Megan Geckler is a kick-ass installation artist whose work clearly speaks for itself, but despite that, I had to chat with her about it. Vibrant color, long lines http://megangeckler.com/ and soaring spaces are hallmarks of her installations. As I discovered while chatting with her, she has a painstaking process and great insight that lead to some wondrous installations.
“…I want to fill the viewer with a sense of wonder. Maybe catch them off guard a little bit, challenge their notion of what a work of art is and what it can be …”
MICHAEL: Hello Megan, Your work is inspiring. The materials, colors, light and overall installation environment are so well-executed. What's it like working in three dimensions? You seem to prefer this. Why?
MEGAN: Hi Michael! I've been waiting for this - thanks for hitting the ping pong ball over the net and thanks for the compliments!
Great question. Photography was my initial gateway into the arts and then I got into video, sculpture, and installation. I just feel like three-dimensional art is more experiential, you know? Viewers have the ability to walk around it, see it from more dimensions and perspectives than flat work (though, I do also make 2D work as well). In my installations, the planes of lines in space move in opposite directions when the viewer walks around them and it's a seemingly kinetic experience - like a giant 3D moiré pattern. I think of this as “the hook.” It's the thing that draws the viewer into the room, or toward the piece.
Execution is key. I like the interplay between something that looks like it might be digital, but is actually 100% handmade - so everything has to be really well made. There isn't any room for mistakes in my work. Inconsistent spacing or varying degrees of tension along the lines only defeats my overall goal. So many people only see my work online and (some) think that it's not truly real, just an illusion. We live in a very interesting time where photorealistic special effects, renderings and other technology have gotten to a point where we can truly create a trompe l'oeil, but I want people to know that my work is indeed handmade with the help of a team of amazing assistants.
So, I take thousands of photographs during the creation of these works that are compiled into time-lapse videos that are edited to soundtracks by my husband. Fun fact - the titles of all of my artworks are taken from song lyrics, so if you're watching one of our time-lapse videos - the soundtrack contains the title of the artwork. The one I'm working on right now is called “Let's Forget Has Torn Me Apart.” It's a line from Sonic Youth's song Pattern Recognition.
MICHAEL: Looking at your some of your work online, I get the feeling that air and wind may be the unpredictable elements - unless you use electric fans - that really make the works sing. No?
MEGAN: With the majority of the flagging tape pieces, yes - wind is kind of our nemesis - at least when we're trying to keep the lines straight and taut. But with other works like “Lay It Down and Start Up (skylight), where the strands are suspended above and drape freely downward, wind activates the flagging tape and makes it dance. The Creative Artists Agency leaves the nearby doors open to the Annenberg Plaza during most events and the effect of the wind currents on the artwork is positively magical.
With current and recent projects, I have been encouraged to make permanent work that is durable and maintenance-free. This has led me to begin working with different materials like technographic interlayer or ceramic inks between panes of architectural-grade glass, custom-dyed and fire-retarded ropes, sublimated dye on aluminum panels and painted metal among other things. The aesthetic is the same, but the lifespan of the artworks is exponentially longer, if not forever. Technology is helping artworks stand the test of time and it's a truly exciting time to be an artist.
MICHAEL: Okay, here's my thing though. Don't you ever freak out when you hear bad weather reports like hurricanes or snow storms? I mean, if I installed an outdoor installation or public art fixture and a snow storm came the next month, I'd be pissed.
MEGAN: I totally understand your concerns and worrying is a big part of doing anything large-scale and ambitious. However, part of the process of making a large-scale exterior artwork is to access the worst-case scenario weather conditions, do sun studies, and then select materials that exceed those conditions. Because public art is on display for such a long time, a maintenance and material durability study is standard protocol. In addition to that, if the piece is freestanding, suspended or hanging off a building and not a 1:1 replacement for architectural materials, structural engineers are consulted and a stamped complete drawing set is submitted to the client during the planning stages of the project.
MICHAEL: That’s great to know.
