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A Second Conversation with Lucy Burden - 13 January 2011
Lucy Burden: We have agreed today to discuss Lucy Burden and how she developed into the format she currently finds herself in.
Tom Duggan: Lucy Burden started as an idea; a silenced voice who never really got to speak. Her first public outing was a cancelled show, which I called Re: Fwd: (No Subject). I was trying to ditch the author, so I created a piece of work that was disguised as a group exhibition. I tried to make a show of four artists but in which, secretly, I had done all the work and exhibited it under a group of fake names. I liked the idea of the group collaborating and eventually falling out with each other, but the narrative of Lucy Burden – the curator – installing a completed show after a big argument, didn’t add up. And that’s one of the reasons why I staged that show as a cancellation instead of a ‘successful’ exhibition.
LB: At this time you were very interested in myth and rumour, as well as both email and the Internet being an inchoate and removed platform for communication, but how did you technically go about constructing this situation?
TD: Obviously part of the success of the myth that was created was due to my keeping quiet about having done it. Several other factors also made it possible though. I had a friend with a key to the gallery and I had introduced myself to the curators via an email address which I had registered in the name of Lucy Burden. They had advertised for applications and mine had been accepted by email. I explained that I - Lucy Burden - was out of the country until the week of the show and I was deliberately vague about when I would install the work.
The night before the show was due to open, I went in at around 3am and installed an apology letter. The Gallery is in a studio building that lots of people have keys to, so it made sense for someone to have let Lucy enter the building at some point and for her to have hung up this apology letter without her ever meeting the curators. It was in a series of shows called Beyond Belief, and for some people, it was just a piece of work pretending to be that, but it took up this awkward double position whereby the artwork itself denied that it was an artwork. I wrote a review about the failed exhibition for a-n, which seemed like an appropriate way of documenting the event.
I had a conversation with one of the gallery directors at the private view. I remember that they were more puzzled than embarrassed about the situation and were trying to work out who in the studios had let her in. They wanted to know who she was and couldn't really believe her nerve to just cancel like that.
I went on to use the idea of the phantom artist, Lucy Burden again for Degree Show, where I staged that our work had been vandalised. I wanted to have a really bad thing happen at a celebratory time. I didn’t like how Degree Shows are supposed to be quite a happy occasion and I wanted to do something which went against that.
LB: The last time you used Lucy Burden solely as an idea, was for the work you did at the Herbert Read Gallery at UCA. I know there were some similarities to Re: Fwd: (No Subject), but it was conceptually quite a different piece of work.
TD: It was a massive space and I couldn’t resist cancelling another show. I installed two press releases: the original one for the whole Lacuna show and a new one, which said that I had disappeared. This was then mirrored on the other side of the door, a doppelgänger that implied that I was the same person as Lucy Burden. I installed copies of these two press releases, only using her name in place of mine. The documents were identical except for the name swaps and gender indications throughout. In terms of situation, this piece was more directly about press releases; how they affect a space and the importance of an artists name as an attachment to what is presented.
LB: Your work is often quite complex with several layers of conceptual viewpoints to consider; I think it is worth mentioning that you often conceal the conceptual nature of your work behind situational or circumstantial appearances.
TD: I guess so, I mean I don't really want to explain why I do everything in the way that I do. But I would agree that I do like to let the conceptual elements of my work take a back seat a lot of the time. If you went right to the core of my work though, I think that usually I'm trying to get people to consider absences and voicelessness.
LB: I remember that it wasn't long after your show at the Herbert Read that we started speaking more regularly and began discussing objects and documents that exist at the periphery of exhibitions. Things like press releases, floor plans, exhibition listings and reviews for example.
TD: Yeah, I got a bit obsessed with them for a while. I like how they can recreate an exhibition in your mind after the event, or how they can alter one that you're at. Sometimes I read press releases from one exhibition while visiting a different one. I collect exhibition ephemera, not so much the glossy booklets you get at bigger galleries, but any A4 photocopy of a map or exhibition press release I take and keep. I've got quite a collection now but I can only remember what about 80% of the documents are referring to. Despite them often being quite mundane documents, looking at ones which refer to exhibitions I can't remember is pretty interesting. It almost feels like the exhibition being talked about never existed.
LB: So it was thinking about these lost exhibitions that prompted you to start diluting exhibition listings?
TD: Pretty much, but it was only because of those discussions with you and because of your encouragement that I actually started placing the listings and adverts.
LB: It's odd to think about how Lucy Burden has become this other who is highly connected to your practice but who started off just as an idea that you created. Through repeatedly using her name she has become increasingly real and present.
It's interesting to think of the one or two other people who have operated as her before me, although I'm not sure that they or you were really aware that they were doing that at the time. Maybe someone else will take her on in the future if I grow tired of her.
TD: I think the decision to let you take control of her came from a shared interest in her as a kind of phantom collaborator and contemporary to Tom Duggan. We talked a lot about her as a character and after considering a lot of potential directions we could take her in, I think we were most interested in the prospects of me surrendering my creation to you and giving you full authority to use her as you want. It will be interesting to see what you do with your position as the anonymous operator of Lucy Burden.
LB: I get the feeling that our ultimate goal is to make Lucy more real than Tom despite her having no physical presence.
TD: It's quite strange that this person who I made up is now being operated by another real person, that she’s not just a made up thing anymore. Like a puppet. She’s real now, yet we've agreed to keep your identity a secret.
LB: It keeps that ambiguity going. I think our work really succeeds when it manages to seem dubitable; when it seesaws between two incompatible truths.
© 2012 Tom Duggan. All rights reserved.