Visual art preview: Rachel Lowther – Nothing compares to the first time getting shot at
Artist's new exhibition at the Reid Gallery responds to GSA's World War I archives
Rachel Lowther studied at Chelsea School of Art, and in Frankfurt and New York. She spent 14 years in New York as an artist and curator, where she assisted Jeff Koons and Matthew Barney. She is now based in Glasgow where her new exhibition, Nothing compares to the first time getting shot at opens at GSA in January. Susan Mansfield talks to Lowther out how the show came about.
What led to you making work in response to GSA’s World War I achives?
They approached me after seeing some work I made about war for Glasgow International in 2014. I think I’ve been skirting around the theme for years. I took a hiatus from art after having my children, and coming back to it, I was very aware of what was happening in the world, the beginning of the current crisis in Syria. I kept asking myself: what is the role of an artist when there is such unspeakable horror in the world?
What did you discover in the archives?
Lots and lots of letters. Soldiers wrote back from the Front asking if the School knew what had happened to their classmates. Parents wrote about their sons who’d been killed. I found a letter from (GSA director) Fra Newbery to the Board, asking if he could institute propaganda among the students, to try to get as many as possible to enlist. My hand was trembling as I read it, thinking about the pressure these young men were under.
How did you turn your research into artwork?
I made a series of clay sculptures of civilian figures and then attacked them with a pick axe handle. The film of this in the show, as are the figures. In a way, they are the epitome of non-violent resistance, they just stand there and take it. I also made embroideries using phrases from the letters.
Why are you dressed as a chicken in the poster for the show?
My mother’s uncle Carl was sent a white feather in 1914, like lots of young men were. He lied about his age, went to war and died just before he turned 18. It just struck me that this tender little object caused so much pain and death.
Reid Gallery, GSA, Sat 16 Jan – Sun 20 Mar