Liz Larner: Unstill Life

Liz Larner: 2001, 2001, fiberglass, stainless steel, and automotive paint, 12 by 12 by 12 feet. COURTESY REGEN PROJECTS

WHAT IS IN A BREATH? In 1988, at a group show in Graz, Austria, Liz Larner asked her fellow artists to exhale onto an agar culture that she had prepared in a petri dish, like a medical professional testing for disease. Larner put the work on display, and over the course of the show’s run, the accumulated bacteria grew into menacing blooms, which eventually died, turning black. The Los Angeles artist titled the piece Every Artist Gave a Breath (Graz ’88), a name at once poetic and slyly poignant, like so much of her work.

This was a heady career moment for Larner, then just three years out of the California Institute of Arts, where she had focused on photography. She had started making cultures the previous year, with Orchid, Buttermilk, Penny (1987), whose title names the ingredients she had placed in a dish.

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