INTERVIEW BY JESS CARROLL
Lili Huston-Herterich is a Chicago-born, Toronto-based artist whose immersive installation work looks at warm themes like the concept of the home or personal subjectivity, in the same breath as icier themes like vulnerability and the unconscious baring of space. This juxtaposition offers her viewers a distinctly immediate opportunity to hang out in the grey (or in this case, green) area in between and ruminate on their shit. Her new show, currently on at Toronto’s 8-11 is entitled nodding off with mush, and closes November 19th, 2014.
Your show is called nodding off with mush. What does “mush” refer to?
The reference is two-fold: I was working with a children’s book called Goodnight Moon as the point of departure for the exhibition, and a bowl of mush is one of the many inanimate objects in a room the book catalogs. When I was titling the show, though, I was doing research on hyper-familiarity and a Romany slang term for “friend” surfaced: mush. Nodding off with mush is simultaneously something sticky and warm to fill you up before you sleep, as well as inching closer to another warm body in bed. Both equally comforting, helping you fade away in similar ways.
Goodnight Moon, the book that inspired the installation, is a chronicling of a bunny saying goodnight to all of the objects in his room. Was this a book you interacted with when you were a child? What was your initial relationship to it?
Goodnight Moon was a huge part of my bedtime routine. It resonated with me because of the story’s dependency on its illustration: the scene remains locked in one point of view, and the only thing that changes is the light—it dims with the rising moon. With this stillness it really made the primary character of the book the room, which I love looking back on now.
As an adult, what objects do you feel we indexically would say goodnight to?
I don’t think we do really. I like thinking about spaces and objects, particularly personal ones we use every day, because of their intended lack of presence. In both architecture and design, so much of the intent is for integration into life—these utilitarian spaces and things that bleed into your subconscious after repeated use, not intended to be scrutinized or bid goodnight. When you think about this in contrast with installation work or artwork as a whole, there are quite a few contradictions; where is autonomy’s place in non-art objects? This is much of the reason why the exhibition nodding off with mush was realized as an empty room.
Your collaboration with writer Kirk Heron—darkly playful limericks examining the stressful lives of anthropomorphized animals—is humorous, but at the same time bleak and unhopeful. Is that a theme here: life’s futility?
I’m not really sure I believe in futility in life. At the risk of sounding overly optimistic, I think there’s agency and purpose even in the banal, the stupid, the simple, the domestic, the comedic, the dark, the limerick! Kirk Heron is working on a children’s novel and a series of short illustrated children’s stories at the moment, so I thought he’d be a really interesting collaborator. I asked him to write the accompanying limericks based on only the imagery of three artworks hanging on the room of Goodnight Moon’s walls. This way, he’s enacting a similar process as a child who has yet to know how to read, using the pictures alone to presume a story. Kirk produced new work from the prop “artwork” in the book, originally intended to fall to the wayside in favour of the illustrated room.
Your installed work often deals with domestic life. Why is that important for you?
I’ve fallen into a pattern of approaching installation work by thinking of the visitor as a guest. Even when I have studio visits, I can’t shake the feeling that it’s almost like cleaning and prepping my apartment for a dinner party. What makes domestic spaces so special I think is their secondary place —”the background” that allows life to carry on. I’d like my installation work to be arranged and entered as if they’ve been happened upon, as if it’s the visitor’s choice to notice what they do, rather than mine.
I’m also really interested in the anticipation and control of movement in a space, and have been reading feng shui theory and early interior design handbooks that cover a more nuanced control of energy in a space. The night that nodding off with mush opened at 8-11 it rained, and the gallery put a tarp in the backyard so people could spend time out there, behind the gallery. So, everyone passed through the space exactly twice—once while entering the gallery, once while leaving. No one spent time in the space, everyone stayed in the back. It was perfect, so ideal. A passing experience with an empty room that remains resonant regardless of the time spent in it. It made me so happy, a good experiment that I can’t take complete credit for but a circumstance I’m very interested in simulating and pushing in future projects.
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