Lucy Skaer talks to David Pollock about working in different media and her love of collaboration as a major new exhibition of her work arrives at the Fruitmarket
As an artist who once claimed to have secreted moth and butterfly larvae into the Old Bailey and reportedly left a scorpion and a diamond lying side by side on an Amsterdam pavement, convention is not something we would expect of Lucy Skaer. While the above claims were made on posters the artist created for Becks Futures in 2003, the Cambridge-born, Glasgow-educated and based Skaer works over a variety of media, often in collaboration and always to strongly conceptual principles.
‘If you wanted to put me in one box I’d be a sculptor,’ she says. ‘But generally I work in lots of different mediums, and I like to collaborate too. Collaboration gives me a sense of diminished responsibility; it’s like taking a holiday from my own work.’ The exhibition at the Fruitmarket will reflect on Skaer’s career since 2001, with a series of drawings appearing alongside the film work ‘Flash in the Metropolitan’, which Skaer created alongside her most frequent working partner Rosalind Nashashibi in 2006. The pair have now collaborated on four shows together.
The centrepiece of the show will be a range of new work commissioned by the Fruitmarket, including three large-scale drawings and a new sculptural piece. ‘These pieces are pushing at the boundaries of the existing work,’ says Skaer. ‘They’re stretching it, testing things out. The sculpture is inspired by the Danse Macabre, by the original woodcuts of skeletons coming back to haunt the living, which I saw in a museum during a residency in Basle. So my installation takes these skeleton figures and makes them into plaster sculptures.’
The mechanics of her design are complicated. The plaster sculpture is segmented from the core out, like an orange, and Skaer describes it as resembling an ‘anti-sculpture’ in that it looks the same from all angles. ‘I suppose the installation is about the boundary between the realm of the image and our actual realm; between symbolism and actuality. That’s why death plays a part in the piece, as it has done in others I’ve made, because death crosses between these two realms. It’s the symbolism of death which interests me, rather than the actual event – I wouldn’t say I’m particularly morbid as a person!’
Skaer also recognises connections between her own work and the far cruder forms of the Danse Macabre. ‘The Danse Macabre is like a kind of early conceptual artwork,’ she says. ‘There are so many conventions in those images which you understand. They’re designed so that death – the figure of the skeleton – is only visible to the person who’s facing it, who death is approaching, and there’s quite a high level of complexity in that.’
Skaer’s other new work is similarly concerned with such formal aspects, albeit in a less complicated way. She will be inking up the surface of an old Georgian table and printing it directly onto paper, so that the scratches and holes in the surface become the image.
‘It’s just a very easy way to create a 2-D image out of a 3-D shape, which again refers back to this difference between the image and the actual. I don’t want to get too into analysing them, though, because I’m just making them now.’
Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, until Wed 9 Jul.