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On the heights: Empty and Untitled

Tom Lovelace


From the Archive

In 2017, Art Licks presented a group residency and exhibition titled On the heights, in collaboration with Yorkshire Sculpture Park. We reflect on the project with commissioned artist Tom Lovelace, and in particular focus on the work, Empty and Untitled.

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Holly Willats (Art Licks): How did you approach the On the heights residency at YSP, and what was it that drew you to work with the pond that became the setting for the work, Empty and Untitled?

Tom Lovelace: I wanted to approach the landscape at YSP through the body and through the senses. In turn, I tried to restrain myself from engaging in too much research in advance, from afar through secondary material and documents. I can remember clearly, on the first afternoon of the residency, after meeting with all the other artists, I took myself off for a walk around the park. Within an hour I was at the edge of the Upper Lake. It felt enchanting and mesmerising with the sun beating off the water’s surface. I took some photographs and then later that evening I started to study the history of the lakes and ponds within the grounds. It was fascinating to read that these sites were all man-made interventions. From this point I became focused on water within the park at YSP, where it was coming from, how it was used by past generations and how I could use this as a key material in my work. The Driveside Pond, which became the setting for Empty and Untitled was nestled away. It felt private and almost secret. 

HW: Could you describe the work to us please? And how do you feel people experienced it?

TL: The work was a landscape intervention, consisting of forty square holes, dug into the bed of the pond. Rainfall was low that year, resulting in the pond area nearly drying out. This unusual access was a wonderful opportunity. The work was an attempt to create an environment that would stimulate and ignite narratives from the visiting public. The landscape at YSP is a highly manipulated one, with a rich history of intervention and landscaping. I wanted to continue this and contribute to that history, but significantly through minimal means. Through negative space. 

I hope the experience was a bewildering and mysterious one, reflecting the wider landscape and its slippery history. The work also provided a backdrop for a two-part performance piece, which occurred on the opening and closing weekend of the exhibition. I collaborated with the public tours team at YSP, and together we devised a fictional history tour. Visitors were guided around the grounds of the park, with the tour guide calling upon both and fact and fiction for guidance. Empty and Untitled was the last stop of the tour. Visitors were left with the encounter and their imaginations. 

HW: The other works you presented for the show were in the gallery space, and then out on the Lake – both main thoroughfares for park visitors, but Empty and Untitled was quite hidden away.  Was this intentional and how do you feel this affected the work? Do you mind that some visitors to the exhibition may have missed seeing this work as they didn't realise it was there?

TL: Absolutely, this was intentional. I tried to find a location that felt off the beaten track. One of the wonderful characteristics of YSP, is that visitors can roam freely and explore both the art and the landscape. And I wanted this work to be something one might stumble across, akin to the experience of taking a wrong turn and encountering something alone, away from the crowds, or thoroughfares as you mentioned. I don’t particularly mind that the work would have been missed by some visitors. The position and the atmosphere of the pond area simply felt right. A wonderful Lynn Chadwick sculpture was displayed at the edge of the pond. It felt as though a conversation between the two works could unfold. And so I followed my intuition. 

HW: The work cannot be recreated in its entirety as it was very specific to the place and moment. How has the work continued to exist though beyond the exhibition?

TL: Empty and Untitled was intentionally fleeting and ephemeral. As the seasons changed from autumn to winter, the intervention disappeared, under leaves and water. The work existed through encounter. I took of series of pictures and this is the first time I have shown them! 

HW: I think that On the heights was a really exciting project for all of us, and offered everyone (myself included, as the curator) the chance to test out ways of working and new processes for our practices. Do you feel that the project offered you something new, and how has this continued to impact on your practice since?

TL: The project was special. I think I can speak for all of the artists in saying that we simply got our heads down and worked liked crazy, with the pressure of wanting to deliver on such a grand stage. Looking back, in retrospect, it was such an exciting time. Particularly during the residency at dawn and dusk, when visitors had departed, and we essentially had the park to roam and explore alone. 

The residency and exhibition also proved to be significant in the evolution of my practice. At the time I was developing ways in which I could entangle sculpture, photography and performance, which had previously remained separate outputs within my work. The resulting work felt successful, in the context of what I was trying to achieve. And momentum has been building ever since. 

Tom Lovelace is a London based artist, working within the spaces between photography, performance and sculpture. His practice presents material and conceptual entanglements, exploring the expanded languages of minimalism in response to the body and the human condition. Central themes to his research encompass the collaborative histories of photography, theatre and the semantics of the everyday.

Residencies include London South Bank University (2019-2020), Yorkshire Sculpture Park / Art Licks (2017), Allegra Projects, Switzerland (2017), Lendi Projects, Switzerland (2015), European Capital of Culture, Aarhus, Denmark (2013) and the Anna Mahler International Foundation, Italy (2012). Lovelace teaches at the Royal College of Art and University for the Creative Arts.

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