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Digital artist Ellie Niblock on entering the uncertain art world

Ellie outlines life as a soon-to-be art grad: the online exhibitions, the zoom lessons, and the unknown

Graduates on show is a series by Issey Scott interviewing art graduates whose degree shows have been cancelled or postponed to give them the spotlight they deserve.

For the next in my series of interviews, I thought it was rather fitting to chat with an artist working in the digital realm. Ellie Niblock has been studying on the MA Fine Art program at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London. Although she is normally based in London, she is currently back home in Northern Ireland for lockdown.

Ellie talked to me about how the art school experience has shaped her practice, and how she is making the most of online resources and her communities at Central Saint Martins for fresh exhibition opportunities.

Courtesy of Ellie Niblock

Would you like to start with talking a bit about your practice and how this has changed due to the current situation?

I work primarily with sculpture, using layers of materials like polyurethane foams (soft and hard) and resins, and I pigment them to get the vibrant colours. I love texture and materiality, so my work has a lot of tactile qualities. I'm interested in the relationship between the natural and the artificial, and since studying at CSM [Central Saint Martins] I have experimented with digital technology: VR, animation, photogrammetry etc. So during quarantine I am working mostly digitally. Watching countless Youtube tutorials! Also making use of that free Adobe package.

I came back home to Northern Ireland, so I was limited with what materials I could bring with me. I brought some back, so I will just have to work on a smaller scale.

I was looking through the Social Distance Gallery instagram page and thought that there must be so many voices being unheard throughout all of this.

Yep, it’s pretty devastating for us! Myself and a few others are trying to remain as positive as possible… we have been told that we will have a physical show at some point, but it's still hard because we were working toward a specific date.. now it’s unknown.

“...keeping that community together is super important. I miss that; working in the studios together is motivating.“ – Ellie Niblock

Of course. I saw that one or two art schools were offering a virtual degree show but it's obviously not the same. Have CSM agreed to extend your studio dates or is it all out in the open for now?

Yeah, I saw that too… it’s just not good enough! We have been told we are having a virtual show as well as the physical show, but no definite details as of yet. The studio situation is all in the open, we started online learning this week which involves group meetings with our tutors but I’m not sure what else is to come.

How have you found online learning? I was doing a course recently that went online and the drop-out rate was huge afterwards...

It's alright, quite awkward. Just not the same really! Although our course is pretty self directed, keeping that community together is super important. I miss that; working in the studios together is motivating.

Courtesy of Ellie Niblock

Have you found that community spirit has manifested itself any differently in the virtual realm?

We have had regular zoom meetings and I am keeping in touch with my studio mates on facetime which is really nice. A small group of us have also organised our own virtual show which is launching on 30th April. So we are trying to use the time well!

The virtual show sounds cool, can you tell me more about it?

Yeah, our classmate Sian has gathered images of our work and basically the viewer is able to walk through the online gallery space and view the works from a computer! It's also got the same layout as the Lethaby Gallery, where our degree show space would be. It isn't our final degree show work, but a work in progress. It's a good platform to show some work while this is happening.

I'm trying to stay busy and keep making my work as if the show is still happening in May, otherwise I will never finish it! It's a good way to stay motivated; it’s not the whole student group, just a few of us who have similar research interests.

“I'm trying to stay busy and keep making my work as if the show is still happening in May, otherwise I will never finish it!“ – Ellie Niblock

It’s a great idea to have practices with similar themes exhibited together in this way; what is the tie that brings all the work together?

All of us have this fantasy or surreal element to our work; we work with painting, sculpture, AR and moving image and the idea is that each of us draws the viewer into our worlds. It's called Portal1.0.

Check out Ellie’s work on Instagram and view the virtual show Portal1.0. online at:

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