Archive for November, 2009

November 23rd, 2009
Michael McParlane

n4812677_32860322_7550When I first met local artist and Bay Area native, Lindsay Merrill, I distinctly remember that she was attempting to upholster herself into an ottoman. She was having some difficultly working out the kinks in the piece, mainly how long she would be able to breathe while trapped inside an ottoman. Since then, she’s gone on to make some equally great work, engaging with both the Pittsburgh community and during her travels abroad. Currently, she’s working as an ESL teacher through Goodwill Industries and Literacy Americorps, while keeping up on a series of paintings she hopes to show off soon. We recently talked a bit about her work and her experiences as an artist living and working in Pittsburgh. Here’s what she had to say:

1st-page-smaller-fileOT: You came to Pittsburgh to study Fine Art at Carnegie Mellon University in 2005. Since graduating in May of this year, you’ve decided to stay and work in the area. What makes this area good for a young, creative person? What sort of opportunities does a city like Pittsburgh present that other, larger cities cannot? What can you and others in your position bring to the city?

LM: Pittsburgh is really great because its smaller size creates a much more accessible, grassroots art scene for young people. Since the market here isn’t flooded with the enormous number of galleries and big names, like New York City for example, it makes Pittsburgh a great place to begin establishing yourself as an artist. There are tons of local, nonprofit organizations that are genuinely interested and really proactive about incorporating the work of younger artists in their projects. Also, another aspect of the city that I really like is that the art scene isn’t far removed from the artists themselves; the galleries are run by people who are sincerely concerned about shaping Pittsburgh’s culture through art, not by highbrow art folk looking to make a lot of cash. On top of all that, you can live in this city really cheaply. I’m from the San Francisco bay area, which is getting pricier every year. It’s really refreshing that the cost of living could be so reasonable in this area.

lindsay_merrill_1OT: There is a recurring theme of hand-made replication in your work. You’ve recreated a passport for your roommate from New Zealand, painstakingly drawing each page. There is another work where you carved out wooden replicas of graffiti tags seen around Valencia, Spain. What is it about this kind of replication that you find so interesting and gratifying to make? Given the ease of digital replication and transference of an image or information, what makes the presence of the hand so important?

LM: I’ve always loved to draw and have had a very realistic, representational style. The question of relevance, within the landscape of conceptual art, of traditional drawing and representation has come to be a driving force within my work. I ask myself how the classical modes of representation in sculpture and drawing are relevant to an abstract and conceptual art world? For me, the answer has largely been that of replication and translation of an object or image into a new material. The relationship of the object with the material can create a new and strange dialogue, or it can raise new questions.

Additionally, I feel that the choice to draw or craft by hand, instead of digitally printing or fabricating an object, is important in terms of the objectives of a specific piece. For example, my passport needed to be hand drawn, because it conveys something completely different than if I had created it digitally. The handcrafted appearance of the work shows the utter futility of the act itself. That is to say, even though I had poured all this time and energy into precisely recreating this government document, the passport in and of its purpose - to keep my roommate in the States - is basically hopeless. For this piece, I felt the presence of the hand was very necessary, because the imperfections of the writing and images reveal the sincerity of the act, the obsessive hours poured into the pages, and, in a strange way, the sadness of the object itself.


OT: Going along with this idea of a replica, your recent piece, entitled Comfortable Living, uses what appear to be pieces of furniture, as well as upholstering techniques, to build a tank. It’s a work that strikes me as being very politically charged, combining opposing and quintessential symbols of domesticity and femininity with that of violence, war, and masculinity. Do you think of yourself as a political artist? What do you believe an artist’s role is in a political dialogue and what is his/her responsibility?

LM: I generally don’t think of myself as a very political artist, but I suppose my work has been gravitating towards that realm for a while. I have tried to stay away from politics in my art for a long time, because I feel making a political statement without coming off as being too “preachy” is a difficult balance. Therefore, I think the main role of the political artist - and of all artists in general - is not to make statements, but rather to ask questions. It isn’t my intention to push my own personal political views; I just want to make an object that re-contextualizes something familiar and makes people rethink what it is they are looking at.

OT: In all of your work you display a very strong sense of craft. It would appear you do a bit of research, along with a bit of practice, to be able to handle the different media you work in. Particularly with the previously mentioned tank piece, you are engaging with crafts, such as upholstery and furniture making, which have rich histories and traditions. Where do you feel your work fits in with this tradition? How does the craft inform the work?

2LM: I’ve been fascinated with soft sculpture for a couple of years now, mainly because practices like sewing, embroidering and upholstering are so strongly tied to a domestic, feminine tradition. There are so many connotations and implications inherent in soft materials and in their construction; I’m really just fascinated with all the possibilities that exist to contradict or confuse our most common conceptions of objects and the meanings that they hold. Many of the artists that have influenced my work have delved into those kinds of possibilities in soft sculpture, such as Claus Oldenburg, Robyn Love, Yinka Shonibare, and Dave Cole. So if anything, I think that my work doesn’t fall so much into the age-old history of domestic craft as it does into that newer soft sculpture territory, where artists are appropriating those techniques.

OT: What do your plans for the near future now that you’ve graduated? What can OT Blog readers expect to see from you soon?

LM: Well, as much as I have enjoyed my time living in Pittsburgh, my next priority is to travel abroad for a bit, preferably in Central and South America. I studied abroad in Spain about a year ago and ever since then I’ve been dying to live in other Spanish speaking countries. At the heart of it, I really just want to get out of my comfort zone, have some of adventures, meet different people, and better learn the language. I think this is probably the best time in my life for it. In terms of my art, I would try to work with any community I live in with some sort of image making process. It’d be great to get back into a steady practice of painting and drawing again. I’ve felt sort of estranged from it in the past couple years, because I didn’t know how to ask the right questions through an image. But I think now I might be ready to try again and tackle it. You know, now that I have the rest of my life to try and figure it out.

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