John Ilg

John Ilg by Altered Esthetics

John Ilg is a featured artist in Altered Esthetic’s exhibition, The Art of Change, on view at the Southern Theater from July 9, 2017 - July 30, 2017. In this exhibit, six artists explore collaborations between artists and viewers to create interactive experiences and changed works of art.

John Ilg is a multimedia artist based in St. Paul, Minnesota. He holds a BFA and MFA from the University of Minnesota.  John has also been the recipient of several grants and awards from the U of M, Jerome Foundation, Minnesota Artists Association and others. His work has been shown nationwide and has received acclaimed reviews and awards.

John Ilg,  Job Search , Archival digital prints on Rubix’s Cube, 2.25” cube, 2012

John Ilg, Job Search, Archival digital prints on Rubix’s Cube, 2.25” cube, 2012

John, thanks for exhibiting with Ae! The Art of Change challenges viewers to go beyond looking and interact with works of art. What do you feel are the biggest benefits and challenges in creating interactive art?

I’m not certain I set out to create “interactive art” per se, but the initial piece I created in this series, HONESTY surely inspired people to interact with it. They seemed to know what to do. My original concept for the piece was to challenge a person's moral fiber when presented with a moral hazard. I presented 316 dollar bills rolled and inserted into hardware mesh with nothing but friction and viewers’ ability to resist temptation being the only forces holding them in place. At its debut showing at the 2008 Minnesota State Fair Fine Arts Exhibition (where 200,000+ people would be passing by), I expected such a number of bills would be taken so the word "HONESTY" would dissolve into illegibility—wouldn’t take many missing to have this happen—and eventually ALL would be gone. But Minnesotans = hyper-honest! In fact, people could not keep their hands off the money but not as expected. To my surprise and financial good fortune, people inserted nearly $150.00 additional dollars into the piece! Although people altered the letters somewhat, (especially adding to the “Y’) they didn’t remove or replace any bills as I had originally inserted them. Watching people “work on” this piece was a delight for the staff and I heard many funny stories.

HONESTY  after being exhibitied at the Minnesota State Fair, 2008

HONESTY after being exhibitied at the Minnesota State Fair, 2008

There is another HONESTY (in a series of 6) permanently installed in a conference room at the Radisson Blu, MOA where guests are slowly taking money from it. It is now quite distorted but still legible. The Radisson staff members were replacing bills but told me they couldn’t keep up.

The version I initially exhibited at the State Fair was eventually stolen from a gallery at a local community college. The story was covered by all the local news outlets and eventually was picked up by UPI and traveled around the world. Amazingly (and quite “interactively”) people were mailing me dollar bills to help cover the loss! During a following art Crawl, I placed a blank grid on the wall and a sign asking people to “help recreate HONESTY” which they did.  Donated about $120.00 in all. It was interesting to see how people weren’t so concerned about the dollar itself but where to place it.  It had to be on a significant letter or an important place on the letter. I guy came back and actually moved his bill to a different spot. This level of concern was all a wonder to me.

HONESTY  after several years at the Radisson Blu, MOA

HONESTY after several years at the Radisson Blu, MOA

HONESTY provides viewers with the temptation to take a piece of your art with them, in this case dollar bills. Do you feel this work has given you some insight into the minds of your audience? Do you think HONESTY would have a different outcome in a large city? In a smaller one?

“Honesty” turned out to be an unexpectedly interactive piece that got under people’s psychological skin. It is about both the force at the center of our moral/ethical self and resistance to temptation.  The piece calls on the psychological space between trust and integrity, desire and restraint, impulse and regret.

This piece has been shown in all kinds of situations from little or no security to very intensely controlled and monitored spaces and in cities large and small.  I’m not sure the outcome would be as positive if there were larger bills inserted ($5’s, $10’s, $20’s, etc.).  All things considered, I don’t think people would sell their souls for $1 but maybe for $20(?!).

Rebuild Honesty Project  in the artist's studio during the St. Paul Art Crawl

Rebuild Honesty Project in the artist's studio during the St. Paul Art Crawl

Two of your pieces featured in this exhibition, HONESTY and Job Search, use American currency. What drew you to this imagery?

Aside from the psychological weather created by HONESTY,the use of US currency has made its way into other pieces of mine.  Not Getting BetterBrokeRecession Blues, Bitter Pills and others.  My sculptures use the spiritual aspects of mundane, vernacular objects to make tangible broadly understood realities while also allowing for a wide range of personal interpretation. These repetitive patterns of mass-produced objects, combined in a fashion at odds with their traditional function, become an anxious and somewhat wry carrier of the message. My goal is to start with an abstract social/political/economic reality and create from it a beautifully constructed, profoundly ambiguous “object”–both clear and vague, confrontational yet accessible. The broader purpose being: the activation of the psychological space between the viewer and the piece itself.  Which in some cases inspires actual physical interaction with the artwork--a unique and exciting feature of these sculptures.  The most familiar, powerful and readily available “unique object” that triggers all of the above is money.

John Ilg,  Narcissist , Silver and gold mirrors, 17" x 18.5", 2016

John Ilg, Narcissist, Silver and gold mirrors, 17" x 18.5", 2016

Other works in this exhibition, Narcissist and Mirror, mirror, both use mirrors. Can you tell us about the process involved when working with this material?

The mirror idea makes the viewer part of the visual dynamic of the piece– not simply a detached viewer of the artwork but an image IN the artwork. The most notable result is watching how people look in from the side or below the work to AVOID seeing their own reflection– a curious sociological aspect.

Do you have any upcoming projects or exhibitions we should know about?

I will be having a large exhibition of about 20 of my recent sculptural works at The Artistry, Inez Greenberg Gallery opening in January 2018.  Look on their site this fall for specific dates pertaining to this event

Where can we find and follow you online?

There are about 75 of my works online at You can also find me on Facebook.


All images courtesy of the artist.

Interview written by Maggie Schuster, edited by Sarah Kass.