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lynette wallworth

the world in our hands

fabienne nicholas interviews media artist lynette wallworth

Lynette Wallworth, Hold: Vessel 1 Lynette Wallworth, Hold: Vessel 1
photo Colin Davison

More recently Wallworth has been solidly foc sed on research and production for new works culminating in a series of high profile international exhibitions—at the New Crowned Hope Festival in Vienna, Arnolfini in Bristol, Auckland Triennial, the National Glass Centre, and the second exhibition for the newly launched BFI Southbank. The BFI have extended their commitment by commissioning a new stage for Hold. I caught up with Wallworth on the brink of a busy few months of production.

I am in the process of developing the work for the BFI so I am busy connecting with marine specialists I first encountered when working on Hold: Vessel 1. These are people like Marine Biologist Anya Salih who works on understanding the uses of the fluorescent gene in coral and David Hannan who first filmed the mass spawning event on the Great Barrier reef in 1990 and has been filming reef systems in all the years since. They are absolutely focused on corals, all of them in a slightly different way and they are the same people who informed my understanding then of the future stresses on marine organisms if current predictions of climate change held up. That was in 2001.

The issue of climate change was not in the public imagination then. Now I look at the footage in Hold and think, okay, I used this imagery of the giant kelp forests of southern Tasmania for example and only about five percent of those kelp forests exist now. So it feels a very potent time to be making this next stage of the work; it was something I always intended. The thing that has changed I think is the context. It feels to me as though everything I thought about in making the work has become transparent in the intervening years. To hold an underwater world in a fragile glass bowl gives a very clear, tangible sensation of these environments. It has become patently clear to most people that we really do have to think about what we are handing on to those coming after us.

It had always been in my thinking that the work would evolve, because marine environments are changing so rapidly, but it has been difficult to raise funds to make a finished work. The BFI, through Michael Connor’s curation, completely comprehended that this was a part of the work from its inception, this process of evolution and being able to walk through both the work and through different time spans. So it’s really a fantastic opportunity I’ve been given to continue it, and on the other hand it’s very confronting. It’s the strange sensation of making a work at a time when the impetus for the work has intensified.

Lynette Wallworth, Invisible by Night, 2004, commissioned by Experimenta Lynette Wallworth, Invisible by Night, 2004, commissioned by Experimenta
photo Colin Davison
I always think that I make works that are communal at their core. I love looking at the way people who don’t know one another form a sort of temporary community whilst in the space together—there’s is something very anti-hierarchical about it. I certainly contemplate accessibility and the ability for people to be able to resolve the work with one another and I am interested in creating a tangible sensation of the audience being implicit to the work.

In a significant retrospective of her work At the New Crowned Hope Festival in Vienna, Wallworth exhibited five works including two new commissions.

Vienna was really one of the most satisfying times of my life. The curator Peter Sellars very carefully determined the way that you would move through the exhibition such that the relationship between the works became really apparent. Peter has worked a lot with Bill Viola and has a wonderful understanding about the best environment for experiencing these works. So he drew a map—I’ve still got this little serviette that I kept when, sitting in a café with him, very late one night in Vienna, he drew the journey from piece to piece. He is extremely attuned to things like how long it takes your eyes to become used to the physical aspects of being in a video installation.

My work is very slow in tempo and here was a way of placing things that supported the pacing needed and encouraged the sensation of immersion. I didn’t realise how obsessed I am with darkness until I saw all of these works together, but it is a very comfortable space for me. I am interested in how to construct darkness so you can rest in it, be altered by it. The other huge change in terms of the exhibition experience was that I had the support of FORMA [the Liverpool-based media arts agency], which has been a really significant breakthrough for me. For years I tried to find ways of getting my work produced in Australia but individuals can’t sustain a company that does this sort of work without funding. FORMA produce and tour for me so my life has changed. I feel now my practice is sustained and sustainable.

The opportunity to show in a festival is wonderful because of the focus on so many different art forms and artists—I got the opportunity to meet and talk with some of my favourites, especially filmmakers, as well as meet new ones. And the flow on has been great. There is interest in showing these pieces now in France, in Rome and in New York. Galleries are the best equipped to show it, but the festival environment gives the opportunity for the work to find relationships with other artforms.

The major new commission for Vienna was an interactive work, Evolution Of Fearlessness, for which I filmed 11 women, most of them political refugees. The experience of the work is a moment of ‘video meeting’ when the women respond to the viewer’s touch. In Vienna the relationship of this work to some of Sellars’ commissioned films was really interesting—the same medium with very different modes of delivery—and it sparked my thinking about where to go next. There’s an amplification that happens with this kind of attunement and that feels like a perfect home for me.

Prior to Vienna Wallworth spent three months on a British Council residency at the National Glass Centre in Sunderland, a chance for her to deeply examine the medium of glass, which she has used frequently in her work, and to develop new works combining video and glass.

Sunderland was very contemplative. It’s completely different working on glass than on a Mac G5. It made me think about the longevity of work. The history of glassmaking is a part of the experience of the National Glass Centre; it’s where the first stained glass was made in England. You can’t be there and not become cognisant of the historical importance of the medium. That haunts me really, because of the medium I work in. For example, the projectors we used to make Hold in 2001 are no longer in production, you can’t buy them any more and that’s in a six-year timespan. The software that we use to deliver work changes every year so it’s impossible to know how the work can be seen in 100 years time. Whereas a glass bowl that I made in Sunderland last year could still exist in that form, cracked and scratched, in a thousand years time. There is no economic determinant to make a piece of glass obsolete. This tension is inherent in the history of art, the experimentation with new materials and the concern for longevity. It really expanded my thinking about what are the essential tools.

The other thing that came from that time was that my work is still very strongly linked to being in the Australian landscape, so being in Newcastle (UK) for that length of time was quite challenging for me, but also helped to clarify why I still need to come back here to develop new pieces. It’s certainly easier for me overseas right now, my work is shown more and commissioning opportunities are definitely coming from Europe in a wonderful and supportive way. But I still find it beneficial to come home and make the work—there’s a fluidity about it, along with being able to work with the same people as a team. I think it makes the work much stronger. It means you can shorthand a lot of things and so take them in unexpected directions. But still, when I made Evolution of Fearlessness I imagined I would film women from other parts of the world, and I’m still thinking about that. It might be the one that actually shifts me out of this compulsion to make work out of Australia.

Lynette Wallworth, Hold: Vessel 2, BFI Southbank Gallery, London, June 23-Sept 2, Touring produced by Forma,

RealTime issue #79 June-July 2007 pg. 2

© Fabienne Nicholas; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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