Gary Setzer’s transdisciplinary practice incorporates performance art, video art, sound, installation, sculpture, and photography. Enlisting familiar landmarks like the body, the landscape, minimalism, and humor as entry points, Setzer lures his audience into his conceptual framework—a theoretical space centered on our compulsory entanglements with language.
Setzer received his MFA from Ohio University and his BFA from The University of Akron. His works have been included in solo and group exhibitions nationally and internationally. He has performed, exhibited, and screened work in venues such as the Arsenale in Venice, the Today Art Museum in Beijing, the Ars Electronica Center in Austria, Tribeca Film Center, The National Art Center Tokyo, A4 Art Museum in Chengdu, The Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum, Los Angeles Center for Digital Art, Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson, The Wexner Center for the Arts, Mobile Museum of Art, Boston Center for the Arts, Tucson Museum of Art, and the Cincinnati Art Museum. From 2010 until 2015, Setzer was awarded the Louise Foucar Marshall Professorship. This five-year endowed chair position recognized Setzer’s contributions to the field and was funded by the Marshall Foundation. He currently lives and works in Tucson where he is a Professor of Art at the University of Arizona.
Tell us about the work(s) you have in this exhibition.
A Convenient Artwork
36″ x 24″
Dye sublimation print on coated aluminum
”Convenient Artwork,” is part of a new series of works called “Floating Signifiers.” In order to subvert presuppositions about how the artist/viewer etiquette plays out, I aim to call attention to the rhetorical constructs of that exchange, which are typically downplayed. The edges of the idea are as defined or exposed as the visible edges of the art object itself. This approach makes it difficult to distinguish between form and content—where one begins and the other ends—leaving the viewer in the gallery acutely aware of the rhetorical exchange they just had. These artworks highlight and expose their own skeletons as if to champion their own structural limitations as art. To view the work is to simultaneously witness a self-flattening of the meaning-imbued art object. Here, the content of the work is not an invisible specter of thought, emanating from the art object. It doesn’t carry the viewer to far off lands, challenge their thinking, or offer epiphany. Instead, the work serves up an acute awareness of protocol that ultimately leads to an unexpected poetic aporia.
What draws you to your chosen medium, what do you love about it?
While my practice takes many forms, I primarily identify as a performance artist. The work I included in this exhibition incorporates photography, but I would never consider myself a photographer. The goals of the work do not celebrate or extend the history of the photographic image. While I did shoot the underlying image myself, this work was never about that process; a stock image could have easily filled that role. Rather, the true labor of this series, lives in the careful execution of the texts and what those texts are designed to do to the viewer in the physical gallery space. I’m performing photography rather than making photography for this series, borrowing that physical modality because of both its expediency, and its ability to cleanly host text.
What inspires you to make art?
A lot of my work centers on the division between language and meaning. For me, the ongoing allure of art-making is centered in the notion of creating something where there was formerly nothing. Like language, art is reminiscent of an alchemic process—and that means that going to the studio is a job that changes every day. It’s a meaningful exchange. I do not have a green thumb, but I like to imagine a farmer feels the same type of gratification. That might sound self-serving today, when we are literally witnessing the world falling apart around us, but I don’t think that the function of art necessarily begins or ends there. As a professor, I see a lot of young artists struggling to find relevance in their work. It would be too easy to dismiss the arts as a privileged bougie activity—although there are absolutely tones of that. When the conditions are right, the arts promote empathy in the viewer and critical engagement with the world. This adds great depth to our humanity. The act of creating something from nothing is a positive action—culture spreads intellect, heart, and ultimately courage. Of course, this alone isn’t enough to fulfill our civic duty. Making art is not the most effective way to instigate direct political change. So, we have to round out our contributions by marching, resisting, voting, and supporting those whose voices are not being heard.