Kickstarter thank-yous by Emily Sparkes


Earlier this summer I launched my very first Kickstarter in the hopes of showing my work at Open Out festival in Tromsø, Norway, where 2 of my artworks had been selected for a group exhibition.

74 backers pledged £4,909 of my £4,265 goal which allowed me to courier both of my massive paintings, Tintorest and FREAK (Minturnae), to the festival over 2000 miles away, as well as allowing me to fly to Norway to visit the festival myself.

This was my first international exhibition and I reckon the show was a real success, being bumped up to a solo show for a 2 week run at the Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum, which is the country's most northernmost art gallery. In addition I met some wonderful people and got to experience the beauty (and extremely high beer prices) of Norway and this would not have been possible were it not for my backers.

Pledges ranged from £1 to a whopping £2,300!! But whatever the pledge, a HUGE thank you to every one of my backers for taking the time to back the campaign, for supporting me, and for allowing me to reach this next stage of my career. You are all wonderful.

Tusen takk (thanks) to:

Olivia Basterfield
Margarita Zarenkova
Lucy Dennison
Rex Basterfield
Emma Harrison
Jack Dugmore
Gill Watson
Professor Johnny Golding
Tom Lawes and the gang at The Electric Cinema
Steve Maddison
Mimi Adams
Ally Standing
Karen Horsley-McKay
Amanda Imus
Kate Hook
Leah Dennison
Karen Whitfield
Sylvia Gill
Lesley Gabriel
Barnaby Adams
Kat Preston
Laura Chapman
Katt Wade
Scott Clair
Adam Carver
Frederick Hubble
Jane Anderson
Jo Fursman
Karina Cabanikova
Julia Bloomfield
Georgina Coley
Matthew Geddy
Navi Kaur
Lucy Andrews
Stephanie Geddy
Milly Morris
Rebecca Curtis
The Creative Fund (CA)
Sophie Georgiou
Guy Hallam
Paul Wright
Rachel Cockett
Trevor Pitt
Sophie Sparham
Sarah Waldron
Catharine Cary
Sevven Kucuk
Sarah Walden
Maddie Cottam-Allan
Terri Mc Sweeney
Linda Lamb
Tom Coakes
Sandra Hill
Claire Robinson
Michael Squire
Mickey Sparkes
Michael Kennedy
Joanne Westwood
Ian Standing
Christopher Ward
Dr. Mattia Paganelli
Dr. Joseph Lilley
Hannah Ziolek
Thomas Kilby
Hannah McCombie
Mike Willner
Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions and loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife (Jon Bell).
Rich Coates
Samuel Savage


FLIGHTMODE by Emily Sparkes

Images from the opening night of FLIGHT MODE, the second cross-School MPhil and PhD research platform initiated by the RCA's School of Arts and Humanities

Opening: 28 June, 7–10pm
Assembly Point, Peckham.

Photography by Sotiris Gonis.

Inspire 2018 by Emily Sparkes

I will be on the judging panel for Inspire 2018, a Youth Arts competition at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery in collaboration with the Arts Council England! Find out more here.

Inspire 2018 Poster.png

Little Monsters by Emily Sparkes

I will be showing my painting Nutella #2 as part of the Little Monsters exhibition next month!

little monsters e-flyer

It Came from YouTube! 

The Creature from the Chocolate Spread Lagoon! 

Taken from Youtube user CemreCandar ’Bathing in 600lbs of Nutella’, this painting explores how the use of the Internet and digital technologies makes monsters through the likes of memes, video clips and other shareable images, by emphasising absurd humour, hyperbole, and hysteria. Furthermore, our contemporary dependence on the screen can also provide a rationale for a re-examination of the canvas and of painting.

nutella 2

Nutella #2
oil on canvas
18 x 24 cm


See Facebook event here


Venice 2017 review (a-n article) by Emily Sparkes

The original article was published by a-n here.

Erwin Wurm, Just about Virtues and Vices in General, 2016 – 2017

Venice 2017 review: 26 recommended pavilions, shows and individual works

We asked this year's Venice Biennale a-n travel bursary recipients and AIR Council members attending the biennale preview to tell us what their highlights were. They came back with 26 different recommendations – and a few repeats.

