IN CONVERSATION WITH SIMON LININGTON
Kim Booker and Megan Preston Elliott, August 2019
Simon Linington is a London based artist who works across a range of media. His work is often self-referential, incorporating the residues of the processes he undertakes to create the work. His recent exhibition, La La Land, at William Bennington gallery was a surreal, dream-like installation constructed by disrupting the fabric of the gallery space itself. Simon recently completed a residency at M74 in Mexico City.
Kim Booker: Could you talk a bit about your background and how you came to be an artist?
Simon Linington: I was about 16 when I thought I wanted to be an artist for the first time. Before that, I wanted to be a photographer because my grandfather and great grandfather were photographers, so I was around photography a lot. I went to Kingston University to do a foundation in Art and design and it was there I decided to try sculpture. After Kingston I went to Chelsea School of Art where I made a lot of kinetic sculptures. For my degree show I had a machine which I called self-destructive; it was a huge camera on a belt drive and as it turned around it would slip and hit itself. Things have changed a bit since then.
Megan Elliott: That's quite performative, do you think that led you on to more performance-based work?
SL: My tutor, Gerard Wilson, who was head of Sculpture at Chelsea told me I would go on to make performances and much later on I did, though mostly with a collaborator, William Mackrell.
KB: So what happened after Chelsea - did you get a studio?
Simon Linington, Souvenir (detail) 2018
Chalk, charcoal, clay, jesmonite plaster, rubber and sawdust in acrylic display case.
Courtesy Simon Linington
SL: Actually, no, I was asked if I'd like to work as an assistant to an artist and I accepted. I worked for that person for a few years and I didn't make any artwork of my own for nearly 5 years after university.
KB: Was the job quite full on?
SL: It wasn't that, it was the first time I had money and I enjoyed myself.
ME: So how did you then take that step from working full-time to starting to make your own work again?
SL: I got a studio with William Mackrell. He had been at Chelsea the same time as me but we didn’t meet until we worked for the same artist. We had a studio visit with the same gallery and they saw us one after the other. They asked if we'd ever thought about working together and we hadn't, but we decided to give it a go.
KB: What did you make?
SL: One of the things we did was run down the stairs at my house in Stoke Newington with our legs tied together, like a three-legged race. We'd never worked together and neither of us had actually done performance before so we just decided to use our physicality as a starting point. We thought about height, weight, reach. We ended up working together for a few years after that.
KB: How did you document the performances, or did you not?
SL: For some we used objects and presented the residue of the activity and others were recorded. Mostly it was just the residue and you were left to think about what happened. It had a sculptural interest.
KB: So, you eventually parted ways and went out on your own. You mentioned materiality and the residue of your performances - it seems like you've carried those things through into your practice?
SL: At the time William wanted to concentrate on performance and I wanted to make ‘things’. We both still use materials, but in a different way now.
KB: Did you have a name when you were working together?
SL: We once listed ourselves as a company called 'Rotten Apple', but that was just for fun. We were always Linington & Mackrell.
ME: You grew up in the Isle of Wight, and I'm interested in your work 'Souvenir' as reminiscent of the souvenirs from the sand shop The Needles at Alum Bay, where you can go and fill different shaped vials with the multi-coloured sands of the Bay. I used to visit the Isle of Wight a lot as a child, almost every year, and I have strong memories of the sand shop there, so for me this was instantly recognisable.
SL: I have loads of them, I buy one every time I go home and friends pick them up for me from second-hand shops.
ME: Can you talk about the role of your own personal memories and collective memories in your work?
SL: I remember being a child and standing behind the counter at the souvenir shops with my grandmother. She fed me chips, ice cream and lots of sweets. She was pictured as a younger woman on my grandfathers postcards, as was my mother, a child of my approximate age. It was my family but not as I knew them. I knew the cliffs at Alum Bay of course, but I had only visited them once or twice as a child and they were more familiar to me in photographs. It was at the other end of the island and though it’s only a forty minute drive I remember thinking it took a whole day to get there. When I see the postcards and sand vials now, I think of the smell of chips and peering over the edge of an enormous open top freezer with my sister to choose what ice cream I wanted. I think when you grow up in the Isle of Wight, or if you've been on holiday there, filling the sand tubes is like a ritual that everyone knows of and participates in. It comes from the cliffs but it also looks like the cliffs, the layers of different colours. Alum bay probably felt nearly as foreign to me as it did to you but I have other memories too, of my family, and these I can’t separate from the objects.
