In my sculpture class at grad school, we were recently asked to interview an artist of our choosing. I decided to interview Chicago-area Bill Conger, whose melancholy, haunting, romantic small sculptures caught my attention. One of my friends at school saw my undergrad portfolio of work and said some of my sculptures reminded him of Conger’s work, and told me that I should check him out. You should, too, here at his website. It was a delight to speak with Bill Conger and I think we had a great interview. Enjoy!Bill, your works often reflect the notion of preserving memories and the impermanence of fleeting moments. Has your work always been interested in documenting and preserving memories, and what kind of narratives are you most interested in preserving?
No not always. But within the past 6/7 years, the work has slowly shifted toward memory and then to this idea of “moments.” The moment(s) I am referring to are not removed from memory very much, but are necessary to shift the work out of a self-referential place. Hopefully this allows for breadth regarding the ability to engage the work. Basically the pieces are about me, and are not. The themes covered almost always connect to mortality, whether through direct memory or self-preservation which affect us all.Many of your works incorporate real objects, preserved or displayed in a way to elevate their significance. How do you decide which objects to incorporate into your pieces? Were they objects used in your everyday life that hold some personal narratives(for example, “Numbered Nights” is a framed tissue box; “Willing Still” features two grape-stained popsicle sticks), or is it more about the symbolism behind the object?
The objects and they’re symbolism if find intriguing because they are different, but in a sense they are not. Because an individual understands objects through a subject symbolism, I guess the real nature of the object is somewhere between the two. Willing Stillis the older of the 2 works you describe, and it is certainly more experiential in that it refers to childhood, but also a childhood which has been used or has passed us by. The sticks are the proof that the popsicle existed…a skeleton of sorts I guess. So, there is that loss which charges the work, but also lingual connections like the repeated L’s in Willing Still which reverberate into the pairing of sticks. I really enjoy that the psychological space the works inhabit is much bigger than their physical nature.Numbered Nights builds off of the same idea in that the content(s) of the piece which inform it and it’s sadness (Kleenex tissues) has actually been spent leaving a box without contents which is subsequently flattened into an cold abstraction which creates a struggle within the reading of the work. A you can probably tell, I really enjoy the elusive qualities of the paradox.You said in an interview recently for Make Space (http://make-space.net/2012/01/03/other-investigations-bill-conger/) that you try to achieve “clunky, unpredictable, sad” effects in your work… could you elaborate on that?
Well I don’t think any of those three signifiers work terribly well separately, but together are extremely affecting. I think this is so because we as humans can identify with all of those things and are as such, clunky, unpredictable and sad. I like to imagine that people who enjoy my work have a self-deprecating quality about them shielded by massive ramparts of confidence which I enjoy trying to breach.Some of my personal favorite pieces of yours are from the 72 Series, where you rendered delicate, impermanent objects such as popsicles, leaves, sticks of gum, a blueberry and ice cubes realistically (in materials such as aluminum, silicone, and acrylic), thus preserving them in a permanent way. How did you decide to go about the idea of preserving memories through the rendering of these specific, fleeting objects?
Thank you. Well I didn’t foresee that strategy. It just kind of emerged. I was interested in replicating signifiers of my childhood, particularly my childhood at 5 years old. I found that the mass produced object was fairly empty in terms of content. The ones that really caused an ache similar to that of memory were the objects which have a linearity or lifespan. So in a reversal to the popsicle stick piece (and these were produce earlier yet) the impermanence was accentuated and poeticized through their permanence in replication. These are beautiful pieces but ultimately I felt the “attempt” was more impacting than the resulting sculptures.This past January, you were a panelist for the First Annual Jackelope Art Conference at Northern Illinois University, where I am currently a first year graduate student. Can you describe your experience on that panel? Are you involved in any other panels or conferences?
I enjoyed the experience at Northern very much. Mind and Material was the panel I believe. I was on the panel with Allison Yasukawa and Adam Farcus. It was tremendous fun and led to a two-person exhibition with myself and Adam at Box 13 in Houston which opens on November 3. The exhibition is called Radioactive pal? -Pal, radioactive which is taken from the poet John Berryman’s Dream Songs. I am not scheduled to be on any panels at the moment.How have your myriad of projects been going in this past year? And what do you have in mind for 2013?Thank you for asking. This year was really wonderful and packed with opportunities to investigate my practice. Of the exhibitions I have done in 2012, there will have been 3 two-person shows by the end of November—with painter Peter Shear at Best Friends Gallery in Arlington Heights (spring 2012) and a show called The Strawberry Thief with Colin Tuis Nesbit at Helmuth Projects in San Diego opening November 10. I also had my second artist book entitled Your Minepublished by Wrenwood Press and are now available for order at http://methodsofbeing.com/. Thank you for the opportunity to discuss my work.