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, 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 recent 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 (2022), Kane Stonestreet & Phoebe Patey-Ferguson (ongoing), and  Joseph Morgan Schofield & Fenia Kotsopoulou (2019-2021). 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 studio holder at Triangle LGBTQ+ Cultural Centre and a member of the Metal New Artist Network and the Working Class Creatives Database.

They have appeared in the work of Rob Hesp (2021-2022), Harold Offeh (2018), and Laura Dee Milnes (2014).

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?

Whitechapel Gallery  2023

zack worked with Martin to assist and dramaturg new live works during his year as writer-in-residence at Whitechapel Gallery. Spending months in the studio together over the year to formulate new live work that built upon Martin’s established works and finding new avenues of actions, materials, and thinking through which his practice could mutate. This working mode relied upon zack and Martin’s extensive pre-existing collaborative work, using shared vocabulary and thinking in the process, and often sharing breath and flesh during performance. zack’s friendship with and mentorship from Martin are integral influences and inspirations for their solo work and practice.

click to enlarge. Top photos by Fenia Kotsopoulou. Bottom photos by Marco Berardi.

An Ambulance to the Future
(The Second Chance)

The grim reaper stood there, finally I saw him. His skeletal form sparkled in the moonlight and nothing else existed. This was the deal. He reached out and wrapped his cold, bone hand around my skull. I was lost in the darkness of his cape. He drew me near and kissed me. He tasted like death, and I loved it.

Overture For The End
(An Ashen Place)

Bodies crawl through soot covered landscapes. A ghastly figure looms, unearthly sounds emanating from her mouth. A funeral procession for the living marches by, trumpets sounding, and the mourners weep but they don’t know why. A group of skeletal forms sit at a dining table as if awaiting a feast.

Fading Out of Dead Air
(Transmissions for the Necropolis)

A scratchy sound of white noise emanating from a small radio fills the dark room. A faint voice comes through. It sounds like nothing from this world, as if death itself was speaking.

Somewhere else, sickly patients lay in hospital beds in hell. They don’t understand why they are still sick. They listen to the hospital radio, but it doesn’t play their favourite songs. Instead, they listen to the sounds of a life once lived.

(para)site: a blockage  2023

click to enlarge. Photography by Stephanie Chung.

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.

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.

(para)site: perturbing the convalescent 2023
As seagulls swoop overhead, a lumpy figure of white walks out of the surf. It scatters across the concrete official documents and discarded waste to map out its journey here, one of escape.

zack performed at the opening of Cerebellum: Excappare in St Andrews Mews in Hastings as part of Coastal Currents. This gave them the opportunity to mingle their explorations of the Thames with the coast. Exploring the topic of convalescent homes often used by Victorian asylums, this short performance sought to corrupt those ideals, to pervert the idealised passivity of rest and sea air for recovery in the same way the perturbing force of the moon creates the tides.

click to enlarge. Photography by Alex Peacock.

(para)site: a discharge of cultural sewage 2022

(para)site: a discharge of cultural sewage performance documentation.
Videography & editing by Studio MaBa.
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(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. VSSL Studio and Deptford X have supported the project.
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(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 Studio MaBa.

Generative collages were 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.

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Digital scans by zack mennell.

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Digital scans of 35mm analogue photography by zack mennell.

Exploring and photographing the foreshore environment has been a significant aspect of zack’s research. A selection of photographic prints was on display in the installation in 2022. zack continues to photograph this environment generating more photos for display, collage and to use for prints and postcards to sell.

(para)site: taking the piss  2022
Preparatory works and performances of work in progress and material exploration were performed publically at Live Art Club, Runt of the Litter, and hARTslane Gravel throughout early 2022.

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Photography by Queer Garden for Live Art Club London.

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 (below left) was published in FDBN…MOURNING by Sticky Fingers Publishing. They were an invited contributor and cover image for the Addiction Recovery Arts Network’s magazine Performing Recovery (below right). zack is interested in writing as response to, correspondence with, and entangled part of witnessing works of art - this is demonstrated in their written documentation of the ]performance s p a c e[ PSX 10-hour performance. Moreover, they have a forthcoming contribution to Dolly Sen's Birdsong From Inobservable Worlds, a commission supported by Unlimited and Wellcome Trust

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performance documentation 2019 – Ongoing

All photos by zack mennell
zack regularly 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. zack is grateful to VSSL Studio and Future Ritual for inviting them to witness and document such profound work.

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.

Martin O’Brien 2015 – ongoing
zack has been working with Martin O’Brien for the last nine years; their role in Martin’s performances is one of care and control. They both work collaboratively to score and structure the pieces, sometimes incorporating photography into the live works. zack has performed with Martin at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (London), Take Me Somewhere (Glasgow), In Between Time (Arnolfini Bristol), SPILL Festival (Ipswich), and Artsadmin (London). They will be performing at Toaster festival (Copenhagen) in March 2024.

Top photos by Manuel Vason. Bottom photos by Steve Greer.

experimenting with video 2020

In 2020, zack attended Pins And Needles, an online LADA DIY workshop about lo-fi scratch video creation, run by Broken Grey Wires and Proforma. Shot and edited in the confines of their lockdown flat, the relative distance between the front door and me 2020 (above) plays with digital error and aberration using open-source editing software and an old phone camera. The video was shown in HOME Manchester and displayed on their website for a limited time.