black iris, 2021
‘ORCHIDS, PENNIES, BUTTERMILK. A sphere made from sixteen miles of surgical gauze and a cube woven out of thin strips of copper. Sly arranged marriages between rubber and wood; leather and false eyelashes; sand, stone, and bark. Gossamer lattices and sheets of chain. Forms rendered in polyurethane, steel, and bronze; in found objects; in porcelain and ceramic. Viewers who have only encountered Los Angeles–based sculptor Liz Larner’s work piecemeal across her more than three-decade career might be forgiven for feeling a certain bewilderment in the face of the stylistic and material diversity that has characterized her admirably restless practice from its very beginnings. Now the subject of a welcome survey—the most expansive overview of the artist’s oeuvre in some twenty years, curated by Mary Ceruti, director of Minneapolis’s Walker Art Center, and currently on view in New York at SculptureCenter, where it was organized by interim director Kyle Dancewicz—Larner’s exhilaratingly heterogeneous works can finally be considered in relation to one another, and in ways that demonstrate the conceptual threads that have always united them.
‘Two early pieces in particular articulate the kinds of formal alterities that Larner has frequently sought out and conspired to hold in productive tension. Made within a year of each other, in the first phase of her career, Corner Basher, 1988, and Bird in Space, 1989, could hardly be more dissimilar. The former is an instrument of destruction—a small wrecking ball flung back and forth against intersecting walls by a motorized stanchion that owes a bit to both Jean Tinguely and Survival Research Laboratories—while the latter is an ethereal space-filling filigree of silk and nylon inspired by Brancusi. Both, however, diverge from their inspirations in crucial ways. While Corner Basher exerts the same sort of brute force that Mark Pauline’s chaotic mechanisms do, the critical difference is that its destructive energies are activated not by the artist but by the viewer—jettisoning hierarchical command and control in favor of a modality that privileges spectatorial agency. And if Larner’s Bird in Space echoes the elegance of the Romanian master’s signature work, it also strategically expands its field of engagement toward her preferred schema, from unidirectional regard to attentively multivalent, embodied encounter.’ — Jeffrey Kastner, Artforum
‘I came to being an artist after studying photography in the 1980s at CalArts. I had studied philosophy and transferred there in my third year, and what a lucky break that was. It was a very interesting time, that particular era, and what we were reading and discussing made me decide that what I wanted to do was make things. In some sense, I never had an education in being a sculptor. My work started with incredibly basic questions like What are materials? What does it mean to make something? I remember being at that stage in my life and thinking, Well, you know, I could be a photographer, but I think that would be bad for me, almost spiritually, for lack of a better word. I felt like I needed to engage with the physical world and not be behind the camera making images of things—not having that additional distance, but being in my body and making work about being embodied.
‘I didn’t have a “unified vision”—and I’ve stuck with this and have never considered it a detriment—because I felt that materials and forms have so many different potentials. That could be why I’ve never had an identifiable style. I think this is part of what has been confusing for people. In the beginning, I would do a show that was about something, and then I would do another show, and for me it was clearly the next thing to do, but it wasn’t really in relation to the last show for anyone but me. I wouldn’t say that there’s no throughline. I would say that there’s a throughline that isn’t recognizable because it’s not the kind of throughline that people have come to expect. Part of it is trying to come up with different ways of getting people to engage with sculpture—and sculpture is the best way for this to happen—with all their senses and movement. I’ve come to call it encountering, though I wish there were a better word. But it’s amazing how it happens. That means of reception is a lot of what I’m working with.
