Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Victoria Lucas: Land Reclamation for the 21st Century Woman - a text by Selina Oakes

Victoria Lucas: Land Reclamation for the 21st Century Woman.
by Selina Oakes

The notion of a subversive or anti-conformist place provides a platform for challenge and change, and the potential for establishing dominion over it. Existing beyond the oppressive rules and regulations of societal-assigned culture, a site that humankind can reclaim is made available in alternative, disparate spaces. The urban, brownfield site is such a location; one that was once claimed by industry and economy, is now left bereft and abandoned within the contemporary cityscape. Merging this scene with the cinematic tropes of theatre – both on and off the screen – the Sheffield-based artist Victoria Lucas interrogates the fabric of culture and gender representation, which are themselves constructed entities construed from human imagination.

Drawing on the analogy of land reclamation – where humans assert their power to gain new ground – the artist's latest project, Lay of the Land (and other such myths), uses the concept of constructed place to reframe and empower femininity, beyond its traditional perimeters. Interpreting JG Ballard's Concrete Island (1974) as a model for land reclamation, Lay of the Land and AirSpace Gallery are presented as an island; similar to the intersection terrain that the novel's protagonist Maitland finds himself marooned on after a car crash. In an interview prior to the exhibition Lucas describes the Lay of the Land project as “a place in itself; made up of different works that can be reconfigured to form a subversive place. The gallery becomes an island that the viewer can enter: it is virtual space, an otherworldly environment, in which to start thinking about cultural structures that are historically ingrained.”

For Lucas, both Ballard's description of segregated land and Stoke-on-Trent's brownfield sites hang together as “an illustration of the reclamation of land,” interpreting them as “those bits of space that we don't populate and that are left to become overgrown.” She comments that both “claim something back that isn't influenced by the broader cultural or political society that governs and that we all – whether we like it or not – conform to at some level. It's about something otherworldly and new, and exciting. Separate.” As with the motorway intersection in Concrete Island and Stoke's brownfields, the gallery is a space that can be the viewers': “they can have that space and spend time in there to think about what they want, rather than what is expected of them.” Within the context of Lay of the Land, it provides the foundations for, as Lucas puts it, “the creation of land that can be reclaimed by women.”

Infusing AirSpace Gallery with feminine references and hyperbolic aesthetics from both the natural and filmic worlds, Lucas engages the audience in a discussion on real and fictional identities and geographies. Site is an important factor in her practice, and it is something which she has responded to through a variety of commissions and invitations. As with an early project capturing the demolition of Sheffield's Castle Market, she has been drawn to the associations placed upon places. Following an exhibition in Joshua Tree, California, she began exploring the notion of the desert: “I'd never been there before and the only connection that I had to the desert was through film.” Combining this newfound interest with a long-standing concern for gender representation, Lucas identified a recurrent theme: “the female as a secondary protagonist; subordinate to the male lead. It is as though she is too unstable to be on her own.”

Her relationship with the Californian desert was deepened by a sabbatical, where the artist stayed in a 1930s homestead for a whole week on her own. “[Through film] you're led to believe that it is unsafe for a women to be alone in the desert, but it wasn't at all. I was really struck by the duality [between fiction and reality] – not just by the desert's physical presence but in the feeling of living within a cinematic framework.” This duality was reoccured in her exploration of the Alabama Hills – a location that adorns many of the screens and murals in Lay of the Land. “It's a kind of film set even though its a geographical phenomena. It's incredible. You're present in the space, but you're also familiar with the scene because you've seen it in Westerns and Science Fiction films from the 1940s onwards.”

Lucas blends the desert's geographical reality with the effervescent quality of fiction through seductive and layered scenography. Lay of the Land's iridescent surface pushes the boundaries of the fictional into the virtual: “all of the colours are inspired by the screen. When you push on a screen, it's gel-like substance exudes a spectrum of colour. I'm interested in the idea that you could step in through this threshold and be behind the screen, rather than sat in front of it. The work plays with this notion, as well as the colours of the desert: the boulders I saw out there were gold.” The psychedelic pinks, purples, blues and golds merge with structurally-exposed partitions and props to create an immersive and fabricated mis-en-scene. “It's very much linked to theatre and how you construct a scene and an experience to be moved through.” The landscape – a subject that has formerly been commandeered by male artists – is transformed into a sensual, subtly feminine terrain that harvests a multitude of trajectories.

