Tom Lovelace – the spaces between photography
We chat to Tom Lovelace about working in the spaces between photography, performance and sculpture and his ongoing Living Pictures series.
by Sheena Campbell
Tom Lovelace works in the spaces between mediums.
Combining an exploration of the history of photography with his own images, performance and sculpture, his exhibitions offer a unique interactive experience.
We chat to him about encouraging audiences to respond to photography in non-traditional ways and challenging his own reactions.
Freeing images from their cages
For almost a decade, Lovelace kept his photography, performance and sculpture work largely separate.
The turning point came during an exhibition at Flowers Gallery in 2019.
“I had made a photogram which I almost defaulted to framing and having a big heavy frame of glass in front of it,” says Lovelace.
“There was a realisation when I was giving an artist talk. I looked beyond the crowd of students and this photogram had a sense of being too confined and restricted, almost like metaphorically it couldn’t breathe in this frame.
“It felt as though the materiality and the presence of the photogram was nullified or numbed in some way.
“And so, after the exhibition, I took the frame apart, took the artwork out, and started to think about the possibility of not defaulting to putting things in conservation boxes and frames.
“I started thinking about the life of an image, how it operates in the world and how it behaves, not only visually, but as a thing.”
In September 2019 Lovelace took part in a group exhibition in Manchester.
Not Photography at the Bankley Gallery allowed him to further explore his desire to release him images from their traditional cages.
“I very quickly devised a work in response to these feelings about trying to free photography up,” he says.
“Myself and Ibrahim Azab drove up to Manchester. I produced a print that hung on the wall.
“I gave myself and Ibrahim the quite wide brief that, during the exhibition opening, we would take the image off the wall and we would respond to it in some capacity. And that felt really exciting.
“It was important that it wasn’t too considered or pre-empted. Because the whole point in this work is that there’s almost spontaneous bodily responses to photography.
“And so so that was a really exciting moment for the work.”
Lovelace’s continued efforts to free up photography have resulted in the Living Pictures series – a collision of photography, painting and performance.
“Essentially, it attempts to present fluid spaces and exhibition encounters where the photograph is not something that is solely to be looked at,” says Lovelace.
“It is something also to be touched, is something to be responded to in any way you like.
“That might be through looking, movement, talking or touch.”
The latest work in the Living Pictures series was Bathers at The National Gallery.
Lovelace, with collaborators Typhaine Delaup, Clémentine Bedos and Francesco Migliaccio, staged a site-specific performance among the 19th-century collection of paintings.
Spectrum Photographic produced the exhibition prints.
Positioning the images on the gallery’s floor allowed Lovelace to explore this own reactions to the sanctity of photography.
“In the rehearsal we started to explore the space and the prints on the floor.
“In my mind, this idea of exploring photography in a bodily way, I envisaged doing it in a tentative way, almost with a particular respect for the print as this precious thing.
“But one of the performers within five minutes just walked straight across it.
“And that, for me, was a really interesting response.
“I think I still have this particular relationship with photography where I’m still uncomfortable with producing a high-end image, which is a slick, wonderfully-produced image, and then walking across it.
“I’m not 100 per cent comfortable with it.
“But the work is very much about allowing different responses. So that was really interesting before we even opened to the public.”
An anxiety about photography
Lovelace encourages audience members to interact with his work in whichever way they feel comfortable.
“The work essentially presents photography, in a bodily form,” he says.
“It’s just fascinating to see how people respond to that.
“Some people are really open and excited about exploring photography in that way.
“Some audience members are really reticent or apprehensive about it, which is totally understandable.
“Photography has a kind of connection and a history. I think there’s an anxiety about photography and it surface and its materiality.
“This work tries to test anxiety or collapse it in some way.”
Each audience member interacts with Lovelace’s work in their own way.
Some observe from behind a lens. Others watch from afar. Some want to stand ‘in the middle of this fluid space’.
Lovelace can relate to those who choose to take their own photographs and the ‘position of comfort’ that represents.
The resulting audience images can also add new layers to his own practice.
“I’m really interested in one’s relationship with photography, whether individually or collectively,” says Lovelace.
“I find it really interesting how an audience uses photography to document something.
“More conceptually in my practice I’m interested in the cycles my work goes in and the layers that can be built up around around photography, through photography.
“Lots of the really interesting pictures in my practice aren’t taken by me. They are taken by other people that come to these spaces and platforms I try to produce.
“Quite often the photographs that have real currency in my work are the low resolution images taken on people’s iPhones.”
On February 26, Lovelace will host a site specific performance work at Van Gogh House, London.
A Japanese Dream responds to Van Gogh’s stay in Arles, France between 1888-1889.
With a particular focus on Van Gogh’s studies of irises, Lovelace and a team of performers will respond to the artist’s paintings and the life of irises.
The performance coincides with a photographic installation by Lovelace currently showing at The Eye Sees in Arles.
Lovelace is also teaming up with photographer Emily Ryalls to create an exhibition for PHOTO50 at London Art Fair.
Their project will explore landscape, home and photography and will combine installation and live response.
“We are making work individually in our own landscapes,” says Lovelace.
“Then we’re bringing those ideas around landscape and representation together in a collaborative way.”
Tom Lovelace is a London-based artist.
He works within spaces between photography, performance and sculpture.
Lovelace’s practice presents fluid environments and exhibition encounters, positioning the body at the centre of abstract languages and legacies.
For more information visit tomlovelace.co.uk.