your work subjectively or do you want them to pick up on a specific message?
I enjoy the fact that people might come to the work and get something completely different from it than anything that I’ve intended. There are people who have spoken to me about the work and they’re saying what I’m thinking. If that wasn’t happening I would be very concerned. If they can’t engage with it and they look to you for an explanation, then it is meaningless. That essentially means that in that moment itself the work is meaningless. I’m more interested when it starts a discussion or dialogue, but I also find it quite fun when people clearly aren’t getting anything from it at all.
Totally Unprofessional is on until 18 November at The Green Room in Rich Mix, 35-47 Bethnal Green Road. thecomposingrooms.com
Words: Ellen Falconer