Reconnecting with her practice through opening the wounds of mental health and past love.
Artist Lindsey Mendick is as bold as she is open. Creating artworks that revolve around highly personal themes such as her mental health and ex-boyfriends, she comforts her audience through a predominantly ceramic practice, ensuring them that they are not alone in dark thought or supposed failure. Lindsey has had a tumultuous rise into the art world, with her health causing her to drop-out of her foundation degree and later harbouring feelings of wanting to give up on art entirely, before a much-needed trip to the beaches of Mexico. Here, the artist found herself once more through sitting on sandy shores with a taco in one hand and a margarita in the other, allowing the sunshine to re-energise her mind and art in unison. Lindsey is fascinated by replicas, be this authentic fakes or the encapsulation of memory through object. Her own replica-based artworks are “labours of love to the items or moments that they try to emulate and celebrate”, believing that “certain objects and imagery can so perfectly encapsulate a time and a place or an emotion”. It appears that since Lindsey’s trip to Mexico, her work indeed encapsulates a new lease of life, with dribbles of colour staining anthropomorphised ceramic growths that are, according to the artist, an extension of herself. Performance art accompanies these inner-self reflections, with Lindsey “subverting female stereotypes by utilising the very tropes that are deemed to be female”, as shown in her wearing a wedding dress and typing on a laptop throughout her latest exhibition opening. In fact, this isn’t a far cry from the actions of Mrs. Havisham in Great Expectations, who Lindsey considers a close companion in feeling the insurmountable weight of failed relationships and despair coupled with loneliness. I sit down with Lindsey to discuss where her future is headed. She reveals that she’s looking to move in a new direction, straying from her ceramic roots to venture into creating more optimistic works using the medium of stained glass.
Lindsey Mendick (b. 1987, London, UK) received an MA in Sculpture at the Royal College of Art, London. She has exhibited in Castor Projects, London; Sans Titre, Paris; Hannah Barry Gallery, London; The Turnpike, Leigh; Zabludowicz Collection, London; Vitrine, Basel; Triumph Galley, Moscow; Ping Pong, Brussels; Roaming Projects, London; Fold Gallery, London; Marcelle Joseph Projects, Ascot; Bosse & Baum, London, amongst others. Residencies include the Fibra Residency, Colombia and Moly-Sabata Residency, France, amongst others. Se has recently been awarded the Alexandra Reinhardt Memorial Award, the Royal College of Art Fellowship at University of Texas and the Gilbert Bayes Scholarship, amongst others. Lindsey Mendick currently lives and works in London.
BACKGROUND & PROCESS
I seems like the UK is your playground, having exhibited not only in London, but also in Manchester, Nottingham or Sheffield, amongst others… How do you compare London’s art scene with its surrounding cities? Have you noticed any difference in terms of the reception of your work depending on its location?
I studied for my BA at Sheffield Hallam and loved being there so much. In Sheffield, I still have the best group of supportive friends… they are all fiercely productive and so creative; owning their own shops, creating their own potteries, bars and restaurants. But unfortunately, the art scene I found incredibly cliquey and hard to penetrate. When I used to travel around the north for different shows and to meet other artists, this discontent seemed to be the case in a lot of cities. As there aren’t a great deal of opportunities for young artists, it can get extremely competitive and there’s a a crippling amount of displaced anger about. But the wonderful thing about living in Sheffield was having the opportunity to go to neighbouring cities and meet really great artists who were so determined and open to new ideas. I’m so glad I lived there for six years as it was the perfect place to grow and hone my practice.
While studying your BA at Camberwell University, you decided to drop out. What triggered your leave? Did you feel displaced during your time at art school?
I started my Foundation at Camberwell College of Arts, but I really wasn’t in a particularly good place. I’d been having a lot of panic attacks and the new school with so many cool and beautiful students totally overwhelmed me. I felt like an imposter. The panic attacks got thicker and faster and in the end I couldn’t make it into school; I was totally bed bound. I’m showing my age but in 2005 people weren’t really that well equipped to deal with mental health and I didn’t really get any support. I left after about eight weeks and took a two year break from education.
In 2018, the Zabludowicz Collection invited you for a solo presentation. Would you agree in saying that this exhibition in particular marked a turnover in your artistic career?
