On the occasion of Alexis Myre’s first solo show in New York (The Power of Limits, La MaMa Galleria, February 4 – 21, 2016), the artist spoke with Anne Waldman about her about the structure—and potential—of working with limits.
Anne Waldman (Rail): Talk more about the inspiration for the title of your recent show, The Power of Limits. Your work is rigorous, and powerful, and extraordinarily meticulous. Where does your restraint come from? There is a tautness, like an ancient stringed instrument, and like that of a musical composition.
Alexis Myre: My very good friend Marika who studied architecture and later became a botanist gave me the book The Power of Limits. It is an extraordinary book illustrating the harmonic relationships of proportions in our Universe. Seemingly different things like a seed and the sound of the wave are linked through their proportions. It’s an observation that repeats itself throughout nature.
These ideas of limits actually produce limitless constructions. I’m deeply attracted to these types of aesthetics and feel people in general are drawn to symmetry and pattern existing in the natural world. Mathematics abstractly illustrates these natural phenomena and my restraint comes from the mathematics that acts as a blueprint for my wall pieces. The layout for the work is measured and carefully planned, its problem solving in a basic way, and I like working with lines and pattern the tautness is inherent to build the forms. It retains the visual tension and implied motion of our surrounding world.
Rail: Please talk about your process, the very physical construction of these pieces, which have a three dimensionality, which is of course obvious in the wall sculptures. There’s an amazing stamina. The sheer amount of time that must go into these pieces. They are complete resonating worlds, unto themselves. Private paradises.
Myre: I've been exploring these materials for 10 years. The technique has evolved, but what I love most about combining disparate materials is the parameters it creates in joining them together. The parameters don't necessarily limit or constrain, they create new sets of parameters to work within, and this is where I feel most creative.
The attention to detail is the root of the work; this comes from my background in the crafts. Glue is a major no-no; it is a very weak joint. It's about integrity in the joints and details when it comes to the crafts; I hold these standards in my work and love the forms and detail that come from working like this, where most of the elements are functional. The better the joint the more attractive it is to me.
I can visualize the work in three dimensions but the construction, or how it comes together has the final word. Some works change slightly, whereas others change significantly.
Rail: Your work brings such pleasure, and with it the possibility of alternative states of mind. Almost meditative. The cares and woes of the world seem to slip away. It has a kind of transcendence. How do you respond?
Myre: Sometimes I worry that my work doesn’t touch on the problems of the world in a straightforward way, but it’s not to ignore these things, rather I’d like to give a quiet nudge to illustrate connectedness. My work is about relationships, an exploration of the little overlaps of manmade (language, mathematics) and nature made, to discover how everything is connected quite deeply. I want people to take time and get close to work, each piece is a narrative told through symbol and material. It is the world around us, just represented in a abstracted way and things like pressure and tension we can see it in simple and beautiful ways.
Rail: I’m also curious about the inspiration of mathematical concepts, reflected in some of the titles.
Myre: I named a group of sculptures after mathematicians that to me had a lot of personality. They’re like little organisms from someplace else. There is Reimann who is a bit more serious, named after Bernhard Reimann who is known for his formulation of the integral in mathematics. Another example is Lissajous who is a larva like biomechanical sculpture named after the 19th-century physicist who invented a device to produce harmonograph drawings. This leads me to the wall piece Small Departures from Perfect Harmonies which is a horizontal composition reading like a timeline that is mostly symmetrical and due to some construction issues the end is a bit off or less symmetrical and of the most pleasing harmonograph drawings come from not so perfect harmonies. Twenty Two Notes is titled after the division of the octave into 22 unequal parts in Indian Classical music.
Rail: I’ve been asking the question of how artists, poets look into
the darkness of our time. It seems to have something to do with being contemporary with our time, as the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben suggests, of feeling that as a generative possibility rather than a putative one. The light from afar hasn’t reached us yet, and yet from some point of view things have already happened. So we live in a kind of mystical “aporia”, a state of negative capability of “both, both”
How do you find the challenge of living and working in New York City?
Myre: The toughest thing is space and money. It you don’t have a ton of money and cant keep up with the rent increases you are constantly moving your things around. It’s exciting and exhausting. It keeps you problem solving and quick on your feet
It’s worth it though; the art world here is vast and vibrant.
ANNE WALDMAN has been a prolific and active poet and performer many years, creating radical new hybrid forms for the long poem, both serial and narrative, as with Marriage: A Sentence, Structure of the World Compared to a Bubble, and Manatee/Humanity, and most recently Gossamurmur, all published by Penguin Poets. She is also the author of the magnum opus The Iovis Trilogy: Colors in the Mechanism of Concealment ( Coffee House Press 2011), a feminist "cultural intervention" taking on war and patriarchy which won the PEN Center 2012 Award for Poetry. Voice's Daughter of a Heart Yet To Be Born, a prose poem meditation on William Blake's Book of Thel, is being published by Coffee House Press, 2016.