‘Identity, cultural representation, feminist theory and the body’: The divisive work of artist Jade Blackstock.

'Low Day', 2017, Photographed by Nigel Rolfe

London-based artist Jade Blackstock creates visually striking, living art installations with herself at the epicentre of the work. Saying this, the salient live performances Blackstock gives are far from about herself – exploring identity, culture, colonialism and politics, her work represents something far greater.

Jade’s story began in Birmingham, where she was born and lived up until she started her bachelor’s degree at the University of Worcester. Following this she applied to the Royal College of Art- ‘It was my Fine Art lecturer who first persuaded me to apply for a Masters degree. I had completed my BA months before but I felt that my research had only scratched the surface, and studying a 2 year course at the RCA would give me plenty of opportunity to develop and expand on it.’

One aspect of Blackstock’s work that sets her aside from her contemporaries is her unique incorporation of human performance in the art. Her use of this method was brought about by the failure of more traditional media to express her message- ‘I started making performance works when I realised that my practice at the time, painting, drawing and occasional sculpture lacked the urgency, intimacy and honesty that I wanted my work to have.’

‘I felt that drawing and painting gave me too much opportunity to edit, that I sometimes distanced myself from the reasons for making the work.’

The ‘heavy, politically charged or uncomfortably personal’ themes behind Jade’s work has often divided the public’s opinions- ‘I find that a common opinion, and the sort of response I receive regularly when making work in public spaces, is of a sort of inherited embarrassment, or a refusal to accept the work as a piece of art.’

Her exploration of areas such as British colonialism and feminism have often been met with verbal abuse or people interrupting the performance. ‘I find it interesting how even the smallest of gestures, like placing a bottle of milk on the floor, could cause such offence.’ The negative reactions to her work don’t deter her though – ‘This range of reactions is what draws me to performing in public spaces.’

‘Myself In Three Vessels’, 2017, Photographed by Nigel Rolfe

The effects of colonialism and the slave trade have frequently inspired Jade’s performances, including the one she considers her favourite to date. ‘My favourite piece is a work performed by a busy main road in Battersea. The work involved filling a giant fishbowl with molasses and tipping it over my head. I then remove the fishbowl from my head and stand there, covered in the liquid for an unknown time.’

‘The work was made in response to trying to understand the weight of the invisible legacy of British Colonialism. My family’s background is Jamaican. The island was a former British colony which historically produced sugar for export to the UK in huge lucrative operations, which relied on the unpaid labour of slaves.’

Much of Blackstock’s work is recorded through photography, but not this one- ‘I have no documentation of the work, just the memory of it. There is something I like about that.’

As for upcoming projects, Jade could be seen performing on the streets of South America very soon- ‘I am currently in Argentina, and at the moment am drafting some plans to create some performances in public spaces in Buenos Aries.’