Carrying the Dog in the Bag: Elizabeth Emery / Cleveland interview with Jimi Izrael
Sculptor Elizabeth Emery was selected as part of the Cleveland Foundation’s Creative Fusion program for The FRONT International Cleveland Triennial. She corresponds with writer and culture-critic jimi izrael about FRONT, the Cleveland art movement he’s missing, the way her sculptures move and fellow dog-lover David Berkowitz.
jimi: Hi Elizabeth — how goes?
jimi: Are you a cat or dog person?
ELIZABETH: Dog. My husband is still so heart-broken and in love with our dog who died that we haven’t gotten another. I did foster a very cute, very dumb dog for a few weeks as she prepped for adoption. I’m considering a tiny dog to drag around with me in a backpack as I cycle around the city.
jimi: David Berkowitz started that trend you know, [with the whole ‘carrying the dog in the bag’ bit].* So maybe, I dunno. Be thoughtful about it.
ELIZABETH: My model is not David Berkowitz but Christina Vassallo, [the Executive Director] of SPACES [Gallery]. (EDIT: FTR, most dog people are criminally insane. #factsonly)
jimi: Does your regional origin inspire or inform your artistic sensibility? Certainly Philly and Cleveland are incestuous rust belt cousins of a sort.
ELIZABETH: Yes. Philadelphia was gritty back then – not at all what it is today. I liked that. I liked living in West Philadelphia. Totally old school. We walked all over, went to the local pool in the summer, took the subway to school, got hoagies from the place around the corner, played in the street in the humid heat.
A major influence was the Mutter Museum. My mom brought us there all the time and clearly it made an impression. Not that long ago, I was working on an artist talk and saw a group of sculptures I made in grad school next to an image from the Mutter Museum and they were SO similar. It wasn’t until then that I understood how much I took in during those trips.
We went to art museums often. Doing so is still important to me. I’m an artist – I love looking at art. When that is no longer the case, I’ll know I’m done.
jimi: Why are you here, in Cleveland? As a creative, I struggle to find community here, since always — how have you made roots and why?
ELIZABETH: I am in Cleveland, near Westside. We moved here from Cleveland Heights, which is too suburban for me. We moved…because my husband grew up in Cleveland and wanted to move back. He grew up in Cleveland Heights and knew it, so that’s where we started. I lasted 2 years.
jimi: Is there a midwestern aesthetic you pull from?
ELIZABETH: I think my aesthetic is city (just based on where I see other artists doing things that I am doing). Not sure what that means really. Clevelanders are nice. Maybe my aesthetic isn’t nice. There is always a bit of ugly in what I make and like.
jimi: I’m not sure Cleveland owns an art movement — am I missing something?
ELIZABETH: What’s happening in Cleveland now is really exciting. There’s definitely an energy. In ways it reminds me of New York City in the 80s. A sense of possibility and adventure. I love discovering new places, new businesses, new secret gems in town. I like that people lay low here, do their thing.
It’s exciting to be part of a large influx of art and artists into a pretty small geographic area. I look forward to spending more time in the area and getting to know more people there. It turns out my mother in law grew up in Glenville so it will be interesting to talk to her more about that.
jimi: I have some sense there is a push, pull and release in the work that is hypnotizing — what themes are you exploring?
ELIZABETH: Thank you. I like that.
I always think about containment, confinement, constraint, pressure. Ultimately it’s about power. My cycling career has had a big influence as well. What I make and how I make is about exploring, gravity, the body, weight, movement, relationships between one object and another and the occupied space.
jimi: Your work feels disruptive in a provocative way. I mean, it’s not for kids.
ELIZABETH: It’s interesting you say that because 1) kids love what I make. It’s colorful and just begs to be touched. It’s yummy. Yes, it’s ugly at times and aggressive but there is also a visceral attraction. 2) I am tossing around ideas for FRONT that will involve kids.
jimi: Tell me more about FRONT, and what we can expect.
ELIZABETH: There are a few ideas floating around in my head. I’m hoping my final plans include physical activity, fun, color, pattern along with a subtle shift in what’s expected. Discovering stories of current and past residents will be vital.
Time will tell. I tend to contemplate for quite a while then zip into action and experimentation. Being part of the FRONT Madison Residencies is an opportunity to work on a long term idea. No matter what, I’ll continue making sculpture and collage throughout the year.