Punctuating the prints' two-dimensional surfaces is Lucas's multi-disciplinary approach: she builds this otherworldly narrative through photography, video, sound and sculpture. “I'm interested in the relationship between sculpture and photography, particularly in terms of space; the depth of an image, and the depth of a space with sculpture in it. For example, one of the images in the gallery has a road in it, running from the fore to its background, and the sculptures guide you there; they create a transitional space.” In contrast, video enables Lucas to manipulate and play with time: “it's such as fluid and dynamic medium.” Sound is also a sculptural medium that enables the artist to generate space. In juxtaposing these materials, Lucas creates a cyclical moment where signifiers are continuously mirrored: gold boulders mimic elements of the prints and printed matter forges a simulacrum of gathered brownfield rubble: the entire exhibition is a simulation of an alternative world, where 'reality' and 'fiction' are extracted from their overbearing contexts.

The show's giant, gleaming boulders made of polystyrene, fibre-glass and jesmonite, are deceptively heavy on the eye, but light in weight – Lucas was even seen singlehandedly carrying one of the cumbersome rocks across the gallery space during the install. “What is our reality, and what do we accept as our reality? Is it in the way that cinema makes us behave or the way that we perform gender? The work plays with the blurring of the line [between the virtual and the real].” Here, a variety of different registers, from the real, fictional and virtual, are fused together: digitally layered scenes of holiday destinations like Lanzarote and the brownfield sites of Stoke appear on bespoke wall-sized prints, encircled by imagery from the Alabama Hills. While Lucas uses these registers to play with the concept of time and cultural decades, the aesthetic assemblage pinpoints where our current realities lie, “it reflects where we are at the moment, in a broader context.”

Lucas comments “we're a society that has come from a patriarchal view of what a system should be and so the echoes of that are still in existence. We're still having to shift our understanding and push for some overarching form of equality across all realms. The project and its virtual qualities open up a door of potential for those things to happen.” The artist's 'opening' of this door mirrors her experience of the Californian desert: “there is the revealing of the self inside a cultural frame. I really felt like I could experience being myself in that place for the first time without a veil.” The liberating removal of this cultural 'veil' is expressed through a feminine sigh of relief in Release (2017). The piece, a recording of the artist's own voice, greets audiences at exhibition's entrance, immediately jostling our everyday sensibilities. “It's a sigh of relief as the viewer enters the space – saying, oh, finally a space where I can just be and not be inundated with all of this other stuff, these expectations.”

Beyond this meditative sigh is the penetrative sound of women vocalists, echoing through the space. Leaking from Concrete Island's (2017) headphones, as well as short film A Staging (2017), the ambient, at first harmonious, audio of female voices builds into a discordant chaos; bursting from its confines and becoming an abstracted material in its own right. Powerful and near-operatic, the soundscape is forged by a site-specific collaboration with an all-female choir. “I wanted the sound to begin as a harmony – conforming to the regulations of what a song should be, what music should be and what the female voice should sound like. Then, pushing those boundaries, the piece breaks out into discordant chaos over five minutes. The sound spirals out and it becomes rich, and quite moving – the physical power of the sound is haunting.” Liberated from language, the female voice is a raw component that disrupts expectation: it claims dominion over the space, perhaps more forcefully than other aspects of the show. A live performance at the opening night by the five singers illustrated the pure synergy that grew between the females and their voices; with Lucas offering loose guidance.

The deconstruction of the female form is a resounding element. In contrast to her previous pieces such as Women on Horses (2016), in which the artist removes all presence of the male character from Western clips, leaving the female protagonist to ride alone, Lucas presents mere extracts of gender. A digital depiction of women is contained within TV monitors, which are scattered over the murals of psychedelic landscapes. “The women in the show are broken down; they're fragments of bodies. It's problematic to separate the female body from very sexualised and feminised representations. It's harder now than it was in the 1970s [to represent the female] due to the way that pornography has spread across society. Getting away from this is difficult – that's why it's important to push the body's boundaries and go beyond the physical.” The artist dissects stereotypical corporeal depictions by panning dismembered body parts such as lips and eyes from YouTube make-up tutorials across martian landscapes in Imaginary Voice, Real Voice #1 and #2 (2016). These organs move in a digitally crumpled manner that reframes femininity as posthuman.

