OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Wade Schaming

Unsteady (Tough Love Remix) Tower (2018)

WADE SCHAMING's sculptures are more like occurrences than objects. His temporary assemblages are precariously balanced towers of discarded objects (e.g. vintage tupperwarea metal bed frameplastic milk crates) that offer viewers the opportunity to contemplate impermanence and to see the beauty in our trash. Wade earned his MFA at School of Visual Arts and his BA at University of Pittsburgh. He has been an Artist-in-Residence at Art & History Museums – Maitland (2020), Jentel Foundation (2018), Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts (2017) Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts (2017) and Yaddo (2016), to name a few. In 2019 his work was included in the group show The Heart is a Lonely Hunter at Equity Gallery (New York), where he is also in an upcoming show. Rapture: A Queer Taste for Color, Texture and Decorative Pattern opens on April 28, 2021 and runs through May 22. Wade lives and works in New York City.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your sculptures are made entirely of stacked, balanced found objects. How did you arrive at this process? What is the relationship between precariousness and balance in your work? 

Wade Schaming: I imagine my comfortability with using found materials is rooted in my experience growing up in the home of a hoarder.  My mother kept anything and everything: from disposable cups to outgrown clothes to the daily mail. Her collected and accumulated things formed piles on top of piles of junk throughout the home, all of which were placed and held together by balance. I think my processes were learned through this early experience, and my sculptural work is a response to her method.

Orange Crown Tower (2019)

OPP: I imagine this process is a constant interplay of form and function—or composition and physics. Does either of these drive you more than the other? Do you ever sacrifice formal concerns in favor of stability or vice versa?

WS: I definitely limit my options by not fastening anything together. It has been disappointing when an object—something so perfect—would look so good within a piece I am working on, but it is either not stackable or too heavy to place on top of what I already have assembled.

Don't Know Why Tower (2020)

OPP: What does the process of stacking and balancing FEEL like? 

WS: Stacking unrelated objects on top of each other feels like pure magic when the right combination fits together, creating something that seems to appear like it was always meant to be arranged that way. That’s what I’m after. I bring together old disparate things and place them into a new format, finding purpose in an object’s afterlife through pairing.

But You Said You Love Me Tower (2020)

OPP: Tell us about your collection process. Are you more hunter or gather?

WS: It is probably equal parts of both and depends on the circumstance. I would say I’m constantly in a gathering state, open to finding things for the studio or accepting an object that is given to me if it is stackable. When I am doing an artist residency outside of New York, where I live, I immediately start hunting for materials to use upon arrival.

Bed Bug Tower (2018)

OPP: What are some examples of some residency experiences where you went hunting and discovered materials and objects that were unique to the location? 

WS: For Somethin' 'Bout You Tower (2017), I borrowed snow stakes—used for their extreme winters—from a shed at Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts in Ithaca, New York. Wild Sack Tower (2018), which I made at Jentel Foundation in Banner, Wyoming, includes a deer skull—a decorative motif synonymous with the West—from the land. Orlando, Florida Tower (2020) includes a palm frond and Spanish moss from the residency grounds at Art & History Museums Maitland in Maitland, Florida.

Unending Volley Of Whys Tower (2017)

OPP: Does storage and organization of the objects in your studio play a role in thinking creatively? 

WS: Definitely! When an arrangement of objects isn’t working, I’ll put it aside or disassemble it and put everything back in the pile with the other randoms to marinate. Sometimes an assemblage comes together so quickly that it feels almost too easy and leads me to doubt its potency. But other times, I’ll have materials in my studio for years without ever using them. Usually, if it makes it into my studio, I’m going to use it. It just requires patience and for me to be around them, day after day, for an arrangement to click in my head. Also, putting things away that aren’t working is an act of playing—which I have learned is so important to continue doing—and it gets the material in my hands and has me practicing order without the more formal mode or official act of “I am making art.”

Luv Cuff Tower (2018)

OPP: In your statement, you write,”From discarded and forgotten objects, which memorialize hope, the assembled forms aspire to return dignity to the bearer and evoke empathy in the viewer.” Could you talk more about hope and dignity in the work?

WS: The materials I am most attracted to are quotidian but discarded or forgotten. When I create a new sculpture out of found and collected objects, I am giving the materials within the artwork purpose again. If the objects were personified, they would have hope. 

Brown Madonna Tower (2016)

OPP: Would you pick a favorite work and talk us through what you love about it. 

WS: I made Brown Madonna Tower (2016) at Yaddo in Saratoga Springs, New York. It includes a hula hoop I that I think I found in the rec room, a crate from the garden and a rolled wire netting or fence that was extremely heavy. I found it caked into the ground, under a tree, and it appeared to be abandoned on the residency grounds. I think I love this piece because of its ephemerality. I did not clean the netting/fencing wire and let the soil and leaves remain. After I successfully dragged the rolled wire into my studio, it stood upright on its own, as if it was always meant to be that way.

To see more of Wade's work, please visit www.wadeschaming.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020). Stacia is one of three 2021 Artists-in-Residence at Zócalo Apartments (Houston, TX). Follow her @staciayeapanis to see what happens @zocalo_air.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Andrew Etheridge

Deconstructed Portraiture (2016) Silicone, Acrylic, Fiber Glass, Steel, Leather. 6' x 4' x 3'

Informed by a career in Anaplastology, artist ANDREW ETHERIDGE seamlessly mashes human body parts together to evoke a visceral response and reflection. An eyeball is nestled inside an ear that is attached to a toe. A shin leads not to the expected foot, but rather ends with pursed lips and a chin. These grotesquely beautiful sculptures show us the human body in a way we have never seen it before. Andrew earned a BA from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and an MFA in Fine Arts at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He was a 2018-2019 North Carolina Arts Council Artist Fellowship recipient. He received a Durham Arts Council Emerging Artist Grant in 2016 and the Da Vinci award for presentation of exemplary case results at the International Anaplastology Association conference in 2018. Andrew lives and works in Durham, NC.

OtherPeoplesPixels: When I first saw your work, I was expecting to find out you had a wage job in the movie industry, but you actually work in Anaplastology. Tell our readers what that is and how you came to work in that field.

Andrew Etheridge: That is a great observation. I was always interested in the film industry as it relates to special effects. Towards the end of grad school, I knew I wanted to get into prosthetics, more specifically medical prosthetics. It was a long road, but I worked my way into the industry, went back for more education and became increasingly specialized leading to my current position at The Anaplastology Clinic. My colleague and owner of the clinic actually spent 17 years in special effects makeup working for the team that was the first to develop silicone prosthetic appliances for film. Anaplastology is a very specialized form of medical prosthetics mainly focused in facial, ocular (eye), somato/ body (hand/finger, foot, toe, breast), and other custom devices. In this form of prosthetic care, we provide function and realistic medical devices to individuals suffering from disease, trauma, or congenital defects. As anaplastologists, we are healthcare clinicians as well as technical fabricators, a perfect blend of art, medicine, and science. I feel privileged every day to be able to use my art to help others in need.

Primary Specimen Cyanoptypes (2015) Cyanotype on watercolor. Each print around 24" x 30"

OPP: Has your artwork always revolved around the body? What was the work like when you were in grad school? I’m imagining that you were not yet so skilled in prosthetics, but correct me if I’m wrong.

AE: Yes, my work has mainly concentrated around the body. In grad school I was very experimental. My work ranged from video, sound, figurative sculpture, and performance to wearable and interactive prosthetics. 

Awkward Machine was literally a machine that I wore in public. It pulled my face in various directions based on the motor and pulley system, and a speaker distorted my voice. Another work titled New Skin Glove was the first time I worked with silicone with the purpose of creating something meant to more realistically mimic the body in appearance. This wearable glove looked like skin—as much as I could have it so at the time—and had microphones in the tips of the fingers that amplified the sound of any objects touched. A tiny camera in the dorsum of the new skin captured the wearer’s experience and projected it into the gallery in real-time.

While completing my thesis, I fell in love with prosthetics and hyperrealism as an art form. In my recent work, it’s as if the concepts behind pieces from graduate school combined and then leapt forward with my new technical skill sets honed by my medical career.

Primary Specimen (2014)

OPP: I see both the grotesque and the beautiful in your sculptures. What do you see?

AE: My hope is that beauty outshines, or at the very least is found in, the grotesque aspects. I am very careful to walk the fine line between the distorted and gore. I never intend to cross that line as I believe the intent and questions presented by the work will then be lost. Lastly, thoughtfulness and humor are underling messages injected as a counterbalance to the visuals one is confronted with.

OPP: You mention the questions presented by the work. What questions do you ask yourself before, during and after making your work?

AE: The conception of every artwork is different. Smaller works usually start with one intent or concept. Larger bodies of work or bigger scale pieces take lots of planning and are usually more complex. All the work focuses on the Body: is it an ethereal vessel or object? What do we consider normal? How are we confronted with it? What about the body is beautiful and what is ugly? I also try to confront our humanity by portraying emotion or a mental state of being. Lastly, I look to Art History, the sciences, and organic forms in finding references. I do not necessarily ask myself direct questions while creating the work, rather often I have abstract thoughts during my process. I allow the process of making the work to be fluid which in turn gives me more freedom with decision making and creativity. When a piece is finished, I reflect on my initial concepts and compare/contrast this with how it presents. Truly, I try to remain vague with how I describe my work. I don’t want to overshadow a person’s own interpretation of the work. 

