Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Habitus - Dirt Palace Interview with Lu Heintz

Habitus (Artist Statement)
The work aims to articulate the embodied experience of being contained within a structure, be it a garment, furniture, or architecture. Over time our experiences living within and through these frameworks become repeated habits. These habits carve and form—the shoe affects the stance, the chair bends the back. Structures mimic and reflect corporeal physiologies while simultaneously restricting their possibilities. Still, the threshold wears under our feet, a belly spills out, the chair can break. We press back—stretch things out, crack things and re-form them. I have been noticing the affects, contemplating the feels. I have been seeking the sites of leakage, splitting and overflow. What would the frameworks look like if they accepted these possibilities in advance?


Dirt Palace staff, Xander Marro, in conversation with Lu Heintz.


X: In the write up that you’ve shared you express an interest in “structures” which you name largely as material objects that intersect with the body in a repetitive way. You don’t specifically mention the body, but the body is everywhere in this installation. It lurks in places that it is implied that it would go (but isn’t), in oversized intestines sewn out of glistening fabric, in the gloves for arms of different lengths, in a two dimensional leg, a spleen casually hanging out in the corner.  In the comedy of a very stretchy, yet actually totally stiff and solid sock. We make the object and then the object makes us? Or is it possible that human bodies are objects in dialogue with other objects? Are there bodies in the window? Sorry if my first question is delving too straight into the abyss of the questions of philosophical materialism. 


L: Yes, we make objects so objects make us. And then there is the question of distinction between what is a body and what is an object. I am not sure where that distinction lies. I am interested in their mutual constitution and how, because of this constant interplay back and forth, the line between bodies and objects does shift around and blur.
One of my favorite experiences with the window installation was when I was inside working on it. I took my time in there, placing things, trying different ideas, cleaning, erasing or leaving traces of previous configurations. It is a narrow space and the objects are odd so I was crouching under, leaning with and reaching around the work. One of these days a man walked by and stopped and looked for a long time. At a certain point I realized he was trying to get my attention so I leaned toward the glass to hear him. He said “I didn’t think you were human!”  He was so excited about this, that I actually was human. I don’t want to presume too much about him but he didn’t seem like the type of person that spends a lot of time with art-making, still, he totally dug in. I felt very rewarded by his experience of the work. The objects insinuate the human and become body-like to such a degree that among them my own body was in question. Also he gave me two thumbs up, so that was nice.

X: The materials and their shapes, except for when glaringly not, are of another time: wood, cotton, metal, grey paint. These are juxtaposed with a few weird and resiny moments. Safety orange. A green rubber glove.  It seems that there is a conversation about history, industry, and domesticity hovering on the edges, peering out of the mirrors. How did you go about selecting materials? Colors? 

L: The work is new so I am still sorting some of this out and adapting. I am interested in what you call the resiny moments. Some colors and pieces become muted backdrops for stickier punctuations. But much of the pallet is influenced by clothing that relates to gender and labor. I am attracted to grey work-gear, uniforms, canvas, denim, the industrial green of welding jackets and dishwashing gloves. I have been doing research on button down shirts and their white, blue or pink collar designations, while also looking at feminized blouse variations where both the hues and shapes shift slightly. These research projects influence a base of colors but then I am adding in the fleshier, saturated, and tackier stuff —trying to find colors and textures for interiors and feelings. The industrial safety orange I have selected verges on a hot pink, and that is intentional, it moves from an outside to an inside feeling.


A lot of the wood components are repurposed from discarded furniture that has spilled out of actual homes onto the street. I do a lot of cutting, carving, and rejoining to make what I want, but there are histories of previous domestic lives in there.
I am also remembering the department stores and odd window displays leftover from a crumbled era of Providence that I observed living here in the ‘90s and early ‘00s. I know you remember the Men’s stores downtown with mannequins in pseudo-prosperous scenarios, the medical apparatus office on Atwells Ave, and the uniform store that also sold lingerie. I’ve observed residual window displays in other post-industrial towns and cities. They felt obsolete, lagging behind the current thrust of capitalism, but they indicated trace lines of our current constructions.


X: The majority of the objects at first glance could pass for something in an austere New England house in the early days of the industrial revolution. What do the historical moments that you’re playing with want to tell us about bodies in the here and now? 


L: There is actually a bit of vector drawing, laser-cutting, 3d printing, and vacuum forming embedded in the processes of these objects, but like you say overall there is a bizarrely Amish vibe. Marshall McLuhan talked about how we tend to analyze the technology that is behind us and that current technology is like the air we breathe. Technology is now changing so rapidly that people and theorists have had to pick up the pace and we reflect more immediately on our shifting experiences. But still we have a tendency to review, and often revive, what is 20-30 years behind us. So why am I also looking back 100 years? I am intrigued by antique objects that I encounter but do not know their purpose. I get to view them just as form and infer possible relationships. I love ergonomic tools and prosthetics that were handmade from materials like wood and metal— I see the immediate circle of the body making and extending the body. There are currently massive technological shifts and important philosophical questions about where bodies begin and end, but the trajectory started long ago.


