Today we’d like to introduce you to Rebecca Niederlander.
Rebecca, we’d love to hear your story and how you got to where you are today both personally and as an artist.
The visual language of art has always been the way I navigated and communicated in the world. When I was seven years old, I won a coloring contest and was awarded a six-foot-tall stocking filled with toys. I watched my grandmother make scores of quilts and my great-grandmother do embroidery, but my family was mostly one of writers. So, it was expected that I would write as well.
Growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, and being born about a month before the Gateway Arch was, the impact of tremendous public art was always in my peripheral sight. By high school, I was doing the honors visual arts programs, the city-wide high school honors program at the St. Louis Art Museum, and taking art and art history classes at the local community college. Through that college class, I had a pivotal experience that changed my life and the way I think about art. Assigned to write about one painting in the St. Louis Art Museum, I chose James Rosenquist’s 1962 painting Sightseeing. Not a particularly pretty, angry, sexy or even overtly political painting, Sightseeing is also neither heroic in scale nor exquisitely petite. Most of the word SIGHT is painted in the top half, very flat 2D, and the letters’ interior space is filled with images of red roses. In the center of the bottom half of the canvas are bits of the letter S, two E’s, and the letter I. These letter-shapes are orange and painted on top of an actual broken glass window in a metal frame. I sat near the painting and asked the passers-by what they thought of it. (The St. Louis Art Museum puts comfortable padded benches in the center of the viewing rooms, something all exhibition spaces should do. More on disability in the arts later.) The responses weren’t particularly memorable, but directing someone to a discovery of something previously overlooked was utterly compelling. Through the conversations, I eventually realized that I found this painting really FUNNY in a deep way; what David Foster Wallace in his essay “Laughing with Kafka” refers to as ‘exformation,’ “a certain quantity of vital information, removed from, but evoked by, a communication in such a way as to cause a kind of explosion of associative connections within the recipient.” It was perhaps one of the first times I really understood the power of humor and of how vital it can be in visual art. Some 35 years later, I still enjoy wordplay. I still respond to art that navigates through complex humor, and I still enjoy directing people in experiences they might have otherwise missed out on.
We’d love to hear more about your art. What do you do and why and what do you hope others will take away from your work?
Mary Oliver once wrote that “attention is the beginning of devotion.” I find lately that my practice is more and more about being a responsible devotee!
I am a materialist in the truest sense of the word. I interrogate these materials lovingly and with great care, because it is compulsive, this need I have for connection. Wood, paper, wire, plastic, whatever. I bring complicated individual elements together; that through their connections become completely responsible for each other. The connections of these elements mimic our own mortality and their response to the stressors mimics our own fleeting moment through broad abstract data visualizations. I care about the individual’s position within the larger intergenerational community; how we are responsible for each other.
As well, the micro and macro nature of ego is reflected in the scale of the works and how the viewer’s eye meanders through each work. And then this intensity of labor in the work connects back to ego’s relationship to the necessities of solitude and boredom in the creation of individual thought.
In the last few years, the issues of labor have taken on a much more significant space. I was diagnosed with a fairly rare auto-immune disease that slowly makes my body more painful and limits the amount of physical work I can do independently. This has made me reevaluate what labor is and what it can mean in my work. How does labor get defined, categorized, and monetized? How can we, as a creative class, ever own our exponential labor and address the need for fiscal solvency without perpetually participating in capitalism? How does a sick person navigate an economic environment that sees individuals who can not labor as a burden to the overall? In addition, so many artists are sole proprietors of their practices, with nowhere near enough in retirement plans. But at the same time we are constantly asked for donations of work for auctions and to participate in efforts “for exposure.” My site-specific works have often been done in participatory environments, with an open and eager invitation for participation. But does that change, ethically, if I simply can not make works without these unnamed makers?
My previous workaround responsibility and connection led me to co-found the social practice BROODWORK in which I curated, wrote, and designed actions and objects that explored the interweaving of the creative practices and family life—in particular, parenthood. I am extremely proud of the work I did with BROODWORK and have been really impressed by the conversation that it initiated about the importance of what family life can bring to artistic practice.
Fundamentally: Things fall apart and reconnect. I document it.
What do you think it takes to be successful as an artist?
Obviously, an artist needs to be able to support themselves, by whatever means that it takes.
Answering this question requires a deeper understanding of what being an artist is. Fundamentally, an artist is someone who communicates their life experience through artistic means. Someone who is truly an artist doesn’t really have a choice in the matter. They simply must create, or they suffer greatly, becoming depressed, lethargic, and at sea. I don’t believe that everyone who is a famous artist has this state of being. I also think there are tremendous numbers of truly brilliant artists who do not get the recognition they should. Being an artist requires tenacity, grit, the ability to be humble in the face of endless failure before the great pieces reveal themselves. Having a community of like-minded artists colleagues has been critical to my ongoing ability to stay present for the work in front of me.
To succeed in Los Angeles, we need to discuss that Los Angeles needs many more opportunities for artists to contribute their unique set of skills to the greater good. Artists bring a unique set of skills to any project and their perspective needs to be given a much higher platform. I have seen incredible community engagement projects being done by brilliant artists in this town, projects that were self-funded, but that should have been incorporated into larger city and county endeavors.
I see more and more artists needing to leave the city for other places as those who do not own their homes are priced out. From the multiple years that the Otis Report on the Creative Economy (https://www.otis.edu/creative-economy/2019) has been documenting the impact of creativity on the Los Angeles basin, it is clear that we will need solutions to this crisis to keep this city strong. We need the city and county to invest in more artist housing, more city/county run studio spaces with reduced rents, and more grant funding for socially responsible projects that help to solve the issues our city faces.
A successful artist must be seen throughout their career. Every single museum in this city must have a project space dedicated to artists that have never shown in that museum before. With the continuing divisions between the mega-galleries and the small spaces, this city’s institutions need to step up their game in promoting those artists who will benefit most from the exposure such exhibitions can provide.
The success of an artist is contingent on so many aspects. These are but a few.
Do you have any events or exhibitions coming up? Where would one go to see more of your work? How can people support you and your artwork?
Up currently is ResoNation, a site-specific work at 3651 Mimosa Drive, LA 90065 as part of the Terrain Biennial. This project was curated by the Association of Hysteric Curators. From October 27th on , one can see Aesthetic Intensity at the Jose’ Drudis Biada Art Gallery of Mount Saint Mary’s University, in Los Angeles. This exhibit includes a few of my wood sculptures from the Pilgrimage Series. This exhibit is up through November 23, 2019. And buy artwork, whether from me or another artist!
One can always go to El Monte, CA, to the Union Walk housing development and see Memories of El Monte, the permanent site-specific work I made that honors Art Laboe and the El Monte Legion Hall which was a key place in Southern California for rock and roll. As far as supporting the work, I am always interested in community projects, in ways to bring a group together to create something positive where there was a negative. People with project ideas can reach me through my website.
- Website: www.becster.org
- Phone: 626 675 7566
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: rebeccaniederlander
Images by Rebecca Niederlander, Steve King, Jeffrey Vaughn