1 February 2010
Trece:Veinte (Mexico) (Issue 54 p.22-29)

Who is Ellie Harrison?

I am an artist based in the UK. I was born in London at the end of the seventies and brought up in suburbia under the looming shadow of Thatcher. It was only when I grew older that I realised the significance of this period of time and how much industry, society and culture had been transformed as a result of her policies. Back then I was too busy collecting ornaments, erasers, marbles and countless other things, and arranging them neatly on shelves in my room, to notice anything else.

When did you start making pieces of art?

I went to art school in Nottingham when I was 19 years old. After a year or two there I developed more of an understanding of what contemporary art was and what it could be. I realised then that is was all about ideas. The aim of art was not to educate, but to open minds and to entertain by offering people with an alternative perspective on the things that they take for granted in their day-to-day lives – so that they are able to see things slightly differently in the future.

What type of art do you do?

At the moment I am interested in making art that investigates the political and social structures which dictate how we behaves as individuals. These are the structures that we are aware of or take for granted (such as the economy) or those which are either too small or too gigantic so us to notice. Last year, for example, I customised an old Vending Machine so that it would give out free packets of crisps only when news relating to the recession made the headlines on the BBC website.

Favourite material and why?

I enjoy working with found objects, often things that are associated with leisure or play, such as the vending machine or the popcorn machines that I used as part of my installation The History of Financial Crises. Often the objects that I choose are things that have some nostalgic resonance for me – things that I used to be fascinated by or obsessed with as a child.

Gallery or installations and why?

I like to work in the gallery context and in the public realm. I to encourage the audience to either participate in the work actively, such as in the Desk Chair Parade I organised last summer (with my artist friend Adele Prince), or for them to be subtly implicated in some way, if only as voyeur.

Favourite art movement? Why?

Dada has to be the most inspirational movements of the last century – way before its time. I identify with its ‘anti-art’ ethos, as I too am critical of a lot of art which is just filling space, looking pretty, going with the flow and failing to attempt something new.

Do you fancy a certain piece which one and why?

My favourite Dada piece is one that I was told about by a tutor and so I don’t know who organised it or the specifics of when it happened. I like it for its simplicity and for the mayhem that it must have caused… For a performance happening one night in a theatre, the artists sold tickets for each of the seats twice. Then when people turned up to view it they found someone else already sat in their place and confusion, tension, arguments and some giggling ensued all at once.

Favourite colour and why?

I don’t have a specific favourite colour, but colour is a very important element of my work. Colourful objects instantly evoke a playful quality, which is very important to me, to entice people in and perhaps to give them false sense of security. I am also very keen on the use of colour-coding. In some of my earlier works, such as Swear Box 2005 and Sneezes 2003, I use different colours to categorise information about the different months in which certain swear words were uttered of sneezes were done.

Do you have a ritual before, in the meantime and after you do your work (it can be chew a gum, listen to music or so).

I am a self-confessed control freak. Therefore I can only really relax into work if everything around me is in order and there are no distractions. I must have complete silence if I’m going to be able to concentrate, and because this is so difficult to find (people are always around annoying me!), I have taken to listening to a track called ‘Subliminal White Noise’ on my iPod. This is a pulsating humming noise, which you don’t really hear after a while but which drowns out all the unwanted sounds so that you slip into the ‘work zone’.

Favourite artist and why?

Artur Zmijewski is definitely one of my favourite artists at the moment – he makes some really fantastic films (such as ‘Them’), which are both entertaining whilst also uncovering a lot about the darker side of human nature.

Tea or coffee? Why?

Well it’s funny you should ask. I did actually do a whole three year long project based on Tea and Coffee called Tea Blog, where I wrote down what I was thinking about every time I had a cup of tea. If I had to choose which I preferred though, I would say tea (with soya milk). I only drink coffee for medicinal purposes ie. If I’m feeling tired and have loads of work to get done! Like now.

Day or night and why?

I wouldn’t really call myself a ‘morning person’ as it’s always a big effort to get out of bed, but once I’m up, I’ve been swimming and had a bowl of cereal for my breakfast – then I do always do my best work in the morning. In the afternoon and the evening, things get a lot more sluggish and unproductive.

Imagine you can do your art in a very random and almost impossible place, such as on a raft in the middle of the Mediterranean, what place will it be and why?

Recently I have been fantasising about renting a small office in a complex where there are other businesses working and just using it as a studio. I like the idea of using a normal 9-5 environment as a place for creative work and of covertly ‘being an artist’ under the guise of just having a ‘normal job’.

Do you have a favourite or are you fond to a Mexican or Latin artist? Piece of work?

I am a fan of the work of Belgian artist Francis Alys who lives in Mexico City. He came to London and made a great piece in the National Portrait gallery where he let a wild fox run free in the gallery for one night and film it on the CCTV cameras as it roamed around lost from room to room. I hear there is a lot of other interesting stuff happening in Mexico and I would love to come over and see for myself sometime soon.

Favourite music? Why?

Anything you can dance to. I often get obsessed with certain songs that I associate with certain points in my life. I listen to them over and over as though they are have time travelling capabilities.

Dreams, goals and objectives in life? As a person, as a woman and as an artist.

One goal is to live until I’m 100. Another is to swim the equivalent distance to crossing the Atlantic (5,400 km) over the course of my lifetime. On New Year’s Eve last year (after 8 years) I made it to the 1,000 km mark. If I carry on at that rate I’ll have reached my target by the age of 71. You can check out my progress any time on my website. I’d also like to be a politician at some point and to do something to really affect positive change in the world. At the moment, I’m running a campaign to attempt to renationalise the UK’s railways called Bring Back British Rail. Most importantly I want to continue to challenge myself, to continue to learn about myself and the world and to work hard.

Favourite nature landscape or object, like a stone or a cloud, or even the air.

It would have to be the water – my addiction to swimming. I love swimming outdoors, in the sea and in lakes and rivers. I don’t do it too often though as it’s normally too cold in this country!

What makes you laugh? What makes you cry? What doesn’t move any single atom in your body?

Lots of things make me laugh, I love laughing – I am a very giggly person, but I’m a very up-and-down person and can get in black, black moods too. Avoid me, if that’s the case.


  • 1979 born in London
  • 1998 moved to Nottingham (home of Robin Hood) to study for a degree in Fine Art
  • 2001 graduate from Nottingham Trent University
  • 2002 finished Eat 22 project, for which I photographed everything that I ate for a year
  • 2003 finished Gold Card Adventures, for which I recorded the total distance I travelled on London Transport over the course of a year
  • 2005 curated the exhibition Day-to-Day Data bring together a group of twenty artists who collect, list, database and absurdly analyse the data of everyday life
  • 2006 begun the three year project Tea Blog
  • 2007 launched Hen Weekend – the seminar by the sea for female artists, writers and curators
  • 2008 moved to Glasgow to study for a Master of Fine Art at Glasgow School of Art
  • 2009 Confessions of a Recovering Data Collector, first book about my work published

Upcoming projects? Ideas? Any Latin inspiration?

Keep and eye on my website over the next year as there will be lots on interesting new stuff coming up! I’m also hoping to travel more in the next few years. I would love to come to Mexico! I hear it is a beautiful country with lovely food and lots of great beaches. I like surfing and would love to spend some time getting better.

María Alesandra Pámanes