Published in September / October 2014 Issue of LACanvas
Lia Halloran’s catalogue of fascinations is considerable. As a self-proclaimed multi-tasker, I am still baffled by all of her interests, and how she has time in the day to approach each with a fascinated enthusiasm. I am welcomed into her gorgeous 1910s craftsman home in Eagle Rock, where she makes me a cappuccino, and introduces me to her 35 year old tortoise. We talk shop about art, science, skateboarding, and teaching.
As the daughter of a surfer, and growing up in Pacifica (a beach town near San Francisco), Lia grew up surfing and skating. She was given her first skateboard when she was 5, and was featured with other promising young skaters in a Thrasher magazine article called “50 Unknowns” at the age of 15. In the bitmapped magazine photo, one can see Lia doing a tail grab off the blocks at the Embarcadero Street plaza in San Francisco. The photographers made her take her hat off so that readers would be able to tell she was a girl.
Growing up, she vividly remembers her father sitting with her before each surf session, looking to the horizon and analyzing the movements of each wave. “Lia, are you going to go left, or are you going to go right?” He would ask her. This astute question seemed to lay the foundation of Lia’s disparate interests: time, space, and movement are the connectors between astrophysics and skateboarding. Lia explains: “Where are you going before you go there? And after you go there, what would that line look like?”
It’s this question combined with her experiences using long exposure photography to capture the movement of stars in the Chilean desert in 2000, that propelled her to begin the Dark Skate series; one that has spanned the last 6 years. In the series, Lia has traveled to various locations with a photographer, in search of hidden skateable landscapes; ones often tucked away in the hidden architecture of urban cities. She’s been underground to a gypsy camp in Austria, to the vibrant streets of Miami, in the belly of the LA River, and to the hollowed out buildings of Detroit to shoot for the series. “I would go, attach a light to my body, and open the shutter.” Sounds simple on paper, although these photo shoots often involve hopping fences, skirting police, and climbing walls (not to mention skating a bowl in the pitch black night). The series is a true testament to Lia’s skill as a skater, yet the photos are markedly void of any clear reference to skateboarding. The haunting photographs are self portraits – marks of a body’s capabilities in a space. The lines created by the process are sensual and bodily. Through working on this series, Lia has discovered “I have this intrinsic line that exists with each space.” These lines are unique to her movements, echoing figurative contour drawings.
While gender is not an overt aspect of Halloran’s artistic production, It certainly seems to underpin the route her life has taken. Being slightly outside of the mainstream skate culture–which was and still is very male-centric–Lia has been able to develop a more nuanced relationship to skateboarding. After a lifetime of skating, Lia has begun to shift her ideologies around the sport. As a kid, skating is largely about mastering certain tricks, and showing them off to other skaters. But, much like an art career, at the end of the day, it’s a solitary pursuit. Lia describes her love-affair with skating with a palpable fondness: “the culture of skateboarding is totally different from my experience of skating, which is this real loving physical tangible thing. It’s very creative – it’s your physical interpretation of that landscape. If you said, ‘you’re going to go back and forth on this half pipe for 45 minutes, and we’re going to blindfold you’, I’d be like ‘I could do that.’”
So, after six years of skating in the dark, and with all her teeth still intact, Lia is hanging her Dark Skate hat up after one last romp around the LA River. As I write this, Lia is out with her photographer jumping fences, and skateboarding in a ditch in Griffith Park, capturing the last round of photos for the series. Here’s Lia on completing the project in Los Angeles: “There’s something about my personal relationship with LA and the LA river, and a sort of longing for and understanding of this space; there’s a derive of wondering and figuring it out, that mimics my childhood as a girl skater. Like, going out and physically loving something, and doing it– the same way a surfer would follow a line on a wave–that I feel will encapsulate what the project will be. It started in LA, it’s going to end in LA.”
While her Dark Skate days may be coming to an end, Lia still goes skating with a group of female skaters once a week, and she has plenty of other interests to explore. Remember how I mentioned star hunting in the Chilean desert? While in undergrad at UCLA, and throughout her MFA studies at Yale, Lia pursued courses in astrophysics alongside her fine art studies. “When i thought about physics, it pushed my understanding of space and scale in a way that art didn’t. Yet, art also grapples with those topics,” Lia explained. Lia’s trip to Chile was on a grant she received to collaborate with Dr. Charles Bailyn, head of the Astrophysics department at Yale, to observe black holes. Recently, Lia has been collaborating with Kip Thorne, one of todays leading astrophysicists (she had dinner with Kip and Stephen Hawking, for example). The two have been in conversation to visualize some of Kip’s theories for an upcoming Spielberg blockbuster, “Interstellar”. “He would describe to me strange situations of extreme gravity and warped space and I would make drawings out of these conversations,” Lia narrates. “Over the years we developed a wonderful friendship and collaboration and have created a short book of Kip’s prose and more than a dozen of my drawings to describe these situations that we plan on publishing by the end of the year [in conjunction with the movie]. Kip used my drawings in the presentation of Carl Sagan’s papers to the library of congress last year.”
Lia recounts these stories with the same twinkle in her eye she has while describing her relationship to skateboarding. Astrophysics is no hobby; it’s an obsession. In the studio, Lia has been dedicatedly depicting the “Messier Catalogue,” in a series of sensual ink drawings that she then uses as negatives to create photographic prints. The catalogue accounts 110 night sky objects that were discovered by the 18th Century comet hunter Charles Messier. Messier classified and labeled each fuzzy unknown object, so that other scientists wouldn’t waste their time trying to understand what the formations were. As it turns out these fuzzy annoyances were galaxies and nebula – Messier simply didn’t have the technology yet to discover them. The band M83 is named after one of Messier’s findings. This series of drawings and prints, called Deep Sky Companion, took Halloran 2 years to realize – the final piece will be hung in an upcoming show at the California Institute of Technology (a venue much outside the realm of the art world).
While Lia delves into these various long term projects depicting specific scientific topics, the day to day in the studio tells a different narrative. It’s vital to have a simultaneous projects in the studio, each with varying time tables and investigatory impulses. “I’ll go from an oil painting that took 3 months, to a drawing that took an hour, to going out and climbing fences and being really silly. That kind of interaction, and cadence, and shift of those things is really important and a good way of balancing being a professional artist. If I can’t excite myself, and come into the studio and go “wow,” then who else am i going to excite?”
Once a week, Lia turns her studio into a dark room with her assistant to create cyanotype prints. Play and collaboration have become a constant aspect of Lia’s work. Perhaps including a certain amount of chance and unknown in her studio is a way for Lia to mirror the vastness of space while accounting for the playfulness of skateboarding. “Whatever project i’m working on, I hope it leads me on new adventures,” Lia smiles. As Carl Sagan said, “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” In these unknown spaces, we’ll find Lia– skateboard under one arm, and a telescope under the other.