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Issue 006 Fall/Winter 2023 Studio Visit

Studio Visit: Abigail Lucien

Introduction by Farrah Rahaman
Photography by Brandon Thomas Brown

October 2, 2023

Image by Brandon Thomas Brown.

You can find Abigail Lucien on the bridge between the material and spiritual, casting softness and ethereality onto the otherwise rigid and impermeable.

There, you can picture them drawing with iron, steel, and bronze; taking beeswax, soap, cocoa and shea butters, adding chicken foot and sea salt, and manipulating these materials into playful and rousing architectural shapes culled from our domestic lives and memories.

Lucien is a Haitian American artist who works in sculpture, poetry, video, and sound to create breathtaking encounters caught between flight and suspension, buoyancy and stillness, in balmy and fantastical contradiction. An iron hair ribbon dancing on the banister of an imaginary staircase, a steel candle that burns infinitely at both ends, hibiscus flowers set in translucent resin breeze blocks, a butterfly landing on a wrought iron gate. Heat is a core property of Lucien’s practice. “Be it to melt or soften, cut or fuse, the exchange of heat is almost always a part of my process. Fire makes its way into the work both compositionally and chemically, taking on a symbolic role as destroyer and purifier,” they explain over email.

Informed by their upbringing in Cap-Haitien, Haiti, and Florida, Lucien calls on themes of nostalgia, memory, and magic, as it exists in the expansive Caribbean imaginary. Cap-Haitien retains an architectural and spiritual presence in Lucien’s work. The northern port city, with its citadels, cathedrals, and surrounding forests of Bois Caïman, was the site of the earliest Vodou rituals and tactical gatherings that precipitated the first major insurrection of the Haitian Revolution. Cap-Haitien is also home to the nearby Sans-Souci Palace, “built for a Black king, by Blacks barely out of slavery,”1 as the Haitian anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot put it, a structure standing mostly in ruins now, on another bridge between the realms of what is and what could have been. Lucien’s practice addresses this yearning.

“My blood and spirit are tied to the land of Haïti,” Lucien remarks. “I believe there is a third space that we create in a longing for place. Mine is science fictional and dreamy, and exists under different laws of time. I approach this kind of thinking of home cautiously, as fantasy can be dangerous when overindulged. But I think there is something we can learn from changing the rules of our world to imagine new possibilities for the one that exists.”

For issue 006, Lucien invites us into their studio to learn more about their practice.

—Farrah Rahaman

Image by Brandon Thomas Brown.
Image by Brandon Thomas Brown.

Abigail Lucien, A Slow Burning Incandescence (2022), enamel, vinyl, and acrylic on steel, 60 x 28 x 12 inches, courtesy of the artist.
Abigail Lucien, Chen Peyi (2023), enamel, vinyl, and flock on steel, 51 1/2 × 29 × 7 inches, photo by Dev Hein.

1. What’s the first step in your creative process? Where do you begin?

Most of my sculptures begin as language—poetry and prose bouncing around in my thoughts—and morph into sketches to become ideas and objects. Subject-wise, I’m drawn to hyperspecific moments of the present, like sharing an intimate conversation with a friend or a corner of architecture I find enchanting on a walk, while also ever chewing on larger meta-narratives like belonging, futurity, and place. Process is everything—procession as both subject and means of storytelling through material. In this way, it can be hard to tell where the creative process begins and where it ends. I like it that way, existing with dimensionality and nonlinearly.

2. Do you have a uniform while working?

The process I’m working with that day dictates the fit. No synthetics when metalworking. Leather gloves for days. Coveralls when I’m casting, painting, making molds. Steel toes in the foundry; switch to chunky rubber shoes in the seldom moments when there are no sparks floating in the air. I’m almost always wearing a bandana under my welding helmet and, you know, I’m really in a studio stretch when the box braids are summoned.

Image by Brandon Thomas Brown.

3. If you had to describe your ideal creative conditions in three words, which would you choose?

Malleability, ventilation, solitude.*

*Finding comfort in the state of being alone. Read: The Creative Process, James Baldwin, 1962.

4. Tell us about your studio. Where is it located and how long have you been in this space?

My studio is located in East Baltimore, where I’ve lived and worked for the past three years. I’ve been in this studio for about two years.

Image by Brandon Thomas Brown.

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1. Trouillot Michel-Rolph. “The Three Faces of Sans Souci,” Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Beacon Press, 1995. p. 33