OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jenene Nagy

scabland, 2017. latex, plaxiglas

JENENE NAGY's practice includes both architectural interventions built entirely onsite from mundane building materials and the creation of discreet objects and drawings in the studio. In both cases, the work is materially-driven with an emphasis on surface, endurance, labor and line. Jenene earned her BFA from University of Arizona (1998) and her MFA from University of Oregon (2004). She is a 2017 Artist-in-Residence at Pulp and Deckle Papermaking Studio in Portland. She is currently preparing for a solo show at Samuel Freeman Gallery (Los Angeles, fall 2017) and a two-person show with Joshua West Smith at Whitter College’s Greenleaf Galley (Los Angeles, spring 2018). Her work is represented by Samuel Freeman Gallery in Los Angeles, PDX CONTEMPORARY ART in Portland and Michael Warren Contemporary in Denver. Jenene lives and works in Riverside, California.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What materials are you repeatedly drawn to in your installations, sculptures and drawings?

Jenene Nagy: With all of the work I employ low tech materials. The drawings and the objects are mostly all paper and graphite, and the projects are all common building materials (drywall, 2x4s, house paint). I like working with my hands in a very direct way, and I also like to keep it simple. It is exciting to me to see what kind of results I can get with mundane elements. When I first began making the large projects, drywall was easy to work with and only required a box cutter and a drill. I don’t really have patience for a lot of tools and working in this way let the evidence of my hand remain.

Once the projects—Tidal, for example—became large enough to require more people to help me produce them, I became less interested in making them. So I introduced a new material in out/look and cover, which allowed me to still work large but independently. Tyvek is just a big gigantic sheet, so I could move it all around by myself. The projects have been built in venues in different parts of the country but working with common building materials I am able to order everything ahead from a Lowes or Home Depot and have everything delivered to the site as opposed to having to hunt down speciality items.

The Crystal Land, 2014. latex, Mylar, plexigalss, wood.

OPP: Symmetry is very present in installations like scabland (2017) and The Crystal Land (2014). The illusion of symmetry is present in disappear here (2016). But older installations like out/look (2010), Tidal (2010) and s/plit (2008) depend more on asymmetry. Was this a conscious shift or just a symptom of the spaces you were showing in?

JN: Around 2010 my studio practice shifted dramatically. Before that, I was making the onsite projects exclusively and the time in the studio was mostly experimenting with materials and testing colors. After a long residency in Los Angeles, I began using the studio to make discrete images and objects. Since that time the studio practice has become almost ritualized, I think as a result of making the drawings. The drawings are meditative and quite but intense. I think I can attribute the symmetry now present in the projects to the types of compositions I am working on with the drawings but also as a result of a more focused practice.

OPP: Could you talk about the relationship between labor and impermanence in your site-specific installations?

JN: I am interested creating a space for the viewer to have a true experience. I think the fact that the projects are in essence fleeting spaces there becomes a kind of urgency to the viewing. Labor is critical to setting up that urgency.

b1, 2014. graphite on folded paper. 14"x12.5"

OPP: The installations make consistent use of bold solid colors while the drawings traffic in the subtle grey tones of graphite. How does color or lack of color relate to scale in your work?

JN: In the onsite projects, color becomes content. I always think of the projects as landscape paintings. The color is always borrowing from the surrounding area—or in the case of the early work, a remembered space and time—and then hyper-realized, resulting in a punched-up pallet.

In the drawings I don’t think of color or lack of color, I think more about surface and material. With both the projects and the drawings, the viewer is asked to engage physically. They need to move through the installations to fully experience them. In the drawings they need to walk from left to right and close up and further away for the compositions to reveal themselves. I can’t say I am making intentional choices with regard to color pallette and scale but I am interested in seeing how the colors shift our perceptions of the space. In scabland, the brightness of the color really opened the space up, but in Destroyer the color shrank it.

p1, 2013. graphite on paper. 28"x 40"

OPP: Tell us briefly about your history as a curator.

JN: In 2006 I opened Tilt Gallery and Project Space in Portland, Oregon with artist Joshua West Smith. In that program, we exhibited site-responsive projects and works that were difficult to show in a commercial setting. After a two-and-a half-year run, we closed the brick and mortar space and shifted to working as an independent curatorial team under the moniker TILT Export:, which is ongoing. We wanted to give ourselves and the artists we work with more flexibility. As TILT Export: we produce shows in partnership with a variety of venues including commercial galleries, academic institutions and non-profits. We wanted to give Portland artists opportunities to show work in other cities and to bring work from other places back to Portland.

From 2011-12 I was the first Curator-in-Residence for Disjecta Contemporary Art Center and currently serve as Curator and Gallery Director at Los Angeles Valley College. At LAVC my role is different because the exhibition program is in support of our department curriculum. The exhibitions are intended to enhance students’ experience and understanding of contemporary art and to provide a space for critical thinking and the development of observational skills.

object 2, 2014. palladium gilded papier-mâché and concrete. 59" x 16 1/4" x 12 1/2"

OPP: What’s your curatorial process like? How is it different from the way you work as an artist?

JN: I don’t often think of myself as a curator in the traditional sense. I think more of what I do in this role is create opportunities and give artists the support to develop ideas. This in turn becomes a bit of a collaboration then, as opposed to the very solitary way I work in the studio.

OPP: Speaking of the solitary space of the studio, what’s happening in there right now that no one else has seen?

JN: My studio right now has lots and lots of tiny torn paper pieces that are being mounted on paper and then coated with a graphite paint I am making that then gets burnished. I am interested in continuing to push my materials and see what new things can be discovered. In the latest work, the paper becomes the mark as opposed to the mark being drawn.

To see more of Jenene's work, please visit jenenenagy.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor 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 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open on August 11, 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Amjad Faur

The Thing That Hides in Fog, 2017. Dye Sublimation on Aluminum. 42"x 48"

AMJAD FAUR's photographic images are haunting, poetic and can't be trusted. . . at least no more than any other photographic images. He meticulously constructs scenes—usually drawing on the cultural and religious history of the Middle East— which only exist to be captured by his large format camera. Regardless of the geopolitical signifiers and symbolic imagery in each project, his work repeatedly engages with “the inescapable duality and tension between the photograph’s role as the arbiter of record and its inevitable problems as a constructed image.” Amjad earned his BFA in Painting at University of Arkansas in 2003 and his MFA in Photography at University of Oregon in 2005. He is a 2017 Artist Trust Fellow. His solo exhibitions include shows at Archer Gallery, (Vancouver, Washington), The Invisible Hand Gallery (Lawrence, Kansas) and most recently Scythe Across the Night Sky (2017) at PDX CONTEMPORARY ART (Portland, Oregon). He teaches at Evergreen State College in Olymipia, Washington, where he lives.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You work solely with a large format camera. Tell us why.

Amjad Faur: I have long been attracted to the ways in which my materials might have something to say about what I am representing. Growing up—and even now—I wanted to work in special effects for movies. As I began to drift closer to the materials of still photography around 1995, I naturally found myself staging most of the things I was shooting with my Pentax K-1000. While I was never able to work in special effects, I also never relinquished the interest in narrative imagery. In time I found large format cameras, and they seemed like the kind of tool that I had always been looking for.

Today, I use the 8 x 10 camera as a way of thinking about photography’s ostensible use as an empirical form of data while positioned against a much more corroded process of how images almost always fail us. I am moved by the ways in which vast amounts of information can still be rendered as unrecognizable. In fact, this is the tension I constantly seek in my work. 

Winds Will Carry Their Arrows, 2017. Dye Sublimation on Aluminum. 38" x 42"

OPP: That tension resonates with me politically, art-historically and philosophically. In terms of your artistic process, is there also a tension between the experience of taking the picture (observing and capturing the world) and building the sculpture or still life (being an active participant in its physical unfolding)?

AF: The tension you are describing lies at the heart of my relationship to making photographic images. I will be perfectly frank and admit that I don’t look at all that much contemporary photography. This isn’t because I don’t find brilliance or value in contemporary photography, only that I am far more excited by painting—more specifically, early Renaissance painting from Italy and Northern Europe. Part of what I find so moving about this period of painting is just how rewarded the viewer is for sustained looking. My own process in the studio requires weeks or months of preparation for one image. The time required to take the actual photo is 125th of a second. The discrepancy between these timeframes points to just how suspicious I feel about the mechanical/empirical reproduction of the camera. What I am trying to do here is build environments that can only exist as interpreted by a camera. The spaces and objects would never make sense if you were to just look at them in my studio. In this way, the camera is not just an instrument of record, it is a mediator.

Erased Person, 2013. Pigment Print

OPP: Can you talk about traditional Islamic art’s prohibition of representational imagery and how it informs the photographic images you make? What do those only familiar with the history of the Western canon miss about We Who Believe in the Unseen, which is informed by Qur’anic scripture?

AF: Not all of my work is based in Qur’anic scripture, but my approach to images and representation is almost always informed by the history of Islamic art. Sunni art has always held out against using representational imagery (with some exceptions during the late Ottoman period) while Shi’a art folded further into the geographic traditions of West Asia and India. This means Shi’a art has a long tradition of representational imagery. I love this distinction because both Sunni and Shi’a sects share the same cosmology and text in the Qur’an but each has such wildly unique ways of showing this visually.

