James Tess’ works stems from a childish desire for playfulness and intimacy. They explore how games generate a protected space for vulnerability to occur, how this can build relationships and communication. Tess’ practice flicks between mediums, taking various interactive forms including poetry, installation, text, and collaboration.

Dens invite the audience to participate fully, challenging inhibitions while setting boundaries in the form of physical yet ephemeral thresholds. In the past year, Tess’ work has been concerned with feelings of anxiety and stress. Their writing has directly reflected this, and they have written poetry inspired by intrusive thoughts and experiences which trigger anxiety. As this involves quite personal subject matter, they have felt the need to obscure poems with bad handwriting, moving away from typing them into collecting them as physical objects on paper. Whereas previously they have been interested in surrealism and states of dreaming, reality has recently become more and more surreal itself, leading them to seek grounding in tangible safe places and physical sensations. This has manifested itself as dens, which are places to sit and rest, protected by flimsy blanket walls and sheltered from indoor industrial lighting. The process of making them is a throwback to childhood, this time enlarged to fit an adult. Once the den is made, it is important to spend time inside to activate it as a cosy space, otherwise it sits stagnant in the public, institutional setting – this has led Tess to simply sit inside and get on with work, having occasional conversation with passers-by. Using both the performance of being inside the den and installation itself allows layers of protection to be built, creating a sanctuary.