OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Noël Morical

Eidolon IV
2014
Paracord, Metal Hoop, anodized aluminum ring
Photo credit: Rachel Smith

NOËL MORICAL's sculptural practice is driven by color, texture, material and repetition. Most recently, she has taken on macramé—a decorative knotting technique thought to have its origins with 13th century Arab weavers who knotted the fringes of their woven rugs to keep them from unraveling. Eidolons, a series of hanging sculptures made with paracord, both refer to and transcend the popular plant hanger craze of the 1970s. Noël earned her BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2011. She has been an artist-in-residence at Doukan 7002 in Chicago (2012) and the SÍM Residency Reykjavik in Iceland (2014). She will be exhibiting new work at Faber & Faber, as well as participating in a collaborative installation at Kitchen Space Gallery in December 2014. She will be exhibiting new work in a two-person show with Max Garett at Slow in March 2015 and a solo show at Kitchen Space Gallery in the summer of 2015. Noël lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Repetition is a staple strategy in your work in a variety of media. What's your personal relationship to repetition? Is your art relationship to repetition the same or different?

Noël Morical: Repetition is a process that allows me to slow life down. It’s a way to balance out, to process and to gain a better understanding of the symbiosis that is art and life. It has become a means of constructing a reality that is under my control and in complete order.      

I’ve never participated in yoga before, but working with serial techniques has proven to be an ideal way for me to meditate, I’m terrible at standing still.  While knotting, for example, there are moments when I feel like I am on autopilot. The movement is fluid and intuitive, and I don’t have to think or be fully present for the work to progress. It may sound a little robotic, but I am truly content in those moments. I find I get a little on edge if I have not had enough time in the studio.

Time Doesn't Go Anywhere, It Only Adds Up.
2011
Paint Samples, Vinyl

OPP: Tell us about your large-scale piece Time Doesn't Go Anywhere, It Only Adds Up (2011), which has the drape of textile, but is actually made of paint samples and vinyl. Its surface evokes both scales and chain mail.

NM: Collecting paint swatches is a sort of hardware store ritual I have participated in since I was young. This ritual was the impetus for my BFA thesis exhibition. Working on something that large, laborious and connected to my past provided me with a great deal of comfort, a method to deepen my understanding of process. It also moved me through a difficult time in my life. There was a serendipitous moment when I was able to see the connection this piece had with my life—a way for me to organize intangibilities such as color into a physical form.

Efficiency and endurance became two big points of consideration when planning out Time Doesn’t Go Anywhere. The “scale” shape is non-referential. It’s a form that utilizes a majority of the paint swatch without being a standard square. The shape only required a simple, fluid cut. With the help of many, I cut twice my weight in paint swatches to complete the piece. I walked around 60 miles adhering all the paint samples to the vinyl, and the whole piece was completed in less then four months. The production of this piece  was like tending to a very large, living thing. I was completely consumed by the work, and I would say my behavior was compulsive. I was living out of the studio, getting six or less hours of sleep a night, occasionally missing class to get it pulled together in time. It was very hard to step back and actually look at what I was doing. It wasn’t until the School of the Art Institute of Chicago BFA show opening that I was able to experience the fruits of my labor through other people’s experiences with it. The different interpretations of the work have added to my experience of the piece itself, giving me a new set of eyes with which to view what I created. I have heard everything from dragon scales to feather cloth to a fictional drippy cave. A few people approached me during the opening and thanked me for creating a sort of sanctuary/reprieve from the crowd. I enjoyed the fact that so many people could take what they wanted from the work.

Eidolon II
2014
Paracord, Metal Hoops, Stucco, Wooden Beads
Photo credit: Rachel Smith

OPP: Could you talk about the Eidolons? What does the title mean? What led you to work with this material and technique?

NM: The light switch in my old studio was as far away from the exit as possible. Leaving or coming in at night involved stumbling over my studio mates’ partially completed artworks in near darkness. The Eidolons hung in my corner, barely visible like phantoms or apparitions backlit by a streetlight outside. Despite the fact that I made them, knew what they were and knew they were there-I was repeatedly surprised by their presence in the dark. I will also admit I like being creeped out and am curious about supernatural phenomena.

I materialize color much the same way I did in Time Doesn’t Go Anywhere, It Only Adds Up. That being said, paracord is another mediator for the inexplicable relationship our eyes have with color. I was completely drawn to it based on the spectrum of colors and patterns that are commercially available. By nature of the knotted structure, the Eidolons are definitely bodily. The fluidity between phantom, the fleeting nature of color and the body is rich and emerges naturally from the way knots fit together.

Untitled (in-progress)
2014
Metal Hoops, Paracord

OPP: What do you think and feel about the cultural baggage that comes with the technique of macramé?

NM: I don’t think too much about it. I can only dictate how I would like the technique to exist currently. A close friend, who is a jazz pianist, explained his take on visual art to me once: “Much like music, it's a matter of rearranging elements to create something new." The continuum of the knotting system gives me the grounds and freedom to reconfigure the application of knotted units. I am able to challenge the traditional understanding of the knot through form and color.

Other artists—Ernesto Neto, Alexandros Psychoulis and Janet Echelman—are using macramé to create experiential environments and technology-driven public sculptures. Non-artists are using paracord and renamed macramé techniques to create survival gear and accessories. The technique is alive and being expanded upon, and that's what's important to me.

Eidolon III
2014
Paracord, Metal Hoops, Prayer Plant
Photo credit: Rachel Smith

OPP: You went balls out with Eidolon III (2014) and fully embraced macramé’s plant hanger history. The other pieces in this series reference plant hangers, of course, but this one IS a plant hanger—one of the most intricate, beautiful plant hangers I've seen. What exactly is a "prayer plant" and how does it add to the meaning of this Eidolon?

NM: Prayer plants are very mobile plants—their foliage moves up and down depending on how thirsty they are. They also grow towards the sun. The name “prayer plant” does not mean anything particular to me, and the choice was largely aesthetic. I think it makes sense to indulge in a techniques history at least once. The piece began as a structural experiment—ok, maybe even a joke—but tending to and caring for the work as a living thing fit perfectly.

OPP: What is in the works right now in your studio?

NM: A lot. Right now, I am focused on preparing for several upcoming exhibitions in December 2014. I’m also working on a couple of pieces to swap with new friends before the new year and on some smaller ceramic work that will be available for purchase at a Tusk and UTOTEM in Chicago. In addition, because I am really trying to get better at planning, there are some in-progress hanging works for 2015 shows as well. It’s never too early to start, right?

To see more of Noël's work, please visit noelmorical.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, is on view at Design Cloud in Chicago from July 25 - October, 24, 2014. Beginning on November 7, 2014, Stacia will improvise When Things Fall Apart, an ongoing, collage installation in the Lillstreet Annex Gallery. Closing reception guests will be invited to help break down the piece by pulling pins out of the wall on December 5, 2014.

Highlights: Hybrid Spaces/ Remixing Landscape

You may or may not already know that OPP posts interviews with fantastic artists using OPP sites on our Featured Artist blog EVERY THURSDAY! (Or perhaps this is your first time visiting our blog—welcome.) We are now introducing another way to read the interviews. We'd like to highlight connective threads amongst past Featured Artists as a way to contextualize their work.

In drawing, painting, sculpture and installation, the following nine artists use collage, remix and mash-up strategies as a way to create never-before-seen landscapes. Collectively, their sources include landscape painting traditions, television and film references, appropriated internet images and memories of tangible, physical environments. Click their names to read their interviews.

CRISTI RINKLIN

RICK LEONG

TRACEY SNELLING

JUSTIN MARGITICH

ADAM FRIEDMAN

LIBBY BARBEE

DAN SCHANK

PATRICK D. WILSON

PAMELA VALFER

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Bonner Sale

TONIGHT WE RISE
2014
Gouache and pencil on Reeves BFK
25" x 15"

BONNER SALE'S colorful and chaotic gouache paintings take place on the imaginary Cannabra Island. His cast of characters includes monsters like mummies, gigantic spiders, sea creatures and living skeletons, as well as magical cats, snakes and owls. Cannabra Island is a constant, swirling mess of battle scenes, danger and transformation, punctuated by occasional moments of somber stillness, usually spent honoring the fallen. Bonner has been featured on the curated, non-​​profit web jour­nal thestudiovisit.com (2010). He was Mr. August, 2014 for Centerfold Artist on tropmag.com and had work in the accompanying group exhibition Centerfold Artist at Project 4 in Washington D.C. He recently exhibited at (e)merge, a DC-based art fair with Transformer Gallery. His work is included in the permanent collection at the Katzen Art Museum at American University. Bonner lives and works in Wheaton, Maryland.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Some drawings instantly made me think of the cantina scene in Return of the Jedi. (I think I even saw Boba Fett, or someone like him, a few times.) Tell us about the inhabitants of the world in your drawings.

Bonner Sale: The Troubled Magic geographic island is a magical catharsis leprosy colony, where monsters are sent to learn particular lessons from their pasts. The stories are not limited to monsters though. There are three general types of characters: animals, monsters and heralds. Animals are mostly cats, owls and snakes. I have a fascination with cats and owls. I find them to be majestic creatures. My own cat is a big part of my life, so she is used as inspiration: adorable but ferocious, capable of magic and wisdom.

