This conversation was recorded between Matthew Merrick and artist Liam Fallon to coincide with his solo show, Supersymmetry, at the Turnpike, Leigh.
[MM] Firstly, I think it would be useful to talk about the processes used here, because my reading, whether that is right or wrong, is that process is very important in everything you do, I can see that there is a deliberate build quality to everything. Would you say that is correct? Also, from what I know of your practice I get the idea that your family has affected the aesthetic qualities of what you have made for this show – how true would you say this is?
[LF] In terms of the build quality, I don’t know if I inherited that from my family, my Father is a builder so before anyone saw these, even Matt [Retallick, exhibition curator], my dad saw them first. My dad is not artistic but I think he can appreciate the qualities of the processes that I have used. The same for my grandma, she was a caster for Wedgwood and though she has never physically shown me that process, I guess I grew up hearing about how to make something and I’ve seen photos from when she was a similar age to me working in a workshop at Wedgewood in Stoke. Aesthetically there is something quite childlike in the materials and processes that I use but that might be misleading. The works are not as content as they seem to be. In terms of the processes, a lot of them come from artists that I really admire like Richard Artschwager, Phillip King and Joseph Beuys’ work ‘Tallow’ (1977).
[MM] It’s interesting because it’s not a work I would immediately have connected to your practice but I can understand it in looking at the belts and their quite visceral qualities. Do you think you borrow Beuys’ lumpy, gloopy, visceral quality?
[LF] No, I have had a thing about the hand of the artist being present, but as time has gone on and with the new works that I’m making, that is starting to come in. Beuys cast ‘Tallow’ and they were still wet so he used belts to keep them in shape and from falling apart. I suppose I’ve never made that conscious link between the belts I am using before but it’s a definite link.
[MM] Like it’s been a subconscious itch?
[LF] Yeah, when I was in third year it kind of just came back to me. With the stirrups, this is the work that has the aesthetic quality that might link to that. They’re made from a material used in industry – the cast is made with this self-lubricating rubber so that over time the object just lifts out. It’s been something that has been a battle in everything I have ever made. I’m obsessed by surface and texture but I want that to be a texture that I’m in control of.
[MM] Ok, then perhaps we should talk about the arrows as I think that comes into a discussion about curation, control and the textural surface of the exhibition. Was there a specific plan that you had in mind in making and curating them?
[LF] To be honest, its weird because the show follows a chronology and when we installed the pieces we unintentionally installed them in that order, which I didn’t realise until the last few days. The arrows were originally meant to be installed as if someone was firing them from a single point from up there [points into the corner of the room] but it was too controlling I suppose. There wasn’t actually a plan in terms of how to install them and they started off as a set of three master casts made of plywood with the ends sanded into three different angles which would dictate how they came out of the wall. The placement of them is quite organic and it was done by just me and Matt walking around the room. It was supposed to take a few days, but it actually took more like half a day to install them.
[MM] I’m really glad you say that you didn’t dictate where they would go or be fired from. Having an imaginary cupid firing into a single point, I think would have been quite sterile. They really interest me because I wonder, what do you think about them adjusting or affecting the other pieces?
[LF] Definitely adjusting, they are an additive and I didn’t think they would be. When we installed, I was really happy with the other works but I felt there was something missing. I remember telling someone at the opening that the show felt quite unfinished without these but as soon as they went up, this whole sterile thing the show could have been, it just left. With some works that are more vague or are a bit harder to get into (for an audience), I think that they offer branches into the concept of them.
[MM] Ok, I think that’s interesting, maybe we can extend some of those branches and talk about some other influences/content here then?
[LF] Yeah. I’d never watched Dallas Buyers Club until third year of uni, and it was one of those things that I just became obsessed with. When I am obsessed with a film, I will watch interviews with the actors, the synopsis and the themes and there is an interview with Jared Leto talking about the character he plays, Rayon, and he described her as having levity. I didn’t know what that meant but I researched it and found that it means taking an issue that is quite serious and putting a humorous spin on it. I thought that was a really good way to tackle engagement with difficult subjects. I think with the references to childhood, immediately you have peoples’ attention. I didn’t want to make a show that was really inaccessible and antagonistic, I wanted people to walk in and straight away automatically find a way to see it.
[MM] Do you mean also the humorous motifs then? I am looking at the bendy cigarettes for example and the graffiti ‘S’ carved into ‘Lovers Carving’ (2019).
[LF] Yeah, especially with the etched ‘S’, it’s like you’re sat in a maths lesson in Year 7 and you’re not listening to anything that’s going on, almost like a sense of rose tinted glasses, like the early stages of a relationship, that then eventually breaks down.
[MM] Helen Stalker talks about potential relationships and the persuasion to play in her writing about this show. Do you agree with that?
