In Conversation | Fiona Connor and Natasha Conland

Saturday 12 October, 1pm

mossman.gallery

On Saturday 12 October at 1pm, Fiona Connor will give floor talk in conversation with Natasha Conland (Curator Contemporary Art, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki).

The below is a conversation between Sarah Hopkinson, Lucy Skaer, and Fiona Connor that took place over email in September this year.

Sarah: Sitting at my desk reading, trying to think of what question to begin this conversation with, I realised was holding a letter opener that an artist friend gave me years ago: a fine slither of animal bone with a beaded handle. I use it to open letters, and I also use it (often with a disdainful look from Danae) to scratch my back while I’m thinking. Holding this piece of bone, I looked down at my notebook and saw the word “skeletons” in my list of ideas that might connect your practices… So I figured this was a good place to begin our conversation.

Lucy, in A Boat Used as a Vessel (the first show of your work that I saw) there was an enormous whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling of Kunsthalle Basel (an almost-sublime viewing experience for me), the title that you chose for our show, Paramoudra, is a particular kind of flint stone with a distinctive hole-y structure formed by burrowing organisms, and we will present three photographs of your family home that document the results of a series of architectural interventions, including one image of the floor with sections removed to show the underlying support beams. Could you begin by talking about this particular series of work, and perhaps more generally this impulse in your work to reveal what lays beneath?

Lucy: The series of photographs are of my father's house. It’s also the house I grew up in. As my dad began to lose his memory (he has Alzheimer’s) he collected various things, and simply by repeating a normal behaviour over and over he made deposits of them in the house. Piles of sponges by the sink and mounds of highlighter pens by his reading chair. He also did more eccentric things, like collect plastic milk jugs, that were rinsed out and placed over every kitchen surface. Basically his preferences were becoming visible within the architecture of the house - and this struck a chord with my own way of making work. It became possible for me to work in the house because it had already become both strange and familiar.

I began to work in the house quite simply and intuitively - first I made a small sculpture by fusing together my dad's coin collection in to one solid shape with molten tin. Then I began work on two boxes, drawn in flat pack on to the floor. I inlaid the floors with materials like bronze and lapis lazuli, recording certain movements of furniture. I'd roll the carpet back after I was finished. Then eventually we lifted the floor, assembled the box and replaced the boards. Other works used other parts of the house. I am interested in the relationship of memory, sentiment and destruction. The house is changed by my action, made less 'authentic' in terms of my own memories, used up like a resource. But certain moments along the way are very vivid.

So, to get back to your question about skeletons and revealing structure - there is a desire in my work to investigate and to dig beneath the surface but it is not so rational as to expose structure to scrutiny. Rather it is a way of weaving underlying things together to form points of pressure, which are shared with the viewer as affect. So more like your repurposed bone, now an opener of correspondence and back scratcher and aid to thought. The whale skeleton in Basel was hidden almost entirely by a white wall, with only narrow gaps giving glimpses of the skeleton behind. I did this partly to 'unweight' the whale, so that it only partially seemed to exist - like a thought or a name detaching and attaching to an object. I see it more as a surreal (or even linguistic) gesture than a structural one.

Sarah: 'Weaving underlying things together to form points of pressure' is exactly what this conversation attempts to do! Many directions we could go from here, but to tease out just a couple of strands:

Lucy, in talking about your father’s activities in the family home you use the phrase “normal behaviour”, and describe how certain patterns or preferences become more obvious when they are disrupted, or an every-day logic is amplified/repeated to a point where it is no longer recognisable by way of a familiar cause-effect equation. I can see a similar kind of process at play in Fiona’s work - at times very directly, and in other projects more diffuse.

Fi, you are obviously also very interested in “normal behaviour”… I’m thinking in particular of the Community Notice Board series, as documents of literal/physical “pressure points” (scratches, dents, pock marks, rubs and shadows of human interaction with things). But increasingly, with the Monochromes and Closed for Installation works, moments where certain kinds of activity (whether it is community generated, or the labour associated with exhibition making) is rendered invisible, removed, painted out, by a governing force (local council doing beautification work, or the museum cleaning up after install). Could you talk a little about this?

Fiona: It would be easier for me to talk about the bodies of work separately as they are quite different. I think the idea that you have described - a new sort of translation or flattening of many marks from different times - is what I have been playing round with in the Monochromes series and the process of casting. In this project moulds of bulletin boards and urban surfaces are all made in situ, taken back to the studio, and then a new object is cast in resin. By doing this all the different marks and traces left by people and the environment are brought together in a singular material moment. This body of work came out of a lot of thinking about how something could both be specific and abstract at the same time; they oscillate between a cumulative multi-authored archival thing and a singular geometric universal thing.

