My interview series continues with artist Georgia Lucas-Going. Lucas-Going was selected for the Bloomberg New Contemporaries in 2016, was recently a scholar at the Lee Alexander McQueen Foundation, artist in residence at Wysing Arts Centre with the collective Formerly Called, one of the Deptford X platform artist’s of 2018 and soon to be a Rijksakademie 2019 resident artist. Lucas-Going’s practice exists in a range of mediums from installation to sculpture, performance and video art – her work confronts themes of stereotypes, power dynamics, also exploring humour and the everyday.
I would like to start by asking you about growing up in Luton and how this experience has contributed to many areas of your practice?
With most of my work, initially, I don’t really think about what I’m doing. I go along with, and listen to my emotions and then contextualise things after. That’s how I tend to work, particularly when I started eight years ago.
Luton is an interesting town, like most towns it has its stories. It’s a town people like to slag off, so I’ve always had this relationship of either defending or sticking up for it. I always find it interesting when you tell people where you are from and they openly slag it off. I grew up with my mum in the town, which is incredibly culturally diverse. It’s not a wealthy town. We have the Luton town football club. We had Vauxhall cars but unfortunately a lot of people were made redundant i.e around 5,000, which had a huge ripple effect in the town. We have the airport that many people from the town work at also. Luton is the basis of everything I do as a lot of my work is semi autobiographical so it stems from that. It starts from the bottom up with me. It’s actually something uncontrollable because in most my work I’m speaking the truth, real life events. There are some things which I exaggerate or which tend to have slightly surreal elements. Recently I have been leaning more towards the possibilities of making a work that is separated from my personal life. I haven’t made a body of work that has done that yet as I’m quite stuck in self exploration and reading into that. I’m not sure, as a performance artist, how long I can make work about the truth, and about myself without having a bit of a breakdown. I guess ‘OFFICE WORKERS NEED LOVE TOO’, was a detachment in a way, but then again not. I was put into an environment, in a high rise, 22nd floor Swiss bank offices and felt like an alien. So I felt like rubbing my ass on all the chairs. The environment was so controlled it turned me into a child, its a habit of mine when I feel stifled.
It must be quite an emotional journey every time you produce a piece of work? I would like to reflect on your video works; they are quite intimate, provocative and visually impacting, fluttering between low and hi res outcomes. The videos have been described as ‘snappy’. Is this a way for you to make work relatively quickly, to respond to a particular topic?
I do tend to plan, but it can really vary. I get distracted very easily, particularly when I’m in an environment where everything is happening so fast. We are overloaded with options whether it be food, love, sex, clothes, news etc and I find it very hard to zone out. So I do tend to work very quickly as a way of filtering out the bullshit and as a way to give something my full attention. I think, sometimes the longer I work on a piece, I make things up in my head, or over think it. As an artist, I’m realising now what environments I work best in; being alone in a studio isn’t really my thing but I’ve never had a studio up until now, aside from studying, but I definitely prefer to make work with people around me, not next to me but a wall away or a shout away, so to speak.
My work is very quick, but thats because my responses are. So far, I would say that 95% of the videos I have made, have been the first takes. I’m interested in failure. I’m also interested in capturing that energy. I honestly feel that even though it might sound the same on a second or third take, to me, it’s not going to sound as guttural, it’s not going to sound as real or honest as the first try. To me, the first takes, even if it includes failure, is just as interesting, if not more.
It’s interesting to hear you talk about failure, it’s something you don’t hear artists talk about that often.
Yes exactly, maybe at the beginning you will see me setting up the camera or adjusting the focus. I’m not making movies, I’m making art. I ‘technically’ fail all the time and personally too.
I would like to ask you about Kappa Girl, shown at The British Art Show, MEYOHAS in New York. Some of the references in the work remind me of growing up in Southampton, especially the soundtrack ‘With A Little Bit of Luck’ by DJ Luck & MC Neat. Could you talk me through this work and the ‘live sculpture’ of the girl sitting on the bed covered in weed bags, and maybe how elements of memory and real life experiences play a part in your work?
