In Conversation with Monica Joy Peeff: On Technology and the Tactile

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Monica Joy Peeff. Degradation of Communication. Digital print alongside film & raw clay. 2019.

Questions by Adi Berardini

London-based interdisciplinary artist Monica Joy Peeff combines tangible mediums like ceramics and drawing with the digital sentiment of the iCloud and internet messaging. Always observing their surroundings with a sketchbook in hand, Monica’s work is contemplative and explores queer identity. Peeff specifically focuses on the dependency on technology as an accessible platform to initiate and maintain love and connection. By using the symbolism of cell phones, message bubbles, and cigarette packs, they relate to the topic of addiction to represent these themes. Through their work, they evoke emotion and inspire the viewer to put down their mask and embrace vulnerability.

Additionally, Peeff is interested in deconstructing reliance on coping mechanisms, looking at the juxtaposition of guilt/shame culture, while simultaneously romanticizing/normalizing habits. Using an interdisciplinary approach, they work within the realms of ceramics, printed matter, drawing, painting, performance, and installation. The variety of objects and media provide a physical element to what would otherwise remain hypothetical, in memories, or visually online.

Your work merges more tactile ceramic work with technological references, seemingly commenting on technology and its influence on our relationships.  Could you explain more about your inspiration behind this combination?

This combination derives from an appreciation for the technology we currently have access to. Clay and technology exist as juxtapositions to one another. Clay is this natural substance derived from the Earth, delicate, tactile, and malleable to touch, while our phones, laptops, etc. are a combination of complex hardware and software, manipulated with coding and programming beyond physical visualization. Now, more than ever, am I utilizing my technology to connect with my loved ones almost instantaneously. The ability to maintain our relationships is essentially always in our pockets. A few years ago, I was making ceramic cellphones, exploring my dependency on my technology. [Through this project, there was] a gratification in creating an ever-lasting object with a note of digital memories. Now experiencing the present state of the world, I am ever appreciative of the ability to stay in touch with others and establish new connections with people all over the world.

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Monica Joy Peeff. Send a Message, digital prints graphite, ink & tape. Travelling installation displayed at UPRLFT Design & Photo Studio, Good Sport Gallery & Bealart Year End Show, 2019.

One of your pieces uses more of a social practice approach where people could write hand-written messages on typing bubbles, facilitating communication where it can be difficult at times. Can you explain your process for this project? What was the outcome?

I began using the message bubble to symbolize communication. These cards were installed in three separate shows at Good Sport, UPRLFT and Bealart with a grey card on the wall, alongside stacks of blue cards, providing an opportunity for response. I kept it open so that people could take cards with them if they wished. During the installations, it was quite funny to see how people responded with anonymous freedom. Especially at the Bealart show, with more traffic of children and high schoolers, they took a very comedic approach to responding, which was amusing.

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Monica Joy Peeff. Send a Message, digital prints graphite, ink & tape. Travelling installation displayed at UPRLFT Design & Photo Studio, Good Sport Gallery & Bealart Year End Show, 2019.

It seems to evoke a space to be vulnerable in public but since it’s still anonymous there’s some allowance for that. How do you find incorporating text can convey queerness and aspects of identity in art? Do you find that text is part of your process? How does it function?

It allows me to be really literal and honest in a sense—that’s often really frightening. When outright expressing something, I instinctively seek ways to cover it up. However, especially in the past few years, I’ve had the urge to not be so subtle in implying when a subject is very personal. I hope to grow into a person that is comfortable speaking to my experiences. I am trying to limit the possibility of integral parts of my identity and artwork being brushed over.

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Monica Joy Peeff. sketchbook page (Val on Zoom). 2020

Who are some other artists that inspire you?

Jeannine Marchand makes these really large-scale fabric-like works. [Monica brings up a slideshow on their laptop for an artist talk entitled WHAT UP I LIKE CLAY]. She has this amazing piece called Welcome that viewers hesitantly walked on [since it’s placed right in the doorway of the gallery], as a result of these interactions it gets completely destroyed. I think this might have been the same piece [Marchand’s work Bucket] although she doesn’t entirely explain it, but I think someone cleaned it up, placing the pieces in a bucket, with a note reading “I love you and I’m sorry.” I thought that’s so bittersweet. But her intention was fully to have people step on it—some people tried to jump over it since they didn’t know how to interact with it but obviously it just got totally crushed.

