BiographyFor a more recent CV or bio please visit the artist's website,
Jan McCullough (B. 1991, Northern Ireland) works with photography, moving image, sculpture and installation. Her work explores how the photographic image can be used to construct and produce new individual and collective expressions of self. She is currently Artist in Residence at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin and Lightwork in Syracuse, New York (2020-2021) and participated in the Freelands Artist Programme at PS² (2018-2020). Her work has been nominated for Pla(t)form at Fotomuseum Winterthur, Switzerland (2018); The Deutsche Borse Photography Prize (2016); The International Centre for Photography New York Infinity Award (2016); and won the British Journal of Photography Breakthrough Award (2016). Her book ‘Home Instruction Manual’, published by Verlag Kettler, was awarded the Kassel Fotobookfestival Dummy Award and shortlisted for the Recontres D’Arles Author Book Award (2016). Recent solo exhibitions include The Centre for Contemporary Art, Derry-Londonderry (2020-2021); Seen Fifteen Gallery, London (2016); Belfast Exposed Futures Gallery, Northern Ireland (2016); and The Gallery, University of Ulster, Northern Ireland (2015). Selected group exhibitions include Freelands Gallery, London (2021); Czong Institute for Contemporary Arts, South Korea (2019); Filter Space, Chicago, USA (2018); Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast (2018); and Landskrona Museum, Sweden (2016).
Cameras organize visual experience, remaking three-dimensional space in two dimensions according to precise structural protocols. Most of the time, the rules of perspective that the lens imposes are not themselves the subject of the image. For some photographers, however, the work done by the apparatus is the focus of their practice. Jan McCullough’s work explores the ways that the camera encounters and transforms built space, and the ways that real space interacts with its own photographic representation. Using sketchbooks, photographs, and installation, McCullough charts a path from object to image and back again, revealing the creative potential embodied in our everyday encounters with lived space.
In photographs of the installation that McCullough built for her recent exhibition, Tricks of the Trade, the raw timber structure that fills the room resembles an architectural drawing that has been superimposed onto a view of the gallery space. These installation shots, in which two seemingly disparate spaces occupy the same image, are more than just documents of her work: they hint at the role that photography plays in her practice as a whole. Photography is the background and backbone of McCullough’s work: a way of mediating her experience of space, and a prompt and a paradigm for creating new spaces. For McCullough, the camera and the photograph are tools not simply for representing objects and spaces, but for reconfiguring their form and function.
Notions of construction and reconstruction play an important role in McCullough’s practice. Much of her early work is based upon instruction manuals and procedures for organizing space. She has a longstanding fascination with the places where we create and assemble things: industrial sites, workshops, sheds, and garages. The arrangement of these sites, and the ad-hoc structures and systems that are created within them, alludes to the more far-reaching ways that we humans locate and establish ourselves in space.
McCullough’s practice has always involved sketchbooks and photographs, including an extensive archive of her own images of industrial spaces. More than just records, the latter is the source of shapes and forms that she further transforms in later stages of her work. Shot with a powerful flash that singles out details from the surrounding environment, McCullough’s photographs reduce individual features to outlines, in much the same way that a “section” in an architectural drawing lays bare the structure of a building by reducing three dimensions to two. Here, the camera acts as an instrument for analyzing and dissecting space. Unlike the dispassion of the architectural section, however, McCullough’s images bring a totemic quality to these fragments.
Using techniques such as photocopying, enlarging, cutting out, and painting on photographs, McCullough transforms individual shapes into new objects and spaces. Until recently, these secondary forms have existed as collages and other two-dimensional constructions. For Tricks of the Trade, however, McCullough has built actual structures in response to and in dialog with her photographs and sketchbooks. Using pattern cutting and industrial assembly techniques, she recreates fragments and sections of space, destabilizing them, transforming them beyond functionality. We can think of these built forms as three-dimensional analogs of her collages. The photograph is not an end point in this process; instead, it plays a more fluid role, transforming and being transformed, part of a series of actions that blur the distinction between the physical and the visual.
Rational and rule-based as it might initially appear, McCullough’s engagement with space is highly subjective—driven by sensory and corporeal dimensions such as colour, texture, and smell, informed by the routines and habits through which particular spaces are laid out and used, and understood in terms of its relationship to the body. With Tricks of the Trade, for example, the lofty structure in the gallery space attempts to recreate the “nest-like” sensation that she experienced in the site where she made the original photograph.
Henri Lefebvre famously distinguished between lived space (those places we occupy and use) and abstract space (space as a political instrument, controlled and traded as a commodity). As a tool for spatial planning, the camera is part of the machinery of abstraction. But in McCullough’s practice, the camera is a means of bridging the gap between abstraction and lived reality, embodying structural rules alongside more subjective qualities such as memory and imagination. Tricks of the Trade makes tangible a commonplace assumption that is more substantial than it might first appear: that the camera is not just a tool for rationalizing space, but also, like any instrument, a means of finding new ways to create it.
Eugenie Shinkle is a photographer and writer living in London, England.
Jan McCullough lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and participated in the residency program at Light Work through a collaboration with the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, in February 2021. www.janmccullough.co.uk