Episode 03:

Crumpled Papers with Giulia Lanza and Rachel Bacon

Episode 03: Crumpled Papers with Giulia Lanza and Rachel Bacon

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Get ready to meet your hosts Giulia Lanza and Rachel Bacon, two talented artists bonded by their shared love for drawing. In this episode Giulia, an Italian artist currently based in Tallinn, takes the helm as the host and guides a thought-provoking discussion into the intricate world of drawing. But not only that, from exploring the time-consuming process to delving into the role of artisans scenes and the teaching of drawing in academia, Giulia and Rachel fearlessly uncover it all. Being the perfect example of artists navigating a multitude of disciplines like drawing, jewellery, sculpture and exploring the virtual world, Giulia’s layered perspective adds a unique touch to the conversation. Her artist practice centers around the concept of ecdysis, delving into what we leave behind and the imprints of our environment on our skin. Through the lens of shedding remnants and family memorabilia, Giulia brings a fresh and captivating perspective to the relationships between drawing, body and space and how it shapes her artwork. 

I invite you to immerse yourself in this captivating and thought-provoking discussion that will undoubtedly leave you craving for more.


Rachel Bacon: Hi. 


Giulia Lanza: Hi. How are you? 


Rachel: Yeah, good. Nice to see you. 


Giulia: It’s very nice to see you again after years, I guess. So I met Rachel when we were studying in London. So it has been quite a journey since then. 

It was, I guess, 2015, 16, something like that. 


Rachel: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. 


Giulia: Quite a few years. So we’re here today to talk mainly about drawing, I guess. Drawing and craftsmanship around drawing, but we’re both too drawing freaks somehow. Let’s say. Rachel, can you introduce a bit yourself? What is your background? What is your research? Just a bit of an overview about what you’ve done, who you are. 


Rachel: Yes, well, it’s a lot to talk about. 

Yeah. But I’m from the United States originally, so I grew up in New York City and I moved to the Netherlands, to Belgium and the Netherlands. Yeah, I’ve lived here for about 25 years. So I’ve lived in Europe for a long time. And I studied in New York painting and printmaking, but when I was there, I found that I was making paintings that gradually started to kind of fall off the wall because I was putting all these materials into them. So I would collect like garbage and really just throw away things. And I was always using these materials that were sort of left over or somehow damaged or something. And I always felt like drawing was the kind of core to looking because you see the structure of things. So I really, I’m not at all a painter or thinking about how a painter might construct space. I’m always sort of thinking about the, and looking at the underlying causes. And that’s, it’s not just visually, it’s also kind of structurally. Structurally, and also, but also sort of philosophically, like what are we talking about? You know, like what’s at the core of things. So, but yeah, but I ended up living in the Netherlands for many years and based in Brussels now, but I, the Netherlands was a great place to live because they had a very rich, or have a very rich culture of artist-run spaces. And I started, and I started working, I was started getting invited to do residencies and projects in these experimental spaces where there was often like a really big open space. So I started to do a lot of installation work. And I sort of rolled into doing projects in public space. Because I was always looking at this kind of larger sort of social picture and trying to relate to things going on in society. But I got really exhausted by that because I found I was kind of following another agenda than my own. 


Giulia: Yeah. 


Rachel: And I didn’t even know what my own agenda was, but I, that’s why I went to the master’s drawing program where we met each other, because I really wanted to go back to sort of the basics. Yeah, to something really basic. And that was just a very, very, yeah, that whole program was looking back, it was one of the best things I ever did, I think. 


Giulia: Yeah. I can say the same thing.


Rachel: Yeah? Okay, that’s great. Yeah, I don’t know what happened. It was just a very, very kind of remarkable year. 


