interview by JÉRÔME SANS
portrait by JULIAN SIMMONS
all artwork copyright SARAH LUCAS
courtesy of sadie coles hq, london
photos by ROBERT GLOWACKI
the erotic sculptures by british feminist artist resemble cartoon couples composed of a chair and bendy, hypersexualized body parts like high-heeled legs, explosive breasts, and the occasional supersized phallus.
JÉRÔME SANS — How would you describe love?
SARAH LUCAS — It’s a concise word for something that covers a multiplicity of phenomena. Is love a subjective thing entirely, or does it have some objective reality? Perhaps that question is a good definition. Love is certainly a force. For good, mostly, one would think, but not necessarily. Especially in the case of romantic love, it can be very destructive. I suppose it puts the humanity into life — and the fallibility.
JÉRÔME SANS — Is love important to you? Do you believe in it?
SARAH LUCAS — Well, there has to be some opposition to forces of greed and evil.
JÉRÔME SANS — In your work, is your woman looking for love? Is she searching for a painful love or a happy one?
SARAH LUCAS — She or he is just being. You, or me, or somebody else does the rest.
JÉRÔME SANS — Has love ever inspired your art?
SARAH LUCAS — Some of [my works] are portraits, partly — therefore, musing on a person I’ve been close to.
JÉRÔME SANS — Since the early 1990s, you’ve been using chairs, which became even more present in your latest exhibition in New York: chairs of different designs, on which are seated some strange and amorphous limbs. What do these chairs represent to you? Are they a metaphor for the other, the need of the other, the lover on whom one can sit or who holds us up? Is this chair a contemporary symbol of love or of dependence? Or are these chairs symbols of loneliness — of women’s perpetual cliché of domesticity?
SARAH LUCAS—Indeed, I use a lot of furniture. We all do, don’t we? It’s convenient that there’s always some around, and that’s how it started, I think. Chairs have a lot of personality. I’m always finding chairs that strike my fancy. In my house, they come and go. A lot of them develop into sculptures.
JÉRÔME SANS — Why do you focus on certain parts of a woman’s anatomy and not the full body?
SARAH LUCAS — In my early photographic work depicting bodies, I left out the head. In the first place because the body was mine, and I didn’t want the work to be about me. Then it was a man, and I didn’t want the work to be about him. I guess I extended that logic to the sculptures — although I don’t think of them as faceless. They have enough character and attitude to compensate for that. They’re not realistic representations of a figure. They are sculptures. They have an abstract dimension.
JÉRÔME SANS — Why are the trunks of your women cut and headless? As a woman, what do you want to say?
SARAH LUCAS — I often think a nice pair of tits does as well as a face, in terms of expression.
JÉRÔME SANS — Why are they depersonalized? Are they objectified? Is it a denunciation of the societal gaze of men toward women?
SARAH LUCAS — They are not depersonalized. One thing they each have is a personality.
JÉRÔME SANS — It seems that legs are the most predominant and recurrent body part in your work — why?
SARAH LUCAS — Legs do recur. A lot of things recur: body parts, materials, notions. That’s what tickles my fancy.
JÉRÔME SANS — Moreover, in your vocabulary, breasts are recurrent, appearing sometimes in the form of two fried eggs, sometimes in a pile. What do you mean by this? Is it a critique of the cliché of the history of feminine desire?
SARAH LUCAS — The eye is drawn to breasts quite naturally. Other implications do converge on the object. I don’t set out to mean any one thing. I’m inviting a response in the viewer.
JÉRÔME SANS — The phallus’s domination has been recurrent in your practice from the beginning — from Penis (Eggs) to Beer Can Penis. Why do you play with the phallus all the time?
SARAH LUCAS — It’s my ding- a-ling.
JÉRÔME SANS — How would you like to channel the erectile power of the phallus? Is it a way to talk about the macho history of sculpture, dominated by men, or a way to say that sculpture is phallic?
SARAH LUCAS — Perhaps it is a bit macho to make sculpture — viewed in terms of the presence or absence of the penis. Making art is a positive thing.
JÉRÔME SANS — Is the giant phallus a de-phallocratization of love or an homage to the phallus?
SARAH LUCAS — I don’t know what “de-phallocratization” means. An homage — yes, partly.
JÉRÔME SANS — Is love just a sexual compulsion?
SARAH LUCAS — Certainly not.
JÉRÔME SANS—Is love in extricably linked to sex and to the phallus?
SARAH LUCAS — Well, we’re all inextricably linked to one or the other of them.
JÉRÔME SANS — Is sex the ultimate celebration of love?
SARAH LUCAS — It’s the sales pitch.
JÉRÔME SANS — Cigarettes have also appeared significantly in your art. In your early work, they mainly appeared in photographic self-portraits (for example, in Fighting Fire with Fire, 1996) — as a rebel accessory, a phallic stand-in, and a means for independence?
SARAH LUCAS — Yes, all of those things. Sometimes — when making cigarette drawings, for instance — they strike me a bit like tadpoles or sperm. There’s a rhythm to them, whether smoking them or arranging them on the page.
JÉRÔME SANS — You once said, “Sticking all these cigarettes on the sculptures and obsessive activity could be viewed as a form of masturbation.” Is it a kind of sex act? Do you still find much satisfaction in this type of practice?
SARAH LUCAS — Yes, I’m still smoking. I roll my own these days.
JÉRÔME SANS — In recent years, a radical social revolution has positively changed society and repositioned the relationship between men and women as a possibility of a back-and-forth between one identity and another. What do you think about the transfeminist revolution described by Paul B. Preciado? Do you think this revolution has influenced or transformed your recent work?
SARAH LUCAS — I’ve always been androgynous in appearance and quite ambivalent by nature. Likewise, the sculptures — some are more feminine or masculine than others, but for me, at least, that isn’t always dependent on whether or not they have tits or a nob.
JÉRÔME SANS — Do you think that what we’ve all lived through during the period of global confinement with the pandemic has changed our way of living together and our relationship to love?
SARAH LUCAS — I’d be very surprised — and disappointed, I think — if it hasn’t. Too early to have any idea exactly how, yet. For me, anyway.
JÉRÔME SANS — In the age of social distancing, how do you see the question of the body and sexual relationships?
SARAH LUCAS — Well, it’s not reducible to the old wham-bam anyway, is it? Even in the world of old? There’s anticipation and courtship and dreamy looks and daydreams…
JÉRÔME SANS — Has this pandemic affected your new body of work?
SARAH LUCAS — I’d just completed this body of work and got the shows hung in New York and London in time for the lockdown. So, it didn’t affect my motivation for making the work. Does it affect the viewer? You tell me. Probably.
JÉRÔME SANS — How do you see the future of love?
SARAH LUCAS — It will find a way.