Inspired by her experiences from L.A. to Giverny, Greenwich-raised artist E.V. Day continues to shock, amuse and move audiences around the world.
Her art has been called edgy, poignant and futurist. A few minutes talking to E.V. Day and the New York-based sculpturist reveals a personality much like her work: honest, energetic and always with a playful balance of humor and purpose. Day broke ground and got her first big break with her Exploding Couture series, Bombshell in 2000. The installation deconstructed the iconic moment in the classic film The Seven Year Itch when Marilyn Monroe's skirt is blown by a subway grate. It was included in the Whitney Museum of American Art Biennial and has since become part of the permanent collection. Much of her work involves monofilament fishing lines and tackle hardware, creating taut lines between a floor and a ceiling upon which she suspends various materials—often involving pop culture imagery "The Italian futurists' preoccupation with velocity and motion and their love of aerodynamism inspires much of my work," said Day. "I started painting when I was in college, but when I began to create in three dimensions, it was really liberating to have an almost limitless quantity of processes and technologies to deploy in the service of velocity and anti-gravity." Since 2000, she has continued to garner national attention for major installations at respected art venues around the world including the MOMA in New York City and Philip Johnson's Glass House in New Canaan, Conn.
How did you first become interested in art? I think I knew from a young age, but I didn't think I was going to be able to pursue it. I grew up with the notion that "you've got to have marketable skills." I kept my jobs for a long time, even after I was in the Whitney Biennial and I was able to live on the sales of my work. I worked for artists and galleries and got into art production for commercials and other projects.
What did your early freelance jobs teach you? It was fascinating being in a room where millions of dollars are being spent in a moment for making the perfect drop of condensation on a milk bottle. It gave me real perspective about the choices I make and made me realize whether my work is successful for a wider audience or not, art is important. It was eye opening.
Of all the places you have worked and lived in your life, which places have had the greatest influence on your work? The two years I lived in Los Angeles between college and graduate school definitely have had the greatest influence on my work. For me, L.A. is a microcosm of everything in American culture: the good, the bad, the ugly—with a predominant sheen of beauty (both natural and artificial). More specifically, NASA's Jet-Propulsion Lab in Los Angeles, one of my favorite places on earth, and space and anti-gravity have long served as inspirations. Plus, the urban landscape is dense with irrepressible wild foliage—tropical plants issuing from cracks in Culver City sidewalks—and that climate of fecundity/fertility is where I like to live in my mind even when it's chilly in my studio in Brooklyn.
You Live in Brooklyn with your husband, Ted Lee, award-winning cookbook author, where you both work at home. How do you manage to juggle work and fun? He has a professional kitchen. I have my studio. His world is grounded in food. Mine is more esoteric. I think we have a mutual sharing that happens in our relationship. We take each other to different places. We enjoy each other's worlds. We don't go on vacation and clock out. If we are traveling he'll start interviewing a chef and I'll go visit a gallery or museum. It all blends together. Our life blends with our work. We understand each other in that regard and help each other.
Among your residencies and fellowships, you were an artist in residence at the Fondation Claude Monet's Garden in Giverny, France. What was that experience Like? How did it influence you? It was incredible. It's hard to find words for how amazing and transformative it was to live and work on Monet's estate during the peak summer months. And to be honest, before I went, I was apprehensive because the opportunity had arrived totally out of the blue. You don't apply, you just get chosen, and I couldn't envision the correspondence or resonance between Monet's world and my own work up to that point. But as soon as I walked in the garden for the first time, the total eye-level immersion in floral seduction—so much nature designed to lure and attract the bees to perform their frottage with the flowers—it all connected pretty instantaneously in my mind with the anti-gravity/velocity/feminine forces I'm interested in.
Tell us about your installation at The Glass House in 2013. In a Lot of ways architect Philip Johnson, who bequeathed his former residence to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, was a sculpturist as much as he was an architect. How do you identify with Johnson? It was thrilling because, as you say, Da Monsta is at once a work of architecture and a sculpture (its form based on a model that Frank Stella gave Johnson as a gift). And as both building and sculpture, it's very expressive. Its form has a distinct personality—cartoonish, monstrous—and also when you go inside the building it's menacing, in a playful way, because there are no straight lines inside the room. It actually induces vertigo! Working with Da Monsta was a tango of sorts. I responded early on in the project with the urge to harness it, to capture it. That's where the red web of ropes tethering the building to the ground comes from. And then inside the building, I delineated every curve with angle iron, which tamed the room's vertiginous effect. But then I felt the need to anthropomorphize the creature even more, to give the animal a voice, so I added a sound element. I took a recording of my cat purring and looped in into speakers installed underneath the floor, so you heard this rhythmic breathing, like the monster is napping—sort of sweet, but maybe also a little ferocious. I wanted to make visitors see Da Monsta more as a living character than inert architecture.
You just returned from a trip to NASCAR. Was that for work or play? A little of both. I was a guest of Jimmie Johnson. He was convincing me to do an installation of a fire suit he wore in a race he won in 2006. Being in the pit at NASCAR with Jimmie—nothing else comes close to it except a shuttle launch—the athleticism and precision. The aerodynamics of it are fascinating. They are going 200 miles an hour with a cage around them and wings. I'm really excited about it in thinking about the approach I will take. I am going to a facility where they build their cars next. I hope they have some things I can learn there and incorporate.
How does your current piece fit into your CV? It's the first male garment I've used in my work. In some ways, it's similar to the wedding dress series I did. Johnson wants something celebratory to mark the experience—something that shows how his career transformed in 2006 and all these things started going right. It's similar to the duality of my exploded wedding gown as well. For anything to change, there is a sort of violence—a rupturing and turning into something else. A central point in a lot of my work is about that moment. It's not about the violence though. I'm married. I'm not against marriage. It's about the emotion. It's about the shift and celebrating all those elements that come into the parade of it.