When she bought the house eight or nine years ago she was really buying the studio out back, which at the time was more of an idea than a reality. It was barely standing up. Which reminds me: last night, after watching too much of a reality show on competing taxidermists (memorable line: “If it moves, he’ll mount it.”) I inevitably got bored and watched old House Hunters episodes. A woman from Nashville who works in medical equipment sales wanted more room than she needed and a yard which would allow her husband to build an elaborate pond for the two turtles she calls their babies.
The buyers on House Hunters walk in with pretty firm ideas and expectations like this, and brown carpet or a mustard wall is an automatic deal breaker. A kitchen counter which isn’t granite is instead something like the end of the world. Most of the artists I know look at prospective spaces in very different ways. I think maybe they’re used to looking at things in general not as what they are but what they suspect they could be. Artists have spent a lot of time strengthening these imaginative muscles. Imagine calling it a day because the canvas is blank.
You walk in to this green unit which started as an excuse for a building and it’s one big room. I saw the art hanging on the walls when I walked in but what I first thought about is how so many artists I know have crazy quilt floors in their studios. I like how the studio floor gives you permission not to worry too much about cleaning up after yourself as you go. You take that moment to clean up and the thing is gone. You can’t even remember if it was a thing. You look at the mess and it feels like the trail to an idea; it says you’re on to something. In your house it just says you’re slovenly and you’ve probably never explored your oven’s self-cleaning mechanism. In the house, it’s all about creating and enforcing an impression. In the studio there are bigger things to worry about. You walk into most people’s studios and feel they really have their priorities in order.
She has mostly paper but also some foam on the floor, if I remember. She works a lot with paper, cutting it down meticulously into parts – but also without. She shows me one small painting that she says represents what she used to do. There were complex, finely detailed backgrounds back then, tangles of foliage which often convened around a central figure. I can’t remember what she says about the shift but when it happened the figure left the paintings and the backdrop – lush vegetation, plant life as geometrical abstraction and elucidation, tensely working things out between these poles – grew over the footprints. You become the subject now, standing outside the work looking in. She spends up to a year and sometimes I think more on one of her paintings, which work in such fine tuned ways at perverting the standard, romanticized concepts of things like nature and growth and harmony and scale. In the work she does now nature is as scary as it is reassuring, restoring something disquieting to the term organic.
To the right, a few adjoined long tables where she seems to sketch and cut. A lot of her drawing implements are arranged there. Paints and solvents and brushes go elsewhere, on movable carts. The room seems to constantly shift with her ideas and practice, but the tables stay put, starting everything on solid ground. There are sketches and blueprints for sets she’s designed to be used in a piece called Moving Currents choreographed by Steven McMahon for Ballet Memphis, alongside notes about hiring a DJ, stacks of books, a box of rags, a lot of glue, jars of markers and pens.
Above the tables: an assortment of images and bits of things that seem like inspiration, though someone looking for a pond to house turtles referred to as babies would possibly characterize this as a sort of Vision Board. Remember when terms like that hadn’t yet reduced the process of inspiration to a sales pitch? You can’t look at any of this without it being framed somehow by views through several windows into the back yard. Given Erin’s work these windows seem like they’d have to be a continuing source of motivation, their compositions changing as time creeps along.
Straight ahead from the entrance on the opposite wall are works in progress, presenting some kind of calendar. She says her work has been influenced by the set design in ways she’s still in the process of figuring out. The sets are being constructed by others outside her studio, inevitably deviating from her original concept, requiring adaptation and adjustment, which is bringing her up against limits as she explores these new possibilities, introducing maybe a nice or maddening chemistry of control perverted by surrender into her practice, or more of it. McMahon said he wanted sets which moved and had parts which moved even more, that could be removed and incorporated into the dance. Designing these sets has somehow put her work itself on wheels in the studio too, so that the movement they seem to have always contained is trailing off in new directions, even less fixed than before.
In the middle a large table a little above waist height, where a middle stage of some kind between the low table sketch or inception and the display wall of execution takes place. If the display wall is the minute hand, this table ticks away the seconds. In one corner is a mound of squiggly cut outs which have been embellished with pencil or pen, edging closer to the three dimensional. In another area is a mock up of the ballet set pieces housed within a black box stage constructed of cardboard. When she sees the sets in use, real time, they won’t be isolated any more conceptually like this, and she expects that will be another light bulb.
Next to this table is a green chair. It seems to have no real purpose in the scheme of things until we sit down to talk. I think back to the studios I’ve visited and it seems like there’s always this random chair. “For reflection,” I always thought. And that must be part of it. But now I think maybe it’s in some way also a standing solicitation of outside influence in the form of a conversation, which is another way of approaching a barely there building with a thought toward how many different ways it can become more than it is.
Work outside the studio presents a constant pressure, so it’s hard to say when and how exactly she works in there. That’s always changing too.