Tuesday Talk - Jessie Brennan review

1st February 2016 at 10:20

Review by Megan Day-Haynes


Jessie Brennan is a visual artist from London. The talk began with her interest in the inter-relation between people and place through drawing and dialogue. Her practice is research based and site specific, concentrating on the understanding and destabilizing of a specific site. The site, for Brennan, is more than just a physical place; it is a “discursive realm“.

Brennan discussed three significant projects that are current and important to her. The first project was titled 43 Strangers, which focused on the subjectivity and objectivity in the public space and particularly on the different acts of looking. The piece was initially a video installation. Brennan videoed the individual people while she drew their portraits. Therefore, the individuals watch Brennan draw their portraits, while we watch them through the video watching her. This sort of reciprocated gaze reflects her interest in the intimacy of the public realm and the individuals within that realm.

The two other projects Brennan spoke about in detail were also concerned with the public realm. When questioned why she was so intrigued by site-specific projects, she remarked, “situated practice has a different kind of flavour”. These two last projects highlighted her activist side. Both projects afforded a voice to individuals who lived in wither Robin Hood’s Estate in London or the Green Backyard in Peterborough.

The second project, in particular, held significance for the artist. The project Regeneration was a result of months spent at the Robin Hood’s Estate. The estate is well known for its architecture, whether that may be in a positive or negative light. The artist comments: “Robin Hood’s paints a picture of a utopian idea apparently outdated”. Brennan photographed the brutalist style architecture and took rubbings and imprints of the residents’ doormats. There is a sense of intimacy about this project, as the artist interacts with the residents and proffers their perception of their situation. The end result of the project was a book, containing drawings of her experience of the estate. The book contained critiques from certain journalists such as Owen Hatherley who described the act of demolition on the estate: “ruined is death and safe”.

In many ways, Brennan believes that the “gathering of work is the art”. Her activist approach to art asks the question: Is there a difference between an art project and an art activist project? Brennan believes not; for, in her view, art is there to be critiqued and shown. Art acts upon the world, whether politically or socially. Thus, isn’t every artist an activist in their own way?



Brennan, J (2016) Jessie Brennan [Talk to Peter Scott Gallery] 26/01/2016