Tuesday, 17 April 2012

In the studio with Lesley Hilling


We met up with Lesley Hilling last week to hear about her new show. Here's what she had to say
NV: What can we expect from this exhibition?
LH: The exhibition has been inspired by a short story by Bruno Schulz The Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass. It’s a weird and indescribable story very much about death and dying: it’s imbued with a strange confusion. It makes me think a lot about my mum who had Alzheimer’s and how memory can become distorted. The title for the show is ‘Under the Sign of the Hour Glass’ and the work is about distortion of memory, loss, longing.
NV: Have any of the pieces of work or show changed direction since or during the planning of the exhibition?
LH: They never have any direction! There’s never a plan, I have some idea of what I want, which then grows and the piece takes on a life of it’s own. Because I’m using found objects, once you find something that you think is going to work in a piece it will take another direction. When I first used a magnifying glass in a piece of work I was really taken by how much it could distort what was behind it, putting it at a certain  angle, and  moving around it photographs became distorted and the whole endeavour seemed to strike a chord with  what I wanted to say.
NV: What are you hoping the viewer will get from these new pieces of work?
LH: I hope the pieces are compelling –and intriguing. There’s a lot to look at - the layers of life: my life, my mum’s and my grandad’s: their stuff is embedded in the work. It’s also from the people at car boot sales who I’ve got all this stuff from. I’m working with all these layers of time passed. It’s like Marx said - the history of all the people that have gone before us weighs heavily on us today, that sense of the accretions of history and time and people that have now passed away and the objects that surrounded them being all that remains.
NV: When you’re visiting car bootfairs and looking through peoples collections do you automatically have a connection with an object?
LH: Yes definitely, especially things with a collective cultural memory. Things from my childhood that you find in junk shops which are so of their time, also take you right back in a very personal way. There’s definitely a connection that you have with individual objects, they can be triggers for very intense memories and emotions that someone from another culture or background may see totally differently. Once I bought a huge wad of school photographs and I was showing everyone this particular photograph saying ‘which one is me?’ and they were all pointing at various people. I even did it with my dad saying ‘do you remember which one is me dad?’ and he replied ‘I think it’s that one’ but I wasn’t even in the picture, (laughs) can you make sense out of that? I find it so interesting.
NV: Since your last show at Nancy Victor how has your work developed or changed?
LH: It’s got better! It’s become more layered. The piece I had in the previous show, ‘Composite One’ had a completely flat plane and there were a lot of openings, drawers and doors. This was how I was constructing at that time. Now, the work is less interactive and has become more open structurally. The viewer can catch a glimpse of objects through various planes and layers. Previously I had made pieces with interlocking wooden surfaces.
I’d always set myself a task of trying to make a sphere, and that’s coming together now.
NV: Where did your creativity and inspiration for you using recycled objects and found materials stem from?
LH: I’ve always collected things and I like old things. My granddad was a big collector. After he died, all his things, which included stamps, cigarette cards, coins, old newspapers from the great war and photographs all came to our house. I had these collections around when I was growing up, they were my childhood playthings.
NV: What was the first piece of art you ever made?
LH: Little boxes to put things in. I then started decorating them and layering pictures inside, I then discovered Joseph Cornell. He is a big influence within my work, my favourite artist really. I started as a graphic designer but I had this longing to do something with my hands so that’s how I started making little boxes and it just grew from there. I started making sculpture in the early nineties.
NV: What is it about the longing to preserve the fragments/remnants of the past that is most inspiring for your work?
LH: I’m not sure inspiring is the right word, because there’s so much sadness around it. It’s the passing of time that I find quite hard to bear. I think that’s what Joseph Cornell was trying to do to, preserve those moments.
NV: Are there any upcoming projects that you can share with us?
LH: I’m working on a proposal for a documentary film and continuing to make work.  
NV: Thanks for your time Lesley and best of luck with the finishing preparations for the show.

Lesley Hilling, ‘Under the Sign of the Hourglass’, 3rd May - 5th June 2012, Nancy Victor Gallery, London.

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