Friday, September 11, 2009

Image and Text: Leonid Lerman

The following text is directly from the transcript of an interview I did with Leonid Lerman in the Spring of 2005. It was from a series of phone interviews I conducted with Leonid Lerman, Ann Hamilton, Scott Adams and Jerry Martin on the Relationship of Image and Text.

Leonid Lerman is a sculptor based in New York, originally from Russia He explains here how text influences his work.

Well, just to try to answer this question, "Why the text appears on my heads?" I would think that it was a failed attempt to make a metaphor that will convey that we all live in a text and we are part of that text; and we have been part of that text and at the same time we are trapped in the text and in the web of different meanings and we are always looking for meanings of life, to put it very simply. That raises a lot of questions and we keep finding different meanings for existence and sometimes they are so contradictory that one can feel trapped. And that was the initial idea that I was driven by. But to find the sculptural-sort of manifestation of that idea, I think is hard because sculpture is like that life of form in space and the text is, well it's...sculpture exists in our three-dimensional space and text is the gate that we use to get into another space, a mental space. So, I don’t know, sometimes it could be very conflicting and I think that the reason why I think I failed is because the text appears on the surface but never becomes never becomes a flesh of the sculpture.

I was thinking about the idea of the last....somebody, last creator. That idea was working its way through my mind for awhile and I was ready to, like I told you, to do the last architect, last emperor, last poet, last this and that...and then I bumped into a book that was called the “Last Man”. And what struck me is that the text of that book was so powerful and so enigmatic and so rich that I instantly-sort of connected this book/this text with the sculpture that I wanted to make. And it was a desire to make a sculpture that will be as strong, as enigmatic, as deep and mysterious as that text just was for me. And I actually used that text to cover my sculpture with. But anyway, it doesn't matter really what kind of originated the idea, what inspired me, but it was a very, very strong feeling of belonging. It's like you walk into the text thinking that you will get out soon and then you never get out. It’s a…that text had such a power, enigmatic power. It's like the question that was raised and you can spend all of you life looking for the answer.

Well, this is the struggle of my life in a way because I am a story teller by nature probably because I am attracted to stories. I am attracted to mythology. As the way to help me to get the essence of the human condition and to know how to live my life. That was the question that was haunting me, just, all of my life. So I usually start with ideas. I am sort of halfway driven by idea. And then there is that other half that does that kind of thing to me. It’s like, seeing the form that tickles inside of my belly and leaves me speechless. So I have to, each time I have to reconcile that and I start with the idea and then I slowly, I am trying to slowly move into the territory of the, kind of speechless, from the narrative to the more kind of formal.

When I started my career, when I just started to work as an artist, I had a very poor understanding of the difference. My objective was to get as directly as possible to the core of my idea. So if I see the human condition very tough, then I would make a man walking, actually walking on the razor blade. I sculpted the razor. I sculpted the man. It was very rough but; Here's a man walking on the razor. It's you can be more direct than this? But eventually I grew out of that because it is a little bit simplistic. So I have to just remove myself from this, to be very linear, and literal and narrative into a more, like, suggestive thing. It is living less for the literature and more for the visual and formal sort of intrigue. The irony is that I am using text, which throws you back to literal. But now text could be a powerful visual element. Like the depth of a letter that you press into the clay creates the shimmering effect. The surface stops being flat and you feel almost like this text is not printed. It's engraved. It's sculpted. It has its own depth. And I guess this is how it becomes partially sculptural language. But if it's a couple words, you sort of zoom into these words and then by just that fact that that word is thrown into your face and you are tête-à-tête with that word, you have to come with rethinking, with a new idea of what that word means and why it's there and not in the book, written in granite, in marble, in whatever it is and then...You are standing in the front of it? And most likely you come with different options, different possibilities. And I kind of like that because each time when, like we are confronting something, even familiar things, something is happening. You are getting to a different level of reality and perception. So even familiar words, they can gain a new meaning. If you only give yourself that chance, give yourself that time. And sometimes artists they are playing with that. They give us that chance and they are giving us this opportunity to rethink and go deeper into ourselves.

For me, as a sculptor, as an artist ideas come in a way of form and then you can take this initial literal idea and then develop it and change form to make it a little bit deeper and not so much a "one-liner". When I refer to an idea it's not a text. It's and image but image that could be translated into text. It's a literal image.