It is hard to pinpoint the moment Kevin Titzer’s latest art project truly began. The Evansville native’s series of sculptural houses made of gathered recycled materials technically started in Guadalajara, Mexico.
The previous year, Titzer worked with a theater group, La Tortue Noir, in his current city of Alma in Quebec, Canada, in collaboration with another theater group, Luna Morena, in Guadalajara to build life-size puppets and props. Through that connection, Titzer was invited to travel down to Guadalajara for an art residency during a Day of the Dead festival. He didn’t have enough time to prepare a full body of work. Instead, Titzer had to improvise.
“I just decided to go down with nothing, which was unusual for me,” he says. “I decided, OK I’ll do a little experiment. I’ll go down there and collect materials from the street and see what happens. So that’s what I did, and it went really well.”
The outcome was a house-like structure made from recycled and repurposed materials found throughout Guadalajara. The success of the installation inspired a series of other similar projects — the first in Guadalajara, two in Quebec, and a soon-to-be fourth in Evansville.
With the next project planned for the University of Southern Indiana on Sept. 17, an argument could be made that the foundation for Titzer’s project truly began during his time as a student at USI.
It is where the Central High School and USI alum first started making his figures, which have continued to appear throughout his career and can be found hidden away throughout the series of houses created in Quebec and Guadalajara.
The figures today are sculptural, though they began more puppet-like during Titzer’s time as a student. This irony is not lost on Titzer — it was the theater puppets and props that led him to the first house in Guadalajara.
“It’s kind of coming full circle,” he says. “Because that’s where I started making the figures in university there.”
After his residency at USI, another project will be installed in Alma during the winter. Next year, the series will take him to Norway, and he hopes to have several more lined out by next year.
How did you start making the figures that have appeared throughout your career?
I can’t seem to get away from my figures. I started making figures honestly out of pure laziness — a lazy student. I had a wood class and a ceramics class, and I had two finals. I thought, “Can I do a project I can submit to both?” So I started making heads out of clay and bodies out of wood, and I killed two birds with one stone and got two grades for one project. I was like, “This is pretty cool. Maybe I’ll explore this a little more.” And I’m still doing them, but they’ve changed quite a bit over the years.
How have they changed?
I hope they have gotten better. When I first started doing them, they were more puppet-like. They have just kind of evolved over the years, where my wood carving skills got better and I started incorporating different materials.
How was the first project received in Guadalajara?
The community reacted in a whole different way because it was materials from their community they recognized, so they had a bigger connection with it. I thought there’s something here.
If I go to different places and different communities and different countries, I’ll never know what I find. Different communities throw away different things and value different things, so it will be a different project every time. And it will be a different design, because I’ll never know what I’ll find.
Will the project at USI be a permanent installation?
None of these are permanent. That’s another big aspect of the project — that it’s temporary. I use recycled materials from the community, and honestly I think it’s from that short experience with the theater. I kind of liked the idea of things being more ephemeral.
Until now, I was making sculpture. Everything has to be crafted very well thinking of the future and how people are going to own this and being very much wrapped up in pride of craftsmanship, which is great. But it also is, after so many years of doing that, refreshing to do something that is designed not to last. I think of it more in a theater context. It is there for a short time and whoever experiences it has it in their minds, then it goes away forever.
With Evansville being your hometown, do you have a preconceived notion of what the project at USI will look like?
Yes and no. The design I have no idea; the design depends on the materials. It’s been a while since I’ve been back, but I kind of have a better idea of where to find stuff. That will make the experience a little bit different, too. That’s kind of the exciting part about when I’m able to go to different cities, because really there are so many unknown variables.
SEPT. 19: Public presentation with Kevin Titzer, Kleymeyer Hall, USI campus, 8600 University Blvd.
SEPT. 25: Artist Roundtable, Willard Library, 21 N. First Ave.
SEPT. 30: Exhibition Opening, Pace Galleries, USI campus.