In the painting You have been bleeding every step of the way, the cats are battling the tyrannical Eypecolypse and his summoned fire snake. They have him surrounded him, and the human companions are all trapped in conjured, crystal prisons. Eyepocolypse a humanoid laden in eyeballs. His specific transformation-punishment is for him to see his errors. He is the most celebrated and explored of the monsters. I feel a kinship to his woe and enjoy telling and painting his story. Brutalized and cast out of his world for selling secrets, transformed and disfigured, he found himself on this Cannabra Island. He is constantly learning from his errors and, I hope, will find peace and maybe one day return to his home planet in his original form.

The heralds, ferrymen of the neither world, have always been depicted as lithe women. Almost like angels, they often spell out the morals of the story or are seen feeding and visiting the various prisoners on Cannabra Island. In the painting I am not sure if you are ready to return with so many lessons unlearned, the cloaked sentient holds the skull and spine, explaining to the dead that it is not ready to return, not ready for the sacrifice of change and transformation.

YOU HAVE BEEN BLEEDING EVERY STEP OF THE WAY
2014
Gouache and pencil on Reeves BFK
15 x 25"

OPP: What visual artists inspire you?

BS: David Altmajd’s elaborate sculptures are just such a complex way of world-building. His unyielding use of materials is so brave and poetic. Continuing to tell the story of life and death and to find beauty in decay, I look at his work and aspire to create paintings as complex and defined as his sculptural work. Alan Brown is a painter that I love, love, love: his great, calm use of paint, wonderful concepts and a mature but expanding universe of characters and landscapes. Lastly, Brecht Vanderbroucke’s juxtaposition of live and online imagery is just dumbfounding and inspiring. Also his use of colors is bold yet organized. His playful depiction of the human very interesting.

OPP: You are a drawer through and through. Have you ever dabbled in other media?

BS: Yes, I love the process of drawing. Its very rewarding and automatic. It’s a method that doesn’t require physical objects or much space to perform. It seems so rudimentary, but there is still so much to explore. I have a lot of respect and devotion for drawing that has come before. My process is a little more rough and undisciplined than I want the outcome to represent, but the spontaneity and exploration into my imagination makes my paintings closer to an actual reflection of my soul rather than a formal, narrative painting. I usually work in sets of four to six paintings at a time, each painting made in response to the last.

When I dabble in other kinds of art-making, it’s more project driven, usually involving new media. I work with Brooklyn-based musician Adrian Varallyay, making video collage for some of his music. We mostly work with film stills from old exploitation films from the 1970s and 80s. Varallyay and I grew up together watching a lot of old movies and listening to records; this is just one of the facets of our combined creativity.

Zac Willis, Sam Scharf and I created a ceremonial event for Megatron, the leader of the Decepticons, who died in the third installment of Michael Bays’ Transformers. It included a video tribute to Megatron’s most important moments throughout Transformers history, several paintings depicting significant moments in his life and a handmade, wooden tomb for Megatron himself. The exhibition Megatron’s Dead also included an action figure graveyard, celebrating various fallen characters from film, TV cartoons and comic books. We buried over 80 action figures in little, toe-pincher coffins with little tombstones honoring each of the fallen characters. There was a companion book that identified each of the characters. It included pictures and small biographies that I had a great time writing.

BEFORE THE BOARWITCH
2014
Gouache and pencil on Reeves BFK
15" x 12.5"

OPP: What is your stylus of choice? What do you love about the tools you choose? What do you hate?

BS: I work in gauche and pencil. I mostly map out about four or five drawings at a time in pencil and then work them in with gouache paint. I like working with gouache, but sometimes I wish it was ink and acrylic or something more manageable. Since gouache is re-workable you cannot layer it without wetting the previous color, a lot of my painting time is spent making sure I do not paint over lines. Despite its drawbacks, I love the historic value of gouache, and the way it flows from the brush. There is a lot more for me to explore with the material, and working in gouache is kinda like being in a club with other gouache artists.

OPP: The Troubled Magic Circular Works reference Tondos but aren't traditional, in that they often break out of the circle. How are these drawings different from the Troubled Magic (Deluxe) drawings?

BS: Well, a wiser man than me once said, keep one foot grounded in the past while the other is headed for the future. At the beginning of this series,  I was drawing on large sheets of paper. There were isolated moments of character interaction with minimal background imagery. I wanted to start putting more detail and description into the narrative moments that I was creating. The circle was merely a tool to stop the painting at a point. In the newest deluxe drawings, the painting continues to the end of the paper. Each one still focuses on one event, but filling the page allows me to include more characters and elements for a larger narrative. The spirit and morals are the same but these take more time to finish.

MY SOUL IS SO ALIVE
2013
Gouache and pencil on Reeves BFK
15" x 12.5"

OPP: Could you talk about the text written on many of the circular works? These short phrases often have the ring of prayers or eulogies. Some sound like lines of poetry and the lyrics to heavy metal songs.

BS: Much of the text emerges during the process of making work. The title is always a emotional insight or response to the narrative. It’s meant to clue the viewer into the work but not explain or depict the narrative. I listen to a lot of Smashing Pumpkins, so I am sure there are some direct correlations to the lyrical content to Billy Corgan’s writing. The painting My soul is so alive is totally in tribute to the song God and Country from the Zeitgeist album.

OPP: In an interview with TheStudioVisit.com, you said that don't want to give away the narratives in your drawings, that you want viewers to bring their own histories to the work and find their narratives. But, will you pick just one drawing and reveal the narrative you see?

BS: My wait is over but I am never satisfied captures a mutation going further than desired. In my world, magic always has setbacks, ultimately describing that there are consequences to all unnatural changes. The orange crystal represents the element of change, the outside setting makes it a public event and the victim was unprepared for the changes.

To see more of Bonner's work, please visit bonnersale.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, is on view at Design Cloud in Chicago from July 25 - October, 24, 2014. Beginning on November 7, 2014, Stacia will improvise When Things Fall Apart, an ongoing, collage installation in the Lillstreet Annex Gallery. Closing reception guests will be invited to help break down the piece by pulling pins out of the wall on December 5, 2014.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Erin M. Riley

My boyfriend's band is on tour
2013
42" x 31"
Wool, Cotton

ERIN M. RILEY's tapestry weavings of faceless, female figures feel profoundly relevant at a moment in time when the Internet, Instagram and image-sharing apps like Snapchat are changing the way we relate to our own bodies and the bodies of others. Issues of agency, consent and sexuality, especially as they relate to female bodies, are represented in her weavings, which include numerous selfies (complete with smartphone in the frame), the private, sexy pics one chooses to send to a lover and post-party candids of drunk coeds who may not know they are being photographed at all. Erin earned her BFA from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design (2007) and her MFA from Tyler School of Art (2009). She has been a recipient of a Kittredge Foundaton Grant (2011), a full fellowship to Vermont Studio Center (2011) and a Ruth and Harold Chenven Foundation Grant (2012). She has an upcoming solo exhibition at Soze Gallery in Los Angeles in March 2015, and her work is on view now through November 22, 2014 in the group exhibition Narcissism and The Self-Portrait at Ann Street Gallery in Newburgh, New York. Check out the shop section of her website to purchase limited edition, jacquard woven selfies. Erin lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: For our readers who don't know anything about weaving as a process, can you explain how tapestry weaving is different from weaving patterned fabric? About how long does an average piece take, including the warping of the loom?

Erin M. Riley: Pattern fabric weaving utilizes the technology of the loom, using a combination of threading and what's called tie-up. Pattern weaving results in an image produced by the combination of the warp (vertical threads) and the weft (horizontal threads). Tapestry weaving is a weft-faced weave; the aim is to completely hide the warp. Tapestries are traditionally woven on a high warp or vertical warp loom. But I use a floor loom with a cartoon or drawing behind my warp that acts as a guide while I weave. My pieces take approximately 100 hours to complete including threading, loom setup and finishing techniques.

History 33
2014
48" x 53"
Wool, Cotton

OPP: Tapestry weaving has historically been used for portraying such lofty subjects as saints and the aristocracy. It was more common in earlier eras when there was no other way to capture and commemorate individuals and events. How does your work based mostly on images appropriated from Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat fit into this history?

EMR: I've never actually used snapchat because the images disappear. I often refer to my images as being the ones that are NOW being sent through snapchat. They are the ones people don't want screen shots taken of. But yes, tapestry is a labor intensive medium, traditionally expensive and fancy. I liked the idea that I could commemorate women. So many times, I've taken a bunch of images—made sure my hair and body looked good, adjusted the lighting and background—and sent. . .  And then the dude ask for more. Send more! Show me more! With my tapestry weaving, I'm spending the time with each image, pouring over each moment and making it real.

OPP: Why no images of men and boys? They post just as many selfies and party photos, right?

EMR: Right! But it's slightly different, and also I'm not a guy. I don't see myself in the images of dudes. I also constantly think about the images women take for men versus the images men would request. I think they are very different. This is represented in men as well. I find men are often showing me something in images that I don't want to see. Flexing, showing their package, making a strange face or offering a straight-up boner pic. I might one day weave some dudes. . . when I'm ready!

