Who: Norah Lovell
What: Visual artist
Artists chosen location for interview: Her studio and home where pink walls and a plate of biscotti awaited us
Q: What would you like to experience for only a total of 15 minutes?
NL: Time travel. I’m inclined to say that I would go to the past, knowing that’s not a specific geography. Sometimes I feel like being endlessly in the past, almost to extraction. That opportunity to be almost like a ghost and go into a past world would be really interesting.
For the time era, I feel like I always want to travel to the time around the 19th century. The aesthetics of that time are just amazing. Steroviewers were popular at that time, and there was this way of looking at the world with a supernatural quality. It would be great to slip unseen, on the periphery, into the moment of the past.
I’d love to look in on old parlors and old places of intrigue—where people have written novels or interrupted scenes. It wouldn’t necessarily be great moments in history. I’d just like to get a peek into people’s lives. Although, I feel like I’m always doing that when I walk around at night. I look in people’s windows, not so much to see them, but to see the frame they live in. It’s a way to be removed, and it’s cinematic; you go out and look at other peoples’ movies. That sounds like a really strange thing to say about myself. [Laughing]. But, something about being able to experience other people’s lives when they are not in them is really fascinating.
Q: If you got to ask one question about your life, what would it be?
NL: Is it mine? I don’t really even know what I mean by that, but I wonder if this life is mine; is it singular; is it one of many?
I feel like I may not be fixed. I would be interested into slipping over into an alternate version of myself. This question of ‘Is there more?’ is constantly on my mind. If you string together the words: mystery, ghost, and murder, then I am totally intrigued. I’m always looking to peel back the third wall.
On a certain level, the more I look, the less I realize. Maybe this has to do with getting older, but I’m less sure now about things than I was when I was younger.
My whole ethic is dogged with work, and so I wonder if that interest in the mystical has to do with that. Usually when I interview, I’m in the frame of the working artist, so I don’t usually look at things this way.
Q: When was the beginning of you being interesting to yourself?
NL: I studied classical dance when I was little, and I had watched a movie on TV with Vanessa Redgrave about Isadora Duncan. I was so into the theatricality of it that I started to do my own home performances. There were costumes.
My poor parents.
That was probably my earliest time of being part of these over-the-top visuals like Isadora Duncan. I was only six at this time, and it continued from there.
I grew up in New York, and my father was a film writer so I’d watch all these wonderful 1930s black-and-white films. That feeling of drama and theater was really part of my life, and my ballet teacher at that time was 80 years old, and she taught in this incredibly old building and she wore these fantastic scarves while being partially drunk while teaching. [Laughing.] She was so interesting, and there wasn’t any phoniness to it. It was an authentic way of presenting the self.
You’d look at her, and you would want to know her story. I feel like that is true with certain people, and as a young person that was definitely cultivated in me.
Q: How do you go about interpreting something?
NL: In a way, I go for steps removed. Often, I’m working with a text. Books are hugely influential for me, and as I’m interpreting the text, I’m putting a distance between me and the text. If I’m working with the idea of steroviewing, for instance, then I put an actual object between me and the image or still. When I’m reading a text, history creates that distance.
I find myself backing up a lot and manipulating the aperture in order to see more. My way of wanting to investigate the truth is almost perverse because when I identify something as interesting to me, I begin to move away from it and surround it with layers.
That seems to be the way to really get at things. It’s like this wonderful Antonioni film called Blow up. The photographer sees something in his camera, and he blows up this photograph to see it more clearly. Yet, the closer he gets to it, the less he can see.
As I’m beginning to investigate something, I’m always thinking the lens or the way that you look at it. In other words, it can take me a year to look at something. [Laughing].
I started looking at Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 back in 2014, and I’m still involved with it and still thinking about that book in 2017.
Q: Who did you hide something from when you were little?
NL: My mother. As a kid, I was a thief. I couldn’t stop stealing things. I would steal anything.
I would say this was from the ages of five until eleven. Then my mother turned me in for shoplifting. I had stolen something and slipped it in the lining of my coat. When the store police tried to apprehend me, I emptied my pockets and said I didn’t have anything. Then my mother showed them where the lining was and I got caught.
She did that for good. There was a strong principle behind her turning me in.
The thing is, I was like a crow. The idea of other people’s things was so appealing. At one point I had taken a ring from my friend’s mother. It was really problematic, but something about that secret life was so intriguing.
I’m still a thief, but I’m principled. I’m an image thief, not in a way where I actually steal the images. But, I gravitate toward texts or images and through interpretation I say, ‘I want that.’ Thinking, writing, and creating, it’s your relationship to the truth, but in the end you make something wonderful from those stolen parts.
Norah Lovell’s work will be on sale as part of her “Hurricane Sale” this Saturday, August 18. The sale will take place at 4116 Camp Street. To learn more about Norah as well as her work, you can check out her website.