Interviews

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

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

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.

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.

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Mikey Estes
Contact: Mikey Estes