Our “Pew Fellow of the Week” series focuses on the artistic lives of our Pew Fellows: their aspirations, influences, and creative challenges.
Visual artist Lisa Marie Patzer (2019) spoke to us about how her practice and interests have evolved during the pandemic, the most useful piece of artistic advice she ever received, and her favorite “brain candy” for relaxing.
Patzer’s new media installations interrogate how emerging technologies—and the ideologies that inform their production—shape our lives and influence visual culture. Most recently, her work was included in the Da Vinci Art Alliance exhibition Philadelphia Forthcoming: The Endless Urban Portrait, part of Da Vinci Fest Live, on view online October 22–29, 2020. She also appeared recently on FringeArts’ Happy Hour on the Fringe podcast.
How did you become an artist? At what point did you begin to identify yourself as an artist?
From a very early age, I received training in various creative practices. My mother, an educator and musician, required that my sister and I be trained to play the piano as well as a stringed instrument. My great uncle, my mother’s uncle, was an oil painter and florist. He provided me with my first studies in the visual arts. Although I was involved in music, theater, and visual arts throughout primary school and college, it wasn’t until I moved from Colorado to San Francisco at the age of 23 that I fully identified myself as a visual artist. I was enrolled in a master’s program to become a licensed psychologist, while simultaneously taking visual arts courses in Berkeley, when I realized it was a fear of supporting myself financially that had been driving my decisions. Once I became conscious of my motivations, I switched gears and dedicated myself to the study of art. This is when I started to identify myself as an artist.
Why do you choose to work and live in Philadelphia? In your experience, what makes this art scene distinctive?
I moved to Philadelphia in 2006, specifically because of the art scene. Originally from Colorado, I knew that I needed to be in a city with a deep history of art practice for my work to flourish. Having experienced the performance art scene in San Francisco, I was looking for a city with that sort of tradition with easy access to New York, Boston, and DC, with an affordable cost of living. Philadelphia fit all of these prerequisites. The first time I visited Philadelphia, I had just spent a few weeks at the Vermont Studio Center artist residency program and drove from Vermont to Philly to scope it out. I saw a wonderful show at the Fabric Workshop and Museum by Do Ho Suh and had a tour of the studios at the location on Cherry Street. The rich cultural diversity complemented by robust art funding, spaces for emerging and experimental arts, as well as the established cultural institutions appealed to me then and continue to do so today.
What is your biggest motivator as an artist? What is your biggest fear?
I approach my creative work as a form of research through which I tease out and make visible ideas that are significant to understanding institutional, cultural, and psychosocial circles of influence. I am specifically interested in the history of technologies that intersect the personal and the public as well as how power dynamics play out vis-à-vis new media.
My biggest fear as an artist is having my work co-opted for the sake of propaganda. I consider myself to be socially conscious, with ideals of serving the public good. There comes a point in an artist’s career, when one has achieved a level of success and notoriety, when they attract attention from larger institutional entities and may be asked to compromise their best social intentions to garner financial support and continued success. Large scale creative works often are expensive to produce, and the artist may need to broker relationships with entities that may have the different ethics and ideologies as the artist. I fear being faced with this conundrum.
As we’ve become more reliant on technology in many ways during the pandemic, how has your work evolved—in terms of both how you create your work and what you’re addressing?
As with most non-essential workers, I’ve been working on a remote basis since March. Although I am accustomed to sitting in front of a computer for long stretches of time, the added layer of conducting all social and interpersonal interactions via a screen has left me craving a more tactile process when going to the studio to work. I have a background in oil painting and printmaking, and my desire to get away from the screen moved me to start working directly with physical materials. I applied India ink directly on strips of acetate and used image transfer techniques for the pieces in the Da Vinci Art Alliance show, Philadelphia Forthcoming: An Endless Urban Portrait. It has also been a relief to spend time working in the woodshop to create lightboxes for the show.
As for content, I have been spending a lot of time at home, much more than usual, having interesting conversations with co-workers about their domestic spaces. My current body of work is titled Houses of Domestic Memory and is an exploration of domestic archives using techniques of archiveology. It’s undoubtable that this intense time spent in the domestic space (both my own and others) has influenced my decision-making.
Now that the show is up and I am no longer working against deadlines, there are several threads that I’m interested in exploring for future work. Topics of personal risk for public protest and collective tragedy caused by technological disaster are themes I imagine revisiting in the coming months.
What single ethical consideration most influences the decisions you make as an artist?
As a white woman from a middle-class background, with formal training in the creative arts, I come from a place of socioeconomic privilege. Many people don’t have the time and resources to make art, especially with the use of expensive technology. This privilege comes with ethical responsibilities of which I am highly aware and struggle with daily. Most acutely, I am cognizant of my choices related to representation, perspective, and voice when making work.
What is the most useful artistic advice you’ve ever received?
One of my most cherished art mentors, with whom I worked while living in the Bay Area, was Mary Hull Webster. A very accomplished artist in her own right, Mary was incredibly generous with her feedback while also being at times brutally honest. She would often tell me it was important to keep one foot in the real world and to be patient with the creative process. The most useful advice she gave me was to not be presumptuous with my work. To wait until the work was ready.
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
If I were more astute at science, I would find it very interesting to be a forensic psychologist. My undergraduate degree was in psychology, and I have always had a deep interest in how the mind works, especially the capacity to repress and push lived experience into the unconscious, only to have it resurface in unusual ways. One of my favorite ways to relax is reading and watching psychological crime thrillers. I refer to this type of content as ‘brain candy’ because it feels like a guilty pleasure.
What piece of art has resonated most for you during the past several months?
I recently watched an interview with [artist] William Kentridge hosted by the Arthur Ross Gallery at the University of Pennsylvania. I was struck by Kentridge’s framing of the racial injustice in the United States, recently under the spotlight after the murder of George Floyd, and his connecting it with the risk of losing the ability to breathe from COVID-19. He showed an animated ink drawing he did in an old book. In collaboration with The Centre for the Less Good Idea [a South African arts incubator], Kentridge created highway billboards displaying the words ‘Breathe’ and ‘Weigh All Tears’ for The Highway Notice Project.
I have also been thinking about John Akomfrah’s video installation Purple at the ICA Watershed in Boston, which I saw in person over Labor Day weekend, 2019. This was the last show I was able to travel out of state to see before the pandemic. This immersive six-channel video installation incorporates hundreds of hours of archival footage and newly shot film with a unique sound score to address the topic of climate change. In my last two projects, I’ve used archival material in different ways. A Reasonable Expectation of Privacy reenacted the 1967 Supreme Court case Katz vs. United States and subsequent Supreme Court cases dealing with technology and privacy, and Houses of Domestic Memory reanimates home-movie footage from the mid-1960s through collage. I am interested in exploring other techniques of archiveology to create larger work addressing contemporary issues from a historic lens.