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William Lamson's Sea Drawing apparatus

SELECTS: Liars pick automated artist William Lamson

Interview with a New Yorker who gets waves and cliffs to make pencil drawings

For their current album 'WIXIW', Liars embraced Tumblr with the fervour of a neon-haired suburbanite. It wasn't Photo Booth screenshots they uploaded to Amateur Gore though, but video clips of audio experiments involving potplants and hand towels arranged with the tricky intricacy of a Rube Goldberg machine. For this, the band were inspired by New York artist William Lamson's 2008 project Automatic, as they explain: "William Lamson's automated drawings are mesmerizing to watch… Making use of wind, fans, and balloons, these installations were sparks for some of our audio experiments as captured by our Tumblr. With Automatic, Lamson sets certain parameters, then allows chance and the elements carry the event to somewhere unpredictable." 

We caught up with Lamson at his New York home to find out more about his 'Automatic' project, and his reaction to Liars' work.

Dazed Digital: Your automated drawings inspired some of Liars' audio experiments . What was your reaction to seeing them?
William Larson: I actually didn't know their work until you got in touch! I was laughing though; I really like their experiments, they're much funnier than mine.

DD: Do you believe that you share an aesthetic with Liars?
William Larson:
I do actually. There's a kind of low tech, make-it-happen sensibility that I really appreciate. What often happens in my work and in some of their experiments is that the model becomes the thing itself.

DD: What was the original inspiration for your 'Automatic' project?
William Larson: The project started on a farm in Uruguay, where the constant 'clang' of a windmill pumping water inspired me to use this same force in my work. I built a simple drawing machine off of the existing windmill, and then later constructed other set ups using a kite in one and the ocean in another.

DD: For the 'Sea Drawings' part of Automatic, the pencil and paper are placed on an apparently inaccessible cliff face in Chile. How did you set it up?
William Larson: That was definitely the hardest one to set up. I had to climb down a cliff with a plywood box, paper and three bottles of water, and hope that the entire thing wouldn't get blown away! I eventually found a cliff that was perfect, in that it was a straight drop down to the water and just wide enough to hold the box and me at same time. The entire thing felt like such a fragile system in face of these massive waves that crash into the cliffs. I definitely felt nervous each time I left it working, but this tension is what really interests me about the piece: the enormity and power of the ocean moving a pencil.

DD: Do you think that creatives leave enough to chance these days?
William Larson: I'm not sure I could say one way or another, but the natural universe is not changing. Despite the fact that technology is allowing us greater control over our work and lives, we cannot eliminate all uncontrollable variables. These mistakes and accidents will inevitably inform the creative process if we are open to it. 

DD: Do you see Liars' audio experiments as a continuation of ideas you explore in your own work?
William Larson: I think the approach of giving up control to some other force and allowing it to make marks or sound is similar, but I am not sure I would call it a continuation of my ideas per se. I think both of our work fits into a larger history of artists and musicians working with processes that involve giving up control. 

DD: Which other artists working today do you admire? And your all-time heroes?
William Larson: There are so many great artists working today… I love the work of Roman Signer, Cornelia Parker, Katie Patterson, Guido Van der Werve… the list could go on, but I think Francis Alÿs is probably the artist I most admire. 

DD: Given an unlimited budget, do you have a dream artistic project?
William Larson: I'm actually writing a proposal right now for a project that would take a lot of money and time to realise. The idea is to take an old observatory and turn it into a year-long installation, using the antiquated telescope to burn lines into the floor and walls which would shift over the course of the year, revealing the changing trajectory of the earth relative to the sun.

DD: Would you characterise yourself as a 'nature person'?
William Larson: Oddly enough for someone who spends a lot of time in the landscape and who really enjoys being there, I don't really consider myself a nature person. I live in New York, and for the most part I really like it here and I can't quite imagine living outside of a place with this kind of density.

Head to the Marty Walker Gallery for more.