I share a large studio–about 3000 square feet–with my wife, installation artist Liz Miller. This great space is in the basement of our local post office, just around the corner from our house in Good Thunder. It is a huge space for the money (about $100 dollars a month plus utilities), but like so many people, the more space you give us, the more stuff we accumulate, and the fuller and messier it gets! We divide the space evenly half-and-half, but often our materials stray across the boundary.
This is a weird result of such an event: a piece of my clear packing tape fused to some of my wife’s faux sheep skin!
Last summer Liz was asked to do an installation in the main gallery space at the University of Minnesota Morris. The space is an amazing two story open room with an adjacent, cantilevered mezzanine gallery. This makes HFA essentially two spaces, so the gallery director Michael Eble asked Liz if she could think of someone who could show in the mezzaline space. Before she could come up with anyone, Michael shot back with this: what if your husband David shows in the other space? I have always loved this gallery, and for a long time Liz and I have wanted to collaborate again , so I gladly accepted.
I suggested we play off the idea of ourselves as a married artist couple, sharing a space and inadvertently ‘contaminating’ each others work. I thought it would be interesting to make this a conscious effort by exchanging scraps left over from each others pieces–basically the negative shapes that we each cut away from our respective designs–and using these negative shapes to create positive ones–and new works based on them.
Liz suggested we further the theme by working with some of each other’s materials. So I took some felt shapes and she took some cardboard ones and we got to work. It was fun making more ornate designs. Using Liz’s shapes forced me to become much more elaborate and fanciful with my edges and silhouettes.
I decided to channel some of the beautiful reliquary boxes I saw on our recent trip to Italy, and make a series of reliquaries based on the ‘icons’ I have accumulated of my relationship with Liz.
I always save any interesting shapes that are left over when I am cutting out a box or brick. Liz took a bunch of these and worked her magic on them: mirroring them, sculpting the edges and tweaking the symmetry. It was interesting to see the influence move the other way: a harder, almost clunky geometry came into these that I don’t usually see in Liz’s shapes.
She then projected the resulting stencils onto this killer navy sparkle felt. My little cast-offs have been seriously blinged! The show was starting to take shape. I suggested the somewhat corny title You Complete Me.
Fast-forward to Saturday Oct 13th. We arrive in Morris. We had to caravan our two station wagons to get it all down there, but it was a nice drive. I grew up in Montevideo, not far from Morris (west central Minnesota). In fact, both my brother and sister graduated from Morris, so it was fun to be back in the area. The space was amazing, and Liz got right to work taking advantage of the soaring ceiling.
I set up a table in the back and worked on preparing the reliquaries to be wall mounted.
I was still adding items to the boxes at this point–the plastic bin to the right contains a bunch of Liz’s cast off items, which I had been secretly squirreling away for weeks.
I use the original template to mark the center of each window.
Then I add ephemera I have collected from Liz: used up markers, broken earrings–any left over trace of her daily presence.
There are several reliquaries that are displayed as sets of six, but two larger ones are stand-alone. This is one of them. It features the precis on Immanuel Kant Liz and I wrote together in graduate school, an assignment that resulted in our first ‘date’.
We met at a Denny’s in St.Paul to work on it, but ended up just talking. We always joke that we owe our marriage to Kant. Not many people can say that!
Meanwhile Liz hangs the big pieces of glitter felt based on my shapes. It is thrilling to see my little scraps transformed into these monumental sculptural forms.
OK enough goofing around. I am always trying to get a laugh out of Liz when we are working together. Time to take my stuff upstairs!
Unconscious Reliquary 2. This set of six boxes looks like it might be cool as a vertical arrangement.
Unconscious Reliquary 3. This horizontal configuration will be a nice counterpoint. You can see how the positive shape of 2 is the negative shape of 3, and vice-versa.
Wall mounted works are up and looking good.
At the upper right you can see the original Liz Miller Shape I used to create the silhouette of the boxes.
A closer look. For this show, I favored cardboard from products both of us consumed. Liz is almost as bad of a chip snacker as I am. In her defense she never buys chips, but I do, and it they are around she can’t resist them.
Some positive shapes became the negative shape of a window.
Day two: Time for the wall drawings. I have been fascinated lately with the diagrams of French philosopher Jacques Lacan. I ran across him by pure chance through his fan page on Facebook. I don’t really understand a lot of his theories: they seem to do with the relationship between the id and super ego, particularly the pleasure principle and the reality principle: The immature psyche only understands seeking pleasure and avoiding pain (The Pleasure Principle). The mature psyche understands the deferring of immediate pleasure for a greater reward in the future (The Reality Principle). I thought now was a good time to use these, as they relate closely to the way Liz and I both work. We invest a lot of time making incremental units so they can later be combined into a larger, more impressive whole.
The diagrams are meant to illustrate complex overlapping and interweaving psychological imperatives. I was interested in how their beauty as images is an unintended bi-product of clearly illustrating complicated patterns of behavior and thought. The blue half of the design is overlaid with cut-out strips of Duncan Donuts whole bean coffee bags. The pink half will be replaced with poison-green felt left over from one of Liz’s previous installations.
Since the basis of Lacan’s theories is Freudian psychology, using these now was also a little tongue-and-cheek reference to the battle of the sexes. Good progress. Time for lunch.
All done with the upstairs wall work!
I wanted one thing on the main level to help tie the two shows together. This diagram specifically illustrates The Pleasure Principle.
This one is made from hot-pink felt (from Liz) and Mylar dog food bags (one side silver, one side green).
All done. The original diagram was horizontal and can be seen here.
Getting there. You can see that Liz is starting to incorporate cardboard tubes and sheets. It is time to call it a day and take this lady to dinner (as fate would have it this install falls smack on our anniversary!) Next time: a few shots of the opening and the completed show! See you there and then.