WHAT WAS FOUND: The Archive Project , 2018, 104-page artists book surveying 20 year practice

WHAT WAS FOUND: The Archive Project, 2018, 104-page artists book surveying 20 year practice

   WHAT WAS FOUND: The Archive Project  poster,  2017

WHAT WAS FOUND: The Archive Project poster, 2017

WHAT WAS FOUND: The Archive Project, 2018
104-page artists book, 11" x 8", printed on Canon Cotton Translucent Bond and Hannemuhle Photo Rag

The overarching idea for this project acknowledges that art is not created in a vacuum and that each work comes out of the input, inspiration, and all manner of support from the people in one's life. The project also acknowledges that the work is separate from me and is acting in the world in ways I am aware of and in ways I do not know. This project is an effort to bring the works together and also the people in relation to those works. Colleagues, gallery directors, curators, teachers, friends, family, students, and anyone who has a relationship with the work. 

With this archive, I gathered together images, drawings, text and objects relating to my practice over the past 20 years. I invited contributions asking that those who participate focus on their relationship with the work, rather than on their relationship with me. I recognized those are two different things.

The poster image was meant to call to mind some of the works that are emblematic of my practice. The collected contributions were assembled into a 104-page artists book designed with a predominately unruly, non-linear form with the intention of allowing visuals and text to collide in a visual compost of images and ideas relating to the practice and the people and the contexts around which the practice evolved.

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Hanging Drawing II (20 successive drawings, unique and unrehearsed), 2018

Drawing as object and action.

Provisional. Constructed. Sculptural. Participatory. Performative.

A line hangs on the wall, draped across a series of small hooks, its weight creating catenary arcs toward the floor. It is dimensional. There is an urge to touch the sensuous, uneven, handmade line which is comprised of three successively larger loops. The mind firstly wants to know ‘What is it made of?’ and then quickly the body wants to touch and play with it. The artist has anticipated these responses by sharing the medium list of lead, rubber, and offers an invitation to engage with the work by following a set of simple instructions which are also outlined in shorthand in the title of the work, Hanging Drawing II (20 successive drawings unique and unrehearsed).

Hanging Drawings create a situation where drawings arrive momentarily through the slightest effort made by people other than the artist. The artist has invented the drawing tool and laid out the instructions for its use but it is the performer who ultimately makes the drawings. This work questions the relationships between artist and beholder/performer as well as the site of the gallery as a place solely for completed works. With Hanging Drawings, the beholder becomes the creator and the gallery becomes the studio. Although the actual system — line, hooks and instructions — can be acquired, the drawings created using the system are ever-changing and ephemeral. 

   more than momentary: ENJOY  , 2015, Disrupted Drawing Small in situ in Tessa's home, London, UK

more than momentary: ENJOY, 2015, Disrupted Drawing Small in situ in Tessa's home, London, UK

more than momentary: ENJOY, 2015
Series of 53 works on paper of varying sizes, participatory, curatorial project, artists book and exhibition
Selected works were exhibited in solo exhibitions at RaumX Gallery, London, UK, and Carroll and Sons Gallery, Boston, MA, 2015

“A work of art is a gift, not a commodity . . . works of art exist simultaneously in two “economies”, a market economy and a gift economy. Only one of these is essential, however: a work of art can survive without the market, but where there is no gift, there is no art.”  Lewis Hyde, The Gift

more than momentary: ENJOY alters the typical path of artwork from studio to gallery to collector by offering voluntary participants the opportunity to borrow and spend extended time with the work before the exhibition. In the spirit of Lewis Hyde’s ideas about art as a gift, I offered this time with the work as a gift, as a way of opening up the possibilities for relating to the work in a way that is more than momentary. The choice of the word ENJOY in the title refers to the secondary meaning of the word: "to possess or benefit from."

It was my hope that this more than momentary engagement with the work and the chance to temporarily possess it would afford some pleasure and benefit that goes beyond the typically brief gallery viewing experience.

Link to: more than momentary: ENJOY artists book which documents the project.

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Disrupted Drawings, 2015, gouache, acrylic and gesso on rice paper, dimensions variable

Street posters repeatedly layered to the point of becoming solid objects, graffiti removals which then become a new set of graphic signs on the urban landscape, a medicine cabinet painted with so many layers of paint the rectilinear edges become soft — these inspirations all represent surfaces, shapes and objects that somehow appeal although their resulting aesthetic was not the intention of the hand that created them. 