These videos juxtapose with the soundscape's liberation of femininity: their sound has been muted. While A Staging proposes a place where women can “just be” and exist without the inundation of expectation, the forms within the monitors exist in a paradoxical state. They are trapped by the digital tools that define their contemporary perception, while revolting against the rules of the virtual realm. Lucas distorts female representation and its geographical positioning to propose a digital sanctuary – a desert or dreamscape that is removed from the clutches of societal conventions, where the female can exist in a vast, technological landscape – the question is, is she free? The videos' cyber-personas offer only a fabricated liberty. In speaking about the impact of technology on femininity, Lucas says “I think that some images have replaced the physical” - a phrase that rings true with Amelia Jones's publication Self/Image (2006), in which she writes: “the body extends into and is understood as an image – but as an image understood itself, reciprocally, as embodied.”

Lucas expands on this: “there's a push towards becoming unnatural and selfie-ready. It's becoming normal and people are also experiencing other people's lives through the digital. It's a manufactured, staged version of that person. How far do we go away from normality or reality – to this fictitious version of self?” This begs us to question whether feminine freedom can be found in the digital and whether we can exist within a plethora of online imagery. Artist Hito Steyerl's exploration of collective resistance in the virtual world featured in Factory of the Sun (2015) suggests the impossibility of freedom in this virtual world that seeps into our everyday realities. And yet, should we revert to primitive, non-linguistic states in order to exist or co-exist as liberated entities in the world? Within Lay of the Land, it is the sheer volume and force of the voice that liberates the female; here, she is free to generate and punctuate the land in a bodiless form.

“Nowadays, we all experience differently: everyone has a phone, and many walk into a gallery and take a picture instead of actually being with the work. That is a good analogy for the broader experience of being in a place or a landscape or on holiday: you don't stop and experience – it's all very quick and fast-paced.” Lay of the Land invites the audience to pause, particularly her city-specific piece Concrete Island. It engages the viewer by asking them to lie down on one of two benches measured to the average height of a woman in the UK. Through a recorded soundscape experienced via headphones, the audience is transported to a place where femininity has been liberated. A path into a mythical scenography is made through haptic elements, assembled to draw the viewer away from the minimalist concrete slab that they rest upon. The benches' masculine coolness is broken by the power of the female voice. Coerced into a subversive place by the printed mural of Stoke-on-Trent and Lanzarote, the viewer moves beyond the physical reality of gathered brownfield rubble into a psychedelic dreamscape. “It's not something tangible: it's something very imaginary intended to create a shift in a person's thinking.”

While Lucas draws on her own experiences of these landscapes, the artist delivers the project in a way that enables the audience to partake in its creation. “It's down to the viewer and their experience of that place.. I don't want to dictate how it should be – it's part of a journey, and it's very open and playful, while being political in an in-direct way.” The abstracted amalgamation of aesthetics ensures that the viewer is not bogged down by politics; the project exists outside of time: “It's a pause in the craziness of modern civilisation, like stepping sideways into the gallery and experiencing being rather than time.” Lay of the Land's place of origin also becomes irrelevant: “the reference to the Californian desert isn't relevant; it's more to do with creating an otherworldly landscape” says Lucas. This freedom of both time and place compounds the past, present and future, enabling visitors – of any gender – to situate themselves within an offshore land where the body is buried and the mind is left to roam.

Lay of the Land Interview - Mark Devereux

Last month we caught up with curator Mark Devereux and AirSpace Gallery exhibitor Victoria Lucas to speak about the collaborative relationship between practitioner and facilitator. AirSpace Gallery is committed to providing opportunities for external curators to work with the organisation and our space - and the exhibition Lay of the Land by Victoria Lucas was selected from a nationwide open call for curatorial projects.

Positioned between the artist and gallerist, Manchester-based Mark Devereux Projects (MDP) provides professional development for creatives. Through tailored programming, the organisation assists in getting artists to the next level of their careers. Established in 2013, MDP has worked with a range of multi-disciplinary practitioners and in 2017, it has been facilitating Lucas on a series of shows, amalgamated under the project title, Lay of the Land (& other such myths). As founder, Devereux discusses his role as a curator as well as MDP's overarching aims to build a supportive arts infrastructure.

