Interview: Liliane Lijn
Internationally renowned artist Liliane Lijn is speaking alongside Andrew Motion, James Harpur, Maggie Gee and Andrew Miller on the second day of The Gist.
Her talk Poem Machines, Light, Motion will explore her pioneering use of light and text in kinetic artwork as well as her interest in science, technology, eastern philosophy and female mythology. To book tickets go www.interaliacentre.org or www.bathboxoffice.org.
In this exclusive interview she discusses: the relationship between the work of scientists and artists, the development of her Poem Machines and how her work is a “constant dialogue between opposites”.
Liliane Lijn Conjunction of Opposites (Woman of War & Lady of the Wild Things) 2012. Image from Liliane Lijn’s website.
Liliane Lijn interviewed for Celebrating the Imagination Festival:
1. A lot of your work takes its inspiration from science. What is it about science that inspires you? And why do you think it is important for there to be a relationship between the work of scientists and artists?
Science has been an inspiration to me possibly because I am interested in materials and what things are and how they function and how they came to be. Ontological questions have always preoccupied me and different fields of science, particularly research into the micro world – physics – and the macro – astronomy – are preoccupied with the nature of existence as such and also provide fascinating evidence of the possibility of life and consciousness beyond our homocentric world. However, inspiration for my work has come from far more than science alone; nature, industry, dreams, myths and the art, religion and philosophy of many different cultures have also had a very large impact on my work. The great mythographer, Joseph Campbell, wrote in his great book on world mythologies The Masks of God:
…science itself is now the only field through which the dimension of mythology can be again revealed. Can mythology have sprung from any minds but the minds of artists?
2. Science is as much about what we don’t know as well as what we do know. It deals with the mystery of predicting the future. There is something intriguing about a mystery. Do you think this is what allows an artist access to this subject?
Art is as much about what we don’t know as what we do know. I wouldn’t say that science predicts the future. Science looks at what is here and there and endeavours to understand the world and our understanding of it and the relationship between the two. Sometimes art can be seen to predict the future. Or perhaps what we think of as predicting the future is really seeing very clearly the present.
I would say that there are areas we have mapped and areas that are completely unknown and even the mapped areas shift all the time as we collect more information about the world. Mystery is not a word I use very much.
3. Whilst Artist in Residence at Space Sciences Laboratory, California, how did you see your role?
At the Space Sciences Laboratory, I explored. I questioned anyone and everyone who would give me their time. I made friends and then went on to collaborate with a few scientists of various projects. In fact, what I did was to continue a voyage I had started many years earlier. I do not think of myself in the role of the artist who illustrates science and scientific ideas. Science is like a great treasure trove for an artist, a huge field of unexplored territory.
Liliane Lijn Heavenly Fragments, 2008. Aerogel Fragments, work created as part of residency at Space Sciences Laboratory. Image from Liliane Lijn’s website
4. Your Poem Machines are sculptures, poems and inventions. Can you explain how you developed these?
There has been quite a bit already written about how I developed the Poem Machines. Briefly, I was living in Paris at the time but also spent months of the same year working in New York. In Paris I encountered and became friends with many of the Beat generation of poets and was aware of their experiments with language such as the cut-ups. I was interested in light and spent some time also investigating earlier experiments in the Musee de la Decouverte - the Science Museum. An amazing instrument beautifully made called an interferometer inspired me to make a very early version of the Poem Machines. This was made as two cylinders of the same size housed in a box and made to spin at quite a high speed. On them I had printed a series of 3 rows of parallel lines. The outer lines were slightly tilted, whereas the middle series of lines were straight. The spacing also was slightly different. When the cylinders rotated the lines began to create vibrations, interference patterns and colour. I found this very exciting and the idea came to me that words were made from lines so that if, instead of lines, I were to print words on these cylinders, I might still see vibrations but also have content or potential meaning there. A friend of mine, the poet Nazli Nour happened to visit me on the same day I decided to make one of these (I had been thinking of using random words from a newspaper) and told me that she would love me to make her poems move.
Liliane Lijn, Way Out is Way In Poemdrum, 2009. Image from Liliane Lijn’s website.
5. Why is mythology such a great source of inspiration for you?
Myth is the crossing point between reality and dream. Another Campbell quote: “The mythogenic zone today is the individual in contact with his or her own interior life, communicating through his/her art with those ‘out there’.”
6. You once described your work as being ‘a constant dialogue between opposites’, could you explain what you meant by this?
Opposites are what hold the world together. If you think about this in terms of theoretical physics, if matter and anti-matter collide, they annihilate one another in a flash of energy. In our everyday, in our society, opposites are usually thought of in either or terms. I try within my work to demonstrate their interdependence, their reversibility, and their relation.