Iowa State University

Inside Iowa State
Dec. 6, 1996

Art catalog project becomes art

by Steve Sullivan
Ingrid Lilligren's new art catalog smells. And, that's just the way she wants it. The catalog, one in a series recording Lilligren's projects over the years, resulted from "Dis/covery: A Work of Art," a recent ceramic sculpture project. Lilligren created it, in part, with clay deposits left by the floods of 1993 along a creek near the Des Moines River. The work was on display in the College of Design last spring.

Lilligren, with the help of her students, created thousands of embossed ceramic disks that were used to build a mantle around the sculpture's centerpiece. During the work's display, people removed the disks, gradually revealing the centerpiece -- three ceramic works with six small clay tubes. The tubes were filled with natural, aromatic materials. (Viewers of the piece were allowed to keep the ceramic disks they removed and now they can be found on desks all over campus.)

Lilligren's catalog provides a description of the project, as well as articles about the work by other artists. The middle portion of the book features photos of the sculpture and people interacting with it while it was on display.

The catalog also includes images of the disks that, when scratched, emit odors, much like the sculpture's tubes. Lilligren hand-applied rosemary, celery seed, daffodil, violet and lumber fragrances donated by 3M to 250 copies of the catalog. The catalog has been distributed to teachers, philosophers, writers and other artists throughout the country.

"Scent is a strong stimulus for memory, and I chose the fragrances used in the catalog based on a random survey of smells that invoked memories for colleagues," Lilligren said.

"Dis/covery: A Work of Art" was funded by a university research grant. The project was on exhibit at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and soon will travel to the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. (Sorry. The embossed disks no longer are for the taking. It takes too long to make new ones, Lilligren said.)

When Lilligren isn't teaching ceramics to art and design students, she's busy making figurative works and vessels, and developing the interactive, often complicated, art projects for which she has become known -- some might even say slightly infamous.

"From functional pots to the interactive projects, I have always been involved with experiences viewers have with my work and interested in the 'art' created by this interaction," Lilligren said.

Take, for example, Lilligren's 1993 project called "The Gift," which the artist herself labels an art "crime."

"The Gift" was inspired by a colleague's writings on the relationship between the development of art and the origins of gift giving. The art "crime" spread over a floor of the Brewery, a renovated Pabst beer factory in Los Angeles. Lilligren lived and worked there for a number of years before coming to Iowa State.

Lilligren began "The Gift" one June night by snapping a continuous red chalk line on the floor. The line connected the 43 doorways on the floor. The next night, she sifted a circle of red-orange sawdust near each doorway. A small square of vellum, folded to suggest the Pythagorean Theory, was placed in the middle of each circle. A clay pod form with blue pigment rubbed on its top was placed atop each piece of vellum. This was done without any tenant knowing who did it.

The project was documented with photos, and Lilligren admits to having a great time overhearing people's reaction to her work. After two days, the piles of sawdust were swept into the remaining clay pods, which then were left at each doorway.

"Some people took the pods inside and kept them. Some people thought the project was really beautiful and some were upset about it," Lilligren said. "One woman had been dreaming about leaving May baskets in doorways. When she woke up and walked out into the hall, she found the pods. On some level, she was picking up on what I was doing, which was eerie but reflective of the deep level of community we have with people we might not always acknowledge or recognize."

Lilligren often returns to the scene of the crime, where her husband, furniture designer Larry Golden, still has a studio and residence.

"The Los Angeles connection is very important to me as an artist and a teacher," Lilligren said. "When I go out there, I can interact with other artists and see new work in the museums, and I have hosted students at the Brewery studio."

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