Freshly Shaven
2011
36" x 22"
Wool

OPP: I see several distinct categories of image in your figurative work. There are the selfies, which always have the smartphone present in the frame. Then there are pieces like It All Started with the Webcam (2014), Peek (2013) and Freshly Shaven (2011), which feel more intimate like images sent privately to a lover. And finally, the post-party images like Drunk Girl (2011), Spit Up (2013), Fun (2013) and Passed Out (2011). These make me uncomfortable—not your recreation of them, but the existence of the original images posted somewhere, possibly without each girl's consent. Could you talk about agency and image making?

EMR: Yes, the images that are clearly taken by the women with phones are sexy, confronting, personal and in control. I'm interested in how these images end up on the internet for so many to see. My softer side is represented when I am seeing the simple objective beauty of a woman, and while there might be beauty, it's not raunchy or suggestive. Nudes like Peek are a presentation of the body: it's alluring, but it's also simply beautiful.

The images where the role of the camera is questioned interest me greatly. They speak of the issues of ownership, exploitation, the role of the internet in our personal lives, respect for women and/or helpless passed out people. These images tend to evoke ideas of woman as victim. There is a pervasive mentality that girls who wear skimpy clothing are putting themselves in dangerous positions, causing them to be date raped, violated, photographed without their permission. People blame the victim rather than the violators. This is a common theme in Jessica Valenti's book The Purity Myth. The myth is that girls can't possibly be in charge of their own sexuality (i.e. dress sexy without reaping the consequences). Shaming them keeps them from coming forward when violated because they assume it's their fault or they don't want to be labeled as sluts because then no one would respect them. Obviously women are victims in many situations, but the power is infinitely greater with sex crimes because of the societal ideal that a woman stay pure.

Passed Out
2011
36" x 39"
Wool, Cotton

OPP: Passed Out (2011) is particularly interesting to me because of its ambiguity: the male figure could be putting his drunk friend to bed or he could be a stranger taking her somewhere to rape her. Either way, the posting of her image without her consent seems like a violation to me. I was out of college before the internet and texting and phones with cameras, so all this sharing always strikes me as extreme, not because of any moralizing stance on sexuality, nudity or exhibitionism, but because I relate to privacy differently. Do you generally get different responses from viewers of different generations?

EMR: Yes, this is a violation and one that has huge consequences in the realm of emotional and future physical distress. This image just doesn't address that to me personally. Different generations view these images in vastly different ways. College age adults hardly bat an eye, and older generations are quite shocked. I'm pretty sure the issue is the nudity, I have never heard them talk about the privacy. Maybe they are shocked that this content is readily available online.

OPP: Could you talk about your choice to render the figures in your tapestries faceless?

EMR: I feel like women in today's culture are constantly comparing themselves to each other, one-uping or belittling. I never related to other girls as a teen and kind of prided myself in girl hate, but hating girls is such a misguided use of insecurities. We all go through so many similar biological, mental, human experiences. It's so counterproductive to not understand how similar we actually are on a base level. I am all the girls I weave, and they are all each other. By being no specific girl, we are all copping to wanting to be sexy and be taken seriously.

OPP: I thought the facelessness was a way to protect the privacy of these women while talking about the way they put themselves out in the world. Either way, a side effect is that the figures show no emotional expression about what is happening with their bodies, even when they are in control.

EMR: It is in part to make the images anonymous—I remove tattoos and other identifying characteristics—but also to make it more universally relatable. Since I know how each woman looks in the source image, I try to express what she is expressing: boredom, happiness, excitement, desperation, etc.

Alone Alone
2014
48" x 37"
Wool, Cotton

OPP: Alongside your female nude tapestries, which have received the most press, you have been weaving car crashes and highway skid marks since 2010. These tapestries, which touch on trauma and mortality, frame the way I read the nudes and the contemporary cultural phenomena of the selfie, which didn't exist when I was a teenager. I think selfless reveal a kind of unconscious, pervasive fear of death. . . almost as if to say, Let me make sure that I exist now and that no one will forget me by repeatedly documenting my own visage. Have you exhibited these works together? Do you see these bodies of work as connected?

EMR: I couldn't agree more with your reading of selfies, there is something so un-real about our daily existences that we have to reiterate these ideas again and again. I have exhibited this work together, although it's generally broken apart due to a gallery's interest in one line of content. But it all stems from the same narrative. I initially started looking at the behaviors of young people because I was researching the after effects of experiencing traumatic events like death or substance abuse consequences at an early age. I think it's best when they are shown together because while the figures might reveal a young woman's personal behavior, the car wrecks and skid marks are what might have came before or after. It's all life. 

To view more of Erin's work, please visit erinmriley.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, is on view at Design Cloud in Chicago from July 25 - October, 24, 2014. Beginning on November 7, 2014, Stacia will improvise When Things Fall Apart, an ongoing, collage installation in the Lillstreet Annex Gallery. Closing reception guests will be invited to help break down the piece by pulling pins out of the wall on December 5, 2014.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Joe Wardwell

Just as Bored as Me
2014
Oil on canvas
38" x 54"

The stenciled text—most often rock music lyrics—in JOE WARDWELL's paintings alternatingly reads as aphorism, advertising, proverb, propaganda and cliché. Combining landscape painting and abstraction, he poetically echoes a persistent human struggle with longing and impermanence in the visual confusion between foreground and background. Joe earned a BA in Art History and a BFA in Painting from the University of Washington (Seattle) in 1996 and his MFA in Painting from Boston University in 1999. Boston-based LaMontagne Gallery, where he has had three solo exhibitions there—Die Young (2009), Big Disgrace (2012) and Party Over (2014)—will take his work to Pulse Miami in December 2015. Joe will have two upcoming solo exhibitions in 2015: at Heskin Contemporary in New York City and Giampietro Gallery in New Haven, Connecticut. Joe is an Assistant Professor of Painting and Drawing at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachssettes where he lives.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Rock music has been a strong inspiration in your work for at least the last decade. What do you listen to while you work? Do you tend to listen to the same albums over and over again?


Joe Wardwell: I listen to music from all sorts of genres, from country swing to Norwegian Death Metal. While working, I listen less as source material for the individual pieces but more for the overall feel of the work and to get me into the right mental space to create the work in the first place. Most of that albums that get repeated are from my vinyl collection: Neil Young’s Live Rust and Boris with Merzbow’s Rock Dreams and Lightning Bolt’s Wonderful Rainbow. I tend to binge a bit more on digital music. Sometimes I will spend an entire day just listening to the Melvins, the Flaming Lips, Black Sabbath or Boris.

Quickly Look Away
2013
oil on canvas
38" x 54"

OPP: What is the relationship between rock music and landscape painting, as you see it?

JW: Landscape painting represents an American ideological orientation to wilderness and landscape that embodies a lot of similar yearnings, desires and attitudes I see expressed in rock music. There is something in that shared psyche that I am trying to tap into and tweak. But I am not solely looking for comparisons between the two or necessarily even looking to unify the painting from genre to concept to form. I see painting as a container that I am trying to fill up with many ideas and images that are struggling to get out. 

OPP: Early paintings like Masters of My Reality, Oblivion and Power Cord Serenade, all 2005, portray musicians and their entourages as heavenly flights of angels reclining on clouds. Others from 2004, such as Live Free Bird or Die, visually position the guitar as a portal through which we can enter another reality. But in 2007, you first introduced text, more specifically rock lyrics, into your paintings. What led to this development and how did it grow out of the earlier work?


JW: In 2007, I felt like I was on a gerbil wheel with the work, running round and round. It was too tongue and cheek and ultimately limited my expression. I didn’t see the heavenly rock figures going anywhere. The text and landscape combo has allowed me to be flippant, ironic, sentimental and political with the work. The work is a lot more versatile as a mode of expression for me now.

If you look at one of those earlier pieces and compare it to one of the first text and landscape pieces like Look West (2007), all of the same connections are still there though the representative form appears very different. The abstract, high chroma flames become the stylized text. The text is taken from song lyrics, and the fonts are derived from silkscreen rock posters. The heavenly cloudscapes are replaced with an idealized wilderness landscape, and the figures in the cloud still exist within the prepositions of the text. The implied Me, You, We or I in the text functions as the figure in the landscape.


Talk Past the Future
2008
oil on canvas
30" x 48"

OPP: More recently, the text has begun to completely take over the landscapes. Can you talk about this change formally and conceptually?


JW: Yes, earlier it was too polite. I still love those first paintings and stand by them, however it does seem to me now as if the text is too apologetic in its presence in the painting. It functions too much like an advertisement: first draw them in with beautiful landscape, then sneak in the message. I like the one to one relationship that occurs now.

Each painting has a stage in the process when it is a complete abstract painting and a complete landscape painting. Sometimes I paint the landscape first and sometimes I paint the abstraction first. However the painting starts, I work it until I wouldn’t paint over either the landscape or the abstract painting, and that’s how I know it is ready for the text stencil. It is a painfully destructive process but one that I feel imbues the paintings with a lot of energy. I love having these competing elements battle it out within the confines of the rectangle.

OPP: After recognizing some of the lyrics—like "And this bird you'll never change" from Free Bird, "a man and his will to survive" from Eye of the Tiger and "clowns to the left" from Stuck in the Middle with You—I unintentionally began to play a game as I viewed the work on your website. My initial experience as I looked at each of the text paintings became about trying to name that tune before I began to think about the relationship between the text and the image. I wonder if this is a common experience with your work . . . has anyone told you that? Is this kind of response a problem or an asset? 


