Lawrence Leaman was born in Peterborough.
He studied BA in Philosophy at University of Warwick 2003-06 and MA in Contemporary Art Theory at Goldsmiths College 2008-09.
Leaman currently lives and works in London and Shrewsbury.
A conversation between Jonathan P Watts and Lawrence Leaman 19 – 27 August, 2010.
Jonathan P Watts: Welcome Lawrence. I am pleased to have the opportunity to talk with you on the occasion of your first solo show, which is hosted by OUTPOST Gallery, Norwich. During preparation for this show you had a conversation with Jacques Rogers in which you coined what you felt to be a useful expression, ‘composite intentionalities’. What do you mean by this expression? Can it be related to the way in which, as the OUTPOST press release states, your ‘seemingly broad range of works… read together, start to act as a single gesture’?
Lawrence Leaman: That expression is a kind of pidgin moment. Jacques thought I wrote ‘composite intentionalities’ in one of our email conversations. In fact I was quoting the anthropologist Alfred Gell, whose work we were discussing. Gell uses the term ‘complex intentionalities’, but now I am interested in what the former can come to mean. For me the phrase ‘composite intentionalities’ already resonates with a couple of things at least. I like the idea that in the relationship between artist-maker and art work, the art work (and specifically its material dispositions) makes decisions for the artist. Secondly ‘composite intentionalities’ reminds me of Felix Guattari’s understanding of subjectivity, and Simon O’Sullivan’s recent writings on that concept. For both, on my reading, a subjectivity is something made up of a number of factors, some of which are external to the subject-as-individual as it is traditionally understood in the West. Subjectivity is composed of individual, collective, and institutional factors. I am interested in addressing these factors, and in particular collective factors in relation to art practice.
JPW: I understood ‘composite intentionalities’ to describe the way in which there is an entanglement of intentions across your broad range of works, most of which find their direct model in already existing imagery. There is clear intention in the sense that they are all crafted and there is intention in your decision to select certain images from the internet. In those images from the internet there is, however latently, the intention of the original producers. Bringing together a broad range of works in the gallery space suggests yet another overarching intention. I realize though that I understood it in a rather static way by looking for instances of intentionality only in representations. Your reading of it by way of Guattari and O’Sullivan opens up a much more dynamic relation, of the art work’s ability to affect an audience, and – the idea I love – that the behaviour of the art work’s material could be understood as having intention and therefore be formative of your own subjectivity. For the audience their bodies are guided along particular paths by the works and the gallery space, and for you a particular material might allow, afford, encourage, permit, suggest, influence, block, render possible, forbid, and so on. Perhaps the art work shapes human action by prescribing back...
LL: All the works on paper are renderings of found images; they represent different approaches to working with these images. For example in two cases the thickness of a piece of chalk pastel removes detail in rendering source images that were two types of diagram: the result is a quite different function or a shift to disfunction. Even those images that are copied to an ‘accurate’ level of detail differ by being drawings or paintings rather than digital images. With the copy of a cartoon, which was a computer generated image, I was interested in converting its lines into an ink surface. I would say that I am meeting those originary intentions at different points. Often the longer I work on an image the further I take the resultant work away from its source.
JPW: After a Foundation in Art and Design in Norwich you completed a degree in Philosophy at Warwick. More recently you gained an MA in Contemporary Art Theory from Goldsmiths. How do the respective parts of your education resonate, return and coincide?
LL: Across those courses I think most about the different kinds of practice that I came across amongst my tutors and fellow students. And I think about the differences between specific philosophical practices and artistic practices. I am currently interested in what is peculiar to philosophy and art respectively, rather than what they share. Interdisciplinarity, and making use of aspects of different academic pursuits, would seem to require a foundational appreciation of their differences rather than the (often too hasty) identification of crossovers.
JPW: So, somewhat contentiously, you are saying that the exchange between art and philosophy, for example, usually begins with facile statements about their similarities, rather than their differences. It seems there is a definite tendency for art that is made in response to philosophy/theory simply to be illustrative. References supplied by the artist to ‘frame’ the work can seduce, deceive and flatter an audience, creating the taste by which the artist wishes to be judged. It can also close down the proliferation of meaning. What is the exchange between theory and your visual practice?
LL: Arthur Danto would say the art world is the total nexus of art theories. I guess that by exhibiting at OUTPOST I am allowing myself and those things that I present to be positioned, by others, within that nexus. As far as my own thinking/making goes, I am interested in moving beyond my own theories (and rational or captured thinking in general) or perhaps staying ahead of my own theories. In his Sentences on Conceptual Art Sol Le Witt said ‘Conceptual Artists are mystics rather than rationalists. They leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach’. I think about artists in general in relation to this proposition. In a very simple way, making things brings up possibilities that I would not normally have considered.
JPW: By your ‘doing’ art, your actions involving humans and non-human materials, the movement and the flow, you construct meaning from the situatedness of your perspective. You trans-form things. Then along comes a theorist who will overlay a framework in which to understand the art. What do you think is the value in uncaptured thinking? I am interested in how it produces new knowledge for an audience and how it is received. Do you think this relates to the common perception that Contemporary Art is opaque?
LL: Its not just theorists who invoke theoretical frameworks, it seems to be a naturally occuring process. I like to think of art works as forward projections, which nudge ahead of the state of play. I guess the reason why contemporary art might be perceived as opaque would be that art works that deliberately move ahead of certain understandings require new understandings of the audience. O’Sullivan would suggest that contemporary art is for an audience yet to come.