What has attracted me most to the prohibition of images in my own work (in photography – arguably the most representational form of imagery that currently exists) is the push and pull of the seen and unseen. This is a concept that is taken directly from Qur’anic scripture, but as I have continued to make new bodies of work, I have returned to the question of iconoclasm.

As I watched members of ISIS destroy statues of Mesopotamian gods and goddesses, I began to ask myself what made these statues so dangerous. Furthermore, I was struck by the fact that ISIS was making images of themselves destroying images. This cyclical process of image creation/destruction was actually very compelling to me and I continued to ask what made an image dangerous. I’m not interested in making images that challenge taste or revel in explicit depictions of violence or sexuality. I’m more interested in this notion that images, in and of themselves, can act as a corrupting or insidious force.

The early Jews, Christians and Muslims all feared that the creation of images might challenge the primacy of God or that those who see these images would be seduced into worshipping them as false gods. I think we are in a similar moment in terms of our current relationship to images. While the danger is rarely framed in religious terms, I think the recent conflicts surrounding the confederate flag or statues of Confederate historical figures can help illuminate how sensitive and vulnerable we still are towards images. 

Incomplete Grave, 2006. Toned Silver Gelatin Print.16"x 20"

OPP: What led you to shift into color in your most recent body of work, A Scythe Across the Night Sky?

AF: I had been toying with the idea of making a series in color for several years, and my gallery really encouraged me to finally do it. For this series, I was really looking at the inscrutable nature of deep space photography, as captured by instruments such as the Hubble Telescope, and also thinking a lot about the visceral nature of images as they were being used by ISIS.

I have to say that this shift was one of the most difficult things I have ever done in my creative life. It almost felt like learning an entirely new process – like everything I had come to depend on in photography was now out the window. It was a truly humbling experience and the kind of thing I should force myself into more often.

I don’t know what role color will play in my work as I move forward. It seems so messy to me! Like a wilderness that I have no idea how to get around in. But I love what it did for these particular images and I certainly have no regrets about making the choice to use it.

ATEN. 2017. Dye Sublimation on Aluminum. 38" x 42"

OPP: The images are beautiful! So kudos to you as a color “amateur.” Why was color the right move conceptually for this body of work?

AF: As soon as I knew I wanted to focus on the seductive quality of images as a particular subject matter for this series, I knew I needed to make some kind of gesture in the formal production that would reflect this quality. As I said, my gallery and I had been discussing the possible use of color for a while and it made sense that this could be that gesture. Part of what I was thinking about was this vicious yet opulent reliance on the image that ISIS seemed to so effectively employ. I kept returning to the word scopophilia, or a kind of lustful joy one gets from looking at an image (more commonly associated with pornography or eroticism in images) as a mirrored inversion of the iconoclasm that ISIS was engaging. 

While I have long used formal elegance as a motif in my work, the transition to color made a great deal of sense for this work as a means to more fully explore this quality of image-lust. I knew I wanted to use color in both exaggerated and muted forms, playing off of each other. Color plays such a powerful role in ISIS's image-making. Think of the bright orange jumpsuits of their victims awaiting a brutal death, or the stunning contrast of the executioner's pitch black uniform against the serenity and vastness of the desert landscape behind him. These are powerful and dreadful images, and their colors play a large role in how they operate.

St. Margaret in Mosul, 2017. Dye Sublimation on Aluminum. 38" x 42"

OPP: Do you ever use the camera on your phone? If so, for what?

AF: This is a question I wish I could answer in the form of a long book. I teach at the Evergreen State College, and my students ask me about this a lot. I think the fact that I use an 8 x 10 camera and spend two years making ten photos leaves people with an assumption that I have a natural contempt for something like cell phone cameras. I don’t! I love my camera phone. I use it all the time. But I use it for everyday stuff. Mostly for taking photos of my dog doing cool dog stuff. I also use it to take reference images while I’m walking around in the woods. Sometimes I use it in my studio while I’m building things and setting up photos to see how those objects and spaces flatten out in two dimensions. I also use a crappy, old DSLR to proof the lighting of an image before I shoot the 8 x 10 negative.

Tamam Shud, 2014. Pigment Print

OPP: What are your thoughts on how the accessibility of this technology has affected the medium of photography, both positively and negatively?

AF: I think the accessibility of really nice cameras on billions of cell phones might one day be compared to the moment in 1900 when Kodak introduced the Brownie camera. This was a moment when the traditional gatekeepers of image-making were wiped out. Middle-class families suddenly had the ability to record their everyday lives and bodies in ways that were previously unimaginable. This was the introduction of the “snapshot” and it changed the way we perceived ourselves because suddenly there was an ever-expanding set of visual signifiers that molded our behaviors and expectations, rooted in the mass-market image.

Obviously I don’t know just how the internet and camera phones will ultimately play out in terms of the transformations that might occur socially or culturally, but I have a suspicion that the shift will be understood as radical as the introduction of the snapshot. I think these forms of image production have amplified our narcissism, our sense of self-importance and and helped to further enforce a perception of self-worth that is predicated on appearances. However, I also believe these new forms of image-making and distribution have helped illuminate forms of institutional racism, race-based violence, and other modern horrors that beg for accountability. These new forms are deeply tied to surveillance culture (fulfilling Jeremy Bentham’s theory of the Panopticon), drone warfare, counterinsurgency combat, asymmetrical warfare, terrorism, colonial expansionism, etc. But they are also at the forefront of liberation movements from Palestine to Black Lives Matter.

Many of my students are between the ages of 18 and 25, and they couldn’t care less about using digital photography when they take my photo classes. They crave film. I think this comes from a lifetime spent taking unlimited photographs on tiny devices. These students intuitively recognize the extremely ephemeral nature of these kinds of photographs and I think they are searching for something that offers a more entrenched process of looking. And that is what I encourage my students to embrace: learning to look. We have the ability to create, archive, record and reproduce images at a scale that is difficult to comprehend. I believe what gets lost in this vast ability is the love and joy of looking. If my photographs can help stimulate this process in any way, I would be so very happy.

To see more of Amjad's work, please visit amjadfaur.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor 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 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Meena Hasan

Nape (Fariba at home), 2017. Acrylic on handmade Indian Khadi paper. 37 x 53 inches.

MEENA HASAN paints the texture and patterns on clothing, the places where clothing meets skin and ordinary, transitional moments we all experience with our own bodies. These closely-cropped compositions suggest an intimacy with the present moment and offer viewers the opportunity to contemplate the possibility of universality in many of our everday, individual experiences. Meena earned her B.A. in Studio Art from Oberlin College in 2009 and her MFA in Painting and Printmaking from Yale School of Art in 2013, where she won the Carol Schlosberg Memorial Prize for Painting. In 2010, she was awarded the Terna Prize Affiliated Fellowship at the American Academy in Rome. Recent two-person and solo exhibitions include Meena Hasan's New Place at Violet's Cafe (New York), wallflower frieze at 6BASE (New York) and PoVs at The Peddie School's Mariboe Gallery (New Jersey). She currently has work on view at Left Field Gallery in San Luis Obispo, Caifornia. Meena currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels:  What’s important to you about highlighting everyday experiences in closely-cropped paintings like Getting Out of Bed, Drying Hair and Taking Off Shoes?

Meena Hasan: I first started dealing with the everyday in my work about six years ago. I was searching for a way to open up my subject matter and to present narratives that could be immediately understood and internally and physiologically felt. Dealing with everyday subject matter gave me the opportunity to speak to the idea of a universal humanity, while still locating the work in specific personal and individualized moments. These moments are very private ones. I am interested in the transparency, intimacy and openness that comes from making a private action such as getting out of bed public.

My Point-of-View series, which features compositions of first person perspectives of a figure performing everyday actions, started as in response to the bathroom drawings and paintings by Degas and Bonnard that are powerfully intimate peeks into private, secret moments. They both depict female nudes in the bathroom, and I always thought it was bizarre the way that the women seemed powerless next to the voyeuristic gaze of the artist. Often times their heads are covered, backs are turned, never is the gaze returned. My intention was to turn this dynamic on its head by making my works from a first-person perspective, complicating the gaze as well as the viewing experience.

Getting Up, 2017. Acrylic on handmade Indian Khadi paper. 53 x 32 inches

OPP: What do you hope viewers of your work will experience?

MH: Ultimately, I hope to create an intimate exchange between the viewer and my paintings where he or she bounces back and forth between being the subject of the work, the viewer and the artist. In understanding the paintings’ composition and process, the viewer is forced to imagine their own body within another’s. Using a relatable everyday subject makes it easier for this exchange to happen. It is a very subjective viewing experience that I hope reflects the way we interact with others in the world. I believe that the act of looking at an artwork, the act of scanning a surface for meaning inherently reflects a person’s desire for connection.

Untitled, 2016. Acrylic on panel.

OPP: Are the PoVs and Napes painted from memory or photographs?

MH: The PoVs and Napes are both painted from a composite of a number of iPhone photos, which allows me the distance for reinvention and for my own sensory memory of the subjects to come in. I am the kind of artist who needs a reference point, something to bounce off of and the photographs serve that purpose.

