publication of the International Sculpture Center
A Conversation with Liz Larner
by Collette Chattopadhyay
mid-career survey, presented at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los
Angeles from December 2, 2001 through March 10, 2002, covered the last
15 years of the Los Angeles-based artists work. Larner graduated
from the California Institute of Arts in 1985 and rose to international
prominence during the 1990s. Among her numerous gallery and museum exhibitions,
most notable to date are a 1997 solo exhibition at the Kunsthalle Basel
and a 1999 solo exhibition at MAK, the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts
in Vienna. The current show, which is Larners first solo museum
exhibition in the United States, was organized for MOCA by Russell Ferguson
who is now the UCLA Hammer Museum deputy director of exhibitions and chief
curator. In addition to developing her own work, Larner teaches at the
Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, where her questions, insights,
and energies are impacting the next generation of emerging Southern California
I thought we might start by discussing your new magnum opus, the
huge Untitled (2001) multi-cubic form in the opening room of the
MOCA show. How did you come to be interested in the cube to begin with?
Untitled, 2001. Fiberglass, steel, and urethane paint, 144
x 144 x 144 in..
Liz Larner: First
of all, I dont see it as cubesits more spherical. I
developed it using computer animation: the sphere gets animated into a
cube and then spins back into a sphere again. Theres only one cube
in the whole thing. The rest of the forms are combinations of those two
seemingly opposite forms. Theres really no name for those forms,
because theyre hybrids of a cube and a sphere. The entire shape
itself is really spherical because of the motion and rotation it suggests.
But back to your question, Ive always liked the mass of the cube.
Its a very equal form, a super-symmetrical, ultra-geometric, incredibly
stable form that is also quintessentially modern. My interest in the cube
relates back to Tony Smiths Die (1962) and to that point
when things took a turn in sculpture.
you elaborate? You mention that the cube is a stable, super-symmetrical
type of form and yet your works are none of those things. Theyre
all about an instability and transmutation of the cube, even your early
work Used to do the job (1987).
youre right, and thats why I was interested in it. The cube
itself symbolizes these things, but I dont know if they are possible.
Its meant to symbolize a stasis or even stases that I dont
believe really exist. Im interested in being able to get away from
thatto allow sculpture a physical manifestation in the third dimension
that speaks about things that are not necessarily concrete. Like the idea
that sculpture had come to represent security for some people, almost
a physical security: the idea of stasis, which is appealing but not the
nature of our world. Attack is maybe too strong a word, but
using the term the way actors do, I was interested in an attack
on the cube, opening it up and revealing its instability.
Bird in Space, 1989. Nylon cord sewn with silk and weighted
with stainless steel blocks, dimensions variable.
linear cubes, which appear in some ways to be drawings in space, such
as Two as Three and Some Too (199798) and Two or Three
or Something (199899), approach those dialogues too. Perhaps
we could talk about their relation to Untitled. But first, did you build
the piece specifically for that room?
been in Los Angeles for 20 years, and Ive probably seen every show
thats ever been in that room. So, when I had the opportunity to
have my work here, I wanted to make a sculpture specifically for the space.
Id never seen one object in there, and it seemed to me to be one
of the things that the room was calling for.
appears huge, massive, metallic, and bold in form and feels so different
from the tenuous, pastel-colored linear works of 1997 and 1998. The new
work seems to borrow the textures, qualities, and colors of cars or technological
culture, while the earlier linear pieces look more like they are constructed
of bones or tree branches, even though theyre made of steel. Where
do you see your work in relation to technology and nature?
been involved with the question of technological culture. This new piece
fulfilled itself so much that it was overwhelming. I made decisions along
the way. I could have done a lot to make it self-critical, but decided
not to do that. For me, the impact of the sphere on that form alone is
what enlivens it, in the sense that it isnt a cube anymore. And
I dont know that the open (linear) forms are even cubes. They all
measure the same, but can it be considered a cube when the lines arent
straight, perpendicular, and at right angles to each other?
have no word for it if its not.
Ignis (Fake), 199899. Aluminum, paper, watercolor, and
steel, 32 x 32 x 34 in.
Theres not a word for it. People call it a cube, because
its the closest thing they can think of. And theres something
wonderful in that, because in calling it a cube we redefine
this thing we consider a cube. That stretching of the idea, or making
it larger to define as another thing this thing which is really not what
a cube was considered to be, is something that interests me. The technological
look of the new piece I need to think about more. But more than the critique
of nature and culture, the thing Im most interested in (and what
I think that piece is very successful at and where its similar in
nature to the open forms) is that it activates the viewer in a way that
a cube never could. Because with a cube you know whats on the other
side. You know how it looks. With Untitled theres no way you could
ever anticipate it. Ive been around that thing a hundred times and
I still cant grasp it. I cant remember from one side to another
what the thing looks like. I cant contain it. Its too visual.
Its too physical.
you have that experience? Its interesting that in your work the
physical and tactile experimentations of sculpture meet with new-media
concepts and experimentations. Often, for example in art schools, these
endeavors remain separate spheres of inquiry. But in your work not only
do they meet, they embrace and even dance. And then, youve created
and presented this work in both forms: both as a huge tactile sculpture
and as an animated Web image.1
Do you like it more in the animated form?
LL: No. I
really like the idea of trying to change dimensions, of turning this thing
that exists as animation into sculpture. The animation is good-looking,
but its not surprising, and I find it totally receivable. Im
not against two-dimensional images, but for me the physical is a much
more thrilling and complex experience. I think there are so many ways
of receiving other than through the visual, such as moving around a form.
