A discussion between Ellie Morgan and Lucy Harrison, October 2008.
Ellie Morgan: You have said that your projects 'generate a large amount of research material'. Does this indicate that you see the epehemeral side of your work as primary, with the physical material created as a bi-product or description of events and actions, or does the work take place through a dialogue between the two?
Lucy Harrison: I see the work as a dialogue between the two- I couldn’t make it if I didn’t go through a certain process, a way of interacting with a location through collecting material and documenting chance encounters. However I have realised recently that this material doesn’t always get seen in the final work, particularly when it is commissioned and has a certain required outcome. On a recent residency in Antwerp I realised that my wandering around the city produced collections of material that flagged up unconscious connections between places and images, both contemporary and historical, and this was shown as part of my show at the end of the residency. After this I thought about past projects and how I have generated all this other material that sometimes gets edited down and not always seen. Also certain recurring images have become apparent- I have discovered that I have taken a lot of photos of empty chairs, for example, and collecting them together perhaps shows both my own propensity to take these photographs, but also particular human habits that appear in different locations and eras. I’m interested in what Lefebvre says about the development of certain kinds of spaces and how human activity plays a large part in this, and seeing particular traits across all this material perhaps speaks of some of this.
EM: Your work seems to explore selective representation of place; demonstrating how places can be missed through the medium of photography and how one version of a place can be given by guides. If it is impossible for you to show all of the material generated for a project, do you think that this reinforces the selective way in which places are shown and seen?
LH: I think that what I often do is deliberately subjective- asking one person to tell me about their particular version of a place, rather than even trying to give a complete picture. In a way it says that you may as well use this method as any other, as it would be an impossible task to give a complete picture; everyone has their own version of a place made up of their own memories of things that have happened there and their own pathways that they take through it. I think it’s also that language gives an incomplete picture, as well as photography, the way that we describe locations and our routes through them. As well as guidebooks, which are the most obvious example of literature based on places, you can also see the way we talk about foreign visits or homelands, and the way that different places are presented as being ‘safe’ or ‘dangerous’ in the media. I hope that my work questions how reliable any description can be, and hints at a never ending project to truly represent places.
EM: If you are interested in the development of places, and if you consider that places are partly made up by peoples' experiences and memories, how do your walks and documents relate to this? Are they a presentation of a historical and contemporary place? Do you feel that your work adds a layer on the palimpsest, perhaps altering how people view a place?
LH: I’m not sure if it alters how people view a place- maybe, but I can’t assume that’s the effect it would have. What I try to do is to present a range of interconnecting elements- it varies for each project though. It’s often an attempt to show a range of voices related to the place but it’s often something specific and also related to chance, so it’s difficult to talk about them in general.
EM: Would you discuss the interconnecting elements and voices in the project 'Haunts'?
LH: The wall based work is what I was talking about in answer to the first question- I've recategorised material related to a range of places that I've worked in, finding similarities and equivalences between them. So in a sense it's more of a re-examination of the practice itself rather than a specific project. However the book ('Norwich Haunts') is a new project developed for this show. The real subject of the book is printing, it relates back to itself in that way. Although it begins as a documentation of a walk in Norwich, it keeps returning to the Jarrolds print works that was being demolished over the past few months. Chance played a part here, that I just happened to walk past it on the same day that I found some of the books printed there in a nearby charity shop. One of the books included a ghost story related to the shop I found it in, which perhaps underlined the idea of places and their resonances. I've thought recently that ghosts could be said to exist in the sense that we all connect memories to particular places, and this could have something to do with people's belief in the supernatural. The book has been printed using a 'Print on Demand' service, which means that you can get just one copy printed if you like. This is what I talked about to the man in the Jarrolds museum, who saw these developments in digital printing as the initial reason for the fall of the Jarrolds printing business. It seems so ironic to me that for years people have used publishing as a way of democratising work, of distributing it to a wide number of people, and now publishing has changed direction- it's democratised for the author or artist, who is able to self-publish in a much easier way than before, but it's questionable what this may mean for the reader or audience, who could in theory have many more titles to choose from, but perhaps with less quality control. So the book is about the destruction of one particular print works, but its real core is about the change in printing and what this means for the way we relate to reproduction. I used Print on Demand as a kind of ironic statement on all of this.