January 10, 2011

Interview with Liam Wylie for XPACE

Sam Milbrath: How have other contemporary artists influenced your creative process?
Liam Wylie: Recently I have been influenced by the work of Charles Stankievech and Pierre Huyghe, because they suggest that, when telling a story, the most fantastical and mythical approach is often the most factual as well.
SJM: At the Ottawa School of Art you studied “Life Drawing and Painting”. Can we conclude that you were originally interested in more traditional forms of art expression? 
LM: Yes, I used to be more interested in drawing and painting live figures. Although at the time, my favorite artists who dealt with “traditional art” themes, such as the rendering of the body, did so in relatively contemporary ways. For example, artists such as Egon Schiele and Ron Mueck exhibited contemporary art expression through more traditional form.
SJM: What was your reasoning behind switching art forms from drawing and painting to installation, sculpture, and printmaking?
LW: I came to university with an art background that was mostly comprised of drawing and painting, so at first making objects and installations was slightly alien to me. But eventually, I realized that these art forms are very effective methods of communicating an expression or an idea, so it seemed like a natural progression. As well, sculpture and installation appeared to be the most dedicated department at the university, thus making my decision much easier.
SJM: Being in your final year at the Ontario College of Art and Design, do you find that studying techniques in art has improved your ability to work with different materials?
LW: Yes, without a doubt. Every time that I learn a new fabrication or printing technique, I immediately think of ways to utilize it for my artwork. Institutionally, I find that there is a real push to cross boundaries between art-making methods and medias, which, in my opinion, is a useful skill set.
SJM: What mediums do you prefer to work with for your installations? Why do you prefer these materials?
LW: Recently I have been working mostly with plastic and metal materials. I like to think that I am getting pretty good at machining and fabricating my projects, using materials like acrylic, UHMW, steel and aluminum, which are usually best for the process that I have in mind. But more importantly, my works often end up looking like some odd, futuristic set props, which is very important to me. My professor recently suggested that my work looks like a clash between 1960’s minimalism and star wars...I was satisfied with that comparison. 
SJM: Tell me about the materials that you used to create your Anchor piece. Did you make the fluorescent light tubes? What is UHMW?
LW: No, I didn’t make the light tubes. Ultimately, I would like to make works like Anchor with neon tubing, but conventional light tubes will have to do for now. UHMW stands for ultra high molecular weight polyethylene. It’s a pretty cheap plastic material that machines nicely. I think that it is mostly used in the trades industry, but either way it works well and looks great. Matthew Barney uses UHMW a lot in his projects. In fact, the sculptural works that came out of his Cremaster and drawing restraint projects are likely what gave me the idea to use these materials in the first place.
SJM: We have all grown up with the standard anchor symbol, however in Anchor you have abstracted the recognizable layout. What was your reasoning for abstracting your Anchor?
LW: My decision to reduce its shape to three planes (vertical, horizontal and diagonal) was necessary so that I could suggest the forms of a cross and an X. I like the idea of a cross transforming into an X as being symbolic of a shift in mythical and spiritual, or religious belief. I also wanted to emphasize how today X’s are used in mathematics as an unknown entity and in pop culture as representing the uncanny.
SJM: An anchor is typically made of metal, a material that has strong connections to the past industrial revolution. Was your decision to swap metal for fluorescent light tubes and UHMW a conscious decision in relation to today’s postmodern and posthuman industrial materials?
LW: I would say so, yes. The light tubes also introduce an element of familiarity to a form that is altogether unfamiliar. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, artworks that light up and blink look really cool. 
SJM: Back to your Anchor, throughout history anchors resist a force that drives movement in order to maintain a constant location and prevent drifting. Does your Anchor do the same in theory? If so, what force is your anchor resisting and what is it so deeply attached to?
LW: Yes, I would say that my recent work suggests a resistance to our present retraction from myth. More specifically, Anchor asks how monumental scientific discoveries have altered our western worldview. And further, how does this new world-transforming way of looking at reality fit into the functioning of a psyche, which has been preoccupied with spirits, gods, and demons for a major portion of its existence?  Are we tethered – like an anchor itself – to the conceptual underpinnings and mythic rituals of the past?
SJM: In your artist statement, you quote that we are a "hypertechnological and cynically postmodern culture seemingly drawn like a passel of moths toward the guttering flames of the premodern mind". Is it safe to say then that the Anchor is preventing postmodern culture from drifting too far away from past faith systems that supported humanity rather than industry?
LW: Yes. Nicely said.

SJM: Are you in favour of posthuman technology? If this means a loss of faith in religion and spirituality in favour of machine and science, do you resist?
LW: I try to avoid introducing spirituality and science as opposing binaries. I think that it is less about choosing one or the other and more about emphasizing the similarities between both. Though science is ideally supposed to withhold final commitment from its hypotheses about the nature of reality, in practice it seems to offer to many a picture no less orthodox than those mythic and spiritual systems that we are in the process of banishing.
SJM: People often look to religion to find answers. Do you think that science is answering questions that we may have asked in the past? Or do fast paced developments in technology distract postmodern culture from asking these existential questions? Or, in contrast, do you think we are naturally turning to religion and spiritualism in order to find clarity and peace of mind as an individual in postmodern and posthuman society?
LW: I would say that “turning to religion and spiritualism in order to find clarity“ hits closest to home for me, although I would place individual spiritualism over organized religion. According to popular narrative, technology has helped disenchant the world, thus forcing the archaic and symbolic (spiritual) networks of the past to give way to the crisp, secular game plans of scientific progress. However, it is my belief that the old phantasms and metaphysical longings did not entirely disappear. Rather, they disguised and embedded themselves into the cultural, psychological and mythical motivations that form the foundation of the modern world. To me, this is evidence that, when faced with the retraction into a sterile void of science, people are searching for some of the oldest navigational tools known to humankind: sacred rituals and metaphysical speculation, spiritual regimens and natural spell. In short, the pagan and the paranormal have colonized the 21st century twilight zone of our surrogate surroundings.
SJM: In the past, science and religion have been contradictory entities. In your artist statement, you explain that your work resides in an “ambiguous area where science and belief overlap and interpenetrate.” To conclude, do you think that both your work and our postmodern culture reside in this shadowy zone?
LW: Certainly. To find answers it is often more affective to ask what something isn’t rather than what it is and, although I appropriate elements from both science and religion, my work (along with our contemporary culture) is not either of those things. Rather, it falls somewhere in between and this ambiguity is precisely what I find most interesting.

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