Jennifer Allen, known professionally as Quilla Constance (abbreviated to QC), is a British contemporary artist, lecturer and curator, and studied an MFA Fine Art at Goldsmiths in 2006. QC’s interdisciplinary practice has shown widely in the UK and overseas, at venues including Camden Arts Centre, Zabludowicz Collection, ICA, Freud Museum, The RA, Jerwood Arts and Van Abbemuseum.
QC is creating new art for her socially engaged project ‘Teasing out Contingencies’ at Tate Exchange, Tate Modern 2019-2020. The project will tour to The Higgins Bedford, Sir William Harpur Gallery in 2021-2022. QC tells us about her time at Goldsmiths and the current project at Tate.
Hello, my name is Quilla Constance (abbreviated to QC). I studied MFA Fine Art at Goldsmiths back in 2006.
How Goldsmiths shaped my art practice
I very much enjoyed reading for my degree at Goldsmiths – it was a rich melting pot of rigorous critique and playful experimentation, which afforded a great environment for developing and inspiring the video/performance art I was creating at that time.
At Goldsmiths, I spent hours researching films by/about Spike Lee, John Waters, Josephine Baker, Annie Sprinkle, Frantz Fanon, Paul McCarthy, Lars von Trier, Leigh Bowery (to name a few!).
This period of research and experimentation has set the scene for my current interdisciplinary art practice which I deploy across the media of paintings, costumes, photographs, live performances and music videos – staging these artworks across varied contexts, such as: art galleries, lecture halls, theatrical venues, music clubs, social media, and the street.
My practice seeks to conflate and strategically activate the intersections between these cultural zones/learned categories, to agitate and surprise audiences – ultimately highlighting the absurdity of hegemonic systems of categorisation that are often injurious, since they restrict and marginalise BAME, LGBTQ+, female and working-class identities.
My practice is also heavily informed by my biracial (black) Jamaican and (white) British heritage – and the concurrent tensions/freedoms I experience, and strategically activate from this position.
Before attending Goldsmiths, I briefly studied MA Sculpture at RCA in 2001, but I dropped out because I didn’t feel this environment was conducive to developing my interdisciplinary practice. At RCA students are expected to specialise in painting, sculpture or print-making etc… but I wanted to preserve the option of doing everything concurrently. Plus, in my experience, the tutors at RCA were embarrassed by my video/performance work, which at that time was inspired and informed by my job as a professional striptease dancer.
By contrast, the environment at Goldsmiths allowed me to experiment and be myself. In the words of Leigh Bowery, ‘embarrassment is the unexplored emotion’ – and the choreography of discomfort and tension is integral to my practice and my interest in asking questions/challenging hegemonic and patriarchal frameworks.
What I’m working on now
I’m currently developing new art for my socially engaged project ‘Teasing out Contingencies’ at Tate Exchange, Tate Modern, funded by Arts Council England (ACE) and Bedford Creative Arts. It will re-open at Tate Exchange, Tate Modern in 2020-2021 (Covid-19 safety restrictions permitting) and will later tour to The Higgins Bedford (Sir William Harpur Gallery) from 2021 to 2022. In the wake of Covid-19, it’s now also become my lockdown project.
I was offered the opportunity at Tate Exchange following a series of ACE-funded solo exhibitions: ‘Transcending The Signified’ at MOCA London and The Old Fire Station Gallery Oxford; ‘#QC’ at The Kendrew Barn: St John’s College Oxford and Vaults Gallery/Vault Festival; and ‘PUKIJAM’ at 198 Contemporary Arts. These exhibitions featured my newly developed interdisciplinary artworks, i.e. paintings, videos, costume installations and performances created between 2015 and 2018.
I was then commissioned by Artichoke Trust and Bedford Creative Arts to work with women of Bedford to create a large-scale banner artwork for ‘Processions 2018’ – a major street event in London, celebrating the centenary of women’s right to vote.
All of these projects delivered socially engaged activities to varied extents, and it became clear that aspects of my practice were functioning to successfully engage diverse members of the public, and in turn, stimulating pertinent political discourse. As such, the platform I’ve been offered at Tate Exchange, Tate Modern, bodes well for the development of my practice within this remit and beyond.
Just prior to the announcement of Covid-19 lockdown, I issued a call-out for members of the public to visit my Open Studio at Tate Exchange, Tate Modern, dress up in my costumes, respond to my originally produced eclectic music mashups, pose with props and create amusing and liberating scenes.
These images will feature in my next large-scale oil painting, within a composition set against opulent interiors from Buckingham palace. I intend for this piece to locate and assert new and empowered modes of being for marginalised subjects.
A team of producers from Bedford Creative Arts and Tate Exchange assisted with delivering these Open Studio workshops, and in total I photographed over 800 participants including students from UAL, University of Reading, Bedford College, Norwood School, various London community groups, and Tate’s vast demographic of international visitors – it was great fun, and so pertinent to watch the frenzy unfold.
There was a real feeling of solidarity, and I seek to capture these scenes in my painting.
Further information about my work
- Teasing out Contingencies
- #NAVIGATING_NEW_NORMAL, a project with Axisweb (aka Axis) featuring stories and artworks I’ve made in lockdown, and throughout the ‘new normal’ as inflected by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic
- Alexandra Kokoli on Quilla Constance ‘Black Artists & Modernism’ Van Abbemuseum
- Quilla Constance ‘PUKIJAM’ video: Focus Zoom Event, MOCA London
- How Limits Can Boost Your Creativity – BBC video
Quilla Constance Biography
Jennifer Allen, known professionally as Quilla Constance (abbreviated to QC) is a British contemporary artist, lecturer, and curator. QC’s interdisciplinary practice has shown widely in the UK and overseas, at venues including Camden Arts Centre, Zabludowicz Collection, ICA, Freud Museum, The RA, Jerwood Arts, and Van Abbemuseum. QC is now creating new art for her socially engaged project ‘Teasing out Contingencies’ at Tate Exchange, Tate Modern 2019-2020. The project will tour to The Higgins Bedford, Sir William Harpur Gallery in 2021-2022.