with Jack Brown and Jo Thomas
at The Royal Standard, Liverpool
JB: We’ve been touring the UK, trying to collect information from other artists who are engaged publicly or work in public spaces or organise stuff… and to build up a kind of network between those people because we will be publishing them all together in a book and then send the book off to each of them.
JL: Which I love! I love its simplicity, it’s like lets go and find out what’s going on with people who aren’t necessarily in the ‘big boys’ realm.
JB: Actually, I was about to say ‘without any real agenda, but if an agenda has emerged during the project it’s that we haven’t got time for the ‘big boy stuff!’
JL: …that people would know about anyway…
JT: Yes, I think it's also been about how things just happen...
JB: You’re right, it's just organically happened, people have recommended ‘go to this place next’ or ‘have you heard about this person?’
JL: You see I love that, so what made you want to do it, what made you think I want to link these people up, I want to map them?
JT: I think it was partly from earlier projects that we have done, because what we had done were things where Figure Ground had been to various places and we did day workshops about practice in the streets and work in the public realm. Then from that we did an event where we got twenty artists on a lightship in Gillingham for a weekend. We were all making work together, and we became aware of the conversations people have when they were making, and the difference in quality when people were talking and making at the same time.
It was such a privilege to build a network and get stuff back from that network.
JB: Each of us has a practice that is similar to the people we are talking to, and so in the most selfish possible way it’s just really useful to speak to other artists who do things similar to me and in hand with that its probably useful for other artists to read about these conversations, its hopefully useful in a bigger way...
JL: It makes my little heart soar... oh honestly, you think I'm messing and I'm not - because there is too much bullshit out there and there's too much 'art speak', you know, 'I don't even know what you are saying' so... It can get very academic and almost elitist sometimes. I've found that doing stuff like this, the informal chat, just talking, you actually find out a lot more that with a formal presentation.
I think ultimately being an artist can be quite isolating....it’s like trying to get from here to over there... plopping things here and there, throwing sand - seeing if it sticks so you can step onto it, to move forward, to keep out of the water... I hope that along the way, as you plop your bits of sand or mud, that you meet people who see what you are doing, see a connection and want to help or work with you.
Well obviously we met through 'Homebaked'. Homebaked still astounds me...what’s important now, what I've learnt through working with Homebaked is that anything is possible.
That's through working with, you know, initially Jeanne Van Heeswijk... coming round by ours about four or five years ago. I think it was originally really difficult for her, she was facing a lot of hostility. The last thing we needed at that time, after twenty years of shite, was art! And I'm an artist who says that! So I was like, 'Oh my God, please don't let me down' - I'm the only artist in the family and I'm like, 'shit' not only will she get panned but I will get - 'is that what your lot do?' 'Is that what you've been training to do?'
I was thinking, 'Oh my God, please don't do something really bland, don't do a bench!'
'Please don't do that type of public art and then leave,' because all you'll do is alienate even more people, from cultural stuff, from art. The suspicion round by ours was intense.
So when we eventually met, and she said to me can we just do a walk around and talk, it ended up being a pivotal moment in my practice. She wanted to talk to me because I was a local, but also because she recognised me as an artist too. The problem was, she was another artist on my patch, talking about my stuff, So she had to work to gain my trust, but I just knew after about an hour that she wasn't just about 'ego', not just about making a specific thing, she knew it had to be something bigger than that, in that area, in that time.
So I got involved - almost as the, it makes me laugh, but the 'authenticiser'... it was like, 'if Jayne says it’s OK' - because she's from there...'then we're on the right track.' There were times when I said 'you can't say that, because it's not true' or 'it’s not how we felt'.
I could see the boxes being ticked and I knew I was ticking them, and there was that really dodgy feeling where you think to yourself 'am I being exploited?'... Quite quickly, it was established that if there was someone coming in from outside the area to have a walk around I would be asked, or Sue or one of the other locals, and we just got exhausted with it...
Being an artist, which was really hard to do, because once you get swallowed up in something like Homebaked, you almost forget about your own practice, and that's hard...
I was drowning, I was literally drowning in Anfield! I had to take a step back, one of my last meetings I was asked whose hat was I wearing today? 'Is it the Lawless hat, is it Homebaked, is it Jeanne???'
I didn't know any more - It all seemed to be that, Homebaked, that had become the main thing and I had forgotten why I had got involved in the first place...
JT: It’s an amazing gift you were giving, with your time... is there much acknowledgement of that through the process?
JL: Its funny, its only starting to come through now, and it taken me a year almost, stepping back from it, to just go right 'I don't need all of these separate hats because my practice brought me to it.' My practice has always been responsive, it’s always been autobiographical.
The reason I got involved in the first place was because I'd made a sculpture out of the tin they use to 'tin up' the houses. ...I'd put up an advert for a hill, I was based in Bath at the time, this is where my own public art sort of comes into it, because I wanted it, (the sculpture made out of the galvanised steel, or the 'tin' used to board up house in Everton and Anfield) to feel really remote and out of place. So it ended up on a hill just outside of Bath.
The steel cubes were big, and heavy. 50 centimetre squares and on ten metre long scaffolding poles... so it was an act in itself to get it there... I had a little sign next to it 'L5 6QW' which is the postcode of our house in Liverpool, and it just said, 'for more information' and there was a link to a Facebook page.
This is because what I learnt is that so many people misunderstood what was going on and there was an overall acceptance that it just must be because the area was so shit and therefore it was being demolished. And it wasn't like that at all. So if one person per year gets in touch on that Facebook page - I can tell them exactly what happened.
JT: I'm just wondering, because your work is so based here, could you see yourself as a public or participatory artist work in another place?
JL: It's funny you should say that because I've done more work outside of the city that I've ever done inside the city.
JT: So do you find it easier to work away from home?
JL: Yes...very much...I spent a four months in Slovakia most recently on a residency out there...
JT: The potency of your work here is very powerful...when you go to other places do you home in on the same sort of things… and how do you go about that?
JT: Just listen, I think if you are genuinely interested in people and you genuinely care, people just start telling you stuff.
The work that I did in Slovakia....ended up being about the same problems, same issues. It was about home, issues of home and where 'home' is...
Because I've spend so much time away from home... everywhere I've gone, I've always been questioning 'home'.
Now co-director of Coming Home Liverpool, a CIC seeking to reduce the amount of empty houses by assisting landlords to carry out works and find tenants. Through searching for a space to exhibit our inaugural art show I founded 'The Dead Pigeon Gallery', a space within a rundown but soon to renovated warehouse.