In Conversation: Pippa Lattey
In Pippa Lattey’s BAF Garage installation, ‘String Together,’ two motorized lengths of wood maneuver a span of black line, strung with plastic detritus. As each end rises and falls, the strung elements shift from side to side. The structure is reminiscent of a string of beads, manipulated between two unseen hands. Watching the objects slide back and forth, the viewer may be reminded of counting, tallying, wishing, planning, calculating.
Read on to learn more about Lattey’s recent projects, her process and inspirations.
You just finished a residency at the Blue Cabin where your work honoured the legacy of artist, musician and writer Al Neil by bringing his piano back into the space, suspending it in a metal frame, and reconfiguring it into a kinetic sound sculpture that responds to tidal data. There are many threads that tie your work on False Creek and your installation at BAF together. Will you draw out some of those connections for our readers?PL
Staying at the Blue Cabin, floating on False Creek, I had a chance to observe the changing tides and weather alongside the constant redevelopment of the area. I also used tide and weather data, other ways of observing the changing environment. My installation at BAF reflects natural rhythms like tides, and waves. I want it to be mesmerizing, like standing on the shore and watching the waves carry things in and out. I find watching and listening to the ocean to be calming and reflective. I want to make movements that draw the viewer in, to keep them watching.
And then there are the objects. I am fascinated by the things we use in our day to day. Al Neil’s piano is a special object, with connections to history and place, but it was also an instrument, a tool that was used for decades. In the years I spent with it, I came to relate to it as a whole, as a thing in itself, which led me to create this large and complex sculpture to move it and activate it. I was drawing unseen (and unheard) properties out of this piano.
The objects on the string are more arbitrary. They are mostly garbage that I collected, keeping something if it had some quality that attracted me. They’re common items that we use and throw away all the time. But each of these things also has a story to tell, a connection to the here and now. And I am moving them in a way that is very simple, repetitive but with just enough variation to keep the viewer engaged. By stringing them together, I hope to bring the viewer to make some connections between them, to relate to them as they slide along the string.
How does String Together work? How did you come to work with kinetic sculpture initially?PL
It’s driven by two rotisserie motors, which I think is pretty funny. One of them turns endlessly, and the other responds to the forces on the string to change direction intermittently. I like it when you can see the motor working, feel the struggle. I push the motors to work pretty hard, so they don’t always run smoothly.
I’ve been working with movement in my sculptures ever since I realized I could do it. I really got into it when I took a sculpture class at Langara College from Luke Blackstone, who went on to mentor me with the piano. I first made some hand-cranked movements with LEDs, then I used fans to make figures and bananas that inflated and deflated. By my fourth year at Emily Carr University, I used motors to make circular movements, and to activate found objects. I am still exploring those possibilities.
So much of your work involves visual puns, centering simple rhythms and patterns that invite humour and joy, but that point to more complicated and uneasy aspects of our contemporary world. Can you share a little about your process of research and creation for String Together?PL
Yes, there is joy in this piece. It actually came together pretty naturally. I was collecting a lot of objects for an exhibition last year, to create little systems—combining two or three different objects into an orbit movement. The practice of collecting these things made me think. I was sorting them into bins, wondering about the value of these things, and what they meant to me. I was also thinking about writing, collecting words together in an attempt to make new meaning. So, I tried stringing some small objects together, and I added a motor on each end. The gestures it made were interesting, the objects tossed around by these little cycles, but it needed to be much bigger. The Garage at BAF provides just the space it needs.
The variability and uneasiness were built in when I made it. The flexibility and twist of the string, the rotisserie motors doing something they were not designed for. Bringing them together in this way, they make up something new. These kind of juxtapositions and assemblages are for me fascinating, joyful and funny. I am a fan of Jane Bennett’s book Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things, and of thinking about materialism, as well as political and ecological systems. As for the objects on the string, I am not quite sure what they are doing all together, how they bump up and slide into each other. I just set a stage and let them be the actors. But I did add a lot of colour and a few clowns to the cast: the toothbrush and roll of TP are pretty funny.
What do you hope that viewers take away from the experience of being with your work?PL
I want people to enjoy watching the movement for some time, to anticipate the movements and to be surprised or amused by what they see. Viewers will make their own associations with the familiar objects, and between the objects that are strung together. They might notice the tension in the line, the absurdity of the whole apparatus. I hope they find something interesting, joyful, and thoughtful.
Where can viewers see more of your practice? What can we look forward to from you in the remainder of 2021?PL
I was very busy during my residency at the Blue Cabin. There’s a video of my sculpture with the piano in the cabin, and an artist talk. There is also a program of sound pieces that Thomas Evdokimoff created around the residency, to be streamed in the coming weeks on the Currents and Waves site.
I’m one of 10 artists in residence for La Commune 2021, which has me thinking about the building and destruction of monuments.
I am working on a collaborative garden, sculpture, and public art project for New Westminster in September, with the adhoc plots collective. You can find us on instagram @adhoc_plots
I have a residency in May in Sechelt, preparing for an exhibition at the Sunshine Coast Arts Council, July 2–August 15, 2021. It will be a collection of kinetic sculptures created for the gallery space there, working with materials and histories from Sechelt and Vancouver. I’m looking forward to some good reading time, beachcombing, and experimenting more with strings.
After that I have an interactive web project with small kinetic sculptures that can be viewed and activated remotely. I am excited to dig into it—nerding out with technology, and also playing with the affects and repercussions of that technology.
See Pippa Lattey’s exhibition ‘String Together’ at Burrard Arts Foundation until June 19th, 2021.