Kappa Girl is probably one of my oldest videos. I showed it in New York a while back. As you know, things very much come and go in trends but for some reason this work has always been the least spoken about. I find things come in waves depending on what people are drawn to. Kappa Girl was very personal. The room I was in had a very personal connection. The woman on the bed, we had a very personal relationship. Pretty much everyone in my videos, I have had a personal relationship with. Whether they are members of my family, friends or even new friends, partners, this is very important to me because a big part of my work is centred on archiving my memories. As death is something myself and my family have dealt with quite intensely over the years I’m very aware of how fragile and beautiful life can be. I think subconsciously I’ve realised that I’ve been archiving for a while and I’ve done it for a few reasons but mainly survival. It’s a way to work with people that actually love me and I love them. I can be myself.
I’m moving away from that now but a lot of my early years I spent trying to figure out who I was. I thought I had to pretend to be someone else to be successful in this art world. Obviously that’s not great and I’ve learnt not to think like that anymore.
With Kappa Girl, I remember distinctly seeing weed and E tablet baggies scattered on the ground in an alley near my house. I’d always go to the park across my road and think what is that? You had to be ‘cool’ to understand what that was. I pretended I did, but truthfully didn’t until a certain age. I’m still a bit of a raver now. I love dancing. Music is something that I grew up with as my mum is a singer. That’s really when I started getting into bass. I can’t really listen to music without bass. I mean, for me, a lot of music in the eighties, I just can’t listen to. Bass is missing for a whole decade, can you believe that? Awful. Seriously though I find bass has healing properties for me, when I feel it vibrating through my body and the tempo gets faster and faster it becomes meditative. Dance floor therapy.
Let’s talk about your work ‘LIFESTYLE’, performed with your Uncle. I’m interested to hear how this came about?
LIFESTYLE is a coming together of my Uncle and I. We’re both queer and part of a black Caribbean family. We’ve both had similar ISH experiences in regards to what that means within our family, but my uncle, he’s 50, and has had the hardest journey. He very much paved the way for me. It’s a journey that I’m still trying to work out. We are both at this point in our lives where we’ve come to the realisation that we’re not going to be fully accepted. We are now trying to figure out how you move on from that and if you ever really do. Doing this piece of work with him was a real bonding experience, even though we’ve always been close. When you bond with someone, sometimes it’s about bonding over things you don’t like as opposed to things you do like. You don’t tend to have that within family dynamics. You are just a group of people that has been shoved together. It’s odd, but I feel very blessed that I’m able to work with my family and that actually there is so much joy and black joy in my family, which I’m so grateful for. A lot of my work is about the pain that I’m seeing and experiencing at the moment but I’m lucky and also privileged because I am a mixed race female who will face different challenges to that of my uncle and vice versa. I love him dearly and would always love to work with him and my family. Plus him and my mother are both entertainers, as are a lot of my family in Barbados. I’ve learnt a lot from them all.
You are very present within your work; you are quite often the main performer putting yourself through quite extreme situations. I’m thinking in particular of the work on your vimeo channel where you’re repeatedly swallowing hot sauce, entitled ‘Dad‘. Could you talk to me about this work? It reminds me of early performance work in the 60s and 70s where artists would push the limits of the body, exploring the possibilities of the mind.
I think it’s how I deal with my own journey with mental health. That particular work was filmed a week after my dad died. I was his carer, so it was a super, super intense time. I was still studying at the Slade and it was a lot to deal with. I really feel for people who are carers, it’s a really hard job. The video piece was again a very quick response to try and figure out this immense pain I was going through. I was told I was suffering from ptsd, however, I realised it was my work and my practice which was enabling me to keep going. I had deadlines to stick to. Of course not everyone deals with these things in the same way but it helped get me through it. It is quite a dark piece of work which you can also laugh at. I was feeling extremely overwhelmed. In terms of other areas of my life, it relates to food and consumption. I was very much interested in this whole idea of consuming things and consuming grief. In a way, I see this work as the healthiest way of dealing with my feelings. That’s where it came from.
I can see now why you might consider this idea of creating fictional works in the future, to step away from the immense emotional journey you must go through.
I reckon I will have to stop at some point, basically, or people need to start paying performance artists more. I believe, the standard fee for an artist is £150 for a performance, it’s not enough. Even though my videos are quite short and quick, it essentially takes me weeks to come up with an idea, especially when it’s quite a personal piece of work. Also the time it takes should not be relative to payment, so I don’t even know why I’m saying that actually. I have to rehearse as well as making sure everyone is paid. £150 is nothing for a performance. People need to realise that a performance is the same monetary value as a painting on the wall. I mean, arguably, it should be more as it’s a live performance, it’s my body often in these really strange spaces. I feel quite passionate about this. I’m very conscious of the ethics around performing and what it means to be the performer both physically and emotionally.
