Interview: Lucy Skaer on returning to Glasgow from New York

Interview: Lucy Skaer on returning to Glasgow from New York

Turner nominated artist's new Tramway exhibition is more personal than political

Turner nominee Lucy Skaer has left her American base and returned to Glasgow. She tells David Pollock that a new Tramway exhibition is more personal rather than political

Turner Prize-nominated Lucy Skaer's new work represents a homecoming. Having lived for the past four years in New York, she’s returning to the city she first moved to in 1993, having travelled at the time from her childhood home in Cambridge to study at Glasgow School of Art.

She describes Exit, Voice and Loyalty as one single installation, although architectural interventions, film, sculptures and prints all find their way in there. ‘My initial thoughts on how to approach the exhibition were influenced by ancient tomb sculpture, particularly Chinese and Egyptian,’ she says. ‘I thought about how these tombs would have been experienced by those who believed in their contents, rather than us, who do not. So I set out to make an installation that was a kind of tomb of material that I believe in.’

Nothing here will have anything directly to do with death, she says, but there is a sense that the passing of the 'now' into memory, is a serious concern. Or, as Skaer puts it, ‘how artefacts behave as they recede from the present’. One of the most significant elements is the sculpture created from the steps at her father’s house in Cambridge, a material that she describes as ‘emotive’ and which has collectively been turned into a model of her childhood terrace, a ‘symbolic map’ featuring artefacts which remind the artist of her neighbours back then.

Other pieces include a recreation of Skaer’s studio corridor in New York, with a 25mm film of the interior at sunset, with the image's centre punched out. There are also 52 prints taken from The Guardian, one for each day the exhibition runs, with parts of the plates sent up from their Manchester printers deleted or wiped away during the process. The litho press used to make them was bought by Skaer on eBay, and she taught herself how to use it.

'My Terracotta Army, My Red Studio, My Amber Room' is central to the show, featuring a large printed frieze and 540 glazed ceramic sculptures. They combine several art historical sources, from the glazes used by studio potter Bernard Leach to the hand-printed book covers made by Virginia and Leonard Woolf, and decorative friezes painted by Edouard Vuillard. ‘I’m interested in how artworks can be repurposed and their formal language utilised but changed,’ says Skaer. ‘It’s a kind of misappropriation.’

Finally, amidst this rich spread of subjects the show will build together, the title itself refers to the theories of 20th century German economist Albert O Hirschman and his idea that those who are unhappy with a system they are part of can either choose to not be part of it or attempt to change it from within. ‘I'm interested in how economics provides a representation of the material world,’ she says. ‘In taking Hirschman's title for my installation, I’m seeking to open up economic representation to poetics. I’m also interested in how language is mutable, and the mechanisms by which it changes.’

So in relation to the above, is there a contemporary political context to the show? ‘I guess there’s a contemporary political context to every show,’ she says, ‘but I think this investigates dissent rather than channelling or enabling it. Art struggles when it’s used as a direct political tool.’

Lucy Skaer: Exit, Voice and Loyalty, Tramway, Glasgow, until Sun 15 Dec.

Lucy Skaer: Exit, Voice and Loyalty

New sculptural work engaging with notions of history, using heavy 'sinker' mahogany recovered from rivers in Belize, precious metals and the stone steps from the house where the artist grew up.