The Stone Space talks to artist Debbie Locke about her fascinating work and what influences and inspires her.
Could you tell us a bit about how/when/where you produce you work?
My work is both studio based and site specific. When I’m working with the drawing machines, I tend to be in the studio, having them either roaming the floor, or attached to the walls. As they are made from Lego, their construction has endless possibilities, and so I spend many hours building and experimenting with designs in an attempt to realise an idea. But when I’m working with GPS (Global Positioning Systems), I work outside the studio, carrying a handset with me, recording my journeys to produce cumulative maps, r for more complex projects, getting volunteers to do that for me.
What was the biggest challenge when making this work?
I think it was getting the balance right between producing an installation that is both engaging and playful, but still progresses my investigations into mis-mapping and so informs new work.
You have shown these works before in other venues. How does the experience differ at each showing?
Each time these machines are installed in a gallery, the drawings produced are unique to their environment. Chance and random interference play such a large part in the work that small differences, such as a slightly uneven wall surface, or extremes of room temperature have an effect on the resultant drawings. Additionally, the viewer’s experience of the installation can be very different depending on where they encounter it. For example, in a quiet gallery, the noise from the motors can be a calming, rhythmical, buzz, which is as much a part of the work as the drawings themselves. Whereas, situated in a noisy art fair, the sound from the motors is lost and it is the interaction between the viewers and the machines that becomes part of a shared performance.
What is the longest time you have run a single machine for?
They ran for 5 weeks in the Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum as part of ‘The Open West’ exhibition in 2010 and this was probably pushing them to their limit, as the resultant drawings were very heavily overlaid in some places and the pen had almost gone through the paper. For me, the beauty of the drawings lies in seeing the network of lines that intersect and overlay each other and if the installations run for too long, these become lost.
Tell us about your other works using GPS and mapping?
The process of mapping has always fascinated me and, in particular, the use of GPS to locate ourselves in the landscape. So I started walking, whilst carrying a GPS handset, recording my position every second, as longitude, latitude and altitude, which could then be displayed as simple line drawings. These records of my journeys, built up over time into cumulative maps and produced work that was more about the notion of ‘place’ and my relationship to it, rather than a pictorial representation of it – for instance, I walked round structures such as Brighton Pier, following the railings and edged round the fun fair rides. I was hoping to capture within these drawings, something that reflected their making and so experimented further with a project in Cannizaro Park, where I asked volunteers to carry a handset whilst using the park. Between them they walked over 54 miles and produced data that, as a group, mapped almost the entire area in a network of lines, producing a drawing that highlighted the more popular routes and revealed the less explored places. Whilst doing this, it became apparent that the GPS wasn’t as accurate as we thought, with walks being reported through the middle of ponds, and this led to my interest in mis-mapping and the failure of machines. By recording the static position of an object over a period of 20 minutes, GPS will tell you that that object has ‘moved’, showing it in a multitude of positions. This is due to a variety of reasons: the inbuilt inaccuracy of the handset; poor satellite reception; adverse weather conditions and also the effects of pollution. I became interested in finding ways to represent these technical glitches, showing the varying positions in outline form, using ‘lines in space’ to indicate them and this work was shown as part of the exhibition ‘Park 09’ and also led to a residency at the Meantime Space in Cheltenham.
What kind of things inspire you to create art?
I find inspiration in lots of different ways. It could be from the unexpected everyday ‘failures’ that we all encounter – e.g. the vending machine that doesn’t give you the item you asked for, or the journey that has some form of random diversion imposed on it. Or it may be innovative materials or equipment that will excite me – e.g. a new Lego sensor, or heat sensitive paint. Talking to people about my work is also a great source of inspiration as they will always come up with new insights, from the school children who want to interact with the machines via their own Bluetooth devices, to the musician who sees a link between the choreography of the drawing process and the writing of music.
What’s your favourite museum/gallery?
I’m a great fan of the Science Museum in London, especially visiting the galleries that showcase mechanical inventions and engineering – I can spend hours in there, taking notes and sketching from the exhibits.
Which artists are you being influenced by at the moment?
It’s difficult to pinpoint only one, but I was enthralled by the Japanese artist, Chiharu Shiota’s exhibition at The Haunch of Venison in London and her installations felt to me what I imagine it would be like to step inside one of my machine drawings, if they were 3-dimensional! She creates these amazing immersive experiences, comprising of a network of black lines in space, filling the gallery with a web of intersecting threads, allowing a small pathway that you can walk through. The concept of her work is very different from mine, but the method of making fascinates me.
What will be your next project?
I’m currently working on ways of linking my GPS recordings of my walks, to the drawing machines back in the studio. I’m interested in seeing what transpires when the physical walk itself is retraced by a machine and the deviations become apparent. If successful, it should be possible to have people out walking, being tracked by the lego drawing machines in real-time, back at the gallery. This appeals to my sense of humour of employing hi-tech technology in the first instance and then translating it, using incredibly low-tech, ‘Heath-Robinson’ style, pen-on-paper automaton.
‘Dialogue’ is at The Stone Space until Sunday 29th January.
Follow Debbie Locke on Facebook and Twitter (debbie _locke)