Category Archives: Conceptual Art

A Virtual Feast

Rachel Lee Hovnanian, In Loco Parentis, 2014In Rachel Lee Hovnanian’s installation In Loco Parentis, a gigantic white mouse stands in front of an open refrigerator, stuffing his face, while a toddler sits in a high chair looking down at her iPad; mounds of Cheerios cover the floor. But there’s a twist to this: the child is a video image on a LCD tablet-like screen and the white mouse is but a video projection.

Asked about the work, which was shown recently in her solo show “Plastic Perfect” in New York, Hovnanian told the interviewer that when she was growing up in Texas, she had two pet white mice. She said, “[The albino mouse] was a very rare animal. But through technology we created all these white mice to do testing on. So for me it represents technology itself. Even if you think you can get away from technology, you can’t. …The lab mouse has total freedom; that’s why it’s eating out of the refrigerator. It’s like the white elephant in the room—it’s so big and we’re not even aware it’s there because we naturally accept it.” [1] And because everyone has forgotten about the mouse, being preoccupied with all their gadgets.

In Loco Parentis along with Hovnanian’s other multi-media installations Dinner for Two: Wedding Cake and New Year’s Feast: Beijing 2014—each of which also features a virtual mouse, munching away on a festive cake set in the center of a table at which sits a digitally-produced couple or a family—effectively evoke a discussion about how our gadgets have changed the way we communicate, how our obsession with them has given rise to a preference for interacting with those farthest away over those who are near, casting a chilly spell over intimacy as well as parenting.

Each of these mice in her works, though hardly alive, is ironically the liveliest element within the domestic tableaux. Thus inasmuch as the tiny fellow may be intended to represent technology—genetically engineered in the case of the lab mouse—to my mind the tiny insatiable rodent could just as easily be regarded as the age-old symbol of a ceaselessly gnawing entropy.

Today Hovnanian keeps two mice in a cage in her studio, “her sometimes-actors,” her collaborators.

 

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[1] Rachel Small, “Rachel Lee Hovnanian Versus the Future,” Interview, September 3, 2014.

Additional sources: Artist’s website; Robin Peckham, “Dining Partners: Beyond Weak Ties,” New Year’s Feast Beijing 2014, Rachel Lee Hovnanian, catalogue.

(In Loco Parentis, 2014, installation with rear projection video, HD video, acrylic, Cheerios, refrigerator, high chair, metal, diamond dust; dimensions variable, reproduced for non-commercial purpose only.)

 


In the Garden of Good and Evil

Liselot van der Hijden Trapped, 2006Like her fellow Netherlander Hieronymus Bosch who put a mouse in a glass container in his painting the Garden of Earthly Delights five hundred years earlier, Liselot van der Heijden put two mice in a white box with a glass front for her video piece. The artist’s installation is as spare as Bosch’s triptych is teeming. Nevertheless both works stir the same pot—in a manner of speaking: First Sin. While one is biblical, Adam and Eve out of control, the other is political, the United States’ leader run amok.

The New York City-based photographer and video artist van der Heijden created See Evil, Hear Evil, Speak Evil in 2006, against the backdrop of the agenda the Bush administration was pursuing; “a parody,” we’re told, “of the deceptive and manipulative use of Good and Evil to frame foreign and domestic policy… when evil is thought of as not-human, as a thing, or a force, something that has a real existence…”[1] Language and symbolic power are recurring themes in her work.

Three wall-size screens are positioned inside a rectangular space. On the screen at the end, opposite the opening, is a video of a single snake coiling and uncoiling, slithering slowly inside a white box similar to that of the mice, on a twenty-five minute loop. The snake segment is called Serpent—that trickster-tempter of divine knowledge. And on an adjacent small television screen is George W. Bush using the word “evil” in far too many ways, culled from his State of the Union speeches. “Evil is real”; “to see the true evil”; “to hear claims of evil”; “to speak with evil,” the 43rd President says. Meanwhile the mice are displayed to the left; their footage is called Trap. In a continuous replay of twenty minutes, the tiny creatures run around looking for a way out, distracted intermittently by a red apple, the proverbial forbidden fruit. On the facing wall to the mice is a reflection of the mice video and the viewers themselves, courtesy of a real-time feed from a surveillance camera. According to the artist, “representations of nature reveal more about cultural, ideological, political and social frameworks, than actual nature.”[2] We and the mice are one. Bosch, I think, would approve.

 

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[2] Ibid.

