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Interview with Mir Jansen ahead of exhibition opening 27th September

Mir Jansen’s exhibition ‘At Your Service’ will be open in our gallery later this month so we thought it would be nice to introduce her to you all and ask a few questions about the work. Some of you may already know Mir quite well of course; before leaving to concentrate on her own artistic career, Mir worked here at Yorkshire Artspace as Programme Manager for 14 years. As well as running the Residency Programme with Rachael Dodd she helped countless early career artists establish their practice via the Starting Out and Starter Studio Programmes.

Mir has now returned to her own artistic practice and for this exhibition, has chosen to concentrate on the European employees of Sheffield Teaching Hospitals. She has undertaken interviews with the eleven people she chose to paint, asking each of them the same six questions. This has resulted in a deep understanding of the experiences of these European nationals on working and living in the UK today. This work is particularly timely as Brexit and the political wrangling surrounding the negotiations are hitting the headlines daily – but we don’t necessarily hear from the people it will most affect - this exhibition brings lives and stories behind these headlines alive in the gallery space.

You can book your free ticket for the open evening Thursday 27th September - book here.

The exhibition will be open in our gallery at Persistence Works Studios, Brown Street from 27th September – 4th November.

Can you describe your work to someone who may not be familiar with it?

My work is usually informed by people’s stories. I’m an immigrant but I often forget that I am as I have lived in the UK since 1987, much longer than I lived in The Netherlands where I was born. I am interested in the journeys that others have made. It is beginning to be unusual to stay in the places where we were born but in my experience, from listening to others, those places where we have our roots stay dear to us and have defined us. I’m interested in notions of belonging, boundaries, making a place for oneself amongst communities that are not ‘our’. I use paint and different processes to bring these stories to life. Apart from that, I’m also very interested in the politics that surround these debates. Brexit was obviously a particularly poignant moment.

Do you feel Sheffield is a good place to be an artist?

Absolutely. Anywhere is a good place for an artist. This project in relation to Brexit was quite interesting. Sheffield is a city with two universities, a very diverse population. It voted predominantly for ‘Leave’ and it surprised me, saddened me, shocked me even. But I live in an area where there is a lot of poverty, where people live who probably have never voted in their lives and who may think that Brexit could offer a solution.

How did you choose your sitters? Were they people you knew? Did they respond to a call-out? If so, how did you select which people you would paint?

Apart from the first person I interviewed I didn’t know any of them. I tried to organize a call out but I didn’t get anywhere via the HR department and Communications Department of Sheffield Teaching Hospitals so it was all through word of mouth. One person lead to another. In the end I interviewed 11 Europeans. Not all of them from EU countries and some had become British Nationals.

What’s the next project on the horizon for you?

There is a project that I started 2 years ago that has been on hold for a while. I started to work with a Dutch journalist with Indonesian heritage, looking at the colonial migration patterns in The Netherlands and the UK. The Netherlands and the UK have very similar colonial pasts. In fact, I think The Netherlands taught the British a lot about how to colonize and govern, something we shouldn’t really be proud of. So I’m looking for partner organisations and other artists in the UK with links to organisations and artists in the Netherlands. As far as my own work is concerned – I like to further develop the way of making I started for this project. I liked the fact that this project gave me the opportunity to develop a new skill and use of new technology. I have had a love for gothic and renaissance imagery for a while, especially the ‘pedrellas’, which are the small paintings usually at the bottom of gothic and early renaissance paintings. It is early days but I’m hoping that this will inspired some future work, forever learning along the way.

This exhibition was supported by Sheffield Culture Consortium through Making Ways, Funded via Arts Council England Ambition for Excellence

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