29 Jun Q&A WITH FRAN SIEGEL
When did you decide you wanted to be an artist?
Throughout childhood I always made paintings, but I don’t think I understood what the commitment of being an artist meant until my undergraduate work at Tyler School of Art, in Philadelphia. There, I had mentors like Stanley Whitney and Margo Margolis who were young in their careers and doing the juggling act- including the commute back and forth to New York. Through them and other faculty later at Yale, I came to understand that an artist’s life is a commitment to a subculture of exile. You need to be capable of being a jack-of-all-trades, finding alternative neighborhoods where rent is cheaper, ways to make money that take less time, and ingenuity to survive.
Tell us about Quatorze.
Throughout the history of my work I have been interested in defining and activating a space in-between solids. I often deconstruct images and seam them back together to capture this void. In Quatorze the presence of absence is articulated by extending the forms outward beyond their physical mass.
I’ve always wanted to make a piece from the No. 14 chair designed by Michael Thonet in 1859. In this design he perfected the wood curve, which is actually bent from one piece. Most often, refined furniture designs sell at the high-end only to people who can afford it, but these chairs went into mass production so they became “the people’s chair” and can be seen in every French café. So in addition to its social undertone, I utilized this perfect form as the stretcher bars or support for my drawing.
Connecting one chair to the other by following its dimensional geometry I wove the vellum drawing from one chair to the other with a partner, following each other’s movements, so it became a truly symmetrical piece. Like a dance that connected and extended our actions outside our bodies, I consider it as a dimensional drawing, not a sculpture. In other works I am merging the geometry between dimensional and flat pairs. (bicycle wheel and stool). There is a somewhat related piece that I made at Muzeum Sztuki in Lodz, Poland in 2002. It was one of my early installations. Woven from one piece of string that was spooled in a cotton factory across from the museum, abandoned by its original owners during WWII; the workers were oddly still there producing uniforms, now in surplus. Lodz was also the birthplace of Construction in Process, which first took place at the end of Solidarity in1981. My exhibition Pressure was informed by this history of site-responsive work made from available materials, and also included two other works constructed on-site from other forms of this cotton. This spatial weaving between two columns required the choreography of 4 people and gave the space an optical presence.
Quatorze is part of a new, larger body of work. Tell us about these new works and how they figure into your practice.
Everything for me is rooted in drawing. I’m always trying to push the medium of drawing into new territory and for it to take a different form. I use drawing to document location. The lightness of paper, its direct contact with the wall, and malleability create potential for the work to have a subtle interaction with its surrounding environment. The gaps in my large drawings function to activate an in-between space. I’m interested in making a drawing about a place and then re-inserting it in an architectural environment where each influences the other.
Nomadic imagery has been a reoccurring theme running through my work. I have been focusing on the transient architecture of the circus in my most recent work to be shown next spring. Traversing back and forth between drawing and porcelain maquettes I am exploring a connection between the bare-bones architecture of the circus (tight rope, tent, ladders) and urban infrastructure (power lines, towers, things that I see here down at the Los Angeles port).
I am fascinated by the way the circus gets packed up and moves on to the next town, also how Calder traveled and performed his miniature circus all over the world from 5 valises. I am interested in making work that unravels and splays out when it is exhibited. I have utilized the projection of light, and drawings that unroll like carpets. Often the work incorporates the surrounding architecture as a support, interaction or subject itself, allowing it to change form. The gestural marks within the works themselves (like the tickertape in Quatorze or the oscillating cross-hatches in my Overland drawings) create another layer of movement.
What is your process like?
In the studio I am an obsessive tinkerer, always experimenting with materials and unconventional ways to work with them. My ongoing curiosity involving travel and various cultures has been continuously sparked by numerous residency fellowships in other countries. Working in an outpost studio creates a catalyst for study and generates new visual sources to contend with. My creative process is often like breathing—it opens up and then closes down. I push it out to experiment, and then when an exhibition is coming up I try to pull it back in.
How is the city of Los Angeles important to your work and to your practice?
I began the “Overland” drawings in 2007 partially as a result of my interest in knowing more about my adopted city of LA and its lack of a master plan. I am interested in learning how people occupy cities and how urban planning and infrastructure evolve over time. I felt I could only understand the complexity of its vast sprawl from above and by seaming multiple perspectives together. So these massive collages are joined segments from thousands of particles. Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities has been influential as microscopic vivid descriptions create an invented place.