Focus on Lienors Torre – glass artist & creator of ocular obscurities

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Lienors Torre with her work ‘Degenerative Vision’ in Morbis Artis: Diseases of the Arts

Melbourne artist Lienors Torre’s work in Morbis Artis: Diseases of the Arts (until 18 February) has generated a lot of interest. Enormous glowing glass eyeballs, glass fish with human eyes, and a disturbing cabinet of ocular obscurities are both compelling and disturbing.

Lienors lectures in Screen at Deakin University and is a glass artist and animator who is currently working on a book on Australian animation history. She spoke about her work in the exhibition at RMIT Gallery on 29 November, 2016. This is an edited extract of her talk.

“Some time ago the call for proposals for this exhibition came out. It was about diseases of the arts and when I first heard about it I thought ‘that’s not quite for me, what I do doesn’t quite fit in to the realm of this exhibition’.

“The pieces I had made in the past, they were very much in the area of glass making or they were in animation or they crossed the divide between the two. It was very much about objectifying animation and bringing it into the world looking at screens and things like that.

“I thought about it for two weeks before I came up with a proposal that would fit it and one of the things that really stuck in my head was the idea of rain that might fall and become eye-drops. Water is an amazing thing. It’s something that we take for granted, it makes up most of our bodies, and it falls as raindrops from the sky. It’s also something that falls from our body as teardrops or sweat and the idea of rain that might fall and the sound of those raindrops was something that stuck in my head right from the start for this exhibition.

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Lienors Torre, ‘Degenerative Vision’, a screen based work that appears to look back at the viewer with two glass eyes peering from the screen. Morbis Artis: Diseases of the Arts. Installation image, RMIT Gallery, by Mark Ashkanasy 2016.

“Another thought I had was this idea of a cabinet of obscurities and right from the start it was the idea of a cabinet with objects that one would look into and they would be obscured objects so that you could barely see what was happening on the inside.

“During that process of thinking about the work and exploring and working out how to make it, I have to say I didn’t have a cabinet, I had no idea what this cabinet was going to look like. I thought I might be making one from scratch. I thought at the beginning that there might be a back light box and there might be the shape of bottles shining the light through.

“But through that journey I found this cabinet. I’ve looked at a whole lot of images of objects where you have, like, sort of sea creatures in bottles and there is that sense of enticement where you know it’s a dead creature and it’s quite an ugly object. At the same time you really want to look into it and you’re enthralled by what you might see.

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Lienors Torre’s Degenerative Vision and Cabinet of Ocular Curiosities, in Morbis Artis: Diseases of the Arts, RMIT Gallery. Installation image by Mark Ashkanasy, 2016.

And so, again, when I first imagined this object, those bottles in the corner, I imagined them engraved and you’d be looking through them seeing other objects. And it would be that same kind of looking but not being able to see clearly again.

“I imagined it really as sort of a diagram across all those shelves with lots of little bottles like you would see in some museum. As the making of it unfolded it became an exercise of finding bottles so that I wasn’t making them from scratch and the ones in the top corner are probably antique bottles. The ones lower down are more, sort of, recent bottles. Then it has been a process of trying to find ways to make the images come to life in some way.

“So in the top I’ve got a whole load of decals that have come from old text books and that idea of a diagram over a whole load of bottles and objects and spaces that one might read is sort of shown in that little bit but it’s also become more of an exploration as I’ve tried other things as well.

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Detail of Lienors Torre’s Cabinet of Ocular Curiosities, in Morbis Artis: Diseases of the Arts.

“One of the things I learned is that there’s an enormous giant squid that has been found with eyes the size of dinner plates. There was a time, about a week in the studio where I had squids and fish and octopus and a whole load of sea creatures. I have to say it smelled quite interesting while I was making models of them, making waxes. I’ve still got waxes in the studio. But the ones that were turned out in glass were a fish with a human eye and sort of an octopus type creature again with a human eye.

“It was this sort of mixture of eye object and sea creature that eventuated from looking at a whole load of bottles and specimens. The bottle in the far bottom corner – I just ran out of time from- there’s a whole load of wax fish that are associated with and are a part of that bottle and might one day be made.

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Lienors Torre with a work from Cabinet of Occular Curiosities, which references the grotesque sideshow or museum displays of biological abnormalities.

“The little eyeballs is one of my favourite pieces. The only thing is I didn’t actually make those eyeballs. They’re actually old eyeballs that have been made specifically for people’s eyes. I think they were made in the 40s or 50s. I got help making the stands so that they all appear there looking at you but there would have been an eyeball maker and this is a process that I learned along the way.

“An eyeball maker would have been a lamp worker sitting at a little table with his flame torch. He would have looked at the person’s other eye to match it. Then he goes through this process of using special soft glass that he will blow into the shape of an eyeball, get all the veining happening with rods of glass, make the iris so that it matches the iris of the person’s other eye and then he’ll sort of suck the air out to make an indentation in the back of it.

“At some point it is then fitted back onto a person’s eye. So each one of those would have been in someone’s eye at one point and would have been made specifically to match their other eye. I found that a fascinating process to look at in the journey of making this work.

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Close up of antique glass eyes, from Lienors Torre’s Cabinet of Ocular Curiosities. Installation image from Morbis Artis: Diseases of the Arts, by Mark Ashkanasy, RMIT Gallery, 2016.

“One of the things I’ve thought about and looked at is vision and how we see it in its myriad forms and how diseased or dysfunctional it can become in some way. We think of the internet as a way of vision. We all assume we’ve got access to it; that we’re seeing the same news, we’re seeing similar things come from it. But if you think of people who have no reception, their knowledge, understanding and, in a sense, their vision of that is again dysfunctional and it has that sense of macular degeneration that one would get with one’s eye.

“Just on that note, one of the things that amaze me – I had to look at how eyes work of course for this exhibition and I have to say that I still don’t really understand it. It’s amazing that we can see at all. I now think of eyes as a little cinema for your head because, of course, the light comes in, it hits our iris and there are all these cones and things at the back of our eye that pick up the light and they absorb the red or the blue.

“When you think there’s a whole load of cells at the back of those eyes, it’s amazing we can see at all.”

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