There is a parallel kind of layering in the various arcs in life. The new job, the burgeoning friendship, the fresh love — often start with a sense of simple wholeness that is gradually disrupted and requires repair. These shifts can bring a different kind of wholeness, often awkward and beautiful in a new way. 

Disrupted Drawings explore the beauty that emerges from a rough process of iterations. In making these works, I revel in the quirky, unique object of a drawing that emerges and asserts its rightness in the midst of its many imperfections. 

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Biking in Berlin, 2010-2012
A series of 99 works on paper, gouaches and flashe on Berlin guidebook pages, 7.5" x 5.75"
Exhibited in solo exhibitions at 18M Galerie, Berlin, Germany, and Carroll and Sons Gallery, Boston, MA, 2015Col
Catalog: 24 pages with essay in English and German by art historian Karin Lelonek

Excerpt from Biking in Berlin catalog essay:

"Murphy Spicer disassembled her printed city guide and used the pages themselves to create these works. The outline of her biking paths became the most prominent shapes. Smaller shapes began as images in the guidebook — architectural details, close-ups of streets, monuments. She cut out these small elements, painted them and, in some cases, reinserted them into the page, often intersecting or floating closely in relation to the larger shape. Clues to the origin of these smaller shapes are painted over, the literal reference masked by layer upon layer of paint. Only the shape remains. And yet, all elements of this dislodged and collaged Berlin are connected to the city. Color has been a way into this work, according to Murphy Spicer.  Color serves as a means of animating shape, for perceiving and observing shapes in interaction. This multilayered dialogue of color and shape is created in the spirit of the peripatetic cyclist, deliberately serendipitous, entering new territory with open eyes and anticipation.

Berlin is a fitting subject for this work. There is an enormous diversity of shapes that comprise the city, the intended or unintended result of art, design, architecture and changing borders. Murphy Spicer’s work reveals her keen awareness of this. The physiognomy and layout of Berlin has changed in its recent past like no other major European city. The destruction during World War II, the separation into sectors by the Allies, the building of the Berlin Wall, the fall of the Wall and the reunification of the city — all of these events cut, dismembered, and rejoined the city over and over again, changing its texture dramatically. The continuous process of overwriting, deleting and rewriting is ongoing. This city has constantly re-formed itself, storing its past in the evolving layers of space that is Berlin today. With the Biking in Berlin series, Murphy Spicer has added her own layers, her traces of personally experienced space, to the stratification of Berlin. This reference to the lived experience within the larger timescales of history makes the series so intriguing, the evanescent shapes inviting reflection on the shapes of one’s own personal trajectories in this place.

The eclectic, vibrant cosmopolitan capital that we take as unbounded Berlin today is still imprinted in collective memory and the spatial memory of the city with what used to be East and West. Today we move about the city with ease. In the midst of daily routines, rarely do we recall that such fluidity was impossible for most of the second half of the twentieth century. The immediate sense of freedom within the space of the city that cycling brings expands and deepens as we become more conscious of the historical forces that have shaped this place. Perceptively, this makes Berlin even more ample. These small works reflect the multi-faceted metropolis: various shapes, layers and surfaces, its imperfections, its rough edges, its constantly dislodged and collaged spaces. Within the economical containers of these small works lies the universe of this place steeped in histories, the intimate trajectories that define our everyday lives and the larger contours of history that comprise Berlin."

Karin Lelonek, Berlin art historian, 2015
Translated from German by Susanne Nestor

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Watching Water2008 - ongoing work-in-progress
A 24-hour participatory performance on Portreath Beach in Cornwall, UK

Dawn breaks and a lone woman saunters onto the beach walking directly towards the water pausing just at the water’s edge. As the water recedes, she takes a few steps to follow it, as if she were about to enter the water. Then pauses. The next wave arrives and she takes a few steps backwards, again staying close to the white foamy line. Over the next 24 hours she is joined by small groups and whole classes of schoolchildren, mothers, the elderly and teens. Moving in unison, they create an undulating, repetitive movement, which forms a living drawing of the line where the water meets the land. 

