This way up
Sunil Shah & Tom Lovelace
Somewhere between Confidence and Apprehension
Rye Dag Holmboe
Of The Afternoon
James Duncan Clark & Tom Lovelace
ropes, ladders and hanging pots
Work Starts Here
usefulness, work and beauty
Forms in Green, Hackney
Work Starts Here
A footnote on the plinth
The Work of Art
Something Constructed, Something Invented
On Unit 2
This way up
Sunil Shah & Tom Lovelace
The outer edge of Derby’s town centre appears as a fairly typical English, East Midlands urban landscape: a dense merging of terraced housing, shopfronts, disused factories and recently built, light industrial and business units. My short traverse across the city takes in a cheap parking lot, the central shopping area and on to the residential parts within the ring road. I arrive at my destination, a small group photography exhibition called ‘Except the Mirror’. It is here, I first encounter the strange, upside-down world of Tom Lovelace. The exhibition features a series of photographs from In Preparation (2011-12) where a pair of feet perched precariously on what seem like metal legs, concrete plinths or wooden stilts, all teeter on the edge of balance. This and the other work on show leaves me in a state of pleasant disorientation, echoing my tentative route around the town centre.
A few months later in Lovelace’s 2015 solo show, ‘this way up’, at Flowers Gallery in London, he revealed much more – a continuation of visual disorientation, highlighting a play with the processes of image making, materiality and the surfaces of perception. The exhibition was recently followed up with the release of a self-published book, also titled, ‘this way up’.
Sunil Shah: Last year must have been the culmination of some very concentrated activity in the studio?
Tom Lovelace: Absolutely. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Deadlines and pending displays drag working ideas out of my head and jolt the making process to begin and evolve.
It would appear that a three-year cycle is taking form, as 2012 was very similar to this year: a solo show, an international residency, a cluster of group exhibitions and a publication. I am currently putting plans in place for 2017/2018, when I will stage another solo show. And, on the topic of books, I shall publish a culmination of 10 years work, folded into a book for 2017/18. It’s all very exciting. SS: It is interesting how, regardless of the digital age, many photographers and artists are still fully immersed in processes and transformations and there is less anxiety about the ‘death’ of photography etc. In your practice how did the turn towards abstraction and materiality take place?
TL: Materiality has always been a strong thread in my work. This is manifest through an exploration of material properties in a sculptural sense (creating solely for the camera’s lens, most evident in my Unit 2 series), and the presence and play of materiality within the actual photographic surface. Relating to the former, I can distinctly recall being questioned as a ‘photographer’ whilst studying for my BA Photography in early 2000. At that time I was making, staging and performing a lot, but significantly, all with the eye of the camera in mind.
My recent photogram work best represents my exploration of materiality and the photographic surface. In these works I re-use found fabric, which has been affected by the suns rays. The presence of the actual material is extremely important in this work. So materiality has always been key to my practice. The same can be said in relation to abstraction and minimalism, yet these are more complex, and perhaps greater interests for me at the moment. To choose to explore the world around oneself, through minimalist aesthetics is quite simply a complex and difficult task to fulfil. That is the key driver for me currently, to explore, dig and interpret the world around me through abstract, minimalist strategies.
SS: The photobook is often considered the destination or end product for many. For some it IS the work. However, for you this publication is considered as an ‘exhibition catalogue’ for your recent show. With the gallery exhibition being temporary, the catalogue is typically left as a legacy, a gift or supplementary documentation to the gallery show. How does this book relate or differ in this respect? Especially as I suspect for an artist making work for the gallery, there are frustrations in translating that experience into print.
TL: From the outset my work has pivoted on the coming together of photography and the experience of three-dimensional display. How we experience forms of display, whether that be sculptural, performative, or an entire exhibition is important to me. I use photography to reinvent and re-present materials, objects and experiences and in this context, I have tried to use the pages of the book in the same way, to recycle and present a continuation of the exhibition itself.
I value traditional documentation of exhibitions, and you will see that I use these on my website, but I have not been interested in employing this type of imagery in my first two books; ‘Work Starts Here’ and ‘this way up’. I view these publications as just as much part of the exhibition, as opposed to existing as a supplementary object which is positioned parallel to it. You have highlighted a feeling shared by many when you touch upon the frustrations in translating ‘exhibition experience’. Simultaneously, you have also highlighted the beauty of staging an exhibition and why some people get so caught up in feeling that they must see and experience a particular show, and visit the church themselves. Further, it is extremely difficult to replicate those conditions; a sense of space and time once an exhibition has closed its doors for the last time.
SS: The book is unconventional, in some respects – being based on the concept of addressing the exhibition retrospectively, abstracting its form and to some degree revealing your work and processes through the essay ‘Snip Snip’ by Rye Dag Holmboe. Although for some your work might be difficult to understand, for others it may exist as a world in itself, without any text or signposting, I guess there is no right or wrong way to interpret these works?
TL: With all my images and objects, I attempt to take viewers to a certain tipping point at which there is a possibility to lose oneself in a particular work or installation. The exhibition ‘this way up’ pivoted on strategies of simplicity where all obvious signposts were removed. Some works pointed in on themselves and oscillated between being open and closed, whilst others where collapsing. As a collection, a sense of obfuscation was present.
I was interested in momentarily relieving highly functional objects of their practical duties, in turn allowing them to slip into a world which has its own set of visual rules and properties and significantly, a place where viewers could become lost and disorientated within the work. Equally Rye’s text, Snip Snip has been a revelation for me. He very simply, yet elegantly dismantles the work both logistically and theoretically, drawing attention to materials, processes and the origins of objects. It is a revealing text into both process and concept. There is a deceptive simplicity to the body of work, which Rye brilliantly exposes.
SS: It is interesting how the reference to Alice in Wonderland is made in the essay. In many ways much of your work to the untrained eye may seem nonsensical and absurd; this disorientation is a part of a world you create in your work. It takes us somewhere we are unfamiliar with which is an interesting trope of photography, where the imagination is activated through a perplexing experience. Is this other place what you are looking for in your process? To paraphrase Alice in the essay: “If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense.”
