Lynn Dennison Interviewed - Part 2 / by Claire Mander

Lynn Dennison in the Sculpture Shock Studio, photo by AK Purkiss

Lynn Dennison in the Sculpture Shock Studio, photo by AK Purkiss

ZK: In your Finalist Slam talk in January you stated that your work is particularly informed by Michel Foucault’s theory of Heterotopias as discussed in his 1967 lecture Of Other Spaces (Des espaces autres). Focusing on sites which “have the curious property of being in relation with all other sites, but in such a way as to suspect, neutralize or invert the set of relations that they happen to designate, mirror, or reflect” in Of Other Spaces Foucault describes a heterotopia as ‘a sort of simultaneously mythic and real contestation of the space in which we live’. Can you elaborate on the importance of this theory to your work and how it has shaped your practice?

 LD: Although the different ideas of spaces in Foucaults hypothesis is broad and seems as if it could include many places, I am drawn to his sixth principle; the idea of one space where several others converge, and where the juxtaposition of several supposedly incompatible sites meet in a single real place. It’s this idea of bringing together different worlds that don’t normally co-exist in a single environment and arranging them so it appears as if it could be possible that I really focus on in my work. I like the idea of creating a space which is simultaneously real and unreal. By making installations constructed in man made environments in which I am juxtaposing images of rural spaces, I am hoping to bring into question our relationship with the surrounding world.

ZK: Are there any other philosophical or aesthetic principles you are attracted to such as Robert Smithson’s theory of the non-site?   

LD: Well the idea of nature and culture converging has also been suggested by Bruno Latour, who maintains that modernity creates two separate poles; nature/science and culture/society. In ‘We have never been modern’, (Nous n’avons jamais été modernes) published in 1991 he suggests that, as hybrids such as global warming and deforestation increase, it is no longer possible to keep the idea of nature and culture separate and we need to rethink these distinctions and recognize the relationship between nature and culture. He stated that, ‘The unthinkable non place becomes the point in the Constitution where the work of mediation emerges. It is far from empty: quasi-objects, quasi-subjects, proliferate in it.’ 

You mentioned Robert Smithson, and yes I think there are parallels, especially with his non-site works because like him I am bringing one site into another. There is a certain degree of ambiguity as to where the new site has come from, although it’s suggested it’s never fully disclosed. The journeys he undertook were central to his practice as an artist, and his non-site sculptures often included maps and aerial photos of a particular location, as well as the geological artifacts displaced from those sites. I also consider walking to be a very important part of my process and I use my recordings of this process in my work. We both share an interest in the sublime and the picturesque, and his ideas about Olmsteds Central Park and the layering of history and human intervention in the site is something I have also explored in a recent collaboration in a work about Greenham Common.

ZK: Our relationship with nature, experience of the landscape, and its potential to be a violent and destructive force is at the heart of your practice. What do you hope to inspire in your audience by using this subject matter and what experience do you hope it will provoke?  

LD: My preoccupation with nature’s power to be destructive, and our inability to contain it, stems from my interest in the sublime really and trying to recreate this experience. I am hoping that by bringing landscape into unexpected places, the viewer will look again at their surroundings. There are so many glossy representations of nature that don’t seem to have much to do with the real thing. The idea that nature is just beautiful to look at to me is disregarding its potential for destruction. Even through our efforts to control nature by designating areas of natural beauty and choosing other areas to build over, we are still unable to control, or even predict, the weather. Storms, floods and earthquakes wreak havoc, often with little warning. It is not only this fear of our world becoming a hostile environment that I explore in my work, but also an anxiety that may be closer to home, the struggle to reconcile ourselves with the natural world around us. Kathleen Jamie asks in her book ‘Sightlines’, ‘….what is it that we’re just not seeing?’, suggesting that somehow in our dealings with nature there is a disconnect. By questioning our responses to landscape and creating situations which challenge expectations of the surrounding world, I am trying to discover a connection.

ZK: Water is a repeated theme in your work. Why does it hold such resonance for you?  

LD: I suppose it is the sublime element of a vast and dangerous sea or mass of water that resonates for me, but I am also interested in the romantic ideas surrounding the idea of water and the sea in particular. The idea of a world under the sea has long held a fascination for me, I grew up spending a lot of time by the sea and spent many days in and around the water fantasizing about these things. It still fascinates me that there are underwater towns and cities such as Dunwich in Suffolk. The power of the water to cover our world in that way is both fascinating and frightening. 

I use water as a metaphor for memory and the passing of time, as if things are buried beneath it, but I also use it as a surprise element–cascading down a set of stairs or filling up a building. 

ZK: How has Sculpture Shock assisted you in the development of your practice and what are your future artistic ambitions?

LD: I don’t know what will happen in the future, but I can definitely say how Sculpture Shock has helped me because it has been a fantastic experience. You have given me this commission to make a work in a space which is totally different to any other venue I have worked in before. There have been challenges, but every new building that I work in presents a new set of challenges, and it has been really interesting for me to work out how to use the space. it is a much bigger space than I have worked in before and it’s been a huge learning curve to work in a space that size. It’s also been great to have this studio to work in, a space to try things out and focus completely on the installation.

Written by Zana Kingwill