OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Erin Washington

Talking Board
2016
Chalk and acrylic on panel
18" x 24"

ERIN WASHINGTON uses imagery, text and fugitive materials to evoke a long history of human inquiry into the form and meaning of the universe we live in. Perception and permanence are called into question. Theoretical Physics mingles with tangible objects from antiquity. Art historical references are balanced by philosophical ones. Erin received a BA in Studio Art from University of Colorado at Boulder in 2005. She went on to earn a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Painting and Drawing (2008) and an MFA (2011) from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Erin's 2016 exhibitions in Chicago include solo show Useful Knowledge at Zolla Lieberman, two-person show Hand of Mouth at Roots & Culture and group show Chicago and Vicinity at Shane Campbell Gallery. She was named a 2016 Chicago Breakout Artist by New City Art. Erin lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: I think of art, philosophy, myth and science all as modes of inquiry, which should be balanced, but not privileged over one another. What do you think?

Erin Washington: Oh of course! By no means do I propose that one mode of inquiry supersedes another. . . if anything, I am looking at these modes of inquiry as different languages attempting to ask the same question. Some languages are better at capturing different nuances to the question; some languages elicit a different type of response or forefront a different type of preoccupation. One language may be more lyrical or poetic, emphasizing romance and pleasure while a different language may be better at discussing facts and figures and analytics, using statistics to describe an agreed upon reality. My hope is to flatten any perceived hierarchy. . . screaming into the void unintelligibly, waiting for an answer from where I do not know. . .

wormhole shape = headstone shape
2015
Chalk and acrylic on panel
16" x 20"

OPP: Many of your two-dimensional works are chalk on acrylic on panel. I’m curious about the permanence or impermanence of the chalk: is it fixed? Either way, the implication of erasure and accumulation of meaning is still there.

EW: Another instance in which the question might be more important than the answer! One of my favorite drawings is Robert Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning Drawing. A very young Rauschenberg obtained an original drawing by Willem de Kooning and spent weeks erasing it. Erased de Kooning Drawing is powerful because of the story and because of the action. . . conservationists have taken digital photographs of the piece, and now we can Google image search and find out what the actual de Kooning drawing looked like before Rauschenberg labored over its erasure. But it's not satisfying to look at the imagery of what the drawing looked like before it became what it is now. It's satisfying to see the ghost of its former self and to think of the actions of both artists involved.

OPP: Do you think of your chalk works as palimpsests?

EW: My fondness for Erased de Kooning Drawing should imply that yes, I do think of my work as palimpsests. I like that every mark, whether preparatory or finalized, is present and available to the viewer. Some marks clearly describe a thinking mind, while others are purely in existence for the moment and only remain as ghosts of themselves. Those ghosts might not be immediately available, but as trace rewards to the careful and attentive viewer.

Perhaps another way of thinking about it could be illustrated in this anecdote: very often painters will keep rags in their studios to wipe their brushes clean between marks; this helps keeps the paint “pure” and unmuddied from pigment picked up by other pigments on the wet canvas. This is common in drawing, too. The drawer will have a scrap piece of paper handy to “wipe off” the pencil/pen, or to keep the tip at a certain sharpness or degree of angle. A friend in school started wiping off his brushes at the bottom of his painting, so he had these interesting perceptual paintings for three-quarters of the canvas and then what amounted to an abstract expressionist painting at the bottom quarter. When I asked him about why he decided to do that, he referred to the bottom quarter of the painting as “the basement.” It was his way of acknowledging that those “cleaning the brush” marks were just as important to the painting as the mannered and controlled perceptual painting marks.

Negative Positive
2011
Blackberries and oil paint on canvas
12 " x 12 "

OPP: In earlier works, you use other fugitive materials—saliva, moss, tea, and the juice from beets, pomegranates, blackberries, cranberries and raspberries—to make marks. These works tend to be more abstract, foregrounding the materials themselves. When and why did you first start working with these organic materials?

EW: My natural inclination is to be drawn to the materiality of media. I would look at artists like Dieter Roth or Wolfgang Laib and vibrate with excitement. If you want them to, materials can help dictate meaning and form and change the context in which a viewer engages with the work.

The contextual issues we discussed have been of interest to me for a long time. There came a point in exploring these ideas when I began to question the materials that I was using—at the time I was using oil paints. After all, if you’re dealing in inquiry of perception and permanence, eventually you turn that lens on not only Art History but inward as well. . . onto your supports and materials and eventually onto yourself. In other words, it felt weird to try to make work about these ideas using the immutable tools of Painting. While in graduate school at SAIC, one of my advisors picked up on my interest in the passage of time and permanence and suggested that I pick up The Art Forger’s Handbook to study methods and techniques for mimicking aged work. The secret spells and analysis of pigments and supports really tickled the witchy part of my heart, so I started expanding my scope of materials.

Suprematism (After K.M.)
2012
Charred bone and oil on paper
(Left image: found bone, before charring. Right image: Charred bone and oil ground into 40" x 50" paper)

OPP: How are these materials connected to your cosmology references?

EW: When looking at natural pigments, I think of their very early uses, cave paintings and rituals, for example. Using spit and burnt wood and bones and rocks and earth, humans made marks to say we are/were here and to make sense of their world. To figure out how the world began and why we are here. . . that’s one of the most basic definitions of cosmology! The pairing lined up nicely.

And yes, you are correct, the earlier work was much more abstract for a couple of reasons. I was really interested in figuring out how these materials could work, but I was also a little distrustful of imagery at the time. I was wary that images could shut down nuance. I want the artwork to operate with multiple layers of meaning. In retrospect, I think that binary is over-simplified and has flawed logic.

eternal return
2015
Chalk and acrylic on panel
16" x 20"

OPP: In eternal return (2015) and eternal return too (2016), you use the repeated image of the ouroboros, a serpent eating its own tail. The symbol shows up in numerous ancient cultures and has associations in several philosophical, mystical and psychological systems of thought. What does it mean to you in the context of contemporary culture?

EW: Supposedly the concept of the ouroboros is represented in some shape or form in most ancient cultures to symbolize cyclical recreations, introspection and self-reflexivity. In earlier drawings, I diagrammed Shapes of the Universe and Shapes of an Expanding Universe because I am fascinated with the Oscillating Universe Theory, in which an expanding universe eventually falls apart, but then provides energy/fuel for a subsequent big-bang. This means that all matter and space is forever expanding, collapsing and expanding again (and answering that tricky question “what was there before the big bang?”). I think it has been disproved or isn’t popular among scientists, but it’s such a comforting metaphor. It’s another example of a language of inquiry stumbling upon the poetic. The ouroboros is a visual representation of an eternal return. When I started drawing them, I wound up personifying them, wondering how does it feel for them to eat their own tails? Are they terrified? Are they excited? Are they gagging?

Hand of Mouth
2016
Metalpoint, gouache and acrylic on panel
11" x 14"

OPP: Tell us about your recent show at Roots & Culture in Chicago.

EW: The show was a two-person show with myself and former Chicago artist Ron Ewert (now Brooklyn-based). We both reference and source imagery from other contexts within our paintings/drawings, and we also both have an interest in sculpture and installation as a meta-context/narrative to prop these two-dimensional objects upon. Ron, for example, creates stripped-down wall frames without drywall, often painting these naked two-by-fours bright colors and hanging his work on the wall-skeletons.

We had a couple of Skype studio-visits and realized that we both like using a sort of lateral-thinking/oblique strategy method of generating ideas. We were collecting images and realizing that a lot of them featured hands or mouths or hands with mouths. That’s how we settled on the title of the show Hand of Mouth, and I think that weird phrase influenced a couple of pieces for both of us.

Faith in Fakes (holodeck)
Mixed media installation.
Dimensions variable.
2016.
Also on view, Ron Ewert painting.

OPP: What new work did you present?

EW:  I featured more of my collage-based work,  as well as some new metal-point drawings. About a year ago, a friend gave me some metal-point tips with the challenge, “you like drawing and weird materials, try these: they’re the Olympics of drawing!” Metal-point pre-dates graphite and lead. When you’re drawing, you’re embedding metal deposits into the surface of the support, which means you cannot erase your marks.

As mentioned earlier, Ron and I both have an interest in installation acting as a meta-context for our two dimensional work. To this end, I created a mock Holodeck to hang paintings in. It’s an installation I’ve wanted to make for a while, and I was fortunate that Roots & Culture allowed me to do that. Anyway: Faith in Fakes (holodeck) makes reference to Star Trek The Next Generation (a show of great importance to a handful of dear friends in my life). It’s a room that creates virtual reality for the crew on Star Trek, and it’s a conceit that was always confusing to me. Here is a crew of people, essentially in a utopian society in which all races are treated equally and peacefully getting along. (The original Star Trek was one of the first network television shows to feature a racially diverse cast.) They are actively bringing PEACE to the galaxy. . . and yet, they need a virtual reality room to escape utopia every now and then? Furthermore: not only are they already in utopia, they’re astronauts (every child’s secret wish)! It’s often how I feel about my studio. I get to exist in this world. . . and yet I still need to escape into my studio to sit in a room alone and make drawings. . .

To see more of Erin's work, please visit erinwashington.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). Most recently, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in March 2016.


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Johnathan Payne

Bound #1
Ballpoint pen and ink pen on paper
6 3/4 in. x 5 1/2 in.
2015

The racialized and gendered body—his body—is the jumping off point for JOHNATHAN PAYNE's performance, sculpture and installation. His performances include rituals that embody endurance, self-investigation, self-care and preparation for facing the world as a human in a particular body. Coming at the same content from another direction, his Constructions—beautiful, airy, fragile curtains, meticulously assembled from shredded, colored printer paper and comic books—and ballpoint pen drawings of dense, wavy lines that evoke human hair explore the body through abstraction and materiality. Johnathan earned his BA in Art in 2012 from Rhodes College, where he was the recipient of the Sally Becker Grinspan Award for Artistic Achievement. His solo exhibitions include New Drawings (2014) at Beige, Accumulations (2013) at InsideOut Gym and DHOOOOOOM! (2011) at Jack Robinson Gallery, all in Memphis. In 2015, he collaborated with photographer D'Angelo Williams on Room to Let, created and exhibited at First Congregational Church in Memphis. He will exhibit new Constructions and collage work at 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair courtesy of Jenkins Johnson Gallery. The fair will take place at Somerset House in London on October 6-9, 2016. Johnathan currently lives in Memphis, Tennessee but will be heading to Yale this fall to pursue his MFA in Painting/Printmaking.

OtherPeoplesPixels: “Intense preoccupations with self-concept, desire, and tribalism [were] the points of departure for” Meet Me Where I’m At (2015), a solo show that included sculpture and performance. The title reads to me as a call away from tribalism, a call to see humans as individuals, not others. Can you say more about how you think about tribalism?

Johnathan Payne: I define tribalism as the organization of individuals who have a deep kinship over a shared culture or commonality. A fraternity, an ethnic or racial group, and a church congregation are examples of tribes to me, and such tribes were catalysts for the conceptualization of the show. I also think about tribalism in relation to time and space, and how people can go in and out of particular tribes depending on those two variables. The show was the outcome of a lot of personal existential questioning. I was beginning to question my positioning in the tribes that I deemed myself a part of but felt somewhat distant to: past and (then) present relationships, the Black/Queer community, and my then live/work space at a church, to name a few. I wanted to examine the isolation I felt as an individual in relation to certain tribes and the difference between identifying as a tribe member and actively participating as one. So, your interpretation of seeing humans as individuals and not (or, interrelation to) others is very spot on.

Partial Self-Portrait
Graphite, ink pen and India ink on paper
12 in. x 12 1/2 in.
2012

OPP: How do self-concept and desire play into, ignite or counteract tribalism?