TL: I am smiling as your words could form the perfect introduction to my practice! I was surprised when Rye used Alice in Wonderland as a reference, surprised that the connection had not previously been made. I extract the highly familiar; the objects, places and experiences from under our nose, and then twist and turn these until I am able to rework them to a stage where they perpetually oscillate between the mundane and the fantastical, the absurd and the perplexing. There is indeed an absurdity about the work, however this is coupled with a serious re-evaluation of the object and image landscape around me. Form, function and identity are not taken for granted in my practice.
SS: In much of your work there are processes involved that are contingent to your ‘framing’ of the work into a finished piece. When we spoke once before, we discussed how one might get to a place where the work seems complete, at that moment in time, at least. When we are working with objects, photographically or not, there are positions, orientations, formats and displays to consider. It’s a difficult thing to unpack, as it is something that’s often based in or around intuition, experience and feeling perhaps?
TL: Unit 2 (2007 – 2009) is an anomaly within my practice as it is the only project where the final set of works have directly mirrored the designs at the outset. This work took a linear, clear trajectory resulting in a set of photographs which essentially pay homage to the concept drawings. All projects since have straddled with objects and images in constant evolution. Here, an initial seed of an idea is stretched, tossed and turned in the ‘framing’ of the work and when that framing takes place, is unknown. The ‘Monteluco Sole’ series would be the obvious example to use here. These particular photographs were taken in 2012, yet they are dated 2013. Taken during a residency with the Anna Mahler International Foundation in Spoleto, Italy in the summer of 2012, these photographs depict a set of chairs seemingly suspended from a tarmac ceiling. The films were developed in Rome, and then once back in London I made a set of prints that hung on my studio wall. I knew that a potential lay in these depicted objects. And then the following year, I turned one of the photographs upside down. Immediately the work crystalized, in a nonsensical way. By turning one of the chair legs upside down, in turn, the chair became the correct way up. Further, all sense of gravity was lost and this harmless, redundant metal object suddenly slipped into a new form, with new meaning and renewed energy. They were photographed in Italy in 2012, yet made, and complete the following year in south London. Hence, the accompanying dates significantly state 2013.
Interestingly now, there is nothing stopping the owner of these photographs to simply turn the works 180 degrees and display them in their original composition and form.
A further example of this evolution of objects and the significance of framing occurred this week at the New Art Centre, Roche Court, Salisbury. I was one of five artists exhibiting in the recent group exhibition Groundwork. I displayed a two-part sculpture entitled Brace, Brace along with a set of photographs displayed in the gallery. Brace, Brace would fall under the category of ‘sculpture’. During the de-installation process, as the technical team were slowly dismantling the structure, a beautiful unravelling process took place with the sculpture fluctuating between order and collapse. Over the next hour I documented this with my 35mm camera and I instinctively had a feeling that the resulting photographs would not only form a continuation of the sculpture, but might also exist as an entire set of two dimensional works. This is a prime example of how my work is driven, and in constant negotiation between the 2d and 3d interpretations of the world.
SS: You’ve mentioned how your work identifies and presents the fabric of photography through interfaces or points of slippage between perception and abstraction. In your own words, you are “pulling work apart, investigating and developing strategies that pivot on simple interpretations of the world… flipping orientation… looking at what already exists in the world… the ready-made” What appears sometimes as complex and serious is perhaps not so, there is a playfulness in your work.
TL: I attempt to make work that is translucent, metaphorically. On the one side, the underlying intention of my work is a serious exploration into photography; where photography exists, how the medium operates, and what it can achieve. The questioning continues. My research is underpinned by the history of the medium and what previous generations have done with a camera in hand. At the same time, I am a visual artist and I strive to make photographs and objects, which engage and rupture the imagination. The installation SWEEP is a clear example of this methodology. The work is rooted in Fox Talbot’s study from 1844, ‘The Open Door’, yet simultaneously, the resulting work displays a playfulness and humour. For me it is about a synthesis of these two elements.
Somewhere between Confidence and Apprehension
Tom Lovelace - Foam Talent Spotlights
If there is one artwork I could own, or perhaps borrow for a short while, then Robert Mapplethorpe’s Self-Portrait, 1971 would be it. I first discovered this artwork whist studying art at university. I can remember the place. I was on the second floor of the library, flicking through the hundreds of photography books and I can recall being struck by this powerful collage. It was unlike most things I had previously encountered.
I have never attempted to scrutinise the metaphorical connotations that lie within the work: the purple framing, the cage-like wire, the dissected naked body and that intriguing pose that oscillates somewhere between confidence and apprehension. For me, the lasting effect has been the way in which Mapplethorpe has handled the photographic print, both conceptually and formally, in response to materials, texture and colour that lie outside of the traditional photographic frame. I remember thinking this must have been made by someone special, who had a particular confidence with materials, space, the photographic image and the dynamic between these elements.
I rediscover the work every few years. This usually happens when I am preparing for a lecture, and collating influential artworks and materials I have come across. This reoccurring meeting reminds me of those highly informative years when time spent in the library produced some genuinely arresting and challenging encounters.
Photographically, the work is subtle for Mapplethorpe. His work is commonly known for a content that shocks. However there are no erect penises here, or flowers suggestive of genitals. Until recently, I had not researched the work. Perhaps, strangely, I had always thought the purple fabric could have been an extravagant, velvet sick bag. Maybe this is what one would find on a private jet. Upon reading further, it turns out to be a potato bag, painted purple by Mapplethorpe. In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t unearthed this. Note to self: when one's imagination is roaming, restrain from restricting this state with material facts.
