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鶹 alumna Lucy Pullen encourages viewers to reach for the stars in her latest exhibit

100 Closest Stars series was conceived in New York City, but deeply connected to a history of conceptual art and printmaking at 鶹.

Lovitt NYC, 563 Woodward Avenue, Ridgewood Queens. Credit: L. Pullen.

Multi-disciplinary artist (BFA 94)—splits her practice between drawing and sculpture. Her studio is a storefront called . It’s in Ridgewood, a neighbourhood in Queens, New York, “…which feels like the North End of Halifax,” says Pullen.

“It looks like a shop, but it’s not. People come in for handmade parchment shades. The conversation quickly turns from commerce to art, and they leave with ideas,” she continues.

For the past 15 years, Lucy Pullen has been based in New York. Her work has been the subject of solo exhibitions, as well as included in group shows and festivals across Canada and the United States. She holds degrees from 鶹 University (BFA 1994), Tyler School of Art (MFA 2001), and held a tenured position in Visual Arts at The University of Victoria (2002-2013). She also studied spatial analysis and visualization at the Pratt Institute (2016-2018), through its continuing education department. Pullen studied painting at 鶹 in the New Seattle era of the 90s and was responsible for some of the city’s legendary public interventions. Eat Your Words (1994) and 2,500 Superballs with Sandy Plotnikoff (1997) involve slipping cookies baked in shape of the word ‘words’ on supermarket shelves and tossing superballs off the roof of a parkade.

In addition to her wry sense of humour and creative use of public space Pullen’s work consistently demonstrates an interest in science and mathematics. For the past six years she has been working in Ridgewood Queens. Two years ago, a moved their showroom across the street. Last summer a hip opened next door. To participate in the cultural life of the street she opened her studio as Lovitt NYC, in August 2023. People come from all over the city to shop and eat. They consistently say “OMG I love it,” as they walk through Lucy’s front door.

Lovitt, a surname from Yarmouth, is also Pullen’s middle name. She loves wordplay and talking about art. Conversations in her space often start with parchment shades and quickly go all over the place, she says. She recently met a local video editor this way. They discussed , a work Pullen made with Dr. J.E. Albert PhD in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Victoria, that presents cosmic rays from outer space – in real-time to the naked eye, inside a sculpture. They discussed ways to visualize 24 hours of cosmic footage in the heart of New York City.

In the Winter and Spring of 2024, visitors to the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton saw her series on display as part of , an exhibition of new Canadian sculpture curated by Ray Cronin (BFA 87). Pullen designed a series of one hundred unique wall sculptures with actual star data from NASA, with a data scientist in 2016. This work contributes to a history of conceptual art and printmaking that is the cornerstone of the College. It was designed in New York and made in Nova Scotia. Pullen works with Mohammed Issa, a master printer in Lower Sackville, who prints each work three-dimensionally in exquisite colours. She also makes steel sculpture versions of these stars. She made Sol (2022) in the Catskills with guidance from her husband, American sculptor.

“Sol (2022) is an orange powder-coated steel sculpture of the sun. At the Beaverbrook, it stands on one side of a Salvador Dali painting beside its counterpart Sol (2016), a 3D printed version of the same form,” she says.“The steel pieces are designed to withstand the elements and reside outside, in naturalistic perennial gardens like .”

Installation view at Beaverbrook Art Gallery of Sol (2016) and Sol (2022).
Kapyten’s Star, March 2022,Installation view, Open Sesame Garden, Brookside Nova Scotia Canada, July 2023
Kapyten’s Star, March 2022,Installation view, Open Sesame Garden, Brookside Nova Scotia Canada, July 2023

How did you get into art?