MEGAN: I don't use the flagging tape outside except for temporary works. It isn't meant to withstand the elements for long periods of time. Instead, I propose using materials that can offer a similar aesthetic, but will last a lifetime. It's a tricky thing to do, because most paints will chalk and fade over time, most printed materials will flake, fade, lose adhesion, etc. So making sure that you are doing your research and asking vendors, suppliers and fabricators direct and specific questions is a large part of the process. I think we've all seen examples of artworks that are not standing the test of time, but are still on display. I don't want that to happen to my work.
MICHAEL: How do you know when an installation or work is finished?
MEGAN: Because we have limited time to make the work on site and it requires a lot of planning and physical labor, I design all of the pieces in CAD (computer aided design) programs. We start by making the site/space so that I can “walk or fly through” over and over again and see it from all angles, essentially hanging out in there and doing an extended site visit. Sometimes I am lucky and I get to do a physical site-visit, but the majority of these works are created with floor plans and supplied photographs of the space. Many of the places that I install my work in cannot afford to fly me out for a walk through, so we do the best we can remotely.
MEGAN: Once I have an idea of what I want to do - we then use Rhino and Illustrator. I play around just like any artist, trying to figure out what to make - all of the false starts, versions, trials and errors are the iterations that the installation goes through. Then, once I settle on a version of the installation, we will render it from different angles and share those views, and sometimes a fly through with the gallery/ museum/client. Then, they provide feedback or guidance and we work forward from there until it's ready to go into the working diagram and pre-production stages.
MEGAN: The working diagrams are used by our installation crew - they are very detailed and easy to read. We want to spend the majority of our time on site doing the actual manual labor and not trying to figure out what goes where. That is not to say that I don't decide to make major changes on site, but usually most of that is figured out before we even arrive.
The working diagrams and CAD drawings help us to figure out how much material to order, which tools, what type, and how many scissor lifts, how many people we will need, and other factors. Usually, we can estimate down to the foot how much lumber, flagging tape, pieces of hardware, gallons of paint, etc., we will need, but I always add a contingency to that and then we move forward from there.
MICHAEL: And so …
MEGAN: So, how do I know when it's finished? Just like any artist, I look at the work and make a decision to stop adding or editing. If something happens along the way during installation and I wish I had made a different decision, or want to radically change my installation plan, I consult with the curator or client. If there is no curator or client, I do what I want. Otherwise, it's a group decision. Sometimes those happy accidents get tucked away for future installations.
MICHAEL: Shifting gears here … What do you think about the contemporary art world/art market and how they function today? Dead, famous artists still rule while many living artists continue to struggle.
MEGAN: I'm probably not the best person to ask about the art market. I have never had gallery representation and my work is rarely for sale. The majority of my studio revenue comes from licensing custom work to companies and corporations. These clients find me through my website, art and design blog posts, Google searches and other social media channels. That money is then used to finance my fine artwork installations in galleries and museums as well as our day to day studio activities.
MICHAEL: Wow, good for you.
MEGAN: As most of my friends feel that gallery representation is paramount, I do understand the struggle. Galleries bring attention to artists' work via exhibitions and fairs, they liaison with curators and critics, and place their artists' work in collectors' homes and museums. I understand how they help artists. It's just that with large-scale (mostly ephemeral) installation work, it's a very hard sell for a gallery. When I decided to be an installation artist, I knew that unless I changed my work to be more sales-friendly, I probably wouldn't operate solely within the gallery paradigm.
MICHAEL: Sad but true.
MEGAN: It's an interesting thing to watch, the shifting that is happening between the traditional model of the gallery and the DIY approach of using social media and other outlets to share (and sell) artworks. There seems to be a lot of friction between these worlds. My friends with galleries look down on artists who operate outside the system, words like “sell out” or “commercial sales” are used to polarize.
MICHAEL: They most certainly are.
MEGAN: My friends who operate outside the gallery system think that sharing a percentage with a gallery is unnecessary. When an artist makes enough independent sales, often times a gallery will scoop them up and expose their work to a whole new audience and reboot their careers so to speak. After all, it's a market and just like any other market, it operates on supply and demand.
