Interview: Linda Ingham, featured artist in Shifting Subjects at Abbey Walk Gallery

Interview: Linda Ingham, featured artist in Shifting Subjects at Abbey Walk Gallery

Linda Ingham is a visual artist and curator, who lives and works in her coastal studio in Lincolnshire. The south bank of the Humber estuary has been a constant accompaniment throughout her life, as has the industry and traffic that it supports. The passage of time, location and place is represented in Ingham’s work through process and systems of recording and the use of materials, such as jet, gathered from the beach; silverpoint and handmade gesso; and collage from antique books. Her drawn and painted constructions are often gathered together as composite pieces and installations, which may change over time. Self-imagery is also a regular feature of her work. Her works for the upcoming exhibition Shifting Subjects at Abbey Walk Gallery include a telephone table containing a book filled with transcriptions of conversations she had with her mother and a pair of profiles, shaped from her cast shadow, filled with the abstracted landscape of the Humber. London-based art writer and editor Anny McNay interviews the artist.

Anna McNay: You speak of your work “concentrating on place and time through conversation and autobiography”. Is it more a case of using place and time to help define an uncertain and shifting identity, or do you use your identity and sense of self to try to grasp such ephemeral concepts as time and space?
Linda Ingham: I think this depends, as I have used self-imagery in several series. The Profile Pieces became my way back into something alluding to self-portraiture but in which the image of “me” is actually closer to being subtracted; a “space” shaped a bit like me. It is more about using place and time to define identity. I tend towards a depressive nature and swing between putting myself out there and wanting to hide. The collaged elements and stylistic references to my home landscape put something of “me” into the Profile Pieces. I’d like to think that the inclusion of this material in some way resonates and communicates something to the viewer – maybe a sense of authenticity? It doesn’t matter to me that the viewer can’t see what the material is and I don’t think it is necessary to know this in order to have an understanding of the work. I like the idea that not everything within the work is on show; I like the hidden.

AM: Can you explain a little about The Listening Project? Were you actually involved?
LI: I haven’t been involved in the Listening Project, no, but I discovered it through listening to Radio 4. I love archives and the fact that there is a sound archive of conversations between contemporary people, related in different ways, and about a wide range of subjects, fascinates me, as does the notion of ‘capturing’ a conversation. It is a collaboration between the BBC and the British Library. The idea to use it came through meditating on just why I had bought a vintage telephone table that I knew I must do something with, the importance of communication, and how the nature of conversation has changed as media have developed.

AM: Tell me about the conversations that you had with your own mother.
LI: My mother died six years ago now and I am struck by how difficult it is to remember our conversations and how it always seems to be the painful ones that are remembered, although, once someone is gone, what you want to remember are the happy times. I can easily remember what she said to me when I had just found out that I couldn’t have children, but I can only remember a sort of sense of our happier conversations. By listening to conversations between mothers and daughters in The Listening Project’s archive, I am attempting to access my own apparently forgotten memories. But what I do for my practice is create constructs. Some of what I ‘remember’ might therefore not have actually happened.

AM: How would you describe your relationship with your mother?
LI: We had a good relationship, certainly not a combative one, and we loved each other very much, but, like many mothers/daughters/sons/fathers, we were very different people, and I’m not sure how well we understood each other. When she died, I couldn’t work for a while. I had a solo show coming up, for which I had hoped to make all new work. This meant I had to seriously consider the work I had done to date and what I would be happy to exhibit. Through the process of reviewing my back-catalogue up to that time, I discovered that the work I considered to be most successful was work that somehow came out of difficult times, such as some of the Red Roar pieces I made after finding out that I would not be able to have children. The first pieces I made after my mother’s death were a series of drawings entitled Losing & Finding, now in the modern & contemporary collection at Swindon Museum & Art Gallery, for which I photographed myself without make-up, with my eyes closed, thinking of my mother, and then used the image to develop the drawings.

AM: To what extent would a portrait of your mother be a portrait of yourself? How much of how you are now is due to her?
LI: That’s an interesting question. Her death has undeniably affected me massively in many ways. I suppose you could say that a lot of who I am now is down to her, both to who she was when she was here and to losing her. As I have grown older, I have made physical discoveries about myself that seem to echo elements of her physicality. Certainly, the realisation that the work I consider to be the most successful has often developed from life’s more painful moments has changed the way I work now and the subjects that I choose.

AM: For Conversations with my Mother, you are concealing your own memory book in a drawer in a vintage telephone table, allowing visitors to view it only through glass. Is this purely a decision based on aesthetics and artistic concept or is it also another form of veiling and protecting your privacy?
LI: I want the book to be viewed through frosted glass, partly because of aesthetic reasons, and partly because of my belief that not everything needs to be on show. The retrieval of memories often brings up things that are not clear; mis-rememberings and uncertainties – the frosted glass and concealment are more to do with this and the experience we all have of feeling that something we are attempting to remember is close to the surface but often just will not quite emerge. It’s not really to do with privacy. A lot of the time, I’m playing with the poignancy of loss.

AM: How much of your work is portraiture? And how much is self-portraiture?
LI: I would say that, for the past twenty years or so, my visual preoccupation within my practice has manifested itself in terms of human form. Sometimes this has been bodies, but the power, for me, is around the head in some way. I did a series of some two hundred works, derived from more than eighty participants, just concentrating on their facial features, but I’m not sure I’d call them portraits. I have done portraits of other people, but perhaps, as an only child, who often had to entertain herself, the self-portrait has been most consistently prevalent throughout my practice.

Most recently, I have been making work about place, the objects I find, and the social history. For Shifting Subjects, I have attempted to apply some of these methodologies, to bring “place” – which as much as a piece of land is formed by the people who live within it – into work with an autobiographical aspect.

AM: What sort of questions do you hope your work – and the exhibition at large – will raise about women’s self-portraiture and sense of identity (on the whole and as artists)?
LI: We have a lot of academic and student involvement in this project. As a whole project, perhaps questions might arise around how women are presented and represented, and how we present and represent ourselves. Wider than that, I hope that the body of work on show will demonstrate issues surrounding class, social structure and social constructs; the changing nature and methods of communication; and the structure of the art world and women’s place within it.

Shifting Subjects: Contemporary Women Telling the Self through the Visual Arts, 2 September – 31 October, Abbey Walk Gallery, Grimsby,
N E Lincolnshire, DN31 1NB.

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1. Linda Ingham, Conversations with my Mother, 2015. Courtesy of the artist.