Interviews

Lucy McKenzie

Left: Lucy McKenzie, exhibition poster for “Something They Have to Live With,” 2013. Right: View of “Something They Have to Live With,” 2013. (Photo: Gert-Jan van Rooij)

Lucy McKenzie is a Brussels-based Scottish artist. In 2008, with designers Beca Lipscombe and Bernie Reid, she launched Atelier E.B., a company that works on fashion and design projects with a particular emphasis on applied arts and artisan techniques. McKenzie’s first exhibition in Amsterdam is currently on view at the Stedelijk Museum until September 22, 2013. Along with the show, Atelier E.B. will have a temporary showroom at Magazijn in Amsterdam from May 15 to 18.

THE STEDELIJK SHOW BEGAN with my impressions of visiting three different sites at the end of 2012: the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain; Adolf Loos’s Villa Müller in Prague; and an exhibition of Sol LeWitt’s wall paintings at M Museum Leuven. I knew I wanted to investigate the Villa Müller and Alhambra a little more after I realized that these two places share several things in common: They’re archetypal, ideal representations of perfection in interior design; they’re UNESCO-protected places; and in both, women are present but also hidden from the outside world. In the Villa Müller, for instance, there is a boudoir with a small window that looks down into the main space so that the lady of the house could watch but not be seen.

I taught myself how to devise and paint some of the patterns I saw in the Alhambra. If you want to understand patterns you just have to make them, and the paintings in this show are big studies of how those patterns work. My initial interest in the Alhambra came from reading Owen Jones, one of the founders of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. He was the first Western designer and architect to give the palace any kind of importance. He had the elaborate texts rendered on its architecture translated to English, and he realized that these are like speech bubbles. It’s the building talking directly to you.

With the Villa Müller, only seven people at a time could visit, so you could feel very clearly how it would have been to live there. I created a scale model of that structure, using fake marble in a sculptural way—to explore what it is about those volumes and their spatial harmony that is so satisfying to be around, as well as go against Loos’s driving principle of using only natural materials for surface decoration.

But the show is about opposing ideas, not chic architecture; there is a counterbalance of themes that are direct and personal. Quodlibet XXVI (Self Portrait) deals head-on with appropriation—or rather a whole cycle of appropriation. In it the viewer can read that not only do I appropriate, but also that artists have tried to appropriate images of me (particularly those taken by Richard Kern). And there are mannequins on view; idealized skeletons underneath clothes. I want to show the direct connection between architectural interiors and the body, to what is always under clothing, as well as reflect on what is private and what is public, real and idealized.

The Ost End Girls Collection showroom will be open in May. It’s like being in a very square band, touring different cities: Amsterdam, Brussels, London. We’ll come to New York in the fall and we’ll have a shop with the Artist’s Institute on the Lower East Side. We don’t do normal retail because shops put on too much markup and we want the clothes to be as cheap as possible. Also, we’re interested in alternative economic models and different ways to distribute and to present our designs.

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