ANTE mag open call winner Elizabeth Riley explores a multitude of forms through her expansive artistic practice, with interlapping processes informing her video and multimedia artworks. She explores the ‘mixed reality’ that we inhabit and the duality we experience as citizens of both a physical reality and our ever-evolving digital environments. We sat down with Elizabeth for insights into her current practice, what has informed her recent work and her plans and aspirations for the future.
ANTE. In works such as “Factory Fresh” from your Video Media Art series, you translate digital video stills into large scale, 3-D installations. How do you hope these abstractions translate for the viewer at this large scale and removed from these stills’ original context?
Elizabeth Riley. Earlier on in my use of digital media, I used video stills with a program in mind, using every video still – that is, literally thousands of inkjet-printed video stills from a short video – translating a moving image, immaterial video into a material expression. Gradually, I’ve used the video stills more freely, taking advantage of the power of computer processing to further manipulate the video stills, and to make diverse choices in regard to coloring and size. “Factory Fresh” had a unique origin, in that it was made for a show at Edison Price Lighting Gallery, where artists were invited to use metal remnants from the lighting fixture manufacturing process to make art. As video is light and motion, the use of the material video stills, printed on paper and fabric, in this setting, along with laser cut metal sheets with reflective surfaces, worked to integrate, and demonstrate different aspects of “light” and materiality. This was a fun piece to make. It had to be made quickly, as I came off another project, so I used the leftover inkjet-printed paper and fabric from a prior project. As an artist there was happiness in the patchwork effect of the combination, something a little out of my control, though the materials were earlier originated by me. Finding the structure to support the moment, the possibility of the exploration, the intentionality of the work, and the materials at hand, was the activity of making the piece.
ANTE. Can you tell us more about the genesis of the Video Media Art series and its evolution over time?
ER. Mind/body divide issues have been a significant area of exploration for artists over the generations. I see the immateriality of digital/virtual in relationship to material realities, somewhat mirroring a contemporary version of this, wherein digital/virtual is a stand-in for the “immaterial” reaches of the mind, in stasis, or in the direction of the future. As indicated above, I became involved with inkjet-printed digital media after taking up video as an extension of installation. After a few years of working with video, including long hours of editing on the computer, I began missing working with “real” materials, and this was the genesis of the wall works, installations and tabletop cityscapes made from video stills, which on occasion incorporated live video. I began to realize my choice of materials was reflective of, and addressed, our contemporary reality – that is, the “mixed reality,” of living between physical and digital/virtual contexts. While for me, making art is gravely serious and an act of devotion, the relationship between the immateriality of video, either as a projection or screen-based, and as a material embodiment, gave me much to play with, wherein play connotes a delight in the incongruous, and in ready paradox, and in new solutions. My first works were long wraps of consecutive video stills, inkjet-printed on paper, utilizing every video still from one of my short videos. As exhibition opportunities appeared I improvised on this initial format, making site-specific installations, using the videos stills in a variety of ways, sometimes variously configuring many extended printouts, 8 ft long and more, other times collaging works from a wealth of torn and shaped leftover materials. I’ve continued, also, to experiment with making discrete wall works. These at first were three dimensional, while during the pandemic, I began working in two dimensions, which I’ve found a surprising rich area to mine.
ANTE. You note one aim for these works – from your artist statement – is to move ‘toward forming an embodiment of the present and the future’?
ER. Early on in my art practice, I thought of art as a language, which being different from everyday language offered the chance to explore and speak from another space, less readily subject to cultural conditioning. While personally I feel I’m genetically wired to be optimistic about the future, culturally and experientially this embrace of the future also has to do with growing up in a time when societal constraints were placed on girls and women. This frustration made me look toward a future where this burden and limitation had been eased, and with time overthrown. In addition, I believe that our thoughts in most contexts contain an anticipation of the future, that that’s a component of the mental space of being a thinking human being. Along with our thoughts most of our actions have an anticipatory element that reaches into the future. Many people have had the experience when dwelling on a problem over time, one day an answer for the present and the future appears without explicitly putting 2 and 2 together in the moment. So to say that my aim for my art is to move ‘toward forming an embodiment of the present and the future,’ I mean this literally. I have spent a lifetime as a human, and as an artist, putting 2 and 2 together and my art is my personal answer.
ANTE. Can you tell us what you’re working on and what you have coming up in your practice?
ER. My dear partner of many years died in early January 2022, and I’m remembering and mourning him. I loved and respected his art, and it feels good to recollect that he was happy for me, and supportive, when I undertook a new project or completed a body of meaningful new work. A few days after his passing I was invited to be one of the participants in Norte Maar’s “CounterPointe: Women Choreographers and their Collaborations with Artists,” which was an uplifting experience. The physicality of dance seemingly comes from a completely different place than art, and in such an engaging way, yet there are many crossovers as to sources and one’s humanity. I contributed elements from an earlier participatory piece, “City Remix,” of 9 ft long inkjet prints of video stills on paper, fabric and clear film, hung over easily moveable racks on wheels. These, in combination with Eryn Renee Young’s terrific choreography and collaboration, became the dance, “Origin Forward.” The performance weekend in mid-March at the Mark O’Donnell Theater of eight collaborative pairings between choreographers and artists was a celebration, and during this time of personal grieving, I’m grateful for this reaffirmation of the power of art and community to stimulate and heal. Presently, I’m returning to my studio practice by locating where I left off at the end of 2021, in working on new small pieces for an upcoming spring benefit. I also have a three-dimensional wall work, “Nude Traversing the Future,” up in an April exhibition in a Harlem brownstone, curated by Art Lives Here.