Artist Profile by Beverley Knowles
Artangel are celebrated for many things, not least the ingenious eccentricity of their one-off locations: a council house in Elephant & Castle, a disused Fire Station, and the V&A’s reserve collection storage unit to name a few. Their latest triumph, Lindsay Seers’ ‘Nowhere Less Now,’ takes place in a nineteenth-century Grade II listed church just off the Kilburn High Road. The Tin Tabernacle, as it’s colloquially known, was built on a shoe string from corrugated iron in the 1860s. Its roof is now full of holes and rust seems to pour from every tumbledown wall. Even more extraordinarily, its interior was converted to take the form of a naval ship by the Willesden & St Marylebone Sea Cadets when they originally took it as their home in 1947. As I wander around agape with awe at the peculiarity of it all, I’m reminded of Ms Seers’ words: ‘site-specificity,’ she told me with a nervous blink, ‘is highly problematic as an art form.’
Over the last few years Lindsay Seers has emerged as one of the most distinctive voices in the new generation of post-YBA British artists. Simultaneous with her first solo show at Matt’s Gallery ‘It has to be this Way’ in January 2009, her captivating immersive installation ‘Extramission 6 (Black Maria)’ was one of the high points of Nicholas Bourriaud’s not uncontroversial Tate Triennial, ‘Altermodern.’ This was followed by solo exhibitions at BALTIC Gateshead, Mead Gallery Warwick, National Gallery of Denmark and Gallery TPW in Toronto, as well as a roster of illustrious group shows and a handful of prestigious awards. Ms Seers’ star is on the rise.
The object of primary interest in Seers’ practice is the camera. The camera, the image, the body and the question of how these three relate to one another in a lived sense. More than providing answers, Seers’ work poses questions. What roles do the camera and the image play in our society’ Is the camera a tool for capturing history or for creating it’ Is truth something that can be told or is it a series of ephemeral and infinitely interconnected moments experienced intuitively by the body as it moves through space’
Seers poses these questions via complex and profoundly inconclusive narratives drawn from her personal histories and those of her family, which she then weaves, by way of dense research and intense image making, into a wider, and not necessarily directly related, social, political and psycho-geographic context.
From one work to the next a web of intricate tales is spun, apparently autobiographical but always bafflingly inconsistent. Beginning with her upbringing on the island of Mauritius, we learn of the artist’s speechlessness as a child that resulted from a photographic memory so vivid it abnegated the need for the vocalisation of words. When she spoke for the first time at the age of eight, her photographic memory faded, the traumatic loss of which led her to attempt to turn herself into a camera by placing photo sensitive paper inside her mouth. Other stories tell of a step-sister, Christine, who suffered memory loss following a moped accident in Rome and then mysteriously disappeared.
These strange narratives of personal trauma and ancestral psychodrama wind their way through Seers’ work, bound together with hints of the psycho-physiological, the paranormal and the occult. It’s a gripping matrix to which there is no neat, satisfying resolution.
The key, I eventually realise, is to avoid getting drawn into overly simplistic debates relating to the credibility or otherwise of these curious overlapping stories, wildly tempting as that may at first be. There is no resolution to the narrative and the search to find one is pointless. What the viewer is being engaged in is a Brechtian theatrical event of a highly constructed nature, a performative maze with no exit, around which the inattentive viewer could meander for indefinite ages unaware that they are going nowhere. Which is a delicious metaphor for life. Nothing is as it seems.
Rather, the autobiographical is engaged by Seers as a trope, a stand-in for selfhood. The work is ontological; it is about being in the world. It is about you and it is about me, but it is not personal. In fact, the stories are largely irrelevant. They are about human experience, that’s all. As Seers puts it with a gentle smile, ‘any story would do.’ The important question is what effect these stories have on consciousness and on how we live our lives. And this question Seers addresses through an investigation of her, and our, relationship to image: image as the still or moving object captured by the camera and image as the relationship of the individual to her apparent surroundings, or as Bergson expressed it in Matter and Memory, ‘a system of images which I term my perception of the universe and which may be entirely altered by a very slight change in a certain privileged position - my body.’
For Seers the camera is a motivator, a method for living by. She begins work at 7am and finishes, usually, around midnight. ‘I’m spending all of my time with this stuff,’ she says, ‘so it becomes lived.’ The camera is at the heart of this artist’s personal ontology.
To date Seers’ work has focused on the female side of her family tree. ‘Nowhere less Now’ makes the shift into the male side, taking as its departure point her father’s long career with the sea cadets that began in the 1940s and a family photograph of her great great uncle, George Edwards, taken aboard the HMS Kingfisher at the end of the nineteenth century. Research for the project has had the artist journeying to the archipelago of Zanzibar, the seat of East African witchcraft. Into the mix comes artist and occultist Mina Bergson, who was born on 28 February 1865. Mina Bergson and Lindsay Seers share a birthday, one hundred years apart, and both studied at the Slade. Bergson was the sister of Henri Bergson and wife of Samuel Mathers who founded the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, one of the most influential organisations in the Western Mystery Tradition. ‘Nowhere less Now’ is also the first time that Seers will be projecting her stories into the future; a future, fascinatingly, in which the photographic image is no longer a legal entity.
This time with the support of the inventive team behind Artangel, Seers’ idiosyncratic cocktail of photography, film, performance, animation and installation proves fascinating. As the elusive truths begin to slip simultaneously through the lens and the viewers’ metaphorical fingers, the deeper truths surface. ‘Nowhere Less Now’ is a goose-bump inducing aesthetic and intellectual roller coaster, from one of the most promising artists working in Britain today. If there’s one thing not to miss this year, it’s this.