Lilah Fowler’s work examines the common, mutable languages that inform how we interpret our surroundings. Sculptures, images and other elements draw on sources that include the planning of natural and urban environments and their architectural design values, combining into responsive and intricate installations. Recent works have involved collaborations with biochemists, quantum physicists, computer programmers, mathematicians and weavers. For her most recent body of work she has spent several research periods in the South West of the US, the Lake District, Epping Forest and Dungeness, including residencies at Montello Foundation, Nevada (2016) and Joshua Tree Desert Highlands, California (2013). Recent exhibitions include Code Clay, Data Dirt at Firstsite, Colchester; nth nature at Galerie Gisela Clement, Bonn and Assembly Point, London; Bauhaus at Frauenmuseum Bonn; Sie Machen Was Sie Wollen at Varna City Gallery, curated by Mélange, Cologne; and PURE LIGHT at Vasarely Museum, Budapest, curated by Dora Mauer.
Q: How did the conversation with Rachel around our project start?
L: It felt very natural to accept Rachel’s invitation to work together; we have many similar curiosities and I knew it would be rewarding to create a space to share our thoughts and mutual interests as a group. I enjoy collaborating with other people. My practice is mostly looking, thinking, testing, where rolling strands of research can lead to different outcomes. The work benefits most when projects have quite a loose starting point, as it provides the space for ideas to develop naturally and go off at tangents you might not have seen before. Right now, in lockdown, production feels less relevant; in this moment, there is so much more value in pausing, reflecting, talking with people, rather than in producing physical things that don’t currently have another place to exist.
Q: What are the main concerns you engage with in your practice?
L: Landscape and the influence of digital culture are elements that have been part of my work for some time and are a sort of metaphor for the relationship between analogue and digital technologies. What is the architecture of the Internet? How can I think about what’s tangible in virtual space? Throughout a series of research trips in deserts, mountains, valleys, forests or cities, carried out in data centres, wind or solar farms and energy network infrastructures, mostly in southwest America, I began to formulate the idea of ‘Nth Nature’. I use this idea to describe the point at which technology and landscape become inherently combined, where analogue and digital co-exist.
Q: You mention the relationship between analogue and digital: how do you convey the digital realm using a more physical, analogue process such as weaving?
L: Both analogue and digital are loose terms that aren’t quite accurate or fixed. I think the purpose here for me is more the translation of the digital data into a physical thing, to remove, translate or reform it from its original representation. I use a basic frame loom and a hand-operated digital Jacquard loom. The Jacquard loom is programmed to lift the heddles, yet everything else is manual; it’s both a bit digital and a bit manual. In translating the digital image to the physical weaving, there is a huge loss of information (colour and detail) as well as countless weaving imperfections, which I like and want to remain as they are the mark of the hand and a moment in time.
Q: How does the Quincunx project relate to your current and previous research?
L: Lantern Forest at Whipps Cross Hospital feels particularly relevant to Quincunx. It was a residency for Waltham Forest London Borough of Culture and Vital Arts last year. The hospital sits next to the open space of Hollow Ponds, but inside this natural tranquillity is masked. During a year-long period, I gathered material from Epping Forest and local archives, learned about its plants and wildlife, and took walks to forage, photograph or draw. The final artwork became vinyl images on the window panes of the main hospital corridor, trying to encourage people passing through to look up and out, over the trees towards the forest. I wanted to connect them to this landscape; nature has this intrinsic restorative power and many of these ideas carry through into this project.
Q: If our project is like a seed, it might take many months to grow, which necessitates being patient. We are really interested in this idea of breathing and patience right now; how might this relate to your work and research for the project?
L: Breathing is fundamental, and is tightly linked to the idea of anxiety and how we process emotions. I am reading Gathering Moss (2003) by Robin Wall Kimmerer, a Native American botanist from the Great Plains and Lakes, Potawatomi Nation. She tells anecdotal scientific stories about moss, each framed by her unique perspective centring around spirit, body and emotion, and breath relates to all these principles. My current investigations for Quincunx focus on working with plants that have historical medicinal properties, aiding lungs and breathing, which may be through drawing, growing, dyeing or weaving, maybe transforming some of the images we create to weavings, then translating those into sounds, and perhaps back again. Planting a dye garden is a process in itself; it could be ready next year and, maybe, the process of beginning that becomes the work itself.