Phoenix Artist Cecily Culver on Thing Theory and The Ecology of Contemporary Life

Cecily Culver standing in front of her projected video work in her studio at Grant Street Studios.
Cecily Culver standing in front of her projected video work in her studio at Grant Street Studios.
Mikey Estes

What happens in the studio, shouldn't always stay in the studio. Studio Visit Q+A is a weekly series that profiles artists in their studios. We ask them questions, they provide answers, and then we have a nice discussion about their work. This week: Sculpture MFA candidate at ASU, Cecily Culver.

It's been a pretty big month for Cecily Culver. Not only did her MFA exhibition, "Other Observations" at Step Gallery, debut last week, but she was also awarded The Dedalus Foundation's prestigious MFA Fellowship. With the fellowship, Culver has the opportunity for a stipend and studio space in Brooklyn, New York. Her work in sculpture, sound, and video takes the quiet detritus of the everyday and invigorates it with vitality, requiring us to look and listen a little more closely.

See also: 8 Cool Things We Saw During ASU Grant Street Open Studios in Phoenix

A grouping of Culver's plaster casts, some of which are paired with sound.
A grouping of Culver's plaster casts, some of which are paired with sound.
Mikey Estes

The objects that Culver is interested in -- to-go cups, styrofoam boxes, pipes -- could be seen as non-objects. They're the actors in everyday life that never take center stage. Often left behind or strictly utilitarian, these objects occupy the same space as we do, but with little value. They're necessary, but only when we activate them. In the work for "Other Observations," Culver disrupts this anthropocentric viewpoint, allowing the idiosyncrasies of the objects themselves to take form. They activate us, instead.

Much of Culver's recent work has been inspired by cultural theorists such as Jane Bennett and Ian Bogost. Thing theory has prompted Culver to tap into "the mysteries of this thing-life." What do these things do when humans aren't necessarily in centralized control? Though Culver is technically in control of the thing, her position should be recognized more as a facilitator. Her plaster audio objects have the human presence removed. The branding and design are missing from these familiar forms and there's no trace of us in the audio, aside from a sip or two.

Culver's work subtly blends into the background, encouraging the viewer to find the art.
Culver's work subtly blends into the background, encouraging the viewer to find the art.
Mikey Estes

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In Culver's studio at Grant Street Studios, we kept on confusing the sounds of the building itself with the sound of the work. Having to tune into the normally muted audio of the banal gave us a new sense of awareness. "I really want to bring up that feeling of having to find the art," said Culver. One of her sculptures, a pipe coming out of the wall, felt at home installed in a crevice of the industrial building. It's one of those things that could easily go unnoticed.

The build-up of the residue of our everyday brings some environmental concerns to light. There is something really beautiful about a plastic bag floating in the wind or a piece of trash glowing in the sunlight. These things have simply become a part of our collective visual vocabulary or our ecology. We're at the point where an empty Polar Pop could very well belong in a field of daisies, because we just don't notice it.

"It just makes me think about how these things are actively changing our ecology," said Culver, "It's eventually going to break down into really small pieces that infiltrate every system and affect us." Culver's work investigates these everyday things that make up our world today instead of dismissing them as debris. If we become more attuned to the noise of the mundane in Culver's work, maybe we can become more aware of the world of things around us.  

Metal cast of a balloon in Culver's studio.
Metal cast of a balloon in Culver's studio.
Mikey Estes

Tell us about your work in haiku format. look there, on the ground something insignificant? Or lively matter

What artist(s) are you really into right now? Stephen Shore, Los Contratistas, Gabriel Orozco, Julianne Swartz...really into Gustavo Torres's Instagram feed (@kidmograph)

What are you reading? I am currently re-reading Ian Bogost's Alien Phenomeology, or What It's Like to Be a Thing.

What's the last TV show, film, or video you watched? I watched the majority of a documentary on Atari, researching the dumping of games and consoles into a New Mexico landfill in the 1980s.

If you could collaborate with any artist, alive or dead, who would it be and why? I want to do a mail art collaboration with Yoko Ono.

What was the last exhibition you saw and what did you think of it? "Sparkle Baby," it was great!

Jeff Koons or Marina Abramović and why? Marina! Seeing her retrospective and The Artist Is Present on the very last day it was open at MoMa is something I will never forget. It was total serendipity. I've recently been looking at some of her other works from earlier in her career and I am in love with her series Transitory Objects for Human Use and also some of her early sound installations.

A video shot in a Polar Pop is projected through a Polar Pop, as well.
A video shot in a Polar Pop is projected through a Polar Pop, as well.
Mikey Estes

What's the best advice you've ever received? Keep showing up.

What are you currently working on? The installation of my MFA thesis exhibition, "Other Observations."

What's your most valued tool as an artist? My first thought was to say my Milwaukee 4 ½ inch grinder. It's a great tool. So, that and also the ability to notice.

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Use Current Location

Related Locations

miles
Step Gallery

605 E. Grant St
Phoenix, AZ 85004

art.asu.edu/gallery/step

miles
Grant Street Studios

605 E. Grant St.
Phoenix, AZ 85004

art.asu.edu


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