Additional sources: LMAK Projects, “See Evil, Hear Evil, Speak Evil: Liselot van der Liselot van der Heijden,” The Village Voice, October 27th, 2006.

(Image: Trap, video still, copyright Liselot van der Heijden.)


“Everybody has a zodiac connection.”

Ai Weiwei Circle of Animals (detail)Chinese astrologers exclaim, you are a mouse—that is, if you were born in 1972, 1984, 1996, plus or minus every twelve years. (Never mind that we in the West typically refer to the zodiac sign as a rat, the Chinese make no distinction between the mouse and the rat; in informal writing, the character for both rodents is the same.) And if your head happens to weigh eight hundred pounds, then you just might be Ai Weiwei’s mouse.

In 2010 China’s most internationally admired artist, architect, and all-around thorn-in-the-side of the Chinese government set out to render the zodiac’s twelve animals in bronze for his first “major” public sculpture installation. Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads would recall the bronze animal sculptures, “glorified water spouts,” of a water-clock fountain in the Western Gardens of the emperor’s summer palace, which the Anglo-French army had looted and leveled to the ground 150 years earlier—so-called payback for the torture of British diplomats and routing of British forces in China. Leading the destruction was Lord Elgin, who had previously “liberated” the marbles from the Parthenon and who, just days before the pillaging began, tossed off the adage, “War is a hateful business.”[1] And thus the ruins and the sculptures’ absence became a rallying cry for the post-Mao Chinese under the banner of nationalism, Western humiliation, and cultural rape—amplified more recently when a few of the bronze heads surfaced in auction houses in Paris and Hong Kong.

Viewing China’s past in a clear light Ai saw a subtle irony in the situation. The original works had been designed by an Italian Jesuit missionary and cast in France in 1750. With his well-known subversive wit and playfulness, Ai chose to reinterpret the Westerners’ interpretation of the Chinese birth chart beliefs. “My work is always dealing with real or fake, authenticity, what the value is, and how the value relates to current political and social understandings and misunderstandings,” Ai said.[2]

The first of the twelve heads he created befittingly was the mouse, who was the first animal to show up when, according to one of the many legends, Lord Buddha summoned all creatures to gather and bid him adieu as he was leaving his earthly life. Only twelve turned up. Thanks a lot, Lord Buddha may have thought. With gratitude for those who found the time, he named a year for each of them in the order of their appearance.[3]

Ai said of Circle, “I want this to be seen as. . . a funny piece—a piece people can relate to or interpret on many different levels, because everybody has a zodiac connection.”[4] His mouse has a big grin.

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[1] Karen Smith’s “Monkey King Makes Havoc: Ai Weiwei Conducts a Carnival of the Animals,” republished, Hirshhorn Museum.

[2] From interviews published in Ai Weiwei: Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads, Susan Delson, ed., New York: AW Asia.

[3] Theodora Lau, The Handbook of Chinese Horoscopes, Sixth edition, New York: HarperCollins, 2007, p. xiii.

[4] Interviews with Ai Weiwei, op. cit.

(Image: Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads, Mouse/Rat, 2010, Cast bronze, 9.6 x 4.3 x 5.3 ft., Pulitzer Fountain at Grand Army Plaza in Manhattan, Adam Reich, AW Asia, 2012, reproduced for non-commercial use, official Ai Weiwei/Circle of Animals website.)


Between a Banana and a Mouse

Mac Adams, Empty Space, MouseThe photographer/conceptual artist Mac Adams references the Buddhist concept of interconnectedness when he speaks of his series “Empty Spaces,” which he envisioned in the mid-1990s. He grouped together disparate objects and shone a light from a single source. The shadow the cluster of items cast disclosed an actuality that was at once unexpected and familiar: a bird or a rabbit, a cat or a moth. A banana, a rock and a rope suddenly became a prostrated mouse.

What happens in the space between ‘what we know exists’ and ‘what we see’ has driven the imagination of this internationally acclaimed, Welsh-born American artist from early on.

Starting out in the sixties, he produced one installation after another that spoke of the aftermath of a physical encounter—a bed torn apart, a chair knocked over, things scattered across the rug on the floor. Adams later turned these three-dimensional scenarios into photographs, ‘meticulously staged.’ He moved on to creating diptychs and triptychs with shots hinting at probable acts of violence, before and after—part Weegee, part Cindy Sherman so it seems; and on to capturing similar images reflected in shiny surfaces of teapots and mirrors. Regardless, however, of the approach, he left the fuller narrative just off the page; he left his viewer-voyeur to fill in the blanks, to interpret the crime.

