Elizabeth Tubergen

The triangulated relationship between the artist, the artwork, and the audience is at the foundation of my practice, especially as it manifests spatially. As a queer woman with a slippery gender identity growing up in an extremely conservative family, I have developed an acute awareness of my own otherness and the way that my body takes up space. As an undergraduate, I attended a small, southern, conservative Christian university, eventually going on to become the school’s first art major. As a young sculptor, my perspective developed as a direct result of contemporary art survey courses and independent study sections, and I gradually began to see myself in a different way. Instead of seeing my body as a site of pain, trauma, and awkwardness,
I started to see it as a site of imagination, urgency, aliveness, and potential connection. Looking
at art and making art made me realize that I was not alone and developed my ability to empathize. When I take up space up with my art, I also take a political position aimed at making more space for difference.
My sculptures produce an “ongoing space of encounter” (Michael Warner, Publics and
Counterpublics). They act within, under, above, and around architecture and people, engaging sites as fundamentally relational places. I want to press the viewer and the object together in order to create an experience that is not exclusively frontal or visual—I want people to enter or touch the work. I make objects that either mark or direct the passage of the body in order to evoke the viewer’s critical reflection on power, orientation, and desire. I borrow from monumental, domestic, and athletic rhetorical forms and deploy them with a feminist, post-structuralist logic that is necessarily contextual. I see Elephant for Any Occasion, for example, as a queer monument. Its presence and scale are odd; it is very large but simultaneously feels small, dwarfed by the grandiose architecture it references. To ascend the
staircase, a never-ending circuit, one must circumnavigate the sculpture and enter through the
rear. To enter the piece as a viewer is to emerge in its center and to ascend is to put oneself on display. Once one is at the top, the vista is blocked by ancient and dirty ductwork and one appears to those below as a body without a head. During the exhibition, a group of performers also collaborated with the sculpture over the course of several evenings. This included a performance of “Stairway to Heaven” by two Dolly Partons in drag, a demolition porn, a mock wedding ceremony, and a reading. Apparition, a piece created for Socrates Sculpture Park, explores the way spatial construction
influences human behavior, with Queens as its point of conceptual departure. I have lived in Queens for over ten years, and I continue to watch its architecture change very rapidly, glass towers spreading out from the waterfront, consuming the skyline with their reflective facades.
They are built with private, glassed-encased lobbies designed to keep people out and keep people
moving, rather than stoops or front yards where people sit, eat, talk, argue, play and linger, getting to know their neighbors.
Apparition is surfaced with inviting, soft, recycled foam. It is part staircase, part landscape. It nods to an architectural syntax, but it is also a non-utilitarian and psychologically undetermined space. This ambivalence is an expression of queerness as a spatial, phenomenological condition, one that seeks freedom from the kind of enforced clarity of an urban experience lived in oversized, over boundaried, binary architecture that collapses transitional space.
The Stranger, a large-scale commission I completed in the fall of 2018 for a group show at Tabakalera, in San Sebastian, Spain, takes Jean-Luc Nancy’s eponymous book, L’Intrus and the migrant crisis in Europe as its point of departure to re-think the representation of the stranger/other. I built two large armatures joined by swinging, padded, steel gates. Room-sized tents hung from these wooden skeletons, housing a video and a series of photographs by two other artists. The choice of materials (fabric, wood, foam, and metal) reflect temporary architecture, such as scaffolding or tents, and the fabric also references porosity—allowing
sound, light, bodies and the artwork from within the tents to bleed back into the main exhibition
chamber. The sculpture itself consumes a large part of the exhibition hall and is impossible to see in its entirety from one point of view. The entrance to the space is perpendicular to the structure itself, which runs at a diagonal through the length of the exhibition hall. When passing into the hall, the first thing one encounters is the void created by the gates at the center of the piece and then the masses created by the tents.
My studio practice consists of periods of research (both conceptual and material), model making and drawing, and intensive periods of production for large-scale work. I do my production almost entirely myself, and work in such a way that most of the pieces of each sculpture I make can be moved by myself and one friend or assistant and then assembled on site. I am excited by and committed to large scale sculpture as a way of physically asserting a vision that makes space for otherness and welcomes the creation of meaning through direct contact with subjective viewing bodies. Working large means working slowly and steadily—I learn from each piece I make even though it may take years for those lessons to be put into action. Sometimes my work is financed in part by the sites that commission it (for example, Tabakalera in Spain, or Socrates Sculpture Park in NYC) but more often it is financed by my fulltime work as an educator, part
time work as an assistant to an aging painter, and summer work as the sculpture shop manager at
I am an artist not only because I think of myself as a maker — someone who thinks with materials and their processes — but also because I believe that art is a field in which it is possible to question fundamental belief systems and cultural values. Art is a space where it is possible to think about the world differently; an exciting space of freedom and active engagement.