BODILY STRENGTH AND ARCHITECTURAL FALLIBILITY
AN AMERICAN ARTIST STATEMENT DURING LATE CAPITALISM AND EARLY 2018
I am a sculptor, working in installation, performance, social organizing, and an un-glorified sort of painting. My work is predominantly freestanding—built by, and facing myself, as I try to create communication systems that manifest a space where architecture and the body collide. I build narratives that tell a geometrically restrained version of structural demise and bodily transcendence, through a playful use of media—including interactive interventions, light, sound, filmed and live performance, and other more specific materials. However, the crux of my work is focused on the construction and arrangement of large or human-scale wooden structures and forms that I assemble, and often transform or destroy myself. In this vein of transformative space, I also create situations for people to convene at night. I designed, built, and currently co-own a small bar/club/curatorial experiment in Lower Manhattan, called Beverly’s. Through this venue, I investigate ways to reconfigure institutional exhibition formats. My work is unified in that it celebrates a public context for unseen labor—a wieldy “machismo” of the feminine.
All portions of my practice are responses to inconsistencies that I feel and observe as a woman in post–9-11 America. I am from the Midwest, and my father is an architect. This protestant, do-it-yourself work ethic, the problematic boundaries that exist in Midwestern cities, being a young girl constantly moving to the urgent beat of American hip-hop, as well as my father’s understanding/neurosis surrounding spatial awareness (which he passed on to me), all made me doubtful of current power systems. But early on, this became Tetris-like gridded out enough in my head, to make me believe that my talent for making art was relevant.
The Twin Towers fell when I had just turned nineteen, so I belong to the specific generation whose entire childhood was pre and whose entire adulthood is post. I moved to New York a few years later. In order to make a living, and to afford to make art, I began to work as a bartender in dive bars in Lower Manhattan. While customers at a small venue are able to self-select who they interact with, the bartender interacts with every- one. In my case “everyone” included young artists like myself, neighbours, people who were in various ways up to no good, and soldiers returning home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The physical and emotional labor that I was exerting, quickly made me unable to adhere to any norms that discourage women from being direct, sharing their vision, shouting, getting dirty, or displaying physical strength in public. And this was all happening in the footprint of our fallen twin monument to capitalism.
Through these countless and charged interactions, I began to understand how semi-public, architectural space could be a platform for a living social nucleus—and an important contextual counterpoint for a developing sculptural language. Years have passed since this time, and I am re-routed back to it as a crucial arena of personal multi-tasking, the beginning of new forms of global media proliferation and mass uncertainty, and my own experience of learning via economic and social necessity. Fellow Midwestern American sculptor, Robert Morris’ ever-important 1961 work, “Box with the Sound of its Own Making,” incorporates the durational sound of the box’s construction—demystifying its creation, and removing it from the misleading stoicism of a fully-realized, historical or capitalized object. Its formal tidiness forces the listener to imagine their own vision of what its creation process looked like. For many of my recent sculptures, I construct two towers, both my exact body height of 177 cm. In a durational performance, I hand-saw the towers into chunks, and reconstruct them into raw new forms. The sound of the hand saw is projected in rhythm with the push/pull of my body, and completely unobscured by any machine, other than my own mass. I build the towers, destroy the towers, amplify the sound of my body in motion, and reuse the detritus to create new structures—all in a tightly closed system. This creates a formal bodily narration of a simple structure with a complex interior—driven by adrenaline, geometric manipulation, and a desire for transparency. The push and pull is the undefined space between public and private—the honest fluidity of the place where body supports architecture supports body.
Last year I saw Berlin-based cultural theorist Jan Verwoert conduct an interview at a nearby gallery in New York. During the interview, Verwoert summarized his observations on American self-reliance. He was discussing the increasing amount of time that he had been spending in New York City and Chicago, and that he has noticed a critical split between European and US physiological identity structures. Europeans are often able to look down the street at a centuries-old piece of architecture, and therefore deflect responsibility and motivation away from themselves as an autonomous unit, and sidestep towards the institution. However, he observed that this is virtually impossible in the messy, Fluxus experiment that is The United States. Verwoert then stated his perception that in truth, American bodies must instead bear the whole burden. Despite our high functioning creative community, and boiling output of hi-lo culture, things in America are broken—and continue to break and rebuild. We will speak of this physically. After an architectural catastrophe, an al- most infinite amount of new forms present themselves. Concrete, glass, chunks of all sizes—ranging all the way from broken monument to dust, rebar, heart-wrenching human relics, furniture, untold matter. We are not often privy to where these forms go once they are cleared, and we do not really get to know who clears them. The material is reconfigured, but we don’t get to see how.
We artists who make our work ourselves, know that things must get messy before they get clean. However, this reformation of object/regeneration of space, is often not included in a vital material labor discussion—perhaps in part because of nostalgic American (European colonial) sentiments towards class, monument, and masterpiece. Emotionality often acts as a societal barrier against critical thought. As my practice has become more immersive, the spontaneity and bodily proximity of nightlife, and the obsolescence of seemingly accepted structures, is apparent in my intent, process, and product. This is true both during my work’s formation and its often transformative lifespan while exhibited. Distinctions between a studio and external practice have been welded into a constructivist philosophy of shared formal, social, and ethical principles. My work is less reliant upon the image, but rather prioritizes a pop functionality—for it is the function of the bodies to adapt to, and remodel, the failing architecture. In this American state of confused and capitalized image exploitation, I seek to be hopeful, but direct. My body and yours are the only machines. We fabricate, not decorate. Where there is metaphor, it is only once removed—a straight line to the event. By utilizing innate responses towards use-value, I imply that collaboration between work and audience may reignite a colorful, conceptual, sculptural language, whose purpose is movement and transparency—to share the burden of being torn down, but not destroyed.