By Doah Lee
“A desire to form intimate relationships between objects and the body. Objects are metaphors for a body in a state of flux, channeling the uncertain, defying expectation, and not functioning as something “should”. Embracing a perception of queerness, the works reject definition and savor the question of “what is it?”, through which function or non-function play a role to disrupt the viewer’s accepted normality.”
DL: How did “Other Bodies” come to be? How was the experience of working together?
ED: It was more of how our habits intellectually play out in our individual practices crossed over into the exhibition than the two of us coming together to make something specific. Then in the space it came very naturally to place the different works on and around each other as a collaborative dialogue.
EC: Elliott and I have been admirers of one anothers’ works since the beginning, but it was really Kyle who drew up the plan for Other Bodies. The similarities of our work, from the content to the physical forms to even some of the material choices… it just flows together. Our practices both deal with topics surrounding the body and because of the natural way in which the works came together there were opportunities to pair and position things so that they could not only talk to one another but also make a new dialogue. While setting up the exhibition we tried to find moments where pairings could mirror situations that felt familiar – such as one of Elliot’s copper pipe pieces fixed upon the wall and one of my pieces draped over it like a towel bar that would be found in a bathroom.
Elliot Doughtie / Original Plumbing 1, copper piper, glass vial, cottonseed oil, testosterone, 2017
DL: It is easy to think the pieces are designed to be together or just as one art piece. Can you talk about the flexibility in your installation process? Is the dialogue between your works expected or unexpected?
EC: It was a fun and spontaneous process: acts of putting things out, moving them around and taking them away. Both of our works are often made of components which lend themselves to rearranging and taking new forms in different installations. I think one of the biggest factors of this exhibition is of course the tiled floor that frames in the central part of the gallery. The tiles float from one side of the wall to the other creating a backdrop for the pairings on each side.
And back to the question of the dialogue between his and mine, I always thought that our works existed in the same universe, but was actually a bit surprised by how well they ended up talking together. Especially with the extra work that was put in to do the color blocking, tile and molding, it all works so well in tying the exhibition together cohesively. The exhibition is intended to blur the divide between our works. By placing things in an unconventional gallery manner the viewer sees things more collaboratively rather than “this is Emily’s or “this is Elliot’s.” I think this process worked even more effectively in the space that I anticipated.
ED: When Kyle first suggested the show I thought that visually the work made sense together and he explained his reasoning why he wanted to pair Emily and me. Then when Emily and I had a chance to spend more time together to talk about the work it kept making more and more sense as a show. We are working towards general concepts of body object relations but our approach is very different. But that difference adds to the humanness of our interests.
DL: How does sculpture best show your attraction to the relationship between the body and object?
ED: Sculpture can stand in for the body and the object both simultaneously and separately. It can tell the story of body ego and how one comes to relate to themselves through materiality.
EC: I would say that perhaps it is my interest in the physicality of things, how the body (the viewer) moves through space and interacts with objects. I’m definitely interested in the exchange of these things and how factors of scale, material and form dictate relationships. There is a clear psychological shift when we encounter things of our own size versus those that take much less space. I’m interested in exhibiting this power play within my work, but am also invested in how to embody the presence that a sculpture might have within the dimensions of a piece of jewelry. That can be a real challenge.
Installation views of OTHER BODIES
DL: How do you see your practice responding to the body, gender, and sexuality?
EC: The works are often times personal responses to my own experiences with my body, gender and sexuality – and consequently, they embody themes of desire, longing, uncertainty and vulnerability. Intertwined into all of that is the undercurrent ideas of function/non-function and use value. With so much of the work recalling things that are familiar, there is often an inherent need to define and identify what the viewer sees before them. But my objects are slippery and they thwart, confuse, and refuse to become what we may want to see and understand them to be.
ED: I have tried to avoid it in the past or at least be a lot more subtle about my interest in expressing my ideas around (specifically my own) body, gender and sexuality but lately it has been much more overt in my work.
Specifically most recently, I have been focusing on the space of a bathroom, either public or private, as a conflicting space entirely focused on the needs of the body which is a space of both relief and fear especially for a person of queer and transgender experience, with which I personally identify. How can I express the duality of a space that I both find comfort and extreme discomfort, and awkwardly charged energy that tension creates.
DL: You often call yourselves object makers instead of artists or sculptors. Can you talk more about object making in your individual practices? Also, how did three-dimensional forms or sculptural elements become your main language tool? How is that appealing to you in general?
ED: I kind of stumbled towards sculpture very clumsily over the past five years. I was doing very large scale drawings that morphed into installations then lately have been focusing more on individual sculptures that can function in relation to each other as vignettes or stand alone as individual pieces.
I like the physicality of sculpture and how it relates to my body in a different ways. And I find I can communicate best when relating the sculptures to each other as the story of an installation can play out around you in a room.