Epithesis II (2017) Silicone, Acrylic, Plastic, Foam, Fabric.

OPP: Your work is disconcerting, to say the least. I definitely feel physical discomfort when looking at these works online, so I can only imagine what I would feel in person. What kinds of responses have you heard from in-person viewers?

AE: “Love it” or “hate it” are most of the responses. The hyper-realism evokes an initial visceral reaction. At that point people are confronted with those feelings and either continue to explore the work further or immediately shy away.

Vanitas 2020 (2020) Mixed Media.

OPP: Disfigurement and deformity are real experiences for some human beings. It appears you side-step making bodies that might actually exist in favor of very extreme displacements; e.g. an eyeball inside a foot, for example. But are there any ethical concerns that influence your sculptures in terms of representing non-normative human bodies?

AE: I would never want to exploit people or their afflictions. My profession allows me access into the lives of many individuals who are suffering from the most devastating of diseases or traumas one could endure, so yes, I could not help but draw inspiration through empathy but never exploitation.  I wish to question the Body, to present the Body as object, and reflect the mental space. The intent of the work is to question how our physical selves relate to our humanity.

So This Is Life, Memento Mori (2020) Silicone, Acrylic, Hair, Fabric.

OPP: In your most recent work, you make a huge departure into self portraiture. What precipitated that shift?

AE: I could argue that all my previous work was a kind of self-portrait, but I understand what you mean. The piece So this is life, Memento Mori not only departs stylistically from past work but it elicits different questions. This sculpture is a hyper-realistic self-portrait illustrating one’s contemplation of impermanence portrayed as a memento mori but with modern influences. During creation of this piece, the global pandemic (Covid-19) was happening, forcing us all to confront our mortality. This event fundamentally altered the direction in which the narrative was finalized. The work encourages the viewer to examine their own physical, social, and psychological journey through 2020. My personal intent in creation of this piece was questioning self in the present, reflecting on mortality, and placing one’s self in society at large.

To see more of Andrew's work, please visit www.andrewetheridgeart.com and follow him @andrewetheridge.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020). Stacia is one of three 2021 Artists-in-Residence at Zócalo Apartments (Houston, TX).

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Mami Kato

Closed Beginning Opens the End (2018) Materials: eggshells, rice paper, milk paint, epoxy resin, mirror. Detail.

MAMI KATO makes elegant, material-driven sculptures with egg shells, fabric and rice stalk. Some works are architectural in scale, while others can be held in two hands. Whatever the scale, Mami's craftsmanship and responsiveness to her materials is impeccable. Mami has a BFA in Painting from Musashino University of Arts (Tokyo, Japan) and a BFA in Sculpture from Philadelphia College of the Arts (Philadelphia, PA, USA). Her work is included in the public collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Wu Tung Art Museum in Shanghai, China. Her recent three-person exhibition Over Time (2020-2021) just closed at Wexler Gallery in New York. But you can see a virtual version of the show at Artsy. Mami lives and works in Philadelphia, PA. 

OtherPeoplesPixels: You are master of your materials. Rice stalk is one of the many recurring materials. What do you love about this material?

Mami Kato: I don’t exactly remember how I started to use this material, but it came to me sometime after I moved to the US from Japan. I think that I was looking for something that I can connect to on a very personal & authentic level. The rice stalk fulfills this need, so that’s what I like about it. I grew up surrounded by rice patties, those were my playground, and I lived in a culture which deeply /widely connected to this plant.

Rice stalk has been used as a material for daily commodities in Japan which have a relatively short life span. So as an art material I had to figure out what treatment would be needed without scientific and technological testing—just because it’s too expensive and takes too long.

Big Knot (2019) Rice stalks, cotton, insulation foam, epoxy resin. 50" x 32" x 89"

OPP: Is there anything unpleasant that you have to overcome in working with rice stalk?

MK: At this point, I think that I feel confident enough to say that my care and processing make the material last long enough without any bad deterioration, but I had to go through trial-and-error. I still do because it’s a natural material so each batch is different and I have to treat each one differently.

Untitled (Rice'n'Bean) (2006) Rice stalks, epoxy resin, fabric, oil paint, ceramic tips. 24" x 33" x 18"

OPP: Could you talk about the relationship between the small vessels made of rice stalks and the large-scale works Big Knot (2019) and Umbilical Field (2011)?

MK: The series of rice stalks started small with simple forms and it became larger.

I become more capable of making bigger and/or more complex forms, but also my interests/concepts changed as my life situation changed. I feel that both types are segments that reflect nature and my cultural heritage, but bigger pieces emphasize the nature part, and smaller pieces reflect the cultural heritage part.

Flowpod (2020) Cotton cloth, bio epoxy resin, milk paint, hide glue, and pigment. 26 × 47 × 11 in.

OPP: Negative space is a significant formal quality in your work. How do you think about emptiness?

MK: When I make a piece, I’m concerned with that particular piece’s "qualia.” The qualia of that empty space would change by components that the piece has, such as size, form of the space, the connection with the rest of the piece, etc. My empty spaces are often enclosed by thin shells that have openwork, so you can see the actual form of that empty space, and also let you go in and out through the openwork. So I see that each empty space has its own texture and physicality.

Bear Follicles (2019) fabric, epoxy resin, milk paint, plywood. 34" x 17" x 33"

OPP: Many sculptures—Samara (2014) and Bear Follicles (2016), to name a few—appeared to be metal upon first glance. In actuality they are made of fabric and epoxy resin. How does the material relate to the animal forms?

MK: The works that appear as animal heads actually contain some other elements such as plant and insect forms, reference of formation of growth of life, etc.

As far as the material I chose for those pieces, I developed my own technique that allows me to make a piece very delicate & light weight, yet strong enough to hold the form itself, but I always have to keep examining and challenging the limit of this material when I design the form of the piece. The manipulation of the appearance of material of the piece, which sometimes looks like a metal, or is unidentifiable is to suspend or dodge judgement. Surface and material can be separate things. So I’d like to choose surfaces to suit the pieces rather than exposing the material.

Egg Formula (2014) Materials: eggshells, rice paper, varnish, wooden frame, gesso.

OPP: It seems that you are very responsive to the nature of your materials. Do you find the limitations of each material liberates or stifles creativity?

MK: Each material has its own uniqueness, like each person has their own character, which you would accept as is and respond to when you encounter them. But beyond that, I’m interested in revealing the material’s new side that I haven’t known about, and if I successfully made that work with the piece/concept of the artwork, it would liberate me on some level.

Closed Beginning Opens The Ends (2018) Eggshells, rice paper, milk paint, epoxy resin, mirror. 10.5" x 24" x 24"

OPP: Do you have a favorite piece by another artist? How has this piece or this artist influenced you and the way you think about your own work?

MK: I would say that my favorite piece by another artist is Iso-Daich (which means “Phase-Mother Earth” in Japanese) by the artist Sekine, Nobuo. This work is the most famous piece from Mono-ha, which is the art movement in 1960s Japan.

I only saw this piece in a picture in some art magazine when I was living in my rural hometown in Japan. During that time I was hoping to proceed my art making practice and I was still very young and needing some guidance, but I couldn’t find any artwork/artist that I could admire around me. There was, of course, no internet, and I was surrounded by very traditional or unoriginal modern style art. When I saw the picture of this piece, I thought “This is it.” This piece gave me the hope and direction I needed at that time.

Ascending Filament (2014) jute fiber. dimensions variable.

OPP: What is your favorite piece of your own work?

MK: I don’t have only one piece that stands out as my favorite, but I would say, at this time, I’m excited about Ascending Filament and my works made of eggshells

I feel that Ascending Filament is unfinished work, which gives me inspiration as to what I would do with it. It is made of teased rope fibers, so it’s very light weight, as you can imagine. This fluffed up thread can be fit in various forms of spaces and squished down when you move or store it and you can fluff it back up when you use it. It still needs some improvement to get right (texture, color and etc) for me, but because of this flexibility and logistical benefit, I feel that it will open up options to make a different group of work from others of mine.

To see more of Mami's work, please visit www.mamikato.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020).

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Saba Khan

How Not to Be Small and Silent (2017) Installation view. 

SABA KHAN's multimedia work traffics in the language of memorial, monument and public art. From lush beaded paintings of cakes to miniature dioramas of a bureaucrat's boring office; from flashing LED signs of stereotyped "Islamic Art" to embellished textile banners honoring the mundane generator, she balances grandeur, artifice and satire in order to explore the cracks in the facade of life in her native Lahore, Pakistan. Saba holds a BFA from National College of Arts, Lahore and an MFA from Boston University, on Fulbright Scholarship. Her work was included in the 2018 Karachi Biennale and the 2020 Lahore Biennale. Her solo exhibitions include ONE (2019) at Contemporary and Modern Art Museum and Making a Contemporary Landscape (2018) at O Art Space. In 2014, she founded Murree Museum Artist Residency, an artist-led initiative in a British colonial hill-station, and in 2020 the satirical artist collective Pak Khawateen Painting Club was born. Saba lives in Lahore, Pakistan. 

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us briefly about your artistic path. Have you always been an artist?

