Lotti V Closs In Conversation

Lotti V Closs was the winner of the 2014 Syson Prize from Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery’s annual Open exhibition. Closs has recently returned to her home town of Nottingham after completing her MFA at West Dean College, Sussex University, where she received the Vice Chancellor’s award for exceptional performance. Last year she was also elected as a member of the Royal British Society of Sculptors.

Nick Wood: Could you explain your process, where do you start?

Lotti V Closs: Generally I collect a lot of things, my studio is always full of scraps and an assortment of things that I either like to look at, as inspiration, or pieces that I think could turn into something interesting. So I have these scraps and I start to play with shapes or forms and look at how things interact. It goes through a process of playing, of trial and error, and then they kind of get edited until at some point I’m happy with them. Then they start spawning little friends, as things link up with each other and you can start to see some sort of conversation or gesture between each objec.

It’s how I tend to make work, playing with stuff – seeing what happens when you try a certain process with a certain material that wouldn’t necessarily be used in a in traditional sense. Figuring out what something would look like with a certain shape when it’s already got, say a weird texture. There’s lots of playing with the qualities of materials and being instinctive with it – not really thinking about what you are making. I like to switch my brain off and just play with these physical items like you would do when making a collage or an image. 

N.W: Do you ever set out with an idea of the forms you want to make, are they ever in reference to something you’ve seen?

L.V.C: I guess forms are mostly inspired by this ‘play’ but I sometimes feel I am reminded of these things by external factors. I scribble down shapes that come up in my mind, so that later I can figure out , maybe subconsciously, where they may have come from. Other times, I see something in a piece of architecture or an everyday item that I enjoy and then I will try and use that, but without being too prescriptive to its original context.

N.W: How is that important?

L.V.C: I like things being ambiguous. I like the idea of being able to feel that these items should have a certain place or use, or a meaning that you can’t quite figure out – something that you can never put your finger on. I don’t want anything to say, ‘I am this and only this’. 

N.W: Is one of your concerns to stay quite honest to the materials you are using?

L.V.C: I’ve been thinking about this recently, in particular for the work I’ve made for this show at Syson. I’ve been using a lot of scraps of hard woods that I had in my studio. I used to paint or cover surfaces, but somehow I’ve found there is a difficulty if there isn’t a reason for a particular surface or a particular covering. Working with wood and stone, I feel you have to stay honest to all the related meanings they come with. It’s a fine balance, I don’t want these elements to feel as though they are too domestic or utilitarian, but I like the fact that they have these qualities. I just wouldn’t want that link to be laid out too bare for the viewer.

With the stone its already got associations – it’s an ancient art material. When I think of things that are made out of stone, my mind immediately goes to Grecian sculpture…columns and classical statues. I wouldn’t ever want to make a figurative thing out of stone but I like the idea that it’s got a weird inherent property of being the traditional material that would be used to portray flesh and the figure.

N.W: Exactly, stone is natural, however it’s so far away from flesh in many ways, yet somehow when you see stone in the context of a gallery, one association is the human form…

L.V.C: Yes, It’s odd and maybe it’s just intrinsically from history…

N.W: Can you explain further your relationship to stone?

L.V.C: I started using it in the second year of my MFA, which is about two and a half years ago now. I never really thought I’d end up using stone just for the fact it seemed I’d never be in the sort of scenario of where I could use it – where I’d have the tools, the knowledge and the machinery that you presume you need to work with stone.

I was lucky enough to have access to that, on my MFA, and from there gathered the basics. I just carried on making. It is similar to how I work with most materials – I’m a bodger, I don’t learn a craft to do things in an exact way, I take what I need from it and then make the rest up. 
Stone has become an important part in what I make. 

N.W: Do you think you are drawn to the surface you can achieve with it?

L.V.C: I think I like the depth of colour. There is this strange perception of depth once it’s been polished up. It’s not that it is shiny, but the colour starts to come through and you can see that it’s really within the object itself. It’s kind of beyond a surface. 
Sometimes you find a piece, which you don’t really want to do anything to. Which is a problem within itself…you just want it, and need to show it to people, but you haven’t made it – so it’s not art.

N.W: Is there anything you haven’t wanted to use, something you think is already too perfect?

L.V.C: Yes, it’s not necessarily a problem but I won’t end up using it. It will sit in my studio, or my house, and something about it will come back to me or make me think of a form that I can try to replicate. This is quite useful for pinpointing what I’d like to make or what I want my work end up like.

N.W: I was wondering about the anthropomorphic properties that you find in your work. When you are working do you see these collections and scenes as having personalities as such? Earlier you mentioned a ‘conversation’ between the objects..

L.V.C: Even if it’s just personally, I do see my work as a having a sense of character in some ways. I think I’m playing with anthropomorphising the inanimate. I don’t want it to be human, but I want it to be itself, to have that animation of character. It’s important to me for people to feel that it’s got this strange sense of presence.

But maybe that’s within the material itself. In a certain way I’m working with and against the material. I can change things to a certain extent but I like to work with the idea that it’s also the material that’s having a little bit of a say in how it goes. It isn’t only my creation. It isn’t only my hand. 

Main Image: Lotti V. Closs, In:Out, 2015, black clay, pine and foam shavings (photo: Syson Gallery, courtesy of the artist)

Lotti V Closs Solo Show, MASS, Syson Gallery, Nottingham, 15 May – 11 June 2015

Aurora Corio