EC: I call myself an object maker because my familiarity, comfortability and interest often takes form as things which are small enough to carry or hold, but large enough to feel autonomous and present. While my background is framed by a jewelry vernacular and in conversation with functional craft, the work itself is placed a bit outside of those things so as to exist on the edge of those definitions. I suppose in that way, one could then consider them sculpture. The objective of my work is to approach my content not by a straight and clear trajectory, but rather to slip in from the periphery.
DL: Right. I’m interested in how you both walk along the divisional line between art objects and craft objects. In fact, I like how you both use the term “object” to exist in this gray space, this space wedged between art on the one side and craft on the other. What does “object” mean to you?
EC: I think an object is something of a relatable body sized scale; something that you have domain over or that you can relate to. These are things that are often known and that populate the spaces through which we move and inhabit. Objects are often transient and reflect the way in which they came to be; whether they were placed, forgotten or discarded. Many of the readings I pull together as research for my work deal with topics of Object Oriented Ontology, Thing Theory and personification of objects (in the form of fictional novels).
DL: How about your process of art making? Where do you begin when making an object?
EC: Well, I always draw. Sometimes at the very start of a piece, before I even know what it is, and other times as a drafting exercise in planning. Most of my work always begins with thinking about communicative affordances – these are the parts of objects that tell us how to interact with them and what they are for, such as handles, knobs, containers, hooks, etc. From there I try to dissect and reform these things to create space for new encounters and understanding.
ED: My studio habits are rather chaotic at most times so most objects that end up being an art at the end of the day generally start out as parts of other failed ideas or are pieced together from smaller ones until something fits into the overall concept I am trying to work out. Sometimes however I will have a fully realized idea and see it out but that is quite rare. I usually start off with half of an idea and then get lost or distracted when I start questioning my goals. I’m not very structured and like to leave things open up until I am done with a work, especially in sculpture because I still feel like I am learning about the object most as I go along as opposed to a 2D work that because of the usually singular perspective can see in my head as a finished work well before it is finished. Sculpture is still very new to me and I am drawn to it because of that.
DL: My last question would be about your connection with the viewers. What do you think about the viewers’ response to your work?
EC: I aim to leave openness in my work while still also being directive. It’s all about striking a balance between the two. Allowing the viewer to have full authorship or ownership in their experience is of great importance to me I think because it is an approach that I find I greatly value in works by others. Being granted the freedom to let your mind meander and come to its own conclusions reflects the person that you are in that moment and this is a freedom that I wish for all – myself included.
Emily Culver is a multimedia object maker originally from rural Pennsylvania. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally at venues such as the Phoenix Institute of Contemporary Art, Phoenix, AZ; University of Georgia, Athens, GA; Baltimore Jewelry Center, Baltimore, MD; Cranbrook Art Museum, Bloomfield Hills, MI; PLUG Projects, Kansas City, MO(forthcoming); Galerie Marzee, Nijmegen, Netherlands; Museum Het Valkhof, Nijmegen, Netherlands; Brooklyn Metal Works, Brooklyn, NY; Edinboro University, Edinboro, PA; FJORD Gallery, Philadelphia, PA; and Little Berlin Gallery, Philadelphia, PA. Culver was the recipient of the Stuart Thompson Haystack Fellowship in 2016 and a Toby Devan Lewis Fellowship in 2017. She also accepted an eleven month Artist-in-Resident position at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in May of 2017. Culver attended Tyler School of Art, Temple University in Philadelphia where she received her Bachelors of Fine Art in Metals/Jewelry/CAD-CAM in 2012. In 2017, she received her Masters of Fine Art in Metalsmithing from Cranbrook Academy of Art.
Elliot Doughtie is a Baltimore-based artist originally from Texas and Louisiana, whose transdisciplinary studio practice encompasses drawing, sculpture, collage and site-specific installation. He has exhibited throughout the U.S. and Canada, including shows at the Nasher Sculpture Center (Dallas, TX), Arlington Arts Center (Arlington, VA), University of Texas (Austin, TX), Terrault Contemporary (Baltimore, MD), 500X Gallery (Dallas, TX), Alt Esc (Brooklyn, NY), and Re:Art show (Brooklyn, NY). He recently mounted two solo shows in the fall of 2017: Lost Earring at School 33 Art Center (Baltimore, MD) and Moon Dwellers at Mount St. Mary’s University (Emmitsburg, MD). Doughtie received a B.A. in art history from Tulane University (New Orleans, LA) in 2007, and a M.F.A. from the Mount Royal School of Art, Maryland Institute College of Art (Baltimore, MD) in 2015. His work has been featured in reviews published in ArtFCity, Artnet News, Glasstire, The Washington Post, Vice The Creators Project, among others, and is featured in Issue 04 of BMoreArt (print journal).
Doah Lee is a visual artist living and working in Philadelphia, and a member of artist collective FJORD gallery.