Giving Collaboration a Good Name: Micah Lexier

Artists know things about themselves, and as they work they get to know those things better. Toronto-based artist, Micah Lexier has been especially attentive to two things in his practice: the operation of chance and the opportunities of collaboration. But in his most recent projects (including designing the cover for this issue of Border Crossings as an artist work), he has been paying even more attention to the serendipities that come out of working with other artists. “They have always been big focuses for me, but now I’m seeking them out and finding what I think are fairly inventive ways of collaborating.” He chooses to partner with artists who share his refined, minimalist sensibilities, so has recently worked with Michael Dumontier from Winnipeg and Derek Sullivan, a fellow Torontonian.

Micah Lexier, I AM THE COIN, 2009, 20,000 custom-minted coins pinned to the wall (production detail). Photograph: Alastair Crombie. Courtesy Birch Libralto, Toronto.

His most recent project involves two collaborators in different disciplines: a writer and a painter. I AM THE COIN is a commissioned installation for the Project Room on the 16th floor gallery in the Bank of Montreal in Toronto. It involves 20,000 custom-minted coins, each imprinted with a single letter and all to be installed on a wall 100 rows high and 200 rows across. The letters will tell a story by Derek McCormack, a Toronto writer Lexier wanted involved in the project. It incorporates puzzles, palindromes and anagrams, the kind of constructions that have always been at the centre of Lexier’s art making.

Micah Lexier, I AM THE COIN, 2009, custom-minted coins pinned to the wall. Computer rendering by Joshua Coulas. Courtesy Birch Libralto.

The invitation to the opening of the project room shows the coins that will be used in the installation, but in the form of a painting by Neil Wedman, an artist Lexier describes as “amazing but unknown. One of the nice things I can do with collaboration is bring attention to some people who deserve it.” He is characteristically enthusiastic about the painting for the invitation: “I gave Neil images of what my coins will look like and he made a painting that is so fucking awesome it is unbelievable.”

THIS IS AN ARROW IN A VITRINE WITH OTHER THINGS THAT HAVE ARROWS ON THEM, 2009, metal and acrylic vitrine, waterjet-cut aluminum with enamel paint, various items. Vitrine, 35 x 42 x 24”. Photograph: Toni Hafkenscheid. Courtesy Birch Libralto.

Lexier’s work is quietly autobiographical. He subtitled an exhibition, “And Sing Myself,” an altered title from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. “I’m not saying I’m Whitman, but I am convinced that speaking to your own reality is the only way you can actually speak any truth.” His approach to the truth happily incorporates coincidence and chance. “I’m never entirely sure I know what I’m doing. But that keeps me agile and able to respond to what’s working because ultimately I’m an artist. I’m not just an idea person; the physicality of the thing has to work. Some of that is hedging my bets, but most often it’s just being smart and opening myself up to potential.” That potential has reached the recognition stage; this spring the press of the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design will publish a 300-page history of his ephemera, including invitations, t-shirts, bookworks and multiples from the last 30 years. “There’s some mojo going on. I don’t know what it is, but it’s making up for nine very slow years. It’s magic.” Micah Lexier is a new version of Midas. He has refined and rehabilitated his touch, so that every thing he puts his finger to turns into a glowing self-reflection. ❚