Joey Holder

The artist explores the limits of human understanding and how we experience non-human, natural and technological forms.

By Rafa Yuste

The artist explores the limits of human understanding and how we experience non-human, natural and technological forms.

The Waxing, Joey Holder and Omsk Social Club, Zeiss Major Planetarium, Berlin

‘I want to touch on the limits of our own human understanding, and how our structures of knowledge can be expanded,’ says artist Joey Holder. Her work speculates on future narratives. Creating immersive installations where organic shapes, sculptures, video, sounds and lighting combines together to tell a story. Experiencing Holder’s work feels like accessing an alternative reality, but beyond creating fantastical landscapes, her narratives address current real-world events by refiltering or reconstituting what already exists through creating alien-like immersive spaces.

Working closely with scientists, Holder raises interest in the biological limits and questions them. With Semelparous, Holder explores the biological strategy of species that just undertakes a single reproductive episode before death. A topic that has eluded scientific and philosophic communities for centuries, the artist takes the journey of European Eels – a creature that migrates more than 3,000 miles to breed. Holder’s interpretation saw her reimagine the pool of the now-closed Springhealth Leisure Center into a set covered by plants and the statues of two colossal eels while a video of a subaquatic 3D environment narrated the eels’ journey.

Last month, the artist presented her newest live work, The Waxing. The immersive audio-visual performance explored the notion of embodied knowledge, collective hallucinatory experiences and communing with aliens. Using the full dome projection at Zeiss Major Planetarium, one of Europe’s largest planetariums, the work built on the collaboration between Omsk Social Club’s Real Game Play concept, and Holder’s xeno-ecologies – inviting minimal viable audience participation, as fact and fiction begin to loosen between worlds. The project also featured live musical interventions from composer Ernstalbrecht Stiebler, alongside interdisciplinary artist Dylan Kerr.

Here, Holder explains her process and focus in creating immersive experiences, the importance of being in close proximity to other creatives, and the importance of Chaos Magic, an artist-run program that offers a space to work and mentorships for recent graduates.

Feldspar (Hadal Zone), Joey Holder, 2015

Can you tell us about your background, growing up, and how that shaped you and your practice?

Joey Holder: I grew up in a small village in Lincolnshire in rural England. I have always been interested in the weirder side of the natural world – particularly underwater life forms. I had strange pets growing up – fish, lizards, frogs, crabs and my favourite amphibious creature: the axolotl.

I studied art and science at school, which at that time was thought of as a very strange mix, but now has informed the way in which I work now. I went to art school in London for my BA and Masters, with travels in between. I lived in Turkey for a while where I was working on a scuba diving boat, which meant many underwater adventures.

My early career after my Masters around 2010 I was influenced by net.art and post-Internet. During this time, I was working full-time on a computer, experiencing artwork which used the screen as its medium, or artwork that was aware of its circulation on the Internet as an image.

Your work incorporates elements from different scientific disciplines to explore the limit of human perception and speculate about the human and non-human future. Where does this interest come from?

Joey Holder: I think we are all interested in life’s big questions. I am fascinated with other kin and other animals and this led me to think about how humans see the world through certain cultural norms and biological limits. In other words, we see the world by what we have been conditioned to think as well as how our bodies sense it. Within my works, I want to touch on the limits of our own human understanding and how our structures of knowledge can be expanded. We need to hold a wider set of values and belief systems and different perspectives. For example – how can scientific practices be in dialogue with so-called mythological ones? How can we understand the world through other creatures? How can our interface with the rest of the natural world be changed?

Ophiux, Joey Holder, 2016

Photography by Damian Griffiths

What are some of the projects you’ve worked on that you’re most proud of?

Joey Holder: I make work in response to real-world events, what is happening at that particular time, which speculates on future narratives. Adcredo – The Deep Belief Network was a project which investigated the construction of belief in online networks, examining the rise of unjust ideologies and fantasies, and how these are capable of affecting our worldview. As we have seen within recent political upheaval in the last years, popular opinion and attitudes may not be grounded in certain ‘truths’ but are based upon the ‘success’ of ideas and beliefs. This is reflected in the logic of ‘Memetics’, where units of information can be replicated across cultural networks.

