Artist Feature: Robert Mertens

The conceptual artist was a mystic.

The artist was a conceptual mystic.

The artist was a mystical concept.

The conceptual mystic was an artist.

—Sol LeWitt


Lying at an intersection of pedagogy, technology and post-minimal Fiber Art history, the performance installations I create explore ideas of failure, fidelity, language, transmission, and progress. I construct scenarios or vignettes incorporating found electronics such as old radios, VHS tapes, and televisions tangled with traditional fiber techniques such as crochet, weaving and macramé. The performances range from impromptu demonstrations, repetitive simulcast broadcasts, tradition musical concerts, to sculptural soundscapes, open house craft workshops, and nonsensical sermons.


In a new series, Nothing from Something, the work is influenced by minimal and post-minimal art from the 60s-70s and Minimal Music Visualization. Artists such as: Eva Hesse, Sol LeWitt, Robert Morris, Lee Bontecou, Sheila Hicks, Claire Zeisler, Magdalena Abakanowitz aesthetically collaborate with minimal music and light composers, Alvin Lucier, Steve Reich, LaMonte Young, Robert Irwin, Felix Gonzales-Torres, David Tudor and of course John Cage. These works emphasizing the role of process in fiber arts and minimal music and addresses ideas of (mis)communication, spirituality, interconnections, repetition, post-structuralist aesthetics, and art history.


Monument to Repetition connects Eva Hesse’s Repetition 19 and Dan Flavin’s Monument to Tatlin visually with similar sentiments to Steve Reich’s recording Come out. Additionally, the content of the material plays apart in the work. The piece is woven from 9-track data tape donated from the Women and Gender Studies Archive at the University of Wisconsin Madison. Knowing this the audio played in the installation from the tubes are two recorded interviews of two opposing views on Feminism. Rachel Rosenthal discusses her awareness of becoming a feminist artist and Suzanne Venker’s discussion of her book the “Flipside”. Both audio sources have been obscured by either removal or feedback creating a blurring between the voices resulting in confusion around the subject of feminism. This idea came to me as a way of filtering out the experience I was have in the classroom teaching Fiber Arts. I often am the only male in the room and yet I am also often the only Feminist as well. The murkiness of the student’s concept of what that term means reflects much of Feminisms representation in popular culture.

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