Most of my installation work is inherently participatory. Each piece is intended as an invitation to its audience, an invitation to explore. I feel that it is incumbent upon artists that their work provides a point of entry for everyone who encounters it. My installation pieces are, at a fundamental level, pranks, though never to the point of becoming farcical or mean-spirited. They are jokes in the form of sculpture. My intention is that they delight, surprise, and occasionally threaten. They challenge notions of place, and of safety. Often my work responds to the space that it is in. But just as often I have to come up with the idea before I have ever visited the space, and then adjust it as physical reality comes into view.
Most of my freestanding (or wall-hanging) works are, in my sketchbook, labeled as “essays.” That’s in the classic French sense of “essayer,” which translates as “to try.” They originate as experiments — as explorations of volume, space, color, and form, and as attempts to make the most of nontraditional materials. At their essence, they are thought experiments. Sometimes they play with what isn’t there, and sometimes they play off what is there. I know that such a work is complete when the end result is enchanting to me. Only then I can trust it has a chance of being so to others.
Each of my works sits at the juncture of two entirely different explorations. There is the exploration of the idea. And there is the exploration of the manufacturing process, the method of fabrication — the engineering — required to accomplish a functional realization of that idea. Ideas are an origin point for this work, but so too are the means by which I accomplish the realization of those ideas.
There’s another type of engineering at work: social engineering. In installation art, whether or not artists acknowledge it, there’s an “ask.” It occurs when the audience is requested to do something that is outside their comfort zone, or beyond the domain of their knowledge. If there’s a good mixture of people in the room, it’s easy for them to expand upon what they are comfortable doing. The bigger the ask, I have learned, the harder it can be for people to make the requisite jump. My work often needs a critical mass of people to keep it going: people coming out with smiles, people entering curiously. If the piece is correctly crafted, it provides a platform for state changes on the part of those who witness it.
The traditional art gallery provides a specific context: a work is presented with the intention that it be viewed, and considered for purchase. This provides a challenge to installation art. That challenge is, to be frank, How does one sell an experience? I don’t know the answer, nor do I know if there is an answer. I do know, though, that installation art provides a unique opportunity to investigate the social construct that we call a gallery. I happen to be fascinated by the manner in which visitors divide themselves up: some people participate, others become an audience, and others become critics, and then those roles shift as time passes. I’m most interested in how people move between those states. At a Broadway play there is clearly an audience, but when you’re in a gallery you generally don’t feel like an audience member. I am interested in the idea of the audience in the art gallery, and how that is just one mode among several possible modes. I want to influence the purchasing of art to be less focused on future value and more focused on a sense of participation, what my grandmother might term a reward for my good behavior.
For a long time, my work area, my studio, was highly organized, perhaps to a fault. Over time, my studio became more and more busy. It got sloppy, with multiple and varied projects overlapping. There wasn’t a fully conscious decision on my part, but in time I discerned that the overlapping had become a productive aspect of my practice: chance collisions between materials and projects lead to new discoveries. Each new work leads to new processes, and then some of those processes become part of my bag of tricks, and become standard elements in subsequent but otherwise unrelated work. This accretion of tricks is as much a matter of what I can’t do as of what I can. My studio is my own private cross-departmental university.
I am most comfortable when I am least comfortable. I am most interested in the engineering when it feels more like art, and the art when it feels more like engineering. The viewer, however, need not see it as one or the other. I’m fascinated by transition zones, by interstitial overlaps, subtle gaps. My work revels in these liminal states.