Giulia: Right? Yeah, it was! So it’s, you said that you kind of went back to the origin somehow. Like, you know, studying in London or actually, it was a lot maybe about taking your time for that. You said that you were, when you were like working a lot for public spaces and commissions and so on, it was kind of following another agenda, you know? So how much this time spent on the work in the studio reflects in your practice how important it is, like the craftsmanship of making the pieces. And maybe you can also talk about the quality of your process and how you make those pieces, because Rachel does those amazing drawings. Like, I have to say, yeah, I show your drawings to your drawings, your pieces, because they’re like not just drawings, they expand, you know, in the space, they become objects, they become three-dimensional. And the amount of material is very easy, you know? It’s graphite and paper most of the time. So you don’t need much, you just need to see like material in a different way. So I always show your drawings to my students. It’s just like, see, see, you don’t need much, just like a simple idea, but you have to go through with it. You just have to investigate a bit more and fall in love with something. So if you could tell us a bit about your process and this attention you give to these crumpled papers and… 


Rachel: Well, yeah, thank you so much for your kind words, first of all. But yeah, that like the decision to work with paper and pencil, was really like one of the things I had come to in London because I wanted to have this very basic language, like to get rid of everything that wasn’t going to be useful or important in some way. So I’m still working with that. I have the paper, the pencil, the crumple and the grid. So like these four elements, they’re always, always there. And they’re, each one actually really… I mean, what I was looking for was something limited so I could really go much deeper into things because I really believe that you find freedom through some kind of choice. So it’s not that freedom is like expanding endlessly. It’s actually that freedom is the ability to make a choice about where you want to stand. And then the stand is not like a fixed point, but it’s something that shifts all the time. But it’s a kind of artistic position that you take or that I decided to take. And for me, that was very freeing to actually say, no, I’m going to do this, just this basic thing. And it’s starting to open up lots and lots of possibilities, I find. But the making, which is what you were sort of asking about, it was always, there’s I think there’s kind of a conflict within the art world, which is of course a big word. But for me, making is incredibly basic, it’s really, really important because it’s really the kind of drive to be an artist has to do with the creation of a material. And it’s being one of the only areas where, you know, unless in the developed world or the Western world, where you’re still making something by hand, you know, there’s a lot of social and political questions connected to that. Like, who is in charge of making? And are you able to make for yourself? Or are you making for other people? And if you, you know, to be a little bit cynical, like, we’re making like luxury objects, right, or making objects that are going, just sold in a very fancy shop, which is what a gallery is. But I always had a real conflict with that. And a sort of question about like, is that something I want to be part of? Because it never was something I was always thinking, I wasn’t thinking critically through my work necessarily, but I was always the question was always in my mind of, and that’s also why I went to work in public space, because I had this very, you know, clear idea that the work should be for people who aren’t necessarily connected to the art world. And that’s a really interesting part of work in public space. But I, I again, I came back from that because I really lost connection with this making process. And I made a choice to do that. I made a really clear choice to do that. And now I’m sort of, I’m still thinking about what the next steps are in terms of what do I do with these drawings. You know, I exhibit them, I show them, but I’m sort of thinking like, who’s, is anyone ever going to buy them? Do they come, you know, do I just store them the rest of my life and then my, you know, like my niece and nephew throw it away? Or what do you do with the things that you’re collecting? And we, you know, I know a lot of painters also who have the same problem or sculptors, especially like they have storage problems, like what do we do with this stuff? So there’s a lot of questions about that. 


Giulia: Yeah, again, about, you know, this time and probably what we were talking about art market, you know, that sometimes I don’t know you, but sometimes I feel the pressure no, it’s like, ‘Oh, I have to do this, this and that.’ And sometimes you have this schedule that is so packed. And it’s just kind of overwhelming. While, you know, you have, you have to deliver on a way, but on the other, on the other side, I mean, yeah, you have to spend time in the studio, you have to spend time on the piece, because the, I know work deserves time and which is something that and the fact that you, I think it’s very important that you were saying that you know you spent hours and the craftsmanship is very important. Craftsmanship requires time and it’s not lost time, it’s actually the time you need. So sometimes we live very much, it might seem very banal but we really live in an era where you know everything is very fast and there is the communication and so is it to talk to you you know and you’re in Belgium when Veronika is in Stockholm and I’m in Tallinn and it’s just like yeah sure we are having a conversation whatever or in one hour I can be you know in Belgium because I take a plane and so the standards like became tougher and tougher and sometimes you’re like yeah but you know for instance I work with my hands, I work with drawing and it is very detailed or you know I work at the jewellery bench or I work with the pots and ceramics or I paint, I have to paint three meters cumbers and I don’t know I’m very detailed so you know and all of it is just like sometimes I feel like you have to produce but maybe you know when you said like slow down I think it’s very important sometimes to slow down and go back to the focus of what you’re making because actually we don’t need to produce so much, we need to produce well. 