Adams’s “Empty Spaces” series is no different in the ambiguity it engenders. He writes, “These shadows, when projected, create a disjunction between the traditional concept of form and content as a unified ideal, and begin to suggest other parallel phenomena existing as an illusion.”[1]

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[1] Schwartz Art Collection, Harvard University.

Additional sources: GB Agency, Paris; Musée Nicéphore Niépce, Luxembourg.

(Image: B&W photograph, 1997, silver print, 34 x 22 cm, Collection du Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou, reproduced for non-commercial use only.)


“Conquered nature is starting to take its revenge.”

Tetsumi Kudo, Cultivation by Radioactivity in the Electronic Circuit, 1970At a glance the terrarium-sculpture of the Japanese avant-garde artist Tetsumi Kudo appears inviting. A small furry brown mouse with his back toward us sits still in the greenness of his surroundings. But up close the lushness is only an illusion. Cultivation by Radioactivity in the Electronic Circuit gives us instead a post-apocalyptic world where the landscape of muck and mucus—albeit acrylic—cover the ground, beneath which visible diagrams of circuitry lie; where humankind has lost complete control of technology. While curators and critics debate the degree of humanity there is in Kudo’s work, the artist’s message is no matter how dark and dismal the path technology and consumerism lead us down it will ultimately force us into a “new ecology,” toward a hopeful future.

Trained at Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, Kudo had first turned painting into performance art, smearing the pigments onto canvas with his feet and fingers. He went on to creating biomorphic sculptures out of kitchenware, and started to incorporate ‘electronic circuitry diagrams’ into his cynicism-filled collages—echoes of the Dadaists in his “Anti-Art” campaign.

In the early 1970s (before his work swung ostensibly inward) he issues, with urgency if not belligerence, his “New Ecology” manifesto. “Pollution of nature! Decomposition of human[ism]! The end of the world!” he writes, railing against humankind’s abuses of nature. Topical, we’re told, for Japan at the time—a country in protest of environmental erosion, of the petrochemical plants polluting its ponds and rivers and streams.

Crammed with waste and ersatz human noses, transistors for cattails and a caterpillar-like phallus, and the mouse, Cultivation by Radioactivity signifies decay. “Conquered nature is starting to take its revenge.” Both Kudo’s words and works seem premonitory today. His legacy, however, was the ‘atomic’ 1950s; the decade in which he came of age. And, according to many, his art should be considered closer in spirit to Godzilla than to environmental activism. Perhaps then it’s no surprise that he ends his manifesto with a recommendation, a solution that is, shall we say, less than a practical one. “Irradiate humans,” Kudo commands, “to reform their conservative and egotistical heads.”[1]

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[1] Ryan Holmberg, “Tetsumi Kudo: Nuclear Angst and Ecological Breakdown,” Art in America, March 2009.

Additional sources: Katie Kitamura, “Tetsumi Kudo,” Frieze, July 10, 2008; Roberta Smith, “Tetsumi Kudo,” New York Times, July 4, 2008.

(Image: Cultivation by Radioactivity in the Electronic Circuit, 1970, plastic bowl, wood, cotton, plastic, polyester, artificial hair, electrical diagrams, artificial soil, transistors, paint, and toy mouse, 
9-13/16 x 18-7/8 x 18-7/8 inches, Walker Art Center, reproduced for non-commercial use only.)


“This way I can’t fight.”

Louise Lawler, the highly acclaimed American photographer, first spotted Maurizio Cattelan’s mouse not in the cacophony of his Guggenheim retrospective (previous post), but ten years before in the pristine silence of a Chelsea gallery space. When she saw the small rodent clinging to a tightrope, she grabbed her camera and took a picture.

Since the early eighties, Lawler has been slipping in and out of museums, galleries, auction houses, booths at art fairs, and collectors’ homes, searching for the ideal composition. She’s often been linked to the Pictures Generation (named for a pivotal show that took place in New York in 1977), a loosely knit group of ‘theory-minded’ photographers, filmmakers, video and performance artists—Sherrie Levine, Robert Longo and Cindy Sherman, et. al.—who pinched existing images to visually snort at the mainstream culture of the era, post-Vietnam. But unlike the Pictures people Lawler eschewed mass media. She, instead, turned her lens on the art world, to make ‘art about art.’ She’s spent the past three decades mostly photographing in situ other artists’ work to comment on the subtle shifts in meaning and in worth and in viewers’ reception due to setting.

