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Lydia Brockless


I particularly enjoyed the image of the shelf. It would be fascinating to know what you were looking at and how it feeds into your practise.

That picture is part of a yet-unpublished photo essay investigating the presence of ceramics and ceramic objects in the house I grew up in. Clay was the first material I really got familiar with, as my Mum was friends with a local potter who ran Saturday classes so I went to those from the age of about 6. The photo essay documents all items of pottery in the house, including the weird pots and dishes made by me and my two siblings at various ages, which have our names carved into the bottom and which still sit on shelves and windowsills all around the house. There are also some slightly more accomplished pieces from my art A-level, some beautiful things my Mum made, plus various dinnerware including her collection of Portmeirion Botanic Garden china which is in the picture, and is a really iconic design. This resonates with me currently because I handle this stuff every day at work. I do VM for a big department store specifically working on China and Glass, so I deal with lots of iconic brand names, and china which is both factory-made and handmade. There is a poignancy to the fact that I do this job too, because my Mum actually worked as a window dresser (as they called it then) for a London branch of the very same company, when she was just out of college, circa 1970. It is a way in which I feel very connected to her and the hands-on creativity she appears to have passed to me.

As an aside, I also find the idea of ceramic heritage really interesting - most Portmeirion china, although the designs are very much associated with Britishness, is now manufactured in China. Some of our customers are unhappy with that idea, as if it somehow cheapens the product or the brand - but in fact these days China is the most prolific exporter of ceramics in the world, not to mention that fact that it has its own complex ceramic heritage. The Chinese literally invented bone china. It’s one of many of these ‘British’ concepts, tea being another one, which isn’t actually exclusively ‘ours’ at all and yet we like to claim ownership of it as part of our tradition.

The image is really just a piece of research. It’s a consideration of some autobiographical objects in an autobiographical location, made of an autobiographical material, if that makes sense. The objects signify a relationship and a history which is central to my practice. The mugs in the top right corner are even labelled for each member of our family!

They feel very organic, often resembling moments of the body. How do they feel in a space?

I often say I think they breathe. Air is always passing in and around the structure. In terms of encountering them physically, there is a relatability between them and people’s bodies. They can feel like limbs or beings standing or lying in front of you. The really big one that I made in college makes people want to get inside it.

Being able to see through the sculptures means the space comes into the object. Is this something you have played with and explored? How much does the space dictate the work? Or, even, how often does the space dictate the work?

I’ve shown them in a lot of different environments and the way they behave changes massively. It’s one of the things I enjoy most about exhibiting them. They’ve been on plinths, on the floor, on a high shelf, on grass, tarmac, wood floor, concrete, etc, etc. But I don’t know how far the space actually dictates the work, to use your words - if anything it’s the other way round, in that the works almost absorb their surroundings and reflect them back out. They can command a space or blend seamlessly into it, and look like they grew there. Recently I showed some in a car park in Peckham, where I needed to configure some weighting system so they didn’t blow over. I ended up making a sandbag to put into the base of each one, and painted them grey for ‘camouflage’. They turned out to be really fun objects in themselves (I liked them so much I included a picture in the folder I sent you) - they complemented the sculptures and were a really nice temporary physical extension of the work, as well as being a practical solution to a problem.

The sculptural structures, particularly the synthetic yarn forms, simultaneously appear both complex in nature, and yet simple in their construction (crochet). How do the forms evolve?

All my sculptures are variations on the tube form, but I seem to repeat that particular elongated dome form constantly. I only ever use one type of crochet stitch- the easiest one! I am quite naive in my application of the craft techniques I use. I can’t follow patterns to make garments or anything like that. I learned to crochet in-the-round and make the form get smaller or bigger as I went, and used that same technique to build these forms intuitively. So for example, sometimes I’ll have in my head that I want to make a cone so I’ll start with a circle and immediately start graduating it inwards, but I might not have planned how tall it will be - I just kind of keep going until it looks finished. Then I can further manipulate its shape when I make the armature which I stretch it over to melt it with the hot-air gun. It generally doesn’t matter if I make mistakes or anything when I’m crocheting or when I’m applying heat. In fact the holes and such often help the finished work look haphazard or like it’s deteriorated over time which I find interesting

Looking more broadly, there are rarely sharp edges in the work; things remain curved. It’s interesting that you harden something soft and yet it still feels very soft.

That contradiction you’ve picked up on is absolutely intentional. That idea of something seeming to be two things at once, sharing opposing qualities, is something I revisit constantly and never seems to go away. That paradox makes me feel like I understand a bit about the world. It signifies a fluidity and volatility which is a feature of human consciousness, the structures and exchanges within relationships. It is also to do with a basic aesthetic preference. I like curved things, and things which don’t have a lot of visual complexity- so, simple forms and repeated patterns will always be the basis of my works.