SO: What sparked the start of MDP and how did you build it up into a business?
MD: I studied at Staffordshire University – Photography BA and Fine Art MA – and it was in my first year of the masters that David and Andy set up AirSpace Gallery in a big old pottery warehouse. It showed me a different way of working – not just thinking about me as an artist, but me as a facilitator. When I finished the MA, I moved to Manchester and set up an organisation called Blank Media Collective. It was an opportunity to get my own work out there, but then it turned more into curating work with artists, and a great chance to learn. It was very much about showcasing the output of emerging artists straight from university, as well as hosting lots of projects and events – like poetry nights, readings and exhibitions. Through a process that developed across six years, I found that a curatorial role working with artists and on the production side was the thing that I really enjoyed.

I started stepping away from my own practice and began to think about what were the most important things to me; what were the things that were really missing; what were the things that I enjoyed doing. And it's working with individual artists. When we [MDP] curate exhibitions, it's important to really understand an artist's practice from the first meeting, all the way through to making the work shine. I concentrated on the commissioning and funding route, rather than the commercial gallery side of things. Here, you can take more risks and do project differently. We're coming up to five years of MDP and its really solidified into a strong support for artists to help them to do what they want to do. We're always learning, bringing in people to help and advise us, and it's forever changing, depending on each artist and their requirements.

It's really important that I understand what it is like to be an artist. I didn't practice long as an artist, but my wife is an artist, and so are my uncle and mother in law. I understand the pressures and the things that artists have to do these days. They have to be fluent and eloquent in marketing, business, finance and funding, and it's a lot to do – it can really drain the creative side of things. John Cleese's talk on creativity speaks about the different modes that artists put themselves into: what I want to do is to help the artist to make the very best work, and if that happens, that's my job done – that's where I get my excitement and satisfaction from.

SO: How does the collaborative process work between MDP and artists such as Victoria Lucas?
MD: When we first start working with an artist through the Represented Artist Programme at MDP, we sit down and go through all of the experiences and projects that they have done in the past and start discussing how we, as MDP, can fill in some gaps and provide new opportunities – maybe take some risks and offer things that artist may not be able to get. This could be applying for bids, project funding, logistics or marketing using both my own and my colleague Jack's experience in arts management, curation and mentoring. This frees up space in the artist's mind, enabling them to focus on and continue with their work and ideas. We feed into that support with critique and suggestions from a curatorial level.

VL: And because I'm an academic as well as an artist, my time is split between teaching, my research role there and all the other administrative tasks that come with self-employment. Through working with MDP my time is freed up and I've been able to invest more in the making of the work.

SO: Mark, what first drew you to Victoria Lucas's work? And what made you want to work with her?
MD: I'd been watching Vic's work for a long time – watching in the background, as curators do – and became familiar with it during my time running Blank Media Collective, where I was getting to know artists in the region and across the North. When we began working together, I felt that MDP was in a position where we could support her practice and that we could add something to it. Initially, it was very much about ensuring that the collaboration was right, so we sat down and talked about her practice, the elements that we could offer and how we could go through those stages to get her to that next level. I remember one of the first things that we spoke about: Vic had a list of galleries that she wanted to exhibit at and on that list was AirSpace Gallery. I'd worked with them in the past and when the curatorial opportunity came up, we put in an application.

VL: It's quite a dynamic relationship, and it's not the same in every project. For example with the SOLO Award, I invited MDP to be part of the project after I received it externally through applying. It [Lay of the Land] developed into a bigger project and it was a really big opportunity that I wouldn't be able to do fully myself because of the demands that I have in the other areas of my career.

SO: AirSpace Gallery gives you the freedom to curate the space. It gives you a freedom that not every organisation would give you. How has the experience been for you working with AirSpace again?
MD: It gives you that flexibility and opportunity to go to them and say this is what we'd like to do. Glen[AirSpace Director] has been really good in feeding in ideas and responses but he very much wants us to make the decisions, and use his experience and guidance only if needed. It provides a nurturing environment where you can be more free. Lay of the Land at AirSpace is very much all of Vic's ideas, and she's put together all of this research over a long period of time. Through AirSpace, it has been realised in the best possible way, with no limitations.

