2 May 2012

Victoria Lees explains her string sculptures

| johnboy
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string sculpture

Local artist Victoria Lees has been mystifying and amusing Canberrans at festivals around town, and notably down the middle of Northbourne Avenue, with her geometric string sculptures.

I asked her about it via email last week and this is what we got:

John Johnboy Griffiths (JG): Thanks Victoria,

So to kick off,

How many of these installations have you made and where were they?

Victoria Lees (VL): I can’t count how many string installations I’ve made now!

However I have made two based on the star design in the image. One at a party in the bush and one on

Northbourne Ave last year in the middle of winter on the corner of Macarthur and Northbourne ave.

I have done them at numerous alternative local festivals and parties out in the bush.

Some of the bigger festivals have been the Summer Rhythm Festival, Dragon Dreaming Festival and this year also Corinbank festival which has had to be postponed to later this year after it got we got washed out.

I’ve been working a lot with a new crew called Off Tap Productions since last year who put on some of these events.

The string installations are only temporary.

Some are only up for a couple of days if that but the one on Northbourne was up for a couple of weeks.

Sometimes I feel they take longer to put up then what they end up staying up for and are a little quicker to unwind and take down.

I reuse the string so I unwind them.

So they turn up in all sorts of locations. Anywhere that has a tree or two.

JG: is there a special sort of string required?

And how long does it take to make?

Is there any other equipment used?

VL: No special type of string.

I’ve been using just common garden cheap white acrylic yarn that you can get in just about any shop.

I’ve also used fluro brickies line but I like the white better.

The white reflects any kind of light and I like the way it just kind of shimmers a bit like the way a spiders web catches the light in the morning due.

It has a lot to do with light.

Light travels in straight lines, so in this way I’m just mimicking light or evoking the sense of rays of light coming through tree branches by the way I go around the tree with the string and down to a point (a peg in the ground) and back round again and again and again.

So I use a continuous line of string even though sometimes I have to join on a new ball.

The star – which to me was a star of hope or light, that is in the image is one continuous piece of string.
Some of my other constructions have been triangular wedges coming off a number of trees to delineate and create a space. For instance such as surrounding an out door dance floor or creating a pathway.

Its about trying to look at the space created by trees and what is needed, or creating a space using trees as the frames and drawing energy or lines of light which incase/enclose the space without blocking the view so people don’t feel penned in.

It has been a method of working that has come from searching for a way to make large, adaptable/flexible installations which have a minimal impact on the visual and physical environment. (hence rewinding the string up to re use)

Its also very portable as I just need a box of string, a bag of pegs and a hammer, oh and sometimes a ladder but I can do with out that if I need to. Thats just an extra bit of luxury.

How long do they take? Well thats a question I can’t really answer. Its a bit like asking how long is a piece of string!!

They can take anywhere between a few minutes to hours depending on how fast I walk, how much string and pegs I have and how much or how big I feel like making the installations or how much time I have to spend making them.

I know for one wedge as part of a string installation I did for Dragon Dreaming a couple of years ago I used 7km worth of string! And that was just one wedge (albiet the biggest wedge).

The star took about 4-6 hours – I lost track of time when I was doing both versions of the star. The first one took a couple of attempts to work out how I could get the string to work the way I wanted. The second was in the middle of the night and we (I had the generous help of a dear friend for this moment of whimsy and madness) had to stop for a hot drink or two as it was cold and wet and we were flagging.

Mostly I don’t worry about how long the string is or how far I’ve walked going around the trees in order to put it up. It mainly comes down to time, energy and how much I feel like or feel needs doing.

Another luxury I use is another person’s help.

This is a luxury indeed as it can half the amount of distance I walk and can make it a lot easier in trickier spots.

The string is held in place purely by a peg, the tension its pulled at and its friction against the tree bark.
In some spots where there are obstacles like branches, thorns rocks etc and the tree trunk is too big to reach around it is extremely helpful and a big luxury to have help as you can’t let go of the tension or you will loose the whole piece as its all one continuous piece of string.

However due to the nature of the process of putting up the work and taking it down, the way it is a walking journey and a kinda meditation that is very methodical and repetitive, not everyone can stomach doing it or doing it for too long.

My friend who was my co-conspirator in putting up the star (A ray of hope) in the middle of Northbourne has helped me with the string a lot, both by helping me put it up and take it down on quite a few occasions but also in her continuous emotional support in me making this kind of work.

She has been the main person who I have had the luxury of physical help putting it up, although I have had a few people here and there and I’m very grateful to everyones input and help with my string installations.

So this brings me back to light and how I came to make these installations.

I became involved in making work at these festivals and parties after finding myself somewhat cast off/detached from main stream society a few years ago.

Instead of drowning I have explored my own whimsical fantasy world and have immersed myself in alternative cultures instead.

I originally trained as a painter at the Canberra School of Art in the painting workshop.

All my work is based on my personal experience. My previous work had a somber subject matter and was a bit dark and confronting.

So my work over the past few years have been about finding and exploring moments of whimsy or fantasy or magic in the everyday hum drum sometimes dreary life.

This was instigated by a quote by Leonard Cohen from his song Anthem “there is a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

Its a beautiful quote and its concept can also be tied into notions surrounding “bodhichitta” from Buddhism with the idea of finding the tender spot to tap into a spring of living water or should I say the tender spot that opens up love and compassion.

Its also a quote that can be used to tie into the idea of disappearing into an imaginary world or slipping into a daydream. Children often do this. Fantasy worlds can be particularily exaggerated in children that are confronted by trauma as a coping mechanism.

Sometimes you have to look for the cracks in life and if you find them whole new worlds can open up.
Its a fun thing to do to try and bring or draw out a little sense of magic/whimsy/fantasy/beauty that is around in the everyday world.

Trees are such a beautiful thing that can give us so much pleasure so I guess with the string I’m just trying to harness their beauty and strength without detracting or destroying them and the space around them.

I really enjoy making these installations even though sometimes they are exhausting.

Using everyday, found, discarded or cheap materials to work with and make things with has been an incredibly fun challenging thing to do. Challenging to transform them into something beyond how you would normally see them.

So for this installation work I use common garden cheap white wool.

I’ve also begun making other objects using things such as dead butterflies, dragon flies, shells, hair, crystals bones and feathers from roadkill and things given to me such as found bones, skulls feathers and even the fleece from a friends rescued pet lamb. However thats a whole different story that is going towards an joint exhibition with my friend and colleague Lizzie Hall opening on May16th at the Form Gallery and Studios in Qbyn called “Hey little sister, what have you done.”

🙂 (is this too much? I just started writing and kept going with out just sticking to answering the question)

JG: So next time you see one of these you’ll know all about it!

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My first photo of one Victorias string installations i called “frozen lasers” . its good to hear that it has some exposure outside the festival scene…perhaps a permanent one in the city soon?

….Is it just me who thought we have a Spider Woman in our very own Canberra?

I saw this near the ABC building on Northbourne…I believed it was some way to stop the trees falling down all the time!

I’m so lame!

Wonderful! And so much better than that awful knitting graffiti of a few years ago! (One of those knitted “lightpole cosies” is slumped and still horridly rotting around a lamp-post in O’connor)

Thanks so much for this (for the interview and of course to Victoria for the sculptures). I have only seen one of them myself.

I can’t look at the sculptures without thinking of the cat’s cradle game (was that the name?) that children, mostly girls, play with string looped through hands, and also the elastics game where you have to jump over elastic looped over two other girls.

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