Robert Mapplethorpe – Untitled (Self-Portrait) 1971
Rye Dag Holmboe
—Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865)
Downside up chair legs suspended from the ceiling of the world. An absurd proposition, but it might provide a fitting way to begin thinking about the play of sense and nonsense in Tom Lovelace’s artistic practice. To produce the works in question, titled Monteluco Sole #1, #2, #3, #4 and #5, chair legs were placed upside down on a road leading up to the Monteluco valley in Italy. The chair legs were photographed with a 35mm film camera and for a year the images lay in the artist’s studio in London. The works were only “finished” , as Lovelace put it in a recent conversation, when the decision was made to turn the photographs upside down. In this way the chair legs were turned downside up, and in the process everything and nothing had changed.
That a simple operation can turn circles inside your head is characteristic of Lovelace’s object-world. It takes a moment to figure out what has taken place, and once this is fixed in your mind, if only briefly, like a half-remembered word on the tip of your tongue, what remains perplexing is what these various operations might mean. In one sense the five resulting artworks are banal. What could be more inane than turning a photograph of upside down chair legs upside down or, to be more precise, down-side up? At the same time, this recoding of the object or its détournement, to borrow a term from the Situationists, themselves not adverse to the nonsensical or the absurd, has an estranging effect. The chair legs now seem animated and mildly threatening, like a strange mechanical insect. A work that comes to mind here is Marcel Duchamp’s Bottle Rack (1914), also known as Hérisson or Hedgehog, a ready-made the artist described, fittingly, as “a bottle rack that has changed direction”. In the Monteluco Sole series this change in direction is redoubled and presents us with a paradox. Because in an upside down world to be downside up is also to be the right way up. It all depends on how you see the chair legs. Alice put this dilemma cogently during her adventures in Wonderland: “If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And con-trary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”
Perhaps you do. Then there is the problem of where the work is. It’s like an involuted game of Russian dolls or a set of Chinese boxes. Every time a solution is found, within that solution is another problem, and within the solution to that problem yet another problem. Are the upside down chair legs the work? This would make the work a found object, an assisted ready-made or what Lovelace refers to as a “road sculpture”. Are the photographs of the upside down chair legs the work? In that case the pho-tographs might serve as archival documents of a performance whose purpose admittedly confounds. Or is the gesture of turning the photographs of the upside down chair legs upside down, such that the chair legs now hang downside up, which is to say, the right way up, the work? Such an absurd gesture would barely fulfil the minimal conditions of what we call art, yet that is what these photographs ask to be seen as. And if the gesture of turning the photographs upside down is the work—they are, after all, dated to this time, not to when the images were taken—then it seems that in the Monteluco Sole series the making of art comes perilously close to art’s unmaking.
If the Monteluco Sole series turns the world downside up, Untitled Red #1, #2, #3 might be said to turn the world outside in. During his time in Monteluco, Lovelace noticed a series of red felt panels on the walls of a theatre covered with posters and announcements. The parts that showed through had been bleached by the sun after prolonged light exposure. Over time this process produced a palimpsest of squares and rectangles in various gradations of pinkish-brown. After long negotiations the theatre agreed to give Lovelace the felt panels on condition that he replace them. The panels were removed and new ones fitted. The old panels were shipped to London, where they were placed in elegant wooden frames beneath UV protected glass so that the felt was no longer susceptible to the degrading effects of light. As with the Monteluco Sole series, nearly all of the processes that ‘made’ Untitled Red #1, #2 and #3 took place in the world outside of the artist’s studio. In the latter works, however, what is crucial is that the exposure to light and its effects had nothing to do with Lovelace himself. The processes were rigorously impersonal and contingent, comprising a form of primitive, cameraless photography where, to borrow the critic Susan Sontag’s terms from an essay on Fox Talbot, “the only agency is Light”.
— Extract of text by Rye Dag Holmboe. Published in This way up, 2015.
Of The Afternoon
James Duncan Clark & Tom Lovelace
James Duncan Clark: Have you always worked in such a hybrid manner – across photography, sculpture and performance?
Tom Lovelace: I started to incorporate sculpture into my photographs whilst I was studying for my BA. I became interested in the methods both sculptors and galleries used to represent three-dimensional artworks or exhibitions through photography. The transformation of sculpture into a two-dimensional picture plane fascinated me. The majority of sculpture is experienced through photographic reproductions and then disseminated through catalogues, postcards, websites and blogs. The photograph is key to the history of sculpture and I wanted to explore that relationship. The performance element is something that has grown and developed over the last few years. I’ve been experimenting with opening the work up; theoretically dismantling the photograph and allowing live elements and three-dimensional aspects take form. But to answer your question directly – yes, the intersection of photography with other mediums has always driven my work.
JDC: Reading around your work, my understanding is that the legs/feet visible in the In Preparation images are your own – do you view them as a form of self-portrait? Does this knowledge [that they are self portraits] change anything in the mind of the viewer?
TL: Very pertinent question as this is something that has arisen a few times recently. I used myself as a tool to develop my previous work, which was based on the construction of very physical, visually heavy material subjects (see Unit 2). I wanted to animate these minimal, industrial subjects in a tactile, human sense. I predominantly work alone so it was just natural to use myself. However, inevitably and rightly so, the subject of self-portraiture has been raised. I deliberately cut the frame off at the knees. I’m not interested from there upwards, in terms of identity. But the idea of a figure performing, dancing with and containing these materials is important.
JDC: Looking through your images, I pick up on various thematic balancing acts or contradictions perhaps: work vs. play, industrial vs. scholarly, and labour-intensive processes not necessarily being evident in a final outcome of an image… how consciously are strands such as these woven into the work?
TL: Labour is important. I’m interested in the physical and mental act of labour -what it means to make and produce. I am interested in the physical process of making images, the materiality of the works, fabrics, places, but then how these can be condensed down into the photograph and how these elements operate through visual properties.
My work is messy and often physically demanding, however I am interested in a minimal, clean composition. Aesthetically, my interests lie in the minimal, stripped back image.
JDC: How important is the act of titling within your work? [Titles such as ‘In Preparation’ seem key in inferring that there are multiple layers – that final outcomes may only be preparatory studies perhaps?]