JW: In short, yes, yes, and yes and no. I have heard that a lot, and it was certainly more common with the first paintings. Most of the lyrics I first chose were easily discernible to the reasonably musically inclined. I think that gave my audience a way into the work. As the paintings evolved, they tended to be more obscure and less obviously from a single source. My reliance on the music as source entry point into the work has faded. The lyric source for Choose Not To (2013), a mural at Rag and Bone in New York City, is taken from the punk band NoMeansNo. Nothing to Win, Nowhere to Go (2011), currently on view at Northeastern University, takes text from Ad Reinhardt’s writings about his black paintings.

In the beginning, I enjoyed it when people could recognize the songs, but now I don’t care as much. I feel confident that the recognition of the songs is no longer the central way an audience approaches the work, and I enjoy the greater freedom that provides. Lastly, I would add that often I am drawn to lyrics that evoke a visual sense that can’t really be felt in the music that they originate from, such as the pieces Untied We Stand (2011), Mankind is Unkind Man (2011) and Free to Be Evil, Free to Believe (2014).

Something Flickered then Vanished and was Gone
2014
Oil on canvas
84" x 48"

OPP: Because they are presented out of context, the lyrics in your work sometimes read as ironic. Other times they have the ring of profound wisdom. Could you talk about lyrics as aphorism, as proverb, as spiritual teaching or as cliché . . . whatever most interests you?

JW: I certainly try not to be preachy, and a lot of what you describe really depends on the mood I am in and the mood of the piece. I want the work to be flexible and not easily pigeonholed. I am often very upset about the political situation and environmental degradation in this country, and that can drive the landscape and text in a piece. Other times, I feel impish, ironic and silly and make a piece that is quick and off-the-cuff to counterbalance the more serious pieces. Then there are other paintings that are more sentimental. A Big Commercial and On and On and On and On are heart-felt responses to the death of Beastie Boy Adam Yauch. Similarly, the recent painting Something Flickered for a Minute Then Vanished and was Gone (2014) connects both to my interest in environmental awareness and is a homage to the recently deceased Lou Reed.

In all the work, I try and convey an almost subliminal counter-culture, propaganda-like attitude. Through the use of the text, I tap into and twist the collective psyche I describe above. . . like chaotic advertising exposing our dystopia. I am deeply inspired by the painter Leon Golub. Much like him, I think of my paintings as warriors that set off into the world to change it one person at a time, slowly seeping into the minds of the viewers and irrevocably altering them.

To view more of Joe's work, please visit joewardwell.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, is on view at Design Cloud in Chicago from July 25 - October, 24, 2014. Beginning on November 7, 2014, Stacia will improvise When Things Fall Apart, an ongoing, collage installation in the Lillstreet Annex Gallery. Closing reception guests will be invited to help break down the piece by pulling pins out of the wall on December 5, 2014.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Emily Biondo

Touch Me
2014
A collaboration with Bradford Barr
LEDs, custom electronic boards, 2 gloves, plastic sheeting, bamboo

EMILY BIONDO explores "the awkward interstices of language, presence and human relationships." Her interactive installations, which employ light, sound and touch, often require more than one viewer to activate them, while her audio sculptures crocheted from speaker wire allow the viewer to listen in on intimate, private conversations. Emily received her MFA from American University (2011), where she received the Mellon Grant and the Catharina Baart Biddle Art Award. She has exhibited widely in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, including exhibitions at the Arlington Arts Center, Smith Center for Healing and the Arts, Blackrock Center for the Arts and The Athenaeum. Most recently, she exhibited in Gawker, a three-person show of interactive media at Harford Community College in Bel Air, Maryland, and Touch Me, a collaborative installation with Bradford Barr at Flashpoint Gallery, which included an artist talk at the Luce Foundation Center in the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Emily lives and works in Washington, DC.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your interactive installations and sculptures use sight, sound and touch to explore connection and clashes in human communication. Do taste and smell relate to communication as well? Might these senses ever make it into your work?

Emily Biondo: Taste and smell certainly communicate, but they have more to do with memory than dialogue. When I constructed Proustian Fortunate Moment, I was obsessed with Proust's famous account of eating a madeleine and being immediately transported back to a vivid memory of his childhood. But that piece was more a visualization of his experience than a utilization of its sensory ideas. I'd LOVE to use taste and smell. I have always admired how Ernesto Neto uses fragrances to great effect in creating an experience, but I haven't yet exhausted the other senses in my work. When I do reach that point, however, smell will be the next sense I use.



Proustian Fortunate Moment
2010
Crocheted monofilament, high-intensity lightbulb

OPP: When did you first learn to crochet and what associations did you bring to it?


EB: I associate it with my family, particularly the female members on my maternal side. I also think of the intersection of craft and comfort in the sense of doing something over and over again so familiarly that it is effortless. I learned to crochet from my great-grandmother when I was about nine. My very first crocheted piece was supposed to be a red square, and because of the erratic stitch length, ended up looking like a tiny mutilated bonnet. I learned that you could add to a crocheted piece anywhere and with any stitch, so I'd end up with elaborate free form pieces based upon my own whims. I'd end up with blankets, bikinis, cuffs, hats, etc. all without a pattern because it was easy to guess how a stitch would form a shape and layer stitches to create those forms. Years later in grad school, I'd practice layering by making complex shapes like coral, a wedding dress or a penis. Until my speaker wire pieces, the layering was used in a more utilitarian way than a visual metaphor. It helped sculpt the structure of the work.

Two Young Modern Women on a Car Trip (detail)
Audio sculpture with crocheted speaker wire
2010

OPP: When did you first begin to crochet with speaker wire? What are the practical challenges of this material?

EB: During grad school, I had a dream that I was back in undergrad and panicking at the end of the semester. I needed one more work to complete my portfolio. After much thought, I decided to make a large, crocheted wall hanging out of speaker wire AND a cyclone out of marbles. It was such a vivid dream and I was so confident in my ideas that when I woke up, I immediately got materials to make both pieces. The marble cyclone was a (slightly messy) disaster, but the speaker wire was a raging success.

Speaker wire is a great faux-yarn because plastic is not so different from certain polyester/acrylic blends. I use a wire gauge (thickness) that is similar in weight to a strand of thick yarn and usually crochet with a whole roll of wire at hand. Downsides include the exorbitant cost of my favorite clear-coated copper, the smell, the sometimes waxy coating used to keep the wire from sticking, the heavy weight of some pieces and the logistics of wiring 100-1000 feet of speaker wire to circuits.



Two Middle Aged Sisters with Children
2010
1800 ft of speaker wire, audio
22 x 9 x 9 in

OPP: How does crochet inform the audio components in sculptures like Bridal Shower (2010), Shrouded (Prayer Shawl) (2011) and Two Young Modern Women on a Car Trip (2010)?



EB: So for me, crochet was always an intricately layered web. As I got to college, I realized that my conception of communication had always been a palimpsest of words layered in one's mind. Crochet visually completes this metaphor. It is an actual example of the layering of words and phrases that travel in a circuitous strand to complete a monologue/dialogue, which ultimately completes the artwork.

My original plan was to simply crochet with nontraditional materials. But then I realized how speaker wire relates to text and communication, and I had to add audio into the works. Monologues/dialogues are not only metaphorically formed by the wire but electronically passed through the layered crocheted web.



2011
Prison visitation booth, two telephones, viewing window, stools
6 x 3 x 5 ft

OPP: Painful narratives are shared through interactive installations in What I Never Said (2011), Pick Up the Phone (2011) and Lift the Seat (2011). The video Wind up (2012) also gets at one-sidedness in relationships. For me, these pieces are about how technology sometimes aids and sometimes obstructs communication and connection between human beings. What are your thoughts on technology and communication?

EB: I believe that technology IS communication. Historically, humans have always used innovations to augment communication: horn blasts, carrier pigeons, mail systems, morse code, telephones, etc. These inventions and improvements shaped the way we see, talk to and understand one another. Technology shapes our culture and defines certain generational properties of dialogue (colloquialisms, length/number of pauses, touching/no touching, eye contact, MIScommunication). Those properties have always existed in communication—it just depends on the time period and technologies present to define exactly what they are. Because of this, I find technology and communication inextricably linked and will not produce artwork about communication without using and commenting on technology as well.



Headspace
2014
Millennial translation of the following text from Russian Poetry:
"Beautiful boy, like a faun here in loneliness roaming, who art thou?
Surely no child of the woods: thine is too prideful a face.
Music that moves in thy gait, the wrought grace of thy sumptuous sandal
Tell thou art son to the gods, or high offspring of kings."

OPP: It's easy to blame new trends in communication technology—for example, texting, twitter and Facebook—for all that's wrong in the world: "kids today!" Your recent installation Headspace (2014) reveals both the disconnect and the continuity between the past and the present. Can you explain the piece to our readers?

EB: Headspace is one of my favorites. Like any creative work, books are a huge indicator of language and communication in any time period and culture. I like the idea that the millennial slang used today would be considered similar to the language used in classic literature at their respective time.

