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Artwork by Lucienne Bestall

The Conceptual Art Practice of Lucienne Bestall

Lucienne Bestall is a conceptual artist and writer based in Cape Town. Growing up in Oranjezicht, her childhood home was big and old, overlooking the city. Her experiments with creative practices happened from a young age often putting together fashion shows, plays and exhibitions. Lucienne describes herself in the following words: “I consider myself a dilettante. I am a writer in some moods, occasionally an actress, an artist if I’m feeling optimistic, always a collaborator.” In my interview with the young creative we discuss her art practice and unfold some of her projects

After matriculating Lucienne applied to Michaelis and thought about studying either drama, film or English literature. Not wanting to choose, Lucienne was dissatisfied with the academic system that asks from its scholars to select a single discipline amongst many others. The scholar’s choice, inevitably prescribing who, and what they will become.

“I wanted to be everything, and nothing in particular. I think this is why drama has always appealed to me, it offers the actor many different lives and realities, punctuated by an intermission, and concluded with a curtain.”

Reflecting on her childhood creativity Lucienne remarks, “I remember a particular artwork I once made for an art sale in the living room. I must have been eight or so. It was a piece of chewing gum stuck on an A4 sheet of paper. It was called Chewed or Stuck or something along those lines. It was my first conceptual work of art. And one of the few artworks I have ever sold.”

In my interview with Lucienne she expresses that art offers a matrix to seeing the world and not necessarily a way of describing it. Lucienne’s afore mentioned thought can be linked to her still on-going project, ‘Required Reading’ – a reading list of 36 books assembled from the recommendations of artists, art consumers and cultural workers. “Is it an artwork? I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s an art exercise. Or perhaps it’s just a reading list.”

“Everything I do is held together by a shared sensibility. My work is largely understated, be it my writing or my art. There are never high stakes or loud messages. I like to approach my subjects with a considered attention to detail, with curiosity, and with a nuanced understanding.” Lucienne tells me that her ladder print has become a feature in restaurants, friends’ houses and unexpected places – taking on the form of an obscure Cape Town meme. “I like that idea. Perhaps it’s my best work, but only because it is so pervasive.”

‘Detail from A Story of Art (Ladder)’ 2014 by Lucienne Bestall

When asked to speak about her art practice Lucienne expresses that many of her writing and art projects revolve around storytelling, and that the act of storytelling is about silence and narrative or characters or plot in equal amounts. It is as much about what gets left out as what gets included she expresses. “Absence is an invitation to engage the viewer or the reader, to encourage their participation.”

‘Ten Objects’ is an art project that Lucienne produced during her Beirut Art Residency in Lebanon. The project consisted of a series of conversations with contemporary artists living and working in Lebanon. Lucienne exchanged an object with another given to her by the artist she met up with upon meeting them. Later the initial object was left behind and the new object taken forward, and passed on to another artist. This served as a memory of a discussion – each discussion would then be represented by an object.

‘FIG. 1’ from the series ‘Ten Objects’ 2015 by Lucienne Bestall

Curious as to why in the completed work she had not included the conversations she had with the artists, she answered me by stating that in the beginning she was recording the conversations but while transcribing however, she realized that they held little interest for the viewer. “Was it not enough that the conversations had happened? Rather than include transcripts, I notated the conversations with objects instead.”

“All my creative work engages the everyday, be it objects or people or places. In that sense it is never truly abstract, but perhaps sometimes obscure. Both writing and art allow one to reconsider the familiar, to look again, and to grant something previously overlooked attention. My writing exists in the real world (or one just like it), as does my art. It is never fantastical, although it may be whimsical.”

Lucienne was a part of ‘Venue’ an exhibition hosted by Alma Martha in the McDonalds on Long Street, Cape Town in 2016. For her art piece, ‘Some Ideas’ she invited a number of artists to the 24-hour diner for an informal dinner. She then asked them to write down proposals for artworks, interventions and performances that were site specific to the diner. Lucienne shared some of the ideas with me: “Cry while eating a Happy Meal, Go drinking with the kitchen staff (buy all the drinks), A twenty-four hour residency at McDonald’s, Leave a copy of Das Kapital in the loo.” These proposals were published as a small booklet, co-authored by the participants of the project. ‘Some Ideas’ can be purchased at Clarkes Bookshop and The Book Lounge.

‘Some Ideas’ 2016 by Lucienne Bestall and co-authors

Lucienne’s art practise may in many ways be seen as understated yet the considerable attention to detail is evident, her work containing minimalist appeal. Her conceptual practise is profound in that she has the ability to observe the artistic value that objects hold and her work makes use of the ‘ready made’ practice associated with Marcel Duchamp. Lucienne often leaves her work open ended and asks of it’s viewers to actively engage in her work. Not projecting clean-cut messages with her practice, her work asks from you to make your own meaning and may perhaps lie on the surface of obscurity.

Asking Lucienne what she wanted to be remembered for she expresses the following: “I’d like to be remembered as a witty and erudite dinner guest. And I’d liked to be remembered for living many lives. But no doubt I’ll be remembered for my ladder prints.” She is currently pursuing a Creative Writing Masters at UCT.

‘Fountain Series’ 2014 by Lucienne Bestall


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