Studio Views: Elizabeth Alexander

Elizabeth Alexander (Sculpture/Installation Fellow ’11) creates installations, dazzling in complexity and beauty, that draw from lineages in fine art, craft, design, and conceptual art.

Here, she offers views into her studio as she prepares work for the group show Pedigree at the New Art Center in Newton, MA (9/16-10/14).

My studio is located in the newly renovated Western Ave Lofts in Lowell, MA, where I have lived and worked since June 2012. We have two studios adjacent to our living space, my sculpture studio and my fiancĂ©’s sound studio, which are kept separate by a large glass door. It is a massive advantage to have my studio at home because my work is so time consuming; I am able to work long hours without worrying about things like taking the dog out. It is also nice because I can do menial tasks that would typically keep me home all day, like laundry or baking bread, while I put in a 12+ hour day.

The studio is an L-shaped space that runs around a sound proofed cube that we built for Todd (my fiancé) to play and record. When we have the opportunity to collaborate (sound and image) it helps that he has access to my work so he can do field recordings and have a dialogue with me about where the work is going. The odd shape of my space enables me to divide my workstations so I can work on several things and keep them separated; I can block out and rearrange large works on the walls and floor, test new ideas before I take them to a public space, and still have room for day-to-day production.

I work in mixed media installation, photography, drawing, collage, and self-contained sculptural objects, so my studio is always shifting roles. Sometimes the woodshop takes over and I have frames or architectural details and armatures everywhere, other times I have paper pinned all over the walls and covering every surface. All of my work is an accumulation of many parts so my space gets quite chaotic when I am in the midst of a large project. After installing a show I generally have to take a few days to get things back in order before I can get started on the next thing.

Though I manage many media, I am most often working with cut paper, both with found paper items like books and wallpaper, and art paper, which is generally used for drawings and laser cut installation pieces. Everything I do is a process of disassembling and reassembling an object, image, or material. I often have to wear magnifying glasses and a brace on my wrist so I can work comfortably while I burn through hundreds of x-acto blades. This immense amount of labor that I endure plays a transformative roll on the materials I work with. When I come to the end of my process, no matter what material or narrative I begin with, everything looks like it is dissolving or decaying and growing at the same time; it is like the whole life cycle is condensed into a moment. Somehow this same result has a unique effect on each space, object, image, or material I work with.

For the installation in Pedigree I have taken the parts from Keeping Up Appearances, an installation made entirely out of the positives and negatives of wallpaper and have reconfigured them into a site-specific work that is an entirely new constructed space both aesthetically and psychologically. Every time I get a new space to work in I spend a lot of time drawing, collaging photos, and customizing the parts into a new arrangement, each time elaborating on what is already available from previous works. Sometimes the space calls for a more minimal and isolating feel and other times I need to make it more intimate and detailed; each time the work evolves, but within the same narrative, so I have yet to change the title. Nearly everything gets gutted and rebuilt. I like to see how the installation shifts so much from space to space, partly because of the choices I make, and partly because of the characteristics of every location, it is amazing how the same materials can feel so different. The space I have been given at the New Art Center is one half of the stage, which will give the work a higher vantage point, and allow the material to spill over the edge of the stage. This will be the first time the viewer cannot walk through the work, making it seem more like a set or show room. However, it is hard to know exactly how the work will feel before it is installed, as it is still in hundreds of pieces in my studio.

Pedigree, curated by Elizabeth Devlin of FLUX.Boston, is at the Main Gallery at New Art Center in Newton, MA (9/16-10/14, reception 9/20, 6-8:30 PM).

Images: all images courtesy of the artist, Elizabeth Alexander.

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