March Featured Artist
I’ve had the pleasure (and welcome challenge!) of working with Laurence ‘The French Artist’ these past years. She is half way through her PHD on creative pedagogies, and we are together planning a Social Practice Forum for 12-13 July 2019 which will offer you the opportunity to experience her Truth-Dare-Art methods of developing creative social actions.
With that in mind, I interviewed Laurence for our Featured Artist interview series so you can get a sense of the artist behind the vision:
Laurence envisions a conversational, collaborative, connected experience that will lay the foundation for action that is responsive to this place and time, our environments and relationships.
Laurence, how has your practice evolved over time?
My practice has evolved always.
I think art is about change, things change all the time including the way you deal with it.
Although you develop a method and a structure, your practice changes. I was a painter and a sculptor and found that the space of the painting was too constraining for me and so it became a collage which then very naturally came off the wall and took a life of its own.
So I started to build installations which always included something about inviting people to participate and use their senses, their thinking and words to become part of the project.
When I began my PHD I went back to origins and realised my reason for doing art is simply a path toward creating change.
Art is the medium of my work, my work is change making.
As a creative being I feel like I have a responsibility as a change maker. It’s important for me to identify as an artist because that means taking responsibility for the social engagement I do.
What provokes that ‘change maker’ impulse?
From a very long time ago, my home town in France, I remember that I grew up in a family context where we spent most of the weekends occupying my father’s factory. And at meetings, demonstrations and social gatherings with religious, political or social intent. I felt like a member of the community already larger than my very large family, we always had extra guests at the table.
What change would you like to see?
At the moment, through my PHD research I am dedicating my focus on education, probably because our young people are the future.
I want to play a part in making our education democratic and fair with a sense of freedom and creativity that develops thinkers. Because that’s the best way to see change.
And young people are very much amidst the process of change.
They change drastically during their teens and are in the middle of constructing their identities. It’s a crucial time for supporting them to develop their own creative ways.
What was your biggest personal challenge as an artist and how did you overcome it?
Everything I do needs to be a challenge. A challenge is an opportunity. I always get myself in trouble.
I always go for something that seems impossible to do.
And then I make it possible through a set of actions which I start, which include quite often the actions of other people and that involvement makes it possible.
For example, the 1000 sheep was a huge challenge. I had a vision I couldn’t get off my mind. I had no idea what it was going to take to make it.
When I was confronted with the physical reality of all the elements, in a field with stinging nettles up to my neck and a stable full of shit for a studio with just a spade and wellies, I learned to ask for help and to just get on with the tasks one at a time.
I always imagined landscape intervention as spiritual and poetic but my time at the farm was never that. It was very much about solving problems one after the other and taking action until I had something to install in the gallery.
That was made possible to the involvement of all of those who helped to process the wool, who lit fires under the bathtubs for dying wool, those who sheared the sheep, washed the wool, spun wool, and tied the wool bundles together with me. 300 children also put messages inside the wool bundles.
One volunteer at the farm came all the way (miles!) to the art gallery to install the work. She didn’t know anything about art when she started but she followed me all the way through believing that there might be something good in it. We were both totally astonished by the final work. And we knew what it took to make it which is why I made a film because the process was more important that the finished result.
It never became an object it was a place where people played. People wanted to play music, dance under it, lie under it, and use it as a place of discussion.
What does your process look like?
My process sometimes starts from a concept and moves toward a material response or it can start from a material and vision and develop a concept.
So in a way both evolve together and I develop thinking through making. Lately I am starting from a concept which develops through conversation and ends up into a material shape.
I am aware I need to ground the learning through making and shaping, because I need to understand concepts through action. The making places the knowledge in time and place.
I start with people, a situation, or something that bugs me, or sight of something that has the potential to be different.
What insight would you like to pass on to other practicing artists?
Asking “why am i doing this and what am i learning from it?” means you stop thinking of mistakes as mistakes and see them as an artwork. It’s a learning curve.
Every artistic act is about learning, everything I do or make is teaching me something, so this is why I am motivated, and why I make art.
Everything I do, I learn something about myself and others, so I would encourage artists to ask “what am i learning?” we are all a work in progress and that is why we thrive to learn more and try new things.
Continue to make art because you will keep learning from it, and probably, if you’re not learning you’re on the wrong path.
If you’re not true to yourself you’re not making art. But it’s a hard path because our society is not geared toward that mode of action, and that is why we are often considered in the margin of society.
But I think we have the potential to be innovators bringing new thinking, new adventures.
What has made the biggest impact on your practice?
The first big step in the history of my practice was my fathers death, and then my back operation – learning of physical limitations also highlighted my physical opportunities. I saw my capacities and my understanding of space in a new light. I reduced and selected my mediums at that time, all my world shrunk to one colour, the colour red which represents energy, love, life, death all in one.
The next one was getting a very large studio which totally expanded my world, life and work. My brain started to look upwards, my thinking opened out, there was no longer a lid on my thoughts. I learned the limitations are not real, yet they are: they need negotiating, discarding, and selecting.
