Going strong after 7 years: Lilly McElroy

Did you know the OPP blog just turned seven-years-old at the end of August 2018? In honor of our birthday and the artists we feature, we'll be sharing some blasts from the past throughout the year. In this post and over the next few weeks, we'll share new work from Featured Artists interviewed in the first year of the blog. Today's artist is Lilly McElroy.

What's new in your practice, Lilly McElroy?

A Woman Runs Through A Pastoral Setting, 2014. Video.

Lilly McElroy: This was a surprisingly difficult question to answer. While the work has evolved and looks very different, I’m still dealing with some of the same issues that I was addressing when you first interviewed me in 2010.  My projects are still about the desire for connection and control, or perhaps, more accurately, those two things are still part of the work that I’m currently making. Humor and absurdity are also still big parts of my practice. I’m most comfortable when I can get the viewer to laugh, but my projects have become more wistful and darker. Now the laugh I’m hoping to elicit is one that is tinged with sadness. For example, I just filmed The Big Game, a video of a man chasing me through the woods while he plays Gary Glitter’s Rock and Roll Part II on the trombone. The video is funny, but it is also violent.  

Hopeful Romantic, 2011. Video. Duration: 3min 59 sec.

Nature or images of nature are present in my current work. Even though I’m still interested in making work about connection and the desire for connection, I’ve stopped making social work. I’m no longer approaching strangers and asking them to participate in my projects. Instead I’m using the landscape. In 2011, I made a video called Hopeful Romantic for which I drove across the country and played Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark to the American landscape. This was the first project that didn’t involve any social interaction. I was alone for the drive and I was alone in the video. This video lead to other non-interactive works that involve the landscape. 

I Control The Sun #18, 2016. Archival Pigment Print 40" x 40."

My ongoing photo project, I Control The Sun is a series of photos of my arm jutting out into the landscape as I attempt to grasp the sun. I make a photograph every time I enter a new geographic location and have been working on the project since 2013. On their own, the photographs are beautiful and allow me to indulge in making pretty pictures. However, when you view them as a grid of images the repetition becomes obvious and that creates a sense of desperation. I’ve also spent the last year working on a project called Sanding Away A Year’s worth of Sunsets for which I printed out 365 8" x10” photographs of the same sunset, stacked them together, and have been laboriously sanding away the image of the sun by hand. I sand for an hour a day and the stack is 4” thick. The longer I work on the project, the harder it becomes to sand and the less I am able to accomplish in that hour. The project is also changing my body.  I keep having to reset the finger print id on my phone because the sand paper I’m using is scratching up my skin. The process feels ridiculous, but is producing an object that records the effects of my labor. At the end, the viewer will see a stack of photographs whose main subject has been scratched out.  

Hour 1 & Hour 100 fromSanding Away a Year's Worth of Sunsets, 2018.

So, duration, repetition and process have become components in my practice. Another change is the fact that I’ve started using objects and images both as stand-ins for my body and as characters in my work. I think I’ve missed being behind the camera. I also like the way objects bring additional meaning into work and are so easy to anthropomorphize. In Let’s Dance, a cactus riding a Roomba moves around a balloon that is tied to a rock and is being blown around by two fans. The two characters, the cactus and the balloon, dance around one another until they are both destroyed. It is both funny and heartbreaking.  

Let's Dance, 2018. Video. Duration: 4min 34sec.

The biggest shift in my practice, however, is the collaborative project that I’m currently working on with the artist Christopher Carroll. After years of helping each other film videos and make photographs, Christopher suggested that we make work together. Our project, I’m here. Now What? focuses on our relationship with and feelings of alienation from the natural world. It began with the construction of a simple stage in the woods in Maine. On the stage, we performed actions and filmed them. In a segment of the video, I treated an image of the landscape as a romantic hero and posed with it as though we were on the cover of a romance novel. In another segment, Christopher utilized a drone to explore the surrounding woods while he remained seated on the stage. The project keeps expanding. In the summer of 2017, we held a performative screening on the stage during which Christopher used a hunting tree stand to scale up a tree and play the cello. This summer, we decided to move away from the stage and explore the surrounding woods. The exploration began when we destroyed the stage with axes as seen in our video, Chop. This collaboration has helped expand my practice and opened me up to new ways of working. It allows for experimentation. I’ve never utilized drawing or mark making in my practice, but after chopping up the stage we made a gravestone rubbing of the wreckage. That act and the resulting drawing were exciting for me.

CHOP. 2018.

Read Lilly's 2010 interview.