STATEMENT

Lizzy De Vita is a sculptor whose work focuses on the structure and language of relationships. She is interested in how the formation of our many selves, triangulated through our relationships with others, is alarmingly illogical yet also creative of profound, inarticulable empathy. How do we understand the experience of another person? De Vita’s work focuses on how identities shift, bloat or dissipate through physical, linguistic and psychological collisions.

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Lizzy De Vita is an artist, writer and discussion curator who lives and works in Brooklyn. De Vita’s work occupies a constellation of media, including performance, sound, drawing, installation, video and sculpture. Diverse in form, the work is unified by an underlying interest in viral moments: places where the boundaries between ourselves and others are blurred.

De Vita earned her BA in Art History and English Literature from Barnard College and her MFA in Sculpture at Yale. She has shown and will show in a bunch of places.

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I’m interested in how the formation of our many selves, triangulated through our relationships with others, is alarmingly illogical ­­ yet also creative of profound, inarticulable empathy. In a recent work I asked two straight, white men who’d never met to call each other first and last thing each day for one month, recording their interactions. The recordings became a sound piece that shows the transition of strangers into “family.” My work focuses on how individual identities shift, bloat or dissipate through physical, linguistic and psychological collisions with other people. Relationships have their own identities, and I work to voice them.

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“Our sky, bereft. Our heartmuscle, lit into blue flame.
We gnaw for that light that lies beneath our skin.
We’ve turned to flames
Like a house burning itself from the inside out.”
– Ansel Elkins, from “Blues for the Death of the Sun”

Should the sky feel a longing to be other than where it is … where can one go? Can one blame it for falling, having held us for so long? And once it slinks down around your ankles, where are you then?
Catastrophe, if we’re lucky enough to survive it, gives us an opportunity to reexamine our world and who we thought we were within it. For Lizzy De Vita, much of what is meaningful in our lives occurs outside of the structures our more cognitive selves can envision.

De Vita’s practice takes everyday moments and attempts to startle them out of their settled place in the logical, predictable world. Deliberately mis-placing recognizable relationships within other structures, her work creates disjunctive collisions that allows other meanings to emerge. De Vita’s work creates small catastrophes, situations where the world does not follow our assumptions of relationality – “I am inside, so that, out there, is outside” – and so allows us to see them as fragile, porous, impermanent.

“The Sky Too Dreams of Rest” is comprised of a constellation of video, performative, auditory and sculptural vignettes – glimpses into moments where a comfortable order is tacitly disrupted, or complexified by circumstance. She employs conceptually radical scale shifts; a reflective, yet semi-transparent “wall” of emergency blankets used by war refugees and trauma victims is abutted against an interview with a bed-bug exterminator, and bizarre pedestrian choreography. As these images come into and out of focus, the ground beneath our feet becomes increasingly unstable.

Yet, in spite of their collisive-ness, these vignettes moil into a complex cosmology that playfully, but earnestly examines ideas of place, home, and identity, and the inherent instability of each

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A few months before grad school, my world fell apart. Within a matter of days I went from being a reader, thinker, and hoarder of words and information to a person who was unable to walk, even stand. More critically, I ceased to think, hold memories, envision images, read, and even speak and understand words. Everything I knew to be me evaporated because an unidentifiable infection took hold of my brain.

Like an invaded country, I’m slowly reclaiming some territories of my former life. In the process, I’ve thought deeply about how our identities are created by assumptions we make – based on physical and mental patterns we form as we speak, move through space, and interact with the world. Having learned to stand and walk, I built an unexamined identity as one who walks. Having come into language, I assumed an identity as one who thinks. Where do we place our selves when these structural lattices start to unravel?

When infection destroyed my usual way of understanding things, it was terrifying, but strangely beautiful. The dissolution of my entire cognitive framework gave me a profound feeling of calm co-extensiveness with the world. I felt meaning, though I couldn’t articulate it. I also felt a deep lack of recognition with the starkly solid face and body I saw delineated in the mirror. I felt diffuse, porous, boundless. It was a fundamental, transformative experience. Some, my deeply religious relatives for instance, might identify it as a communion with the divine. But I don’t know what to call it, and I like that.

Catastrophe, if we’re lucky enough to survive it, gives us an opportunity to reexamine our world and who we thought we were within it. I feel that much of what’s meaningful in our lives occurs outside of the structures our more cognitive selves can envision. My work creates small catastrophes, situations where the world does not follow our assumptions of cause and effect – I walk, therefore I will continue walking – and so allows us to see them as fragile, impermanent. I take everyday moments and attempt to startle them out of their settled place in the logical, predictable world. I deliberately mis-place recognizable relationships within other structures, creating a disjunctive collision that allows other meanings to emerge.