JP: The past, current, and future self—elements that make up a self-concept—are occasionally at odds with one another. I think this oddity with one’s self is experienced by everyone at some point or another. Usually, I process some of these inner emotions/self schemas by asking myself, “What the fuck are you doing?” or “What were you thinking?” or “Where are you going?” These questions may sound ruminative and self-shaming, but they help me be real with myself and get to the meat of my personal goals and desires. Desire is a double-edged sword for me. I’ve felt the desire to be someone I inherently am not, to be among people whose tribe I don’t have immediate access to or would have to mute or sacrifice an aspect of myself to gain access to. These inner conflicts with certain desires have negatively informed my self-concept, and have brought certain insecurities to the surface in distressful ways. Meet Me Where I’m At ultimately became an attempt to reconcile my relationship with myself, and to see myself unique to the tribes I occupy and the ones I desired to be in.
   
It was important for me to work across disciplines and engage in time-intensive processes to create the work. I was thinking about the body a lot, specifically a racialized and gendered body, my body. I was questioning my relationship to my body and how my body existed in space and how it was being perceived by others. Poly-consciousness is very central to my lived experience, and the show became an opportunity to explore a personal multidimensionality across materials and forms. Mental endurance, positive self-talk and perseverance are all tools I use in my daily life to push through internal drama induced by the external world. Physical fitness seemed like an appropriate vehicle to examine this self-preservation. The home workout excited me because it is rooted in self-care, but also in solitude. There’s comfort in not being seen working out, in not being susceptible to the perceptions of other gym-goers. I wanted to turn all that on its head by doing Tae Bo in a gallery, to conflate the concepts of isolation, self-improvement and the external gaze.

Meet Me Where I'm At
Live performance/installation exhibition at Crosstown Arts (Memphis, TN)
May 8, 2015.

OPP: You did a performance for the same show, in which you performed a series of secular rituals—shaving your beard and hair, doing a Tae Bo video in a gym-mat-shaped ring of tea lights, bathing, and reading floating fortune cookies followed by beer-bonging your own bath water. In the documentation, we can’t see everything that the live viewers saw. What else can you tell us that we may have missed by not seeing this live?

JP: The live performance spanned roughly one and a half hours, start-to-finish. The audience and I were both entrapped in a lot of time together. There were many sounds of feet shuffling, people conversing, and beer and soda cans popping open by mid-performance. With the exception of shaving my head, bathing, and beer-bonging bath water, most of the performance was spent with my back facing the audience. It was a very personal experience for me, and the audience’s experience was secondary to my own. Occasionally, during the duration of the Tae Bo workout, I would stop to drink water from a bottle I placed outside the tea lights. There was a bit of comicality visible to a live audience, specifically when I responded with disbelief to particularly intense exercises. Audience members cheered me on when I got tired, or when I looked like I was really struggling to perform the moves. Eventually, some of the tea lights burned out entirely.

The Tae Bo workout was projected directly onto the wall, so the scale of the video was large. It consumed me, and in a way I had to compete for the audience’s attention, because the Tae Bo video is rather dynamic to watch on its own. In the video, you see Billy Blanks in the foreground a majority of the time. The fitness studio where the video was filmed has a padded red floor, with various signs on the walls. There is a large, diverse group of people participating in the video. Many racial groups, ages, and genders are represented. There are also a variety of fitness levels represented too. But, collectively, everyone looks confident and has a strong physique. The front row contains people who are incredibly fit, and they maintain the pace of Blanks’ commands. The video was produced and distributed in the year 2000, and it definitely feels stylistically and aesthetically dated in that sense. Billy is a very lively figure throughout the video. He is encouraging, uplifting, militant and authoritative, all in one. My body language throughout the performance shifts, particularly during and after the bathing sequence. At that point, I am directly facing the audience and actively engaging with them. It was certainly me at my most vulnerable moment, but also my most powerful moment.

Meet Me Where I'm At
Performance still
2015

OPP: A year later, what do you think about your own performance?

JP: This performance continues to be a lot for me to unpack. I think about my relationship to Billy Blanks and how his projection of Black masculinity is very divergent from my own. My attempt to mirror his appearance and keep pace with him is difficult, unsuccessful and ultimately unnecessary. I find comfort in that “failure,” in that ability to affirm Blackness across a spectrum, detached from competition and a monolithic representation. I still contemplate the line between self-care and self-medication, and my relationships to my past and current self. I continue to ask myself a lot of questions surrounding who I am and how I exist in the world. Ultimately, I think the performance challenged me to relinquish some of the internalizations that impeded me from being able to be my authentic self.

Constructions
Installation view
2015

OPP: In your Constructions (2015-present), made from both shredded comic books and colored printer paper, I’m most interested in the idea of transforming a narrative form into abstraction, even if it is an abstraction that hints at a functional object (a curtain). Can you discuss the two different papers in relation to the forms?

JP: My Constructions series developed from an ongoing interest to appropriate comic books in my work. Since 2011, I have explored the comic image and consider Ray Yoshida and his retrospective at the Sullivan Galleries at SAIC to be one of the most significant moments for me as a visual artist. Seeing the way Yoshida extracted and arranged forms from various comic books into specimen-like formations against spacious white grounds really stuck with me. In my Constructions, I make tapestry-like collages that attempt to evoke the vulnerability, complexity and tactility intrinsic to particular embodied identities. These evocations are manifested through color, pattern, and material. I play with color and pattern in different ways depending on the paper I choose.

When I shred comic book paper, the compositional and formal elements become colorful strips of pixelated, whimsical information. I then play around with these strips, creating patterned designs until I discover one that is compelling enough for me to explore further. Then, I set out to make a large scale artwork. From a distance, there is a formal uniformity to the Constructions made out of comic book paper. Yet, when viewed at an intimate distance, the comic Constructions offer a lot of complexity and detail in relation to color, line, and subject matter. I deconstruct depictions of whiteness, “justice,” heteronormativity, and patriarchy embedded in many comic books. The resulting form is not intended to be a reimagining or response to the original comic narrative. Though a familiarity exists, my goal is to transform the material into something rather unconventional.

I developed a stronger interest to play with color in my work after exploring the art of Black Abstractionists. The work of Alma Thomas, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Odili Donald Odita, Howardina Pindell and Stanley Whitney really resonates with me. So, I began to experiment with colored printer paper. I enjoyed that, similar to comic books, there was already visual information to respond to, though in this instance, it’s just flat, predetermined color. I began to use this paper as a tool to build pattern, tamper with light and shadow, and reference color field paintings and geometric abstractions. I layer warm and cool colors atop one another in an attempt to blend colors and create a visual vibrancy where the two shift rather seamlessly. I consider these particular constructions to be more broadly derivative of paintings. Also, the colored printer paper is usually stronger than the comic book paper, because of its ream weight and it being newer paper most times. So, I find that there’s a greater ability to experiment with surface texture. The surfaces of the colored paper constructions tend to buckle and bend, which reiterates the idea of vulnerable, yet resilient bodies and identities within society. I’m excited to explore both materials more in graduate school, as well as other printed material/archived publications.

Munch (detail)
shredded comic books and adhesive
96 in. x 83 in.
2016

OPP: Tell us about your recent collaboration Room to Let (2015) with photographer D'Angelo Williams. What did you each bring to the project?

JP: D’Angelo’s MFA thesis work titled Beauty Kings stages various black men adorned with a deep burgundy turban standing in isolation within urban and rural landscapes. I was deeply inspired by this work and had the pleasure in participating as a model for him. His thesis work and my studio projects at the time were the catalysts for the show. Following Meet Me Where I’m At, I began working on a series of gestures and drawings that were intended to be somewhat dark in tonality and thematic content, so I wanted to balance that out with a project that was more participatory, colorful and playful. We decided to further investigate portraiture photography and abstract drawing together.

D’Angelo specifically brought a strong background in shooting and editing photographs to the project, and I brought a collaborative painting and drawing background. We both desired to explore color, identity and abstraction using space, material, fabrics and textiles and willing participants. We shot the photographs at First Congregational Church in Memphis, where I lived and worked as an events coordinator and a hostel resident assistant—the church runs an international traveler’s hostel called Pilgrim House. We borrowed linens and blankets from the hostel and asked guests if they wanted to pose for us. Initially, I was hesitant to ask strangers to participate. We would both approach someone, explain the themes and ideas surrounding the photos, and ask if they were interested. To my surprise, a lot of people expressed interest, and for some, it was a significant highlight of their time in Memphis. 

Rochelle on Southside Roof
Digital print
22 in. x 17 in.
2015

OPP: What surprises emerged during the process?

JP: We worked together to drape the fabrics over the guests, making formal decisions based on the specific locations in the building and the personalities of each model. What struck me early in our project was how beautiful these fabrics looked adorned on the models. These were sheets and blankets that I’d spent a year interacting with as a staff member—washing, folding, cleaning—and I’d given them no particular mind and ascribed absolutely zero value to them. But, in reality, there was a lot of power inherent in them. That power was invisible to me, and the project really encouraged me to search for meaning where it’s (perceivably) least expected. We shot the photographs in various spaces within the church and made collaborative drawings and one shaped painting in my studio, which was also located inside the church. We exhibited the work in one of the rooms we photographed in, and opened the exhibition to churchgoers, hostel guests  and friends. It was wonderful to witness so many different people engaging with the art.

Room to Let really informed my interest to explore color, tactility, materiality and abstraction, and how all those elements can represent embodied identities. Working with D’Angelo was incredibly affirming, and I found comfort where we overlapped as artists and individuals.

Untitled (Jungle)
Acrylic paint, India ink, ballpoint pen, and permanent marker on paper
2015

OPP: In your most recent video performance Training Session (2015), you do forward rolls on a small gym mat over and over again, wearing a T-shirt that says Up Against the Wall Mother Fucker. What are you training for?

JP: I am training for sustained self-preservation against the systems within society that wish to destroy me. In Training Session, I wanted to portray a pro-Black political sentiment through embodiment, text and the urban environment. I had finished reading Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and was thinking a lot about the vulnerability inherently attached to the Black body. How, at any point, it can be extinguished and how that threat of extinction can induce an internalized violence that is both protective and self-destructive. Coates writes, “. . . this is your country. . . this is your world. . . this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.” That line really resonated with me as I strove to determine what being free in my own Black body looked like. I wanted to show myself struggling in a repetitive act, that danced the line between external and internal influencers. That in-between is a rich space to me.

I also wanted to connect this performance with a Black Power narrative. The line on the shirt is a quote from Amiri Baraka’s poem Black People. In the poem, Baraka affirms the need for Black people to make their own world by any means necessary, including violence onto white people. The poem goes:

You can't steal nothing from a white man, he's already stole it he owes you everything you want, even his life. All the stores will open if you say the magic words. The magic words are: Up against the wall motherfucker! this is a stick up... We must make our own world, man, our own world, and we can not do this unless the white man is dead. Let's get together and kill him my man.

Though I’m not a violent person, I wanted to incorporate the theme of a racial-political uprising, but on the individual level. I wore the shirt in the performance to evoke the aggressive, combative tone in the poem. I paired this loaded text with a repetitive action—the somersault, a rudimental gymnastics technique—that hinted at notions of personal development, amateurism and innocence. I also wore a wrestling ear-guard to reinforce the idea of combat sport, but also to hint to a potential opponent. Though in reality they are many in number, two “opponents” depicted in the video include the hard, overgrown externalized world around me, as well as the internalized shackles that impede me from nurturing a radically Black identity.

Training Session
Filmed October 11, 2015 in Memphis, TN.
Documentation courtesy of David Bergen.

