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In Conversation with Artist Jacqueline Felstead

We speak to Jacqueline Felstead about her latest exhibition ‘All Angles Forever’. We find out just how she creates her surrealist portraits through a mix of photography and computer guess work. We also find out just how patient her subjects have to be to have their ‘photo’ taken.

Your exhibition at St Heliers Street Gallery, ‘All Angles Forever’ uses 3D modelling to try and capture your subjects across stretches of time within a single still image. What are the images telling us about the subject that a traditional photograph couldn’t?

Each work is a near life-sized photograph of a 3D model. The process by which the works are made is unusual in that each model is made from 250 photographs taken over the course of an hour, during which the subject sits as still as they can. The resulting figures, while seemingly misshapen and erroneous, are also a kind of facsimile of the subjects’ occupation of space over this hour. I approach 3D technology (photogrammetry) through a desire to map the empathetic rather than calculate the quantifiable. In practice this has involved attempting to replicate near-irreproducible states, such as here rendering in 3D an hour of someone’s time here or documenting a bird’s-eye view while on the ground.

Some of the images seem to be fairly accurate replications of the models, while others look far more altered in their appearance. What creates this variation?

Features become prominent over this course of time by being constant. A computer program links up the rest, it extrapolates from the masses of information that it has to join the 250 instances that make up the work. From gaps and mismatches in this information it creates long sweeping vectors that encase the subject, making a kind of cast of a line of questioning deduced from a mass of photographic information. 

It’s surprising just how consistent and uniform some of the figures are. How patient do your subjects have to be to get those results?

Very patient. There is an important regard for the process of becoming ones image that is encouraged through this long sitting that I think comes across from the sitter in this work.

How many pictures are you taking of the subject before you have enough material to make a 3D model?

Usually 250

Despite the use of emerging technologies to generate these images, there’s something very traditional about the portraitures – the length of time your subjects have to model for, and also the composition of the images. Is the composition a direct reference to early portraiture, or like early photographers, is the composition being dictated by the limitations of the technology?

Both. Time and duration are important in this work. Early photographers such as Samuel Morse destroyed their first portraits (which were plausibly the first) because of how the technology recorded the temporality of the subject. As conventions for working with photographic portraiture caught up with the desire to make them, subjects were posed to minimise movement and photographed in studios, as here. For commentators such as Walter Benjamin the long sitting of early photographic portraiture fundamentally contributes to the meaning of such portraits. This lineage is important. On the other hand also crucial here are the clarity of massive amounts of uncompressed information and the scale of the work.

You’re one of many visual artist tenants at the Abbotsford Convent. How does your studio differ from some of your peers’ spaces?

All the artists at the Convent have very different practices. I suspect that my space is comparatively cluttered with books, proofs and unfinished works.

Has your photographic practice always been focused on experimenting with new technologies?

Not always new technology. I am often focused on the possibility of and desire for replication, and how such replicas relate to knowing and understanding where one is.

Is the use of emerging technologies in photography the focus of the PhD you’re currently undertaking with Victorian College of the Arts?

In short, my PhD it is about what it means to work with photographic technologies in three dimensions.

Earlier this year you were awarded the Samstag Scholarship, giving you the opportunity to study overseas at a leading international art school of your choice for 12 months. What’s your school of choice and why?

I am very grateful to have been awarded the Samstag Scholarship. I am most likely studying at the Royal College of Art, London, who as well as having an amazing Department, have technology that is crucial to my practice.

What else can people hope to see from you in 2017?

I am showing video works ‘Loss in a simulated environment’ on the night screen at Seventh Gallery in June 2017 and will be speaking at ‘Art + Tech’ at the State Library of Victoria on Friday 5 May.

‘All Angles Forever’ is on display at St Heliers Street Gallery until Saturday 29 April alongside Nicholas Wilkins’ ‘Distance’.