No true understanding of light without darkness

In an audio interview with Liliane Lijn, which took place in her north London studio in 2013, the leading international artist gives us an insight into her unique career. Lijn hung out with Surrealists and Beat poets in Paris in the 1960s where she applied Letraset to cylinders and cones and attached them to revolving turntables to create kinetic texts called Poem Machines.

Two kinetic sculptures 'Woman of War' and 'Lady of the Wild Things' (1983-86) begin their courtship.

Two kinetic sculptures ‘Woman of War’ and ‘Lady of the Wild Things’ (1983-86) begin their courtship.

© Crown Copyright

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From these early beginnings Lijn has gone on to pursue the exploration of light and energy with scientific dedication. In the 1980s she worked on a number of gigantic, plumed and beaded kinetic sculptures that referenced the feminine. In the last couple of decades she has produced a new series of rotating cones known as koans, stemming from her interest in Zen Buddhism where a koan is a puzzle, or type of riddle used for meditation. Lijn’s whirring mainly off-white koans have a snaking neon line running through them in subtle contrast to the object’s opaque surface that mark elliptical planes on, in and through the sculpture itself. Lijn delights in juggling with combinations of industrial materials – including liquid, light, fire, acid – and has also worked with interstellar dust following a three-month residency at NASA’s Space Science Laboratory in the US in 2005. Covering sculpture, drawing and installation, Lijn’s kaleidoscopic practice brings into focus the diverse strands of science, art, technology, female mythology and Buddhist philosophy.

In this interview with Nicky Hodge, Curator of Information and Research at the GAC, Lijn provides a tour around some of the work sited in her spacious, tranquil studio. In one corner are two of her imposing, goddess sculptures from the 80s, Lady of The Wild Things and Woman of War which, when activated, sing and spit in hissing courtship, unfurling their dark wings to reveal a luminous feathered breast. With her song ‘Woman Wailing’ in the background, Lijn explains how she always wanted to be a singer, and how this song came to her in the street in 1983 while she was en route to the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. Always alert to ways of prefiguring the feminine, Lijn describes how a vision of a goddess first appeared to her in the clouds when she was 19. She continues by deconstructing the lit-up, circling poemcons in the studio, likening their inner workings to a series of Russian dolls.  Moving onto a discussion of the Koans slowly rotating both inside and outside the studio, Lijn reveals that her interest is in the complexity of the spatial relationships inscribed in their form and their ability to embody the here and now.

To listen to the podcast click the link to the right, alternatively it is available on iTunes, simply search for “Government Art Collection”.

Liliane Lijn was born in New York. In 1958 she moved to Paris where she studied art history at the École du Louvre and archaeology at the Sorbonne. In the early 1960s, she made sculptures and installations that were inspired by a wide range of sources, from Ancient Greek mythology, space travel to emerging manufactured materials such as Plexiglas and Perspex. During the mid 1960s, Lijn lived near Athens in a circular house. There she met many travellers who had returned from Nepal, Afghanistan and India, who subsequently raised her interest in Tibetan Buddhism. In 1966 Lijn moved to London where she still lives and works today, dividing her time between London and Perugia.  She has won numerous major public commissions including White Koan (1972) at the University of Warwick, Coventry; Carbon Black (1988) at the Government Chemist, Teddington; and Cool Light (2003) at St Thomas’ Hospital, London. Her work has been exhibited in the UK and abroad, including a mid-career retrospective that was held at the Mead Gallery, Warwick in 2005. Lijn utilises a diverse range of media and new technology in her practice and her art often explores links between space and time. In 2005 she was awarded the Arts Council England International Fellowship in partnership with the Leonardo Network and NASA at the Space Sciences Laboratory in Berkeley, California. This led to her production of Solar Hills in 2006–2007, a major landscape installation in California on which she collaborated with Dr John Vallerga, an astrophysicist. In 2011 her solo exhibition Light Years was held at the Sir John Soane Museum and Riflemaker Gallery, London. In 2012 Caution Matter (with Jamie Allen), took place at Anglia Ruskin Gallery, Cambridge; and Cosmic Dramas at mima, Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, Middlesbrough.