Art Reveal Magazine
Questions from: Art Reveal Magazine
Answers from: Lucinda Burgess
Briefly describe the work you do.
I use glass, burnt wood, mild steel, paper and liquid – materials that are capable of dramatic transformation. The intention is to emphasize transience at the level of materials and objects as well as within the viewer’s direct experience. I repeat processes as well as objects to stress that no thing or experience can really be repeated, each is unique and utterly fleeting. Sometimes the same sculpture is repeated so that the viewer experiences it twice in differing contexts. The time lag between the two viewings places attention on unfolding experience rather than on the idea of an autonomous object.
The differing contexts change the perception of the work as well as the way in which it is experienced. One, for example, might be walked on and barely noticed, like a grille on a doorstep, while its twin is placed on the wall and looked at, reminding us of modernist abstraction, and the way any object can be taken seriously in a gallery. Much of my work draws attention to unfolding transient experience, as well as emphasizing changeability at the level of basic materials: rusting steel continues to decay, glass reflects the changing light and complicates the visual field with its fluid mutability. Dyed water, poured into bottles, starts off the same dark red, but then fades unevenly over the weeks. A minimalist aesthetic helps to highlight subtle change and difference, while long lines help to exaggerate the changing perspectives of the viewer as they walk around the space.
How has your background influenced you?
I was a Buddhist nun for 11 years and most of the monastic training was about developing awareness of transience, transience of a thought, a smell, a mood, a sight. The ultimate aim of which was to bring about an understanding of non-self at a fundamental level, that is, the non-existence of anything permanent within experience. This is an understanding that things in the world, as well as selves, are ultimately concepts – tools for operating, not the reality of present-moment experience. The fixity that concepts imply, the concept of self or a thing, be it a table, a chair or a mountain, is not substantiated when ongoing sensory and mental experience is examined closely. This philosophical training permeates all my work as an artist.
I also worked as a landscape designer, where the notion of ongoing maintenance is completely taken for granted. Several of my works fully embrace the constantly changing nature of things to the extent that they need work and care to maintain them, for instance polishing shiny metal to retain a reflective surface when its natural inclination is to grow dull and rust. Natural processes such as rusting, reflecting, burning, and chemical changes in liquid over time: these are integral to my work.
My first BA degree in painting continues to show even though my MFA (completed in 2014) was primarily about materials and therefore three-dimensional. I continue to emphasize surface texture, and surface reflection, without much attention to weight or volume. My primary interest is in the way the visual field keeps shifting and dancing.
Do you think of yourself as a conceptual artist?
In a strange way my work uses concepts in an attempt to challenge the belief in the reality of concepts, or the permanence and fixity that concepts imply. For example the concept of an artwork that is on the wall of a gallery space is undermined by placing the same thing on the floor in a door threshold, so that the concept changes and it becomes a foot grille. The concept, or label, is completely dependent on the context. I’m interested in highlighting the fact that concepts are just tools, necessary tools to order the flux of experience, but tools nonetheless.
I try to avoid representation – the material is the material and it is not there to represent anything else. In this sense, my work is not heavily conceptual. Of course different labels and associations will arise in the mind of the viewer, depending on their own experiences, but as far as possible I try to let the material do the talking, presenting it in a way that highlights its transient nature. This transience is the concept. Time is a concept, and transience is a concept too: they are inextricably linked.
How has your work changed in the past years?
I’ve moved away from making a single object. Instead I’ve been using the wall and the floor for one work, as well as two rooms to display one work. This allows the work to be experienced over time, it cannot all be seen or touched at once, it is something that unfolds; at one moment there are colours and shapes through the eyes, and at another moment, there are pressures in the feet; these separate sensory experiences are then given a label, a label that implies one fixed thing, as well as a solid reliable, objective world. In the work that is situated in two rooms, the perception changes as the context changes. Where the room is a gallery, close attention is given and the glass work is highlighted; in the room that is a corridor, the glass work looks similar to all the glass doors in that corridor and is barely registered. The same thing is never the same.
How would you describe the art scene in your area?
My area is London and Bath, I go between the two. Bath Spa University is incredibly dynamic and forward-looking, offering residencies and awards and generally supporting its alumni very well. London is of course London, exciting, stimulating, with an endless supply of contemporary art to see.
In your opinion what does art mean in contemporary culture?
The term is used to cover such a broad spectrum that anything might be called Art. For me, Marina Abramović uses it to increase attentiveness and Roni Horn uses it to question fixed identities and to underline transience and the ephemeral; I find both very inspiring.
What exhibitions have you had since your MA and what are your future plans?
Since I graduated in 2014, I’ve been working full-time as an artist, exhibiting widely across the UK with commissions in Cornwall and exhibitions in London at Beaux Art Gallery, the Oxo Tower Gallery and the Nunnery Gallery, as well as galleries and a museum in the cities of Bath, Bristol and Oxford. I am currently working on a commission to commemorate the storm of 2014 in Porthleven as well as making paper and graphite works that break down the separation of drawing and sculpture.
Interview with Lucinda Burgess