Jessie is an artist, researcher and educator whose work is concerned with the inter-relations between site, image and the social.
Jessie is a Tutor (Research) in Visual Communication. She contributes to the programme by devising and delivering research-led teaching activities informed by her site-related, participatory art practice. Additionally, she teaches into the School-wide Unit, Making Worlds with Others.
Jessie has exhibited extensively in the UK and Europe, and her work is held in public and private collections including the Victoria and Albert Museum, London and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.
Recent selected commissioned projects include: UNBUILD: a site of possibility, Drawing Room, London (2023); The building of 100 names, curated by Alan Dunn for East Street Arts, Leeds (2020); Making Space, UP Projects for Royal Docks, London (2019); Sounds Interrupted, Soundcamp (2019); and Your Words, South London Gallery (2018). In 2016 she was the recipient of Arts Council England funding and a Visiting Research Fellowship at The Bartlett, UCL, for her Metal Culture residency (2015–16). Her authored books include Re: development (2016) and Regeneration! (2015).
Jessie’s practice-led, interdisciplinary and participatory research explores sites, situations and situatedness through the lens of critical theory, feminist praxis and dialogical methods. She uses image making (drawing in the expanded field) and critical ethnographic methodologies (qualitative interviews) to reveal urban social and spatial injustices pertaining to the loss of public space, social housing and urban green spaces in particular. This has led her to become involved in projects, for example, with people in public housing estates and community gardens impacted by urban development.
Jessie positions her ‘practice as research’ methodology towards the critique of urban policies of displacement and in solidarity with communities resisting such inequitable processes.
In her research, art and pedagogic practices Jessie seeks to explore spaces of resistance: the spaces of the page (typography, format); subject (positionality, voice); writing (situated intervention); communities (situated knowledges); and art and design in relation to the social, historical and material qualities of a site. She asks how such modes of creative resistance can enact and contribute to a broader political challenge to the neoliberalisation of public space.
Jessie’s research-led art practice encompasses drawing, photography, installation, performance, video, writing and publishing. It interweaves critical, collaborative and aesthetic processes, whereby art and activism are put to productive political use in the form of publicly-sited installations, exhibitions and publications. Such outcomes are disseminated through outputs as varied as curated exhibitions, authored publications, chapters contributed towards edited books and papers presented at international conferences.
Jessie has over 15 years professional experience delivering projects commissioned, for example, by BBC Radio 4, HS Projects, The Foundling Museum, Art on the Underground, and [SPACE].
RKEI Research Development Fund, Royal College of Art (2023)
RKEI Research Costs Fund, Royal College of Art (2022)
Visiting Research Fellowship, The Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London (2016)
Grants for the Arts, Arts Council England (2015-2016)
Current and recent projects
UNBUILD: a site of possibility
Commissioned by Drawing Room; funded by Arts Council England; with residents of Setchell estate.
Over the course of several months, Jessie was commissioned by Drawing Room to make connections with the institution’s neighbouring communities as part of its relocation to Bermondsey. Two key questions shaped Jessie’s research-practice: how might Drawing Room’s neighbouring communities make long-term use of a community space at Drawing Room? In what ways might an artist’s practice serve such communities within the limits of a commissioning timescale? This resulted in a gardening project initiated by residents of Setchell estate and discussions about how the community space might be used. Plant material gathered during the gardening sessions was transformed into handmade paper which will be displayed in the exhibition UNBUILD at Drawing Room and distributed back to residents.
Commissioned by UP Projects; funded by Royal Docks Team (London borough of Newham and the Greater London Authority); with People’s Empowerment Alliance for Custom House (PEACH), Royal Docks Communities Voice (RDCV), Peacock Academy, and other participating individuals.
Making Space is a series of four public artworks produced by Jessie for the Royal Docks as part of its culture-led urban regeneration. Jessie worked with PEACH, among other communities, to produce Custom House Is Our House, a large-scale wall-based community portrait developed with residents that visualises their demand to be part of a regeneration that serves their community.
Jessie co-presented with Denise Evans-Barr (co-founder of Custom House Bookshop and former community organiser for PEACH) their research developed from Custom House Is Our House at State of the Legacy conference (2022).
In collaboration with Soundcamp and Stave Hill Ecology Park; funded by Arts Council England, University of Gloucestershire, Southwark Neighbourhoods Fund, North Southwark Environment Trust, TCV and individual contributors.
Vision is a photograph – from 1986 by Rebeka Clark, picturing the laying out of Stave Hill Ecological Park in Rotherhithe – temporarily sited back into the landscape from which the image was taken.
Sounds Interrupted was a temporary, live audio stream transmitted from a container roof at Stave Hill Ecological Park that played out from time to time on an array of speakers at London Bridge Station, not far from the original William Curtis Ecology Park site.
