Becoming Unstuck: A Conversation with Elizabeth Bisbing

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SOHO20 artist member Elizabeth Bisbing walks us through her exhibition Unstuck, currently on display at SOHO20 Gallery through January 31st. Her exhibition features sketchbooks, collages, animations and her first live-motion video. Bisbing’s diverse mediums contrast themes of control and peril, which culminate in the physical destruction of one of her own works. Recently, Ashley Popp was able to talk to the artist at the gallery about how exactly she became Unstuck.

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AP: Your current exhibition at SOHO20, Unstuck, is a series  of drawings collages and animations, which focuses on the art making process. How did this exhibit get its name?]

EB: It’s called unstuck because I just kept feeling that I was stuck. I felt like that things were too formulaic, and that’s very frustrating as an artist. I felt like ‘now what’?

At first, I had a lot of rules in my mind about this kind of work. I had rules that you couldn’t ever have a pencil line, and everything had to be cut paper. Kat Griefen [Accola/Griefen Gallery] visited my studio … and she asked “ why do you have to cover all that up?” I didn’t know how to answer that.  I started out as a painter, and When you paint a canvas you paint the whole canvas – It’s what you do, you’re a painter. I was thinking “Wait a minute it’s not really wet paint. It’s dry.” So I started to do some other things. [I broke the rules] because I was stuck.

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AP: How does this exhibition differ from your past collections?

EB: This show starts with drawings. These are done at the NY botanical garden or some of them will say the high line. It’s almost kind of funny. Everybody comes up to you, if you’re at the gardens too, they don’t leave you alone. Its weird.

AP: Earlier you talked about people coming up to you while you’re drawing in public places like the High Line or the NY Botanical Garden. Does it influence what you’re doing?

EB: I try not to think about it, but you are aware. In a way it’s like performance art because I’m drawing something and I’m thinking, “What the heck?” You should be looking at what I’m drawing, not my pad. I could be drawing the Mona Lisa and they’d be looking at my pad instead.

AP: It’s flattering.

EB: It’s a little bit nosy. Human beings are basically nosy, I know I am. I like to look out the window and see what’s going on. People are endlessly fascinating, what people do and think.

AP: Religion, specifically your Catholic upbringing, has been a point of inspiration for your work. Does Catholicism have a place in the act of being Unstuck?

EB: Yes. A lot of these drawings come from religious work – the devil, the gospel, each one has an animal symbol–Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. I was scared by it. There’s a lot of imagery I’m still attracted to but [my work] is not exclusively that.Imagine when you’re a little kid and you are taken through the stations of the cross – you basically watch someone being tortured. What are you supposed to think? Maybe because he’s God it’s different, he’s not a ‘person’.

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AP: Do you consider your work comical?

EB: I think my Calamities series is funny and scary at the same time, because you don’t know what’s going to happen to these two little girls. There’s an octopus in a lake, even though it isn’t possible for one to actually be in a lake.

AP: Collage is a very deliberate and structured process. How does the act of destruction in your video Fun…Burning fit into the otherwise controlled environment you create with your work?

EB: I don’t know if burning the book is control or not. The animations I made always end up with something bad happening to the little girl featured in them. Most likely she’s dying, but we don’t know. She’s like my alter ego. She’s me. I wanted the book to be destroyed at the end of the animation. I was ripping into it and I tried to make it look like paper flames but it didn’t look right so I decided to burn it.

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AP: What is the significance of burning the Dick and Jane reader?

EB: I had an ex sister-in-law who said “this isn’t my life I don’t see myself in there.” There’s another artist, Clarissa Sligh, an African American woman, who made her own little Dick and Jane by putting pictures of her family in. She said the same thing, she didn’t see herself in the readers. It kind of felt like a judgement, “You’re not as good as this family.”

AP: So you’re destroying that idea?

EB: Yeah. It’s a maddening thing. It’s almost as bad as catechism.

AP: Was there a feeling of loss when burning the book?

EB: My friend felt that way. She thought those books were great, she taught herself to read on them. But I felt like it was a bunch of crap. Why are we subjected to this? They even look stupid. You wouldn’t play in a pretty dress like that, you’d have your play clothes on – you wouldn’t play in your uniform or your Sunday clothes. I don’t know if it was real for anyone.

AP: So this was never your life?

EB: No I don’t know anybody who had a life like that. Very simple, very happy. Brainless, but happy. See Dick Run. Run Dick Run. So what?

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