Lili Huston-Herterich is a Toronto based artist. Originally from Chicago, since studying at York University in Toronto she’s developed a multi-disciplinary practice that employs a broad range of media and spaces, from site-specific installations to handcrafted or thoughtfully manufactured pictures, photos and objects. She’s exhibited across Canada and in the United States in both group and solo exhibitions, including an ambitious solo exhibition at The Power Plant in collaboration with Laurie Kang and Nadia Belerique in 2015. More recent exhibits include Showroom at the Art Museum of U of T and Soft Rug & Chirping Bird at AC Repair Co.
I grew up in a family of artists, my dad is a performance/video artist, and my mom is a painter and photographer, so we had this relationship with making. I learned to do cyanotypes, knitting or crocheting. Photography was a medium I felt I could use in a more autonomous artful way, whereas these other practices felt more personal or domestic.
When I graduated York, I moved in with Brad Tinmouth and co-founded and directed (the now defunct) Butcher Gallery out of our living room. Additionally, we each had a room as our dedicated studio.
Because my studio was in my home, it kind of collapsed the two worlds. I ended up having this moment where I didn’t know what the right type of creative work to be doing was, what was valid as an artist. That ended up being a gendered conversation about the hierarchy of art and craft, and that’s how my practice started expanding into different materials.
There was a period in which I was just using blue because I was interpreting it as the color of clean. I was making a lot of work about housekeeping, and a gesture towards a un-gesture. In scrubbing, you’re using motions of your body to remove marks, remove presence of the hand, but those same gestures can make marks.
I’m constantly trying to get away from any kind of association materially or conceptually with my practice because I want to continue to grow outwards. I think I’ve been dodging a lot of categorization for a while now, I don’t know how long I can keep that up.
I had a solo show in 2013 at Xpace, and those stools stacked over there were in the space. I made a concerted effort during the exhibition to un-stack them and rearrange them in the space; I sat on them for a while and invited people to sit on them. They’re sculptural works, but I wanted them to be moveable and to be affected by the viewer.
Part of producing work is allowing the work to take the form of whatever its home is. If a person is going to purchase a work and bring it into their space, it’s up to them how it’s used. The space that I can control is the exhibition space.
I would never shy away from being a political artist, I think that artists need to have some kind of politics; as an artist you really cannot get an objective perspective, it’s all subjectivity.
The artist’s role in the gentrification of working class neighbourhoods is constantly on my periphery, I’ve been thinking about it a lot. The neighbourhood I grew up in, in Chicago, really gentrified throughout the course of us living there.
I think there’s a version of conscious development that is possible. Toronto is very valuable real estate, and Sterling Road, my former shared studio location, is one of those spaces that could be utilized more; but I think there’s a responsibility with developers and the city to really figure out what it means when something like Liberty Village happens, and how to prevent it from happening again.
There’s a consciousness that has to happen and I think that artists can be pivotal in it by understanding their position in this cycle and maybe own it a bit more, not be so isolating.
I’m working on a project for AC Repair Co. titled Soft Rug and Chirping Bird and I want to make sculptures in collaboration with the kids that live there. I want to talk about their dream rooms, what the room looks like, create this sort of garden of possibility. Hopefully through working with them, they will understand a little bit further what the fluorescently lit garage at the end of their street is without having to feel like they’re not involved in it.
As a human being I hope to not constantly be chronically looking for space. Maybe there will be a moment in my practice where I don’t need to demand a space. Maybe that will be better politically than demanding a space that ends up occupying someone else’s territory, or a place that a family could live. For now, artist’s need space.
—Lili-Huston-Herterich, as told to Studio Beat
Photos & Interview by Jessica Baldanza