Beth Fox

with Inês Costa

‘I was interested in celebrating something that is maybe not a highlight of your life; celebrating how a depressing story, like cleaning someone else’s bathroom, could go through a process of becoming valuable as an artwork.’

Listen to the full interview here:

I’m Beth Fox. I have been making video work since 2019, but I am a multidisciplinary artist without a studio which is why I’ve been making videos.

What are you showing in The London Open 2022?

I am showing a video called BUM SHOWER: ADVENTURES FROM THE GIG ECONOMY (2019). It is a very personal piece of work about when I worked as a house cleaner for a start-up. Very classically, within the gig economy, you work for an app on your phone and you don’t meet any people. It’s like a slightly embellished story about that experience, which was interesting because you’re going into people’s domestic space and doing very intimate work.

One of the themes that I’ve always been interested in my practice for years has been labour and what is valued as labour. I have found, in my own personal life, that the jobs that I get paid the most for are the ones that are the easiest. And the work that you get paid very little for is the hardest labour. That was very much the case with cleaning people’s houses.

In BUM SHOWER I found myself cleaning the house of this couple who were clearly into S&M. I don’t want the video to be misconstrued as a kind of kink shaming. Because actually, the more I went to the house every couple of weeks, I discovered they were fantastically dirty. They were so filthy that I thought this is actually a great way to live. If you’re going to pay for a cleaner, make your house as dirty as possible.

I really hope that the work doesn’t come across as judgemental, because I would rather celebrate the couple. I was also interested in celebrating something that is maybe not a highlight of your life; how a depressing story, like cleaning someone else’s bathroom, could go through a process of becoming valuable as an artwork, as an amusing anecdote. These things do have value, even if at the time it’s not a good experience.

I’ve always enjoyed writing, but I don’t like how the stories exist as writing. I like to put a lot of other stuff with them so they can exist in a different format. Video has been really a great medium to work with. I read a quote by Clarice Lispector recently, where she said that reading her own writing was like eating her own vomit. I related to that.

I would like to start making stuff that doesn’t just exist on a screen. It was a way of working that started because I didn’t have a studio and everything had to exist on a laptop. I would sit on my bed and make work. My work incorporates handmade props and stuff, but they’re all flat, so they can all fit in a box. It has been an amazing way of working because it’s allowed me to do everything that I want to do.

Storytelling and humour are a big part of your work because it comes from text. The visuals come in after to illustrate the joke you’re trying to make. But with your visuals you create a pace and a rhythm of quick associations, like those of stand-up comedy. Can you speak a bit more about that?

I write, I don’t want to say it, like a stream of consciousness. I write very quickly and then I edit it and read it aloud numerous times to try and find an amusing rhythm. Then I like to pack it with lots and lots of visuals, it’s like saturation. We’re oversaturated with images. You’re absorbing all of this stuff constantly. I want to reflect that in the work, but I also think with social media, and particularly with Instagram, we’ve become very aware of what is visually seducing. We like to look at slime, we like to look at puppies, we like to look at things that are brightly coloured. I love to watch people ice cakes. All of this stuff that is visually seductive, I’m interested in that. I often use screen recordings of my own browser because I’ve always got a hundred tabs open. I really like to convey that in the work.

Work in the exhibition:
HD video
07:56 mins

Beth Fox (b. 1986, Dublin, Ireland)
2012 MA Fine Art, Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts, London
2010 BA Sculpture, Limerick School of Art & Design, Limerick
2008 Erasmus Exchange, Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts, Brussels

Selected exhibitions: The Digest Reader, TACO! Thamesmead, London (2021); Soft Focus, SPACE UBERMENSCH, Busan (2021); SPEAK IT, NOW EAT

IT, Re-Vision Arts Festival, Belfast (2021); AIR Open Winners Group’ show, AIR Gallery, Manchester (2020); III Bad Video Art Festival, Zverev Center of Contemporary Art, Moscow (2019); I am NOT tino seghal: THIS WORK, Nahmad Projects, London (2016); My First Retrospective, IMT Gallery, London (solo) (2014); I’M CURATING MY OWN SOLO SHOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!111, DIVUS, London (solo) (2013)

What makes London’s art scene so vibrant? What are the concerns of the next generation of artists? What insight does their work offer in challenging times?

