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This month Parasol Unit – another of London’s cutting-edge not-for-profit exhibition spaces – is showcasing works by the three winners of its second annual EXPOSURE award. Aimed at promoting the work of recent art school graduates (this year from the Royal College of Art), this year’s winners – Kate Liston, Lea Provenzano and Leah Capaldi – reflect the collaborative and interdisciplinary quality of the RCA’s programmes. Deftly integrating sculpture, video and performance, they encompass a range of emotional and conceptual registers, combining formalist concerns with offbeat humour and institutional critique.
What is your method of working? I usually begin with visiting the exhibition space and developing an idea based on the environment. I spend most of my time drawing out ideas or phrases I’m thinking about. Then the ideas I want to take further are translated into mini poses and performances that I photograph or film in the studio. I work on those as source material and progress from there.
To what extent is your work autobiographical? I use my body as a tool in my work which is why I think some people can become confused about how much I am involved. I am able to separate myself when I perform, it’s a bit like putting on a mask. Now I’ve started using volunteers in my work there’s a question of responsibility I have to deal with. I would never ask someone to perform something that I couldn’t stand, that is important to me.
Your video Peplos (2010), a performance where you climb under a fur coat, uses in its title the Greek word for 'robe'. Are ancient mythology and ritual conscious influences in your work? Initially I performed the work in the Sculpture Court in ECA in Edinburgh, which is the home of the first casts of the Elgin Marbles. I made the work in dialogue with the space which was built in the style of a Roman temple. Whilst there I spoke to the head of the casts conservation who pointed out a particular molding of the priestesses of Athena offering up a sacrificial peplos. This resonated with the work I was doing with shrouds and fur at the time.
Initially I performed the piece for 50 mins. When it came to reviewing the work I decided that I didn’t need to perform it any more and was more interested in the transformation that took place from performer to sculpture, so I put out an advert asking for volunteers who wanted to become my work. So now the piece is really about becoming and object and the line between sculpture and performance.
What is your next project? I’m developing a piece using the CCTV cameras of a large institution to film a work I’ll be doing throughout the space. We are still in the proposal stages at the moment but it’s looking promising.
Several of your works mimic architectural structures on a modest scale, requiring viewers to circumvent or enter them. Would you define your work 'participatory'? I think there is a danger with a lot of ‘participatory’ works where, by asking for a minimal gesture from an audience you actually get minimal participation; all work is participatory. I am interested in the sort of physical resonances architectural spaces can create in a viewer.
What is your method of working? In making work it is important for me to first set up a field of play, a physical territory in which things are up for constant renegotiation. Recently my work has involved making videos from footage taken from these sets. There is a kind of self-perpetuating, self-referential system at play in this working process where the initial form could be anything, the work points to its structure rather than its subject.In making ‘Fire Escape’ for EXPOSURE 10 I used the shape and size of the given space to loosely inform a process of model making in a different location. Embracing the instability of memory, and with anticipation of the futility of the task at hand, I arranged mdf boards that gave my studio a vague sense of the physical space of the staircase and shifted these improvised temporary spaces incrementally taking video clips. This video was then installed back in the original space alongside another made from clips of the staircase and both were projected onto a screen that follows the shape of the stair’s walls.
Your work Tower (2010), consisting of a triangular concrete 'bunker' containing two film projections, foregrounds shape in a way that recalls Constructivism. The shape and title of the installation specifically call to mind Tatlin's iconic unrealised design for a tower in Petrograd following the Russian Revolution, Monument to the Third International. Was this a conscious point of reference, and what other historical precursors (if any) did you have in mind? There is something ridiculous about a temporary concrete tower that was definitely embracing the idea of ‘folly’ inherent in the canonical piece of Tatlin’s Tower. While not direct references, references to Constructivism in general seem unavoidable in my work; there is certainly a shared relationship with a kind of provisionality, a poverty of means and a revealing of the working processes. I think the work in general walks a precarious line between the ‘honesty’ of production methods of Constructivism and the heroicism and bravado of the tabula rasa idea of Modernism. I do feel however that there is more of a relationship with design and the applied versions of these movements with my sets reminding me more of Modernist ballet sets of 1920s, which essentially portray a kind of index to Modernism rather than the ‘real’ authoritative Art of Modernism. My decision to include the Bang and Olufsen speakers in ‘Fire Escape’ in the EXPOSURE 10 show was intended to reference modernist design in this way. By using only referents and indexes in my work I would hope to undermine the heroicism attached to the gesture of making something from nothing as no one piece of the installation holds authority over the next. My work is usually temporary, which would undermine any sense of monumentality.What is your next project? Next summer I’ll be going to Beijing for a month as part of the Red Mansion Prize to live in a live/work space and will be involved in the related exhibition after that, until then I will be working on some new videos using improvised sets that play with scale.
What is your method of working? Mostly I lie around on my back and stare at the wall or whatever. Then I think to do something like unfold an envelope and I do that. Sometimes things take longer and then it’s a matter of waiting, maybe years, and holding an idea. That’s harder. It sounds lazy and there’s definitely a big part of what I do that comes out of rumination or boredom. I wish I could be one of those people who make the sort of labor-intensive work where they can clock in 10-hour days just physically making things. In the end I think making art is hard either way and it’s astounding that anyone does it.
Your works quote forms, patterns and structures, ranging from Malevich's Black Square to an Afghan rug. What draws you to certain forms? The “Afghan” is a blanket my Nonna made in the 70’s. So some cultural disambiguation is needed. An Afghan is a weird American (or at least Pennsylvanian) term for a crochet blanket. I went to a very kind of applied modernism catholic church when I was little, you know kind of abstracted geometric golden doves and stuff. Malevich lying in state with the square in place of an icon… It’s not to say that I’m religious about it. For me that kind of idolatry or reverence or contemplation or concentration on a thing or form is something I want.
Your works often combine painting and photography; in what ways do these two sides of your practice inform one another? Most paintings we see are photographs of paintings right? Also, there’s a thing about touching and layers of removal from that touching that I think is really interesting. It’s kind of a real painter’s problem in some ways, about surfaces: in vs. on. I’m especially interested in digital photography where everything is essentially filtered through one dimension, becoming completely linear; a string of numbers that is then re-presented on the grid for us.
What is your next project? My husband and I are working on a project together to begin the creation of every digital image possible on an 1152 x 720 monitor; the number is massive but finite. It’s really just a matter of counting. It’s a case of getting the project started so that as processing capabilities rise and prices lower it can continue. It’s essentially just an expression of what the grid of pixels already is, production of that potential.
EXPOSURE 10 is on at at Parasol Unit from 22 September – 17 October 2010
14 Wharf Road