Watching Water is a mass participatory performative artwork conceived by US artist Nancy Murphy Spicer during the time when she was based in England for six years. This performance work invites participants to embody the movement of the tides within a collective experience, joining community with the natural landscape, over a 24-hour period.

This work brings together many concerns of the artist such as physical approaches to drawing, artworks created collaboratively through participation, and the power of community connected to place, be it urban spaces or the natural world. This work raises important questions such as: What constitutes drawing? Where does authorship reside when an artwork is created through public participation? How can art be used to bring attention to important social issues?

Watching Water has been in development since 2007. The performance has been tested in both the UK and US with a limited number of participants. It is the artist’s ambition to produce a large-scale version of the performance in the dramatic setting of the North Cornish Coastline. The location of Portreath is ideal because of its unique geography – broad sandy beach with cliffs rising on one side – providing a natural stage for the performative and sculptural nature of the artwork.

   Drawing from Above and Below  , 2009, glass and mirror, 4' x 16' x 1/4", in Boston University 808 Gallery as part of Traces and Places exhibition   Drawing from Above and Below  uses simple materials placed in a specific manner in the space to create a drawing which highlights existing characteristics of the gallery. A standard 4 x 8' piece of glass is placed abutting a 4 x 8' piece of mirror. The glass frames a portion of the geometric design on the floor and the mirror reflects the ornate designs on the ceiling. This work flattens aspects of the architectural space bringing them into relationship with each other.   This work was made in an unusual manner in that I never physically experienced the space myself and, working only with photographs and drawings from the curator, directed the making of the work from a distance. Artist colleagues acted as my proxy, a local glass man provided use of the materials temporarily and a photographer documented the work. I never experienced the work directly myself.   This piece is part of my ongoing questions around what comprises the work of art and who creates it. 

Drawing from Above and Below, 2009, glass and mirror, 4' x 16' x 1/4", in Boston University 808 Gallery as part of Traces and Places exhibition

Drawing from Above and Below uses simple materials placed in a specific manner in the space to create a drawing which highlights existing characteristics of the gallery. A standard 4 x 8' piece of glass is placed abutting a 4 x 8' piece of mirror. The glass frames a portion of the geometric design on the floor and the mirror reflects the ornate designs on the ceiling. This work flattens aspects of the architectural space bringing them into relationship with each other. 

This work was made in an unusual manner in that I never physically experienced the space myself and, working only with photographs and drawings from the curator, directed the making of the work from a distance. Artist colleagues acted as my proxy, a local glass man provided use of the materials temporarily and a photographer documented the work. I never experienced the work directly myself. 

This piece is part of my ongoing questions around what comprises the work of art and who creates it. 

   The Floor in the Floor  , 2007, selectively refinished wood floor, Bernard Toale Gallery, Boston, MA, part of  Provisional  exhibition of site-specific works   The Floor in the Floor  is another instance of creating a kind of drawing in the space using existing qualities of that space. This work was sited in the Bernard Toale Gallery which, at the time, was comprised of three distinct gallery spaces. The three galleries were used in different ways and connoted varying levels of significance of the artists shown in each gallery. Previous configurations of the space remained, revealed by the distinctly different patterns of floorboards. In this work, I further highlighted the earlier configuration by having only that area refinished to a smoother, matte gloss finish.  In this work, I disregard the hierarchy of spaces within the gallery and allow my work to invade all three spaces. The work is both subtle (some people didn't even notice it) and emphatic as it is the one artwork in the gallery that is actually touching the beholder's body. 

The Floor in the Floor, 2007, selectively refinished wood floor, Bernard Toale Gallery, Boston, MA, part of Provisional exhibition of site-specific works

The Floor in the Floor is another instance of creating a kind of drawing in the space using existing qualities of that space. This work was sited in the Bernard Toale Gallery which, at the time, was comprised of three distinct gallery spaces. The three galleries were used in different ways and connoted varying levels of significance of the artists shown in each gallery. Previous configurations of the space remained, revealed by the distinctly different patterns of floorboards. In this work, I further highlighted the earlier configuration by having only that area refinished to a smoother, matte gloss finish.