‘Obviously materials and color are important, as are concepts of reality and illusion. And I think pathos is something that runs through my work, and this goes back to some of the very first things I made, the culture works. This thing is alive, and it’s digging through layers of colored food. And then it makes its own bloom. And is resplendent. And then it starts to die in front of you! I had started making sculptures essentially as receptacles for the cultures; the way they were suspended in space was a big thing for me. Coming from photography, you take a photograph, you figure out how to frame it. But to put a petri dish in front of people, that’s a problem. And that rapidly spilled over into making these sculptures that were informed by what I thought the cultures were about. The sculptures have come in all manner of materials—rubber, chain, silk, wood, metal, leather, fabric, found objects, ceramics. The past decade or so with the ceramics is one of the most sustained engagements I’ve had with one medium. And one reason for that is that ceramics let me do things that I always wanted to do but that took too long, specifically to get to the color part. It seems to bug people that I won’t say if the ceramic pieces, because they’re on the wall, are paintings, sculpture, or ceramics. I don’t know what they are. I don’t think it really matters, and they probably have a little bit of all of those forms in them. I wanted to work on the wall and still consider it to be part of my sculptural practice because I’ve doggedly persisted with the idea that I’m a sculptor. Hey, walls are spaces too.’ — Liz Larner
Liz Larner @ Regen Projects
Liz Larner @ Galerie Max Hetzler
Liz Larner: Don’t put it back like it was
LIZ LARNER: UNSTILL LIFE
Liz Larner and the Upcycling of Material
Liz Larner’s Corner Basher channels the helpless and hopeful rage of our day
The Horrific Beauty of Plastic Polluted Sea Foam and Asteroids Meeting on Earth
Liz Larner by Jane Dickson
Surgical gauze, false eyelashes, ceramics, bacteria, and steel
Liz Larner Makes Sculptures For A New Era
Liz Larner – Why I Create
From pedestal to petri dish
4 Questions: Artist Liz Larner
“Space is better than time, but time is okay”
Liz Larner and the Physical Power of Objects
Liz Larner – The Artist’s Studio
(At Home) On Art and its Ecologies: Artist Talk with Liz Larner
LIZ LARNER AT REGEN PROJECTS
Artists on Artists: Liz Larner on Chris Burden
by Pac Pobric
Liz, I don’t think we know your work all that well in New York, but you’ve had seven solo exhibitions at Regen Projects in L.A., you show with Max Hetzler in Europe, and you’ve been making work for 30 years. I want to congratulate you on the show. It’s really impressive. One thing that struck me is that it could almost be a group show. You have all these very different kinds of things. How do you avoid falling into old patterns?
I have said that kind of jokingly, about the group show. But there are patterns, though they don’t always play out the same way. I would rather have an idea that gets put into different guises, and see what happens. I usually work in shows: I’m doing a show, and it’s about something, and then I move on to the next. But this kind of thing, where you’re taking stuff from 30 years ago and putting it together—it’s really a credit to [the show’s organizers, Walker Art Center director] Mary Ceruti and [Sculpture Center deputy director] Kyle Dancewicz. It was so gratifying to see their interpretation.
Do you remember Hands (1993), near the stairwell? When I made that, people were just so dismayed, because it was going in a direction they didn’t think I was going. It was disappointing to them; it threw them. People thought I was a post-Minimalist or something, but I never thought of myself as a post-Minimalist. I was working with forms and colors before, and it was abstract, but abstraction and figuration have never been areas that couldn’t blend. I wanted to do both. I wanted to include all of it.
And maybe there was a conceptual aspect to it. I was going to [show at] Sonsbeek [in the Netherlands], and they had me come over to Holland to look at some sites. I was at the Gemeentemuseum. There were two statues across this courtyard from each other, and both had their hands knocked off. It just made me think: it’s such a classic necessity in sculpture, to do the hand. And I thought people could follow along. When I first showed it, it was in Paris and the show was called “Possibilities of the Existence of Meaning, Without Words, Inside Disorder.” Then I showed it again in New York, and the show was just titled “Without Words.” It was about a gesture. There are only 10 hands in that group, but depending on how they’re presented, they read very differently.
You use a lot of wordplay in your titles.
I love language, and I’m in awe of great writers. I don’t know how they can do it. The most I can put together is a title [laughs].
But they’re very evocative titles.
Well, thank you, I am proud of my titles. They really help me to add another element, and I play around with it a lot. The “Cultures” are titled after what they’re cultured from. So Orchid Butter Penny (1987)—that’s from before, when I was just putting stuff in petri dishes. But I got an inoculating wand eventually, and I went to the Twin Towers and took cultures from the front doors, and to the Empire State Building and took an inoculation from the roof. That’s what’s in Primary, Secondary: Culture of Empire State Building and Twin Towers (1988).
It seems important that you live and work in L.A. Have you ever read anything by Mike Davis? I’m reading Ecology of Fear, I’ll just read you the blurb on the back. “The classic book on L.A. as a locus of ecological destruction—in culture and in reality.” What’s so fascinating about Davis is that he’s good not only with social and political history, but also ecological processes and facts. It does seem like you Californians are forced to confront the natural world more so than we do in New York.
I don’t know Mike Davis’s history, but I was born at the end of 1960. I grew up on a farm in the Sutter Basin, about 60 miles northwest of Sacramento. I grew up next to the Sacramento River. There were crop dusters that sprayed DDT on the field next to our house until I was seven. My encounter with nature and culture was impressive, even as a young kid. And then when I moved to Los Angeles—Los Angeles has changed so much [over the years], but it’s very wild. I’ve seen a family of raccoons running across the street and diving into the gutter. There are animals all over the place. I’m also super interested in Joan Didion. That’s someone who had a huge influence on me. It really tears down the mythos of California, which is this makeup on top of a corpse.
