Sketches from an Infinite Archive: France-Lise McGurn

France-Lise McGurn's practice ranges across club nights, sound, and sculpture. Here she talks about her drawing style, influences and her collecting habits

Article by Adam Benmakhlouf | 01 Aug 2015
  • France-Lise McGurn

To research Frances-Lise McGurn is to find francelisemcgurn.info, 29 intriguing click-through images and an email address. It piques interest without any kind of discernible self-promotion or even an 'About' text. "I was resistant to having a website, to categorising and having a portfolio online," McGurn explains. "I wanted it to be like a collage, that something is felt or understood but not prescribed. Something to build instantly and use intuitively."

Clicking through McGurn’s website, the works are generally somewhere between drawings and paintings. With one work completely on the back of an envelope, there’s a lack of concern for hierarchies of traditional supports. In its clean sketchiness, it disregards the usual valorisation of painting above illustration, too. What matters is intuition and instant communication.

Railing against the single-minded asceticism so canonised in drawing and painting histories, McGurn instead cites her mum: "She would draw directly with marker pen on the carpet, or leopardskin onto shoes." McGurn asks, what's the difference between a painting and all the numbers drawn around her mum's telephone?

An expedient pace of making does McGurn well as a club night organiser, where she often completes floor-painted works. "These have to be done very quickly and in one run," she says. "It’s like washing the floor." In the toilets of the hosting clubs, McGurn has often made custom paintings and soundworks. Right now, she’s working with Katie Shannon on Daisies at the Poetry Club.

Now a part of the nightlife culture in Glasgow, McGurn also cites inspiration coming from long visits to the New York Public Library’s picture collection of "files with clippings, postcards, old photographs which can be searched through by genre or location, i.e. 'Coney Island 1960'.". Looking at these materials, one question came to her: how can an image, font, or print format imply a specific geography or time? She furnishes us with an example: "What is it exactly about an illustration of fashion that locates the image in Germany in the 80s?"

This kind of archive would have been familiar from McGurn’s own personal collection of "disseminated imagery, posters, packaging, advertisements" that she has been collating since a young age. The work produced from this imagery spans different historical periods, "but this is not a fetishisation of the past," McGurn makes clear. She brings up a concern about this kind of nostalgia, and cites academic author Michael S Roth, who describes it as a "medical sickness" which at one time was thought mortally dangerous to homesick soldier. The form of the drawings themselves in a way resists heavy sentimentality. They're mostly lightly linear, executed with a range of materials and on diverse surfaces. In 3am, the show in Collective, the wall-based works are all quickly rendered figures with paint smeared on the canvas like visible marks of erasure.

There are broad preoccupations to McGurn's own archive: representation of women within these media, juvenile delinquency, a kind of academic sobriety. Broader still, McGurn suggests a relationship with the notion of the "subject" that pushes towards "a displaced subjectivity. There is a relationship to the nightclubs I put on perhaps. There is no exact single narrative, no didactic meaning to any one particular image. Instead the works, shapes, repeated figures are more relate to a sense of a time, or sense of a space."

In their apparent quick making, there’s a kind of non-commitment or distraction inherent within the works, and so they reject the idea of the single-minded painter 'in the zone', padding on heavy oil paint on top of itself, in ascetic denial of food, sleep, sex. There’s space for doubt in these works. Ambivalence is welcome and present. In Collective Gallery, empty cocktail napkin boxes as plinths in her Collective Gallery show. The statement is obvious: this is all provisional.

3am by France-Lise McGurn continues in the Collective Gallery until 30 August