Conversations on a sculpture

MeetingRoomAt the end of April I spent some time at Leeds Art Gallery interviewing people, using the sculpture ‘Atom Body Was Light’ by Lilliane Lijn as a starting point. This was an incredibly interesting and enjoyable process. I spoke to 16 people in all from a range of backgrounds. They included a masseur, an RE teacher, a theoretical physicist, a designer, an artist, a museum assistant, a lawyer and people with no single profession or easily definable role. I am very grateful for the time that everyone gave to talk to me.

Now the question I am wrestling with is, what did I do the interviews for and how am I going to turn the conversations into some form of outcome? My plan is to make an artists’ book and the form of this is starting to take shape but it is quite different from what I initially imagined.

The way that I articulated the project initially was that it is to do with value (something which is of course incredibly pertinent at the moment at a time of cuts). Do we/how do we/why do we value art? Do people from different backgrounds value it in different ways? Also how do people value their own roles in life? Does what they choose to do as a career or otherwise represent more generally what they think is meaningful? I asked people a rage of questions, starting with asking for their initial response to the sculpture and asking them what it reminded them of. Then I asked about whether they were able to use the sculpture as a metaphor to describe their own role or profession. Following this we talked about what they value and find meaningful within their work/role and lastly some discussion about whether they thought that art, in general, was of value.

Some time has passed since I conducted the interviews, partially because it took longer than expected to listen back to the interviews and review what was pertinent and partially because in the life of a freelancer it’s easy to get sidetracked by more time-bound projects and applications for things that need to be done NOW! Anyway, I am now getting back on track with the project and am starting to realise that saying it’s about ‘value’ is slightly the wrong framing. Having said that I haven’t quite found what the right framing is! Words that keep coming into my mind at the moment are: utility, meaning, language, embodiment, play, participation. Can it be about all of those things?!

Over the coming days I will post some more reflections on the project thus far and updates on what I am doing with it now.


I have been thinking about the short text/poem pieces I have been writing using letters from longer words (tomorrow, otherwise, meanwhile, elsewhere, bygones). I could just keep them as printed text pieces and I was initially planning to do this, maybe in a book format.

Now I am wondering about printing them on pictorial backdrops, so they are slightly less dry conceptual pieces and they could also be read in relation to the image. I am hoping to display them at our end of residency event and am also mindful that they might work better in a non-English speaking country with an additional element to them.

(Filmed in) Tallinn

Some of us from the residency went on a very quick day trip to Tallinn at the end of last week. The old town is really beautiful, as Violet Shum (another artist here) said: “It looks like a painting.” So, today I found myself wondering whether many films have been shot in Tallinn. Also how different did the town look during the Soviet era? Less colourfully painted perhaps? This travel blog suggests that one third of the old town was destroyed during WWII and that Soviet plans would have been to tear down the old town, which was seen as a relic of merchant Capitalism. However they ran out of money to do so.

A bit of internet searching reveals that Stalker by Andrei Tarkovsky was shot there, but in abandoned buildings, a chemical plant and a power station, so rather a counterpoint to the old town setting.

I am sure many other films, Estonian and otherwise, have been shot there. If you know any that use the old town setting, or other parts of Tallinn, in a visually interesting way then let me know.

Avoidance tactics

RockabyeSnoringI am finding, whilst in Finland, that I am being very good at avoiding doing the projects that I was intending to focus on during my residency. These are 1) the Canada footage with new additional footage of Finland and 2) writing up some interviews I did with people in Leeds before I left about a sculpture by the artist Lilliane Lijn and turning them into an artists’ book. Instead I have been playing with words!

During my first week here I made two short text animations based around the words ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ and ‘If’ and ‘But.’ Here are a couple of still images. I am not posting the video yet because I think maybe I still have some work to do with the rhythm/timing of how the words appear on screen. Also I am probably going to include them in an upcoming exhibition in Leeds/Ghent in August and would maybe like to wait and post them with some images of the work as installed.

I am also writing some little text pieces using letters from longer words. For example, from the word ‘OTHERWISE’:

These terse
either RISE or REST
wits we tore
their worst wish

I am trying to persuade myself that these works are actually a form of practical research for the book I will make based on the Lijn interviews….but really I am doing them because I am finding focusing on that work really hard! Actually I am progressing the book work but S>>L>>O>>W>>L>>Y. So more about that another time.


When you’re thinking about making art it’s easy to find resonances for your projects everywhere. Now I am reading a new book Archipelago by Monique Roffey. I chose it only because I recently enjoyed another of her books The White Woman on The Green Bicycle. It has only just occurred to me that the title may have unconsciously appealed to me because I am staying in a country with lots of islands (although I am not near the coast).

The Archipelago referenced are however in the Caribean and Pacific. The novel starts in Trinidad and a father and his daughter journey to Los Roques and the Galapagos Islands.

Roffey wrote the book as a response real events, to actual floods and to climate change. She writes:

“When my brother had his home knocked down in a flood four years ago, in 2008, climate change became very real for me, and very close. The planet is melting. We all know this. But when the effects of climate change touched my family in a catastrophic way, I knew I should pick up my pen and write.”

CityWater-copyI hadn’t thought so much about how my Canadian footage might be read in terms of actual floods. I was thinking of the water as being metaphorical only, but perhaps shouldn’t forget real disasters and their impact.

Archipelago is also a book about escape, mental and physical. The travellers do not escape flooding because they find the same physical problems (earthquakes, flooding, broader climate change) in the other places that they visit. They do seem to be finding some escape from their feeling of trauma and inner turmoil which I guess may ultimately lead them to go home at the end of the novel. The wife/mother of the family is not on the journey with them because she has dealt with flooding and the loss of their son in another way, by retreating into herself, by ‘going to sleep,’ becoming mentally ill.

The International Language Service

Map2In Hämeenkyrö near where I am staying there is a second hand store and in the second hand store I found a brilliant book called the ‘International Language Service.’ It is published by a hotel in Mariehamn and is probably from the 80s although I can’t see a publishing date and am just guessing from the design. It’s a handy (although huge, not pocket sized) guide to all the phrases you might need whilst on holiday and they are included in Finnish, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, German, Italian, Spanish, French and English. What amused me about the books is the illustrations, but also how every few pages you get the same map of Mariehamn. When I first flicked through the book I didn’t realise that it was a map of the town and I thought it was a map of the hotel itself. I imagined this massive complex that you would never have to leave, including shopping, restaurants and leisure facilities all in one place. The repeated map is like a reminder of the total complex in which you are staying, housing all nationalities who can now happily communicate.

I would like to try and make a video including the book, making a narrative by using a series of the phrases combined with pictures from the book. I am not sure I have the equipment to do it here (I am imagining zooming in and panning around the pages) but could plan it out and do a rough version to finish it later. I am sure it is something to do with being at a residency in another country with people from several nationalities that has piqued my interest in this language guide.
A little bit of research tells me that Mariehamn is an autonomous territory under Finnish sovereignty. But I am thinking about imagining the hotel is called Mariehamn and is the massive complex I initially thought.