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Artist interview

Magic and mystery are the main concerns of Abigail Lane in her new solo show

"Magic is one of my ongoing interests"

Abigail Lane first emerged in 1988 when she and fellow Goldsmiths’ students such as Damien Hirst, Gary Hume and Sarah Lucas co-organised the now legendary exhibition “Freeze” to show their work. Since then, she’s become well known both in the UK and internationally for her large scale ink pads, wallpaper made with body prints, wax casts of body fragments and ambiguous, dramatic installations which, in their multifarious ways, explore the irrational side of the human psyche. Her solo exhibition, “Tomorrow’s world, yesterday’s fever (mental guests incorporated)” is at Victoria Miro Gallery this month.

Louisa Buck: Your three installations, “The figment” (1998), “The inclination” and “The inspirator” (both 2001), are being shown together for the first time. What is their relationship to each other?

Abigail Lane: They are a bit like three states of mind. “The figment” came about as being like a figment of your imagination, something elusive but a private presence nonetheless. I was thinking about the struggle to identify good and evil in one’s own mind and how that battle plays itself out in order to make decisions. With “The inclination” I wanted the figure to come out of the sea because it refers to the whole Darwinian thing of life beginning in the water, and that whole circular rhythm of the film is more like a steady progress through life, not just your own but through the generations. So that’s why I wanted the sound track to sound suitably heroic and monumental. Then I thought that the alternative to all of this is surely the flashes of inspiration that you have, which are just unexpected moments and possible germs of creativity. I wanted to put faces to these states of mind, however fleeting they are.

LB: In your video projection, this “Inspiration” appears in a magical puff of glittery smoke. Why does it take the form of a trumpet-playing figure in a panda suit?

AL: I definitely wanted it to be an animal rather than a male or female thing. I also didn’t want it to be too mythological, nor did I want to use domestic pets or farmyard animals. A panda, especially a fake one, seemed much more uncharted; it’s just ridiculous, a panda in the woods. Then, ages ago, I was driving through a forest in Sweden and this guy just emerged, playing a trumpet and he looked so funny that I turned back and he’d disappeared again.

I keep a kind of mental sketchbook of things like that. Then I’d seen this guy at Piccadilly Circus tube, Jules the Cat, who wears a really bedraggled cat suit and plays the trumpet. So I set about trying to find him, and I did. So I got him to do it, in the end. I could have stuck anybody in the suit, but I thought it would be good to use him.

LB: In your earlier “forensic” pieces, there was a sense of toying with the darker more mysterious sides of the psyche. Your installations seem to push the magical element further.

AL: Magic is one of my ongoing interests. The knowing deception in magic is quite similar to the whole idea of reproducing a likeness in an artistic way. For a long time mystery seemed to be a dodgy subject. But I like to put people into a situation where, far from eliminating the unknown, they can be entangled in its atmosphere.

LB: There is rarely any sense of resolution or closure in your work; loose ends are left untied and the three films in this show are on constantly repeating loops.

AL: Most of the things I do are circular, whether it is a repetitive pattern on wallpaper, or films and soundtracks which are looped. I like catching people in loops and engulfing them in experiences which can expand their perceptions of things.

LB: You seem to be using every throat-grabbing device at your disposal—from the dramatic graphics of the posters accompanying each of the three pieces to the special effects in the films and installations.

AL: Which was something that, when I was younger I definitely wasn’t brave enough to do, because you had drummed into you that the “authentic” way of doing things isn’t to use all the tricks. I just think this is nonsense: you can use light and dark; you can use sound; you can use anything you want, and if it looks kitsch, so what? There seems to be an underlying set of rules as to what constitutes seriousness and what doesn’t, and these tricks may be outside the boundaries of that because they are deceptive in a different way. I have been criticised for that, but I don’t believe there are any rules.

LB: Increasingly, artists seem less and less interested in their work looking like “art” and instead allow it to cross-dress with any other genre they choose.

AL: I’d be happy to give up the title of artist if necessary. I’d rather just do what I want to do. I never used to collaborate with people and now I do all the time. I like having all these different activities. It started with the hair salon which took place at my old apartment every Friday for two years, and it just got broader and broader. Now I’m doing my own stuff with more enthusiasm than ever. I’m also making clothes with Brigitte Stepputtis who works with Vivienne Westwood and furniture with someone else. I like having all these different activities, I’m all for diversity.

LB: Influences?

AL: One of the people I really admire is John Barry, who, I think, is a complete genius. Another is David Lynch—I’m not an “X-files” fan, I’m much more a “Twin peaks” girl. Also Stephen Jay Gould, although he’s often too highbrow for me; he’s a brilliant thinker and he bends over to be as accessible as possible.

Biography

Background: Born 1967 1985-86, Bristol Polytechnic; 1986-89 Goldsmiths' College.

Currently showing: Victoria Miro Gallery, London, 1 October-10 November.

Solo shows include: 1992: “Making history”, Karsten Schubert, London (in association with Interim Art); 1994: Emi Fontana, Milan; 1995: ICA, London; 1996: Ridinghouse Editions, London; 1997: Chantal Crousel, Paris; Andrehn-Schiptjenko, Stockholm; 1998: Victoria Miro Gallery, London; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; 2001: Andrehn-Shiptjenko, Stockholm; Milton Keynes Gallery.

Group shows include: 1988: “Freeze”, Surrey Docks, London; 1994-95: “Some went mad, some ran away”, Serpentine Gallery, London; 1995-96: “Brilliant! New art from London”, Walker Art Gallery, Minneapolis (touring); 1997: “L’autre’, 4th Biennale of Lyon; 1997-98: “Gothic”, ICA Boston (touring); 1997-99: “Sensation: young British artists from the Saatchi Collection”, Royal Academy London, (touring); 1998-99: “Emotion: young British Art in the Goetz Collection”, Munich; 1999-2000: “Mayday”, Centre d’art Neuchâtel, Switzerland; 2000-2001: “Close up”, Kunstverein, Freiburg, Marienbad (touring)

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as '“I’m all for diversity”'