In Conversation with Liz Collins: A Textile Artist Threading Her Queer Identity Into Her Art

In Conversation with Liz Collins: A Textile Artist Threading Her Queer Identity Into Her Art

Photo by Vincent Dilio.

Photo by Vincent Dilio.

Liz Collins is a prominent feminist and queer textile artist that is currently based in Brooklyn, NY. She has worked and exhibited at institutions such as the Leslie-Lohman Museum and the Museum of Arts and Design, New York; and most recently at the New Museum for their groundbreaking exhibition "Trigger: Gender As A Tool And As A Weapon". Liz was generous enough to take time to answer some questions about her recent exhibitions, history into textile art, personal identity within her art, and future projects for 2018.

Alexandria Deters: Since discovering your work I have encountered your various forms of art and textile mediums. Your history into the world of textile art came through knitting and your fashion career in the '90s. What originally drew you to this form of textile art?

Liz Collins: I have always been an artist, since I was a little kid, possessing a persistent drive to make things. My textile work pre-dates my fashion career by many years, so fashion was really a five year period inside a lifelong relationship with fabric that included a youth full of various stitching projects: quilting, needlepoint, embroidery, etc. alongside drawing, painting, photography, making jewelry, etc; and eventually, lots of time during my time at RISD as an undergrad in Textiles Weaving.

I think one of my general intentions/desires in my art making, in whatever context I have worked, has been to create a visceral experience. When I did my knitwear collection in the late '90s to early '00s, much of what I made was designed to have an immersive impact on the wearer, from making that person feel transformed, to giving that person center stage as the one wearing the unusual and alluring garment. I used to hear feedback from people who had purchased my pieces that they had great sex the night they wore my dress, or everyone wanted to touch them when they wore my sweater…stuff like that. That was always a major turn on for me: to be subversively connected to people and their sensual experiences through my/their clothing. So in making environments, I am after this on a larger scale.

"I used to hear feedback from people who had purchased my pieces that they had great sex the night they wore my dress, or everyone wanted to touch them when they wore my sweater…stuff like that."

Installation view of Energy Fields, Tang Museum, Saratoga Springs, NY. Photo courtesy of the artist. 

Installation view of Energy Fields, Tang Museum, Saratoga Springs, NY. Photo courtesy of the artist. 

Installation view of Energy Fields, Tang Museum, Saratoga Springs, NY. Photo courtesy of the artist. 

Installation view of Energy Fields, Tang Museum, Saratoga Springs, NY. Photo courtesy of the artist. 

You have been included in many wonderful distinctly queer and feminist exhibitions & organizations starting from the beginning of your career. Living in the political climate of today, have these varying points of focus strengthened in your artwork? If so, in what ways?

My desires to create connections through community have strengthened during these times, and I have a great willingness to commit to labors of love, even when resources are not abundant. I am working on an installation/ exhibition right now that will be in the BGSQD, the Queer bookstore at the LGBTQ Center in NYC opening March 22. The show is called Cast of Characters, and it's a portrait show within an immersive installation featuring works by 60+ Queer-identified artists. It's going to be a wonderful, multi-media portrayal of who we are today as a Queer family, akin to the photo books that came out in the 70s- The Family of Man and The Family of Children..... This is The Family of Queers.

Installation view of Cave of Secrets, Trigger: Gender as a Tool and As a Weapon, New Museum, New York. Photo by Vincent Dilio.

Installation view of Cave of Secrets, Trigger: Gender as a Tool and As a Weapon, New Museum, New York. Photo by Vincent Dilio.

I absolutely loved your artwork and space you created in the exhibition "Trigger: Gender As A Tool And As A Weapon" at the New Museum. The entire show was so powerful, what did it mean for you personally to be an artist in such an important exhibition?

Thank you! It was an incredible honor to be included in this special show, and a complete pleasure on all levels to work within the context and with the New Museum curators and staff. I was thrilled to be among the 40+ amazing and fierce artists whose work I admire and respect, and to be part of this bigger conversation about the topics put forth in the vision of the show. I was given so much space to actualize a vision in response to the concepts of the show, and worked with the curators throughout the creative process, which had a huge and positive impact on what I built. It has been a high point for me personally and professionally in so many ways, and I am grateful to all involved who took me through this experience and paid attention to the work.

Several people who work at the New Museum told me that my installation was the best use of that space they have ever seen, which was a particular thrill to hear. And I also heard numerous times how much people loved the space and the work- what more can I ask for than that?   I also really loved getting to know some of the other artists in the show. Trigger really did create a strong community feeling, as there was so much interconnectivity among the artists, curators, advisers, friends, and colleagues. The turnout and energy at all of the events and performances that happened as part of the show programming really proved that.

"My desires to create connections through community have strengthened during these times, and I have a great willingness to commit to labors of love, even when resources are not abundant."

Installation view of Cave of Secrets, Trigger: Gender as a Tool and As a Weapon, New Museum, New York. Photo by Vincent Dilio.

Installation view of Cave of Secrets, Trigger: Gender as a Tool and As a Weapon, New Museum, New York. Photo by Vincent Dilio.

What is on your artistic agenda in 2018? Are you working on any new projects currently?

Lots! March is quite busy, with the Cast of Characters show I mentioned above coming up March 22-June 10. Before that, I'll have a solo show with LMAK Gallery at NADA art fair and I'll be presenting Andy Harman's sculptures at SPRING/BREAK. I will be in a group show in March at Sargent's Daughters called In Times of Perseus curated by Sophie Landres, and then I will spend my later spring and summer working on pieces for my solo show at LMAK Gallery this September, and on a big private commission.

Installation view of Cave of Secrets, Trigger: Gender as a Tool and As a Weapon, New Museum, New York. Photo by Vincent Dilio.

Installation view of Cave of Secrets, Trigger: Gender as a Tool and As a Weapon, New Museum, New York. Photo by Vincent Dilio.

Who are some female or female-identifying artists that currently inspire you now?

Carol Rama, Bridget Riley, Carmen Herrera, Carrie Moyer, Lenore Tawney, Nikki de St Phalle, Rosemarie Trockel, Eva Hesse, Louise Despont, Leonor Fini, Hilma af Klimt, Lee Bontecu, Ebony Patterson, Julie Meheretu, Phyllida Barlow, Diane Itter, Lynda Benglis, Agnes Martin, Dorothy  Ianone, Yayoi Kusama, Ghada Amer, E.V. Day, TuesdaySmillie, Wangechi Mutu, Anna Zemankova, Ann Hamilton, Berlinde de Bruyckere, Nancy Grossman, Barbara Chase Riboud, Lee Bul, Ruth Root, Isa Genzken, Nathalie du Pasquier, Marisa Merz, Louise Bourgeois, and many more!

Follow Liz Collins on Instagram @lizzycollins7

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