Lou Sheppard

20th Feb 2020

Hi Conch, the coffee is delicious thanks so much. It’s super hot in Montreal right now so I’m drinking it iced.

1. Hi Lou, thanks so much for participating - we hope you’re enjoying the coffee! Can you give us an introduction to your practice, interests and experiences?

I work a lot in installation, performance and audio I think mostly about language – how language mediates experience or maybe even constructs experience, how systems of power and value can be embedded in language. I would categorize most of my work as conceptual which sometimes feels a little :S but it makes sense in terms of an idea driving a process and the process forming a result. More and more I’ve been thinking about scores as a way of notating process – as a way of notating the space between language and perception, as a way of notating the performativity of language. My practice is really an extension of my thinking, so in that way it’s maybe a kind of activism.

2. Can you talk to us about your working processes, and how you go about researching ideas? What are you working on at the moment?

Because my work is installation/performance based it is usually pretty site specific, or maybe more site-responsive. So generally I work on an idea in a particular location, which means that I work a lot in residencies, or that I develop iterations of work for particular place which means that often my work starts as a response to a particular place, or to an experience, or to a small snippet of something that I hear about and follow up with lots of reading, talking to people and thinking.

3. You’re currently Artist in Residence in the Faculty of Education at McGill University; what does that residency entail and how has it contributed to your practice?

I actually finished the residency at McGill, which was great in terms of joining a very academic conversation, but maybe lonely in terms of being in the context of other artists. While I was there I did this project that I really loved, where I asked students/staff/faculty who speak languages other than English to tell me about words that they found they couldn’t translate into English. I made posters of these words with their attempts to translate them and it became a kind of community project thinking about what we are unable to bring with us into an institution.

4. We’re delighted that Sibyl Montague has put us in touch! Could you tell us about your collaboration? What role does collaboration play within your practice?

Sibyl and I met at cite des arts in Paris. I recognised her as an ally and co-conspirator right away. Our practices are so different – Sibyl’s use of material is wild and incredible to me and the differences in our practices made the collaboration really RICH. Because my work often intersects with performance I end up working in collaboration quite a lot OR maybe it’s not collaboration in the most basic sense since often I am in a manager kind of role and bringing people in to enact processes or scores. BUT I think that the work is richer when it is made in the context of other people. Collaboration gives the work a kind of agency beyond that of the sole creator… hmmmm… maybe I’m getting a bit too philosophical.

5. Tell us more about Requiem for the Antarctic Coast and Requiem for the Polar Regions, could you speak about the experience of making and considering this work?

I made Requiem for the Antarctic while I was onboard this research vessel/tourist ship travelling along the Antarctic Peninsula. I was there with the Antarctic Biennale, which was a weird fantasy trip that brought artists to Antarctica Biennale… it is a composition based on scoring satellite imagery of the Antarctic coast like it was music notation. When I made the piece I was thinking a lot about maps – and the colonizing force of maps, and how maps create a particular language which constructs our experiences of a place. How we are ‘orientated’ in that place and the dichotomy of mapped/charted territory and wilderness.
Thinking about maps, and then, with Requiem for the Polar Regions, data, as language meant that I could consider the rhetoric principles of those languages – like, their potential to make metaphor. That metaphor points to what the language/data used to describe them doesn’t address. OR maybe it just points back into the language. I’m not sure. So Requiem for the Polar Regions is a computer program that translates data about polar ice into a musical notation every day, so that you can hear how the composition changes day by day|season to season and also over years.
After making these pieces I’ve been thinking a lot about a colonial attachment to these so-called remote spaces that they need to remain intact and mysterious so that the colonial imagination can continue to fantasize some space beyond the frontier, so to speak. I’ve been criticized for this line of questioning because some people worry that it detracts from the urgency of climate change – but colonization and climate change are deeply entangled.

6. Who, where or what has you excited at the moment? - who, where or what is causing you concern at the moment?

In that line of thinking I think artists that are thinking about the construction of identity in relation to the environment and the antropocene have me very excited. And as far as being concerned There’s a lot to be concerned about right now.

7. You’re based in K'jiputuk/Halifax, how do you experience the art scene relative to other places that you have visited or lived? What’s working and where is there room for improvement?

I’ve actually been moving around a lot in the last few years. Halifax remains “home” but I haven’t been there full-time for quite a while. Which means that ive been a bit lonely for a local art community. Canada’s art scene is though geographically quite spread out, relatively tight knit, supportive, critical, so I do feel a sense of connection with artists working around the country.

8. Are there any books or authors that you find yourself coming back to time and time again, if so who are they, what are they and why?

Reading is a big part of my practice – I read a lot of theory, it often helps me clarify my ideas, what I come back to is poetry.

9. We’d love to hear more about your recent work, A Strong Desire, and the possibility that one might read the lacuna as a queer space?

A Strong Desire was a choreographic translation of the diagnostic text for ‘gender dysphoria’ classified as an acute stressor in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM.V). I was seeking this diagnosis (I’ve since received it) so as to access trans health care surgery and hormones. The diagnostic is a very rigid diagnosis of trans identity, one that is focused around what is missing in a trans person’s life. Focusong on the literal spaces between the words in the text I used a choreographic notation to extract a series of gestures, which were then translated into a dance. The spaces between this text became like the lacuna the space between and original source and its translation the gap, what isn’t translatable. So I began to think of the lacuna as a queer space – in the ways that in between/liminal/resonant spaces are often queer, or can be read as queer. The gestures became a way of resisting the narrow focus of that diagnostic – of finding a space to rest and breathe outside of the construction of identity through an institutionalized language. The phrase A Strong Desire is repeated over and over in the Diagnostic text, more as a statement of loss or a focus on what is missing. The title of the work reclaims queer desire in the body.

10. If you had unlimited access to resources and funding, is there a piece or project that you would like to realise?

Hmmmmm… if I had access to unlimited funding and resources I think I’d likely – well, other than an end to famine/world peace etc… I often dream in terms of things that are quite operatic. So I think I’d likely make a kind of opera.

Thanks so much conch! Lou


Lou Sheppard is an artist from Nova Scotia (Canada) currently based in Vancouver, BC. You can find Lou at lousheppard.com or on instagram @shep_shape.