In conversation with Lucy Stein
by Zoe Gouli
Zoe Gouli (ZG): Landscape is clearly an integral aspect of your process of creation, as well as your mentality when it comes to presentation and exhibition. How has the cultural and natural landscape of Great Yarmouth impacted you and the exhibition?
Lucy Stein (LS): It was more the people of Great Yarmouth that impacted us. I’m really just so fascinated by the culture here and the heritage of the people who have accumulated here. I think landscape-wise, speaking for myself, I feel very connected to Cornwall. For me, Yarmouth is like the inverse of Cornwall; the peninsula and the development; it’s very flat and it’s a very different feeling. There isn’t this sort of deep fecundity.
ZG: I wonder if you feel a sense of completion here in Yarmouth, having started your Pilgrimage in another seaside town (Cornwall)?
LS: Yes I think so. There is a sense of completion of this leg of it, but I think we’ll be doing this forever more. We certainly haven’t finished; it’s a completion of this bit but it’s definitely not finished, this project will go on for a long time.
ZG: What led you to the concept of Ley Lines? Did you learn about them and found them an interesting vehicle to create around, or did the creative aspect of it come first?
LS: Well, we (Lucy and Sarah) did a show together in the summer of 2019 in a church in south London, and we met on Instagram because we had a lot of mutual friends, we were aware of each other. Sarah had built this incredible grotto in the crypt of this church and I was blown away by it. The feeling of it was so peaceful but also kind of tense, almost magnetic, and I think we just realised that we has this really special ability to work together in terms of creating something out of ourselves that went beyond just us. I wrote this text for that show; I wrote it quite automatically, and I wrote about how we had derailed the Ley Line and brought it to this church in London from my studio in Cornwall, and I thought that that was an interesting thing to think about. I started looking into it , and we both started to research Ley Lines. Sarah read the Sun and the Serpent and we realised; wow, this is real and we’ve got to go there.
ZG: It’s interesting that that intuitive feeling came before your knowledge of it. That leads me to my next question; what lead you to the concept of a pilgrimage? From an outsider's perspective, it seems like the pilgrimage drew you in as opposed to you setting out specifically to conduct a pilgrimage.
LS: Yeah that’s how it felt, we didn’t have any confined idea of what we wanted to do at all. We just knew we needed to draw on this unknown feeling basically. We let ourselves figure out what it meant, and we allowed ourselves to be moved by certain places. Even this place in London; before the show in the crypt. There’s always been a lot of tragedy and sadness around it. I’d written this text very automatically about the show and the Ley Line and the church. We were calling the show Slaughter Daughters. And then the night before they were meant to put it up online, I read in the Guardian, completely randomly, that the vicar of the church’s daughter had died in a horrible accident at a temple in Greece, so we changed the name of it because he was heavily grieving. We’ve just been really alert and alive to it, and that premonition has been a big part of it.
ZG: The pandemic interrupted your pilgrimage; how did that impact your creativity? Did you feel refreshed coming back or did you feel the opposite?
LS: I had a baby about a week before lockdown, so I felt very lucky, I had all these things that I had to do after having a baby. I realise now that I would have had a breakdown if I had had to keep going under the circumstances. So for me having a new baby when everything with the virus was so uncertain on one level, but on another level it was a very beautiful, precious time. I was going to take time out anyway, and Sarah was working throughout. We did a big journey in 2020 together, we were in constant discussion about it. After three months I just thought ‘I have to go and work, otherwise I’m going to go insane’. So the pandemic was a blessing in many ways for me. I did catch Covid quite badly last time I was here in Yarmouth actually, so I do definitely take it seriously.
ZG: A significant theme that seems to emerge in Nox Voto and the Pilgrimage is archaeology. How did you feel bringing the ancient sites that you visited on your journey into a modern light?
