Deptford X festival blog #1: Joey Holder

Deptford X Festival is almost upon us, and with this in mind we will be keeping a blog introducing you to the key elements of the 2016 festival.

Platform 2016 is a new commissions programme, which replaces the ‘lead artist’ of the past few years with five emerging artists, each nominated by a panel of art-world professionals, and chosen by Deptford X Director Patrick Henry.

In the first blog post of this series, Deptford X spoke to Joey Holder, to find out more about the work that she will be showing in the festival. You may have seen her work before, as she took part in last year’s festival under the name ‘Dark Creatures’, showing at local gallery Res. for their Deptford X 2015 show Exta

Holder was nominated for Deptford X by David Mabb, Programme Leader of MFA Fine Art at Goldsmiths College, University of London. He nominated Holder on the basis that her many-layered explorations of artificial and organic forms create a hybrid world in which painterly and digitised forms exist in parallel.

Holder’s film Ophiux will premiere at the Deptford X festival on Friday 23 September at the St Nicholas’ Church Crypt.

Joey Holder, Ophiux, 2016. Courtesy the artist.

Joey Holder, Ophiux, 2016. Courtesy the artist.

Deptford X: Can you tell me about your practice?

Joey Holder: I am interested in the structures and hierarchies of the technological and natural world and how these systems are constantly abstracted. Mixing elements of biology, nanotechnology and natural history against computer program interfaces, screen savers and measuring devices, I see no object or substance in any fixed state or with any permanent definition, identity or order; everything is transforming and morphing into something else; everything is a mutant and a hybrid.

Connecting forms which have emerged through our human taste, culture and industrial processes I investigate complex systems that dissolve notions of the ‘natural’ and the ‘artificial’. GM products, virtual biology and aquatic creatures are incorporated into an extended web; challenging our perception of evolution, adaptation and change. By contrasting so-called ‘organic’ and ‘man-made’ substances and surfaces through a series of abstractions, I create a world of manifold layers, none more unified or natural than the next. These hybridities may suggest a particular function or natural form but remain elusive through their odd displacement.


DX: What does Deptford mean to you?

JH: I lived in the area for 6 years, and have only just recently moved. I regularly come back to Deptford to visit friends, or go to the market – it still feels like home. 


DX: Can you tell me a little about the location you've chosen for your work and why you chose to use that space?

JH: In 2008 I began my MFA studies at Goldsmiths and that year I volunteered to help at the Deptford X festival. One of the most memorable things I saw there was a video work situated in the crypt underneath St Nicholas' Church. The space was completely enveloping – enclosed and hidden down an uneven stairway, with incredible acoustics. When I heard this space was available I jumped at the chance. 


DX: What can you tell me about what you'll be doing for your Deptford X commission?

JH: The commission is part of a large scale project called 'Ophiux' which consists of a physical exhibition, showing across two sites: Wysing Arts Centre, Cambridge and ANDOR Gallery, London, as well as an online platform and stand-alone film. The film is co-commissioned by Deptford X and will premier at the festival.

The ideas for Ophiux started out on a residency at Wysing Arts Centre in the spring of 2015 for their programme titled 'The Multiverse'. Rather than thinking about the multiverse as something outside of our own worldview, something that lies beyond, in outer-space or elsewhere, I wanted to focus our own environment. Much of the world’s natural life remains undiscovered, for all our technologies we still don’t know most of the bacterial life that exists on the palm of our own hand. We frequently hear about scientific discoveries that dispel our preconceptions of life-forms that have evolved to deal with intense conditions and hostile environments. 

One of the most perplexing is the existence of complex communities of creatures in deep volcanic ocean trenches that survive in extreme heat without light or oxygen. To us, they are inhabitable ‘alien universes’ and have the potential to change our preconceptions and theories. They are not part of speculation or science fiction and indeed are much stranger: these ‘alternate universes’ exist here on Earth. 

On the residency I was introduced to two scientists working in Cambridge, one of which was a Biologist specialising in these creatures which live in the deep Antarctic Ocean. The other was a computational biologist working at the whose specialism was in genetics. I began to think about how different species of animal and plant life is sampled in science and utilised for our own means. Within most scientific practice it seems as if everything has become a branch of computer science, even our own bodies probed, imaged, modelled and mapped: re-drawn as digital information. I began to imagine a future in which every single life-form, human and animal had been discovered and used as ‘data'. This is where the idea for 'Ophiux' began.

I imagined an automated futuristic medical room, being fed information from a diverse data bank sampled from the furthest regions of the natural world. Within the film there are virtual models of an MRI scanner, C-Arm X-ray machine and genetic sequencing machines all governed and produced by a speculative pharmaceutical company named 'Ophiux'.


DX: In what ways will this work differ from or continue to pursue the themes and interests of your previous work up to this point?

JH: The work will continue themes from previous exhibitions including 'BioSTAT.'  and 'P R O T E U S'. It is my largest scale project to date, and something that I have been developing for the past year and a half. I am excited about the project finally coming together and the film premiering at the festival.

Holder received her BA from Kingston University and her MFA from Goldsmiths in 2010. She was a finalist for the Dazed Emerging Artist Award (2013) and is nominated for the forthcoming Vordemberge-Gildewart Award (2016). 

Read an interview with Joey Holder by AQNB here