Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Matt Olson | Bellicose Biotope

There are so many possible points of departure when you encounter work by the artist Liz Miller. Her large, site specific installations can call to mind the raw and pure creativity present in young children. There's a free, wildly imaginative spirit that results from the brightly colored abstract shapes that connect and wander. Yet there’s an obvious order present as well that seems exacting, very particular and serious. Her work explores the chaos and order of both natural and man-made systems and, whether or not you're interested in reflecting on the conceptual basis and inspiration behind it, it is all absolutely beautiful.

Her piece, “Bellicose Biotope” currently on display in Cargill Hall at the Central Library in downtown Minneapolis is a must see. The library, with all its systems and organized information, is such a perfect place to encounter her work and ponder its possible meanings.

Having seen her work on many occasions and in many different environments, I'm always filled with thoughts and questions about it. Liz was kind enough to do a short interview with me about the piece at the library and her work in general.

Matt Olson: Generally, when I look at your work I don't really notice the space it's in... but it occurs to me what a huge role that plays in the work. Could you talk a bit about how you approach the architecture or built environment you are installing in? How much and in what ways does it affect your creative process?

Liz Miller: My work is dependent on architecture as an armature and a backdrop. The space potentially limits the work, but, more importantly, it provides possibilities. I have always been interested in the potential for my work to infest an otherwise benign space, or to travel in paths through the space that deviate from our expectations.

Architecture and site do play a large role in my planning process. Because I need to build the work mostly in my studio as opposed to on-site, I work from floor plans, photographs, and, when possible, I do site visits. I have found that no diagram or image can recreate the feeling of actually being in a space. When in a space, I am able to observe people’s movement through the space, and to respond to that in my work by attempting to guide their path, to force them to interact with the space in a new way.

An exhibition venue’s architecture always brings new challenges or creates new potential. For example, my work in the Central Library responded to the gallery’s glass façade by “breaking through” that façade and into the public library space. This was something that I had not originally considered, but it became an important part of the work once I spent time in the library. Unique architectural features are often echoed by dramatic or subtle changes in the work’s path or behavior. Here the work becomes more chaotic and less ordered once it extends into the library space.

MO: Since your work is based in exploring systems, do you ever consider the systems present within the buildings your work is going into? Or the mechanics of systems that might be behind the walls you're working with?

LM: Well, it might be stretching to say that I consider what’s going on in terms of mechanical systems within a given architecture. However, I do give consideration to the type of activity that a building contains and its established function or use, particularly when that building is not a gallery or museum. In many instances, I focus on establishing a relationship that is at once symbiotic and contrasting in relation to what I imagine to be the existing systems or behaviors. In Bellicose Biotope, the portion situated in the gallery responds to the order of the library—the two hanging rows have a space between that is similar to the space you would find between aisles of books. The order dissolves, however, giving way to behavior that perhaps challenges the initial logic, and the seeming order of a space in which information is highly structured.

MO: How has your work exploring systems changed or affected the way you see the world? Has it affected how you perceive design and architecture? Personally, I find myself in a constant state of discernment about the aesthetic quality of my surroundings... always thinking about what I'd do different. I wonder if you also do this. And on a related note, are there any famous spaces that you'd love to work in?

LM: My work with systems has caused me to look at things from both a micro and macro perspective. Within any larger system, there are multiple small systems, sub-systems that are at work. Slight deviations in any part of their behavior can lead to tumult, even disaster, for the entire system. So, not to sound paranoid, but I think my research into this has made me realize that so much of systemic behavior, and so much of life, is both beautifully synchronized and terribly precarious. I try to capture this tension.

My involvement with my own work has definitely impacted how I view design and architecture. For one, it has made me interested in the places where art, design, and architecture intersect. I guess I have always seen my work as being more in a dialogue about life as opposed to a dialogue about other art. While I am deeply interested in contemporary art, it is exciting for me to think about my work as being part of a broader conversation, one than can extend beyond the confines of the art world. In this way, I feel a kinship with design and architecture. By their nature, these disciplines have to extend beyond themselves to include consideration for their larger role in the world.

I don’t know that I can pinpoint one famous space that I’d like to work in, but I am always interested in situating my work in spaces that provide new opportunities. For some reason, I like to envision my work functioning in a space with intense architectural ornament, almost a Baroque sort of backdrop. I wonder how I could integrate elements of this type of ornament into the work, and also how my work could contrast the architecture. I’m also interested in situations with challenging scale or natural lighting situations.

The Precious Object is free to the public and on display from 09/18/09 to 01/03/10 in Cargill Hall on the second floor at the Central Library in downtown Minneapolis. The show also features the work of 13 other artists from the state of Minnesota.

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