TL: Titling is very important. Look through the history of display, and titles are key. Watch people in museums; they invariably approach a work of art and then quickly refer to the title. Or sometimes approach the title first and then move onto the work. Whether itbe ‘Untitled’, ‘Work Starts Here’ or ‘In Preparation No.11’, they are all of equal importance. Some require a period of research and may take a long time to conjure up. Others come very quickly, or rather I force myself to title a piece very quickly, spontaneously, which I think is a good method to approach it.
JDC: The taller the objects that are balanced upon, the more absurd/comical the images perhaps start to become. Are you limited by your choice of industrial material, (wooden beams/concrete pillars etc.) or do you consciously stay within certain boundaries – to keep us pondering over the believability of the balancing acts?
TL: I am limited and restricted by gravity and the strength of my bones upon a fall! But the engagement and belief in these pictures is key. And this is relevant with all my work. The viewer has to be able to believe in the work, to place themselves in the image. To date, I have always worked on a 1:1 scale. No scaling down. The interior space has provided a perfect platform for this series. Having said that, I would really like to take the work outside, and produce a series utilising a sculpture park. I would like to push it that sense in terms of scale and environment.
JDC: Industrial props are clearly very integral to your way of working at present. Do you think in the future thiscould ever change – e.g. using props from more of a domestic setting for example?
TL: This is something that I assess and think about a lot. The industrial and man-made landscape is important to me. I grew up with these things, surrounded by this material, so in a way these are my domestic objects. Also, the use of raw, industrial materials by the early minimalists has always been an interest. I am interested in taking something very raw, where function is the driver and then using that within a visual world. But ultimately, I am constantly drawn to these objects as subject matter. It has been my visual vehicle in a sense. But as part of natural progression, it may change and alter, which is something that should be embraced.
JDC: In the past you’ve discussed extending images beyond their borders. In relation to this, I’m interested in the use of physical objects within the gallery setting. Is this in any way a comment on photography’s limitations? Or just a way of providing the audience with a new way of considering their own relationship with sculptural objects and spaces?
TL: The work and my practice as a whole is very much concerned with both the limitations, boundaries and borders of the medium. Photography has limitations, like any medium, but limitations can be used and tested in clever and interesting ways. I think some of the most interesting work being made by photographers has developed through a frustration or a certain conceptual grappling with the medium.
JDC: I get the sense that your gallery installations are quite flexible depending on the space – is that a fair assumption?
TL: Absolutely. The work is very much about site specificity and creating pictures in response to new and unfamiliar environments. The In Preparation pictures are made in one day, which is very fast for me. The work developed in response to two previous projects; Unit 2 and Site 407, both of which were very laborious and time consuming. Unit 2 took 18 months to complete with each image taking over a month to finish. So I wanted to position myself in environments that force me to respond and adapt relatively spontaneously.
JDC: When a viewer comes away from one of your shows, what do you hope they take away with them?
TL: Quite simply, I hope to present really interesting and stimulating displays; both conceptually around the use of display and what photography can be. But also, I want to seduce. I’m an image maker. I want to create visually arresting images and objects that stick in visitors’ minds.
JDC: Does the idea always take precedence over the final execution?And does the idea always come first? I’m thinking for example of your Forms in Green, Hackney series. Did the discovery of the objects lead to the work, or were you actively searching for a readymade photogram as a vehicle to carry your idea?
TL: No. I constantly try to achieve a fine balance where a final image has conceptual vigour whilst being aesthetically refined. The most interesting work I see by other artists achieves a fine balance of being conceptually grounded, yet visually sophisticated. This is what I aim for. I am an image maker, so the execution is key. I have difficulties with work, which is purely conceptual and has no regard or thought as a visual object.
The idea nearly always comes first, with the exception of Forms in Green! These are an anomaly in a way, in terms of how the work developed. I quite literally stumbled across these objects, which then existed as something totally different, subtly embedded in the urban environment. I was not looking for them. This discovery and subsequent work has totally transformed the way I think about photography and light as a tool for creating imagery. But that is for an interview in itself! I could go on for ages about Forms in Green…
JDC: At what point do you distinguish between the performance and the piece? [For example, I see that In Preparation No. 09 features within Work Starts Here. Are gallery installation images a record of a temporary performance by the objects themselves, or at what point do they become a piece in their own right?]
TL: I attempt to create visual and conceptual conundrums; photographs which confuse and the prod the medium. The In Preparation images are documents of live performances and actions which took place, but solely for the camera. I view the camera as my audience. I design with the camera in mind. This work exists on many levels. It primarily evolves as an idea, then manifests in a very physical, visceral manner. This is followed by a photograph, which ideally ends up on display in the original space. So the work is multifaceted, but ultimately it is underpinned by the photographic image. Without this, the sequence and structure of the work would fall apart. The question you have just asked is exactly what I want viewers to contemplate.
JDC: As a practitioner, where do you feel your work sits within the wider sphere of contemporary photography?
TL: My work is rooted in photography. Even the sculptural works I develop predominantly evolve from pictures I’ve taken or are destined at some point to be used in my photographs. But I try not to get too caught up in contemporary photography. There is so much work being produced that it’s hard to filter. I suppose that is where publications like Of The Afternoon come into play and present interesting bodies of work.
JDC: What do you most enjoy about your working practice?
TL: Resolving ideas that may have been simmering for years. I also enjoy the physical element and the craft involved in creating work.
JDC: Congratulations on being awarded the Anna Mahler Residency in Italy. Is this still ongoing or have you completed your work for it now?
TL: Thank you. The residency has finished, but I continue to develop the work I started there. I spent the summer of 2012 in Spoleto with Guy Robertson (curator and art manager at the Anna Mahler Foundation). It was a wonderful experience. I was given free reign to explore the city and develop a new body of work. I had access to Sol LeWitt’s studio, so a lot of my time was spent researching his work. I hope to complete the work and display it in Spoleto later this year.
JDC: How useful to you are opportunities such as residencies?
