"She Bends: Redefining Neon Legacy" Artist Statements: Lily Reeves on "Room to Breathe"

Lily Reeves. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Neon is a master-apprentice trade; those holding the knowledge control to whom it is passed. Our newest exhibition, She Bends: Redefining Neon Legacy, tells the story of this evolution playing out in real time, as custodians of the craft become more intentional with how, and to whom, they pass their torches.

Lily Reeves is originally from Birmingham, Alabama. She earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts from Alfred University in 2015 and her Masters in Fine are from Arizona State University in Phoenix, AZ, where she graduated in April 2018. She currently lives and works in Phoenix, Arizona, where she runs her art and design studio, Reeves Studios, full-time. Reeves’s aesthetic language is forever contoured by the uncanny and supernatural qualities of the American South. While her practice is multifaceted, it is always grounded in the medium of light and energy. A holistic exploration of personal, societal, and environmental healing, Reeves’s work addresses these spiritual chasms that are symptomatic of living in a capitalist society. Reeves was taught by Sarah Blood.

Lily Reeves (American, born 1991). Assisted by Pily (American, born 1991). Video assistance by Josephine Ortiz Merida (American, born 1997). Room to Breathe, 2021. Video projection, furniture, argon-filled glass, stainless steel. Courtesy of the artist.

She Bends: Tell us about your works in the exhibition.

Lily Reeves: Room to Breathe is a multimedia installation produced in 2021-2022 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic by a collective of friends and family. Room to Breathe aims to combat the internalization of a post-capitalist and post-colonial society by encouraging viewers to participate in a guided breathing meditation set inside of a healing rainbow light installation. This meditation gives those who experience it a tool for addressing mental and physical well-being, anxiety, and stress. Breath work is an ancient practice found in every culture around the world, and it has been used for meditation and prayer for millennia. This installation is meant to build a connection within us to our own breath, which grants us access to the invisible worlds of our emotional and psychological lives. Our breath is our life force and our connection to our own power. By cultivating an inner world of equanimity, we are able to move through the world with better intentionality and mindfulness, building a collective world that begins inside of ourselves. 

SB: What motivates you? What are you trying to achieve through your work?

LR: I want to encourage introspection in my viewers in a way that facilitates real, actual change in those who experience the work. Active participation is very different from passive seeing; it is more demanding on behalf of the viewer and requires a set of instructions with an intended outcome, though the outcome does not have to be defined or finite, and the interpretation of the work is often as open-ended as any other work of art. However, this consensual action / participation is something I have found to be very powerful and profound through my performance and multimedia work, and it is always positioned with an intention of encouraging physical, emotional, psychological, or spiritual well-being in those who participate in the work. 

Lily Reeves (American, born 1991). Assisted by Pily (American, born 1991). Video assistance by Josephine Ortiz Merida (American, born 1997). Room to Breathe, 2021. Video projection, furniture, argon-filled glass, stainless steel. Courtesy of the artist.

SB: How did you begin working on this type of series or art in general?

LR: I have always been interested in the invisible worlds inside of us, which consume the majority of our lives, but which we often ignore outside of organized religious outlets. Our minds and bodies are metaphysical in nature, and this is something that has always interested me. 

SB: Who has influenced you as an artist?

LR: My mentors; contemporary light artists like Gabrielle Rico and Olafur Eliasson; light-and-space artists like Doug Wheeler, Bruce Nauman, and Larry Bell; contemporary performance and sculpture artists and arts organizations like La Pocha Nostra, Postcommodity, Roni Horn, Simone Leigh, Ernesto Pujol, and Wolfgang Laib; cultural icons like Alejandro Inurito and Alejandro Jodorowsky. Other than art, I am super interested in peripheral spiritual practices like magic, superstition, mysticism, and the occult. I also LOVEEE Mexican surrealism. 

She Bends: Redefining Neon Legacy is on view now at Museum of Glass.