Jesson-Hill are the currently London-based artistic duo questioning ideas of society and the human construct through their digital on-screen embodiments of transhuman fantasy vessels in orchestrated mundane realities. Their hypnotising performance in their latest work entitled ‘Circle Time’, an amalgamation of 3 years working together which has grown organically from making Christmas cards as a hobby, was presented at the Central Saint Martins degree show in London, where the pair have both just graduated. The film saw them mould Jesson’s face from jelly, rebirth themselves naked in the fog of the Yorkshire Moors and almost drown alive in a morph suit after painting themselves human. The reactionary nature of their work left their audience confused, uncomfortable, but unable to tear their eyes away from the alternate reality playing out on screen. Sitting down with King Kong in July this year Jesson-Hill begin to unpick and unravel the layers of both their practice and their stimulating video work through vast ideas of performance, theatre and a post-modern approach to audience intervention.
King Kong: Where did you begin with making this film?
Jesson: I think every piece that we do we start it off with these perfect beings and these perfect entities and then every piece we do we become more and more fragmented and reality becomes more and more questioned. We started off with these blonde people with blue eyes and perfect skin and then we became bald, corporate leaders that lived in these virtual realities, and now as we progress more in to reality we’re just this residue of human existence, deformed and infants.
Hill: It’s about transhumanism, we’re like clay or play-dough, we push or pull ourselves or transform ourselves, we re-work and put ourselves together and see what kind of characters or ways we can extend our actual bodies in the work as well.
Jesson: We started off as these digital bodies and I guess in a way we’re trying to make ourselves. We’re still kind of cutting and pasting these elements and ideas but now in a human world not just a virtual world.
Hill: The work began very digitally and we’re now bringing it into reality into a more physical space Jesson: And seeing how that kind of questions this kind of idea of the digital body.
King Kong: There are so many ideas and scenes in the film, do you have a starting point and story board your way before you do it, or does it just happen organically?
Hill: I would say that from the very first thing we did together, making Christmas cards as a hobby it’s become a story board in that everything picks up from the last piece. In some way even if it follows on or it’s just taking inspiration from that piece, it kind of very organically and very naturally becomes one thing. In that when we’re working on one thing we’re already deciding on what the next thing is going to be. We never need to look backwards, we’re always progressing forward.
Jesson: In some ways its like this evolution and yet our characters go through this de-evolution this kind of regression and that’s why this film at the beginning starts with the line ‘I remember when…’ and it has this idea of something happening beforehand as if this was the end and then the actual ending is our birth into the wilderness of the Yorkshire Moors, so it’s just this constant pattern or cycle which just feeds into one another.
Hill: And as well it kind of marks the birth because as we said this is kind of the first time we’ve entered in to the real physical realm in our work, so saying like ‘I remember where I used to live’ it’s kind of looking backwards into this digital womb space and then entering this physical real world.
Jesson: We haven’t spoken about this but I’ve been thinking about this while Jaron’s (Hill) been away, and it’s because we’ve kind of flirted with this idea of this desire for the camera or to be a witness in history or events, but I think that what we’ve done and what we’ve flirted with the idea of in this film and what I hope we continue doing is the camera rather than being just a witness, that it’s implicit in the actual event itself. I think it’s clear when we kind of address the camera and breaking this kind of third wall, the fourth wall, going in and out of performing to the camera and then the next minute being completely dismissive of it. We have this scene where it’s a children’s tv show and it all breaks down and the camera becomes hand held and you can hear the breathing of someone and you’re very aware that someone is kind of orchestrating these scenes to happen. I’m into the idea that we are very much aware that the camera is having an influence in what you’re seeing and you’re always constantly questioning the reality of the scene. Through these different layers or different entrances the windows become a different portal or the tv screen becomes another portal into this world.
Hill: I’ve been thinking something very similar actually, we’re both from theatre backgrounds and I think that we try to no matter what medium we take whether it’s theatre because we’ve thought about going into theatre or it’s film or fine art we always try and put a little bit of each into the other. We’re rearranging the context of what something is or what something is expected to be and we’re breaking down those rules or expectations of theatre, bringing them into film and vice versa as well as fine art as well. It’s making you very aware of the context you’re in because we like to work in fantasy but we also like to place that in a very real situation, so by making the audience hold things or the audience by seeing us physically orchestrating whats happening, it reminds them that it’s not real and we’re expecting them to find the fantasy as reality or we’re giving them a stark representation of this orchestra or this orchestration or this very constructed controlled environment.
King Kong: The film made me feel very uncomfortable at times, and uneasy, do you want people to feel a certain way when they watch your work?
Hill: I don’t know about a certain way, but just to feel a way in how they interpret it, which could be different. I feel even with us the way that Angelina (Jesson) reacts or interprets things is very different to the way I can interpret it and that’s nice.
Jesson: I mean I think that one thing I would say is that I want people to feel that they’re being brainwashed or hypnotised in a way, because we used to do a lot of things that maybe borrowed the language of advertising or like media culture and pop culture and this idea of a television brainwashing you or these things brain washing you. Our films in many ways I think because they enter into these strange landscapes, the mundane everyday, these kind of weird orchestrated other worlds, I hope that you feel hypnotised into these scenes.
