We Made It: Set and Costume Designer Lise Marker

Danish-born Lise Marker is the perfect example of someone for whom a heirarchy between art and craft is an anachronisitic irrelevance. In fact it might be more appropriate to call her a magician: whether she is fabricating costumes and scenery for others or creating her own designs, making commercial work or operating in the fine art world, everythign she does has a common factor of defamiliarisation and transformation. Most famously she has worked with the mighty Matthew Barney, but her work has been spread throughout disciplines and multiple collaborations, and deserves to be appreciated in its own right. Theartsdesk's Joe Muggs spoke to her to discover what makes her unique world go round.

JOE MUGGS: How do you describe what you do?

LISE MARKER: I work as a set and costume designer. Within the film world this translates into production designer and art director.

Were you a visual person as a child? Did you always want to make things?

I have always excelled in making and creating things since I was a wee kid. Whether they where interesting I will leave for others to judge; of course my mom always loved my work... except for the work I put my poor Barbie dolls through. They had to suffer quite a lot of torment from various cut, stick and glue-on garments – I wasn't too nifty with a sewing machine back in those days – and live with furniture made out of loo roll and other odd misfit objects. Luckily they nearly all survived, though, most of them with hell of lot less hair and a lot more make up (for which read pencil-drawn faces) than when they entered into this world. 

Who were your first inspirations as artists and makers?

When I was a about seven years old my dad filled up our entire house with a ton of architectural model boxes, water colour paintings, tilting tables and drawing light boxes. At the time he had started studying architectural engineering, and as part of his studies he made lots of wonderful sculptures, structures and paintings. I loved being surrounded by this new blast of creativity in the house, and the new amount of art material suddenly readily available to me became part of my young practice and are still things that I occasionally use in my work to this day.

When was the first time you thought that designing and making could be how you earn a living?

I never considered it not to be an option. Working creatively is about talent, persistence and the sense that you just really wouldn't know what else to do. I think most artists and creative freelancers live with a daily struggle to keep the balance between a healthy money flow, aspirational projects and the joy of creating. I believe you can be an incredible, talented artist but if you don't possess a good amount of stubbornness you won't be able to persist practising your art. 

What work are you proudest of?

The work that I am proudest of is often the work that has been the hardest to make and which has carried me into exploring new ways of working. Between 2009 and 2010 I collaborated with the wonderful Swedish director Anne Jonsson on making a series of site-specific performances in Tensta Konsthall, the Swedish Art Museum in Stockholm, and at BUS, a Childrens Theatre also in Stockholm.

It was an incredible ambitious body of work where we transformed 100 square metres into a magical world and guided the audience around the hidden narrow back alleys of the Art Museum and at BUS engaged the city in an outdoor audio tour around Södermalm, Stockholm and into a mysterious old basement, introducing them to the underworlds of the area. 

In 2008 I also worked with Matthew Barney and Jonthan Bepler on their most reason artfilm opera River of Fundament.  Clearly it's an incredible experience to be part of this kind of scale international art project where money is less of an object - and the means to creating Matthew's artistic vision seem endless.

You seem to happily span boundaries between fashion, film, fine art, craft, photography etc. When you're working, are you conscious of these disciplinary boundaries, or do they not exist for you?

I started in fashion, moved into theatre and ended up in film making: with the fear of sounding lame, my practice is a journey. I have never been able to walk in just one direction. I am just too curious! This of course, can be both beneficial and hindering at times. Technology is moving fast and this is helping art forms to merge and artist to explore new methods of working within their practice.

Working with fashion sprung from my desire to make my own clothes as a teenager, working in theatre came from the desire to collaborate with other creative practitioners. Making films came from the need to work in a medium where you can contain and control your audience's point of view and create a project that can be kept and watched over and over again.

Photography came from the desire to be able to document my work in a way I didn't always find other people capable of doing. Within all of this I have always loved to get my hands dirty so making crafts is just a natural part of my practice. I like shaping things in the space with my own hands similar to how a sculptor works. 

Do you have a preference for "solo" work or being part of a multi-person collaboration, and what are the reasons?

I love collaborating and I love being in good company with other creatives alike. One of my best experiences of a fruitful collaboration has been working with Theatre Rites. In 2012-13 we created Rubbish through a year long devising process. In theatre today it is rare to find this form of long term collaboration process. Sue Buckmaster who is the artistic director of the company has a wonderful gift of making the rehearsal room an incredible playground for all involved.

Most theatre productions today will be developed within six to eight weeks rehearsal and the set and costumes will only be introduces to the actors two to three weeks prior to premiering. With Rubbish we had the set build and the costumes nearly finished nine months before the opening of the show, which allowed the performers to inhabit the space and make it their own. During rehearsals they would be in full costumes rather than black tracks which also helped them in creating and developing their characters. The show is still touring and has been well received, all of which I think is down to the incredible creative collaboration between all team members, which spills into the final show.

A lot of your work seems to involve rearranging or recontextualising familiar things - especially the human body; do you hope to affect the way people see things?

I think the best art is the art that makes you stop for a second and discover something new about the way you perceived the world... and realise that maybe it was right in front you all along. We are all surrounded by objects that play a part in our daily lives. By turning the familiarity on its head you are sometimes able to see things more clear. 

Who are your current favourite or most inspirational craftspersons?

I recently came across the works of the art collective Hilden & Diaz. They have created a piece of art which they call Forms in Nature. Coming from a theatrical background it is no wonder that I find this piece fascinating. They have created an everyday object like a simple lampshade into a magical space transformational artwork. I presume the piece is made from a 3D printing method which, for me, also makes it incredibly interesting as all these new technologies helps expand artists capability within their practice.  

Lise's Website

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