Meredith Tromble

I began as a painter, and I’ve never given it up, but painting has become one element in a toolbox that includes drawing, text, and performance, and which I use to build physical and virtual installations. A diagram of my creative practice would look like a cloverleaf, with four paths circling back to a center. The four leaves are physically immersive art, creative collaboration, writing as creative research, and art related to science and technology.

My MFA exhibition at the Mills Museum in 1991 was a maze installation, Caerdroia (the Welsh word for maze). That maze was akin to my recent digital work because it was a space you walked into and explored, something to experience with your body as well as your eyes. Caerdroia was exhibited again at the Rosicrucian Museum in San Jose and was followed by another large immersive installation Pale Maze (1994).

But my career seemed to take a turn into art writing. Although I continued my art practice in a serious way, my “day jobs” as an editor and writer in the art world made it difficult to exhibit without conflicts of interest. But writing, too, led back to art—art making that encompassed my conceptual interests in a deeper way. After the dot-com bust swept an online art magazine out from under me in 2000, I began showing again. My earlier work was recognized when I was one of forty-seven artists included in Epicenter: San Francisco Bay Area Art Now by Mark Johnstone and Leslie Holzman (2002).

And I found myself with digital skills and colleagues who became the Stretcher artist group. Over the next decade Stretcher explored creative collaboration, publishing a website and orchestrating installations, performances, and public events for exhibitions. I stepped away from this collaboration in 2010 to pursue individual art making, as my interest in art, science and technology led me in a new direction. I often based my early paintings loosely on scientific images; in the past decade scientific research began to surface in performance, too, when I recreated a mechanism constructed by biologist Larry Rome for the Anti-Pandora (2009–ongoing) series of surprise performances.

I became a tenured faculty at the San Francisco Art Institute in 2005. Teaching, too, has led back to making art.  Interview (2008) was the first of several performances that took apart a standard explanatory structure and put it back together—sort of—in an art way, exposing the things we take for granted in activities such as interviewing and lecturing. My lecture performances, rooted in the tension between explanation and mystery, are now the purview of Madame Entropy, my second art performance persona.

In 2012, I received an Art Writers Grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation for Art & Shadows, a blog investigating contemporary art in light of contemporary research, screening ideas from various forms of science for their applications to art. My statement about why this might be worthwhile refers to a historic societal change, but could also refer to my personal development: “The exploration is timely because there is a deep shift in the ways we explain ourselves to ourselves. Digital tools have magnified the amount and changed the kinds of data in play, opening up new questions about how we perceive, think, and imagine the world. Some of the material emerging from fields such as cognitive psychology, evolutionary biology, and neuroscience begs to be considered in tandem with contemporary art; not to explain art but to add new details and textures to the ways we talk about it.” And to the ways we make it.

With Stretcher, I had the incredibly seductive experience of collaboration that occasionally carried us along on a creative wave, landing us places we could never have gotten to alone. So I was ready when I encountered the researchers at the Complexity Sciences Center and KeckCAVES at the University of Davis, California (UCD). When they received a small grant to invite artists to experience the CAVE, a 3-D imaging space, I was one of the artists invited. Captivated by the experience, I sent them a storyboard proposal for a virtual installation.  Geobiologist Dawn Sumner responded and we were off on the Dream Vortex. That work continues through the Macroscope group in the Complexity Sciences Center at UCD.

—Meredith Tromble

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Art & Shadows
San Francisco Art Institute