Emily Speed in an artist whose work I've really admired at various exhibitions in Liverpool across the years, most recently in the Topophobia exhibition at the Bluecoat, especially Panapoly (pictured above). She was nominated for the Liverpool Art Prize in 2010.
How did you become an artist?
Hmm, I always was one I think, but aged about 7 I did a pretty amazing painting of a gymnast and other people's reactions made me realise there was something there.
What was your inspiration for 'Human Castle', one of the commissions for this year's Edinburgh Art Festival?
I've been slightly infatuated with bodies and architecture and those two things combined in human pyramids and the Catalan 'Castell' tradition for a while now, so when Sorcha Carey, the festival director contacted me about doing this commission that idea fell into place somehow. This human castle explores the idea of architecture as a protective layer around people a little further and the brevity of the performance - performers coming together for just a few minutes before going their own way - will hopefully reflect the precariousness and instability of things. The motto for Edinburgh’s Royal Military Tattoo - Castellum est urbs (the fortress is the city) - sees city and castle as one in the same and the work will be sited directly under Edinburgh Castle.
What will be the trickiest element to achieve?
Working with other people! I have 11 acrobats on board and we're about to have our first workshop in June, so I'm very excited. I'm pretty sure that the way they move and visualise the work will have a lot of influence on the final result. I'm making architectural/sculptural costumes for the performers as part of the work, which will add to the castle shape, so making those in a way that allows them to climb will need some careful planning.
Of everything you've done what have you been most pleased with?
That's fairly impossible to answer as I'm always preoccupied with the things I might make next and all the unformed ideas that fill my head. I did love being in Panoply though and it was great to have the chance to try the work out with some really great support from Sara-Jayne Parsons at the Bluecoat.
Panoply forced you to become part of its fabric. Why did you think it important for it to become partly performative and what were the reactions of visitors?
I guess my work is becoming more and more about the body performing or carrying the object so it's was a natural progression to end up in the exhibition. Most adult visitors never actually looked up or noticed me at all so that was interesting - continuing to move around despite it being for no one but myself. Children were the most incredible audience, especially because they would start imagining out-loud all the reasons that I might be in there and what it would look like inside. I got a brilliant drawing in the post from a boy called Ben, who had drawn me (a very bearded man) inside the work with a dog; amazing. Unusually I got a lot of feedback about Panoply from my peers, so I was very grateful for that and it felt like it moved my work along quite a lot.
Who’s your favourite artist?
That changes most weeks, but I am pretty enamoured with Oskar Schlemmer and Becky Beasley at the moment.
What stops you from feeling listless?
Fresh air, swimming outdoors and seeing new places. Also all the amazing books I have collected over my lifetime - they contain a lot of possibility. Listlessness still happens though, I just try not to feel too guilty about it!
Emily will also be part of 'Camp Out' at Laumeier Sculpture Park, St Louis, Missouri from June 2nd to September 16th (pictured above).
Panoply, 2012, wood, scaffold and body. Image by Mark Reeves
Inhabitant (St Louis), 2012, cardboard and acrylic. Image by Dana Turcovic.