From the Archive: Lauren Godfrey

In June 2017, Art Licks presented the group exhibition 'House Work' in partnership with London project-space, 53 Beck Road; curated by Lola Bunting (53 Beck Road) and Holly Willats (Art Licks). Here we speak with artist Lauren Godfrey about a fountain piece she made for the exhibition that was situated in the garden, titled 'Fish Food'.

Can you describe the initial idea behind 'Lair du Temps (Camel)' and the process of making it?
When Holly asked me to contribute a project to the magazine, I just started collecting these perfume bottles. I was drawn to the absurdity of the forms and what they signified to the immigrant population in East London that collected them. I thought it would be fun to producing a scratch and sniff sample enclosed in the magazine, which is how people used to try out perfumes. I worked with Ken Kirton of Studio Hato, who has since become a frequent collaborator, to test out ways of creating this fragrant strip of paper that we can attach to the magazine. It was a bit of trial and error working out the most effective mixture of adhesive and really horrible perfume to get it right.
Where did the camel come from & what did the perfume smell like..?!
I bought the camel perfume for £5 at the Whitechapel Market and it smells exactly what you would expect a £5 bottle of perfume would smell like. A photograph of the camel perfume were shown at the Whitechapel Gallery later that year, so there ended up being a great circularity and specificity to the project.
At the time (2012, yikes!), was this a helpful idea to explore for your work—had you done something like this before?
Wow! Nearly 10 years ago! I remember doing this project towards the end of my MA at the Royal Academy which was an intense three years of questioning and doubt. It was great to do something fun for a change and to also think about different ways of disseminating my work. It has also led to meeting people that I have worked with since.
Have you continued to work with these ideas / the piece more recently?
I showed an actual camel bottle as part of an installation at the Gwangju Biennial in 2018, alongside other perfume bottles that I collected in 2011/2012 – including perfume bottle versions of the Burj al Arab and the Burj Khalifa. The installation, I think, best articulated the thinking behind collecting the objects. As a collection they present this false narrative of Middle Eastern progress through cheap perfume.
The day after the biennial opened, the—now rare—camel perfume bottle was stolen. Luckily, Holly still kept the camel perfume bottle we used for the project so I was able to find a replacement. It’s a great epilogue to the project and that £5 camel perfume is now more valuable than ever.

In June 2017, Art Licks presented the group exhibition House Work in partnership with London project-space, 53 Beck Road; curated by Lola Bunting (53 Beck Road) and Holly Willats (Art Licks). Six artists were commissioned to make new work in response to the house of 53 Beck Road and the wider history of the road. Here we speak with artist Lauren Godfrey about a particular piece she made for the exhibition that was situated in the garden, titled Fish Food.

Holly Willats (Editor), Art Licks: Thinking back to June 2017, when we worked together on House Work, can you reflect on what drew you to the garden of 53 Beck Road?

Lauren Godfrey: The garden glowed with a kind of fairytale aura. The pond had the mood of a bubbling beck or stream in the depths of a wood: with plants growing around it and flies flitting in and about, it had a kind of authenticity and heritage which really chimed with the rest of the house. I found the whole house really enchanting and it reminded me of artists’ houses I had visited as a child. (My dad owned a Contemporary Art and Craft gallery so we visited a lot of studio potters and printmakers for lunches of grape salads and weak elderflower cordial.) It was part of the reason I was interested to become an artist, this mythical heady world they seemed to occupy, surrounded by considered objects and handmade rugs. The garden was the ultimate reward in the middle of this haven of creativity. I think I may have mythologised this time in my head a bit, but I’m willing to sink into that!

Had you made a fountain piece before?

This was the first fountain piece I had made and it sparked an ongoing love affair with water and sunlight. I have gone on to make lots more fountains since and even centred a residency around fountains last year at Villa Lena in Tuscany. (Another place I have distilled the memory of into a sparkling glint of sunlight on a pool’s surface—I think lockdown is making me particularly nostalgic!)

