Cybele Lyle

Artist, Marin CA // January 2012
Much of my work exists in the in-between; between photography and video, between architecture and painting, between real space and two-dimensional space, between physical and digital.

We visited Cybele at The Headlands Center for the Arts, where she is currently an affiliate artist. Her studio is upstairs in the corner of an old army building, and offers a view of the curving road that cuts through the grey-green hills of the Marin Headlands. Some of her haunting collaged photographic images were pinned up on the walls, angled shadows and a certain slant of light stretched across the room, and a kind of early winter eeriness seemed to have settled into the floorboards. So much of Cybele’s work reconfigures our perception of architecture and landscape— she plays with where a wall should come up or go down, whether or not a window should look out of a building or into a hillside, and how permanent or impermanent these constructions actually are. In her work is the idea that roofs, windows, doors, and walls literally and metaphorically “frame” our experiences, and that within the delineations of architecture we can be made to feel like outsiders or insiders, safe or vulnerable, free or contained. As Cybele and I talked about these notions, I thought of how often in works of fiction the setting mirrors the storyline. It’s a crucial component to any story, provoking particular moods and emotions in the reader, while simultaneously assisting the plotline and hinting at meaning. Cybele’s work redetermines the rules of architecture and the conventions of landscape, and in approaching this subject matter on her own terms, she brings power and authority to non-normative configurations.

Cybele will be in the upcoming two person show Space, Time and Architecture with Luca Antonucci at the Royal Nonesuch Gallery. The show opens on January 13th and runs through February 26th. Make sure to check it out!

When people ask you what you “do”, how do you answer?
I say I’m an artist and then usually go on to explain my interests.

Do you have a day job? What is it? What does it mean to you?
Yes, I work at San Francisco State University in the testing center. Essentially, I give information to students about tests we administer and I also help administer tests. It’s great— I love working on a university campus and it gives me benefits, security, structure and funding. I’m able to work part-time which allows me to really focus on my art practice.

What mediums do you work with? How would you describe your subject matter? What themes seem to occur/reoccur in your work?
These days I work primarily in video installation and collage. A lot of my work is photo-based, but not traditional photography. I’ve worked with other media as well. Much of my work exists in the in-between; between photography and video, between architecture and painting, between real space and two-dimensional space, between physical and digital.

Two main themes that reoccur in my work are architecture and an experimentation-based explorative process – both of which relate to my parents. I need to connect to discovery and knowledge in my own way, as a way of understanding myself, and I often do that through my work. My dad was a landscape architect and my mom is a scientist. In my work, the process and the art are rarely two separate things, which is a way of learning I got from my mom. She is someone who very much values the “taste test” as much as the results. My father’s job allowed us to travel a lot during my childhood, exposing me to various educational experiences. In part, my work helps me to understand and connect to my parents and where I come from. Growing up I was very aware of the fact that my parents did things differently than my peers’ families.

My work is also very inspired by time and place— trying to understand where I fit in to a new location; from my studio to the town/city where I am at any given time. As a queer person, I have always felt like I exist on the outside of “normalcy.” I navigate new communities and new places as an outsider, always negotiating how and where I fit in. I think of architecture as text, something I can edit/re-write to make it my own place— to feel safe— not just physically, but in the larger sense of the word. Historically, being queer was something that was only safely expressed within the confines of private interior spaces. This is still true in a literal way in many places today, but even where it is no longer true explicitly, the history and psychology of that reality is built into the walls. I am interested in architecture creating space for a queer sensibility, one that isn’t static, pre-defined, and closed off. I am less interested in creating actual spaces/structures than in the idea that I can and do alter the content, form and rules of what’s around me to meet my own needs. Recently I’ve expanded this language of architecture in my work to also reconfigure the natural environment. I don’t want to limit this reality to built structures. This perspective informs a lot of my work and a lot of my desire to make work.

