Liz McCarthy is an artist and curator based out of Chicago. Her work combines photography, sculpture, and performance to explore elements of perceptual phenomenon. She received her B.F.A. from the University of North Carolina at Asheville. Her work is regularly exhibited in Chicago and throughout the Midwest. She has been honored with fellowship support from the Joan Mitchell Foundation, Illinois Arts Council, and Chicago’s Department of Tourism, and has participated as Artist-in-Residence as Atlantic Center for the Arts, ACRE, High Concept Laboratories, and Banff Centre. She will begin the UIC Studio Arts Graduate Program in the Fall of 2015.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do. I currently call Chicago my home, more specifically in the Pilsen neighborhood where I live with my sweetheart. I spent most of my childhood getting passed back and forth between the suburbs of Chicago and North Carolina. I think I thrived off this dual upbringing of suburban family versus New Age Dad. As a young adult I went to the mountains of North Carolina to go to college and play in the woods. I moved back to Chicago six years ago to help start an artist collective and gallery called Roxaboxen Exhibitions, which I co-directed for three years. Since then, I continue to keep my hands in various curatorial projects, show my work periodically around the Midwest. I decided recently I should maybe get an MFA since that seems to be a thing people do. I am both nervous and excited about this decision. I see going back to school as a real welcome surrender of my ego, and time to super concentrate on my practice.
How did your interest in art begin? When I was in first grade living in Ithaca, my art teacher asked me to design the art brochure for our spring concert. I took this job very seriously, and did a series of drawings of my pet rat Couscous and my favorite food (ice cream). It was at that time I realized I was good at using images to communicate ideas about myself and my surroundings.
What are some recent, upcoming or current projects you are working on? I recently finished up a collaborative installation with Soo Shin called “if only a glimpse”. This opened May 23rd at OUTHAUS in Urbana, IL. My real art-baby right now is a long-term project I started in March at the Banff Residency. For “The Whistle Project,” I am making clay whistles based on primitive and ancient aerophones (wind instruments). I’m interested in inserting these objects into contemporary life by giving them away to a range of individuals. I ask the project participants to build a relationship with their whistle. Play it, hold it, mount it, place it, and respond to it. Hopefully encouraging them to incorporate this object into their personal routine. In six months, I will follow up with participants to collect their documentation and feedback. In the final culmination of this project, I am creating assemblages made from this documentation. I am also curating an exhibition series for the next year in Pilsen. This project is in the storefront window of an old butcher shop that now belongs to Bart and Miranda Winters (collaborators from Roxaboxen and band members of Melkbelly)…. This is in the pretty early stages of development.
If you had to explain your work to a stranger, what would you say? One time I was talking to a mathematician in an elevator, I asked him what kind of math he did, and he replied, “It’s complicated.” He asked what kind of art I did, and the only appropriate response was “It’s complicated.” That is the uniform response I have recently adopted for strangers.
If you hadn’t become an artist what do you think you’d be doing? According to my full astrological star chart reading, I am best suited to be in business, writing, or therapy. I suppose art could be seen as a combination of those. I toy with the idea of quitting art and becoming an astrological matchmaker (always game for a chart reading).
What are you listening to right now? I am currently self-sequestered on a farm in North Carolina to do some “thinking.” Right now I am listening to a squirrel in a tree, some birds singing, the river passing by, and a plane flying over me. I think it is important to take breaks from human noise.
What materials do you use in your work and what is your process like? I have a collection of materials and mediums that I return to, because I know them best: photography, drawing, ceramics, wood, and most recently video. My work explores concepts, and I choose medium by what seems to be appropriate to the idea. My favorite concept right now: Object Numinosity. Numinous is a word Karl Jung picked up and applied in his writings. The original use was related to the divine or spiritual objects. The way Jung used it was more related to a more supernatural charge that objects take on through use and psychic intention. I consider my whistles to be containers for this charge. I am making them by hand from clay with intention, and giving them away for other people to expand upon their meaning and context. The more the object is used, the more it forms its numinosity.
What is one of the bigger challenges you and/or other artists are struggling with these days and how do you see it developing? Living in Chicago….. I have heard it said: “Chicago is a good place for an artist to cut their teeth, but then you should leave.” The art world has become so big, I think right now regionalism has become very important to sustain diversity in art making, and to encourage the authentic personality of a region. I like to think that Chicago has the sustainability for an art practice and market, but it needs stronger encouragement for emerging practices. We need the Midwest collectors to be investing in the Midwest artists and culture. I have decided to commit myself for another few years and see if it works.
What artists are you interested in right now? I have so many peers making amazing work in Chicago… It is hard to name them all. But in terms of artists, I don’t know her, but I admire Shana Moulton, Samara Golden, and Xaviera Simmons. Just to name a few.
Tell us a joke. My Mom has a joke for every month. This is the May joke:
Q: What do you call a small mother?
What is your snack/beverage of choice when working in your studio? Water with a shot of apple-cider vinegar.