Mernet Larsen: It Is What It Is

To be quite frank, I didn’t get it. The firm geometrical figures, the dimensions, the “abstract.” The rigid lines, the bland colors, the normalness. When we look at art, it’s been ingrained into us that we need to interpret and translate what we’re looking at. So when I first saw Mernet Larsen’s work, I didn’t get it.

So I looked some more, and then I realized, all of Larsen’s work depicts normal, everyday life; activities that you and I regularly participate in. And that’s exactly what it is, no more, no less. “I’m not about trying to convey alienation. I’m just trying to say here it is. This is the way it is. It’s sort of strange, let’s stop and think about it. It’s sort of funny but it’s not moving and emotional or alienatingly horrible or something. It just sort of is,” she told the Huffington Post. This raised some questions “An artist that just is? Is that a thing?” And then I began to look at things the way Larsen did when she created her art.

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Then it made sense. When you take yourself out of mundane situations, you begin to see the nuances of it. Larsen’s artwork perfectly depicts these nuances and brings normal activities to life. For example, she created a piece called “Escalator.” In this piece, three people are growing the further they climb the escalator. Now have you ever looked down while you’re riding up an escalator and noticed the people and things at the bottom look smaller? Or how about the piece titled, “Committee.” “Committee” depicts several people sitting around a table, holding a meeting. There is one larger figure, while every other figure diminishes in size as we go around the table. Have you been to a meeting where there is one person dominating while all the rest follow their lead? In a statement for Various Small Fires, an LA-based Art Gallery, she explains her artwork, ”as if I were leaving this life and had to take with me only a very few concrete images: this is what it was, not good, not bad, just what stood out. Not ephemeral, not photo or film-like, but memory turned into object, monumentalized.” It just is.

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Larsen first started her artwork in the 60s, during the era of concept and expressionism. “I remembered having the thought that I didn’t want to express myself through my art. My life was fairly mundane at that point; I was living at home. So I didn’t want to express my life, I wanted to give meaning to my life,” the artist said with the Huffington Post. Not much later, Larsen had her epiphany when she stumbled on a herd of cattle. Such a simple sight laid the foundation for the rest of Larsen’s work, “What you see determines how you see it, that has pretty much governed my whole life,” she continued with the Huffington Post.
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Larsen went on to teach art at the University of South Florida for the next 35 years. It wasn’t until 2012 that she had her first exhibition at the Vogt Gallery in New York. Her artwork was critically acclaimed. According to Roberta Smith, an art critic with the New York Times, “her efforts are extremely viable participants in an extensive, possibly global conversation about how to portray modern, three-dimensional life on two-dimensional surfaces.”

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Larsen managed to capture the eyes of many, simply by recreating a normal life. By taking her average, unexciting life, she created art with a concept that is rarely used, reality. As complicated as we want to make art, sometimes it is what it is.
-Stormm Van Rooi