The performing side of my family is on my mother’s side, the Caribbean side of my family. My mum’s a singer, my uncle’s a singer, so naturally we’re the ones that don’t mind putting on a show. I’m very aware of the fact that historically there’s a lot of weight to that, to being this performing black and brown body. I see it as a way of gaining more power, especially if there is more than one performer. I also hate feeling that people are left alone when performing so it’s quite important for me, when I’m doing something really personal with other brown bodies, I’m there with them through it all. Even if I’m not in the performance, which is very rare (I think that’s only happened once so far), I’m right at the front in their eyesight. I will follow them around the space just because you can feel people’s energy. You need to look after one another.
Going back to your question, I mean, we’ll see. I like to keep things open. Like for instance, my bio is what I like to call an ‘ongoing bio’ because I’m still interested in growing as an artist. That will never stop.
I want to ask you a further question about pain and duration in your work. I’m keen to understand more about the durational aspects and your relationship with your body and the audience. Maybe we could talk about the piece shown at the ICA for New Contemporaries, Too Many Feelings.
Over the last three years, my work has been about working through grief, I’ve lost 3 members of family and nearly lost my best friend. That work was, again, put together in the months after the passing of my dad, and I was thinking of ways to still be present in a space, still working, still trying to pay my bills, still finding other ways to feel things. I mean, I have an interesting relationship with pain and pushing myself physically and mentally. It can actually be quite calming when you get to a point with your body, when you push yourself, the pain stops. For instance, when you’re cycling a bike; I remember going on an eight hour bike ride with my dad and the first four hours I was in so much pain, I didn’t wear padding. I got to a point where I couldn’t go on. But then after about four hours, my body did a complete 360 and stopped feeling the pain. It’s the same with piercings. I love getting my ears pierced. It’s the adrenaline. Your body then gets to this strange enlightened place. Obviously, if I’m in a safe environment, I find pain can be quite productive but I’m not sure if that’s because of the past three years but my god it changes you. For me it has made me feel things differently, I live life better now.
The piece of work at the ICA grew from that thought process. I wasn’t necessarily looking for a way to hurt myself, I just wanted to feel something. As we all know, grief makes you numb and and you can feel like that for years. Having five people slowly lie on top of me is a way for me to control the pain, which is key, and still feel and experience the intensity of it at the same time. I did that performance twice in the same evening. I would walk around with my speaker and my mic beforehand, walking around and through the audience. That’s quite a hard one to perform actually. Now it’s easier, but two years prior I was like, okay, cool that’s done, I can go home now, which is the complete opposite to what I’m actually like.
If you look at the history of performance, artists will confront particular emotions by putting their bodies through such extremities to the point where the mind takes over and you don’t feel the pain anymore. The relationship between mind and body is really interesting.
I find your work very accessible; it’s engaging and certainly provides a sense of relief when navigating the art world today. You tend to explore relatively serious socio-political topics by using tools such as humour, honesty and satire. Does humour provide agency within your work? In particular, I’m thinking of the work Think Brother Think.
There’s a big age gap between my brother and I. Our relationship is quite interesting because I’m like a big sister slash auntie to him. It was important, again, that I was working with a family member and plus teenagers are so interesting to work with. He was a teen when this work was filmed so his body language is very different to how he is now. You can see that he is hyper aware of how he is being seen. When I look back on that work it reminds me of how I was as a teenager, and how all I cared about was how I came across to everybody else and what people thought of me. I used to believe that was the key to happiness; other people accepting me.
I used to play fight with my brother, which was kind of weird as I was an eighteen year old and he was only ten. I obviously took the lead and thought it was hilarious and fun. Humour is something my family love. They are all a very funny group of people because we’re all complete opposites and opposites are always fun to be around. I’m intrigued by opposites, especially when it comes to couples and relationships. I find it fascinating. When it comes to my siblings, both of them actually, are so different. We are all so different. I’m not just talking physically but also emotionally because of the towns we grew up in; I was in Luton, they grew up in Tunbridge Wells. As you can see we are complete opposites, we grew up in different worlds. It’s interesting because now it’s cool to wear sportswear and listen to Skepta. My brother is completely immersed in that world, the world that I grew up in. Humour is vital. Even for him, because I remember when filming this work, again, we were all going through a hard time with our dad and so I wanted to relieve, even if momentarily, the pain and hurt. The best way is using humour. That was my tactic, anyway.
