Exclusive: Instagrammer Loyola Condenser speaks out in her first interview

The elusive artist discusses her work, and the Doig trial that made her famous, ahead of a show of photographs opening in Chicago

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Loyola Condenser—the pseudonymous artist who rose to prominence on Instagram while chronicling the Peter Doig trial in Chicago—has stepped out of the shadows.

Lisa Barense (who, full disclosure, is this correspondent’s mother-in-law) is speaking for the first time about her photographs ahead of a forthcoming selling exhibition of these works at the Lawrence and Clark Gallery in Chicago (Loyola Condenser, 14 October-23 November).

Barense began taking the pictures, each of which prominently feature a heating condenser that sits atop a building on the campus of Loyola University in Chicago, in June 2015. The project was initially meant to last only one year. “I was going to wind it up at the 366th post,” she says, and celebrate with a party at her apartment on Lake Michigan, to which her followers would be invited.

But Barense kept taking pictures and her popularity grew along with her project. So far, she has posted more than 470 pictures and has amassed more than 700 followers. “People kept contacting me and responding to the photographs, and I was meeting them,” she says, all of which motivated her to continue.

And then the Doig trial began.

“I don’t know what prompted me to start documenting it, other than that I decided to go to the court, and while I was sitting there, I thought it would be helpful for me to maintain focus by taking notes,” she says. “Then I thought: well, most of the people that follow me are interested in the art world. So they might be interested in these trial notes.”

The notes, which Barense published as annotations to her Instagram posts, were comprehensive and opinionated. She stood by Doig (with whom she became friendly) and was elated when the verdict came out in his favour. “Doig Trial,” she wrote in a post from 23 August, along with a picture of the condenser obscured by night. “Doig wins!”

The Lawrence and Clark gallery exhibition came about after a meeting with the gallery’s owner, Jason Pickleman, who found Barense’s work on Instagram. Earlier this year, he wrote to her and asked if he could see the heating unit in person. She invited him for breakfast and a viewing.

“I didn’t know anything about Lisa,” he says. “I didn’t know if she was a young artist—I had no idea about anything—and I loved that anonymity.”

After looking over some of her other work—Barense is also a collagist and painter—he invited her to show whatever work she liked. “I wanted her to know that I was respectful of her entire output, and if she felt the collages were what she wanted to show”, he would be happy, Pickleman says.

Ultimately, Barense decided on the Instagram work. The show will include 11, 20-by-20-inch prints of the photographs.

What draws followers to Barense's work? For Pickleman, it was the quietude. “The condenser never changes,” he says, noting that only the clouds and the lake do. The heating unit, on the other hand, is “just this silent sentinel that’s always out there—always watching.”

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