While immersed in his installation, Simon Linington and I spent some time chatting about his latest solo exhibition at William Benington Gallery.
Why the title La La Land?
It’s something my grandma used to say: “That boy is in la la land”. What she meant was that I was in my own world, just like in the dream used for the handout.
Yes, the handout describes a dream where you find yourself alone in an empty landscape and nothing really seems to happen there.
It was completely unplanned. George 1 asked me for some information that would help him write the press release. I looked around and eventually found the recording of a dream 2 which was my inspiration for the mood of the exhibition. He got straight back to me to say he wanted to use my dream description, exactly as I’d sent it. My immediate reaction was no, not at all, but I came around to it. A lot of people have since commented on it and that hasn’t happened before.
I’ve been writing down my dreams for years. I used to have separate books for dreams, writing stories and making sketches, but I found myself carrying a heavy bag around. Now I use a single sketchbook for everything, and this makes more sense. Over the last couple of years, the boundaries have become blurred … Where does one story end and another begin? And when is a dream not a story?
I grew up on the Isle of Wight where nothing much happens. I could spend all day wandering from one place to another and doing very little else. I wanted La La Land to have some of that feeling.
I’m originally from a rural part of Australia so I really relate to that experience of being able to go somewhere, do nothing much, yet still be completely engaged.
Exactly. I spent a bit of time in the Karoo Desert, South Africa and for someone who grew up in England it can feel like a hostile environment. It’s extremely hot and there’s not a lot of water around. If you’re bitten by a poisonous snake, there isn’t a hospital for hundreds of miles. All of these things were reminders of how we are living now and how we will eventually die. It brought me back to constantly thinking about the body. Whereas living in London, I’m thinking about what time I need to catch the train and whether I’m going to the pub later.
You said this is one of a series of solo shows. Can you explain a little more?
La La Land is the fourth solo exhibition where I’ve been asked to respond directly to the exhibition space. The first was at Division of Labour in January 2017, then Lilly Brooke Gallery and Castor Projects a year ago. There’s always such a short amount of time to put these exhibitions together and I think you can see the energy used. They at least seem to capture a mood.
There are also stories in the room of what has been here before, the traces of which are normally hidden. Can you expand on this?
I didn’t know what was on the inside of the plasterboards, but I removed them from the walls, turned them around and re-attached them with the inside facing out. I wanted to show something we don’t normally see or think about.
Before painting the floor, I mopped it and filled the wall-mounted bucket with the dirtied water. Everything that has happened in that room will be contained in the water and, like the walls, it has a story to tell us.
I’m curious to know why this bucket is placed particularly high. I also noticed its strategic positioning in the Dateagle group show Prevent this Tragedy which I saw late last year at Van Goetz Art Post_Institute.
The bucket in La La Land is mounted at my head height. I can stand face to face with it and it feels confrontational and cold at the same time. For Prevent This Tragedy I wanted people to be able to stand underneath the bucket and look up through it. Usually we might look down into one if we even look at all.
Can you explain the ashes on the floor which I understand have quite a history to them?
The ashes are from a textile piece I incinerated. I’d made a few of them, the first being when I was working in São Paolo in 2015. I had a studio in the Copan building in Downtown. The studios had only recently been opened and in the years between then and the 1970s they hadn’t been cleaned. The studio next to mine was being painted black and I used some cotton sheets to wipe down the floor and walls. I stitched these together and presented it as part of my solo exhibition Dirty Matters at Emma Thomas Gallery.
I’ve made a few more textile pieces since and fitted each of them into my exhibitions in different ways. I didn’t want to show one this time, but I like the story and wanted to re-use the material, which is why I chose to incinerate them. I dropped their ashes from roughly a foot above the floor as an act of letting go.
It seems like a cremation to me. A death as the end of something. And what about the other elements like the painted floor and the lowered lights?
Yes, that’s right. It makes me think of In My End Is My Beginning, from T S Eliot’s Four Quartets.
As for the floor, I looked at a lot of colour samples before eventually deciding to paint it with ‘Luminous Coral’. It was important that the colour would make people think of skin because I wanted to bring the attention back to the body. It’s an unnatural looking tone, not one you would see on a real person.
Also, lighting is a big part of any gallery. It’s there to help us view the art, but at the same time it gets in the way because it’s almost always reflected in the surface of the work. The lowered lights are an obstacle to moving around the room and they frame an area which creates the expectation that something is going to happen there.
When I was talking about your work with someone else, I mentioned that you have an exquisite hand which is a rare compliment I give to artists who seem to make something tender of everything they touch.
That’s odd because though everything is handmade, I try to eliminate as many signs of this as possible. I want things to look like they simply appeared. It’s a process of distilling and the exhibition space is a kind of laboratory.
Though I’d suggest that body and mind are inseparable. I might be referring to your physical hand but I’m just as much talking about your mind.
Oh, I see. It was really only very recently I understood the body and mind cannot be separated. When I was 19, I read Sun and Steel by Yukio Mishima. It’s an autobiographical essay that leads him to the point of ritual suicide as the moment he believed body and mind would finally be unified.
Mishima and four members of his personal army barricaded the Tokyo headquarters of the Japanese Self-Defence Forces and trying to inspire a coup which would restore the power to the emperor, Mishima delivered a speech to the soldiers gathered below. Sadly, he was mocked by the crowd and returned to the building to perform seppuku.
So now that the series is ending Simon, do you have plans for what’s next?
A performance of a short play I’ve written, along with its publication launch at the closing of this exhibition. I then leave for Mexico City at the end of April. I’ll be there for a few months to work on a larger scale than I have before. I’ll make sculptural pieces alongside some fast paced in-the-street performances. I’m enjoying writing right now so I’ll try to put together at least one more play whilst I’m there. After that I go to Spain and then Portugal. I will be working very site specifically, but I can’t tell you much more than that right now. First thing’s first.
La La Land continues at William Benington Gallery until 14 April 2019 with a performance taking place on 13 April.
1 George Marsh, Director and Curator of William Benington Gallery.
2 Dream Recording: “I am alone in this place. It is empty and flat and the ground looks like sand but it is hard and does not move under my feet. There are evenly spread, hundreds of round stones never larger than a fist. I think I can make out the familiar white luminance of water on the horizon, but I cannot hear the sea. The sky is bright blue, but I cannot find the sun. Nothing moves. There are no people, or animals, or birds. It doesn’t look like there’s anything to do here and I walk around without knowing how far I must go. I pick up a red-ish brown stone, turn it around in my hand and put it down on the ground again. It makes a hollow sounding noise. I do this a few times. When I find my way back, I will remember this place and I what I did here, that I really did nothing at all”.