Paul McCarthy and Christian Lemmerz: New Media (Virtual Reality Art), Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore.
Provocative, disorientating and fairly gross VR experiences. Pro tip: be wary of eating too much gelato before a: experiencing VR and b: crossing to and from San Giorgio.

Taus Makhacheva, Tightrope, Viva Arte Viva exhibition, Giardini.
This wonderful video, Tightrope, sees the descendent of a famous tightrope dynasty ferrying 61 reproduction oil paintings between two mountains. Wonder, anxiety, tension, and beauty at the highest level, it has somewhat struck a chord with my own experience navigating my first Venice Biennale.

Rachel Maclean: Spite Your Face, Scotland + Venice, Chiesa di Santa Caterina.
Warped yet all too familiar, Maclean’s newest green screen video work is a fantastical vision of contemporary politics, celebrity and truth telling, which has her 21st century reinterpretation of Pinocchio wanking off his own nose.

Emily Sparkes


Image: Erwin Wurm, Just about Virtues and Vices in General, 2016 – 2017
Performative One Minute Sculpture, Beitrag Österreich-Pavillon /
Contribution Austrian Pavillon, Mixed Media, Caravan, Furniture Pieces
H 245 x B 205 x L 592 cm | H 96 1/2 x B 80 2/3 x L 233 in, Unique.
Photo: Eva Würdinger, Copyright: Bildrecht, Vienna 2017

In Venice with... Rachel Maclean! by Emily Sparkes

This article was originally posted on a-n here.

During the opening week of her Scotland + Venice film, 'Spite Your Face', artist Rachel Maclean spoke to Emily Sparkes about politics, inappropriate nose-touching and pasta pomodoro.


It’s been over a year since I caught up with Rachel Maclean. Since then, she has been selected to represent Scotland at this year’s Venice Biennale, and her recent exhibitions include: ‘Wot u :-) about?’ (2016), Home, Manchester and Tate Britain, London; ‘We Want Data’ (2016), Artpace San Antonio, Texas; Feed Me (2015), British Art Show 8 (2015) and currently featured in ‘I WANT! I WANT!: Art & Technology at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery.

Last time we spoke, it was at the CCA Café in Glasgow. After chatting for well over and hour, and heading to the till to pay, I handed over my card to be told that it was a cash bar.  Quickly sensing my utter horror and embarrassment, Rachel cheerfully paid for our coffees, in what I consider a true gesture of Scottish hospitality. This time around, in a sunny hotel courtyard in Cannaregio, Venice, accompanied by my partner, Greg, and occasionally interrupted by Queen’s Greatest Hits, I again caught up with artist, Rachel Maclean. And we bought her two coffees.



E: I love the green hair! So, how’s everything going?


R: Thanks! Good! It’s exciting to have it set up and it’s at that stage where not many people have seen it yet, but it’s nice to get some reactions, I don’t think you really know yourself what a work is yet until people have seen it.


E: We popped in (Chiesa di Santa Caterina) earlier, it took us a few minutes to adjust, it’s so dark in there compared to outside! The film’s somewhat site specific in the way that it features the alter piece of the church. How did the choice of location come about?


R: It was great in that we got to select a space for the work, and the film came about from thinking about the space. I was interested in using the aura of the church and the altar piece, and quite a lot of my work in the past has used religious imagery. It’s an interesting context, and it’s quite a different proposal to working with a white cube or a black cube, or something that’s notionally neutral.


E: The whole film is so “Venice”. We’ve been mooching around the Grand Canal and we’ve spotted plenty of rhinestone-encrusted tourist caps that look as though they could have fit the theme, what was the process of sourcing costumes?


R: I came here for about a week and a half at the beginning of December and started working on a script, and at the same time, thinking about how I wanted the characters to look. Some stuff I bought in Venice, but it was more the colours of the work that came from Venice and somewhere between looking at Baroque churches and then also these luxury stores, the obscene sort of areas of Prada, Gucci, and department stores of glittery looking expensive stuff. So I was quite interested in playing with that gold and glitter in the sense of luxury, but what the costumes are made of is much more… pound shop, and kitsch, and it’s really just the illusion of luxury, if there is one at all!