VL: It's been brilliant working up to the show and having those workshops and conversations with Glen; having him involved in the filming on the brownfield sites and his overall support and input has been great. It's always good to work in teams and have different inputs at various points in your career. AirSpace is really good at providing the support and help you need to develop as an artist.

SO: How do you see the professional relationship developing from here?
VL: It's been a good, intense six months: we had the SOLO award show in January, the HOME exhibition in February, this one at AirSpace until June, and alongside that I've been working on other presentations as well. Over the next six months – until the end of 2017 – I need to focus on my PhD. We're having time out for me to more research and a lot of reading, which will feed into the work and future shows for 2018.
MD: In the meantime, I'm going to be doing the background research, planning and logistics.

SO: Who are the other artists that you work with? Do you always support practitioners at a particular level – emerging, mid-career or established? Or is it a whole spectrum of artists?
MD: It's mixed really; I always struggle with those terminologies as it's hard to put someone down to one of those. Generally, we work with artists who have been out of university for a while and those in which we can see something that we can help them push forward. We look for an artist who is committed to their practice, is excited about what they do and are able to work in collaboration – a word that is important for what we do.

We run from project to project – so when Vic has six months or so out, we'll have another busy six months with another artist or two. In terms of other things that we've got going on – part of our ethos is about professional development; supporting artists to further their practice in the way that they want to do it. Alongside the Representative Artist Programme we have a scheme called Studio Book, which is an eight month programme with artists from around the country. They get lots of mentoring, workshops, critiques, and masterclasses, and work towards a small commission or exhibition opportunity. We bring in curators from around the UK to give their feedback. And again, as with the Representative Artist Programme, we're bringing in a breadth of ideas and responses to keep pushing those artists forward.

Lay of the Land Interview - Victoria Lucas

Interview conducted by Selina Oakes

SO: Lay of the Land (and other such myths) delves into a world of fiction and reality. Through artificial sets and video elements, it invites the viewer to engage with cultural perceptions of the desert, women and a sense of place. How did the project begin?
VL: My work has always responded to place and it has always started with a site and kind of developed the support of that as a response. So for the past 10 years I've responded to site through either commissions or invitations to come and work in a building or area that I'm interested in, or an event – like when Castle Market was due to be pulled down and I was able to get in there for the last six weeks of it's use before it essentially died in front of my camera. That was always a key part of the practice. Then I was invited to go and exhibit in Joshua Tree in California. The only connection that I had to the desert [prior to this] was through film, where the female was always secondary and subordinate to the male lead: she was too unstable to be on her own. My actual experience out there differed from these depictions, which were force-fed through various films from different eras, right up until the present day. I then proposed a sabbatical month in California just traveling through the desert and getting to grips with these cinematic frames. I stayed in a 1930s homestead for a whole week on my own, in the middle of nowhere. You're led to believe that it would be unsafe for a women alone in the desert, but it completely wasn't. I was really struck by the duality of living within a cinematic framework, as well as the revealing of the self inside a cultural frame. I could experience being myself in that place for the first time without a cultural veil.

SO: It sounds very much as though your practice has developed from a curiosity in place. Did this interest in the representation of the female stem from your contact with the desert?
VL: My interest in women's rights and the representation of women has always been there but it's been more of an activist strand. I've never been able put the two things together in a meaningful way. I feel that this project has allowed be to explore that area and it's connections. I travelled around and came across the Alabama Hills which is where Lay of the Land started – it's a kind of film set as well as a geographical phenomena. It's incredible. You're present in the space, but you're also very familiar with that scene because you've seen it so many times in Westerns and Science Fiction films from the 1940s onwards.

SO: Much of your work exists between physical and digital realms. Is it important for you to maintain this duality of the real and digitally virtual?
VL: This links to the idea of reality and fiction. What is our reality, and what do we accept as our reality – whether it's the way that cinema makes us behave or the way that we perform gender. I play with that line as well as the blurring of that line. It really reflects where we are in a broader context: what is real and what is not. The Lay of the Land project is a place in itself that within it has lots of different works that come together. They can be reconfigured and form a subversive place – the gallery becomes an island, a virtual space, that the viewer can enter. It's an otherworldly environment in which to start thinking about cultural structures. We're a society that has come from a patriarchal view of how a system should be; the echoes of that are still in existence and we're having to shift our understanding and push for some overarching form of equality across all realms. 

