Artist Spotlight: Liz Larner

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Artist Spotlight: Liz Larner

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Interview with Liz Larner, Galerie Max Hetzler, London, November 2021

In this exhibition, you bring together ceramic asteroids which float in outer space, with plastic floating on the surface of the earth. Can you discuss why you were drawn to each of these and the interplay between ceramic and plastic? 

In 2019, there was an incident where an asteroid passed by us quickly and didn't hit us. But we didn't realize it was about to hit us, or could have hit us, until after it had already passed. This seemed evidential of a contingency of the limits of our technology and blind luck. A blindness that kept us feeling safe and gave relief after the fact of something that did not happen. It caused a sense of simultaneous hope and fear in me, a feeling that I don’t have the words to describe. 

During this time, I was thinking about plastic, and how asteroids are this thing that we cannot control. And our plastic use is theoretically something that we could control. In thinking about these two different kinds of potential catastrophes, it made me want to bring them together to create an impossible landscape, a seascape or skyscape at once. The exhibition brings together two places that can never actually be together.

Liz Larner, Nyx, 2021. Ceramic, glaze and glass 61 x 95.3 x 26.7 cm.; 24 x 37 1/2 x 10 1/2 in. © Liz Larner, Courtesy the artist and Galerie Max Hetzler Berlin | Paris | London

You have used many different materials in your career — ranging from bacterial cultures to leather, gauze, chain or ceramic. What is your process like in approaching each new material? 

Materials have been important to me from the beginning. When I first came to it, I broke it into three categories: what something is, what something is called, and what we think about it. For instance, we all have intimate knowledge of ceramic. We encounter it all the time, from the very intimate, like a cup of coffee, to the subway station to your own bathroom. It's something we know well without being necessarily intimate with it.

Installation view, Liz Larner, Galerie Max Hetzler, London, 2021 - 2022 © Liz Larner, Courtesy the artist and Galerie Max Hetzler Berlin | Paris | London. Photo: Jack Hems

Plastic is a relatively new material in your work. Could you discuss how and why you came to it? 

About four years ago, China stopped accepting recycling from America, which had a huge effect on the amount of plastic that entered the environment. I live on the West Coast by the Pacific and that's where what has become to be known as the Great Pacific Plastic Patch—a 1.6-million-kilometer patch of discarded plastic floating between Hawaii and California—was discovered by a sailor. Since I was using plastic almost every day, I just started to collect it from my family. Initially, I didn't know what I wanted to do with it.

The plastic garbage is an interesting trace of the body, of the materiality of the quotidian, the receptacles and remnants of what we have consumed. How does the use of garbage relate to the human body? 

When you look at Meerschaum Drift you recognize that something has come from a take away container or a detergent container. We're all so familiar with these objects that are part of our daily experience. And they're all disposable. And I think that using them in this way, in sculpture, gives you time to contemplate them.

Are there larger environmental implications? 

For many years I've been interested in how, as a species, we're turning the earth inside out. I’m guided by the Posthuman Thought which acknowledges the Anthropocene; and thinking about how we can live in a place where humans have made such an impact that it’s now our own geologic age. Is there anything that we can do about it at this point? Or, what can we do? It's an area for thought and hopefully practice.

Installation view, Liz Larner, Galerie Max Hetzler, London, 2021 - 2022 © Liz Larner, Courtesy the artist and Galerie Max Hetzler Berlin | Paris | London. Photo: Jack Hems

Plastic is a new material popularised in the 1960s but takes hundreds of years to decompose. Can you discuss the aspect of time inherent to the materials used? 

We think of plastic as being a new material, and it is a new material. But it comes from fossil fuels, so in some ways plastic is a really old material, and it’s just new that we have been able to harness it for our use. Although we have been using it as a product for such a short amount of time, it has taken over in the last 70 years. Roland Barthes wrote of plastic in Myths: “it is ubiquity made visible…a bucket as well as jewels.” It’s in everything; in every new building, our cars and our clothes and our fabrics. It’s used in forms that cannot be turned back to be reused. It is related to climate change in the sense that it is going to take governments and a worldwide realization and effort to change our use of it. It’s already destroying the oceans and life. Plastic seemed like such a gift, a joy, and now it has turned into this monster. It is in fact ubiquity made visible. 

Liz Larner, glass nimbus, 2021. Ceramic, glaze and glass 56.5 x 97.8 x 21 cm.; 22 1/4 x 38 1/2 x 8 1/4 in. © Liz Larner, Courtesy the artist and Galerie Max Hetzler Berlin | Paris | London
Installation view, Liz Larner, Galerie Max Hetzler, London, 2021 - 2022 © Liz Larner, Courtesy the artist and Galerie Max Hetzler Berlin | Paris | London. Photo: Jack Hems
Installation view, Liz Larner, Galerie Max Hetzler, London, 2021 - 2022 © Liz Larner, Courtesy the artist and Galerie Max Hetzler Berlin | Paris | London. Photo: Jack Hems
Installation view, Liz Larner, Galerie Max Hetzler, London, 2021 - 2022 © Liz Larner, Courtesy the artist and Galerie Max Hetzler Berlin | Paris | London. Photo: Jack Hems
Installation view, Liz Larner, Galerie Max Hetzler, London, 2021 - 2022 © Liz Larner, Courtesy the artist and Galerie Max Hetzler Berlin | Paris | London. Photo: Jack Hems

Liz Larner’s current exhibition is at Galerie Max Hetzler, London, until 15 January 2022.

A large survey of Larner’s work will open on 20 January 2022 at SculptureCenter, New York.


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