David Attwood: I can see a bit of Bethan Huws ...
Shannon Lyons: I see Bethan Huws in the text work. And ... also in the way in which she experienced a certain degree of audience disappointment when she stopped doing the floor works. That’s how I feel sometimes. People are just like, “oh, give us your old stuff ”, but this project at Moana has been about doing something alternate, about challenging what I know I can do. So, I see it in the method, in the way I am working.
DA: In what way specifically, in the fact that you are using text and she is using text?
SL: In the way that things can be switched around. In that we don’t stay the same and keep doing what we know works.
DA: Is text a new ‘thing’ for you?
SL: Yes, it’s very new for me. I do a lot of writing but that writing is never read or readable in the final presentation of the work at all, it’s in visual diaries and notebooks. But I’ve been interested in the fact that I find it hard to talk about my work but easier to write about. Comparatively... Because it tells a story in a different way. The work is often hard for me to language immediately. I like to write stories about the way a work exists in a place and why it does so.
DA: So how does this text sit against this idea of story telling?
SL: This text has been pulled straight out of the notes I’ve made over the last week. When I first enter a space, I do what I’ve termed a ‘space audit.’ So I sit in the space for as long as I can and I use all of my senses to record as much information as they allow me to glean from that space, at that time. So for the wall text, a number of audits have been consulted in order to present a kind of prose that attempts to focus attention on particular present and absent specificities of the gallery space.
DA: Like an amalgamation of things?
SL: Yes, an amalgamation of things I’ve noticed.
DA: “... the sloped wall collects dust”
SL: Yes, and there is no skirting.
DA: Recording activities and processes that are usually invisible to the exhibition is a recurring theme in your recent work, how does this manifest in the works you’ve made here?
SL: Yes, it’s a persistent interest of mine at the moment and I feel I have been operating in this space as an art installer or gallery ‘repairer’ for the entirety of my time here. I asked the directors to leave the residue of the last exhibition in the space for when I arrived, so all of the little nicks, marks, holes, bits of masking tape, nails, screws, conduit: I asked them to leave all of it so I could remove it myself, repair the space and create work about the way that the gallery was used and how it is altered or repaired when work is installed and later de-installed. This isn’t going to be seen by everyone, but the space has been open to the public for the entirety of my time spent in the space. The life cycle of the exhibition has been put on display during my residency.
DA: Can you speak specifically about the tape?
SL: The tape is an art joke of sorts, but it’s a joke that I never tire of telling.
DA: Tape is usually used to indicate where the wall needs to be repaired?
SL: Yes, it indicates to gallery staff that something needs to be done to repair the wall surface, between exhibitions. The tape work offers an insight into the cyclical relationship of the exhibition and processes that are not normally seen by the public. Where the pieces of tape are positioned on the wall has been determined by the last show, a salon hang. The ‘blue tape’ in the space is a fake ... a trick.
DA: Do you see your work as critical?
SL: I think it’s soft critique – it’s not hard hitting in terms of critiquing the institution as a commercial or ideological framework for artwork, but it’s a soft critique of the immediate surrounds I find myself in. It points to things and questions things but it doesn’t really proclaim to answer any large questions about the way the art institution works. It is quieter, not less considered, but quieter ...
DA: The work seems to be more about materialism than other forms of institutional critique. To me those works are almost anti-material ...
SL: Not necessarily, Michael Asher used materials that already existed in the gallery space with a high level of proficiency and sensitivity. I probably align myself with the way that he worked. Fiona Connor faithfully translates given objects or features of the gallery into alternate materials ...
DA: So you have a shared concern with fabrication ... this leads us back to the tape. Tell me about the coffee cup ...
SL: The more time I spent in this space, pulling nails out of the wall and chucking them in a takeaway coffee cup from the café adjacent to the gallery ... as a kind of temporary receptacle for those bits and pieces ...
DA: Is this another in-joke?
SL: It’s another in-joke. When I’ve worked as an art installer at other galleries, you know, you do grab whatever objects you have at hand to collect all the nails and screws in, empty drink bottles, mugs, takeaway coffee cups ... these objects filled with all those other objects tend to assimilate into the system ... and, you know, you’ll go into the backroom of the gallery and find all these strange objects full of screws and nails that no-one’s got time to sort out. They kind of become these points of collection for detritus from exhibitions. I like the idea of allowing the viewer to catch a glimpse of those backroom objects that are kind of compelling and strange. Having said that, I didn’t want to use a Moana takeaway coffee cup because I thought it was too literal, it’s from next door, it really doesn’t take you anywhere else other than this space. So, I started thinking about this ceramic replica New York City ‘Anthora’ takeaway coffee cup that I am using at the moment as a toothbrush holder at home. It’s from a show but I don’t really watch it ...
DA: A show?
SL: Seinfeld. The show about nothing. The takeaway coffee cup is seen on that show. But it’s a reproduction, an object that can be bought from any design store and I liked the idea of using that cup because it refers to another place. New York: a place bigger than this place, but one that has gallery spaces not unlike this one. The gallery roof has intersecting panels of a meandering Greek design in low relief and I realised that it is the same design that features on the New York City ‘Anthora’ takeaway coffee cup rip off that I see every day. I wanted to make a connection between this place and the other place (NY) through the presence of the coffee cup in the space. It’s a readymade, a found object ... because I am obviously not in New York ...
DA: It’s a fabrication.
SL: It’s a fabrication, but not one I have produced.
DA: It seems that employing an object to take the viewer to another place is kind of counterintuitive to the rest of the work ... the idea of wanting to take them to another place seems contradictory ...
SL: Well, maybe, to a certain extent. But lots of artworks in art galleries attempt to take the viewer somewhere else and I recognise that fact; that it’s hard to make truly placeful work. So, maybe one way of making placeful work is to be thinking about another place while you’re in the place you are in ... I don’t have an answer to that question, really.
DA: What do you mean by placeful?
SL: By placeful I mean having a physical relationship to a given location.
DA: As opposed to detached?
SL: As opposed to at a distance, or to being separated from the original physical context. So the coffee cup ... Yes ... It might make you think of somewhere else, outside of the context you are in, but it might also help you to see the design on the roof. It might make you look at the place you are standing in more carefully.
Shannon Lyons was interviewed by David Attwood at Moana Project Space on 1 April, 2013.