Interviews

Elaine Cameron-Weir

Elaine Cameron-Weir, A toothless grin. A STAR EXPANSION! GLOBE OF DEATH A graveyard orbit, 2018, mixed media, dimensions variable. Installation view, Storm King Art Center, New Windsor, New York.

In just the past year, Elaine Cameron-Weir’s diverse sculptural practice has adroitly conscripted materials including chemical lab equipment, World War II–era silk parachutes, frankincense, and labdanum, as seen in her works at the New Museum in New York and the Dortmunder Kunstverein in Dortmund, Germany, among other venues. Below, she discusses her site-specific installation A toothless grin. A STAR EXPANSION! GLOBE OF DEATH A graveyard orbit, 2018, which is currently on view at Storm King Art Center in New Windsor, New York, as part of the sculpture park’s “Outlooks” series of solo exhibitions, through November 25, 2018.

THE SCULPTURE has two parts. One is a twenty-foot-diameter spherical steel cage modeled after the so-called globe of death, which motorcyclists use as a stunt course. You usually see these globes at fairs and places like that. The other part is a truck-mounted military shelter. I don’t know if it’s explosion-proof, but it’s basically designed to protect people and equipment. This one in particular had radio equipment inside, but that’s all been ripped out. It’s a found object; I didn’t alter it. The military shelter, for me, was an outpost that could house a human in order to observe a phenomenon. The motorcycle sphere became a place for this imagined phenomenon to occur.

The work essentially comes out of a road trip that I took two summers ago. I don’t tend to put anything biographical in my work so it’s weird for me to talk about this. It was the middle of July. I was by myself, and it was really hot. I drove from Red Deer, Alberta, where I’m from, to Southern California. I’ve always wanted to drive down through that landscape, directly south to LA, then back up the Pacific Coast Highway, and then over through the Rocky Mountains in Canada, back to Red Deer.

I went through Utah to see Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels—an amazing piece. When I was there, I noticed that there were these weird black marks inside the sculptures. They looked too fat and too regular to be from a BMX bike, so I thought maybe they were made by motorcycles. These marks were in all of the tunnels, and I just started thinking about this terrestrial orbit in relation to celestial orbit, because the tunnels, these four large concrete cylinders in a cross pattern, are arranged to be aligned with the summer and winter solstices.

I think of my work as a system of inquiry related to science—an experiment with parameters and results that are applicable beyond the work itself. The idea that you can model the universe in a tabletop experiment is, to me, deeply related to art because art can model something that is so far beyond itself. But I don’t strategize affect. My process is more instinctual, and, generally, I like things that have a function. In that functionality, there’s often a modular aesthetic or something provisional, and so that also influences the choices that I make. Materially speaking, there’s a little trial and error in my studio, but it’s mostly technical, like getting something to work.

It’s almost like designing. That’s a dirty word, maybe. But my work is related to design. It deals in problem-solving, and that’s where I feel very creative—the space between solving a specific material problem and letting myself follow a broader intuitive path, letting my instinct prevail. Personally, I don’t think design is a dirty word. It really just means making something work, whether it’s a chair, an experiment, or an exhibition. For me, it’s interesting to ask what it means when art “works”—What is its function and purpose?

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