With an interest in species classification and taxonomy, and by using close studies of existing biological structures, Jenna Naylor creates a new world of alien hybridity through research, drawing and sculpture. Larger installations are produced by collecting these creations together, adopting modes of presentation from scientific and botanical specimen display.
Naylor graduated from Staffordshire University in 2015 and undertook a graduate residency with AirSpace Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent, where she had her first solo exhibition in 2016 and now has her studio.
In 2017 she was selected for New Art West Midlands (NAWM) and exhibited at the MAC Birmingham and Wolverhampton Museum and Art Gallery. From her work at NAWM she was awarded The Treeline graduate commission with Salt Road.
Can you explain the motivations behind your practice?
My fascination with the natural world and my need to better understand it has always driven me. My practice is a way for me to consider how we view nature, particularly through the lens of science and biology, and to classify it based on shared characteristics. Whatever weird and astonishing things we can conjure in our imagination, nature always achieves something more extraordinary. Encountering alien flora and fauna, scientific anomalies, and then speculating the wonderful ways evolution has created them, is something I love.
How do you feel about adopting scientific and botanical illustration as disciplines?
Developing my practice using knowledge available within other fields allows me to reflect on my ideas from another perspective within the freedom of art making. The conventions of scientific and botanical illustration are methods I currently use to present some of my ideas and work, but there is so much to learn within these disciplines. I see more and more of these collaborations happening across different fields, such as art and science. An artist adopting a different method of study can open their work up to a whole new skill set, accessing knowledge and ways of thinking they may not have appreciated otherwise.
Your work guesses what something might look based on the ability for science to promote truth. How do you contemplate this mix of fact and fiction?
Putting forward a fictional concept and staging it in a way that usually represents scientific fact is a method I have developed. There is a lot of scope in how I might develop a more serious examination of how things presented under the guise of science can be assumed to be factual. At the moment I prefer to elude to this; my drawings are more obviously fictional and implausible, and I want to put forward the possibility of what could be, using the ambiguity of fictional drawing along with a method of presentation that suggests factual study.
In 2016 you undertook the AirSpace Gallery graduate residency. Was it the period of production and research rather than the chance to exhibit straight after graduating that attracted you to it?
Most definitely. Six months at the gallery allowed time and space to develop my work. It was an opportunity to continue creating work outside of the institution of the university, with a support system in place. Having the solo exhibition at the end of the residency was key in being able to focus and establish a solid context and rationale for my practice.
You decided to keep a studio with AirSpace and stay in Stoke-on-Trent. How has this decision benefited you?
AirSpace Gallery is fairly close to where I live, and with a studio space becoming vacant just as I completed the residency it made sense as I have never had a desire to leave the area. The half an hour drive to the studio is almost like my ‘commute’, it helps me get in to the right frame of mind to create. Keeping a studio at AirSpace is also more of a practical choice; having a dedicated space to work is integral to my practice and my sanity. I would never get anything done if I had to make work at home with so many distractions.
How was it working with New Art West Midlands last year?
Due to my own commitments, taking part in New Art West Midlands 2017 was very intense but exciting. I had four days to create the work within the space at Mac in Birmingham, and also had to install at Wolverhampton Museum and Art Gallery. The teams at both galleries were brilliant in supporting me to realise my ideas and work for exhibition. Now it is over, I have found that there has been continued opportunities and support to help the professional development of recently graduated artists.
Can you talk about the commission to work with Salt Road on the Treeline project – has this perhaps set up a methodology of research for future creations based on micro climates?
Seeing what the aims of the project are and what it is about has definitely opened up new areas of research for me. Micro climates really fit within my interests as an artist, as I like to examine the smaller details of something that is part of a greater whole, such as one of my specimens within a drawing and what the organism’s habitat could be. The commissioned work has opened up the possibility for me to address current concerns within our society: climate change, plastic waste, and our impact upon the natural world in many other ways.
How do you maintain a work-life balance and allow time to concentrate on making work affordably and ambitiously?
Having a full-time job means I have to plan my time effectively in order to be able to create the work I want to make – a skill I am slowly getting better at but have far from mastered. Many artists may see full-time work as limiting. I feel it leaves me the energy to be able to create artwork in the evenings and on weekends, and I can afford materials and a studio space.
I was told by a visiting artist at university that it is OK to have a day job. This is something that has stuck with me ever since. I previously worked part-time, but due to the nature of the job I was left so exhausted I was always too tired to create work. I now have one set evening in the week put aside for studio time, and then go from there depending on the circumstances that week. If I cannot make it to the studio I try not to beat myself up too much and instead focus on family time and socialising, to avoid burn out. I often find that although I may not be in my studio, I am constantly mulling over new information and research, and thinking about new work.
1. Jenna Naylor, ‘The Alien Bestiary’, exhibition view at AirSpace Gallery, 2016. Courtesy: the artist.
2. Jenna Naylor, Misaligned, 2016, detail of work at Studio Artist Exhibition, AirSpace Gallery. Courtesy: artist. Shared on Instagram, Monday 26 March 2018
3. Jenna Naylor, detail of work in sketchbooks. Courtesy: the artist. Shared on Instagram, Tuesday 27 March 2018
4. Jenna Naylor, installation view of work at New Art West Midlands 2017, MAC Birmingham. Courtesy: the artist
5. Jenna Naylor, The Entomologist’s Collection, 2016. Courtesy: the artist. Shared on Instagram, Wednesday 28 March 2018
6. Jenna Naylor, The Chrysalis Collection, 2016, butterfly wings, press flowers (detail of installation at AirSpace Gallery). Courtesy: the artist