(NSFW) Step Back Inside The Womb With Artist Lisa Reider

by Clementina Marini Clarelli

The new exhibition at Chainlink Gallery sets the artist "in utero" to birth live art.
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On March 23, Los Angeles based artist Lisa Reider steps back inside her womb, where she will remain until Friday, March 25, growing, creating, and rediscovering herself. Few people will be able to visit her, to bring her gifts, sing her lullabies, nurture her; everyone else will be able to see her from the outside through a view-finder, to observe her and her process.

On April 2, with the opening of "The Womb," Reider will give birth by showcasing the creations that come out of her gestation period in the womb, by sharing them with the world, and thus being re-born as an artist. Everything will be happening within the candid walls of Chainlink Gallery, where the interior has been transformed into a cloud-like cocoon, with thin pieces of white plastic covering the otherwise hard walls and pavement.

Today, as I step inside the gallery to meet with the artist and with Cheryl Scott, owner and curator of Chainlink, I feel as if I am stepping inside a different dimension, so pure and ethereal that I have the urge to take off my shoes. Reider greets me at the door: with her platinum blond hair, blue eyes, and all-white outfit, the artist looks like an angel letting me in her private section of paradise. I feel safe, and intrigued.

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You work with all kinds of different media: painting, sculpture, film, performance, and more. What is your identity as an artist, and how do all the different practices relate to each other?

I think that my focus has really been about examining how we’re forming identity. I started with breaking that down, exploring the absence of identity and what that creates, and then exploring how we use different tools to create identity. Are they manipulating us? Are we manipulating them? And I do this in whatever way I can do it: whether it’s performance art or a painting or a piece of poetry or a sculpture, it just seems to be coming out that way.

And then, recently the performance art has turned into an exploration of social media and identity and what’s happening now to the subconscious. There’s a piece that I do called “Like Me Forward” where I have a social media account, and if you like it I take one step forward. And so it’s showing us essentially what is actually happening to us, physically. We post something and all of a sudden we’ll be waiting there and we’re proud of it because that’s the reason we’re sharing it.

It’s showing us how our self-confidence gets boosted with every like?

Right! We’re only accepting this sort of self-confidence to exist with the like of somebody else. And then, is the identity that you’re creating on your social media truly your identity? I started to also do videos of people answering these questions. I started asking them like “What’s your social media name?”, “How many followers do you have?”, or “How many people are you following?”, and they go down a line of questions and all of a sudden when I ask them “So how many times a day do you look at yourself, your own profile?” their faces break! They are embarrassed to share that, because it is more what they would like to admit. It’s almost like you are looking at yourself as a different person. The amount of time that you spend looking at yourself in the mirror everyday is nowhere near the amount of time you spend looking at your Instagram. And so it’s separating the mind, and to watch it play out is just the most amazing thing. Most of the performance art or video or whatever I’m producing is meant to be like a reflective state. I want to serve as a blank canvas for people when I am doing performance art so that they can relate in whatever way.

Is that also what you are trying to do with “The Womb?"

Yes, I think that’s some of what I’m trying to do now. So in the “womb” we are in this very safe kind of scenario, and we are allowed to be vulnerable, and we’re allowed to be pure, and we don’t have hair, we don’t have anything formed. We’re not wearing Chanel you know? None of that exists in the womb! And so I think when people will see me through the “Vagina hole”, the viewfinder, they will see what’s really being created, and what actually happens when you’re creating art. So many artists don’t want to share the process because it’s so fucking scary you know?

So you’re making yourself really vulnerable through this!

Yeah, really vulnerable.

Have you done something like this before? Are you scared of showing that vulnerability?

No. Recently I did a performance piece where I was naked in this gallery on a busy street in Paris. There is this Plexiglas, and behind it I stood there naked, and allowed people to throw objects at me—there were tiny nails, large nails and railroad spikes, which was to be representative of kind of the same thing: social media, the action of liking something, and what it’s actually doing. And so when the railroad spike went through, it cut through and it cut through the skin and I began to bleed. And it was like: “OK that’s a real person behind there.” A lot of my performance art I do naked—I’ll probably be naked in here at some point; it feels normal to me. And I think the reason I think I find myself doing it is partially that it allows me to kind of face any sort of fear, cause we have all these things with our bodies, especially being women. And you kind of surpass it when it becomes the norm, and you leave it all behind regardless of whether people are watching or not.

How do people respond to your nudity?

