about zack

“Artistic expression is, for me, a way to make sense of the world and an attempt to contextualise who I am within it. In stepping into difficulty and pain through artmaking, I attempt to understand life through a different register to that of daily survival. I want my work to have an uncanny quality, that it might temporarily unsettle familiar places, making visible some of the strange aspects and tensions embedded there.”

zack mennell is an emerging (unemployed), self-taught artist using writing, photography and performance to explore queerness and neurodiversity in relation to presence and visibility.  zack frequently collaborates with performance artist Martin O’Brien, notably in his current works at Whitechapel Gallery as writer-in-residence,   Sanctuary Ring (SPILL Festival, 2016) and The Last Breath Society (ICA, 2021). Other significant collaborations include those with Leon Clowes (ongoing), Baiba Sprance & Marco Berardi (2022 - ongoing), Kane Stonestreet & Phoebe Patey-Ferguson (ongoing), Joseph Morgan Schofield & Fenia Kotsopoulou (2019-2021), and Harold Offeh (2018). zack often works in documenting performance and live events through photography and writing - their photographic practice is strictly analogue, using 35mm film. They are a desk member at VSSL studio, and a member of the Metal New Artist Network and the Working Class Creatives Database.

zack is interested in intuitive knowledge, proprioception, and finding ways of extending the nonsense utterances that make up speech. They are currently asking:
what does it mean to be seen?
on whose terms is visibility gained?
can the working class, queer, abject, porous, neurodivergent subject fit?
can we find a way of being present but unseen?

(para)site: a discharge of cultural sewage 2022

(para)site: a discharge of cultural sewage performance documentation
videography & editing by Baiba Sprance & Marco Berardi (Studio MaBa)

(para)site: a discharge of cultural sewage performance documentation
photography by Milo Robinson for Thames Festival Trust

(para)site is an ongoing, multi-stranded artistic project that reflects on class, disability, queerness & ecology through the lens of zack’s experience. The works emerge through psychogeographic explorations of sites of industrial, working-class history, where they scavenge for materials and undertake strange performative actions. (para)site was commissioned as part of Tide Changers, a development programme for early career artists by The Thames Festival Trust and presented as part of Totally Thames 2022. The project has been supported by VSSL Studio and Deptford X.
(para)site: an exhibition of cultural sewage
photography by Milo Robinson for Thames Festival Trust

(para)site collaborative video work by Baiba Sprance & zack mennell
videography, sound & editing by Baiba Sprance

Generative collages created during the opening hours of the (para)site installation. Made up of 35mm photos of the Thames foreshore, personal archive photos and cut excerpts from DWP & NHS letters. Hand-stitched with cotton thread on recycled papers.
digital scans by zack mennell
Exploring and photographing the foreshore environment has been a significant aspect of zack’s research. A selection of photographic prints were on display in the installation in 2022. zack continues to photograph this environment generating more photos for display, collage use and to use for prints and postcards to sell.
35mm analogue photography by zack mennell
(para)site: a blockage  2023
zack was invited to perform a two-and-a-half-hour site-responsive work by curators Stephanie Chung & Priscilla Lo as part of their three-day programme at Chisenhale Studios supported by Goldsmith’s University.

photos by Stephanie Chung, 2023
There's a faulty dam in my bladder, trying to stop the urea-tainted waters inside me from mixing with the tainted waters and vapours outside me, but semi-regularly it leaks or gives way altogether. My mind is no different.

I step into this place so close to sites-of-trauma it can feel like drowning in air. I stretch my body along the towpath and let the cyclists, joggers, walkers, and dogs leave their treads in my puffy super-absorbant plastic flesh. No different from the shopping trolleys, tires, bicycles, bottles and pipes, the silt of the canal bed calls out to me, sludgy and fluffy.

Visions of Madness  2023 – Ongoing
zack was one of the participants of Change Minds in spring 2023, organised by the Bethlem Museum of the Mind. They are collaborating with a diverse group of other service users within the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust. The group’s collective aim is to delve into the stories of previous patients at Bethlem Hospital. Using the Victorian casebook entries as a starting point and conducting further research into the lives of their selected patient through other records and creative interpretation. zack is crafting further artworks and formulating a larger engagement project that draws from this archival work, utilizing photography and writing to give voice to those whose voices are often disregarded and disappeared.

Digital scans of collage by zack mennell. Reproduction of archival image belongs to Bethlem Museum & Archive.

The product of  2023 – Ongoing
The product of is a collaborative performance/installation project by zack mennell and leon clowes. It draws on official and personal documents, photos, objects, words, and sounds to evoke concealed and distorted situations and navigates memory, loss, and rage through script, action, and audience engagement and examines horror, humour, and humanity within unpalatable truths, seeking a nuanced exchange about traumatic circumstances. Recently, they were awarded a Seeding Space bursary by London Performance Studios. This grants them a focused week of studio time for developing installation pieces and performance actions, along with fundraising training from Cause4. They will share their work-in-progress with an invited audience at the end of this residency.

Experimenting with film

In 2020 zack learnt and was excited by an online LADA DIY workshop about lo-fi scratch video making; as a result of this, they made their first video work. Shot and edited in the confines of their lockdown flat, the relative distance between the front door and me 2020 (left above) practices with digital error and aberration using open-source editing software and an old phone camera. zack began seeking to marry video with their analogue photographic practices at the beginning of their work on (para)site: a discharge of cultural sewage by making experimental 16mm film down river, down 2022 (right above). They continue exploring the practice of solo photo/film performance with support from not/nowhere and learning further skills in photochemistry as part of their recently awarded A-N Bursary.

Performance Documentation 2019 – Ongoing

All photos by zack mennell
zack often works in documenting performance and live events through photography and writing - their photographic practice is strictly analogue, using 35mm film. They have begun to develop their own film to generate darkroom prints and have greater control over their materials and outcomes - this development has been generously supported with A-N Bursary funds and training from Photofusion darkroom.

Artists displayed above in no particular order:
Benjamin Sebastian, Joseph Morgan Schofield, Selina Bonelli, Adriana Disman, Vivian Chinasa Ezugha, Anne Bean, Kelvin Atmadibrata, Samm Shackleton, Soojin Chang, Rubiane Maia, Kimvi, Sandra Johnston.

zack frequently incorporates textual elements into their performances and is also an independent writer beyond the realm of performance and collage. Recently, their work sal(i)vation (excerpt below) was published in FDBN…MOURNING by Sticky Fingers Publishing (an excerpt of which is below). Moreover, they have a forthcoming contribution to Dolly Sen's Birdsong From Inobservable Worlds, a commission supported by Unlimited and Wellcome Trust.

Martin O’Brien 2015 – ongoing
zack has been working with Martin O’Brien for the last 8 years and is currently assisting him in the creation of new works during his year as writer-in-residence at Whitechapel Gallery. zack’s role in Martin’s performances is one of care and control. They work collaboratively to score and structure the pieces, sometimes incorporating photography into the live works.
All photos by zack mennell