The fountain at 53 Beck Road came out of its own complex and heady time. I was six months into being a parent and had very little headspace or physical space to consider making work, the sculptures I made for Beck Road bubbled up from somewhere a little bit unfamiliar to me. I had owned the ceramic ’boob jug’ that is the main component of the fountain for a long time and had gone through varying degrees of embarrassment and interest in it; at this moment as a new mother, I somehow was able to let my guard down and allow myself to make a work I wouldn’t otherwise make. The crudeness of a breast spurting algae-rich water to ‘feed the fish’ would ordinarily have scared me off but I felt like being honest and indulging in the silliness of it all.

It was such a wonderful experience all being together in the house whilst working on the exhibition, I think fondly of it. What was the experience like for you to respond to the house – how did it compare to other commissions you have worked on?

It was a tremendously rich experience, spending time with Lola, Karen and Peter Bunting and delving into their world in order to make work that complimented the house was a really interesting and intimate experience; it felt like writing a kind of love letter to their home and their collections and I was aware of being sensitive to the intrusion on their personal space. They were incredibly accommodating and forthcoming with objects and information, I even incorporated their collection of flint stones and a pile of books from their shelf. I have been interested for some time in gift-giving and art-making as a form of love letter, and during a residency at Triangle, New York in 2016 I set out to make bespoke sculptures for people I met along the way. I ended up making a sculptural Beanie Baby toy dispenser for the pet dachshund of someone I met in the airport. There was a complexity in the generosity of this gift and the danger that is entailed in giving someone something they might not want. I was similarly aware of this in the 53 Beck Road exhibition, seeking to delight and not to offend, particularly for those who had to live with it.

The fountain drew quite a bit of attention, and by being in the garden seemed to feel like the endpoint to the exhibition as people made their way through the house. Do you remember some of the conversations you had with visitors (guests) about the work?

This was such a hazy time, I mostly remember the absurdity of breast feeding my baby during the opening in the kitchen, looking out through the window at the breast spurting out pond water. It was like an unplanned performative enactment of the sculpture! I don’t really remember any conversations in particular, just a general humour around it and fascination with the breast itself, it’s a powerful object.

Have you shown the work since in a different exhibition? How important do you feel the setting of Beck Road was to the work, and how does it translate when shown elsewhere?

Yes, I have, I reconfigured the work for an exhibition at Thamesside Studios in 2018 called FAKERS curated by Cypher Billboard. Obviously there wasn’t a pond in the gallery so I built a self sufficient support structure incorporating a vessel of water as a new sculpture. It felt like a very different work in this context, there was something about the inherent intimacy of the 53 Beck Road setting that knocked the political edge back a bit: it was more like being invited into someone’s home and witnessing something natural and authentic, the greenery and organic setting contributed to that too. At Thamesside Studios it was more confrontational and the breast was raised to be more anatomically positioned, this made it seem more human and brought it up to eye level. The sculptural form was taking cues from post modern furniture but the whole object was quite coffin-like. It was an interesting process to re-form the work but I think as is often the case, the original setting was the most authentic to the work. It’s not easy to rewrite a love letter for another lover.

Lauren Godfrey (b. UK) is an artist based in London. Her work invites interaction and collaboration, often swerving close to furniture or the quasi-useful. In recent work, fountains and sundials—elemental clichés—meet post-modern silhouettes and pattern overload.

Read more about House Work here. 53 Beck Road is a project space run by artist Lola Bunting from her family's home in Hackney, London. House Work was funded by The Henry Moore Foundation and the Arts Council England.

Lauren Godfrey, Fish Food (Fountain), 2018, Boob jug, fountain pump, wood, vinyl, pond former, timer plug, 140cm x 52cm x 81cm  FAKERS, curated by Cypher Billboard - installation view, Thames-Side Studios Gallery, 2018Lauren Godfrey, Fish Food, 2017, 53 Beck Road. Photo Damian Griffiths © the artistLauren Godfrey, Beanie Baby Dispenser, 2016, Perspex, leather, TY Beanie Babies, brass, wood, 95cm x 25cm x 20cm. Photo: Jasphy Yiran Zheng Lauren Godfrey, Fish Food, 2017, 53 Beck Road. Photo Damian Griffiths © the artistLauren Godfrey, Fish Food, 2017, 53 Beck Road. Photo Damian Griffiths © the artistLauren Godfrey, Fish Food, 2017, 53 Beck Road. Photo Damian Griffiths © the artist