In Headspace, there is a glove attached to a pair of headphones. Each glove contains  an RFID reader and microcontroller used to “read” the book electronically. When participants swipe their hands across the classic literature installed on the wall, the headset reads an audio translation of a highlighted phrase into current 'millennial' language, including electronic slang, pop culture references and common phrases. Juxtaposing the two languages through technology relates even more how innovations can act as a bridge in communication.

I originally created this work for a show at a college campus because I wanted the audience to really understand and appreciate the translated language, particularly how it compares to works of literature that they probably are or have studied in school.

Headspace
2014
Millennial translation of the following text from English Literature
"Ion. I thank you for your greetings—shout no more,
But in deep silence raise your hearts to heaven,
That it may strengthen one so young and frail
As I am for the business of this hour.—
Must I sit here?"

OPP: How did they college students respond? What about professors?

EB: The students loved it, and I loved watching them. They'd timidly try on the equipment, look around shyly, then swipe the first book. The look of surprise, dawning comprehension, laughter, then eager anticipation for the next all in a period of 30 seconds was a common and fantastic thing to witness. I liked seeing them finish the installation then grab one of their friends and make them experience it while they watched their expression. There's always a personal and a voyeuristic aspect to my work that I highly appreciate as artist and viewer.

As for the professors, they thought it was clever, but didn't really enjoy it as much as the students. I make works first for the experience, then for the analysis, so I assumed (rightly) that the students would glean the most from it.

To view more of Emily's work, please visit emilybiondo.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, is on view at Design Cloud in Chicago from July 25 - October, 24, 2014. Beginning on November 7, 2014, Stacia will improvise When Things Fall Apart, an ongoing, collage installation in the Lillstreet Annex Gallery. Closing reception guests will be invited to help break down the piece by pulling pins out of the wall on December 5, 2014.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Golnar Adili

A Thousand Pages of Chest in a Thousand Pages of Mirror
2011
Four sheets of paper with transfer
8 x 10 inches

GOLNAR ADILI's sculptural works add a tactile third dimension to autobiographical images and text. Drawing on her multiple displacements and coming of age in post-1979 Tehran, she uses repetitive methods—cutting, splitting, folding, sewing—to explore universal experiences of longing and separation. Golnar earned her BFA in painting from University of Virginia (1998) and her Masters in Architecture from University of Michigan College of Architecture + Urban Planning (2004). She has been an artist-in-residence at the MacDowell Colony (2006 and 2013), Smackmellon (2012) and Fine Arts Work Center (2010 and 2011) and is a 2013-2014 Pollock-Krasner Foundation grantee. Her two-person show, Displacements: The Craft Practices of Golnar Adili and Samira Yamin, opened in January 2014 at the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles.CONTEXT: Language as Medium and Message in Contemporary Art, also featuring the work of Aileen Bassis and Erik den Breejen, opens October 15, 2014 at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, where Golnar lives and works.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Could you talk about deconstructing and reconstructing as a way to process emotions?

Golnar Adili: Yes! The two-dimensional images I work with are powerful to me, but they aren’t tactile enough. I massage them, cutting them up and putting them back together in different ways. When I make small pieces from an image and then take time to reconstruct it, in a way I'm processing it. The act of repetitive cutting is soothing and begins to infuse the image with possibility. My need to cut comes from my own fragmented past maybe. . . But I put it back together at the end, so nothing is lost or added. And the new image contains some abstract emotion or movement.


Airplane Window-Droop
2011
Photograph
30 x 40 inches

OPP: Could you talk generally about cutting as an aesthetic and conceptual strategy in your work? Is precision an issue?

GA: Cutting is a line, and I use it to draw three-dimensionally. I use stacking or draping to express the cuts. Precision is definitely an issue since the scale of the work and material requires it. I am very comfortable with the #11 exacto knife, which I used for model-making in architecture school. It is like my pencil. I have five of them at any given time.

In my early photo-based work, I used cutting as a way to mix photographs with two different ideas in mind. Inside-Outside (2006) investigates the contrast between the watchful exterior and the free interior spaces of Tehran. This led to time studies where I cut and mixed photos taken one after another to negate linear time. Many of these pieces became "stretched out" and abstract and seem to convey how memory works visually.

The King-Seat of My Eye is the Place of Repose for Your Imagination
2011
Two photographs hand-cut and interlaced
20x30 inches

OPP: The digital and the analog meet in photo-based pieces like The King-Seat of My Eye is the Place of Repose for Your Imagination (2011). I read those horizontal cuts of two images together as a splicing of two moments in time that mimics what happens when you pause a DVD or VHS tape right at a scene change in a movie. Thoughts?

GA: I transfer the digital photo onto a paper surface, sometimes repeating that process depending on the piece, and cut the photo itself. There is no other digital process involved. The strips are cut and mixed all by hand, and there is no initial assessing what it will look like with the computer. All the cut photo pieces blur the line between handcrafted and digital processes and forms. This is not a conscious decision, but I tend to go for very clean and systematic processes which are highly repetitive and animate unlikely materials in a soft way. In The King Seat of My Eye is the Resting Place for Your Imagination I wanted to introduce softness and therefore developed a technique where the two photos are cut and interlaced with the thread. I welcome how this highly crafted piece is read digitally. I think at the end it is the juxtaposition of the soft and the hard which achieves this digital look.

A Thousand Pages of Chest in a Thousand Pages of Mirror
2012
Laytex, transfer copy, thread, medical tape
7 x 10 x 1/8 inches

OPP: What is the source for the image of a woman’s chest that you use repeatedly in your cut-paper and latex transfer works? Does it relate to Pillow Chest (2012), which is a very different visual rendering of a chest?

GA: I am very much inspired by Persian poetry, and the chest is one of the reoccurring images in many of the poems. We also have expressions which use the concept of the soul in a vague way which could have different meanings such as the heart or the chest. Sometimes in poetry, the human chest is likened to a chest of drawers. And sometimes in our expression for missing someone or something we say that our heart/chest is tight. . . My own chest feels heavy most of the times—I know it sounds dramatic—and since I work with my own autobiography, I started to investigate my own chest formally.

One particular poem, A Thousand Pages of Chest in a Thousand Pages of Mirror by Yadollah Royaee, a contemporary  Iranian poet living in Paris, inspired this series with a line of poetry that I translated into the title. This particular short poem is about mortality. I started with the two works of stacked, cut chest transfers: one has the curve cut in the middle and the other is the grid-like bowl shape.

Pillow Chest (2012) is actually made of twigs I gathered at Fine Arts Work Center when I was a fellow there. The twigs were the shape of the letter "ی" in the Persian alphabet equivalent to the letter "y" in English. I have a series of work in which I investigated my mother's letters to my father, and in those letters the letter "ی" was of particular interest to me as it was written in an expressive way. In the end, I didn't do very much with the twigs, but I did use some to make the ribcage stuck on a pillow-like backing.

Pink Letter
2010
Paper, book binding tape, 3M medical tape
18 x 24 - 18 x 1.5 inches

OPP: You have written on your website that your work explores the “separation, uprooting and longing you experienced growing up in post 1979-Tehran.” Separation, uprooting and longing are certainly universal experiences, but because you now exhibit mostly in the United States, I’m wondering if you ever feel like something is lost on American viewers?

GA: I mostly feel that way with the text-based works. Something is lost with non Persian-speaking audiences, but I hope not the entire piece. I count on the process and the material to convey the emotions. In The Pink Letter, I recreated a letter from my mother to my father in the beginning years of what would be 15 years of separation due to political turmoil. At the time, there was no way to know how long they would be apart. It is full of heartbreaking longings. When I inherited my father's belongings after his death twelve years ago, I came across his carefully archived letters. I used a simple repetitive formula to recreate the letter in folds. One can still read the letter, but with difficulty. You have to walk around it and bend over it. If you can't read Persian, you can still decipher the image of a letter.  The repetitive folds produce a moiré effect, sharpening and diffusing focus. The skin-like quality of medical tape and Japanese paper give the feeling of aging, time, fragility and memory.

Deltangi
2013
Digital print on Japanese paper, embroidered thread, batting
30 x 20 x 1 inches

OPP: You've recently introduced some new techniques into your repertoire. Tell us about quilting japanese printed paper.

GA: Last year, I was traveling for about nine months. I attended two residencies in Europe: La Napoul Art Foundation in France and The Bellagio Residency Program, The Rockefeller Foundation in Bellagio, Italy. I was also preparing for Displacements: The Craft Practices of Golnar Adili and Samira Yamin at the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles. It was a bit nerve-wracking, and I decided that I should be making light-weight, transportable works.

I love sewing and working with fabric and paper. The Japanese paper provided an amazing hybrid. I could print on it and then sew it due to its high fiber content and strength. I really like the idea of something being both strong and fragile at the same time. Once again, I used the chest image. This time I sewed over it a familiar floral pattern found on glass that was used a lot when I was growing up in Tehran. This pattern is very nostalgic for me. Just like patterned glass, the embroidery on top of the chest blurs and abstracts what is behind it. It’s like tattooing the memory of home on my chest. The piece is titled Deltangi which literally translates to "tightness of the heart."

