Liz Rodda explores belief, fate, and the unknown with Clockwise
In the past decade, Liz Rodda has been creating a body of work that is seemingly guided by a compass magnetized with forces of self-inquiry, notions of providence versus powerlessness, and anchored with a healthy measure of skepticism for the uncertainty of what lies ahead. Yet Rodda is hardly a humorless pessimist but more akin to a savvy pragmatist gifted with the natural, open-ended approach of a truly multimedia-based artist. Through video, sculpture and two-dimensional works, Rodda scrutinizes, celebrates, and even satirizes the shared human experience of the inevitable, forging her ideas out of uniquely signature materials. Are we masters of our own destinies, even favored by fortune, or merely another innocuous article pulled along with the rest of the rising and falling waves of an impartial Universe? Are we participants and even co-creators of our lives; or simply observers deluded by belief? In her upcoming show Clockwise, Rodda uses the motif of the circle to investigate and question “the intersection between what we believe and what we know as well as the degree to which thought can direct the outcome of experience.”
A native of Sacramento, California, the 31-year-old Rodda garnered a B.A. from Willamette University in Salem, Oregon in 2004 and in ’06 received an M.F.A. from Massachusetts College of Art & Design in Boston, Massachusetts. Rodda’s work has been featured nationally and internationally in solo and group exhibitions at venues including Texas State University, Brand 10 Art Space in Fort Worth, Texas, the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, the Contemporary New Media Audio-Visual Festival, Madrid, Spain, and the Shoshana Wayne Gallery in Los Angeles, California. Rodda currently resides in Austin, Texas where she is an Assistant Professor in the School of Art and Design at Texas State University, located in San Marcos.
Rodda will be giving an artist talk at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 5 at Flagler College’s Ringhaver Student Center, located at 50 Sevilla Street in St. Augustine. The opening reception for Clockwise is held from 5 – 9 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 6 at the Crisp-Ellert Art Museum, located on the school’s campus at 48 Sevilla Street. The show is on display through Oct. 18. The contact number for CEAM is (904) 826-8530.
I interviewed CEAM museum director Julie Dickover via e-mail to get a sense of her own views on Rodda’s work and reasons for bringing this show to CEAM.
I spoke to Rodda in a phone conversation from her home in Texas on the afternoon of Tuesday, Aug. 27. What follows are transcriptions of those two exchanges.
Starehouse: Why did you choose Liz Rodda as part of this year’s museum programming?
Julie Dickover: Liz’s work really fits into the vision I have for the museum as a space to greater expose the community and Flagler’s fine art students to current contemporary art practices. In my opinion her work embodies what is happening out there with contemporary art, by embracing a diversity of practices, such as video, sculpture and works on paper as well as utilizing a lot of non-traditional materials, like Nyquil and popcorn ceiling paint. In another sense, I try to be fairly balanced with the museum programming and tend to seek out variety so that there’s a little something for everyone.
S: When and where did you first see or become aware of her work?
J.D.: Last fall, Patrick Moser (Associate Professor in Flagler’s Art and Design Department) sent me a link to Liz’s website because they had both been included in a video exhibition and he thought her work was interesting. I perused her site and immediately liked her videos and sculptures, which I’ve not actually seen in person. I emailed Liz in September, she and I started a conversation and we ended up scheduling an exhibition at CEAM.
S: What do you find so compelling about Rodda’s work?
J.D.: I’m very attracted to how Liz’s work can’t really be pigeonholed, and that you can’t pin her down as a “video artist” or “sculptor,” because she experiments with so many mediums. One of the pieces that I really fell for when I was becoming acquainted with her work was Someday We Will Be Together, which included a potted orchid whose leaves were allowed to shrivel and fall during the exhibition, along with two stacked speakers playing Lionel Richie’s “Hello” on a loop. A sort of companion to that work is Hello (I’ve Been Alone With You Inside My Mind), in which the artist sculpted a bust of her then boyfriend out of clay. First of all, I think the reference to Lionel Richie’s classic music video is so funny, but at the same time the work is tinged with this sense of sadness and longing. Liz seems to have this very dry sense of humor, but in so many of her pieces she delicately balances humor with seriousness or tragedy (personal or otherwise). In the same way, her work beautifully expresses this essential human quality of questioning by pitting disparate ideas against one another to reveal how closely they are connected, i.e. skepticism and belief, longing and un-fulfillment, having control versus chaos or powerlessness. There’s really a lot to say about her work, I could go on and on.