I try to remember you don’t have to see things as limitations but as opportunities.
CAS Associate Artists’ Laboratory of Dissent 2015 was a huge turning event for me because I started to come out as a performer which was buried in my work all along. I understood my art as a process.
Since that time I have had The French Artist as a persona, because it was an identity I questioned and welcomed during the Laboratory.
I always felt like an outsider, always displaced. I was acknowledging myself as a displaced artist, displaced from my culture, my place of origin, my sense of geographical belonging, and also in society as an artist… and even displaced from the art world. Yes, there was all these questions about myself as an artist, and as a French person, that came through that costume with humour, audacity and a childlike attitude. My consume consists of a red beret, a striped shirt, and paint soaked overalls.
I was daring to throw out into the visible the things that were dormant in me, like when you create an artwork to see outside of you, something inside you. I experienced a sense of displacement when I saw Lydia wearing my costume.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am working with young people with art process as part of my PHD. Also, I’ve just been looking at identities and different part of self with some young people during an ICE project focused on young people and mental health and working with Andover Young Carers. We ended up working with a brick.
In the past I was given the idea of the identity of a brick wall – you can select a brick, one part of your identity, and look at the back and cherish and explore, and place it back there, it’s solid, and you know where it is. We’ve ended up talking about the brick a lot, a brick seems like nothing on its own because it is an element, one element of a whole.
We had a brick that was broken that would never be used for its intended purpose and it became a focal point or our discussion. They made a brick and experienced what it takes to make an object that is taken for granted as part of our lives. We started with an object, observed, asked questions, explored the floating concept of identity, and then made our own solid brick representation.
How do you share and promote your work?
I still haven’t found something that really works, word of mouth has been my main way, going places and meeting people face to face makes a difference.
Conferences provoke new opportunities, informal meetings and keeping a connection, oh and being in a peer network.
CAS has provided me a lot of work and sense of support and connection with other artists.
Artists tend to work in isolation but learning that we all have a different way of seeing and its quite reassuring.
I am in the process of developing a new website to better reflect the consultancy and creative leadership I can offer to organisations and communities.
What achievements are you most proud of?
When I’m surprised by people’s reactions to my actions, when people turn around my world or vision through the encounters I make.
When I was expecting one thing and it turns out the other way around. I want to be turned around like a pancake every time make art, turned around by people.
That means looking at the other side of things.
It can only be little moments like this that impact hugely on the rest of someones life, taking on those precious little gems, mere moments, that emerge in an art project is a great achievement.
For example, during Laboratory of Dissent 2015 when Lydia put on my dungarees and did exactly what I said not to, I was infuriated and emotion was stirred.
I was thinking of my art as an installation and she turned it into an invitation which is what art is – that’s how I see it now. How does art invite participation – by looking, by understanding, by engaging?
Now I ask “what is the offer and what should it be?”
There were no boundaries about what should or should not be during the Laboratory, we were making it up as we went along and Lydia stepped over what I thought was an established boundary. It showed me that if I am sending an invitation out to the world it is up the the audience to choose how they take it and how much they take, in what way.
It reminded me that positioning your work before you put it out there is good, but at the same time there is almost more surprise and more to be discovered if it’s not what you expected it to be.
It’s also rewarding when someone comes like Suzanne Baker who comes 3-4 years later and tells me that she was turned and really moved by the performance of the spinning of the wool, and carried that experience with her of being listened to so deeply and having her story woven in the wool attentively.
Everything is connected, everything you give comes back in a way. Suzanne has played a big part in making it possible to deliver a Social Practice Forum in summer 2019.
What can people expect from your upcoming event Truth-Dare-Art: the two day Social Practice Forum?
Artists, educators, change makers and community representatives are all invited to join us for 2 days of experiential learning – the invitation is to learn though experience and sharing because the experience of art is such a direct language. It speaks to our emotions, our heart, and beyond words. Although I think words are important it is also important that words come later.
My intention is that everyone can get to a deep understanding of why we work together and how art can impact on life, and how we can change things together. We will do this through creating connections with people, materials, environment, and art as a process to manipulate those things collaboratively. I really believe we have the power to change the things around and within us, and art practices help us to understand the power as part of us, as part of our world.
Regardless of your knowledge of art you can expect to have a much deeper understanding of that process by the end of the two days and feel confidence in your response-ability to the challenges you face personally, and that we all face, globally.
I hope that people will find it impossible NOT to act after this event – and in time discover the possibility that the impossible is possible.
CAS is proud to be offering this opportunity in partnership with Laurence as part of the CAS ‘Creative Dissent’ program. We all look forward to strengthening our links with artists, educators, community organisations and individuals with a desire to make difference.
Ready to explore ways of doing things differently as part of a collaborative peer-network?
Tickets will go on sale this April.
Please save the dates 12/13.07.19 and email maija (at) chapelartsstudios.co.uk with any questions.