This summer sees a major solo exhibition of the work of Lubna Chowdhary take place at Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (MIMA). Her 35 year career has seen significant public art commissions and this is her largest large-scale museum exhibition, and includes two new large-scale site specific works. Ahead of its opening on 25 June, we sat down with Chowdhary to discuss her practice at this pivotal moment.
Your work often seems to revolve around forging relationships, between traditional and modern making techniques, Eastern and Western cultures, functional and aesthetic pieces. How do you balance these ideas and influences?
The work emerges from the plural and in between. I try to express the feeling of being between these positions through form and making. Rather than balancing, I try to find an authentic language – allowing multiple references, processes and materials to come into play, then adopting, adapting, resisting or rejecting them in the work. I constantly shift position , disregarding categorisation and subverting definitions. I’m interested in the idea of a disobedient object and welcome slippages in translation that occur at the intersection of these ideas.
How does this exhibition build on your recent exhibition at PEER?
The exhibition at MIMA is an expanded exhibition of works. The Peer space was an intimate space in which the work was placed closely together, creating rich juxtapositions, relationships and connections.
MIMA’s space is much larger and they have commissioned two new large scale site specific works. These works, one with rope and one with industrial lagging both extend the new developments using industrial materials from the Peer exhibition. Both works employ elements of geometry, modularity and repetition to work across the expansive surfaces of the gallery walls. Both use industrially produced materials which are constructed or structured using manual processes.
In addition there are new ceramic panels, wall based ceramic works and paintings. I’ve also created two new large scale collage works on paper.
Each of the works maintain these themes and connections but these work continuously across the four galleries at MIMA.
How did it come to be titled Erratics?
The title of this exhibition, Erratics, refers to large rocks or boulders that have been displaced from their original geological context through glacial flows. While retaining their material integrity they have permanently settled in a new, alien context.
The title is a metaphor for geographic movement of people and the process of adapting to new locations. It also describes the non linear trajectory of this contradictory position and the moving between two or more sets of cultural influences. There is often an adopting or rejecting the authority of either position. The title makes reference to the many oppositions employed work.
Of particular interest to visitors of MIMA will no doubt be your large-scale installation piece, created out of building work material. How did the space inspire you? MIMA’s connection to histories of making, manufacture and migration seems to also be a fitting connection perhaps.
I’ve worked on many large scale commissions that bring together industrial modularity and manual craft process. Both are equally important and have been a consistent factor in all these works. Middlesbrough has a rich industrial history which includes the Linthorpe Art Pottery and its craft production .
The built environment has also been a constant stimulus and resource. The industrial and architectural landscape of Middlesbrough has been particularly inspiring and it’s been satisfying to see how these themes have been gradually revealed in the work.
Much of your other work on show is also created from non-traditional art materials. What drew you to this source material and how has it affected your approach to art making?
I began this new work whilst on an artist’s residency in Sweden at an organisation called IASPIS in Stockholm in 2020. Without access to my usual materials and equipment, I began to experiment with standardised readymade components, including plastic ducting, rope and pipe insulation which were readily available from local hardware stores.
I recognised that these simple, modular structures referenced the systems and infrastructures of our built environment. The material is drawn from the physical environment of industry and the city and its aesthetic communicated the industrial standardisation of our age.
One of the new works – Modular 4 – repurposes industrial lagging, treating it as an unconventional sculptural material. The industrial precision and modular system of the lagging was something I could work directly and immediately with . It was a material that could be easily formed and constructed into more complex shapes with minimal tools and simple manual processes.
Although this is very removed from my usual studio and craft based practice, it nevertheless necessitated a manual making process in the construction of the work. This way of working has allowed the inclusion of contradictory processes and materials which is something I find satisfying and which I intend to continue.
You are best known for ceramics and for large scale public art works. How do you find working on these different scales?
Working at different scales is natural to me as I’m used to working with modular components. Collectively these allow an increase in scale from intimate to expansive.
How does bringing your work to a gallery setting sit with your public commissions?
The skills, materials and processes I use translate very easily between the two settings and usefully inform the work I create for either space. I enjoy the accessibility of public art to wider sections of the community and the incidental way that its often discovered. I hope that the experience of art in the public realm will make people confident with art. I believe in making galleries open, accessible places and I feel that this is also important to both MIMA and PEER.
Any future projects you can share with us?
I’m working on two public art projects. One at Stratford Waterfront and the other for Thames Tideway at the Greenwich and Bermondsey pump stations.
I’m also participating in two group exhibitions, Strange Clay at the Hayward Gallery in October and POP South Asia in September which is in Sharjah and later travelling to Delhi.
Lubna Chowdhary: Erratics runs at MIMA from 25 June – 9 October. For more information see: https://mima.art/exhibition/lubna-chowdhary-erratics/
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