S: Even though it has been a viable medium for decades, in your experience as a curator and museum director, do you think people have particularly different reactions to video work than they do to something “static,” like painting or sculpture?
J.D.: It’s true that a person could spend either minutes or hours looking at a single “static” work, as you put it. Certain works have an immediate effect, but I’ve spent serious lengths of time looking at individual pieces that I find particularly captivating. Video does require a time commitment from the viewer. In the several video shows that I’ve had at CEAM, we’ve had visitors who walk in and see that there is a video projection and walk right out. I might add that I have been guilty of doing the very same thing, depending on my mood. Those who commit to watching the works in their entirety are the people who have the potential to take more meaning away from the experience. In that vein, I think that video also requires the visitor to embrace a wider interpretation of what art is or isn’t. It goes without saying (but here I am saying it) that video has a safe place in the canon of art history, along with the many significant artists who have made film/video over the past fifty plus years. However, this is something that I take for granted, not always paying heed to a wider audience out there with more traditional views on art and art making. That’s perfectly valid, but my hope is that visitors will open themselves up to these potentially new and different art experiences.
Starehouse: How much time do you think we have? I want to be respectful of your schedule.
Liz Rodda: We can talk as long as you want to but I have to tell you I’m a little exhausted (…) but I’m going to do (laughs) the best that I can.
S: Me too. I’m totally worn out. So we’re on a level playing field.
L.R.: Okay, awesome.
S: Ok I’ll jump right in here. In a video interview produced by the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition from 2011, you explained that as an undergraduate you originally studied English Literature but then kind of shifted your focus to visual art after graduating. You said that you used “literature and language as a starting point.” In hindsight, in what ways do you think you used your love and knowledge of literature and language to transition into visual arts?
L.R.: That’s a really good question. I think it really started where I was really interested in dissecting texts and thinking critically about what I was reading and I think what applied to art-making, too. But when I first started making art, there was really a direct link. I was writing these weird little poems and pairing that with video and also having other people read the poems. And at this point I think that literature doesn’t have much to do with what I am doing, other than I spend a helluva lot of time thinking about titles.
S: Right. Me too (laughs).
L.R.: And titles are my love and hate. I spend so much time thinking about how I’m going to title something.
S: Well, like a writer you need a really good lead-in to kind of ignite the story; so you kind of start with the title as your concept?
L.R.: You know, recently I have. For the first part of the summer, I just compiled a ton of different titles or just sayings that I really liked. And some of them wound up kind of leading to pieces or just led to ideas of how I could be making something.
S: So do you think that literature now really just shows up in your work in the sense of a title?
L.R.: Yeah. I still love to read but I like to write, too. Not about my work (…) but I definitely think it’s less of a focus at this point.
S: Even though you say you don’t like to write about your work, I gotta acknowledge that, at the very least, your artist statement and writing about your own work is some of the most comprehensible and descriptively non-bullshitting that I have read. (laughs).
L.R.: Well, thank you! I try really hard, and especially try to avoid in needlessly using big words that really aren’t helpful (laughs).
S: You don’t fall back on being oblique or mysteriously coy when writing about what you are trying to convey. Sometimes when I read artist statements I feel like there must be some artist-statement-reading-course that I don’t know about.
L.R.: Yeah, that’s a really big compliment. I appreciate that. I teach and I spend a lot time with my students talking about artist statements and I tell them, “If you don’t understand it, then no one else will understand it.”
S: That’s kind of why I do these interviews, because I can have a hard time articulating these things and I think that talking to artists helps me articulate thoughts about visual art as well. If that makes sense?
L.R.: That makes a lot of sense.
S: I’m glad that you’re teaching a new generation to not sound like robots writing artist statements. I applaud you.
L.R.: Well, thanks (laughs).
S: I want to address this. In that same video interview I mentioned earlier, curator Shannon Fitzgerald described you as being part of a “fourth wave of feminism in both ideas and the media you are exploring.” Do you agree with her description of your work?
L.R.: You know, Shannon was an incredible curator to work with and we still communicate quite a bit and she is incredibly smart. (pauses) I had not considered that as something that I was exploring. I was surprised to hear that (…) at the same time I could see how someone might read into it that way. And actually when I was studying English, I thought that I was this hardcore feminist and I only read books by women and blah blah blah (…) and I kind of got over that. And I don’t think my art has anything to do with that anymore.