E: It’s strange here, you can walk through the residential backstreets that are much more lived-in and run-down and then you turn a corner and you’re outside The Disney Store, it’s quite disorientating.


R: Yeah, the luxury tourism is quite jarring, and you don’t encounter that very often, at least not in Glasgow!


E: The Pic character seems to stand for so many disparate ideas, or as many ways of framing the same problem. The nose is wealth, but it’s also sex, and lies, is it important to have different ways in to your work?

R: Yeah, I want all the characters to feel kind of fluid, and there’s often very sudden kind of genre changes in the film, and sudden changes of character which are inconsistent. I was interested in using Pinocchio because it’s very well known in Italy and it’s not a niche reference point. The growing nose is such a clear signifier of lying, that it’s very direct visual communication, so there’s something that’s on one level very direct and accessible, but beyond that you can start layering things that make it more complicated. So, the nose becomes this phallic thing, it becomes a symbol of power, it changes a lot from simply indicting lying.


E: And that the longer Pic’s nose grows, not only does his social status increase, but his sense of smell gets more and more intense to the point that he can smell the stench of poor! It’s god-awful and it’s so smart on your part. I know when we last spoke, you mentioned the importance of making work that doesn’t function as propaganda. but do you think now with the UK snap election, the rise of Trump and Brexit, is it more important for you to take a definite political stance?


R: I think I’ve always wanted to take a political stance in my work. But I think with everything you’ve said, as well as the Scottish referendum, I’m wanting to take a political stance, but not to align myself with a political party. I think often it’s dangerous when your start aligning yourself with a party because you can’t control what they say, and you have more liberty to make your own points, make your own message. So I did want there to be a political commentary in the work, so it doesn’t feel like it’s on the fence, but not that it’s propaganda for a particular party or politician.


E: The Biennale is so international, and Spite Your Face sees your characters speaking in several different languages. How easy was that to mime?


R: It was quite difficult, yeah! We edit away from that a lot! But I was quite keen that it was the Scottish Pavilion but that it’s not a work that’s specific to Scotland, and the reference points aren’t specific to Scotland. I wanted to talk about what seems to be happening simultaneously in different countries, the rise of populism, the rise of the alt-right, it’s taken different forms in Britain than the US, France to Greece, but you can see overlaps and I wanted to do something general that touched on things that are happening in different places at the same time.


E: Also, the film is shown on a loop, but this work in particular seems very cyclical, like you can’t escape it and it’s just going round and round, in a sort of hopeless or helpless way…


R: I was interested in narratives used by politicians and national narratives, and the ways in which with Brexit and Trump and other situations, when there’s a powerful narrative, and you lie to substantiate that narrative, disproving those lies doesn’t necessarily affect the power of the narrative itself. At an abstract level, a story can have a layer of truth, that It doesn’t necessarily truly have. So, I was interested in playing with this rags to riches narrative which I think is in so much of our culture, and this Britain’s Got Talent style vision of success where it’s all about pursuing an idea of wealth and fame and the sense that’s built into it that if you can dream it, you can do it. Or, if you work hard enough you can make it. It’s at some level a compassionless narrative that ignores all the socio-economic barriers to success, and imagines that success is just a power of will, and this also creates a very specific notion of what success is. That narrative usually ends at the point that you’ve risen from rags to riches but the sense of coming back down and repeating itself again and again is a bit dizzying and sick-inducing and uncomfortable. It’s almost as if the desire to have that end-point is never satisfied, so hopefully for the viewer its in some ways unsatisfying in a good way.


G: Yeah, we got back to the point that we came in on and we’re like “oh god, okay!”


E: What was your thinking behind the points where everything tips and falls, kind of like the turning of an hourglass?


R: I was thinking quite a bit about how with portrait format you’re dealing less with left and right and more with above and below. So it feels like heaven and hell, or a religious or utopian dream of something good being above and reality sitting beneath that, or hell sitting beneath that. Also, thinking about that in relation to the church, and I quite like that idea of the world turning upside down, and I wanted it to have that religious reference.


