An Interview with Micah Lexier

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Micah Lexier. Photo © Miguel Jacob

Leaving Micah Lexier’s exhibition at The Power Plant in Toronto, one might find oneself playing an anagram game with his name. The exhibition, which features recent work, includes word-based work, like anagrams created in concert with experimental poet Christian Bök. Micah Lexier . . . A Crime Helix . . . Chimera El Xi . . . Ache Rile Mix . . . Lexica Re Him . . . Climax Ere Hi . . . The possibilities are as endless as the ideas in Lexier’s art.

It’s no wonder that The Power Plant—one of Canada’s most cutting-edge galleries for contemporary art—decided to devote all of its gallery space to a single artist.

In One, and Two, and More than Two, curated by Gaëtane Verna, Toronto-based Lexier leaves the viewer wanting more. His art is addictive, making you feel a bit like a game contestant desiring a last shot at the Big One. This may be because the recurring themes in his diverse practice (including sculpture, text-based work, installations and video) embody universal themes with which we all grapple at one point or another: time, lifespan and mortality, the culture of language, and creating order from disarray.

The show is divided into three parts: four large-scale solo works (One), three collaborations (Two), and a community show of over 200 works by 101 Toronto-based emerging and established artists, duos and collectives (More than Two), all of which were orchestrated by Lexier.

NGC Magazine caught up with the artist to talk about his process and this not-to-be missed exhibition, on view until 5 January 2014.


NGCM: One showcases your personal projects, including your first-ever video work, This One, That One. What prompted you to work in this medium, and can you tell us a little about this piece?

ML: This One, That One is the first video work I have made in about 30 years. I made a few video works back when I was a student, and This One, That One shares the episodic nature of those very early video works; but it is very much about my current interests in collecting and showing (off) what it is that I have collected. The video is made up of 20 “chapters”—each chapter consists of me presenting a single object or a grouping of things that I have found or collected. Each chapter starts with white and ends with white. In between, my hands enter this white field as I place an object, or set up a grouping of things in a certain arrangement. After I have settled on how the objects should be arranged, I then pick the pieces back up, and slide them out of the frame, leaving the screen white again. I have worked with these kinds of found objects for a while, but this is the first time I utilized a time-based medium to present it, and the first time that I have included my presence (my hands) in the final work.

NGCM: The exhibition component Two highlights your projects with writers, including Irish author ColmTóibín, and Canadian authors Derek McCormack and Christian Bök. What made you want to collaborate with writers in particular?

ML: I am in awe of what writers do. I admire the precision and specificity of writing. And these three writers are each so distinct, and so true to themselves, and so different from one another. They each gave me a perfect piece of writing.

NGCM: Do mathematics and puzzle-solving often play a role in your art?

ML: They do, but not in a very sophisticated way. I consider my puzzle-solving skills to be juvenile, at best. I like the kinds of puzzles and riddles that are printed on those paper tray sheets that McDonalds used to give out. Simple puzzles are great, as you get a tiny jolt of satisfaction when you solve them. So I use as many simple puzzles as I can in my work. I like it when my work can bring pleasure.

NGCM: More Than Two comprises over 200 objects and works of art by Toronto artists, duos and collectives. You curated this portion of the show, and often collaborate with other artists yourself. How important do you think artistic collaboration is? Do you feel that artistic collaboration is meaningful to a city’s art scene?

ML: Absolutely. For me, life is friendship. And collaboration is one way of extending and exploring that friendship. I try to pick my collaborators wisely: I gravitate to those that are super-nice and super-talented, and I try to rise to their level. It’s the same reason why you might choose to play tennis with someone better than you.

NGCM: You make art alone, as a duo, and in larger groups. Do you have a preference?

ML: I try to use the right tool for the job.

NGCM: Where does your penchant for patterns, categories, organizing, collecting and ordering come from? Did you collect objects as a child?

ML: I was born this way.

NGCM: You lived in New York for nine years. What made you return to Canada?

ML: I missed my friends. I missed being part of a community. I missed having a nice, big apartment to live in. I came back to a place that wanted what I had to give.

NGCM: What is your working process? Do you have a daily routine?

ML: Well, for instance, I am writing this at 11:43 at night. I work when there is something to get done. I take time off when I want to. I always meet a friend for lunch. I work during the weekends if I need to. But I try to get up early every morning and go for a swim or take a run, followed by coffee at a coffee shop, read the paper till I have to head off to a meeting, or else force myself to go back home and do some of the work that I need to get done.

NGCM: You’ve produced over a dozen public sculptures. Did you find the process behind any one of them more memorable than the others?

ML: The piece that I did for the Sheppard and Leslie subway station, which opened in Toronto in 2002, was pretty fun to work on and turned out quite well. The project consisted of asking thousands of different people to hand-write the names “Sheppard” and “Leslie” on paper ballots, which I, in turn, enlarged and had reproduced as ceramic tiles. There are about 3,400 different handwriting examples, each produced in an edition of five, to create the 17,000 tiles that cover every vertical surface of the subway station. When viewed from afar, the walls looks like they are covered in a consistent wallpaper pattern; but, as you get closer, the uniqueness of each tile and each person’s handwriting becomes more evident.

NGCM: The National Gallery of Canada has six of your works in its permanent collection. Can you tell us a bit about one or two of these works?

ML: One of the least-known is the boxed, photographic print edition called Two Pairs and A Palindrome. At the time that I made the work, it was a bit of an anomaly within my practice. I didn’t really know what it was that I wanted out of this work, but I had this desire to make it. I made it in response to an invitation to make a multiple for/with Paul Conway, who had published some of my multiples in the past. When he asked what I wanted to make this time, I told him that I wanted to make photographs of a number of pieces of paper that I had found on the street. Even though I had worked with found dictionary illustrations and other found drawings in the past, reproducing these street finds was a bit of an exciting deviation for me. Now, displaying, documenting, and presenting found pieces of paper and cardboard is at the very core of what I do.

NGCM: Who are your greatest influences?

ML: That is tough one, as it changes all the time. One way to answer it is that I am the child of an engineer father and an interior designer mother. Those influences are pretty self-evident in my work, particularly in this exhibition.

NGCM: If you could give one piece of advice to an emerging artist, what would it be?

ML: Always do things for the right reasons. Do things with integrity. Make things happen for yourself and others. Be your own biggest fan.

Micah Lexier: One, and Two, and More Than Two is on view at The Power Plant in Toronto until 5 January 2014. For more information click here.

Click here to buy the artist book published in conjunction with the exhibition.

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