John Wood and Paul Harrison, installation view from ‘I DIDN’T KNOW I DIDN’T KNOW IT’, Contemporary Art Gallery, February 12 – April 24, 2016. Photography by SITE Photography

Interview with Lyse Lemieux

Lyse Lemieux, installation view of 'FULL FRONTAL', Contemporary Art Gallery off-site at Yaletown-Roundhouse Station, October 13, 2017 - March 25, 2018. Photography by SITE Photography

Canadian artist Lyse Lemieux currently has two large-scale outdoor works on the façade of CAG and at our off-site location at Yaletown-Roundhouse Station. Lemieux’s work is usually executed indoors, using tactile materials such as felt or paint. Her cut-works in felt are often described as drawings, emphasizing the way her practice evokes a balance between figuration and abstraction. For the two public works in FULL FRONTAL she had the opportunity to work with vinyl on the exterior windows of both structures.

Curatorial Intern Whitney Brennan caught up with Lyse Lemieux to talk about her experience working both with vinyl and outdoors.


WB: This is the first time you’ve worked with vinyl on a glass surface. Can you talk a little about what that transition was like? Was there anything unexpected about working with the medium?

LL: This is the first time I have worked with vinyl. My work has always been on interior walls with fabric and/or ink on paper. This outdoor drawing project had to survive the fall and winter – vinyl seemed a logical choice.

The most challenging aspect of the project was that once I’d found and sketched out the idea I quite literally no longer had to use my hands. Having to depend on others to do virtually everything, from printing to final architectural drawings to of course the installation itself, was a little frustrating.

Not handling the materials for me, takes away that opportunity to discover something new about the material and/or the process I’m involved and engaged with. Having such an opportunity often leads to learning something new about how I think, how I work, what I think I know about my materials, etc. It’s something I look forward to. With this project what I ended up with was pretty much what I conceived of on paper and on my computer- that’s not a bad thing of course but an unusual one for me.


WB: So much of your work is tactile and intimately hand cut, but the works at CAG and Yaletown are made by a printer. Did this process change your relationship to the works?

LL: In the studio I build drawings directly on the wall using strips, and/or, large sheets of felt wool. I draw the same way I would were I using paper except now using more of my body. The wall becomes the sheet of paper, the strips and flat sheets of wool become the ink and my body, becomes the paintbrush or pencil.

For my Oakville Galleries exhibition (Talking Out of Both Sides of her Mouth, 2015) I made many of the components in my studio. The eyes and stems as well as the hundreds of felt wool strips that made up the mouth were brought from my studio to the gallery in Oakville and then the work was rebuilt in situ. Some adjustments had to be made and that’s what kept the process alive and vibrant.

I often take photographs of the space or site then add and rework digitally in Photoshop the shapes and images I want to use (in this case the B/W fabric and the ellipses). I also paste the shapes or drawings directly onto the architectural plans if they’re available.

For the Yaletown-Roundhouse Canada Line Station the concept of reshaping and playing with a scanned section of fabric meant working digitally, whereas for the CAG façade I worked a lot of the ideas out by making the windows out of fabric and wool and fitting them into the architectural plan. The final files used for printing were prepared by a graphic designer.

I don’t much like working with architectural drawings – numbers and perfect lines make me nervous, so architectural drawings have to be simple for me to understand and use. When I do use them I blow them up then cut, draw and paste directly onto them.


WB: Does this open up a new trajectory in your practice?

LL: I’ve been involved in working on public art projects for close to two years and in some ways the CAG project had echoes of how I work on these public realm projects.

I really like making work that’s larger scale and bigger than my body but I’m not a fan of the administration that seems to come along with this working publically. I find it distances me from my studio, from my practice, from my hands. It might be that it’s because I’m new at this pubic art business but right now I’m finding that my head-hand balance or relationship is a difficult one to maintain. I’m spending too much time on my computer answering emails…


WB: I particularly like the transparency of the work presented in Yaletown. The folds and pulled back sections allow us to peek through to the commuters and traffic on the other side. Did this aspect play into how you designed the piece?

LL: I wanted the Yaletown-Roundhouse Canada Line Station to be an abstracted series of curtains or drapes that take you from one window to another and, right around the building. Ambiguously opening and closing to the transit riders heading to and from home, the curtain references domesticity while also being a bit of a voyeuristic wink.

The CAG façade unlike the Canada Line Yaletown station invites viewers in, in the same way the Richmond Art Gallery installation created connections – at RAG ellipse figures leaned and caressed each other. Here the CAG façade is more of a fortress. The ellipses are like dark figures standing on their opaque off-white grounds, transgressing the first story onto the second and making us aware of their guardianship. Wrapping the around both sides of the building was essential to this sense of implacability.

At the Yaletown Canada Line Station for safety and security reasons, perforated vinyl has to be used on their windows. The perforated vinyl adds an ephemeral and translucent quality that I really like – a materiality that doesn’t exist with opaque vinyl. The down side is when interior lights are on perforated vinyl means the image disappears completely.


WB: Another aspect I found interesting was the temporality of these two works. They’re not permanent installations; they have a limited duration after which the vinyl, unlike your felt works, cannot be salvaged or stored for reuse.

LL: My work has often dealt with impermanence. In the ‘90s and early 2000s I made dresses from latex rubber knowing with time they would disintegrate. This degeneration was essential and intrinsic to my choice of materials. More recently, with the felt wool drawing installations when an exhibition is over, everything is discarded.


WB: Your work also bridges many aspects of interiority and exteriority. Both the CAG piece and Yaletown are literally wrapped around a structure. Did this affect how you considered the work would be experienced in contrast to a physical sculptural work or cut drawing?

LL: My approach to large scale drawing installations is similar to sketchbook drawing and drawing on loose sheets of paper. I examine where a line could start and where a line could stop. I then try to make some sense of what’s happening in between. There are obviously more challenges and lots more corners to entertain with an architectural site but all of it means carefully examining all the points of view; the interior, the exterior, the sides, the backs… Just as we do when we get dressed.


Lyse’s works are on display until March 25, 2018.

At the Yaletown-Roundhouse Station, work is presented by CAG in partnership with the Canada Line Public Art Program – InTransit BC. Lemieux is grateful for the support of Canada Council for the Arts and BC Arts Council. FULL FRONTAL is also supported by Proper Design.