Shemilt on South Georgia Island in 2009
|Born||7 May 1954|
|Education||Winchester School of Art,|
Royal College of Art, London
|Known for||Video art, Photography, Printmaking|
Quattro Minuti di Mezzogiorno (2010)
|Movement||Video Art, Feminism|
Her work does not take a conventional approach to the medium and ranges across a wide variety of media. According to the art historian and theorist Alan Woods: "Her work initially focused on installation, the various printmaking media were used in an attempt to continue and develop the installations by other means. If the event is inevitably lost, a new artwork is launched from it, and as themes and subjects occur and re-occur, their re-generation might usefully be imagined as located within an extended family of images."
Between 1960 and 1972, Shemilt grew up in Craigavad, County Down in Northern Ireland. She attended non-denominational Bloomfield Collegiate School and Victoria College, Belfast during The Troubles where her experiences motivated her to develop the themes of conflict, censorship and psychological constraint in her work.
Shemilt is a graduate of the Winchester School of Art and the Royal College of Art. She has exhibited internationally including in Switzerland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Canada, USA, Australia, Italy and Germany. In Britain she has exhibited at the Hayward Gallery and the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London and at the Edinburgh Festival. She was a pioneer of early feminist video and multi-media installation work alongside her fellow artist and friend Helen Chadwick, who selected her for the Hayward Annual in 1979. Of her early video works, only two have survived: Doppelgänger (1979),, and Women Soldiers (1984), which were recovered and remastered by the REWIND video art project in 2011.
Shemilt established the printmaking department of the School of Fine Art, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design (University of Dundee) in 1988 and was course director of printmaking from 1988-2001. She is currently professor of fine art printmaking and a professional member of the Society of Scottish Artists and was its president from March 2007 until 2010. Shemilt was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 2000 and of the Royal Geographical Society in 2009. She has collaborated with the video artist Stephen Partridge on several installations, including "Rush", first exhibited at London's Fieldgate Gallery, and "Quattro Minuti di Mezzogiorno", a HiDefinition video installation, exhibited in Italy in December 2010-January 2011.
In 2002 she was made a Shackleton Scholar and was awarded a Carnegie Scholarship. She is a trustee and vice chair (2002-2020) of the South Georgia Heritage Trust established to promote the environmental protection and habitat restoration of South Georgia Island, a natural wilderness in the Southern Atlantic. In 1998 Shemilt was invited to lead a project to improve the environment of the military base on the Falkland Isles by the then commander, Brigadier David Nicholls. The experiences of the staff and student team she put together led inevitably, to independent artworks by all. Four years later in 2002 this led to the exhibition, "Traces of Conflict, The Falklands Revisited 1982-2002" at the Imperial War Museum. Shemilt's work in this exhibition was inspired by the abandoned field hospital at Ajax Bay, and according to the Imperial War Museum Keeper Angela Weight, Shemilt "was gripped by the aura of a place where the writ of war did not run and young men were tended irrespective of whether they were friend or foe."
Art and science
An important strand of her work involves collaboration between art and science. Her work with the Genome Diagram developed by Dr Ian Toth and Dr Leighton Pritchard at the Scottish Crop Research Institute resulted in a portfolio of work including installations, digital animation, prints and music.
In 2013 Shemilt completed a major SciArt commission for the University of Dundee College of Life Science's new Centre for Translational & Interdisciplinary Research building: The Scales of Life which embodies science and the visualisation process. She collaborated with the Regius Professor Michael Ferguson and the architect Jo White. On three facades of the CTIR building, 16 columns of large metal cladding panels incorporate her artistic abstractions which represent the four key scales of life: Molecular, Organellar, Cellular and Tissue. The cladding panels (1.5m wide x 3.6m high) are made from a high quality anodised aluminium and are arranged vertically into groups of four panels. The panels address the essence of the four main scales of life and the intangibility of their size and dimensions. The visual abstractions reflect both an interpretive aesthetic approach, and the need to retain scientific recognition and accuracy. The main objective of the work is that the series of images reflect in a meaningful way the scientific research being undertaken within the CTIR building. The CTIR was officially opened by Sir Paul Nurse on 1 October 2014.
In 2013 she was awarded a Royal Society of Edinburgh Caledonian European Research Fellowship to study and research in Italy, and was chair of the international printmaking conference IMPACT 8 held in Dundee in August.
In 2014 she was awarded £234,872 from the Arts and Humanities Research Council to act as principal investigator on the research project European Women's video art in the 70s and 80s (EWVA). A publication associated with the project was published in May 2019.
Starting in March 2018 she started work as principal investigator on another AHRC-funded research project (£215,602), Richard Demarco, the Italian Connection | Exchanges between Scotland and Italy through Richard Demarco in the European context - a study on the eponymous artist, animator, gallerist, and promoter of the visual and performing arts.
