Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Interview with Reuben Lorch Miller

I was fortunate to meet Reuben Lorch Miller at Catherine Clark this past spring. He talked extensively about the theories and history behind his work, which are fascinating. The simplicity in his compositions extend much further into their complexity of meaning and the experience they provide.

What was it like growing up in Washington?

I moved there from upstate NY when I was 13 and spent a lot of time feeling like an outsider. I lived in the country/small town areas where there are a lot of trees there and if you want to make something happen, you had to do it yourself. A lot of time was spent hanging out with friends, in cars and later at cheap rental houses. The winter is 4 months of wet darkness. A good climate to do projects indoors and keep yourself & friends entertained. It used to be more of an isolated place than it is now. I suppose there was also the typical drug use.

What got you into conceptual art?
I don't really separate out the distinction of "conceptual" art. As opposed to what? I like belief systems and formalism. I also like perceptual phenomena. Nothing really got me into it. It is how I approach art making.

What is at the core of your work?

From this spring to the present, you were just in two exhibits (at least) in the bay area. How did these come to be?
I have shown with Catharine Clark 4 or 5 times before and so that was my latest show.
"The Beast in Me" was curated by some friends I made, while working at the SFMOMA as an art handler.

Is there any difference for you exhibiting on the west coast than the east coast?
I haven't shown here enough to get a definitive sense of a difference. In regards to showing in NYC, there is a lot more going on by sheer quantity, which is both positive and negative. The only thing that I have really dealt with, are the factors of having a show in a location where I don't live. There is a strange disconnect with those shows. In this past exhibit, I left SF the day after the opening, which can make it feel like it is not really happening.

In the statement on your website, you say "I attempt to create situations where experience can sometimes supersede understanding." Why is this important to you? How do you think you make this happen?

I think it is important to recognize the condition of the the experience in looking at art, rather than trying to define a complete understanding. This also deals with the limitations of language to define a perceptual experience. Understanding is often defined through linguistic or text based systems. I make visual art, it can exist outside of language. I have found that there is a tendency to try to define artworks in understood terms. Trying to sum it up in a narrative or definitive way. A "this is this" kind of equation.

I like a degree of mystery and unknown in work. I think of this as space for the viewer to create their own relationships to the art work. Also I often don't completely understand a lot of my projects. My relationship to them evolve during their making as well as after. A lot of my understanding is in hindsight. I try to be more attuned to the the experience and trust it.

I often try to break up a linear form of display, focusing on a more tangental and cyclical form. Pieces have multiple directions. I always try to leave at least one element open ended. This also is about trying to make the viewer into a participant rather than a spectator. I try to make work that is demonstrative rather than illustrative. I tried to get people to sit on the floor in my Clark show.

Through this action they would become part of the sculpture. In Memphis I made a sculpture that had a set of stairs to climb. The general idea was to try to change your perspective and see things in a different way. Often the physical has to come before the intellectual. A lot of this is related to the fact that I am heavily influenced by music and think about how music is experienced.

It does not have to be understood from a theoretical or intellectual point of view to be appreciated. I have only dabbled in making music, so I don't have a real foundation in understanding it from the stand point of a practitioner but I know when it moves me.

It has to do with looking at art work from an approach that seems closer to a real experience of life.

Text is often present in your work. Where does that come from?

A lot of the text comes from phrases I have collected. They are often song lyrics. Sometimes I come up with them myself, sometimes from books.
Where does it fit in with your other work?
They are often truncated, incomplete sentences. pointed yet open ended at the same time. Taken out of context or contextualized with my other work, they take on other levels of meaning. I also like the words and fonts as formal structures. They became almost captions or suggestive phrases that pushed the direction of the other work.

I am less interested in working with text these days, but I still love words and writing is often the starting point of a lot of projects. I am also becoming more comfortable with titling pieces where while I was doing work with text everything was untitled. Maybe this means something?

Who do you like to collaborate with?
Friends. We have to be friends first to collaborate. I have had great experiences collaborating, but a solid friendship was already in place. It can be a fragile negotiation.

What do you see as a possible next project?
After a period of high production I always enter the phase where I feel like I have barely a clue as to what I will do next. This is a time for a lot of experiments and half baked projects. I used to get really anxious about this time but it is healthy for fields to lay fallow for a time. I am doing some photocopying and monochrome paintings. I am also thinking a lot about different modes production and distribution of artwork. The "studio to gallery" method has its advantages and disadvantages. We'll see in a few months. I always surprise myself.

Check out Reuben's press page on his website for more.

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