Ella Skinner is a Welsh artist living in Manchester, her practise goes from brutal paintings, to sculpture, photography, curation, project management and all round great party host. The last few years have really been spent developing the SCUM Studio collective with other artists like Hannah Sullivan, Adriana Szczerepa, Alice Goad, Zoe Thabile to name just a few and in house bands such as Tabu and ALAN. Well known for throwing the best parties that bring together music and art and showcasing minorities groups in safe environments.
However the last year has thrown a real curveball and changed Ella’s work all together, it also happens to be the year that she began her residency at Islington Mill. But let’s rewind and start at the beginning.
“I honestly think it’s (art) always been a thing since I was born. I remember hitting a certain age where I was creating really brutal stuff. I’ve always been interested in things that scare me even if they paralyse me with fear. I remember shocking my teachers at a really young age. In year 6 there was a trainee teacher covering a lesson and we had to write a story about a plane getting lost and of course in my story one of the guys heads got severed by a plane wing and whatever and people laughed and just said, ‘yeah this is Ella!’. I think then it got more serious when I was 16, I knew there was something I really wanted to pursue, I learnt lessons like understanding how to get a reaction and to commit to what you’re doing and why.
When I was younger I was mostly a realist painter, nothing like what I do now - I was into and Goulding and Egon Schiele - I was always interested in the more gritty parts of realism, I just didn’t like the process of realism, but did enjoy the textures. So I took the decision to not study art anymore and not have people telling me what to do haha.
It all changed when I got to Manchester though, I could do stuff I couldn’t do back home in Wales. I could see a really diverse range of things, people and ideas, the community and support here really allowed me to flourish because people liked my stuff. Making creative connections with people who had similar ideas to you was just amazing.”
This is probably when the idea of SCUM Studio was born.
“When I was looking into it and pursuing it I was more involved in the music scene rather than the arts scene and I was thinking there wasn’t a diversity of people being held up or even anything that interesting. There was too much 60’s and 70’s nostalgia porn, misogyny, homophobia and white people and I didn’t like the fact it was supposed to be something edgy and it was important that people create connections in important ways. I think that started the necessity for SCUM to exist, none of us felt represented.
None of us were studying together or doing the same things, we were artists, painters and photographers that collaborated loads and that lead to bigger questions really. Questions of how we would like to shape the general structure of how we want to work and what we can do in a DIY way to make a difference and give visibility on a corporate level and to use collaboration to get to that.”
So we know why SCUM had to exist, but what actually is it?
“SCUM is a interdisciplinary art collective and platform, we want to provide a space for artists, creators and thinkers to come together and use art to solve problems and to build connections, have conversations and innovative in a place where they can promote and share their work, ultimately utilising it in their way. What’s interesting is that we have never been really clear about what we are. We are a group of artists that have projects of our own and SCUM effectively is how we start provoking deeper conversations about connectivity and community and to promote that and the people around us. Using art to think about our world in a more critical way.
Music is a really integral part of our world. How I perceive art is that there is no distinction between genre or art form, it should all exist in conversation with each other. There are loads of individual elements that influence ideas and we present that in different ways, I think it’s interesting to use that as a structure to break down divisions of how we interact with each other.”
Really, the SCUM shows are the most wonderfully curated and synthesised environments, regardless of the message they always end up feeling like a party.
“I think parties are integral to Manchester itself, but also for people to be open and truly themselves and happy, that’s how creativity should be viewed, not stuffed away, academic and inaccessible, that’s why visual arts is so stagnated, it has to be in a gallery and not in the environment it was actually made in.
I use a lot of sounds, I make music and use music in my own work. I’ve definitely moved away from just being a painter to someone who uses all these things.”
There were too many times that I was playing a show and Ella would jump on stage, rip the mic from someone's hand and smash something up, eventually ending us both being bard. At that point we both had the same shoulder length sandy blonde hair and they couldn’t tell who had done what. Or another time at a SCUM event Rhys Davies was doing something with a microphone and Ella was doing something with a megaphone and there was an altercation that ended with Ella chipping a tooth, whilst a noise band and a pit ensued in the background.
To me, just that image really sums up Ella.
“Improvisational noise is the future, man."
"After years of doing lots of that we’ve now grown up a bit and are putting some of that behaviour behind us, still with that punk ethos though, haha. We now want to be able to pay the people that are in our zines or at our shows! Everything we have ever done or ever made has always been free and if we make any money it goes straight back into our practise. I think we will get to a point that we can put on our events and they can be bigger than ever, more going on and more people involved, more ambitious and more exciting, even people from outside Manchester. This time in lockdown has shown us how important the internet is, we’ve been able to reach and collaborate with people overseas.”