The PoVs are, for the most part, based on photographs of my own body performing everyday rituals. In that sense they are self-portraits. For example, Walking in the Snow was made right after a big snowstorm in 2015 that turned my routine walk to the train into a perilous, icy hike. I wanted to express the comfort I felt inside my own warm coat and the impending cold of my immediate surroundings. The painting is based off of about five different pictures taken from inside my down coat’s hood, looking out at my feet as they gingerly stepped through the ice and snow.

Walking in the Snow, 2015. Acrylic and fabric dye on panel. 58" x 48"

OPP: Are the Napes friends or strangers?

MH: They are all of friends both new and old. They are of women who I know well or have spent ample amounts of time with, and I used my personal experience with them to inform the texture, color and feeling of the painting. They are women who I think are courageous and visionary, who have helped me to form my own personhood and, in this sense, act sort of as extensions of myself. Each Nape is painted from a number of iPhone shots I take while spending time with the person in a space that is important to her such as her home, workplace or neighborhood spot.

Nape (Ala at the Armory), 2016. Acrylic on handmade Indian Khadi paper. 38 x 54 inches.

OPP: What is exciting about this singular, subjective perspective?

MH: I uniformly use the close-crop viewpoint of right behind the subject’s neck, placing the viewer very close to the subject, in an intimate position that ultimately functions as a sort of compressed third person perspective where you are seeing what the subject is seeing but you are also seeing the subject herself. It is a composition borrowed from film noir; there is a mysterious foreshadowing and an intense closeness in these frames. The Napes are quite large actually (about 3’ x 5’), something that doesn’t translate to full effect in reproduction. I love when my work elicits mirrored physical reactions in the people looking at them, and viewers have told me that looking at the Napes makes their own neck hair stand on edge, which I love.

In both the Napes and the PoVs I hope to depict strong, singular, subjective perspectives that are dependent on the viewer. So, although the compositions are very singular, they are also inherently social in that they are made to be looked at: they implicate the viewer because of their first-person perspectives and their zoomed-in presences. I am interested in how the idea of individualism functions in contemporary society, in the status of American individualism and Modernist individualism today. I'm interested in the agency of a single person—given their specific gender, race, sexuality, etc—to question, challenge, reflect and empathize with the world around him or her.

Charulata 12, 2015. Acrylic, oil stick and china marker on embossed paper. 24.25 x 36.5 inches.

OPP: The specificity of substrates seems important to you. You paint and draw on Indian Khadi paper, Okawara paper, mylar, vellum, Tyvek, jute paper. What’s your favorite surface and why?

MH: I don’t think I could pick a favorite surface or material; I use each one for very specific purposes based on their absorbency and flexibility. The surfaces not only determine the process, but also the ultimate effect in texture, color and feeling of the work. For example, the Napes are all done on thick Indian cotton-rag Khadi paper that has an irregular, bumpy edge that holds the close crop, symmetrical composition well. The Khadi paper is also highly absorbent so I can load it up with layer upon layer of color and acrylic until it reaches a tactility that is like skin, and it gives me the opportunity to juxtapose a thin watery stain next to solid, three-dimensional acrylic. Also, because the Khadi is so thick, I can actually cut into the surface, erasing what I’ve painted, creating a three-dimensionality and defining the sharp edges where a material meets a surface.

The 3D paper pieces are made with only Japanese Okawara paper and acrylic paint. The Okawara is a Japanese kuzo paper I found thanks to the artist Ellen Gallagher, who once described it as holding ink the way skin does. It absorbs the ink under its first layer, holding it within itself. It is exceptionally durable, which allows me to really challenge its shape, to crumple it up into a ball and unfold it without damage.

Shoes, 2014. acrylic, ink, fabric dye and Tyvek paper on Japanese Okawara paper. 20" x 15."

OPP: What led to those cut-out, somewhat 3D articles of clothing? They are still flat, non-utilitarian drawings of clothing, but you’ve discarded the rectangular frame.

MH: I have been making paper versions of articles of clothing for the past four years. It is a many-step process, and the series has served as an excellent tandem practice. I work on the 3D paper pieces while working on paintings and drawings as a way to keep me moving in the studio, to keep things fresh and dynamic.

I literally trace the article of clothing’s shape and scale and then do observational drawings from different perspectives like top, side and bottom. Then I cut out the drawings, load them with acrylic medium, dye them in ways that mimic wax-resist techniques like Batik and Shibori. They are painted and re-painted. The final form is determined by the shape of the drawings and the way that everything fits together. I never really know what they will look like until the end, which I love. I think of them as three-dimensional paintings, particularly since they start as flat drawings.

The 3D pieces stay very close to their original form and yet are made only of paper and acrylic. . . even the shoelaces are pure acrylic. The original forms are not only my own clothing or shoes, but also those of my friends, which turns the artworks into portraits. They are often objects borrowed from the artists and curators involved in a given exhibition, adding a collaborative element to each piece. They become a way to mark a specific show, almost memorializing the event and the social dynamic of that event.

Graham's Cowboy Boots, 2016. Acrylic, fabric dye and Okawara paper. overall 12 x 12 x 12 inches.

OPP: You worked for several years in stop motion animation. How did that form serve your conceptual interests? What led you to shift away from it into more conventional drawings and painting forms?

MH: The stop-motion animations are another multi-step, side process that I work on concurrently with my paintings and drawings. I make about one per year, but they aren't all on the website. I think of them as stream-of-consciousness, automatic drawings where the narratives are cyclical and based in material exploration and process.

There is a rhythm and speed to creating a stop-motion animation that I love. It’s a very ritualistic and repetitive process, and I hope for them to ultimately feel like a meditation on the possibility for transformation in material and physicality. Making the animations is very freeing since everything is so impermanent. The process informs my painting and drawing, giving me ideas and the opportunity to discover new applications.

To see more of Meena's work, please visit meenahasan.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor 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 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Zehra Khan

Smoking Cat, 2016. acrylic on paper. 10 x 9 x 8"

ZEHRA KHAN's costumes, sets and performances for video have a childlike style that is self-consciously and intentionally unsophisticated, referencing construction paper sets for grade school plays and homemade Halloween costumes. Her double-sided, paper "quilts" are made from her own "canabalized" paintings and drawings as well as other accumulated paper ephemera. Play, risk-taking and making-do with what's on hand are all defining factors in her practice. Zehra received her MFA from Massachussetts College of Art & Design and is a current participant in the Drawing Center Viewing Program and the deCordova Museum Corporate Lending Program. She has attended numerous art residencies including Yaddo, the Vermont Studio Center, the Contemporary Artists Center, and I-Park. Her work is on view through July 15, 2017 in the group show Relationships at the Riley Strauss Gallery (Wellfleet, Massachussetts). Zehra lives and works in Provincetown, Massachussetts.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What role does play serve in your practice?
 
Zehra Khan: I love play. I try to never feel like I’m working when I’m making art. If the process gets boring, it’s time to make a more risky move. I’ve always found magic in homemade Halloween costumes, theatrical props and mistakes.
 
I like to use materials available on hand: found materials, trash around my studio, and used paper and cardboard. If I work with expensive materials I find myself getting stingy, not wanting to squander a good canvas or expensive photographic print on an idea that’s not perfectly developed.
 
I favor low-tech materials and practices. I love a little surrealism, which leads me to play with scale, proportion and the viewers’ expectations of the space.

Oh Shit Quilt, 2016. acrylic and staples on paper collage, double-sided. 54 x 96." See the other side.

OPP: Tell us about paper textiles like Oh Shit Quilt (2016), Dirty Rotten Teeth (2015) and Charm Quilt (2014). How are these paper works in conversation with the history of handmade textiles?

ZH: I draw on bed sheets and blankets and make paper quilts to further the connection between my art and the corporeal, domestic, and intimate. Working on both sides of a quilt moves the piece from two-dimensional to three-dimensional, from collage to malleable sculpture.
 
My process is heavily inspired by the materials available, repurposing and recycling. I love the ways quilters use fabric scraps from worn-out clothing and trade swatches with friends. I create my paper quilts with a similar process of reusing: by cannibalizing my old paintings, drawings, photographs, elementary school homework, college notes and exhibition postcards.
 
Charm Quilt was inspired by a quilt my great-great-grandmother made; I used the same dimensions and hexagonal pattern she did. While I want to pay homage to the tradition of quilting, I also use techniques which contradict the craft, such as stapling or hot-gluing pieces together. Dirty Rotten Teeth began as a translation of a more traditional braided circle rug into paper; as I glued the pieces together, however, I felt the pattern needed interruption, hence the black “teeth.” I enjoy using rough ‘unladylike’ language and style. Not only does this reflect my personality, but it also breaks from traditional craft making.

Hello Stranger, 2013. mixed-media installation and performance, in collaboration with Tim Winn

OPP: You have a long-term collaboration with artist Tim Winn. Tell us about your work together. What drove your collaboration more, process or content?
 
ZK: I met Tim while completing my MFA from the Mass College of Art & Design low-residency program, which met at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Tim was interested in paper architecture and was building rooms and shacks out of paper. We realized my animal characters could populate and animate the spaces he created.

Our collaboration enabled the creation of larger projects in size and scope. But it was really process that lead us to work together… We were always excited about whatever project the other one was pitching, and working together meant allowing more spontaneity and a loosening up of control over the final piece.

I Only Have Eyes For You, 2010. installation: acrylic on sandpaper, bed sheet, pillow case, and friends. 72 x 324 x 110.”