LS: In the beginning of living in Cornwall I was very taken with that ancient presence; I wasn’t critical of it or the culture that has developed around it. As time has gone on I’ve become much more critical of it. I would describe myself as a half-witch; that’s my connection to that ancient force. That has been very influenced by my connection with the landscape. Sarah is really academic; we both are. I found the sites we visited along the Pilgrimage to be very freeing, as in you can kind of do what you want there, in particular with stone circles. Burial chambers are a bit different; I don’t get involved in them so much. But with stone circles, they’re a protective space and you can sort of do what you want. With churches and the feeling of the overlay as well, it’s different. I’m not really sure, it’s a good question. I think you can incorporate that connection psychically; you get a sense of all the people who have been in that space for millennia before you. It was about just feeling connected to that, it was really powerful.
ZG: Its obvious from an outside perspective that this project had to be a collaboration between you and Sarah. Why do you think that is?
LS: We’ve just got that connection really. We’re interested in the same things. For me, female friendship is so important and the power of that is so influential, and the support you get from other women is essential. We’re just not competitive with each other; I can say that truly.
ZG: You discussed in the talk how your bodies sometimes felt like conduits of energy, receiving messages that couldn’t be said with words. Could you tell me a bit more about the physical experience of it?
LS: I think as people who have been socialised as women, we’re really aware of our bodies in space, and I think we’re both in some ways traumatised by things that have happened in our lives, and we have a lot of insight about that. As younger people we weren’t all that kind to ourselves, we were kind of out of control at times. So there’s this idea of being synthetic to ourselves as bodies. I keep coming back to the concept of being boundaryless, but still trying to stay safe within that.
ZG: There’s a lot of religious iconography that appears in your work; it naturally seems to split into two categories, Christian and pagan. Do you feel like the two are in conflict with each other, or are they harmonious, or something in between?
LS: I’m not sure, they come from different places. I think that’s been part of it, they’ve developed differently, and that’s been a really interesting part of travelling. Just as a traveller, its been interesting to see how the churches in Cornwall are so different to the churches in Norfolk. The effects of the Reformation, and the banishing of Mary, it’s everpresent. The idea of this sort of abyss, and the loss of Mary, I find that they coincide. The violence of the countryside had an impact on me. There are different varieties of neopaganism at work in Nox Voto. In Cornwall it's developed in its own way; sometimes with Irish influences, sometimes American. Amy Hale writes brilliantly about it.
ZG: Two particular elements of your creations stood out to me; the shadow puppets, and the tiles you painted. I found the contrast between the motion of the shadow puppets compared to a more static piece, like the tiles, really interesting. Was that a conscious choice or did that contrast just emerge as you created?
LS: The shadow puppets were a response to something specific. When I was a child I used to have this visitation of this terrifying puppet every once in a while, and I’ve always been fascinated by them, as is Sarah as well. She was also making some puppets at the time. We’ve done other collaborations whilst doing the Pilgrimage. In the summer of 2021, there was this quite powerful sense of opening up, but also that summer my best friend’s child died just beforehand. We had spent all of lockdown together. The flowers were so bright that year, it was almost impossible to look at them. There was this really recent, palpable death, and everyone around me was really grieving. We had to address that. We created these characters via the shadow work and wrote this really tragic text, I found it really beautiful and stimulating.
ZG: Another theme that I’ve picked up on is this sexual release, but simultaneous repression. Around the time the sites you visited were built it would have been a very difficult and repressive world for women. As liberated women did you feel some sort of release of feminine energy? Or did you feel this pent up energy at all?
LS: I don’t think I thought about it like that. Along the pilgrimage, I thought about the process of going into labour a lot, and how it filled me with empathy for every woman on earth. It was so powerful. I don’t know if that’s common but I was just flooded with empathy. For Sarah, and for myself, and for the journey. It comes back to the idea we discussed of the conduit; we embodied all women when we were on that land together. But also there is no universal woman; there’s nothing universal about the female experience. Empathy is something we can tap into whilst accepting that; both can be true at the same time.
ZG: Thank you, Lucy.