To see more of Golnar's work, please visit golnaradili.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, is on view at Design Cloud in Chicago from July 25 - October, 24, 2014. Stacia is one of six artists participating in a conga line-style, evolving group exhibition at The President’s Gallery at Harold Washington College. The Condition of the Frog Is Uncertain, curated by Jason Pallas, is on view through November 7, and there will be a closing reception on Thursday, November 6 from 5:30 - 7:30pm.


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Anne Lemanski

Oracle
2014
Copper rod, ink on paper, leather, epoxy.
11 1/2 x 26 x 16 inches

ANNE LEMANSKI's sculptures—stretched "skins" sewn onto welded, copper-rod skeletons—alternatively evoke such practices as taxidermy, trophy hunting and skinning for fashion. Her menagerie of animals includes snakes whose skin appears to be made of butterfly wings, a fox "tattooed" in constellations, a coyote with Mexican Serape "fur" and a slew of birds decked out in various vintage papers. The skins entice visually; some beg to be touched. This honesty about sense pleasure hints at the complicated, problematic nature of the human habit of treating animals as objects. Anne has exhibited widely, including group shows at the Kohler Center for the Arts (2012), The Portland Museum of Art (2011) and the North Carolina Museum of Art (2013), where her work is included in the permanent collection. She has had solo exhibitions at the Imperial Centre for the Arts (2010) in Rocky Mount, Blue Spiral 1 (2011) in Asheville and the Penland Gallery at Penland School of Crafts (2014).  In the winter of 2015, she will be the Windgate Artist-in-Residence at the McColl Center for Art + Innovation in Charlotte, North Carolina. Her work is included in the forthcoming book The Contemporary Art of Nature: Mammals and will be featured in the Danish magazine Textiel Plus in December, 2014. Anne lives in Spruce Pine, North Carolina, where she is building a studio constructed from recycled shipping containers.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What role does materiality play in your practice?

Anne Lemanski: Working the way I do allows me to take any material I want and turn it into a sculptural piece. I am a long time lover and collector of vintage paper ephemera. I love the look of old graphics and colors. For a number of my early pieces, I utilized original, vintage paper as the skin. In more recent work, I find myself using more contemporary materials like plastic and fabrics because they speak to the content of the pieces. The little songbirds are the exception; they are vehicles for pure eye-candy, vintage paper. I become obsessed with materials. Whether I just happen to come across material and stash it for future use or if I’m looking for a something specific, I love the hunt of tracking it down. The best example of the cross section of materials I use is my piece titled A Century of Hair, 1900-1990. I used silk, acetate, rawhide, vintage linoleum, etc. Solving the challenges that present themselves when I’m manipulating an unusual material is where all the fun is.

A Century of Hair, 1900-1990
Mixed media on wood stands
Variable dimensions

OPP: Tell us about some of your stashed material that you haven’t found a use for yet.

AL: I seem to have a lot of vintage coloring books and children’s activity books— like “dot to dot"— good bit of paper-doll clothes, stamp collections, these little trading cards that used to come in packs of cigarettes and tea, tons of old maps, and drawers full of vintage photographs. The paper targets I used on a recent piece Camoufleur  had been sitting in my flat file for at least 15 years. I’m glad I didn’t use those on anything else, they were meant for that barn owl.

OPP: Any regular hunting grounds for your materials?

AL: I went to Paris last year and came back with a nice haul of paper goodies. I wish I could go there every year just to buy vintage paper. I found a few stores, and vendors at flea markets that were overwhelming. . . and expensive! And of course they only took cash, so that put a real damper on my spending spree! Ebay has become my favorite hunting ground. It is truly amazing what you can find there. I do still enjoy random junk shops, estate sales and auctions, but because I live in a rural area, those shops and sales are limited. I also like to get a good deal on stuff, it makes it that much better! I’m always looking. Friends keep an eye out for me, too.

Off Duty
2006
Copper rod, embroidery on pantyhose, thread
Life size

OPP: Your process has two distinct parts: building of the copper rod skeletons and creating the skins. Are these processes more alike than we think? Do you always already know what the skin is going to be when you begin to build the skeleton?

AL: The two processes go hand in hand. The building of the copper rod framework dictates how the finished piece will look. I gather images of the animal or object I want to make and visually break it down into line and pattern. Once the skeleton is complete, I then make patterns from the form that will be transferred directly to my final material. I do not always know what material the skin will be, but it certainly helps. Knowing the character of the final skin will dictate how I build the skeleton. Every material responds differently to the contours of the framework; paper differs greatly from plastic, leather or wood veneer. The work I enjoy most is deciding what the skin will be and putting it together. That’s when things really start to take shape, and there is always a surprise in the way the material transforms once it is sewn onto the skeleton.

Monkey Goes to Bollywood
2008
Copper rod, Bollywood lobby cards, artificial sinew
19 x 18.5 x 24 inches

OPP: Monkey Goes to Bollywood (2008) stands out as drastically different from the other animals. Tell us about the choice to use images of human beings on the monkey.

AL: Monkey Goes to Bollywood is the result of an article I read about a man in New Delhi, India, who was sitting on his terrace when four monkeys appeared. The man brandished a stick to fend off the monkeys, lost his balance and fell off the terrace to his death. The monkey represents the Hindu god Hanuman, and Hindu tradition calls for feeding the monkeys on Tuesdays and Saturdays. The feeding of and encroachment on the monkey’s wild habitat, has created an overwhelming and aggressive population of monkeys in New Delhi. This is a case that perfectly illustrates the domino effect that occurs when humans exploit animals to satisfy their needs. The exploitation of an animal species usually results in a decrease of population for that species. . . but the opposite is happening in Delhi.

The skin on the monkey is made up of Bollywood—the Hindi film industry in India—lobby cards that I purchased on Ebay from someone in New Delhi (I remember they came rolled up in a white piece of fabric, that was hand sewn shut on each end with red thread). Lobby cards are promotional materials for films, that are displayed in movie theater lobbies. I have seen about a dozen Bollywood films. They are crazy and colorful! I don’t always have a clear-cut reason for using what I do for the skin. I go with my instinct, which is smarter than my actual being. The imagery I used for the monkey just seemed like the perfect fit.

Responsible Spiller
2010
Copper rod, vinyl, artificial sinew.
16 x 23 x 12 inches

OPP: What do you most hope viewers will feel when looking at your menagerie of creatures? Are you disappointed if viewers simply marvel at your technique and humor and don’t walk away thinking about the impact of humans on these species?

AL: I love it when people get the humor! They often don’t. I’m not making work to beat people over the heads with my ideas and opinions, which are certainly present. But I try to keep the work subtle and layered. Along with the content, I still believe in making a beautifully crafted, sculptural object. I’m drawn to formal aesthetics of line, color and pattern. It is usually my construction technique that initially draws people in. Then they take a longer look. It has taken me years to hone my construction skills, so I’m glad when someone appreciates it. Everyone brings their own emotions and politics to a piece, and a connection can happen at many different levels.

Queen Alexandra’s Flight
2014
Digital prints adhered to wood backing, aluminum discs.
150 square feet (as installed in the Penland Gallery)

OPP: Tell us about your recent installation Queen Alexandra’s Flight at Penland Gallery? What made you shift from discreet sculptures to this narrative interaction of creatures?

AL: Queen Alexandra’s Flightdepicts a battlefield, which is the stage for the age-old story of survival. Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing is the largest butterfly in the world, and it is endangered. I created an army of butterflies and moths to aid her in flight from the attack of insect-eating birds. All of the imagery is digitally scanned and printed, and adhered to a wood backing. Everything was cut out by hand. There are 600 individual pieces in this installation. I have a desire to work on a large scale, and my usual building technique of copper rod skeleton and hand stitched skin prevents me from doing that because of the time-consuming labor. I can’t work fast enough to keep up with the pace of my ideas. So when I’m presented with an opportunity to do something large scale, it gives me the chance to work with different materials and techniques. This particular installation came at a time when I needed a mental break from the usual. Queen Alexandra’s Flight gave me new insight into my work; it will definitely lead to other pieces similar in nature.

To see more of Anne's work, please visit annelemanski.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Stacia recently created a site-responsive collage installation in her hometown. NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists runs until October 12, 2014 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA. Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, is on view at Design Cloud in Chicago from July 25 - October, 24, 2014.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Caleb Brown

Shark Drop 1
2009
Oil on Canvas
30" x 25"

Monstrously-large praying mantises, open-mouthed sharks hurling through the sky and docile, gigantic otters populate the allegorical paintings of CALEB BROWN. Influenced equally by the visual vernacular of internet meme culture, Creature Feature films and classical Flemish painting, his "ridiculous and implausible scenarios" reflect anxieties of contemporary life surrounding economic and environmental change, the mass media and the relationship between humans and animals. Caleb earned his BA from the University of Puget Sound (Tacoma, Washington) and MFA from Boston University. He is represented on the west coast by Merry Karnowsky Gallery, where he currently has work on view in the group show Parallel Universe through October 4, 2014. Caleb currently lives and works in New York City.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us about your process of composing digitally and painting hyper-realistically.

