The longitudes and latitudes of 'Local Metrics': An interview with artist Eliza Myrie | Bleader

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The longitudes and latitudes of 'Local Metrics': An interview with artist Eliza Myrie

Posted By on 07.03.12 at 04:16 PM

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Artist Eliza Myrie examines problems of proliferation in the media.
  • Aundre Larrow
  • Artist Eliza Myrie examines the separation between person and image in printed media.
"Consider not the lily of the field, but the thistle of the vacant lot," writes curator Hamza Walker in his introduction to the exhibition "Local Metrics: Majeed, Mooses, Myrie," which opened last week at the University of Chicago's Logan Center for the Arts. The exhibit, featuring the work of three Chicago-based artists in residence at the university, looks at possibilities of change in the city.

Friday's opening reception paired works of sculpture, ready-made, and paper art with a performance from Douglas R. Ewart and Quasar, along with special guests Ann Ward, Jeff Parker, Lester "Helmar" Lashley, and Harrison Bankhead. One visitor, six year-old Indigo Valiant, a frequent jazz concertgoer, tried to describe how she danced to the music: "It's complicated," she said. The Logan Center's partitioned design allowed for a quieter exhibit space at the front of the building and a louder performance space in the back of the building. The opening reception is part of a larger series of events being put on by the Arts & Public Life program and the Center for the Study of Race, Politics & Culture at the university.

While both abstract and formally complex, the works strongly engage the environment that produced them. "If You Lived Here, You'd Be Home by Now," Faheem Majeed's monumental billboard depicting the new mixed-income development of Oakwood Shores, critiques the ephemerality of that hopeful idea, bringing attention to the bureaucratic measures that have made a less-than-ideal transition from public housing high-rises to new developments. Cathy Alva Mooses's works chronicle the declining population in Pilsen. A stack of unused chairs from an elementary school leans against a wall, towering over the gallery's visitors; in another work, the dwindling population of Pilsen is signaled by holes punched in a piece of paper. Eliza Myrie's broadside newspaper, printed with the images of one of the youth convicted for Derrion Albert's murder on one side and his sister Rhea on the other, questions the proliferation of human images in mass media. Myrie's other work, Chump Change, focuses on the value of small things: pennies are scattered throughout the exhibit, sometimes ignored by visitors or picked up and collected by children.

"The Chump Change work is something that I haven't exhibited before this, but I anticipate will be exhibited many, many times in the future," Myrie said. "My needs for figuring out if I should put pennies in a well or if I should put them on the floor was aided completely by the residency. I was able to talk to people who work for the Water Reclamation District and know how to dig a well, and then I was able to speak to them and figure out if that was good or bad for me and then I could make further decisions."

A slide show and Q&A with Eliza Myrie are after the jump.

Jordan Larson: Have you come to think about your work differently from being a part of the residency?

Eliza Myrie: I think the way that Hamza [Walker] has framed our work through this show and the kind of plane that we've been able to connect on is really about Chicago. The three of us each keep studios in very different neighborhoods and we're of very different backgrounds, but I think it's really saying something through the state of Chicago makers and people who live here currently. I would not be making this work if I lived in New York, I would not be making this work if I lived in Sante Fe. And I think the same is true of Cathy and Faheem, because Cathy is looking very specifically at work about her Pilsen neighborhood and how that relates to the ancestral work of amate paper in Mexico. And Faheem the same thing, how do you look at residential structures in a neighborhood that's never gonna come up?

It's never gonna be the potential that it wants to be. It informs my work in a way that is very matter-of-fact. It's not a show about painting; it's not a show that's art about art. There are elements of that, of course—there are elements that look at form and the structure of an installation and materiality—but it's really about a place. It's really about making work in a particular place and what it is to be an artist of a particular age and generation in a place in a time.

I was struck by that, looking at your work. Your pieces seem like they can be very abstract, but also very rooted in Chicago. There's a direct place they're coming from, and yet I also wouldn't necessarily call them political. So I was wondering how you think of your work and its potential for change.