[LF] This work is like the laces that pulled it all together, it was actually made for a sale that never happened. It was just in the corner in my studio wrapped up and when I started to think about it, it was obvious that it was meant to go into the show.
[MM] Like an unrequited relationship?
[LF] Most definitely. I can see how that could be an overarching theme. The theme of the show comes from the film Her and when Arcade Fire released their album Reflektor there was a song called Supersymmetry and I read into what that meant. The song has these super endearing lyrics. It turned out that supersymmetry is this theory that every particle has a partner for it. Rather than approach that from a scientific point of view I wanted to approach it from a humanistic perspective. Its like every person is on this journey to find their pre-determined partner and I think that is what every work in this show is representing. The chronology from the preliminary encounter through a cycle that people go through, to the breakup. All of a sudden you’re back at stage one again – a never-ending cycle. I never meant to, but I ended up in one (a relationship) whilst making this show and it changed my life in a way that I never anticipated it to. It just happened.
[MM] ‘Lovers Carving’, for me, is a totally different animal to the other works in the show – you can imagine someone drawing it, whereas the rest appear 3D modelled and clean.
[LF] ‘Lovers Carving’ was the first time I had ever made work that was personal – this work is the only one that is explicitly personal. Katy [Morrison] described it as being explicitly personal and it just stumped me, I was clear about it not being available to buy or visible online, but when she said that, it just reversed it and I just went with it.
[MM] You did a walk through the other day, there is something cathartic perhaps about going through a post-opening discussion, what do you think about the ‘catharticism’ of this process and the wider process?
[LF] it’s an interesting point as one of the most important readings that I’ve done is called Body Corporeality that discusses it. It discusses how and when humans see something that contains empathy or extreme sadness; humans have this thing called a mirror neuron which is triggered in these circumstances. People then go through a weird transcendental experience, even though a work might not be about them, it tricks them into thinking that this experience has just happened to them. I want people to leave and be reflective of themselves and whether this mirror neuron was activated, on the tour it was immediately after I had said that, I turned around and someone was crying and I was like, has that just happened?
[Looking at ‘Lovers Carving’] The number part of the work came from seeing a David Hockney show years ago and I remember seeing it and finding out how he was using different forms of language in his paintings that weren’t understandable to the common eye. He was making the work at a time when it was illegal to be gay and he was obsessed with Cliff Richard. So to talk about Cliff Richard he designed a form of language where instead of saying CR he said 3.14 where 3 is C, 14 is R in the alphabet so he could be as public as he wanted to be but retaining an element of privacy which is something I was also aiming to do.
[MM] And then the graffiti ‘S’, for anyone of the right age that is like a universal alternative language in way?
[LF] Yeah, but its also an element of nostalgia, people still do it but there was something about it, I just knew it had to be in there for that sense.
[MM] You discussed David Hockney but maybe we should talk about Félix González-Torres’ work ‘Untitled (Billboard of an Empty Bed)’ (1991) – where you have said that it all started.
[LF] It’s weird because that work was originally meant to be in this show, the Félix González-Torres Foundation were going to loan it to us but we realised it was going to cost too much and it didn’t sit right in the show. I remember seeing that work. Again I was at uni and it just changed my life. I still look at it.
[MM] Has your relationship changed with it over time?
[MM] In a way it’s like a repeated eureka moment then?
[LF] Yeah, you know, three years of art school with maybe some contextual references here and there, then I remember seeing this and thinking, shit! This is working! Then when you go through your own experiences it takes on this different spin. The understanding of it came more when I read Lefebvre’s Production of Space. He talks about sentimentality and monumentality and how space can be thought of as monumental depending on what happened there and the happenings there have to be of sentimental value. Love, loss, desire, sadness, if any of those are present, then it becomes this space of monumentality and sentimentality. I remember seeing that photo again and reading that and seeing the marks left in the pillows and it just changed everything again.
[MM] It’s interesting because when you talk about Hockney, he was trying to have this public/private moment and with González-Torres, he was also doing that, in this show in fact, is ‘Lovers Carving’ not your public/private moment?
[LF] Whether I make work that is that explicitly personal, I don’t know, I knew I had to do that work so I could move onto new stuff.
[MM] Maybe then, we can talk a bit about failure especially in light of Brit Seaton’s comments in her text about this show. Is there anything in the show that you think fails – for whatever reason?
[LF] [Pointing at ‘Lovers Carving’] It’s like a practice changing, it’s like something needs more development, it’s not gone through a full gestation process.
[MM] Like you’re showing your sketchbook?
[LF] More like having a journal in the studio and someone trying to open it. NO! There’s something unsettling about it. What do you think fails here?
[MM] We are talking about the same work here, ‘Lovers Carving’. However, I don’t think it fails in a bad way. The worst I think it can be is a misstep. I think it could be a really productive misstep as well because it’s the work that appears the most loved up in the show, everything has its elements but this doesn’t feel as emotionally connected to you.
