October brings us something a little different from the norm here at Duplex. Elisabeth Horan‘s solo show is guest curated by Elizabeth Spavento. Spavento, as a curator and human being is interested in experimental curatorial practices, millennial culture and alternative forms of consciousness. Her most recent curatorial project, ALL RISE, is a series of temporary installations and performances organized for a 90,000 sq. ft. gravel lot in downtown Seattle. Her work has been published in Nous Journal, Drain: A Journal of Contemporary Art and Culture and by the Henry Art Gallery on occasion of MAXIMUM FUN: A New Sincerity Event. She currently lives nowhere and works in Seattle, sometimes.
Read Spavento’s curatorial essay here.Duplex: How did you arrive at the body of work?
Elisabeth Horan: Lots and lots of experimenting. I was pushing drawing as much as I could really go with the circle pieces. Sculpture is in my heart; that’s what I went to school for. I got this conviction from drawing those circles, going back and repeating the same thing and then I broke out into collage from that. Working with collage is very sculptural to me. I started to collect these things and find really weird ways they go together. I just collect them and keep them for a long time, experiment with what looks best, and then I come to a point where they need to live on or in something. I feel most at home when things are more dimensional.
Elizabeth Spavento: Do you think the circles were inspired by the place? You were making those during your residency in Finland.
EH: Yes and no, I started them when I had my first studio space in Northeast. It turns out the woman who owned the space was drawing charcoal circles and making circle nests in that space years before. I considered that a sign and went for it. Pumped out a bunch of circles, brought that wave to Finland, came back and it felt like the right time for collage. Circles had more to do with the movement and existence of my own body. It was just clearing space, really. Letting it loose. I enjoy tracing; I enjoy gel pens. I pushed the medium to its limit. And here I am again on the other side of the revolving door of creative practice. Feel first, ask questions later.
D: Do you see the circles as a sort of creative cleanse? And if so, it’s a really nice thing for you to say as an artist you did this, this cleanse, but it’s also a really strong body of work on its own. Which is kind of cool.
EH: Ooh, yeah. That is cool. I was in a space where I knew I needed to be making and I wasn’t ready yet. So I went for it, obsessively tracing. I had one of those defeatist ideas in my mind like, “oh, collage has been done, everyone’s doing collage.” I went full throttle into the Circle Series, and when I stepped away from it, collage took center stage.
D: Do you see this body of collage as sort of your reintroduction into sculpture?
EH: It’s starting to happen a little bit, yes.
ES: I’m curious to know the relationship you see between collage and sculpture. I feel like, for me, it’s not necessarily an immediate leap. When I consider collage, I still would consider it 2D work. How do you see it as an intermediary between the drawing practice and sculpture? How do you relate those things?
EH: For me, collage nuances sculpture because it is pieces of things that I’m moving around with my hands. Building backgrounds, especially in these things that are happening now—that’s very sculptural. And I’ve had a hard time with this myself, wondering: this isn’t drawing, this isn’t painting, what do you call it? I bring life to found images and make them lift up. I help to resurrect the old and forgotten as though they’ve surfaced from piles and piles of magazines hiding in a garage. And now they are having another go-around of being defined. Or defining themselves.
D: What kinds of stories are you drawn to when you’re giving these things new lives? Is it based on what you’re finding or do you have something already in your head that you’re trying to get out?
EH: I think I’m largely influenced by the process of looking through the magazines and having the images guide me. But at the same time it’s back and forth, it’s both. It’s very fluid.
D: Sort of like an exercise in creative writing, working within the parameters based on the medium. But at the same time allowing yourself to find the medium that fits your ideal.
ES: I feel like that sort of exemplifies what you’re talking about in terms of letting the images create a sense of depth for their own story or their own layering effect. Right? Because so many elements are coming from so many different things. And when you look at it, you begin to recognize this thing that looks like a pile of rocks is actually a staircase, and the chair on top of all of all of these—crumbled bricks? But they’re not really bricks, some of them might be religious imagery, or icons. There’s something about it that works really well, all of these things blend together and the more you look, the more you begin to unpack those different kinds of layers or the ways that you’re dealing with depth and perspective and creating these landscapes for these narratives.
D: You’re able to look beyond the original function of the image, and use it as a tool.
EH: All the while I’m struggling with how to suggest depth in a piece. These bizarre images deserve a proper atmosphere; a dreamscape. I let the lines of photos guide me but eventually I make an erratic cut and just roll with it. I’m pushing myself to get messy. I am analog Photoshop with no undo tool.
D: Pieces are getting more and more in the round. Is this how is your show at Duplex will differ from Pond?
EH: The work at Duplex will have much more dimension to them.
D: That will be such a treat for anyone that’s been following your work to see something brand new every time.
EH: Well, they shouldn’t count on it, but right now I’m feeling a very momentous thing. It’s nice. Thank you cold, barren landscape of Finland for letting me come back with some fire, I guess.
ES: It feels like there is a lot of restraint and order in the circles, and when you’re talking about breaking through that certain point is like going into a place where things can get a little messier.
D: It’s almost in the literal. These pieces here are almost like a garbage piles. They are messy in terms of content.
EH: Yes, I feel that I’m being so meticulous, perhaps influenced by the magazines and how very well manicured ads are. I just think “oh, I’m going to take this out and I’ve got to make this so fucking perfect” But lately it’s just been like, who cares, I’ll mess up a bunch and maybe throw it away. I haven’t given myself that permission in a long time.