I think sales in general are a good thing - they help keep artists in their studios making work. The struggle to constantly be making new work is hard if you don't have money to create it and that is something that can paralyze artists. It's also really hard when artists are making new work, but the gallery just can't sell it. This can also be very hard for artists, to feel like they are making important work and to not have the support of sales to keep that work going.
MICHAEL: Yes, I hear that story over and over.
MEGAN: In a way, I think that it's been freeing for me, not having a gallery. I do what I want and make all of the decisions. In another way, I see how wonderful the relationship can be between artists and galleries. It can be symbiotic and both parties can prosper. But I've also seen it turn for the worse and trap artists in a particular aesthetic that is driven solely by sales. Artists can be asked by their galleries to continue making a certain kind of work, instead of another type of art they would rather be making, simply because of sales. And if those sales are very, very good and the demand is high, they can become slaves to the market. On the flip side, if an artist's work isn't selling, they don't get shows, without shows they can't get reviews, and the gallery usually ends up letting them go. It's a tricky line to walk.
I don't truly understand it. I'm an outsider looking in and these are just some of the observations that I have had over the years. I have begun to make work that is sales-friendly (i.e. - portable and permanent), and I have been talking with a few galleries. Who knows, perhaps solo gallery shows, fairs, and other things will come my way and my perspective will change and I'll gain more understanding. Only time will tell...
MICHAEL: Finally Megan, what's the message behind your work? What do you want people to take away from it?
MEGAN: Ideally, it would be different things for different viewers. I would like to believe that my work is very accessible - that anyone, regardless of age or familiarity with the canon of art, might come across my work and forget for just a second that they are looking at art - and instead experience it as an unexpected riot of color and geometry.
Viewers who are familiar with graphic mathematical forms might appreciate the symmetry and order that comes from viewing those progressions three dimensionally, arising through the placement of layers, points, and sequences.
And to the more seasoned viewer, I hope that they see the influences in the work and the lineage upon which it is based: Minimalism, the use of geometric abstraction and mass-produced industrial plastics chosen for their physical properties; OpArt, the “hook” or spectacle nature of my work, all at once mesmerizing, disorienting and simultaneously calming when you allow yourself to zone out and enjoy the buzz. Light and Space, as the translucency of the material changes based on the viewer's self-guided exploration and the transitions between natural and artificial light. Painting and drawing in the luminosity of the surfaces, layers of color across the visible plane, as well as the residue of a physical movement that leaves a mark behind. Basic design principles, in the arrangement of layers of shapes, compositions and use of focal points guiding the eye around the space and encouraging exploration by the viewer. And lastly, our digital age - experienced through technology, pixels, surrounded by an overwhelming abundance of information and data.
Mostly, I want to fill the viewer with a sense of wonder. Maybe catch them off guard a little bit, challenge their notion of what a work of art is and what it can be. Perhaps cause them to ask themselves, “What would you call a drawing when it is spatial or a painting when paint isn't the material, but the experience is similar?” If the viewer leaves with more questions than when they entered the space, then I've done my job.
I want them to take an experience away. Maybe they leave the gallery or museum and try to explain that experience to someone else and wonder - if a plane is exploring light and luminosity, color and texture, is it a painting no matter what the material is? Maybe yes, maybe no. We tend to default to these terms, but they don't mean the same thing as they used to. I want to challenge those pre-existing notions of what an art material is, what art can be, and what it rubs up against along those rough edges.
In art speak, I'm attempting to create a phenomenological experience for the viewer that ties together painting, sculpture, design, craft, and the architectural forms that I utilize. This experience challenges artistic categories, established material meanings, and leaves us only asking more questions.
MICHAEL: Fantastic. Megan, I could ask more questions, but let’s end it here. Very nice chat.
MEGAN: Okay. Awesome.
Check out Megan Geckler at http://megangeckler.com/.