X: Over the course of installation, you re-arranged things in the window. What draws you to rearranging objects? What do you learn from moving things around? How often do you rearrange the furniture in the place where you live or work? 


L: I don’t see any one of the objects as being its own individual finished sculpture; each thing feels like it is in a state of becoming and is a part of a larger whole. Many parts nest or plug into other parts, and many have multiple ways of interacting. In the making process I might make one form in relationship to a specific component but then displace it. The window installation has been a time for me to gather all these fragments into the collectivity I imagined, but I never imagined that collectivity as static, finished or clearly defined. I wanted to use the time in the window partly as creative studio time—to try out, observe and feel these shifts.
I am inspired by affect theory and particularly the writing and thinking of Sara Ahmed, how she conceives of bodies as extending and compressing in the presence of objects, how objects contain accumulated history and culture, how repeated gestures shape and organize bodies. I wanted to physically be in the space with the objects for a sustained time, to allow for the possibility I mentioned earlier where my body became part of the installation. I did not want to do an exhibitionist performance, but I wanted to allow some of my physical labor to surface alongside the objects.


The labor of my art practice reflects ideas I have about economies, everyday chores and care. Rearranging the installation also required cleaning and painting, so my body was not at rest in the space but was visibly at work—bending to satisfy the needs of the objects and other mundane tasks. I wore my denim coverall suit that has a similar hue and texture to some install components. I think of that suit as fairly androgynous but my labor could still be gendered—moving from construction or assembly to scrubbing the floor under a table. You brought up the domestic earlier. Domestic spaces, forms and practices consistently emerge in my projects as sites and experiences of work. It is one way to situate philosophical questions around labor and care. The processes and relational interdependencies of care-work are present in habitus, but in an ambiguous manner compared to some previous projects.


X: What the heck are the socks in the sock pile made of? Maybe that should have been the first question. 


L: The socks are made of dryer lint. I save my dryer lint, sort it by color and make paper pulp. The mold for the castings was made from socks that lost their mates. Loose lost socks. You know, the ones that lie around on the floor, left behind after the work is done? But eventually I have to pick them up. But sometimes I decide to just look at them. I have so many drawings of socks it’s absurd. I love the scene in Jan ┼ávankmajer’s Alice with the worming socks eating through the floor.


X: What’s your favorite object that you’ve encountered that was never intended to be appreciated as an art object?
What’s your favorite tool? 


L: Well yeah, I love those antique tools that have become obsolete and therefore abstract. These types of tools include specialty carving tools, unique shuttles, forms like shoe-horns (but for other parts of the body). One of these that I have and love is a porcelain vessel with a handle. It looks like an inverted bodily orifice. It is an ergonomic chamber pot, but it took me a little while to figure that out. It is also sort of shaped like a whale.



X: What’s the most interesting story that you’ve pieced together from a tool or built object. 
L: That’s a great question. I might use that question to develop a future project.


X: Has your love of tools affected your sense of gender identity? And if so, how do you think this plays out in your work?  

L: Hmmm.  Maybe it is worth mentioning that I was driven toward mastering certain tools because I was bothered by being left out of experiences due to socially assigned genders and roles. I have an early memory of working with my father and feeling frustrated by not being able to wield a hammer like him. That is not a problem anymore, I spent years hammering stuff and gaining proficiency in various fabrication and construction skills. These skills inform my work but those aspirations were from an early stage. I have stopped trying to measure up to ableist, masculinized ideals and try not to play into competition or reaffirm binaries. I do spend a lot of time thinking about feminized labor practices and their histories of feminization. Over the years I've been increasing my work in threads. Recently I’ve been experimenting with garment construction and weaving. I mostly wear clothing and shoes categorized for men but go to studio to sew muted pink ruffles. So perhaps my work is one outlet for varied gender performances and expressions.

X: You end your description of this installation with the question: I have been seeking the sites of leakage, splitting and overflow. What would the frameworks look like if they accepted these possibilities in advance?  There is something playful about this...like maybe the deconstructed fiddleback chairs hanging on the wall are grown up cousin’s of Chairry (from Pee-wee’s play house). Still asking questions about the possibilities of objects having agency and intentions, and being characters in their own right.  But without the overly obvious flopping arms and roving eyeballs.  Will we get to know the characters in this installation more? What will happen to them next? 


L: I was way into Pee-wee’s playhouse growing up, so thank you for helping me realize this influence. My work is rarely funny like ha-ha, but it is funny as in being almost familiar but odd, like feminist and queer. I would like my work to be funny ha-ha sometimes, to be able to reveal the complexity of the everyday and also offer joy. That silly joy occasionally happens in my work, but more often there is aestheticized somberness. More and more color has been building into my work over the years though.
Incidentally I have been using some of these objects to experiment with video and stop motion animation.  The vibe lingers in the surreal. I’ve been shooting in my studio but imagining an abandoned house, if you hear of one. I also intend to keep adding to the habitus collective, allowing for future additions and reconfigurations. I look forward to making things that can interact with bodies other than my own and in-person, in embodied space together.

The Storefront Window Gallery project is made possible in part by a grant from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, through an appropriation by the Rhode Island General Assembly and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.