Axisweb Selects: Northern Art Prize nominee, Emily Speed


Axisweb, the online contemporary art resource, selects the North’s most promising new artists.

The idea of shelter, and how we inhabit spaces, is at the core of Northern Art Prize-nominated artist Emily Speed’s work; in it she explores the relationship between the body and architecture via drawing, sculpture, documented performances, installation, artists’ books and film. She is interested in how the buildings we use shape our psychology, but also in the correlation between architectonic vocabulary and the body – how such ordinary phrases as “having a façade” or eyes being described as windows onto the soul, or how someone can “put up a wall” have their roots in architecture. Speed also makes architectural forms that can be worn or performed with, that can both attract attention or act as places in which to hide.

An artist interested in how the buildings we use shape our lives and our emotions

In the performance, Inhabitant (2009), Speed moves around the city of Linz wearing a construction of cardboard boxes and model houses. She takes on the form of one of her hybrid body-building drawings in which buildings are worn like shells, with just her bare legs protruding. This impermanent architecture conceals and protects her but also blinds her, making her dependent on others to keep safe. For Speed, “the shelters are an expression of the layers that we surround ourselves with… (they) protect me and make me vulnerable in equal measure.”

The recent film installation, Build Up (2013), merges sculpture with film. Commissioned by Castlefield Gallery for its Head to Head exhibition with Hayley Newman, it was developed in collaboration with acrobats and filmed on the stairwell of Manchester’s iconic Toast Rack building. In it, the acrobats build abstract forms with their bodies, balancing precariously on each other’s knees, hands and shoulders. For the installation, film stills and moving images were projected onto a wall covered by an assemblage of wooden planes and brackets; a sculptural grid that the disembodied hands, fingers and feet moved in and out of. Using bodies and the architecture of the Toast Rack itself, the film shows a series of exercises in construction where the body becomes an element in a cyclical repetition of movement, developing a rhythm of building and collapsing.

Emily Speed is based in Liverpool. She studied Drawing and Painting at Edinburgh College of Art before undertaking an MA in Fine Art: Drawing at Wimbledon School of Art. Nominated by Sally Tallant, Director of Liverpool Biennial, she is shortlisted for the 2013 Northern Art Prize at Leeds Art Gallery; you can see her work there now or online, at Axisweb.

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