In this work, I disregard the hierarchy of spaces within the gallery and allow my work to invade all three spaces. The work is both subtle (some people didn't even notice it) and emphatic as it is the one artwork in the gallery that is actually touching the beholder's body. 

   Floormap: Basketball Court  , 2007, one of 5" x 7" set of 6 postcards  This work came out of a series entitled  After Hours , wherein the gallery owner gave me access to the gallery when it was closed. Over two years, I developed a number of performance and installation works, some of which appeared in exhibitions and others which went on to become further developed works.    Floormap  is just that, a map of the floor of the gallery I was offered in which to exhibit my work. In order to become familiar with the space, I devised various strategies to physically "learn" the space. One of those approaches was to draw the space by making its shape in landscape cloth. I then moved the floor to the walls, folded it up and took it out into the neighborhood, virtually bringing the gallery to the city.   This work literally lays the gallery on top of the world allowing an opportunity to look at the two places in relation to one another.   The final form of the work was a set of six 5" x 7" postcards which were placed in the local pharmacy for sale. 

Floormap: Basketball Court, 2007, one of 5" x 7" set of 6 postcards

This work came out of a series entitled After Hours, wherein the gallery owner gave me access to the gallery when it was closed. Over two years, I developed a number of performance and installation works, some of which appeared in exhibitions and others which went on to become further developed works. 

Floormap is just that, a map of the floor of the gallery I was offered in which to exhibit my work. In order to become familiar with the space, I devised various strategies to physically "learn" the space. One of those approaches was to draw the space by making its shape in landscape cloth. I then moved the floor to the walls, folded it up and took it out into the neighborhood, virtually bringing the gallery to the city. 

This work literally lays the gallery on top of the world allowing an opportunity to look at the two places in relation to one another. 

The final form of the work was a set of six 5" x 7" postcards which were placed in the local pharmacy for sale. 

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Cardboard Actions, still, detail, 2006, set of three still images from three-channel video and installation, solo exhibition, Carroll and Sons, Boston, MA

Cardboard Actions is part installation and part performance. I worked with recycled cardboard through a series of simple, unrehearsed tasks or “actions.” Each action resulted in a temporary sculpture which I observed before moving on to the next action. In this work, I am finding sculptural forms, not through direct, intentional design, but as the result of a simple activity and observation of its result.

   Seep  , 2004, birch plywood, latex paint, vinyl, in  Seamless  exhibition at Memphis College of Art, including Amy Sillman, James Siena, and Dan Devening.   Seep  is part of the series of poured paint works I created onsite between 2001-2004. This work takes the minimalist forms of the birch plywood and animates them with trails of red paint. The paint is thickly poured latex which sits as a dimensional object on the floor. 

Seep, 2004, birch plywood, latex paint, vinyl, in Seamless exhibition at Memphis College of Art, including Amy Sillman, James Siena, and Dan Devening.

Seep is part of the series of poured paint works I created onsite between 2001-2004. This work takes the minimalist forms of the birch plywood and animates them with trails of red paint. The paint is thickly poured latex which sits as a dimensional object on the floor. 

    Poured Paint  , 2003, 30 gallons of latex "mistake" paint poured in individual puddles and arranged randomly in the gallery, dimensions variable, Brickbottom Gallery, Somerville, MA   Poured Paint  represents a shift in my work toward task-like approaches to making. This work was inspired by a house painter's description of how he is required to detoxify leftover paint by pouring it out onto large sheets of cardboard to dry and then be disposed. I appropriated his task and instead poured the paint on plastic sheets, lifted up the resulting paint puddles and placed them in the gallery. The resulting work was described as "unapologetic" and "transparent" by beholders which are two qualities I seek in my work. 


Poured Paint, 2003, 30 gallons of latex "mistake" paint poured in individual puddles and arranged randomly in the gallery, dimensions variable, Brickbottom Gallery, Somerville, MA

Poured Paint represents a shift in my work toward task-like approaches to making. This work was inspired by a house painter's description of how he is required to detoxify leftover paint by pouring it out onto large sheets of cardboard to dry and then be disposed. I appropriated his task and instead poured the paint on plastic sheets, lifted up the resulting paint puddles and placed them in the gallery. The resulting work was described as "unapologetic" and "transparent" by beholders which are two qualities I seek in my work.