Kristin McIver: Language as a Material

Kristin McIver’s work uses language as a material to respond to the impact of digital media and advertising on identity. fluoro spoke with the Australian artist about the intricacies of language and the fusion of subject and medium.

McIver’s vibrant text and neon works have visual appeal due to their bold use of typography. Her aesthetics are influenced by the legacy of text based artists such as Barbara Krueger, Jenny Holzer, John Baldessari and Lawrence Weiner, who McIver sees as masters of appropriation and using language-as-art. However, the inherent messages of McIver’s work comment on contemporary society, challenging the way that we interact with advertising and the relationship to technology.

(f) Why did you decide to explore your messages through type?

Language is just one of many signs that we use to communicate a given message, and one that advertisers use to great effect to initiate an emotional response in consumers. I am attracted to words I encounter within advertising that inspire aspiration, or play on innate fears. Text has the capacity – when removed from its original context – to subvert a given message, or highlight the absurdity of advertised idealism. When combined with visual media such as neon, or placed within an installation or an unexpected location, text extends beyond its role as written language to a hybrid form of visual communication.

(f) What role does light play in your work?

Light is described by philosopher Jacques Derrida as “the precondition of life, seeing and knowing”. His observation potentially explains humankind’s innate attraction to light, it’s being fundamental to our very existence.

The use of illumination in my work serves as a device to seduce the viewer (as in advertising), before exposing them to the manufactured idealism. Lifeless III, for example, utilises a highly decorative, over the top neon font, whose intense illumination bedazzles the viewer and belies the “ordinary” message that the text actually conveys. The light shed by the neon tube also causes the artwork to extend beyond its physical boundaries, altering the space it occupies.

(f) Is art ever a commodity?

Art is most definitely a commodity when viewed from the perspective of someone buying or selling art. As such, art is subject to the same market forces as any other commodity – particularly in the secondary market, where prices often soar into the millions, and trends come and go. Unfortunately the art market is not regulated like other economic markets, and is therefore subject to manipulation by the major stakeholders.

As an artist I don’t concern myself with the business side of things when creating work, as I don’t wish to compromise the integrity of the artwork. My primary consideration is the idea, the artwork and the viewer’s experience.

(f) What do you hope viewers experience by becoming part of ʻSitting Pieceʼ?

I hope that by engaging with the work, the viewer is reminded of their integral role within the consumer cycle. Sitting Piece does not function as an artwork until the viewer engages as propositioned by the neon phrase. Once they “sit and look”, they become both subject and medium within the work. In doing so, they exist within the work in the same way that a consumer is an essential and complicit part of the production cycle. In the digital age, this concept is even more pervasive as we are constantly connected to the web via our devices to form an information loop; in the information economy we feed the market and it feeds us.

(f) How does your work relate to the emergence of the “analogue and digital” new contemporary art movement you mentioned?

Digital information underlies almost every aspect of our lived experience, often without declaring itself; within architecture, social interactions, even shaping our world through genetic engineering. In the art world digital media has of course had an impact, in the same way photography impacted painting in the 19th century. Now that the initial fuss has died down, artists are utilising technology and ideas to create works that reference digital aspects of our life, but are not necessarily represented in digital form. My works such as Thought Piece and Sitting Piece refer to digital media’s impact on identity, through physical artworks that exist in space, and rely on viewer participation.

McIver will travel to the USA this year for a three-month residency in New York, where she hopes to create a series of public artwork interventions. These public works will take the subtle form of artworks within retail environments and more prominent neon pieces in shop windows. McIver will also partake in the Vancouver Biennale in August 2014, creating a text-based public work exploring the Biennale’s theme ‘Open Borders / Crossroads’.

McIver’s pieces will be on display at Art Stage Singapore presented by James Makin Gallery from Thursday 16 – Sunday 19 January 2014 in Marina Bay Singapore.

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