Your body in relation to form introduces speed: slow speeds, fast speeds,
stopping, moving in and out. Its not a zoom, its you. Theres
a big difference between the zoom in a camera and walking up close to
did you arrive at the color of Untitled?
Surprisingly Nameless, 2000. Powder-coated and stainless steel,
mulberry paper, and watercolor, 123 x 28.25 x 52 in.
been working with color a lot in the last few years. Color in sculpture
is an area that has been taken for granted and made to act in a particular
way, usually to reinforce the form, to make you see the form more clearly.
In Calder, Miró, Caro, or even in Judy Pfaff, color is used to
reinforce the form. This goes back to what I was saying about the cube:
I think the form doesnt need to be reinforced. The interplay between
color and form that color can create with the actual three-dimensional
form is much more exciting. Thats an area I want to continue to
explore. There are so many forms in this new piece, yet it is one form.
I was going to try to compose through colors to create something that
would not allow you to stay with one form for too long and yet not allow
you to dissect the thing. The thing constantly wanted to put itself back
together as one shape, while still having these clear forms interpenetrating
each other. I had worked up a number of studies with different colors.
Then, I got a book for the kind of autopaint I wanted to use, mostly for
durability, and I came across a paint that had five colors in it. Its
one paint but it has five colors. I realized that it could do what I was
attempting to compose, and all with this one paint.
mean, this work is painted with only one color, yet it has all these rarefied
its one paint, and the color changes in relation to where youre
standing in the light. Its a more sculptural solution to color,
I felt. The color can change like this because every particle of the paint
is laser cut so its exact. Thats why it gets that incredible
many forms did you use to compose this piece when you edited the animation
studies to develop the singular sculptural version?
LL: I consider
it to be six forms. Its a sphere, although the sphere itself is
not in the piece, because I felt the sphere had so influenced all of the
forms. Theres so much softening, except in that one hard cube. Then,
the rotation that I had the forms go through is so spherical that I didnt
actually use the literal spherical form, didnt push it to the surface.
So there are five full forms there.
a recent interview with David Pagel of the Los Angeles Times you said,
If you asked me if my works were feminist, Id say yes.2
Your early sphere Out of Touch (1987), which looks something like
a giant ball of yarn though its made of surgical gauze, raises the
idea of knitting, something still deemed by many a feminine activity.
And your Corridor pieces (1991), with fabric and knit elements,
could be conceived as conversing with knitting, even with Rosemarie Trockels
investigations in these areas. Obviously, the larger question here is
how do you see your work fitting into feminist dialogues?
not sure how it fits in or even if it does. I feel theres a basic
feminist idea, in the terms of French feminist theory, that language is
not ours, that it does not belong to women. We havent had a part
in it: we borrow it, but it wasnt constructed by us.
you think that about the cube as the Minimalists constructed it?
Untitled, 2000. Stainless steel, mulberry paper, and watercolor,
30 x 25 x 13 in.
LL: Oh yeah,
totally. I think those uses for it were completely different from my uses
or what Im trying to get it to do, which is the antithesis probably.
A lot of my early work was simply trying to make that statement. I think
and hope that this new untitled piece and also the open form (linear)
works, actually go beyond that reactionary deconstructionist type of comment
about the cube and move onto something thats more generativesomething
that really is a different forma form that a woman has created.
The logic behind it does not necessarily follow from forms that have already
interesting thing is that we do not have words for it on the one hand
and on the other that there are a number of women doing cutting-edge abstract
sculpture that redresses Minimalism and that could be said to embody these
interests. And, of course, with discussions of the circle or the sphere
Judy Chicago comes to mind. Its intriguing that in its hidden essence
Untitled is spherical.
LL: I dont
know if Im going to identify the sphere as female and the cube as
male. In daily life these forms are all around us. Cars, for example,
have had this softening thing going on for about the last five years.
Everything is rounded, and there is an idea that it is all more aerodynamic.
Where does that idea come from? And then there is this idea of opposites:
one moment its the round era and then its the
sharp era. Im interested in making sculpture that mixes
the two. Its like mixing oil and water, two things that arent
supposed to be able to be mixed. They arent supposed to go together,
but thats because of what we dont want to accept as an outcome.
Maybe theres something feminist about that too. Im fascinated
by Untitled because its the combination of the sharp with
the round, both present in an object together. Thats something we
havent seen. Its always the body or the geometric. Theyre
always kept separate.
Something I Got Out of the Museum Here in L.A., 1989. Glass
vial on wood stand,
9 x 3 x 3 in. Materials found in the third pit during Chris Burdens
Exposing the Foundations of the Museum at the Museum of Contemporary
Art, Los Angeles.
suggesting that this is one of the more interesting questions in sculpture
one of the more interesting questions for me. I was also trying to have
something be larger but not seem heavy. The laws of physics are still
working on the sculpture, but the way it appears goes against the laws
of physics. I dont think it can quite be called illusionism, although
I called it that before. Its not really an illusion, because youre
there with it, youre moving around it, and it reveals itself as
it starts to look like something else again. Thats a really great
thing. I am trying to make things that havent been made before.
Im not even so much interested in debunking Minimalism. Im
just interested in going on. After having gone through this intense technological
experience, the next thing would be to follow up with something non-technological,
something very handmade. Theoretically it will probably be the same thing,
in as much as Im interested in making things happen that are supposedly
oxymorons and not be oxymorons anymore. If theyre not named at least
who lives in the Los Angeles basin, contributes regularly to Sculpture,
ART Asia Pacific, Art Nexus, and Artweek.
1 Liz Larners Study for Untitled
(2001) is on view in MOCAs Digital Gallery <www.moca.org/museum/digital
2 David Pagel, Out of the Unreal
World, Los Angeles Times (December 16, 2001), p. 81.