The Importance of Letting Your Personal Life Influence Your Work

Jenny Camp : Amoribus 2017 - Photograph by Jenny Camp.

Jenny Camp : Amoribus 2017 - Photograph by Jenny Camp.

I am a designer maker and Artist. I am also non-binary, queer and polyamorous.

Too personal too quickly? Too bad. Who I am and what I do creatively cannot be separated. The ideas that go into my work come from the same mind that doesn’t identify strongly with being female or male. That is attracted to a variety of people regardless of their gender. That believes people can be in healthy, loving relationships with multiple people at the same time.

These things are important to me, and therefore important to my work. However this often doesn’t fit with traditional ideas about creative expression. And while my university course did encourage students to make work that shows individuality, it wasn’t so encouraging when that individuality didn’t line up with the expectations of my cis white male tutors.

Amoribus is a cast aluminium ring holder I created at uni while using my experience of polyamory as the starting point for a project. I was interested in how people often use rings to symbolise their relationships, and how that might look for people with multiple partners; especially since the marriage laws in this country would not allow me to marry either of my two partners as they are already married to each other.

During a tutorial my tutor, a white middle class heterosexual cisgender man, didn’t seem to understand the project, saying that it sounded to him like I was just talking about my sex life. I was talking about my relationship, I did not talk at all about sex. If this project focused on monogamous relationships I doubt it would be immediately stripped down to someone’s “sex life”. When straight people sexualise queer people it is uncomfortable at any time, but to experience it first hand when trying to talk about a potentially interesting idea for a project is especially disheartening. Maybe to him it seemed like I was using this as an opportunity to be deliberately provocative, but to me this was a product that explored a very real and very personal issue.

Problems like this are usually the result of ignorance rather than small-mindedness, but when expressing yourself creatively necessitates being an activist at the same time, it can be emotionally exhausting. But activism and advocacy are the only things that are going to make people understand, so that hopefully it will be a little easier for the next person.

Relationships are complex, and the rituals that emerge within them present plenty of great design opportunities. This only gets more interesting when you consider how diverse relationships can be. Encouraging students from different backgrounds and different ideologies allows them to bring new perspectives and new ideas to the industry, which helps us to create for everyone, not just those who fit easily into a desirable market segment.

Living outside the norm is an asset. And while this is often preached in design schools the people making the point are usually talking from the same narrow perspective: Be unique, but still commercially viable. Get personal, but only in a way I can relate to. Different, but not too different.

We are told that if we design niche stuff we won’t be able to connect to the wider audience. But this understates the higher engagement of serving a niche market who don’t normally get things designed specifically for them. Speak directly to someone who is otherwise neglected, and you can get them to engage with your creations with a depth and intensity that broader, less hungry audiences can rarely muster. Not only that, but creating something that you are personally passionate about empowers you to focus on what really matters - making good things.

This article was originally published in the This Girl Makes printed edition 2018. Find out more at www.this-girl-makes.co.uk