Christine Binnie and Jennifer Binnie have been collaborating as ‘The Binnie Sisters’ to create installations since 2009. These often include works from their individual practices, found objects, family heirlooms and natural and living materials. Both are founding members of The Neo naturist performance/cabaret group along with Wilma Johnson. The Neo naturists grew out of the 1980’s London club/art/fashion scene. Their original performances were both part of and a reaction against this scene.
Christine is a potter and performance artist. She makes things and makes things happen. She works on the crossover between art, craft and action, making installations, live performances, sculptures and ceramic artworks which are often subverted with contradictory words and images.
Jennifer’s work is generally paint based though in a broad sense. Her work extends out from the canvas on to a range of surfaces including found objects, furniture, walls, human and animal bodies.
AL) For our readers who are not familiar with your practice, how do you define your various disciplines as they cross over several mediums?
Paint, pottery, performance and installation are our main mediums. Most of my (Jennifer) work is paint based though my painting extends out of the canvas onto found objects, walls, bodies etc. Christine’s work is mainly thrown on the potter’s wheel, subverting the domestic with text and image using found decals as well as archival images. She also explores craft and ancient technologies. When we work together, we mainly make installations; we also work with Wilma Johnson as the Neo naturists to create performances.
AL) Do you feel it is essential to define your practice before the critics get in there telling the world what you are creating?
Some of our contemporaries have had a great deal of success in the art world and our work has been commented on as seen in relation to them. Whilst we appreciate being included, it has become important to us both to take ownership of our own work in our own words. Now that we are having more publicity of our own, we enjoy reading what the critics have to say!
AL) What is it like working with your sister? Please comment Christine and then Jennifer.
Working with my sister has its ups and downs. Concentrating on the ups, today we’ve been filmed walking on the downs and are having a good laugh answering your questions!
We have been making installations together as The Binnie Sisters for about ten years now. Sometimes it seems as though the sum of the two of us is greater than our work as individuals, at others it can be a bit annoying as people mix us up and think we are the same person! This time we are calling ourselves ‘Christine Binnie and Jennifer Binnie’ to try and separate our individual identities. Generally, working in collaboration is enjoyable; personally, I enjoy both types of work and the contrast between being alone, making things in my studio and working on something like this with another person.
AL) I was at Andrew Logan’s Summer of Love Alt Miss World Competition and cheered at your performance, what was it like to feature in such a large event both on stage and behind the scenes? How do you see the performance aspect of your practice evolving in the future?
Over the years we have participated in many Alternative Miss Worlds and other big events, so we were very happy to be on stage at the Globe, which is especially suitable for our kind of interactive performance! It is always a joy to participate in this fabulous event. Behind the scenes, as always, there was an atmosphere of enjoyable chaos and much glitter!
Our intention is to continue performing as The Neo naturists for the rest of our lives.
AL) You have worked with Grayson Perry, Cerith Wyn Evans and Michael Clark all underground figures who have filtered into the mainstream, do you think as women artists the time has finally come to acknowledge your influence which began in the early 1980s.
The ’80s were a fertile time for us all as young, emerging artists. We are very happy to be living at a time when Women’s achievements in the art world are starting to be acknowledged.
AL) How did the Towner show come about?
We both have long-standing connections to the Eastbourne area and have been involved with Towner in various ways since the new building opened in 2009. This curating/exhibiting opportunity
seems to be a natural progression of our current work together.
AL) You have been in many curated shows and events over the years. How does it feel to have the shoe on the other curatorial foot?
The slipper fits well!
It has been very enjoyable to look through the Towner’s own collection of 5000 works! Although the circumstances of lockdown have made it more challenging and this is reflected in some of our choices.
AL) Tell us a little bit about the show and how you came to choose the artworks displayed.
It was always obvious to us that the exhibition would be an installation including our own works and pieces from the Towner’s collection. Sometimes we disagreed about whether particular pieces would be included, but there were one or two that we both absolutely loved and definitely wanted to include from the start. My interventions include a self-portrait made in 1983 and a range of works coming up to the present with the most recent being a wall painting yet to be completed on the gallery walls! Christine has made ‘The Flying Carpets of Meaning’, pottery fragments with words which comment and sometimes subvert the titles of works on display and reflect fleeting thoughts, feelings, memories and impressions as she prepared for the show during lockdown. The whole show is interspersed with an indescribable thread of meaning which represents the magic we can’t explain but which makes life and art interesting, alive and mysterious.
AL) If you could take home one of the works which one would it be?
I would choose Henri Gaudier-Brzeska’s ‘Sleeping Fawn’ a bronze sculpture which I have seen at many other Towner exhibitions and have always loved. It’s quite small and would fit nicely on my mantelpiece!
Christine would choose Phelan Gibb’s ‘Rose Nudes in Landscape’ a very large oil painting about which she says, “As this is a fantasy question I’m giving a fantasy answer – my home for the purposes of this question will be plenty large enough to hang ‘The Rose Nudes in Landscape'”
AL) Has lockdown affected your choices in the show?
Yes, it has. For one thing, we only got one look at the collection before lockdown started. By the time we were allowed back in the art store, the show had been brought forward a couple of months and we didn’t have long to choose, so it made the process a bit stressful.
Christine says “One or two of the paintings looked very different after lockdown and jumped out at me as choices for the exhibition. These were ‘The Sick Man’ by Harold Mockford’ and ‘Interior with Children’ by Lewin Bassingthwaighte.
Towner Eastbourne is presenting the first exhibition curated by artists both drawn together from and inspired by works in the Towner Collection. Art, Life and Us, an exhibition curated by Christine and Jennifer Binnie will guide the visitor on a journey that will reflect on and embrace our place in this changing world. 19 September 2020 to 16 May 2021
The two artists have chosen a selection of works that explore themes of nature, the body, and the meaning and cycles of life from the 5000 works in Towner’s Collection. These pieces will intertwine with new artworks and interventions by the Binnies, including ceramics and objects arranged to reflect the artists’ personal collections, a moving image installation.
Top Photo: Rosie Powell Inset Photo: Neo Naturist Cabaret Artistes at Rest, 1992. Courtesy the artists
Art, Life and Us, an exhibition curated by Christine Binnie and Jennifer Binnie 19 September 2020 to 16 May 2021 Towner Gallery Eastbourne