Yes, that show at the Zabludowicz Collection means absolutely everything to me. It was such a terrifying memory to revisit but I’m proud of (hopefully) managing to openly and succinctly explore the murky and confusing subject of coercive behaviour and sexual abuse. In a lot of my work, I utilise memory and nostalgia to talk about everyday concerns that dwarf and overwhelm me. In this show, I realised that I could use my personal experience to emphasise with others who have been through this type of trauma, but also dissect and educate those who haven’t. But also, I think it was a turning point because it was the first opportunity where I was supported mentally and financially to the extent that young artists should be. I worked really closely with Paul and Henry at zabs and they were incredibly supportive. They really listened to me, which I think when you have always had to defend your work was such a relief. At times, I felt that Paul Luckcraft knew the show better than myself.
With shows at Roaming Projects, Bosse and Baum or Castlefield Gallery, curation seems to be an extension of your own practice. Do you approach curation in the same manner and thinking as you approach the production of your own works?
When I curate exhibitions, it’s mainly because I’d see a disparage in art or feel that a subject really isn’t being explored. ‘If You Can’t Stand The Heat’ at Roaming Projects stemmed from this terrible realisation that I didn’t seem to know a great deal of female identifying ceramicists, and neither did others who I spoke to! I find my own studio practice incredibly lonely so curating is a way of forging networks and meeting other likeminded individuals. I’ve just recently squire a live/workspace on the Old Kent Road that’s going to have a project space. The first exhibition will be the work of the artist Dominic Watson who I’ve worked closely alongside with at Plaza Plaza.
You are quite open with your audience about your OCD, in which you encounter flashes of anxiety and haunting thoughts. Not least, a couple of days ago you mentioned to me feeling scared that your own works would talk to you. Do you deal with these symptoms through the making of your work?
Haha, I can’t believe I said that!!! But yes, I’m terrified of my sculptures coming to life and talking to me. I quite often anthropomorphise my sculptures and start talking to them when I’m particularly tired or pissed off. Because of the tactile nature of clay, they feel like extensions of me, I work so closely with them and it feels so much depends on their survival. But yes, I find making in clay so therapeutic and helpful to staying calm and grounded. Because clay is so unforgiving and has so many ingrained rules, you have to be relaxed and give the medium the time and attention it needs, and learning to slow down and switch off is so important when your mind is prone to torturing you just for the hell of it. In much of my practice, I instigate exhibitions and interventions that bring mental health awareness to the foreground of fine art. As I have suffered from OCD and depression since I was about thirteen years old, I find that I now create out of a necessity to communicate my often shameful intrusive thoughts with others. I hope that by talking about these painful experiences; others may be able to identify with them and in turn, not feel as alone as I have done. This can be seen through my most recent projects with Kunstraum (where I have created a pottery for women who identify as having low self esteem) and the Turnpike Pottery, Leigh that was funded by the Alexandra Rhinehart Memorial Award. To me, The Turnpike is my greatest achievement to date. Alongside The Turnpike and eight invited emerging ceramic artists, I created a pottery for local children in the care system. The aim of the pottery was to introduce young people to contemporary art, develop their skills in ceramics and give them a nurturing, creative space where they could express their ideas and grow in confidence.
I believe that your mum has encouraged you to pursue your artistic practice. Would you consider her as a lifetime collaborator in the process of developing your work and ideas?
Yes, I love collaborating with my mum! My mum was a children’s clothes designer and is just the most talented and kind person. She can draw, paint and sew. She’s inspiring. From a young age she introduced me to colour and pattern, always allowing me to be creative and pick out my clothes. But the collaborative aspect is because she’s so much better than me at a lot of things. For this show, I designed our Sex chair ‘I’ve Got You’ and she brought it to life. I wanted to help her, but she hates the way I sew, she’s an utter perfectionist and the only person I would trust to have the same dogged determination to get it right. I talk very candidly with my family about sex, relationships and fears. I think that happens when they help you through a terrible thing like depression and have to have the strength to support you when you go on medication. This transparency in art and life creates a closeness that can be equally nurturing and suffocating in the family environment.
Last December, when I visited you, you were preparing your luggage to go to Mexico for a month’s period. At this stage, you wanted to become more ‘minimalist’ within your practice. However, I come back to find that your recent works are more recklessly extravagant than ever! Can you tell me about your experiences in Mexico? Has leaving the UK cheered up your spirits and made you return you to your real self?