The project opens up a door of potential for those things to happen,. The virtual is really important because it's not something tangible; it's something that is imaginary but is also there to propose a shift in a person's thinking. That's where I lose control of the project and it's down to the viewer and their experience of that place. Lay of the Land is very much linked to theatre and how you construct a scene to be moved through. All of the world is a stage-set; that's why I've left structural elements like the partitions exposed in the show.

SO: Lay of the Land draws on two key sources – Stoke-on-Trent's brownfields and JG Ballard's Concrete Island. Both link to themes of isolation, identity and constructed place. How do these crossover with the notion of gender representation?
VL: I often use the analogy of land reclamation: the creation of land that can then be reclaimed by women. What struck me about Concrete Island was its depiction of land within the intersection and this, alongside Stoke's brownfield sites, made me think about those bits of space that we don't populate and that are left to become overgrown. People walk past them and they don't know that they really exist. When I started exploring these sites in Stoke, those two things seemed to hang together as an illustration of this reclamation of land: claiming something back that isn't influenced by the broader cultural or political society that governs and that we all, whether we like it or not, conform to at some level. It's about something otherworldly, new, exciting and separate. The viewer can have that space and spend time thinking about what they want, rather than what is expected of them.

SO: You collaborated with an all-female choir for Lay of the Land. Can you talk about the experience of collaborating with performers in Stoke-on-Trent?
VL: It was amazing. They were brought together from different choirs, and they were all very interested in the feminist framework but also in responding to place. We talked about Concrete Island; subverting femininity; the power of the collective voice; andchanging perceptions of space. They were really engaged, very playful and open; we tried reciting different parts of Concrete Island with song, which was incredible. They got really involved and even began banging on the table. It was really good fun. I really wanted the piece to begin in harmony, conforming to the regulation of what a song should be and how the female voice should sound. Then, pushing the harmony'sboundaries, it breaks out into discordant chaos and spirals over five minutes. The sound becomes rich, and quite moving, In the recording studio at Staffordshire University, my hairs were standing on end with the physical power of the sound; it is really haunting.

SO: Is this haunting effect intentional? Do you want to disturb the viewer in the space; to make them consider the potential of the female voice and gender representation in the space?
VL: The presence of the female in the installation is sparse. The show's visual imagesof women are broken down; they're fragments of bodies. I find it problematic to separate the female body from sexualised and feminised representations, and so there are parts of bodies: lips, scanned eyes, bits of my face. They're all crumpled and moving. Yes, it's very otherworldly and posthuman. Similarly, the voice is also fragmented, particularly in a sound piece – a recording of my voice – at the front of the gallery. It's a sigh of relief as the viewer enters the space – saying ‘oh finally a space where I can just be.’ It's a really playful thing. Elsewhere, the viewer is invited to lie down on benches, which are measured to the average height of women in the UK, and listen to a soundpiece in the landscape that's presented in the gallery; the image behind it is Stoke and a reference to another landscape. In the end, the Californian desert isn't relevant, and it's more to do with creating an otherworldy landscape.

SO: The non-presence of the female body in its entirety is important. In your opinion, why is it difficult to successfully negotiate and navigate the histories of the female body today?
VL: I think it's much harder now than it was in the 1970s due to the way that pornography has spread across society – all the way through to advertising in children's toys – there's reference to the Playboy Bunny for example – it's crazy. Getting away from all that is very difficult – it's important to push the body's boundaries and go beyond the physical.

SO: It's interesting to note that you use lots of different materials – you're a multi-disciplinary artist who uses photography, video, sculpture and sound. How did your practice begin, and why is it vital for you to work with so many layers?
VL: I think it's to do with my education. I did a sculpture degree at undergraduate level and worked three-dimensionally. But alongside that I was hijacking the photographic darkrooms. I've always been interested in sculpture and photography and the relationship between the two, in terms of space – the depth of an image, the depth of a space with sculpture in it. For example, one of the images in the gallery has a road in it, running from the fore to its background, and the sculptures guide you there: they create that depth. It's a transitional space. Then, I got into making video when I was doing my masters and moving around lots – I lived in Leeds, went to Berlin, and then moved to Sheffield. Video has always been an easy medium; it's free – and trying to move all that sculpture is a challenge. Video became my medium of choice for a variety of practical reasons as well as the fact that you can manipulate and play with time. It's such a fluid, dynamic medium. And now that I have the space to make sculpture again, it all seems to come together. Then, sound also generates and creates space.

