Curator and journalist Jan Falk Borup in conversation with Simon Le Ruez

Every kind of Danger, 2004

Every kind of Danger, 2004

Curator and journalist Jan Falk Borup in conversation with Simon Le Ruez on the occasion of Stories of Solitude, Le Ruez’s solo exhibition at Arhus Kunstbygning (Museum of Modern Art), Denmark

The interview took place in March 2005

Jan: Can you say a bit about your background and interests as an artist?

Simon: I was always interested in making things from a very early age. I used to paint and draw a lot but felt there was always something missing, there felt like a invisible boundary that I was unable to cross working that way. When I started to make sculptures, suddenly a light went on. It was the physical and tactile nature that excited me and still does. I trained in London and Winchester and moved to Sheffield around five years ago as it felt like a less obvious place to be than in London. I am interested mostly in the simple things that are all around us, how and why people do certain things and often the absurdity and charm of this. I have described my work as an enquiry into what goes on behind the net curtains. It's about an interest in revealing the things, which perhaps we are not meant to see. Hence the use of materials like net curtain that prevents us from seeing into houses and copper piping, which is normally hidden under floorboards. Another phrase I can attach to the work is 'a dialogue of little curiosities'. I like to play with materials to a point where their inherent qualities and potential starts to be revealed and a reference point begins to occur to something strangely familiar.  

Jan: You are not only using materials from daily life, most of your pieces in the exhibition are also carrying a reference to well known shapes i.e. glacier formations, reptile teeth, a bunk bed. Is this form of representation important in order to understand the stories you are telling?

Simon: Representation is always important to me but what I am more interested in doing with this work is reinterpreting something vaguely familiar in order to spark the imagination. Yes I have made a work that represents a bunk bed, but as it is not actually this I see it more as interpretation of one. Whether it is important to understand this representation or reinterpretation is an interesting question. I often feel each work has a boundary, almost like, okay I can go this far with this work without actually spelling something out, I don't like to give too much away as it can close down the experience of the work. For me it is about trying to hit that fine line between something appearing simple yet the more you look the more complexities you see, or hitting that awkward and elusive place between ugly and beautiful. What is important is that the stories can have different beginnings, middles and ends.  

Jan: Are you incorporating the exhibition space in the sense that characterises an installation, or do you consider each object in the room as separate pieces within the exhibition?

Simon: I do see this exhibition as an installation in the sense that I hope there is a dialogue going on between the pieces. As the room has a very curious shape to it I decided I wanted to emphasise and exaggerate this and play with the ambience through the hanging and placement of the individual pieces. The hanging of work has always been crucial to me and it can take me a long time to get it right. To an extent through the hanging of work I think its possible to control where the eye goes when you walk in a space, particularly when you are showing three-dimensional objects. Its like the little tree sprouting out of the pipe-like form, I wanted this piece to be almost hidden, like it knew something the viewer didn't, placed where it is, I feel it almost works like a guardian watching over the other pieces. I hope the show works in the sense that if one piece was taken away or slightly altered then the space and experience of the work would feel very different.  

Jan: Would you describe your visual language to be specifically British?

Simon: I think there are definitely British traits in the work, but these exist most obviously perhaps in relation to the materials. Net curtain is typically English for instance, you see it everywhere in England normally in houses in villages or in the suburbs of cities. It has a nostalgic association for me, the material in itself has a story to tell. I think there are other less obvious British traits, like the sense of humour for instance. I hope there is a humour running through the work but maybe it is the kind that one almost feels guilty about, that sense of laughing at something that you really shouldn't laugh at, but those are often the things that you often smile about for some time after. I hope the work in the exhibition will translate well, I think ultimately the experience is very open and there are works included that have been made specifically for the space and as a direct result of observations made whilst in Denmark. The piece 'Any Given Sunday (Bike and Bootlace)' is one such piece and the piece 'Around the World' was made specifically for that strange corner in the space.

Jan: You said in the beginning of the interview that you moved to Sheffield because it felt like a less obvious place to be than London. Can you tell me more about why that is?

Simon: I have a history with London, I studied there and then stayed there for some time afterwards. Its an exciting place but a difficult one for an emerging artist, one can end up making a lot of compromises because of the expense of things. Ten years ago the visual arts in England was very 'London centric', I suppose that's what I meant by it being the obvious place to be, to an extent it still is, but I think things are changing. There are some major projects happening in the other larger cities, and where you are based doesn't seem to matter that much anymore. As long as you are stimulated by where you live and work and you are making strong work that seems the more important thing. I see things in Sheffield that make me interested or smile everyday, when that ceases maybe it will be time to be somewhere else. I don't pretend I could live in a village somewhere, its important for me to have access to things and I still love to go to London, its just right now I am equally happy to leave there after a few days.  

Jan: You have described your practice as a possible enquiry into what goes on behind the net curtains. Are there underlying psychological aspects in this interest?

Simon: Definitely. The curtain thing is almost like a vehicle with which to explain this interest I have in what goes on behind closed doors, its curious, where people may go to on a psychological level when they are faced with a degree of solitude or they have to deal with their own reality. I don't think it has to be a morbid thing, that’s really not where I am calling from. I remember reading this story once about a man whose wife left him suddenly one day, he stayed up all night in his armchair looking into the darkness, then when the sun came up he went out to rake his lawn. When he’d finished he went round to his neighbours house and raked his lawn, then continued to go from house to house raking all the lawns in the street. The story immediately made me want to laugh and cry at the same time. The point for me was how the man was using this act of raking lawns as a diversion to what was happening to him, almost as a way of dealing with it. I found that fascinating and affecting. I have thought about landscapes a lot over the last couple of years and how an interpretation of one could be a metaphor for a psychological state. Take the glaciers on the bunk bed piece for instance, when I think about the reality of a landscape like this I think of extreme conditions, potential hazards and yet strange beauty. Beds are an obvious vessel for psychological states, so by allowing the interpretation of one to accommodate this kind of landscape I am trying to force the viewer to go somewhere emotionally. The title ‘Every kind of Danger’ is a clue; I was thinking more of emotional dangers and absence. The other important thing is that actual glaciers shift and change as circumstances do, so there is a note of optimism there, for me that piece is about longing. Its funny because the first piece I made when I started to consider this thing about landscapes was 'This mess we're in.' It’s frequently referred to as reptile like and threatening, but I see it more as an edge of a cliff high up there on the wall, there are different conflicts going on, the hard top surface and the soft yet potentially sharp underside, but again for me this piece is all about the evocation of some kind of vulnerability.