Saba Khan: I think it is hard to say when one turns into an artist. It is usually declared by others, a title that one earns over time and with experience. 

I continued producing work after my undergrad. In Pakistan we are art educators during the day and artists by night. It is understood that most of us artists would pursue jobs in academia, where art colleges—rather than art galleries or art districts— become centers of contact and spark development of ideas and networks. However, teaching takes away a large chunk of the day and also slows down one’s practice. But both have been hand in hand throughout my career.

Big Halal Dreams (2017)

OPP: Satire and simulation are dominant strategies in your work. Tell us why? How do you use these strategies aid your conceptual agenda?

SK: Living in Pakistan is living amidst chaos. Although an outsider may view it as a monolithic, conservative, Muslim country but it is more complex and varied. With a 4000-year-old culture, while also being a young country, it intertwines and weaves many rituals, traditions and contradictions. Each day is a lived experience of navigating into the city, which is broken up into medieval, colonial, modern and new-town sections, as a time traveler through Lahore’s maze of concrete with patches of old trees and greenery. 

The country also has stark contrasts between the rich and poor. These strange experiences, interesting yet frustrating, are sometimes best translated into satirical imagery with tongue in cheek humor, rather than being didactic and self-righteous in ones’ work. 

Contemporary Islamic Art (2017) LED lights on flex print with gilded frame. 36 x 24 in

OPP: How do you use beads, crystals and flashing lights to emphasize un-flashy truths? I’m thinking about Contemporary Islamic Art (2017) and The Generator Series (2010), among others.

SK: My work took a significant turn once I came back from a two-year Master’s stint in Boston. I came back to materials which I missed and did not have access to in the USA. We have large complexes of bazaars that are a dizzying labyrinth of shops of artisans who are practicing their craft for a variety of clients. They range from electricians working on custom made LED signboards to embroiderers embellishing wedding outfits. I missed the qualities of the hand-made in the products of the west. The slight errors and unexpected malfunctions or the misread drawings/ instructions become part of the work.

Contemporary Islamic Art, a buzzing, flashy LED sign, was a commentary on the hype—or buzz—of what western art dealers would call ‘traditional’ or ’meditative’ art from the middle east and south Asia. These tropes, circulating out of context, are used to attract and sell the exoticized and faux images of art from this part of the world. Without any knowledge or research, these works are distributed in art markets as oriental pieces of fetishized ornaments.

The generator series was made on the types of generators observed around the city that were used as an alternate to frequent power cuts. During the time these tapestries were made, we were experiencing up to 18 hours without electricity from the grid. The commercial neighborhood I lived in would light up with a cacophony of generators emitting noise greater than the prescribed range in industrial zones, with smoke incessantly puffing out. Now with solar power and better government arrangements, things are not as bad.

More Prosperity (2010) Thread and buttons on fabric. 60" x 58"

OPP: Could you translate the Urdu text that hangs on the wall, highlighted by those luxurious drapes in Monuments and other Follies (2019)? 

SK: The text says: 

“Friendly Residentia Authority 
Undertaking development Inauguration 
By The Honorable Hands Of The Eminent Connoisseur 
Madam Saba Khan”

Monument and Other Follies (2019) Installation shot.

OPP: What drew you to the form of the plaque with curtains?

SK: There are hundreds of plaques around the city erected on footpaths and intersections, commemorating road constructions by local politicians. Plaques with curtains being drawn open is a regular site on the news with politicians opening mega projects or private housing schemes. The ceremonies are almost comical, because they are a repeat performance with different actors every time launching white elephant projects. Strongest commodities are the private housing schemes which are an answer to the government’s problem to housing. Large chunks of agricultural land are sanctioned over ‘for the public good’ and turned into plotted, pieces of private land by real estate tycoons, many of them falter or turn out to be fraudulent leaving behind hundreds of disgruntled and deceived civilians that fall into litigation suits for decades.

I went to a colonial bazaar to get this curtain made because I was told there was a curtain shop that specializes in ceremonial drawstring curtains. The young man helped me with the design, dimensions and also picked the official color.

Monuments and Other Follies (2019) Installation shot.

OPP: What are you choosing to memorialize/monumentalize in this body of work?

SK: The series of files in the project mimic government files; thick, rough, recycled cardboard with papers stuffed inside and tied together with a shoe-string. There are numerous monuments and decorative structures in every town commemorating unknown heroes and events or are a way to ‘beautify’ city corners. The low budget reliefs of dead men look like caricatures making the events even more unworthy of remembering. My fictional bureau for the project proposes monument-making for major, yet embarrassing historical events.

Other than the files, I constructed one monument in MDF with faux marble pattern painted on top, mimicking actual monuments that use ceramic tiles with faux marble pattern. A large folly, two adjoining staircases leading to nowhere. 

Monument for an Undecided Event (2019)

OPP: Tell us about Pak Khawateen Painting Club, a satirical collective of female artists. There doesn’t seem to be any painting in your recent exhibition of the same name.

SK: We don’t particularly paint. Instead we subvert the notion of a female artist by building large machines which don’t produce anything but generate information on power, electricity and water. 

Painting has always been a past time for upper middle-class women. In the pre-Partition era (before Pakistan separated with India), established artists would setup studios and teach women painting on the side as a means of a steady income. The stereotypical image of the ‘woman artist’ has been embedded in the collective psyche as an upper middle-class housewife painting on an easel inside her drawing room. Painting is seen as a hobby particularly for women as a pastime that doubles as a means to help decorate the walls of her husband’s home.

Pak is a short for Pakistan and also means pure (as women should be). These not so pure women of our collective, venture out into expeditions—women traveling without male chaperons is considered unsafe—entering into spaces where men make decisions for the nation on water and power. 

Pak Khawateen Painting Club: Indus Water Machines. New commission: Between the Sun and the Moon, Lahore Biennale 02, 2020

OPP: Alongside your active studio practice, you also founded the Murree Museum Artist Residency. Tell us about the residency and its location. How has the pandemic impacted the residency?

SK: Murree is a small British colonial hill-station that was used as a retreat for the elite British officers to get away from the Indian heat and was also a stopover before entering into the valley of Kashmir. However, in a post-colonial era the town has become toxic with excessive construction, deforestation and overpopulation from an influx of tourists. The decay of the town, my own family histories and my father’s research book (Murree During the Raj: A British Town in the Hills by Dr. Farakh A. Khan) on its colonial era led me to study the town further by inviting artists and initiating theme-based residencies on the ecological issues. The program ends with a public exhibition in the town center and an artists’ book which became the final compilation of art projects. The book launch and reiteration of the exhibition takes place south in the port city of Karachi at AAN Gandhara-Art Space. Unfortunately, during the Covid our generous donor had to reassess his priorities and decided to sell the cottage in which I invited artists for the summer.

Drawing Room Dreams (2015) Acrylic and beads on canvas stretched on board. 9.5 x 12.5 in 

OPP: Oh no! I didn’t realize. I’m sorry to hear that. Where have you been focusing your energies instead?

SK: As I write this, I am currently traveling in remote parts of the country with the Pak Khawateen Painting Club, exploring ancient and medieval cities and British colonial and modern barrages built to control the main River Indus that cuts vertically across the country. Some sites are so removed with small, nomadic populations living with limited communication. The ancient cities are some of the oldest in the world dating back to 4000 BC to 2000 BC. The water, a life giver, has been the center for trade, agriculture, rituals and power. Our research is supported by Sharjah Art Foundation and Graham Foundation. This year we will be completing the final artwork. 

To see more of Saba's work, please visit www.sabakhan.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020).


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jessica Brandl

PBR and Coke (2018) Red clay, colored underglaze. L18"x W13"x H20"

JESSICA BRANDL's narrative ceramic works use the landscape of the American Midwest as a backdrop. Animated skeletons lounge on abandoned sofas and drink from crushed beer cans while farm houses burn. Her hand-built vessels and commemorative plates act as contemporary memento moris, while referring to the dark underbelly of American history. Jessica earned her BFA in Ceramics and Art History at Kansas City Art Institute and her MFA at Ohio State University (Columbus, OH). She was the 2018-2019 Taunt Fellow and the 2019-2020 Joan Lincoln Fellow at the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts (Helena, MT). Jessica won the 2017 Zanesville Prize for Contemporary Ceramics and was a 2015 McKnight Fellow at Northern Clay Center in Minneapolis, MN. Notable exhibitions include her solo show Hazard (2018) at  Belger Crane Yard Gallery in Kansas City, MO and the Unconventional Clay: Engaged in Change, the NCECA Invitational at Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (Kansas City, MO). In 2014, he created 500 plates for Salad Days, the Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts fundraising celebration (Newcastle, ME). Jessica lives and works in Helena, Montana.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Most people drink from glasses and eat off plates every day and never really think about these objects’ connection to human history. What would you like readers to know about about the vessel as a form? 

Jessica Brandl: This is so true. Common objects like a plate or cup typically do not illicit too much notice. However, it is exactly this safe familiarity that creates a recognizable bridge to human history and our desire for creature comforts. Whenever historic pottery is on view you can identify the relationship to use, comfort, and style, and this feels true of everything from Neolithic storage containers to today’s expertly crafted dishware. Our relationship to food and its conveying receptacles (vessels) presents an opportunity to subvert what is expected or maybe what is not expected of this type of serviceable object.  

