Editor: Lily Faust
In its Spring 2002 issue, ART POLICE presents an interview with LIZ-N-VAL, the art team that has actively, subversively and visually initiated a discourse on art since its formation in the early 1980s.
ART POLICE: Here we are, sitting in the living space of the Museum of Something-N-Nothing. The museum is both a location and an idea. Right now, we are at the museum, which is in a loft on Mercer Street. We are literally and virtually immersed in art. There are canvases and art objects everywhere, clinging on the walls, hanging from the ceiling and attached to the columns. The pieces indirectly plumb a host of artistic issues, demanding our attention by their visual presence and through the apparent and indirect questions they raise. Artists, as most of us will agree, are creatures of wonder. And Liz-N-Val are, or should I say is, remarkable at that. Shall we start then?
ART POLICE: I remember that you had a pet canvas that you took on walks in Berlin, and Paris and in New York. I have always been intrigued by that work. When you take your “pet” canvas out for a walk, you are breaking the boundaries between life and art. You are also taking your work out of the gallery into the open, thus merging your art product with your actions, and as a result, becoming a component of the end product. So, other than these very personal forays into the public, do you have any proposals for public art?
LIZ: “Woof” is the name of that piece and it is public art. Nobody recognizes this as public art. And it couldn’t be accepted by any of the institutions as public art but when you take your work outside and initiate an exchange with the public…
VAL: Then you are engaging an interest in art, you see. It is very authentic. A situation develops out of it. A question is asked, an answer is given. Even on a silent level.
LIZ: There was absolutely an exchange. I remember one time… There was a mother and child walking behind me and the little girl asked the mother, “Why are they dragging a canvas?” The mother was perplexed, it seemed. But she said, “I guess she’s taking it for a walk.” Here was an absurd thing going on and people took it as a natural thing. It was hilarious. Another wonderful thing is nobody thought we were crazy.
ART POLICE: It’s part of being in New York.
LIZ: In Paris, we were dragging it and we stopped by a café. People were curious and they were asking usall kinds of questions. This one man asked, “Where are you from?” We told him we were from New York, and he asked us, “Is this the fashion in New York?” The interaction became an important aspect of the piece. VAL: We believe in engaging the public which includes everybody; anybody who may be there and maybe nobody from the art world. The context is important. Museums, galleries, and very often the art veteran, not infrequently turns out to be hostile. But the general public is both open and delighted.
ART POLICE: I am drawn to your work because of the way you include your work as part of your appearance or your activity. Right now, you are both wearing eyeballs on your caps. There are several eyeballs in the room, all different sizes. Some need dusting, I think. When did these originate?
LIZ: It’s something that we have been working on for a number of years. We have the eyeball on our capsand sometimes around our neck.Recently a homeless man saw us. Val had the eyeball on his neck and the homeless man asked the eyeball, “Do you see me?” And then Val said, “Yes, I see you.” It was another one of those wonderful encounters.
ART POLICE: You also have a gigantic eyeball in your current show at the Monk Gallery in Williamsburg. Is that a part of your visual vocabulary?
LIZ: Well, the Monk Room is driven by material.
VAL: Sometimes the material leads to new ideas. The problem with language is its highly-encoded messages. This is a limitation of language. We are not thinking in linguistic terms of reality. We are thinking in termsof material and how it generates linguistic equivalents.
LIZ: Even though images enrich, at the same time…
VAL: Inter-activities of all these things, people and experiences create that reality known as zeitgeist. Zeitgeist, in the sense of the spirit of the age.
VAL: It is important to recognize that people are developing their own language around new art. New art requires a new language. Otherwise it becomes a Talmudic document which sees the end of itself. Like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Artists invent their own language to be able to articulate their own situation. In our show, “The Monk Room,” we are expressing the world the way advanced scientists see it. It is the best way we are able to explain the world as we see it.
ART POLICE: Are you referring to the way you created a porous, molecular environment within the gallery?
VAL: We are not using it as a model. The basis of it might be DNA and molecular structures but that’s not our model. Scientists make their own models of the universe and we make ours. We are giving it poetic truth, artistic truth. It’s deeper and more interesting. We are abstracting the truth of our existence from science. And not to forget that there is also the every-day reality of the common door and windows.
ART POLICE: Yes, within the gallery space you have created an inner environment consisting of a door, windows, a galactical spiral, a house cat, (possibly a Cheshire cat) and a dog. You have de-constructed the door and the windows, these architectural motifs from the walls that they are usually attached to, and have hung them on the gallery walls, or balanced them on the floor, so to speak, creating the idea of an invented space.
LIZ: Yes, the work is at the end of a long, historical dialogue going back to the Renaissance. Windows and doors go back to the perspective that the Renaissance was so enchanted with.
VAL: Entering the realm of the unknown.
LIZ: With references to psychology, “The Monk Room” enters into a dialogue with Western culture, not just art history.
VAL: Western culture was always more probing, more analytical than Eastern culture. In contrast, for instance, African culture is hinged more on magic and psychology. Social ritualistic values come into play. But Western culture is always probing. It seems that it was willing to take more chances.
ART POLICE: Are you bridging African and Western art then?
VAL: We have influences of Primitive art in terms of the impact of the psychological moment. Possibly themoment of truth. Looking at windows in art, and appreciating the meditative, Islamic, Far Eastern quality of art. Not locked in specific time. The work has that timeless quality.
LIZ: Meditative, absolutely. The go-go dancer’s dream of the meditative state.
VAL: I have no objection to go-go dancers.