"Elizabeth Alexander amazes us with her sundry array of simple materials that she then complicates and manipulates into completely different objects altogether. She seems to express the challenging thoughts and feelings that we have about being a woman in popular culture in a way that is at once both elegant and chaotic. The works are a mystery when seen from far away, just texture and color, drawing the viewer closer in to see what they are made of and how they are made. On the way, one will find symbols and references leading to a deeper inspection of the (female) human experience."
Artist Partner with Hodges Taylor
I am an interdisciplinary artist specializing in sculptures and installations made from deconstructed domestic materials. I hold degrees in sculpture from the Cranbrook Academy, MFA, and Massachusetts College of Art, BFA, where I discovered the complex nature of dissecting objects of nostalgia. My work has exhibited across the country at institutions including the Museum of Art and Design, , the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the North Carolina Museum of Art, the Southeast Center for Contemporary Art, the Nasher Museum at Duke University, the Currier Museum and is included in permanent collections at the Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, AR, Fidelity, and the Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC. I am currently an Associate Professor at the UNC School of the Arts.
I use cast paper and common household materials to unpack the social, cultural, and psychological implications of the American ideals of domesticity, success, and safety. This work can range from objects such as a disassembled teacup, to a photo series of altered environments, to site-specific installations with sound and performance. My interest in exploring American values and the idealism of home stem from a loving yet tumultuous working-class upbringing where our home was the center of our world.
I think about what it might look like if the spaces we inhabit embodied our emotions and the more complicated elements of ourselves. Contrary to the idyllic image of the unblemished American home, I ask if a space that holds financial stress, trauma, chronic pain, or mental illness can still carry love, magic, and joy. Long hours of unmaking and rebuilding found materials provide room to examine such supposed truths within the domestic sphere and search for beauty among taboos of our shared humanity.
Raised to see the possibility in found or unwanted things I regard the domestic environment as an extension of human ingenuity; every curtain sewn by mom, steel furniture made by dad, a dollhouse from old bookshelves. From a similar stock of thrifted items, I collaborate with the history of an object as my raw material. Once a youthful exercise in curiosity, I find catharsis in purposeful acts of deconstruction and revitalization of these found materials. Objects and spaces that hold a certain potency within culture can be imagined in ways that reveal truth under the surface.
I can envision the American landscape without totems to the Confederacy in The Great Enemy of Truth. Familiar glimpses of items such as an armchair can provide points of entry into invisible elements such as suppression or trauma. In 2008 Keeping Up Appearances responded to the fleeting ideal image of home in the face of the recession. Welder’s Daughter: The Waiting Room broached the collective grief in 2020 through an opulent tableau of a rust damask, paper tool husks, and decorated PPE. Now, all these years confronting illusions of safety within our familiar walls has brought me to consider the climate crisis in All Things Bright and Beautiful, and currently informs much of my studio research.
Repetitive processes serve as centering elements and to record memories and observations through labor. The act of extracting every flower from a roll of wallpaper builds a familiarity with the patterned contents that informs a more intuitive reconstruction of the parts. Whether it is the curling and draping of voids across a fabric curtain or clusters of harvested print from a wallpaper adhered to a cast paper chair leg, a wild form of chaos unfurls from these ordinary domestic origins. Gardening and farming are embedded in my DNA and I cannot ignore the obvious influence that nurturing and watching things grow has had on the way I use material. The making of a work spans many weeks of meticulous attention, yet the result often finishes in a precarious freeze frame as if you are viewing the work in transition.
Regarding home as a place that is shaped by our stories and bears witness to our secret lives, I use my own experience to explore ways we, in turn, are shaped by our homes and the activity within them. It is the place where hidden pressures, values, and power structures are taught, enacted, and reinforced. I work to envision the humanity embedded within our surroundings and uncover the porousness of our walls and the interconnectivity we often forget is there.
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