I guess, with humour, it’s accessible to everybody. It makes people realise that the art spiel and the inequalities within the art world are now over.
With my performance work, I mean, it’s a weird one. I’ve seen people full on laugh at me when I’ve been on the floor making work about death. I think you’ve got to be a strange kind of person to be a performance artist. A lot of the time, when I’m in front of an audience, I’m like, oh my God, what’s even happening? Whenever I suffer through a hard spell of depression that’s when I perform, I try and embarrass myself to get back to reality, a bit like shock therapy. That’s why I love funny performances. That’s my dream, to do a series of funny performances. But it’s hard. Really hard. We’ll see.
As a follow on, the work looking at the dictatorship in North Korea and the funeral of Kim Jong Un with women hysterically sobbing – this is quite a political work. I spoke to an artist recently who talked about how art is, and can no longer be responsive or revolutionary. Artists used to be the first to respond and highlight what was wrong with the world. Do you think art can still transcend ideas around such topics?
I actually disagree. I’ve recently come across some artists who are completely revolutionary. Take Rebecca Bellantoni and Rowdy SS, they are brother and sister. Their performance at Block Universe this year, that was revolutionary. I think these debates are really good to have though. I saw them perform as a duo two years ago and they’re still in my top three, if not the number one performance I’ve ever seen. I would definitely check it out. I’m constantly like, why the fuck is no one putting these performers at the forefront? You’ve got to search for it. I think the most revolutionary works, if you want to find them, are being created by the groups where people have it the hardest. The people who have not been given those easy rides to a successful career. Check out the people who have had to fight for it. I think it’s interesting. Those two (Rowdy and Rebecca) have always stuck in my head. It’s an exciting time to be making work. Artists are not afraid to talk about certain topics. I mean, artists working underground or queer artists in the ’70s and ’80s are very much on trend. There is a large community of people nowadays who are calling out the art institutions or organisations for not doing their job properly. If you want to find artists working in interesting and exciting ways, you just have to perhaps look a little bit harder. I ask my friends/peers/strangers on instagram who I admire what’s good, rather than just rely on the big institutions to tell me what they think we should be looking at.
I mean, essentially, the most interesting art, for me, has always been outsider art. I always ask friends and family who aren’t in the art world what they think about my work. They are the most important and only opinions I care about, to be honest.
Earlier in the year you were part of a discussion at Peckham24 with Joy Gregory. I read online recently; Joy is an important and influential artist whose work is thoughtful and challenging, whilst social and political issues are integral to her practice, the work is never overbearing or antagonistic but rooted in the concepts of ‘truth’. This last sentence, very much reminds me of your work.
Joy was the first non-white tutor I ever had. I was 27 when that happened. I saw her walking through the corridor and I was like, what department are you in? It was a big moment when I saw her. I remember that clearly. I mean, the reason why I work with poc’s is because of loneliness, you know, it’s normal for me to work in that way. It’s also a way for me to blend in. Joy, first off, was/is an amazing person. She was a really kind and giving tutor. She would talk to me about different references, she would email them over to me and then come over to sit with me in my studio. We would have conversations as artists rather than student and tutor. As there weren’t that many of us, we would spend time discussing our role within photography and the black body within an image. We spoke about that a lot. We spoke about the roles we play within that and other ways around it because, you know, it’s a huge topic. In terms of truth, honesty and the idea of the journey within Joy’s work, these subject areas are a very big inspiration to me. Her self-portraits are probably one of my favourite works. They are such a beautiful series of works. She’s a big influence in my work. Most black and brown artists are. Not all of them obviously, but most. Rebecca and Rowdy SS, they inspire me. Actually a lot of my peers influence me.
I’m currently doing a residency at Wysing with nine other artists. We are part of a group called Formerly Called, we changed our name for more freedom within our work and for us to not have face. Weird though, isn’t it? When you think about it, it makes no sense but then it sort of does. I flit between loving these labels and then finding them suffocating. The people in this group also really inspire me. The way we make art now is very different to before, it’s changed for a number of artists; political parties have come into play and as a result, financially, everything that’s happening with the conservative government is difficult to justify. This generation is screwed and there’s a mutual angst amongst us.