Dead Ponies (2011) Terra Cotta. 26" x 4"

OPP: Another recurring ceramic genre is the commemorative plate, which is conventionally intended to be displayed on the wall. What are you commemorating in works like Dead Ponies (2011)? 

JB: I am 100% on board with the commemorative plate as a typical designation of a memorable event. I wanted to use the historic solidness ceramic provides to describe the history of these American places where I grew up. . . as they physically appear and how they emotionally relate to me. 

Dead Ponies is a visual pun on what Native Plaines Indians call their old cars parked out in the fields on the reservation. The central drawing of a horse with a 7th Calvary saddle is a portrait of a war horse named Comanche that survived the deadly Plaines Indian Battle that notably saw General George Armstrong Custer killed some 160 years ago. This battle gave the federal government justification for total confinement of Native Americans, while it proclaimed autonomy and strength to the Native American Nations in their victory. The background drawing of Dead Ponies depicts Crow Nation lands in Montana, USA 2010, desolate and forlorn by all appearances. 

By visualizing historic ugliness, I feel greater satisfaction in describing the unmentionable, ugly or sad parts of life that no one wants to talk about. I see the commemorative aversion to those historic truths as unequal and more importantly inaccurate. We shouldn’t minimize or omit people who are such a significant part of American History. 

Rime of the ancient mariner, Plight of Albatross (date?) Terracotta / Sgraffito / Sea Plastic. 28L" x 28w"x 4h"

OPP: What about Rime of the ancient mariner, Plight of Albatross (date?), which references a fictional poem?

JB: Rime of the ancient mariner, Plight of the Albatross operates from the same contemporary perspective. In referencing Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, I was paraphrasing 200 years of American history deduced from my experience growing up in dead Midwestern towns where there is little or no sign of what the place was before it was filled with the clutter of blind progress. I singled out the British Romanic poet for his strong symbolic narrative but also because his name was given to the town my foreign-born great grandparents worked to establish some 150 years ago but that today is nearly extinct. What remains of the poem is the symbol of the Albatross—the burden and guilt in taking or destroying what is not needed—and what remains of my working-class family is the burden of garbage detached from people that gave it meaning. My inclusion of the ghastly Albatross garbage attached to the platter’s back is like a charm bracelet and echoes the handing of the dead Albatross on the neck of the poem’s protagonist. History embodies a great deal of emotional weight for me. By drawing these commemorative visual narratives, I am actively trying to connect myself to history, enabling both comparative thought and the recognition of change over time. 

Your Problem (2018) Red clay, colored underglaze.

OPP: You explore “the path to American-ness” through a Midwestern lens. Do you mean an individual or a collective path? 

JB: The question initially began as an individual focus. As a young artist, I found it more comfortable to talk about my first-hand experience. My perception of American-ness broadened as my education progressed, and I began to understand myself and the culture I represented in a more sophisticated way. In other words, my story was my own, but it also looked and sounded like many other people from this place, region, and country. I know American-ness from the perspective I inhabit, that of a white female raised by working class parents in the Midwest. My chaffing desire to know other perspectives of American-ness stems from my need to connect with my family and to build a sense of kinship to those who share my beliefs in order to survive in this country. The need for a self-reliant attitude was born out of the absence of my parents' guidance; both were killed in an accident, making me an orphan at age 18. As time passed, I questioned ideas I was raised to respect because they seemed to limit what I should say and do with my life. I developed my own ideas and my own sense of autonomy.  

Homunculus (2017) Red clay, colored underglaze. H28" x W21" x L20"

OPP: What does being American mean to you?

JB: Being American to me is about the ability to self-determine. Even if it is not culturally practiced, it is historically evident and I look to those forbearers as my parental guides. My growth from adolescence to adulthood has been punctuated by the recognition of obstacles as well as privileges I have been endowed with as an educated, white woman. My quest to continue making art and fighting for my voice and now my students' voices is my way of pushing against fear as expressed by opposition.  

Liminal (2015) Terracotta. 22" x 20" x 3.5"

OPP: You expand the narrative possibilities of functional ceramics through sculptural adornments like the ropes, chains and snakes in Wishful Thinking: Narrative of a 21st Century Naturalist. Can you tell us about these often intertwined symbolic elements? 

JB: I love art history and human history, and those early artists created symbolic representations that formed the bases of what was to become written language. As I mentioned previously, my sculptural vessels are intended to build connections between the past and the present. From a design standpoint a rope or snake that coils provides a linear trail that leads the eye, pulling the viewer to investigate the composition. The ubiquity of ropes, snakes and chains in all human cultures throughout history serves ample symbolic meaning via a literal linkage or a cultural metaphor that I appreciate.  

Hazard (2019) Red clay, colored underglaze.

OPP: The functional ceramics from vessel (2018-2019) use memento mori imagery and jagged forms to address the human condition—that each of us will die and we know it. But can you talk about the specifics of the imagery you bring to the tradition of memento mori? I am thinking about the blue house, the crushed cans and burning General Lee from The Dukes of Hazzard

JB: I use the art historic strategies of the memento mori but locate my work firmly in 20th century American culture. I have selected a lexicon of objects that speak to the used-up nature that death can often signal. In the piece titled Hazzard, I used the General Lee as a symbol of the hyper-masculine. I wanted to color it richly and then burn it all down. I was venting my own personal frustration and anger. At the time, I felt like I was hitting a professional glass ceiling. I noticed younger male colleagues' rise and heard other women experience male-biases when seeking technical advice, which all made me feel inadequate. On top of my personal frustration, I felt a national frustration when the American people supported the 2016 election of a sex-offender President, who minimized his indiscretions against women and his racist history as “locker room talk.” Everything relating to that time felt bigger than I could change, so I took my aggression out on the symbols of my oppression. By deconstructing American Pop culture symbols and the feeble homes that sheltered them, I abolished the nostalgic sentiment I felt and acknowledged them as true opponents perpetuating my own oppression as an intelligent, independent woman.  

To see more of Jessica's work, please visit jessicabrandl.com and follow her on Instagram @jessicabrandl.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020).


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Nathan Meltz

Robot Versus Labor: Labor's Revenge (2018) Screenprint. 23" x 37" on 26" x 40" sheet.

NATHAN MELTZ combines printmaking, animation and music to create narrative works about technology’s infiltration of every aspect of contemporary life. He tells stories that encourage empathy with robotic life forms collaged from industrial machine parts (i.e. nuts and bolts), which he views as stand-ins for newer technologies like nanotechnology and genetic modification. Nathan holds a BS in Art Education and an MA from University of Wisconsin-Madison, as well as an MFA from State University of New York Albany. In 2020, his work was exhibited at the 6th Graphic Art Biennial of Szeklerland at Transylvanian Art Centre, Four Rivers Print Biennial (Carbondale, IL) and Multiple Ones: Contemporary Perspectives in PrintMedia at the Museum of Contemporary Art (Jacksonville, FL). In 2019, he was a Visiting Artist at the Institute for Electronic Arts at Alfred University. In June 2021, several works will be included in the upcoming Biennale Internationale D’estampe Contemporaine de Trois-Rivières (Trois-Rivières, Quebec, Canada). Nathan lives and works in Troy, NY.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your work merges music, animation and printmaking into one practice. Tell us about how your artistic background led you to work across these media.

Nathan Meltz: I spent most of my twenties playing in pretty good bands, producing decent screenprinted posters, and making bad comics. I started a printmaking-heavy grad program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and I started flirting with music and visual art happenings as part of an under-documented art/music/craft collective called the Wisconsin Pop Explosion. By my thirties, I had gotten better at printmaking and relocated to upstate New York with my wife, where we started a family. At that point, I definitely had distinct and separate bodies of creative work: a printmaking-heavy practice and a musical output. Feeling constrained by these limitations, I started another grad program at the University of New York at Albany, which heavily encouraged breaking down these creative silos, and I started merging elements of printmaking, sound, and bringing in video and animation. I really credit the SUNY Albany MFA program for promoting an anything-goes approach when it came to techniques and media. Ever since, I haven’t identified so much as a “printmaker,” or “musician,” or “animator,” but simply as an artist, using a variety of media to express myself.

Unknown Soldier (2017) Screenprint

OPP: I would describe your aesthetic as “retro-futuristic.” It looks like what people in the 1950s might have expected the future to look like. How does this aesthetic serve your conceptual agenda?

NM: I can definitely be accused of enjoying the nostalgia that comes from collage. When I create figures and environments out of collaged machine images, I am using those machines as metaphors for other technologies, whether it be nanotechnology, fossil fuel extraction technologies, or agricultural technologies. So for me, the machine images are stand-ins for something else. It just so happens that all of these contemporary technologies get filtered through my personal visual vocabulary before they become prints, animations, or sculptures.


Teddy Ruxpin Music Video (2020)

OPP: In your statement, you talk of the “not so subtle ways technology is sneaking into our lives and prepares them to resist this inevitable robot invasion.” But your work seems less a critique of the dangers of technology and more a critique of humanity. The problems the robots face seem to be very human problems. Your thoughts?

NM: It’s definitely both. Technologies are tools that have the potential to help, or harm, depending on how they are used. I hope my work gets the viewer to consider how we use these technologies, to be more critical of their applications. 

