Elizabeth Stevenson was born in Toronto, Canada and earned a degree in architecture from McGill University in Montreal. She has lived, studied, and worked throughout Europe, Asia and the Middle East, arriving finally in Wichita in 1998, as the result of a bizarre series of coincidences. Stevenson found a surprisingly vibrant art scene in Wichita, and was inspired to put her travels on hold, in order to explore the possibilities. Choosing to remain in Wichita, she has become increasingly involved in the arts, both in an organizational and advocational capacity. She is currently the director of Fisch Haus, in the Commerce St. Art District, and works as an architect in Wichita and Montreal.
After graduation, both the process and resultant aesthetic qualities of my work were, not surprisingly, generated by the inevitably modest budget of a young artist and architect. However, I believe that they have developed over time into an artistic language that not only satisfies my fascination with “discards”, or, rather, what exists just outside the edges of our collective experience as a society, but also is productive in a manner that is formally reliant on coincidence, or rather, good luck. Often I will come across an object or condition that consequently directs a piece, or even initiates a completely divergent tangent.
As a corollary to this belief that some important decisions are better left to chance, I am intrigued by buildings that follow rules of what I call ‘the architecture of necessity’. I respect architecture that directly acknowledges the relevance of a necessary set of parameters; whether they are physical qualities of site or budget, or philosophical concerns of context, efficiency or sustainability. I believe quite strongly that this combined process of problem solving, when resolved by sound design, guarantees an architectural product of great aesthetic and inventive merit. I attempt to integrate these factors into my artwork as well, and consider the properties and pertinence of each component that I add to the whole.
In conjunction with discarded objects, I am also interested in similarly obsolete spaces. My greatest pleasure is to explore abandoned buildings and somehow transform this energy of discovery into a tangible product that might prolong or enhance the encounter. Further, I am fascinated by cities in their entirety, and positive that they withhold a vast wealth of secrets from their indifferent public. Whenever I visit or move to a new place, I attempt to learn these secrets and perhaps ‘trick’ the city into exposing more of itself than it might otherwise.
The formal pursuit of this peripheral environment begins with the series entitled, “The Girl Who Lived in a Sign, Chapters 1-10”, following a girl who builds a house in the space between the faces of a roadside billboard. Here she is absolutely hidden, as not only is she out of sight visually, but also socially: few people would consider the narrow sliver of air inside a billboard to be usable space, and so would never even register its existence as they drive by at sixty-five miles an hour. However, the girl has designed a wholly acceptable dwelling within these odd dimensions and, in so doing, created the perfect place to both hide and watch the oblivious city move beneath her. I have written a story to accompany this series, recounting the girl’s adventures as she finds the sign, builds her house, installs a watching machine, and then draws a map derived from her observations (Chapters 1-3). In so doing, she discovers an entire system of motion in the world below (Chapter 4), invents a means to control this movement herself (Chapter 5), and finally realizes that she must create a new city in her own image (Chapter 7); possible only after she has first negated a specific group of urban elements by capturing them in a machine that is powered by a manufactured gravitational source (Chapter 6). “Self Portrait” (Chapter 8), is both a discourse on her self-conceived tripartite representation, and a portal into this new city. In Chapter 9, the girl moves from simply watching and manipulating, to actually interacting with her environment. She soon discovers that, in reversing her process of isolation, she must now adhere to established cultural norms, and is compelled to make herself clothes; specifically, a dress. Able, then, to move through the streets less conspicuously, she notices that her perceptions have become somehow kinetic, in that the information she receives from her eyes seems to differ from other, more intuitive and abstract sensations. She attempts to resolve this rather disconcerting three-dimensional palimpsestic impression of direction by recovering her magnetic sense (Chapter 10); a sensory organ that she hypothesizes must have originally been more prevalent among the human race, having de-evolved with the advent of cartography. In order to be able to understand, and therefore use, this new sense, the girl builds a map-making machine that allows her to track the variations between her visual and magnetic perceptions. Equipped with this additional awareness, the girl sets out on another adventure.
The story continues.
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