Rachel: Yeah yeah yeah it’s a and and I think some I mean I often will write about this but that for me the deceleration is part of the work so it’s not a separate thing yeah it’s not like oh gosh I used to be saying oh it’s taking so much time and then I actually realised that’s kind of the point and then I started to think about making the time visible so that the because there’s there’s there’s work in which the time is hidden and there’s work in which you can actually see the time and that has to do with scale or with detail or all the things you know that we were involved in the making process but I think it’s really it’s something that can be embedded in work as a visual principle that you can sort of you can see the making you can see the time and so again it’s sort of about what do you choose to highlight as a part of the work and this this yeah the speed I mean it’s… I was working in… I was going to go to Russia to do like I was starting to think about drawing and mining and then I was going to be visiting these mining areas um I’m not going to visit Russia now for obvious reasons because first of all COVID was not possible to go there and then there’s this horrible war so it’s not a good idea to travel to Siberia right now but but the if you go into mining and also if you’re thinking about silver and materials it’s all immediately about like geologic time. 


Giulia: Exactly. 


Rachel: So you start to think on on a totally different time scale and then then there’s this like economic time which has to be more and more efficient and like you gotta produce produce just like you’re saying and you get caught up in it you’re like oh my god I have to finish and I have to produce this many things and then you’ve got this panic time which is like what’s happening with the climate and with the feedback of all of these these like cascading um calamities and it’s not something that’s going to take place it’s actually right now and that’s going incredibly fast so you got these like these like I think we’re in this kind of time disjunction moment where all these times are together really fascinating it’s also really disorienting makes everybody feel really crazy I think 


Giulia: Yeah definitely. Yeah, definitely. 


Rachel: I mean, you don’t have to go far to find a connection with material, with the material world. 


Giulia: Yeah, exactly. And I totally agree. I mean, also for me, most of the time, I think through making. I don’t think, you know, which is sometimes is, I don’t know, even in the academic environment, you know, they are like, how, how the education works. It’s just like, yeah, think about the concept, you know, and then, you know, you make and I’m like, well, we are makers, you know, so sometimes you unconsciously achieve already the concept while making it because it’s already there, but your way to put it like to make it come to the surface is actually making it because probably you already absorbed all the data you needed and your way to process it is through the making and then after you make the pieces like, haha. Yeah, that’s what it is about, you know, it’s just like, but my first take is not like to talk about it, you know, it’s first I’ll make first I’ll dive into it because it’s another way to dive into it is like. Tim Ingold in his book talks about, you know, the fact that you make first like material teaches you things. It’s another kind of knowledge. And I guess this is a very, very important point when it comes to fine arts craft. I mean, this is our language as much as a philosopher would write a text. We’re making a piece. It’s the same thing. It’s just one that is more visual and tactile and the other one are words. So, and the concept is there it is already embedded there. And then of course you can expand and make more research, but it’s something you achieve at first while the process is going on. I don’t know if you feel like it’s really, 


Rachel: You’re expressing it really beautifully. It’s really, really great what you say. I think it’s really clear. 


Rachel: For instance, I was in a grant committee for four years in the Hague so I was on the other side of the table and reading people’s proposals and it was really interesting. It was really really great year I have done just to kind of learn what makes a good proposal and how do all these different artists discuss and talk about and write about their work and show their work. So I learned a lot, but what was really clear to me was that like we would often have two people against and three people for or three people for and to again so someone just got over the edge and so the end the things that you ended up supporting and the things that you that people end up seeing. It’s like a tiny part. It’s a small part of what’s actually out there, because they’re all these people doing things that maybe don’t get the funding or don’t get seen. And, you know, I know, I know like only artists I think I don’t. I think I don’t know anybody besides artists except for my family. And I know, you know, and people have shows and some of them are doing really well but not all the time and a lot of people don’t show or they show in obscure places that are run by artists you know so like, we don’t see anything of what’s out there. 


