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Website: Chestnuts Design

Interview with Lizi Sanchez by Mary Yacoob

December 2015

©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock  All rights reserved.

The following is an edited transcript of a conversation between Lizi Sanchez and Mary Yacoob inside the solo exhibition In a world that laughs at Domobaal, 20 November 2015 to end January 2016.

In a world that laughs, installation shot, image courtesy Domobaal, photography by Andy Keate.

MY   My first question is about pattern. Do you think there is something basic, primitive, about trying to find patterns in things?

LS    I don’t know about that, there probably is. In this work I’m interested in appropriating patterns that exist out there rather than creating them myself.

MY   So the pattern has to be in something that exists in the world - you search for pattern in things around you?

LS    Yes, patterns and design in commercial sources that have taken from art history and the history of abstraction.

MY   So do you, in your daily life, have a camera or sketchbook with you? Are you searching for patterns in your daily life as you go shopping or on your way to work? Are you naturally looking for patterns that you think might be interesting for you to bring into your practice?

LS    I search online, find new sources in books, and I also walk around with some idea of what I would like to find but open to encounters that will trigger a new work.

MY   Are these encounters that you create? Do you decide to go to specific places?

LS    While working on the exhibition I thought about the flâneur; I would walk around observing, but also enjoying the city. These works are very much about the city, about being seduced by the city and what it offers.

MY   Did you make all this work for this show? Or is this more of a retrospective of what you've been working on?

LS    All of the work here has been made for the show except Every day, which I wanted to bring into the show.

MY   Were these works made for this space?  This piece [May all come true] fits into this alcove perfectly.

May all come true. acrylic on aluminium, 300 × 76cm, 2015, image courtesy Domobaal, photography by Andy Keate.

LS   Made for the show, but also one of the characteristics of the material I use is that it's an industrial material, which has a standard width.

MY   So were you going around London as a flâneur to search for patterns for works to make for this show at Domobaal? What kind of places did you find inspiring?

LS   I’m interested in wandering around different areas: New Cross, where I work, and also around central London, around Mayfair, the area where high-end shops and many galleries are based. I like the contrast of these different areas.

MY   And what kind of things were you looking at? Railings? Cornices?

LS   Not so much architectural details. There is one piece that is from an architectural feature but mostly I look at the presentation and the packaging of luxurious products.

MY   In previous shows have you referenced architecture?

LS   A long time ago, yes, I was referencing architecture.

MY   What kind of packaging do you find around shops?

LS   All sorts - it can be packaging and products found in high-end shops but I can also find something in a supermarket that triggers connections to my work. It can be anything… coffee, chocolates, perfumes, champagne…

MY   So you remove the branding information, the barcodes, everything that tells you it's a consumer product?

LS   Not only that. I don't copy everything from the packaging. It's more that I crop and edit elements that I find interesting for the work.

MY   And then repeat a specific section of the pattern?

LS    I will borrow the colours and patterns from the source and then I’ll make decisions about how to use and place them, and how I show them, or how many I show. The pattern itself, it’s not mine, but the work’s. It’s also about making these other decisions.

MY   So how do you feel about the question of authorship? Do you feel that this is a collaboration with the person who designed the product? Or is the authorship completely yours because you have made the selection?

LS   I don’t think it's collaboration because I didn't ask them to collaborate with me. It's more of a visual quotation, as well an allusion to the fact that that they themselves have appropriated a certain language from the history of art, in particular modernism, and have modified it and re-used it. I am now doing that process again, but in reverse, and bringing it to the gallery.

MY   So it reminds us that graphic design and consumer products are appropriated from high art, modern art?

LS   There are the obvious connections with the origins of graphic design. Graphic designers were artists trying to reach the world. It was a different understanding of what art is; artists were trying to communicate in a more universal way through graphic design.

MY   The Bauhaus ideal of having art in everyday life in the products around you, so there is no separation between art and life?

LS   Yes, and of all those avant-garde movements of the 1920s and 30s. There was no graphic design versus art, there were artists doing graphic design and product design. So the professionalisation and the differences between graphic design, fashion design, industrial design, are much more contemporary. At the time there were artists working in different ways.

MY   Why do you think things have become so specialised? Is it something to do with the way art schools are configured? Or something to do with consumer capitalism?

LS   It has to do with consumerism, I'm sure. You need to specialise to focus on a specific area and speed up production. You are not only specifically a graphic designer or an industrial designer, it's even more specific if you are a sports shoes designer, or a bottle designer…

Cadeneta (06/2015), acrylic on aluminium, 5 loops, each loop: 31×5cm, 2015, image courtesy Domobaal, photography by Andy Keate.

MY   We've lost that Utopan spirit of what art can do?

LS   Probably most artists have lost that belief, or are not interested in the potential of art for changing the world. There are still traces of the language and graphics of a specific period in the history of art, the looks of it, but the spirit of it has changed.

MY   In referencing the language of modern art in your work today, is there something mournful about that, or nostalgic, or saying that it's a shame that we've lost that Utopianism? Or is there more of an acceptance that there is a back-and-forth, complex relationship between…[Utopian art and consumer products]?

LS   I think it's more an awareness of that relationship, of the tension between the wanting and the achieving, and in how that tension is reflected in contemporary art and also in consumer products.

MY   In these works there is a very precise use of material: rigorous, refined, very labour-intensive. How do you interpret that kind of labour-intensive practice for you and for the viewer?

LS   For me it's very important. It helps me to frame questions around the artist, both as an intellectual and as a labourer; I’m interested in what it means for the artist’s position in the system, to be recognised, or to recognise himself, as a labourer.

MY   Why is that?

