To coincide with their joint takeover of our Instagram account, this week we interview David Lisser and Lucien Anderson, who are working together on Last Ditch Attempt – a mobile seed library originally commissioned by the NewBridge Project.
Last Ditch Attempt, 2018 (image by Lorna Bryan)
Hello, could you tell us a bit about your practice?
David: I mainly make sculptures – or installations – and in recent years they have been preoccupied with our notions of the future. I’m fascinated by how people conceived of the coming years ahead, whether they are fully utopian or believe we’re all going to hell in a handcart. I tend to approach new projects with a fair bit of research initially, and then allow the work to lead where it will. So these can range from as imagined futures as in The Midgecatchers or The CleanMeat Revolution through to ridiculous-but-serious solutions such as Last Ditch Attempt. I have a keen interest with material culture, and what information you can glean about a group of people from the materials they left behind. In this sense, my practice is a sort of future archaeology; creating objects and artefacts that may be discarded by our descendants.
Lucien: I think it’s still early days. Generally my practice materialises as sculpture, although alongside each construction there’s a load of research and preparatory imagery, and notebooks crammed full of drawings which I like to think capture the “endeavour” of it all. I like to think my approach to making is systematic but it probably isn’t.
I’m interested in everydayness, and instances where the forgotten ritualistic aspects of day to day life are made more apparent. That could be someone tinkering in their garage, or a trainee astronaut following a tight schedule of otherwise mundane tasks “0700 hours: put on socks”. I’m also interested in the physical architectures which encapsulate these scenarios, sheds in Gateshead and mock-up plywood lunar landers in the Mojave Desert.
I like to design (and occasionally) build things, potentially inhabitable structures, vehicles or mechanisms, all with implied but questionable purpose. My eyes are bigger than my toolbox, I’ll see a British Pathé film of an amphibious caravan and think “I’ll make one of them”. I often start out aiming to create something beyond my abilities and partly through trawling obscure online forums and partly through problem solving, and fluke, I’ll end up with something far more rudimentary but also perhaps something more honest and fundamental. Just like the early days at NASA, I get through a lot of plywood and cable ties.
David Lisser: CleanMeat Massaging claw, artefact. 2017
Lucien Anderson: Prototype IV, Bicycle Photosynthesis. 2017
What are you exploring at the moment?
David: Well this week Lucien and I are travelling around Teesside with ‘Last Ditch Attempt’ (LDA) for the Viewpoints festival, which was commissioned by the Festival of Thrift. LDA is our mobile seed library, where we cycle around on a DIY tandem cargo trike and give out sealed plaster seed capsules to folk we meet on the way. We’ve done a bit of extra work to the project and have now set up a mechanical mobile casting rig. Once this is done I’ll be turning my attention to a new body of work which will be a development of The CleanMeat Revolution, and I’ll be trying to make a number of artefacts that may emerge from the CleanMeat production facilities, molds, dies etc.
Lucien: This week David and I are in Teeside for Viewpoints festival, taking to the streets with ‘Last Ditch Attempt’. It’s a collaborative project looking at how enormous global issues might be tackled on a local or even individual level. Cycling round on a home brew tandem cargo trike, we’ll be receiving funny looks and giving out vegetable seed capsules so people can eat in the future.
Afterwards my attention will turn back to ‘The Humble Space Telescope’ a project which I began as part of Allenheads Contemporary Arts’ ‘BEYOND’ programme. It’s a floating, part life raft, part space capsule structure with a reclined seat for one. Framing an arbitrary area of sky as it drifts about, it’s an antidote to the conventional high tech, computer guided observatory. I’m interested in the idea that it might instill more curiosity about the night sky and provide no definitive answers.
David Lisser: Northumbrian MidgeBurgers, 2012
Lucien Anderson: Prototype II, Splashdown. 2016 (image by Nat Wilkins)
Have you found there’s anything in particular that has influenced you over the years? What inspires you?
David: This is going to sound really odd, but I’m really inspired by international trade and complex, multi-faceted supply chains – particularly within food. The fact that there are so many specialist businesses that are set up entirely to cater for a really specific need is utterly fascinating. So this could be an agricultural machinery firm making those olive tree shakers that they put on tractors, or a robotics company developing new gripper heads so that they can lift hundreds of chocolate mousses at once. In short, human ingenuity and where it ends up getting applied is a major source of inspiration for me.
Lucien: There are artists whose work I enjoy, Chris Dobrowolski, Andrea Zittel, Jason Rhoades, Roman Signer, to name a few. However more often than not I am influenced by the person building a hovercraft in their back yard. I spend quite a bit of time asking strangers on the internet why my welds are substandard. I also trawl the NASA archives frantically right-clicking and saving-as. Some of the most exciting images, structures, scenarios and performances I think come from non art fields where the function of a thing is the primary concern, and aesthetics are inconsequential. That’s where you find some of the most beautiful, exciting structures. Built with satisfying economy, they’re ambiguous, functional, basic and honest.
Where do you work? Could you show us a picture of your working environment?
David: I have a studio at the Newbridge Project in Newcastle, it’s pretty messy right now, but I guess that’s a honest portrayal of how I work.
Lucien: My garage in Gateshead.
David’s studio, NewBridge Project
Lucien’s studio in his garage
What’s on your bookshelf/what are you listening to or reading at the moment?
David: I’ve just finished a Motherhood by Sheila Heti – it’s a semi-autobiographical novel following the thoughts and actions of a woman in her late 30’s trying to decide whether or not to have children with her partner. It delves into some fairly crucial questions about society’s perception of womanhood and motherhood and investigates the desire to ‘produce’ something with your life. I haven’t actually got anything lined up for next, so if anyone has any suggestions, please give me a shout.
Lucien: Currently reading a sort of “beginners guide” to Russian Cosmism, occasionally dipping into the Haynes Ford Transit manual for light relief. Listening to all sorts; Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, lots of screaming, basically.
Could you give us between ten and twenty words that define your practice?
David: Serious. Silly. Muted. Archaeological. Ummm….. gosh this is hard. Sculptural. Food-obsessed. Futurology. Balancing-act. Meandering. Brown.
Lucien: Plywood. Rudimentary. Sculptural. Deployable. Construction. Wheels. Portholes. Function. Shelter. Escape. Fundamentals. Analogue. Endeavour. Grey.
David Lisser: The Midgecatchers House, 2012
Lucien Anderson: Prototype III, Allotment, Estate. 2017
Where can people see your work?
David: This week coming (up until 25th August) around Teesside as part of Viewpoints. And then in February I’ll be showing some work in Cambridge, details still to be confirmed.
Lucien: This week we’re in Teesside, information about when and where we can be found is available via the Festival of Thrift website. I’ve also currently got some work at Cheeseburn, and I hope to pootle down the Tyne in the ‘Humble Space Telescope’ at some point.
Our last featured artist, Dr Mike Collier, asked “What excites you most within current art practice – and why?” Could you answer Mike’s question please and think of a new one for our next artist?
David: When I looked at this question, I thought – there’s no way I can answer that. I don’t really feel like I know enough about current art practice, or have a particular overview which will help me identify what is most exciting. So in a roundabout way, that is probably the most exciting thing, that there are so many voices to be heard, so many things to see, and that clamour and confusion is exciting. To be surrounded by it all and give it equal attention before anyone has tried to canonise it, or to tell us what we should be valuing. To me, that is exciting.
Lucien: Work which crosses different fields, for example collaborations between artists and scientists, where the adoption of unconventional methodologies can create new perspectives, endless questions and a lack of answers.
David and I have decided to ask the next artist “why do you do what you do?”.