Thursday Spotlight: Lisa Young

Tell us about your background.

I was born in Illinois and received my BFA from the University of Illinois. Then I moved east, where I received my MFA from School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston/Tufts University. After that, I moved to New York where I completed the Whitney Independent Study program. Now I live in Providence, RI, where I am the Graduate Critic and teach in the Photography Department at RISD. That’s my academic trajectory. As for my background in the studio, I’d say that I mostly played by myself as a child. I spent a lot of time observing the world and then withdrawing to a place where I could make up my own rules and create something, paint, or draw, or make some kind of project that would help me make sense of things. To some extent, this relationship to making still informs my practice today.

Name some people, artists, artistic genres, etc. that have been influential in your work.

Some Artists: Adam Fuss, Alan Berliner, Albert Pinkham Ryder, Andy Warhol, Annette Messanger, Barbara Kruger, Bernd + Hilla Becher, Bill Morrison, Bruce Connor, Buzz Spector, Christian Boltanski, Christian Marclay, Cindy Bernard, David Bunn, Dennis Adams, Documentation Celine Duval, Doug Rickard, Douglas Blau, Douglas Huebler, Ed Ruscha, Edouard Vuillard, Ervin Wurm, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Fishli And Weiss, Francis Alys, George Bellows, Gerhard Richter, Glenn Ligon, Hans Peter Feldmann, Hollis Frampton, Jack Goldstein, Jan Dibbets, Jeanne Dunning, Johannes Vermeer, John Baldessari, John Constable, John Divola, John Hilliard, Mark Lewis, Martin Arnold, Martin Johnson Heade, Michael Klier, Neil Goldberg, Oliver Wasow, Paul Otlet, Penelope Umbrico, Peter Doig, Ralph Blakelock, Ross Bleckner, Sarah Charlesworth, Sigmar Polke, Sol LeWitt, Song Dong, Sophie Calle, Stan Douglas, Susan Eder, Tacita Dean, Thomas Struth, Troy Brauntauch, Vija Celmins, William Jones

Some Keywords: accumulation, airplane, analog, animals, appropriation, archive, artist book, atopia, beauty, blueprint, calendar, collage, comparison, connection and separation, data, desire and satiation, destination, detritus, ephemera, encyclopedia, everyday, figure skating, flag, floating, flocking, found objects, futility, gambling, goal, golf, happiness, highway, hot cocoa, humor, imperfection, installation, journey, legibility, levitation, linguistic, loneliness, Michelle Kwan, miniature, motion, multiples, narrative sequence, objects in nature, observation, panorama, perfection, postcards, practice, puffy, repetition, sports, snapshots, sublime, success and failure, system and chance, taxonomy, television, temporal, tickertape, toilet paper, transitory, typology, unexpected events, video, vulnerability, weather, Xerox

Where and how do you get your ideas?

In much of my work I act as a visual interpreter. I am interested in the intersection of the pedestrian, the repetitive, and the imperfect with the transcendent, the beautiful and the perfect. I generate ideas by observing and recording the world around me or through working with appropriated images: taking snapshots of everyday events, recording broadcast TV, hunting for photographs in junk shops or online.

What materials do you work with? Describe your technical processes.

My practice is hybrid and includes installation, book, video, photography and web projects. I tend to focus less on working within specific techniques and more on certain activities. I am interested in the way that the repetitive action of accumulating and organizing can create its own poetics. I amass and examine collections of everyday images (figure skating from prime time TV, snapshots of clouds, postcards, etc.) and then filter my collections through frameworks that serve both to organize the data and transform it into something new. Through committing to a process I try to uncover how lines of thought can emerge from a preoccupation with repeated gestures, or the way something transcendent can be generated through methodical, intermediate actions, or can be dependent on imperfections located just outside the frame.

What do you find to be the most challenging part of being creative?

The most challenging part of my practice is pressing on when a project runs into difficulties due to setbacks, or doubting a process that I’ve committed to. The best remedy I’ve found for this is to remind myself that the only way to avoid getting stuck is to move forward.

What is the best part of being creative?

I really like balancing aspects of system and chance in the studio. Some of my pieces start with a framework in place and develop through a pre-determined set of actions. Other times, I select images in an intuitive manner and construct a system of organization that evolves more organically. Although the systems I build organize the data, they also permit for random or chance occurrences. This allows the unexpected to happen, and facilitates my learning to listen to what my work has to say.

Being in the studio also allows me to breathe and exist in a space I create myself. Being in the studio means I get to make my own rules, including defining what constitutes happiness and success. Success could be making a tiny advance in the studio (staying committed to my ongoing practice) or completing a large project (a long-term goal achieved).

So, there are two paths to happiness, the dialogue with the work, and the satisfaction of engagement with the practice itself.

What advice would you give to someone seeking advice about being an artist?

Develop an internal compass that will allow you to define what success means to you in terms of your own studio practice. Studio practice means making your work and maintaining the day-to-day activity of your studio. This is distinctly different than the external markers you may have that designate success (examples: commercial achievement, exhibitions, grants, a tenure track job, or approval from particular individuals (gallerists, curators, or even supportive friends). Do make ambitious external goals, but recognize the difference between achieving them and finding satisfaction in the actual practice of making.

Ask yourself: What truly makes me want to go to the studio? Make a list of reasons and refer to it when you encounter obstacles. Remember that your list may change over time. In my experience, if you can define what constitutes success and happiness for yourself you will always have something that will anchor your practice. It’s when you begin to perform to someone else’s standard of success that you lose all your power.

Lisa’s website
Lisa’s blog 

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