Studio Visit: Michelle Murphy


Michelle Murphy is an artist living and working in Chicago.  Her work can be seen in PLEAT's February 2018 exhibition as well as

Please describe your work. 
I collect an assortment of objects on a table in my studio that provide associative relationships to concepts like Big Bang or Space Exploration (ex. a chicken egg, a parachute, rainbow star-shaped confetti, and a balloon). I do performative screen tests with these objects to determine whether I will propose a performance, make a single photograph, or shoot and edit a video. In Big Bang Birth, I performed in front of a video camera in my studio – costumed as a Rainbow-haired queer femme goddess awkwardly giving birth to the Universe; I overdubbed the video clips with DIY nu-disco tracks and added moans of an appropriated orgasmic (and painful) home birth. Object/subject and author/performer are blurred in my process; I try out the concept in multiple approaches, before I feel confident that it works best as a video with sound, a series of photographs, an installation, or as a public performance. My best work emerges at night with the stars above, when the witches convene, or when I push my mind and body beyond its limits. This is how my predilection for perfection fails, and magic appears. 

What internal and external factors motivate your conceptual choices? 
My ideas come from psychological responses to my body in the world, socio-political problems, popularized narratives, and from recent books about art, science, and philosophy. I do research on a particular action in history and ask myself questions like: Would I have commissioned Carl Sagan to curate the Earth time-capsule on the Voyager 1 spacecraft…is he my science daddy? Who are all of the people who have been in Space? Why is Sally Ride the only known queer Astronaut? Doesn’t any woman who gave birth know more about human origin than a scientist? It is always fruitful for me to consider the limitations of previous authorities on such subjects. 

Who are your artistic influences and what have you learned from them? 
Many people have come into and out of my life, who I have been deeply affected by. With no disrespect to all of the people who have made a lasting impact I will focus on people of recent influence: Robin Deacon’s work and pedagogy has pushed me to work “behind the curtain” of my own practice - to research more deeply, to plan out my larger ideas with drawings and writing. LaToya Ruby Frazier has an inspiring drive towards her art + life. She believes that artists have a chance to change lives. I have a sketchbook of feedback from Robin and LaToya that I pull from when I need a compass. Dawit Petros, Ellen Rothenberg, Kelly Kaczynski, Claire Pentacost, and Mark Booth are interdisciplinary artists who expanded my artistic practice beyond the physical and psychological parameters I held in my peripheral for too long. Mechtild Widrich, Lyz Bly, Hamza Walker, and Lori Waxman are critical brainiacs who have provided me with a sharper lens to examine art history. Roberto Sifuentes and Oli Rodriguez taught me to work beyond the restrictive ideas about (my)body; they are the kind of artists that make you realize what censorship is and why it should be fought. 

Artists and Art Historians in my closer circle who have stuck with me in both art and life: Cetusss (Switzerland), Monica Johnson (Brooklyn), Maria Miranda (Cleveland), Jameson Paige (Chicago), Eliza Fernand (Grand Rapids), Laura Marsh (Miami), Rebekah Wilhelm (Cleveland), Coral Pereda Serras (Spain), Claire Frost (San Francisco), Jaclyn Wright (Chicago), Hannah Pivo (Milwaukee), Marcela Torres (Chicago), Pia Singh (Chicago, India), Brittany Hudak (Cleveland), Insil Jang (Brooklyn). These are special, creative, and loving people that I have collaborated with, laughed or cried with, and who provide the best hugs. I know I can write back and forth with any of these people (at all hours) with challenging ideas and they will write back or speak with me with unfiltered thoughts. 

How has social media affected your studio practice? 
When I use social media with intention, I can connect and see the work of artists all over the globe. As an artist this has been very useful in terms of research and development. However, I am concerned with the “arms-length” distance that these digital tools create, specifically in terms of human-to-human contact. “Liking” something isn’t the same as being present and helping someone. I try to meet with people in person whenever possible. Until our physical bodies are irrelevant, these tools are just one form of contact that is useful and necessary to create and maintain community.