SO: Sound is another sculptural element that combines so well with the astroid sculptures and sci-fi sets. The prints contain such colourful layers; it's quite psychedelic and close to the virtual. Where does this vibrancy come from?
VL: All of the colours are inspired by the screen. When you push on the screen, you get all of those colours coming from the gel inside it – it's kind of a boundary. I like the idea that you can step in through this threshold and be behind the screen rather than sat in front of it. All of the work plays with that and the colours of the desert. For example, the gold boulders mimic the boulders that I saw in the desert – they were gold in the sunlight. Everything just seemed to come together really nicely. 

SO: You draw a lot of ideas from your personal experience of the desert, as well as from your understanding of how women are represented in society today. You've even used your own voice. It is very much your interpretation, but the way in which the project is delivered invites others to partake in your experience of it and make it their own.
VL: Yes very much so, and I don't want to say that this is how it should be. It's part of a journey really, and so the project and it's presentation is very open and playful'; it verges on the political, but not in a direct way. It's a pause in the craziness of modern civilisation – like stepping sideways into the gallery and not just experiencing time, but experiencing being.

SO: You refer to the Feminist Framework in your research. It talks about constructed place and representations of gender. How do you think that feminine representation has been altered by technology? And how does this feed into the show and your practice?
VL: I think that some images have replaced the physical. I think that there is a push towards becoming unnatural and very ‘selfie-ready’ – whether it's spray-tan, contouring or surgery. A huge percentage of people have Botox for example, even a family member. It's all becoming normalised, and people are also experiencing other people's lives through the digital – it's a very manufactured staged version of a person. How far do we go away from normality or reality – to this fictitious version of self? We drift between the person sat at home reading a book to that same individual in the image with their orange face and pout. What does it say about society? And again, it's not a wholly negative thing, and there are some things that are particularly positive about that shift. My PhD explores this bizarre part of society that is becoming normality.

Also, we all learn and experience differently today. Everyone has a phone; they walk into a gallery and take a picture instead of actually being with the work. It's a really good analogy for the broader experience of being in a place or a landscape or on holiday. You don't stop and experience – it's all fast-paced. My work teases these things out.

SO: What's next, alongside your continued research into female representation for the PhD?
VL: The PhD is the main focus for me over the next few years, and that's what I need to spend the rest of 2017 doing. In the short-term, I have two exhibitions coming up: the first is a group show in Copenhagen where I'll be showing As It Transpired – a piece made in Manchester for an exhibition at Untitled Gallery. I invited a budgiehandler to bring his budgies into the gallery and I just filmed what happened. I had no control over how the birds or he moved around the space – it was about pushing against control and curating, and just letting it happen. The second exhibition is at Millennium Gallery in Sheffield, where I'll be showing the Remedy series from 2012, comprised of images of empty billboards in Greece between the airport and Athens. It documents a time when the economic crisis was apparent, and before the graffiti artists got their hands on them. The majority of the boards were completely empty and they became these monolithic symbols of austerity and the turmoil that the whole country was and still is in.

SO: This isn't your first time at AirSpace Gallery. How has your practice changed since your first exhibition in Stoke-on-Trent, and how has your experience working with Mark Devereux Projects challenged your practice?
VL: In Conjunction 10 I displayed a series of bronze insects. I was interested in presenting these insects as memorials for failure. From there, the things that have developed my practice the most have been my job at UCLAN. It's opened up so many doors in terms of funding and academic support. Then other opportunities have come from connections that I made in Berlin – that's where the Joshua Tree exhibition began. The experience I gained just before that project is still kind of giving. It's incredible. And then through UCLAN I did the sabbatical, which again completely changed the project, and at the end of that Mark invited me to become part of MDP. From there, we've worked on different projects which has increased the potential to do bigger things – there's more people involved and more time can be invested in the project. MDP set up the HOME exhibition and this one at AirSpace through the gallery's curatorial open-call. Lots of hard work, shows and networking have got me to this point.