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Cybele Lyle exhibition at SMoCA explores desert, identity in Scottsdale

Since 2010, SMoCA’s Architecture + Art series has been a platform for artistic experimentation at an architectural scale. (Photo Courtesy: Scottsdale Arts/DigitalFreePress)
Cybele Lyle at SMoCA debuts this August in Old Town Scottsdale
By Brian Passey | Scottsdale Arts

Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art Saturday, Aug. 24 will open the latest iteration of its ongoing Architecture + Art series — the first in the series to feature a woman artist: Cybele Lyle.

Cybele Lyle: Floating Seeds Make Deep Forms” is a site-specific installation that responds to deserts in the North American Southwest as non-places — liminal expanses for ambiguity within a regenerative ecosystem. It is the first solo museum exhibition for Lyle, a California-based contemporary artist who explores the relationships between public, private and ecological spaces.

Since 2010, SMoCA’s Architecture + Art series has been a platform for artistic experimentation at an architectural scale.

“As the first female and queer artist in the series, Cybele Lyle brings an alternative perspective to how we view built environments, which are intentionally binary, and natural environments, which are adaptable,” said exhibition curator Lauren R. O’Connell, curator of contemporary art at SMoCA.

O’Connell said the exhibition aligns with SMoCA’s vision to mediate creative expression across a wide range of public and cultivate inclusive dialogue. In the past five years, the curatorial direction has focused on counterbalancing the lack of gender representation in both exhibitions and collections — a common issue being addressed by art institutions in the 21st century.

Incorporating aspects of queer space, Lyle’s multidimensional collage of desert photography, prints, drawings, makeshift structures and video projections create a fluid backdrop for discovery. The installation inverts interior and exterior, man-made and biological structures, to contemplate the impression humans leave on their surrounding environments. Because architecture often determines how people move through space, it can become a power structure, dictating who is allowed in certain spaces or separating people in others.

“I want to break the walls apart, and I want to create a space where things can shift; identity and sense of self can be expansive instead of trapped,” Lyle said. “I think that’s a kind of queer idea of space. I’m hoping that the space allows whoever comes in to have the power to let that space be theirs.”

O’Connell noted that Lyle’s site-specific installation for SMoCA will use makeshift walls with varying cut-outs to disrupt preconceived notions of how a wall, window or space, in general, should function. Additionally, Lyle’s artworks of fragmented desert scenes will metaphorically open portals to nature, suggesting a symbiosis of interior and exterior.

“The disruptions and portals are meant to slow down viewers as they navigate the space with the hope that they might linger, transcending the physical space of the gallery toward generative introspection and self-discovery,” O’Connell said.

Lyle’s artistic practice was informed by her upbringing in a family of educators. Her mother was a biologist, and her father was an architect, landscape architect and ecologist.

Though her father’s vocation often focused on solving problems, he taught her that art has value and meaning in and of itself. And it was Lyle’s father who first taught her to draw and use a camera while exploring nature.

“I grew up in Pasadena, outside of Los Angeles, and my parents loved the desert,” Lyle said. “As a kid, though, I just hated it. It was hot and dry and felt hostile. I didn’t know what to do with myself. But as an adult, I have come to love the desert. My partner, who is from Minnesota, reintroduced me to the desert through her love for it, and it’s like a new world.”

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