E: Greg, did you want to say something about the aspect ratio?


G: Yeah, watching the film in the church is like watching it on an iPhone in portrait mode, so the parallels that came to me straight away were things Facebook Live. It seems that so many people get so their facts and opinions from people on Instagram or YouTube celebrities…


R: Yeah, and there’s that bit (in the film) where Pic is making a speech and you see it being transferred through phones and tablets and there’s the sense of being part of a larger network. And there’s a part in the film where you get a sense of Chinese Whispers almost, where this truth is disseminated and becomes something else.


E: That scene really hits home, I think. And it seems that each new film you make is running with what’s popular and reflecting it back…


R:  Regurgitating it back!


E: But It makes you feel quite comfortable watching it in a sense because the format is easy to relate to.


R: Yeah, I wanted some of the levels to be accessible and things that you recognise but it’s a little but weird, or not quite right, but you’re comfortable enough that you know what world you’re in. But yeah, the portrait format was interesting because it makes so much sense that if you’re making films with people in them that you mainly shoot in portrait, and I wonder whether that’s something that will develop out of iPhones…


E: I also wanted to ask you how many people were in the room when the, ahem, nose wank happened?


R: Oh yeah! I had to get the producer to do that, I think she was more traumatised by it than I was! But I think there were about ten by that point, but film shoots are weird, because you just need to get it done,


E: “Don’t worry about it, just wank my nose!”


R: Yeah! I worked with a woman called Natalie who did some of the nose-wanking which I also feel quite guilty about! But she was great, totally game.


E: Things you do in the name of art… Before we go, I wanted to ask you if there are other things that you’re keen to see at the Biennale?


R: I haven’t had a lot of time to look at anything yet, I’ve been in this weird mode, but I really want to see Jessie Jones’s show, the Irish show, I’ve seen little bits and pieces and that looks very powerful and very political. And James Richard’s show for the Welsh Pavilion, I really like his work.


E: Well I am sure you have been run off your feet, the show is just wonderful. Anything else you’ve been enjoying in Venice otherwise?


R: What am I enjoying in Venice? I’ve been eating spaghetti Pomodoro non-stop! It’s amazing. Breakfast lunch and dinner: spaghetti Pomodoro!



Rachel Maclean: Spite Your Face is a collateral event of the 57th Venice Biennale, Chiesa di Santa Caterina, Fondamenta Santa Caterina, 30121, Cannaregio, 13 May – 26 November 2017, h 10 – 18 (closed on Mondays).

Rachel Maclean: Spite Your Face will be exhibited at Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh (February – April 2018) and at Chapter, Cardiff (October 2018 – January 2019).



Emily Sparkes is an artist, painter and practice-led PhD student at Birmingham School of Art.

Image by Emily Sparkes, with drawings by Emily Sparkes and Greg Basterfield.

sitcom laughing (opening night) by Emily Sparkes

From the opening night of my second solo show, sitcom laughing.

Thursday 4th May 2017

Photography by Paul Stringer


See Facebook event here


By Emily Sparkes

 October 18, 2016


When I was invited to Frieze as part of the Artists’ and Curators’ Development Programme by the New Art Gallery Walsall and New Art West Midlands, I hadn’t been since 2011. Back then I was a wide-eyed first year art student. “Look at all this crazy art!?” I said. Oh, how we laughed. Since then I have completed two degrees and committed myself to a practice-based PhD, barricading myself in the School of Art in a fortress made of dense philosophy books stuck together with post-it notes. My understanding of art and of the art world has developed somewhat, although I’m still painting, which is usually ditched within that crucial first year of art school when one realises the potential for doing highly experimental performance pieces and using expanding foam. But I am a painter at heart. I have also acquired a goat.[1]


Frieze attracts a very respectable 60,000 visitors a year, presumably all human, and now perhaps it’s first goat. But our entry to the fair was smooth, since we’d arrived relatively early, and as it turns out, virtual goats enter free. Would a goat even be called out at an art fair with so many other strange things going on? This year’s strange goings-on included actors playing American cops, a mime-waiter, a crammed fake atelier at Hauser & Wirth and a chintzy socio-political installation in the Portaloos. So no one seemed to bother with Goatfried Leibniz (yes, isn’t it a charming name) as we mooched around the tent, holding our free copy of Frieze Week and trying our best to look legit.