Giulia: Yeah. 


Rachel: And it’s really strange actually, because there’s this whole kind of, there’s like a layer of creative people that are kind of invisible in a way. And yet have these really interesting practices mostly and are doing kind of wonderful things. So it’s really, it’s a little, I mean, I don’t know what that is. I guess that’s more like a, but then, and what I’m saying though, is that those people are often, like those are the, that’s the community out of which the artists arise who do get visibility in museums and galleries. Because without this level, without this really rich layer of hummus, you don’t get any art stars, you don’t get any museums, you don’t get anything. And there’s not so much attention for that. 


Giulia: But in Rome, there, all these artist-run spaces are popping up, which is nice because they kind of took the initiative, you know, it’s just like, when there is a crisis, just take the initiative somehow. And I know a lot of friends, and I have to say like, not leaving there, sometimes I’m like, hmm, maybe that, you know, that would be interesting. And I was chatting with them, I’ve been recently to an exhibition between the ruins on the Villa di Quintili, on the Appia Antica in Rome. Beautiful, by the way. And we were also, you know, going through the ruins, I mean, it’s Rome, you have it there. It’s just like being on a grand tour, and you were born in it. And I was having a discussion with a couple of curators that were like, you know, international artists, you know, they go big, they’re just like the Roman Empire, and they go big, and it’s important to go big, and be massive, and make a change, and it’s like with me that I really like tiny things and delicate stuff, it’s just like okay. But, and I was like, while Italian artists, they stay small, and I was like, and don’t you think it’s also because of funding? For instance, or like because the project, it has to be done in a different way, of course, not just for that, because you can also make something massive with a tiny amount of money, but somehow like also the feeling of never being supported. 

It’s a bit frustrating, especially when I’m in Italy, for instance, I feel quite inspired and I work a lot just because there is this crisis, you know, there’s something that triggers my process, let’s say, sort to say. 


Rachel: Yeah, I mean, it’s like a kind of mould, because the, or like an imprint, because the funding really has an impact on what happens, but then if it’s an open system, then there’s feedback from the artists to the funders, and sometimes things can change. And especially, I don’t know, because the Netherlands has this really long tradition of artists-run spaces, of self-organising. There’s some really, I mean, there’s some great things going on, and those, so you’re starting to see like a much more diverse communities of artists in different places. But it’s, I think it’s, like public funding also has its limitations because it tries to do something so it’s very top down. So in a weird way like being in Brussels where there’s I think relatively little funding, I’m not really sure about the funding here yet but I know there are a lot more galleries which can also be quite cool because actually galleries do something that that public funders don’t do and there’s lots of I think maybe the problem with galleries is that we’re losing a lot of small galleries like the the middle-sized galleries are having a real struggle to survive so there’s less space for experimentation with the small galleries so they’re either like massive David Zwirner, Gagosian or you know they don’t manage to just to make it and and it’s like that that layer of like small independent galleries could be really exciting for artists because then you get like somebody who might be like really wanting to support the work and then you know selling the work to collectors who then go on to maybe do make suggestions to museums or to other spaces so it can be really you know it can be really like great for artists. 


Giulia: I have one more question. You said before that you’re you know you have a teaching career and I know you have been teaching for a while now and I was wondering not just about the role of drawings for your students as a research method but also all what we have discussed about you know how you’re how do we teach like and I teach as well but in the academia it’s always you know some science theory against practice why they don’t you know they should just merge right and I don’t know me myself sometimes here when I make the schedule for my I don’t know I teach research through drawing actually so it’s just like…


Rachel: Great. 


