"She Bends: Redefining Neon Legacy" Artist Statements: Stephanie Sara Lifshutz on "You've Been Getting More Than What You Paid For"

Neon is a master-apprentice trade; those holding the knowledge control to whom it is passed. Our upcoming 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.

Stephanie Sara Lifshutz is an artist and educator residing in Brooklyn, NY. She first began working with glass and neon while attending the University of Wisconsin, Madison as a graduate student. While much of her work comes from a personal place as a female Jewish artist, Lifshutz’s latest body of work has been about universal experiences and emotions. Lifshutz initially studied photography and printmaking at Franklin & Marshall College and became infatuated with portraiture. She began learning neon in earnest in order to make some new work in the medium herself, struggling to learn while appreciating the time and process as a reference to the tedium and process as a reference to the tedium and meditative nature of the darkroom. Lifshutz’s studio practice first focuses on the concept and subject matter before deciding which medium in which to realize the piece, and neon felt like a natural progression to edit down a concept to its simplest form - directly communicating it to the viewer.

Stephanie Sara Lifshutz (American, born 1991). You’ve Been Getting More Than What You Paid For, 2020. 8mm 6500, argon, and mercury. 114 x 19 x 2 in. Courtesy of the artist and Var Gallery, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Photo courtesy of the artist.

She Bends: Tell us about your work in this exhibition.

SSL: My work centers on communication and my real life encounters and conversations. It is a meditation on expressions I’ve said or thoughts based on lived experiences that have been transcribed and revisited. This piece in particular describes my struggles with the medium of neon and life as a female artist/fabricator/instructor trying to be taken seriously and respected in this world.

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

SSL: My ultimate motivation behind my work is communication, which is ironically also the subject of my pieces. Making is a compulsion, one I don’t think can be stopped in any way - but the decision to share my work with others is how I feel most comfortable being myself, and loudly. It is through sharing that I hope to not only be understood, but find companionship with others.

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

SSL: These pieces were some of the first that were truly introspective and entirely about my own feelings. I was at a point of frustration in putting my time, emotional labor, and body on the line in pursuit of being an artist. I wanted to make work that appeared understated in terms of font, color, or size decisions, but were conceptually blaring. The body of text that makes up You’ve Been Getting More Than What You Paid For was arduously edited, as it is about my own pain. Another of my pieces, You Heard Me The First Time, is a direct response to being put in uncomfortable positions as an artist and woman. The piece has a proximity dimmer causing the neon to light as you approach and reach full brightness once you are extremely close.

SB: Who has influenced you as an artist? 

SSL: Some of my greatest influences are Janine Antoni, Faisal Abdu’Allah (with whom I also had the pleasure of working in graduate school), Maurizio Cattelan, and the screenwriters Steven Moffet, Russel T. Davies, and Sharon Horgan.

She Bends: Redefining Neon Legacy opens at Museum of Glass on February 11.