The essay accompanying Lyndi Sales‘ current solo exhibition at Whatiftheworld opens with an extract from John Keats’ poem, Lamia:
Do not all charms fly
At the mere touch of cold philosophy?
There was an awful rainbow once in heaven:
We know her woof, her texture; she is given
In the dull catalogue of common things.
Philosophy will clip an Angel’s wings,
Conquer all mysteries by rule and line,
Empty the haunted air, and gnomed mine—
Unweave a rainbow […]
While Keats argued that philosophy, the quintessential scientific pursuit, had unwoven the rainbow, Lyndi takes the view of Richard Dawkins, who believes that science doesn’t subtract from the mystery of a phenomena like a rainbow – it enriches it. From the standpoint that science is both useful and uplifting, Lyndi uses the lens of art to conduct interrogations into the properties of light or experiments collated from the CERN particle collider. In her exhibition No Place, she uses the transient nature of a rainbow as a symbol for utopia. “Utopian moments will always be fleeting. Like rainbows are impermanent ephemeral illusions. A transcendental experience is an example of finding momentary utopia. Being in a meditative state can give you a glimpse of what utopia is like,” she says. Yet, according to Lyndi, there is no such thing as utopia. It is a momentary illusion and it always comes with a price.
Let’s start with the title of your current solo exhibition, No Place. The exhibition text points out that you devote careful attention to the troubled space of the world, while keeping one eye trained on the heavens. Tell us about this dual interest and exploration.
I’m interested in the disillusionment of utopia. Utopia is a word derived from a Greek origin meaning “no place”. For this show I was thinking about the consequences of trying to find/achieve utopia. Or the illusion of it. It doesn’t really exist. For me Heaven is a place of imagination too where utopian ideals can also be imagined. I have been thinking about what Raban puts forward where he suggests that utopias are unachievable ideals. “They stimulate and tease us with their desirability, yet seldom ever, materially or otherwise, successfully deliver. There is always nonfulfillment of what is desired: a dream pursued and found vain, wanting, and destructive.”
A yearning for the imaginary – as evidenced in the title of one of the works on show, ‘Spectrum Weave: Homesick for a Place that Doesn’t Exist’ – seems to be a common theme. Can you describe this longing?
It’s like having an idea of an ideal situation which turns out to be false. It doesn’t really exist, or it was just an illusion you had. This idea was born from a dream I had that I couldn’t stop thinking about.
The dream started with a tour of the catacomb’s in Paris, where I come across this community of people living underground. I’m immediately drawn to them. They seemed to live a beautiful simple life, they’re in total bliss in their underground darkness. One of them, an old man who looks like David Lynch, notices my intrigue and asks me to lie down on some stacks of hay. Although a stranger to me I’m in a state of complete surrender and trust in him. He places damp cotton swabs on my eyes and immediately I feel my body dropping into another reality. It’s euphoric and lasts for hours and so I go back the next day. I wanted to escape my world and stay with this community underground. I feel so content living this simple life. Eventually after some time with them I realized that what had been placed over my eyes was in fact some kind of drug, maybe heroin. At first I’m confused. I thought I had found utopia. I realized that this blissful state was a farce.
This dream left me with such an empty feeling of being betrayed. The general theme I wanted to convey with these works is about the slippery differences between being able to recognize utopia, trying to achieve it, thinking you have found it, and then realizing otherwise.
You’ve stated that you find your inspiration in the “basic building blocks of the universe”. How so?
I previously based a past work titled ‘Satellite Telescope’ on the experiments collated from the CERN particle collider. So I have been interested in the basic building blocks of matter for some time. The platonic solid shapes as representations of the microcosm have always fascinated me.
What sparked your newfound interest in thread work? What do you enjoy about this medium, and, on the other hand, what technical challenges does it present?
I have wanted to learn to weave for a long time. I wasn’t sure where to begin and then one day when I dropped my four year old at school he showed me a simple woven circle that they were making as a project to construct a tortoise’s back. I was so inspired by this simple circular weave that I went back to my studio and began weaving larger ones with some rope that I had collected. I then joined the Cape Guild of Weavers and learnt more weaving techniques. The Bauhaus weavers such as Anni Albers inspired me initially. I love the tactile meditative action of weaving. I didn’t find too many technical challenges with the weaving. Often things don’t work out but I think that’s what makes the work interesting and I try not to be too perfectionist about it. I didn’t want to create a perfectly woven thing. I wanted to create an artwork that follows its own course.
Though you haven’t used it as prominently as you did in the past, perspex still features in this show. When did you first become exposed to this medium and its possibilities?
I’ve have been cutting perspex for about five years now. I’m particularly drawn to this radiant perspex that reveals a subtle rainbow spectrum of colour as you move around it. I had been looking at images of telescope mirrors and how they are constructed with hexagonal shapes. That’s where the inspiration for this piece came from. The radiant perspex is evocative of something otherworldly and felt like the perfect medium to express my ideas around utopia.
What attracts you to such a multi-disciplinary approach?
I love working with new materials. I get bored easily and so I just follow where the inspiration leads me.
A piece done with acrylic on hand cut aluminum is called ‘Sickeningly Sweet: Rainbow Butterfly by the Crash Site at Night in the Future Utopia’. What’s the story behind this one?
Well this piece is partly inspired by the dream I mentioned earlier. Visually it was inspired by the salbutamol crystal from my asthma inhaler that looks like an explosion of oval shapes. The title came from a comment on a Sims chat room that I came across while doing my research.
How do you approach the art-making process?
I always do a lot of reading before I begin. I make notes as I read. Then I look for scientific images or images from nature that I feel visually align with what I want to say. I experiment a lot in my studio and most of the stuff never leaves my studio but the process of experimenting and playing around informs the final works.
To come back to the exhibition text, which reads “The universe contains both art and science, we are reminded, and affirms both reason and wonder.” How do you perceive the interplay between reason and wonder?
I read a book called ‘Unweaving the Rainbow’ by Richard Dawkins. In this book Dawkins argues that science does not necessarily dispel the mystery of a phenomena such as rainbow, by giving a clear logical explanation of it. He believes that science adds to the mystery. It actually enriches it. Science is not only useful but uplifting.
No Place is showing at Whatiftheworld until 17 October.