Adcredo - The Deep Belief Network, Joey Holder 2018.

Photography by Damian Griffiths

‘I am fascinated with other kin and other animals, and this led me to think about how humans see the world through certain cultural norms and biological limits.’

Joey Holder

Tetragrammaton, Joey Holder, 2016.

Photography by Damian Griffiths

You have previously worked with scientific and technological experts/collaborators. Can you tell us more about how you approach your research and creative process?

Joey Holder: My artwork is fuelled by continued dialogue and collaborations with researchers & practitioners from varied fields. I have worked with computational geneticists, marine biologists, behavioural psychologists & investigative journalists where my artwork has addressed themes including future farming, synthetic biology and deep-sea ecosystems. Working with other people allows me to continue to learn and incorporate other perspectives within my work.

Semelparous, 2020, Joey Holder, curated by Julia Greenway.

Photography by Damian Griffiths

What attracted you to the medium of the digital realm and installation?

Joey Holder: I like to think of my work as a form of ‘world-building’, I make environments rather than shows. I didn’t want it to just exist within art galleries, hanging on walls, but be about the creation of a larger story, with multifaceted elements, across different platforms and spaces. There should be multiple access points for the work, through narrative, information, images, video, websites etc.

The digital realm has changed the way in which I construct and think about my work. Art is something that I no longer have to ‘produce’ but something that can be found or framed. The Internet, Google image searches, seemingly infinite variations of things and forms, makes me think that everything has already been made, so there is no point in creating something new, so I think of my work as just refiltering or reconstituting what is already there.

Mana, 2020, Joey Holder.

You have been working from London, but years ago decided to leave and live in Nottingham. What was the motivation for this change?

Joey Holder: London was killing me, I couldn’t afford the city, and I needed an easier way of life. I was living in my studio for the last couple of years that I lived there, I wanted a home. I guess I am also a country person at heart. In Nottingham, I can easily walk to the forest and find peace.

Creativity happens everywhere, not just in big cities. In the UK at the moment, there is a drive to fund more activities in regions outside of London. During Covid, myself, artist Megan Broadmeadow, Omsk Social Club and a bunch of other collaborators set up SPUR, an online platform to do a similar thing in supporting grads, but this time through online worldbuilding.

Chaos Magic is an artist-run program that offers a space to work and mentorships for recent graduates. You started that project in Nottingham in 2017. How was the experience of setting up that space for upcoming artists?

Joey Holder: Artists need support structures, wherever they are living. There is a lot of misinformation about working as an artist, what it takes, and what you need to do. I wanted to support younger artists and the next generation, so setting up Chaos Magic was about doing this, offering young graduates the platform to use their interests and research to understand how this can be transferred to organizing events, creating exhibitions, and working with others.

Chaos Magic as a practice rejects the existence of absolute truth and instead proposes that reality can be changed, or perhaps created through strong belief. In other words, we could say that if we practice this craft, we are able to manipulate the world around us. I was interested in this idea and how it relates to art making and the potential of art to be a catalyst for change.

‘Art is something that I no longer have to ‘produce’ but something that can be found or framed.’

Joey Holder

What advice would you give to emerging artists who are outside of capital cities?

Joey Holder: Find your tribe. Avoid the term ‘networking’, just find people you can chat with, who share similar interests. It is not about showing your portfolio to museum directors or people you think are in charge. We are not individuals with separate practices, we are shaped by each other. Spend time with other creatives. Spend time on your research and interests and find out how this can be relevant to other people, and why it is important. Find your position.

SPUR WORLD, 2021.

What is something you’d still love to do with your career – any dream projects or collaborators?

Joey Holder: I love working with new people, it’s the only way to learn and understand other perspectives and research positions. The work does not exist in isolation, it has to constantly interface with the world. I hope I can continue to do this in the future. I’m moving to Helsinki in 2023, so I’m looking forward to new adventures.

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