Interview with visual artist Lee Harrop
Published March 2019
Could you briefly describe your current art project?
I am developing an Art & Science collaboration with geologists, a petrologist, philosopher and PhD candidate in Law. It involves working with mining material from a Territory and a State Government Core Library. The artworks resulting from this collaboration will be exhibited in Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia. There will also be a panel discussion involving all collaborators open to the public and hosted by the Charles Darwin University Art Gallery.
Could you elaborate a little on the mining material you work with?
Once core samples are assayed (tested) to see if they contain any precious metals, in most cases they become byproducts. 100’s of holes some up to 1km deep are being drilled on a daily basis. Day after day, year after year. Imagine what that looks like and does to the ground! I use the discarded core samples that were destined for disposal in my work. I like to highlight the beauty in these ‘byproducts’ and at the same time expose that they are often left in the weather to go to waste or are dumped in large quantities. However, collaborating with geologists I am hearing about new technology and a plan to at least record the information from every hole drilled to try and reduce the need to drill as many or to make it unnecessary re-drill in the same areas because they will be able to accurately predict the geology from the information they will have through each core sample. This will give them the analysis of its mineral makeup every 4mm! Pretty amazing technology. But it costs money and takes time. The process has already started for core samples that are deposited into government core libraries but there is a back log to get through.
The collaborative project I am currently working on will enable me to use this new scanning technology on core samples and a few other scientific data gathering techniques. I hope to have it finished in August where I have public exhibitions and panel discussions planned. There are a couple of other exciting parts that I can’t confirm yet but can tell you about once I get approval.
Are there artists that give you inspiration and would you say that they are the same as the artists that inspired you when you were younger?
I continue to discover other artists and their work – too many to list, but I certainly have some longtime favorites that I like to return to such as, Felix Gonzalez Torres, Ian Hamilton Finlay and Kendell Geers. They will always be relevant to my work.
Please tell us something about your background and to what extent your background is visible in your work?
I have a Master of Fine Arts, First Class Honours, from Whitecliffe College of Arts and Design, New Zealand, on how violence is perpetrated through the structure of language. It followed my diploma of Policing and 15yr long service medal from the New Zealand Police. I spent the last 5yrs of my police career as a forensic photographer; an experience that has significantly contributed to my art practice. This was particularly evident in my Masters work where I showed text based artwork in restricted areas of a Police Station. The search for truth and justice underpins my work regardless of the subject matter. My work is still text based and the some of the words I use are the same or similar but applied to different material and context. The power of words in art fascinates me.
Could you say something about your work as a PHD candidate?
My work is developing with greater depth as a result of the intensive research that a PhD encourages. Also, it is a great environment to develop collaborations across other disciplines which I am currently doing and hope to maintain.
How did you become interested in working with environmental issues?
The environment or institution that I am embedded in informs my practice.This enables me to offer a critique from an informed and experiential perspective. In 2010 I emigrated to Australia from New Zealand. I spent the next 6 years in Kalgoorlie, a unique mining centric community in Western Australia. Observing the impact of mining on society and the environment was confronting and unavoidable. At the same time, I grew to love this incredibly diverse landscape alongside a hardworking and generous community. Kalgoorlie is heavily dependent on mining but acknowledges it has a responsibility to act on recommendations and find solutions to operate more efficiently and to reduce mining’s social and environmental impact. Working with this entanglement of material became an imperative.
Do you think it is important for an artist to have a critical function in society?
Yes! There is an increasing global call to mobilize artists to respond to the urgent and serious challenges facing humanity such as climate change. We are not separate to society nor the areas in which we live. This is a sentiment echoed by many including art theorist Lucy Lippard who states, ‘There is a point where artists too must take some responsibility for the things and places they love’ (Lippard, 2014, p. 90). My art practice is concerned with the same big questions facing humanity and the need for holistic solutions. As a strong proponent of the multidisciplinary approach, I believe art can identify with all disciplines and operate together to resolve problems and find solutions.
Reference: Lippard, L. R. (2014). Undermining: a wild ride through land use, politics, and art in the changing west: New Press, The.
Career highlights of Lee Harrop include graduating in 2009 with a Master of Fine Arts, First Class Honours and the top student prize. Being included in the Imaginary Archive project curated by Gregory Sholette from 2010 which has so far travelled to New Zealand, Ireland, Ukraine, Pennsylvania and Germany. In 2015 she won the City of Busselton Art Award and 2016 the City of Joondalup Community Invitation Art Award. Currently, she's undertaking a fulltime Practice-led PhD in Visual Arts at Charles Darwin University in the Northern Territory, Australia with the generous support of a Commonwealth Government Research Training Program Scholarship.
Photo documentation published with permission of the artist. Photo of Lee in her studio shot by David McLean. Photo documentation ©️ Lee Harrop
That is gold which is worth gold ii, 2018
Hand engraved core sample (/diamond core drilled rock sample) (olivine cumulate) from the Yilgarn Craton, WA.
74.5cm x 5cm diameter x 3.950kg
Everything will fake its place, 2018
Wall mounted black reverse lit neon and electrics.
17.2 x 169.5cm
The Lie of the Land ii, 2018
Hand engraved core sample (/diamond core drilled rock sample) from the Yilgarn Craton, WA.
6.5 x 50.5 x 6.5cm x 4.2kg
Welcome to Western Australia, 2016
Digital print, Canson Baryta Photograph paper.
46 x 35cm