1 Nov 2021
JESSIE BULLIVANT: FINDING COMMUNITY AND STRUCTURE
“Best thing ever!” exclaims Jessie Bullivant, when asked to describe their time at HIAP. Their unusually long, by HIAP standards, residency period started in June 2020 and, due to restrictions in travel caused by the pandemic, got extended until the end of 2021. The residency couldn’t have happened at a better time, according to Jessie, despite the global challenges: they had just finished their MFA degree from the Academy of Fine Arts at Uniarts Helsinki in February 2020, and the residency at HIAP provided them with structure and a sense of community.
During the residency, Jessie has been extremely busy with projects and prolific in making work. The HIAP community has been ideal ground for friendships and collaborations to develop, with several of Jessie’s current projects also involving other past and current HIAP residents. A collaborative text with Jaakko Pallasvuo, for example, later turned into work to be shown at HIAP’s Open Studios event, while Jani Anders Purhonen turned Jessie’s text The Tower into a libretto for his work in their group exhibition called big wet at the Haukilahti water tower. Jessie also performed in Johanna Ketola’s For G, as Ground in winter 2021.
A lot of Jessie’s work is text-based. Since their MFA degree show, during which Jessie wrote a series of twenty-six emails delivered daily to a list of subscribers, the work has increasingly taken the form of zines and books. Their website consists of letters of support from various friends and colleagues, and Jessie is currently developing the letter format into a book which will be published with Rooftop Press. Another recent project that actually never opened to the public due to the restrictions during the pandemic, was a comic book called Meta Version created specifically for the Reciprocities exhibition at the Vantaa Art Museum Artsi. In the comic, which was based on the Finnish weekly Disney comic book Aku Ankka, the characters discuss money, power, ownership, identity, and representation.
Prior to 2020, Jessie worked extensively with institutions. When the restrictions caused by the pandemic meant that institutions closed, Jessie found that writing was something they did not need anyone’s permission to do. At a time during which museums and galleries had shut their doors, people were still writing and reading.
Jessie spent the first part of their HIAP residency in Suomenlinna and moved to the Cable Factory studios in February 2021. As they were leaving the island, they saw a dead pheasant. Perhaps a bad omen, Jessie however used the sight as a starting point for a work, or an episode. Other episodic sightings include the Gabriella ferry often seen passing by Suomenlinna, as well as a bright neon HELEN electricity sign, as seen through Jessie’s Cable Factory window. The dead bird, the ferry, and the neon sign are some of the characters that take turns being the protagonists in Jessie’s stories.
Twelve of these episodic LED text works are shown as the collection A Bad Sign at Titanik Gallery in Turku, Finland, one episode a month until December. The selection of site-specific episodes is part of Weathering, curated by Bogna Luiza Wiśniewska and Katie Lenanton, with each episode being viewed through the gallery’s window during installation periods. As Jessie does not live in Turku, the project seems somewhat abstract still; they have not been to see the installed work, and there has not been any feedback from the public.
In their work, Jessie asks questions about the different roles humans occupy in society and in institutions, with the roles often looked at playfully, through surprising juxtapositions. At the moment Jessie is working on a radio project that compares the work of a midwife to that of a news broadcaster: a midwife delivers a baby, while a broadcaster delivers the news – or is it the midwife who delivers the news? Both need to be calm and composed, guiding the others through a crisis in a serene manner. The project will be a part of Perth Festival in Australia, early in 2022.
Until the end of 2021, Jessie will continue working within the HIAP community, looking at power structures, relationships with and outside institutions, while also developing collaborations and friendships; kayaking in Töölö with fellow HIAP resident Freja Bäckman, for example.
Photos provided by the artist.