Thursday, September 18, 2008

Interview: Anthony Luensman

Here is our most recent interview for OtC, the first of five interviews with each of the Efroymson Contemporary Arts Fellows. I hope to post the remaining interviews over the course of the next couple weeks. Enjoy.

[image, Betel Boy IV, 2008]
Tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m a Cincinnati-based artist with a liberal arts education from Kenyon College. My projects are often multimedia – involving a combination of sculpture, electronics, light, sound, video, photography. Lately I have taken on a number of site-specific projects which have influenced my choice of materials, scale and building procedures. A solo show at the Cincinnati Art Museum offered me a chance to work very site-specific as I was given access to the entire museum and able to place works throughout. Here, they could intervene / influence, or be influenced-upon by the permanent collection.

From 1998-2001, I was co-founder / member of a multimedia performance ensemble called Saw Theater. We staged several large scale productions and I contributed to the scripting, staging and sound design. The experience of having built my own musical instruments and creating layered multi-track soundscapes for the performances continues to inform the work I do today.

Recently, from 2003 to the present, I have spent a considerable amount of time in Taiwan. Residencies, gallery exhibitions, collaborations and public projects in Taiwan have influenced my work in terms of materials and themes. It is a fascinating, friendly and energetic country with an ever-expanding / exciting contemporary arts scene.

[image, emptysign #5, 2008]
How did your education influence the direction of your art? Did you have any influential instructors?

Kenyon College is a magical place. I had many influential professors (most in fact), but I will single out two. I had painting instructor Joseph Slate for one semester before he retired to become a very successful writer of children’s books. It was his approach and personality that taught me the most. He would stand before whatever I was working on and make a few koan-like comments and then, as if looking not at, but through the work, he would continue with charming and enigmatic stories. Now, thinking back, I like to imagine him as what John Cage might have been as a painting teacher. The second professor, the late Phillip Church, was an English lit professor. He taught the British modernists with a passion that held the class rapt. Rather than “teaching” us, he taught himself, wrestled with the text, argued with his own assumptions. He taught by learning there on the spot, by remaining vulnerable to his own doubts.

[image, emptysign #5 (detail)]
What are the pro's and con's of working as an artist in the Midwest?

I have a terrific studio space – small but efficient. It is part of a former slaughterhouse (being in the former meat-packing district of Cincinnati). And my living space is just across the parking lot so I am fortunate not to have to drive to my studio. There are terrific old buildings in Cincinnati and some arts-friendly landlords. I also enjoy the anonymity of working outside the established art centers. I don’t find myself easily distracted or pulled off direction from my own pursuits. On the downside, I find the conservatism on the whole a bit disheartening. It is very necessary for me to step away once or twice a year for projects or residencies. I need fresh perspectives and inspiration, but I’m quite content to then bring ideas back and work them out here in my studio.

Can you talk us through your process, from concept to final product? What drives your artistic practice, the concept or the process?

The potential for new work can come from almost any experience – personal, books, politics, travel, nature, materials, etc. Once I have the start of a new idea, I mentally rehearse it to see if it maintains its validity. If the idea holds, I mentally rehearse various forms and materials until I “see” the piece complete. I then begin the building process where I of course have to adjust my original concept to all the unforeseen visual considerations. I often record ideas verbally (written notes), I am not as much a sketcher. My “drawings” are more schematic than depictive.

In relation to your audience, what do you hope to accomplish, in other words, what would you hope your audience takes away from the experience of viewing your work?

I keep the audience much in mind when I am designing a new work. My experiences in performance and sound design have left me with a theatric sensibility. Especially when working site-specifically, I think of the gallery space as a stage space. I enjoy all the considerations of how the viewer will enter and move about the space, the lighting, the acoustics, and interaction (if applicable).

I am not, or try not to be, too didactic in my work. Ideas, meaning, and themes are certainly a part of my work, but, through the building process I try to embed content in the visuals so that the initial experience for the viewer is one of composition, form, color and space. The rest can be found between the lines. For me, form holds content and very infrequently the other way around.

[image, Forsythia & Fireflies, 2007]
Can you tell us about some of your recent projects? What are you working on at this time?

I recently completed a series of work based on the structure of signs discovered in Taipei. I walked the city, documenting signs whose structures were on display - either through neglect, ingenuity or transition. For example, i was delighted to find many outdoor advertising banners being held steady in the wind by the simple act of tying bottles of drinking water to the bottom corners. For one of the works in the emptysign series, I took this practical device to an extreme and constructed a sign out of over a 1000 suspended mini-bottles filled with water. In this case, the rectangular shape formed by the orderly mass of fishing line became the empty sign or banner.

At this time, I am working on a new body of work with an emphasis on light. I have discovered various light bulbs / emitters with which I am experimenting. I am particularly interested in how I can manipulate the light source reflections with a variety of materials. For now, the works are independent light sculptures but the intent is to use discoveries for larger installations.

What Midwest based artists should we be keeping an eye on? Any personal favorites?

There are many, but rather than singling out individuals I would like to suggest making discoveries at the Weston Art Gallery in downtown Cincinnati. The Weston has been consistently presenting and supporting Midwest artists for over ten years. They just opened a retrospective show by the 5-year collective Publico. All of the artists in this show deserve attention and I especially like the exhibition design.

[image, Gardenia, 2008]
Finally, what do you foresee as being the greatest impact the Efroymson Contemporary Arts Fellowship will have on your career and/or artistic practice, be it short term or beyond?

It is often the case that artists are required to cover most, if not all, of the costs for producing work for an exhibition. The Efroymson Fellowship will allow me to work steadily in my studio and afford the kinds of materials, tools and assistance necessary to create new, ambitious work. As a multimedia artist whose work often involves technology, the Fellowship offers new possibilities for moving into new, even experimental, technologies and materials. The fellowship will most importantly allow me to fully dedicate myself to studio work this year. With the work produced, I am hoping to then seek a host of good venues for exhibition.

[image, Grassland, 2007]

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