As for the Closed for Installation works I think they function more like a photograph. They bear witness and document installation set-up and gallery maintenance and bring those processes with them into a different time.

Sarah: I am sensing two crucial ambiguities in both practices - the first between narrative and abstraction, the second between sculptural object and functional object. Perhaps a third between the private/personal and the public/vernacular, but I haven’t quite formulated the language for that yet. In the meantime, a few more questions:

Fi, part of the bronze object's charm is certainly to do with time; whether you call them still-lifes or photographs, they act as little dumb (dumb as in frozen, mute) memorials. The use of bronze is shorthand, a way to ascribe something value, and for me this the easiest, most immediate read. It’s the obviousness of that first interpretation that makes me think twice - about the social life of the object, and how they begin to unravel or ask questions of hidden labour, and the production/presentation dynamic at play in exhibition making...

Fiona: I love this read and description of how they function, yes. When I was with Lucy in Vienna we had this conversation about how these tools will out-live us. Normally you reach for a tool and it is at your disposal, but when they are in bronze they have a different status… they become more stable, perhaps powerful. And this shifts how you experience time in their presence.

Sarah: Lucy, you also use ‘precious' materials - I’m thinking in particular of the lapis in Blue Window, but also mahogany, marble etc. Would it be fair to say your materials are perhaps more concerned with the eccentric ways in which value is ascribed by cultural, mystical, belief systems? Nothing is holy in and of itself... it has to be made holy. Perhaps you could comment on that, and also on your process whereby these kinds of material legacies are spliced (sometimes literally) with intensely personal material?

Lucy: I am indeed interested in these eccentric ways. I like to uncover and use the irrational or desire-lead basis for value. It’s a bit magpie. I am also interested in decoration, introducing extraneous material and embellishing. I think this makes a tension with how legitimate the object is, in one way it draws attention to the mechanisms of ‘makes holy’ and verges on hokey. But crucially I feel these materials do produce an effect and connect to a longer human history of desire. So it’s a tension, which is also inherent in the very charged personal material, such as my bedroom window or our family kitchen table. These objects are overtly sentimental and subjective. Splicing the two - the valuable with the personally significant - I think destabilises the rationale of both. One set of materials carries specific memories of mine, the other is blank, but culturally shared. I think this is the eccentricity in my series made from the floors of the house, that I call ‘eccentric boxes’.

Sarah: Fi, you asked Lucy to title the show and Lucy, you chose the word paramoudra. Could you explain that choice, how it resonates both in your own practice, and as a connector between your work and Fiona’s work? Fiona, perhaps could you comment on the title if you feel inspired to do so?

Lucy: A paramoudra is a naturally occurring cast, a burrow of a creature made positive and prettified. It also makes a quite obscure cultural appearance as the basis of many of Henry Moore’s sculptures - he collected the flints from a beach not too far from where I grew up. My father also collected them and we had them in the house - he even gave me a really heavy one for Christmas one year when I had to fly back to New York! My father visited Henry Moore with a paramoudra which he thought was particularly fine - and my parents had tea with him. It’s hilarious to think of. Anyway I chose the title because I think the process of dwelling, casting, and the afterlife of the cast connect us.

Fiona: When I think about this show I think about how the work starts off the in the margins, but persists and becomes a thing. Paramoudra tell a similar story; they are by definition fossils that form in negative space.

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Fiona Connor (b. 1981, Auckland, New Zealand) lives and works in Los Angeles, USA. Recent solo exhibitions include: #8, Closed for Installation, Sequence of Events, Vienna Secession, Vienna (2019); Closed for Installation, Sculpture Centre, New York (2019); Community Notice Board (Cleaning Coop), Fine Arts, Sydney (2018); Closed Down Clubs and Monochromes, Hopkinson Mossman, Wellington (2018); Object Classrooms, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth (2018); and Community Notice Board and Monochromes, Modern Art, London (2018).

Lucy Skaer (b. 1975, Cambridge, United Kingdom), lives and works between Glasgow and London. Recent solo exhibitions include: The Green Man, Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh (2018); Sentiment, Peter Freeman, Inc., New York (2018); La Chasse, Salzburger Kunstverein, Salzburg (2018); Available Fonts, KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin (2017); Una Casa Más Pequeña, Museo Tamayo, México City (2017); and La Chasse, MRAC Serignan (2017).