TL: I think the right residency can provide a very privileged situation and a fresh environment to create new work. Having said that, I work relatively slowly, so I couldn’t imagine starting and completing an entire body or work in a month or two, so it depends how long the residency is. But that is the challenge. Last year I was on residency in Aarhus, Denmark, creating work for the forthcoming European Capital of Culture programme in 2017. This is an ideal scenario as this gives me an opportunity to return to the city after the initial trip and follow up on research or re-visit sites. This way the work has time to develop and breath naturally.
— Discussion published in Of The Afternoon, 2014.
ropes, ladders and hanging pots
Few fields of creation accommodate free speculation in the way that the fine arts do. This must be embraced, pairing inventive research with impulsive moves. Research is dug, it is collated, it is banked. It unearths uncomfortable truths. At its best it sets up invisible ropes and ladders, supporting all forms of output whilst crucially remaining initially hidden. This transparent support system prevents what would otherwise be vulnerable speculation from freely unravelling.
A long, high, echoey gallery exists. Often remaining empty and eerily quiet, like a deserted dual carriageway, this space provides both a spine and a breathing area, separating modern and historical objects from one another. Currently it is filled with a large, towering and imposing installation. It both fills and clutters the length and breadth of the space and importantly its height. Cumbersome components hang above me. Seemingly makeshift structures stretch upwards, and upwards some more, almost touching the ceiling, before falling back down again, all the while remaining unnervingly static.
Fast forward a matter of hours and I quite randomly encounter a text by the maker about the made. The paper exposes key inspirations, ideas and thoughts on the nature of sculpture and its presentation, all of which are made in reference to the maker’s experience of the surrounding collection of modern and historical objects. The text is enlightening, insightful and it presents a thorough, yet informal presentation of research. Among a number of things, it discusses the idea of the ‘hole’ and its conceptual embracement by key twentieth century sculptors. The maker writes about the position of sculpture, not theoretically, but physically as an object in a gallery space, and how the physical positioning and orientation of sculpture dramatically defines one’s experience of it.
I find the text to be an unexpected, generous offering, but importantly it shapes my interpretation and gut feelings about the installation. This accessible source of knowledge instantaneously imprints ropes and ladders, retrospectively supporting the playful higgildy piggildy experience I had encountered earlier that day. It initially heightens my interest and in some way validates the installation in a way that was not initially obvious to me, however uncomfortable an idea this might be…
Extract from full text.
— Published in Fell, Fig.1. 2014.
Work Starts Here
Photography is both the document and the point of resolution in the creative odyssey for young, London-based artist Tom Lovelace. Largely, but not exclusively, Lovelace orchestrates spatial and sculptural installations, which are often presented in galleries, or as photographs of objects in gallery contexts. They show images of feet precariously perched on makeshift yet elegant floor-based sculptures or views of solitary columns, either with or without the artist perched atop, dandy shoes and all.
Lurking quietly, propped up in the corner or hung on the wall, they allude to an action that has taken place in the exact same space the viewer stands in. They are records of performance pieces enacted for the camera. Yet, given their dual function, they also serve as the artwork itself. The artist’s subsequent publication, Work Starts Here, taps into, or rather is born out of, this trajectory of the image.
Within its pages, Lovelace presents recurated and repeated versions of the original exhibition display from Son Gallery in London, 2012, arguably his most visually dynamic rehearsals to date. To this end, it’s an elusive and at the same time obvious convergence between the action, related structures, context and photographic counterpart.
In an accompanying text at the centre of the book, Kyla McDonald, Head of Programme at Glasgow Sculpture Studios, follows the unbroken link between artists Robert Morris, Jan Verwoert and Bruce McLean and the work of Lovelace, arriving at the conclusion that the specific relationship between real-time experience and exhibition formats is what marks out Work Starts Here.
'If the artist re-photographs the gallery again, creating a further layer and places it in a new type of space, such as a book,” she says, “then the real-time experience shifts and the hierarchy is compressed: the document is no longer weak. It has become the real-time experience.”
Yet while Lovelace investigates the conditions and concerns of temporality, this is a far from dry academic exercise. Pleasure is present, with anarchic energy, and these images reveal an alternative view of constructed photography while at the same time offering a strange reversal or mash up of the dynamics between artwork, physical presence and audience. His is a layered and multifaceted approach to manufacturing the ephemeral.
— Text by Tim Clarke for a-n. Published 2013.
Forms in Green, Hackney
Tom Lovelace’s Forms in Green, Hackney consists of nine panels mounted in dark-wood box frames. This much is evident from first viewing, but what is not so clear is what these panels actually are. From a distance they appear to be monochrome paintings in bottle green, reminiscent of colour field painting. The canvases depict green rectangular forms and appear to have unpainted borders. Many of the shapes are oblongs with regular outlines, but some have feathered or curvilinear contours. The dominant bifurcation of the canvas into two floating rectangles, the overlapping of shapes, the gradations of saturation and the bleeding edges recall the paintings of Rothko. However, these are not paintings but photograms (or camera-less photographs) created unintentionally through the exposure of light-sensitive fabric to sunlight. The panels are from a notice-board covered in green felt that was placed in the window of a library in Hackney, London and ‘exposed’ for several years.
Forms in Green are naturally occurring long-exposure photographs. The coloured areas are negative shapes that correspond directly to the areas of the boards that were covered with notices (and were thus protected from the bleaching effect of sunlight). These shadow-pictures are painterly in form, the pigmented shapes resemble the effect created by spreading paint with a roller. If sciophobia (a fear of shadows) pertains to a fear of the fleeting and transitory, then the shadows in Forms in Green pose no threat; like stilled photographs they are fixed, static and unchanging. Forms in Green indexically trace the paper notices that were in direct contact with the board, but they also record the gestures and movements of those who attached them.
This bodily tracing is further echoed in the human size and scale of the panels and by their torso-like verticality. Although the green shapes are generally geometric, there are some that are more biomorphic in construction: the organic form in the lower half of number 3 was perhaps caused by a buckling of paper; number 9 has a distinctive fan-shape created by the careful overlaying of rectangular forms. There is a sense of order suggested by the central placement of notices, equidistant from the (now bleached) borders. Forms in Green are photographic tableaux created without a photographer: sun-pictures (or helio-graphs) that foreshadow photography.
