Artists, Makers, Thinkers
Who are you and what do you do?
I am Lisa-Marie Harris and I am an artist.
In truth, I am an itinerant Trinidadian woman of the sun who hates grey days and nonstop rain, but has nonetheless become a Londoner over the years. I play with my two kids during the day, and at night I make art before nodding off.
Somewhere in between, I steal away time to run Au Courant Studio, which is an independent publishing, art and design practice, whilst completing postgraduate research in Contemporary Photography & Philosophy at Central Saint Martins.
Where are you and what are you doing right now?
Like the vast majority these days, I’m mostly indoors, touring the sights and sounds of my space for the umpteenth time. I’m in North London and have at least been able to continue walking the woods in this strange time, which I’m beyond grateful for. Too many people have been left adrift with no relief or coping mechanisms, and it’s been sobering to witness, to say the very least.
Can you tell us a little about your work as an artist?
I make installations, sculptural assemblages, photo narratives, publications and performance work across a variety of media, including the use of websites as a performance itself.
As such, I’ve been able to incorporate all the AV techniques I first began using almost two decades ago as a broadcast journalist and radio/TV producer across the Caribbean. Having studied aesthetics and media theory at The New School in Manhattan in my undergraduate years helps immensely for the practical aspects of making art work, believe it or not.
But at the heart of my work lies the fact that I truly am an itinerant being. I’ve had to migrate my entire family to new countries far too often over the last 15 years, sometimes very abruptly, because I come from the 'The Third World'.
We are supposed to dream in adoration about the supposed advantages in these countries, but we are not meant to actually come and partake and build anything here. So we have to find our own ways; one becomes exceedingly shrewd. You learn how to look, and then you dismantle and create exactly what you need.
Migration, home, spaces, and the body are always at play somewhere in my work. I often think about the body itself as the only space one owns, and even that is contested space. I treat the body as a thing to laugh at, to rearrange, depart and remove completely, and I enjoy picking apart those notions around how we dehumanize the body through my work.
What is Au Courant daily and studio?
Au Courant Daily and Studio are my personal journal and thought/action space, respectively. I feel very strongly about artists having agency and ownership over their output, and directing the conversations around their own actions.
I find the idea of making a work and leaving it to posterity for someone else to interrogate without the artist’s voice and authorship being present to be outmoded, institutional nonsense, and a gross act of erasure.
Au Courant also allows for play and open collaboration with other, like-minded artists and designers across disciplines, and I really value having a space to share and discuss ideas in that manner
You seem to be creating a lifestyle brand (for want of a better description) but unlike most others out there you have created a unique balance of beauty, honesty, creativity and humour. It makes the whole thing feel more authentic - how does your work as an artist inform Au Courant?
Your words are kind. Thanks for that.
With Au Courant, I’ve found it more useful to have my own studio space to facilitate the making of work without stifling ideological or institutional restrictions.
I remember starting out on radio at station called 96.1 WEfm in Port-of-Spain as the co-host of a primetime Saturday night show. The concept was that myself and this other lady would dish on sex and generally be rowdy, like a cross between local Trinbagonian street-corner Jamettes and Cosmopolitan Magazine.
Before the first live show, the station owner pulls me aside whilst holding my neatly typed up production run (which he proceeded to tear in half) and says, “Listen, nobody is tuning in to hear “Lisa-Marie” talk about culture and the arts, ok? Something more hot will appeal to the masses, so you should call yourself Cocoa Browning and wear sexier clothes for the promos. That will sell the show!”
I was like...”Ahmm, no thank you.”
I came up with another name, the show was eventually called The Ladies Room with Tusca and Deja, and it became an overnight hit. I bided my time making up all sorts of random shit ideas to produce for the show’s features; we interviewed local celebrities and spent hours talking all manners of rubbish.
People loved it. I hated it. Not because it had poor content – in fact, I thought the actual premise of the show was brilliant and I ultimately learned invaluable lessons and technical skills in that role. But I hated it because there was absolutely no space for different perspectives besides regurgitating that one fantasy of nubile sex kittens talking about 10 ways to please a man in bed.
Au Courant is a reaction towards the kind of compromises creatives are often forced to make.
For a lot of people your output would be intimidating. Where does your drive to constantly create come from?
I just try to let the work be made, without giving it valence or designations. I also make what I can, whenever I can. Sometimes that’s a print magazine. Other times, it’s a single photograph. After a while, you look around and realize that all these disparate things begin to coalesce into something larger, something beautiful.
What’s the thinking behind the shots for Something & Nothing?
Flowers become part of our space in ways that make you completely forget their provenance and the immense politics surrounding their presence. The Arrangement for Something & Nothing comes from that notion, and from memories of collecting wild flowers like Passiflora and the Orchids of the Northern Range above Port-of-Spain.
It’s really been a small treat to encounter similar flowers on walks to Hampstead Heath, Waterlow Park and all my favourite London haunts.
Also, my mum was a printer and bookbinder by trade, and for many years she would make flowers for weddings and decorative designs using her paper scraps. After school, I’d have to help roll thousands of little orchids and anthuriums onto the fronds of cocoyea brooms for her orders. It was quite fun to touch on that materiality from another perspective.
Any books, podcasts, music, designers, artists you are really into at the moment?
I’m one of those people who play the same five albums over and over. Anything Gorillaz, Tame Impala, the occasional Metronome, and Daft Punk (still processing their breakup).
My current favourite is probably Sweet Sweet Dreams, the debut album released in the 70s from the Tobagonian Calypso icon, The Mighty Shadow. It’s not classic soca or calypso, per se, and nobody in Trinidad remembers it, but it is beyond epic.
As for books, I generally read philosophy. Been chipping my way through Jean-Luc Nancy’s Corpus and revisiting some Baradian stuff mostly, but I also constantly pester the good folks at Magalleria in Bath for those hard-to-find international indie magazines, cause they always find the good stuff.
With design, I am forever in awe of the works and spaces created by the Dutch furniture maker and architect, Gerrit Rietveld.
Tell us about something
Nothing is more real than the things we imagine.
Tell us about nothing
Everything we imagine is nothing in reality.