These artworks made public a history of locally based urban ecology and activism to safeguard public land, mobilized by an ongoing history of urban development.
Commissioned by South London Gallery; funded by Freelands Foundation and Southwark council; with residents of Pelican estate.
In spring 2017, the South London Gallery invited Jessie to collaborate with residents of Pelican estate on a project titled Your Words. Jessie invited residents to share their experiences of public housing and have these conversations recorded.
An outcome takes the form of a text installation WE ARE HERE, sited upon the roof of Heron House, and a poster publication which documents some of the conversations.
WE ARE HERE celebrates the value of public housing and speaks to the broader challenges often faced by people living on council estates: the stigmatisation of social housing tenants; the lack of maintenance and ‘managed decline’ by councils; and the threat of demolition and redevelopment by policies that value private ownership over state-funded homes.
In collaboration with The Green Backyard, hosted by Metal Culture; funded by Arts Council England, Peterborough Presents, Seedbed Trust and The Bartlett, UCL.
Working with people who use and care for a community garden proposed for development by its owner, Peterborough City Council, Jessie created over 100 cyanotypes (camera-less photographs) and gathered more than 100 testimonies from self-selecting participants. Such methods produced qualitative evidence in the form of a visual and audio archive – cyanotypes and testimonies – for the existing social use and value of the land.
In her book Re: development, Jessie brings together the voices of trustees, volunteers and visitors of The Green Backyard in the form of transcribed oral recordings, a series of cyanotypes that document the space through its everyday objects, ten contextualising essays, and photographic documentation of her two artworks installed in the public realm (What is necessary here?, 2014, billboard) and in the garden (If This Were to Be Lost, 2016–17, text installation).
Commissioned by HS Projects; with residents of Robin Hood Gardens.
In the context of the planned demolition and redevelopment of Robin Hood Gardens’ brutalist social housing estate, Jessie created a series of drawings – rubbings in graphite of residents’ doormats – which led her to gather five semi-structured interviews from participating residents.
An outcome takes the form of a publication titled Regeneration! for which Jessie brings together plans and images from several archives, two essays (by authors Owen Hatherley and Richard Martin), two series of her drawings titled A Fall of Ordinariness and Light (2014) and Conversation Pieces (2015), personal experiences of long- and short-term tenants and a caretaker in the form of interviews, and a series of photographs by former tenant Abdul Kalam.
The research aimed to amplify the voices of residents and ask critical questions around the language, processes and intentions of regeneration, namely: whom is it for?
Publications, exhibitions, other outcomes
Brennan, J. (2016). Re: development: Voices, Cyanotypes and Writings from The Green Backyard. London: Silent Grid
Brennan, J. (2015). Regeneration! Conversations, Drawings, Archives and Photographs from Robin Hood Gardens. London: Silent Grid
Brennan, J. (2017). Robin Hood Gardens. In: Elser, O. Kurz, P. and Schmal, P.C. eds., SOS Brutalism: A Global Survey. Zurich: Park Books
Brennan, J. (2016). A Fall of Ordinariness and Light: Regeneration! Conversations, Drawings, Archives and Photographs from Robin Hood Gardens. In: Allen, L and Pearson, L. eds., Drawing Futures (London: UCL Press)
(2023) UNBUILD: a site of possibility. Drawing Room. London.
(2021) Les Territoires de l’eau. Musée du Quai Branly. Paris.
(2020) The building of 100 names, curated by Alan Dunn for East Street Arts, Leeds, UK.
(2017) Your Words. South London Gallery.
(2017) Re: development – Inside The Green Backyard, a collaborative networked exhibition. Carroll/Fletcher Onscreen. London.
(2016) If This Were to Be Lost, dalla Rosa Gallery, London.
(2015) Contemporary British Drawing, XAFA. Xi'an Academy of Fine Art. China.
(2014 –15) Hoarding. Peterborough Museum and Gallery, UK.
(2014) Progress. The Foundling Museum. London.
(2019) Aesthetics of Gentrification: Art, Architecture, and Displacement, International Conference, University of Oregon. USA.
(2017) Visualising the fight for home and security: Revealing injustice and making change, RC21 Conference. Leeds, UK.
(2017) Voicing Experience: The 4th British Conference of Autoethnography. University of Sussex. Brighton, UK.
(2017) Beyond Words, International Conference, Plymouth University. UK.
(2018–22) Visiting Lecturer, MA Visual Communication, Royal College of Art
(2018–20) Lecturer in Fine Art, University of Gloucestershire
(2018) Visiting Lecturer, MRes Architecture (Reading the Neoliberal City), University of East London
(2018, 2016) Visiting Lecturer, MA Cultural and Creative Industries, King's College London
(2017) Visiting Lecturer, MA Situated Practice, The Bartlett, UCL
(2012–18) ReachOutRCA Project Coordinator, Royal College of Art