Lucy Tevlin is a Dublin based artist, who’s work explores a broad range of topics like technology, language and theory. Through this interview with Lucy we really get a sense that theory is really important to her work, and how it has gone on to inform her practice. She has implemented these ideas without distracting or taking away from the work itself. It was a very interesting conversation to have and to hear her discuss her goals within her work. With that said I hope you in enjoy the interview.
A piece of particular interest that I would like to talk about is Alternative Means of Experiencing Images. Could you talk about that?
Yes, this work was a dual slide projection. One projector showed images and the other, text. The work was heavily influenced by theory, and there is one particular Tom Gunning text called The Cinema of Attractions that really influenced the work. There’s this part about Hale’s Tours, which was an amusement ride in London in the early 20th century where you sit in a train carriage. There was a projection of typical scenes outside of the train carriage that you could see through the window, and the seat that you were sitting on would move. You would hear all the sounds of the train, basically imitating the experience of a train ride. Tom Gunning described this ride as an alternative way of experiencing cinema, one in which you are more involved, which is more physical, so I reference that in the text I used. He had written about this moment in history. So, to reference this, I spliced it in with images I had taken out of moving vehicles in Ireland, so it was this sort of looking back at the past but also considering our present relationship with images.
In this respect, the material was the theory or language surrounding the work as well as the slides. I used the text as material to play around with. While I was making the work, I would print out texts and cut them up and collage them, so really thinking about language as a physical material.
The title is very interesting.
It just seemed to fit. It was initially titled Alternative Means of Experiencing Cinema, but I decided to change it because I was thinking about cinema in its most basic form, comprised of images.
Titles have become something that is more important lately, because of the package works that I’m making. It’s like that tricky question of, “When is the painting finished? When you have given it a title?”
Can you talk a bit more about what have you been working on recently?
The overall project is called Conjecture. Which in mathematics means a conclusion that is yet to be proved true or untrue, but is suspected to be true. So this idea of presumption or expectation.
But within this I’ve been writing these texts called The Structure of A Second. I’ve been working with projectors and 8mm films for the last while. Initially, I was creating digital edits from the footage I collected, but I have since moved away from that now to a more sculptural series of works.
I have this system of producing the works now where I order 8mm film online and before the film arrives, I write a text about what it might possibly contain. This work hasn’t been shown yet, but the first in this series of works will be a projection of one of these found films, alongside a voiceover of the text. From this work, I realised I might even be showing too much, so the next work in the series is just the unopened packages of film alongside the text.
Where are you getting this Super 8 film?
I’ve been going online and onto eBay to find them. I often see people selling home movie footage on 8mm. Either stuff they have shot themselves, or acquired in different ways. What I’ve found interesting is on eBay, the sellers have a limited amount of space for information about the film on their eBay page, so I began to write texts based on what I thought was in the package before it arrived as a way of getting my creative thoughts going. Initially, it wasn’t meant to be presented with the work. But now the writing has changed. It’s become a lot more fluid and abstract; influences might come from the description on the package or on the eBay page, which remind me of a memory, and I write about that. So, it has almost become like poetry, rather than the very regimented exercise that it was originally. So, I present the packages with the writing, and the work has almost become one now, where I have six packages that I haven’t opened. In a way, I think it might be one artwork, ‘cos with this heavy and conceptual idea, for it to work, I feel I need multiple packages that are never opened to make it more a statement of intent.
You said the texts weren’t initially meant to be presented. How did this practice of “supplementing” the lack of information on the eBay listings make its way into the work for presentation?
I was thinking about the idea of expectation. Initially, I tried to play with the audience’s expectation in my response to the home video that I’d bought. I’d explore the viewer’s expectation through editing. For example, there was footage of a couple walking through a shot, but the shot breaks before they actually leave the frame (normally an editing faux pas), so playing with that idea of expectation through the editing.
Writing the text beforehand was just a sort of exercise to get my brain working before the film arrived. Then I was speaking to a friend about the work, and they pointed out that the text is actually my expectation, before I try to create expectation for the viewer. I was already exploring expectation with the texts, so I didn’t need to do it through the editing necessarily. So then the text became a central part of it. Some of my previous work – like a lot of my slide projection pieces and especially my grad show work – used language as an important part of my practice.