Haha, I really needed that holiday. At the end of ‘Proudick’ at Hannah Barry Gallery, I ended up getting flu and shingles and I thought, that’s enough now. I was mentally exhausted and physically drained. To be honest, I didn’t really want to make work anymore. Going to Mexico was the best thing I ever did. I basically just sat on a beach, ate tacos, drank margaritas and met beautiful people. I couldn’t really afford it and my credit card took quite the hammering, but I was so happy to be alone and really tanned. Honestly, I was SO tanned. When I came back I felt ready to start the making process all over again. Don’t let anyone say you can’t buy happiness!
You’ve kept yourself busy with the three F’s, making replicas of fans, food, and furniture. What is it about the making of models, duplicates or copies of real objects that interests you?
I’m utterly obsessed by both the fake and simulation tourist attractions such as London Dungeon and Las Vegas. I feel such an unadulterated pleasure when I see the pains that people go to to achieve an authentic fake. In much of my work, I use simulacra and simulation to create set-like theatrical installations that attempt to suspend the viewers disbelief and bring them physically into the narrative. My replicas are labours of love to the items or moments that they try to emulate and celebrate. I believe that certain objects and imagery can so perfectly encapsulate a time and a place or an emotion. In much of my work, I try to sift through popular culture to find these objects, bringing them back into the present day to illustrate the particular theme I am exploring.
I am shocked by the comments that you receive on social media, where individuals share sexual and provocative statements towards your persona. Would you agree in saying that these notes from strangers are in the limits of cyber bullying or even sexual harassment? How does this affect your work?
These are actually messages I receive from men on Tinder so are not actually 100% out the blue! Quite often men who see the posts say to me: ‘I didn’t realise other men where like that’ when of course they know. Why the hell would we always say to women ‘text me when you get home?’. It was actually getting me down that every time I tried to speak to a man on an app or on a date from an app they just projected these really obscure and quite shocking sexual fantasises on me. And with apps like Tinder, there seems to be no repercussions for this type of sexual harassment. Finally, I have now deleted the app because I’d rather be alone than have that constant stream of shit coming through my phone. But also, I will probably get drunk and download it again in a week.
The performance element of your practice is essential, where you’ve directed an all-female hot dog contest or even worn a PVC wedding dress whilst working on a laptop in front of an audience. Is there a dark element in these humorous performances?
A lot of my performances are concerned with subverting female stereotypes by utilising the very tropes that are deemed to be female. It feels powerful to not give a fuck about being brazen when talking about periods or how complicated a women’s relationship with food can be. Until normalised in everyday conversations, I feel it’s important to explore in art. About the humour aspect, I think that they’re probably funny because they deal quite honestly with the melodrama in the everyday.
For three years, you have assisted Fiona MacCarthy Art Historian in an office environment. Office jobs are often considered as boring and mundane, however it seems that your latest work is a love letter to the office, depicted as a place to embrace stability and dream big?
Most artists have a ‘job job’ as well as their job of being an artist. Mine have somehow always been in administration! When I quit my Foundation year and became a professional depressed teenager in bed all day, my dad made me work for him at his office. He knew I needed routine and stability. Actually, he probably just didn’t trust me being on my own anymore. For others, an office can be seen as the most boring place in the world but to me, the achievement of actually sitting somewhere other than my bedroom for a full day made it become a positive environment. I made new friends and I fell I love there. When you have been at that level of depression where you are terrified of the world around you, feel like a complete outsider and utterly exhausted by your own thoughts, feeling bored and part of the system seems utterly reliving. In my older years, when I went back to office work after university; again, another office became my family unit. They knew I wanted more than the job I had and never berated me for dreaming of it whilst working there. They supported me when I applied for the Royal College of Art, took my first images of my work for my website, read my applications, hugged me when my boyfriend cheated on me. I’m so thankful for the opportunities that both workplaces gave to me and hope the work does read as the love letter that it was intended to be.
Furniture seems to play a big role in your practice. However these tables or chairs are often fetishised and have no functional characteristics. Are you interested in passing the point of the everyday?
