riday, September 11
Heidi Neubauer-Winterburn and I meet at Spark gallery for an interview. For this interview we take a different tack, focusing specifically on three works of art in her current exhibition.
Are you comfortable discussing your work?
I am becoming more so these days, but I’m much more curious about the audience and how they respond. It’s been interesting to see which pieces have been favorites over the course of the exhibition— Counting the Days, The Home of Thoughts Lost on the Tip of Your Tongue, Do Your Teeth Miss the Taste of the Sky? and The Cloud have been clear favorites for reasons I could never have guessed or thought of when I started creating the pieces. I do enjoy reading interviews with other artists. I like learning about their process, techniques, and ideas.
We are looking at the work The Home of Thoughts Lost on the Tip of Your Tongue. A small hexagonal mirror projects from the wall On this mirror rest the top and bottom jaws of an animal. Placed on the teeth located in these jaws are very small bead s of colored glass, not much larger than the period at the end of this sentence. There also appears to be some amber crystals. Why did you choose a hexagon?
They’re actually mini-gems, the sort you’d find in a manicure salon. I enjoy taking unexpected materials and changing their context. As for the mirrors, it was what was available that fit what I needed and wanted for this show. I wanted more flexibility than pedestals would provide, and I don’t like the big, heavy white boxes for such light, smaller pieces. I also liked the idea of being able to see the back and front of the work— very different from a photograph, and many of the pieces do have their photographs in the gallery as part of the exhibition.
On a practical level, the hexagon allowed me to place an edge of the platform against the wall, which made it easier to mount. The mirrored surface and the steel bracket that supports the platform also connect visually to other elements in the exhibit, so the silver frames used for the photographs and the shiny mylar that is used in the installations.
The work The Rose Has Teeth (for Matmos) could be described as a kind of landscape, or a cross-section through a landscape. On the upper level is a series of artificial red roses with green plastic petals. Below the roses is a band of green velvet. And beneath the velvet, projecting down, is a line of cattle teeth. This work includes teeth. Bones and teeth appear in almost all of the art in this exhibition. Why?
The work is a reference to Matmos and their album and song “The Rose Has Teeth In The Mouth Of The Beast.” They make music by assembling found sounds— musique concrete— and the album is dedicated to several of all the great minds that have influenced them in their work. So, it is a reference but also a thought on process and, yes, I suppose landscape. Somewhere between the edge of a coffin and the intellectual landscape…we balance on the edge, between the two places, trying to make it all work and made decent work.
As for teeth and bones, I was asked to photograph a cattle yard in India over a decade ago for an anthropology project. When cattle die, they need to be disposed of and, so, they’re taken to this yard and stripped of their hide and then left for the birds and dogs to eat. It’s a natural process. But when I came back, people were shocked by the images. It seems odd to me that we’re so distanced from death in this country, even as many of us eat meat (unlike many in India!), and then still outraged by seeing death even in a very natural, non-violent context. So, I think, I wanted to make images about life and death that used bones that would create more space for thoughts and conversation. Who knows if it worked, but I have had many positive comments.
The giant Cloud seems a bit apart from the other work. It incorporates neither bones nor teeth. It is a large pillow-like form; large enough for several people to occupy. The top half is mylar and the lower half is a translucent PVC sheeting. Between the two materials is a zipper for entry. People are invited to enter, to be in the space, and also to write graffiti on the inner walls with markers that are provided.
Well, there are actually 2 different series of work in the show, the mylar work and the bones. They’re different series. The Cloud came out of Antfarm and my love of reflective surface and watching how much people enjoyed interacting with the famous Bean in Chicago by Anish Kapoor and just watching how people loved interacting with it. I consider it an installation but also an environment that can be experienced.
I’ve always enjoyed the public aspect of art, where you engage with the art in a truly physical way. I have lots of ideas about what might happen next with new versions of the Cloud series, as I think of it. I’m interested in playing more with color in the next versions, the idea of stained glass is something that keeps returning in my mind.
The different pieces are connected on a few other levels, tho, too. The ephemeral is something I seem to return to.. and fragments. The Cloud gets graffitied, or drawn on, as the exhibition progresses, and so it becomes this marker of a specific time and place and set of people. Just like bones, but a bit more visible. A person enters that space and they are fully engaged with that space, in that moment. With the markers that are available they can leave a record of themselves. So, in a way, the medium is not so critical. What is of value is the celebration of existence, and providing a place to honor it as it is and happens with all its strange little details.