OPP: Training Session, which was made last October, took on renewed relevance two weeks ago, with the police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. . .

JP: The recent police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and the shooting of Dallas and Baton Rouge police officers are tragic and continuous reminders of the difficult reality that is existing in a Black body in America. It’s horrible to think that images of Black people have been constructed in ways beyond our own imagining or control and that these constructions ignite such brutality and violence onto us. In her book Citizen, Claudia Rankine speaks to a particular anger: “the anger built up through experience and quotidian struggles against dehumanization every brown or black person lives simply because of skin color.” I’ve heard this anger be referred to as Black Rage, and I see a connection between it and the internalized fear I mentioned earlier. I empathize entirely with these emotions and understand the root causes behind their extreme, outward manifestations. I also am able to confront my particular vantage point, which is from a place of privilege. I understand that the way I maintain and/or channel my emotions is unique to my experience. I haven't always been the most comfortable affirming my Blackness or confronting racism in the past, but I'm unpacking that suppression in my life right now. I think all of this is visible in Training Session.

To see more of Johnathan's work, please visit johnathanpayne.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). Most recently, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in March 2016.



OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Edra Soto

Graft, 2013 - ongoing
Architectural intervention at Cuchifritos Gallery + Project Space
Wood or adhesive

Influenced by her upbringing in Puerto Rico, EDRA SOTO explores the cultural, symbolic and historical meanings of vernacular patterns and objects. Her projects often have multiple iterations and require audience-participation to be truly activated; participants read the newspapers at the rejas-adorned "bus stops" in GRAFT, play dominoes in Dominodomino (2015) or consume pineapple upside-down cake in The Wedding Cake Project (2009-ongoing). By merging research with autobiography and audience-participation, she reveals the intersection of the individual with the collective. Edra earned her MFA at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2000. She's also an alum of Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Beta-Local in Puerto Rico, and most recently the Robert Rauschenberg Residency. Her numerous 2016 exhibitions include There was no joy in the brilliance of sunshine at Efrain Lopez Gallery (Chicago), Relocating Techniques at Corner (Chicago) and the Elmhurst Art Museum Biennial: Chicago Statement (Elmhurst, Illinois). In August 2016, her work will be included in Poor and Needy: The Great Poor Farm Experiment IIX, curated by Lise Haller Baggesen and Yvette Brackmanin. Along with her husband Dan Sullivan, Edra runs The Franklin, an outdoor project space in Chicago. Her GRAFT project will be featured at the Western Avenue stop on the train line to O’Hare Airport in Chicago, where she lives and works.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Pattern and ornamentation are major players in your practice. How do you think about them, how do you use them and what would you like to add to the conversation around them?

Edra Soto: I think about patterns as markers of specific cultures. Nowadays, I cannot look at a pattern without wondering about its place of origin, and if appropriated, how it has been appropriated. Perhaps these are the most frustrating times, were there are no boundaries for what it’s being consumed. Going to retail establishments and seeing patterns used indiscriminately is somewhat disconcerting. Like any other mark or gestural representation, patterns have owners and places of origin.

My architectural intervention GRAFT presents representations of rejas (fence in Spanish) patterns that come from Puerto Rican domestic architecture. I create architectural interventions rather than turning them into sculptural objects in order to preserve the integrity of those patters. This way, I avoid turning them into some kind of merchandise with a commercial destination or retail value. In my pretend gesture, I symbolically transplant a portion of the Puerto Rican visual landscape into American territory, as if I was playing the role of the settler. Puerto Rican middle class cement houses and rejas pattern designers were presumed to be the creation of slaves brought to Puerto Rico by the Spanish conquistadors in the 1500s. An essay titled Comparative + Studies based on hypothesis, The African influence in the built-up Environment of Puerto Rico, author Jorge Ortiz Colom, attributes authorship of the fractal patterns to African slaves from the the republic of Ghana that were brought to Puerto Rico for free labor. The patterns are associated with the Adinkras visual symbols created by the Ashanty region in West Africa.

The rampant inner racism in the Caribbean makes me think that it is possible that there’s no populous knowledge of the origins the rejas because of racial discrimination. Spanish architecture is something that people can talk about and that is studied in high school; the rejas on the other hand are not a part of that roster of things we get to learn in high school. You have to be an artist or a scholar, go into research to learn about the African influence in domestic architecture. To me, this is a true motivator that gives value to these important piece of domestic architecture that defines Puerto Rican’s visual landscape.

Graft, 2013 - ongoing 
Architectural intervention at Terrain exhibitions
Wood or adhesive

OPP: Does recontextualizing the rejas from Puerto Rico in mainland U.S. cities ever run the risk of misrepresenting? Do you ever fear the contemporary cultural default to see the patterns as a surface instead of a language?

ES: Yes, it does run that risk. It is up to me to inform through my work the best way I can. I believe in these patterns because they provide an easy entrance to deeper issues of race and class. The hybridization that the patterns have already gone through makes them more relevant in relation to popular visual language (or visual access). They are already inserted in the commercial market. It is up to me to inform viewers about their origin through critical thinking and conceptual analysis. To this point, the extension of GRAFT invites writers from various disciplines (architecture, history, sociology, politics, poetry) to explore the rejas through their respective fields. Other extensions of GRAFT are in the works. This project becomes more and more fascinating to me as time goes by. It takes me time to learn about the projects I undertake. Through lots of reflection, research and conversations I have found motivation and inspiration to continue the course of GRAFT.

Say Everything
Installation view
2014

OPP: Can you talk about your use of fans in the Tropicalamerican installations and Say Everything? Besides their practical function of moving air in the space to activate the hanging flags, what other symbolic, conceptual or formal functions do they serve?

ES: Say Everything responds to a personal experience in an outdoor setting. I was fortunate to attend the Robert Rauschenberg residency earlier that year and develop most of the work of Say Everything there. I tried to recreate my outdoor experience in the domestic gallery space. I took in consideration the interior architecture and decorative elements of the domestic space and assign roles to the various objects / elements that I included in my installation. A series of flags titled Tropicalamerican, embody the natural environment. In the middle of the room, in portrait position, they try to resemble trees; a series of chairs upholstered with beach towels resembles four legged animals; the fans represented the wind and animated the space with movement. It was a colorful and playful reverse role play: artificial versus natural environment.

from Tropicalamerican III

OPP: The clay spirals from Figures (2013-ongoing) have been exhibited on shelves with fluorescent light, on a circular slab of concrete, underneath a staircase, and on what looks to be a domestic tchotchke shelf. Can you talk about the flexibility of installation in this project?

ES: Perhaps opposite in its intention, I think of Figures as my response to the commercial market. What triggered my interest in Figures was the idea of making an object that comes out of a single coil. The coil is the most basic shape in building a ceramic form. The coil is the starter of something that possibly will be functional. I was teaching high school art at that time, and teaching a skill always opened up an opportunity to create something. This was one of those opportunities. I had never worked with air dry clay before. It’s a technological miracle: truly easy to work with, very clean and possible indestructible. My focus was to create an object that resembles a shell. Shells are protectors of organisms. Closer to home, they are popularly seen as Caribbean souvenirs. Displays are interesting because they can alter the connotation of the object, changing it from mass-produced to an artifact, from an archival object to one of spiritual connotations. I think about display forms as the providers of the environment we want to create for the work we make.

Figures
2013 - ongoing
Air dry clay

OPP: You recently co-curated—with Josue PellotPresent Standard for the Chicago Cultural Center. The show featured 25 contemporary, US-based Latinx artists. It was fantastic and received a lot of press. And The Franklin is now a staple Chicago venue. Tell us about your first experiences as a curator.

ES: When I was a student in Puerto Rico, I was obsessed with the idea of bringing different disciplines together into my work. I was studying at a conservative college where painting and sculpture were the validated forms of art. Performance and installation were too advanced at that time. After my first year at SAIC in Chicago, I developed the confidence to explore various disciplines in a single project. The I Love Chicago Project was my first multidisciplinary installation project. I invited friends who were musicians and  performance and sound artists to perform in my SAIC studio. I was also very curious about what other artists were making. While walking around SAIC artists’ studios, I started putting together ideas and associating their respective projects, to the point of feeling convinced that they will speak to a greater audience if they were together in one single space. This led me to my first curatorial project titled Glam Salon at the Student Union Gallery (SUG), a somewhat neglected space in a very desirable spot on campus, right in between the School and the Museum of the Art Institute. The SUG was not popular at the time (not sure why), and I saw that as an opportunity to remind other students of what is available to them. Michael X Ryan was the professor at that time in charge of this space, and I will always be grateful for his support and excitement for my project. He was very serious and intimidating to me, but very supportive to students.

The Franklin consolidates many attempts, many sculptural and performance projects that intended to bring different disciplines and audiences to a singular space or situation. The Franklin also allows me to give visibility and space to the communities of artists that need it, and it's an opportunity for me to showcase work by artists or curators that I have met throughout the years. One great thing about The Franklin is that it is at my home, a place I truly love. It makes things easier.

It's Been A Very Good Year, 2016
Installation
Painted fragments on paper

OPP: What’s challenging about balancing the roles of curator and artist? What’s beneficial?

ES: The greatest challenge of curating while maintaining your career is time. Managing how much time things take in the making, the networking, the organizing departments. . . it is difficult to balance. As long as it feels that it comes from a real place to me, I will pursue it. Being organized doesn’t come naturally to me. At some point I realized that I will be my own administrator and that in order to make things work I need to be organized. Providing artists opportunities for exposure allows me to balance my career, which at many times feels so self-centered.

To see more of Edra's work, please visit edrasoto.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). Most recently, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in March 2016.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Justin Morgan Kennedy

Swine is Divine
2016

Artist and educator JUSTIN MORGAN KENNEDY examines overlooked and dismissed places, resources and objects collected from both urban and rural environments. Whether in a concrete cast of a a rural Shenandoah deer path or an irregular, grid of found upholstery and imported mums, he hopes to draw our attention to what we do and don't value about our human habitats. Morgan earned his BA in Studio Art from George Mason University in 1997 and his MFA in Sculpture from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2000. He has had solo exhibitions at Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, where he was an Artist-in-Residence, in 2003 (Omaha, Nebraska) and the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts in 2008 (Wilmington, Delaware). In 2010, he was also an Artist-in-Residence at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center Arts Industry Residency. Most recently, he finished a collaborative piece called World Table with Workingman Collective at the Bascom Center for Visual Arts in Highlands, North Carolina. Morgan is an Assistant Professor of Sculpture Western Carolina University at and has relocated to Asheville, North Carolina.

OtherPeoplesPixels: “I am continually discovering the connections between ego, form and context.” Can you expand on this quote from your statement: what kinds of connections have you discovered?

Justin Morgan Kennedy: I have always been interested in the effects objects have in our understanding of place, time, memory and our consciousness as living entities. I have often questioned the potential influence of dreams on our waking lives and vice versa. What roles do memories and dreams play, and how do they contribute to a relationship between humans and their environs?

In some West African cultures, if one dreams of a memorable encounter with a stranger or lover, the dreamer will wake and render a carving of the person as a wood statue. By doing this, the dreamer hopes the new sculpture will act as a signifier and produce more dream encounters. Seeing a real world representation should incite further lucid dream encounters with this person. I personally connect with this philosophy, and it poses further questions about the role tangible form plays in our understanding of the seen and unseen world. To me tangible form and concept are linked. They inform one another. The African dream doll rite for me solidifies that objects or forms in our real waking life can inform the ethereal distant world we go during our sleep cycle—signifier and signified.  Objects and the physical dance to render or act as a bridge between the subconscious world and our waking life. I myself have had several dreams where I realized I was dreaming, woke up and drew the objects from my dreams. . . then made them.