In particular, Narrative Structures (2019) is focused on certain kinds of readings to do with what the work is about, so it’s making this work around narrative. I was reading a lot about narratology and deconstructing narrative, and so too the language used when discussing the theory made its way into the work. The work included these phrases from narratology texts, mixed in with a narrative I had written, and slides I had shot that I felt conveyed a sense of narrative or mystery. So, the work was both a narrative and also talking about what it was; there was quite a self-reflexive quality to it. In hindsight, this is where I stumbled upon the fictional format of how I make these works. I have reintroduced that element of language into the work and it went from there really.
The way I would consider narrative is that within the work, it’s a bit fragmented. I prefer that the narrative isn’t presented explicitly in the work so that I can allude to it rather than saying, “This particular thing happened.” I will play around with language in such a way where it presents itself, but it’s still subtle. That’s what I aim for. When I was growing up, I was quite into poetry and descriptive writing , and I think that has been an influence too. There’s also a rhythmic element as well. One of the things that drew me to slide projectors in the first place is the sound of them and how they click when a new slide is projected, and so a lot of the time when I’m writing I will think about how the words will sound when spoken.
Projectors have a strong physical presence in your work. Can you tell us a bit about that?
I think what originally drew me to projectors was the physicality of the image. On a screen, the image seems very fleeting, but when you have a slide you can hold it, you can bend it. I wrote my undergraduate thesis on whether or not the projection apparatus could be considered a sculptural object. So that’s definitely something that I think about a lot, particularly when I was producing my grad show work. I guess it’s an attempt to acknowledge the importance of the presence of the apparatus. I’m really curious about the mechanics of the production of an artwork, and what elements we’re asked to ignore. In my work now there is a bit of a grapple between the material and conceptual elements, and I think that is not a bad thing necessarily, where there is definitely a kind of back and forth between them.
When I’m installing, I like to set the projector up in such a way that it is a little bit of an obstruction. So you walk in, and you’re sort of confronted by the projector. Whatever I’m trying to draw attention to conceptually in the work, I will try and position the projector so someone has to walk around it and physically encounter the work, almost a phenomenological approach you’re activating the work by having a bodily encounter with it – I’m trying to do that with an object that you would normally not view like that. More like sculpture than like film. I’m not trying to force anybody to sit down, but I want them to be aware of the space and their involvement in the space.
Your other practice is street photography. There is an interesting parallel to the ethics in that and the work you are currently working on.
Yeah, I suppose it’s something I think about, not that I have a clear answer about what is ethical or not in the work. Rather than having a clear position, I’m just happy to bring attention to the ethical considerations. People don’t tend to notice or mind when I take photos of them on the street. But even if they did, just look up – there are so many CCTV cameras already on you at all times in Dublin. We’re happy to give away our data freely, but a photograph can be seen as invasive. Just because it’s not physically present, doesn’t mean it’s not happening all the time anyway. But it’s still a tricky part of the work that I try to remain aware and careful about.
Modern technology is at the back of my mind. I never really want to explicitly address that in my work, but I like the idea of it being a subtle undertone: Looking at this older technology creating a certain type of image might make you think about other things that are happening in technology currently.
There’s clearly a temporal aspect of the work as well.
Yes, that’s an element of my practice that I find kind of elusive or hard to explain but it finds its way into the work one way or another. There is definitely an element of trying to distil moments or grapple with time as an entity. I suppose sometimes I’m trying to comprehend the time instilled in or associated with an object, or even just trying to make sense of how we experience time. There’s also the timing or duration of a work, which is really the viewer’s time – that’s something I think about a lot as I’m making a work.
The numbers are another element. When you’re thinking about things that are conceptual, it almost becomes quite mathematical, there’s a strange logic in there somewhere. I try and keep it specific to the medium that I’m using at the time. Using The Structure of A Second as an example: This film projects at 24 frames per second. In a way, those frames are like a multiple, each frame being a separate element of that second. I think in this work I’m really trying to make sense of a moment in time, or several moments and how they interrelate. In a sense it also acts a means to show how the work itself has been constructed, or that I’m using time as a material in the same way I would use the slides or projectors or language in this way. I also enjoy the numerical or practical restrictions of a medium, 24 frames per second, 81 slides in a carousel projector. It’s what’s unique to that medium that makes it intriguing. I’m always striving to be true to the material, whatever that may be.
You can find out more about Lucy Tevlins work through her Instagram page, and website links below