Louisa Chase

Born 1968, England.

Migrated 2004 to Aotearoa, New Zealand.

Returned (for as yet unknown timeframe) to England 2022

[A note on Ancestral Shadows (above R): We must make new bodies now. They must be drawn with discernment from the depths of our ancestral past and the farthest reaches of our ancestral future. They must be formed from stillness, from the ebb and flow, from the silence of the void and the deafening roar of thunder. They must be slaked by salt winds and soothed by owl hoot.

What are you working on at the moment?  

Since the start of this year I have been developing what I call A New Personal Lexicon.  These are words that have a visceral and pleasurable quality to me, mostly words that I have not been hugely intimate with before.  They seem to be quite fugitive.  Some have already faded, others continue to excite me.  My current personal favourites are temenos, inchoate, crossroads, rest, pause, sanctuary, and unmanifest.  I write them, paint them, play with them and dance them repeatedly until such time as their hold over me fades.

I am also working with what I call Everyday Residency.  I have never been very excited by the idea of having to sit down and write hundreds of applications, and I wondered what it would be like to see every day and every place as a residency, so I am living that inquiry.  Any moment, however brief, can be a residency.  To pause in place and make something of what I find there: maybe a simple circle with dried grass, a word written in the sand or committed to memory, a brief movement of the hand with a tree, or a crockpot meal out of leftovers, relates to Nita Little’s idea of Presence as a Disturbance which she spoke about in her keynote speech at Sentient Performativities.  Paring down to a simple and slower life, travelling largely on foot and by bike allows more time and space for this. 

For the last year I have been researching Woad, using it as a paint and to make body prints.  I have recently completed a piece of writing about my journey with Woad and the colour blue for The Dark Mountain Project called In Search of Isatica which is being published online on 5th October.  When I am painting, I like to work with one material at a time, whether that be woad, blackberries or charcoal. This approach stems from a tendency to be easily overwhelmed and distracted, and draws on the old Wise Woman tradition of using herbs as simples and developing an intimate relationship with one at a time.  Images generally evolve as a direct response in the moment, through physical movement.  They seem often to relate to my contemplation of words or symbols, which will nag at my consciousness until I decide, often somewhat reluctantly at first, to participate and begin a relationship with them through drawing, painting and writing.  It is one of the things I have had to come to terms with that my visual work is simply a part of a process, and therefore always feels unfinished and impermanent.  I am slowly learning to live with that.

Fluidity (painting)  41 x 52cm  Woad in gum arabic on handmade paper from Two Rivers Paper

What inspires you?

Inspiration for me is felt as a visceral warmth and physical opening: a kind of pleasure and expansion of pathways within and between my body and surroundings.  This is how I discern what to pay attention to out of the plethora of incredible work, experiences and ideas that saturate our world. 

Inspiration comes from unexpected and diverse places.  This morning it was the mystery of a robin’s song at dawn which I couldn’t quite locate in my body.  Usually I can immediately feel the reach and vibration of a birdsong; for example blackbird and Tui, the keepers of the cusp in Britain and Aotearoa New Zealand both resonate in my heart.  But robin’s mystery has yet to be revealed and that excites and inspires me and draws me into deeper engagement with the wild.

Another day, it was a social media post from a colleague directing me to a video interview with Cornelia Parkerproduced by the Tate. Her words “you don’t need a studio, you don’t need lots of money, you just need your imagination struck a chord, since I was without both of those things!  As this percolated I came to understand that the studio is a state of body-mind, rather than a physical space bounded by walls.

Last year it was the book Ralph Hotere: The Dark is Light Enough: A Biographical Portrait, by Vince O’Sullivan, which continues to be a deep and lasting inspiration, reinforcing the absurdity of any separation between art and life.  His “use what you have” approach as he made work whilst living overseas, his use of text in paintings, and his quiet refusal to be defined by expectation give me great comfort.

There are two pieces of music that I come back to time and again to pause and re-set: Linnea Olsson’s cello piece The Ocean and the cell-changing Fractalia by Owen Clayton Condon, which I experienced live in Wellington for $5 in the small upstairs room of a nightclub on Cuba Street during the extraordinary Classical on Cuba festival. $5 for a total cellular re-set. My system has never been the same since!The felt sense of place is also a continuing source of inspiration, whether that be the wilds of the bush and mountains in Aotearoa New Zealand or the indoor space of Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge where I love to go when I am in Britain to breathe in the decades of inspiration that are in the air in those rooms.  

Chaos & Order. Blackberries applied with hands on Fabriano paper 71x50cm

The robin is back and singing again. I will pause now, and finish with a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke that I continually come back to due to its capacity to scare, inspire and humble me. 

This version was translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy.

I believe in all that has never yet been spoken

I believe in all that has never yet been spoken.

I want to free what waits within me

so that what no one has dared to wish for

may for once spring clear

without my contriving.

If this is arrogant, God, forgive me,

but this is what I need to say.

May what I do flow from me like a river,

no forcing and no holding back,

the way it is with children.

Then in these swelling and ebbing currents,

these deepening tides moving out, returning,

I will sing you as no one ever has,

streaming through widening channels

into the open sea.

Clean Slate Series: Temenos 20 x 30cm Broken roofing slate from a skip in Lincoln and mudstone from a drainage ditch in Tydd St Mary, UK

A note on ‘Being in Response’ If we want a different world perhaps we must learn to move differently with it. Perhaps we could take a pause from movements imposed on us by systems and exercise regimes that do not have their origins in the places we come from or the places we are with. Perhaps we could take a pause from imposing movements on our bodies from the outside. These bodies of ours know how they want to move and stretch in relationship. Each tree, plant, rock, beach, person or expanse of sky will elicit different movements if we listen through the soles of our feet and from the power centre of the belly, and move from the inside out..


Email: louisachase@gmail.com

Website: louisachase.com

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