What if, for instance, a conversation between me and my estranged grandfather was presented as one between a talk show host and her guest, or a pieta, or two soldiers at ease? How would these shifts in context change our perception of a story he tells me of his miraculous conversion to a faith which was catastrophic to my family’s life? What if a group of strangers were forced to breathe alternately, one person’s inhalation pressing another’s lungs inward? How does that change our understanding of a basic thing like breathing and dependence or independence? What if two strangers spoke to one another on the phone, first and last thing, each day for a month? What are the limits of their (and our) empathy for these unseen counterparts?

My life has been dramatically, and I think forever altered by the random collision of my life with other lives – a microscopic bacteria with my brain, a tick with my arm. Regimes change, lakes swell, ticks bite and feed and suddenly lives are upended and changed forever. I explore these moments where our paradigms shift irretrievably – to things as complex and large as endemic warfare, and as small and fundamental to life as the patterns of our breath. I notice them and hope to tease them out of their comfortable framework, casting wide their meaning.

I wish not to change the world, but rather to change our understanding of it; to offer a window into the potential that is always at our fingertips, always just beyond our logic. I hope to direct our focus to the parts of our lives that are alarmingly illogical, yet also creative of profound, inarticulable empathy — radical vulnerability.

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Lizzy De Vita often uses the body or a text as the structural framework for an exploration. That is, the process not only begins and ends with bodies and/or words, but also resides within them for a time. On their own and through direct intervention, these structures are misread, abbreviated, multiplied, or (re)processed. Setting the parameters and abandoning the Self to a Process, De Vita allows layered, variable situations to emerge in time and space – often mesmeric, but dissonant. Where in these situations does meaning endure? Where does it fail, and where does it become something other?

The works for this show started with the love of a song: an abridged, traditional spiritual called “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.” De Vita traveled to two different states in order to teach her mother’s mother and then her mother the song – which she, herself, had learned on YouTube. Then, she filmed them each separately, alone in their empty homes, singing it over and over – until they’d had enough. She shot her grandmother for eight hours in one day, her mother for four. Then she returned to her own home and shot herself singing the song for the combined time it had taken to shoot them.

The primary video in this show isolates the last takes from each long shoot, almost cruelly amputating the long, ritualized and deeply personal process behind its making. Sutured digitally, the video stages a multi-generational chorus of a tragic narrative – and a real performance of isolation, loss and love – against homogenizing white suburban décor.

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As a kid I was so quiet I was put in a class for slow learners. But when the teacher gave me a blank notebook, I filled it with pictures and words, and soon I wasn’t considered slow anymore. I learned that my pencil had power. But because I come from a family of immigrants who are relentlessly practical, I didn’t associate what I made with “Art.”

Then, at seventeen, I walked into an art museum for the first time and saw the work of R. Crumb. His repetitive images and text, his quirky subversive voice, caused a seismic shift in my worldview.

After that I drew like crazy, always with image and text, often in the form of comics. But then I had a second revelation, through printmaking. My drawings were getting too precious. In printmaking I had to submit my ideas to a process that was outside my head, dictated by methods, machines, and materials. I became addicted to process: I’d start with a familiar object, a quilt or baby blanket, and churn it through physical and mechanized processes until it became completely unfamiliar – open to the world in a new way.

I’ve now migrated to other media, but still rely on the ritualized discipline of processing. Like Crumb, I often use my body or a text as the starting point for an exploration that’s multiplied, reprocessed, misinterpreted, abbreviated. I set the parameters and abandon myself to a process, allowing layered, variable situations to emerge in time and space— often mesmeric, but dissonant. Where, in these situations, does meaning endure? Where does it fail, and where does it become something other?

Recently, I used the traditional spiritual, “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” to create a multi-layered piece on assimilation, inheritance, motherhood, and literal/figurative whiteness in America. I filmed my grandmother and my mother, alone in their living rooms, singing the song again and again – until they’d had enough. Then I filmed myself singing the song for the combined time I’d taken to film them. The final video isolates the last takes from each long shoot, amputating the ritualized and deeply personal process behind its making. Sutured digitally, the video frames a multi-generational chorus of a tragic narrative—and a real performance of isolation, loss and love—against homogenizing white suburban décor.

In another piece, I used my own words as the text by recording myself for a day. My words were then transcribed by a hired third party in Chile. Finally, I read that text in front of an audience, using a teleprompter set to a high speed that was difficult to maintain. Meanwhile, a live feed of the reading and the scrolling text were projected behind me. Exposing and processing myself through real, worded, and virtual representations, I felt that I joined the audience in inhabiting the disintegration of my words and identity.