OPP: Body painting has played a big role in your practice. What is compelling about the body as a canvas?
 
ZK: Painting on friends creates a social and collaborative side to making art. I wanted to break out of my solitary painting practice and engage with people differently in my studio. I always doodled and drew on myself and friends as a way to play and be informal and as an act of trust and affection.

OPP: How has painting on the body affected the drawings and paintings you make on paper and textiles?
 
ZK: Body painting puts immediate constraints on the painting session: work fast, react to the needs of the painted person or environment and embrace the spontaneous. These are reminders to trust my gut, and the process informs my work in every medium.

The Past Comes in Many Forms (backside), 2014. acrylic on comforter, double-sided. 86 x 93." See the other side.


OPP: I’ve noticed a lot of the recurring animals in your work—rats, foxes, weasels and bunnies—are considered vermin. You represent these creatures with dry humor and empathy. Like, vermin. . . they’re just like us! Are these animals allegories for human othering?
 
ZK: Animals evoke fairytales, fables, religious deities and ceremonies. Using animals as protagonists allows for the viewer to distance themselves. My creatures act like humans, with the same habits and foibles. Rats became a particular favorite subject because of the strong reaction they cause in the viewer. I represent them as individuals as opposed to a swarm.

Mr. H, wood and rebar, 9 x 7 x 7', Scotland, April 2017

OPP: What are you working on right now?

ZK: I was recently in Scotland making a 9-foot-tall hare head sculpture out of branches. It was my first time working in wood or on a semi-permanent outdoor sculpture, so I researched weaving techniques and basketry. This inspired a series of bowls and baskets “woven” (glued) out of paper. The largest piece is a 3-foot basket made from a drawing of an elk from 2008. It’s an elk remix. More weaving and mistakes to come.

To see more artwork, check out www.zehrakhan.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor 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 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jeremy R. Brooks

Rim Ware, 2015. (commercial / hobby) ceramic decals, (commercial / blank) porcelain plate. 10.25”L x 1”W x 10.25"H

JEREMY R. BROOKS appropriates, alters and remixes found ceramic and plastic objects, hobbycraft decals and paint-your-own figurines. Whether exploring desire through lushious finishes on benign bunnies and birds or twisting heteronormative ceramic decals into queer narratives filled with wholesome longing, he emphasizes the flexibility of meaning available in preexisting objects. Jeremy received his BFA in art & design from Grand Valley State University & his MFA in ceramic art from Alfred University. He received the emerging artist award by the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) and was a guest of honor at the XXIst International Biennial of Vallauris, France. He has has solo exhibitions at The Clay Studio in Philadelphia, Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts in Grand Rapids, Michigan and Kalamazoo College. Jeremy’s work is currently included in Within the Margins | Contemporary Ceramics at Penland Gallery (Penland, North Carolina) and GENDERED: An Inclusive Art Show at the Mint Museum Uptown (Charlotte, North Carolina). Jeremy is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of ceramics at Southern Illinois University and resides in Carbondale, Illinois.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Appropriation and juxtaposition are repeated strategies in your work, especially in the Arrangements and the Cockamamies. Tell us about your instinct to create new objects and images out of existing ones. Have you always worked this way?

Jeremy Brooks: This method of creation grew out of my research as a mold maker, learning to make molds by studying the parting lines of cast objects—artifacts of where pieces of a mold meet. I appropriated objects to create new molds from and assembled castings from different molds together. This is how my Arrangements series initially started. Slowly this series became less about the virtuosity of mold making and more about the juxtaposition of found parts through an eclectic sensibility. Today I only make molds if the work specifically calls for it. Otherwise, I’m content incorporating found objects directly into my work.

For the Cockamamies series, I collage different cockamamie decals with one another to create work. A cockamamie is a specific type of ceramic hobby decal that was marketed toward children by decal manufacturers. Although the meaning has changed today, the etymology of this term originates from the ceramic field, which is something that I find fascinating and enjoy sharing with others. Cartoon characters, for instance, are common motifs in cockamamie decals. By itself, cockamamie imagery is quite kitschy, which can present a challenge in how to use it in an artful way. Collaging different parts together is a solution that is playful and thoughtful, while embracing the unique history of cockamamie decals.

French Fry Field, 2012. Found objects.

OPP: Do you think about your work in relation to Camp?

JB: Maybe not the final work per se, but I can see certain aspects of my studio practice in relation to camp. The homepage to my website presents a portrait of me appropriating a set of praying hands from a thrift store and exaggerating the distance between them. I would characterize this gesture, changing the act of prayer into the pedestrian act of exaggerating, as camp. My intervention with the found object was performative and that gesture is essentially what drove my research forward to realize the artwork A Fish Story in 2011. I tend to think about aspects of satire, parody and pastiche more frequently in my work than camp.

The (Close) Marriage License, 2016. Found objects, epoxy. 9.0”L x 3.5”W x 9.0

OPP: In recent years, you’ve been mashing-up commercially-available ceramic decals on plates, creating queer narratives out of distinctly heteronormative imagery—Norman Rockwell’s The Marriage License, for example—from another era. These works draw attention to a time when gay men needed the hanky code to find each other. Some of my gay male students in their early 20s don’t even know what it is, which I suppose is a great thing because they have never lived in a world where they have to be in the closet. How do the decal works speak to different generations?

JB: Gay culture has a covert past, and I try to illuminate aspects of this history through my work. I’m currently making work to celebrate gay male culture and sexuality through pastiches assembled from Rockwellian sources. My aim is to subvert Rockwell’s heteronormative narratives and depict a queer experience. By altering the figures and scenarios portrayed through Rockwellian memorabilia, I invite the viewer to consider the narratives of gay americana during eras that were at odds with such identified otherness. I feel fortunate to live during a time where I can live an open life out of the closet, but in order to do so I find it important to recognize the past struggles LGBTQ people have endured to get us where we are today.

A Passing Interest, 2016. Found objects, epoxy.

OPP: Tell us about the origin of I Can Feel The Distance (2015), a series of 10 plates, which I imagine installed all together as one horizon line. Unlike the other decal works, the tone of this series is poetically emotional, less humorous.

JB: I was presented with an opportunity to exhibit work upon a long blank wall at the Creative Arts Workshop in New Haven, Connecticut, so I created these plates to punctuate that space.  The work I put together for this exhibition was inspired by a plate I made the previous year titled I’m Not Touching You (Distance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder). This plate was about love and self control; wanting to touch someone close to you, but showing restraint. After making this piece, I was curious about exploring a variation of this narrative where the distance between the figures was further exaggerated. The exhibition space at the Creative Arts Workshop presented an opportunity to explore this new scenario. I Can Feel the Distance ended up being about the landscape of a long distance relationship, which I know from personal experience.

I'm Not Touching You (Distance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder), 2014. (commercial / hobby) ceramic decals, (commercial / blank) porcelain plate. 10.25”L x 1”W x 10.25”H

OPP: Can the plates be separated or must they be sold and exhibited as a set?

JB: I see the plates with landscape-specific imagery as components of an unfixed set, and I see the two plates with figures on them as punctuation necessary to establish the structure of the narrative. The narrative content is about being physically separated, and the individuality of the plates echo that for me. They do not need to be exhibited as a complete set, however the figures are necessary for me to establish the narrative.  I made more than the ten plates that were exhibited at the Creative Arts Workshop, and I have exhibited this series with different quantities and arrangements of landscape specific plates since they were first shown in 2015. In each variation however, the two plates with figures were a necessary part of an ever-changing composition.

I Can Feel The Distance (2/10), 2015. (commercial / hobby) ceramic decals, (commercial / blank) porcelain plates. 16.5”L x 1.25”W x 11.5”H. Installation dimensions variable.

OPP: You’ve made numerous cute, rounded bunnies hiding in? munching on? grass over the years. Ground (2006), Silverweed (2010) and The March Hare (2015) are just a few. These works stand out from the other works which address queer experience in a variety of ways. Is there a connection?

They are quite different from one another, however my exploration of ceramic decal collage grew out of this research through a sense of parallel play. I often attend ceramic trade shows to source hobby figurines, which is where I first became exposed to ceramic decals. I became curious about using them, so I slowly began to amass a collection of decals. It took me a number of years to figure out a way of working that made sense to me. In 2013, I began subverting the heteronormative narratives portrayed through ceramic decals upon commercial plates, and the work departed from there. So, the relationship between the bunnies and my decal work is that both series came from hobby-craft practices.

Silverweed, 2012. Porcelain, paint. 8”L x 8”W x 4”H

OPP: Can you talk about the variety of surfaces on these bunnies? 

JB: I use figurines from the hobby ceramics genre to explore color and surface. I view this work as a juxtaposition of high and low forms of craft practice through applying finish fetish surfaces to paint-your-own ceramic figurines. When I first started making the bunnies, I was exploring underglaze and fragrant waxes; the grass forms paired with the bunnies were infused with the aroma of freshly cut grass. After working with those materials for a few years, I began exploring a new line of commercially available textured spray paints. Several years later, these paints were discontinued, so I turned my research toward ceramic surfaces that I could formulate on my own. The glazes I am currently using are robust and archival; they look fuzzy, but are rough like sand paper to the touch. I enjoy experimenting to discover different surface solutions, and although I am uncertain what surface l will turn toward next, I remain open to new possibilities and change.