Movement
Steel banding riveted together, wire
7 x 6 x 30ft

OPP: I’m curious about your choice of the word habitat that is in some titles and in your statement. What connotations does habitat have for you, as opposed to space, place or environment?

JMK: Websters defines habitat as:
1a :  the place or environment where a plant or animal naturally or normally lives and grows
b :  the typical place of residence of a person or a group
c :  a housing for a controlled physical environment in which people can live under surrounding, inhospitable conditions (as under the sea)
 2:  the place where something is commonly found

I like to explore the definitions of words, but at the same time see beyond their assigned meanings, especially since words are living and often take on new meanings. Habitat is about one’s experience in a particle place or environ for temporary or set periods of time. No single environ is permanent for any one culture, people or person. Time or a particular point in time (memory) should always be considered. Space, place, environ, and habitat all talk of context, but like a layer cake, they do so with greater degrees of complexity. 


Swine is Divine
2016
Wall compilation
20ft X 35ft

OPP: Could you talk about your use of live plants and upholstery in installations like Swine is Divine and Fleur #3-Delmarva and Fleur #2 Columbian Gold-Kieffer?

JMK: I am interested in the language of materials and their link to social stratification or hierarchy. Objects and materials have meaning and multiple associations. They tell stories and refer to certain human social systems. All the materials in these pieces come from specific urban contexts: Baltimore, DC or Milwaukee. I wanted to create a different take on how landscape is portrayed in art, and I aim to get the viewer to re-question their set value system.

Swine is Divine is a reflection of Milwaukee’s social diversity and social problems. Posh folks live on the northside; poor and working class people live on the south. There are industrial areas, forests popping up from the decay and segregated communities. I include paintings of pines trees not painted by me, but rather bought from ebay. I like the statement it presents: we live in a world where artifice rules, so we should use the system and make it part of the content. Also the pine trees represent fast growth, since old growth hardwoods were cut down in order to grow conifers to meet our nation’s paper demand. I also include weeds grown in a custom Victorian bowl and another with big box shop perennials. We value these purchased, mass grown flowering plants and have disdain for weeds like dandelion or clovers. Yet the weeds, which we often pay to remove, have much more uses outside the aesthetic role of their box shop competitors: as food, dye and medicine. They also attract wildlife and are often drought resistant.

Columbian Gold-Keifer grew out of my interest in adding color to my work. I thought to use something living instead of paint. Flowers have color, presence, and often require attentiveness to thrive; paint falls short in this respect. I thought of my youth working for my dad in Washington DC, selling flowers on the street corners. All the flowers we sold came from Columbia. I always thought flowers were so beautiful, but a luxury. People buy them for this reason, but behind the beauty lies hard work and a system of indentured servitude—sweat shops to a degree. I sought to explore this, so I put $500 worth of chrysanthemums in soda bottles collected from the trash cans at a local college campus. The bottles get reused but also revalued. Questions of value and perception are a constant theme in what I do.

Fleur #3-Delmarva
2007
Upholstery, period textiles, acquired paintings, steel, light, lino floor tiles, 500 imported Columbian Fiji Mums.
15ft x 20ft


OPP: Tell us about your experience of La Guerra de Acqua (2011/12), in which you carried 80 lbs of water for 12 kilometers through the Italian countryside. What was the impetus for this project?

JMK: In 2011, I was teaching sculpture in Italy. I had been there before as a young traveler and had many strong memories of a place where good food and lifestyle were highly valued. On my 2011 visit, I noticed one particular change. People no longer used glass bottles for water or beverages. Italy was one of the last holdouts of tradition in my eyes , but like America, they had made the switch to easy and disposable plastic. At the same time, it was summer in Tuscany and hot. I had made several local inquiries about swimming in one of the nearby lakes as I did in my native Virginia. I was told that locals don’t swim in lakes; that only the barbarians—like the Germani—do. Being of barbarian, Scottish decent, I relished in being a part of this lower social stratification. I realized that between these two observations a project was present and needed to be explored.

For me, being in tune or in balance with my surroundings is the utmost pursuit. The use of plastic beverage containers has greatly increased in my lifetime and as a result, our waterways have been polluted with plastic BPA polymers. So much so that plastic polymers are now classified as natural because they are found in nearly all our natural bodies of water. So the switch to cheap and easy has had a heavy price. Water is key to all life and should be used and treated with respect. Glass is heavy. It breaks, but it has nearly no negative effect on water’s make up, and the bottles can be reused time and time again if treated with care. Swimming or interfacing physically with nature helps to reinforce our relationship with it. Allowing an outdated, Roman-like mindset of judging outside cultures is ridiculous. Crotona, where I was living, is a mountain top walled Etruscan city 1000 feet above the shores of Lago Trasimeno where the barbarian Hannibal destroyed a Roman army of 80,000 men with 30,000 men and a handful of elephants.

La Guerra de Acqua
2011

OPP: Did you encounter people along the way? What happened when you reached your destination?

JMK: My idea was to go to the lake with 30 reclaimed, plastic water bottles (collected daily from a local restaurant) and a homemade backpack. I filled them with lake water to bring to the residents of Cortona. Since they would not go to the lake themselves, I would bring the lake to them. The 80 pounds of water was attached to a backpack and wired to my body. The goal was to place all the water in a large bowl in the main plaza for locals to dip their feet in. I began a day-long, 12 kilometer journey up a mountain to the town’s main plaza. People who saw me leave earlier that morning and return in the evening asked what I was doing. I responded “I am bringing the lake to the people.” 

It was so physically challenging—I really damaged my body—that just getting back to town with the water was a goal in itself. I believe the use of absurd amounts of labor can create a powerful, statement—romantic, but also sincere. In the end, I liked the fact that the water remained in the reused, 1-liter plastic water bottles that I collected. I displayed them in the local gallery along with a wall of images documenting the journey. I wanted to give value to the lake’s water, the discarded plastic water bottles and the romantic yet defeatist expenditure of labor that linked everything together. I hoped the viewers would come to question the reason for such a journey and see an absurd commitment to nature through sweat and physicality. The whole performance was  gesture to ignite a dialogue or conversation about that which we should regard highly.


Milwaukee Brown
2014

OPP: You’ve done several projects in which you cast outdoor spaces—Milwaukee Brown and Fascimile— to be brought into the gallery. Can you talk about the particular spaces you chose to highlight and recontextualize in the gallery?

JMK: Both projects parallel one another in terms of meaning. I am interested in reality versus illusion and how we as humans often fall back on assumptions for guidance. We grow up in particular habitats. We understand these landscapes through a combination of individual experience and teachings from stories. Most of us have never been down a manhole cover into the sewers that lie beneath, but based off movies, media and books we expect to find a series of concrete tunnels, with a stream of water, trash and the occasional rodent passing through. What if I could play with this presumption or expectation and put another particular landscape where it should not be, using the materials, process and languages associated with this new context?

Facsimile sought to reconstruct within a gallery context a rural Shenandoah deer path using typical construction materials found in interiour architecture like concrete or tiles. But instead of being flat flooring, it undulates in elevation and is a cast deer path from the Virginia countryside where I am from. So it’s half country, half urban (or human). It highlights one distant location—not important to most—by being isolated within the white cube gallery, which has great power in providing an intimate relationship with all that is placed within it.

Milwaukee Brown, still in-progress, attempts to make visible that which is hardly ever noticed, almost completely ignored. The Brownfield—representing urban blight and the causality of industry—is plot of land where no one can build because of industrial hazards once produced there. How can I take that which we do not want to see and make it not only visible, but also beautiful? This questioning of value lies at the heart of my work.

To see more of Morgan's work, please visit justinmorgankennedy.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). Most recently, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in March 2016.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Gwendolyn Zabicki

Erotic Puzzle
oil on canvas
16in x 20in
2016

GWENDOLYN ZABICKI's representational paintings recall the long history of still life and genre painting. But her contemporary subjects—wrapped presents, the lit windows of urban buildings seen from ground level at night and construction workers—highlight an empathetic yearning. They are opportunities to imagine what we can't see, what we don't have access to, and to care what's there. Gwendolyn earned her BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2005 and her MFA from University of Illinois at Chicago in 2012. She's been an Artist-in-Residence at Vermont Studio Center (2013) and at Lillstreet Art Center (2012) in Chicago. She's exhibited widely throughout Chicagoland, including Visitation Rites III (2015) at The Franklin, Cool and Dark (2014) at Comfort Station, Emmett Kerrigan and Gwendolyn Zabicki (2014), a two-person show curated by Melody Saraniti as part of the TRIGGER Project at Hyde Park Art Center,  and solo show Present Paintings (2015) at Riverside Art Center. In the fall of 2016, her work will be included in New Business, a group show at Hyde Park Art Center. Gwendolyn lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your Present Paintings, which “are meant to be given away as gifts to strangers,” instead of sold, emphasize the process of giving, not the having that follows. And yet they are still paintings, which are arguably the most sellable art objects. Can a painting ever side-step commodification entirely?

Gwendolyn Zabicki: Paintings are very sellable art objects, but no one I know makes a living selling their art. Everyone does something else, like teaching or arts administration, that pays the bills. I think most artists are used to the fact that their art isn't going to make them rich, but they do it because they love it. My painting is no different. Painting can never side step commodification entirely, but nothing can. Land art and performance art—art forms that were never meant to be commodified—have been documented and that documentation is what is sold on the market.

Anne Harris (Gift on Wool Coat with Pink Satin Lining)
oil on canvas
20in x 24in
2014

OPP: I recognize many of the names in the titles as fellow Chicago artists—Patrick Q Quilao (Three Black Gifts with Bow), Anne Harris (Gift on Wool Coat with Pink Satin Lining) and Karen Azarnia (Yellow Gift), for example. Were these paintings intended for these artists upon creation, and do you imagine what is in the box, even if you don’t tell the recipient?

GZ: Some of the boxes had real gifts in them—books, shoes, board games—and some of the boxes were empty. I chose boxes that had pleasing sizes and heft and that went well with the wrapping paper I wanted to use. I made the paintings without anyone specific in mind. Last year, I had a show called Present Paintings at the Riverside Arts Center. At the show, there was a sign up sheet that read:

After the close of Present Paintings, the paintings in this series will be given away at random to attendees of this exhibition. If you would like to be considered, please sign below. If you are selected to receive a painting you must agree to the following conditions:

1)This painting cannot be bought, sold, or bartered in the future. It can be re-gifted.
2) We (you and the artist) will be linked in a fiduciary relationship. You (the recipient) will be bound in an ethical relationship of trust and friendship with me (the artist), taking care of this painting indefinitely. Examples of our friendship may include: invitations to sibling weddings, texts, dinner parties, Christmas card exchanges, etc to be carried out in perpetuity.
Note: this is not a mailing list.

Amusement, boredom, fatigue in the face of a man at a performance of Ed Parzygnat, the Polish Elvis
oil on canvas
30in x 31 1/2in
2016

OPP: “At the core of all my work is the fear that plagues many Millennials, the fear of missing out (on potential friends, on experiences).” Why do you think FOMO is stronger for Millennials than others? How does this fear register in your portraits of near-strangers and Night Paintings?

GZ: My parents are baby boomers and living in their cultural wake, I've spent such an enormous amount of time trying to catch up with the music, books, movies, political history, and art produced by their generation. And it's so easy to do now with the internet. You can just stay inside all day and eat cookie dough and watch Mahogany or Johhny Guitar. Or you can fall into a Wikipedia k-hole and spend an afternoon reading about the inevitable heat death of the universe or scumbag Republican strategist Lee Atwater. You will never ever catch up with all of the interesting ideas and people out there; for me that is wonderful and tremendously sad. Looking in someone's window at night is a reminder of that. You can see this person and you'd probably like them if you knew them, but you'll never know them. All you know is that they exist and you've missed them.

