The Proust Questionnaire: Liz Magor
The Proust Questionnaire started as a Late Victorian parlour game, aimed at revealing key aspects of a person’s character. While still in his teens, author Marcel Proust answered a similar series of questions with such enthusiasm that, when the manuscript containing his original answers was discovered in 1924, his name became permanently associated with this type of informal interview.
Photo: Robert Orth
Liz Magor is one of Canada’s most important contemporary sculptors. Known for her technical virtuosity, Magor creates wry work that often blurs the line between real and fake. Using found and discarded objects as a starting point, Magor allows the materials themselves to inspire a final work or series over an extended period of time. As a result, she has become known for sculptures and installations that range from delicate casts of small, lifeless animals to a full-sized wooden shed cast in aluminum.
Born in Winnipeg, Magor grew up in Vancouver, where she studied at the University of British Columbia and the Vancouver School of Art, as well as at the Parsons School of Design in New York City. By 1988, her work had been featured at the world’s top international arts fairs, including the Biennale of Sydney, the Venice Biennale and Documenta 8.
Magor is the winner of an Audain Prize, a Governor General’s Award in the Visual and Media Arts, and the 2014 Gershon Iskowitz Prize. She has been featured in solo and group exhibitions around the world, including the Orange County Museum of Art, Triangle France in Marseille, the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, and the National Gallery of Canada, which has several of her works in its collection. She currently lives and works in Vancouver.
Your earliest memory of art:
We lived in Prince Rupert when I was a child. There was a clearing in the forest at the end of our street, and there were two long sheds there. In each shed there was a huge, carved and painted pole. The clearing, the sheds and the hidden poles were my first experience of the extraordinary.
When you knew this would become your vocation:
When I was about 12 years old, I was in a Saturday art class at the civic centre. We made hand puppets. The heads were papier-mâché and they fitted into a cloth shift with sleeves that covered the hand. From one Saturday to the next, I made as many little puppet jackets as I could manage, cutting the pieces out of any garments or rags I could find around our house. I coerced my little brother into the job, and together we filled a box full of these doll outfits. I took them to the class the following Saturday to show the teacher. She had an odd reaction, not what I was expecting. A bit shocked I think. Anyhow, I liked the push and the effort of production, and the transformation of mute materials into forms of my own invention.
Your greatest influence:
Canada’s West Coast.
Occupation you would have chosen (other than art):
Writing—poems, novels, journalism.
Favourite writer and musician/composer:
W.G. Sebald. Charlotte Brontë, José Saramago, Jane Austen, James Joyce, Martin Amis, Alice Munro.
Favourite colour, flower and bird:
It depends on context. Colours are interesting in relation to other colours; a good, weird combination gives me a thrill. Flowers can be big or small; peonies for cultivated, rose campion and foxglove for wild. I like watching birds work, especially beach birds—oystercatchers, kingfishers, crows.
Favourite food and drink:
Sugar; in moderation.
Favourite smell and sound:
I can’t smell much but I like the sound of Maria Callas singing.
All. Even plastic things.
Favourite environment or landscape:
Where the ocean meets the land.
Favourite weather or season:
Early spring. On the West Coast, that would be March and the first part of April.
Favourite expression, catchphrase, proverb or word:
Let it be. (I wish)
Your definition of happiness:
I’m very happy when I’m changing things. But I’m happier when I look around and feel that nothing needs adjustment. Unfortunately, that condition is pretty rare.
Ideal place to live:
Aspirations before you die:
To feel as close to people as I do to things.
To me art is:
The ordinary, shifted.
Click here to view works by Liz Magor housed in the National Gallery of Canada's permanent collection.