Our visit to Frieze reminds me of Mark Tansey’s painting The Innocent Eye Test and Arthur C. Danto’s critique of the painting from his book Beyond the Brillo Box (1992):


The Innocent Eye Test is a wry and witty painting by the American artist Mark Tansey, which depicts, in mock seriousness, a scientific experiment which could easily have taken place. A cow has been led into a picture gallery in which we see two identifiable paintings - Paulus Potter’s The Young Bull of 1647 and one of Monet’s grain-stack paintings of the 1890s. Tansey’s painting, which looks as if it was painted in perhaps 1910, was in fact done in 1981. So the time of the execution and the time in the execution tend to put the viewer’s eye to a test, and there is a sly question as to whether it is Tansey’s painting itself or what his painting depicts that is the innocent eye test.[2]

In this fictional circumstance, Tansey and Danto ask whether the cow is seeing other cows or just “flat stains of colour”. Danto, fixated with the differences between ‘artifice’ and ‘reality’, decides that perhaps an animal is capable of being responsive, the ‘innocent’ eye seeing Potter’s cow as a cow, just as it sees the cow in a field. However Tansey’s cow is incapable of seeing the painting as art since that kind of ‘pictorial competence is not a perceptual skill wired in but a matter of being located, as animals are not, in culture and history’[3]. To put this idea to the test I pointed Goatfried in the direction of Damian Hirst’s Black Sheep (2007). Would the goat consider it an art piece or just see a sheep? Do different styles and mediums demand different responses, as with the cow observing Potter and Monet: ‘is the cow indifferent to these differences? Would she salivate before the grain stack as she grows vaginally humid in tribute to the bull?’[4] Heaven forbid would Goatfried pursue the pickled corpse? I worried that this was all rather upsetting for him, but he soon moved on, perhaps feeling despondent with Hirst’s gross over-commercialization of his own practice. However, the most interesting question for me is whether Goatfried, if he were in fact sentient, would be able to see anything at all…


Using virtual (as opposed to augmented) reality software is somewhat of a vanishing act; once using the headset you are unable to see your own body around you. VR promises to engross users and elicit visceral and emotional responses: one is able to move and perform actions as a mind without a body in endless environments. As an augmented creature, Goatfried is also removed from our reality, accessed only through an application and represented in the photo above. So although we can see Goatfried through the medium of my iPhone, our physical world is uninhabitable for him without technology, his body belongs to a different dimension that is not directly perceptible. Jon Rafman’s Transdimensional Serpent (2016), at the Seventeen booth at Frieze, is a virtual reality video art installation that takes fairgoers into a world constructed by the artist. Hypothetically, would Goatfried be plunged into an immersive environment of sounds and visions, as the difference between the red pill and the blue pill, able to see himself and the world around him for the first time? Unfortunately I couldn’t quite figure out how to get the headset on him.


With the potential for virtual reality increasing, VR systems are being touted as tools for treating post-traumatic stress disorder; fear of public speaking and for training surgeons, astronauts or football players. A seemingly sci-fi but perhaps plausible vision of the future would be that we’d all view the world through the cipher of augmented or virtual reality software, perhaps in the form of glasses, or microchips directly in the eye. This could allow us to see people as their avatars and not as their physical selves, or just as they were when they were young and beautiful. We could inhabit our own individual altered worlds in which things are more colourful, or less logical, with no litter and better weather, or with kaiju stomping about, smashing up the infrastructure. I ask Goatfried, does he not find it fabulous that at some point in the future he could be imbued with artificial intelligence and reacting back to me in VR? With free will, he could roam around at his leisure and I could come find him like Goatémon Go, maybe ride around on his back like Goat Simulator[5]. And then perhaps we won’t have to travel to Frieze at all; I could sit in my bedroom for 4 hours with a VR headset on, load up the Frieze 2023 program and buy virtual artwork to furnish my augmented house. Will I be able to afford art by then? Will there be a discount on virtual art? What is authenticity? This overwhelming new world of potential opportunities comes with its own ethics, new laws and fresh hells. If Donald Trump’s political campaign is anything to go by, we care less and less about facts, content to live in a simulacrum where “the truth” is highly subjective and reality can be bent and twisted to create an environment more palatable. Is Tansey’s cow’s perception of the painting the same as our conception of future virtual / augmented reality, will we be able to tell the difference?