I learned to draw by watching my mother. She has raw talent and studied art at Beal before we moved to Halifax. I grew up on Watt and Chestnut Streets. One naughty afternoon my mother, rather cross, said, “Go to the art gallery,” meaning The Anna Leonowens, 鶹’s gallery on the corner of Coburg and LeMarchant. So, my friend and I wandered in there as rambunctious children, expecting to see paintings in rectilinear frames and sculptures on plinths. The gallery was wide open and totally empty—it floored me. We did several laps of it like marbles in a shoebox. I remember thinking to myself, What is this? We walked home in total silence. I never forgot that experience. When I got to 鶹, I learned about the conceptual artist ’s installation in the early 1970’s, at The Anna Leonowens on the corner of Coburg and LeMarchant. He emptied the gallery which was also a thoroughfare, left it open, and that was it. That work changed my perception in a profound way. Though I was just a kid, it was very clear this exhibition undermined assumptions I didn’t even know I had.

The works are connected to a history of conceptual are and printmaking in Nova Scotia. Designed in New York and made in Nova Scotia Canada by a master printer, Moh Issu.
100 Closest Stars. Designed in New York and made in Nova Scotia Canada by a master printer, Moh Issu.
Installation view, Working On it: New Canadian Sculpture, The Beaverbrook Art Gallery, January 20 - May 12, 2024, Fredricton New Brunswick, Canada 100 Closest Stars, (‘21 & ‘23) star data, pigmented filament and magnetic hardware, 25 signed numbered works / Ed. 10. Designed in New York. Made in Canada.
Installation view, Working On it: New Canadian Sculpture, The Beaverbrook Art Gallery, January 20 - May 12, 2024, Fredricton New Brunswick, Canada

What inspired the 100 Closest Star series?

A lot of my work is modular or geometric and collaborative. My practice is somewhat social. I look for new ways to turn an idea into a physical form, so that someone else can have it in the world. I get it to a certain place and often meet someone who can take the idea somewhere else.

The stars come out of my experience with the community, which is made up of enthusiasts, data scientists, archivists, city planners, coders, public policy advocates, researchers, and developers interested in the technical and social potential of contemporary map making. People are doing things with information that you wouldn’t necessarily think of. The star series is a case in point: it’s a collection of 100 unique geometric forms. Their geometry is informed by the geography of their neighbours; they could nest like a 3D jigsaw puzzle. I put them in a grid because it’s an artwork, and I like minimalism.

The geometry is called Voronoi. You easily can’t hold it in your head as an image like a square, cube, Platonic or Euclidean forms, like map projections. Each one represents the space between stars.

The colour is in the material. They’re not painted; they are painterly: monochromatic sculptures that behave like paintings. Different values emerge from one hue. The American artist would say it’s a ‘specific object’ that is, neither painting or sculpture. As a student I read the 鶹 Press book of Judd’s early writings. Each star is an object; when light falls across it and the hues change.

Each object in the series has a magnetic mount and comes with a flat washer. They can be installed anywhere. Accessible, portable, and beautiful, fluid scale, it could be somebody’s lucky star. It’s abstract in ways that make it yours; it belongs to you.

You hold the belief that showing the work changes it. What does that mean?

It means that, “Unperformed work is unfinished,” to borrow a phrase from John Cage (Emma Lake Diary, 1965). Studio practice is essential. Until a work of art reaches the world, it’s unfinished, impossible to predict what will happen next, or understand what it means. I am totally curious about that experience.

Here is a tangible example: 100 Closest Stars grew out of direct contact with the GIS community in 2016, in New York City. There was no exhibition on the horizon or opportunity to show the work. I made them anyway, out of curiosity, because I am a studio based artist. They were shown for Bushwick Open Studios with Carto for two days, with (MFA 1996) actually, and stored in a box.

Two years later, a text came from someone at the asking if I had any work they could show. I put four boxes of stars in the car with four paintings from the Bee Series and drove up to Ontario. PI is an architecturally designed building.

The interior and exterior walls are clad with beautiful black anodized aluminum with space enough for a butterfly cleat to span the gap between panelling with flat washer, made for one-inch rare earth magnets from Lee Valley Tools mounted to the back of each individual sculpture. Now the magnets are an integral part of the work. The goal is to stay open and curious about what might happen next.

You can keep up to date with Lucy’s work and many of her artworks on her website .