In Conversation: Alex Tedlie Stursberg
Alex Tedlie-Stursberg explores the constantly flowing streams of interactions and transactions that make up our society in a practice that combines sculpture, assemblage and collage. Interested in the “bottom end of the market”, Tedlie-Stursberg’s works tend to incorporate what might be bluntly referred to as garbage – not just waste and discarded objects, but actual earth and soil. The finished works exude an eccentric, fantastical energy, seeming to come neither from the future nor the past, but perhaps an alternate timeline or dimension. This humour and irreverence characterizes Tedlie-Stursberg’s practice; in the past, he has created video art from a Ron Perlman movie and a mock campfire from found objects.
All the works in Everything Flows make use of detritus, mundane discarded ephemera like shotgun shells or obsolete currency. This isn’t the first time you’ve worked with such material – you’ve made a sculpture from empty paint tubes and some of the works in this show were created from trash scavenged on the beach. Can you speak to this interest in making use of the things society throws away?ATS
I think the first medium that I had any success working in was probably collage. There is something about putting things that come from different places together that I find very satisfying. Like by placing materials on even footing you are creating a democracy between them. Which in turn makes these materials feel different than they did before. At least, that’s probably the root of this motivation to take rejected things and reformulate them.
Acquiring things through thrift, salvage, or barter are all approaches that are common in my practice. I’m interested in social interactions that occur at the bottom end of the market. So there is maybe a slight political motivation here, but perhaps more interestingly for me there is also a heuristic motivation… I like how recognizable objects behave when they are recontextualized. I like how this confuses the senses.
There is an evident question here around value but it is a light and frequently humorous one. For example the expelled paint tube cube came from me working as an artist assistant for a successful painter. The tubes were a byproduct of his practice and I wondered whether they may be valuable as a result of his hand. Or could further value be added by crushing hundreds of them in to a cube? Perhaps not, but it is interesting to consider.
What previous works or line of research led to the creation of Everything Flows? How did this show evolve out of your previous practice up until now?ATS
I finished my MFA in 2016 and moved back to Vancouver, whereby I spent about a year failing in the studio and making works that went mostly nowhere. I don’t think I was really prepared for the transition from student to practising artist, but the change had an impact on what I was thinking about and making. I needed to do some experimentation again and began to work with concrete a lot. By mid 2017 the emotional confusion I was feeling was mostly out of my system and these new works began to emerge. I went to Banff Centre for the Late spring residency last year which was a really rewarding and productive experience (two works created there are presented in Everything Flows). Perhaps for me the most exciting part about this new direction is that I don’t exactly know what these new works are doing. They feel purposeful, but with an element of the unknown. They come from a place I’ve never been. Recently I feel that I have begun to crystallize a language that is my own, with sculpture taking over as my preferred method of making. This exhibition marks the first coherent display of works that operate within this language.
You also have a strong interest in the idea of value, especially as it relates to the art market. There seems to be a tension between the idea of taking discarded, essentially valueless trash, and reworking it into an art object with an assigned and highly subjective monetary value. Were these ideas something you were thinking about while creating the works in this show? Do you feel like your choice of material ever impacts the way your works are received in the contemporary art market?ATS
I remember a funny moment during my MFA in Glasgow where in a group discussion I suggested to my cohort that we all wanted careers as artists. There was a lot of groaning from the group and it was a sort of “speak for yourself Canadian” moment. This experience gave me something to think about. Places that are highly competitive can force artists to put marketabillity of their work at the forefront of their practice (perhaps without even knowing it). Honestly I do want a career as an artist, but if we make work with the thought of how it will be received by the art market then we aren’t really using the entirety of our creative selves.
I cannot suggest that by reformulating a previously valueless object I have all of a sudden infused it with value. What I have attempted to do is reformulate it’s meaning and therefore how we might encounter it. Perhaps I am saying that these objects have value, but I feel that consideration goes beyond just the economic. Obviously there are a lot of ways to relate to the word “value”.
In the most literal sense, the title Everything Flows refers to the two works that are also fountains. What led you to the idea of creating fountain sculptures, and what else does the show’s title signify?ATS
I chose this title because it’s a sort of grey wording that doesn’t mean anything but can mean everything. It’s meant to signify how things in our world are interdependent. It hints at the political-economy of materials, or how things become a part of our lives and where they go after they have fulfilled their purpose. At the core of this consideration there are two powerful forces (human society and nature) smashing into eachother in a neverending back and forth exchange where everything is flowing in to itself.
The title Everything Flows is actually borrowed from my favourite Teenage Fanclub song, which is a sort of melancholy song that accepts the process of aging. In this sense I think it also points at another layer within my own practice, or the things that inform how I make art. For me there are a multiplicity of things that motivate me to make work and often these motivations don’t come directly from the world of visual art.
You describe yourself as a “post-medium artist”. Could you elaborate on that phrase?ATS
Were it possible, I’d prefer to avoid categorization. But I think that multidisciplinary or even post-conceptual may actually be a better way to describe my practice as it is intensely material, yet not necessarily without medium. Though it feels like every contemporary artist uses the term multidisciplinary in their statement these days, it may be the most sensible term for when you don’t have a medium of choice. I was using the term post-medium as I believed it correct to describe a practice that is without a main medium. Yet after reading more about this term, I began to realize that calling things post-medium is often employed as a way to distinguish high art from low art. It’s a bit of an art market trick. My understanding is that when installation art, found objects, and video work all became dominant modes of making, the art world began employing the term post-medium as a way to try and elevate and group these works. So I think I will leave it up to others to decide whether my work is post-medium or not.
You obtained your BA and BFA from Simon Fraser University and then studied at the Glasgow School of Art. How would you compare the arts communities in these two different cities, and what led you to study in Glasgow?ATS
Glasgow is a smaller place than Vancouver so they are different in that sense, but it is also more affordable and therefore less competitive. I feel this can make for a slightly more inclusive and friendly art scene as folks are less stressed out about making ends meet and can let their gaurd down. Part of living in a big international city today is that many folks live hand to mouth, which makes it difficult to worry about anyone but yourself. My friends in Glasgow can usually find adequate studio space or maybe someday actually buy homes. My friends in Vancouver often don’t have these luxuries. So I would say it is probably easier to participate in the Glasgow art scene, to meet other artists, and to actually have an impact. This is not the fault of Vancouver artists however as these things are really beyond their control.
I should say though that I think Glasgow and Vancouver are similar in the sense that their artists seem to have a sense of freedom in their making approaches that might not be found in cities with larger art markets (say London or Toronto which seems like an apt comparison when looking at the UK versus Canada). Everyone knows that the art coming out of Glasgow and Vancouver is more exciting than what is produced in these bigger and more dominant cities. Why is that? Perhaps when your art scene is vibrant, but selling your art is less of an option, it encourages artists to create works that ignore trends. Perhaps it creates a climate for works that are less concerned with marketability and more concerned with pushing the boundaries of contemporary art.
See ‘Everything Flows’, Alex Tedlie Stursberg’s BAF Gallery solo show, at 108 E Broadway until Saturday, July 21. Tedlie Stursberg will give an artist talk at BAF Gallery at 2PM on Saturday, July 16th.