James Merry’s works explore connections between our perceptions of real-life and something else that is not yet available, like a sneak peek of a remote future or something that we are unable yet to feel and see. We talked with James about his artistic practice and long-term collaboration with Björk.
Can you tell us more about yourself?
I’ve always really admired craftwork and even as a child I loved working with my hands, especially if it was something really detailed and time-consuming. I love science fiction and r&b music and I love Elizabethan history and I love being in water – I go swimming every day.
From Oxford University, Classical Greek education to hand embroidery and now these amazing headpieces. How did this transition happen?
Slowly, but quite organically. In retrospect it seems like a big jump between those different chapters of my life in Oxford, London, New York and Iceland, but at the time it always felt like a natural progression. I’ve been pretty good at letting my instincts lead the way, so I try to listen when life decides to point me in one direction, rather than fight it or ignore it.
As far as we know, you are mostly in the woods interacting with nature. Can you tell us more about your studio space and its surroundings?
About 4 years ago I moved to a tiny cabin on a hill by a lake in Iceland. I had been living between New York and Reykjavik for some years before that, but always dreamt about living out in the countryside – somewhere remote but still close enough to drive into a big town when I started going mad. It was the best thing I ever did. To live surrounded by moss and birds and silence and light…. but with really fast Wi-Fi. There’s something so futuristic about being able to have both: a windswept isolated domestic life but with all the connections and excitement of digital / online stuff.
Bjork is one of the most renowned female artists of our era with her unique sound and artistic direction. How does it feel like collaborating with her such a long period of time?
I think the reason why we have been able to collaborate for so long (9 years this May) is because she always allows space for things to evolve and stay fluid, nothing stagnates – so as I’ve grown as a person and artist she has really nurtured that and been up for redefining it as we go. I feel very lucky for that indeed. Each project I’ve worked on has been so different from the one before (Biophilia, Vulnicura, Utopia) that it’s always an exciting shape-shift between albums – I’m just still honoured to be invited along for the ride really.
What is the most challenging fact of collaborating with Bjork?
With the headpieces, I am usually trying to help express quite a specific aesthetic or mood, so it can definitely be challenging to get that right – to tap into someone else’s inner world and help them express it outwardly. But I guess the challenge of it is also the appeal for me. Putting something on your face is so extreme and so personal (much more so than most other items of costume) it has to be 100% right or it just doesn’t work. Luckily, over the years we’ve developed a really telepathic shorthand – we don’t have to say that much but we both know instinctively what’s going to work or not.
You made 14 pieces of handmade sculpted and painted silicone facepieces for Bjork’s recent released video “Utopia” How did your creation process started? What inspired you?
I wanted to try and work with silicone for those pieces, as it just seemed to fit the direction that Björk was steering the visuals at the time – whereas my previous headpieces had been quite biological, embroidered or built from wire/plastic, the Utopia ones needed something more anatomical, orchid-like, alien. We were in LA at the time, and I went and bought a load of clay and silicone and just began sculpting. I didn’t actually plan or realize how sexual they looked until later, at the time I was quite innocently just thinking about orchids…
Bjork’s new album videos “Utopia”, “Blissing me”, “Arisen my senses” and “The Gate” are the results of an intensive collaboration of artists working in different mediums. Can you tell us more about the video making process?
Each video is usually its own unique puzzle and collaboration with a particular director, so it is hard to generalise – but I guess one unifying feature is that the visual starting point usually begins with a specific set of references, ideas, textures, colours etc. that Björk instinctively feels around that particular song or album. Those are the seeds that are sown, and then other things will grow from them as part of a back and forth with a particular director. But in general, that is the starting point and then each one finds its own way to fruition, the process is a little different every time.
I’ve been pretty good at letting my instincts lead the way, so I try to listen when life decides to point me in one direction, rather than fight it or ignore it.
How you do dream the far future?
I kind of like fantasizing about a planet without / after humans… with no self-appointed superior consciousness, where nature is allowed to just run its own course totally undisturbed in the company of itself.
What do you have coming up?
I want to try and do something with machine embroidery this year. So far I’ve done everything by hand, just a needle and thread. But I’m keen to see if there is some weird idiosyncratic way I can get my head around embroidering with a machine. I’m pretty excited to start exploring that a bit more this spring.