It proposes feelings for people, like my parents: it horrifies them that I do this! And it’s just that people don’t feel good about being naked because society has told them: you shouldn’t walk around naked. And I know this is an extreme direction to go, I’m not saying we should all walk around naked. What I’m saying is: allow yourself to feel your vulnerabilities. If that makes you feel awkward that’s ok.

Talk to me a little bit about the language you are using: “giving birth” and “the womb”, what does that have to do with everything you are going to be doing in here? What does giving birth mean in this context?

I constantly feel like I’m saying that, (and other artists feel the same way), creating a show for a piece of art is like giving birth. You have the inception and it’s like having sex, and it’s this beautiful thing where you are like: “Oh I’m so excited to do this!” And then all of a sudden you are fucking doing it. Which is the pregnancy, and you are like, “What was I thinking? Why did I decide to do this?” And to me the womb is that gestation period, and it is a beautiful thing. And it’s for myself too: kind of almost a rebirth of my creative process. I can go really fucking dark sometimes, and it’s okay cause that’s the balance, but I think being in a safe environment, and allowing people, other artists, to come in during that gestation period, will allow me to only exist in this space and I will be creating art from that. I will only eat what they bring me, I will only hear or listen to what they give me, and that’s what I think is important about it being like a birthing, and then obviously the show is the actual birth. So I always say my due date is April 2. 

Have you planned what kind of art you are going to make? Or are you just going go with the flow?

Even being here, and setting up, so many things have happened. I have a direction, I know I want to base it around the womb, and there’s a sculptural piece I have in mind that’s in conjunction to being inside the womb. I had a tumor form, and it had hair and teeth and nails and things and what I’ve been dealing with is like this evacuation of the process, so I’m creating a piece based on that. I did a performance piece on that too. Watching a part of yourself walk away is a very strange thing, but it wasn’t you know, I didn’t have sex and then get pregnant, it just created on its own. And so to me that’s what I’m doing: I’m inside my own womb yet I’m creating myself again. And the way I think artists recreate themselves is by showing their art. That’s what you do by giving a show: you’re giving birth, and allowing yourself to create a new self, by getting rid of it.

So it’s not just an object but it’s an object that contains a whole experience through time?

Yes, and you always hope to have this thread going through your pieces, which to me is your soul line. So if your soul line is running through, you will always have this rebirth, but to do it, it’s fucking hell. I want people to appreciate that again: I want people to appreciate that artists have a process, and that there are all these things that they go through, and all these people they see when they’re creating, and things and smells and food that happen, and then that’s how you get that piece. It’s not just canvas or wood or clay that you’re buying: you are buying a piece of somebody, the energy that’s in it.

All of this language and imagery is based around the concept of giving birth, which is something only women are able to do. How do you think the fact that you are a woman changes how you understand art, or how you understand your art and your process?

I think women understand it in a very different way. Also just the fact that we have periods, this cycle every month where we are letting go of a very real, physical thing that’s happening. We are bleeding. We’re constantly evolving and shedding ourselves, and I don’t think men understand that on the level that women do, because they don’t have the accessibility to experience it. It just makes it different. This said, I think that for artists, no matter what, the process is always something: whether it’s painful or beautiful or destructive or joyous, we all have a feeling attached to it, or else we wouldn’t be doing it. I can’t imagine somebody creating art that is disconnected from what they’re making. But women have the ability to create life and, I mean, does it get any bigger than that? I think that because we can experience this cycle so often we have a very special gift.

What else are you planning on doing while you’re in the womb?

I think I am going to start using the plastic on the walls, because I started taking these pictures one night and they were just amazing! And I wanna do film, I have friends who are filmmakers coming in, musicians are coming in, to basically entertain me. I asked people to come sing me a lullaby to sleep! The music is a part of it, and inside my womb I need that. And I’m so surprised that some of my friends that I invited, and I was really kind of particular- it has to be a safe space, are so excited. And they are taking it to such a level, like a pregnancy. Without even saying anything people want to do a ceremony for me! It’s like I’m pregnant. It’s amazing. All of a sudden I am treated like this very fragile little thing. The fact that people automatically relate to it, it makes me feel the energy already coming into the space. It has already started!

This interview was condensed.

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You can visit The Womb through March 25 at Chainlink Gallery. The Opening Reception for the artist takes place Saturday April 2, 7-10 p.m.

Chainlink Gallery is open by appointment only.

More about artist Lisa Reider.

Photos courtesy of Lisa Reider and Chainlink Gallery.