I think the film was definitely hypnotising particularly by the characters you create. I was wondering what your characters were inspired by, whether it came from other films or what you draw your inspiration from? Is it just literally things that appear in your own heads or is there something external?
Hill: It all started off as us as the Christmas cards being ourselves, we didn’t want to be anything else and then we evolved into this narrative of this perfect couple and then we took inspiration from this idealistic couple as we progressed.
King Kong: What’s so interesting is the characters are so bold and so strong and you believe in every single one, but at the same time you don’t know how to believe.
Hill: I mean we tried to strip it back from this white picket fence couple and take elements of it away and see how we can still develop these ideas of perfection while taking literally everything that was perfect about them away.
Jesson: I do think that saying characters is almost a hard word to use for them because a character means they have a personality and for me they kind of adopt whatever they need to as a means of survival. They adopt human qualities when actually they’re this transhuman alien species but if they’re going to function in reality they need to kind of adopt these roles of a human, these ideas of female or male. When they’re neither. They adopt all these multiple disguises and these disguises mean that they’re both the implicators in orchestrating these scenes and also just witnesses or versions of moulded realities.
Hill: Well we have this underlying theme of aliens and children, because we like the idea that they’re kind of creatures or vessels or characters that are also just an outside external perspective that are adopting or moulded or camouflaged into what they see around them as a means to fit in. They do fit into something but you’re kind of not sure exactly what that is, and I think we’re not really sure what that is. Other than being the human condition or humanity I suppose.
Jesson: And in our head we had this idea originally that like everything would be moving in these kind of weird ways or squishy or breathing so we channelled ourselves into objects, so that’s why we cast my face out of jelly and people ate it, or in the installation you saw that image of us rotating and that was to do with us being the universe or time, going round and round.
Hill: We’re giving life to these objects while we remain these kind of vacuous canvas’s for you to imprint anything you want onto.
King Kong: The things you mould into in each different scenario fits but doesn’t in a really fucked up way. That scene where you’re dancing in a hall, that’s so unbelievablly mesmerising because your presence is so there but it’s so mundane at the same time. How did all those old people react to you guys filming that scene and how did it come about?
Jesson: I spent about 3 weeks finding the people that looked the most like you would find them in a working mens club and I wrote them this long essay about why you should be in our film, that it was a collaborative piece, and the truth is it was more about them than us. We cast this surreal group of people and although we were leading it, it would’ve just been a dance scene without them. They made it and although we were kind of front stage they were leading it, they were the blank empty stares kind of brainwashing you. They look straight at the audience and you look straight at them, and that relationship that existed was that we were invisible to them and they stared straight at you the audience members. The dance itself wasn’t improvised but we usually work in a way where we have this idea of what we’re going to do and then it breaks down. With the kids TV show we had this idea and it was all very choreographed but then all of a sudden we just had so much fun just pushing jelly into their faces and that was completely improvised where our friend just got so angry because Jaron was just pushing my jelly face into him and he just pushed the camera away and walked away. We felt this control element to us and we got carried away and it became more real life than any of the real life scenes. Like the Yorkshire Moors scene, that was completely choreographed where we had this birthing pit that we made and brought to Yorkshire.
How do you take a birthing pit to Yorkshire? Jesson: Oh my god, with much hassle
Hill: We built it and it was very big and we put it in my dads car and took it to Yorkshire, and it lived in my house for a while and then we built it even more and we carted I can’t remember how many gallons of water into the Moors and yeah it’s still there as far as I know, we couldn’t get it back. We really didn’t want to leave it there but we had no other option because it was so heavy. So somewhere in the Yorkshire Moors there’s just a giant birthing pit.
Jesson: We’d been there all day and it was just after the floods so it was freezing, that’s real emotion on my face, I was crying, I was frozen.
Hill: It was the perfect day for it though in the end because we didn’t expect it. We wanted a clear day and when we got there and the fog was just rolling over the hills and at first we thought that was shit because you couldn’t see the scenery because behind the fog it’s really beautiful, but the atmosphere it created was perfect.
You’re never doing that again are you?
Jesson: Scarred. We tend to put ourselves through a lot of unnecessary pain, like we’re going to get birthed out in the middle of winter, we’re going to get birthed in this gunk and wear only diapers and then go with my silly little heels onto the rocks and it’s all gonna be great and fine…
Are there times where you can’t do what you want to do because it’s physically impossible? Hill: Well we did almost drown Angelina
Jesson: Oh my god.
Hill: So theres a scene where she’s in a morph suit and she paint herself pink or human and then I pour a watering can over her. What we didn’t figure out was that the morph suit and paint and then with the water the paint filled every air hole and what you don’t see is shortly after Angelina just panics and strips off naked and she’s hysterically crying
Jesson: I got stuck in it and it’s so funny and I wish we’d actually shown it because at first I’m really panicking and crying crying so much because I was trying to hold the position and so I’m there thinking 10 second rule, 1,2,3 and then I’m like fuck it! JARON GET ME OUT! And he couldn’t. I’m finally out and then I’m just naked with these nipple things covering my nipples and I’m crying and then I realise that the camera’s still filming and so I get back into the position. It’s a funny little extended scene.
You should keep those, the outtakes.
Hill: A Bloopers reel.
You can view Jesson-Hill’s video Circle Time among other works on their website jesson-hill.com.
Words by Max Tuson.