Many of my robot characters are stand-ins for us humans. All of my narrative work is about trying to foster some empathy for those impacted by malevolent technologies. Technology plays a clear role in some of the biggest challenges of the day, from war to inequality to climate change. We don’t have a chance of meeting these challenges unless we can engage with narratives that draw us closer to the actors involved and build some empathy for them.


quit job. press play (2013) Animation. Running time: 9:23 minutes.

OPP: I have to ask, are you a Battlestar Galactica fan? I’ve been thinking a lot about Cylons while looking at your work. Whatever the answer, what films, movies and texts have influenced the way you think about humans’ relationship to technology?

NM: I know a lot of people who are involved in critical discourse around science and technology. While no one cites Battlestar as an overt source or reference, we all dig it. Science fiction in general plays a big role in my art. I was lucky enough to be of the right age to work at a VHS video rental store in Madison, WI called Four Star Video Heaven, which was very much responsible for my film education. Early film depictions of robots—from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to Gort in The Day the Earth Stood Still—were really important. The droll made-for-tv movie The Day After (1983), which depicts nuclear holocaust in Lawrence, Kansas, continues to fascinate me. As do performers like DevoGary Numan and George Clinton. And then there is academic work, like David Noble’s Forces of Production, which identifies the role of technology in promoting inequality in labor. The Atari 2600 video games of my youth—particularly the atomic dystopia Missile Command—are also lasting influences because they display a combination of 8-bit design beauty and total technological-based destruction.

Collapse (2020) Screenprint on 36 feet of 1980s dot-matrix paper. Detail.

OPP: Tell us about Collapse (2020), a screenprint on 36 feet of 1980s dot-matrix paper.

NM: Collapse is a uniquely pandemic-influenced work. I started this hybrid work of printmaking and sculpture, which is essentially an accordion book-form, in April 2020. I very much had the itch to express how I was feeling during these early stages of the pandemic, as well as reflect the general global pandemic chaos. However, my regular work-flow was disrupted with the closure of my school/work-based facilities at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. I was lucky enough to have a fairly well-stocked printmaking studio at my home, and I decided to take a stab at a project, limiting myself to whatever materials I happened to have in my studio at the time. I didn’t want to even have to order the delivery of supplies because at that early time of the pandemic, I worried about putting delivery drivers at risk. 

So, I started taking old screenprint-positives from previous projects, and exposing them to screens in a collage-like manner. Without any high-quality rag paper in stock, I decided to use the only paper I had in my studio: a ream of 1980’s dot-matrix paper. For those not raised on the early days of inkjet printing, this is the paper that has the perforated edge of punched-out dots to feed the paper through a 1980s printer. Of course, this paper in itself has meaning, as a manifestation of technological obsolesces. The paper is literally in a state of destruction, as it threatens to fall apart in your hands (its very materiality is held together by the layers and layers of acrylic screenprint ink, sizing the paper). Then, the paper is covered with images of conflict and images of destruction. I did my best to work up lots of color harmonies, essentially going for a balance of pretty destruction.

To see more of Nathan's work, please visit nathanmeltz.com and follow him @nathan_meltz on Instagram.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020).


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jackie Milad

It Means Desert, Desert (2020). Installation view. Photo credit: Vivian Doering

JACKIE MILAD thinks of her layered, mixed media works as time-based art. She employs layering as a strategy to protect, hide and transform recurring symbols like eye, snake, brick wall, and breast. She cuts and draws and paints and sews, cannibalizing previously-exhibited works to make new works. A part of one piece becomes the beginning of another. This ongoing, ever-evolving process of creation refuses the notion of artworks as static, archival objects. Jackie earned her BFA at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts and her MFA from Towson University. In 2019, she was named a Janet & Walter Sondheim Prize Finalist and a Robert W. Deutsch Foundation Ruby Grantee. Recent solo exhibitions include: Chaos Comes and Goes (2019) at C. Grimaldis Gallery (Baltimore), Portate Bien (2020) at Langer Over Dickie (Chicago) and It Means Desert, Desert (2020) at Julio Fine Arts Gallery (Loyola University, Maryland). Only three days left to see her work in Re-Materialize at Arthur Ross Gallery at the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia). It closes on December 20, 2020. Jackie lives and works in Baltimore City, Maryland.

OtherPeoplesPixels: When I say the word layers, where does your mind go?

Jackie Milad: History. Ancestors. Information. Hidden. Protected. Removable or changeable.

Nope, No Way (2019) Mixed Media Collage on Paper. Photo credit: Vivian Doering

OPP: Who are your artistic ancestors? 

JM: It was during undergrad at SMFA where I was first introduced to Performance Art and was really inspired by the work of women performance artists of the 60s and 70s and in particular: Yoko OnoAdrian PiperJoan Joanas and Valie Export. It was their fearlessness and vulnerability I was drawn to and how they used their bodies to examine and critique the politics of othering and to deconstruct power structures such as white supremacy and patriarchy. Other influences include Howardena Pindell and Jack Whitten for their textural mixed media works and their processes. 

I love maximalist audio and visual experiences, it's hard to narrow it down because there is so much out there from mainstream pop culture to experimental work—however, my absolute favorite movie is Dario Argento's 1977 Suspiria, for its garish lighting and beautiful compositions. I also really love the synchronized dance sequences in Busby Berkley films of the 1930s for the extravagance of it all.

Chaos Eyes Redux (2020) Mixed media. 72" x 72"

OPP: You use recurring formal strategies like transparency, overlapping and reusing parts of old work to make new work. How do these serve your conceptual interests?

JM: Layering is a vital element in my work. Every layer shows a new choice; it’s a record of my decisions. History is a complicated thing; it is almost always told from the perspective of the dominant power. Showing the history of my hand is a way to tell my own story, my own history. I also dig back into the layers or cut and paste older works to reveal the past. My work is personal, and some of the layerings are meant to reveal and later protect or hide information. 

Additionally, I think a lot about how works of art are read. There is a general expectation that the work will be broken down into basic and understandable codes, whether by the artist themselves a writer, or by a curator. I like to defy this expectation by stacking layers, mixing up multiple signals, codes, and even languages. I rarely give it away. I want people to understand and accept that not everything has to be for them, not all symbols have to be revealed and explained—and sometimes it can be confusing and left a mystery.

The Flood Six - Hyena (2018) Acrylic, flashe, marker and collage on paper. 50" x 42"

OPP: Do you think of your mixed media collage works as representing some kind of space, be it physical, mental or social?

JM: I think of them as representing all of the above, or more accurately a record of time within the physical, mental, and social-political spaces. It takes time for me to layer the works, the pieces do not have an endpoint or finish point—they are more of an ongoing ever-changing, malleable record of my hand, my decisions, and of my observations of those things outside of my control. Ideally, in my studio, I am cutting from one piece to add to another in a fluid ongoing intuitive process. I compare them to doing performance art or time-based work.

OPP: How do you think about the works that you’ve sold or gifted in terms of being ongoing?

JM: Once the works leave my studio, they become out of reach or off-limits for obvious reasons. In a way, the objects become something else, they become more of a document or remnant of the performance/process. It would be amazing to one day collaborate with a collector to have work returned to my studio so that a piece could have another life yet again... and again and so on.


Yallah Sim Sim (2020) Video. 4 minutes.

OPP: You use a pastiche of found and created imagery in Yallah Sim Sim (2020), a digital animation with the feel of a sacred dance party. Many symbols have been accumulating meaning for most of human history—pyramid, eye, snake, tear drop—and you use them in a way that is completely idiosyncratic. Tell us about the combinations of images and sound in this work.

JM: I did this video in collaboration with my spouse, Tom Boram. We worked on this video after a research trip to my father’s homeland of Egypt in January. Going from ancient site to ancient site, and seeing a repetition of pharaonic symbols, but more importantly, the confluence of many cultures and epochs on one surface was very inspiring. The video recreates the experience of seeing the layers of Egyptian history competing with wayward touristic signs, a far-off Pizza Hut sign, or a booming car stereo playing mahraganat (Egyptian electronic dance music). This is really on point with what I’m getting at in my own 2D works In this video piece— information collapses onto itself in a chaotic pop kind of way. The writing is literally on the wall of tombs built for ancient pharaohs, turned Coptic monasteries, turned mosques, turned touristic sites. One fascinating architectural example is the pharaonic Luxor Temple which the Romans converted and renovated to be a church, and then later Arabs literally built a mosque (still in use) on top of the ruins of both the church and temple.

Untitled (2019) from Chaos Comes and Goes

OPP: Can you talk about the untitled golden necklaces works from 2019? The composition and palette in these predominately black works is so paired down compared to most of your recent work.

JM: This piece and the other work in this series were done as a counter to the larger collage works. I have several works in which I single out one pattern or theme. I like the idea that a viewer can get a very unfiltered view of a symbol that is repeated and layered throughout my larger dense pieces. I think of the series as a map key to the other work.

Quarantine One-a-Day Drawings (2020) 7" x 7." Photo credit: Vivian Doering

OPP: Tell us about your quarantine experience. It included making a drawing a day. How were these works generated by the early days of the pandemic.

