Q&A with Ellen Garvens


Ellen Garvens, Greens, 2022.

Q: As an artist who uses found objects, what does being lost mean to you?

A: I love this question and the leap it makes from finding unexpected objects on the street, or in communal hallways, to the idea of getting lost. Being lost is a state of mind where you are the most open to noticing new things/relationships/possibilities. Much of the studio time I spend is an open-ended wandering around. I often try things that have little hope of working but I still trust that something will come out of it, then or later. Being lost does come with discomfort. I still trust I will eventually arrive at something, but know that something will never be what I expect.

Ellen Garvens, Super Tulip Day, 2022

Q: How does it feel to find an object you want to use in an artwork?

A: Sometimes I feel quite uncertain. I might pass something up on the side of the road, then turn around and go back for it, or chicken out and hope it will be there tomorrow. I might see anthropomorphic qualities, or be drawn to how it has had an unremarkable domestic life. Things with no value have potentials I get excited by.  So the feelings are mixed—uncertainty, hesitancy, alongside unrealized opportunity.

Q: How do you express vulnerability in form?

A: Precariousness in balance, tensions pulling at something in an unexpected direction, defying gravity and denying any stability or foundation are a start. Also weightlessness and implied movement. If it makes me hold my breath while constructing it, I feel vulnerable with the objects. I am often “under the gun” because the foundations are about to fall yet I continue to pile things up. I feel the tension of being quite clumsy and going through failures to get there.

Ellen Garvens, Gorky V, 2022.
Ellen Garvens, Standing Table, 2022.
Ellen Garvens, Division, 2022.

Q: What can you learn from teaching?

A: I’ve had my frame of reference challenged and opened up multiple times working with students. They have different concerns and different priorities. Flexibility and knowing there are so many solutions possible have come from seeing lots of work and communicating with so many different types of people.

Q: What is something you’ve lost that you’ll never stop looking for?

A: Rather than philosophical I’ll be mundane. I am hopeless. I lose my phone in the house several times a day. I don’t dare ask for help, they are sooooo sick of me looking.

Ellen is a professor at the University of Washington School of Art, chair of the Photomedia Program. She received a B.S. at the University of Wisconsin (1979) and a MFA from the University of New Mexico (1987). She has received a Fulbright–Hayes Scholarship, National Endowment for the Arts Individual Fellowship Grant, and an Artist Trust /Washington State Fellowship. In 2021, Garvens was an artist in residence at I Tatti, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies. Her work has been shown nationally and internationally and featured in Each Wild Idea by Geoffrey Batchen, Contact Sheet by Light Work, and the journals Creative Camera and Visual Studies.  

Currently, she photographs temporary set-ups that mimic drawings and play with visual illusion. Her work has consistently been a cross between photography, drawing and sculpture often blurring the boundaries between them.  Also interested in documentary work, between 2003 and 2010 she made a series of photographs in prosthetic clinics in the US, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand. The images were then used as a catalyst to hear and record stories and thoughts from the patients, prosthetists, and researchers.

Ellen Garvens: Holding Unsteady
Koplin Del Rio, Seattle, WA
September 17 – November 5, 2022

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