Then there’s my mum. A lot of my main inspirations are not from art people. Oh but before I say that, Bas Jan Ader, he’s one of my favourites, for probably the past 15 years. That was when I was first introduced to his work. It was quite amazing as I remember thinking, so I can make art like this, not just drawings, you know, good old GCSE art! He is a huge influence in my practice and my mother, as a singer, massively.
Can you tell me more about the residency at Wysing?
It’s the first programme of this kind, so instead of taking 4 months out and quitting your job, we go once a month for a weekend over a 7 month period, I think. We started in February and ended in October. There’s nine of us altogether. The curators within the group selected a group of us from the larger group. Wysing pay for our travel, food and we get a fee. We stay in a quiet space in the middle of nowhere, you know, most of us are from London, so even the silence is such a treat for us. It’s so important to have that time, it’s like a retreat. This is really interesting to me. There are two artists I follow on instagram called Fannie Sosa and Niv Acosta who started Black Power Naps, that’s why the word retreat is quite interesting. There’s a group of them and their friends who will spend the night in a gallery. It’s all about taking back and conserving energy as politicised bodies. You can’t take naps outside because they/you know the police will be called. You can’t be a body like that and expect people to ignore what you’re doing. There are certain bodies which allow more freedom than others. They have really questioned what it means to be in these spaces and what freedom looks like. They are also really amazing to follow and support on instagram/paypal.
I find this idea of collaboration really interesting and making work with other people. Since being at Wysing, we cook food for each other. I’m now on this vegan diet, well when I go there I am. Even just being with each other for two days helps us to survive the month, which is a huge. It’s amazing to actually realise how important it is to support one another, especially if you’ve come out university, then all of a sudden you go from being a group of 16 to 1 person. This was especially interesting for me as I tend to make work that involves other bodies. Most of us work in a group alongside other black or brown artists. I think, as artists, we’re told throughout school that only one of you will make it and be successful, but that’s wrong. For instance, Adam Farah, who initiated free.yard, had a show at South London Gallery who then brought in guest contributions from three other artists, which weirdly, even at the age of 30 I was like, you can do that? I think we’re taught that you just have to take the success and there’s not enough for everyone, which is completely untrue. Working with other people is hugely beneficial. Working with these guys over the last few months, I have a done more work mentally than I have done in the past five years. I’ve gained so much new knowledge. It feels like working in this collaborative and public way is relatively new. I mean, please correct me if I’m wrong, but there’s definitely a shift taking place. I find it interesting that this shift is mainly happening within a certain demographic of people. What does that tell you or what does that tell us? It’s the same, for instance, with the friends and communities I grew up with who would feed me and share their food with me, no matter how much income or food they had. I’m just thinking about some of my friends growing up, my neighbours and even the local communities, the sharing of food was always the way you showed each other how much you cared. The people with less, in my experience, always gave more. These are the people I’m working with now, and they’re the ones that need to be supported the most because again, you can’t live or survive like that for long. These are the people I want to make work with.
What more, do you feel, needs to be done to ensure these shifts, or new ways of working are recognised within institutions?
To help young people understand their career potential and more importantly their power. Conversation needs to start from a younger age. I know the conservative government has screwed us over, but information about what university loan you need or how going to university actually works and breaking it down for the younger generation. I know for a fact that some universities don’t visit colleges/sixth forms. This information is so hard to come by and if universities don’t do that, if you don’t take time to go to local colleges then you’re not going to get a huge group of diverse people in your cohort. In London within zone 1/2 you’re probably 30 minutes away from a local arts university. So why are they avoiding that? Why? They are all running businesses at the end of the day. Especially with international students, I mean fuck, they spend so much money, it’s crazy. I think it needs to start with the younger generation and it’s not happening. The universities need to make it their priority. For it to change, they need to hire black and brown people in permanent art jobs. You can’t just bring people in temporarily for these really exciting performances where we dance in front of you, and then you’re gone. People need permanent positions and once that happens, I mean, lets be honest the work is going to be more exciting.
Like we spoke about earlier, having Joy Gregory as my tutor was life changing but that should have happened years earlier.
– Laura Hensser, 2018
Slideshow credits: Home is Where The Work Starts 1988, commissioned for Deptford X 2018, Pour It Out, Bleep Test and Charlie Red, Bajan Upkeep Training, Dad, 2016, K.M.T