THE ARTIST WHO CONNECTS PEOPLE THROUGH AWKWARDNESS.
June 24, 2017
We all know that absurd type of interaction where you attempt to shake someone’s hand but they put their arms out for a hug. Then you switch, making the moment much more awkward. If you’re lucky the awkward moment is followed by that rare and genuine connection based on mutual embarrassment and laughter, and then the inevitable hug.
It is this feeling that Liz Nurenburg creates with her interactive sculptures. By touching the objects and each other, people experience the space and become aware of their own body and one another. This is a simple, but profound experience that becomes uncommon in the digital age. Liz writes,
“In the 21st century we have become accustomed to holding our social interactions in our hands. These interactions are slick and technological; they limit the physical intimacy that is possible through touch.”
Liz Nurenburg feels that touch is the sense, which is fundamental to real human connection, and that if we loose this important way of interacting with one another, we could potentially loose an important part of what makes us human.
Liz Nurenburg Interview
Can you give a brief intro to yourself and your work.
OK about me and my art. I mean I guess I'm a Los Angeles artist, and I moved out here for graduate school. I have been out of graduate school about six and a half years. I’m originally from the Midwest. Michigan I grew up in upper Peninsula Michigan. So very rural. And I worked for a long time with this awesome artist residency called Oxbo School of Art and Artist Residencies. It was like a normal nonprofit job so you know we got like forty to sixty hours a week facilitating this amazing environment for artist and I got to the point where I was like why am I facilitating this place when I could be going to graduate school and spending the time on my work? So I moved to California to go to Claremont which was awesome. Now I teach. I teach at Otis School of Art and also Cal State Northridge. I teach 3D design, but not the computer kind, the like glue stick and cardboard kind. So I’m interested in basic form and building which really informs my work actually. I’m really interested in creating objects that sometimes act as props and sometimes just objects in their own right to create intimate moments in public spaces. so I'm really interested in an experiential work that appeals to multiple senses beyond just the visual and my sort of sense of choice is touch. I love touch because it’s a reciprocal sense. Like you can't touch without being touched back. and I love that about the work and I also think there's so much that you can learn about something through the way that it feels or the shape that it is. So I’m really interested in creating these objects. Sometimes the work is for two or more people and this show is the first time that it actually made work for potentially just one person but usually it's for two or more people and it creates kind of moments of intimacy or comfort and discomfort where you kind of move in these waves of being aware of your body and the situation and then going back to that sort of intense focus on somebody else.
Do you think it's becoming more and more difficult for people to make connections with one another?
I do, I definitely do. I mean if you if you just go out to dinner and you can watch people sit with another person on their phone for the entire meal. I find myself doing it sometimes, and I think human interaction is so important and fundamental to so many parts of life and I feel like creating physical objects that make you not only touch the object and be aware your body while you’re doing it but to actually have a physical contact or proximity contact with another person is really important.
That leads perfectly into the next question which is, do you see a major difference between connecting through a tactile world versus virtual world?
I do, you know I really do see a huge difference in connecting through your physical senses as apposed to just your digital senses I guess. Because there is an awareness there's an accountability for your body. And and I think that's really important to experience. You can experience physically through the digital world but it's an imagined experience, and I’m really interested in the actual.
Do you think losing one form of interaction, real or imagined over the other would have negative or positive impact on our society or on it’s individuals.
I think that it’s extremely important to have both. I think that there's a lot of valuable things that have come from technology and from digital experience like the way that the world has become so much smaller and the way that we're able to find empathy for different cultures and maybe experiences that we haven’t had in actual life. But I also think that touch is so fundamental in terms of happiness and comfort and what it means to be human and so I think that both are really fundamentally important in a lot of ways.
At your shows, do you find that strangers who might never interact with each other normally have broken down a barrier and become friends just based on your work alone?
You know, I don't know how far the friendship goes beyond the gallery or the space that the work is in, but it separately brings people together, and I think It's really interesting that the work functions really differently when you have strangers interacting, versus when you have people who know each other and that's one of my favorite things. When I go into a show, I'm excited because usually I like to make new work for every show and to just to get it into the space and see what happens. I mean most of the time I’m making this stuff in my studio alone you know I mean? you know I might put it on my boyfriend and be like, can you try to see if it works but for the most part I haven't seen what it does until it gets to the show so It’s kind of like an experiment.
Is there a specific time that stands out to you where a couple people who didn't know each maybe broke through their awkwardness and found that moment of connection?
Maybe yeah. Yeah I mean I think it was. Sometimes the work has an activity or sound, or something that goes along with just the proximity or just the object and I find that when you have an activity people will stick with the work longer, and I have a piece that's called “Wanna Dance” and it's a body prop, that’s meant to be wedged between two bodies and then it has speakers that come to each person. I'm really interested in sound as kind of an ambient thing so there are collages that are recorded at even levels. There's a lot of different things going on in this particular sound piece and this piece has sections of Whitney Houston’s, “I Wanna Dance Dance with Somebody”, Me teaching myself how to tap dance, pretty poorly actually, and I took some friends and we surveyed and asked dozens of people to say the phrase “do you want to dance?” and so it's all collaged together and at this one show there was a couple of older men who I sort of position into the piece together and it was extremely awkward and you can tell from their body posture that it was extremely awkward at first, but inevitably when ever people get into this piece they begin slowly starting to sway because there's music involved, and you know they weren't in it for very long but they had a good chuckle afterword I think it's worth it you know.
Do you think about the user experience when you're designing a piece or do you think of the design of it and let the experience happen on its own?
I think it's a combination of both. A lot of the early work that were head pieces, I was really focused on the idea of the “magic moment” that can happen in romantic comedies. So that locked eye contact where you’re almost talking without talking, and those pieces were really designed around that proximity and that interaction and intense eye focus. These pieces here [most recent work]. They play to ergonomics right? they fit the body it's really about discovery, it's about curiosity and finding the form through touch, so those ones are kind of more intuitive in the way that they were designed.
Can you talk about any artists that have influenced you?
I definitely have my artistic lineage. I’m really interested in, I guess living, [would be] Erwin Wurm. He’s an incredibly funny artist’s. He has a series of one minute sculptures that are just really really funny and that sense of humor is something I really enjoy. And then there’s Lygia Clark who was an incredible artist in the sixty's and seventy's no longer with us but just had a really big retrospective at the MOMA. She's a huge influence. There's an artist name Franz Erhard Walther. I don’t know a lot about him but he has
has this one piece in particular that's a fabric piece that unfolds and connects people through these sort of fabric neck parts. He was a really interesting influence on my work. There is not a lot out there about him, but soon I think there will be a couple books coming out. Then actually there was one more, Mowry Baden who was a Southern Californian artist.
Would you say that those people fall under a type of art movement?
I don't really know that there's a movement that's been defined that they were all a part of, but they were all working kind of sixty's and seventy's and beyond. Sort of post Happenings era, so people like John Cage and a lot of choreography was happening that influenced that.
And before that, probably the Dada movement?
Yeah, and the Situationists.
Cool. Just to finish up. What is the biggest hope that you have for your work?
Gosh. That's a really tough question. I mean, I think, hope for my work? I don't know. Hope for myself as an artist? I just want to make things. I want to make things for the rest of my life and if I can bring a little joy to people, and meet people through my work, that's really a big goal. Connections! Making connections.