BCU Alumna becomes Architecture’s first Artist in Residency


Emily John, who graduated from our BA (Hons) Illustration course in 2023, has become the School of Architecture’s first Artist in Residency.

We sat down with Emily to find out more about her residency and what it means for her and the School of Architecture.

This is the first time the School of Architecture has had an Artist in Residency – how does that feel for you?

It’s a real honour to have been part of this process and to be able to light a torch that I hope is passed on for years. True artists are a rare breed, and residencies are a vital resource for them to be able to flourish and to be able to create the work that eventually informs the culture that we all share.

I’m not an Architect and I haven’t trained in Architecture, so the fact that I was given this opportunity shows me that the staff at BCU have a real respect for interdisciplinary relationships and understand the wider context of their discipline. That gives me a lot of hope because we need to build connections with each other to move forward and to face the pressing problems that we are encountering.

What will you be doing as Artist in Residency?

My practice is relevant to Architecture because of its shared materiality and its relevance to building sustainable practices. I am looking to reapply industrial technologies to create more contemporary forms of print; both 2D and 3D, and with a particular focus on ceramics.

I am using my residency to further my understanding of ceramics and my material-specific skill set but also to get an understanding of what is physically possible - how I can use or combine technologies to innovate the processes and to understand how far I can push the discipline in the hopes of advancing it in some way.

I have hourly, daily, weekly and monthly goals but my real aim will always be the same: I want to make great art. I want to keep pushing the boundaries of what I think I can do, and I want to keep creating a space for freedom.

What was your experience of studying your course at BCU?

BCU gave me the space that I needed to explore my practice and to get to know my professional and personal identities better. My tutors were available when I needed them, but they gave me the freedom that I needed to find my own way into spaces that didn’t yet exist.

My practice was a lot less linear and well-trodden than a lot of peoples’ which was nerve wracking at the time but is now something that I am immensely grateful for. What I needed most from my university was a technical department that I could learn from and rely on whilst I was building my knowledge and skills base, and that’s exactly what I got.

My course at BCU was the foundation of the practice that I have built and that I continue to build every day, but it is also the space where I really began to understand the lengths of what I am capable of and the breadth of what I can achieve if I put my mind to it.

So, what are you up to now?

I am currently doing my Master's in Print at the Royal College of Art, alongside undertaking my Artist in Residency at STEAMhouse with the School of Architecture. All of these things are driven by my desire to innovate and to apply industrial technology to the arts, in the hope of creating a more accessible and more socially conscious space for people to experience.

I am passionate about interdisciplinary practice and about experimenting with materials because this kind of working fosters conversation - the conversations are the only way to keep the arts moving forwards. I believe that life is beautiful but that we are living in a way that overwhelms and dulls our capacity to enjoy it. My art, and the part that it plays within ‘the arts’, is a way to enjoy and share being human, and to understand what that might mean.

What does a typical day look like for you?

My days vary a lot because I am always doing or experimenting with something new. Between my degree, my jobs as a ceramic technician, and my residency, I am a 24/7 kind of person and I like it that way. I spend a lot of time in the workshops at STEAMhouse where I experiment, fail, succeed and eventually create but there is also a lot of computer-based work that goes on in the background.

Innovation requires a lot of research; technology requires software practice and the application of digital to physical requires eternal patience. The only consistent thing in my days is the drive to keep going and to keep fighting for what is important to me.

What are you hoping to achieve in your long-term future?

My long-term goal is incredibly simple, in theory. I want to create art. Obviously, that is a lot more complicated when you place it within the context of a cost of living crisis and a social climate that requires you to be present online as an artist but also present in a thriving studio environment, but where there’s a will there’s a way, and I refuse to give up on the only thing that I really care about. Art is my freedom, and it is the only consolation in a world that is struggling.

What is your proudest achievement since graduating and why?

I don't have a single achievement that I'm most proud of. Arts, Design and Media is designed to be a career and not a job. It's not about a single project or a specific piece of work; it's about the body of work that you create in a lifetime, the progress that you make across 60 years, and the person that you become because of it. I am proud of my practice, and I am excited to live my life and to see who I have become and the art that I have made when I am 80 years old and still making.

What advice would you share with anyone considering studying your course at BCU?

Being 18 is hard and it’s ok to not really know what you’re doing or if you’ve made the right decision. The advice that I would offer is that BCU will match what you give it. If you want to succeed and you are proactive about your own journey, then the staff will provide you with everything that you need to thrive. BCU is a stepping stone to becoming resilient. This university is what you make of it and is all about personal agency. The sky is the limit if you want it to be.

Return to the previous page.