Thea Lanzisero is a fantastic artist who specializes in public art installations and sculpture. Her work www.TheaLanzisero.com centers on nature and the natural world. She seems driven by a desire to connect the public to art every day. She’s also a brilliant thinker. Read on and see for yourself…
“People involved in the art world seek out the art … but the audience in a public venue is not schooled in the vernacular of “art world speak” and concepts. Work should be conveyed in a way in which it can be understood on the surface as well as on deeper levels …”
MICHAEL: Hi Thea. You know, I think that you seem to be more committed to public installation art than any artist I've seen. Your work is so lovingly suited to public venues. Why do you do this?
THEA: Hi Michael. Thanks for the interview. You are right. I'm drawn to the idea of a combined visual and physical dialogue with the public. I'm interested in how structures and space create a place for interaction. I'm more interested in being outside as opposed to inside. Maybe it's a way to create daily rituals with nature. I feel as if we as a collective species are losing our connection with the magic and mystery of the natural world - like it's being shed for a new skin. I want to create spaces or structures that might allow for a moment of pause.
MICHAEL: Why do you think we're losing our connection with the natural world? What's happening?
THEA: Our obsession with all things digital and our intimacy with our personal devices. It's almost laughable now to see groups of people out together, all busily communicating individually on their devices. I'm one of them! Twitter, Facebook, texting, Pinterest, blogging, Instagram and on and on. I see a future where we will actually have our brains plugged into these devices. Gives me chills! Don't get me wrong, I think technology is awesome. I just think we need to step back and see it and be aware of how we are evolving. The natural world in turn is getting over polluted because we are not paying attention. We are occupied. We will have a hard time existing on this planet - we need the natural world, like it or not. Our food, water and air all tainted beyond what can be easily fixed while we are busily, happily, joyfully engrossed in our internet worlds ... Hahaha! I'm actually an optimist - so I create things to bridge us back to thinking about ourselves in the space - the actual physical space of our environment. The joy of air, the wind, bird calls, the warm sun, the rain...
MICHAEL: You actually use things like dirt, grass and things straight from nature. It must be fun to display these installations in the city, No? Is there any risk involved?
THEA: There is always a risk involved in outdoor work, but I haven’t encountered any real problems. I think about securing materials properly so no one can get injured and to minimize inspiration to vandalize. When people are allowed to interact, I find this surpasses the need to harm. I am thinking more about public works that are also permanent and this is part of that responsibility.
MICHAEL: Is there a different audience for public art as compared to - let's say - art shown in galleries?
THEA: Yes, there’s definitely a different audience for public work. People view the work in their everyday environment, on their way to and from work, going out with friends- a happenstance for the most part. People involved in the art world seek out the art, and that too is important, but the audience in a public venue is not schooled in the vernacular of art world speak and concepts. Work should be conveyed in a way in which it can be understood on the surface as well as on deeper levels - if you want to look, think and experience.
MICHAEL: "...the vernacular of art world speak..." Does that really help anyone?
THEA: Who am I to know? I prefer simple words and getting straight to the point about things, but it's there and it's part of the world in which I’m involved. I see it as a kind of poetry sometimes to take seriously, sometimes to laugh at, sometimes to bitch about - definitely an acquired taste.
MICHAEL: You seem to like using raw-type materials. Even your female-centric sculptural works seem to be about the materials. I can see your process, but the integrity of the material also remains, No?
THEA: I do have a lot of respect for material. It’s precious, even the mound of dirt. In some ways, I'm thinking about the materials like architecture. I want to use the right material to amplify what I want to say, often about opposing forces. Steel signifies strength, but it can be used in the right way to make organic voluptuous forms. Bamboo is soft and willowy, but it has the strength of steel used in the right configuration. Balance, yin-yang. When I was studying the works and writing of William Blake, it was all about that; the circular nature of everything. I guess that had a big influence.
MICHAEL: How does a project come about for you? What's the inspiration and procedure that follows? Do you put it down on paper first or take photos of things?
THEA: Ideas definitely evolve. I'm interested in certain subjects - especially ones related to the environment - so that's a connection to most projects. I've had dreams about some, but most of the ideas come when I'm meditating and spending time outdoors. Sometimes, they come while I'm working on another project. When these thoughts connect to things that happen during the next few days or weeks and are repeated in some way, then it becomes obvious that this will be the next thing. I definitely do drawings and actually work with video rather than still images, which is funny because I do have about 30,000 images saved on my computer. I just recently backed them up! They’re from after-the-fact documentation because many of my projects are temporary and that's all that remains. I guess I have certain themes I stay with and try to bind together: science, nature, ritual, connections of past to present, opposites in balance. I'm a big science fiction nerd so that also has an influence.
