When Ayesha Tan-Jones began work on a dystopian sci-fi film in 2013 she had no idea that her warning sign was a soon-to-be existence. Here, we speak to the London-based artist ahead of its premiere
With a climate change naysayer as the U.S. president and London hitting its upper limit of air pollution levels within just five days of 2017 – resulting in subsequent toxic air alerts across the capital during the month of January – it seems entirely nonhyperbolic to suggest we’re living in an increasingly dystopian reality. However, when visual artist Ayesha Tan-Jones first embarked on her Indigo Zoom project in 2013, she had no idea the issues explored in her film would have such pertinent parallels with her everyday existence so soon.
Entitled Indigo Zoom, Tan-Jones' upcoming film and immersive exhibition experience sketches out a world in which the air on our planet is too toxic to breathe freely. Presenting a parallel universe in which a corporate government seeks to privatise clean air and sell it back to the planet’s population for profit, the film undoubtedly dances with issues we’re facing today. “It's kind of really serendipitous that my dystopian sci-fi fantasy story is culminating now when the issues are seeping over into reality. It's almost like I've summoned all of this – I didn't mean to!”, Tan-Jones tells us, half jokingly.
Following hydrogen hackers and modern day superhero Indigo Zoom on her quest to source clean air and escape the shackles of the establishment, the project serves as a tongue-in-cheek warning as to what further environmental damage could mean for our own existence.
Running at south London’s Limbo Limbo for five days – kicking off Wednesday evening with a film screening from 8pm and closing on Sunday with a “breath-based yoga class and heliotropic breathing meditation class”. Below, we speak to Tan-Jones about the importance of political art in the post-truth era, why she created real, shoppable products from the film for us to purchase, and how sometimes the suffocation of living in London can drive creativity forward.
Indigo Zoom is the finished product of a project you’ve been exploring for a while now. But what motivated you to begin exploring issues such as climate change?
Ayesha Tan-Jones: It actually began in 2013 and I was at a climate change protest and wanted to go as a character, not just as Ayesha. I made this mask and went to the protest, and from there I made this mask into a character called Indigo Zoom. Originally, she was a superhero skateboarder.
I realised the reason for the mask was that it was maybe an oxygen mask, and that her universe was a world where there wasn't any oxygen left to breathe. That reflected what I was feeling in London, at the time and still now. I love this city but it is suffocating in many ways, not just with your lungs, metaphorically as well. So, it became a semi-climate story. This ecological disaster that happened in a dystopian world.
Why did you decide that now was a good time to culminate Indigo Zoom’s adventures?
Ayesha Tan-Jones: It’s been a few years and has come to the point where I've got all of the footage that is ready to make into this real, beefy film. There's loads of little layers to the project – little innuendos and references to other artworks within the film. I'm just ready to move on and make fresh work. I've got a residency at Yorkshire Sculpture Park in March and there's a whole new project for another conversation about witchcraft.
The film, accompanying sculptures and objects, is steeped in political ideas and concepts – but what do you want people to take away after they experience it?
Ayesha Tan-Jones: I want people to be aware that climate change is an issue that affects us close to home. Everyone can talk about this and take action. It's not just about climate issues, there are other subtle political threads that are weaved through the film which I hope are gonna spark something in people's brains. When you present someone with a story that is magical and that people can follow, it feels easier to understand a more complex issue than being told about it through facts in real life.
“When you present someone with a story that is magical and that people can follow, it feels easier to understand a more complex issue than being told about it through facts in real life” – Ayesha Tan-Jones
You mentioned that London can be quite a stifling place and that seems to be something that's going to get increasingly more difficult. What do you think communities can do to nurture each other, or what can we do to make living in a city like London a less stressful experience for young artists?
Ayesha Tan-Jones: Definitely communication, connection, and kindness. Be radically kind to everyone, not just your friends. It’s so important to connect with people and to help each other find those gems in the city. Fall back in love with London and make those communities and make those pockets of love. It's such a small thing but it’s so important. We need more compassion, I think.
You mentioned that you're also making some products from the film as real life objects. Why is that something that's important to you?
Ayesha Tan-Jones: In the film there's Yonivel, which is the evil corporation – this conglomerate company that would sell people oxygen masks. After fictionalising this company, I kind of became the company and started selling incense holders which were made from the mould that I used in the film. It was a way of making some quick pocket money after graduation but it's turned into a little bit of a business now, which made me realise that as an artist you can't just make art and be an artist. You have to think business and you've got to be a business person if you're going to survive.
What simple bit of advice would you give to someone who wanted to get involved in counteracting climate change but has no idea how to get started?
Ayesha Tan-Jones: Start by thinking about your life and think about what your affect is on the world. How much plastic do you consume? Do you need to consume that? Do you buy a bottle everyday or do you buy one bottle of water that can be reused and refilled? Do you eat meat everyday? Or could you eat less meat and rely less on the animal industry which has got a huge output of emission? Do you cycle? You know, little things. You don’t need to go around with a placard protesting – you could just start by changing minor things in your life that do make a massive difference.