JE: It’s majorly exciting to finally go live with Apsara Studio, and to do so by partnering up with dear friends and collaborators OHSH Projects. I founded my company ‘Apsara Limited’ back in 2019 wanting to not sound like an eponymous law firm - e.g. Jenn Ellis Ltd. I used this to organise the curatorial, strategy and collections work I do with galleries, collectors and businesses globally. A couple of months ago though I noted the client list was growing and this was a business that required an amazing team and could be scaled into a full on curatorial ‘studio’.
I am really keen on this idea of a studio as it emphasises how we collaboratively make things happen with meaning and thereby service our clients. We were building our portfolio when OHSH Projects offered us space in Soho for a ‘launch’, which of course we seized! And in true swift form, made an amazing exhibition happen in the heart of Soho in two weeks, co-curated by myself, Henry Hussey, James Ambrose, and Sophia Olver, bringing together incredible artists: Clémentine Bruno, Nicole Coson, Tracey Emin, Holly Hendry, Henry Hussey, Harminder Judge, Kristian Kragelund, Mohammed Qasim Ashfaq.
JE: It derives from the origins of Apsara, a Buddhist/Hindu deity. It’s a beautiful title James Ambrose suggested for the exhibition, based on his research. To quote his text: "The churning of the ocean of milk was a momentous event in Hindu mythology. One of the central episodes in the ever-continuing struggle between the devas (gods) and the asuras (demons). It was also the setting for the first appearance and emergence of Apsara, female deities of the clouds and waters. Proficient in the art of dance, they, Apsara, are fluid spirits able to change their shape at will and support the sacred notion of art and culture."
JE: The overarching theme was the origins of Apsara described above, then collectively thinking about movement, fluidity, the body. How a sense of time and intimacy is evoked, too. There are particular conversations throughout as well: how Clémentine Bruno’s ongoing investigation of the ‘flaneur’ through a series of everyday objects links to the delicate domestic ordinariness of the blinds in Nicole Coson’s work. Or how the spinal fractures in Henry Hussey’s glass sculptures relate to the silicone layering in Kristian Kragelund’s canvas.
There is then, yes, absolutely, the element of tone. Running throughout all the projects I’ve ever done is a meeting of aesthetic appeal and conceptual enquiry. How there is an appeal in terms of what we see, playing with texture, size, material, fields of sight, but then also ‘appeal’ in terms of what is uncovered when unfolding the various layers of narrative.
JE: I first met Henry years ago and discovered initially his textile and print work. It was only recently that I discovered his glass sculptures, which I’ve since admittedly collected. They’re incredible: how they are blown glass that’s created then fractured; how they play with abstraction and figuration but then also light. There is weight to them but also a levity. As such they resound beautifully with Harminder Judge’s sculptural work that’s in ‘Oceans of Milk’, which to me, exists between painting and sculpture. The form is aqueous and their texture makes me think of a fossil that’s been uncovered, or a rock that has been sliced and polished. There’s a mutual play between fluidity and a sense of time - contemporary archeology, even.
JE: I think adapt is the right term! I launched in June 2020 another business with architect Benni Allan called AORA, a virtual platform that comprises a virtual space with rotating exhibitions, a running events programme, and now a shop with bespoke products. Our aim is to combine art, architecture and music to instil a sense of calm, wellbeing and discovery. It’s the fruition of an idea dating back to 2017 around the relationship between art and health. So while many physical shows were down, I was able to pivot and focus on building this other business, which in turn informs Apsara Studio, too. From developing relationships with the artists and galleries, to building a true knowledge of approaching the digital world authentically from an art world lens, to selling and connection-making in a hybrid world.
To draw an analogy, it’s like watering plants: tending more to one when the moment is right, then the other! Watching them slowly grow. There have definitely been low moments - but those have been met by incredible highs ranging from incredible pop-ups such as this one, to recently chatting live on the BBC. It’s all a work in progress.
Thank you to Jenn Ellis for participating in The Art Five, Issue 19.
Current and forthcoming exhibitions:
Oceans of Milk 13 August - 3 September 2021
27 Peter Street, Soho, London
AORA:IV till 18 September
Jenn Ellis is a curator, founder and patron led by the belief that art is one of the most empathetic yet critical mediums by which to communicate about topics. Over the last decade, from Geneva to London to Hong Kong, Jenn has built innovative businesses, projects and connections across the public and private sector that have been featured in the Evening Standard, ArtReview, Financial Times, BBC Radio London, and others. With a passion for entrepreneurship and solution-finding, Jenn is the founder of curatorial studio Apsara Studio and the co-founder of AORA, a virtual space and platform that brings together art, architecture and music to instil a sense of calm and wellbeing. Additionally, Jenn hosts and creates the YouTube channel Art Bites and co-hosts podcast Between Two Curators. Jenn lectures at various institutions including Sotheby’s Institute of Art, collects contemporary art, mentors, and sits on the committees of Chisenhale Gallery and Artangel. In 2018 Jenn was appointed a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
All images courtesy of Apsara Studio. Photography by James Retief.