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Lucy May Schofield

All images courtesy of the artist

 

AA: What did you initially intend to do as part of the residency, and what did you want to get from it?
LS: I’m not entirely sure what my original proposal was. I was interested in how living in a rural community would have an impact on my work. I was trying to stay quite loose in my intentions; I definitely thought I’d been influenced by the different types of activities in Tarset. I had ideas about working with the Woman’s Institute, the mobile library, the wool gatherers, the knitting and stitching group. In some ways I wanted to use what was here as a muse tmake a body of new work, arriving without too much of a plan in place. A recent residency in Iceland had influenced me, as I’d been looking at light and printing cyanotypes to try to record and draw attention to the shortness of days. I was interested in the tradition still present in the countdown to the Winter Solstice and their connection to time and light, which was very much in my mind when applying for this residency. I was interviewed while I was in California on a print residency in Kala Art Institute. I was making another body of work that was about collaboration, so the idea of cyanotypes, light, nature and collaboration all fed my thinking when I arrived here.

AA: I had a look through the exhibition catalogue and saw that there was a quote from Rebecca Solnit, how much did she influence you?
LS: I was given Solnits book ‘Wanderlust’ years ago never managed to read it, and during residencies I often have a literary companion, but here I hadn’t found the time to really read anything until I stated working on the catalogue. Everything Solnit was talking about in ‘A Field Guide to Getting Lost’ resonated with what I had been exploring here during the year, all the things she was commenting on from Anna Atkins’ Cyanotypes to the distance of blue and how painters used that to depict the farthest away space made sense to me. Nancy Campbell, the wonderful poet who wrote the essay for my catalogue, referenced similar themes she found in my work to the words of Solnit’s book, the blue of desire, of lament, of distance and loss, the blue of peace and solitude, and I’d been musing on those things myself. Solnit summed up something that I had been feeling about this colour even though I had no intention of being here and just making blue work but everything’s becomes that.

AA: Solnits work has been suggested to me as well as I enjoy walking, and I remember you saying that some of your work here has been derived from your own walks in the landscape.
LS: The idea of blue, and that deep indigo blue, can reference depression and sadness; I think that ties in rather beautifully, being here has been a real cocktail of emotions. My fear of being lonely here was huge but the anxiety of the potential of being alone was bigger than the reality. There’s a great quote on a blue piece of paper over there (in the studio) “what is no trouble when it arrives is an ideal worry in anticipation”. I letterpress printed those years ago as aphorisms to give to people during Bibliotherapy, for me whenever I’ve felt isolated or lonely just walking out made everything feel better, this idea that nature is this healing force, and not just nature but the act of moving and walking in a landscape unpicks those things in your head that can make you feel overwhelmed. It was important for me to call the show ‘Blue hours’, not just as a reference to time and light, but to hint at solitude and sadness, where the only remedy for me was to get out into nature and find that I felt healed immediately, gaining perspective on my place in the universe. As soon as I saw some locally dyed indigo yarn at a wool festival here, I knew I needed to make something with it, it just had this depth and infinity to it.

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AA: Did that come from working with the knitting groups?
LS: In Iceland I started knitting and then joined the wool-gatherers here. My intention was to learn how to spin, but I just enjoyed sitting and knitting in the company of women, so as soon as I found the yarn I started cast on 200 stitches across, which has now grown to 450, to make a knitted cocoon. It’ll be completed on the 22nd September, as the final piece of work for the residency. It’s the autumn equinox and I’ll be sitting in the shooting hut in the observatory knitting from dawn till dusk until I’m out of wool. That will be my mark my hibernation act, ready for winter. It’s really meditative, a bit like going on a walk you can be so in the mind of making that your mind is allowed to wander.


AA: Theres lots of reference to time, even within the naming of the pieces, was that something you were specific about from the start or something that developed along the way?
LS: It’s been a preoccupation of being here. Nancy Campbell says in her essay that a year is a long time but its still finite. When I arrived it felt like this beautiful 12 months stretched out in front of me but also this huge anxiety about how long that is, so I divided up the year into chapters like I would approach making a book. I thought I’d use the seasons to divide the yea and I suppose time has been the real inspiration. I opened the studio in November just after I arrived, asking local people to give me advice as to how to survive here and I had 18 answers on envelopes, the two that influenced me most were “light, fill the place with candles it gets very dark” and “an open mind about the way time behaves”. Looking back, those two pieces of advice have informed everything. I’ve been completely preoccupied with light and time, recording it, or at least marking it, everything from how many hours of daylight there was each day to the waxing or waning of the lunar cycle. I suppose time is just a human construct and it feels timeless here, but outside influences make you aware of time constraints. Probably trying to be in a place where both of those notions exist is difficult and has made me a bit obsessed.


