Room with a View: Liane Lang
Art in a Covid Climate May 2020
In March 2020, the cities of the world fell silent, their historic squares, buildings, fountains and monuments eerily standing as testaments to human endeavour. Many of these are included in an epic project called Glorious Oblivion which Lang embarked on in 2018, taking her from London across Europe in a pilgrimage to find the women who have been immortalised with statues in public spaces - Queens and revolutionaries, artists and scientists, writers and martyrs, nurses and nuns. The number of women stands at between 0.5 and 2% of total statues and for the few that have been remembered, countless were written out of history. Staging her trademark interventions with life-like latex ‘mannequins’, these silent witnesses theatrically interact with the narratives of empty historic houses, classical sculpture and abandoned propaganda statues. Lang’s large scale series of photography, videos and sculptures poignantly reframe themes of power, politics, legacy and gender.
Liane Lang studied at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, Goldsmiths College and the Royal Academy Schools, where she graduated in 2006. She has since exhibited widely in the UK and internationally, including the Royal Academy of Art in London, Musée de Beaux Arts Calais, PS1 New York and Kunstverein Heidelberg. She won the Photofusion Award, the Tooth Travel Award at Goldsmiths College and the Cheneviere Prize at the Royal Academy Schools and was recently shortlisted for the Cointreau Creative Crew and the Young Masters Art Prize.
For many of us this is a time of reflection. What for you has been the best, worst and weirdest thing about the pandemic and isolation?
The worst part of the pandemic was that I was actually sick for the first month, I couldn’t get out of bed much for two weeks and then had another two of sitting around a lot, so I started @artistviralnetwork on Instagram as an excuse to write to a lot of artists and have some fun interactions. Artists are talking about their reading during lockdown and it’s been inspiring to read their recommendations. I have found it hard to be away from family and friends but since I have recovered I have been very busy in the studio and pretty productive. Less distractions, less things to think about or miss out on has made it much easier to focus and has made me able to spend more time on things I may have rushed at other times. Reflections have been many, mostly frivolous but some more profound, suggesting major changes and new ideas, which is exciting.
Where are you spending your days during the lockdown?
I can still go to the studio, which is only around the corner and I go on long bike rides, the rest of the time I am at home.
If you could have anything delivered to your door what would it be?
A new dishwasher, ours packed in the week before lockdown. I also really fancy a Holodeck in the spare bedroom.
What have you rediscovered at home?
I have fabulous window boxes this year, they benefit from the regular attention. I have sat on the balcony more than I ever have in all the time I’ve lived here and we are feeding the birds and spend quite a lot of time spotting who comes to the feeder. It’s a wildlife heaven here in the East End. I have also gone through old sketch books and boxes of photos, which reminded me of a lot of things I had forgotten or successfully repressed.
Which exhibition plans this year have now been postponed?
There have been a few smaller projects and trips cancelled. The main thing I am sad about is my residency at Wirksworth Festival, which included a wonderful house and studio in the Peak District for the whole of the summer, but it has been postponed to next year. I had a lot of ideas and was very excited to be remote and isolated in beautiful countryside, bringing along a lot of analogue camera gear. A different kind of isolation alas has taken over.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am working on a project of interventions with statues of women called Glorious Oblivion. I am currently editing mainly, as I have nearly finished the shooting part. I looked for every statue of a historic woman in seven cities. London was the last and I have used the abandoned streets of central London to do the final works in the last couple of weeks, unexpectedly lockdown has been perfect for doing strange things in Central London. I did everything on my bike and didn’t get close to anyone I hasten to add! Some elements of my practice are on hold due to closed facilities houses and materials, but I have plenty of things I can do.
Tell us about one of the projects you most enjoyed doing?
Photographing Queen Victoria on Blackfriars was fun as the statue is in a really awkward place and usually isolated by a flow of heavy traffic. When I went there this time, I could be in the middle of the road, the only traffic were bikes. It’s paradise, I wish London could remain like this. I had a beautiful sunny day to find Noor Khan, one of my favourite statues. Elizabeth I in a hidden cranny on Fleet Street was also great, as she was more accessible than usual and I had some friendly collaboration to get the shot I wanted.
What was it like where you grew up and who within your immediate family has had the greatest influence on you?
I grew up in Munich and moved to Dublin at 19. I have a very small family and imagine they are all equally responsible for some degree of influence. I am incredibly grateful to my parents for not objecting to my crazy plans. They had no idea about art school or being an artist or London and yet they let me do it and never made me feel bad about it. I think the best parents and the best governments just let you get on with things, while keeping the life raft at the ready for the worst case scenario.
