Margie Livingston

Outer Space presents:
Circumambulation: A Participatory Performance
by Margie Livingston
Saturday, August 25
Genesee Park

I am constantly questioning the very definition of “painting.” Circumambulation de-skills and transforms the act of painting into a participatory action using chance procedures. Participants will drag paintings around Genesee Park, inscribing the surface with the ground and blurring the line between spectator and creator.

Dragging a painting is both comic and dark. Originally, I intended to harm a painting so I could explore the potential of mending it. Enacting this gesture was more powerful than anticipated. A deeply private person, I felt overcome by embarrassment, even shame, performing such a peculiar activity in public. Yet at the same moment, in those new sensations I recognized energy for future work.

Experimenting with collective action, humor, and shame, Circumambulation brings people together—to create a new kind of landscape painting—in hopes of sparking connections, conversation, and empathy.

Margie Livingston,
August 2018

Documentation + Q&A

OS: Before we get into the show itself, could you give us a little background on what brought you to dragged paintings?

Margie: Originally I intended to harm a painting so I could explore the rich potential of mending it. Enacting this gesture was more powerful than I anticipated. A deeply private person, I felt overcome by embarrassment, even shame, performing such a peculiar activity in public. Yet at the same moment in those new sensations I recognized inspirations for future work.

OS: How would you define a “painting” and how has that changed over your career?

MargieMy definition of painting has expanded over the years from simply paint on a surface to objects made out of paint to include the performative act of making a painting. Now I think of painting as:

  • A web of connections and conversations
  • A history
  • A set of materials, tools, and concerns

Barbara Rose wrote of “painting’s capacity to materialize an image.” In this sense, the marked surfaces of the “Dragged Paintings” record the strain of my muscles, the resistance of their faces against the earth, and more precisely, they embody the image of their making.

Ultimately, I believe in the expressive power of paint.

OS: How does walking relate to your practice and/or to painting?

Margie: Walking has always been an important part of my life. It’s a time for reflection. I used to walk with my mom after dinner and on vacations at the beach, so there’s also a layer of nostalgia.
As Rebecca Solnit writes in her history of walking, Wanderlust, “If life is a journey, then when we are actually journeying our lives have become tangible with goals we can move toward, progress we can see, achievements we can understand, metaphors united with actions.”Perhaps this is why taking a painting for a walk is so satisfying because the duration of the walk determines the outcome of the painting.

OS: Each painting starts as a panel of several layers of colors, how do you choose the colors for the paintings–is it based more on a palette that you like or are the colors individually significant to you?

Margie: I’ve used several different color strategies over the course of this project including: intuition, using the palette from favorite paintings, and adopting the colors from the fabric I sew into the lining of the backpacks.

OS: What are your thoughts around labor–the physical act of dragging–in relation to these pieces?

Margie: There’s a quote by Karl Marx that has framed my thoughts on the labor of making a dragged painting: “Labor is the living, form-giving fire; it is the transitoriness of things, their temporality, as their formation by living time.

OS: You’ve talked about how dragging the paintings can feel embarrassing, was humiliation intended to be part of the works, and if not has it become part of the work or is it more of a side-effect?

Margie: The embarrassment is what has kept me interested in this work. I found it really fascinating to have a trigger for shame which allowed me to study my experience of this powerful affect.Shame is an instinctual reaction of the body. But it’s also social. From a very young age we’re taught to feel shame when our behavior goes outside accepted norms. This is especially true of how young girls are raised. I remember being trained to be mindful of what other people are thinking about my appearance and behavior.

Judith Butler wrote: “I think for a woman to identify as a woman is a culturally enforced effect. I don’t think that it’s a given that on the basis of a given anatomy, an identification will follow. I think that ‘coherent identification’ has to be cultivated, policed, and enforced; and that the violation of that has to be punished, usually through shame” (interview with Liz Kotz in Artforum).

OS: Circumambulation flipped so many of the norms of standard art shows on its head–instead of looking at previously made art, the audience did the work to make the art; instead of buying work the audience could get paid if the painting they dragged sells at your show in November at Greg Kucera Gallery; instead of keeping a distance from the art audience members were invited to drag the art on the ground; instead of a controlled environment it was in a wet park; etc. How did it feel to flip the script on the traditional format and what were some of the more surprising experience from the show?

Margie: The experimental structure of Circumambulation was the exciting part for me. I didn’t know if people would even show up let alone want to drag a painting. I was surprised by how thrilled they were to drag a painting around Genesee Park and how much fun they had. I love that kids, parents, artists, friends, elderly people, and people from the neighborhood participated.
An artist friend of mine brought her three-year old and they dragged a painting together. After they went home, her daughter made a sculpture to drag. When it was done, she said to her mom, “OK, mom, I want to play Margie, so you drag the sculpture.”

OS: What’s next for Margie?

Margie: I’m finishing up the work for my upcoming show Extreme Landscape Painting, which opens at Greg Kucera Gallery on November 1, 2018.

The show will include a new series I call Day Hikes—paintings and artist-made backpacks that I took on hikes to places like Wallace Falls, Quinault Lake, and Lake 22. I’m excited because these new works bring together so many threads of meaning:

  • Sewing the backpacks connects me to my mother who taught me to sew
  • The backpacks also connect me to my father, who made pack-pack frames for us to carry our home-made sleeping bags with when I was growing up.
  • The fabrics I’m using for the backpack linings bring in the domestic realm and DIY decorating. I’ve been using the colors of the lining fabric to determine the painting’s layers of color.. These same fabrics could easily be used for a slip cover or a pillow, creating a conversation between the ravaged paintings and ideas about décor.
  • Hiking is the wilder version of my lifelong love of walking.
  • There’s a layer of nostalgia connecting these hikes to the backpacking trips with my family.
  • Of course, Extreme Landscape Painting this is a romantic project, with connections to my studies of Caspar David Friedrich.
  • But these works also create an opportunity for me to consider the history of colonialism and what my responsibilities are as the descendent of settlers.
  • And finally, I like to think of the alternating layers of gouache and acrylic paint, are a metaphor for a way of being in the world: tender and tough.

And as far as upcoming performances, MONA FOMA invited me to perform at their three-day festival in Tasmania (January 2019), where I’ll be dragging paintings, inviting other artists to drag paintings with me, and collaborating with Dylan Sheridan, an Australian sound artist, to create an installation using recordings of the paintings being dragged.

OS: And lastly, my favorite question: what are your favorite foods (both right now and all time)?

Margie: Right now my favorite foods include dark chocolate, fresh figs, and Beyond Burgers.

OS: Thank you so much! Your show was a huge success. Any last thoughts or things I didn’t get to?

Margie: Forrest, I’m honored to be part of Outer Space. Thank you for including me, for all of your support, and for making it so fun. I’m looking forward to seeing what you do next.