In the spring of 2002 the Paula Cooper gallery mounted a group show “From the Observatory,” inviting Maurizio Cattelan to hang his Untitled mouse and inviting Lawler to shoot the installation and de-installation of the exhibition. The show was “about the complexity of vision and its enhancement by a broad, inclusive view.”[1] The mouse was singled out; the New York Times critic Roberta Smith called him “overly cute but conceptually pertinent.” While he graced the gallery’s reception area, the mouse’s focus, we’re told, was on the nearby ink drawings of spiders and webs that Paul Thek produced in 1975. “Meaning,” Lawler said, “is also made through juxtaposition.”[2]

She titled her image of Cattelan’s mouse This Way I Can’t Fight.

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[1] Roberta Smith, “Art in Review: ‘From the Observatory’,” New York Times, April 12, 2002.

[2] Douglas Crimp, “Prominence Given, Authority Taken: An Interview with Louise Lawler,” Johannes Meinhardt and Louise Lawler, eds., Louise Lawler: An Arrangement of Pictures, 2000.

Additional sources: Elizabeth Schambelan, “Louise Lawler,” ArtForum, February 2005; Peter Schjeldahl, “Alien Emotions: Pictures art revisited,” New Yorker, May 4, 2009; Rachel Wolff, “Impressive Proportions: Louise Lawler photographs great art—then treats it like taffy,” New York magazine, May 1, 2011; Metro Pictures.

(Image: This Way I Can’t Fight, 2002, by Louise Lawler, Cibachrome print mounted on aluminum 40 x 50 in. (101.6 x 127 cm.), reproduced for non-commercial use only.)


Sm[all]

Among Maurizio Cattelan’s 128 works that filled the rotunda of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum the ones that stuck out the most were surely the taxidermied animals, so many of them—ten dogs, three horses, five donkeys, and an ostrich with his head stuck in the proverbial sand, plus dozens and dozens of pigeons and two solitary rodents (including the small mouse clinging to a rope with his tiny hands, number 114 in the diagram below)—that might have even made Walter Potter gasp.

As he had done throughout his half-life career Maurizio Cattelan set tongues wagging and pens scribbling with his Guggenheim show titled All. He dangled from ropes and cables every single work—or their images—he had created in the twenty-one years of his ‘making art,’ a gigantic mobile whose dissonance was defused by an undercurrent of humor: the trademark of the Italian artist. The critics teetered between degrees of awe and hostility. In part because in the months leading up to the retrospective he had dangled as well the notion that the show would be his last. At age fifty-one, he was retiring. A chorus from the art world cried, “Whaaat?” Was this just another gimmick of Cattelan—whom the reviewers and reporters had plastered throughout the nineties and the aughts with labels of “poet-prankster” and “provocateur” as they catapulted him to international fame? He had entertained them with hanging a sign that said in Italian ‘Be back soon’ on the door of an empty gallery space, that being the totality of his show; he had constructed a large sculpture of a hand giving the finger, it seemed, to the Milan stock exchange outside of which the piece appeared; he had created a fake ‘Biennial’ in the Caribbean that was nothing more than a vacation for him and his artists-friends; and more times than not when requested for an interview he had sent an imposter in his place. (Both the sign torno subito and a replica of the insolent hand were present in All.) Cattelan however assured his retirement wasn’t a stunt. He wasn’t retiring in the way we think of the elderly puttering about but he saw it as a means to start again. He told a journalist, “I’m not saying I won’t do anything else. I’m just reinventing myself.”[1] Sort of like John Baldessari and his Cremation Project, I think, except Cattelan invited the world to watch.

Now back to the animals. The Guggenheim’s chief curator and Cattelan’s “long-time champion” Nancy Spector said, “[T]he animals are anthropomorphic and they are self-portraits and surrogates of him, they have a humanizing quality, if you think of Aesop’s fables – where there is usually a moral to the story – it is very much on that level.” She added, “They all have certificates from the taxidermists that they died natural deaths…”[2]

Cattelan likened himself, the artist, to the animals in his art, the risk that he too could be defined by the work and not by who he is. Yet for whatever sense of fear he may have felt he shared with the animal kingdom, he would later clearly state, “I am happy as long as [the animals] don’t live near me. When they are conceived, I cuddle them but the moment they are released, they become orphans. Mostly I hate them.”[3]

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[1] Sarah Douglas, “The Elephant in the Room,” Observer/Gallerist NY, November 1, 2011.

[2] Kiša Lala, “A Mass Hanging at the Guggenheim,” Spread Art Culture.com, November 4, 2011.