Photo-graphy is literally ‘light-writing’(combining the Greek phos meaning light and graph? denoting writing). Photography results from the action of light on a light-sensitive surface. Forms in Green are photographs created in a ‘light-room’ rather than a dark room. Light is the singular active agent in their creation, there is no chemistry in the development of these images. Forms in Green are proto-photographs that prefigure chemical photography. Created through direct contact with their referent, they recall acheiropoieta images such as the Veronica and the Shroud of Turin. As photograms Forms in Green are similar to the cyanotypes of Anna Atkins. Visually they recall the earliest forms of photogenic drawing and particularly Talbot’s negative of his oriel window at Lacock Abbey (1835). In their natural state these light-sensitive panels have the vulnerability and impermanence of those early photographic images. By being framed behind UV protective glass however, the panels have become permanently fixed photographs. The artist’s intervention has effectively halted the mutability of these paintings in light. Art historically the work has clear affinities with Duchamp’s (assisted) ready-made. Forms in Green are found objects that record the exposure of sunlight in an urban environment. The appropriation of these objects into a gallery environment transforms them from common to uncommon objects. In Heideggerian terms the artist’s intervention has enabled us to see the true nature of the original notice board –its equipmentality- invisible while in use as a functional object. The artist has performed a transfiguration of the commonplace.
Forms in Green also depict the phenomenological process of photography as a recording of light. Light not only forms the basis of the photographic process but also determines how photography has been theorised. It is the presumed reflection of light from a referent onto the subsequent photograph of that referent that underlies the basis of photography’s indexicality. In analogue photography the positive print of the negative occurs through the exposure of the original image on to light-sensitive paper. Photograms however are direct-positive images produced without the intervention of a pre-existing negative image. Lovelace’s photograms are created by direct contact with their paper referents and are arguably more indexical than conventional photographs. Moreover, Forms in Green enact an unveiling or exposure of the process of photography as such. They embody a photological revelation of photo-graphy. For Heidegger the work of art performs exactly this type of disclosure. Art is the setting-to-work of truth. However, the fact of the truth must reveal its truthfulness, un-conceal itself in order to manifest its truth. Heidegger draws on the Greek word aletheia – ‘the unconcealedness of beings’ in his discussion of the operation of truth. The work of art, discloses this very truth, reveals the unconcealedness, stands outside concealedness in the clearing of the unconcealed. Light is connected to aletheia as that which enables a disclosure or revelation of the truth: ‘[light is] that through which we see’. Truth is aligned with an action of uncovering or unconcealment; that which is illuminated is that which has lost its hiddeness. Disclosure and unconcealment are central to the creation of these images; it is the removal of the paper notices that reveals the hidden shadows left behind. Forms in Green are photic objects that disclose photography in its purest and most minimal form. They reveal light as the essence of the medium. The visibility of the process can be read as an unconcealing of photography. Photography, as a material medium, becomes unhidden and more being-ful. Beyond this depiction of photography, there is a picturing of light itself as that which makes visibility possible.
— Sandra Plummer is a Lecturer in the history and theory of photography at Sotheby's Institute of Art and an Associate Editor of the journal Philosophy of Photography
usefulness, work and beauty
Free Frame, Son Gallery, 2012
Layering and sequencing, in this exhibition seen in Andrzej Welminski’s photo-chemical drawings, Aaron Murphy’s photo-montages, Tom Lovelace’s light affected readymades and with Guy Gormley’s lo-grade digital images, are formal consequences of a desire to compile or refine visual information into confined spaces in a dynamic and porous manner.
Tom Lovelace describes the works in this exhibition, which are 3 of a series of 15, as ‘sun objects’ or ‘photographic sculptures’. These pictures, made using found felt, have been raised to a revered level of contemplation by a careful choice of framing. By this act Lovelace expresses a need for us to disengage from the traumas of work and instead to admire work done by imperceptible forces, the suns rays, and to be sensitive to what already exists. In a recent essay on labour in art Liam Gillick writes...
“It is a continual flow between states of engagement and disengagement that provides potential and allows us to understand the why of production as opposed to the what.” Other series by Lovelace, including ‘Machine Studies’, a group of fake, apparently useless machines, and ‘Preparation for the Real’, involving raw building materials used as plinths on which the artist stands, his body disappearing out of the picture frame, also address questions of usefulness, work and beauty.
— Produced on the occasion of Free Frame at Son Gallery, London. Guy Robertson is a former director and curator at Son Gallery.
Work Starts Here
A complex meld of media and gestures, Tom Lovelace’s work comprises a floor-based sculpture and two photographs – the images themselves appearing to document a performance of action. In the photos, we see the feet of a figure balancing precariously atop the same rickety sculpture of steel braces found resting nearby in the gallery. This knife-edge scene, constructed entirely for the lens, is typical of Lovelace’s composite approach to his manipulated moments. In his self-portraits the artist is pictured as a virtuoso trickster, a performer of seemingly purposeless feats. The almost dandyish inclusion of the artist’s own booted feet cleverly lightens what could be a rather academic investigation of where sculpture meets performance.
Elsewhere, minimalist bends of industrial materials – steel arches – and blue plastic loops – are presented either as sculptures within the gallery, or as photos of objects in gallery settings. In one image we see the artist’s feet again, this time poised on a tall narrow column, its elongated form dominating the image. It’s actually a length of industrial pipe, its workaday material as odds with the exquisite architecture normally associated with such pillars. Lovelace’s reference to classical embellishment propels thoughts towards the privileged status of the object within artistic settings, further complicating his double use of the photograph both as art, and to document art. Although difficult, it is worth unpacking these works, as Lovelace takes us on an elegant excursion into the workings of functional and functionless objects.
