In this episode Lucy Skaer discuss her solo exhibition Exit, Voice and Loyalty with Tramway curator Claire Jackson.
For her most ambitious solo exhibition in the UK since the Turner prize in 2009, Lucy Skaer presents a new body of work spanning ceramics, film, litho and wood-cut prints and sculpture. Exit, Voice and Loyalty takes its title from economist Albert O. Hirschman’s essay on how change comes about through dissent. Although not directly linked to the book, Skaer is interested in how economics provides a shifting representation of the materials world, and how this idea can be related to sculpture.
Using a diverse array of materials both mass-produced and handcrafted, the exhibition presents various overlapping orders of time and memory, the historic and the domestic. Many of the works allude to a time outside of our direct frame of reference, incorporating archaic processes and ancient objects; rare hard woods and precious metals sit alongside the worn stone steps from the house where the artist grew up.
A number of forms within the exhibition are based on real objects which Skaer has transformed using highly elaborate and skilled, manual / handcrafted processes including glazing, printing, carving, bronze smelting, litho and wood cut printing. As such, Skaer abstracts such real objects into sculptural forms and symbols, removing them from their original context and scrambling and unpicking their narrative associations. In doing so she reveals their intrinsic material nature and the ways in which language, meaning and value migrate over time.
Many of the works are informed by previous exhibitions or bodies of work, which Skaer has adapted, re-imagining and re-experiencing them in a new time and space. One instance of this is the large scale corridor through which we enter the gallery. The corridor is a replica of the walk down the hall into Skaer’s old studio, in this context functioning as a transition into the exhibition space as opposed to the site of making. On entering the space we are confronted with a major architectural intervention into the gallery, a suspended wall spans the building, dividing the floor space and creating a new horizon which modifies our perception of the galleries space and depth.
The exhibition also features a large series of images created using the Guardian’s discarded printing plates. Skaer has been collecting the yellow, magenta and cyan printing plates from the newspaper since August and printed each plate individually herself, transforming a mass-produced industrial print process into an intimate, handmade one. The series covers the same time frame as the exhibition run with one issue for each day. Rather than the CYMK of conventional printing, the inks pick up on the tonal range of the exhibition, creating a formal as well as temporal link between other materials and works.
One of the forms in the show which Skaer has abstracted is a cut sapphire shape pared down into a simplified ‘lozenge’. Skaer has used this form in many previous works and exhibitions and has rendered here on a mass scale in ceramics fired in a dark bronze glaze. The glaze of the ‘nuggets’ is tenmoku, an ancient Chinese and Japanese techniques. Laid out in a grid centrally between the columns in the space, these hand crafted works created in a vast series and laid out in such a modular way have an air of mass produced commodity – the layout also takes inspiration form the terracotta army, acknowledged as the first mass produced artwork.
One or two of the ‘nuggets’ contain 11th century Chinese Tenmoku glazed pots from a shipwreck which have been re-fired in the kiln with a new version of the glaze. The Temmuku glaze was also extensively used by the British artist-potter Bernard Leach who was a visionary in the studio pottery movement which maintained a stance against mass production and was idealistic and even spiritual. Skaer is interested in how this one surface (the glaze) subsequently carries these different connotations, ideas and histories.
The final work we encounter is a series of works made from ancient moulds that Skaer has been collecting from disparate cultures. The moulds are authentic and range from a Pre-Columbian Mayan mask mould dated 500 – 800 CE to terracotta molded cast for bronze axe heads dated 300 BCE – 200 CE. Skaer has made new casts from these moulds, smelting the bronze in her studio to create a series of new artefacts. Some of these moulds contain original mineral deposits, and whilst the objects were cast recently, they are imbued with a sense of authenticity and realness. The bronze casts are displayed with another series from the Guardian’s printing plates, creating a subtle correspondence between different temporalities which is echoed throughout the exhibition.