This artist, Serena Hughes, [@wamwogs] inspires me whenever I’m in a rut with creating. Seeing their work reminds me of what I love about drawing. They’re so honest with their use of text in their work. It’s a humbling reminder that I can just say whatever I want in my sketchbook, with the freedom to share it or keep it private.

Lynn Park is one of my closest friends and favourite artists. I’ve had the privilege of witnessing them develop as a person and artist, from our time together in the Bealart program to them moving in Montreal. I remember the first time they told me that I am their favourite artist. I was flattered but felt slightly it was nonsensical. Thinking, there is a whole world of artists, creating much more complex, thought out, relevant and skillful work than I am, why me? As a beginner artist, at the time still in high school, barely figuring anything about myself out. After some time, I have grown to understand how powerful that sentiment is. To be someone’s favourite artist? Nothing can make me want to continue creating as much as support like that. I now pridefully share with others that my friends are in fact my favourite artists. Their practices hit home like no other. Recently Lynn began creating a project that is an interactive website as an exploration of their experience of space and friendship in the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Monica Joy Peeff. we are separate but connected, cone 6 porcelain & graphite, 2019.

I think it’s powerful to think of intentionality especially with ceramics, you often see it just displayed on a shelf or a plinth. I notice that your work has a unique sense of tactility since you use ceramics and often reference hands in your drawings. I was wondering if you could speak about this aspect of your work? 

I’m really motivated by the tangibility of clay. I think it is so vital to ceramics because it’s a medium where the artist is directly working it with their hands. This is the main factor that always has me drawn to them as a subject matter, in drawing, sculpting, painting, etc. These objects I made with my hands, I spent time touching, interacting with, and manipulating them into entirely new forms. To just put said object on a shelf/plinth as if it’s a final resting place, where only eyes can see it is so heartbreaking. The texture of it is so important, every crack, bump, carving, drip of glaze, or rawness of a surface unglazed is vital to my own experience with it, and I want others to have the opportunity to understand an artwork in that way.

Do you have any projects planned in the near future?

Yes! As a culmination of ongoing research in the psychology of addiction, I will be creating an installation with found cigarette packs. I have been gathering littered packs for almost a year now, with approximately 200 collected so far. I’ve paused collecting due to the risk with COVID-19 of course. I hope to eventually continue when it is safe to do so. The project explores guilt/shame culture, while simultaneously romanticizing/normalizing habits. In 2020 plain packaging for tobacco products became mandatory in Canada (as well as in Saudi Arabia, Slovenia, Turkey, Israel, and Singapore) which I found to be a really interesting and impactful shift.

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Monica Joy Peeff. Found Pack of Next Original. Ink and Watercolour on paper. 2020.
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Monica Joy Peeff. ongoing collection of cigarette packs. 2020.

One of my friends (and favourite artists as well), Angie Quick in an interview with McIntosh Gallery, spoke to how, especially with her home studio, her life and her practice blends together. In this, she said, “Everything I do can be my art practice; so if I’m making muffins, I’m making art, and if I’m going for a bike ride, I’m making art, and so in this way, it’s like my whole life became the art-making”.

This ideology of every aspect of my existence contributing to my being as an artist has been very impactful to me. I’ve been spending a lot of time dancing, which is something I would like to incorporate into my practice publicly. Although I am still learning to be comfortable recording myself dancing or doing it in front of others. Recently I skyped someone I met online and they had referred to the act of dance as “an unspoken physical connection with another human being”. Self-isolation has made me crave this more than ever, I’m aware of how vital going out to dance was to my mental and physical health, so naturally my art practice [as well].

I am attempting to shift my practice into a more collaborative, cross-disciplinary and performative direction. I think there’s such an invisible barrier between artists and viewers because often when I talk to someone who isn’t an “artist” I hear, “I can’t even draw a stick figure!” In reality that’s not it, you don’t need to be able to draw a stick figure to be an artist. You can draw poorly, or you don’t even need to draw at all. Art goes beyond every medium.

To see more of Monica’s work, you can follow them at @mjpdraws and on their website.

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