S: So you don’t feel aligned with that directly, as far as this fourth wave of feminism?
L.R.: I guess I’m not really even sure what fourth wave feminism is.
S: Please humor me, because I’m right with you (…) and I’d like to think that I am a feminist but I honestly probably learn the most by being corrected at points and I still have a lot to learn. And I don’t say that cynically, but more in the sense that we, or at least I, hopefully learn from error.
S: But Fitzgerald’s quote kind of led me to research this and I found some interesting views and explanations about the fourth wave from some feminist activist-writers so bear with me here.
S: Jennifer Baumgardner cites things like the ongoing fight for reproductive justice, transgender rights, male feminists, and the deployment of social media activism as characteristics of the fourth wave. And on the other side of the spectrum, Pythia Peay says, and I think this is pretty interesting: “At its heart lies a new kind of political activism that’s guided and sustained by spirituality. They’re also exploring a new feminine paradigm of power that’s based on tolerance, mutuality, and reverence for nature – values they now see as crucial to curing the global pathologies of poverty and war.”
S: Yeah, so I guess now we both know all of that (laughs) we are both more informed about the fourth wave.
L.R.: (laughs) Absolutely!
S: I guess I’m wondering, as an artist, are you mindful of that? Personally, as a male, I don’t think I look at art and think “Oh, a woman made that or a man made this.” As a visual artist do you see this even subtly appearing in your work?
L.R.: It’s not something that I think about as a visual artist. As a person, I like to think that I am tolerant and I’m very liberal socially. But you know, I’m not thinking about my role as a female in the work that I’m making. I’m actually more interested in ideas related to humor and things that are unexpected. I’m not really thinking of myself as a female when I am making art. Except, the only time I’m really thinking about it is that my husband, he’s an artist, and he makes work that is really, really fucking funny. It’s super witty. And some of the things that he does, like with the colors and materials he chooses, I think are funny partially because he’s a male. He has this piece where he painted a unicorn using Kool-Aid and poison, which was a reference to the Jonestown Massacre.
L.R.: Yeah – which is kind of horrible and amazing. But I don’t think it would be the same for a female to do that kind of piece (…) but yeah, I don’t think it is now something I really think about too much.
S: I got you. So that’s your answer and thanks for talking about this; because I wasn’t aware of fourth wave feminism. I guess I was aware, from my generation, of third wave things like Riot Grrls (…) which was very open and organized, really grassroots and a strongly active movement with bands and fanzines (…) I’m just trying to learn through all of this.
L.R.: Yeah, I understand.
S: So at your upcoming show, one of the pieces you’re showing is 2010/2011, right?
S: And that piece is composed of two images taken of the night sky in the split second between those two calendar years. You described how it references your interest in ideas of “scientific otherworldliness of outer space” and also “the Shakespearean notion of fate” – which I love. Why did you choose to combine these two ideas into this one piece?
L.R.: I was doing a lot of work about chance and I’m really interested in belief systems and I think, ultimately, it referenced ideas of “star-crossed lovers” and that’s where fate came in. And Shakespeare talks a lot about stars as well (…) I guess I think that it’s interesting how people think that by looking at the stars they can find out something about their personality or what lies ahead for them (…) and I think that my work is kind of grounded in this weird relationship between skepticism and the desire to believe. And that’s where it comes about. I don’t know if I’m answering your question (laughs)?
S: Oh you are – absolutely, absolutely.
L.R.: Well, I also wanted to say it [the image] is the constellation of Taurus, which is my astrological sign.
S: It seems like you are interested in these things like the unknown and fate. One of my favorite quotes on fate is taken from Evelyn Underhill (…) I don’t know if you might be familiar with her (…) but she wrote this amazing book called “Mysticism,”(…) but she quotes this Ancient Roman maxim, which I love: “The fates lead the willing and drag the unwilling. “And I guess I am wondering, do you personally believe in ideas of fate or even providence?
L.R.: I don’t think I do. I’m a romantic and I’m also a skeptic but at one time I did. I think a lot of my work is influenced by the fact that as a teenager I was in a really serious car accident and it sort of blew open my ideas of what the future entailed.
S: How so? Because it was so cathartic and shocking that you experienced that kind of accident?
