Dealing with the landscape as if it were a body
London-based artist Simon Linington has preserved a mopped floor’s liquid in it’s original state, along with a year’s recollected trash, as a manifest of measuring the passage of time. “I think it’s natural to try and preserve something you have an attachment to, that’s falling apart.” There’s a fine line between life and work, private and public, or material and place within his works. His site-specific pieces display the artist’s personal feelings about the environment he lives and works in. By viewing the landscape or exhibition space as an empty body, he can then add a mood or feeling onto it. It makes sense that his current solo show “Everything Is Medicine” is taking place in a home environment. Lily Brooke, London is playing host to a variety of Simon’s works, including a recurring textile piece, placed in between the gaps of the wall, or an installation incorporating rocks with hidden messages amongst other works. Materials range from steel or stone to dust and paper. Inside the house, the works make visible things we usually can’t see, such as wishes, thoughts or a break in between two walls. In order to understand why his works are “like vomiting after food poisoning”, we spoke with the artist for his take on not fitting in, keeping memories alive, and his process of “decreation”.
Simon Linington (b. 1983 Isle of Wight) graduated in Sculpture at Chelsea College of Arts in 2006. He has exhibited at Lily Brooke, London; Division of Labour, London; the Museum of Contemporary Art Project Space, London; The Arts Gallery, London, Space In Between, London, Departure Gallery, London; Fold Gallery, London; James Taylor Gallery, London; amongst others. He has been awarded the Emerging Artist Bursary from the Royal British Society of Sculptors (2010) and was a finalist at the Best Emerging Sculptor in Britain award (2012), at Christies. Residencies include Pivo, Sao Paulo; Emma Thomas, Sao Paulo; Los Gazquez, Spain; Culture Vultures, Morocco. Simon is currently living and working in London.
You graduated from Chelsea College of Arts in 2006 specialising in sculpture. Why were you driven to studying this?
I think this has more to do with people than anything else. When I was at Kingston studying for a diploma in art and design we were asked to choose an area to specialise in for the last term. I wanted to study fine art, but I had to choose between painting and sculpture. I didn’t really feel that I knew how to make a painting, and I fitted in better with the sculpture students, and that was it really.
You grew up surrounded by animals and nature on the Isle of Wight, UK. How much does your upbringing feed your work?
As a young person, I would walk alone for hours along the beach. I was always looking at the cliff, observing the different coloured sands, and noticing any new areas that had broken away. There are places where brick walls stick out where houses once stood, and I would will the cliff to fall, so that I could watch it crash onto the beach. I think it’s natural to try and preserve something you have an attachment to, that’s falling apart, at least the story of it anyway.
“I now think it was inevitable I should work the way I do”
Your grandfather George Dean was a landscape photographer interested in documenting the Isle of Wight, UK. Could you expand on his influence in your practice?
My grandfather took photographs that are still used today on postcards and sticks of rocks. My grandmother worked in a kiosk at the end of Sandown Pier, selling these things alongside ice creams and cups of tea. I was around image making from the beginning, and those being so closely linked to my environment, I now think it was inevitable I should work the way I do.
You have assisted prominent artist Damien Hirst at his studio by making spots and butterfly paintings. Does your work experience at his studio come through your own work?
Damien once told me that good artists have always made use of what is around them. It’s probably an obvious thing to say, but at the time it was like a flash of lightning. That one comment was probably what got me started on a more site-specific practice.
Life | Work
Your practice encompasses performances, sculptures, installation, photography, and writing amongst others. What interests you from each medium and why do you choose to explore such a big variety of ways to present your work?
I like to work quickly, as quick as I can. If something takes 20 minutes that’s great, if it takes a day, that’s normal, and I’m okay with that. I choose whatever medium I think I can realise an idea in at the fastest speed. I’m not lazy, I work every day, but I want to enjoy working, and I can’t do that if things take a long time to make.
You have a tendency of using a recurring work made out of black and grey cloth constantly, which you change its form to adapt to it’s environment. What is the importance of recycling, re-using materials, and re-working your works to make them into new pieces?
