A CONVERSATION BETWEEN HEATHER LEIGH MCPHERSON AND LINDSEY STAPLETON ON THE OCCASION OF TIP OF THE NOSE AT GRIN
GRIN- Your work in general evinces a strong commitment to process, and I think that’s especially clear in an exhibition like this one, which spans sculpture, painting, video, drawing, and writing. I’m also noticing new relations between pieces; for example, the resin pieces seem like you are taking bits of your large paintings and allowing those individual components to develop on their own- like one of those TV montages where a scene gets zoomed in more and more, and with each new level of magnification, a new, smaller scene is revealed.
You often use these large orange pours in your painting, both in the ones we see here and in your previous work— and now the pours have turned into these newer epoxy resin pieces, where you've removed the ground (canvas) altogether. The ground is now the medium itself, like you've inverted the compositions of the paintings. What was it about the physicality of the pour that led you to build this new body of work- or did it come from an interest in developing what art historian Daniel Marcus has called the "bottomless pits" of the paintings?
HEATHER LEIGH MCPHERSON - I think my interest in this material emanates from both of those things: it’s a kind of next-step logic leading from the poured paint to the poured epoxy, as well as a desire to thematize the puddle, or pit. I began using casting materials like silicone for a separate project, and then I quickly realized that clear epoxy could serve simultaneously as adhesive, substrate, and expressive liquid. It is a liminal material, sharing some properties with glass and others with paint; its presence is both liquid and solid.
I am trying to foreground the feminist art historical connections of the spill, creating obvious bridges to Helen Frankenthaler, Lynda Benglis, and Eva Hesse with the aesthetic of wetness—something from the inside leaking to the outside. I’m also aiming to create moments of pictorial boundarilessness, where the physicality of the surface belies a real porosity, a sense that information crosses through this transparent plane in all directions.
I like that you brought up that cinematic form of scale shift, like in Ray and Charles Eames’s short film “Powers of Ten,” where the camera zooms out exponentially from a body into outer space, then back down to Earth and into the micro-scale of the body’s interior. There is a piece in this show called Dolly Zoom, which is the name for another cinematic trope we would all instantly recognize: it’s the effect of the subject remaining at a consistent scale in a given shot, while the background either grows or shrinks. I think it was first used in Vertigo, to create a material index for the feeling of height-sickness and psychological turmoil. I love that we have a specific filmic marker for eeriness and emotional intensity; when it’s converted into language as Dolly Zoom, of course, it loses its visceral, expressive potency but gains the special associative quality of language. Dolly can now also signify a child’s doll, and zoom photographic or physical velocity. I want each element to carry multiple valences, just as the epoxy resin seems to exist in between two states.
I'm so curious about the written language. Where does it come from? How did it develop? Tell me everything.
I have always relied on writing to sort ideas in the studio, and about a year ago I started to concentrate on it as a legitimate part of my broader set of concerns. I was doing a residency in the desert, and did not have access to my usual studio materials. I began writing semi-autobiographical things that picked up the tone of various forms of personal writing: a letter to a pen pal, an entry a dream journal, the kind of scribbling someone might do to transcribe their own acid trip or report back from the astral plane. I always feel an earnest connection to these voices as well as a distance from or skepticism about the characters they represent.
In my previous body of work, I was using more found text in the epoxy pieces—fragments from self-help and recovery literature, manuals of mental illness, and pop bromides for cis white women. I think the presence of caricature, or ambivalence about my own demographic, was a little stronger in that work. In general I am deeply invested in ideas of identity and the expressive possibilities of a role, but I have only a shallow tolerance for my own irony, which seems to be such an appendage of privilege. There are layers of self-awareness, for sure, but I am ultimately trying to say something genuine.
I always love the digital moves in your paintings and am happy to see you are blurring the lines between pixels and paint even further with Flower Therapy. This new piece has a decidedly different mood than your gifs. It reads like the viewer is getting a look at what happens when someone is able to work and let their mind wander at the same time. Is that experience personal for you at all? It seems like a visual manifestation of your own thoughts while you were making it. What was it like moving from gifs to this more narrative piece?
The gifs I have made in the past function more like animated, flashing paintings; in this video, I’m using the element of time to squeeze some new qualities from a reading or viewing experience that unfolds gradually and changes from second to second. I’ve spoken before about the similarities between faces, paintings, and screens—all thresholds that divide one zone from another, and that translate one kind of information into another. I like that faces, as sites that both transmit and occlude meaning, can operate as a communicative model. Likewise, this video both transmits and occludes, offering the logic of one narrative only to dart away to another thought.
One of the textual threads in the video came out of a dream I had. In the dream, my friend tells me about a new kind of desensitization psychotherapy, “flower therapy,” meant to treat social anxiety and/or hypersensitivity—the therapist presents the client with a bouquet of flowers and they have to come up with an appropriate response, in the face of high social pressure to behave graciously. I thought this was as good a starting point as any for both a writing project and a video. In the dream, flower therapy existed alongside other recovery models, like Alcoholics Anonymous and old-school psychoanalysis-- the flower-centric process lost some of its strangeness when presented as just one more avenue to wellness in the face of desperation.
This way of making a video is new to me, but I think the aesthetic of the novice—the overuse of filters, combined with the clunkiness of a limited toolkit—is appropriate to my work, which often invokes states of adolescence, for example, in the loopy text and doodled syntax of my drawings. I am attracted to the format of the video because, for me, it’s akin to the feeling of being alive. There are several stories to follow, and though they’re all there for a reader to take in, they can’t be easily separated and considered. They braid confusingly, twisting into a hybrid. Different ways of seeing vie for attention, as images crowd out legible text and narrative resolutions drop away. I think your observation--that the video is the record of its own making-- is right on. We see the handwriting crawl across the frame, the info-bars at the bottom of a Microsoft Word document appear and disappear, and the flashing cursor spit out words, complete with the red and green squiggly underlines of “mistake.” There is a line toward the end that says, “Breaking down the doughy bulk of sensation / the stretching of process underway, not position taken.” I think of this as a description of the piece itself and maybe also of the exhibition as a whole.