It was at this point in the interview that she started dancing and grinning ear to ear exhaling ’TAKEOVER!!’
“I won’t be giving you any spoilers for what’s to come, but you can expect more work from us with sexual health charities giving free STI checks and sexual health advice at our events. I think sexual health is incredibly important for the navigation of women and queer people and for them to have a space where they are not discriminated against or judged and comfortable is really good.
I just want to get back to normal, I want an ALAN show in my kitchen, I want a beer, I want a grotty space, I want an STI test. I just miss everything.
A lot of times you do stuff, like experimental stuff, it’s not offensive or might not make money, but sometimes you’re met with retaliation or a code of conduct in more corporate space, but when you move into living rooms and take over spaces you really can do what you want.
FILTH is the latest Studio SCUM project, which explores different interpretations of filth, dirtiness and cleanliness. We as bodies are made of filth, dirt and bacteria. Moved from fridges, bins and bodies, filth transforms and enters new forms.
Socially, many of our behaviours and identities are cast off as “filthy” or “dirty”, and we are pushed towards occupying false narratives in order to be seen as pure by a supposedly “clean” world. We humans have always existed outside of the purified buildings and spaces built by our own species, and our “dirty” excess is denied the right to flourish.
In the words of Divine: “Filth is my politics, filth is my life!” Becoming aware of how different things are labelled as filthy or dirty allows us to push back. The category of filth has expanded the global pandemic, which made us hyper aware of our own cleanliness, purity and bodies. For the sake of the health of ourselves and others, we washed our hands, isolated in homes and sanitized surfaces whilst dreaming of spitting, fucking and sweating. The mystical boundary between cleanliness and filthiness became intoxicatingly desirable to explore from an artistic perspective.
The projects of Studio SCUM are collaborative and multidisciplinary, as we believe in cultivating a new collective consciousness outside of existing power structures and institutional frameworks. We gave the idea of “filth” as a prompt for artists, musicians, creatives, writers, performers, photographers and filmmakers, and let them produce their own narratives. While live projects have paused and we have become geographically isolated, SCUM and other creatives have found a new freedom online. In FILTH and our other projects over the past year, we used this opportunity to connect with artists across the world, from California, to Paris to Eastern Europe, to use their ideas across borders, different artistic scenes and philosophies."
I may be bias, but Ella has made so much social impact with SCUM over the years, but since the world around us has changed, so has their work, their space and maybe even their approach. So what’s happened?
“When lockdown started I lost my job and it was shit. Eventually got a new job and wanted to start an MA, I felt like it was the right time for me to develop myself as an artist, I just wasn’t happy with the quality of what I was making and it also felt like a good time for SCUM to develop and become something bigger and better. Myself and Hannah were looking for studio space and Islington Mill had some availability!
It’s been so supportive in this time, we’ve always been able to access our space and make a living out of what we do whilst being surrounded by other people trying to do the same. It’s just such a nice, positive environment and its great, it’s so important that spaces like this exist in this climate because people really need it.
I used to just be a painter and I wasn’t happy with it, I felt like I was trying to find something and I now feel like I have completely changed as an artist. Everything I do is completely different and this time has allowed me to really experiment with it, I haven’t found ‘it’ yet, I’ve just been working with ideas and concepts that I find a lot of joy in.
I’ve been building sound systems to change my paintings into noise paintings. I’m interested in noise and sound in general, I use amplifiers, noise pedals, contact microphones and recorders and attach them to paintbrushes or structures so I paint according to the sounds made rather than visualising something. I just don’t want art and music to be separate, I want them to be together in an environment.
I’ve been starting to also work a lot in latex and sculpture, I’m really interested in synthetic plastics like nylon and resin and treating them like alternate skins. I love the human gooey textures you can get and how that plays alongside architecture, that’s something I’m really interested in, but we will see where it goes.
I keep getting crazy ideas and trying them out, but that’s what this time is for.”
As always, we want to know about who we can recommended, so who are the 3 groups or businesses or artists that Ella can give us today?
“Hannah Sullivan, who I share a studio with and is also part of SCUM, is an amazing painter, possibly the best painter I’ve ever come across, she’s amazing.
Kaprowwww, which is Jack Spittle’s noise project. Really ethereal noise music that works with great intense, horrible elements and unbelievable visuals too.
DONK, amazing clothes, I love it, I want it all”
Hopefully we get to see more weird and wonderful work from Ella soon and maybe even a SCUM event in the summer? In the meanwhile you can check out Ella’s instagram here -
and then go through the SCUM website to have a deeper look at what they do and who they do it with.