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In an etching class in college, I was given an assignment to create a book. It was, for me, deeply loaded.  I come from a scientific family, and the only way I really saw art was in books.  I didn’t see artwork in a museum till I was seventeen. At this first visit I was drawn to a display of books by R. Crumb, with the pages laid out in a glass case. The pages remained separate, their unity implied only by the presentation. Somehow this idea of dismantling and rearranging kept coming back to me as I struggled with the assignment. Eventually I cut 120 tiny copper plates, incised each with intricate linework, and registering them, created 12 unique prints which I then photocopied repeatedly.  The final piece was a triptych, comprised of 36 unique chemical transfers of those photocopies.

I labeled it Quilt, and referred to it simply as “Xerox transfer.” When it was exhibited in a juried show, people seemed to skim over it.  Seeing how the piece was viewed was startling but also interesting. This started my obsession with the complex relationship between the viewer, the surface of the piece, and its invisible history.  All my work has since been engaged with the disjunction between a work’s implied cohesion of form, and its refusal to completely add up.

While Quilt successfully hid the meandering history of its processing, I wanted to make something even more visually confounding and illusionistic.  I decided to make a high-fidelity embossing of my baby blanket. I scanned, traced, and vectorized the blanket, rendered it in a three-dimensional digital drawing, and used a CNC-mill to carve it as a bas-relief into Plexiglas. What I had thought would simply be a mold, however, became its own piece: Shift.  Through the absence of material, it created an illusion that an actual blanket was underneath the surface of the glass.

Since then, digital mediations have become increasingly important to me.  Untitled(Candy…) started with degraded imagery of a gogo dancer that I pulled from Youtube. Already elusive images, the stills became more so when I enlarged and hung them in a staccato arrangement on a long wall – awakening viewers to the subtle interplay of the blurry dancers with their own presence as reflections in the glass.

Since then I have moved into video itself.  Just as the gogo installation relied on small changes from print to print, my video work tends to move or change only only slightly and subtly. In I don’t re//member I filmed myself telling a story, and then filmed myself watching that video nine times in a row. Then videos of my reactions were played simultaneously on nine identical monitors, like the pages of a book with unique content but identical format. Each video had its own audio: fragmented bits of the original story. Viewers would then see and hear the piece as one complex but immersive psychological landscape in time and space. This piece does what my work has been trying to do since Quilt: obfuscating the process behind each piece puts the “consumer” of the art in the position of becoming more aware of what they cannot know.  By disorienting the viewer with what isn’t there, I hope to amplify their experience of what is: their own expectations and desires.

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Raised in Pittsburgh, Lizzy De Vita attended Barnard College of Columbia University in Manhattan. In 2008 she graduated magna cum laude with a degree in English Literature and Art History. Trained at the LeRoy Neiman Center for Print Studies at Columbia University, De Vita has worked at various print studios, including Pace Editions, Inc. in New York, and Artists Image Resource, Inc. in Pittsburgh. She received an entrepreneurial grant from Barnard to work as an intern at Artists Image Resource in Pittsburgh for a summer in 2007, which influenced her decision to launch her artistic career in Pittsburgh.

Although she was trained in traditional printmaking techniques, De Vita’s work tends towards any number of media, including installation, digital video, digital printmaking, animation, sculpture and drawing, and most recently, performance. Process is crucial to the creation of her pieces, and the derivation and distillation of an image often involves elaborate, imaginative, and meandering methods, which verge on performance. By processing and re-processing familiar images through various technologies, she not only alters an image, but creates a new and sometimes disorienting experience of that image.

Using mostly literalist titles, such as Untitled (House) or DOORS, De Vita identifies what is being represented, yet does not point to the creative process or the content. In this way, the viewer’s experience of her work might begin in the same place as any other consumer act: with an assumption that it might be received quickly and easily. Yet at some point this certainty may be lost when viewers engage with the piece, or as it progresses over time.

Contemporary American culture both encourages and facilitates a hasty consumption of products, images and ideas. In taking the time to examine a visually or technically confounding image more closely, viewers of Lizzy De Vita’s work might become increasingly aware of the way they are consuming images more generally. With this heightened self-awareness, the process of consumption might also come under scrutiny, or be considered in a new light.

Lizzy De Vita’s work has been exhibited at venues in New York and Pittsburgh, including the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Andy Warhol Museum, and the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. This is her first solo exhibition.