Gym People
oil on canvas
24in. x 32in.
2015

OPP: I read the Night Paintings (2011-2015) as fundamentally empathetic, not voyeuristic, despite all the looking into windows. I think of long, directionless walks I’ve taken through Chicago, wondering about the lives of others and appreciating the idiosyncrasy of whatever is visible through the windows. Is this my own lens or would you call yourself an empathetic painter?

GZ: Your take is right. They are more wistful than prurient. My paintings need other people to exist, and I need other people. Painting is a very solitary practice, but I don't like to be by myself. I've been doing a lot of portraits lately, and it's really just like hanging out. I go the the sitter’s house, and we pick out something cute for them to wear, and then we usually eat or drink something. And then we think about poses and what to include in the background. It's collaborative, and it's social.

I am glad that there is such a social element to being an artist, that every Friday and Saturday I can go to an art opening and see all my friends there. I also get a lot of joy from teaching. My students are so much fun to be around, and I feel so energized after spending time with them. Movies about isolation or outer space are like my personal hell.

Roofers
oil on canvas
24in. x 36in.
2013

OPP: You are also a skilled interviewer and have interviewed numerous painters for figureground.org. If you were interviewing yourself, what question would you ask? And the answer, please.

GZ: I was asked two very simple questions recently, but they are ones that everyone should think about. The questions were: What was the first piece of art that resonated with you? And when did you know you wanted to be an artist (and why)?

So the first piece of art that really mattered to me was an advertisement on the side of a carton of Dole brand Pineapple-Orange-Banana juice. My parents used to buy it, and it would sit on the table during breakfast when I was a kid. I had been to museums and I had seen important, iconic artwork, but I couldn't relate to any of that. It just seemed like museums were full of pictures of naked people fighting. So back to the juice carton. This advertisement on the juice carton was for a promotional contest. You could win a pair of baseball tickets if you sent in the UPC code on the bottom of the carton. The advertisement showed a grandfather and a grandson at a baseball game. The grandfather was holding a baseball mitt up into the air like he was going to catch a fly ball and the look on his face was of pure joy. He was in ecstasy. The grandson next to him was maybe five years old and not as good at faking emotion. He looked not upset, but a little bit bored and not nearly as thrilled as his grandfather. I looked at this image every day for weeks and I thought, oh my god, this moment that I am seeing is the moment just before the grandson says some awful, nasty thing to his grandfather. I am seeing the moment before he stabs him in the heart and says, "I'm bored. Baseball is stupid." I thought maybe the grandfather couldn't afford baseball tickets and only got them because he won them and that he wanted to share this special thing with his ungrateful grandson. This could play out in two ways. The best thing would be if they both forgot this moment, like it never happened. If the grandson remembered someday what he did, by the time he was old enough to apologize, his grandfather would be dead.

I was about ten or twelve years old at that time, and I had said nasty things to my mom. At that age I was embarrassed to be seen with her, not because of anything she did, but I was embarrassed by everything, to be seen at all. I snapped at her once in the grocery store for buying generic butter. We did not have a lot of money at the time and the generic packaging was so awful back then. I was ashamed to be poor and I was ashamed to be ashamed. All of this, this entire narrative was contained in that image on the juice carton, in the subtle expression on that young boy's face. This picture was devastating. I had to turn it away. This image was really my first deep read of anything. Because it sat on the table every morning, I was in a place to analyze it. When I was a little bit older, I learned that there was a whole profession of people who made images and who studied them and obsessed over them. So being an artist was a natural fit for a sensitive baby like myself.

To see more of Gwendolyn's work, please visit gwendolynzabicki.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). Most recently, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in March 2016.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Marcelyn Bennett Carpenter

Turn
Elastic
2013

The stark, monochrome lines of MARCELYN BENNETT CARPENTER’s interactive, elastic installations are visually reminiscent of Minimalist sculpture. But these formal qualities belie the material qualities of flexibility and resilience. Her work entices viewers to become embodied participants, placing the sense of touch on par with the culturally-privileged sense of sight. Even her recent hand-woven drawings destabilize our habitual reliance on the visual by interrupting the image—a conceptual representation—with the tangible line of the warp. After earning a BA in Philosophy (Wheaton College, 1994) and a BFA in Drawing and Painting (University of Colorado at Denver, 1999),  Marcelyn went on to earn her MFA in Fiber from Cranbrook Academy of Art (Michigan, 2003). Recent exhibitions include Extreme Fibers (2016) at the Muskegon Museum of Art in Michigan and Touch, Touch, Touch (2015) at Arrowmont Gallery in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Her work has recently been featured in Essay’d, an online series of short essays that documents Detroit artists actively working around the city during this perplexing time of simultaneous ruin and generation. Her work is currently on view in Please Touch at the Target Gallery at the Torpedo Factory (Alexandria, Virgina) until July 7, 2016. Marcelyn lives and works in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Elastic plays a large role in your practice and shows up in so many different projects, including Snap, Tensions and various interactive installations. What was the first piece that used elastic?

Marcelyn Bennett Carpenter: During grad school at Cranbrook, I used elastic in an installation called Pinch Pots, in which I suspended little porcelain pots from elastic lines. I weighted the pots with sand and scented oil. People were encouraged to enter into the installation and play with the pots dangling on elastic. There were so many lines and pots that the pots jumped all over and would crash into the floor or into other pots. The sand sprayed out and the pots slowly were destroyed, but the elastic recovered. The sand and the broken pots were stepped on, creating sound and sensation on the feet. It was a really satisfying experience of destruction and discovery all at once. This interaction allowed for more of the senses to come into play, engaging the body more fully with the work.

Tensions: Yellow, Red, Blue
Elastic, Paper, Porcelain, felt, cotton, lead
60' x 20' x 20'
2016

OPP: What have you learned about this material over the years?

MBC: Elastic is the perfect material for creating physical art work that you can feel. . . art that you touch and play with. Its main function is to move with the body. It responds to your movements, your action, and then it recovers. It holds a variety of tensions until it is released and returns back to its original form. 

I love elastic. I love how, like many textiles, we are using it almost 24/7. Our underwear, our bra straps, our pajamas, our swimming suits, our exercise clothing, our pants, skirts, hair ties all stay with us because of elastic’s ability to respond and hold tight while our bodies are constantly moving through space throughout the day. It is really hard to break elastic.

fitting: Coral #2
Elastic
2009

OPP: Can you talk about interactivity versus performance with your elastic installations? You’ve allowed for both.

MBC: I am still learning and experimenting with interactivity, performance and even non-interaction. There are many possibilities for how the work can behave in the world. I knew the work could lend itself to rigorous interactions with dancers, so when opportunities arose to collaborate, I took them. The only way to find out was to research it  and try it.

I see interaction more as the audience playing with the work. This exists when viewers physically handle the work or when they simply move around it. When someone looks up, bends down, or cranes the neck for a different view, they are moving with the work. They are physically engaged. When they dare to touch the work and manipulate it with their hands or body, I have gotten to a whole other area of the brain for them. The more sensations the work gives them, the richer the aesthetic experience, and the more they will remember, think and feel about the work.  



Three Loves
Elastic
10' x 5' x 18'
2005

OPP: I assume Pick-ups are meant to picked up by the viewer. How difficult or easy is it to get viewers to overcome the convention of not touching art?

MBC: I have always thought of getting people to touch the work as a design problem. How can I get the object to inherently communicate to the viewer to touch it. Fiber and ceramics lend themselves to touch naturally, and those are the main materials I work in. Half the battle is won. But the socialization to not touch in a gallery or museum is pretty strong, so often I resort to giving permission to touch on the signage. 

Luckily, I have been involved in two shows lately where all the work in the show was intended to be touchable. The title of the exhibitions were Touch, Touch, Touch and Please Touch.  I also curated a show called Handle with Care. This was a great way to go about it, and the spirit in the gallery is just terrific when people are playing and exploring art in this way.

There are other design problems: How do I allow for touch to happen and protect the work from damage? Do I control the way a viewer touches the work? Or do I allow for the destruction of the work through the interaction like in the wear and tear in my Pinch Pot installation. I have had an installation totally destroyed by dancers who didn’t understand the work’s limitations. In retrospect, I would have insisted on more practice time with the work before the performance. But work does get damaged, and I often struggle with whether I should fix it or should I let its disintegration be a part of it.

Tablescape
Porcelain, Stretch netting, and glass
24" x 48" x 40"
2015

OPP: Is it harder with small objects than installations?

MBC: For me, the large scale installations are more satisfying because they are more open-ended and engage the whole body, but the smaller works like the Pick Ups and Snaps! are fun for the fingers and create a lot of visual pleasure too! I also don’t underestimate what the imagination can fill in. One reaction I often get from the Pick Ups is that people want to taste them! It is much better for them to imagine the taste than to actually taste stretch netting and porcelain!

Tamarack (detail)
Handwoven Drawing
4' x 6'
2015



OPP: I see a formal connection between the warp of your hand-woven drawings and the taut vertical lines in Tensions and various interactive elastic installations. But the weavings are so static and discreet compared to the other projects, at least for the viewer. Is there an underlying conceptual thread between these two seemingly disparate bodies of work?

MBC: I think you hit the nail on the head. It’s all about the warp! I came to weaving after I had been creating my interactive installations for many years. I teach weaving and fiber arts full time at the Kingswood Weaving Studio at Cranbrook Schools. The verticality of the warp and the tension held by the loom were visually the same as my elastic installations! I quickly became immersed in figuring out how weaving could be integrated into my own work. My BFA is in drawing and painting, so I have been playing with how can I bring a more spontaneous, quick way of drawing and almost graffiti effect into weaving. Nothing in weaving is quick, but I found the handwoven drawings to be quicker and super satisfying for me. I am coordinating all these elements: the drawing, the string, the colors, the density of the strings. Once it is off the loom, I work back into the surface of the handwoven drawing with paint, stickers, and even embroidery. 

These works are pretty new for me; it’s been just a year. I am really intrigued by how I can draw on the wood slats, then veil the drawing in the warp. It reminds me of how my installations optically transform and even veil space. The warp does the same to the drawings. The warp appears and disappears, adding incredible depth and texture. If you look at the handwoven drawings from the side, you only see the warp threads and not the drawing. I also suspend the weavings out from the wall and paint the backs in bright colors, so there is a glow that surrounds the piece from behind. Shadows of light through the handwoven drawings are pretty incredible too. Even though space is treated two-dimensionally in the handwoven drawings, it is still about space and maybe that space is more inward than outward.

Abandon: Kingswood Parking Lot
Pencil and ink
42" x 36"
2015

OPP: Please talk about the imagery in your most recent Abandon drawings. Will these become weavings?

MBC: The imagery in Abandon is very similar formally to the psychological Rorschach ink blot tests. I built upon these tests, though, by mirroring abandoned homes and locating the psychology in the home. One of the main indicators of abandonment is the foliage around the house, which takes over almost like a creature or unstoppable “destructive” force reclaiming the space back for nature. I also thought a lot about what it means to walk away from a home, to abandon it. So many memories, relationships, so much dysfunction, as well as familial, social and financial security are held in a house. So many of our psychological experiences occur in the space of a home. I flattened and ghosted out the houses and the surrounding foliage to abstract them and allow for a more imaginative interpretation. 

For the large weavings, I have used only the tree and foliage imagery so far. I really enjoy trying to give a tree personality and employing some of the textile design structures like repeating motifs and borders as in rugs, but these structures are not woven. They are drawn and then woven. Like I said, they are pretty new works, so I won’t eliminate the possibility of the houses working their way into them in the future. 