KB: The colours that are in your tubes and vitrines - are these all from the Isle of Wight?
SL: No, they're actually studio materials - chalk, clay, jesmonite and plaster, all materials for making that I have collected.
Simon Linington, Everything can be broken, 2017
Shown at Division of Labour
Courtesy Simon Linington
ME: So that's the residue of your actions in the studio?
SL: Some of them are materials left over from making and others are from older artworks I have broken down.
ME: We've spoken a bit about some of the performative tasks that you were doing. In the performances where you used your physical body to affect materials, did this allow you to detach your mind from the making process, in the sense that you set yourself a task and carried it out without thinking too much about the final outcome?
SL: I wonder now if it was something of an excuse because I could follow an idea very strictly with little responsibility for the final outcome. A good example of this is 'In Circles', from 2014. I made two columns of clay in my studio and dragged one side of my body around each of them over a number of hours. I did this after reading about whirling dervishes. I didn’t find the altered state I was looking for, instead I got really dizzy and spent a lot of time pulling my hair out of the clay.
KB: Were you physically in contact with it the whole time you were walking around?
SL: Yeah, I was pushing the left side of my body as hard as I could against it. It was winter and the clay was cold and I got bored of walking in circles and in the end I had one sculpture I liked and one I didn't like, but I told myself it wasn’t about what I liked.
KB: Which artists were you influenced by at that time?
SL: I was looking at a lot of Arte Povera and I was interested in performance art because I wanted to make things quickly and I thought it was a good place to start.
KB: Why do you think you were motivated to use your body?
SL: I’ve stacked shelves at Tesco and put tomatoes in punnets in a factory and it makes no difference who does these jobs because the intended outcome is always the same, but if you can use something which is uniquely yours, then you're the only person who can do it the way you do.
KB: I think when women are using their bodies to create artwork, they're potentially coming at it from a different place because of the sexualisation and politicisation of the female body. Would you say you’re not so concerned with anything like that?
SL: I never thought about any of those things. I use my body because it is mine and it is a different body to everyone else's. It’s like a hammer that no one else has, it's a tool.
ME: It's also a tool that's easily accessible. So, we've touched on this a bit already, but you said of your practice that for you "material and place have become inseparable" - could you talk a bit more about this, and perhaps about the places you have visited for residencies and how these had an impression on your work?
(detail) from La La Land, 2019, at William Bennington Gallery
Courtesy Simon Linington
SL: Being around my grandfather's postcards and sand vials when I was growing up, it was inevitable that material and place should be linked. My first passion was photography - landscape and documentary photography. I’ve worked in Brazil, Morocco, South Africa and Spain and I always tried to use materials I found in these countries, it all comes back to capturing place.
KB: So now you take the materials from the place that you're in at the time?
SL: It feels like the natural thing for me to do.
KB: Would it be inappropriate to you if you were in Mexico City using materials from London?
SL: Yes, I wouldn't do it because it doesn't make sense to me. Whenever I go on residencies, I just take my camera.
KB: Do you have any preconceived ideas of what you might make?
SL: I can't really make a plan without knowing what materials I will find and if I do make a plan it's not very exciting for me. When I was in Brazil I used materials I found in the street and I broke them down in much the same way I do here in London. In Morocco I used North African Islamic plaster moulds and traditional textiles, both things I found in local markets.
KB: Included in the press release for your most recent show – La La Land at William Bennington Gallery, is an email you wrote to George Marsh, the gallery director, describing a dream you had. Was this dream the basis for that show? Could you also talk about the role of dreams in your work more generally?