[LF] Yeah, this is the point of deepest low.
[MM] Oh, the end; lets instead talk about the start of the relationship then.
[LF] So this is ‘Tongue-tied’ (2019). I wanted the works in the exhibition to use as many points as possible, spatially. I wanted this work to be like a voyeur, parallel to being in a bar seeing onto a dance floor and seeing people. That was the first point I wanted to explore. The semi-circles are like people sat on the edge, leaving a dent, just meeting. The cigarettes are quite a prosaic object and as soon as you elevate them in size and location they become like a representation of social encounter meeting in a smoking area – it takes on quite a sexual sense too. The piece in the studio had the cigarettes tied in a knot – I didn’t really know how they would be shown originally and as soon as I put them on top I just knew.
[MM] There is something really precarious about this work and this [pointing to ‘Wanting to Test Desire…’ (2019)], in terms of the height and the balanced elements and how you talk about it being like first meetings. There seem to be references to all these moments and the possibility of things not aligning properly – you might smoke that cigarette alone.
[LF] It was like this gesture of coming down into an arena, the whole is a gesture but it was supposed to have a fireman’s pole through it and I was worried that it would be too like a strip club.
[MM] I think it would have been like having imaginary cupid – you would have been telling me/us how to see the exhibition whereas I can make my own wrong impressions of it without it – perhaps this helps it retain precariousness and levity?
[LF] One of the main references for ‘Tongue-tied’ and ‘Wanting to Test Desire…’ was Robert Gober, the way he adapts and manipulates materials blows my mind. There is this weird twisting of materials which I really wanted to make visible in the work.
[MM] Did that help you work out the presence of the maker’s hand in the work then?
[LF] That’s a good question! I think it’s probably helped it. I saw some of his work at White Cube two years ago and there was this work with a foot coming out of someone’s stomach. I’ve always thought that being successful meant that you needed to be incredibly talented as a sculptor in a way where the artist almost becomes a magician, but that’s not the case. I’ve gradually started to realise that. You can have the artist’s touch in the work.
[MM] I know that monumentality comes up a lot in interviews that you have done but I was wondering, I think, given what I have read and seen online, I was expecting your work to be much larger and be more dominating in the space – it does do this but what surprised me when I arrived, was how passive some of the works are in the room despite their size, and how weirdly, the arrows are the work that have the real sense of scale despite being individually quite slight. Certainly I think they have a scale that exceeds their stature. They turn the room into the work for me.
[LF] They define the space, they are a container, they seem like the base of the show. They have a really good technique of tying things together, when things are more ambiguous they drag you back on track. They weren’t supposed to do that, they were just going to be signifiers of the end point of the show.
[MM] Also, the sound of water dominates the space but again it’s quite a gentle gesture.
[LF] Yes, the sound and the arrows dominate the space, they create a noise. I feel that everything is like you walked in a room and something has just happened, and you just missed it. Something crashed and all you can hear is the echo. They are performative but only become active when an audience becomes an actor in it.
[MM] So the audience is really important too?
[LF] Yeah, as soon as a work was made it was wrapped so some of these have been in storage for over a year.
[MM] What was it like opening them and returning to them again? Did it worry you?
[LF] Just the build quality of the earliest works – things I learned along the way, feeling that I could make that or this much better. I think the thing I was most scared of with this show was people coming in and ripping me a bit. In terms of masculinity it’s not really something everyone talks about, but in regards to age and other things I think everyone can relate to this.
[MM] What were you worried about?
[LF] I think it’s wearing your heart on your sleeve and there’s a stigma to that and being open about things and being honest, which is what I wanted to make. You know with some shows you can just walk in and believe everything they say but then you walk into some shows and they have a £50,000 budget and you don’t believe a single word they say.
[MM] I can completely understand that! Actually, the artists we talked about, I can’t imagine a dishonest González-Torres work.
[LF] Exactly! It’s so raw! I think the thing is I’m super nervous about the reviews of this and I remember when I showed Matt that work. I worried that I might be perceived as taking value from someone’s misfortune. It’s not the AIDs epidemic I have taken as an influence, it’s this rawness and vulnerability and how that can be adapted into a sculpture or a body of work. It’s like how you said that work is a capture of a single moment and I suppose that’s how this show can be seen. Each work captures a moment as if things have been frozen in time and defy the laws of gravity. It’s like O’Donnell’s law of cartoon physics, things are breaking and falling apart but they defy physics.
Matthew Merrick is an artist and lecturer based in Chesterfield and teaching in Leeds.
Supersymmetry, The Turnpike, Leigh, 26 July – 7 September 2019. The exhibition is curated by Matt Retallick and is accompanied by essays from Katy Morrison, Brit Seaton, Helen Stalker and Matt Retallick.