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). Most recently, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in March 2016.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Brent Fogt

Last Leg (2015), Would It Be Nice? (2015) and Edge of One (2015)

BRENT FOGT courts the unknown in an intuitive exploration of materiality, accumulation and, more recently, the tension between organic and designed form. The foundational gesture in his practice is the slow build-up and evolution of marks, evident in tiny, drawn circles, crochet stitches, cut up bits of paper or unique prints of twigs and leaves. In recent sculptures, he adds the marks of urban life (found furniture fragments) and of nature (fallen branches). Brent earned his BFA in Studio Art with Highest Honors from University of Texas at Austin and his MFA from the University of Michigan. His work has been featured in New American Paintings and Art in America and in solo shows at Terrain Exhibitions (Chicago, 2014), Austin College (Sherman, Texas, 2012), Emory University (Atlanta, 2009) and the Lawndale Art Center (Houston, 2009). He has been an Artist-in-Residence at the I-Park Foundation (2015), the Djerassi Resident Artists Program (2014), Yaddo (2013) and the Vermont Studio Center (2009). Brent has recently reviewed Chicago-based exhibitions for New City and Bad at Sports. He lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Is there a difference between the marks you make and the ones you allow to accumulate?

Brent Fogt: In all of my work, I am driven by the question: what would happen if…? I love to experiment with new processes and techniques, and when I think I’ve been repeating myself, I try to complicate the process or come up with a new one.

There is an organic quality to almost all of the work I create, whether I am making the marks or I am using a process that removes my hand from the equation. When I started making rain drawings, I was amazed at how much they looked like my Circle Drawings. By drawing circles over and over I was imitating natural processes.

What I like about work where my hand is more present—whether it is my collages, drawings or sculptures—is the presence of imperfections. A close inspection of my Circle Drawings, for instance, reveals oblong circles, overlapping lines and ink smears. The rectangular pieces of paper I cut for collages are always slightly askew, and my crochet stitches range from too tight to too loose.

Ink on paper
60 in x 96 in
2006

OPP: What’s more important in your practice: yielding to your materials or controlling them?

BF: I probably yield to my materials more than I try to control them. When I begin working, I don’t know how a final piece is going to look. Rather, I take cues from my materials. With my most recent sculptures, for instance, I think a lot about how pieces fit together. I try many combinations until it becomes obvious that, say, the V shape of this branch perfectly complements the curve of another branch.

With many of my rain drawings, I yield completely to them, not adding any extra marks. With others, I am interested in seeing what would happen if I add my own marks or transform them into collages.

The 4th & 5th Great Awakenings, detail (from inside)
Crocheted cotton
2014

OPP: Can you explain the process for your Rain Drawings and how they feed into your shingled collages?

BF: I actually wrote out the instructions for making rain drawings for some friends who were interested in making them.

a) Place some sturdy paper  in the rain (you’ll be handling it when it’s wet so the paper needs some heft).
b) While the paper gets wet, go foraging for leaves, twigs, pine needles (these work really well), grass, bark, anything organic really.
c) spread the organic materials all over the paper.
d) sprinkle ink over the organic materials and the paper. I like to start with diluted ink (the ink doesn’t have to be black; can be any color) in a 10-to-1 water-to-ink ratio.
e)Sprinkle darker ink, a 4-to-1 water-to-ink ratio.
f) Let the paper dry. If you’re outside, leaving the paper in the grass is a good idea, because air will reach the bottom of the paper and aid in drying.
g) Once the paper is completely dry, brush off all the organic materials, and you’re done!

The process is pure joy, because you never know how they are going to turn out. After a while, however, I started wondering how I could combine this process with a secondary process that was more rooted in geometry. I experimented with cutting up the rain drawings into squares and collaging them, but these first efforts seemed to reference pixels and computer screens, which I did not intend. The best solution I found was to cut the rain drawings into rectangular pieces and arrange them according to value, going from darkest in the middle to lightest on the periphery. This strategy maintained a strict geometry, but visually has more in common with weavings than computer screens. And since I placed each rectangle based strictly on value, it took color decisions out of the equation.

Grove
Ink and other liquid media, paper, gel medium
64 in x 36 in
2013

OPP: Speaking of color, it is generally—with a few exceptions—very sparse in your work. How do you make decisions about color in other projects?

BF: Color is tricky for me because I was diagnosed pretty early on in my life with mild color blindness. As a result, I don’t trust that what I see is what others will see. At times, I avoid color altogether. In my early circle drawings, I used black pens on white paper and nothing else. After a couple of years, however, when I was looking to add another variable into the work, I took tentative steps into color, using blue and green pens and some graphite.

One strategy I have is to use “found color.” With my very latest sculptures, for instance, I photographed the floors of the space where I eventually will be showing them, opened up the photos in Photoshop and used the eyedropper tool to figure out how I could mix them. It turned out that I could make one of the colors with four parts yellow, two parts light blue and one part magenta. I made that color and then mixed it with white gesso. A long time ago, I made paintings in a similar way, finding color combinations in magazines that I liked, then figuring out how to mix them. My assumption is that someone with a better color sense than I have made them, so why not try them.

Installation, Emory University, detail
Crocheted candle wicking
2009

OPP: You’ve been using crochet in your practice since 2008. Earlier installations—at Chicago Artist Coalition, at Dominican University and at Terrain—evoke other-worldly hanging plants or hives. They emphasize the capacity of crochet to grow organically as stitches accumulate. More recently in discrete sculptures like Last Leg or SonRisa, the crochet becomes a skin, bandage or clothing, stretched taut to hold found fragments of discarded furniture and fallen branches together. Can you the discuss this shift and the introduction of hard lines and angles into your visual vocabulary, which used to be dominated by circles and organic lines?

BF: The hanging pieces got bigger and bigger over the years  until I started thinking about them less as otherworldly objects and more as potential containers for people. At an exhibition at the A&D Gallery at Columbia College, in fact, I invited people to get inside of them, and many did. My own experience getting inside the pieces was really interesting. I felt a real sense of calm and felt totally safe and protected.

The next step might have been to make the crocheted sculptures even larger so that multiple people could have gotten inside them. I made lots of sketches and thought I was going to move in this direction, but when I started thinking about how to create more sophisticated substructures to support the larger pieces, I changed my mind. The substructures themselves— the bones of the piece— became more intriguing.

Right around that time, I also started collecting discarded furniture. I began cutting up the furniture and combining it with fallen branches to create armatures for sculptures, playing up the tension between the mass-produced, hard-edged pieces that I was finding and the more organic shapes of the branches. The pieces you mentioned, Last Leg and SonRisa, are two of about five works in this category. As with the earlier, more organic work, I still relied on crochet as a skin to cover the bones or substructure.

The work I have underway in my studio right now represents another shift. I am leaving much more of the bones uncovered, but I am strategically crocheting or wrapping the places where the bones connect as if I were symbolically healing or repairing the sculptures.

The pieces are becoming increasingly vulnerable. They began as fully formed hives, homes, nests and have evolved into sculptures that are increasingly fragmentary, tenuous and fragile.

To see more of Brent's work, please visit brentfogt.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). Most recently, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in March 2016.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Laura Jimenez Galvis

from the series Cast of Characters II: Denial // Revival
Mixed media / Digital photography on cotton paper
33.02 cms. x 48.26 // 13 x 19 in.
2014

Influenced by theatricality and the illusion of the stage, LAURA JIMENEZ GALVIS begins her creative process in natural history and art museums. Initially, she photographs broken and eroded sculptures from antiquity and the fragmented bodies of taxidermied animals. Then, she cuts, folds and creases the prints by hand, transforming them into objects that become performers on her stage. Sometimes they are flattened back into a photographic surface, creating a perceptual illusion; other times they become elements in sculptural installations, revealing the mechanisms of illusion itself. Her practice combines digital and analog processes to transform and evolve decaying and dead fragments into new, living wholes. Laura received her BFA in 2002 from Universidad de Los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia and her MFA in 2015 from Hunter College, City University of New York. In 2015 her work was recently included in Artecámara, ArtBo at the Bogotá International Art Fair and New Work, New York: 1st biennial survey of work by New York City MFA students and recent graduates, and she was included in the Promising Emerging Artists Selection at Christie’s Education, New York. In 2015 she shot the cover for the inaugural issue of The Artist's Institute Magazine, working under the artistic direction of french artist Pierre Huyghe and curator Jenny Jaskey. Laura now lives and in Bogota, Colombia.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What speaks to you about natural history and art museums?

Laura Jimenez Galvis: My parents were professionally and personally involved with the world of theatre. Today, I find myself attracted to a variety of spaces that recall a sense of theatricality and the dramatic: the theatre itself, stage and backstage, the museum, the church, and other archetypal places of contemplation and reverence.

I first began taking photographs in natural history museums while working on projects related to alienation, estrangement and the uncanny. I came across these ideas while researching Melancholy, a term that has been approached from the clinical and mental to the philosophical and the theological. The dioramas found in natural history museums conflate that theatricality with the constant tension between opposing concepts like beauty/morbidity, nature/artifice, liveliness/anodyne or life/death.

Art museums, on the other hand, offer the opportunity to elaborate on the notions of loss, absence and original trauma derived from that initial research on the word melancholia. In art and history museums, one can richly connect the concepts of time and confinement with the material presence of broken parts, slices, chunks, the imprints of time—what I call the injury and the offense—while at the same time thinking of beauty, decay, generation and destruction.

These spaces give me solid and fertile ground to establish a formal and conceptual relationship between a theatrical and reverential universe and that which is inert, damaged or deconstructed, that which was once alive or complete. Transformation and recovery are also at play in this relationship.

from the series Revival of the Stone (and The Mountains Where They Belonged)
Digital photography on silk panel
122 x 183 cms. // 4 x 6 feet
2014

OPP: How does the combination of photography with hands-on, sculptural manipulation feed into your conceptual interests?

LJG: I was initially trained in analog and film photography where I learned all the precepts of the camera, the optics and the chemistry. But later on, through the discovery of digital formats and the implementation of a digital work flow, I found myself in full control of the process from pre- to post-production. I was suddenly able to make a color print without relying on a laboratory. Since there are many stages and layers in my process, it has been helpful to have full control. Through hands-on experimentation and trial and error with different paper supports, I am able to play with scale and dimension in a very immediate process.

There is also a ludic element in the way I work. My mother used to be a puppeteer, so early childhood experiences of puppet-making and origami have been totally influential to my practice as an artist today. Cutting, creasing, folding, gluing lead me to transform the two-dimensional print into a sculptural object that later on will be used as a prop or a character—as it is seen in the series Cast of Characters I and II—on one of my stages.

All this process serves my intention to revive and mutate things, which is inherently illusionistic, just like in a theatre. Everything is possible on the stage, and that’s where the project of transformation finally occurs.

Drama on Stage: The Melancholy of M. (Sections).
Digital photography
112 x 73 cms. // 44 x 29 inches
2013

OPP: Could you talk about flattening and expanding dimensions in the various parts of your process? It appears you go back and forth repeatedly.

LJG: Yes, that expanding takes place not only in the transformation of the flat photo print to a sculptural object, but also in shifts of scale. In the moment I start to fold the prints, they gain a new and autonomous physical presence. Trompe l’oeil and uncanny elements start to emerge. The prints themselves mark future paths for the project; they become a new starting point for what will happen later on, which is often unpredictable and unexpected.

Although the process is playful and ludic, my folding method is logical. I fold along the cracks in the stone, the folds in the drapery and the muscles of the animals and human figures. Then comes the moment when I stop, avoiding the point of exhaustion when the folded piece looses all connection to the initial flat image.