L.R.: Yeah. It just made me realize that anything can happen at any time. The fact that we constantly plan for our futures and to realize that anything can happen at any time to totally change that. So thinking about the future becomes this really unknowable thing.
S: So do you think we are kind of powerless to this inevitable current that pulls us along?
L.R.: Basically, yeah. I don’t know if it’s a pessimistic view.
S: Well it’s surely an understandable and acceptable view. I have a point to all of this (…) in the two videos that will be featured in this show, Stabilizer and Death Drive (…) it seems like their perspectives kind of lean towards this powerlessness or inevitability. In Stabilizer, it seems like the audience is this kind of helpless onlooker to a tsunami that you described as either being in the process of arriving or leaving; but the end result is still destruction. While in Death Drive you kind of use juxtaposition and a split-screen. In one side, you put the viewer in the driver’s seat, fully in charge, while on the other side of the screen there’s this driverless-car just circling out of control.
L.R.: Yeah, I think you totally hit the nail on the head.
S: So they both touch on inevitability.
L.R.: I think the other stuff that comes up is that there’s a part of me that wants to believe in this very romantic idea of fate and that “things are meant to be” but unfortunately I’m very skeptical of that (…) but yeah, I do think that it’s about the inevitable. In the Stabilizer video I actually used a video effect that tries to stabilize the footage so you can actually see what is happening. But typically when people stabilize things they crop it so that appears more stable when you look at it; it actually becomes less disorienting. One of my concerns with that piece is something like cultural tourism; I’m obviously not from there and I have never experienced a tsunami. But at the same time I think that when disaster happens in our lives, and something like this happens in our world, I feel like there’s no real way to deal with it. So I thought that it made sense on that level.
S: Yeah. I personally didn’t view it like you were exploiting a disaster. So you’ve got my vote (laughs).
L.R.: Okay, (laughs) good. I was just concerned about being sensitive to that.
S: You had mentioned how your earliest segue into visual arts was with poetry and video. It seems that with a fair amount of video artists, their work is very autobiographical; it’s very personal with memoir or storytelling. But your video work seems like it’s based on the study of something other than yourself. Do you agree with that?
L.R.: Yeah. I try to avoid making work that is memoir-based. But to a certain degree, I think those things come out whether you want it to or not because you are the one making the work. But I am much more interested in things that other people can relate to (…) and I don’t know if that even makes sense because memoirs are the perfect way to help someone relate to what you are doing.
S: But I think sometimes people are shrewd enough (…) even if they create a narrative in their head that is, for lack of a better word, wrong (…) if I saw one of your videos and I gave you my take and you said “Oh, that’s bullshit” (laughs) I think people can still tell a strong story without filling it out with the obvious.
L.R.: Yeah, that’s true. I guess I don’t want to make work that really is obvious. I don’t necessarily mean that memoirs are obvious but I think they do point towards the idea of giving away too much information. I like to challenge viewers and I hope to think that the kind of work that I make (…) the viewer will spend a little more time with it and in turn get something more out of it.
S: Right. Now are you kind of increasingly leaning towards video work and adding that to the arsenal of what you are doing?
L.R.: Making just videos? No, I’m actually just starting to work with sculpture for the first time; and two-dimensional work. I have never been interested in being a great painter or video artist or anything like that with one particular medium. I think that I just like exploring different ideas and then deciding what materials kind of make sense for it. So a particular idea could wind up either as a video or a sculpture. And recently I’ve been really drawn to utilizing domestic materials and that has in turn led to more sculptural pieces.
S: When you say domestic materials, do you mean literally like things at hand?
L.R.: Yeah, things at hand and things that seem really banal. I guess something like popcorn ceiling spray isn’t something people typically think of as being really sexy (…) and then cough syrup.
S: That’s totally sexy to me: a good bottle of cough syrup.
L.R.: Well, it could be sexy if you use enough (laughs).
S: Let’s talk about the show, Clockwise.
S: I’m not trying to kill you with quotes, by the way, but I am trying to create a history or chronology. In this show, you’re exhibiting the piece Plan For Victory, right?
S: And the curator Fitzgerald described it as a “tiny black jade cut into the shape of an icosahedron” (…) so she describe it as this “twenty-sided glossy die, materially imbued with magical connotations, is presented as artifact; its function in determining fate is now preserved in static honor.” I am wondering if you agree with that description of it being “imbued with magical connotations.” Was that part of your original intent is that just kind of her read on it?