JM: Ah, quarantine. Well, I live with my husband, two dogs, and my nine-year-old son. At the start of the lockdown with schools closing and our jobs going entirely online, there was no time or energy to work in the ways I did pre-Covid. Going to my studio seemed impossible, so to maintain momentum and some mental stability I cut up some small 7” square paper and started drawing, but of course, was regularly interrupted, so what I thought would be these quick simple sketches turned out to take all day to make. This slowing down of my process was important to do at the time. I needed to slow down and be okay with it. I’m not actively doing the quarantine drawings anymore, I’m back in my studio, but I do have plans to go back to making them at some point.    

Gold Bars (2020) Mixed Media Collage on Hand-Dyed Canvas.

OPP: What are you currently most excited about in your studio?

JM: These days in my studio, I've been using the time to think and experiment with materials. Just yesterday I cut up a canvas piece that I've shown in an exhibition recently and started to reconfigure it by sewing other remnants and painting over it with a palette of colors I rarely use. The pandemic and the general stress of this year have made it hard to be consistently productive, so I am taking small steps to find a way forward—and sometimes that means a dance break in my studio or lying on the floor for a different perspective. 

To see more of Jackie's work, please visit www.jackiemilad.com and follow her on Instagram @_jackie_milad_.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020).

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Annie Bissett

ACTIVATE (Gay Liberation Front). White Line Woodcut with Toner Transfer. 14.5" x 20.5" (37 x 52.4 cm). Photo credit: Stephen Petegorsky

Printmaker ANNIE BISSETT explores the visual symbols and verbal cliches associated with various belief systems: from the religious to the political to the economic to the prophetic. Working primarily in moku hanga, she has tackled religious relics and spiritual cliche, the historical struggle for gay liberation and the idiomatic expressions associated with wealth and poverty in capitalist America. Annie's numerous solo exhibitions include: Playing with Fire (2018) at Oxbow Gallery (Northampton MA), Past/Present/Now (2016) at Charles Krause Reporting (Washington DC) and I Was a 20th Century Lesbian at Hosmer Gallery (Northampton MA.) Her work is in the permanent collections of notable institutions like New York Public Library, Boston Public Library, Portland Museum of Art, and Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College. You can purchase Annie's four self-published books here. Annie lives and works in Providence, Rhode Island.

Other Peoples Pixels: Can you explain moku hanga for the non-printmakers among us?

Annie Bissett: Moku hanga, which means “wood print,” is a centuries-old Japanese way of printing that uses waterborne pigments, brushes instead of rollers, and a hand-held printing device called a baren instead of a mechanical press. Woodblock printing was brought to Japan in the 8th century by Buddhists from China and was first used to reproduce religious texts. After a time colors began to be added by hand and then, as woodblock printing became the primary form of commercial printing in Japan, printers began to carve blocks for each color. Japanese woodblock prints, also called ukiyo-e, are known especially for their intense use of color. 

CLASS PICTURE. Japanese woodblock (mokuhanga). 14.5" x 20.5" (37 x 52.4 cm). Photo credit: Stephen Petegorsky

OPP: How long have you been using this method?

AB: In the early 2000s, after spending about 20 years working digitally as a commercial artist/illustrator, I found myself longing to make work for myself instead of clients and to work with my hands instead of on the computer. I tried painting and failed, tried collage but didn’t enjoy the search for source materials, and then I tried making drawings that I scanned and colored in Photoshop. That felt right, except that I was still at the computer. A friend noted that my drawings looked like Japanese woodblock prints and, serendipitously, I heard of a workshop being offered near my home by a New Hampshire printmaker named Matt Brown. I took that three-day workshop and fell in love with the method.

Selections from Secret Codewords of the NSA, each 6" x 6." Photo credit: Stephen Petegorsky

OPP: What keeps you returning to moku hanga? What do you love about the process?

AB: Although I’m a great admirer of Japanese art and aesthetics, I didn’t start working with moku hanga because of an interest traditional Japanese art. I took up moku hanga because it’s an artistic medium that is neither toxic nor messy, and it’s compact and portable enough to do on the side in my small home-based studio while I continue to serve my freelance digital commercial illustration clients. It’s also a beautiful method—wood, water, natural pigments, brushes, hand-held carving tools and handmade paper are the simple materials that make the method a pleasure to work with. And after my long career as a commercial artist working with four-color offset print technology, the transparent color overlays inherent in woodblock printing make intuitive sense to me.

Because the Japanese brought this art form to unimaginable heights of perfection, working with moku hanga can be a difficult burden to bear. Not many 21st-century western artists could hope to achieve the degree of perfection attained by the great 17th- and 18th-century ukiyo-e masters, but unfortunately that type of work is what many people think of when you say "Japanese woodblock.” I try to avoid this silent standard in people’s minds by calling what I do moku hanga or watercolor woodblock print—a term I especially like. Even though the method does come with a lot of cultural weight, I try to take the support of the beauty and elegance and history of the method without letting go of my own voice and my American concerns and identity. 

I LOVE YOU. Japanese woodblock (mokuhanga). 14.5" x 20.5" (37 x 52.4 cm). Photo credit: Stephen Petegorsky

OPP: What role does text play in your work?

AB: My major in college was English literature. That, plus my decades as an illustrator, where my job was essentially to read a document and then make pictures to go with it, predisposes me to work with words and text. 

Language is totally weird. It’s a mystery that we rarely treat with the awe and respect it deserves. If we were to spend just five minutes watching ourselves speak we would know this. Where do our words come from? Do we really know what we’re about to say before we say it, or do the ideas form simultaneously with the words? Are the movements of our tongue and lips conscious or unconscious? When I look at these questions I find language to be a strange fluid blending of conscious and unconscious, of mental and emotional, of controlled and uncontrollable. And I believe that we reveal ourselves and our innermost states in a brutally honest way through our speech.

MIXED FEELINGS (full set). Japanese Woodblock Print with transfer drawing. Each print is 12.5" x 19." Photo credit: Stephen Petegorsky

OPP: Printmaking—the origins of reproducibility of image and text—is the perfect media to address cliche. I’m thinking of the spiritual cliches on the banners from Relics (2016) and the economic cliches in Loaded (2012). Do you use cliche with sincerity or irony?

AB: To me, cliches appear to be ossified or “frozen” bits of language that we use either as shorthand or as meaningless filler in our speech. I guess the question I’m asking when I work with cliche is, what happens if you soften or “melt” a cliche? Does meaning return? Is there something to discover there? I think yes. 

So to answer your question, I’m 100% sincere in my use of cliches, although the results are often very humorous and/or full of irony, because people are funny.

A REAL FAKE: THIS IS NOT MUHAMMED. Watercolor woodblock print with gold mica, rubber stamp, and removable printed veil. Photo credit: Stephen Petegorsky

OPP: I also see a scholarly interest in the iconography and stories from all the major world spiritual traditions. Is this purely scholarly interest?

AB: I’ve always been a seeker—it seems to be a baked-in part of my personality. As a young child I was interested in my friends’ beliefs, religions and traditions and was invited to their churches, temples, mosques and celebrations. I was raised mainstream Protestant, I got “born again” in high school, and then, accompanied by a lot of pain, I lost my religion when I realized I was gay in my freshman year of college. But even in my post-Christianity period I continued to study various spiritual traditions, and I’ve practiced a number of them. 

Religion, as is true of all human constructs, can be a force for good or for evil. Religious power can easily be warped and manipulated to rationalize all manner of cruelty and bigotry. But at their best, the various religions are repositories of human wisdom, aspiration and spiritual technology that come to us from our ancestors, through centuries of history, and sometimes at great cost. I think there’s much of value to be found there.

DEFY (ACT UP). White Line Woodcut and Rubber Stamping. 14.5" x 20.5" (37 x 52.4 cm) Photo credit: Stephen Petegorsky

OPP: Tell us about the prints from the ongoing series I Was a 20th Century Lesbian that I’m reading as “flags” for various activist organizations that played a role in the history of gay liberation. Are these flag prints based on real flags from these groups?

AB: That group of prints, which I call Counterspells, uses a printmaking method called “white line woodcut” that was developed in the early 20th century in the gay mecca of Provincetown, Massachusetts. As in moku hanga, white line woodcut uses watercolor as ink, but instead of multiple blocks a single block (matrix) is incised with a line drawing and colors are painted by hand, one small area at a time. Although the matrix can be re-used, each white line print is a monoprint (one of a kind). 

Using the white line method allowed me to use a single matrix—a simple grid of equilateral triangles—for all the prints. I chose the triangle to reference the downward-pointing pink triangle that was sewn on the uniforms of imprisoned gay men and other sexual offenders in Nazi concentration camps. In the 1970s, the gay community reclaimed the pink triangle as an international symbol of gay pride.

Many of the gay liberation organizations I depicted were short lived, but they built on one another, so to use the same matrix for all of them let me express this in a tangible way. On the other hand, it was quite a limiting format, having to express the essence of each organization through this grid of triangles. I think you’re right that they do read as flags, but I invented them.

Selected images from Woodblock Dreams Tarot (in progress), 2018-2020. Photo credit: Stephen Petegorsky

OPP: What’s cooking in your studio right now?

