Bruce McLean is a Scottish performance sculptor who has just written A Lawnmower in the Loft – an amusing and light-hearted collection of snapshot anecdotes from over the years. We stopped by his studio for a chat.
Could you tell our readers a bit about yourself and your work?
That could take a long time. I’m a sculptor. I’ve spent the last 50 years trying to develop modern sculpture through all sorts of different mediums. I’ve just written this book which is nothing to do with sculpture but it’s a kind of history of how I’ve developed and it informs, to some extent, what I do. But I’m actually a sculptor, and people think how can you be making films and videos and writing books and making prints and poems but it’s all the same thing to me.
What inspired you to write an autobiography?
It’s not so much an autobiography. What always amazed me about my mother was that she travelled all over the world, and she’d come back and I’d ask ‘so how did you get on?’. She’d say ‘oh fantastic dear, very nice’, and that was it… there was never a story, nothing ever happened. Every time I go out of the house something terrible or odd happens, and there’s a story in there! And that’s what started me off. There’s all of these silly sort of things that have happened to me in my life and some of them are actually quite funny. So I just thought I’d write down all the little stories, and all of the stories in the book are actually true.
How did you find working on both your art and the book at the same time?
Well it’s just the same thing. So I’d work in my studio on the sculptures or ceramics, and then I go home in the evening, do emails and before supper I’d write a story. So I just did it. It took about a year, just one or two stories a day.
Who were the main influences on your writing?
George Perec mainly, and Lawrence Weschler, who wrote a book called “Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees”. I don’t read a lot of books, I actually find them quite difficult to read, but this one was something else. It was beautifully written and I think if a thing is beautifully written, it’s easy to read! And Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, I read it every year. It never bores me.
Do you enjoy writing?
I quite like writing short texts, and I’ve done a lot of work based on text. So it’s not too separate from what I do. One of the first pieces I ever made (after spending 3 years working and becoming very disillusioned with the art world), was this book called “King for a Day” a list of 1000 pieces. I just wrote it without editing, and if something wasn’t good I didn’t edit it out. That was at the start of my career and now I’m getting towards the end of doing stuff because I’m old, so I thought I’d write a text based piece.
Do you consider the book in the same light as all of your other art?
I wouldn’t call what I do art. I really am a sculptor, and I would say it’s sort of a book sculpture. Well it’s not, but I do consider it part and parcel the same thing.
What inspires your process?
I don’t get inspired. It’s another one I don’t understand, people think I have a “gift”, but there’s no gift about it. I get angry about things, and I think ‘I need to do something about that’. Or something makes me laugh and that makes me do something. It’s just to do with what’s around, and boredom. Boredom’s quite interesting, and it inspires a lot of stuff.
Have you got any more writing in the works?
I’m quite interested in architecture, and my father was an architect. I knew what he built but we never really talked about it, and he always said “oh they’ll discover how good I am when I’m dead”. He died when I was 40 and it turns out he actually was really good! My son found out just how good he was so we’ve decided to make a book on him, called Peter McClean: Invisible Architect. He was really interested in invisible architecture, by that he thought that if you made a really good building, you wouldn’t notice the architecture, you would just instantly feel better.
Bruce’s book, A Lawnmower in the Loft, is available now.
Watch a clip of our interview here.