This triennial exhibition showcases a cross-section of the most dynamic artistic talent from across the capital. Established in 1932, this much-celebrated open submission show features 46 London-based artists working across painting, sculpture, moving image, installation and performance.

Since the last London Open in 2018, the city has experienced the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, demonstrations demanding racial and climate justice, and widespread questioning of institutions and their structures.

The London Open 2022 traces the ways in which artists have witnessed and responded to these events with resilience and heart. In times of hardship and crisis, and when exhibitions were cancelled and moved online, these artists experimented with new sites of production and means of dissemination, from the kitchen table to the back garden.

The exhibition is loosely structured as a journey from the personal to the social, moving from individual to collective concerns, the cathartic to the poetic, the political and the environmental.

The artists were selected from over 2,600 entries by a panel of experts including collector Maria Bukhtoyarova, artist Shezad Dawood, curator and art historian Christine Eyene, gallerist Stephan Tanbin Sastrawidjaja, with Whitechapel Gallery curators Emily Butler, lnês Costa and Wells Fray-Smith.

Gallery 1, Downstairs

The relationship between our bodies and the material world kickstarts the exhibition. Rafał Zajko‘s wall-based reliefs appear like hybrid beings, processing the gluten found in wheat and barley flour, leaving us unsure if this is for machine or human consumption.Likewise, Madeleine Pledge‘s stretched fabrics and ceramic boots imply absent bodies and their physical role in manufacturing.

Materiality and belief systems intersect in Candida Powell-Williams’ handmade objects. A unicorn and swing inspired by medieval tapestries are fenced off by a trellis, prompting questions about the divisions between what is mythical and real. Alicia Reyes McNamara‘s paintings feature non-binary, shapeshifting figures drawn from various mythologies, from Meso-America to Ancient Egypt, to consider alternative notions of time and embodiment.

Gallery 9, Upstairs

This gallery features works that delve into the impact of technology, algorithms and quantification on our lives. In his series The Spectre of a World Which Could Be Free  2019, Ben Yau looks at the parallel rise of Neoliberalism and the CIA’s role in sabotaging the socialist government of Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973, bringing together both economic data and declassified documents.

Set in a parallel present reminiscent of sci-fi films such as Blade Runner 2049, The Underlying by Ami Clarke considers the implicit role of capitalism in environmental disaster.

Meanwhile, Rory Cahill and George Mackness offer a walk through a dystopian, corrupted digital landscape of the future, with an immersive soundtrack. They consider: what does a digital wasteland look like, what happens there and what is its afterlife?

Gallery 8, Upstairs

The artworks in this gallery reflect on family, identity and community. Seema Khalique travelled to Bangladesh to photograph two communities of transgender people called hijras. In this behind-the-scenes series, she questions the prejudices they face, revealing the economic hardships they endure alongside the strong network of mentorship and care they create.

Pioneering photographer, curator and writer Sunil Gupta took photographs of his neighbourhood on Walworth Road during lockdown. This work celebrates the increased relevance of our localities during the pandemic, as well as reflecting on the processes involved in created photographic images.

On three vintage TV monitors, Hussina Raja‘s short narrative films look at the subject of migration to the UK from post-Partition India, tracing the continued experiences of displacement and exploring nuanced notions of identity.

The works in the last part of the show focus on our relationship to and impact on the environment. In Agrilogistics (2022), Gerard Ortin Castellvi films in an automated greenhouse, in which the growth of tomatoes, tulips and chrysanthemums is controlled by cameras and sensors, in order to question the future of food production.

Having spent lockdown excavating her back garden, Maria Roy Deulofeu meticulously records each layer of soil like an archaeologist, collecting artefacts and ecofacts, before assembling a kiln to fire hand-thrown urns with the different layers of clay. The process is recorded in a video shown alongside the objects. Finally, a flock of parakeets cast in lead are scattered on the ground in Patrick Goddard‘s Blue Sky Thinking (2019).The parakeet exemplifies a non-native species increasingly common in London parks and hints at a mass extinction event, highlighting mankind’s role in the impending climate disaster.

See the full list of works here.

An illustrated catalogue is available to purchase from the bookshop.

Artists have generously made limited editions to coincide with the exhibition to support the Gallery’s education programme.