by Holly Willats

Liam Jolly is an artist with an expanded practice that brings many cultural languages together and thus finds ways to reach audiences far beyond the gallery. Alongside his art practice, Jolly has established a career in the music industry as a drummer and a promoter of live events and festivals. Not only this, but he also set-up and runs the artist project space, Auction House in Redruth, Cornwall. These different avenues have a clear link in bringing people together, in hosting, and creating communities; a focus that carries through into Jolly’s art practice. Jolly seeks to reimagine how art can be experienced by an audience, and explores where the edges of an artwork sit: when is something an artwork and when is it not, and who decides? Jolly looks at how an artwork performs; the works themselves behaving almost like props to act out this exploration. With this, the artist challenges the hierarchies around artist/musician > gallery/stage > viewer/crowd; testing out the power-dynamic between artist and audience.

Angel Voices | Liam Jolly | 2020

In several works, Jolly brings the artwork out of the gallery and creates encounters that reach wide audiences. His piece, ‘Mona Lisa’ (2011) presented what seemed to be a gig review in the local newspaper, written by Jolly under an alias, but which could also be deciphered as a description of the Mona Lisa. Jolly’s representation of the most famous painting in the world was printed and distributed across Cornwall via +100,000 copies of the newspaper. Through this slippage Jolly gently questions, where people’s experiences of art have to take place. It may be unlikely that a reader of the paper would have pieced this puzzle together but this perhaps unnoticed work still lightly touches on someone’s everyday.

Mona Lisa | Liam Jolly | 2020

Mona Lisa | Liam Jolly | 2020

This concept is taken further in a later work, The Buskers (Blister in the Sun), (2016), for which Jolly positioned musicians along different points of the main thoroughfare in Redruth, each playing the same song. Passers-by may have encountered the Violent Femme’s Blister in the Sun on repeat as they moved through the town; an uncanny moment of realisation dawning on them when they heard the tune for the third time but from a different busker...

If this were seen in a gallery setting, the location would help to define it as an artwork, but by being in an everyday, shared public environment the boundaries of the work are disturbed; just like the ‘Mona Lisa’ piece, it may in fact go completely unnoticed. What does this mean for the work, can it exist without an audience? The dynamics between artist and audience are stretched: the artwork becoming less of a public presentation but more like a glimpse backstage.

The Buskers (Blister in the Sun) | Andrew | Liam Jolly | 2016

The Buskers (Blister in the Sun) | Mog | Liam Jolly | 2016

Levelling out the often unbalanced dynamic of artist and audience is also key to As you like it (2011). For this piece, Jolly invited an audience to stand in the street-facing window of a disused shop. This audience watched the high street from their stage, as daily life took place in front of them. Similarly, those going about their errands observed the audience through the window- frame. Looking at us: looking at them. Where does the artwork begin, and where does it end? Who is the audience now? Edges become blurry.

This performative quality is evident still in Jolly’s gallery exhibitions or in the studio, and Jolly employs a painting practice in the studio as a platform to stitch ideas together. The stereotypical imagining of an artist, is that of a painter; Jolly plays to this by using the format of painting as a way to think through things and to communicate the concept of an idea. His painting works follow rhythms and patterns that have a mechanics to them; such as his making of paintings to metronome. Painting is the constant in Jolly’s practice and they act as sketch books for new ideas to unearth.

Today Was A Good Day | Liam Jolly | 2021

In 2012, Jolly took part in an Open Studio event at his studio-block. Feeling at-odds with the experience, two years later when the event was repeated Jolly tried something different. He emptied his studio entirely and invited a group of performers to replace the works; standing where the works had been, they collectively discussed in-detail the works that had hung there. This was the one-hour performance piece, I’m fed up of looking at things – an artwork to encounter as visitors came into the studio or eavesdropped as they walked through the corridors, ‘looking at things’. This tongue-in-cheek twist made the studio a stage and the audience the artwork.

