Interview with Lynne Harlow, by Matthew Deleget

The following interview was published on MINUS SPACE in September 2003 in conjunction with Lynne Harlow’s spotlight exhibition.


Matthew Deleget: In your work, I see that you utilize mainly translucent materials, such as sheer fabrics, metal screens, and colored Plexiglas. Tell me about how you arrived at using these materials.


Lynne Harlow: I love the honesty and directness of these materials. I don’t alter their colors, textures, weights, or surfaces at all — I try to make full use of their inherent physical characteristics. A Million Magic Crystals is a good example of this because it relies entirely on the ever-shifting, almost hallucinatory patterns created by two overlapping screen surfaces. As you mentioned, they are all translucent. I’m working with sheer materials because they give the works a sense of lightness. I mean that both ways — the materials allow light to filter through and they are nearly weightless. I think I’m trying to make use of the weird, poetic contradiction in materials that appear simultaneously substantial and ephemeral. Also, there’s a great perceptual shift between looking at the surfaces and looking through them, and it’s a shift we all make automatically.

My training is in printmaking and for years, before making sculpture, I was making lithographs on organza and chiffon. The slinky, fluttery movement of the materials was so appealing that I wanted to arrange the fabric spatially in order to make full use of its sensuality. So I started to make sculpture with fabric. It was a logical step to then incorporate screen into the work since it’s just another sheer, pliable, woven material. The same with plastic netting. The Plexiglas has been an interesting counter to these pliable materials because it offers such incredible color and surface as a rigid plane.


MD: Your use of color too is very specific. Vibrant reds, fluorescent yellows and greens, metallic silver, and copper. Your works always possess a holistic, perceptual punch. Talk a bit about color.


LH: When my work expanded into sculpture, I began to work more aggressively with color and I have to imagine this is because I began thinking about color as light and space. It’s a very strong, direct way to define form and significantly alter our perception of a space. So I’m thinking about color not as a decorative component, but as a physical presence. I want that yellow Plexiglas or that pink chiffon to push you, nudge you, or carry you through the room in a very specific way.

I was really intimidated by color for a long time. It’s such a surprise and a real kick to find myself working with these colors. I think I’m just starting to really get a sense of how I might be able to use color in spatial arrangements. I occasionally make groups of small gouache paintings as color exercises, as a way to learn more about it.


MD: You work in an interesting intersection between sculpture, installation, and architecture. Sometimes you make straight wall reliefs; other times tent-like forms. Still other works are freely suspended curtain-like forms. All of your works, however, are installed very specifically in relation to the physical space and the viewer. In fact, your works often shift in relation to where the viewer is standing. Describe your forms and their relationship to the viewer.


LH: So much of our daily living is the combined experience of physical navigation and visual analysis, which we do with varying degrees of consciousness. I want to isolate and exaggerate particular aspects of the ways we encounter and negotiate our physical world, and bring some awareness and joy to the process. And I feel that the most effective way for me to achieve that is by presenting these situations, these restrained arrangements of facts. The works are generally slightly larger or slightly smaller than the body, and are always carefully tuned to it. We enter the larger spaces in these works and we speculate about the smaller spaces and the impossibility of being in them. Some kind of body-related space is always present.


MD: Finally, let’s talk a bit about the titling of your pieces, which can range from the aggressive, like Knives Out, to the quasi-mythological, like Norse Wall, to the irreverent, like Hot Pants. Your titles strike very specific images, points of reference, in the mind. How did you arrive at these and other titles?


LH: Van Halen, Lucinda Williams, Virginia Woolf, Tom Petty — that’s where most of my titles are coming from. I’ve been finding the titles for my pieces in the songs or books that I’m into at the time a work is being made. And I read and listen to a pretty wide range of things, so the sources end up being pretty varied. It’s not completely arbitrary, of course. I think I look for something in the nature of my piece that is shared by the words I then borrow. Knives Out is a good example, I think. It’s the title of a Radiohead song. The title is initially aggressive, but the song is melodic and slightly awkward, like my piece. Mouth Full of Harmony, a piece that I made while I was in Marfa, TX, is a phrase taken from Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer. It seemed right to me to be reading a brilliant, no-nonsense American novel while I was there, and I love having this title that is so odd and poetic, and describes Tom’s bliss in whistling.

In addition to arriving at some effective titles, it’s a satisfying way for me to give a nod to these musicians and writers I love — a small gesture of appreciation. And it acts as a kind of diary for me — I look at a piece I made several months or years ago and I can recall not only what I was trying to achieve in the piece, but also just what I was reading and listening to. I’m thinking of making a compilation CD that includes all of the songs I’ve referenced in my titles, but I’m a little worried that it would be an unlistenable mix.