Interview with Alison Gill on her new work
1 December 2012, London
RP: The Yield of Pleasure is a quote from Freud isn’t it? Something about imagination of writers?
AG: Yes. It’s taken from his essay on Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming which is in his complete works (Vol 9, I think). I studied at the Tavistock Centre in London last year and got deeply into his writings and those of Bion and Melanie Klein.
RP: And so is your new work a Yield of Pleasure?
AG: Not exactly! In the essay Freud talks about how writers draw out and liberate the fantasies of their readers. This is something I hope my work does: gives people a space to bring their own thoughts and insights to the work. To start an imaginative journey. This is represented in each of the works: the knots, the legend trip motif, the topological surfaces. It’s a gateway and a space for day-dreaming.
RP: There are a lot of mathematical knots in the show. Have you always been interested in mathematics?
AG: Yes, there are over 100 knots. Each made up of tiny circles (un-knots in mathematics). I think mathematics can be very beautiful, although I didn’t find it so in school. My previous work involved mathematical progressions such as the Fibonacci series. In my work I keep returning to mathematics and topology/geometry in particular. I think our ideas about surfaces, space, geometry have changed so much in the last century and for a sculptor these changes are very exciting.
RP: Your work “The Magick Door (Kissing Gate)” uses cut up inner tubes. Why have you used these in your work?
AG: A couple of years ago when I was travelling in Vietnam I saw inner tubes hanging from a tree on a street. Not sure why they were there. Possibly they belonged to a bike shop or for recycling or something else. Anyway they looked beautiful. They were waiting for transformation. Transformed anyway from the commonplace where they were in a group. I also like them because they are circles, with an inside and an outside and they refer to energy and making a journey and something left behind. In addition early descriptions of how to construct a Klein bottle talk about pushing a tube through a hole into the fourth dimension. It is easy to make a Klein bottle with inner tubes. I can show you if you like [laughs].
RP: Did you bring the tubes from Vietnam, then?
AG: No! They are from a local bike shop, near my studio.
RP: Can you explain what you mean by “Voyage and Return”?
AG: My favourite stories are all based on the voyage and return template. It's a narrative device in which the Legend Trip fits but also other things like the Klein bottle and doors that revolve. There is a point of entry for all of them. Something is risked and something happens (hopefully magical), an experience anyway and then you are brought back/return, changed in some way, hopefully for the better.
RP: Is it a fetish object?
AG: What the Magick Door you mean? No. That’s an association that has been mentioned before but this wasn't in mind when it was being created. Other associations are of a cloak or a Japanese temple gong. Neither of which I was conscious of in making the piece though I can see why people make these associations and I really like that.
RP: There is a lot of drawing in your new work. Not just in the “Knots of Increasing Complexity”, but your “Voyage and Return” Series. Are they telling a story about you? Something you experienced?
AG: No. It’s anti-autobiographical in a way. It’s a crash/juxtaposition of imagery which hopefully makes viewers develop their own narrative to explain the events. So there is no “one” story. Rather there are many stories – as many stories as viewers. What I’m providing is a space for those stories to grow and a point of departure, which, is slightly off the map.
RP: You use stairs frequently in your work. What do they symbolise?
AG: Stairs, stairways and corridors all feature quite heavily in my work. They all give access to other spaces/places. There is something about transcendence. Stairs typically symbolise ascension and communication between different levels (or dimensions). They can represent physical connections but also spiritual ones. You can also go up and down (obviously) so there is also descent and communication with lower levels. Steps also feature heavily in rituals and are suggestive of a dynamic space. I like all those ideas and hence use them often.
RP: I can see you have made use of spirographs in your work. They were a very popular toy when I was a child. Where did you get them?
AG: A few of the spirographs were made by a colleague of mine although I also used some pre-made ones. Although spirographs can often represent perfection, it was important that in my drawings there were mistakes. These are not mandalas.
RP: Are they your fingers? (In Kissing Gate)
AG: No, they were cast in bronze from the hands of a girl who had particularly long and bony fingers.
RP: “Beyond the Other Side” is a Klein bottle that has been opened up to show the internal structure. It’s made of porcelain I believe, with some unusual patterns?
AG: The patterns were achieved partly from impressing lace into the surface of the porcelain, then into a rather complicated plaster mould and also partly from the process of cracking which naturally occurs around the joins. The porcelain is a very fragile substance. I was on a voyage in making them, since this was my first time using the material in this way and I wasn’t sure how they would turn out. However, I very much like the effect, which is in keeping with the drawings – there is a rough, hand-made quality about them.
RP: You say there are no mandalas, but there are lots of circles, can you explain?
AG: Yes there are lots of circles in my new work. As with stairways and steps this is a common theme in the things I make. Circles are symbols of perfection, of journeys being completed. Voyage and return. The Magick Door itself revolves in a circle but you may notice also traces out the phases of the moon as it does so. Hence the door in motion evokes the symbolism of the moon but in a subtle way. This is key to my work. The associations must be there but be subtle enough for the viewer to conceive them themselves. Circles are also beautiful.
RP: Did you do the welding metalwork?
AG: The metal work was done in an old forge in Buckinghamshire. It’s actually the same forge where Henry Moore had armatures made for his sculptures. The drawings he gave to the blacksmith of the time all went on the fire! A friend Richard did the work; we used my drawing and worked directly with the materials. I was there during the construction to change small details.
RP: Although very complicated, the drawings are also minimal in a way: often it’s just pencil and a bit of colour? Why?
AG: Pencil and paper is the most direct way of capturing ideas. It’s rudimentary and provisional. In a way it’s like the inner tubes. The purpose of the drawings is to carry the symbols. Hence once they have taken on their suggestive power they are finished and don’t require further refinement. This is why they have the dirty/unfinished quality.
RP: Some of the work is a bit dark. Are you trying to frighten people?
AG: In legend trips there must be an element of risk. The chance of losing something. Of being hurt or being transformed in ways which we may not like. With this risk comes a reward - ascent to a higher plane, overcoming a debilitating fear. So the fear is part of it. I also associate this with initiatory rites of passage and movement towards new stages in life.
RP: Thank you. Good luck with your next show.
AG: Thank you.
R. Prophette, December 2012.
Alison Gill - The Yield of Pleasure at Sabine Wachters Fine Arts, Belgium until 31 March 2013.