The work your talking about was made and first exhibited in Sao Paulo. It’s been seen in three different countries, and will be shown for the fourth time at Lily Brooke Gallery. I have very strong memories of making this particular work. It was carnival in Brazil, and my studio was closed, so I was hand stitching it on the floor of my apartment. It was really hot and humid, and I was crouched by a fan. The needles I had bought from a local store kept snapping, and it was very frustrating. Carnival floats were passing down the street below, and it was noisy with party goers. I don’t know what it was about those few days, but I haven’t forgotten them, and I don’t think I will. Maybe part of it is that I don’t want too, so by re-using it I’m keeping that memory alive. Every time I show it, I change the title and the way it is presented to fit the space it is in. I like that it travels with me, and that it has a story, and I will continue to show it until someone tells me I can’t.
One of your latest projects, “Graffiti seen on my walk to the studio 2015-2017” represented the phrases of graffiti from the surroundings of your studio pulled out of context, by making them into informative wooden panels. Sentences include “Gay men in their forties reading poetry” or “Looking for a girlfriend with a European passport” amongst others. Can you develop on this idea?
I have been discussing making T-shirts with an illustrator. We would use similar phrases, again taken from graffiti I have seen in my local environment, and sell them online. I don’t consider this an artwork but it is a development of a kind.
You are familiar with making pinhole cameras with buckets of graffiti amongst other found objects. Could you develop on your interest in photography and the images taken with these self-made cameras?
I own a few books that describe a huge number of experimental photography techniques, and they are a source of fascination to me. I’ve tried a number of these with limited success, but I think you really need to spend a lot of time practising and making small alterations to get something you are happy with. I do have plans to make my own film camera but I don’t know when I will make it, and I don’t know what I will photograph, but maybe that bit doesn’t really matter.
“Material and place have been inseparable”
You have recently made “Souvenir, 2015”, a glass tube filled with sand and mixed media, very much inspired in victorian sand vial landscapes. Why are you driven to transforming these materials into a visual objects? Is this a response to your grandfather’s candy tubes?
To those yes, and the vials that are made with coloured sand from the cliff at Alum Bay. My early encounter with these objects and the postcards, illustrations of places on the Island made with the sand from the same place, made a big impression on a younger me. Ever since the two things, material and place have been inseparable.
From Francis Alys to Henri-Cartier Bresson, through Gilbert and George. Could you develop on your influences?
There are artists that I look up to, those you have mentioned and Bruce Nauman, Ian Kiaer, Fischli and Weiss, Santiago Sierra, Klara Liden. Paul Cezanne is my favourite artist ever, that always surprises people. I love him because he said he mixed grey into all his colours because life is grey. There are writers also who have influenced me. Raymond Carver because he spoke about the everyday so beautifully and with so few words, Richard Brautighan, Samuel Beckett, Yukio Mishima, Tao Lin, Ted Highes’ poetry and Ken Kesey, in particular his novel “Sometimes a Great Notion”. I also take inspiration from things like Afro-Brazilian textiles, tales of historic piracy on the Isle of Wight, spirituality forums, ceramics, and photographs of urban decay and religious festivals. I have a folder on my iPad titled “research” and there are thousands of images of all this stuff.
You mentioned that you are interested in treating the landscape/environment as a body. Could you explain this idea?
I like to write short stories, they are really short, typically one paragraph to a page. Sometimes I will describe a landscape, what it looks and feels like, to explain a feeling/sensation that without these things, I wouldn’t know how to do. When I look at an exhibition space for the first time, I look at it as an empty body, and I think about how I want it to look and feel like. When I know this, I can begin.
Exposing publicly the act of creating is important to you. Having no margins between life and work, or the process of your work and the work itself. Could you expand on these relationships?
I had a problem with these things in the past, I was sort of hiding in my work and I can’t tell you why because I don’t know the answer. Maybe it’s a natural evolution, or maybe it’s something to do with attitude, but I don’t see much difference between any of these things anymore. Sometimes I think the process is more interesting to see, but mostly I think it’s difficult to make something you have imagined because it never looks the same, and it’s rarely better.
There is a tendency for you to have an experience with your works, certain physicality. From marking your face with symbols to hiding beneath a rug, are your works self-referential and is the act of being part of them important to you?