To see more of Jeremy's work, please visit klai-body.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor 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 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Mary Grisey

Just When I Unearthed the Instinct to Soften, 2016

Transformation, both planned and accidental, is central to MARY GRISEY's installations. Working with rust as a dye, hand-woven sisal, linen and raffia and collapsed ceramic vessels, she embraces the unexpectedness of loss and decay. Informed by a metaphysical approach to materials and process, she "reveals the ruin and beauty of both the body and the psyche." Mary earned her BA in Painting and Drawing at Marist College (Poughkeepsie, NY), her BFA in Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and her MFA at York University (Toronto, Canada). Recent solo exhibitions include Cloth Dripping (2016) at Xpace Gallery in Toronto and Sung From the Mouth of Cumae (2015) at Art Gallery of Mississauga, both in Ontario, Canada. She's been an Artist-in-Residence at Artcroft (Carlisle, Kentucky), The Drake Lab: Akin Collective Studio Residency (Toronto) and Vermont Studio Center (Johnson, Vermont). Mary is based in Los Angeles, California.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What is the relationship of construction and deconstruction in your work? Are these simply processes or also content?

Mary Grisey: The relationship between construction and deconstruction comes from my interest in ruination, ephemerality and how my materials shift and change through destructive and manipulative processes. Through the cycle of loss and decay, something becomes new, and I believe there is true beauty in that.

The process of making my art becomes the content. Creating informs the work, and the meaning and content of what I’m doing develops as I make. Because of this, I never really know the title of my exhibitions until the work is 80% finished. Sometimes I never know how to fully talk about a show, until a few years later will it make sense. Working in an intuitive way has always been my strength, as if channeling some higher source, and then funneling it into the work.

For Leth, 2014. Hand-dyed sisal, rusted steel and sound. 8' x 8' x 4.' Photo credit: Thomas Blanchard

OPP: You have a pretty consistent neutral color palette of browns, blacks and reds. What influences your palette? What do you seek to evoke with it?

MG: The colors I am drawn to are informed by my interest in our natural world. Lately I have been very interested in the alchemy of rust as a dye and the exploration of ideas like weathering and time by experimenting with transformative dyes. Specifically I am fascinated with simulating water lines and traces of sediment that have been left behind. I search for abandoned rusted metal objects outside and apply them to my handwoven surfaces, creating imprints from the rust. I love experimentation-driven processes that allow contingency and accidents into the work, and I am discovering the limitations of my work by learning how to transgress these boundaries.

The use of black in my work represents weight and heaviness. It’s a mood or emotion I want to convey when I am feeling intense. Red shows up in my work from my interest with the “insides” of a body and the fragility of what makes us human. Red can represent blood or flesh, the inner-workings of the body, which we all share, and what makes us vulnerable. My color palette always returns to the confrontation with our mortality.

Cloth Dripping, 2016. Handwoven & hand-dyed linen, rope, cheesecloth, rust, acid dye, black tea, black walnut, terra cotta and sound. Photo credit: Yuula Benivolski

OPP: Tell us about the ceramic forms—which I read as some kind of holy water fonts—the sound that emerges from them in both Sung from the Mouth of Cumae (2015) and Cloth Dripping (2016).

MG: The ceramic forms emerged in my work as a way to both house the sound I am creating and to represent a feeling of sanctuary, shrine and holiness. I wanted the sounds to emerge from an unseen place as if coming up from the depth of a well, like haunted echoes.

The contrast and duality between hard and soft surfaces of the fired clay and the malleable woven fibers fascinate me. When clay is soft, you can mold it into whatever mass or form you desire, very similar to fiber. But when the clay is fired or when the fiber is woven, it is fixed in its permanent state. I love the potential of the materials before they become permanent in their set form.

The ceramic sculptures themselves are geological in form, evoking the mouth of the cave of Cumae or the Leucadian Cliffs. My way of arriving at their end form came as a sort of happy accident in the studio. Before one of the stacked pieces was fired in the kiln, it collapsed. I totally misjudged that it was fully dry—I can be quite impatient sometimes!—and attempted to move it. When it collapsed, it fell into this super beautiful, ruinous shape. So I decided that was going to be my clay-building process moving forward, which is interesting because I am following the habitual process of construction and deconstruction that I use in my textile work.

Sung From the Mouth of Cumae, 2015. Handwoven & hand-dyed linen and raffia, earthenware, sound. Dye is made from bleach and found rusty objects. Sound credit: In collaboration with Brooke Manning. Photo credit: Toni Hafkenscheid

OPP: Aside from making large-scale sculptural installation, you also have a line of jewelry called Meta. In conventional thinking, jewelry and sculpture are very different—one is art and one is craft. But both have a distinct relationship to the body. How is the body present in each of these practices?

MG: The exploration of the body is a continual force in my art practice. I think the reason why I stepped away from painting (when I first started making art years ago), was because the viewer couldn’t engage with it like installation or sculptural work. My most recent installation consisted of a series of handwoven panels hung from the ceiling in a semicircle. By suspending the work from the ceiling, it delineates space—from inside to outside—creating boundaries that define the environment, allowing the viewer to experience the work by walking inside and around it. I wanted to create architectural yet bodily pieces, in which the monumental size of this work demands one’s attention so you are confronted with it.

Right now I am thinking about the vulnerable body, as my materials—rope, dyes and rubber latex—ooze down my woven structures like intestines and skin. There is an emotional link to the liminality of inside and outside, connecting our underlying humanity and showing the sheer vulnerability of a body turned inside out for the viewer to see.

I have always been interested in body adornment and the idea of wearing an object or talisman that holds power. Creating wearable objects shifts my process into a much more limited approach because I have to consider the exact size, shape, and way the piece will lay on the body and how it will feel. Jewelry-making is more technical, whereas my art practice is much more unconscious and free.

Remains of the Ephemeral II, 2014. 30" x 5." Horsehair, hand-dyed cheesecloth and rubber latex. Photo credit: Thomas Blanchard

OPP: Do you see jewelry making as part of your art practice or as a way to earn money by selling accessible/affordable objects?

MG: Jewelry is definitely a more accessible way to make income and for people to enjoy my work, as it is affordable for most. Whether or not to separate the two practices has been a big, burning question of mine for years. I am still slightly unsure. My interest in jewelry-making and art have always ran parallel with one another. I go through stretches of focusing on them separately, but never really together. During one of my critiques in graduate school, I was asked how my art straddles craft and that question really bothered me because I don’t consider my art “craft.” Instead of letting that critique insult me, I really considered it and decided to embrace craft within my practice. My weaves are becoming much tighter, my dye process is more complex, and I am looking into technique and structure a little closer than before. Lately I have been thinking of combining the two modalities (art and jewelry) as adorning the body with my work during live performance.

Cradling: In Ruins, 2014. Found barn wood, hand-dyed and burned sisal. 6' x 5' x 4.' Photo credit: Thomas Blanchard

OPP: You were featured last year on canadianart.ca, and in a short video in your studio, you mentioned that the best advice you’ve received is that “the work needs to be coming from a place of urgency, and that without urgency, the work is meaningless.” Can you talk more in depth about this urgency?

MG: The whole topic of urgency came to me during a studio visit with a well-known artist in Toronto. I was struggling with a few different concepts in grad school and felt unsure as to which direction to pursue. I was making these really awful plaster casts of my body that were really dark, disembodied and visceral. I was working through various ideas and concepts in the studio that I felt I needed to purge, which brings me back to this concept of urgency—an important and persistent need to release without overanalyzing. Even though I didn’t end up exhibiting these plaster casts, it was important to process these ideas of urgency, otherwise I wouldn’t have arrived to the work I am creating now. Urgency is about honesty and intuition—to trust that the work is unfolding in a way that will communicate the inner workings of an artist’s unconscious. When an artist is making work strictly to sell or copy, it becomes painfully obvious that the work is coming from a dishonest place and not from deep within. It takes so much courage to make work from a place of urgency.

OPP: What’s urgent for you in your work at this moment?

MG: Right now I am working through some personal demons within my work. Every time I release a new body of work, it becomes more vulnerable. My recent foray into adding sound to my installations has given the work another sensorial element that draws the viewer further into the experience. These sounds are coming from my voice, which is quite vulnerable in itself to “expose” a part of me. In addition to the sound, one can smell the dyes from my textiles, the earth that it was buried under, and maybe the char that it was burned by. The urgency to facilitate in the experience of the viewer’s senses is important to me, so that to engage with my installations is to become a part of it, to get inside it.

To see more of Mary's work, please visit marygrisey.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor 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 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Catherine DeQuattro Nolin

Collected Wisdom, 2015. 16" x 12"

CATHERINE DeQUATTRO NOLIN's lush, opulent interiors are populated with solitary women, domestic pets and wild animals. Her works convey a sense of comfort and contentment in solitude, as well as the presense of longing, fantasy, a desire for escape. Catherine is a self-taught painter, who makes a living selling her work online. Her originals and prints are displayed in private collections throughout North America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Australia. Her paintings have been featured in numerous design publications including Style Magazine Australia, Artisticmoods, Surrounding Magazine and Sasee Magazine. Catherine lives in Andover, Massachussetts, where she works daily in a converted second floor bedroom with high ceilings and great light.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us about your beginnings as a painter. When did you first start painting? 