The shifts of size and scale reinforce the illusionistic and theatrical aspects I’m after. A small paper stone made of cracks or animal back muscles becomes a huge mountain. The rocks and natural elements that are small and manageable on my stage become immense in prints that can reach five feet in height. Size is a strict, physical measurement. Scale, however, deals with sense and perception. 

from the series Cast of Characters I
Mixed media / Digital photography on cotton paper
33.02 cms. x 48.26 // 13 x 19 in.
2013

OPP: I'd like to hear about the mountainous bodies in The Anatomy of M.: Sections (2013). What role does illusion play in this body of work in particular?

LJG: In this series illusion served my intention to address estrangement, alienation and the anodyne, connected to melancholy and the uncanny. The series renders a group of strange and timeless landscapes composed directly in the camera by framing fragments of backs of taxidermied animals in natural history museums. Against the museum diorama backdrops , these fragments are reminiscent of mountains, hills, odd and still landscapes. They are unsettling, neither completely familiar nor unfamiliar. The cropping in the camera opened an important path towards fragmentation and abstraction which are visual constants in my work while at the same time marked certain dynamics and strategies for my own further methodology of production, inside and outside the studio. The series title alludes to the homonymous book The Anatomy of Melancholy, a 14th century scholar treatise which rambled exhaustively around the melancholic condition, studying and defining patterns of behaviour even in animals and plants and their alleged experience of it. The abbreviated M. in my case alludes to Mountains, Mammals and of course, Melancholy.

Denial of Loss: The Romance of the Fragment.
Installation view (detail)
Digital photography and photo based paper objects
Dimensions variable
2014

OPP: Could you talk about decay and fragmentation as transformation in your series Denial of Loss: The Romance of the Fragment (2014)? Is titular denial a refutation of loss or a turning-away from it, in the sense of a defense mechanism?

LJG: Ultimately, my fundamental subject matter is transformation and constant, perennial cycles of change. I see change as the passing of time, as generation versus destruction, as beauty or power in fall and decay. Headless and Crippled, in which I used a mobile phone to capture groups of sculptures with their heads or extremities missing, opened the direct path to the production of Denial. In this initial and pivotal exercise, I was drawn to the exact place where the sculpture was fragmented: the imprint of violence or time, the slice and the cut or breaking. It contained a past of completeness and a present that renders an odd, imposing and powerful beauty even in the presence of damage, loss and absence. The first part of the title comes from one of Julia Kristeva’s essays from Black Sun. She draws a parallel between the experience in the melancholic being and the self falling to pieces, a kind of dissociation. But as much as the word denial can make us think of avoidance or of course, negation, in this project it is precisely resilience which overcomes resistance and that self which falls into pieces finds a mechanism of regeneration that finally takes place in Revival of the Stone. All my projects are connected, conveying transition, flow, movement in time and the latent possibility of renewal and emergence into something else.

from the series Headless and Crippled
Digital photography on cotton paper
Original size: 20 x 20 cms. // 7.9 x 7.9 in.
Ongoing

OPP: Tell us about your most recent body of photographs, Cast of Characters II (Denial // Revival).

LJG: I actively incorporate the language of theatre—conceptually, visually and verbally—while at the same time revealing some spare parts and elements of the ‘production’ that sustains the operation of constructing a final scene. Series such as Drama on Stage and Cast of Characters I and II are ongoing. I constantly revisit them, adding either new sets or more characters. In this sense, they will never be fully accomplished. My intention is to account for of some of the moments in the process and the elements that compose them, to invite the spectator behind the curtain while maintaining the mystery that surrounds the uncanny sets. Process—and its discussion—is really important in my practice. Presenting primary elements of what happens in my studio reveals how I think and how I operate. I began the series Cast of Characters II (Denial // Revival) at the very end of 2014, and it has just been complemented with additional deadpan views of figures that I’ve used in past projects and that may return in future projects. These recurrent characters and sets support my rendering of various processes of transformation and change.

To see more of Laura's work, please visit laurajimenezgalvis.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). Most recently, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in March 2016.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Michael Paulus

American Endurance (The Creep)
12 panels, approx 25" by 90" with spacing
2015

Interdisciplinary artist MICHAEL PAULUS works in video, painting drawing and sculpture. From his slow, lulling videos of repetitive phenomena to his pithy, layered drawings of the imagined skeletal systems of well-known cartoon characters, he expresses both awe at the natural world and criticism of the constant human drive to manipulate it. Michael's videos have been screened nationally in Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon; and Austin, Texas and internationally in Taipei, Taiwan; London, England; Banff, Canada and Basel, Switzerland. Most recently, Wind Farm was included in the Gödöllo International Nature Film Festival (2015) in Gödöllo, Hungary. Michael is currently hard at work on a collaborative, multi-media project with Glenna Cole Allee that examines "the ghostly remains of the annexed people and township from the Hanford Reach." In 2015, he exhibited work in Obsidere, curated by MicroClimate Collective in San Francisco and had a solo show called Claimed, Found and Gifted at Oranj Studio in Portland, Oregon where he lives and works.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You work in drawing, sculpture, painting and video. What’s the underlying thread tying together all your work in various media?

Michael Paulus: I’ve never had a very disciplined studio practice, investing in technique and familiarity with a chosen medium. I’m generally restlessness with sticking with one medium. I do recall very much my foundations professor Greg Skinner at Cornish College in Seattle impressing upon me to “choose the medium to suit the vision, not the other way around.” He was a conceptual artist coming out of the post-minimalist 60s.  Actually, I came back to visual art about 15 years ago after burning out on the two-dimensional image and the limitations of illusion, which brought me to sculpture after a couple-year-long hiatus, during which I was more concerned with creating audio compositions. 

The mediums do differ throughout, and the work tends to be motivated by a respect of this natural world, as well as a critical view of the awkward attempts we humans make to define and control it.

Tweety
Fig. 7

OPP: You’ve drawn the imagined skeletons of 22 well-known cartoon characters in Character Study. Does personal fandom play into how you selected your subjects or is it more about the bodies themselves? Can you also talk a bit about the urge to deconstruct childhood icons?

MP: The cartoon skeletons were really an exploration and experiment to deconstruct iconic figures from my childhood. In their day, these characters were stand-ins and figureheads for many. Actually, I never had much interest in comics, and I really do not like the act of drawing, so that project was a bit of a challenge for me. I had the notion to do somewhat literal drawings of their very physical bodies (skeletons in this case) in a kind of medical or devinci-esque rendition and apply a hinged, translucent digital overlay of the flat and colorful cartoon image over the top, intentionally retaining the pixilation and artifacts that came with them when pulling the figures off internet searches. The intent was to have an onion skinning, transparent layer with the drawing underneath, like the anatomy books I paged through as a youngster with the various Mylar layers of circulatory, nervous, cardiovascular systems, till finally one is left with an opaque skeletal system, which cannot be denied.

I chose Charlie Brown and Hello Kitty first, as they were both very iconic and grotesquely distorted from the original human or animal from which they were derived. For the rest of the series I did the same. I retained the general skeletal system of whatever their actual origins were, regardless of how anthropomorphically derivative of a cutesy human they were with speaking mouths and huge eye sockets.

Vertical Migration
HD video
4min, 15 sec.
2014

OPP: It seems you’ve been focusing on video work in the last few years. Videos like Vertical Migration (2014), Wind Farm (2014) and Dip (2013) all have a slow, contemplative quality. To me, they are all about the value of slowing down to look at what we might be missing and the beauty of cyclical repetition. Earlier videos like The Journal of John Magillicutty or: The Time Afforded To One Lucky Enough To Be Living Comfortably (2006) and The Preoccupied Occupant (2009) have all those same qualities plus humor and a little absurdity. Thoughts?  

MP: Well, I suppose I tend to look at this life a bit distanced. Both critical and amazed at what it is all about.  And I certainly like combining contrasts and the marriage of opposing elements,  kind of a ‘more than the sum of the parts’ kind of thing. 

So, yes, there are some outright absurd and comical elements in contrast to and as a kind of veil over the profound. It’s possible that I’m self-consciously masking spiritual leanings I have or constructing a retainer in case I stray too far. I grew up with contrasts in a family of Catholic faith but where science and logic was king. I am conscious of this instinct to manipulate and control the world around us: designed dog breeds, damned rivers, foie gras, binary codes. The cyclical repetition is a result of this constant. I suppose, it’s a kind of a meditative response in the face of absurdity or incomprehension.

General paranoia in our culture and surveillance flavor my recent work. I am currently working on a couple projects examining the paranoid undercurrent. One is a small but ongoing attempt to finish a video where I am matching shot for shot the opening sequence from the ubiquitous movie The Shining. I am matching the locations and the blocking of the movie’s ominous, helicopter eye in the sky intro sequence as it looks down, following the subjects as they wind up the mountain. . . but in this case looking back up at it. 

Another very multi-media project is working with artist Glenna Cole Allee on an interactive piece that examines the ghostly remains of the annexed people and township from the Hanford Reach in what became The Manhattan Project’s plutonium-producing mega-site in the scablands of Washington state—now also the notorious Superfund cleanup site. It’s a large undertaking incorporating massive stills, video, projected audio elements spoken from natives and some sculptural constructions.

Grasping Right and Grasping Left: Hands of Abraham
Watercolor on rag paper
2015

OPP: Please tell us about your most recent body of work Claimed, Found and Gifted. What’s the significance of the blades of grass your drawn versions of the hands on the Lincoln Memorial? Why have you revisited Abraham Lincoln again after a decade?

MP: Well, I was offered an opportunity to exhibit some new work along with existing pieces so I decided to explore where my head was at 10 years prior in a show I did titled The Stars and Abraham. I found myself a bit perplexed in how I had merged the myth and popular vestige of Abraham Lincoln with astrology and its arbitrary symbolism. More to the point, of how they relate in Americana folklore and institutions for the faithful believers in both. I certainly held Mr. Lincoln in high regard since childhood for his virtue and fortitude. Most of this was drilled into children in grade school it seems.

Honestly, it was a bit of an awkward exercise with that association between the two; comparing Lincoln’s vacillation between right and wrong, this and that with the union and slavery. Anyways, I borrowed from Lincoln again. In addition to the cascading stovepipe hats upon pretzels and hotdogs, I inserted blades of very suburban, green grass clenched in the Lincoln memorial hands—just more Americana from a child’s backyard looking up at the sky. And, as a counterpoint to the somewhat austere and critical renditions involving Abraham, I created large, rag-paper fans in full, saturated, color from fabric dye as a celebration of his sensual and feminine counterpart, Mary Todd. . . or, my creation of her into this complement to him.

The exhibition title Claimed, Found and Gifted refers to the idea of American expansionism westward, manifest destiny and eminent domain. One piece, the broken and elongated pop American tchotchke black panther titled American Endurance—(the Creep) is basically the title piece.

Rorschach in loft foyer
96 Blots with designer and artist Trish Grantham.

OPP: Your painted walls resemble wallpaper in their repeated patterns of flowers and Rorschach blots, but each image is uniquely hand painting. Some are the interiors of private homes; others are in bars and restaurants. Did these folks seek you out or did you bid for the jobs? Can you offer any practical advice for artists who want to do commissioned work?

MP: I have been doing work like this for a while. I first began with commercial work in a more corporate environment, designing and building permanent art installations for the offices and conference rooms of a large company.  The patterned “wall paper” painting began really with Angle Face bar in Portland, Oregon, owned by John Taboada and Giovanna Parolari. It’s kind of a tweak on the current trend of wallpaper and repeat patterns, but with an application by hand so that each motif is unique.

