Electric Camera Obscura, and Art’s New Power Couple

Jon and Rosie on perfection and how their art differs.

Mess Package black no 27

If summer is going to be like this every year, count me out. Another heat wave followed by another heat wave. In the midst of one of those weeks, I journeyed to New Oxford Street to talk to an artist couple, Jon Baker and Rosie Gibbens, about their work and inclusion in the pop-up group show The Holy Grail. The pop-up was organised and curated by OHSH Projects, the brainchild of Sophia Olver and Henry Hussey, another couple. 

Mess Package (orange) no 23 | 1270 x 1524 mm, 50 x 60 in (approx) | Direct from camera obscura, photographic paper image

The space was once a Korean restaurant, with some lettering visible near the ceiling, and after I was welcomed I was taken down to the cool of the basement, where the fridges used to be stored, and where both Jon and Rosie’s work resided. 

Jon was first to talk about his work. He talks through the process, which involves a room sized, self-built, high-definition camera that projects huge images on large sheets of photographic paper which he then cuts into strips in the dark. This ‘macro obscura’ makes us unsure of what we’re looking at, large luscious forms taken from reality but unrecognisable. Two were on show above some pipes that stuck out of the wall. 

What objects are in them? I wonder.

“They’re things I have around, some of them are plants that I’ve grown, a succulent that I’ve grown that looks like a woman’s vagina and are given out in South Africa, others are… sweets, things connected to the body, they all change. I make casts of them, because making a cast of something is like a photograph in a certain way – a photograph can’t exist without the thing it’s photographing and it’s the same with a cast of something, it’s like a replica, a mirror.”

Array

Mess Package (blue) no 9 | 1270 x 1524 mm, 50 x 60 in (approx) | Direct from camera obscura, photographic paper image

And in what way is that like the holy grail for you?

“The ‘holy grail’ is their idea – Henry and Sophia chose the work”

I look at Henry, who tells us we have to go upstairs because he has to be invigilating the visitors. We climb up out of the basement until our conversation can resume.

“I didn’t want to be too linear in terms of representing Knights on horseback” Henry says, “but I was thinking about man’s obsession to explore and also how that’s gone from literally exploring coastlines to the micro, and looking at Oppenheimer and the splitting of the atom and very much how the universe expands and how it contracts and is zoomed in more and more and more and that works with Jon’s work as an exploration of zooming something very close.”

Wilhelm Scream, Rosie Gibbens

That being that, we went back downstairs to look at Rosie’s piece. A giant open mouth sewn together and hanging from the ceiling. Rosie’s normally a performance artist, but that has taken a backseat for obvious reasons, and sculpture has filled that gap. 

“It’s called the Wilhelm Scream,” she tells me. “I kind of love that story – it’s the sound effect used in loads of films, it was made for a western but it’s now a joke between sound engineers because it’s reused in a load of stuff. I like it ‘cause sometimes it’s quite a serious death and you hear this [Rosie screams], this mix between the cartoon and the actual trauma.”

She turned to the mouth and said “it’s kind of like a scream but it’s laughing. It’s got a friendly cartoon quality about it.” Moving towards it, Rosie said “it can also be activated, you can make it scream [she pushed the back of the mouth and the sculpture swung and moved around], you can make it eat [she pulled the hair braid that hung from it’s centre and said glug glug glug], there’s also a secret eye [she swiveled the tongue to reveal a cartoonish eye]”.

Mess Package (green) no 3 | 1270 x 1524 mm, 50 x 60 in (approx) | Direct from camera obscura, photographic paper image

As you read in the first paragraph, they’re a couple, so I asked them about that. They shared a coy laugh that all couples do when they’re explaining how they met. Jon goes first. 

“So… I, we met on Tinder, and Tinder is a cesspool of all kinds of things, no offence, and we were chatting, I saw some of Rosie’s work, a video she’d done of herself giving a blowjob to all these toothbrushes tied together and it was the funniest, weirdest and most oddly sexy thing I’ve ever seen. I just thought it was fucking great.”

Both of them being artists, Rosie said “it’s a good way to find out about someone as well ‘cause you can’t date someone you think is making bad art.”

Would they ever think about collaborating? There was another silence and some more awkward laughter, before Jon said:

“Never say never, but I can’t see us ever… we’re very different … [people! Rosie interjects] artists. Rosie’s a different artist in that she comes up with an idea and a concept and then she executes that idea and concept, whereas I am much more general technique stuff, just making things until something appears. I couldn’t see how we would. I’m much more tempestuous… no … emotional and Rosies very kind of like…. emotional too but much more practical, and I’m annoyed, impulsive.”

“He helps me be more impulsive and less worrying about it being perfect,” Rosie replies, “your catchphrase is that ‘it doesn’t matter’”

“I do think that. My photos are cut in the dark, so they’re all at an angle, and if that’s how they were, I don’t see the need to make everything perfect for taste, unless that is part of the artwork. I just concentrate on the important stuff. The importance is that the artwork has an energy and vibrancy to it, I can’t stand nitpicking, I fucking hate neatness. Rosie’s probably the opposite”

“It’s not neatness, it’s politeness. Because I haven’t made sculptures or objects very much I get nervous, I get stressed out about placement and I feel like it’s not really my background. Actually, the work is the most important thing, you don’t need to go by these conventions of everything being perfectly arranged. It’s kind of better if it’s messier.

Array

Mess Package (black) no 27 | 1270 x 1524 mm, 50 x 60 in (approx) | Direct from camera obscura, photographic paper image

“Yeah, I don’t think it matters, I love that my photographs are in this room down here. Some proper chin-stroking photography people have been like ‘well, actually, there are a lot of things on the wall’ and I’m like ‘does that mean you can’t look at the photo?’ – people are told that that’s the correct thing.”

“I think there’s a lot of stuff like that – because everybody’s quite insecure about being an artist and doing the things that artists do – a lot of that is inherited stuff.”

everybody’s quite insecure about being an artist

Jon and Rosie are striving to be free from that, then. Free from convention, from accepted beliefs of how art should be and be presented. They agree on that, at least. Rosie sums up their selection in this show and their overlap as artists, “I think we have a lot of similar interests and our references are the same, they just manifest in different things. We share a stupid sense of humour”

“But we take our work very seriously”


Title image is a cropped and rotated “Mess Package (black) no 27”

Find more at @OHSHprojects

Find more of Jon’s work @bakerbang or jon-baker.co.uk

Find more of Rosie’s work @rosiegibbens or rosiegibbens.com or read our profile on her here.


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