‘Not Without Undue Prolixity’, an Interview with Dolores de Sade
Being a place, zinc etching, 50 x 37 cm
Dolores de Sade’s zinc etching Not Without Undue Prolixity is now showing at what is regarded as the launching pad for the ones to watch, the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition in London. De Sade’s entry has won the British Institution Award and I interview her to find out what happens next.
Lara Cory: Congratulations on winning the British Institution Award. How has this changed things for you?
Dolores de Sade: I have been a lot busier since winning that award. It is a great honour, although I don’t take praise very well! I’m always waiting for the but…
(‘Its good, but…’).
I try to challenge myself and I try to learn and push myself with each new piece that I make. Occasionally I make something that I like, but more usually I am thinking ‘well that bit is ok, but I need to use that bit differently’ and so I am constantly thinking of the next thing. Onward and upward!
I remember the worst print that I ever made was straight after my BA degree – it was technically very skillful – a kind of apprentice piece, but it turned out exactly, perfectly as I had intended. No mistakes, nothing to learn from, nothing to improve. I hated it! Actually I did learn from that – I am much less tight in my working methods now.
LC: Tell me about the materials you use and techniques?
Dolores de Sade: I etch using zinc plate and mostly hard ground etching techniques. I rarely use aquatint, but prefer to use line only as this allows me to control what happens across the plate and to use directional shading/hatching. I sometimes engrave the plates also.
I have been known to use a small drill, sandpaper, wire wool to get the effects that I want. My preferred etching tool is a dentist’s probe – the sort that looks like a shepherd’s hook. They are small and easy to see around while I am drawing, as well as strong and long lasting.
Etching has been around since at least the middle ages and I enjoy the sense of tradition, as well as the possibility to play around and incorporate new techniques. A metal etching plate is very forgiving – it doesn’t rip, crease or tear and I can be quite vigorous. I can draw without using caution (I am usually very clumsy!)
The traditional aspect is particularly important to me. Etching and engraving were one of the earliest forms of reproduction. I am particularly influenced by the late eighteenth and nineteenth century when these forms were frequently used in books and periodicals. This was a time when increasing numbers of the population were able to read and have access to books and periodicals. Information was becoming competitive. It had to appeal and entertain as much as inform. I see parallels between this era and the digital age where again there is a rapidly growing access to information, but also a fluid relation between fact and entertainment.
untitiled (field), zinc etching, 20 x 25 cm
LC: What are some of the things or people that inspire your work?
Dolores de Sade: Broadly I am influenced by what I see around me – Facebook, Google, reality TV shows, Metro newspapers. I am interested in how they present ‘information’, and how they differ from, but also frequently adhere to conventional narrative structures.
The reception of such information interests me also. I now sit on the bus, checking my emails, reading the free tabloids, glancing in shop windows, while being surrounded by other people doing the same. Information overload! I enjoy the fragmentary surrealism that this presents. Since the late eighteenth century there have been concerns about being increasingly told what to look at, but this is progressively more interrupted.
I am strongly influenced by nineteenth century illustration too – Gustave Dore particularly, but forms such as The London Illustrated News are an extremely strong influence.
Dolores mentions Laure Provost, Clunie Reid, Gillian Wearing, Cerith Wyn Evans, Hans op der Beeck, Liam Gillick, Adam Chodzko, Andrew Kotting, Joshua Raffell, Fay Nicholson, Tim Iverson and Julia Tcharfas as artists she admires.
I enjoy authors who play with this sense also – Ben Marcus is a favourite, Donald Bartheleme, Yve Lomax, Liam Gilllick, Alasdair Gray, W.G. Sebald, Jean-Luc Nancy, the Russian Absurdists (Daniil Kharms particularly), Antonin Artaud, Borges of course and Italo Calvino.
Somewhere between what, zinc etching, 23 x 16 cm
LC: The use of language and text in your work, both as subject and object, and even the wording of your titles is intriguing, can you talk us though it?
