Liz Rodda is currently an Assistant Professor at the Texas State University School of Art & Design. She was born in Sacramento, California and received her MFA from MassArt in Boston. Working in a wide variety of genres, materials, and modes, Rodda’s work is simultaneously raw and polished, vulnerable and confident. Working with a synthesis of fantasy, anxiety, desire, and control, information is re-presented and molded so that we become wrapped up in its present-ness. I am thrilled to introduce you to the work of Austin-based Liz Rodda.
Gracelee Lawrence: I am absolutely intrigued by your sculpture The Vow. The attractiveness and promise of the vibrant yoga mat combined with Elizabeth Taylor’s perfume (or rather my imagined interaction with that smell) create a reserved sense of balance and disquiet that I am interested in. Can you talk about the making of this sculpture?
Liz Rodda: The piece was made while working on a solo show for the Crisp-Ellert Art Museum in St. Augustine, FL. At the time I was interested in the mythology surrounding St. Augustine- it is home to the Fountain of Youth Archeological Park where Ponce de León supposedly landed. I started thinking about the historical, ongoing obsession with aging, myth and beauty. About the same time I read an article by Slavoj Zizek called Western Buddhism. He writes about the West’s adoption of ancient Eastern spiritual practices, like Buddhism. I’ll quote him here—“although ‘Western Buddhism’ presents itself as the remedy against stressful tension of capitalist dynamics… it actually functions as its perfect ideological supplement”. So, in this reading, The Vow, reveals a potential remedy as a contradiction. Like you said, the piece creates a sense of unbalance. The rock is placed where a head might be and the yoga mat looks like it is trying to levitate. Elizabeth Taylor’s perfume, embedded in the rock, brings a new element— the invisible object is supplanted in the thoughts of the viewer, which finishes the work.
GL: Seduction, upkeep of the physical body, and beautification seem to be reoccurring themes. Here are some of my first reactions: I took the title PLANB as a reference to emergency birth control, the yoga mat as an object mostly used by women in the achievement of a different physical/mental state, and hair dye as a quick and clear way to change how the world associates with one’s body. Do these connections resonate with you?
LR: PLANB http://lizrodda.com/category/planb is a highly schematic work with a number of intersecting lines—it looks like a diagram. The work seems organized, or structured, in a way, but the title and materials suggest something else. The steel frame is covered with gorilla glue, bath salts and Himalayan crystal rock salts. Then I sprayed the whole thing down with Kilz to seal in the ingredients. There was an interesting chemical reaction between the glue and salts—it started bubbling and made this thick lumpy texture. I like using materials that we live with, like yoga mats, glue and bath salts, to dissect the world around us. In a way, the works are more about a material language than a visual language. Himalayan crystal rock salts alone are loaded—they are often marketed as a healing product. Kilz, alternatively, is used to permanently cover up stains. The piece came from a personal fixation with accidents, unexpected outcomes, quick fixes and the desire to erase personal history.
GL: Much of your work seems to be talking about bodies, and in particular women’s bodies. What is your relationship with feminism in the context of your work?
LR: A lot of my work can be characterized as feminine in terms of color and material choice. I’m working with blonde hair dye for an upcoming solo show at David Shelton Gallery in Houston. Overall, I don’t have a specific political agenda, but I make work about being female since it’s what I know. It’s interesting that male artists rarely get asked this question. After all, feminism isn’t limited to gender issues. Female artists are often expected to have a clear-cut response to their relationship with feminism. I’m not sure I do. I have nothing but admiration and appreciation for those who came before me and continue to dedicate their lives to the pursuit of reproductive rights, equal pay and many other critical issues. Unfortunately, the term “feminism” is such a polarizing term today. I also think it’s a term that is malleable for many—it seems to mean different things to different people. The funny thing is that I had a very clear, confident response to this at one time. At about 19, I considered myself to be a radical feminist and made it a point to read books by women only. I was really inspired by the writing of Djuna Barnes, Simone de Beauvoir and many others. Sometimes I miss having that sense of conviction.
GL: Talk about the Just The Way You Are video- to me it is strikingly sad and hopeful, although oddly voyeuristic and sexualized. Are the clips found footage? The appearance of the yoga mat in The Vow is given a bit more context after watching the girl’s bodies move in this video.
LR: The video was made in 2009 and The Vow was made in 2013, but I definitely see the link. Just The Way You Are is comprised of YouTube videos played side-by-side. On the left a young male plays an instrumental version of Billy Joel’s Just The Way You Are and, on the right, a series of teen girls perform the splits, primarily in their bedrooms. There is a strange relationship between innocence and sexuality in this piece—the girls are literally spreading their legs in a really dramatic way, but performing the splits is also a technical feat. I was a gymnast from about 8 to 14 and I feel incredibly lucky YouTube wasn’t around. What is so interesting to me is that all it takes is re-contextualizing a video—in this case, showing girls doing the splits next to a boy playing the piano—to create a sort of dilemma and unsettling tension. No one is doing anything wrong, except for me maybe, but there is a definitive sense of unease. Overall, the videos seem to suggest a kind of collective aloneness and the sincere desire to perform for one another.
GL: Lastly, how long have you been a part of the arts in Austin? How has your involvement shifted over time and what changes have you seen?
LR: I moved to Austin about two and a half years ago to take a teaching position at Texas State University. I have been developing a new area of specialization, Expanded Media, within the Studio Art Program. It’s been exciting, but challenging. Other than that, my involvement with Austin has consisted of eating tacos, drinking margaritas and buying succulents that look like aliens. In terms of art, I’ve attended a number of openings, talks and performances hosted by both alternative and institutional spaces. Austin is clearly growing at a ridiculous speed—which is welcome by some and unwelcome by many. For the artists in Austin, I think the hope is that growth will bring even more smart, alternative spaces and attract international critics, artists and curators. Austin is a fun place to live and I feel lucky to have landed here.