Friday, 6 February 2009

One To Watch Elle Harrison

A self-confessed recovering data collector, Glasgow-based artist Ellie Harrison began charting the finer details of her everyday routine as an undergraduate in 2002. Having spent the next 4 years compiling and accumulating vast quantities of personal data, Ellie tells us how this analytical approach to her early work informed her current artistic practice.

Interview by Heather Blair

What initially prompted you to take such cumulative approach to your art-making?

I started this way of working when I was an undergraduate student at Nottingham Trent University. My first major ‘data collecting’ project, Eat 22, began on my 22nd birthday. I remember being interested in ‘the challenge’, the idea of the process of photographing everything that I ate being an endurance performance. After surprising myself that I could hack it, I became addicted to the process, the structure and order the documenting routine imposed on my life. More experiments into different aspects of my daily life ensued.

And what did you learn about the minutiae of your everyday life?

I created a lot of facts and figures naturally. In one year a person like me eats 1640 meals and snacks, travels 9236 kilometres on public transport, walks 2269 kilometres, drinks 559 alcoholic beverages, produces 7784 gaseous emissions and says 142 swear words. The result of this of course is that I now remember the years in which I was documenting far more vividly than any others in my life. Like a sort of alternative diary, these years have become immortalised through the data which they left behind.

In 2006, you decided to move away from introspective data collecting projects; to focus on self-improvement in the pursuit of becoming the perfect artist. What prompted you to do this?

The deciding factor was that ‘data collecting’ was taking over my life. The final major project, Timelines, carried out from 26 June – 23 July 2006 was to document every activity that I did 24 hours a day. It drove me totally crazy. I felt as though I was no longer living my life in the now, the present, but instead was living it second hand via the documentation. My mind had become so focussed on the act of documenting, that I could not really be part of or enjoy anything.

An online element features heavily in your work, how crucial has the internet been in helping to promote yourself as an artist?

I learnt how to design websites in 1999 whilst on my undergraduate course. I built the first version of my website in 2000. What I immediately loved about it was that it became the central focus of my practice rather than a physical place – a studio in London, Nottingham or wherever else. This gave me a lot of freedom for where I decided to live. It also gave me an instant audience, a reason for making work – once it’s online it has the potential to be viewed. I have people contacting me from all over the world as a result.

Any further plans or projects in the pipeline?

I have just moved to Glasgow to study the Masters in Fine Art at Glasgow School of Art. From January – June 2009 I’ll be artist in residence at Plymouth College of Art. I will be working alongside i-DAT at the University of Plymouth to research and develop an exhibition for the Viewpoint gallery at the college from 23 April – 30 May 2009. I am also working on the first publication about my work ‘Confessions of a Recovering Data Collector’ which will be published to coincide with the exhibition.

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