Silver is central to Lucy Pullen's exhibition "A Thousand Miles of Dust and Ashes." Compared to gold, silver is utilitarian and industrial. Aesthetically and economically, gold denoted ostentation and wealth, while silver is more modest and bourgeois. The melancholy and sublime cast to the exhibition's title seems at odds with the idiosyncratic quality of the works: a silver print of the artist in a reflective silver skirt (Flash, 1999), a rope sculpture covered in the same light-sensitive silver material from which the skirt was made (The Thing, 2003) and a series of double-line drawings on circular grounds of metallic paper (Portal, 2002). The title's commutations of ruination, even apocalypse, serve as a linguistic enticement into a closer investigation of possible meanings.


Flash (1999)

cibachrome of scotchlite garment

photo: David Lawson

private collection



Product and invention never seem to be the point. Discovery, arising from the process of creation and destruction, does. As in an alchemical experiment, the multiple qualities of silver, as metal/colour, run through all the works. In turn, the notion of alchemy leads to a sense of investigation into the nature of materials and to an encounter with a magical effect. An otherworldliness emanates from the silver print. Photographed with a flash, at night, Pullen's skirt becomes a void of glowing light, an opening through which the viewer enters or is sucked in (like the door in Poltergeist or Malevich's Black Square on a White Ground). The snake-like sculpture, The Thing, is a meandering tangle of ropes that rise and fall in defiance of gravity, recalling mythic Laocoon being strangled by sea snakes, or, likewise, the viewer's gaze caught up in its sinuous, reflective mass. The silvery "snakeskin" covering the ropes is so much about artifice that one wonders about what lies beneath the skin, as if the ropes were the musculature of the sculpture. The cloth is hiding something, the way the wooden horse of Troy concealed a veritable war machine.While largely abstract, Pullen's work has a tendency toward figuration. Portal, the series of automatist double-line drawings, unconsciously takes on the form of plant life or breasts. A sense of exploring the fundamentals of time and space is also present..


The Thing (2003)

scotchlite over rope

8 feet x 7 feet x 3 feet assembled



It is in instances of exposure time, capturing impressions of light onto film; the swallowing of a three dimensional body by a glowing void; the phenomenological aspect of The Thing and its dependence on a perambulation; the following of a single line through three-dimensional space with multiple positive/negative entrance points; the illusion of three dimensionality in drawn contour lines on a two-dimensional surface. All of these basic elements reflect back on the mediums themselves: flatness, light, dimensionality and defiance of gravity. The spectre of modernism returns, or rather we are reminded that it never went away. Maybe it also evokes the idea of a return from the future, the idea that the future and past fold in upon themselves. If modernism is here, it is a ghost. Or a rhizome that buries itself under the ground. Or a geological vein The associations of silver have something to do with the nature of history and memory after modernism. Pullen's work plays off how history is embedded in memory. In <<These on the Philosophy of History>> Walter Benjamin's words are consistent with "A Thousand Miles of Dust and Ashes": <<this is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet>>.

Marina Roy

Canadian Art, Fall 2003


Ladder (2003)

scotchlite over ladder

6 ft x 3 ft x 2 ft ea.

collaboration with Will Rogan




Lucy Pullen recently wrote a letter to David Bowie informing him that she had named one of her photographs after his 1977 hit Sound and Vision. "I don't want to be known as a title poacher", she says of her determination to reach the rocker directly. Bowie would no doubt appreciate Pullen's work: She wraps objects with highly reflective cloth - material stardust, if you will - and uses them as subjects for her photographs or building blocks in her installations. The photograph in question is a black and white study of a speaker covered in this reflective material. It is a typical Pullen. With help of German fabric suppiler Gunold und Stickman, Pullen has been working with this substance for some time, experimenting with its reflections and glowability. Normally used on jogging suits, safety gear and running shoes, she discovered that when viewed in a certain light, the material hovers and looks digital or even ethereal. "This material is incredibly active," she explains, launching into the science behind the effect.


Swing (2003)

scotchlite over rope

18 feet



"if the viewer is mid-point in a straight line between the light source and the sculpture, the material glows. And it responds differently on film. It kicks a hole in the photo and replaces the object with an aura."Rope Swing, at right, a photograph of two girls swinging from a tree, Pullen wrapped the long rope of the swing with the material; it looks as if the girls are swinging from a bolt of lighting. Aesthetic Theory brings reading to light, with one book on a shelf illuminating the rest of the collection. Lecture turns the metal armrests of a university classroom into a starry sky. For Pullen, who has studied at Cooper Union, the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and the Tyler School of Art at Temple University, and now teaches at the University of Victoria, her literal re-insertion of the aura into her images is no accident. It's a playful response to the influential German theorist Walter Benjamin and his notion that with the mechanical reproduction of art comes the loss of artistic authenticity - what he calls the aura.


Ladders (2003)

scotchlite over 20 ladders

6 ft x 3 ft x 2 ft ea.

collaboration with Will Rogan

edition of 20



With the exhibition Everything is Illuminated (whose title is, in fact, taken from Jonathan Safan Foer's bestselling novel; like Bowie, he received a letter from the artist) Pullen is using her flashy auras in an installation made up of 11 photographs, nine wrapped and thus brilliant ladders and 1004 astro-neon-pink-marbelized bouncy balls scattered across the gallery floor "i'm principally interested in the viewer having agency," she explains. "I want there to be a reciprocal relationship between the beholder and the beheld." By grouping the ladders in sets of two, three and four, the viewer is forced to physically manoeuvre through the installation, driving an ever-changing perspective and lunimescence. Also included in the exhibit is Ashhole (or more delicately, Wooden Standing Construction), a thin sculpture made from ash that Pullen steamed and moulded in her very own steam box, which she constructed in her studio from 1850 designs. The sculpture is perfectly balenced on two pencils. With her magic material, Pullen is bridging heavy German theory and playful visual experimentation - and braving all sorts of media to do it. When asked if Bowie ever responded to her letter, she laughs and excuses him. "Well, he is on tour." Who knows? Maybe he'll stop for a brief but illuminating experience.

Julia Dault

National Post, May 20, 2004