Jolly surveys the role of the artist as performer and the audience’s expectations for the delivery of the work. Perhaps similar to the methods of promotion he uses as a music promoter, for the later

work between us (2017) Jolly plays with tools of promotion to build an audience expectation. In the lead-up to the exhibition opening of between us, Jolly used install shots of constructed works in a staged exhibition as promotional images to encourage people to come to the actual show: to act as teasers for their expectations. When they arrived, they were in fact greeted with a film of this staged install (watch here) with an audience viewing the work – the gallery that they had seen in the promotional images now devoid of ‘the’ exhibition, but instead relics of this show were left, including a newspaper advert of the exhibition that used one of the install images, and a row of t- shirts: non-event ‘merch' with URLs printed on them that linked to those staged promotional images again.

Between Us Installation | Liam Jolly | 2017

Between Us Single Channel Film | Liam Jolly | 2017

The exhibition the audience had anticipated was lacking in reality and instead they were part of a performance that sits on those blurry edges again of where the work begins and ends. The audience’s expectations of the event brought to the forefront; that twenty-first century trope of having been fed so many images of the exhibition beforehand that the reality is almost disappointing. Jut like the Mona Lisa, the image of which has been reproduced so many times that visitors to the Louvre are often said to be almost deflated at the small scale of the work.

Those who Jolly had invited to the event who could not attend will assume that they still experienced the work through the promotional images. Instead, the audience that attended were in fact invited backstage: to see the ‘real’ work as it were.

Jolly plays with a remote audience, and the space between online and offline again in Share & Share Alike (2020): a series of works that were shared on Instagram. Whilst appearing like new works that Jolly had just finished in the studio and was posting to gauge friends’ reactions, the works displayed are in fact Photoshopped versions of parts of numerous works scattered across the studio: all elements of real works but remixed together, only existing as these collaged works online.

Share & Share Alike | Liam Jolly | 2020

As in between us, the artwork becomes a prop to question the value of an art practice, and how it is perceived. Social media has increasingly become a space for artists to share their work and gain recognition - now more than ever with ongoing COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions - which despite having positive aspects to it, can encourage the building of facades and false narratives. Jolly flips this idea on its head: making-do with what he has to hand, he plays this game by creating works solely for a virtual reality.

Through these works, Jolly juggles different cultural languages as a way to talk to people outside of the white cube. In 2018, he was awarded the Exeter Phoenix, Artist Moving Image Commission, for which he produced the piece Amen Brother. Amen Brother mixes the languages of sport, music and visual arts, and thus brings people together from different communities. The origin of this work came from Jolly meeting his half-brother for the first time. Despite not growing up together, Jolly found that he and his brother are extremely similar, in fact almost the same, but with a difference: one liked art, and one liked football. In a gesture to better understand the language of sport, and therefore a part of his brother’s life and a language that he did not feel connected to, Jolly made this film; which in turn, offered his brother an insight into his world.

The title plays on the song, ‘Amen Brother’, from which the Amen Break was lifted: the most sampled drum break in history, which formed the basis of many Hip Hop tracks and the sub genres of contemporary music that subsequently followed. Jolly wanted to remix this break through artworks and to then bring these artwork samples back to the drum kit.

Amen Brother | Liam Jolly | 2018

Amen Brother tracks a football game, for which players don football shirts that have notes of the Amen Break printed on them; and so, with each kick of the ball the onomatopoeia of the Amen Break drum notes play out, and chance decides the order of the remix. In Jolly’s aims to talk to people outside of the traditional art space, Amen Brother attempts to make art more democratic.

Amen Brother | Liam Jolly | 2018

Watch the full ‘Amen Brother’ video here

Amen Brother has become a focus for Jolly’s work, and his new avenues of interest stem from this piece. For Jolly, this has become a project about identity, lineage, heredity and making connections between seemingly disparate things. Most recently, Jolly has invited a mix of DJs, producers, bands, and dancers to each reinterpret this remix of the Amen Break in their own creative language. With this one work, Jolly will unite these different practices and therefore their different audiences together. As he does through Auction House and his work in the music industry, Jolly wants to create a space from which a wide range of audiences can be present. This

practice explores the possibilities of where an artwork can exist and who it can reach. Through placing his artworks in different everyday situations, Jolly creates everyday encounters with contemporary art for wide audiences, whether they know it or not.