D: It’s funny that you say that because that so-fucking-perfectness is still there whether or not you’ve let it go mentally. But your hand, your eye is still so tight. By letting go of that mindset, you’re not losing any of that skill and coordination.
EH: Maybe it’s coordination with something else. –laughter and giggling ensues- Too bad you can’t put that creepy wink in there.
D: How often do you guys have conversations about the work?
EH: If I’m doing something new then I’ll hit up Liz.
ES: I’d say every conversation we have is about the work, but I mean, that’s kind of selfish. But it’s also true. I feel like there are so many things that have come about just because we’ve been goofing around or we’re shooting the shit at some Tuesday night at three o’ clock in the morning, and here comes this brilliant idea, you know? Or different ways that life gets in the way of things, that sort of work itself out in the artwork.
EH: I’ve always gotten really challenging feedback from Liz. Just because she’s my friend doesn’t mean she’s just “oh, that’s so nice” or “oh, that’s great, just keep going.” It’s like “this isn’t working, this could be something totally different, and why don’t you give that a try?” And I find that very helpful.
ES: I’ve seen Lis’ work over the past year, and I’ve seen her be inspired and be in the studio more and more. I see things that other people might not if they’re just going to one show here and there. I can see the threads that continue or the discussions that we have or the things that are manifesting in completed work. I’m interested to see where all of this experimentation meets, if there is a meeting point at all. What is it about all of these different practices? They’re all emanating from the same person, right? So, even if that is just the starting point, or where they overlap, I’m curious to know how those ultimately come together or where other places of overlap are. It’s exciting for me to see this new body of work that starts to explore all of these different elements in the same plane at the same time. It’s collage but it’s also very sculptural, it’s 2D, but with 3D elements, so I can see how these things are starting to build and take form. And that’s just an awesome place to be.
D: Do you feel like you can see where Lis is going before she can?
ES: Definitely not. I think it’s easier for me to open up doors of inquiry than it is to sort of be like “this is where I want it to be.”
EH: I’ll show her what I’m working on excitedly, and she’ll be like “that’s sick, keep flowing with it” or “that is not the right background for that piece” and I’m doing my best not to be offended and do the next thing. I have that type of advice from other people, too. It’s great when people are honest because art is a feeling; it’s a thing to be seen. And, I mean, feeling is also subjective, but the pieces that are remarkable are the ones that elicit that feeling for the majority, and I think that’s what we’re all looking for as artists. To tell a story that elicits a feeling.
D: Do you have a favorite source material?
EH: I use Yoga Journal and National Geographic most of all.
D: How much do you feel yoga informs your work?
EH: It comes and goes. As a teacher I quietly study the contemporary yoga industry in the US as a moneymaking machine, just like anything else. I find Yoga Journals from the late 80’s and notice this huge lull in its printing. Then it had this resurrection mid-90’s and that’s where we are today. It’s more like a Cosmo Girl with yoga shapes in it. Another way to commodify women’s bodies under the guise of health and spirituality. And I think that’s putrid, so I tear it apart and redefine it. Yoga Journal is disrespectful and antithetical to my deeper feelings about the practice and our purpose as humans in general. But it must exist. I enjoy yoga for myself; I like to share it with other people a few times a week.
D: That’s actually a really refreshing thing to hear from a yoga instructor.
EH: I mean I try to keep it real.
ES: I feel like it’s not just yoga bodies. It’s the ideas of bodies in yoga advertising, too. Lis, you did a whole bunch of work—a lot of the early work before this year, I felt like was commenting on this sort of like how we define shapes of bodies, which kinds of bodies are acceptable, or pretty to look at; which ones aren’t. What happens when you recontextualize those super sculpted bodies to make something else?
EH: That goes as far back as 2011 when I did a piece called Blind Date which was this really grotesque thing leaning over one that had its hands praying. It was funny that both figures are ugly and both of them are kind of pretty because of the nature of the way I fused the lines of photos together. It was comical and daunting because it was a blind date. So, I was playing with bodies. That was sort of when I started really going into yoga studios more, and seeing bodies more.
D: Is this show mostly body-based imagery?
EH: Looks like it. I don’t know, I’m really attracted to garbage and bodies, and weird shit that might look sexual but it’s not, and poking a little bit at ideas like religion. Not to say anything is wrong or right. Just to poke.
D: Everybody deserves a good poke.
EH: Yeah, a little poke. I’m really concerned with the way the humans and the environment are very disconnected right now. That’s where that garbage piece was coming from. It’s a little bit here and there. Sometimes I use abundance or sprinkle little pieces of trash into things. I’ve been exploring more dreamscapes and surreal spaces. I like how dreams can allow us to feel free or trapped, or anywhere in between.
D: By putting those environmental worries out there, do you feel like your art making or you yourself are an activist? Are you making strong statements about how we live in the world?
EH: Not quite yet. In a fantasy world, I would like to say art is activism for me. I like when it is for other people and they do it well. For me, right now, it’s exploring the communication between body and environment in this work. And I think that’s why it’s so important that I fine-tune this dimension situation because it’s a lot to do with body and environment. It’s nuanced in particular little pieces, and then I’m trying to find the vein I want to follow the most, and let that be. I’m a big fan of Alan Watts. He says we do not come into this world, we come out of it. This is best illustrated in his words: “Just like the ocean waves, the universe peoples.” I observe how we collectively relate to the space around us. My current mission is to blur some hard lines I have drawn in my reality in order to feel more round, more connected.
See more photos here.