Catherine DeQuattro Nolin: Well I have always been interested in the visual arts. A family friend noticed I had some talent when I was ten and enrolled me in a class at the Museum of Fine Art in Boston. I was always interested in colors, and I thought about color a lot growing up. I did take a few classes in college, but it wasn't until having my own family that I began painting. I started hand painting t-shirts for fun and selling them to retail shops. As my work got more intricate and in demand, I decided to put my designs down on canvas, and from there I started apply to small local art shows. I had a lot of success at these shows in New England, but once I opened a shop on line everything changed. I liked the idea of not worrying about the weather at art shows and all the hard work involved setting up and the travel. I also had a store retail background as a clothing buyer and was very comfortable setting up shop on the internet.

The Art Teacher, 2017. Acrylics on wood. 12" x 16"

OPP: How did you go about teaching yourself?

CDN: Lots of trial and error. I found all my favorite painters and practiced the way they painted. I have always had a strong sense of composition and color. My work has evolved over the years, and I am still learning something new everyday. At one point, I felt I should switch to oils, but I have come to love Golden acrylics and how they work. Today's acrylics are much higher quality then the acrylics I first started working with.

I work six days a week painting about eight hours a day if possible. I am so grateful to do what I love and make a living at it. I can't wait for Mondays so I can get back into my studio. Perseverance, keeping going, never give up. . . this is what I do. I have a 23-year-old son with profound autism. Everything I ever needed to know about life, my son Samuel has taught me without ever speaking a word.

Off The Grid, 2015. acrylics on wood. 20" x 16"

OPP: When I first encountered your work, I immediately thought of Henri Rousseau’s “portrait landscapes.” Off The Grid (2015) seems to be a direct reference to The Dream (1910), for example. How is your work in conversation with his?

CDN: Many of my customers mention that my work reminds them of Rousseau’s. I am a huge fan of his. His simple way of seeing and painting is in step with how I paint as well. I am self taught, and I believe he was as well. Nature is the best teacher, of course—I love creating lush botanicals and my own version of flowers.

OPP: What other painters influence you and how?

CDN: As a teenager and was introduced to the work of Thomas Mcknight, and that's when I became inspired to paint interior scenes. Obviously, Matisse was a huge influence as well as Vilhelm Hammershoi and the Italian Renaissance.

A Room Of One's Own, 2017. acrylics on wood. 16" x 20"

OPP: There seems to be an even mix of women happily inhabiting their surroundings—as in Interior With Gloria (2017) and Serious Moonlight (2016)—and women turned away from the viewer, looking through windows or exiting the space. I’m thinking of The Moon Will See You Now (2017), Chasing Venus (2016) and Collected Wisdom (2015). I read these as about longing, fantasy, a desire for escape. Your thoughts?

CDN: Yes, you are correct in that I am conveying escape and longing in some of those pieces you've mentioned. Raising my son has been an unbelievably bitter sweet life. I feel that it comes through in my work in subtle ways, but I like the idea of an open narrative, letting the viewer decide. Painting is something I can control. Usually, I decide the outcome. It helps me cope.

Where Are you Going?, 2016. Acrylics on wood. 12" x 16"

OPP: Your paintings are populated with both pets (bunnies, cats and dogs) and wild animals (polar bears, tigers, owls and leopards, to name a few). Are these animals allegorical or literal? Are the "wild" animals also domesticated?

CDN: Yes, woodland creatures would live in my house if possible. Like many artists, I have a deep love and respect for nature and animals and like to paint them in unlikely settings. I love the idea of pairing animals in interiors. I paint a lot of white doves, obviously a sign of peace, and swallows for hope and safety. Gold finches represent the resurrection, which is why they are depicted in renaissance art. Cats, lions, tigers—courage and fearlessness.

Letting Go, 2016. acrylics on wood. 18" x 24"

OPP: I notice a lot of recurring “portals” to other spaces within your interiors. They take the form of open windows, doorways and arches that reveal the outdoors, framed portraits, mirrors and famous paintings, as well as dressing screens painted with landscapes. How do these frames within the frame function in your work?

CDN: Portals, doorways and windows for me are symbols of hope, change and possibility. Again, having a son with special needs has greatly influenced my work in so many ways. Painting has been such a necessary therapy, however cliche that may sound. When I walk into my studio, I leave my worries at the door. Time seems to stand still, and I am taken to a place of peace but where I am in control. I am so grateful for that. The idea of letting go is also a reoccurring theme. 

The Garden Rules, 2016. acrylics on wood. 18" x 24"

OPP: What role does opulence play in your work?

CDN: My work is very conducive to opulence! The objects and home furnishing in a lot of my paintings stem from my childhood: chandeliers, French Provincial furniture, Chinoiserie, pianos, mirrors and statues. As a child, I was always interested in colors and fabric. I have vivid memories of when my parents redecorated our living room. I was maybe 10-years-old, but I was more interested in the swatches and paint chips they were choosing from than in playing outside in my neighborhood! Our house was small, but it was a little palace in my mind. I had forgotten about all that. Thanks for such interesting questions that made me think back.

OPP: And now a practical question. How do you go about selling your work? Any tips for younger artists without gallery representation?

CDN: I started with an Etsy shop in 2009.  It took time to develop a following but now Etsy is so huge I believe it's a lot harder to get noticed. Art shows were a natural first step as well. I never liked or was comfortable with the gallery route. I suppose because I was self-taught, I was a bit intimated by that scene. Things have changed so much with the internet and art that with hard work and perseverance anything is possible.

OPP: You also do commissions. Are they a drag that pays the bills but keeps you from your real work? Or are they a surprising creative challenge?

CDN: I use to do a lot of them, but yes, they kept me from doing what I really wanted to do. But depending on my client, they could also be very exciting. Over the past five years I have developed a wonderful following of clients that are so awesome and supportive. I still do some commissions that interest me.

To see more of Catherine's work, please visit catherinenolin.org.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor 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 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Benjamin Cook

Swimmers, 2016. Acrylic on Paper

Painter BENJAMIN COOK's abstract, mostly colorful works live as physical objects and as images on the Internet. . . and he values both equally. His work is driven by a fascination with the structures, rules and algorithms that guide both our online and offline lives. Ben earned his BFA at the University of Louisville in 2012 and just completed his MFA at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in the Spring of 2017. He is represented by Zg Gallery in Chicago, where he had a solo exhibition titled How Do I Know You in 2016. Other solo shows include Paintings for the Internet at Rochester Museum of Fine Arts in New Hampshire and Image Construction at Project 1612 in Peoria, Illinois. He is a founding member and Co-Director of Say Uncle Project Space, an experimental residency and nomadic exhibition program located in Central Illinois. Ben lives and works in Champaign Urbana, Illinois.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Where do you position yourself in relation to the history of abstraction in Painting? What part of the discourse are you most interested in? What are you adding to the conversation with your work?

Benjamin Cook: I tend to jump back and forth between looking at historical movements in painting and contemporary works by artists on social media. I usually stray away from positioning myself within the typical art historical cannon because I feel it sets up a hierarchy that favors a certain vein of artists. I prefer to look at “nameless” artists making work today with the same level of seriousness that I look at artists in the Washington color school, abstract minimalism, early digital art, etc. I have noticed that artists in the early digital movement often pulled protocols and strategies from abstract artists that came before them, and I see what I do now as the next step in that process. I am pulling from the digital world and making it physical again.



Psychosis in Pink, 2015. Acrylic, Spray Paint, Glitter Paint on Paper

OPP: What influences your work outside of fine art?

BC: I am really interested in social media and the Internet in general. As spaces of analog and digital creep closer and closer together, the structures and rules that guide them tend to affect one another. My research into the reverse flow of information (from digital to analog) propels me to ask questions about how and where we allow these systems to have control over our lives, the decisions we make and our taste. We saw in the last election, the power that platforms like Facebook can have over our lives. I am largely influenced by those powers.



OPP: Tell us about Paintings for the Internet (2014). Are these painted as a gift for the internet as an entity—as in poetic odes—or are they somehow about the internet? 


BC: That series started off as a sort of experiment. I was interested in seeing where I could move images around through figuring out what blogs were influenced by other blogs, what Instagram users followed other users, things like that. I was attempting to deconstruct the algorithm and reveal the structures that played a role in what I was seeing.

Untitled 071315, 2015. Acrylic on Paper

OPP: So, are the paintings then, not the point, but rather a pretense to figure out influence and viewing trends?

BC: It might have started off with that question of trying to figure out the system and its biases, but the physical paintings were always important, too. I tend to see very little distinction between the physical and digital versions of the paintings. Sure, there are things that can only be seen by standing in front of the painting on a wall, but there also things that can only be experienced through a digital interaction. The methods and processes in which the paintings are created come from protocols of both the digital and analog world, and I see the works as a sort of merged experience. You can see this sort of thing happening all over the place. In pop culture, the fidget spinner, a toy that spins in your hand using ball bearings, also exists in countless forms as a smartphone app. Modern finance is so tangled in the digital that being physically closer to the massive computers that buy and sell stocks in fractions of a second can give a company an advantage. In education, supercomputers are able to let humans reach beyond the limits of the human mind to calculate immense equations and sort through incredible amounts of data, creating a system in which the literal facts about the world we know are structured through a  digital lens. To claim that the paintings are just a means of getting at the “trend” or “algorithm” would significantly diminish the importance of the analog within the digital.

