Tamsie Ringler works in the environmental and populist traditions of public art. Her installations and sculptures integrate process, space and viewer; as elements and witnesses. Through iron casting, video, and interactive works she fuses public spectacle with the production of contemplative spaces and objects. Recent projects explore our relationship with land and the environmental impact of our hunger for natural resources.
what is the most glamorous aspect of being a sculptor?
It’s interesting to hear that my work presents a sense of a glamorous existence. It consists of hard, dusty, dirty processes and a lot of stress related to production and conceptual issues.
The act of iron-casting is glamorous –fiery, visually striking and the dance-like quality of the process conveys a sense of being on stage. Iron pours are often presented publicly so it becomes a spectacle with the metal casters being the stars of the show. Perhaps it is the transformation of material that also lends a sense of power and significance to the transformers – being outside of the normal state of materials and forms.
What is it like being a sculptor/artist in MN?
Minnesota is a great place to be a sculptor. The Twin Cities and Minnesota are a great cultural and media mixer. There is an incredible amount of organizational support. Minnesota is home to the McKnight Foundation and the Jerome Foundation (supporting both Minnesota and New York City - based artists). Franconia Sculpture Park, the Walker Art Center, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Forecast Public Art and Northernlights.org, Springboard for the Arts celebrate diverse artistic practices and support their practitioners.
Events like Northern Spark, an overnight art festival, support art in a wide array of mediums and interdisciplinary collaborations.
In 2008 the citizens of Minnesota passed a very progressive amendment to preserve and support Minnesota’s history and cultural legacy. This funding has hugely contributed to the scope and diversity of Minnesota arts programming.
For large-scale sculptors, the flat prairies of Minnesota provide a perfect setting for sculptural integrations in landscape and interactive explorations of space. Studios and workspaces are affordable, also. The strong community-based work ethic supports an atmosphere of sustained creative energy. The sharing of cultures between new and old immigration and first nation groups blurs media boundaries and transcends typical categories of art making.
Then, the weather. For a large-scale outdoor sculptor the weather can be challenging. It’s difficult to physically work outside when it’s below freezing for four months of the year. It’s not easy to run iron pours such as the Valentine’s Day Pour in the middle of the winter when everything is covered with snow.
But, perhaps the biggest professional challenge is the lack of significant local galleries. The lack of gallery representation makes many Minnesota artists mostly invisible to the larger international scene of art fairs, biennials and expositions. The culture of art buying in the mid-west consists mainly of large-scale public works/ commissions and purchases by cultural organization such as the Walker Art Center, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Weisman Art Museum.
As a traveling artist, what has caught your attention over and over again?
The desire for people to connect is very powerful in every culture. The common language of art-making transcends cultural barriers. When my son, Lauris, was two, I was part of an artistic exchange with artists from the gallery A Gentil Carioca in Rio de Janeiro. I was very worried about traveling with such a young child, but my experience was illuminating. We were welcomed everywhere, and always assisted by strangers in our travels. Our fear of the unknown is always overcome by our familiarity of human experience. No matter what our background, we all share the same desires for happiness and community with others in our lives.
You also teach sculpture. What are some of your thoughts about this experience?
Teaching is an extension of my sculptural practice. Often as an artist I create stages and events for others to practice and perform their art. This can be seen in the interactive sculptures I make, in the iron pours I lead, in the conferences and symposia I organize and within my work as a teacher. My teaching studio is both a platform and forum for young artists to learn the practice and concepts of sculpture.
I believe everyone has a vision and it is important to see and support everyone’s vision equally. In my sculptural forms I seek a universal vision, one that can be understood by anyone, regardless of cultural training or background. In my teaching, I try to understand and support my students’ unique visions, rather than impose my own.
What is the future of sculpture based on what you see in your students’ works?
My students are equally interested in digital as well as traditional forms of making. They enjoy the process of making their ideas physically tangible - the making of ‘things’. The forms, technology, context will change, but the human desire to make will never change.
My students show concern for their future and the future of culture and humanity in their work. There is a lot of erasing in their process. Erasing of forms and marks must be a reflection of their uncertainty of their own relevance, and their fear that they too will be erased, as will their future. Understanding that our marks and forms will be erased reflects a great sense of practicality and responsibility. Perhaps the only things that are truly permanent are impermanent. The marks of our relationships with others and the spiritual and emotional legacy of our interactions carry through generations. It is so incredibly important to be mindful, as an artist, teacher, mother and human being of the marks you leave in your experiences with others - marks of compassion, love and humbleness.
You’re quite involved at Franconia Sculpture Park. What is the energy there? When is the best time to visit?
Franconia is a cultural forum, where both sculptures and process are exhibited, creating a cultural studio where art is available to everyone. I have been part of Franconia from the start, working as an artist, intern mentor, pour leader and now on the Board of Directors. The park brings internationally acclaimed artists to the rural landscape an hour north of the Twin Cities. It exposes a broad and diverse audience to contemporary culture.
Relationships formed there between artists are long-lasting. Works created there are physically and conceptually ambitious, influenced by the supportive vision of John Hock the CEO and artistic director. My relationship with Franconia has had a profound impact on my work, as a venue to experiment in large scale.
