Lynne Harlow‘s works exist only when a space exists. Her works expand on the physical architecture of the space they are in, defining both the negative and positive. The creative process of reduction challenges Harlow to ask “How little is enough?” Instead of an unnecessary addition of objects, Harlow allows for the audience to become more informed of their environment through communicating and challenging them to give the space meaning through personal engagement and interactions. Her work is made up of physically dependent materials such as light, fabric, vinyl, and paint that exist only for that moment of exhibition. Due to the temporal nature of each creation, Harlow relies on the sharing of information through documentation such as photography, video, and viewer communication from interactions with spaces.
Can you tell me a little bit about how you became involved in making art?
As a teen I was equally interested in making art and studying art history. They felt inseparable to me so I pursued both in college, graduating with a double major in art history and studio art. It wasn’t until later, while working at The Museum of Modern Art and studying at the Art Students League, that I chose to prioritize making and allow my interest in art history to support and guide me.
That’s amazing to have that opportunity at the Art Students League. Can you share with me a little bit about your experience and what you took away from the artists who instructed you?
The Art Students League has such a fascinating history and it continues to be a fantastic resource for artists in New York. I had studied printmaking in college and was interested in continuing to make lithographs but needed to find access to a print facilities. The ASL has a great litho studio and is quite close to MoMA, where I was working at the time. Michael Pellettieri, the printmaking instructor, ran the lithography and etching classes as open studio time and would work with each of us individually on whatever technical concerns we were facing. I had a lot of freedom to work and experiment there.
Everything you’ve created seems to be very definitive of space. Would you say your work relies on the architectural structure that it occupies?
All of my installation work is directly related to its surroundings and, yes, in many instances the pieces rely completely on the architecture of the site. There’s a physical reliance because often my materials – things like vinyl, fabric, light – don’t have internal supports and need to be anchored to ceilings and walls. Beyond that, the installations respond to the spaces they occupy by engaging with the particular details of a given location. The work is visually reliant on the conversation that emerges between those existing details and the elements I introduce.
Have you ever been faced with an exhibition space that might have challenged your work?
I sure have. And those spaces are the best to work in. One site that was especially challenging and that really expanded my work is Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Oaxaca (MACO) in Oaxaca, Mexico. I was invited to make a piece in a large courtyard with expansive white walls, intense light and a lot of open space. The challenge, as I perceived it, was finding a way to engage all that space without materially filling it. The installation that emerged, Measuring a Summer’s Day, used vibrant color to respond to the difficult characteristics of the space and the intensity of the sun. Those challenges pushed me to reconsider my willingness to leave a lot of empty space, my sense of what is enough.
What comes first in your artistic process – the gallery space or the work itself?
For my installations, the gallery space almost always comes first. Going back to an earlier question, the works tend to be physically and visually reliant on their locations so the spaces indicate what might be possible in each piece. That said, I do sometimes develop installation pieces that I think of as site-reliant rather than site-specific, and those pieces can be adapted and presented at varied locations.
Why are your media important to you?
The materials I work with tend to be sheer, light weight and extremely versatile. And really good looking. I love their inherent visual characteristics and try to manipulate them as little as possible so they can just work their own magic. I find that to be equally true of silk chiffon, commercial Plexiglas and aluminum screen. I like to set up a situation where the material’s extraordinary properties do all the work.
Your work has a very unique and personal interaction with viewers that can really only be experienced within its designated space. What happens to the artwork after it is removed from its space?
If my installation is site-specific, it is dismantled at the end of the exhibition and will not be presented again. So it’s really important to document such pieces as thoroughly as possible through photographs as well as video and sound recording when appropriate. But that documentation functions only as a record. It isn’t intended to reproduce the experience of interacting with the piece. The sensation of interacting with the work is distinct and must be experienced in person.
For installations that aren’t site-specific, I present them in varied settings and, like any work of art that is presented in more than one place, they are always slightly influenced and changed by their surroundings.
How does this affect your studio space? Is your space typically used for maintaining special materials for future installations? Do you use the space to conceptualize your work, or does that typically all take place in its potential exhibition space?
I have a studio space that’s perfect for testing out colors, materials and arrangements that later become elements of site-specific pieces, as well as developing and planning the large pieces. I also use the studio for making small pieces that isolate and emphasize specific components of the large scale work.
What sort of experience are you hoping for viewers to share with your work?
At the heart of the work I think there’s always a conflict: visually gratifying color and materials in a presentation that feels somewhat confounding or incomplete. If my work is successful, its rigor and exuberance will persuade a viewer to trust my reductive language. The process of reduction is intended as an act of generosity. It’s an appealing contradiction because it prompts one to reconsider the concept of abundance and the nature of giving.
Since your work exists in multiple dimensions, most of the time more than two, would you say that there then is an elimination of a barrier between viewer and work?
Complete elimination of that barrier. If you’re in the room, you’re in the work.
Does your work define the space, or does human involvement with your work define the space?
It’s the human interaction that makes it relevant. All of my installations exist to have participants in them; otherwise they’re incomplete.
Some of your work involves live musician performances – can you explain the role of this with your work, and then the role of viewers in the presence of the performances?
I’m really curious about the intersection of color and music, and how the act of listening alters the way we see. I first explored the relationship by pairing visual elements with original music recordings. The next step was to incorporate live performance. I started thinking about the extremely visual nature of live music performance. No matter what type of music is being performed, there is an astonishing array of visual information, from the musicians and their instruments to the lights, stage and venue. Tangerine, performed in 2012, focused on the visual vocabulary of a rock show and invited viewers to be both an art and music audience simultaneously.
Last modified: July 3, 2015