Nominated for this year’s Liverpool Art Prize, and recently in-residence at The Co-operative, Emily Speed is one of Liverpool’s most engaging, and most unflinching of artists. Her work, focusing on the inevitability of decay, and the aesthetics of impermanence seems, somehow, to fit this city like a misplaced glove.

Using discarded packaging, driftwood and the detritus of city living, Speed’s fragile, transient pieces remain stubbornly lodged in the mind long after the exhibition’s flyers are mulched down and recycled. SevenStreets caught up with her as she prepares to present her ‘Cardboard Folly’ exhibition – a collaborative ‘art book’ project started at The Cooperative – at the Bluecoat.

Emily SpeedHow would you describe your work?

I moved to Liverpool in 2007 after studying and working in Edinburgh, Japan and London. I work in drawing, sculpture, installation and artists’ books and I’m interested in the link between people and architecture. A lot of my work looks at psychological space and the idea of a body as a building that houses the mind.


How did you find working on a process-based piece in the public realm?

Making Cardboard Folly in The Cooperative space (Renshaw Street) was a very different approach for me – I am normally quite private. However, as the artists’ book involves 18 artists, it was not only my work and it was amazing to use this as a meeting point and to be able to invite people in to develop the project. I had visitors from Liverpool, but others also came from Sheffield, Manchester, Edinburgh and London, so it was important to have that central location. I’m not sure how successful it was from a viewer’s perspective, but to be really honest, I was so engrossed in the work and conversations that it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind!

How did this collaborative commission inform your work, considering how much of your work is (or seems) intimate and lonely?

It’s a relief to be working in collaboration with other people for a change! This project is something I have wanted to do for a long time, and the offer of exhibition space at the Bluecoat was the catalyst for making it happen. I sometimes feel a lot of pressure when working as an individual so it is very nice to have this project act as a kind of break from that. The theme of the first issue (it’s an annual publication) is ‘The Fold’. This came directly from my own interests, so in a way it’s a bit of a cheat – expanding my own research through the ideas of other artists and writers contributing to the issue.

What’s happening at the Bluecoat?

Cardboard Folly will be on display outside the performance area at the Bluecoat from Thursday 21st October until the middle of November. On Thursday evening from 6-8pm there is a chance to handle the work and chat to some of the artists involved. The edition is only 45 and they will go quickly, so I would really like people to see it in the flesh.

Your work seems to reflect a state of flux. Is that shaped by the city you’re based in?

Liverpool has probably influenced my work and I have made work specifically about the city (The Compulsion to Save Things and Lost at Sea in 2008). My Granddad was an architect for John Moores at Littlewoods, so although I have been away for ten years, I feel a real affinity with some buildings in the city and the stories he used to tell about them. Recently, seeing Karl-Heinz Klopf’s film ‘They’ about Everton and Anfield at the CUC brought back a lot of that, especially my Granddads anger at some of the town planning and destruction of buildings in the city. Klopf’s film is quite beautiful and a reminder that there is a lot going on in the city that is easily overlooked from the centre.

What’s it like being an artist in Liverpool in 2010?

Liverpool’s a great place to be an artist and to build your practice. It’s a fairly small city and I do sometimes miss the absolute saturation of art that London has, but here I am surrounded by supportive peers and I can be more involved. The Royal Standard is a great place for a studio, especially in terms of having a little community and getting some feedback and criticism. Small can mean frustrating and insular at times too, but I think we artists have it pretty good in general.

Compared to other cities I think Liverpool has some exceptional artist-led projects and the luxury of plenty of space and empty buildings available for use. There is an energy and drive at a grass-roots level that makes the city a really exciting place to be. I also really appreciate the links between this level of activity and the institutions in the city; there is a mutual support and respect that goes on, which can be great for giving high-profile opportunities and support for emerging artists.

What are you enjoying in the city right now?

I still have lots of the Biennial to see, but I have been really enjoying the ‘Touched’ talks this year. To have such great speakers coming in to the city and for the talks to be freely available is fantastic. The Cooperative has been an interesting addition to the Biennial this time too and although I haven’t been to one yet, I am also eager to get to an ‘If Only’ event at the Bluecoat. That mix of art/performance/poetry/music/film is something that seems to be done very well here in Liverpool and I like the unpolished approach of these projects.  I also have to big up the Royal Standard – I think the exhibition and events programme there just keeps getting stronger.

What’s next?

After Cardboard Folly #1 is complete and on show at the Bluecoat this week, I’m taking part in a group exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Lausanne in December. The main project for me at the moment though is making new work for my first solo exhibition at Yorkshire Sculpture Park in July 2011.

Cardboard Folly, 21 October – 18 November
The Bluecoat, School Lane