[3] S.T., “The artwork of Maurizio Cattelan: Hanging out at the Guggenheim,” The Economist blog, November 8, 2011.

Additional sources: Randy Kennedy, “Hanging with Cattelan,” New York Times, September 29, 2011; Roberta Smith, “Art Review: A Suspension of Willful Disbelief,” New York Times, November 3, 2011; Nancy Spector, Maurizio Cattelan, ed., Maurizio Cattelan: All, Guggenheim Museum Publications, 2011; Peter Schjeldahl, “Up in the Air,” New Yorker, November 21, 2011; Francesco Bonami, Maurizio Cattelan: Autobiografia non autorizzata, Mondadori, 2011.

(Image: Photo and diagram (detail, click to enlarge) of the arrangements of the works, No. 114: Untitled, 1997, taxidermied mouse and string, Maurizio Cattelan’s All, from the press kit, Guggenheim Museum, reproduced for non-commercial use only.)


“You know, I’m cutting out the people.”

John Baldessari is considered the ‘godfather of conceptual art.’ He pushed the movement’s boundaries; he made it his own. His early antics have been well recorded: cremating all the paintings he made between the years 1953 and 1966; writing over and over, the sentence “I will not make any more boring art”; standing, waving his arms slowly about as if he’s directing a turtle, declaring “I am making art, I am making art, I am making art”; singing to familiar tunes, such as “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Sol LeWitt’s thirty-five precepts on conceptual art and the artist. Throughout the late sixties and the seventies Baldessari was also creating photo-and-text and text-only works on canvas, filled with witty and often sardonic observations. His art garnered its critics; they called it jokey. But the breadth and depth of his vision and his innovation, and the span of time—more than six decades today—have quieted them.

Irreverence was his singular approach to probe truth in art. And it was in photographic source materials—publicity and press shots and movie stills—that in the eighties he realized how easily the truth could be manipulated. He radically cropped and shuffled the pared images, obliterating their original context—not to mention the faces with the ever-familiar colored dots, to tell a new narrative. Storytelling was key to Baldessari, an insatiable reader who “often thought of [him]self as a frustrated writer.”[1]

Two Onlookers and a Tragedy (with Mice) might be regarded as a visual synthesis of the artist’s notions: the importance of the spectator; art as documentation; the fine line between order and chaos; and the absurdity of man—a result of placing one image on top of the other. Above, two mice in period nighttime garb lean over their balcony, looking as if they fell through a hole in a Beatrix Potter story and landed in a Shakespearean play. Below, a mouse has had his spine broken in a snap trap. No elaboration needed. Viewed individually, the photographs are saccharin and sorrowful, respectively. But together the work forms a narrative that’s not without irony. A marriage of fiction and fact, the two mice who are alive are in no way real and the mouse who is dead is alas all too real. While his death is most certainly a cautionary tale, the mice remind us of our inextricable connection to nature—and if you look closely you’ll see the male mouse has tiny human hands.

In the eighties apart from the dots, Baldessari was turning more and more to animals for his subject matter because, he said, that’s “where my sympathies lie. You know, I’m cutting out the people. … I invest animals with the idea of some sort of truth. Animals always seem much wiser than people.”[2]

 

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A show of John Baldessari’s new works, Double Play, will run October 19 – November 21, 2012, Marian Goodman Gallery, NYC.

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[1] Calvin Tomkins, “No More Boring Art,” New Yorker, October 18, 2010.

[2] Coosje van Bruggen, John Baldessari, 1990.

Additional sources: Roberta Smith, “Tweaking Tradition, Even in Its Temple,” New York Times, October 21, 2010; Karen Wright, “Interview with John Baldessari,” Art in America, October 23, 2009; Video “A Brief History of John Baldessari,” narrated by Tom Waits, YouTube.

(Image: Two Onlookers and a Tragedy (with Mice), 1989, by John Baldessari, color and black and white photographs with oil tint, 91 x 64 in, private collection, reproduced for non-commercial use only.)


“The repetition in our lives.”

I find a clip on YouTube called 64 Frames per Second (fps). The artwork comprises footage of a white mouse running in slow motion on a wheel; the film itself swirls high above the image of the rodent projected on a wall, and back through a 16 mm projector. On the facing wall is a video of a polar bear swimming laps underwater in a pool. Conceptual art is all about ideas, and watching the 1:15 minute clip I admit I’m stumped; I haven’t a clue what the concept is. My immediate thought wraps around the ever-familiar predator and prey discourse, and just as quickly dismissed since lab mice and polar bears don’t exactly exist in the same habitat. So I decide to go to the source and shoot the artist an email; I ask, Why a mouse? Why a polar bear? In other words what were you saying?