Untitled painting for the Internet, 2014. Acrylic on Paper

OPP: And what did you figure out about the trends in the process?

BC: One of the patterns that became apparent through this project was a constant visibility by a certain group of artists. Through the structure of the algorithms, many different publications, blogs, galleries, and institutions that all are functioning under the pretense that their curatorial selections are based upon the judgment of an actual human. Through the consistency of this small group of artists being shown in these spaces and publications, it became apparent that the algorithms are playing a role in curation, helping to decide who “gets in” and who is “left out” though visibility. This all may seem like not that big of a deal, but when you think about the people writing the code, they’re not writing it while thinking about the art world. They’re thinking about engagement in general. This sets up a system that has the potential to favor specific groups of artists and disenfranchise others. The art world already has plenty of problems with excluding the voices of women and people of color, and if the algorithms are not considering that (and they aren’t), it only further exacerbates the problems.

Untitled painting for the Internet, 2014. Acrylic on Paper

OPP: How do you think about the paintings as paintings?

BC: I love them! I have always been a painter at heart. As I said before, I see very little separation between the digital and the analog. This allows me to both work with paint, in all of its physical viscerality, while still asking questions about my place within a digital world. There is always a new way to push paint around, and I always get excited about that process of discovery.


OPP: You have a strong tendency toward multicolored-ness. What does it mean to you to balance colors by using so many? 


BC: Color theory has always been an interest of mine. Each color on a painting is individually mixed and unique. I use that process to further test my boundaries of color knowledge. Placing them all in a grid or right next to each other becomes a sort of game for me. It is an attempt to replicate randomness, which is impossible. I pull a lot of my knowledge of color from the impressionists. I think about combinations of cool, warm, light, dark, and balance colors of the same value but a different hue right next to one another.

Arch, 2015. Graphite on Paper

OPP: In relation to your other work, I read your graphite works as having had the color drained from them. Were you excited or bored by working in grey tones?


BC: The graphite works come in moments of respite. When I find that I am leaning to heavily on the color to make a painting work, It helps for me to eliminate it all together. I can think about the composition and structure in greater depth without any distractions.

Static Structure 3, 2016. Acrylic, Resin on Basketball Net

OPP: How do you think about Static Structures (2016), a series of paintings on deconstructed basketball nets? How is working on the net different or the same as working on canvas or paper?

BC: They each have the ability to utilize structures from digital spaces in the same way. For me, the basketball nets came from how I interact with different social media platforms through the limitations and controls set up by the algorithms and code that structure them. The basketball nets acted as a given set of parameters that I had to work within to manipulate into something new. The element of gravity, through the drips of poured resin, invited an aspect of larger analog controls to the undulating net and froze it in a new form. From that new structure, I find and pull patterns out of the grid. The process of working within the structure to create my own image was largely metaphoric of the task of defining yourself through a digital platform. What images show my best side? What short bio, best promotes how I see myself? These types of questions that seem mostly open ended are actually largely confined to the set of parameters that each platform allows. The images created in the nets of patterned bands of color were defined in a similar fashion, a decision all my own, but severely limited in its possibilities.

To see more of Ben's work, please visit benjamincookart.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor 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 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Alyssa Dennis

Sunset Cycle, 2015. Graphite, pastel, colored pencil, gouache on paper. 24’’x 32’’

ALYSSA DENNIS renders architectural spaces as transparent layers and plexiglass sculptures that reveal that walls are not only physical constructions but also social constructs. Her work exposes the underlying connections between sections of our environments that we conventionally experience as separate, highlighting the way this collective myopia leads to waste of life and resources. Alyssa has a BFA (2003) from Maryland Institute College of Art and an MFA (2011) in Painting from Tulane University. She has also studied Herbal Medicine at Maryland Institute of Integrative Medicine and Mayantuyacu: Center for Study of Medicinal Plants in Peru. In 2016, she founded Common Knowledge "to promote education on wild edible and medicinal plants, found specially within the urban landscape." She has exhibited at Pulse LA, Pulse NYC and Pulse, Miami as well as Fountain Art Fair, and is currently showing work with Causey Contemporary in New York. In 2016, she did a collaborative building project with New Orleans Airlift. Alyssa lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What role does transparency play in your drawings?

Alyssa Dennis: Transparency plays a large role in my work. It’s constantly the point I’m trying to get to. To build the layers as if to represent a kind of schematics. I’m very much interested in systems and feel they play a big a part in the positive and negative aspects of our effect on the planet. It isn’t necessarily about the individual human but our inability to conceptualize and visualize the system. If we could see the part we all play, however small or large, in the system I believe a vast consciousness raising would occur. I think the newer work and my sculpture visualize this transparency more than perhaps the older work.

Stripped Opacity Construction Playground, 2011

OPP: In Striped Opacity Construction Playground, which has multiple iterations, the transparency in the drawings is rendered in sculpture. What led you to shift from drawing to sculpture? What does the sculpture offer that the drawing can’t, and vice versa?

AD: Seeing how any idea renders in different material contexts should always be part of the process. I work on drawing and sculpture simultaneously and find they have a very symbiotic relationship. I think that as a viewer and even as a maker, it’s helpful to have many different kinds of access points to your idea so that what you’re trying to say becomes clearer and clearer. (I kinda made a pun…hahaha). The sculptures drive home the importance of transparency, layering and modularity because viewers can literally see through each space into another.

Cycle Resource, 2015. Graphite, pastel, colored pencil, gouache on paper. 42’’x66’’

OPP: Zebras, horses, foxes, cows and other large animals often mill about your architectural structures. In most cases, I read their presence as a reminder that we humans have displaced other species with our structures. It’s like their ghosts are grazing on another plane right underneath our feet and we are mostly oblivious. Your thoughts?

AD: I really love that you were able to perceive that kind of message about the animals in my work. It is true that modern culture has displaced these animals but that their energy and our relationship with them remains very close. In that sense they are “right underneath our feet.”

I’ve been reading a lot of Clarissa Pinkola Estes work about archetypal myth stories that involve a lot of human interaction or human/animal hybrid relationships which help to explain different levels or plains of our psyche. I took a workshop about dream analysis. The instructor mentioned that the forms that materialize in your dream corresponded to different parts of your psyche. Dreaming of humans is more closely related to the conscious mind, while dreaming of animals is more closely related to the subconscious. The animals are a way of accessing things that are hidden. All of my work is an act of some kind of revealing and opening or at least something in transition or modulating before it closes again. For example, in Cycle Resource the goat, a symbol of the revealing or unveiling, stands almost in the center as if some sort of mascot. When I first started drawing zebras in Striped, I was thinking more about skins. Skins of buildings and skins of animals. I have also always thought of stripes as closely related to human manipulation and manufacturing, something outside of organic forms.

Striped, 2009. graphite, colored pencil, gouache, ground pigment, collage. 36''x54''

OPP: Billboards, tires, buckets and oil drums also litter your spaces in excess. These seem to be another reminder of how the constant forward motion of “Progress” has consequences. Do your drawings offer a solution about the wasteful byproducts of Capitalism?

AD: I don’t think my work or most art in general offers concrete solutions to major socio/economic issues but offers a surfacing and an articulate unveiling of what the issues are. People working collectively will always be the solution.

You are right in that these forms of material culture do symbolizes systems of capitalism. They are definitely excess waste in the physical world, but in the context of my work, this kind of material culture is in transition. It is at the end of its life as we restructure and modulate for a new beginning. A well known art critic gave me some feedback once on my work and the first thing she mentioned was that she got a strong sense of momento mori which translates to “being mindful of death.” The harmful systems in which we live are not working for the survival of life and should be shed or discarded lest we be shed or discarded.

Extensions, 2011. Graphite, ground pigment, colored pencil. 42''x 54''

OPP: Tell our readers about your new project Common Knowledge, which was funded by a successful Kickstarter Campaign.

AD: Common Knowledge promotes wild edible and medicinal plant education through a visual vocabulary of illustrations accessed through interactive and participatory learning tools. This particular iteration of the project highlights species that flourish abundantly in every city of the Northeastern U.S. The human kinship with plants can be traced through time, giving us a window into the historical and cultural contexts of our surroundings. Common Knowledge opens a conversation about these contexts while connecting us to the natural rhythms and cycles of our urban environment.

It is my belief that upon observing these special plants you become part of a larger movement to renew and strengthen the relationships of our interconnected community of humans, plants, animals and insects. It is an idea rooted in green philosophies, alternative pedagogies, nutritional activism and the principles of a gift economy. We conduct workshops, construct installations and have created a growing line of household products including card games and activity-based coloring books.

Urban Edibles, 2012

OPP: Can you offer any helpful tips to artists using Kickstarter for the first time to fund their work?

AD: (1) Think of a Kickstarter campaign as opening a pop-up shop and get 5-10 really affordable items prepared and ready. It’s important to have these items ready because then you can photograph them a bunch to use in your video and to post to your campaign. Having enough photos to post to as many social media outlets as you can but also posting different things from different angles because people don’t like seeing the same images over and over again. (2) Think of the most reasonable amount of money. (3) Be prepared to have this be your life for a few months. It’s a lot of work.

