Oliver Jennings is hands-down the most unusual of this year’s crop of graduates. Having spent three years studying graphic design at Camberwell College of Art, you’d expect him to have emerged with a couple of tasteful publications, some posters and maybe a handful of album covers, but you’d be wrong. Instead he’s been experimenting with strange sonic landscapes, exploring the natural sounds present in everyday objects, from house plants to giant river-spanning bridges. There’s some complex theory behind his work and more than a dash of influence from the hive-mind of Youtube – his sound installations derive inspiration from a large collection of pseudo-scientific experiments that exist as video tutorials online – and we were incredibly impressed by his confidence; there’s not many people bold enough to spend three years playing with sound obsessively when they should be mastering InDesign.
Why or who or what made you go to art school?
If it wasn’t for the last year of Sixth Form I almost definitely wouldn’t be doing art. The previous art teacher got sacked for driving a minibus into a wall and telling the Year Sevens not to tell their parents and so I came back to find that firstly, I was the only person doing art and secondly, we had a young, cool new teacher.
It was an amazing experience being the only person in the class as my teacher became my personal mentor and she really introduced me to a visual world I never knew existed. I also had a studio designed to hold classes of 30 people all to myself!
What’s the best mistake you made when you were studying?
Probably falling for this idea that plants can make beautiful music. There are lots of Youtube videos on this subject and the fact is that plants do not produce music that sounds like the soundtrack to Labyrinth or some sci-fi 1980s synthesised pop. However I found through my work that there is an even more fascinating secret side to plants that I wanted to understand.
I found that they are extremely sensitive to their surroundings and that they reacted in certain ways in specific situations, for instance a tiny drop of water on one of the leaves linked up to the device I was using would suddenly make the plant go from a slow and constant keyboard note to an excited but abstract flurry of notes.
It made me realise just how alive they are. The same thing happened if I damaged a leaf. Also the sounds it made when it was just me present differed hugely from when it was in the degree show, the plants’ activity and the notes generated where much more active in the busy environment of the show.
If you could show you your work to one person, who would you choose and what would you show them?
I would love to have shown my work to John Cage. I was reading about him towards the end of my third year when I was stuck with trying to justify why I had devoted my year to finding hidden sound in bridges and flowers, especially as I was doing a graphic design degree. I suddenly stumbled across this quote that his tutor Oskar Fischinger had said to him: “Everything in the world has its own spirit which can be released by setting it into vibration.”
Then everything suddenly fell into place and made me realise it was this sonic “spirit’” that was present in every object in the world that I was trying to communicate to people whether it be in a cheap radiator or a cactus.
Can you give us one prediction about your work for the next year?
My main aim is to keep on exploring filmmaking, especially music videos. I am also in the process of starting a small clothing company and will be spending time developing its identity and designing clothes. I went to Ghana last summer and found it was home to some of the most exciting fabric prints I’ve ever seen, and since then I have been importing some of my favourites and designing a mini collection.
What’s the best thing you saw in the last three years?
A piece of art by Hubert Duprat, in which he placed caddis fly larvae in a tank with lots of rare gems and small rocks of gold. The larvae build shells out of whatever materials are around them, usually sticks, dirt and tiny stones. The result was some of the most amazing and meticulously crafted jewellery. This really influenced my whole practice in third year as it introduced me to a whole new way of generating art through interacting with natural processes and I have been obsessed with this approach ever since.
We are very pleased that The It’s Nice That Graduates 2013 is once again being supported by Represent Recruitment who are themselves celebrating being ten years old this summer. The graphic design recruitment specialists have developed a peerless reputation working with designers of all levels and matching them up with the right positions in some of the top agencies around. Represent’s support has helped us grow the Graduates scheme over recent years and we are thrilled they have partnered with us again in 2013.