MICHAEL: Meditation and temporary projects. Hmm. What's the connection? What does meditation mean and do for you?
THEA: We are all temporary - everything. But we are all connected. The sooner this is digested, the quicker we can be better human beings with compassion for each other and the space around us. Being aware of our temporary body is good - we will die and what then? What have you done? What have you left? How have you used your senses while you had them? All questions I ask myself. Meditation is motivation- it creates an awareness of the energy around me, an alertness, a deeper connection to people and the planet, the here and now - learning how to be in the moment every moment. That's work!
MICHAEL: Yes it is. You know, I think art, writing and meditation are connected. They are powerful gateways to connecting to our true purpose. All people want to be creative yet at the same time, I think they think that there's something to be gained in the rat race. Consumer culture and all that. Your thoughts?
THEA: Nothing is to be gained in a race of rats. That being said, we live in a consumer culture and maybe we should consider ourselves lucky. What are the alternatives in the world right now? Or better yet, this is where we are here and now - make the best of it or figure out how to live in it or change it. Some people thrive on consumerism, some people thrive on making art about consumerism. I like the idea of bartering much better, but unfortunately, it's only possible in certain situations. I think I'm more interested in how living in a consumer environment affects us. What is being gained? Poverty is no fun and I'm lucky to survive above that line. But creating mass quantities of garbage (that's where most things end up or the by-product of making things end up) to pollute our environment in which we need live to be healthy to thrive as a culture is just backwards. Ah, that's the rub...
MICHAEL: How do you usually feel when the time comes to dismantle an installation? Wouldn't it be great if they could remain in place for at least several years?
THEA: Yes, I’d love to leave some of these installations in place and they would last for a few years or more! I haven’t yet had that opportunity. I think it would be great, especially after all of the work, logistics and people involved in producing them. I have mixed feelings when dismantling a piece but somehow cathartic; the other side of the energy and adrenaline from building a work in a time schedule. But the good part about that is in the slow, methodical dismantle, other ideas come. I’m actually thinking about doing something at Burning Man now... What a way to have a work completed!
MICHAEL: I often find myself thinking that the art world and how it functions is at odds with helping more people understand art and becoming fans and collectors. What do you think?
THEA: I had to think on this for a while because there is no simple answer. Maybe I'm getting into it too much, but as I see it, In the U.S., the goal is buying and selling, everything of course, not just art. I think outside the U.S., there is more respect for the learning process and the participation in art and creativity. I could be wrong. Our economy is one-sided though, where most of the money stays with the one percent and they are the art-buying public. So in that view, why should it be important to bother teaching about art to the worker bees busily keeping the engine of commerce going while struggling to pay their bills? In this thought process, art is a commodity for the wealthy and it’s not the role of the art market to help people understand because it is not necessary to the market. So, if it were not for public art and the intrinsic value of nurturing culture to uplift the rest of us, I think we would be lost. As we place more meaning and respect on the role that creativity plays in our daily lives, the more important it will become for people to value understanding and collecting. Yes, we are at odds. It's about money. But as cities and towns show the financial return on public art that’s creating commerce, this can be a powerful place for discussion, learning and interaction. So, I think this is one of the most important places to be.
MICHAEL: When did you first become aware of yourself as an artist?
THEA: When I was around four or five, I kept telling my mother this is what I will do when I grow up. I wrote her a letter telling her so with drawings of birds and trees. I guess I felt she wasn't responding to my idea. Being from a very large, middle class family, I realized later that this was considered impractical of course! I taught myself to paint after begging and pleading for materials. I remember taking a trip to Modells or Sears for art supplies. Both Vincent Price and Salvador Dali where rumored to have made appearances there. A friend of mine actually swears he witnessed it. Anyway, I made some god awful stuff at first -I had no clue about the material and eventually found mentors and teachers to guide me. I was around ten or eleven when I first saw Cubism. It was like getting struck by lightning! No going back from there! Anyway, my mom saved that letter I wrote and when I was leaving for art school she showed it to me.
MICHAEL: Nice. It must have been great to have parental support in the end. Even today, many if not most people still view art as a trivial, impractical pursuit that has no real relevance to everyday life. What do you think could or should be done about this?
THEA: I think about why we, out of all the species on the planet, make things that hold meaning or transport us at great speeds or build breathlessly high structures. This is why art is not trivial; we dream up these things. Without creativity and expression, these outrageous and beautiful things would not happen. When people see creativity from that direction, they see art in a new light. I think my part is to stay inspired and create and maybe that energy gets added to the collective unconscious.
MICHAEL: Thea, I could certainly ask you more questions, but your last answer is a fantastic way to end. Thanks for chatting!
THEA: Thanks Michael, It has been a pleasure chatting!
Check out Thea Lanzisero at www.TheaLanzisero.com.