Dolores de Sade: I find it hard to separate language from image. We see the images generated by words, and hear the words that describe an image. In most cultural spheres we experience them together. I am interested in language and metaphor and so use images and text freely to describe these.
Actually I use slightly more deliberation than that- the drawn image is a different language to a clumsily handwritten piece of text, or a carefully engraved authoritative title. But I do like the juxtapositions and spaces that these set up.
untitled (connection), zinc etching, 20 x 25 cm
LC: You state that you are ‘interested in ways that information is given the authority of knowledge and how knowledge is transposed through memory, nostalgia and archetype’.
How did you become interested in this topic?
Dolores de Sade: As an artist I am expected to present information – knowledge of a sort – and with that comes a sense of power that I am cautious of.
We are surrounded by increasing of sources of information – all information that the artist is expected to distill in a magical alchemy to become its own elite information.
I am more interested in the spaces between interpretations – both my interpretations and the viewer’s. I try to explore the need for the viewer to find understanding, to follow a narrative, the necessary translations and assumptions that happen seamlessly, often without perception, in order to facilitate some semblance of understanding.
In this I am influenced by Wittgenstein of course and the public power of words and metaphor, Edward Said’s ideas around collective memory as a form of identity creation. WTG Mitchell’s ‘What Images Want’ was an early influence. Before returning to art school I did a PhD in History, looking at Hollywood film of the 1930s and 40s and women’s interaction through film fan magazines. I believe that although we are constrained to some extent by the knowledge that is given to us, we can also exercise a fair amount of choice and playful fluidity in how we interpret and use this knowledge. To some extent we are constrained by memory, nostalgia and archetype, although slight slippages and disconnections show that it can also be used to challenge and change what we want to remember.
Bachelard,’s notion of memory and non-progressive duration; Blanchot; Bataille; Merleau-Ponty and the perception as imperception – there is always more than one sees, the anticipation of the ending of the joke allows us the space to laugh; Derrida’s limit of representation…
Not Without Undue Prolixity, zinc etching, 42 x 30 cm
LC: The award winning piece Not without Undue Prolixity is an epic visualisation, and personal favourite. Can you tell me about that piece?
Dolores de Sade: This was part of a series I did exploring the sublime. I was looking at archetypal places – cave, cliff faces, waterfalls, etc. and interested in the exploration and representation of such places – the need to present information, but the need to make this visually, allegorically interesting.
This particular print accompanies a sound piece and an event that took place in Margate Cave. Margate Caves are much less prosaic than the picture, but I brought back rocks and bits of charcoal that I found at the cave as a tangible proof that I was really there and recreated a version of a cave based on images found on the internet by arranging these in a shoe box and lighting dramatically.
There are metaphors and narratives that exist within such places, or perhaps are searched for in these places. The titles of the prints in this series were all quotes from an essay by Herman Melville about the failure of narrative – how it is used to cover up the fundamental emptiness of life. The reasons for its failure are the fundamental core of narrative – we use words, but only to search for what is beyond words.
LC: So what happens next Dolores?
Dolores de Sede: I have a solo show at Show Off Gallery in Harbour Street, Whitstable on the 24th-30th August.
I am involved in a couple of group shows too – the first with East London Printmakers at the Smokehouse in Stour Road, Hackney Wick, in September.
The next will be interpreting the ‘unsolicited and anonymous’ donations at the V&A next year (date to be confirmed). This is what I am working on at the moment. The V&A get a large amount of donated material every year that for whatever reason does not make it into the museum’s personal archives, collections, etc.
I am being allowed access to some of this material to respond to it. Some of these collections, while not perhaps suitable for the museum have a huge personal story attached and I am looking at different ways of discovering these stories when they are separated from their owners.
Lara Cory is a freelance writer and blogger and co-founder of MOTIF Magazine. Classically trained in piano and a degree in Communications, Lara’s main interests are music, books, film and art.