To see more of Alyssa's work, please visit alyssadennis.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor 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 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Miatta Kawinzi

Yield, 2016. Digital Photograph. Dimensions Variable

Interdisciplinary artist MIATTA KAWINZI gives thoughtful attention to rhythm, cadence and metaphor, delving into human malleability and responsiveness to time, language, physical space and sociopolitical context. She isolates, repeats and remixes sounds, words, hand gestures and whole body movements. In video, performance and photography, she reveals a universal human condition—that we all must interface with the surrounding world through our bodies—while also hinting that every-body does not have the same experience in this world. Miatta earned her BA in Interdisciplinary Art & Cultural Theory from Hampshire in 2010, and went on to earn her MFA in Studio Art at Hunter College of the City University of New York. She has been an Artist-in-Residence at Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts (Omaha, NE), Beta-Local (San Juan, Puerto Rico), Greatmore Studios (Cape Town, South Africa) and International Exchange & Studio Program (Basel, Switzerland). This summer, Miatta will debut a new sound/text/video installation in Of Soil and Tongues, a group show at the Hampshire College Art Gallery (Amherst, Massachusetts). The show runs from June 1 – October 1, 2017. Miatta is based in Brooklyn, NY, where she also works as a community teaching artist and museum educator.

OtherPeoplesPixels: In looking at your work in a variety of media—video, performance, sculpture, installation, text and photography—all together, I would describe it as poetic because of its attention to rhythm, cadence, repetition and metaphor. What does that word mean to you? Is that how you think about your own practice?

Miatta Kawinzi: I am definitely working within a framework of poetics. I am interested in poetics in terms of language, structure and conceptualization, which I think you’re picking up on. Words are line, language is a dwelling place, a phrase can be a journey with starts and stops. In my work, I play with spatially orienting thought in new ways. Poet Nathaniel Mackey wrote, "I tend to pursue resonance rather than resolution.” I have always felt affinity with this idea: to not be naively in search of easy answers to deal with the magnitude of the upside-down world, but to instead be willing to follow various strains of thought and feeling down different paths to perhaps uncover alternate ways of seeing and being. I also think about Audre Lorde stating that “poetry is not a luxury," and the ways in which, throughout my experience, words have consistently been a balm and salve for me in the face of sometimes harsh socioeconomic realities. The poetic becomes the through-line, the way to string things together and highlight points of connection.

In my work, I think about the rhythms of life, the repetition of history, how one thing can become something else. All of these notions for me are related to poetic impulses and poetry's ability to allow us to re-imagine our selves and our situations.


Star Spangz, 2013. HD Color Video, Sound.16:9, 04:12 min.

OPP: I was really struck by the visual imagery of language in Clay (2014), especially the (raffia?—not sure exactly what that is) dyed the same color as your lipstick. The chewing of it, the casual tossing away, the stuffing of it back into the mouth and then the spreading out and offering of it toward the camera. And then of course the connection—and disconnection—between language that comes directly from the mouth and language that comes from the fingers. Can you talk about language as it relates to sound and written text, both of which you use in your work?

MK: The blue material is indeed raffia! One thing I am invested in is tracing the way in which language can manifest in both verbal and non-verbal forms. How can language be embedded into other kinds of materiality, and how does communication take place through means other than verbal speech? In Clay, I was really interested in putting these different forms of communication alongside one another, all on the same plane. The kalimba as a musical instrument references a musical way of communicating, with roots in a certain African diasporic tradition. The fingers texting on an iPhone represent this other kind of digital communication, a way in which many people around the globe keep in touch in the contemporary moment. And there is spoken text in the video that is semi-audible and semi-obscured. Then the raffia references this physical manifestation of verbal language, making it tangible, able to be extended, able to become involved in a kind of dance with the body emanating from the mouth. Here and elsewhere I am constantly engaged in a dance between different forms of language as they originate from the body, from words, from place, from material.


Clay, 2014. HD Color Video, Sound. 16:9, 03:25 min.

OPP: You made this video while in residence at Greatmore Studios in Capetown, South Africa. How did the location, so far from home, feed into this piece?

MK: There are eleven official languages of South Africa, and many people are multilingual, so the location sparked new angles of consideration for ideas I explored in this piece. Cape Town is a very beautiful, dynamic and vibrant city, yet there are also these ongoing inequalities, and I am thinking about that tension in placing myself in front of the barbed wire in the video.

Regarding the audio, one of the ways through which I use sound in my work—my own vocalization, improvisation, analog/digital instrumentation, and remixing—has to do with my interest in the potency of wordlessness that nonetheless carries an emotional import. Often my work in sound goes in and out of legibility which relates to my interest in illuminating different kinds of knowledge, some of which can be mysterious or even unconscious, yet still resonant. I am also invested in exploring the act of remixing as a way of enacting alternative temporalities. . . to move beyond linear time, to stretch time, to hold time in different ways. It’s a way of working with the materiality of time.


But I Dreamt We Was All Beautiful&Strong, 2015. Color Video Projection & Sound on Loop in Corner. Dimensions Variable.

OPP: Last year, at another residency at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, you created Push & Pull, a “performative photography series.” Tell us what inspired this work and how it directly responded to the space.

MK: I was very excited to be granted a residency at Bemis. I went there from Brooklyn at a moment in which I had no physical studio space and very little space otherwise to make or think in. Upon arrival there, I immediately felt a sense of bodily unfolding through my access to a sizable private studio and large shared spaces, which directly inspired that photography series. I was thinking also about how there is a politic to all of this, to something as basic as having enough space to stretch in, and I wanted to utilize this access—while I had it—to explore the geometry of my body in relation to this open space. I was reading a book by Michio Kaku called Physics of the Impossible, and in the book Kaku was highlighting the ways in which things like teleportation could become possible under the right conditions. From there I began thinking about these ideas of possibility/impossibility not only in relation to the laws of science and theoretical physics, but also in terms of how they may relate conceptually to pushing against sociopolitical limits. The performative actions in the series are meant to embody this through bodily metaphor. 


Rhombus, 2016. Digital Photograph. Dimensions Variable

OPP: Can you address the fact that this is a series of photographs, not a live performance and not a performative video?

MK: I actually also created a live performance that explored these same ideas and created the series afterwards based on that performance. For me, it is quite difficult to capture the energy of live performance through documentation, so the photographs were a way through which that work could take on another life to be shared in a different way beyond the initial audience.


OPP: I’ve been thinking about the creation of these frozen movements as dance. . . but are they frozen moments from a fluid action or poses? What’s your relationship to dance, both in your art practice and in your life outside art?

MK: They are a mixture of both. I don’t necessarily consider myself to be a dancer because I never studied dance, but I do use terms like ‘embodiment’ and ‘movement’ to describe my approach to such work. I am very conscious of how much can be expressed through the body both in my art practice and daily life.


gatherin’ space, 2016. Color Video Projection & Sound on Loop, Aluminum Foil; Acrylic Paint & Oil Pastel on Wood Panel. 128 x 163 x 249 in.

OPP: Could you talk about the variety of hand gestures—reaching, drumming, climbing, worship and hands up, don’t shoot, to name just a few—in gatherin’ space (2016)?

MK: gatherin’ space is a meditation on ideas of containment and expansion as expressed through the language of hand gesture. I am thinking about the hands as bodily extensions through which we shape, make, feel, sense, probe, praise, labor, surrender, assert, resist. I wanted to bring all of these different connotations together on the same plane because they all exist together in the lexicon of the body. So much of how I experience the world emanates from the hands—to touch, to write, to grasp, to lift. It’s also a way of abstracting the body, of resting in that place of multiplicity. The hands have the potential to shape space and reality, too.


La Tercera Raíz, 2015. HD Color Video, Sound. 16:9, 9:22 min.

OPP: “the strength in yielding, in taking on the shape of that which sits stoically, to then regain one’s form.” This text, which comes from your video La Tercera Raíz (2015), is a beautiful articulation of a range of themes that run through your work: the power of fluidity, responsiveness, malleability, shape-shifting. How do these themes and the metaphor of water relate to how you think about the diasporic condition and cultural identity? 


MK: I think about diaspora as an active process of exchange, as a gesture, as a reaching towards. My mom is Liberian and my father is Kenyan, and I grew up in the U.S. South navigating multiple cultural and linguistic worlds, which informs my work. I have found power in being adaptable. I am also interested in how cultural identification is an ongoing, shifting context-based negotiation. This is part of why travel is important to me; it is a form of drawing in space, a mode through which to find and explore connections between place and culture, and to try to stretch the arms to skillfully balance both the similar and the disparate.

La Tercera Raíz arose out of my research into the history and presence of the African diaspora in Mexico during my participation in the 2015 SOMA Summer program in Mexico City. Research often goes into my work, and then there is a process of abstraction through which I generate writing that becomes another way of considering an idea, of opening it up through poetics and finding a more personal relationship to the topic at hand.

Toni Morrison wrote about how water has a memory and I am interested in this idea of material memory, in the sea as a bridge between worlds. I think we have so much to learn from the elements and how they exist in and interact with the world. Water bears so much, has such a consistent and deep presence, yet the sea also teaches me that weight is conditional. I can float in it and be suspended, held, weightless. Something becomes something else.

To see more of Miatta's work, please visit mkawstudio.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor 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 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include
shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.