Emily Russell is a multidisciplinary artist based in London. In her Graduate Show exhibition, titled Some Time, Emily exhibits work she produced during the lockdown, when her studies were suspended. In Some Time, inspired by the performance artist Tehching Hsieh, Emily addresses his idea that time is both a gift and a burden. Ultimately, she proposes that the question as to how we spend our time, is the most important question we have to address. Furthermore, Some Time is the demonstration of her own personal response to this question, which is that of seeking meditative joy through the performance of repetitive processes.
To attain a state of meditative joy, Emily alleviates the need for making design decisions during the process of making, by creating parameters beforehand. Parameters such as the work being monochromatic and hermetic in nature apply to all her work. However, she also creates additional parameters for each individual work. For example, in the film, When I Make I Rest, the parameters were to make a mark with a pencil and then rub it out, a process which was repeated until the pencil was blunt (2hr38).
Media and materials provide the impetus for new work. This is demonstrated in the piece titled, Fabric of Society. Having previously worked with toilet paper before (casting the interiors of toilet rolls in plaster), Emily wanted to devise a new way to respond to this material, which had become so predominant during the pandemic. She devised the repeated process of cutting out the embossed shapes of the toilet paper, using a pair of nail scissors. The shapes, which are reminiscent of the corona virus, and the fragility of the material, gave rise to the title, which testifies to the ways in which the fragility of our social structures have been exposed during this time.
Emily’s work commences with the design for a process. However, in the many hours that each work takes, ideas about the material and their connotations do begin to percolate. For example, With A Summary of The News, arose from the combination of a long-held desire to work with newspaper, and to work with materials that were at hand during the pandemic. The process devised was simple: remove all the colour, both of the images and the text. However, this piece also led to a wider consideration of her own, and society’s broader, consumption of the news. In particular, the addictiveness of the news, the social approbation of keeping abreast of current affairs, and the agendas which inform the selection of news items. In short, this work assesses the truth of Henry Thoreau’s assertion that all news is essentially glorified gossip (Walden, 1854).
The question of how we spend our time is pertinent in each of the pieces displayed in this exhibition. This is explicit in the title of the embroidery series, Wouldn’t It Be A Shame if We Were Only To Learn How To Live When We Die? This piece records the UK corona virus cases and deaths from 26.02.2020 – 02.04.2020. The cases are presented in grey and black stitches, and the deaths are presented in red stitches. The title acknowledges how the pandemic has led many people to reappraise their lives, and the activities and the people they value. However, it was also very much tied to the fact that, for Emily, the process of making is when she feels most alive. In this way, it is her way of contending with mortality.