Lisa Anne Auerbach, Photomural for Nottingham Contemporary Window Installation, 2009, color photograph, 22 x 11'.


In the months leading up to the public opening of Nottingham Contemporary on November 14, a series of projects have been commissioned throughout the city and, more recently, in the street-level windows of the Caruso St John–designed kunsthalle. Here, the Los Angeles–based artist Lisa Anne Auerbach discusses her installation, which premiered on September 12.

I’VE INSTALLED SWEATERS with matching skirts in the windows of Nottingham Contemporary, and a photomural of me wearing each of them. These works are influenced by the radical history of Nottingham, specifically the Luddite rebellion, during which workers broke their framework-knitting machines in protest of automation and poor working conditions. I sympathize: Sometimes I just want to take an ax to my knitting machine.

During my research, I investigated ways to engage with Nottingham that might resonate with my own practice and ideas. The sweaters—all are my size and have slogans on them—offer my standpoint on events as they’re unfolding. The phrases needed to feel comfortable to me, since I’m wearing them. These sweaters contain a lot of layers: the knitting and radical histories, old Luddite song lyrics, and more contemporary ideas that I thought would work with the old ones.

I threw Robin Hood into the mix even though it’s a clichť. Conversations about wealth redistribution, taxes, and health care are very current. I was interested in turning the Robin Hood narrative into something feminist, anarchist, and communal, transforming the troupe of Merry Men into a gang of miniskirt-clad ladies, and breaking any ties to royalty and the church. Statelessness and socialism are polar opposites, but I think both are very compelling utopian models. In my fantasy of him, Robin Hood has this conundrum between affecting wealth distribution on a grand scale and a do-it-yourself, squatter, live-off-the-land, survivalist approach.

One sweater bears a quote from Diderot: STRANGLE THE LAST KING WITH THE ENTRAILS OF THE LAST PRIEST. It is a visceral and brilliant slur. I depicted entrails as a motif in the sweater, and the skirt has intestines running around the bottom of it. It is important that the work has a lighthearted component. I use humor to bring people into the work and to temper what otherwise might be didactic, angry, or bitter sentiments. I like an uncomfortable edginess, but I also want the sweaters to have a subtlety even when they are confrontational.

There is the sense with the sweaters that they are of the time in which they were made. It has always been really interesting to me to think about how they will endure. I wonder how I can make something historical seem alive and how these texts will be relevant in the future. Another sweater references the book The Coming Insurrection [2009], and the idea that a revolution is on the way. When I read it, though, I found the bombastic language and strident, manifesto-like tone to be so familiar. It seemed just the current, fashionable revolutionary text of the moment. Ten years down the line we’ll have next decade’s version, whatever it is.

— As told to Patricia Maloney