AB: I’ve been working on a woodblock tarot deck for 2 years. For the four tarot suits (56 cards) I created woodblock backgrounds, textures, and illustrated elements which I then scanned and collaged in Photoshop. Thus, those digitally-collaged woodblock prints only exist digitally. There are 21 additional cards in the tarot called the Major Arcana, and I’m creating those as fully developed woodblock prints in very small editions (four of each). Each of those prints is scanned, reduced in size, and type is added digitally. For the sake of time, treasure and sanity, it’s the only way I could imagine making an affordable tarot deck that I could complete in my lifetime.The deck is called Woodblock Dreams Tarot, and I expect to have it ready for the printer by the spring 2021. It’s been a good project for the Time of COVID.

To see more of Annie's work, please visit www.anniebissett.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020).


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Szu-Wei Ho

The Maze (2019) Graphite, color pencil, watercolor, gouache on paper. 29 ½" x 41 ½"

Bodies become landscapes in the surreal drawings and prints of SZU-WEI HO. Braided hair weaves in between and around figures—human, animal and mannequin—engaged in fantastical and lively rituals. Szu-Wei earned her M.F.A. in Printmaking at Pratt Institute (Brooklyn, New York) after receiving her B.A. in English Language and Literature at the National Taiwan Normal University (Taipei, Taiwan). She has exhibited at International Print Center (Chelsea, NY), A.I.R. Gallery, (Dumbo, NY) and Gallery 456 at the Chinese American Arts Council (NY, NY), where she had two solo exhibitions in 2014 and 2019. Szu-Wei recently relocated to Taichung, Taiwan, where she and her husband are currently setting up an art studio and printmaking workshop.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Can you talk about the surreal qualities of your work?

Szu-Wei Ho: I come from a background of literature and love of storybooks. So when I started to create art, stories naturally came first. In my images there are a lot of natural elements, animals, fairytale motifs, human events, and everyday objects. These are glued together by rearranging and reinterpreting my daily encounters. This is the most fun and intriguing creative process I could enjoy for now, so I stick with it. But I also think my work is deeply rooted in reality, which is always more surreal than what I could imagine, especially the year 2020!

Reins (2019) Graphite on paper. 29 ½" x 41 ½"

OPP: The braid is a recurring form in your drawings and prints. It shows up in The Braided Island (2011), Braid (2014) and Reins (2019) to name a few. What does it mean to you? What keeps you coming back to this visual motif?

SH: Human hair is like an extension of us, which grows but without senses. It plays such an important role in our appearances, sometimes even defines our look. Braided hair especially aroused me not only because of it’s woven and lush texture, but the action of braiding and the reason behind it could carry many sexual, social and cultural connotations. Braids can have different colors, which could imply race and point to beauty standards. As a girl, I had a popular doll with ankle-length, blond hair. I brushed and braided her hair everyday. It was like a rule of thumb that to be pretty and to be a princess, long blond hair is the standard.

Hair Salon No.4- Braid Me A Spring, Spider Man (2011) Etching. 9" x 12"

OPP: And your braids move beyond the human head. . . 

SH: Yes, braids show up in my work as tentacles, tails, ropes, fiddleheads, and question marks. Whichever shapes they take, they imply female existence and cultural restraints. From the Brothers Grimm, the image of Rapunzel letting her hair down from the tower bewitched me. The captive woman connects herself to her mother-like figure and her lover with the long braid, which was like an umbilical cord. And then she was pregnant with twins. 

Where It Is Damp and Foggy (2019) Graphite on paper. 29 ½" x 41 ½"

OPP:Landscapes and bodies are often conflated in your drawings, prints and ceramics. Is the landscape a way to talk about the body or vice versa?

SH: Landscapes are just like bodies; they breathe and grow. I like to magnify the body to the scale of landscape so it becomes a giant or an island. And to minimize landscape, they just look like creatures lying there. I’ve lived on islands all my life, whether in Taiwan or New York. I love the idea of being surrounded by water, and the unique quality of being isolated but open at the same time.

Blue Egg I (2012) Ink, watercolor, and Gouache on paper. 44" x 30"

OPP: Please tell us about the relationship between color and graphite in Blue Egg I (2011) and Ripe (2019).

SH: I think color and grayscale talk to each other when they are in the same picture. In these two pieces both the focal points have bright and colorful appearances. The others with only grayscale would fall to the background. But with the impression of the colors that first meet the eye, the grey scale then opens to more air and possibilities. 

In Blue Egg I, the colorful part is at the center: a number of figurines danced around a blue egg. The figurines were like mannequins but only with the lower body, and they were decorated with different objects on top of narrow sticks. They were running, walking or dancing, as if a celebration was going on. Colors could emphasize the liveliness of the event.

In Ripe, the only bird in bright colors was the one that held an egg. One can tell the bird head was a costume as the eyes were hollow. This colorful bird confronted the viewer with no facial expression, making the viewer wonder who was hiding behind and what kind of emotion there should be. I applied so many bright colors on this bird to create a theatrical event.

Ripe (2019) Graphite and color pencil on paper. 29 ½" x 41 ½"

OPP: Ripe and The Maze, both from 2019, feature a colorful parakeet costume hiding an egg protected by human arms. What is the egg being protected from?

SH: The idea of a colorful parakeet came from the sun conure I met at the place I used to work. She lost her mate a long time ago, but still laid infertile eggs from time to time. It was a natural habit, but I felt sorry for her, as if she would be lost by us taking those eggs away. Thus the sun conure became a character I used to talk about reproduction and motherhood. The human arms topped with a bird costume would hold a huge egg like a pregnant woman holding her belly. 

I do not intend to have the egg being protected from specific things, but to just present the way a mother would be protective and cherish her prize by holding it in her arms. But ironically, what is in the egg is another question. . .  it could be just another infertile egg the sun conure bears.

The Braided Island (2011) Etching, aquatint, spitbite, drypoint. 22 1/2" x 31" 

OPP: How does the egg in these new drawings from 2019 relate to the Blue Egg I (2011) and Blue Egg II (2012)?

SH: In the earlier drawings Blue Egg I II, the egg symbolizes life and happiness, in a naive way. Robin's Egg Blue is a color I am not very familiar with when I grew up in Taiwan, but it is so popular in the United States. It is a very bright and eye-catching color, which I think is a bit superficial when applied to objects and merchandise. That is the feeling I want on the egg: a bit too happy, too good to be true.

In Ripe and The Maze, the eggs held by human hands are only in grayscale, because I want some more uncertainty, and more of a feeling of the past. 

I would say eggs in these earlier and later drawings relate to each other while the environment changes- eggs are still eggs, but what happens through time would possibly affect what was inside the eggs. 

Blue Egg II (2012) Ink, Gouache and color pencil on paper. 88" x 30"

OPP: You mentioned the crazy year that has been 2020 at the beginning of the interview. How has the pandemic and other world events impacted your studio practice? Working on anything new?

SH: This February my husband and I moved back to Taiwan after almost 12 years in NYC. At that time Asia was the center of the pandemic, but we still made the move because we were 7 month pregnant and wanted to raise the baby with more family support. Because of Covid, everything we packed and cargo shipped from Brooklyn took more than 6 months to arrive. We are now setting up a new art studio and printmaking workshop in Taichung, where we live. Luckily Taiwan has been a very safe place to stay, so hopefully everything will be on track next year to make some new work.

To see more of Szu-Wei's work, please visit www.szuweiho.com and follow her @szuweiho.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020).


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Alex Schechter

How Intentions Differ (2020) Pine, OSB, Latex Paint, Carving Foam. 63” x 16” x 19”

ALEX SCHECHTER traffics heavily in material symbolism. His sculptures combine traditional woodworking methods, digital fabrication and found objects with video and animation to explore the myths of the Manifest Destiny and the Wild West. Alex holds a BA in Studio Art/Religious Studies from Grinnell College and an MFA in Sculpture from Rinehart School of Sculpture, MICA. Recent exhibitions include: Cowboys and Carpentry: Alex Schechter and Sutton Demlong at Sykes Gallery (Millersville, PA) and Its Construction Conceals:  Iren Tete and Alex Schechter at Ghost (Omaha, NE). He just completed a residency at The Hambidge Center for the Creative Arts in Georgia. Alex lives and works in Philadelphia, PA.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Before going to MICA for your MFA, you got a BA in Religious Studies from Grinnell College. How does that early focus on religion inform your art practice?

Alex Schechter: In so many ways! Religious studies has been the major heuristic for study for me for most of my career. One of the basic definitions of religion begins with identifying the “three c’s;" cultus, cosmology, and community. I find myself drawn to those frameworks as a space for most of my projects. What are the actions or rituals of this system? What does it explain? Who is involved? 

Myth Of The West (Genesis 32:22-31) (2018) Plywood, LED lighting, House Paint, Ebonized Ash Wood, Rubber, Pine, Cactus, Artificial Flower. 20”x 33”x 45”

OPP: Which system do you mean? The universe? Or something smaller?

AS: My work is primarily focused on American Mythology. As a country, I think we lack a defining national identity, with no ethnic or religious antecedents that define many (particularly european) cultures. We instead have a somewhat ad-hoc collection of symbols and rituals that form this constellation of “americanness.” I think a lot of my training, particularly when it comes to religious ethnography, helps to shape that understanding and translation of a deep ambivalence I have around my familial history as well as my personal embrace and revulsion of what it means to be American. 