Stories like ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman talk of the horror of the home. In the short story, a young mother dealing with post natal depression is convalescing in a rented mansion house with her husband. They move into the old nursery, where the protagonist is haunted by the garish wallpaper that is peeling away from the walls. She is encouraged to do nothing to get better, but her isolation and lack of creative output drives her insane. She comments on its “yellow” smell, its “breakneck” pattern, the missing patches, and the way it leaves yellow smears on the skin and clothing of anyone who touches it. She describes how the longer she stays in the bedroom, the more the wallpaper appears to mutate, especially at night. Similarly, in ‘Metamorphoses’ by Kafka, the protagonist is ensconced to his bedroom after waking up transformed into a cockroach. As his panic intensifies, the walls begin to cave in, paralleling his mutation with its own. This morphing of inanimate objects into looming oppressors is something that resonates so deeply with me. Each time I was depressed and bedridden; I would feel as though my bedroom was my shelter but also in its seclusion, my torturer. In much of my work the domestic items sprout limbs and faces, taking on the role of panicked and suffocating security for the sculptures. These ridiculous items of furniture purport the installations into humorous anthropomorphic nightmares.
Your current show, ‘The Ex Files’ at Castor Projects is the final farewell to your five ex boyfriends, in which you’ve got rid of them all by making them into sculptural busts and furniture pieces. Does the idea of letting go of the past make you sad? If the works don’t sell, will you get rid of your ex’s by physically destroying them?
Haha, no definitely not destroying them! I feel no ill will towards any of my past boyfriends, so I don’t think it’s necessary to go that far. But making them did made me feel very overwhelmed and emotionally drained. It’s hard not to feel heavy hearted when you’re scuttling around in the depths of painful and heartbreaking memories; especially ones when it was your bad behaviour that tore the relationship in two. There’s been a lot of introspection and evaluation in the process of making. What first started out as a humorous concept has actually worked in spurring the first attempts to mentally detach myself from these memories and ex’s.
These five sculptural boyfriends include the young and innocent first love, the football fanatic, the obsessively clean one who only wears brands, and the married one that is tender and comforting… Is there a twisted humour embedded in your representation of stereotypical male figures?
I’ve been very truthful to each of these relationships in the work and also very aware that it’s imperative that I analyse the part I played in each ones destruction. Although, on the exterior the sculptures could be seen as stereotypical representations of men, I think the post-its and the honesty I have felt in the making process stop them from being so one- dimensional. Each sculpture is meant to be a washed out trace of a relationship and actually more of a representation of me and the time that we spent together.
In the process of letting go of your past boyfriends, you’re literally placing them in the oven to burn. Is there a ritualistic element in the firing of these figures?
The exhibition is a tongue in cheek play on the idea of burning effigies. There was something immensely cathartic about creating these intense emotionally and physically heavy sculptures and then burning them in the kiln. It felt childish and unruly. It felt fucking great! There was a playful idea of tapping into these quite petulant rituals as an attempt to let go of the past. To almost make a joke of how burdened I felt by the memories of my failed relationships.
Some of the references you pulled out from my recent visit included various female leaders and also martyrs including Miss Havisham, Angela Carter, Deborah Levy, and Madonna. How do you respond to these references in your practice?
In gothic stories such as Charles Dickens’ ‘Great Expectations’ and Angela Carter’s short story ‘The Lady of the House of Love’, the authors depict tragic, lonely and monstrous women who devour men, emotionally and in the case of the Vampire Queen, quite literally. Due to their own insatiable hunger and twisted desire to eradicate their loneliness, the women weave men into their houses and lives, playing and toying with them until they are entrapped. I was attracted to this haunting image of both the vampire queen in ‘The Lady of the House of Love’ and Mrs Havisham in ‘Great Expectations’, residing in grand houses, sitting (in wedding dresses) in a permanent state of frozen isolation, surrounded by the memories of failed relationships and weighty despair. When I turned thirty one and yet another relationship began to crumble; I began to think of myself as this lubricious and lonely creature, a jilted bride almost, stuck in a pottery studio and stuck in the memories of my past loves.
We spoke earlier about letting go. Will this release of the past mark a new era for you and for your work?
Yes, I hope so! That was the main impetus for making the exhibition. I also feel that it may be time to stray away from ceramics for a while. When you are continually making for shows, I think it’s easy to slip into lazy habits and rely on tropes that have worked in the past. I want to move into stained glass as a medium and hopefully create more optimistic work that isn’t so mentally all encompassing to make.
Artist and friend Paloma Proudfoot, whom you share studios with, recently collaborated with you in your duo show at Hannah Barry Gallery. Will there be a next ‘Proudick’ chapter coming soon?
Words by Vanessa Murrell