Photography Kristin Vicari Fashion Direction Katy Lassen Model Eleanor at Troy
Model and artist Eleanor Turnbull talks to Also about her creative journey in fashion and art, mental health and the strange corners of the internet that inspire her work.
Alongside modelling you are currently studying art. What can you tell us about your work and your journey so far in the art world?
I think being creative is an absolute gift. It’s something that will always occupy every aspect of your life in one way or another, and you’re not going to be able to ignore it. And that’s terrifying, exciting and comforting all at the same time. So my journey so far has been something special, and I’ve met plenty of amazing humans along the way and seen places in the world that I never thought I would.
I’m formally trained in sculpture – I love weird textures and materials that you wouldn’t even think of as art materials, the kind that you need to invent new processes and tools for. I love these just as much as learning a classical process, like lost wax casting, or slip casting, stone and wood carving. Everything can be a material to make with.
Im currently studying media on my fine art MFA at the Slade. I’m making short crappy movies that are fun and satisfying to make, the kind that you stumble across in a late night youtube binge. They are stupid and make no sense, but they make me laugh. Humour is very much my coping mechanism of choice.
I’m trying to combine the videos with traditional sculptural techniques, to see if technicality can house these silly non-sensical videos, because these are the internet videos that so importantly reflect the anxieties and mood of our culture. It’s about projecting a collective mental weariness and the importance of paying attention to the younger generations outpouring of internet material and what it all means about our mental health. I think it’s about creating empathy across generations, and between humans and even towards objects and landscapes.
Do you see modelling as very separate from your art or something creative that compliments it?
I see modelling as very separate and in that way it very much compliments how I make work. For a long time I was very conflicted about the two meeting, but I’ve worked out that I’m learning just as much about life through modelling as I am through making art.
Choosing a career in both fashion and art is definitely a conscious decision to live life like its a rollercoaster ride, because nothing here is going to be certain. Theres a lot of shit to wade through Because neither of these industries are as angelic as they’d like to be. But to experience that uncertainty as a choice? That’s a really privileged and lucky position i’m in.
I’m one of these people who wants to be taught by all of the highs and lows that life throws at them. Because you can’t reach and savour the really good moments without first experiencing and accepting the bad moments. I’m not likely to pick an easy road if it’s not going to push me forward and challenge who I am. And fashion and art definitely offers up its challenges. The level of exploitation and dirty money makes my stomach sink. These ugly and deeply embedded cracks, hardly mar the appearance of the shiny surfaces they present: artists seem to place themselves on a morally high level; and fashion brands present a life of glamour and wealth.
But its their two extremes, their ability to do bad and good, that opens up a space for change to happen in quite a drastic and rapid way. And that is what I’m here for. I believe that we owe it to creative communities for how they are shaping safe spaces and platforms for self-expression as this paves the way for acceptance and change. And I am proud to be a tiny part of that.
Do you find inspiration from the fashion world / fashion photography or is it a very different space from that of your work?
Parts of my work are made very intuitively, so I think its hard to separate my experiences in fashion from my work since it’s had such a conflicting presence in my life, especially since I’m making work about mental health. Modelling is a very different creative output, somewhat limited, in comparison to the rest of the creativity that the fashion world out-pours. And in some way that is a relief for me, to switch off from thinking about what I’m going to make, and instead tune into what the fashion world is making around me.
Putting my face out there definitely weighs on me. I hate the idea that young people are looking at my face as a judgement on themselves. I don’t think I’m pretty, whatever that means, I think you have to be strange looking to be a model. We’re all aliens with weird genetic problems. In no way does the modelling industry make you believe you are pretty or even pay the bills, the amount of rejection involved, really takes its toll on my own mental health at times, and I’m glad that I stumbled into the modelling world at an older age, because I couldn’t have done this at the age of fifteen. I think we still have mountains of work to do in terms of diversity in casting, but it’s hopeful to see things beginning to change.
But the energy and the aspiration for change from designers, the makeup artists, the production and styling, and casting that goes on all around me, that’s inspiring. I’m lucky to be in a line of work that is moving at such a fast pace, adapting to trends and creating new ones, and where there is so much happening all of the time and not know knowing where that might take you or drop you, because my work is very much a celebration and a coping mechanism for the excitement and the anxiety that our fast-paced lives create.
Fashion is always throwing out representations of culture, and that is very appealing to me, to know how things are being consumed, and by who, and why its important. Even if it is a temporary trend, it reveals a lot about the lives we live, what’s important to us and what isn’t.
A lot of my research is about internet culture, fads, repetition in blogging where loved actions break down and become a burden to the blogger. I love all of those strange corners of the internet, ASMR, Breadface blog, Alan Tutorial, Reddit to name a few.
What have been your career highlights so far in both your art and your modelling?
Before I started modelling or exhibiting my art, I’d never left the UK, and the concept of doing that was very distant and scary. In the last five years I’ve done residencies in Sweden and Tokyo, My work has been shown in Athens and New York. Troy has flown me out to Canada and Italy. The Claw Models have picked me up and taken me to Paris, sent me to Berlin and left me alone, feeling empty, back in London. Wolfgang Tillmans has taken my face around the world, without paying me a penny, but my mum is now the proud owner of a limited edition print and an anti Brexit T-shirt.
I got scouted for my first big modelling job through working at a biscuit factory. My first headshot was taken outside the factory wall, where you can see a hairnet line on my forehead.
I’ve been photographed by Pierre Huyghe’s photographer and I’ve also had to invigilate his exhibition, a room full of 50,000 free-roaming flies, for over 200 hours, an exhibition that left many of my friends jobless. And I’ve just come back from a two month artist residency in Japan. I can’t even tell you how many funny, sad, demoralising or life affirming moments I’ve picked up along the way.
A very creative career can be all consuming. What do you do to switch off (if anything)?
I’m always lead by this creative impulse and I can’t separate anything I do from what I make. I guess that part is the curse in what is otherwise a blessing, and I guess thats why within my work I try to open up quiet spaces or comforting spaces or spaces where it’s okay to not make sense.
I think the things that consume me the most are the lives of other people, and I tend to get wrapped up inside the social excitement of it all. But I’m a bit of an introvert really and sometimes I have to take myself to the sea or a massive expanse of land that makes my tiny human body and everyone else’s seem like nothing in the grand scheme of things. And there’s something very comforting in that.