Since we’re talking about the environment, one of the questions I sent you before we spoke has to do with the fact that in the past, you’ve said that the built environment is the world of men, and you’re not interested in repeating those forms. Would you call your works feminist forms?
Okay, so I had to write this down. I’m just going to read it: “New forms look like things that we don’t recognize, that there aren’t yet words for. They are invisible to most of us. I try to see them but probably miss a lot of them, even though they’re all around. Maybe new forms aren’t made by humans. Maybe we only copy them when we see them. I’m not sure of this. I guess they emerge and someone says, ‘Look,’ and then they have to change.”
And then I have, “I think that some things that are currently being called assemblages can be considered feminist forms. Something that is together, but flexible and unfixed; linked, but free moving; mixed in a knot in a way that is together and emergent. Something that can accommodate its own indeterminacy. Something capable of adaptation.”
Let me ask you some specific forms. I know you’re really interested in corners. What’s important or interesting about corners?
You know what I just found out? My husband—he does music—and I are actually moving out of California. So we’re building a studio, and he’s been figuring out how he wants to make it. And one thing that’s fascinating and new to me about corners is that sound gets trapped in them.
I did not know that.
Yeah. And corners are places where things intersect, and start and end. Do you know the artist Eric Wesley? He’s a California artist. He’s going to be in the Whitney Biennial this year. He spoke on a panel last week at Sculpture Center about my work, and he brought up Corner Basher and said something that was really astute. He said, “Though that’s the name, it is not the action of the machine.” And that’s really true. The machine cannot quite get to the corner. I’ve made a number of works that address the corner, and none of them do the same thing. It’s a place to keep thinking about.
I should mention that with Corner Basher—I’ve never, not once, not for a second in my life, been afraid at a museum. And I was legitimately afraid! It’s not only extremely aggressive, it’s also remarkably unstable because it’s on wheels. And it spins really fast!
It could go on even higher. I turned it down because when I first got it, it really did get too unstable. I first showed it in L.A., but when I showed it in New York at 303 Gallery, it didn’t have attachments [holding it] to the wall. It was in a corner and the on/off switch was right by the elevator. This woman came in, turned it on, and turned it all the way up. But because it wasn’t chained to the wall, it started moving towards her. And they had to come out and save her, or it would have been bad. What I like is when you turn it off, it has this weird tetherball balance. It’s just—it’s so overly dramatic, that piece.
One final question on photography, because you have a photography background. How has it contributed to your work as a sculptor? Most artworks today are consumed through images. Is there anything you try to do to account for that?
You know, I honestly believe that sculpture cannot be photographed. It cannot really be conveyed. And that’s what I love. That’s what I wanted to deal with. That’s why I think people are happy with my show: there’s this other side to the thing, about walking around the show and being embodied, and really sensing the material. That’s not available on screens. It gives you a different kind of knowledge.
Your work really does seem to resist the culture of the image. Before I saw the show, I had just seen pictures of your work, and I didn’t understand anything until I saw it in person.
I take that as a compliment. To me that’s like, I’m doing my job.
