With a portfolio that is both aesthetically alluring and rooted heavily in social consciousness, it’s no secret that London-based artist Alice Woods does not shy away from bold materials, messages, and mediums. Hoping to “address our economic knowledge deficit and elucidate the relationships between economic decision making, cultural preferences and political transitions”, Alice uses in-depth research and meticulous metaphors to illustrate contemporary – and often controversial – issues. We chatted with the artist to find out more about her social stance, artistic process, and exciting plans.
Your body of work is clearly very diverse, spanning 3D sculpture, installation, video, and conceptual pieces. What is your artistic background?
My background is actually in music, and before art school I attended a music school for 5 years as part of my secondary education. This was an incredible experience, and one that taught me a lot about working under pressure and how to learn your craft. Although music will always be a massive part of my life, the particular nuances of the type of classical music I was studying are quite narrow and demand near perfection from the performer. In the end I think I turned to art as a sort of antidote to this way of working, and somewhere I could be much freer with my ideas and interpretations.
How did you come to work with so many different mediums?
I think it began right from my first experiences in art education. I was enrolled in the foundation course at Central Saint Martins and there I specialized in ‘Contextual Practice’ which focused on research led enquires. Because of this, the idea always came first and medium was determined by whatever was a natural fit. I have always continued this approach and try to not pigeon hole myself within any particular medium as a way of keeping my thoughts as free as possible, and to ensure I don’t place any preconceived limitations on my practice.
You note that, as an artist, you explore “the implications of financial & economic power structures”. With motifs spanning government surveillance, corruption within the stock market, and the proliferation of technology, this focus is extremely apparent in your work. What sparked this interest?
A desire to understand and reveal the workings of the financial sector was sparked by the onset of the 2008 global financial crisis, and through my experiences of growing up in North East England where the effects of the recession have been felt in full force. Amidst the rise of the Occupy Movement I spent time down at the encampment by St Paul’s and this solidified my interest in the implications of extreme income inequalities and how neoliberal policies filter down to the public whose interests are often in a very different arena from those in Westminster.
Did you explore these themes in your early work, too?
My early work was more concerned with value and worth, and then when the recession hit and Occupy gathered pace, these initial themes started to focus more on the nitty gritty of what we ascribe worth to in Western society and the implications that our particular form of capitalism has on communities and individuals.
While such concepts are rooted heavily in issues related to society as a whole, you also comment on the role of the individual with pieces like Sally (The Watcher) and the Al Capone experiment from your Google Trends series. I find your exploration of the relationship between society and the individuals that comprise it so fascinating. Can you touch on it a bit further?
I suppose I am interested in people’s perceptions of society vs. the individual. It is often quipped that we live in a very individualistic society, a sort of dog-eat-dog world where everyone is out for their own gains. But if you look around I don’t think this is actually the case; things like Occupy couldn’t happen if community and safeguarding opportunities for future generations didn’t matter to people. Maybe I’m just an optimist but I believe the ordinary person on the street will do the right thing if they have time to stop and think, often though modern life puts us under so many pressures (namely paying off debt of one form or another) that there isn’t time to really pause and take a moment to breathe.
Similarly, on your blog, you reference the relationship between the “powerful and the powerless.” Who do you see as powerful, and who do you see as powerless, and how is this conveyed in your work?
Within my work I try to take an objective outlook so I don’t explicitly acknowledge my personal opinions on who I think is powerful or not, but try to let the audience make up their own minds by introducing these forces within the fabric of the work. As much as I am interested in when power goes wrong I am also interested in when it works for the good of humanity. So exploring when power is used for inspirational leadership, for example, is as important to me as exposing elites who manipulate the system for their own gains.
Although the themes you explore are clearly quite grave, on the surface, your work appears jovial, as you often use bright colours and designate each piece with a tongue-in-cheek title. Can you explain this tendency toward juxtaposition?
This was something that organically progressed over the last few years. I have always had a leaning towards quite seductive materials, i.e. ones that make you want to touch or have a particularly alluring finish, and this has developed into using their particularly enticing qualities as a visual trick to encourage engagement. So initially someone might be attracted inside an installation because of the materiality, but then upon entering, can hopefully begin to unpick what is going on beneath the surface.
How did you get involved with London-based gallery Light Eye Mind?
It was a happy coincidence! I had a grant to continue some work I had started on a residency in Berlin, which was looking at how the arts can be used as a tool to examine economic power structures, and had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to partner with a space to present the culmination of the work. Johnny Costi, a former Saint Martins student had put the word about that he was looking for socially engaged projects to host at Light Eye Mind, a space he co-runs with Goldsmith's graduate Alex Jeronymides-Norie and so the partnership was born. It was an absolutely brilliant experience working with them; there is a great team at the gallery, all of whom have a very positive ethos, and made the whole experience smooth and very rewarding.
And, lastly, what do you have in store for the future?
I am finishing off my final year at Saint Martins at the moment so beyond the degree show, I am working on a project funded by O2 looking at how social art practice can help address our economic knowledge deficit. I am also joining the team at Light Eye Mind gallery in North London where I had my first solo show. So watch this space for forthcoming exhibitions and events!