Published in Time Out London
Something Constructed, Something Invented:
Short Notes for Tom Lovelace
Already in the 1840s, Fox Talbot identified various features of photography that could lead to different uses. The ‘pencil of nature’ seemed to generate truthful records of appearances that could be used in law courts to identify stolen property, for example. Yet the same ‘pencil’ could be employed for more elevated purposes if it was handled by erudite figures who knew their art history, and Fox Talbot was particularly interested in making photographs that evoked Dutch painting of the 17th Century.
Fox Talbot’s basic distinction between photograph as document and photograph as art was given a twist in the 1920s. Take Breton and Bataille, at loggerheads about most things, but sharing a taste for new types of writing that incorporated the photograph as raw data. Hence their mutual admiration for the work of Boiffard. His seemingly artless, uneventful images of Parisian streets were used in the anti-novel Nadja (1928) as a foil to Breton’s prose that sought to evoke the ‘marvellous’. Meanwhile, Bataille promoted an almost antithetical ‘base materialism’ with an article like ‘The Big Toe’ (1929), complemented by Boiffard’s now famous, pseudo- scientific images.Continue Reading...
Brecht too was interested in the photograph as visual evidence about the world, with reservations. He felt that a mere photograph of a factory revealed nothing about how it functioned. Therefore, something has to be constructed, invented. His cryptic text of 1930 has been interpreted in various ways. In the late sixties and seventies, artists like Peter Kennard, Klaus Staeck or Martha Rosler assumed he was advocating photomontage with politically explicit messages. But others – like Victor Burgin, Karen Knorr and Mitra Tabrizian at The Polytechnic of Central London in the seventies and early eighties – used the text to legitimize forms of anti-naturalistic, staged photography, not unlike production shots from a play by Brecht. Brecht’s most sustained demonstration of what he had in mind was War Primer, first published in East Berlin in 1955, and only appearing in an English edition in 1998. It is mainly a collection of photographs about the Second World War, clipped from newspapers and magazines that he had collected as an exile in Scandinavia and the United States, and combined with alternative captions in the form of four-line verses. An apt caption could inflect the meaning of a photograph, he assumed, converting capitalist entertainment into Marxist pedagogy.
Conceptual Art. What was it? When was it? Where was it? The jury is still out, amongst other things, considering fresh evidence confirming that it was a global phenomenon rather than a cozy Anglo American affair. However, there is general agreement that photography was universally important, initially as a cheap and unpretentious way of documenting ephemeral or inaccessible activities, and later often treated as an artistic medium in its own right. Keith Arnatt and Richard Long are two obvious, but rich figures whose engagement with photography went through these two stages.
The work of Tom Lovelace encourages wanderings across decades, re-considering the photograph as document or art (Fox Talbot), the photographic document as art or anti-art (Breton, Bataille, Brecht), and the endless permutations that are part of Conceptual Art and its legacy. Yet there is also a socio political dimension to his work. An earlier series (published in Source 57, Winter 2008) displayed functionless machines, made for the camera, and then dismantled. That series got me thinking about Tom as the last factory worker, obliged to re-train as an artist. With his landscape interventions, Tom comes across as the last agricultural labourer, also trying to adapt. Worlds lost; worlds emerging.
— Produced to accompany the solo exhibition Gouge at Galleri Image, Centre for Photography, Arhus, Denmark. David Evans teaches the history and theory of photography at the Arts University College at Bournemouth. He is the Editor of the anthology Appropriation: Documents of Contemporary Art and Critical Dictionary.
The Work of Art
Finding Tom Lovelace digging deep holes in a piece of nondescript marshland (Site 407), carrying an 8 by 5 metre timber partition up a Cambridgshire hillside (Object Anonymous), or transporting a concrete encrusted bollard back to his studio (Yellow Rupture) one would be impressed, if bemused, by the extraordinary lengths he goes to in order to achieve his photographs. The sweat that goes into the construction of each image, or series of images, is contrasted however by their tone on completion: marked, but unpeopled, a still mist hangs over the marshland in Site 407; an elegiac memorial, perhaps to the work of the artist. In Object Anonymous there is again this silence: for what, exactly, has this scene been set? The carefully arranged construction in Yellow Rupture, neutralised in white space, becomes singular and strange.
It is because of this tempering and channelling of the initial work done, then, that each of the final pictures arrive loaded with dramatic potential. Indeed there is theatre here: the curtain is down on act one and we are in the interval pondering. There is a great sense of potential and, like Brechtian tableaux (but made with objects not people), the scene is poised with meaning.
And what meanings are these? I will pick out just one line of thinking from images which encourage multiple interpretations. In Preparation for the Real (2010) depicts the legs of a figure, perhaps the artist himself, atop a pile of breeze blocks stacked in a gallery setting. Playing on artistic tradition Lovelace's plinth and sculpture juxtaposes material construction with the role of the artist. The teasing absence of the subject, a theme prevalent throughout the work in this exhibition, leads us to question the artist's role as orchestrator. Lovelace, literally standing on building blocks, suggests that the privilege of the artist is that his practice penetrates all levels of production. Whilst many of us work as connectors or managers in a sprawling network of immaterial transactions, the artist can move through all the parts of labour involved in his work, from its conceptual management to the material construction. There is a humanising coordination here, between concept and material, which remains true of all the works on display.
Lovelace makes an oblique reference to labour constructs in the title of his series 'Object Anonymous', also the title of this exhibition, which alludes to Walker Evans's series 'Labor Anonymous'. In 1946 Evans set up his camera in front of a blank grey wall in Detroit, Michigan, and photographed unwitting labourers as they made their way to work. The result is a fascinating group of portraits questioning the role of the individual in a mechanised and homogensing industrial society. Whilst Evans documents the disjointedness of individual autonomy and social heteronomy (the subjugation of the individual in an industrialised society) in 20th Century labour patterns, Lovelace updates this milieu for our own times by emphasising the interweaving of the two: teaming conceptual acuity with craftsmanship and melding them with artistic expression. The result is a valorisation of artistic labour.