LS   Because it links up to those Utopian ideals and a time where artists would recognise themselves as part of a system of workers. The ‘artist as intellectual’ plays very well within the current system, where the intellectual is in a higher realm than the worker…

MY   But actually artists are both?

LS   For many artists the thinking happens within the labour.

MY   There is also the enjoyment of the manipulation of materials, the contemplative aspect of it.

LS   And the enjoyment of generating ideas through producing a work.

MY   You are thinking through making?

LS   Yes, for some artists, like me, that is the case, and I think now there are many more artists putting more emphasis on labour than before.

MY   There's more interest in craft in contemporary art?

LS   Yes, we have moved a bit away from the…

MY   …pre-fabricated, ready-made, industrially-made…   I wonder how viewers see work differently if they know that something has taken a long time to make, as opposed to something that is a ready-made. Not that one is better or worse. But it's a different experience for the viewer.

LS   For the viewer as well as for the artist.  And I guess that’s what I like about the material I use for these works; the work is so precise that it could almost be taken as machine-made, except for the marks and folds and the traces of the handling in the material.

MY   Yes, when you look at it closely, for example this foil piece (Dreams of dreamers), if you step back it could be industrially-made, but when you look closely it's obviously hand-made. You can see the edge of the paint, and that it's painstakingly done.  We see the physical material of the foil and the way you’ve folded the foil to make a geometric shape over the painted colours.

Dreams of dreamers (green), (brown), (red), each: acrylic on aluminium, 76×186cm, 2015, image courtesy Domobaal, photography by Andy Keate.

LS   I like the ambiguity; that is also why I use patterns and colours that I borrow from somewhere else. These are not abstract stripe paintings in the traditional manner. Once I decide which design to borrow I become a labourer, a craftsman at the studio transferring the colours.

MY   To emphasise the labour? Although there is an enormous amount of editing here. Out of the hundreds of things you might see every day, you chose to use this one.

LS   Which is funny, because we were talking about the artist as intellectual and the artist as labourer, and that editing process is inherited from the ready-made and the artist as intellectual. I guess you cannot escape the context of the time in which you work.

MY   With the ready-made, it was to de-emphasise the labour, to enhance the idea of artist as intellectual.

LS   The history of the ready-made is inescapable.

MY   Why did you introduce these folds? Was that to emphasise the materiality of the foil?

LS   Yes - and because of my own enjoyment of the material. It's like when you have wrapping paper in your hands while you are having a conversation with someone and you are playing with it.

MY   Like popping the bubbles of bubble wrap?

LS   Yes, although this is on a different scale - when folding and unfolding the paper and playing with it, I feel that the work becomes more personal, I am influenced by an aesthetic of the clean, and when messing around with the material I allow myself to loosen up.

MY   It also emphasises the fragility of the material that you are using. Here you are using industrial foil, which is not a traditional art material.

LS   It might look fragile, but this material is not designed to be fragile.  It's material produced to be handled in an industrial setting.  

MY   And of course in a gallery setting we are not supposed to touch.

LS   Exactly. We talk about fragility because it looks fragile. But in really it is a material that should go to a factory and go through rolls and printers.

MY   Maybe we say it's fragile because it's not framed and we expect drawings to be framed.

LS   Yes, it feels fragile in the gallery environment. But in the world at large it's not necessarily fragile.

MY   And the way you displayed this foil piece [Ë], which is draped over what looks like an industrial tool…?

ë, acrylic on aluminium, 76 x 230 cm, 2015, (presented on a folding trestle),  image courtesy Domobaal, photography by Andy Keate.

LS    It's on a trestle from my studio.

MY    A trestle leg from your studio that you've used to display the foil piece and the boxes?

LS    The trestle has become part of the work and it is an industrial trestle. The colour is the colour you'll find on construction sites.

MY    Because yellow is a safety colour, do these trestles always come in that colour? It's not like you chose which primary colour to use?

LS    No.

MY    Why did you use that instead of using a plinth or putting the work on the floor?

LS    I try different things; I've worked with pallets before. I like the idea of using these tools that have a purpose outside the gallery, from my day-to-day, from the surroundings of where I work, and re-purpose them in the gallery.

Every day, acrylic on wood ply, each: 15(h)×14.5×10 cm, 2015, an ongoing series of unique sculptures, presented on a folding trestle, image courtesy Domobaal, photography by Andy Keate.

MY   In this piece it looks as though we see an architectural detail, like a pediment on top of a column.

LS   And if I tell you it's called “ice cream”…!

MY   So I read it completely differently!

LS   I like what you just said.

MY   Because there is something ambiguous about this shape, because it's a silhouette, so you could read anything into it, it's a like a Rorschach test. It depends on what I've seen on my way here. I didn't see ice cream because it's cold, but I did see lots of architecture.

In a world that laughs: installation view, 2015. photography by Andy Keate, image courtesy Domobaal, photography by Andy Keate.

LS   It's an ice-cream cup, but it could also be read as an architectural feature or as something that is very solid. And this piece is the only one that references a different period from the other works; it is a reference to a drawing from the 1920s. So the source is very different from the other works here.

Ë: In a world that laughs installation view, photography by Andy Keate, 2015

MY   So this is a particular font that you found?

LS   Yes, I am interested in typography in advertisement in consumer products, and its connections with the avant-garde. Typographic experimentation was a big part of this Utopian desire to reach more people; it was about finding new ways of communication and expression, but also about how far you could push it and play with it.

MY   When you are looking for patterns, you said sometimes you go to the internet, so you might be looking for something specific?

LS   I’m constantly searching for images on the internet. There are times when I see an image and it doesn’t resonate with my work, but then I might see the same image with a different project in mind and it suddenly makes sense. Many images I look for are also connected with things seen on my trips around the city.

MY   Thank you!