Photo by J. B. Forbes
Interview with Carlie Trosclair
Nothing is out of date for Carlie Trosclair. It just evolves, gets reassigned, subverted or covered over. It’s still present and any change could reveal a history that becomes blended with the now. She insists it’s not a nostalgic journey but mixed aesthetic plucked from obscurity and given a resting place, a new meaning.
Trosclair’s work is a commentary on the transient nature of our surroundings and our notions of them, their usefulness and the transformative nature. It’s what we experience and the meanings we apply over a lifetime. That ‘lifetime’ can be of a building, a lost aesthetic, of you. It’s all a part.
Q. Are you an installation artist, interventionist, sculptor, how do you view yourself?
I would say all of the above. When I come to check the little box for what I do I tend to put installation artist because it can encompass so much. The way that I first came to understand being an installation artist was creating environments that are immersive or that completely restructure a whole room or building. In some ways people might loosely refer to the way 2D work is hung for instance. It has multiple meanings. I look at it from the perspective of how I would address or interpret a site. I would put myself as an installation artist that is site responsive or site sensitive.
Q. I wondered if you had a notion of yourself in a specific arena? Some artists don’t even like to think about labels.
When I started out I was going back and forth between painting and sculpture wondering ‘what am I?’ and agonising over it for a couple of months. I Finally realised it doesn’t matter what I am called and can be the less interesting of conversations. It doesn’t feel necessary to define it, but when I check the boxes I go straight for Installation Artist.
Q. Do you have a lot boxes to check?
I apply for a lot. Most of the grants for exhibitions or residencies that I apply for and get, and unfortunately that business side of being an artist takes up a lot time filling in forms, checking boxes and putting myself in categories for the sake of streamlining the process.
Q. Where did you go to College?
I attended Loyola University in New Orleans.
Q. Was there a specific core subject you studied?
It was painting. I exhausted all of the classes that I could possibly take in painting.
Q. Was there a transition point at which you thought you are not going to paint or you’re going to utilise those skills but in a broader sense where you work within a three dimensional space?
There was an ‘ah ha’ moment. I took art lessons when I was younger and started making textural paintings through manipulating the canvas. I really fell in love with the material so much that it became more about the canvas as a medium and the notion of painting became secondary. The shift from fabric canvas wall hangings to pieces on the floor or hanging on the ceiling, thinking about the audience navigating their way through, was much more gradual. Eventually that transitioned to entire rooms and to architectural structures. When I think back it now seems quite linear.
Q. A lot of your work is about revealing something lost or hidden and it can almost look like you are showing decay, but I think you’re work is not about decay?
I am accustomed to living in old cities and have always been attracted to that aesthetic for whatever reason and can appreciate the vulnerability. The architectural structures are very honest about what they have been through and reveal a history up front. When I started exploring more in St Louis I noticed that every building I entered was different. There was something about the abandoned buildings, discarded and seen as a ruin that needed to be done away with. You can become desensitised to it but I started to see how each space had a life of it’s own. It’s less about how these spaces aren’t functioning the way they were originally intended and more about about how they embrace their own evolution. Like an unravelling or unfolding in a way that activates a new beauty or topography. It’s a lot about bringing attention to the state in which it’s currently at, not to look at it as a failed system but an evolving one, giving up control. I am really fascinated by the way these layers have become hidden within. We spend our time amongst habitable spaces. We might have some sense of what came before us but it’s really in this process of deterioration that it becomes visible.
Q. Is that something you want to carry into future projects or is it just where you are at the moment?
It’s definitely where I am right now but I am not completely married to it. The residency that I have just come back from was completely absent of any kind of architecture. I am really interested in how our reality is constructed by our experiences within these spaces.
Q. Could you tell me a bit about the residency you have just completed?
With the exception of this past year and a half, because I had a big project that I was working, I have typically done about two a year. This one was important because it had been a while since my last residency. I usually need a couple of weeks to immerse myself and forget. During one of the earlier residences I kept beating myself up thinking ‘I’m an installation artist – I need to create this grand thing’. It took the first couple of weeks to talk myself out of that. With this residency I immersed myself in the landscape of Central Oregon, completely remote. There’s mountains on one side, a lake on the other. I ended up doing a piece that was about the terrain and the topography.
Q. It’s still recognisably you – not a complete departure.
I think that’s important to hear. I just wanted to respond to what I was seeing and not try to fit myself into what I ‘should’ be thinking.
Q. Was there a specific scope to the residency – where you given guidelines?
You have to apply with a project that you intend working on. I also make work that are a kind of print where I paint the same kind of circular repetitive pattern based on the composition of a deteriorating wall. My project proposal was that I would work more on those and how the landscape would affect it. I don’t feel hard pressed to produce on what I initially proposed for a residency and it really is about taking the time to indulge in a process or experience.
Q. Do you think there is a sense of nostalgia in what you are doing?
In a way, what I am addressing, it’s not past yet. It’s still very present. Nostalgia almost implies that it’s already gone and thinking about it as something of the past. I am living it and also seeing it on a daily basis… I am not sure how to explain it.
“Success for me is creating more questions and developing more curiosity about something. A piece is successful if I learn something about what I want to do or delve further into for future work.”