Which artists have inspired you the most?
I was very inspired early on by the female surrealists, Meret Oppenheim, Claude Cahun, Dora Maar, Leonora Carrington. I understand only now how meaningful the recovery of artists is who were previously marginalised. We need to see ourselves within something to feel able to become a part of it, otherwise it’s alienating. I visited four German Art Academies at 17 and didn’t meet a single female professor. Everyone was an old man, and a painter. That’s why I moved to Dublin to go to NCAD, which was absolutely brilliant. There I came across a number of artists who I loved such as Dorothy Cross and Clare Langan, Willie Doherty and Anthony Gormley, who had a show at IMMA. Once in London I discovered animation and so I spent some time obsessed with Jan Svankmajer and the Brothers Quay. As I get older I am fascinated by the biography of people and artists in particular, how the work, the historic moment and the personal fate create a complex and precarious course of dominos.
What would you say is one of the most spiritual works of art for you?
The word spiritual has always been strange to me. If it is supposed to point to a contemplation of the metaphysical, then I think it might be Sophie Calle’s installation Rachel, Monique at the Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. I love everything about this work. The theme of her dead mother and the setting make it about love and the ‘spiritual’, yet it is overlaid with humour and irony and with a strong sense of the contradictory nature of how we feel about love and death. Her mother’s diaries are read out aloud in the choir seats, egotism, vanity, warts and all. Ghostly video works hover in the wonderful architecture. At the entrance a sign said: "My mother was not a Christian (she was Jewish) but she could never resist an invitation to the Upper East Side."
What do you think the world will be like post COVID 19?
I would love it to be a sea change, where the working classes realise that Trump and Johnson don’t have their best interests at heart, where society realises that banks and corporations don’t guarantee wealth, where we pay healthcare workers better and fund managers worse, where we all realise that foreign travel should be a luxury and that there are gold finches in the local park. Where we all join together in our local communities, form friendships and support neighbours. But if I am perfectly honest I think the opposite will happen, huge government debt and struggling businesses will throw all the tentative environmental progress overboard and people will continue to vote according to difficult to follow logic.
How do you think it will impact the art world?
That’s a really interesting question. I really don’t know. There are also so many art worlds. I have noticed a massive amount of bottom end art sales suddenly happening online, so perhaps this is the moment when people really start to buy art online, directly from artists as Gustav Metzger predicted in 2006. Obviously in economically bad times artists will suffer financially, but perhaps there will be some silver lining, like cheaper spaces for studios and galleries. The cost of space has been detrimental to creativity and invention in every field in the last few years.
What is the best online exhibition you’ve seen, podcast you’ve heard or webinar you’ve participated in?
I am keen on Revisionist History, Tunnel 29, The Rat Run, The Intelligence. I like Emma Cousin’s lockdown conversations with artists.
If you could have lunch with someone you admire who and where would it be?
I would quite like to have lunch with Deborah Feldman, Malcolm Gladwell or Mary Beard. In a nice restaurant in Italy, overlooking the sea.
Where in the world would you live if not here?
I am very keen on the North of Spain, by the sea. Berlin would be fun too. And Cornwall appeals to me.
Which is your favourite museum in the world?
I know it should be the Tate or the Louvre, the V&A or the Centre Pompidou. Or perhaps homespun, the Pinakothek der Moderne or the Lenbachhaus. But if I am honest the museums I miss the most are The Museum of London and the Bode Museum in Berlin, ossified skeletons dug from the Thames and beheaded saints, they make me travel in time.
If you weren’t an artist what else would you do?
I would be a gardener. Or perhaps a niche and very secretive therapist.
3 books and music tracks you’d take if you were marooned on a desert island?
A whole selection of things I haven’t read or listened to yet would make most sense I guess, also some magic realism, Pedro Paramo, Love in Times of Cholera, The Master and Margarita. And some tunes to cheer me up, like Nina Simone’s It’s a good day and Fats Waller, If that isn’t love. They would make me feel better while starving to death, which would happen to me very quickly on a desert island. I have really poor survival skills.
What would you describe as your luxury at the moment?
I discovered Rinkoff bakery during the time when Tesco had run out of bread. They make a variety of sourdough breads, a traditional baked cheese cake and lots of other fine goodies. Tesco’s bakery will never have me back.
Thank you Liane!