What message do you want to send through your art or what do you want people to take away from your art when they see it?
Do you have any stories about female scientists that you found when you were researching for this project that you thought were interesting and you wanted to share?
"Oh my gosh, there are so many fantastic stories. This series is all based on this group of women in the late 1800’s. And essentially, at that time, women are graduating for the very first time out of women's colleges. And so there's all of these fantastic thinkers that are looking to work and be useful. The Harvard Observatory director was able to take advantage of that and put these women into positions where they were studying the glass plates. (Glass plates were used to print pictures of stars and the sky).
The way that early astronomers worked was that they were taking pictures of the sky, but they never developed them (the glass plates) into the positive. They just worked with the negatives. And they would use these film loops and they would then take ink pens and they would write directly on the glass plate. They’re measuring like the heat of stars, the size of stars, the chemical content of stars. And how could they do that? They’re using this glass plate.
So back to your original questions, what are the stories of the women? I mean I would say that for me, there are so many stories in history that overlook just one person, I think the most tremendous aspect of this story is that it was actually a whole group of women, who were so often singled out, but it’s actually this group that’s doing all of this work. Sometimes they’re making major discoveries that are really sexy, like "Oh my gosh I discovered this galaxy that no one’s ever seen!" One of them actually figured out how to measure the distance of the universe, and if you think about it and you were to look at the stars here, a big star might look really really dim cause it’s very far away, or a bright star might look dim cause it’s far away, and a dim star might look bright because it’s close to you. This person actually figured out, Henrietta Swan Levitt, how to measure the distance of the universe. You guys have probably heard of the Hubble Space Telescope? Edwin Hubble receive the Nobel Prize, because he figured out that, using what she did, the universe was expanding. And they contacted her to nominate her for a Nobel Prize, but she had died four years before and they didn’t even know it. So there’s a lot of stories like that where these women were doing really impactful work, but they weren’t necessarily singled out as being the inventor of it or having ownership of that discovery.
We've heard about how important art and science are to you, and if you were have to pursued science, what would you miss about art?
You know, I never wanted to pursue science. Here’s the thing, in science I can be inventive, and it’s not about being right or wrong, I can explore something, and I have an interpretation of something, and it’s totally fine for me as an artist to interpret science. If i were to interpret science as a scientist, I would be a very bad scientist. One of my favorite quotes Neil DeGrasse Tyson said was, “The great this about science is that it’s always true even if you believe in it or not.” So I was not interested in being a scientist per say, I’m interested in kind of the humanity aspect of how science can be translated. I walk that line between art and science and I always want to land on the art side of the fence. And it gives me freedom to question it and challenge it, cause I can be outside.
So in your art you tend to follow your interest when you make art and you’ll dive into a new medium if you think that is what your projects calls for, so if you could choose any method or medium to create art with what would you want to try?
That even my studio practice is about me exploring something new. I’m always looking for what would be the weirdest way to make something and then I was thinking, God, even this video project is an extension of “Dark Skate” (Dark Skate are long exposure photographs in which Lia attached lights to her body and skated in urban environments). In “Dark Skate” I’m exploring the urban environment on a skateboard, here I’m exploring the urban environment in an airplane. It’s also a self portrait; It’s always me flying, and it’s always me skating in all of the photos. If it’s an 11-foot concrete wall, that’s me skating in the pitch dark and it’s not about me creating an image, its about that it’s me.
What’s a common theme you’ve notice throughout all your work?
I think the main thing is that they all challenge your understanding of your perception. SO I would say when you look at a piece of mine you might not know what it is or how it was made, but it interests you. So you look at them and you say, “This is a photograph, I know what a photograph looks like.” But then you look at it more carefully and it’s imperfect. From across the room, It could be pictures of the sky or it could be microbiology, but you are not totally sure. And the same thing with “Dark Skate,” you can read about what I’m doing, but when you look at that photograph, you would not immediately think that it’s a skateboarder. And the same thing with the flight video I’m working on, There’s something that I’m doing that’s very odd about it that’s not in your expectation. Technically, I aim to do that, to confuse the viewer in a way in a way that engages them. And in terms of my subject matter, I think that all of my work challenged science and also has a personal aspect to it. So it’s very personal, so it’s not just any galaxy, it’s a galaxy that was based on the study of this one woman. Dark Skate is not just about creating a light painting in an urban environment, it’s important that it’s me skating. I did a big series about the Periodic Table of Elements, and they’re infused with 33 queer women in LA, it’s a whole catalog of my friends and the chemical environment around me. You could look at it and say “Oh, that’s the periodic table of elements,” cause you know what it looks like, but for me it's representing my community, that I don’t think has been represented. So technically one, it challenged your perception, and conceptually it might have a universal reach. I don't think anyone would come to my gallery and say “I don’t know what these are.” You would say “that's a comet, I’ve looked at the night sky, I’ve seen that,” but then the “behind the story” is something that’s very specific and intimate, and in a lot of ways it uncovers things that have been hidden. It’s always about singing an unsung song.
What was it like for you, getting into skating when there were almost no female skaters?
Skateboarding culture is so huge, especially now. Now, the culture of skateboarding has a lot of money behind it, it’s totally accepted, we’ll see it in the Olympics soon. But when I was growing up, it was like you were doing drugs, spray painting things, up to no good, and on top of that I didn’t meet a female skateboarder who could actually really skate until I was in my 20's. It was always very lonely. Maybe not lonely, but more solitary. And that was the other part of Dark Skate that I wanted to represent, that skating is a very solitary thing. I was not invited into the culture of skateboarding, I was always the odd person out. In reflection I was, my friends who were my friends in high school wouldn't want to go to a skate park, and then when I went to the skate park, the guys were nice to me but they weren’t really my friends. I had a half-pipe in my backyard and I would just skate there by myself a lot. When people talk about how they grew up skateboarding, that means something to boys and men in a totally different way, versus me, where I had this hobby where I did not know anyone else who did it. It’s kind of an off thing but I was in Thrasher Magazine when I was 15, and it was so cool, but my actual friends had never heard of Thrasher, I couldn’t win either way. But I think if you are the odd person out, you start thinking of things in a different way and that is my background as a queer person, a skater, I’m always looking at things from the fringes and there’s a power in that. When I’m talking about the skateboarding It’s not even a complaint like “oh my god, I was bullied” or anything like that, there’s just something you see from the margins that you don’t see if you’re in the mainstream. And the mainstream was something that was not accessible for me at the time so now I’m excited to see the X-Games including women, and hopefully they’ll get their act together and actually pay them, so that your peers could go on to say “I’m going to be a professional skateboarder,” and actually make a living doing that, the same way that people in this area (San Diego) do with surfing.
Camille Zimmer and Mila Roemer