Caleb Brown: I base my paintings on Photoshop collages that I create by combining and manipulating various found digital images. I use the resulting elastic and ephemeral digital collages as preliminary drawings and then translate them into the physical and permanent medium of oil paint. I look at contemporary pieces like Christian Marclay's The Clock and think about how he elevated the form of internet supercuts into “high” art. I try to see if I can do the same with the visual language of memes and Photoshop battles. I'm attempting to create pieces that marry the emerging modes of digital visual expression with classical composition and materials in order to make paintings that reflect the modern world in their methods of construction as well as their content. I think that hyperrealism can function as a demonstration of an artist's commitment to an idea (no matter how ridiculous the idea is) and forces the viewer to engage an image more actively as a result.

Otter City 1
2012
Oil on Canvas
35" x 28"

OPP: What’s your favorite internet meme?

CB: Although my work is inspired more by photoshop battle-style memes, I love the Doge meme. I’m fascinated at how it’s progressed from the original Doge meme, to the semi-ironic Dogecoin cryptocurrency, to the Dogecoin-sponsored NASCAR car. It’s like the internet meme manifested itself into our physical existence through sheer cuteness.

OPP: You mention in your statement that you are "inspired as much by the fledgling visual vernacular of internet meme culture as by the materials and composition of classical Flemish painting." but my first thought was disaster movies and Creature Features, like Godzilla, The Blob and Tarantula. Are you influenced by cinema?

CB: My work is very influenced by film. Most directly the Otter City paintings are a direct response to the Godzilla films. Godzilla is an allegory of the dangers of irresponsible nuclear testing, where the consequence of humankind's transgression against the natural world is sudden and disastrous. My otter paintings present a much more ambiguous view in which the natural world is changed in enormous and irrecoverable ways by the modern human world. The relationship between the two has evolved in strange and unforeseeable ways as well. One thing that I have complete faith in is our ability to accept and adapt to circumstances that seemed inconceivable or nightmarish just a generation earlier.

Tiger Diver 2
2010
Oil on Canvas
20" X 26"

OPP: I have that faith, too, but what seems nightmarish to me at the moment is the collective inability to be in the present moment, physically and mentally, as represented in ubiquitous use of all our digital devices. Multitasking has its place in a work environment, but I think if we don’t all practice slowing down more and being right here, we are endangering our mental health. And yet, I totally support the creative, connective uses of new technology. This is one of the reasons that I enjoy your work. Representing those “modes of digital visual expression” in painting is great. Not because painting is a superior form, but because it’s imperative that we shift our brains out of virtual spaces more often. Thoughts on this?

CB: I admit, I have a kind of leery affection for both worlds. I suppose that my paintings represent a kind of extreme balance between the kind of manic, ephemeral digital world and the meditative, physical act of painting. The dichotomy between the impulsive nature of digital imagery and the stolid commitment of oil paint creates an interesting tension in my work. That tension works as a metaphor for the contradictions of modern life.

Bug City 1
2010
Oil on Canvas
20" X 26"

OPP: In Bug City 1 and 2, we view some of the action through the rear view mirror. In several of the Shark Drops, our view is from the safety of the inside of the plane, looking out the window. Could you talk about this repeated visual motif of the frame within a frame?

CB: I like to compose paintings that put the viewer in a very rigid and specific point of view in the hopes of involving them more completely in the world I'm creating. A lot of my paintings actually begin with a compositional idea. For instance, the Bug City paintings began with the idea of trying capture the feeling of having your life affected by a global crisis that is as incomprehensible in nature as it is in scope by creating an image that literally surrounds the viewer with chaos on all sides. I came up with the idea of the rear-view mirror as a device to situate the viewer in a very specific participatory position as it relates to the events in the painting. It’s also a method to describe the space behind as well as in front of the viewer, therefore depicting the their entire world. It's kind of an attempt at a visual representation of the inescapable and unfathomable forces that affect us all.

OPP: Your paintings certainly present a grim and terrifying world, and you speak of them as allegories for contemporary life. Are you deeply pessimistic about the future of the world we live in?

CB: I believe that the combination of severe and seemingly irreversible climate change and genetic engineering of crops and animals are evidence that we're entering an age in which the balance between humans and nature has been upset indefinitely. I don't want to sound overly pessimistic about the future (except for the climate change, that's obviously pretty terrible), but I think that the human manipulation of the natural world has crossed a rubicon and, whether good or bad, our world will soon look very different than it ever has.

While my paintings reflect my observations and opinions of modern life by exaggerating them into some pretty nightmarish scenarios, I try to inject the humor and excitement that I see in the modern world as well. My paintings usually capture an almost slapstick moment where a figure or the viewer suddenly locks eyes with a great white shark as it falls through the sky or a giant otter as it wanders through a hazy cityscape. It's usually a kind of stunned and uncertain meeting of the two worlds.

Bug City 2
2013
Oil on Linen
25" x 30"

OPP: What gives you hope?

CB: The one thing that gives me the most hope for the future is the incredible human aptitude for innovation. Even though it can be terrifying to imagine what our world may become as a result of mankind’s interference with the natural world, it’s also kind of thrilling to imagine what solutions we might be capable of achieving.

OPP: Pick your favorite piece of your own work and tell us why it's your favorite.

CB: My favorite piece right now is Bug City 2. I think the composition works well in the way that it slices the space up and repeats the colors and forms throughout the painting. I was able to build a crisp, layered atmospheric space, using multiple framing devices to compose a pretty complicated yet coherent world for the viewer to explore. I definitely spent more time composing this piece prior to painting it than any of my other work.

OPP: And finally, Sharknado: yey or ney?

CB: It’s funny. I think Sharknado is actually reflecting some of the same notions of arbitrary fear (exaggerated to almost comic levels) that I had when conceptualizing my Shark Drop paintings—although, I have to admit to not having seen either Sharknado movie. Unfortunately, the cultural impact of Sharknado now overshadows any conversations I was hoping to provoke with my Shark Drop paintings, so I haven’t made any new ones since the movies came out. About six or seven years ago, I made a painting called Sports Explosion depicting our detached experience of the world through digital media in which several track & field athletes fly through the air with an over-idealized Hollywood explosion behind them—having just finished graduate school at Boston University, I included a Boston jersey-ed athlete. I don’t really know what to do with that painting now. I guess the viewing context for artwork is as fluid and unpredictable as the world we live in.

To see more of Caleb's work, please visit artistcalebbrown.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Stacia recently created a site-responsive collage installation in her hometown. NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists runs until October 12, 2014 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA. Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, is on view at Design Cloud in Chicago from July 25 - October, 24, 2014.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Eric Valosin

Hyalo 2 (Rose)
2013
Acrylic Paint and Digital Projection Installation
50" x 50"

ERIC VALOSIN merges the digital and the analog, conflating cyber space and sacred space, in his exploration of the techno-sublime. He navigates the tenacious, long-historied relationship between mystical experience and art in his performances/meditations on the impossible pursuit of the perfect circle, in virtual stained glass windows that require the viewer's body to reveal themselves and in hand-drawn mandalas with QR codes at their center. Eric received his BA from Drew University and his MFA from Montclair State University in New Jersey. He recently exhibited work in See the Light at the Attleboro Arts Museum in Massachusetts (July 2014) and created a commissioned piece, As Above, So Below, at Trinity United Church in Warren, New Jersey. The installation was accompanied by an artist talk, a discussion forum and a contemplative service. His upcoming solo exhibition at Andover Newton Theological School's Sarly Gallery opens this fall (exact date TBA). In November 2014, Eric will be teaching a graduate continuing education seminar on worship and the arts at Drew Theological School in New Jersey. Eric lives and works in Montville, New Jersey.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Explain the term techno-sublime for our readers.

Eric Valosin: It’s something to which I aspire in my work, and it threads together my interests in mystical experience and its application to contemporary life. The term originally comes from the critic Hal Foster, who used it to describe the intensely-mediated spiritual immediacy he saw in Bill Viola’s video installations. Typically, traditional mystics spoke of the “unmediated immediacy” of their encounters with God. The techno-sublime asks if there can be a space for that immediacy in an era in which, allegedly, everything is mediated. It’s a meeting point between the 14th Century and the 21st, where old and new media collide and world-views come to a head, coalescing into something complex and truly ineffable.
 
In my art, I strive to co-opt traditional mystical strategies and push them through these heavy layers of mediation in an attempt to open new spaces for a sublime experience. According to Immanuel Kant, the sublime confounds—even overpowers—the viewer and yet is somehow recollected as a net gain rather than a loss. So experiences of the sublime are in line with descriptions of mystical experiences. I think the sublime is what gives all of the most powerful art that extra something on which you can’t quite put a finger. The techno-sublime is perhaps what happened to the sublime after it met Marshall McLuhan.


Circle
2013
Performance and Installation using cyclical rear projection table, chair, digital projection, and charcoal and erasure on vellum

OPP: Circle (2013) is a "ritualized performance" in which you attempt to draw a perfect circle over and over again. The ritual is performed publicly during exhibitions and also practiced privately in your studio. How is the experience different for you when you are alone in your studio versus when there is an audience?
 
EV: I originally intended it solely to be a conventional performance, but as I started practicing, it began to feel disingenuous of me to put on airs and carry out this “meditative spiritual act” solely for show. So, I began documenting my practice and treating every run-through as a full performance, a dialogue between me and the medium itself. An audience became incidental. In many ways this helped me to grow more comfortable with the piece and connect with it, getting out of it something beyond the initial logistical anxiety and determination.
 