L.R.: I read online that black jade is supposed to protect its owner from negative emotions and so that was part of it. But I was more interested in the fact that it was modeled after the die that’s used in [classic role-playing game] “Dungeons & Dragons.”
S: (laughs) is that right? Were you a role-playing game kid?
L.R.: Yeah, yeah (laughs).
S: No way! Were you a “D&D” person specifically or were you a free range role-playing geek child?
L.R.: No, I wasn’t super into it but I just tried it here and there…
S: Now don’t backtrack on your statement; it’s ok to have been an RPG child!
S: I had all of that [D&D] stuff and I knew way too much about [D&D creator] Gary Gygax. But I was such a nerd that I couldn’t even find other nerds to play the game with. I’d create these characters, and buy new sets of dice and then I’d ask my dad to be my Dungeon Master and he’d just say, “No.” Now I feel less inadequate knowing you were also creating elves and painting little dragons.
L.R.: (laughs) that’s awesome. I like how you could see the magical aspects [of Plan For Victory] and I like how it can be seen in multiple ways. But it’s also the shape of the object that is inside the Magic 8-Ball. And then jade is also my birthstone, so it kind of ties into the reference of the 2010/2011 photograph. I’m very skeptical of those notions, but it’s just this idea how one might try to find out something about themselves by looking into astrology or obtaining these gems that might influence their life.
S: You know, sometimes the word skepticism probably gets a bad rap. It can be as much a sense of discernment or even wisdom. It’s healthy to doubt things.
L.R.: I agree. But sometimes it can be a little extreme, too.
S: I think I imprint belief or skepticism on objects or events. I have this I Ching app on my phone, which is probably the ultimate in lazy New Age pursuit (…) but I’ve noticed that depending on my mood or headspace I’ll think “this is right on target” or “this is total bullshit.” So it seems like my own skepticism can be conditional on feelings.
L.R.: Yeah, I can definitely see that.
S: Let’s get back to the show. Your statement for Clockwise explains that you use the circle as a recurring motif throughout the exhibit that can represent unity and wholeness as well as cyclic behavior and circular reasoning; so seemingly are you saying that the circle can be both security and even a trap?
L.R.: Absolutely. You explained it perfectly (…) I really have nothing to add to that.
S: Okay, cool. Can we talk about some of the pieces from Clockwise? Are you comfortable with explaining them in detail?
L.R.: Yeah, definitely.
S: So the show features video, sculpture, and two-dimensional pieces.
S: So is it seven, kind of static pieces and two video pieces? Does that seem right?
L.R.: It’s going to be three videos and I think there will be more than seven pieces. One room is going to just be three videos in a darkened space and the other space has a variety of different sculptures and two-dimensional things.
S: Did you come down to Crisp-Ellert yet? Have you seen the space?
L.R.: No, I haven’t at all.
S: It’s an amazing space and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
L.R.: Julie has been so amazing.
S: Oh, she rules, especially for this area. In just a few years, she has come on strong and hasn’t let up on bringing in some incredible programming (…) Okay, let’s go through some of the pieces and if you want to, you can talk about these as little or as much as you like.
S: So let’s talk about the piece Gravity.
L.R.: So that piece started when I saw these instructions that somebody had posted online. This guy was trying to make a geodesic dome for his chickens, as a chicken coop. And I thought that was really bizarre and interesting (laughs).
S: What was his logic behind that? Did he have some kind of reason why?
L.R.: There was no logic; or he didn’t explain why. But it looked amazing and so I started creating it and the idea of using popcorn ceiling was initially a separate thing, but then I started thinking of how we think of that as a material of being ugly or used to hide things.
S: It’s kind of a masking material.
L.R.: Right, a masking material. And the paint that I used was actually called “Gravity” – that’s where the title came from. I definitely see it as possibly being a model for something larger or it could be seen as a space for an animal; eventually for my cat to take a nap in (laughs), I don’t know. It reminds me of “Animal Farm” and it’s also a kind of futuristic-looking object.
S: And also combines the circular idea with that same shape used in “Plan For Victory,” it looks like that half of that shape, the icosahedron. That pervasive “Dungeons & Dragons” influence is showing up on the unconscious level.