Careers of sculptors who participate at Franconia evolve because of their experiences there. The community that has developed over the years has become an international network of sculptors. To get a full sense of Franconia it is best to visit between May and October when the majority of artists and artist interns are in residence.
Tell us something more about the Valentine’s Day Iron Pour.
The Valentine’s Day Iron Pour is an opportunity to break up, melt down and pour iron in the heart of mid-winter. It’s an invitation to sculptors to get out and a challenge to February! We run a couple of furnaces, Big Barbie and this year the UMG (University of Minnesota Guy). We pour community open-face molds and sculpture made by regional artists and students from the foundry program at the University of Minnesota. I founded the pour six years ago to warm up and liven up a cold and dark time of the year when there isn’t much going on in the arts out of doors. Visitors, with dogs by their side, blankets on their backs and hot cocoa in hand gather around a big bonfire and watch their molds get poured. Good company and hot iron. What’s not to love?
You invite the community to be involved with Car Dreams (2012) or Living Room (2001) but you also make us ponder on the grand scheme of things with works such as Overburden (2013) or Clothesline (2007). Dish (2007) and Mare Tranquillitatis (2007) bring forth many ideas and most of them associated with motherhood and female sensitivity. Your art is hard work because it is a compilation of ideas and craftsmanship. It is political commentary as it reminds us of the importance of action, reaction, connection in taking care of our planet and making the most of our time interval here. From the socio-economic perspective, your work points out to the constant change of status in all physical things as well as the importance of communication and understanding. But also…?
I’m quite pleased to hear you articulate so thoughtfully the ideas you see in my work. But I am also interested in the effects of solitude and company. A lot of my work involves the presence of both simultaneously; an awareness of self within community, and an awareness of our communion with others when we’re alone. The driver’s experience, for example. We’re isolated in our individual cars, yet we’re part of a huge community of commuters. I also see this in our individual living spaces in cities. We are isolated from one another by buildings and walls, but share a communal landscape. This exploration of public/ private space is expressed in the sculptures I make with cars and the contemplative spaces I create, where a space for introspection and reflection is framed within a public space.
In your notes for your work, Airborne (2005), you write, "The germination of this work began in 2005 when I was a resident artist at the Berllanderi Sculpture Workshop in Wales. I was caring for my six month old son and watching the swallows fly in and out of the 17th century farmhouse. Low flying British bombers were practicing overhead for Iraq. I realized that in life there is no separation, it is everything all at once, the absolutely breathtakingly beautiful and the most horribly inhuman." This sounds so poetic, heart wrenching, honest, fearful and fearless of the reality we humans share and create. Do you think this type of observation comes easier when we face a new role, territory, challenge...?
We understand the incredible opportunity of life and our experiences within our lives as time flows. Traveling, having artistic vision, and becoming a parent are all conditions that contribute to a sense of openness. Openness is the door to hope and compassion, and also to vulnerability. As a new mom, there is a moment of absolute realization that your child is completely vulnerable and dependent on your care. Even as this makes you open to the possibility of great loss and pain, it simultaneously opens you up to the possibility of great love and joy.
Before my son Lauris was born I had a dream. He was blue light, glowing from within, and came up to my middle. He had no specific features, he was only light. He accompanied me through a large pink granite door and I remember feeling protective of him and held the door open so that he could pass safely though. When I woke up I was still standing in that doorway, holding the door open. At the time I thought the dream was about child-birth. After he was born I suddenly realized that I would be standing in that doorway for the rest of my life – that is the great responsibility of being a parent.
I feel that this is our great responsibility as human beings, as gardeners of earth, to protect and tend to this amazing place we live in. It is a big job, but also truly joyful. Whenever we see joy and love manifest, in a child, in a mother elephant curling her trunk around her calf, in the act of communication, we feel this.
But it is also a truly sad time we live in. We get to watch and experience the loss of our garden; the muting of languages, the extinction of animals, the pollution of our home within our lifetime and countless generations to come. We wonder at what seems to be a banishment of reason and compassion. Within this, unbelievably, my job as a parent and an artist is to create hope and a sense of possibility for the future.
What is the motto that drives you in your work and daily life?
I find it hard to sum myself up in a motto. My son suggests Iron is Awesome! I’ll go with that!
Can you share with us any upcoming events?
I have been awarded a Forecast/ McKnight Professional Development Grant for Public Artists to build a transportable iron casting foundry, Ironmobile, which will be based on a trailer. I will be bringing this into communities along the upper Mississippi watershed currently threatened by frac-sand mining, to use the local silica sand for molds for casting sculpture, rather than for hydro-fracking.
Another project River of Fire: Pouring the Mississippi will be an iron pour event during the Northern Spark overnight art spectacle in Minneapolis on June 13, 2015. Throughout the night we will be pouring a twenty foot mold of the Mississippi River watershed. Every ten minutes a section of the river will be poured, resulting in an iron casting of the entire river system. The casting will be filmed throughout the night and composited into a glowing map.