The entire project turns out to be a constant exercise in acceptance. As I attempt to draw the perfect circle, everything that happens on the paper is recorded, delayed 20 seconds, and then projected back onto that same paper. When my hand reaches the top of the first lap around the circle, I then begin trying to match my hand to the projected hand from the prior laps, synchronizing the physical and digital self. But a perfect circle is far too Platonic to be practical, and the looping synchronization ends up rehearsing, compiling and accentuating every inevitable flaw and eccentricity. Yet, eventually even these flaws amount to something really optically beautiful.

Furthermore, I decided that I wouldn’t discard any run-through as a failure. I learned to accept broken charcoal, technological glitches, and the like as just part of the performance. Once an audience member even interrupted the performance to ask me a question, I guess not knowing it had started. I decided to oblige her question and then continue on. I didn’t want to consider the performance so holy that I became inaccessible, nor those imperfections so unholy that they didn’t merit inclusion in the performance. It simply is what it is. Theologically this was very important to me, that my art acknowledge that our beautiful, ideal reality is comprised of messy, complex imperfections and interactions. That’s one of the big differences between the neoplatonic idealism of classical metaphysics and the relational way contemporary thought tends to see the world since postmodernism. My work ultimately seeks some sort of marriage of the two, a sort of relational metaphysics.

Circle 2.0
March 14th, 2013
Charcoal and Erasure on Vellum
12.5"x16"

OPP: What goes through your mind? What does it feel like?

EV: It offers a gradual escape from thinking or feeling anything, really. Not in a numbing way, but in an emptying way. Eventually I step back from drawing and erasing the circle over and over and begin just watching the compiling footage play out on the paper in front of me. Gradually, even the slight projection hotspot becomes so accentuated that the whole image dissolves into this odd, luminous, blue/white, watery mush of compounded footage. I get a real sense of peace as I watch it all dissolve. The act of drawing is a time to dive deeply into a meditative, repetitive focus. Stepping back and watching it dissolve is an escape away from thoughts and from anything concrete.

Triptych
2013
Latex Paint and Projection Installation
56" x 68"

OPP: In projection-based works like Hyalo 2 (Arch), Hyalo 2 (Rose), Triptych and Unknowledge, all (2013), the viewer's body is required to complete the experience of the piece. Without the body to block the projected light, the beauty of the sacred geometry is not available. What can you tell those of us who've only experienced these works online about how viewers interact with your projections?

EV: They hinge around that moment of discovery in which the viewers unwittingly walk in front of the projector and, to their surprise, reveal the imagery in their shadow instead of obscuring it. Or, in the case of the Hyalo projects, they discover that their optical experience changes dramatically depending on their position around the work. I love watching them play and exercise an almost child-like curiosity at what initially confounds their perceptual expectations. This is the moment of the techno-sublime I spoke of earlier, when the piece defies logic in a way that simultaneously stupefies and enlightens the viewing experience and causes viewers to second guess the way they see. It’s sadly true that this is something you can only fully get in person.
 
I used to devise ways to discourage viewers from making shadow puppets in my artwork, but soon I came to realize it was a somewhat inevitable occurrence. I went to the James Turrell retrospective at LACMA last year and watched adults give their friends bunny ears in his hallowed light-cube projection Afrum (White). Even the great Turrell is not immune to the shadow puppet! That sealed the deal for me; I decided to embrace interactivity as a valid urge within the viewer. The piece was in some way less complete if the viewer was taken out of the equation and expected to remain aloof as an observer.
 
All spiritual experiences are necessarily interactive, and as we enter an age of increasing technological interactivity and user-definability, the viewer’s body becomes more and more important. The philosopher Marcel Mauss—and to a certain extent Foucault as well—points out that “techne” refers not only to technology but to bodily techniques, which, Mauss says, underpin all our mystical states. It’s the reason we kneel to pray, do yoga, or practice zazen. It’s also the reason I’ve begun working more and more with interactive technologies and new media in my work. What might these mystical postures and movements look like in a hyper-connected, technological world in which the body is just as much virtual as it is physical?

Meditation 1.1 (Thusness, Elseness; Omnipresent)
2012
Pen and Ink on Paper
14x14"

OPP: Your hand-drawn Mandalas with QR codes at their center send the viewer to a different, random website every time they are scanned. I don't have a smartphone, so I haven't had the experience of "completing" this meditation, but I like the idea that you could end looking at art, merchandise, news, celebrity gossip, wikipedia or porn. It really echoes the Buddhist idea that the sacred is right here in the present moment, no matter what that moment contains. When you've scanned it, where have you ended up?
 
EV: Once I ended up at some photographer’s website. It was a strange experience to have my artwork catapult me to a meditation on someone else's. I’ve landed on a lot of merchandise websites and a couple very bizarre conspiracy theorist sites. I’ve also gotten my fair share of 404 Error messages. Many people at first don’t realize it’s randomized. This confusion is one of the weakest and strongest aspects of the piece. On one hand, they may end up thinking I’m intentionally supporting a given website’s agenda (which was particularly disconcerting to me the time a friend of mine ended up on a satanist website), but on the other hand it urges them to intentionally comb their destination for some spiritual content, assuming it must be “hidden in there somewhere.” In many cases, only upon rescanning and landing elsewhere a few times do the randomness and Buddhist implications you mention come to light.
 
Uncertainty is the only certain thing about faith. Uncertainty begins to dig into mystical “unknowing,” the apophatic “negative theology” that attempts to get at the unknowable by surpassing and negating all that’s knowable. Even the person who cannot scan the QR code is left with a similar open-endedness as the person who does scan it.

Cosmos on Gray 1/0
2013
Erasure on 18% Gray Card
10"x 8"

OPP: You have plenty of experience of bringing the spiritual into the gallery. What was it like to bring art into a religious space in your commissioned piece, As Above, So Below, at Trinity United Church in Warren, New Jersey? 
 
EV: It’s a really interesting challenge. I ended up creating an interactive projection piece mapped onto the slanted ceiling of the church’s chancel area. It used a hacked Microsoft Kinect sensor to integrate congregants into the video, and randomly recomposes itself every 50 minutes. I wanted to create something aesthetically pleasing, engagingly interactive and potentially meditative, but also to challenge the space’s implicit hierarchies and push people out of their artistic comfort zones. In the gallery, the struggle is to bring spiritual connotations into a traditionally secular setting without being didactic or polemicizing. In a church, however, those spiritual implications are inherent in the setting, and the challenge becomes making the art accessible without watering it down. I had to really refine the big questions driving my work in order to develop something I think is substantive enough to hold up in both arenas.

There’s a lot of historical baggage to trip over. Spirituality and art had walked hand in hand for millennia. But when Galileo came along and inadvertently told the church they might not have the market cornered on objective truth, a proud and dogmatic church shut its door on subjectivity. This was the first crack into the schism between the sacred and secular. The result was that art, which thrives on ambiguity and an earnest investigation of big questions, began shifting toward the more hospitable realm of secularity, where it had more room to breath. This was reinforced in the late Baroque by the emergence of non-religious patronage and a cultural appreciation of the real and mundane (as opposed to the ideal).
 
If the sacred-secular divide weren’t enough, a secondary rift developed within secularity itself. Mass media, which changed the way we process images, and the heavy hands of Clement Greenberg and others divided high art from accessible art. Throw into the mix the growing humanism in 19th/20th century philosophy, and you end up with a huge mess where almost nobody understands the “art world,” let alone the spiritual in art, least of all religious institutions, now twice removed (not to mention the argument that it’s all moot because “God is dead” anyway). There are certainly exceptions, but I have found that many religious institutions today are pretty impoverished in their use and understanding of art as a result.

As Above, So Below
Installation at Trinity United Church

OPP: Did you have an agenda related to the schism between the sacred and the secular in As Above, So Below?

EV: The events I held at Trinity United Church were about mending that rift. I wanted to afford people who may not know what to do with contemporary art a chance to really engage with it and to open a dialogue about how art really works when it’s working well. I wanted to encourage the church to embrace art as a relational tool for broaching challenging subjects and heightening the spiritual life of the church. After the contemplative service there was a time for discussion, and I was blown away. People first approached my installation with, “Great, so what does it mean?” and “What am I looking at here?” When given the dedicated time and permission to investigate it without fear of being wrong, they started to be able to read the work in real substantive ways (ways which I had to go to grad school to learn). Not only that, but they started to measure that experience against their own preconceptions and translate it into meaningful dialogue and even some spiritual epiphanies. 

It’s not about reclaiming art as a pawn in some dogmatic agenda, but about being comfortable enough—especially in churches—to trust the Spirit’s interactions amid those ambiguous, complex spaces where world-views collide and art is at its most powerful. It’s about learning how to use the artistic sublime, as it were, toward a greater church experience. It’s about urging the church to think like an artist, and even urging churches to become artists themselves. It’s about unknowing a lot of what we take for granted and reacquainting ourselves with mystery. Ultimately I believe this transcends even the religious/secular dualism and applies to the most fundamental ways in which we all experience the world and each other.

To see more of Eric's work, please visit ericvalosin.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Stacia recently created a site-responsive collage installation in her hometown. NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists runs until October 12, 2014 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA. Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, is on view at Design Cloud in Chicago from July 25 - October, 24, 2014.