04.04.08 Brighid Lowe, Art World, April 2008


“I am interested in creating something through absence…
I like the act of incision, cutting into the body of something”

Brighid Lowe’s output may appear diverse, but there are strong unifying currents. Since featuring (along with Damien Hirst) in 1991’a New Contemporaries, she has quietly and intelligently explored three main areas. Harnessing chance encounters: with words and pictures, nature and technology. Creating excisions: cut form paper, burs in film, deletion by rain. And pondering space: from the gaps between litter to internet’s infinity. Often her pieces are open-ended and re-arrangable – such as Citizens of Spam, an ever growing cast of magazine portraits, each with the same generic smiley face excised, shown this March at London’s Man&Eve recent “rain drawings” – which came second in the 2007 Jerwood Drawing prize – are painstaking drawn lines exposed briefly to rain, and echo many earlier works featuring white patches or gaps. These snapshots of a moment in space, time and weather sum up her work perfectly: tiny acts causing maximum disruption to a superficially attractive surface.

AW: How is your name pronounced?
BL: It’s “Bridget”, I think the spelling is Irish or Scandinavian, and I’m not, I blame my parents for causing all the grief.

AW: You once said, “My work is not concerned with beginnings or endings, but the space between…”
BL: That’s a paraphrasing from Deleuze. I like that space of ambivalence… attempting to make something that straddles the boundaries and conventions of genres.

AW: You make much use of excision and incision, positive and negative space.
BL: I am interested in creating something through absence, to use a cliché. Taking something from fragments, collecting things. Collage is a space of agitation, seeing the world differently, taking some givens and manipulating them. I like the cat of incision, cutting into the body of something.

AW: I saw Two Englands Breakaway (1996-7) is a text told through book titles – what does it refer to?
BL: It was at the end of an extended period of Conversation government, and the text is about the state of England. I spent at least a year making it; there are 225 paperback book covers, all from car boot sales and charity shops. It was a constant struggle between the visual and the text. It can never be exactly my voice because it was like speaking in a foreign language with a set of prescribed titles.

AW: How does your other book piece, Love… That’s Love (1999), work?
BL: It’s something that can be made and remade. The first book is called “Love” and the last book is “That’s Love”. Every book in between begins with “The”, so it becomes a list. There’s an almost filmic correspondence between each one; it’s a description of what love could or could not be. You can always buy more books beginning with “The”.

AW: Are Citizen of Spam parts 1 and 2 meant to be seen together?
BL: They can operate independently of each other. It was about building an archive, a community. I like the idea of fragmenting this community. Citizens of Spam (Part 1) was an 18-meter-long digital print of thousands of names of spam email senders, all sent to my email account during 2002 – I had a major problem with spam!The names get generated by computers; some sound like real people and some don’t. I wanted them to be like a horizon line.

AW: What was the genesis of Citizen of Spam (part 2)? The smiley faces look disturbing rather than happy.
BL: I was thinking about Disney and the Disney sponsored town Celebration – the notion of that sort of veneer. They present the idea of masks. I wanted them to be crude and brutal – they sit on top of the face in a way that makes them physical. You can’t always tell they are cut out until you get up close, and when you do, they present the idea of absence. They are a kind of collage – they only work if they fit the whole wall. They are not pictorial, they have to become spatial.

AW: Each Long Second (2006 version) is a theoretically endless sheet of repeating arrows that can be crumpled in infinite ways. Is it about space-time diagrams?
BL: I was looking at visual maps of the internet how it functions, what it is philosophically. Each Long Second is titled after the experience of waiting at a computer for something to download. It is unlike a book when you can just turn the page. There’s a lack of control and an element of frustration. I am interested in planes, the horizontal and vertical, and how they can be collapsed together diagrammatically and romantically. I am also interested in Baroque architecture, how the space is choreographed ideas of false perspective.

AW: Were your Rain Drawing inspired by Marcel Broodthaers’ manic attempts to draw in the rain?
BL: No, but in various Jean-Luc Godard films there are shots of him writing, crossing out and rewriting lines that may have impressed upon me. The Rain Drawings aim to make you think about the space that rain occupies, and to record it. Each sheet has hundreds of hand-drawn horizon lines _ when exposed to the rain they begin to blur and represent the rain itself, as though the rain had drawn the work. It is a bit like taking a photograph. They take time, both human and rain time.

AW: Some of your work suggests avant-garde poetry: is reading important to you?
BL: Yes, I have always read quite a diverse range. It is for pleasure but has a way of feeding into my work. Recently it’s been a lot of German and Swiss fiction – it’s quite heavy stuff, but I also enjoy magazine like Heat and Hello. It’s the extremes that interest me.

AW: Finally, if you could live with any work of art ever made, what would it be?
BL: Gerhard Ritcher’s painting of his daughter, Betty (1998). It is beautiful, but also references photography and the history of painting – especially Vermeer. It has a historical presence as well as being contemporary – and that is quite difficult to do.

Interview: Vici MacDonald


Citizens of spam (part 2), 2003 – , details, cut-out magazine portraits – part of an ongoing, potentially endless series – to fill the available installation space. The four above, taken from a recent group show at Man&Eve, London, were selected and composed by the artist in order to best fill a single page of Art World.