I grew up on a horse ranch in rural Wyoming. In this environment, quotidian realities of daily life come into sharp contrast with the romantic idealization of the Wild West. For much of U.S. history, the West was an ordinal concept, an endless resource to compete with European culture, a blank canvas to be tamed with violence, or an escape route for self reinvention. Despite the clear and harsh consequences of climate change, the realities of colonization and genocide, not to mention the inconveniently finite nature of natural resources, the idea of the Frontier retains a perennial popularity as a Promised Land. The sculptural objects I make attempt to collapse the utopian ideals of Frontierism and the consequences of its reality.

New Frontier (Allegory of the Cave) (2020) Film stills, Wood, Enamel Paint, Rearview Mirrors, Plastic Rabbits Feet, Hardware. 45" x 42" x 20"

OPP: How does the combination of traditional craft, digital fabrication and found objects serve your conceptual interests?

AS: As previously mentioned, I did not go to art school for undergrad. While that education was great for conceptual development and critical thinking, it meant that I have come into making in a pretty circuitous fashion. I’m trying to make things in a way that works for the idea. I’m a decent carpenter, so wood tends to be a foundational structural material for many of my objects. I’m trying to become less precious about my hand being evident in the objects I make though. 

I love craft, especially woodworking, but sometimes it feels like a crutch, or a conceptual governor. My woodworking skills tend to build towards a human sized scale. I’ve been increasingly interested in branching into other methods of fabrication (including other people doing the fabrication) because they simply allow me to do things I cannot with my skill set. My interest in digital fabrication has really accelerated this drive to expand methods of making. If I can have something milled out in an afternoon rather than carving it for weeks, i’ll take it. 

For all that, I’m pretty enamored with found objects for basically the opposite reason. I love the embodied meaning in objects that are collected or sourced.

Heavy Lift (for Sergei) (2020) Monitor, Wooden Shelf, Potatoes, Zinc, Copper, Wires, Raspberry Pi, Digital animation. 24 "x 20" x 8”

OPP: That is evident in your comprehensive material lists, which give the sense that every object or material is included for symbolic purposes. I’ve been thinking about visual synecdoche and metonymy while looking at your work. Do you think those are appropriate words to describe how you approach materials?

AS: As a kid, I was really obsessed with the nutritional labels on foods. The atomization of say, salad dressing, into its nutritional attributes and a hierarchical list of ingredients, starting with the familiar (olive oil) and descending into the esoteric and sometimes frightening (sodium benzoate) felt like a mystery. A miniature scavenger hunt at the dinner table.

I’ve seen stage magicians do the same thing, they will explain how they are going to do a trick. That there is a trap door, that there a two assistants, that it isn’t their real thumb, and yet you are still astonished by the illusion you are seeing in front of you. The whole is not just greater than the sum of its parts, it is more exciting because you know what those parts entail.

My hope is that by listing the totality of the parts used in any given piece, there is a bit of alchemy that happens. The meaning of material is not just the shape of the whole object, but the embodied meanings of each individual object play with each other in a space. I think there is a difference between house paint and automotive paint, and house paint and a houseplant. Maybe its a bit onanistic but I think the indexing allows space for the creation  of meaning beyond the title and form of the artwork. It gives a peak into process without the explicit one-to-one mapping that happens with a full statement or artist talk. I think about some of the stories of Donald Barthelme, which work to morph impressionistic accumulations of single events or actions into a holistic understanding of an event or a place in time.

Further West (2019) Laser Etched Drywall, Pine, Maple, Hardware, Plastic Boot Tray, Perlite, Cacti, Artificial Flowers. 55”x 40”x 40”

OPP: Will you pick a favorite piece and talk us through all the materials and their meanings?

AS: Sure, let's look at Further West, 2019, which was part of a body of work examining the concept of the cold war era Space Race as an extension of Manifest Destiny. I would argue that much of the American project has been oppositional and reactionary to exterior political pressure. Much of the space race, and NASA in general—which I think of as the greatest public art project of all time—was in direct opposition to the Soviet national project. This piece uses the iconography of westward expansion to look a the moon race as an extension of that process, a need to push “American Greatness” to increasingly far reaching lands.

I wrote a computer program that converted data from select sections of amateur astronomer Walter Goodacre’s 1910 map of the moon into vectors that were laser-etched onto drywall. Using materials that are traditionally used for household construction in sculptural objects creates an uncanny feeling, making a material that is so ubiquitous but we never pay much attention to precious or elevated. Thinking about the walls of the home as something that moves, or is in transition is an important thought process for me. Being untethered is both exciting and disorienting.

I always have pine 2x4s around my studio, and they’re my go-to for anything structural. This main body of the sculpture mimics the radial arms of a wagon wheel, buried in the sand, an iconic image from western films. The crutch-like leg that props up the framed wall is American curly maple. Sometimes, you need nicer wood. I’ve become increasingly conscious of being able to assemble and disassemble work easily for installation, so the hardware was a necessity for transportation. Rather than hiding these connection points, I wanted to highlight them with brass hardware. I was looking at a lot of late 19th century surveying equipment. They are beautiful machines and the contrast of brass on wood is a gorgeous look. 

My weird color palette is generated through the remnants of other people’s discarded materials. I buy most of my paint from the “oops” section at the hardware store paint counter. They sell it for around $.50 (a pint?). It’s fun to see trends over the years of what colors people are almost-painting things.

I bought the plastic boot tray that holds the perlite—if there was a sandy desert on the moon, this is what I imagine it looking like—at a tractor supply store because I loved that shape. It is meant as a place to rest your boots when you have come in from a day of hard labor. I like the idea of this object designed for holding dirt to contain a different sort of dirt. . . in this case, a miniature desert.

I’ve been using cacti in a lot of my sculptures recently. I like the look of them and they are pretty resilient to changes in environment/don’t need to be watered very often. They also serve as a metonym for The West. I’ve been buying plants from Home Depot a lot over the last five years or so as sort of a treat for myself when I go to the hardware store. They clearly do not care about longevity for plants, and often it takes a lot of work repotting and nursing plants back to health after they are purchased. The cacti, which are non-flowering, are sold with these tiny plastic flowers hot-glued to the tops of them. I find this very funny and like to leave them on when I include a cactus in my work.

Pervasive Practitioners (2020) Ash Wood, Birch Ply, Latex Paint, Beeswax. 82” x 24” x 15”

OPP: Tell us about your newest body of work, M.E.K.A. I’m not familiar with that acronym. What does it stand for? 

AS: M.E.K.A. doesn’t really stand for anything, though sometimes I retcon titles Most Even Keep Alive? My Ego Korrupts All? But the title is more a nod to a 90s cartoon trend of creating tortured acronyms for a catchy nickname, like S.H.I.E.L.D. or M.A.S.K. And mecha is a term for a sci-fi subgenera where teenagers pilot giant robots. 

This has been an unusual body of work for me. I had a number of shows and longer-term projects put on hold or cancelled due to COVID-19. My studio practice had gone into a rut. I was fairly depressed and was having difficulty putting much conceptual rigor into anything. To justify being in the studio, I started playing around with arranging shapes and objects in an unlocked and unoccupied studio next to mine. I had made a scale model of a robot from the Gundam cartoon that I used to watch in my middle school days. I really liked the shape and the translation from the flatness of anime to a physical object. I started looking up more giant robot films and cartoons and isolating the heads from them. There was a certain challenge in replicating these cartoon shapes into something with heft and dimension. This has been an exercise in formalism, color, and installation, rather than the more conceptually driven objects I tend to make.  

The Shortest Distance Between Two Points (2020) Pine, Ply Wood, Felt, Automotive Paint, Latex Paint. 11”x 84” x 28”

OPP: I don't know. I think you are selling yourself short. You might be tapping into the collective unconscious. Either that, or I just can’t escape viewing everything made in 2020 through the politics of the pandemic (i.e. economy vs public health.) I see the robot heads as representing the dangers of relentlessly-onward-marching Progress. It seems very significant that the robots have been beheaded and are propping up the systems of objects. Your thoughts?

AS: I don't know that I'm selling myself short, as much as allowing myself to work intuitively, something I mostly only do with my drawing and illustration practice. I'm very enamored with the design of these giant robots even though have very little context for their stories or personalities—despite my visual fascination, I've watched very little anime. I'm both interested in and skeptical of this sort of science fiction, where incredible levels of technology, global and interstellar economic and political systems are all easily reduced to combat between between giant robots. How simple compared to the intertwined and endlessly complex realities of climate change and global economic collapse that we face in our daily lives.

I'm both interested in technology and skeptical of Positivism, this idea that progress is somehow linear and inherently good. A book that really caused me to rethink the understanding of technical progress was Keven Kelly's What Technology Wants (2010). Conceiving of a Technium, a "greater, global, massively interconnected system of technology vibrating around us." is both thrilling and, existentially, a bit nerve wracking. Perhaps the decapitation of these robots is a way of symbolically reestablishing a dominance over these systems, but I don't think that completely covers it. As with many of the topics I tend to fixate on, there is both a love and a revulsion that co-mingle. Even with my discomfort, I tend to want to ritualize and care for objects. In this case, I literally put them on pedestals.

To see more of Alex's work, please visit www.alexschechter.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020).