BA (Hons) Fine Art, Newcastle University final-year student Emma Wiseman speaks to Rachel Marsh.
The first interaction I have with Emma Wiseman’s work is on Instagram. A white egg is declaring that ‘Everything is inside you’ in projected rippling text on a constantly changing rainbow-coloured backdrop. I feel an enormous grin spread across my face and keep watching. When we meet – on zoom of course – Emma is a thoughtful, generous-hearted spirit, stylishly dressed in a Bridget Riley-esque shirt and green headscarf. Their work – fantastical landscapes combining installation, sculpture, moving image, performance and collage – provide “interactive and immersive mind massages”, which I now firmly believe should be made available on prescription.
When someone views or interacts with your work, what experience would you like them to have?
I want it to be an otherworldly, fantastical, immersive experience. I’m creating a safe space… somewhere that’s open and free, where you can take a step back and think about whatever you want. I’m interested in ways to make art interactive, and how that affects people’s experience.
How does the experience relate to the world outside? Is it an escape?
The idea of escape sounds enticing – but it’s not what I want to create. I think it’s important to deal with the difficult issues that are present in the reality we live in. I want people to be inspired by the experience, to see things differently and then when they come out, to change things or approach them in a new, hopefully positive way.
What and who inspires you?
Just being alive and existing is inspiration enough for me. There’s more to our reality than we think there is, especially in terms of our limited senses… so much more in this strange universe than we can imagine or comprehend.
In terms of artists, I’m inspired by Pipilotti Rist. She integrates video and projection to make a really expanded space. The way technology is advancing opens up a means of blurring fantasy and reality. You can be in a real physical space where these strange things happen; it opens your imagination and creates a kind of playful, childlike wonder about the world and what is possible.
More recently, I’ve also become inspired by the psychedelic period of the ‘60s, when everything was colourful and groovy and flowing and wonderful. I’d like to rekindle this feeling – there’s still so much joy and wonder in the world.
Have you had any breakthrough moments in your practice during your degree?
I have mini breakthroughs all the time. I have several different ideas a day and I constantly have to make things as quickly as possible. A lot of my work uses non-traditional materials – my degree show is going to be made of papier-mâché. I thought I’d need to use something that is considered a more ‘valid’ art material – wood or metal or clay – but the Newcastle tutors helped me to think about things differently. And I heard Tai Shani say how she enjoys using other materials because they are non-patriarchal; that definitely resonates with me. Papier-mâché gives me the power to sculpt things in the aesthetic language of the world I’m creating.
Has Covid been a help or a hindrance? How?
It’s strange to talk about Covid being a help… but putting that aside for a second, I definitely think my practice has been influenced by the pandemic. It opened up this void of time for thinking and reflection. Obviously there have been times when I haven’t been able to physically be with the work, but it’s not been too much of an issue, because my work is a world… which is kind of in my head… so it’s always with me no matter where I am. Which is maybe a gift and a curse, who knows? It’s very portable.
In terms of being in the studios, the tutors have been helpful in coming up with loads of cunning plans – in any way possible that is allowed – to let us be in the studios or to have equipment.
Is it scary or liberating to be so personally visible on Instagram?
Instagram was initially a space to document my work but now it’s a place where I can document my style as well. It’s blurred the boundaries between me and this character that’s emerging. It’s very strange how this character is both me, but not me. I’m trying to figure that out, and to incorporate this character into my practice
Any side hustles?
Yes! I run a shop on Depop called Cheese Brain Vintage, which I started during the first lockdown. I sell the clothes I like to wear – colourful, crazy clothes – mainly because I was getting lots of compliments from people. But also, I shop too much. I find so many amazing things and I can’t leave them behind! It blurs with my practice because I’m also bringing these clothes into the characters that I’m creating.
What are your plans for your degree show?
I don’t know exactly how it’s going to look, but it’s definitely going to be my biggest and most ambitious work yet, with sound and projection. There’s going to be sneezing cheese and an egg that will offer philosophical insight into human experience. Or something along those lines anyway!
The ideal would be if people could come in and touch everything, smell stuff and maybe even lick things, and just have this complete sensory overload, but obviously Covid has made this a bit difficult to navigate. I’ve been figuring out ways to do that in the safest way possible. People can still come in and explore and I’m providing costume, so they’re completely immersed in this space.
What are you planning to do next?
The university is helping us to organise a graduate exhibition, which will allow more interaction, which is exactly what I want, and more people will be able to come and see it. I definitely want to study further, and I’m hoping to get a studio when I graduate, and to keep experimenting and creating to continue to develop my practice.
What’s the question I should have asked you?
That question is… What ingredients are in a psychedelic stew?
I wish I had asked that!
My recipe for a psychedelic stew is:
Cheese (for brain fuel)
Mouth with teeth for consuming (by that I mean I see the eyes as mouths and then you get all this visual matter that goes into your brain)
Brain (for thinking)
Ear (for listening).
Degree Show: 5-19 June 2021, Hatton Gallery and Newcastle University Fine Art Department. Pre-booking required. hattongallery.org.uk/
Interview by Rachel Marsh.
1. Emma Wiseman, work in progress for degree show, sculptures and ready-made objects, 2021.
2. Emma Wiseman, Ear Oracle, moving image still, 02:55, 2020.
3. Emma Wiseman, You are a thinker, a looker, a listener, a smeller, a toucher and a taster within this abstract sensory landscape!, collage, 2021.
4. Emma Wiseman, Psychedelic Wizard, portrait of character/ costume development for degree show invigilation, 2021.