Interest in Shemilt's early video and performance work has grown during the early 21st century. The exhibition, SHE DEVIL 8, in Rome in 2016 was described:
- "The godmother of SHE DEVIL 8 is Elaine Shemilt with the video performance Doppelgänger. The work is part of a series of video experiments by women artists in the 1970s and 1980s, rediscovered and digitally remastered by the research project REWIND,.... Doppelgänger is one of two still existing videos of a series begun by Shemilt in 1974, salvaged in 2011. The term doppelgänger is used in German culture to indicate the evil twin (doppel / double, and gänger / goer). The doppelgänger of Elaine Shemilt is utterly feminine. The artist puts on makeup in front of the mirror in a ritual divided between the face and its reflected image that generates the double, the absolute protagonist of the finale."
Shemilt was featured in Gabriel Schor's book, The Feminist Avant Garde, Art from the 1970s in 2016. In 2018. several of her works from the 1970s were acquired by the SAMMLUNG VERBUND art collection in Vienna, and her work is in a touring exhibition, "The Feminist Avant-Garde of the 1970s", showing in Stavanger (Norway), Brno (Czech Republic), Barcelona (Spain), and New York City.
In 2019 she and Venetian artist Federica Marangoni collaborated on "Parallel Dialogues Through Video and Time" at Venice’s Court of Casa Golden. The exhibition, curated by Laura Leuzzi and Iliyana Nedkova with the assistance of Adam Lockhart, tours to Scotland in 2020.
- 'A Blueprint for Bacterial Life; Can A Science-art Fusion Move the Boundaries of Visual and Audio Interpretation?' pp23–32. Chapter in Digital Visual Culture: Theory and Practice, Computers and the History of Art, Editors A. Bentkowska-Kafel, T. Cashen, H. Gardiner, Bristol: Intellect, 2009 ISBN 978-1-84150-248-9
- AHRC ICT Methods Network Volume 'Art Practice in a Digital Culture', Edited by Charlie Gere, under the title Limited Edition – Unlimited Image: Can a Science/Art Fusion Move the Boundaries of Visual and Audio Interpretation? Ashgate, 2010.
- European Women's Video Art in the 70s and 80s, Shemilt.E, Leuzzi.L, Partridge.S (Eds). John Libbey Publishing, 2019. The book is the main output of the AHRC-funded EWVA research project, and was launched by Tate Modern on 24 September 2019.
Works in collections
- "Image in a Bell Jar", 1994, The Harry and Margery Boswell Art Collection, University of St Andrews 
- "Ajax Bay", 1999, FINEART.AC.UK Collection 
- "South Georgia Whaling Stations" 
- Doppelgänger, 1979, REWIND Collection REWIND
- Several works from the 1970s, acquired 2018 by SAMMLUNG VERBUND: The VERBUND art collection in Vienna.
- I'm dead, 1975
- Art into protest, 1975
- Ancient Death Rituals, 1979
- Bullets & Lipstick, 1981
- Doppelganger, 1979-1981
- Momento Mori, 1996
- Chimera, 1998–99
- Legacy, 2004
- Rush, 2007
- The Dry Valley, 2010
- Quattro minuti di mezzorgiorno, 2011
- "The Best of Printmaking", Lynne Allen (Editor), Phyllis McGibbon (Editor) (Rockport Publishers Inc. 1997, ISBN 1-56496-371-3) 
- "Behind Appearance", Arthur Watson/Alan Woods, edited by Roland Box, 1997 ISBN 0-904490-25-4).
- Bloomfield Collegiate School Illustrious Alumni
- Hayward Annual Catalogue
- Doppelgänger on Vimeo
- "SSA". Archived from the original on 27 September 2011. Retrieved 29 July 2011.
- Analogue & Digital Exhibition
- Quattro Minuti di Mezzogiorno, on Vimeo
- "Catalogue Information". Archived from the original on 15 February 2008. Retrieved 18 July 2012.
- "Shackleton Scholarships". Archived from the original on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 28 July 2011.
- SGHT Trustees
- South Georgia Website Archived 12 September 2012 at Archive.today
- Traces of Conflict, The Falklands Revisited 1982-2002, edited by Angela Weight, Imperial War Museum, London, 2002 ISBN 1-901623-99-8).
- Genome Diagram
- IMPACT 8
- UKRI gateway to publicly funded research and innovation
- Laura Leuzzi, Elaine Shemilt and Stephen Partridge (eds), (2019), European Women’s Video Art in the 70s and 80s. Indiana University Press.
- UKRI gateway to publicly funded research and innovation
- SHE DEVIL 8 - from press copy of the exhibition, SHE DEVIL 8, in Rome at STUDIO STEFAN MISCETTI Gallery, 16 March-16 April 2016.
- Sammlung Verbund Art Collection Information
- Sammlung Verbund Art Collection website