Local designer Trish Grantham conceived the Rorschach blots. The Rorschach blot-inspired work I particularly like in that the context—often a residence—plays into the reception of the work. One peripherally ‘feels’ a delicate pattern of flowers surrounding you like conventional wallpaper when entering a space and then, once taking a closer look…
 
My fine art practice and discipline as I said earlier is lacking at times and I consider myself aligned with a design instinct more than I would have appreciated when I was younger. Do I actively search out paid work like this? Not so much. That is a great benefit of the World Wide Web really, in that it is very helpful for individuals dealing in visual images.

To see more of Michael's work, please visit michaelpaulus.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). Most recently, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in March 2016.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Carrie Dickason

Untitled (Grid)
Ink, acrylic, gouache, tape on paper
30" x 22"
2016

CARRIE DICKASON investigates the accumulated, repetitive mark. Through material and technique, she draws a parallel between a constructive accumulation of individual units—blades of grass in a lawn, threads in a woven carpet, knots in a net—and destructive accumulations of post-consumer plastic packaging and unwanted junk mail. Furthering this paradox, the subtractive mark and additive mark are equalized in her recent work with stencils and spray paint. Carrie earned her BFA from Indiana University and her MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art. She has been an Artist-in-Residence at the Corporation of Yaddo (2009) in Saratoga Springs, New York, Santa Fe Art Institute (2010) and has received two full fellowships at Vermont Studio Center (2009 and 2016). Recent solo exhibitions include Industry Practice (2016) at Burlington City Arts Metro Gallery in Burlington, Vermont and Nothing Ever Goes Away... (2016) at Vermont Studio Center, Gallery 2 in Johnson, Vermont. Her work is currently on view in the group show Garden Week until June 4, 2016 at 1708 Gallery in Richmond, Virginia. Carrie is currently living and working as a staff-artist at the Vermont Studio Center, in Johnson, Vermont.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Is there a connotative difference between scavenging, collecting, gathering and accumulating for you? Which process is most important in your practice?

Carrie Dickason: I liken scavenging to hunting, or searching for something specific, which I sometimes do. But collecting, gathering and accumulating, which have similar connotations, are more important processes in my practice. I’m inclined to use materials that pass through my hands on a daily basis. The black foam rubber, for example, comes from an automotive factory where my father works. The vacuum formed plastic packaging used in Family Tree were gathered through the collective efforts of family and friends. Usually I collect the materials myself, accumulating them over time, from places where I’ve worked, including restaurants, an Armenian carpet store and in a small automotive trim shop in Detroit.

I collect, investigate and experiment with the materials until I have enough information to move forward. In all of my work I think about the idea of cultivation, and think of the work as growing and developing into whatever it will become. I’m not always sure where this process will lead. I cut, crumple, stack, fold, and layer materials to explore their physical properties. I liken the process to a kind of gardening or meditative exploration.

Drift 1998-2014
Discarded plastic packaging
10' x 12'
2014

OPP: Have the jobs themselves influenced your art practice beyond the accumulation of materials?

CD: Each job has informed and influenced the development of my artwork, from material palette to the way in which I actually construct the work. Sometimes my studio practice leads me to work a job that then informs my artwork further. For example, I’d been working on the suspended webs for well over a year before I began working in the repair department of an Armenian carpet store, where I collected much of the material in Drift, which came from the plastic packaging protecting rugs during shipping. The processes involved in the repair and reconstruction of the hand-woven carpets translated physically into the development of the suspended webs. Carscape, a tape and paper casting of the interior of my Subaru Legacy Wagon, was made while in residency at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts. Little did I know that I’d find myself working professionally on the interiors of Porsches a few years later. I’d like to return to that project to do a new iteration from discarded leather, vinyl and carpet collected from that job, applying the skills acquired during those five years.

Sprawl 1998-ongoing
Discarded plastic packaging
9' x 10' x 11'
2015

OPP: Tell us about Sprawl (1998-ongoing), a textile web of accumulating discarded plastic packaging, and its variable installation. Why are other pieces—Drift 1998-2014 and Allure 1998-2014—made of the same material and begun at the same time not ongoing?

CD: In 1996 I moved to Florida with work that was made from a combination of paper, marbles, fabric and food packaging that I had gathered from my studio and also while walking to the studio. This work quickly deteriorated in the humid climate of Florida and had to be discarded. I was really disturbed that I’d taken materials that could have been recycled and that I’d basically turned them into trash by combining all of these things together. So I began imposing rules onto my work. The first was to use materials that were not recyclable, and the next was to make the work from only one material, with very few tools. I only needed scissors to cut the plastic, after it was washed.

Sprawl developed as I explored the use of plastic packaging being thrown away in restaurants where I worked in Florida. Packaging is designed to protect and attract, but then it is discarded. I was interested in extending the potential, using the material instead of traditional fiber, as it still maintained its physical integrity, came in a colorful palette and contained a material history. Sprawl was part of the initial experiment of learning what to do with the plastic. I now recognize that evolved as an intuitive response to the Spanish moss hanging on the trees outside my porch. I’ve always been influenced by observations of systems found in nature, particularly plants and minerals. The network of plastic packaging in Sprawl links together remnants of disparate moments ranging from day to day life, family gatherings, birthday parties and materials gleaned from the carpet and automotive industries. Sprawl has continued to shift and change for each exhibition, when I’ve expanded or contracted the form to suit the space, each time adding new materials. 

Drift, Allure and what used to be called Deposition—which has recently been divided into Nothing Ever Goes Away, and A Good Deal More—each had their own rules, mostly specific material constraints. Allure is all food wrappers. Drift is mostly shipping plastic, and Sprawl is a combination of everything. I worked on all of them simultaneously until I began exhibiting them in Columbus, OH in 2002.

Shifting Focus
Installation
2015

OPP: Can you describe your process of stenciling and spray painting in Shifting Focus (2015) and how you arrived at this new way of working?

CD: I began Shifting Focus in June 2015 when I started working at the Vermont Studio Center (VSC). I’d been using mostly post-consumer materials as the primary media in my work for over 15 years and was feeling very stuck in my practice. That mode of working was no longer serving the same purpose that it once did.

At VSC I had a studio visit with Sheila Pepe, who recognized the struggle and basically challenged me to approach my practice from a completely opposite perspective. She suggested I work with materials that were new, rather than discarded, and that I work in a subtractive manner, rather than constructing something large from small parts. I didn’t know what the materials would be, except that they should be large. At the time I was preparing for an upcoming solo show inside Tyree Guyton’s Heidelberg Project in Detroit, and the material change was scary, but became an incredibly insightful challenge, at the perfect moment.

I developed a process of working that alternated between cutting, then spraying through the stencil/drawing, collecting the over-spray on new pieces of paper. I think of it as a generative practice, whereby the steps included in the making of one piece, lead to the creation of the future pieces. I’ve been incorporating the small cuttings from the larger pieces into a series of collages. There are four “parent” pieces that supplied the patterns for the rest of the pieces. Each one of the individuals contains information from at least one of the “parent” pieces.

Shifting Focus
2015

OPP: When I first looked at images of Shifting Focus (2015) online, I thought there were mirrored tiles pasted on the surfaces of huge, hanging pieces of paper or fabric. But in looking closer, I see now that this mirror effect is light shining through cuts in the paper. Does it have this same effect in person? How does this shift in perception relate to the title and the shift in your practice?

CD: I hope that Shifting Focus has a similar effect in person. The openings allow light to pass through the pieces while also revealing the surrounding physical space through the other side of the paper. The pieces are double sided, with a different color scheme and pattern on each side. In some places, the pattern on the opposite side shows through, revealing both sides simultaneously.

The idea of Shifting Focus stems from the term cognitive shifting, used in psychology and meditation as a tool to express the act of choosing what to pay attention to, in order to positively affect emotions and well-being. I think of my older work as a meditation on consumer culture, desire and excess. This new work shares those concerns, despite the change of materials.

When I began working this way, I felt like things moved forward almost immediately. Since most of my work has been repetitive and labor intensive, developing slowly, over long periods of time – literally years—the speed of this process is liberating. It was very interesting to arrive at what felt like a very familiar place so quickly. The combination of spray paint and the cut paper creates a web similar to the discarded plastic material tied together. I was worried that I would lose the meaning of my work, as I shifted materials, but instead I am revisiting what seems familiar and reworking how I’m thinking about it all.

Terra Charta
Handmade paper from junkmail; soil; grass seed; ink; paint; duct tape; astro-turf
22" x 30"
2014

OPP: I recently asked this question to another Featured Artist Antonia A. Perez, and I want to ask it again: Do you think artists have an ethical responsibility not to contribute more waste to the world?

CD: Wow, I just looked at her site and love her work! It’s beautiful and poetic—thanks for referencing it.

Artists do generate a lot of trash. We use materials that require natural resources, in order to exist. We use water. We throw things away. I don’t think that artists have different ethical responsibilities than other humans, unless the work is explicitly about not making waste. I’m most interested in making work that can open a dialog and possibly change the way someone perceives the world. I try to make conscientious decisions with how I work and what I make, but I’m currently using spray paint, which is environmentally and physically disgusting. . . and beautiful.

I used to be more worried about creating waste. I was specifically concerned with wasting water in the process of dyeing fabric and yarn, which is partly why I chose to work with materials that had already served a previous purpose. But now I feel it is unavoidable in this consumerist society to not contribute to waste. We humans have decided to process and develop materials that make our lives easier in some ways, but more complicated in others.

So many people are alive today because of technology, which invariably generates waste. I wear glasses that are made from plastic. I have a silicon patch on my heart. It’s very likely that if I’d been born at another time, or in another place, I wouldn’t have had the privileges that have enabled me to live this comfortably. The process of developing those materials relied on thousands of years of technological development, which has altered our planet and created a lot of waste.

In some ways, this waste is evidence of human development. Packaging is specifically designed to attract a purchase and to protect the contents within. On the other hand, plastic is filling our oceans and beaches and tricking birds and fish into starving to death as they fill their bellies with these tiny floating particles.

While I don’t promote belligerent consumption and waste, I also recognize that waste is unavoidable. But I do think that if everyone, especially Americans, became more conscientious consumers of natural resources, life could be a lot better for more people.

Between Zizek and the Lorax
Junk mail, personal papers,cardboard tubes
variable
2013

OPP: This seems to echo the imagined conflict in Between Zizek and the Lorax (2013), an installation made from accumulated junk mail, personal papers and cardboard tubes. What inspired the title?

CD: Until very recently, most of my titles have emerged after the long process of cultivating a piece. It’s usually quite a struggle for me to commit to a title because it’s really important to me that the work is accessible to a wide audience, and I don’t want to impose a narrative. I’d rather someone connect in their own way, if they are so moved.

However, in the case of Between Zizek and the Lorax, I had recently watched the film An Examined Life (2008), in which there is a provocative segment with Slavoj Zizek. He walks around a garbage transfer station discussing some of the complexities of nature, ecology, ideology and love.

There was one moment in particular when he speaks about how true love includes all of the flaws, imperfections and annoying details that one might not necessarily desire, but accepts. While standing in a giant room full of garbage, he proposes: “And that’s how we should learn to love the world. True ecologists love all of this.”

While researching ideas for titles, I revisited a childhood favorite, Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax. I feel like this imaginary discussion is actually a discussion between my younger self and my getting-older self. Zizek proposes an abstract, nature-less, mathematical universe. At this point, I’m much more excited and inspired by his criticism of the new age ecology movement as ideological, than the ranting, but adorable Lorax. However, I do love nature and stand somewhere in between the two.

To see more of Carrie's work, please visit carriedickason.com.


Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). Most recently, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in March 2016.