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Lucy Irvine: Little systems

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Tortured artists often bemoan that their work is not properly understood by viewers.

But not Lucy Irvine. The Scottish-born expat prefers to let her materials guide a normally concept-driven process.

“There might be some forms I have in mind, but I’m really interested in what the materials can do,” she explains. “They’re part of the dialogue. There’s no point in wrestling a material to do something it doesn’t want to do, when materials have so many incredible qualities of their own.”

Knowing a material’s breaking point is Lucy’s speciality, with her medium of choice being utilitarian materials normally used in building construction.

“I’m really interested in things that make our every day lives function. Utilitarian things that effectively allow us to live, work, move, and what happens once they are amassed, and go through a particular process where they reach a tipping point, where you can see they had some other purpose, but something has happened in the process of weaving them, or the way they are assembled, that takes them into being something else.”

The Canberra-based artist is fascinated with the ‘grey space’ between initial viewing and recognition of ubiquitous materials. “Usually they come as a series of units, and they’re standardised and industrialised. I’m interested in what happens when they become organic and dynamic, and take unexpected forms.”

Part of Little systems.

Initially sourcing materials from her local hardware store, Lucy often finds herself trying to negotiate with industrial manufacturers in order to get exactly what she needs.

“I’m specific on things that must sound completely crazy, like it being the same brand, so it’s the same colour and same tone. You’re just talking about grey foam, but being specific about what kind of grey foam you’re after,” she laughs.

Her latest exhibition, Little systems, is showcased in the Cox Architecture Gallery in Kingston. Woven from expansion joint foam – normally used to fill gaps within building structures – and paper fasteners (such as you might find at Officeworks), Lucy considers the installation a dialogue between art and architecture.

“There are so many things that go on in my work around surfaces and skin and structures that are really an architectural language,” she muses. “I want it to be a series of layers of experiences. There’s a lot of amazing art out there that’s one big spectacle. I would like to have that ‘wow’ moment, and then something that draws people closer, though it’s detail, pattern, a sense of movement.”

Little systems is inspired by the numerous windows in the Cox Architecture space, though Lucy stresses she’s not angling for a particular reaction from viewers.

“I get a feel for how a form might occupy a site, or how I would like people to experience it, and view it, and how close they might get to it, if it’s going to tower above them or spill across the floor in front of them.

“I don’t want to be too didactic in how I would like people to experience it. It’s very much organic forms that have emerged through the process, but any metaphors people see in them – whether that be coral or fungi or the patterns within the brain – I’m happy for people to come up with their own imagery it relates to. Weaving… is a system that adapts and responds and leaves things open.”

Musing on titling the mammoth installation Little systems, Lucy says it’s a deliberate decision reflecting the substantial build of the foam she’s working with.

“I like the idea of messing around with expectations of scale. What I’m interested in is that you can achieve this complexity literally stitch by stitch, that these things come into being just by a series of very small repeated movements. It’s a little system of something big.”

And at the end of it all, she’s not fallen victim to the tortured and misunderstood artist trope.

“When you take it down to its smallest scale, it’s just a person putting a paper fastener through a piece of foam!”

Little systems is currently on display in the Cox Architecture Gallery at 1/19 Eastlake Parade, Kingston. 

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