L.R.: (laughs) yeah, definitely.S: Okay, let’s talk about PLANB, which is composed of bath salts, glue, steel, and spray paint. And this definitely uses what you call domestic materials.
L.R.: So that piece is super-geometrical and has a lot of these hard, fast lines. And it’s covered in bath salts that look kind of like icicles; they’re hanging down and kind of falling part. I was thinking of this highly systematic planning of an object but then that’s why it is called PLANB, because it acknowledges this type of failure, potentially – what comes after Plan A. And also, are you familiar with the philosopher Slavoj Žižek at all?
S: No. Not at all.
L.R.: He’s kind of become this world rock star in the philosophy world, but he writes quite a bit about this idea of Western Buddhism and New Age philosophy; he’s kind of critical of it but also thinks it’s interesting, but he’s more critical of it than anything. But anyway I was thinking about bath salts as a material that a lot of people think will produce some kind of relaxation or have calmative properties. I was going to cover it in rock salt. And also there’s been a lot of news of bath salts as a drug.
S: Right; The Bath Salt Zombies. This piece is all-inclusive: philosophy, cough syrup, and people on bath salts eating each other’s’ faces (laughs). Also, PLANB is kind of text-based; it spells out the word.
L.R.: Yeah, you’re right. I hadn’t really thought about that.
S: You know when I saw this, I saw at as (…) are you familiar at all with Sigils?
S: It’s like an occult tool, I guess. This is one of my obsessions so bear with me (laughs) but Austin Osman Spare, who was an amazing 20th century British painter and occultist (…) he was kind of after Aleister Crowley but not as “rock star”-ish, more of a humble type. But he created Sigils, these magical symbols, and to me, PLANB resembles these. There’s a method where you take a word, and remove certain letters, and you create a symbol from that word and imbue that symbol with some kind of magic or supernatural qualities; until it no longer means that original word. Not to label you as an occultist (laughs) but I saw that as well in this piece.
L.R.: I could see that, actually. I like your read on that a lot.S: And the next piece, It Wasn’t Supposed To Be This Way, which is plastic, canvas, and cough syrup. That’s an interesting combination of materials.
L.R.: I was teaching at the University of Oklahoma for five years and living in this little town there, and there are a lot of Native Americans who live there. And what I noticed was that there would be tons of people driving around with Dreamcatchers hanging in their rearview mirrors and they would never be Native American, they were always white people. And it seemed like yet another thing we had somehow taken from Native American people. You could get a bottle of cough syrup and a Dreamcatcher at the gas station and I was thinking a lot about how some people abuse cough syrup to get this hallucinogenic high.
S: Yeah, “Robing,” as they used to call it.
L.R.: Yeah, or “Tussin Space.”
S: I had a friend – and this friend is not me by the way – but I had a friend who once drank an entire bottle of Robitussin and he said that it was like he had died and was reborn – but in a bad way (laughs).
L.R.: (laughs) Yeah, I read a lot of people’s experiences online about this (…) and they describe it as this very disassociate state and they hallucinate and what I found to be really bizarre is that some people were doing it for spiritual reasons; to have some type of spiritual experience. I guess for me the piece is partially about my guilt as a white person.
S: You think? Why? Is it because people carry this sacred symbol around in their car?
L.R.: Yes, it’s been used so much that it’s almost become meaningless. It’s been adopted by white people. And I guess those are some of the things I was addressing.
S: And again, within the Dreamcatcher you have a similar shape that to me resembles that same shape in Plan For Victory. Maybe that’s just the cough syrup talking, Liz, but I’m seeing that same icosahedron-like shape.
L.R.: (laughs) Yeah, you had a bottle before you called me.S: Oh, I’m already two bottles ahead of you. Now let’s talk about The Vow. This one is interesting to me because of these particular materials: a yoga mat, which has become a kind of an increasingly-domestic material or item, and a full bottle of Elizabeth Taylor’s Forever embedded in plaster.
L.R.: Right. I think this piece has to do with aging and beauty and things related to that. You know Elizabeth Taylor was known as someone who was beautiful all of her life but she was also someone that we watched age.
S: She was surgically timeless, one could say.
L.R.: Yeah, yeah (laughs) I like that.
S: “Science and glamour kiss on the face of Elizabeth Taylor…” I’m sorry, go ahead.
