Interview with Jerwood Makers Open Artists, Revital Cohen and Tuur Van Balen

Jerwood Makers Open is currently on display at Jerwood Space, London, until 31 August. The initiative recognises emerging artists and offers crucial support in the early stages of their careers. The shortlisted artists are commissioned to produce work for the gallery, allowing them to develop their profile in the industry. Following commissions of £7,500 earlier this year, ceramicists Hitomi Hosono and Matthew Raw, artists Revital Cohen and Tuur Van Balen, glass artist Shelley James and spatial storytellers FleaFollyArchitects, were given the opportunity to develop new ideas central to their individual practices. Revital Cohen and Tuur Van Balen speak to Aesthetica about their approach to their project and the use of language within art.

A: How did you approach your Jerwood Makers Open commission?
We saw the Jerwood Makers Open commission as an opportunity to continue working around the geopolitical context of the mass-manufacturing. We began exploring this theme in 75 Watt, a work we made in China last year in which we designed a product whose only function is to choreograph a dance of its own assembly. In this commission, titled Giving More to Gain More, we were particularly interested in the language that emerges as a byproduct of global mass-manufacturing, which can be read as a 21st century production-centred pidgin-poetry. At the starting point of the work lie lengthy conversations with manufacturers of programmable led strips through, most of them based in China’s Guangdong province. Sentences that emerged from these conversations – from descriptions of components’ impact to the companies’ ideologies – were constructed in aluminium tracks and illuminated by the led sourced in the process.

A: Please can you define your artistic practice and what you aim to achieve with your work?
Our practice is occupied with broad meanings of the materials and processes of industrial production, exploring the idea of manufacturing as a cultural, ethical and political process. We are particularly interested in the idea of the technological material (synthetic, biological, mineral…) and the questions it raises within material culture. We produce objects, installations and videos by reconfiguring processes, systems and organisms. The elaborate process of production is as much part of the artwork as its physical outcomes.

A: You include text in your work, why is that?
This work is about the emergence of a particular form of language, so the words here are as much a material as the aluminium or the electronics. We were also intrigued by the role reversal within the production of these artefacts where the content comes from China and the labour done in London.

A: How is it to be included in Jerwood Makers Open?
It was really interesting to produce this particular work as a Jerwood Makers Open commission; to us it was an opportunity to reflect on the role of the artist as producer in the context of global mass manufacturing. The experience of working with Jerwood has been great, their support is really exceptional – everything is figured out to allow the artists to focus on the work.

A: What do you have planned for the future?
This summer we will be finishing a work about the manufacturing of goldfish, which we have been working on for the past five years. Following this we have a few artist residencies lined up: at Headlands Centre for the Arts in San Francisco and then at the White Building in Hackney, where we will produce the second artificial mineral in the series that began with H/AlCuTaAu earlier this year.

Jerwood Makers Open, until 31 August, Jerwood Space, London, 171 Union Street, London SE1 0LN. Find out more here: and

1. Revital Cohen and Tuur Van Balen, from the Giving More to Gain More series, 2014. Aluminium and electronics. Image courtesy of the artists.