October 4, 2012
Stanford artist Terry Berlier makes art from trash, and from a twisted home
Professor Terry Berlier brings her art practice to campus with a solo show at the T. W. Stanford Art Gallery and a presentation at a Leonardo Art/Science Evening Rendezvous event.
By Karli Cerankowski and Robin Wander
Assistant Professor Terry Berlier works on the installation of her show, 'Sounding Board,' in the Thomas Welton Stanford Art Gallery. (Photo: Linda A. Cicero / Stanford News Service)
Terry Berlier spent her October-to-January sabbatical not shredding the slopes of the Sierra or sipping hot cocoa by the fireplace, but pushing a discarded shopping cart around a city dump collecting odds and ends to function as the raw material for her art.
Three works from her dump days plus two other recent works will be on view at the Thomas Welton Stanford Art Gallery on the Stanford campus. The exhibition "Sounding Board" runs Oct. 9 to Nov. 18, with an opening reception at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 11.
The newest work in the exhibition, This Side Up, Handle With Care, transforms Berlier's actual home into a precisely half-size wooden frame model that is half right side up and half upside down. Twisting the model – its walls made from instrument strings – in the middle creates a vortex and an opportunity for the home to be played, which it will be by composer Luciano Chessa at 7 p.m. Nov. 13.
Berlier also will be discussing her recent work at the Leonardo Art/Science Evening Rendezvous (LASER) at 6:45 p.m. Oct. 10 in Jordan Hall.
An interdisciplinary artist
Berlier is an interdisciplinary artist who works primarily with sculpture and expanded media. Her work is often kinetic, interactive and/or sound-based and focuses on the environment.
Earlier this year, during a sabbatical from her position as assistant professor in the Department of Art and Art History, Berlier found herself digging through other people's castaways as an artist-in-residence at Recology. The San Francisco-based disposal service seeks to divert waste from landfills through programming, including the transformation of trash into art.
Though Berlier does not always work with recycled materials, she said that "appropriated objects have had an ongoing presence in my work. The found object has had a long history in art and I had actually found myself moving away from it in projects prior to the Recology residency."
It was her growing concerns with environmental conditions that led her to the residency at Recology and back to working with found objects.
Berlier spent nearly four months gathering and reworking materials from Recology's public disposal area. She got an up-close look at the items people throw away, including pianos, birdcages, antique telephones, shopping carts, computers and unused wet cement. "I learned that people throw away everything," she said. "I know it sounds mundane, but completely brand new things or completely usable or Goodwill kind of materials all end up there."
Berlier used the materials to re-build 17 pieces of art, each commenting on our relationship to trash and the environment. Although she didn't routinely dig through garbage heaps prior to her residency, the process of gathering materials converges with her philosophy as a conceptual artist. "I choose materials and processes based on the underlying ideas in the work," she said. "The materials and concepts are interdependent upon one another, so the result of those two things coming together is what my work is about."
The pieces Berlier created at Recology return us to our trash in new ways. They show us how trash can be repurposed, so that it is no longer trash at all. Her works also remind us how much we waste and the distance we create between our waste and ourselves. Because much of her work is interactive, these pieces require the viewer to physically engage with the trash.
In the construction of Where the Beginning Meets the End, which is included in the exhibition, Berlier took apart an old piano from the dump and created a circular device from ivory keys and parts of a Mac laptop and Dell keyboard. She used the computer parts to run a program that produces sound when the keys are pressed. The computer program, she said, "can make it sound like anything," and like all her work, this piece is very much about "rethinking things."
Not only does the piece engage viewers with repurposed trash, but it also causes them to rethink the actual process of creating music and sound by transforming the piano into a more collaborative instrument. As Berlier said, "The way these keys are stretched out, you have to discover new ways to play it, and it becomes a collaborative effort where multiple people are invited to play at once."
The collaborative and interactive nature of some of Berlier's works is germane to her artistic purpose: "I consider site and audience while producing sculptures that often incorporate sound, kinetics, installation or video."
This engagement with technology is also recurrent in Berlier's catalog: "My work investigates how the passage of time and construction of history mediate our understanding of ingenuity and progress. I am particularly interested in making visible technology's vulnerabilities and illustrating how easily modern inventions can become footnotes to a bygone era."
Karli Cerankowski is a doctoral candidate in the Program in Modern Thought and Literature.