L.R.: Absolutely. But once again this piece deals with belief systems. The audience has to actually believe that I put a bottle of perfume in plaster. You’re not actually seeing it.
S: So as the audience, I’m allowed, if not encouraged, to be skeptical.
S: Okay, let’s go to the final one you sent me. It’s called Plateau, which is made of cough syrup and die transfer on paper.
L.R.: That’s from a series of seven. But I started working with cough syrup because of the reasons we talked about earlier and realized as I started pouring it on paper that it produced these really beautiful, tropical, and weird colors. So ultimately I was interested that I was able to make these weird landscapes using cough syrup and I was thinking of ideas related to escapism (…)
S: A plateau also kind of implies that you’re on the edge of something.
L.R.: Absolutely, yeah. But I think the images lend themselves to something one might see when they’re high and they also resemble Rorschach tests to a certain degree. So those were some of the ideas I was thinking about with that series.S: I thank you for going through these pieces with me.
S: I kind of want to go back to where you give a broader sense of the show. In your statement you explain that these works “may best be understood as guideposts for exploring a new frenetic world where there is no longer delineation between skepticism and belief.” And we have touched on some of this, but it seems like much of your work explores these intersections (…) moments-between-moments with the 2010/2011 piece, this distance between skepticism and belief, which I think can sometimes appear chasm-like in our lives (…) You have kind of answered this to some degree, but I guess I am wondering what do you find so compelling about these almost-innocuous connections or junctures. How do you think they can directly affect your own skepticism and belief?
L.R.: I think skepticism can become a type of belief, too. I think for me, I was one of those teens that went through an intense period of trying to figure things out and make sense of things (…) asking really hard questions without finding satisfying answers. And I took it to an extreme (laughs)…
S: So this came out of that grand search (…) adolescence can be such an exaggerated state of being but it can also be kind of beneficial. So it came out of these kinds of deep, adolescent ponderings?
L.R.: Yeah, to a certain degree I think so. I feel like I still ask a lot of those questions. I’m just a little bit more jaded now, unfortunately. But I think it does kind of stem out of experiences I had from adolescence.
S: When you were in this car accident, did you almost die?
L.R.: Yeah. It was a really life-altering experience.
S: So you were kind of directly re-defined by this?
L.R.: Yeah and I think it forced me to grapple with these tough questions. But, and maybe it’s just me, I also see a lot of humor in the work that I’m making, or at least I try (…) I listen to comedy a lot and I think that there’s nothing more complex and interesting than a well-crafted joke (…) for me the work is also like really, really dry and subtle jokes.
S: I could totally see that with Death Drive, where you have this car cruising along like a car commercial and on the other side you’re showing this “America’s Funniest Home Video” that is totally chaotic and looks like things are going to turn out badly (laughs).
L.R.: I don’t know if it will read like that to everyone (laughs) but humor is probably the one thing that I’m most interested in. You know the piece that I think that is closest to that was Hello, which was a bust I made of my former boyfriend while I was blindfolded. And it looks horrible, it doesn’t look like a person, but it was referencing the Lionel Richie music video. I hope that some form of humor or playfulness is in the work because I think that’s a really good, healthy way to deal with not-so-fun topics.
S: Can you see your work kind of moving in a more obviously humorous way?
L.R.: I think it will always be subtle, since that is what I’m interested in. And I don’t even know how I would begin to make a piece that is intended to be a serious joke.
S: I see an indirect similarity and a weird corollary, but please forgive me if I’m wrong (…) but someone like John Cage used things like chance, fate and indeterminacy as his inspiration. But you approach those ideas as an observer, almost to the point of the metaphysical, or even on the other extreme, more akin to anthropology. You’re really looking at these things pretty deeply.
L.R.: Thanks. I like that.
S: (laughs) You can freely drop that into your next artist statement! But I don’t think you’re going to become a wacky artist, as you just said in your previous answer (…) but do you think you might hit an end result with this? If you’re looking for an answer, and I don’t know if you even are, but if so – do you think you’re going to find some ultimate answer through creating this work?
L.R.: No, I don’t; absolutely not. I think I’m more interested in questions than any kind of answer. And ultimately, I would love to make work where the questions that I’m asking are weirder than anything else (…) I guess it is hard to describe, but I think with my work I’m really aiming for a question that is so bizarre – that it doesn’t suggest that there could ever even be an answer.Daniel A. Brown