beatrice loft schulz: pleasure, craft and living arrangements
We speak to the young London artist about mixing craft and graffiti in her new exhibition at Arcadia Missa.
Living Arrangement #, at London's Arcadia Missa gallery, is the debut solo show by Beatrice Loft Schulz, a graduate of Chelsea and Goldsmiths. Taking as its starting point, a series of references, "such as a sentence from the Evening Standard style guide, a cave in Langue D'Oc, or graffiti in a Berlin petrol station," Living Arrangement # is a thrilling play on domesticity, pleasure and rogue female desire.
Separated off through a bead curtain, the gallery's walls have been painted off-yellow and splashed with lilac paint sprayed from a fire extinguisher. Dotted across the room are mannequin hands sitting on papier-mâché podiums, marbled paper, and pieces of beadwork. We spoke to Beatrice to see how French cave painting and austerity inform her work.
Can you tell me about your residency in France? This is where the original ideas for the show were geminated?
I was invited by the Cornelius Foundation to do a residency in Langue D'Oc, in an old family summer home. I started doing some research into Occitan, which was the language of the Troubadours, the courtly love poets of the middle ages. Most were men, but there were a few women, called Troubaritz, and the only song by a Troubaritz that still survives in a manuscript with its original music, is by Beatrice de Dia. It was very unusual for a woman at that time to put herself in the active position of the lover, so I started thinking about how I could channel this rogue female desire.
How do you think pleasure can be an active attitude? What made you move towards this as a mode of politicisation and art making?
The austerity agenda is saying there have been too many excesses in the past, and now we have to pay for them, we must cut ourselves back, prune ourselves. No one should have to be a martyr to the cause of austerity. Why do we expect an artist to be an ascetic, like Saint Jerome, wandering through the wilderness, eating only carrots? The taking of pleasure, and particularly female pleasure, is a political act that disrupts everything. When I allow myself to wear pink, or believe in fairies -- things I had at some point unconsciously forbidden myself because I thought they were too feminine or too childish and I wanted to be "like a man" -- I feel incredibly empowered.
Much of the exhibition is made from craft processes -- in the press release you mention pleasure, but there is also a feminist art historical trajectory that 'craft' processes are also somehow 'less' than 'masculine' art practices like oil painting and sculpture.
If you look up the etymology of the word craft, it's derived from Old English kraeft meaning 'power'. This sense has survived in the word 'witchcraft'. I'm not sure when craft came to be associated with women and as you say, a kind of weak art. I really identified with Hannah Hoch's embroidery manifesto, which she published in a women's lace journal, that addresses women, saying that "your embroidery" is an expression of your historical time that is as important as painting, and it deserves to be taken seriously. 'Your embroidery' could be a lot of things, like writing or digital image production. Speaking of digital craft, Rumi Josephs visited my studio a few weeks ago and he told me the story of Ada Lovelace, the less well known other half of Charles Babbage, who invented the difference engine -- essentially an automated calculator, and the first computer. Lovelace worked on the project and improved on it with an extensive set of notes, including an algorithm, considered to be the first computer programme, which was developed from watching women weaving, and seeing how the loom could be fed different patterns.
Can you tell us about the bead curtain that you have to pass through to enter the exhibition?
The bead curtain is a boundary, it doesn't exactly prevent you from going in, but it makes you aware of going in, because you have to decide how you are going to negotiate it. And you have to touch it, and it touches you, it's heavy, like a coat of armour, it resists you slightly, so straight away there is something quite intimate going on. You make a commitment to going in - you push through, you ingress, it makes a sound.
The references to craft and domesticity clash with the graffiti that covers the gallery walls, yet the palette is incongruous to graffiti -- how and why did you do the wall work?
The colours are from this sentence I took from the Evening Standard interior design style guide, which I thought was really beautiful as a kind of colour theory: "Delete magnolia from your vocabulary; walls should not be white or magnolia anymore, light warm grey or beige is what you need instead." The wall was done using old fire extinguishers filled with paint and repressurised. A few years ago I was in Berlin with my friend, the artist Alice Brooke, to see the posthumous retrospective of Hilma af Klimt. The day before we went to the exhibition I saw this graffiti in a petrol station that said: JUST THRILL. It was the kind of graffiti done with fire extinguishers, big and wobbly and drippy. The next day, at the Klimt show, there was a room that showed some of her experiments in automatic writing, and there was an A4 piece of paper, scrawled all over with unintelligible writing, and it had the same wobble as the graffiti, like her hand had been vibrating while she was writing. The wall was the first thing I did in the space at Arcadia Missa, and it felt important as a kind of preparation for the other work. I painted the walls with a base coat of Dulux trade magnolia. The other two colours are based on what beige and light warm grey looked like when I printed them out on my inkjet printer, and selected from a range of commercial house paint. I didn't really plan what I was going to do, and I didn't test the extinguishers, I wanted it to be like automatic writing. It was over really quickly, before I had time to think about what I was doing.
You make specific text references: "a sentence from the Evening Standard style guide, a cave in Langue D'Oc, or graffiti in a Berlin petrol station, which have proliferated a series of works. An expansive writing practice is realised through craft, where the making processes perform the texture, cavities, structure of text." Can you expand on how these made it into the show?
I've already mentioned the graffiti and the Evening Standard, and there was also the colour of the graffiti, a really vibrant blue. At the time I was working with an inkjet printer, and I wanted to make a font based on the coincidence of Hilma af Klimt's vibrating automatic writing, and this wobbly graffiti, so I drew the letters in illustrator and made them wobble, but when I printed them out the colour was wrong, the blue was too dark and too dull. I tried doing a test print but I still couldn't get the colour right, then after some research I found out that my printer had a simplified colour palette so that all the colours would fit in one cartridge, it was missing 'light cyan' that made it possible to create more vibrant hues. Two years later I walked past a specialist painting shop in Bethnal Green that had pots of powdered pigment in the window and decided to try to find the blue that I remembered. I bought a pot of cobalt cerulean blue for 13 pounds. When I went to Langue D'Oc, I started making these works on paper, coating the paper with cobalt cerulean blue mixed with acrylic medium then writing into the paint in copperplate handwriting across the page... these stories about the work get so long and complicated, I can't remember where they begin and end! This is really the work though, isn't it?