Interview between artist Lucy Joyce and Curator and former Director of Camden Arts Centre, Jenni Lomax
Jenni Lomax: When we first met you showed me a film of an action you had made somewhere in the English countryside. You had placed a vast expanse of gold Mylar fabric over the roof of an isolated bungalow. Although fixed at points, the reflective gold material got caught up with the wind; it billowed and flowed over the building in a mesmerising but also alarming way. It would seem that buildings, including structures such as chimneys and towers have a central role in your work. What connects you conceptually with these buildings – history? Function? Personal memory? Location? Architectural form? Transformative potential? Or something else?
Lucy Joyce: I remember that I was drawn to the bungalow featured in Gold House (2013) for its appearance and scale. The building had a manageable size that I could singularly takeover, which was really appealing, as I had previously been working on a much larger scale. For instance, whilst studying at Chelsea, I did an exchange at Universität der Künste, Berlin where I discovered many abandoned buildings, including an historic watchtower, which I featured in the film Breathing Tower (2008). I covered the windowless building in plastic sheeting, which filled with a rush of air, inflating and deflating each time the trains passed from East to West. I have always been interested in how material interacts with the precarity of weather, which always insinuates an element of risk into the work; both these works played with this joyful uncertainty of the weather. After these almost existential experiences with architecture things really started to shift in my work and I began working to activate and revive buildings through actions. For me buildings have the potential to act as a platform, a framework, a body to hang work in, on and around it, which is probably why the building became the focus of the works in Electric Blue (2019).
JL: A printed image of E-WERK Luckenwalde, taken from drone footage features in all ten drawings in the exhibition, which you began making before you actually spent time on site. By putting down a representation of the building at the very start of your drawing process, are you marking a place and space to dream for your imagination to take over from what you already know? How did these drawings progress and where did they lead you?
LJ: These drawings were made following an initial site visit to E-WERK, which at the time was preparing for its launch as a new contemporary art institution and renewable Kunststrom power station. I wanted to support this ambitious vision by creating work that heralded its future, whilst also reflected on its past. Upon my return to London I was inspired by drone footage of E-WERK, which told me the story of the building from above. This aerial position was something I had not worked with before, as my previous work had been concerned with looking up. Looking down gave an alternative view and I became interested in producing works that discussed the relationship of the viewer standing inside the building they’re looking at. Based on my experience of the building I began a process of subconscious abstraction, exploring an imaginative space where I could dream and map out potential ideas. Through this series of drawings I hope to offer an abstract reimagining of the building reaching up and out, or rooting down. Perhaps these drawings are not immediately self-explanatory, but for me they contain a way to look and re-imagine our normal surroundings and capture a different - new type of energy. In retrospect I see that they reveal the overwhelming sense of hope declared (and almost guarded) by those involved and glance to its future and the optimism it holds in its vision.
JL: Alongside the drawings at E-WERK there will be a new group of works - including sculptural pieces and a durational action (rather than performance) involving seven participants, which is essential to the realisation of the sculptural components of the project. Who are the people involved and how did you get to meet them? Is there an audience for ‘Aktion’ – if so - what do you hope and expect from them?
LJ: Whilst in Luckenwalde I invited seven local residents to collaborate on research for the durational action. It was important these people were based in Luckenwalde as I wanted to access local attitudes to EW. Working with people unfamiliar with contemporary art has also always been of interest to me - I enjoy the connections these encounters bring to a work, which often live on long after the piece has been made. As part of this process I asked each person to each take the role of an Arrow Bearer and together surround the building - holding the arrow sculptures on rooftops and other urban plinths, such as cars and a scissor lift. It was important to have seven participants involved as I wanted to represent the seven points of the abstract shape I used in my drawings.
The participants included; septuagenarian Bernd Schmiedl, E-WERK’s former Production Manager; Achim Sauermann a local worker who has donated tools, machines and knowledge to the reactivation of the site, Jen Mchugh, an EW volunteer, Myrina Andrack, EW’s Culture and Communications Assistant, Nathalie Hundrieser who works at Luckenwalde’s local bar, Helen Turner EW’s Artistic Director and Stephan Hampel, a local businessman. I chose these people as they represent an intergenerational and non-hierarchical group of people based in Luckenwalde who actively support the building’s new trajectory and have specific connections to the building and place. Working with Technische hochschule Wildau I 3D scanned and printed each arrow bearer as a sculptural maquette. A Family of Workers will take permanent residence in the building so that they continue to guard, protect and herald E-WERK Luckenwalde in the same way a classical sculpture might.
Inspired by this research a live ‘Aktion’ was developed for the opening night of E-WERK Luckenwalde, involving seven professional performers wearing the typical Brandenburg work wear blue jacket and standing on plinths surrounding the building. The performers will hold the arrows in stretched out arms above their heads, look up and then down and voice the words “Hope is not enough”. Like much of my work ‘Aktion’ is not a scheduled performance, but an event to be experienced as if by chance - a gesture that might be caught at a glance.
JL: Banners, flags and arrows appear regularly in your work and have a significant presence throughout the site of E-WERK. I’m interested in how these universal means of communication can be a warning or a welcome, an angry protest or a celebration of hope and achievement, a helpful direction or a dangerous weapon. What ideas and on-going conversations are you bringing to the making of the flags that have been commissioned for the entrance of the building?
LJ: The three flagpoles at E-WERK’s entrance were my starting point and an important element when considering the history of the building and it’s new direction. I have created three hand-painted flags with the slogan ‘Stalking the Building’, which is site-specific to E-WERK at this particular moment in its inauguration. E-WERK has attracted a huge amount of interest from the local community, international press as well as the wider art world. I have never witnessed this kind of engagement before and it is this excitement and wonder that I wanted to capture. It appears to me that many people are stalking the building in the sense of walking its parameters, tracking and trailing what is happening here. I hope the slogan ‘Stalking the Building’ prompts the viewer to question and confront the building that stands before them. I deliberated a lot on whether to translate the slogan into German but the corresponding terms did not translate accurately or possess the same poetry as the slogan does in English; after all (albeit a cliché) things get lost in translation.
JL: The mirrored arrows carried as props in ‘Aktion’ become sculptural objects in the exhibition. You have told me that the seven arrow bearers will also become sculptures. How will these objects and figures be placed in the building, is there a particular role that you have in mind for them to play…or a direction to be followed?
LJ: I have placed the maquettes ‘A Family of Workers’ above the Gallery door as I am interested in the transitional space where we enter and exit that the threshold of a doorway evokes. I like that these works, above the visitors head, are camouflaged in white against the white walls and might not be discovered immediately.
Previously I have not exhibited my props, but this time I wanted to display the arrows and test out the idea of the prop being active and inactive at certain points of the exhibition. I have been occupied for a while with the idea of potential and I use the shape of the arrow in my work as a symbol of hope and optimism. Intrinsic to this, however, is also a questioning of the capacity of optimism - whether hope is enough? An arrow pointing up offers a moment for us to look away from the here and now, away from our present point in time. The performers are not pointing their arrows as way finders; but prompting an action to look up, out and beyond. It is true flags, banners, motifs, slogans and eye-catching colour have long acted as visual markers in my practice, which I use as tools to command people’s attention. My use of reflective material, such as mirrors, is a key ingredient in my visual vocabulary to instigate a rupture, flash, or moment of impact. The arrow’s role is to encourage a looking up and re-looking at our normal surroundings - in the pursuit of expanding on the here and now and opening up new questions - after all I believe art should provoke questions rather than provide answers.