Giulia: Yeah so it’s just like when I do the schedule for my drawing courses I have you know colleagues feedbacks that maybe there are more like theoreticians and they’re more like ah but you’re going to make them read and I was like yeah for sure but first of all I make them draw it’s just like it’s a different perspective we’ve talked talked about it bit before so how yeah how do you feel about it because for me it’s a very hot topic you know this like acknowledging the making also as a way of researching and you know through the failures that they might encounter in it like sometimes I feel there’s no time for failure in in the academia which is very very important because you’re going to fail in life and it’s not going to be you know first idea is the is the brilliant one you might have to think through it so just like to end our conversation to go more on you know more than on the artisan moment this researcher teaching side because I’m interesting in in the body we are like in the let’s say academis and in the institution we’re actually operating in 


Rachel: Well I I’ve been thinking a lot about this and and I I’ve been teaching drawing for about 10 years and it’s always this expanded drawing so it’s really drawing as like learning to set up an a process and learning to create a link between thinking and making and I always love drawing because it’s the most basic and you can it’s so democratic you don’t need money for it you can but you could you can also go very detailed or you know it has an incredible it’s incredible medium in its own right but you can also just use like a broomstick and some sand you know so you you don’t need it’s got all these possibilities um and but what I found was uh I started to we the academy where I teach at the Royal Academy in the Hague um it’s quite a really focused on material practice and what I missed a lot I found that students were becoming quite I mean obviously artwork has to do with your subjective life. So it’s about you. But I found a lot of the work becoming very introverted and I got kind of worried about that. Keep thinking about this social context that’s so important to be engaged in or with, I think. So right now I’m teaching drawing, but what I have to do is we start out by building a visual archive and they collect images and then we sort of talk about it in terms of three levels. So they have this level of personal imagery. Then there’s artistic context and I asked them to look at contemporary drawing so that they have these kinds of guides to like, so the personal level is really, it’s like you need to have this connection and they collect like whatever it is. It’s Egyptian hieroglyphs or manga comics. It can be anything. So then they start with this big group of images that they love, that they’re passionate about. But then the artists are this kind of, they can see, okay, that’s how I can translate it into something else. And then the next layer is the layer of social connection. And I think about it as political, like a small P, but it’s sociopolitical, like whatever sort of issues are out there that you’re interested in. So when we start to organise the archives, they develop these threads and then suddenly you can sort of say, okay, so you really are interested in these very watery, like watercolour-y looking blues and greens and things. And then you could sort of say, okay, look at an artist like Ellen Gallagher who’s working with watery aesthetic and then you could think about hydrofeminism. But, and then with these archives, I asked them all to develop independent projects. 

So they start from that. And then we work doing a huge amount of sketching and like starting to use the drawing just as a way to work fast. I think it’s a really useful tool. And what I really wanna do, as a next step, is to develop the archive more so that I bring in other people who know more about theory than to actually like to feed into the archives that they’re building and then develop bigger projects from that. So yeah, that’s sort of how I approach it. At the moment. 


Giulia: Drawing is always first. 


Rachel: It is, but it’s also always essential for me as a tutor to be learning so that I’m learning as well while I’m teaching. So I mean, it’s actually a similar kind of methodology or process to making. It’s just kind of doing it, thinking about it, doing it, thinking about it, but always searching for something else or something new because as soon as I repeat something again, it’s like not working, I have to kind of reinvent it. And yeah, so learning from your students and learning from the process is really incredibly important. But it’s, I don’t know how it is with you, but I’m finding teaching getting to be more, it’s harder now because there’s more that students are suffering psychologically a lot. And so it’s much heavier than it was. It’s a much more emotional kind of care taking that we’re doing instead. 


Giulia: Yeah, but it’s… I have much less experience than you, but I noticed the change, even before and after COVID a lot, I guess. And yeah, and they’re more sort of more fragile. And I already noticed the way that we’re teaching me cannot be used with these new people that come. I mean, and that doesn’t depend on age because I have like all age spans. It’s just like probably the time or, you know, and there is something very delicate there. So yeah, I totally agree. Totally, totally agree. 

So I guess we’re at the end of it, but thank you!


Rachel: Thank you so much for this invitation! It was just really, really nice to connect again.