In the mid-1990s the two animals conspired to get Michael Oliveri to thinking about science and art, about the transformation of the former into the latter, through the prism of scale: the largest white mammal and the smallest. Oliveri spent “hundreds of hours” at the San Francisco zoo, filming a polar bear endlessly treading back and forth; he later took a pet store mouse—standing in for a lab mouse—and put him in a cage with an ‘exercise’ wheel connected to a carousel slide projector. With every rotation the mouse made, the wheel tripped the projector, advancing slides made from the video of the polar bear. In essence the art installation mimicked a scientific experiment; the mouse’s movement mimicked the pacing polar bear, both caged animals spending their lives going nowhere at all.

He then increased the complexity of the piece in the plural. Mouse and Polar Bear became Mice and Polar Bears. He dipped two-dozen mice in non-toxic saline dyes. The colorful creatures ran on six separate wheels, triggering six projectors that too projected slides of anxiety-ridden polar bears; the slides were now tinted to correspond to the mice’s colors. The conversation, however, was diverted. To his consternation the artist saw in Mice and Polar Bears, thanks to the multi-hued mice, not an exploration of the boundary between science and art but a form of entertainment, “a kind of miniature circus.”

By the late nineties Oliveri had had enough of working with live animals, of using them in his installations; he had also been doing other projects involving fish and chickens. He was exhausted from their daily upkeep and the cleaning and the finding homes for them once the shows had ended. But there was something he felt more keenly. He tells me, the “animals had a real effect on my soul”; he could no longer “justify” their use. In his effort to continue the dialogue without the mice’s actual presence 64 fps was born.

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Sources: Conversation with Michael Oliveri, October 4, 2012; Michael Oliveri websiteYouTube clip.

(Image: 64 fps, 2000, courtesy of Michael Oliveri, reproduced for non-commercial use only.)


Perception versus Reality

Liz Magor MouseA tiny, colorless mouse lies alone in an ashtray; it’s clear, however, that he isn’t just taking a nap but has been laid waste by polymerized gypsum. This is a detail in Liz Magor’s sculptural installation The Mouth and Other Storage Facilities. The cast mouse sculpture and those of his fellow woodland creatures—a raccoon and a deer, or rather, a deer’s head—have a mythical, if disconcerting, presence in the installation’s tablescapes, along with the wreckage of an ostensibly dreary banquet: packs and butts of cigarettes, bottles of whiskey, chocolate-bar wrappers, small piles of tweed and leather jackets, and stacks of dirty metal plates. You can almost smell the staleness. Some of the items are real, such as the candy in blue foil and the cigarettes, which had been smoked, we are told, by the artist herself; but most of the objects are not real, including the tables. Like the animals, they’re synthetic replicas, closely observed and painted to fool the eye.

For more than four decades the contemporary Canadian sculptor and photographer—best known for her participation in international exhibitions (Documenta 8 in Kassel, Germany, as well as both the Venice and Sydney Biennials)—has been examining the boundary between what is real and what is fake, probing the edge of our “human knowledge” through commonplace things. In 2009, a year after she completed Mouth, she turned to a new piece titled Corner Mouse. It’s composed of a two-and-a-half-foot-high corner cabinet made of wood, the top shelf of which displays once again a mouse in an ashtray made of polymerized gypsum.

Contrary to the musings of one critic or another, Magor’s recurring motif of mice deceased doesn’t speak to nature’s destruction at the hands of humans. At least, the artist says, not in “a tragic sense.” Instead the bodies of the animals “speak to a higher order of waste . . . tracking the trajectory of attraction and desire.” She draws a parallel: “Just as the shift from life to death is extremely simple and natural, but exceedingly mysterious, I see a similar profundity in the way some aspects of the material world will temporarily assume an irresistible allure.”[1]

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[1] Jen Hutton, Interview conducted via email with Liz Magor, included in the exhibition catalogue for What It Really Is at Red Bull 381 Projects (Toronto) January 2009.

Additional sources: Catriona Jeffreis gallery; Nicholas Brown, “Liz Magor,” Hunter and Cook magazine; E.C. Woodley, “The Art of Liz Magor,” Border Crossings, No. 1, 2011; National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa).

(Image: Ashtray/Mouse, detail from The Mouth and other storage facilities by Liz Magor, 2008, cast polymerized gypsum, reproduced for non-commercial use only.)