Kersels talks performance through sculpture

While most art galleries place security sensors on their sculptures, School of Art professor Martin Kersels’s exhibitions have served as stages for singers, dancers and even DJs.

In a lecture he gave to roughly 15 students at the School of Art on Tuesday, Kersels discussed how the concept of “performance” has remained important to him throughout the projects he has undertaken during his decades-long career. Kersels progressed through a slideshow displaying his diverse work, including dance performance images, photographs and multimedia sculptures equipped to play sound and video.

“One could say I have a lack of follow-through, but I change what I do and I change my interests based on different times in my life,” Kersels said.

Kersels spoke at length about his dynamic sculptures, some of which he has modified for different exhibitions. One such piece, “Tumble Room,” consists of a bedroom rotating vertically, with many objects falling as the room turns upside down. He explained that he has bought or created new furniture, collages and clothing in the sculpture for each exhibition, partly because many of the objects are destroyed in each iteration. Kersels said he spent time envisioning and researching the objects likely to be found in teenage girls’ bedrooms and discovered that many of these rooms contain collage-type decorations. As a result, he said he created collages using pictures of figures like Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Eminem and many others.

“I enjoyed thinking like a young lady,” Kersels said.

Aside from his mobile structures, Kersels has experimented with manipulating sound in his work. In a piece titled “Attempt to Raise the Temperature of a Container of Water by Yelling at It,” Kersels said he placed an underwater speaker and temperature probe into a container of water. The speaker was attached to an audio device that played a 7 minute long tape of Kersels repeating the phrase “I am trying to raise the temperature of this water by yelling at it!” while the temperature probe was attached to a thermometer.

Though Kersels’ recent works have been sculptures, his early career showed a different side to the artist. In the 1980s, he joined a group called “SHRIMPS,” which put on postmodern dance performances. Then, starting in the 1990s, Kersels worked on creating photo series. For one, which sought to capture tripping and falling, Kersels said he tripped himself roughly 10 times to obtain the exact photographs he wanted.

“I was interested in the failure of a body in a simple action like walking — something we feel like we have under control,” he said.

All three audience members interviewed said they have worked with Kersels at the School of Art and have enjoyed having him as the Director of Graduate Studies in sculpture.

“His art and lecture are more or less the same,” Maya Manvi ART ’14 said. “There is a lot of performance in his lecture, and he uses a lot of humor.”

Kersels was awarded the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in 2008.

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