I have been working as an artist since the late 1990s, having previously worked in magazine journalism and television documentaries while I was completing my post-graduate studies. My PhD, in Communications and Image Studies, was the first in the UK to be presented online as an HTML hypertext, combining text with still and moving images and with multiple reading pathways. The development of digital media enabled me to bring together all of my previous areas of interest – performance, sound, text, still and moving images — and combine these, rather than focusing on one field as used to be expected.
Since I was a child I have written stories and plays, learned to play instruments and drawn pictures, and until I was 16 I trained as a dancer. However, I have a genetic collagen disorder that meant I developed a spinal curvature, as well as not having the required stamina for a professional dancer, so instead I went on to university, initially to study film. Only in my 30s did I return to dance, creating a number of film-dances through recording improvisations and ‘choreographing’ them together in the editing process.
The domestication of digital media has been very important to me, partly because of financial accessibility, but also because the size and weight of professional video and sound recording equipment makes it inaccessible to me. For example, in 1994 I was able to shoot my entire one-hour PhD documentary on a Hi-8 camcorder, traveling to the Channel Islands and Austria as well as around the UK. This would have been impossible just a few years earlier.
I then edited the film on an Apple Mac using Avid software at a time when most people were still using heavy metal tapes on tape-to-tape push-button-operated systems. (This was the point when I acquired the nickname ‘ju90’, after supergeek puppet Joe 90.) However, that still cost me thousands of pounds in studio hire costs; today, I could edit the whole thing on my MacBook Pro using FCPX for a fraction of the cost. Similarly, I have been editing my own sound on a Mac in my home studio since the early 2000s, whereas in the 1990s I still had to find funding for a studio and engineer.
Film continues to influence my practice, and although I always produce an online version of my work, I like to find alternative ways to exhibit it — as lightboxes, projections, and printing on a variety of surfaces including Perspex and fabric. I always use technology in some form within my work, even if it’s only writing notes on the Mac, but more usually for recording and editing sound and still and moving images. Computer-Aided Design (CAD) is on my list to learn next, so that I can create 3D models of the installations that I want to make.
However, the artists I work with have no domestic internet access and very little access to technology at all due to the recent cuts in benefits and services. One of my most successful projects last year was made of rubbish, but still engaged participants from across impairment groups. It’s important to remember that, while some great art does require money to create, it’s ideas and their execution, not cash, that makes great art.