Q. Quite often for artists I speak to the work is the language and to talk about it is another thing. From my perspective I was thinking of nostalgia in terms of the types of materials you were using and the way you were revealing hidden layers.
My studio is filled with these old rolls of wallpaper that people would just be horrified if you tried to put it in their homes now. I am very drawn to it. It’s looking back on an aesthetic that’s not present any more as a contrast to these very cold high-rises that are being built. What will be left for other people to discover? Probably nothing.
Q. Do you feel isolated in your work?
I share my studio with four people. We all have our own sections, but I still have a space that’s quite large. I haven’t had a studio since graduate school about six years ago. I do like spending time alone. Part of my process when I explore abandoned buildings is to take time, sit in silence and pay attention to the details of the surroundings.
Q. Do you think there are less women operating in your arena?
I think socially it appears to be more of a mans world but I know many female sculptors and installation artists. It comes down to who we end up highlighting from a historical basis or from the perspective of what it traditionally means to be a sculptor. Maybe it’s now becoming more common in academia to highlight a greater number of women. It’s just how we’ve chosen to tell that story over time and who had the opportunities.
Q. What are you working on at the moment.
I am part of an exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Centre in New Orleans that open this August (2015). I am creating a deteriorating wall which will have to be transported to the gallery. It will be based on the idea that I used for ‘exfoliation’, on a smaller scale of about 20ft. It represents the same concept of deteriorating space. I have to work out how to build it in sections and then transport it to New Orleans. A first for me to build in the studio like that. I have always built work on site or that is site responsive.
Q. Are you finding it stressful to work in a different way?
It’s exciting. It’s also hard in some ways to build outside of context and to think about how it’s going to work in a space without actually being in that space. That part is stressful, having to work from photographs of where it will be. It’s a little bit complicated. I anticipate that this will be precisely fit which is not the way I am used to working. I need a lot of flexibility for unseen changes. That will probably be the biggest challenge. I have learned to be adaptable and leave open ended space as I only start with some sort of intention of what I am going to do, especially when I am working in abandoned building. I have an idea but then I discover there might be inconsistencies in the materials and have to reconfigure it. This means I need to be adaptable in each space. If I knew how everything was going to be all of the time I wouldn’t have anything to evolve and discover. That’s what makes it responsive…
…to create something offsite and implant it is a new trajectory, a new process and a new learning experience.
Q. Do you find there are very few opportunities to do this sort of work. It’s large scale and you require the space to instal it?
Once people see that you do installation work, that’s what they want. I have carved out my opportunities in St Louis which has become integral to my practice. I have resources and partnerships for access to buildings so I can create whatever I want. As far as opportunities go to present my work in an institution, that’s a different story. That’s only come back as part of my practice with my latest piece.
Q. Presumably it can be quite dangerous going to demolition sites – are they safe for people to go into?
Safety’s relative. Even if it’s not a demolition site a lot of the exploring that I do could be seen as unsafe. I have actually fallen through a floor before. I wouldn’t just go with anyone – it has to be thoughtful, precise and careful. I get permission to manipulate spaces. I look at these spaces as graveyards or time-capsules and I want to be respectful to that.
Q. In terms of how you function as a professional is your primary way of operating through applications to art projects, grants and funding rather than commercial art?
Correct. A lot of my income for projects comes from grants. St Louis has been really phenomenal. particularly over the past couple of years with funding individual artists. In the past it was more focused on community projects. I was very fortunate to get a couple of those. Also, giving lectures in addition to the shows help to fuel the work.
Q. Could you see yourself moving into work that’s more commercial driven?
I have thought about what that route would look like but the moment I started thinking about my work being the way that I would sustain myself, from a commercial perspective, I knew that I would be giving something up. The main focus was never to think about it commercially although some related activities do sell such as photographs and drawings of the installations. But that’s not my starting point.
Q. What’s been your most successful piece to date? By that I mean what’s given you most gratification?
Success for me is creating more questions and developing more curiosity about something. A piece is successful if I learn something about what I want to do or delve further into for future work. I have grappled with the definition of success. There’s a certain art world perspective and then you have to redefine what that means to you especially if you are an installation artist and if you are not part of a market where gallery representation is part of it. I am most happy with a piece when I have been able to get a feeling for a space and see that in the experience of others when they view it.
“There was something about the abandoned buildings, discarded and seen as a ruin that needed to be done away with. You can become desensitised to it but I started to see how each space had a life of it’s own.”
Q. You’re quite aware of audience feedback?
Yes, that’s important. I have gravitated to the materials I use because they are familiar and because they speak of the everydayness of our built environment. Something that we can all relate to, like what being home feels like or what loss feels like. I think it’s very important to be using materials that are easily accessible and familiar to an audience to talk about more complicated issues.
Sometimes it’s easier to use objects to talk about people and bridge a gap. Going back to a previous question my work is about decay but not necessarily about architectural decay. We can’t really talk about buildings without talking about people. Buildings are built by people for people and comes with a whole notion of what we discard, how we place value on beauty or worthiness and when something has reached it’s expiration date, who’s deciding that?
I’m looking at a journey that doesn’t have an expiration date, that goes beyond our individual lives, to contribute to a greater whole.