Ahead of the March Mostra, for the first in our Meet the Artists series we spoke to Lucy Meyle (BSR Wallace New Zealand Residence Award) about her interest in plants and non-human animals, and how dialogues of fashion, wearability, space and luxury come into her work.
What has been your project in Rome and how much have you deviated from your original ideas?
I came with a project based around the idea of syntax. I wanted to think about small rearrangements within language that might have larger effects on meaning, and how that relates to the configuration or ordering of images/installations/sculptures both conceptually and materially. But I think I always knew that once I arrived in Rome, I was comfortable to essentially throw away the plan, though I think the core of my interest in slight alterations or slight irritants does remain.
I’ve actually been surprised how strongly connected the project has become to fashion and to the connected dialogues around wearability, space, and luxury. Partially this is because there’s a really pragmatic thing about being able to fold sculptures down and take them home. But even this brings up questions to me about rescinded spaces, flexible spaces, or treacherous spaces. I’ve been interested in connecting these kinds of notions to how we think about plants and non-human animals.
Where does your interest in animals stem from?
I grew up with animals around, so it’s been a very ‘ordinary’ feeling thing throughout my whole life. A friend of mine who didn’t have any pets growing up once asked me whether he needed to formally greet my family’s cat when he arrived at our house. It struck me then as such an alien way to consider the animal-human relationship, but now it still sticks in my memory as a perfect moment of re-syntaxation – a re-ordering of the usual way I had thought of doing something so as to make it strange anew. I have been quite interested in care and support and the extension of those actions into sculpture and installation, but more recently plants and non-human animals have come into my work as a way to more directly engage with my sadness and anxiety about ecological issues and climate change.
How would you qualify your philosophical or political position? Do you feel close to post-humanism?
I think it’s really tangled up for me. I’m wary of aligning it with any particular movement of philosophy, particularly something which envisages itself as being ‘beyond’ something, so I feel quite invested in the idea of being entangled with other beings, other things, other kinds of timescapes. What does that mean in terms of an ethical commitment to acting in the now? In terms of political/philosophical theorists I enjoy reading Sara Ahmed, Donna Haraway, Karen Barad, Maria Puig de la Bellacasa, and would say that they have deeply affected the way I consider making works, either as a single artist or within a collaboration, or within a community.
What in particular has fed into your work during your residency?
It has been an exercise in layering, I suppose. Seeing things out on the street is very important for me, being outside and noticing certain things. Like the Vespa covers that everybody has where you put your hands inside it when it’s raining. It’s like both a cover for a scooter, and also something to keep the rain off your hands. Often they’re too big or the wrong shape for the particular motor scooter and they’re slipping off or bunching up. And things like people putting plastic bags around their plants to keep them warm over winter on their patios, or the very swagged curtains that are in the windows of hotels and restaurants, or the plush animals people stuff into their car gloveboxes.
Also seeing Pino Pascali sculptures for the first time, researching fashion or fashion-adjacent practitioners Elsa Schiaparelli, Elsa Peretti, and Cinzia Ruggeri, as well as glass artists Ercole Barovier and Fulvio Bianconi.
And then talking with people like Rodney [Cross, Macquarie Gale Rome Scholar] who’s doing work around conceptions and descriptions of animal sounds in ancient texts and having to interpret what that means back into how we think about those animals, how they thought about those animals, and what are the crossovers. So drawing together those things, it becomes a constellation of images, texts, moments, that I then draw together materially.
You are interested in the concept of translation – how has it been for you living in a different country where English isn’t the dominant language?
I was reading this text by Walter Benjamin called The Task of the Translator, and in it he talks about the original as being like a fruit in its skin, and then once you translate something the form becomes big and heavy like a robe, it kind of envelops original meaning. I like this idea of a baggy idea, there being both freedom of movement but also something that can trip you up really easily. And I think that comes into it too, the idea of the really ‘baggy’ word that doesn’t translate well. The obvious word to me is ‘prego’ where I have absolutely no idea what it means… yet somehow I know what it means. It’s this totally amorphous word, that no matter how many times I hear it, or look it up on Google ‘what does prego mean’ I don’t have any solid concept. It is still very squishy. That is the best place, for me. Where even though you’ve managed to touch around the edges of something, you have nothing solid – surprise remains likely.
Can you tell us about what you are showing in March Mostra?
I’ve made a series of wearable things based on this idea of bagginess, when something spacious can take a turn. For example, you can buy special gloves to put on tights so that you don’t make runs with your fingernails — they’re very loose generally because you’re trying not to pierce anything, but they almost seem like they would be more difficult to do anything with. It seems like you might become clumsier or it would become more difficult to put on the tights wearing these gloves than it would be just to put on the tights. So that’s my starting point, things that perhaps feel nice, feel luxurious, but can slip into a different register. There is also a one-page publication with a series of short texts, which is free to take away.
Lucy’s work will be exhibited alongside the six other resident artists in March Mostra, opening Friday 15 March 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 23 March 2019, closed Sundays.
Interview by Natalie Arrowsmith (Communications Manager). Photos courtesy of the artist.