What are you currently reading, listening to or looking at to fuel your work?
I’ve been going to see/hear a lot of experimental/sound-based art that I find very inspiring. It’s slowly coming into my work.

I love reading Cook’s Illustrated. Readers write in their questions about food or cooking and the editors— instead of just giving the answer, conduct a thorough test (including a control) and explain the process and results thoroughly, ending with their suggestions. I love that way of approaching life— it reminds me of my mom and how I grew up.

I am slowly making my way through a couple books about queer time and space and architecture. Queer time is a recent interest of mine that is starting to enter my work. I’ll save that for another day. My preference is to read fiction to escape analytical thinking.

I listen to music while I work. It has a huge influence on me— mostly emotionally. I listen to all kinds of music, but right now I’m kind of stuck on Willie Nelson.

What are your biggest challenges to creating art and how do you deal with them? How do you navigate the art world?
Money (or lack thereof) is a really big challenge. I would like to buy myself some time, space, flexibility, travel opportunities and security.

As far as the art world, I’m still getting to know what different kinds of spaces there are here in the Bay Area. I’m also getting to know different artists and what kind of work is being made. For me it’s important to participate in the community that I want to be a part of. It’s a slow, ongoing process to learn what the options are, who the participants are, where I fit in and what role I want to play. I also have a strong art community in New York and my hope is for these art worlds to feel connected.

What does having a physical space to make art in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?
Physical space means a lot in my work. Since my work is very much about navigating/ understanding space, my actual studio always impacts my work. Sometimes, just making my studio a place I can connect to, feel at peace in generates a lot of work. I also benefit psychologically from having a studio— that’s where I experiment, explore, connect to the medium I’m working with and generate a lot of ideas.

Has there been a shift or change in your life or work that has lead to what you’re making now? Do you see your work as autobiographical at all?
My work is very autobiographical. Every time my life shifts, that impacts what I’m making. Often my work is driven by reconciling the loss of a big shift, and then understanding the change and the new landscape. My initial drive to make art a central part of my life came out of a huge change in my life 13 years ago when my dad passed away. That continues to inform my work. I really looked up to my father when I was growing up. His work around architecture and the environment seemed different, very important, and ahead of its time. Losing him left me a bit lost , and left me with a lot of questions. But I’ve recently realized that my work is in part about creating a voice that speaks to architecture in my own way, completely separate from him— a voice with its own authority. Since my father’s death, I’ve had a few big moves and several small moves, all of which have impacted my work significantly. Being in the Headlands has influenced my work greatly, as I have brought in the natural environment for the first time, which I have wanted to do for a long time. Being here has opened that door for me and also connects me back to my childhood.

Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
I’m currently working on an installation for a show I’m participating in at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in Omaha. The installation originally came out of a residency I did there last fall – responding to this amazing, huge, beautiful room that I got to work in. Because my space here is so different, I wasn’t able to continue that project when I left, so I’m very excited to have the opportunity to go back there and complete it for a show. It’s been interesting to prepare for this installation the past few weeks, since it’s a site-specific piece that requires me to work some things out before I get into the space (I have a week in Omaha). The site of my Headlands studio is where I’m exploring some ideas, and so the site of the Headlands is going to be a part of the piece. It will likely create a dialog between these two very different places within the work.

I’ve also started working with a group of three other artists— Emma Spertus, Aaron Finnis and Amy Ho— which is really exciting. We came together because of shared interests in our work as a starting point for some future projects we’re working on. It’s invigorating to work with other artists whose work I so respect.

What are you most proud of?
My path. Everyone has their own path, and mine has often felt a little slow and round-about. In recent years I’ve come to embrace my own sense of time and understanding and I feel really good about it.

Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events? Where and when?
I was recently in a show in LA at Statler Waldorf Gallery. The show, Placemakers at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts opens in January 2012 and I’ll be in a show at Royal Nonesuch Gallery in Oakland in January as well.

To see more of Cybele’s work: