International Women's Day: Interview with artist Lucy Brown
International Women’s Day is a globally recognised date marking “the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women” that also acts as a call to “raise awareness against bias, and take action for equality”. To recognise the day, we spoke to artist Lucy Brown who has just donated one of her remarkable textile works – a woven sculpture titled Constrain – to the University’s Art Collection. Lucy tells us more about the piece, and offers us an insight into her practice. How does she relate to gender in her work? What inspires her?
Lucy Brown working on site at R Space Gallery in Lisburn, Northern Ireland, 2018. Image credit: Simon Mills.
UHARTS: Lucy, thank you so much for your generous donation to the UH Art Collection. We are delighted to add Constrain to our ever-growing collection, and look forward to displaying this sculptural textile work on campus. Could you please tell us a bit more about it?
LUCY BROWN: Thank you, I am so pleased that Constrain is part of the collection. She is a hand-woven sculpture, created freehand using my own weaving technique. I made her in 2000, from a second-hand, size 14/16 nylon nightdress with polyester boning, cotton, and stainless steel and sprung wire. Approximate dimensions are 34x65x15cm.
The black nylon nightdress is possibly from the late 1980s. I decided to leave the label of the nightdress visible, and it seems to indicate that it was originally purchased from a mail-based clothing catalogue. This original black nylon nightdress is/was a ‘sexy piece’, now diminished to an infant size. The sculpture draws historical references to fashion’s iconic Little Black Dress, which has many connotations of female identity in Western culture; Betty Boop, the grieving widow, the seductive femme fatale. Through the deconstruction and re-weaving of the intimate nightdress, Constrain’s vulnerabilities are exposed.
I first exhibited Constrain in my touring solo exhibition Intimate Foundations in 2000-01. It was displayed nailed to the floor, often being over-shadowed by larger work.
Lucy Brown, Constrain, 2000. Image credit: James Newell.
UHARTS: You have been working as a textile artist for over 25 years.
What does your practice entail?
LB: My textile art practice draws upon women’s art movements from the 1950s-1990s and my own family textile background. I work with a mixed palette of old, unwanted, second-hand and vintage clothing, and hair, domestic and personal artefacts as raw material.
Works manifest into woven installations, anti-form sculptures, site-specific interventions and individual pieces. These works demand time during development and during installation. This ‘time’ is seen as part of the work. I develop my own ways of textile making that are both the language and the method to re-construct and re-invent raw materials to explore ideas around re-telling, re-working, re-claiming and re-configuring the body.
UHARTS: That’s really interesting, the idea of re-telling and re-configuring the female body. So your work investigates social issues surrounding the gender?
LB: Yes, my interests and motivations often depart from personal and collective experiences. I explore narratives around the body; its boundaries, dress, femaleness, re-invention, social class, women’s and textile histories; myths and stories, craft-labour and nostalgia.
Lucy Brown’s solo exhibition Intimate Foundations, 2000-01. Overview of ‘Constrain’ with larger works at Millas Gallery Southampton Institute.
Image credit: John Lawrence.
UHARTS: Which other great female artists inspire you and why?
LB: There are many great female artists who have inspired me. To name a few; Magdalena Abakanowicz, Eva Hesse, Rebecca Horn, Mary Kelly, Annette Messenger, Mona Hatoum, Louise Bourgeois and Carole Schneemann. Each of these artists makes/made powerful and challenging work, with sensitivity and consideration for their materials and subject matter.
Lucy Brown studied BA(Hons) Textile Art at Goldsmiths, University of London. Since graduating in 1995 she has continually made work for exhibitions and commissions, and has developed several education projects for arts organisations, schools, colleges and universities. Exhibitions include 16th International Lodz Tapestry Triennial in Poland, 2019; CTRL/Shift touring exhibition, 2018-20; Line/Extended at UH Arts, 2019; 6th Riga International Textile and Fibre Art Triennial in Latvia, 2018; Offerings solo exhibition at R-Space Gallery in Northern Ireland, 2018; and Lace Unveiled at Newstead Abbey, 2018. Publications include Domestic Spaces: The Uncanny Lucy Brown by Professor Catherine Harper 2019, and Dr Jessica Hemmings' Warp & Weft book published by Bloomsbury. Public collections include The Lodz Central Museum of Textiles, Poland, The Whitworth Manchester UK and Nottingham City Museums & Galleries UK.
Lucy Brown, ‘You will miss me when I go’ and ‘Waisted/wasted’ – Offerings, 2012-19 at UH Arts Art + Design Gallery.
Image credit: Rob Harris.
You can also see Lucy’s work in the UH Arts exhibition ‘Line/Extended’
Lucy Brown, ‘You will miss me when I go’ – Offerings (detail), 2012-19, at UH Arts Gallery. Image credit: Rob Harris.