From this early work you started working with trompe-l’oeil and then you studied at the Van der Kelen, a school of decorative painting in Brussels, where you learnt to make the quodlibets. What brought you to the school? A er a few years I realised that I was at the limits of my own experience and skill with trompe-l’oeil. I’d moved to Brussels and was in a second-hand bookshop looking at a book of interiors in which there were images of the school. I googled it and was signed up to do the course within the day. I just couldn’t believe that you could still study this subject. It was so perfect. Six months of learning how to paint fake wood, fake marble, gilding, lettering – all done on the same principles on which the school had been founded in the 19th century. It was like a gi , a total gi .
Lucy McKenzie, Arcade 2, 2019, installation view, ‘Giving Up The Shadows on My Face’, Cabinet, London
How did this sit with other aspects of your practice at the time? I continued putting on events in my studio in Glasgow with other people. I also ran a bar in Warsaw with Paulina Olowska called Nova Popularna and was running a small record label, Decemberism, so I always had this side of my practice, which was still very much connected to sociability or the community and to organising, but my actual aesthetic interests had really changed. I was clearly much less interested in drawing from subcultural forms and found that there was more potential in things that had a conservatism to them, where you could smuggle in your ideas rather than blatantly try to ‘perform’ the Avant Garde. I always think of the quodlibet as being like the anti-collage in that respect. For me, collage has a pedigree in the history of the Avant Garde, whereas the quodlibet is so much about labour that I realised I could satisfy different sides of my personality by adopting it as a style – on the one hand I was very interested in the Avant Garde as a social space but, on the other, formally, I was much more interested in the rigour of cra and what could be done with these other narratives and histories. Did you see it as a form or container for what could be considered marginal or as a way of investing in things that might not seem important but which speak to other subjects? I don’t know if it is particularly helpful to represent the marginal by repainting it. It’s de initely all about ideas of choice and style. Deciding to paint a cheap paperback is, of course, a comment on value systems in art, where we love to ill vitrines with obscure books and show them as art objects, as with Quodlibet XL from 2014, which is all these objects made by celebrated artists who were either self-confessed or convicted pederasts and paedophiles. That, to me, is really pushing the tension between form and content.
Conversely, painting a glass designed by Adolf Loos is a way to talk about something you just can’t show because it’s so visual, or about visual culture and exploitation. How do you ind subtle ways to talk about the things that you want to talk about in a personal way? And then, why do I want to talk about Adolf Loos? Well, partly because he reminds me of all the intellectual bullies I’ve known or dated, and what you have to do as a female artist to process that, so even that is extremely personal as well as being conceptual. So the quodlibets are also a way of collecting evidence, almost rendering the items you depict as a set of clues. In that respect, could you tell me about your interest in the genre of the police procedural? The arrangements in the quodlibets have the look of a detective’s evidence board.
The quodlibet is so much about labour that I realised I could satisfy different sides of my personality by adopting it as a style – on the one hand I was very interested in the Avant Garde as a social space but, on the other,
formally, I was much more interested in the rigour of craft.
Art Monthly no. 442, December 2020 – January 2021