I discussed all this with Goatfried but he just stared back at me. He seemed pretty nonplussed, so I took him for a look around the sculpture park.


In conclusion, most areas of Frieze seem very goat-friendly and the food & drink was excellent. I had the spicy gazpacho pressé, ogleshield churros and gremolata, and Goatfried had the organic Blackcurrant Soda, cauliflower dosa, mango chutney and coconut sambal. 10/10



[Further musings] Some facts about goats that I contest make them excellent art students [6]

·       Goats are social animals, however unlike sheep, which they are closely related to; they are not flock-orientated. 

·       Goats are very intelligent and curious animals. Their inquisitive nature is exemplified in their constant desire to explore and investigate anything unfamiliar that they come across.

·       Goats have excellent coordination. They have great balance and are thus able to survive in precarious areas such as steep mountains. They can even climb trees and some species can jump over 5 feet high.

·       The goat is one of the 12 Chinese zodiac animals. It represents introversion, creativity, shyness and being a perfectionist.

·       The Latin ‘Capra’ is the root of the word ‘capricious’ which means quirky, whimsical, fanciful and apt to change suddenly.

·       Like sheep, a goat’s eye is rectangular rather than round. They have excellent night vision and will often browse during the night.

·       Goats discovered coffee! Apparently in Ethiopia a goatherd saw goats behaving more actively and energetically after eating from a particular bush. He then tried it himself and felt uplifted, awake and full of energy.


[1] See: AugmenteDev (2016). Augment (Version 2.15.4) [Mobile application software]. Retrieved from

[2] Arthur C. Danto, Beyond the Brillo Box: The Visual Arts in Post-Historical Perspective (Berkeley, London and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1992), 15.

[3] Danto, Beyond the Brillo Box, 21.

[4] Danto, Beyond the Brillo Box, 16.

[5] ‘Goat Simulator is the latest in goat simulation technology, bringing next-gen goat simulation to YOU. You no longer have to fantasize about being a goat; your dreams have finally come true!’
See: Coffee Stain Studios (2016). Goat Simulator (Version 1.8) [Mobile application software]. Retrieved from

[6] See: OneKind. “Goat.” Accessed October 18, 2016.  

Workshop @ Research Matter(s) Conference by Emily Sparkes

Back in July I was asked to deliver a workshop as part of the 'research matter(s): Conversations about research in Arts, Design and Media' conference organised by the pgr studio. As a way to articulate my research process, by way of rethinking the traditional paper format, I organised a 40 minute tableau vivant workshop which invited participants to (per)form group poses based on figurative paintings. Around 50 images were available to choose from, ranging from the 1400's (Da Vinci's Last Supper) to the contemporary works (Big Swans by Yue Minjun).

In the great tradition of Cards Against Humanity, I also included some cards to pair with the pictures, for the more adventurous participants. These included '...the slapstick version' ' ' the style of street fighter' ' zero gravity' '...mid-sneeze' '...embarrassed by your nakedness' and '...but you're the Kardashians'. Pens, paper and office supplies were available, as well as whatever else we could find in the room, in order to make shoddy props and costumes. We kept the prep time short, and held each tableaux for around a minute each, since it is the nuances of the images that come from the manic, amateur nature of the staging and the duration of the pose, that are often the most interesting and worthwhile aspects.

'Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy' by David Hockney (1971)

'Las Meninas' by Diego Velázquez (1656)

'David with the Head of Goliath' by Caravaggio (c.1610) [the porno version]

'Madonna of Chancellor Rolin' by Jan Van Eyck (c. 1435)