SL: I do record the dreams I find particularly interesting, enjoyable or nightmarish. I've been doing that since I was 19. I remember watching a film around that age called 'Waking Life' and it was the first time I’d heard about lucid dreaming. Dreams can feel very real and a lot of mine have a similar atmosphere. I didn’t hear any sound in my dreams until a year ago, and until then I always assumed that everyone else’s dreams were silent too. The only thing I'm interested in carrying across into my artwork is the mood of my dreams. It might be unrelated but when I was a child I jumped into a swimming pool and burst both my ear drums and I lost my hearing for 6 or 7 months.
KB: I do get that from your work. Walking into the La La Land show, my immediate thought was in response to the tense atmosphere - things seemed a bit wrong and it takes you a while to notice everything.
SL: I think there's a silence and a strangeness.
KB: Is it meant to be a sort of mystery or puzzle that viewers can try to figure out?
SL: Not really, some people will think about it more than others and if you do think about it there are things which will reveal themselves, but it's not necessary.
ME: It's interesting what you said about jumping into the pool as a child, because when we saw La La Land, I saw the dirt on the floor as a kind of splash. The rectangular set up of the lights also reminded me of a swimming pool.
SL: It was a reference to water, yes, and more specifically the sea, even though it isn't using anything that looks like water at all. The rectangle of light made me think of a swimming pool also.
La La Land, 2019, at William Bennington Gallery
Courtesy Simon Linington
KB: A lot of your work seems to centre around certain habitual or mundane and repetitive practices – such as cleaning, sorting and archiving or performing certain actions over and over. How do you go about deciding what will become an artwork and what is merely the residue of you living your life. Or do you see everything you do as art?
SL: I think it’s all art really but it takes a certain confidence to think so, but if its what you think, then that’s what it is.
KB: But then you do select which aspects of your life become your artwork. It takes a big commitment, and it's almost like you become a performance of yourself, in a way.
SL: Bruce Nauman said everything he does in the studio is art because he is an artist, and Andy Warhol thought absolutely everything is art, even drinking a can of Coca Cola. No one really knew who Andy Warhol was and Bruce Nauman is going to a studio every day to do a job. I try to think of my practice as a job.
ME: You work in performance alongside other media such as sculpture and installation. How do you decide on the form a work will take? Is it quite instinctive based on the materials you're using?
SL: I use the material I think will communicate an idea in the quickest or easiest way. When I had my first studio visit with Nathaniel Pitt (director at Division of Labour) he said to me ‘there are two different practices going on here– one is process led and the other is about material’. I don’t think I saw it until it was pointed out to me. Performance can be a way of bringing the two together.
KB: Now, the process and materials are inseparable?
SL: The materials are now whatever I can find or is present in the given space, and the processes are ones I've taught myself over the last few years.
KB: I wondered if you could talk about your experience over the last decade of the art scene in London? How have you navigated this and maintained control over the direction of your practice?
SL: I've noticed a lot of physical changes. When I was in college there were lots of group exhibitions in semi-derelict warehouse spaces or abandoned shops - it was an exciting, party atmosphere. Now I don't see any of that. Every building not being used is developed as quickly as possible. London is driven increasingly by commerce, I think. Since I graduated from university I’ve worked for a couple of high profile artists and they’ve both given me advice when I needed it and that has given me the confidence to be myself.
Simon Linington, In From the Light, 2018 at Castor Projects
Courtesy Simon Linington
KB: Do you think that's affected the mentality of artists as well? You can't really be 1997 Tracey Emin now. It doesn't work really.
SL: It's a very different time now culturally and I notice my friends who are in their early to mid twenties are much healthier and more image conscious than I used to be. I think they’re also very strategic.
ME: Do you think younger people need to be that way now?
SL: If it works for them, yes. I'm guilty of spending too much time and money in the pub but it works for me. We have different methods but neither of us is better than the other.
ME: I think especially with social media in the mix now, it's all about presentation and it heightens everything.
SL: Self presentation is nearly everything now.
KB: Do you have any advice for emerging artists?
SL: Just be yourself. When I was younger I spent a lot of time making things I thought looked like artists work I liked. Now, I think only about what my thing is, and that’s what I do and I'm okay with that.
KB: When you're able to do that, I think that's when the work can often take off, because people can see that authenticity.
SL: The thing we know best and can be most convincingly is ourselves. It can be an amazing thing.
Simon is represented by William Benington Gallery