Two things. One, I will never say that my work is not political. I don't think that I have an agenda, but my work is not divorced from social, political, socioeconomical, racial agendas. It is always rooted very strongly because I'm aware of those things. I don't think that I ask viewers to take a stance, necessarily. I don't say this is right and this is wrong; it's not didactic work. But it's informed by opinions, it's informed by my opinions, it's informed by my thoughts. I put a lot on the viewer in terms of the active decision to place themselves. It's on you to decide where things exist. Is this this way, is it that way? Am I saying x, y, or z? I'm probably not saying that thing, I'm probably hoping that you as a viewer will take an active role and think about some stuff and engage with me further. That's the outcome that I'm always wanting, a further engagement, conversations, reactionary works, x, y, and z. That's the first thing I'll say. The second thing, I guess we talked about change?

If you are hoping to effect change in society, where are you hoping that that's coming from? Are you hoping to give the viewer something that makes them reconsider things?

I don't have a specific agenda towards change. I definitely am interested in further conversations. My motivation most often with works and specifically with this sort of broadside newspaper work that's from the Derrion Albert murder is to sort of say, is this image that's moving out into the world in our kind of general image database? These are moving in our peripheral images, these are something we see every day in the newspaper box. Are these images OK? Is there a problem with these, and if there is a problem, what is it? Is it stereotypical because of this? Is it problematic because these are young black people who don't have control over their own images, or is it just an issue of proliferation? There are too many.

These images are not treated as dangerously as they are received. I think that those are some of the questions I try to ask with the work and that I want to ask with the work—but again, I rarely try to present conclusions. I just want to have conversations and I just want to move further. I think often that can be seen as not a stance with an artist, like, "Oh, you're just kind of taking this wishy-washy, you're just putting stuff out there."

So the onus is on the viewer to be active and to be engaged. It's not vague because I am indecisive personally, or unclear in what I am most interested in, but it's a demand on the viewer to be engaged with the work in a particular way. Like today somebody asked me, "What do you mean? What are you doing?" I was like, I'm not gonna tell you! What do you think this is? This is not a test, and there's also not a right answer if it were. So you tell me what you think is going on and we can talk about it. Because it's not gonna be the same thing to you as it is to me, there's no way it can, but I'm interested in where we maybe can get to through a conversation.

When you wanted to tackle the way that people are portrayed or stereotyped in the media, I'm curious as to why you chose the newspaper as the form of media to take on, given its current flux in society.

Right. That it's dying. So you have the Internet and you have the newspaper, and there's something that's very specific about the materiality of the paper. There's something that's very specific about the fact that on any given day this young boy, or this young girl, as it pertains to this piece particularly, is on the cover, but the next day they're actively thrown away. On the Internet, they exist in perpetuity. You can search that image forever, you can find out who the photographer was, and even though it's completely out of hand, you can't touch it, it's gonna be there forever. In the actual physical press, it's there one day and it goes to trash the next day.

So there's very specific materiality to me about how that image, which was once a person and has now been transferred into a two-dimensional image, so it moves from 3-D to 2-D and into this other weird nothingness. It's been completely removed from its original personhood through the material and through the process of moving onto the cover of a newspaper, which is really intense to me. Because these are people, and they're not just images, and they're not just the entertainment of the daily paper, which is part of what my critique is. These young people, or whatever the images—I've used images of Manute Bol and girls from the Haitian earthquake, and different things—they are not just a headline. They are actual people who have real lives and are dimensional. They have mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and then they die, all those things are true. But when you think about it, how many goddamn copies are there of them in the city, and they're divorced from their own reality and they become this icon.

And that's really just a moment of pause for me. How do we give anything back to them? How can I, as the artist, give something dimensional back to them? That's why the stack is not available for takeaway here. Because it's an object. How do I give body, how do I give dimension, back to something that's become so flattened? Through the photograph originally and through the process of printing and the materiality of the newspaper.

So a lot of my gestures are trying to figure a way to give back whatever dimension I can give back through my process. So that's why it's important to be on paper and in newsprint and all those sort of things. It just speaks to, like, material, in a particular way that's important to me. And it also just reflects on how we treat those subjects. The paper's thrown away, so are these people disposable? It's just a question that comes up in the process: is anyone that's on a paper disposable? I don't know. I don't have an answer in the work, and I ask myself constantly. But that's an important part of it.

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