The text accompanying Evans' photographs when they were first published in Fortune magazine in 1946 describes the portraits as depicting "the most resourceful and versatile body of labor in the world", ensurers of victory at war and pillars of the American nation. This romantic display of modernist belief in the individual worker has now been realised beyond the 1940s imagination – in the 1960s there were worldwide uprisings by students and workers alike demanding greater autonomy in the workplace. They won their battles, but the desire for greater self-determination and freedom was soon subsumed as globalised economies turned it to their advantage by valorising the immaterial labourer: epitomised by the freelancer who, whilst also managing his own time, manages streams of information, across borders and with little geographic consideration. The result is the proliferation of immaterial labourers, increasingly disassociated from production. Lovelace’s series Object Anonymous, which replaces the labourer in Evans' photographs with the landscape, challenges this loss of contact with place whilst suggesting new lines for engaging craft and concept.
— Produced on the occasion of Object Anonymous. An exhibition at Son Gallery, 2011. Guy Robertson is Curator at Son Gallery, London.
A footnote on the plinth
When I think of a plinth I see a tall three dimensional rectangular object upon which a piece of art is placed. It is typically white but sometimes it is black, or grey, but this is usually determined by the colour of the walls in the room that it is situated. It is intended to blend into its surroundings, become invisible; and yet it is an integral exhibition display device.
These initial thoughts denote that the plinth is primarily a supportive object; its principal reason for existence is to support other things. Does this mean that when a plinth does not have an art work, TV monitor, DVD player or projector (all synonymous with the contemporary art exhibition) placed on it that it is rendered without purpose? It only comes alive when animated by other objects.
Of course the plinth and the object on top of it physically exist separately, constructed by a carpenter or the artist, for example, each with customary skill and purpose. But do they exist separately conceptually in the gallery space? The art work, as you would expect, is characteristically given the status of importance and value; put up on a pedestal, to use a literal phrase ironically. Would it however, look as good without the structure beneath it, elevating it, conveying its prominence? If the answer is no, why then is the plinth consistently considered dispensable, so often disregarded.
There can perhaps be no answer to the questions posed, but a supportive structure is surely as necessary as the object it supports. Inside the gallery space the plinth and the art work are intertwined; they belong to one another, informing each other’s existence. As Celine Condorelli succinctly notes, ‘support’s first operational feature is its proximity. No support can take place outside a close encounter, getting entangled in a situation and becoming implicated in it.’ 1
1. Condorelli, Celine, Support Structures, Sternberg Press, 2009, p.15
— Produced to accompany 'In Preparation for the Real' for Art Licks. Kyla McDonald is Head of Programme at Glasgow Sculpture Studios. She was previously Assistant Curator, International Art at Tate Modern.
To quietly observe artist Tom Lovelace's complete body of work to date, is an opportunity to grasp the strength of discussion between two differing and yet entirely related components of his practice; both beginning in the conception of and resolution in photography. Whilst the world busies itself with hyper-real snappier snaps, placing value solely in the superficially aesthetic, there is considerable patience and experimentation on Lovelace's behalf into the conceptual mechanics of photography and that which can be suggested and achieved. With performative intervention of a pencil line, slick of oily-black emulsion or intentionally placed industrial tape, Lovelace initiates an exploration of the imaginative realm, through a resulting and curiously beautiful picture plane.
Akin to the way of a filmmaker, his ideas supersede the site of their execution, or rather I should say, their non-site. Lingering in such depicted scenes is an odd stillness, owing to a lack of air or time of day. Despite visual signifiers of the industrial landscape often grounding the captured site as human, the work rests as decidedly unnerving, at times even otherworldly. Having discovered his concealed non place, here Lovelace fabricates a temporary structure, solely for the purpose of latter documentation as photograph. Whether built more formally as something recognisable as minimalist sculpture, or gathered and taped together from found parts, or perhaps ripped from another location entirely.
From 2008 until present, a derelict factory ambiguously 'north of London', has set stage for the orchestrated composition of Unit 2. In this series Lovelace's magically-lit 'machines' empower a steady pause to the otherwise grinding wheel of the industrial. Whereby a factory reproduces form as dictated by function and utility, the machines of Unit 2 are unique, functionless objects purely for camera. The darkness inside the casket-like Red Trolley, Machine Study no.11, and Red Brace is so dense, its illusion of perspective is almost solid. Unlike the Becher's conservative photographic document of industrial typography, Lovelace constructs an emotive, illusionistic moment in stylised semi-darkness. Both photograph and object raise questions of their inherent realism; questions of tangible materiality for sculpture and optical truth for photography. Such a tension destabilises the set boundaries of art or document.
'Tradition' is a complicated word within Lovelace's practice. Site 407 (Triptych), 2008, depicts several wells, approximately two meters square and dug by hand across a sparse expanse of muddy land; taking four months to prepare and a morning to photograph. Such repetition and doubling of action, hovers between individual creation and mechanical repetition. The photographs themselves, shot on a mature large format box camera, again complicate the dialectic operating in his work between the handcrafted art object and the mechanically produced commodity. The intensity of performative labour is not only concealed from audience view, having documented only the resulting wells, but is concealed further in a maze of early morning mist. There is something disturbing about the concealed sweat of the act. As if watching one of Bas Jan Ader's 'falling' efforts, meant only seeing smashed glass in the dark. The unspoken, however, the darkened, dug and dirty, is the velvety drape of potential drama in the images.
It is the individual series seen together as a body of work that speaks something engaging and impressive. A body of work produced by a sculptural and performative impression onto the machine of camera, that is far from a resulting factory-run of prints. Lovelace's practice is absorbed in a conceptual methodology and experimentation, yet upstanding the labour tradition of artist as craftsman and the age-old realisation that beauty can negotiate a powerful allure of the imagination.
— Claudia Corrieri is a writer and artist based in New York.
On Unit 2
Lovelace builds his objects to reverse the machine age principle so that form now suggestively implies function. The machines lurk in the semi-darkness apparently on the cusp of discovering their usefulness, but in reality teasing our imaginations.
— Richard West is Editor of Source Photographic Review