Christopher Hart Chambers: Do you attempt to please the public, or do you try to shock them?
E.V. Day: When I was between college and grad school, I worked for an artist in Los Angeles. He said, “E.V., if you wanted to be famous, you know how to do it, you’re smart enough to do it. You have a choice.” I wasn’t trying to—take these things that are seductive to an audience and make something shocking.
Artists come from all different places in terms of how they make work, and I’m responding to things as I relate to the world. I grew up around a lot of superficial beauty, some of which I found humorous—
I decided that I was doing sculpture because I didn’t believe in the illusion of painting. I felt very strongly about it, and I attached ideas to Constructivist and Deconstructivist architecture and art, which gave me a place to start.
CHC: So you jumped to sculpture from a conceptual platform rather than training traditionally?
EVD: I never wanted to sculpt a figure or solid things—I wanted to make spatial things.
CHC: So, your materials are purchased rather than found and rearranged. It’s almost like three-dimensional collage.
EVD: They’re also found.
CHC: But never actually made. You wouldn’t sculpt a femur, for example.
EVD: No, though I look for ways of doing that because I like the process. I am actually good at it, and it’s very satisfying as a craft, but it’s never the entire piece. I love doing pencil drawings of nude figures, but I haven’t found a way that they make sense to me as complete artworks.
CHC: So, you don’t make sketches for the sculptures?
EVD: I do, but they’re more like notes, not what I consider a “drawing.”
CHC: Your work has been described as “feminist.” I don’t really get what that word means in relation to your art. Can you remark on that? Or maybe you disagree.
EVD: I can remark on it. Feminist to me means pro-female.
CHC: Would you say your work is feminine, but not necessarily feminist?
EVD: I would definitely say feminist because I believe in the word; it’s straightforward, not exclusionary.
CHC: I am still not sure I understand it in relation to your work. I can see the exploding bridal gowns as a rebellious stance, but not the cat fights.
EVD: Bride Fight, which included wedding dresses, was about exploding the idea of what a bride is; and a bride isn’t necessarily female anymore. You don’t have to be gender female; A bride is the props and the styling. That’s the way I’ve seen the world since I don’t know when. There are no figures, so it’s crystal clear that the feminine, princess-bride stuff does not assign to a gender. It’s a trope, it’s a style, it’s a way of being. It’s not about your gender—it’s about masking. It’s about masquerade. For me, androgyny is freedom. When I was growing up, I was expected to be a girly girl, and I never related to it. I was at friction with that whole concept—being stuffed into a dress— Being uncomfortable in the frills made me aware of being judged just for being female The women who came before me are most important to me. I was born in the late ’60s. My generation of women is freer than any previous generation. I didn’t have to burn my bra. I owe those feminists so much. They paved the way for us to develop our voices. So, I believe in the word feminist. I go to schools, lecture about my work, and do studio visits, and many times young students raise their hands and ask, “Don’t you feel pigeonholed by being called a feminist? That’s so retro.” I always answer, “If there weren’t feminists, you wouldn’t be in school here today, honey.”
CHC: So, if you were to pigeonhole your work in a category or label, that’s what you would call it?
EVD: I would be proud to. And I would hope to have a couple of other categories there, too.
CHC: Could you describe your creative process? Do things come to you in a flash?
EVD: I usually have a lot of different materials that I’m thinking about. A lot of times, they’re something new that I want to work with; I’ll see an image flash, and that’ll be a starting point. But then, I’ll get into it and develop it. It needs to have levels and layers, really two opposing aspects, before it all comes together. There’s a lot of research to do—like with Butterfly, a commission from New York City Opera for Lincoln Center. I knew very little about opera. I’d seen Madame Butterfly—the story is just painful. I learned about the characters from the wardrobe designers, and it was the costumes of the characters who suffer that were worth revising or twisting and re-contextualizing.
CHC: Do you think your work could have been done 50 or 25 years ago?
EVD: Maybe 25, but I’d be a lot lonelier. I’d be dead already.
CHC: Speaking of posthumous concerns, are your installations mapped out for posterity?
EVD: Yes, I make very detailed instruction guides for the placement of points and so forth. Catfight has a whole book. It’s built so that every line goes in a sequential order. We’ll keep the method of the system, but we don’t need to keep every single measurement because it is specific to the site.
CHC: The cages are basically smaller versions of the room.
EVD: Ideally, I would like the cage to be the actual size of the room so that the gallery becomes the cage. In some works, I would like the strings to continue their trajectory beyond the building, through the walls and the ceiling.
CHC: The smaller ones are more object-oriented and therefore saleable. What is the financial rubric for your enterprise, especially the larger installations? I suppose there are some zany zillionaires who might like to have saber-toothed tigers fighting over their living room, but there can’t be all that many of them.
EVD: I’m hoping that Mary Boone knows them. I originally made CatFight at Artpace, the residency in San Antonio. They commission you to make a work in about three months. They give you a huge studio, and that becomes your exhibition space. You can do whatever the you want. They also give you money, a stipend, materials, and people to help you to make stuff. I have been very fortunate to continue making a living from my work. I sort of envy artists who make their 20 paintings a year, and a collage. My work is hand-labor intensive. One gallerist told me, “You’ve got to get your hands off your work or you will be held back in the marketplace.” But the way I work, after I’ve got a piece going, there’s a gesture; and it surprises me and I have to keep going. I haven’t figured out how to manufacture a spatial installation without my hands. It has to be natural and spontaneous.
Christopher Hart Chambers is an artist and writer living in New York.