The Canadian resident artist discusses shiny print advertising, bartering for her materials and obeying their will to flop.
You’re two months into a six month residency that’s going to last until March next year.
What are the main aims you have whilst you’re here?
Well, working time mainly. I hope to build a new body of work, but also to take in as many shows as I can, as well as take advantage of museum libraries. In my application I talked about a modernist sculptor named William Tucker, who I was interested in learning about while I was here. The Tate Modern owns a large number of his works, and I hope to do research in their archives about it. So overall, the residency will be a combination of seeing work, researching, and making a new body of work.
What have been your first impressions of the local gallery scene? Were there any galleries in particular whose programme you felt aligned well with your own work?
Well, it feels a lot like New York in terms of the scale and quantity of different galleries. There are some really architecturally impressive commercial galleries, White Cube for example and Vyner Street seems really interesting. I really enjoyed a show I saw at Laura Bartlett Gallery by Nina Beier & Marie Lund in September. So far I’ve spent most of my time researching and have only recently gone into production mode, as before I got to London I had a period of quite intense studio time where I made a lot of work. It’s nice to go around and visit galleries and see what they’re interested in — I’ve certainly seen a lot of galleries here where I feel like the artists they show have similar interests to my own, which is exciting.
Aside from going to galleries, what other research habits do you have?
Taking pictures mostly, and that can happen in an everyday way just by walking around, taking the bus and stuff. Actually, that’s probably the main way I do research. If I see something interesting then I’ll look more deeply into it, often by researching on the web or at the library. It has been good to take a step back and observe the new context that I’m in — I’ve been doing a lot of walking around and looking at London and what’s going on here.
Do you find that you have started a new body of work related to the new experience of being in a new studio and city, or are you still working on similar ideas to before?
Well… no, I started where I left off with the previous work; there were still lots of things that I wanted to try, and just do differently, or test out some different angles. A lot of it is about testing materials right now, finding ideas of how to work with it. Quite a bit of the way I work in general is to consider things as tests, which I think allows for a certain amount of freedom in the making when you’re thinking about it like that.
The material you’re talking about is the ex-advertising posters… where do you get them from?
I’ve been using some signage and wall posters, and then this adhesive vinyl that I brought over from Canada. Since I’ve been here I’ve been collecting advertisements from all over the place. Often, the main way I’ve been most successful is just going into printing shops and asking if I can buy their scraps, mistakes and roll ends from them. Often they’ll say I can just have them, sometimes they say no, and other times they’ll ask for a nominal fee. In Canada there’s this place where we would work on a bartering system where I would make them collages in exchange for material, which was nice.
Some of these sculptures have changed since last week. Are they constantly evolving?
Yeah, I’ve been experimenting with plinths, as a way to prop the material up. With a few works I did before coming here I would make a fairly simple plinth and then drape them over it. It goes back and forth, some days I think it’s working, some days I want to try it differently. I was also curious how the material would slump over time. I set them up and let them start to slouch, to watch what they do. It’s mostly wanting to see how the form will settle itself. I take photos too, just to get a sense of how they’re moving and changing.
This work could be construed as relating to consumerism because of the material’s history. Is that important to you, or is it just an interesting material physically?
No, it is important. Since I’ve been here I’ve been reading a fair bit about Jacques Villegle, a French artist who started out working in the late forties. He would cut deeply into layers of posters on the street and then work reductively in the studio by peeling pieces off. He became pretty well known in 1968 with the Paris student protests, where he was using a lot of very politically charged posters to make his work from. I’ve been looking at him a lot, because his earlier works from the 50s are more abstract, and there’s not text in there but you still get a sense of where the material came from. This is something I’m interested in: the point of distilling an advertisement to look like something new and yet still have a thread of its former purpose evident in the new form.
Do you feel that this research is feeding into the new works?
Well, perhaps, for example in this new work the ads that I find least interesting I’ll use as the base layer and then build onto it, so I’m working additively rather than subtracting as Villegle did. But some things are similar like bits and pieces of things… although I’m trying not to have text and recognizable imagery, as this is a condition I have agreed to in exchange for the material.
Is that obscuring of identifiable imagery an intentional decision, or just the necessary respect for the copyright?
I do prefer the works to be more abstract. I initially did some tests with more recognizable elements, but I just didn’t find it as interesting when there’s like a hand, or a head, or something really identifiable…I just found it shut down the reading a bit and started to look like many other collage works I’ve seen where it’s very clear where the source images are coming from. But that’s not where I’m interested in my work going here. I’m more interested in distilling that very loaded imagery, rather than framing it.
Would you say that you’re working quite formally?
Yes, I would, with this new group of work. There’s definitely a lot of conceptual motivation for making it, but I find I’m making a lot of compositional and formal decisions in terms of working with material and figuring out how it wants to exist and settle itself. When I first started this project I was looking at Robert Morris’ felt works, and in these works in particular, how he’s making formal choices, but then also letting the material do what it wants to do. There is a truth to materials there.
That might also concern the way the works are installed, do you consider these sculptures site specific?
Well, they are proving to be a lot more like installation. I set up arrangements in the studio, and like the way they look together, and I am aware of how the works are relating to one another. So it is like a mini exhibition in my studio. And then I get into the space, and it might be very different architecturally, and they might not work together in the same way. With a lot of works I had arranged in a particular way, when I got to the exhibition, they transformed into a different kind of layout or arrangement, which I think is interesting. There’s a room of Elsworth Kellys at the Tate Modern, and the didactic panel talks about Kelly thinking of painting as installation, and how he considered the gallery wall to be part of the work. That’s interesting to me, and I think of my own work similarly. It’s a lot like a scarf – you know what a scarf looks like as a flat object but the way you use it changes in different contexts. So, the work has become quite site specific in that way.
In terms of exhibiting, what would you hope an audience to derive from these works in terms of their meaning and content?
Well, I suppose I have always had an interest in surface; in the last few years the things I’ve made, they’ve often taken very different forms from one another but they have all had a common interest in a surface quality, in a veneer… as a layer on top of how things actually are. And so I hope that people can think about that in some way, that these are surfaces, they are skins, which have been taken from urban environments, flayed, and then reconstituted into these exhausted-looking, draping forms. Yeah, well I like the idea of slouching, sagging. I do a lot of Google searches for ‘sagging,’ ‘slouching,’ ‘draping,’ ‘slumping’ etc., as I’m curious as to how the words are being used, like when guys wear their pants really low — the slang for that is sagging.
Would you say that this is a human quality that we’re attributing to the material in these sculptures, and emotive qualities relating to the figure?
I think that was a nice result that came out of experimenting with them, that they could start taking on these human attributes. There was one in my last show in Toronto that I would joke was a self-portrait, it was this small, slumpy one that sat in the corner and looked really tired. The gallery was quite warm too, and it sank even deeper with the added heat.
Would you say that it had something to do with your own state of mind at the time?
Well, I think it’s an interesting general condition, you know, people work really hard, and they are really tired. Gone are the days when it gets dark and you go home and read a book by candlelight and go to bed. Most artists I know have several jobs, their studio practice, actively work to promote their career, and stay abreast of what’s going on too. You’re really pushing yourself all the time and I think that is particularly true with art because the more you do the better you’re going to get.
Soon you’re going to have an open studio event and give a talk, do you have specific plans for that?
For the open studio I’ll probably take away the unfinished works, some of them at least, although it depends. We’ll see. I’ll keep my source images up, and I don’t really see it as an exhibition space — I think its nice to see where the work is coming from and the research that was part of its development. I’m going to try and finish some more new works in time as well: I’ve got such a big luxurious space, I feel like I should fill it up!