I shop, because money and how we use it is a reflection of identity and self-image—but the concept can be played with. With my shopping list and budget I aim to critically discover what exactly is being offered to me– the consumer, and how my desires as a customer aid to construct an identity. As a customer, I search for gratification, browse various dimensions of material identity, try on perception and often return my purchases.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
I was born to a couple of hippie-ish folks on Long Island, NY, in 1980… so that was inspiring. I moved to Philadelphia in ‘98, participated in DIY art collectives and established alternative art spaces, performed in a few bands, Man Man /Gamelon; The Johnny Showcase and Lefty Lucy Cabaret; and Sri Slava, and collaborated with artists on various projects, events, and art. Space 1026 is where I found inspiration in performance art above other art forms. I worked with an amazing talented genius artist named Tom Ruth– we made performances, photos, videos, movies, and music together. We put our videos on Friendster and Youtube on 2003-4 and through those platforms we met other artists, including the artist Ryan Trecartin. Ryan ended up moving to Philadelphia and we all became friends. Ryan and I lived together and would spend countless hours on Chatroulette together performing for the people through my desktop lens from my bedroom.
Growing up in Philadelphia, an independent alternative artist in my 20’s, there was so much freedom to do and be and grow because anything goes there, in a good way. Philadelphia is an awesome nurturing creative environment, the experience there inspired me and granted me the economic flexibility and freedom to really get in touch the most complicated parts of who I simply am as an artist. I don’t feel I have to return to Philly to feel right post-grad school, though I love and cherish and miss that city very much. What I need as an artist is in my heart and I’m inspired anywhere and by all things.
The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
I moved to Buffalo in 2010 for graduate school and my first years there were lonely because it is a small city, I missed my friends, and Buffalo’s downtown isn’t walkable, so I’d go to the mall and large outdoor shopping complexes to be around people and walk around freely. I began to gravitate to big box stores because the identical architectures and aisles of familiar-lined shelves of big box stores were comforting, they were just like the big box stores in Philadelphia, Long Island, Miami, LA, and other places I had spent long periods of time. These stores became my studio, shopping became my art practice, “the customer” became my performance. These comforting yet displaced shopping experiences were the catalyst for a major body of work titled RETURN POLICY, in where I attempt to find in consumption a deeper sense of human frailty, how buying makes me who I imagine myself to be.
RETURN POLICY just scrapes the surface of the complicated illusion that everyday commerce constructs. I made a diverse collection of performances, photographs, web-based media, and games about identity, desire, a meta-consumer esthetic and conceptual strengths to isolate an environment where shopping for ideals and identity can be played with, laughed at, adored, and reconsidered all together.
What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
When I first started making art—like, feeling a sense of urgency and identity though completing works that I considered to be art—I felt like my heart was on fire, I was sure the art world would have a place for me. I didn’t follow rules, I made scenes, I was hard to love, I wanted to leave a good story in my wake, I wanted to be undeniable artist-ego, because I felt I was, and so I was. 10 years later, well– like 8 independent artist years and 3 academic years later, I discovered that I can tell you what it looks like but I can’t tell you what it is in a way that makes conventional sense, and that is my unique role. Blending in with the crowd, rather than sticking out has made my best work, and that has been the most unexpected thing I’ve learned about myself as an artist since I began the journey.
When do you find is the best time of day to make art?
Payday! I get ideas at the most random moments anytime of day, often the moment has something to do with sunlight or a shower, live music or reading, twirling my bangs and/or biting my lip.
Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?
I go shopping-as-art-practice whenever I have over $300 to play with. Making in-store work can be expensive and I don’t always get the $ back for a second try, also I am a terrible speller and have more misspelled receipts than correct ones due to my spelling problem.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
I think that is one of the most interesting things about my body of work, because when I get a new idea it’s exciting as if I’d just figured out how to get from wheel to airplane in a single invention, but really I’ve reinvented the wheel all together again and again… Kinda love saying the same thing over and over different ways for 12 years. My work, in terms of the actual product, like photography, sculpture, performance, drawing, video has changed but the concept has remained unintentionally constant.
Yes, I’ve mentioned a few guys however, the most impact on me as an artist has come directly from other women. The artist and friend Alice Alexandrescu has made an art out of helping others realize their own art practice, she calls it “Gut Flora”, or being an “Art Fluffer”. Artist, feminist performance artist, educator, and icon Mecol Hebron has such an epic catalogue of powerful event work and performance art to share. I am in awe of her ability to organize and make powerful-positive things happen for women in the arts. Finally, I am just going to admit it here first but I am absolutely inspired by female body builder Kelly Keiser. Her project is her, from the inside out. Kelly’s practice challenges female sterio-types and requires absolute commitment to exceed personal goals. It is amazing to watch via social network and awe inspiring to support.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
I do have another occupation (or three) but all require me to be an artist. I am a substitute teacher, make websites, work at ArtPark, rep for an amazing family owned vineyard, and sell Out-of-Home advertising. Currently, I am working on a freelance project at a healthcare corporation writing job descriptions for several hundred vacant positions waiting to be filled. Working within a cubicle in a call center, experiencing real time customer service both internal and external, and operating in a corporate environment has been the start to a new body of written work that I am absolutely consumed by creatively in producing it. It is not like anything I’ve done before, yet touches on familiar concepts.
Money and how we use it is a reflection of identity and self-image—but the concept can be played with. Through my shopping list and budget I aim to critically discover what exactly is being offered to me– the consumer, and how my desires as a customer aid to construct an identity. In shopping, I search for gratification, browse various dimensions of material identity, try on perception and often return my purchases.
Liz Rywelski was born to Long Island, NY, in 1980. She moved to Philadelphia in 1998, participated in DIY art collectives and established alternative-art spaces, performed in a few bands and collaborated with artists. It was at Space 1026 where she found inspiration in performance art, and put it to play in performing with Ryan Trecartin on Chatroulette, then later in his movies.
Rywelski moved to Buffalo in 2010 for graduate school. She describes her first years there as lonely, and said she often roamed aimlessly through big box stores because, “the identical architectures and aisles of familiar-lined shelves of big box stores were comforting … they were just like the big box stores in Philadelphia, Long Island, Miami, …” and other places she’d lived. This comforting yet displaced experience became the catalyst for a major body of work titled RETURN POLICY, in where Rywelski attempts to find in consumption a deeper sense of human frailty, how buying makes us who we imagine ourselves to be.
RETURN POLICY just scrapes the surface of the complicated illusion that everyday commerce constructs. Seen through a diverse collection of performances, photographs, web-based media, and games about identity and desire her meta-consumer esthetic and conceptual strengths isolate an environment where shopping for ideals and identity can be played with, laughed at, adored, and reconsidered all together.
Recent exhibitions include Echo Art Fair as a featured installation artist; RETURN POLICY, Anderson Gallery; The Sketchbook Project, traveling exhibition; LIKEARTBASEL, Workshop Collective, Miami FL; Suite 6 Portraits Series, Dis Magazine; Getting Closer: intimacy in the digital age, Fe Arts Gallery, Pittsburgh PA. Liz is currently preparing for a residency at Vermont Studio Center where she will finish a new series of writings for publication next spring.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.