AA: Theres this sense of repetition between the different pieces as well
LS: And ritual. I’ve become much more ritualistic, but I’ve only been aware of that since Iceland. When you’re there in the winter you need to get up and be active because there’s perhaps only three hours of good light, so I made a cyanotype print every day, coating the paper in the evenings and in the morning getting up before sun rise to get them out, and waiting until the end of the day to develop them. That ritual and routine really kept me buoyant and gave me an objective each day. I think there’s something to be said for creating that pattern. I’ve probably done a similar thing here but with the woodblock prints. I made a ‘Nature Caresse’ print every week for the first 30 weeks, at that point walking out didn’t have the same impact as it had when I first arrived. I started to get to know the landscape, rather than my initial sense of not knowing what I was looking at and looking for a long time and returning to the studio to draw and carve the image into birch wood. Later on I knew more about what I was seeing so it felt right to stop because my language of the nature world was becoming more coherent.

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AA: The piece entitled ‘Spring, which comprises of a mattress and video performance, references time in the accompanying text, what does that relate to?
LS: It was made during the Vernal Equinox, when there is as much daylight as darkness, around 12 hours of each. The title of the video references how long I was out on the moors for during a daylight sleep performance. I was in and out of sleep, in that liminal space between being awake and asleep. I had really vivid dreams. When I was awake I noticed tiny details like insects landing on the green silk sheet close to my eyes, the skylarks performing this beautiful improvised jazz, and sheep just staring at me like statues. I would recommend that anyone spend the day being still on the earth while it continues to turn because you get such a sense that we’re not static. As solidly as I seemed pinned to that spot on the moor, you can see on the video that the mattress is slowly slipping down, as well as the earths movement around the sun. There was a sense of vulnerability because I was slipping and knew the earth was moving, so I felt a real sense of gravity and rotation. I felt part of the earth for the first time. In a way that felt like the most significant piece for me to have made this year and it’s such a simple act.

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AA: The exhibition piece ‘The longest dayconsists of several sections of cyanotype coated paper that, when pieced together, outline a hut, is that the actual size of the hut?
LS: Yes, it’s the gable end of the shooting hut. Projected on the other side is the time-lapse video of that piece being made over almost 20 hours during the summer solstice. We had thunderstorms that day, rain, sleet, hail and sunshine, the prints developed themselves because of all the rain so they became fixed very quickly. You can see the pattern of the corrugated metal walls that they were magnetised to. There’s something lovely about that shooting hut and it just became the muse for every piece of work. Even when I’m asleep on the moors, the hut is just out of shot. It’s always been a way into this landscape for me. When I arrived I just found the moors so impenetrable as I felt everyone around here knew the landscape so well. Everyone is very connected to nature, they know the names of all the trees and plants, the names of stars or constellations. I found my own way into knowing this landscape through that static, derelict hut. There are three windows without window panes, so being inside there frames the moors and skies, creating these constantly changing paintings of the landscapes. The first piece I made for the Winter Solstice was a forth window for the hut, consisting of 160 pieces of handmade paper, cyanotype coated to create a map of the light on the shortest day of the year. To mark the Autumn Equinox, I’ve made a new site-specific work called ‘Weak from dreaming’ using the existing exposed section in the roof of the hut. I built a funnel shaped one-person observatory inside the void. The energy within the walls of hut is very unique, it’s a place of refuge but also hugely exposed to the elements, a space existing somewhere between outside and inside.


AA: After completing each section of work did you have an opening, audience participation or a viewing?
LS: For the two Solstice pieces I invited the community to assist me with the work. On the 21st December, I was out at dawn installing the 160 cyanotype sheets to the wall of the shooting hut. I then spent the day in the studio making paper lanterns to celebrate mid-Winter and serving mince pies and mulled wine to people on the Highgreen estate. At dusk we walked up to collect the cyanotypes sheets. On the summer solstice about 50 people from the Tarset community walked to the hut at sunset to view the prints on the gable end after making moon pizzas in the clay oven in the woods here. It was still too light at 10pm to remove the prints, so I returned at midnight to take them down. It’s been important for me to share the process of the work being made. I feel like my role here has been to present this work to inspire some questions or reflections, to provide a way in for people to access it, just as the hut provided a way in for me to access this landscape. I hope that people have seen this body of work as a love letter to Tarset and to the light, it has definitely been that for me, a worship of the rural landscape. 

To find out more about Lucy Schofields work visit her website: www.lucymayschofield.com

To buy a copy of the exhibition catalogue click here