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Nabokov is famous for his remark that if satire is a lesson, parody is a game. Liz Magor is known for her exploration of that which we think of as real or authentic, and that which we know to be fake or inauthentic, and the confliction that we experience in the face of their confrontation.
Ian Carr-Harris

Born in 1948 in Winnipeg, Canada, Liz Magor is one of the most important Canadian artists of her generation. In the course of her career spanning over forty years—including participating in the Venice Biennale (1984) and documenta 8 in Kassel (1987)—she is concerned with how man relates to things.

Liz Magor is fascinated by the culture of production and value-creation, hence of consumer goods, to which, as is known, people have an ambivalent relationship. She deals with regular everyday objects, using them in her installations either as readymades or replicating them with other materials. She makes casts of all kinds of discarded and undervalued objects, from toys to cigarettes to tree trunks, combining them with things she finds in everyday life in order to prompt speculation about the loss of a certain commercial appeal or about the deceptive shininess of the surface. The interplay of materials distorts how they are valued. Worn-out flea market items are hardly distinguishable from the sculptures she produces; in other words, object and sculpture are directly intertwined. Which item retains which status? Or, as Beate Scheder asks in the taz: “What value does something have and why? What effect do things have on us and we on them?” Through specifically orchestrated gaps and modes of presentation, Magor’s works develop a narrative potential akin to the literary form of the short story—lacking both a beginning and ending, they are out-takes from an overarching account of the social margins of our current production-oriented society. By working in series and presenting multiple casts of the same form side-by-side, in order to then differentiate between these by adding mass-produced goods, she clearly contradicts the current concept of identity. She herself says: “The horror of having an identity that is not unique is persistent and tightly woven into our manufacturing, economic, and social ideas.”

The re-discovery of Liz Magor’s body of work in Europe is linked to a new generation of artists for whom the self-referentiality of materials and the potency of objects represent crucial elements in their art production. In the context of the “material turn,” Liz Magor’s work is interesting in that it assigns a key role to the material world in the development of social structures. Her engagement with the most varied materials, her idiosyncratic visual vocabulary, her avoidance of all pedestal forms, and the combination of sculpture and space she creates, represent a tendency in sculpture in which viewers are constantly challenged to sort through their perceptions, comparing them to real life, and then abolishing them again through subjective forms of knowledge.


Text: Bettina Steinbrügge


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