Interview with SPACELab artist Evan Larson   07.09.09

Falling Shadow (installation detail), 2009, copper, plaster, 10 x 8 x 1.5 image by Tim Thayer

Arts writer Eleanor LeBeau talked with Evan Larson before the June 19 opening of his SPACELab exhibition Permeability,Transformation and the Neutral (on view through July 17 at SPACES).

What do you mean by the neutral in your exhibition Permeability, Transformation and the Neutral?
I dont mean to be evasive, but even defining the idea of the neutral would negate the central importance of experience in both my interactions with the gallery and the viewers open interpretation to the work.

But you must have some concept in mind when you talk about the neutral.
Im thinking about the gallery space being semi-permeable and receptive to all different types of creative activities, such as craft and what is now known as fine arts. I like the idea of trying to use the gallery space as a craft material, to collapse the subject-object relationship between the work itself and the gallery space, and to create an in-between space between the work and the institution of the gallery, or the natural history museum or the historical museum. So [in] the previous work to this work, I used a lot of different semiotic information or stand-ins for different cultures of display or museum presentation. Im using different strategies to conjure the sense of the basement display of work in a someones house, or maybe the kinds of stuffy oak cabinets that one might find in a natural history museum, or the kind of language thats used in those contexts and how that language shifts from an art space or museum space to the kind of language that we use in our own homes. At first my approach was really broad in trying to bring those communities of interaction together in my work. But here in this work Ive tried to really pare it back to the most essential aspects that concern me, which are craft and the idea of art--and the gallery space that Im interacting with here.

Does your work create the neutral [space], or does it evoke it?
Im collaborating with the gallery and the social culture of the gallery and the institutional traditions of the gallery and what we know about art or craft, and Im trying to orchestrate an in-between space where the viewer can question the relationship between the work and the gallery. I come from a craft tradition [Larson is a metalsmith by training]; I bring some structural forms from nature that have been used in the decorative arts traditions, and then Im using the material of the gallery space to construct these things.

I see the exhibition as a really pared back investigation of the question how do things become? If the tissue of the gallery wall becomes the artwork, and those things become one in the same, then we might even be asking ourselves, Then what distinguishes us from the rest of the world? If I take my hand and I make a shadow and it lands on my body, am I self-informing myself? Im looking at the gallery as having a life hood and looking at objects as having their own kind of life.

Are you talking about the ever-changing interrelationship between what German philosophers call the Innenwelt [the organism] and the Umwelt [the outer world as perceived by the organisms in it]?
I know the concepts from reading [Giorgio] Agamben. But I think pan-psychism [the philosophy that all energy and matter is alive and therefore has a soul] is a good lead-in to shaping another type of consciousness of other entities. So if I try to find a way to stop myself from saying that everything is thing, and say that everything is something that has sentience just like I do and its own rhetoric of energy exchange, then I can start to look at other interpretations about how these communities of interaction fold into one another. So, as I was saying earlier, I tried to strip back, and at first it was just the idea that, Well, is the wall pinching the artwork, or are the cloudy forms [in the installation] pinching the wall? Who is acting on whom? And then with the piece [cloudy form] thats folded, the wall is folding the piece; its pushing on it. So there are different states that are happening.

Do you see the objects you make as sentient beings?
Thats where that question arises: where does my tissue begin and another tissue end? If Im working on something, I am collaborating with it [the material]. That plaster has its own direct ways of being in the world. Its going to physically tell me how it wants to be, if I listen. The problem is that if we think of just things in the world, then everything becomes sort of disassociated from any responsibility. Im trying to train myself not to say thats a thing, and to realize that it has its own set of potential ways of communicating.

On one wall of your installation, you hung a sculptural piece that signifies a wall with an elaborately framed window"a wall on a wall. The framing evokes architectural detailing you might find in an older home. However, the space inside the frame"where we expect to find glass and thus a view beyond the wall "is blacked out, thus thwarting our expectations. Plus, the window is not a flat plane.
I wanted to push the boundary in my studio space, to push the boundary beyond the studio wall. I also wanted the form coming out of the wall to push into the wall, too, so you cant tell whether or not, in this case, the gallery wall is acting on the sculptural form, or vice-versa. I transported that piece out of my studio space and into a gallery space had to confront the history of that object being in another space, so it seemed reasonable to hang that wall onto another wall and to allow it to be what it was.

I bought a house at the end of last summer, and one of the things about the architectural space is this blackness and quietness. Id lived in Detroit for almost eight years, and the citys noise and energy wasnt there in the suburb where I bought my house, where theres empty, vacuous space. The chalkboard spray [inside the framed area] probably comes from my interaction with students and the way I project myself into the world.
What I really like about the blackness is that if you move away from the work a bit, it completely flattens the space and makes the area really ambiguous"it creates a neutral space.

So your work is really a poststructuralist deconstruction of the binary systems that interest you: subject/object; fine art/craft; institution/visitor; artwork/viewer.

Although the idea of binary theory is unavoidably part of my experience as an artist in this time, I dont consider it to be the central subject. The histories and contemporary dialogs that are germane to architecture, art and craft are three examples of active nodes within the work. However, these practice-based systems oversimplify the various levels of interaction that I hope to accomplish. Im asking mixed systems"like
materials"to stand in for action or indication of animacy in order to create a new permeable but unified structure. I use architectural elements such as the window to negate the relationship between architecture and gallery and artwork both optically and conceptually.

If I were to make this idea of the binary the central theme of my work, I would eliminate many of the tenuous threads of possibility, which I work to foster. I also fear this (the idea of the binary) theoretically would eliminate the viewers active role in the completion/contribution to the work and diminish the importance of my physical dialog with the gallery setting and its idiosyncratic space.

Jean Baudrillards Impossible Exchange is a very interesting piece of writing. Hes introducing the idea of a third party meaning. [For Baudrillard, objects/the world/reality elude the concepts and systems of thought we try to impose upon them; therefore we cannot know anything with certainty. For more information, go to]. Thats been really important in shaping how I think and how I project myself. What I sense from him is that if the idea of binary systems no longer works, when

Author: Christopher Lynn, Executive Director
Category: General


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