Interviewed by: Ash Duhrkoop
We asked R. Blair Sullivan a few questions about Lehr and his practice in general. Read on for more about the concept behind the beguiling new installation at the West 10th Window...
Art-in-Buildings: Can you tell us a little bit about your practice in general? Do you typically work in multi-media installations?
R. Blair Sullivan: I'm a consummate experimentalist who is addicted to variation. I'm always working on 10 different projects at once. I refer to my approach as an ethnographic and visual art hybrid. Broadly, I enjoy examining points of origin (tracing things back), primaries (basic shapes, colors, tools), and states of equilibrium (the balance of things). I treat civilization as an artifact and question our habitual manners, shared mythologies, and attractions. Most of my work is multidisciplinary, but not usually as sculptural as the West 10th Window piece.
Art-in-Buildings: What interested you in the West 10th Window? Did working within its constraints pose any challenges for you?
R. Blair Sullivan: It's so tiny! If I were an inch wider I would've had to call the whole thing off! I was also installing on one of the hottest days of summer in what is essentially the world's smallest greenhouse. Things were cookin'. It was such a unique opportunity though; the space is definitely the most unusual I've dealt with so far. It was really challenging and exciting. I wanted to do something that would get people's attention in a curious and subtle way. The window is sort of inconspicuous, so I liked the idea of having something going on in it that isn't quite clear and piques curiosity.
Art-in-Buildings: What does the word "lehr" mean? What is the relationship between the work and its title?
R. Blair Sullivan: A Lehr is a kiln that's used in the annealing stage of glass making. The Lehr cools the glass at a graduated rate making it stronger. It derives from the German word Lehren which means "to teach". The word "anneal" comes from an Old English word that means "to set on fire". I'm metaphorically turning the West 10th Window into a kind of "enlightenment kiln" where these two ideas of becoming, the physical in the form of objects and the ethereal in the form of learning or thought, are coexisting. In a literal sense the polarized walls look like a chimney, but one that bounces and bends light waves creating a visually transitory state. Things are melting, expanding and contracting, forming and reforming; just like how our bodies and our ideas are constantly changing.
Art-in-Buildings: Is there a rationale behind your choice of objects to distort behind the polarizing film? If so, what was it?
R. Blair Sullivan: All of the mugs are from a glass manufacturer in my hometown called Anchor Hocking. They work well with the concept of the piece. They're from a line of 1960s commercial glassware called "Fire-King" and are collector's items, especially in Japan. I used them to reference myself biographically as well as the old Zen teacher and pupil proverb about first emptying your cup before you can fill it. The Dad mug is intentionally funny, but also references a big learning moment for me this year becoming a father. I also like how it presents a tribute to the DADA art movement through its mirrored reflection. I chose the lemon because it's used both for power (citric acid) and as a metaphor for misfortune, a sort of positive/negative coexistence. When life hands you lemons and all that. I think it's interesting that mugs carry this intrinsic humor too. They are such a representation of normalcy or domestic security. It's interesting to place them under conceptual weight.
Art-in-Buildings: What is the significance of the candle-smoke drawing? When did you begin using this method?
R. Blair Sullivan: Once the idea of a kiln came about, it made sense to bring in that aspect of my practice, as if it's the smoke from the burning elements below. I've been using candles to make drawings and paintings since I was a teenager. We would draw on the ceilings of caves with candles, and I remember having a book of surrealist games where the technique was recorded. They called it Fumage, but it's a technique that's been used as long as fire has been a human tool.
Art-in-Buildings: What's next for you?
R. Blair Sullivan: My work will be featured in the September issue of MISC/ Magazine.
See R. Blair Sullivan's Lehr at the West 10th Window through August 28th. Stay up tp date on all things Art-in-Buildings by following us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Visit the Art-in-Buildings Blog often for fresh content.