Yes, it is important. I think it needs to be me because I am trying to communicate my feelings about the environment I am living and working in. I wanted to know what it felt like to press the plaster mould into my face. I expected it to hurt, but I didn’t know how much, and I forced myself to keep pushing harder and harder. Similarly, when I sat under a blanket in the medina, I knew that I would feel self-conscious, nervous even, and I had to make myself go through with it. I want to try these things because I think they will tell me what I like doing and also what I am capable of.
Your work “Fittin’ It Ain’t Easy” 2016 in Morocco and 2017 in London is a self-portrait of you camouflaged within the environment, by introducing yourself inside a cloth and inside a bag. These works reference “not fitting in” at large, within society and also literally within the objects you chose to fit inside. Can you extend this idea? Is it important to link the physical meaning to the transcendental meaning of your work?
Not fitting in is probably one of the most common insecurities we might experience. Growing up, I didn’t really feel like I fitted in at the Isle of Wight, and it wasn’t easy fitting in London, as someone who was from the Isle of Wight. I think many of us, wherever we go, are trying to blend in, so that we are treated in a certain way, one that is at least easier. I want people to enjoy those works because I think they are great photographs, and after that, if they think a little about it, and they decide they still like it, that’s good too, better even.
Current exhibition at Lily Brooke, London
You are currently undertaking a solo show, “Everything Is Medicine” at Lily Brooke, London. This exhibition is a “second part” of a previous exhibition, “Everything Can Be Broken” at Division of Labour. What is the link between your past exhibition and your current one? What is the importance of deconstruction and reconstruction within your work?
These two shows bookend what has been a memorable year for me. In the first, “Everything Can Be Broken”, I focused on taking apart the architecture of the space to make my work – “decreation” I like to call it. The objects and interventions were very ephemeral, and that felt appropriate at the time. In the second, “Everything Is Medicine”, I am using materials to make things that can last, and presenting them within the space, which is what I feel like doing right now. I take things apart and put them back together because it’s my way of trying to look at them differently, and hopefully I can see something I didn’t before.
In your current exhibition, you are introducing a rock installation, where you are placing subtle empty paper notes inside the rocks as a form of hidden messages. Why are you interested in a rock as an object? Is there any provocative statement hidden within this piece?
I visited a mosque in Fes, Morocco, and in the corner of the prayer hall was a rock. It was really smooth. I asked my Moroccan friend why it was there, and he told me that after washing and before prayer, people touch the rock with their hands. He explained that same rock had probably been in the prayer hall for the entire life of the mosque, which was more than 100 years, and that it was probably very rough in the beginning, made smooth by the number of times it had been handled. This amazed me; thinking about how many people had touched it, and what they were thinking about at the time. I wanted to literally push thoughts and dreams into my rocks. These are things we usually can’t see, and I wanted to make them visible. You wont know what they are of course, but you can see they are there.
This exhibition space is set within a house environment. Creating a dialogue between your works and their surroundings is essential to your work. Have you found this “home” setting challenging?
Originally, I had planned to make more use of the home setting than I have. That isn’t necessarily because the setting is more challenging, though there are restrictions of course. There are a couple of examples of using the architecture of the space, and I am happy with this.
Your works not only address everyday life, but also use everyday life itself. From a year’s trash you have collected, to maintaining a mopped floor’s liquid in its original state, these works measure the passage of time. Can you elaborate on this? Is the idea of making this work more important to you than the work itself?
When I was making “Everything Can Be Broken”, I knew I’d like to make a second part to it, so I kept everything in case I had the opportunity. The mop water I’m using now could be from any floor at an unspecific time, but it was important enough for me to keep it for a year, and I’m showing it to people again. Is it more important than the work itself? No, I don’t think so, they need each other like an engine and a car.
Do you have any plans for the upcoming future?
I have a couple of exhibitions in London next year. The first is with an artist friend, someone who I used to work closely with. We haven’t worked or shown together for a few years now, so it’ll be interesting. I have a residency abroad, which could be for a few months, but I haven’t really given that much thought yet. I’m planning a site-specific installation for the courtyard of a Moorish castle in Almería, Spain during the summer. And, I’m writing and editing my writing, and have plans for this, so we will see.
Is there any unrealised project you would like to accomplish?
I’ve always wanted to make a pier.
Your work could be referred as a clash of arte povera, conceptual art, and environmental art. How would you describe it?
It’s like vomit after food poisoning, something I can’t keep down.
Words by Vanessa Murrell