iv (inflexion), 2014–15
i (calefaction), 2014-2015
Liz Larner, Untitled, 2001
Wrapped Corner, 1991
Corner Basher, 1993
Copper cube, woven, 1988
2 as 3 and Some, Too, 1997-98
Two or Three or Something, 1998–1999
Asteroid (Spock), 2020
boney ridge, 2016
smile (alluvium), 2010-11
Devex Yellow, 1997
Tropicana Pool Water, Mercury and Guitar Strings, 1987
Every Artist Gave a Breath, 1988
Every Artist Gave a Breath, 1989
Ignis (Fake), 1999
Reflector Wizards , 1992
No M, No D, Only S & B, 1990
smile (abiding), 1996–2005
yes this too, 2015
yes this too, 2015
Untitled [Wall], 2001
Smile, This is a Pipe, 2006
Lux Interior (Platinum), 2012
p.s. Hey. As you may have noticed, my blog is suddenly requiring me to moderate the comments and approve of them individually before they can be posted. I have no idea why, and I’m hoping to get rid of this nuisance/ glitch today, but, in the meantime, just know that I’ll obviously give my approval to all the comments, and no worries. ** David, You know what, I’m not surprised, ha ha. Yes, I’m not sure if the words ‘Kip Noll’ are on Facebook’s watch list, which would be very strange, or if my designation of [NSFW] is newly a red light to Facebook or what. How annoying. Cheers in return. ** Dominik, Hi!!! Glad you dug it, pal. I know, scary. When I first moved to Paris, not that long ago, we used to get a few serious snowfalls and coverings every winter. It’s true there are some shades of blue that are completely unacceptable. Good eye, love. Love explaining to me why milk is sold in France only unrefrigerated and why milk in the United States is only sold refrigerated, G. ** David Ehrenstein, The age of yellowed porn! A friend of mine back in the day was the cameraman on ‘Pacific Coast Highway’. ** Misanthrope, Kip would never become a huge star today. But then neither would Frankie Avalon. Okay, very vague memories of Jack Hannah now. Those kinds of shows weren’t really my TV scene. Genetics are mysterious, for sure. I mean, not only have I never gotten Covid, I haven’t had so much as a head cold ever since the pandemic started. Fucking weird, man. Big up on the lessening of your cigarette intake. How much do you smoke per day du jour? ** Steve Erickson, Hi. Yeah, I’m curious to see if my blog wil get that Facebook warning every day now or whether it was Kip Noll-specific. Stress will totally do that. Have you ever done yoga or anything like that? I used to do yoga years ago when I used to get especially stressed out, and it did seem to make a real difference? ** Tosh Berman, Hi. Like I said to Steve, I’m curious to see if my blog will now be permanently stuck with that Facebook trepidation thing. I hope fucking not. I complained, but we all know what complaining to Facebook results in: zip. Counterpoint, yes. I don’t know Alias Books East. Cool, I’ll hit next time time I’m in LA. Thanks, sir. ** Verity Pawloski, Hi. Oh, horror. Have you managed to dry out? I have a neighbor upstairs whose toilet (directly above mine) likes to overflow once or twice every year and turn my bathroom walls into an ugly abstract painting. ** Maria, Isabella, Camila, Malaria, Gabriela, You’re most welcome. He could try a penis pump? Happy day! ** Bill, Ha ha. I had Kip in one of my pieces too. A poem. Not a good poem, but it wasn’t his fault. My friend the artist Richard Hawkins made a number of pieces that incorporated Kip’s “brother” Scott. What’s up with you, bud? ** Colin Herd, Hi, Colin! How very, very lovely to see you! I just recently found an old post wherein Kevin Killian introduced one of your books, and I’m going to restore it soon. That was big fun: Glasgow in general, and of course the pizza munching. I don’t know what Muay Thai, but I’ll go find out. Cool, and … ouch! That’s a serious commitment. Brenda Frazer: Oh, that’s very interesting. I didn’t recognise the name, but I just did a search and found out she used to be Bonnie Bremser. I did read poems by her under that name ages ago, maybe in an anthology (?), and I remember being very taken with them. Thanks for the link to the Kickstarter campaign. I’ll go chip in a little. What a fantastic project. I really hope it comes to pass. I’d love to read her work more thoroughly. Thanks, Colin. You sound great! I hope somehow I’ll get to see you ere too long. As ever, please come visit Paris! We’re all up and running over here again. Love, me. ** R Y /\ /\/ / angusraze :), Hey, dude. Oh, wow, yeah, definitely birds not of a feather or whatever they say: you and your bro. I’m with you on trashy TV. Even people talking animatedly about that shit on social media makes me fear for the world. Interesting about your parents. Yeah, my artistic bent came out of seeming nowhere too. Well, my grandmother was a ‘Sunday painter’, so I guess there’s that lineage. Mishima’s great, yeah, as a writer. Have you see the Paul Schrader film ‘Mishima’? I haven’t. I’ve meant to. Some people swear by it. Anyway, cool research. Big up to you! ** Brian, Hey, Brian. It was fun to make that post. Took me into realms I normally don’t traverse when building posts. Ah, you all get the same script. Well, I hope it’s minimal and malleable. Do you know what it generally is? Like, is it a bit of an existing film, or did your prof write it? You probably don’t know yet. Interesting. I remember thinking ‘Festen’ was the best Dogme 95 film. Although I would imagine ‘Julien Donkey Boy’ gives it a serious run for its money. Those two classes do sound dreary. I’m glad you’re over their hump until at least next Tuesday. I hope your life raft weekend comes complete with all the amenities. Interesting plans? ** Okay. Today I give you a galerie show by one of my very, very favorite sculptors, Liz Larner. If you happen to be in/around NYC, there’s currently a retrospective of her work at the Sculpture Center, and I seriously envy you. Enjoy the show, hopefully, and see you tomorrow.