Janyce Denise Glasper Interviews Jade de Montserrat

No Need for Clothing, drawing installation at Cooper Gallery/DJCAD, 2017, documentary photo by Jacquetta Clark. Courtesy of the artist.

On February 1, 2023, I had the pleasure of chatting about various texts from theory to poetry with UK based artist Jade de Montserrat whose conceptual practice involves a laborious exercise she calls “installation drawings.” She relies heavily on human movement– both physical and psychological. 

JDG: Hi Jade. It’s nice to meet you. I was very impressed with your work when I saw it [The Last Place They Thought Of] at the ICA of Philadelphia. In that room, surrounded by words in black and white, I read everything; so immersed in your world of text, thinking about the time consideration and the human body in motion, working on these words on this wall. Can you tell me about working in a large space and any limitations of that nature?

JM: I’m at the mercy of space when I’ve been asked to make that work. I call them drawing performance installations. I made it first under the title, ‘No Need For Clothing’ At Cooper Gallery [at University of Dundee in the UK] at the invitation of curators Linda [Morris] and Sophia [Hao]. That space is very beautiful and huge— flooring and warmth— and has a legacy of performance artists that think critically in that space. When I was asked to make work there, I devised these drawing installations on the basis that Sophia had given me lots of resources and information about the city of Dundee and its lineage and its relationship to the Empire. I [had previously] performed the spoken element at Spike Island— naked and reading from a book of texts. I wanted to reflect the plaque from Lubaina Himid’s work “Cotton.com”— labor and beauty, ownership, the male gaze, and violence. I often think of Joseph Beuys’ work as well— performance props and pedagogical concerns [in my practice] within the concept of the spectacularized Black body. Beuys’ work shows the energy usage— labor and natural materials. For the Cooper Gallery performance drawing installation I made these performance props that act as ways to transfer charcoal onto the wall. The texts [themselves] often start with “her body…” or “their body…” The work at ICA evolved from this starting point into Untitled (The Wretched of the Earth). At ICA, I was harnessing how I perceived reading Frantz Fanon’s book of the same name and Édouard Glissant’s Poetics of Relation. [ICA curator] Daniela Rose King explained the focus of the exhibition was devised around thinking about Katherine McKittrick’s Demonic Grounds and Harriet Jacobs’ testimony [Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl]— fugitivity, captivity, women’s labor, women’s creativity, and violence. I saw parallels between those texts and Fanon…. I wanted to take up that enormous space in a way that could hold  my pain and suffering in relation to a lineage of Black suffering. 

You’ll Have To Be On Your Toes, watercolour, ink, gouache, pencil, charcoal and pen on paper, 25×17.7 cm, 2015. Courtesy of the artist. 

JDG: How did you feel working in the space with those particular texts in addition to your own words? The texts that you have within are another form of material and that’s powerful.

JM: I was embodying these readings and expressing through gesture. Texts were reinforced by the magnificence of the space. Material blackness carving into the fabric of the institution. I would make shapes, thinking of the Brooks slave ship, when I was drawing the inside of a D [or P or U] for instance. In trying to articulate a visceral sensation of thinking and conveying beyond the verbal, beyond the English language what mark making could do, to reinforce the writing. 

Instituting Care, two installation views at Bluecoat, Liverpool, photograph by Brian Roberts, 2019. Courtesy of the artist.

JDG: Is there a difference between working directly onto the wall—usually an enormous space— versus a small, intimate work on paper meant to be framed for that same wall?

JM: There is a different type of intimacy. I am often not naked when I’m drawing on a small scale— no performativity; internalized. The content remains the same. At the ICA, there is a link between the Black Atlantic, the Transatlantic slave trade, and the prison industrial complex. When I’m coming to make work on paper, it is a direct method for articulating urgency and advocating for action poetically. Often, the words on the walls, I transfer onto paper, but there’s a delicacy that is missed when attempting to draw with charcoal on paper. The letters get smudged and that potentially detracts from the message, which then intermingles with the gestural. Whereas with watercolor, the precision is effective— potentially allowing a different kind of reflectivity. 

She saw no need for clothing other than comfort, watercolour, ink and crayon,18x26cm, 2017, Collection: York Art Gallery, with thanks to Contemporary Art Society. Courtesy of the artist.

JDG: How did you arrive at making this particular work? What was your schooling environment?

JM: I was an avid reader. Language was important in our nuclear family. The way we articulated. We played word games. I wasn’t massively encouraged at the start of my schooling. I proved myself a bit more, showing how keen I was to learn. I enjoyed books, reading, and speaking even though I couldn’t communicate very well. I didn’t have a vocabulary for being a brown person in exclusively white spaces which was my condition throughout my schooling and family life. My confidence grew exponentially— just in the last ten years, meaning that I’ve got my own vocabulary, my own visual language, and I’m going to own that. 

JDG: Lastly, do you have any current or historical influences?

JM: Yes. Today, I went out walking in the countryside and read aloud from Jason Allen-Paisant’s Thinking With Trees— a beautiful poetry book. I spoke to the trees through his poetry. I’m hoping to delve further into Stefano Harney and Fred Moten’s work [authors of The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study], Erin Manning, and Elizabeth Jane-Burnett’s The Grassling. I’m thinking through literature as a way to stimulate my imagination and my subsequent making into the visual. 

Words: Dr. Jade de Montserrat interviewed by Janyce Denise Glasper

All of the artist’s images are from her brilliantly executed 2021 thesis entitled Race and Representation in Northern Britain in the Context of the Black Atlantic: A Creative Practice Project

Bio: Dr. Jade de Montserrat was the recipient of the Stuart Hall Foundation Scholarship supporting her PhD (via MPhil) at IBAR, UCLan, and the development of her work from her Black diasporic perspective in the North of England. de Montserrat works through performance, drawing, painting, film, installation, sculpture, print and text. She makes artworks that explore race and the vulnerabilities of bodies, the tactile and sensory qualities of language and challenge the structures of care in institutions. de Montserrat is a Tutor at Ruskin School of Art, University of Oxford, and an Associate Lecturer at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts, London. She proudly serves on the Board of Trustees at Crescent Arts in Scarborough, OUTPOST in Norwich, and Alchemy Film & Arts in Hawick. de Montserrat is represented by Bosse & Baum Gallery, London.