OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Loren Erdrich

The Gatherer, 2019. Watercolor and acrylic on ceramic. 4.5" x 3" x 3.75"

Water, with its soft, flexible and incisive power, is a primary material in the work of LOREN ERDRICH. She surrenders to the fluidity of raw pigments and watercolor on silk, canvas and paper in figurative works that seek to blur the boundaries between inside and outside, self and other, pleasure and pain. Loren earned her BFA at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and her MFA at Burren College of Art, National University of Ireland. In 2020, her work has been included in Mirror Eye at Ortega y Gasset Projects and Spill Over at The Delaware Contemporary. Loren has been an artist-in-residence at Jentel Foundation (Wyoming), Santa Fe Art Institute (New Mexico), Art Farm (Nebraska) and Sculpture Space (New York). Loren lives and works in New York, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: In your artist statement, you wrote that water is “the ultimate disobeyer of boundaries.” Please tell our readers why water is such a dominant force in your practice.

Loren Erdrich: I have an innate attraction water—it’s figured large in my dream life since I was a child. I've always understood and respected its immense power. As a medium, I think the draw has to do with its resistance to control. When a medium is harder to control, I am forced to remain looser, which in turn allows space for the magic of unintentional movements to occur.  Its resistance of perfection, tightness and mastery is invaluable to me. I love how it can be both hard and powerful, and soft and giving, and that it is comfortable in that duality. 

Me And You At The End Of The World, 2019. Water and raw pigment on muslin. 20" x 24."

OPP: Can you talk about the balance of control and surrender when working with watercolor? This also seems to be content on your work.

LE: At some point in my practice I began to realize that the qualities I valued in a medium mirrored what I sought as content. People would ask me what my work was about and to answer I would launch into an explanation of the way raw pigments and dye behave when mixed just with water. I fell in love with how unstable it all seemed, how I would have to corral the water, pigment and dye and coax them into recognizable forms. And that even after hours of coaxing I always had to submit to the natural drying process that occurred and shaped the final product. I felt as though I continually straddled control and mayhem, that at any minute it could teeter one way or the other. This mirrored my content. I have always sought out that moment in a transition or a transformation, when instead of being one thing, or the other, you are both. And that space of both is often gorgeously wild and powerful. It's not a comfortable space. It's messy. It's a merging point. Instead of the either/or, it's the and. It's a space that has the power to topple a world of pre-fixed categories and societal rules.

Go Away, 2018. Raw pigment and acrylic on canvas. 12" x 16"

OPP: The facial expressions on your figures are ambiguous: they may be in the throws of orgasm or they may be in intense physical pain. What’s the relationship between sexuality and suffering in your work?

LE: There was a while when I searched for that ambiguous expression; I wanted to see in others what it looked like to teeter between control and mayhem. I found this expression most readily in images of orgasm and pain, but it also appears when you laugh so hard you cry, or even when you sleep. I was looking for moments of release, when for once you are not in control of yourself, because control is impossible. As for a relationship between sexuality and suffering, as a woman in my 20s and early 30s, sexual imagery was the best way to translate my internal experience onto a page. It encompassed all the pleasure, shame, and pain I felt growing up. To me the images were about power, conflict, a search for freedom and a space to let go. The work was always about an internal landscape, an emotional language that I hoped someone else would understand. At some point sexuality became less of a primary focus in my imagery. To be sure it is still present, but now the work appears less driven by one's relationship to another, and more about one's relationship to a larger environment. 

I Give Birth To Myself, 2018. Ceramics and string. 2.5" x 2.75" x 3.25"

OPP: Talk to us about your tiny ceramic sculptures. What do these sculptures do that the 2D works don’t?

LE: I think of the tiny sculptures as 3D paintings.  I do them when the 2D work seems momentarily impossible.  I often repeat imagery that already exists in a painting or drawing. The sculptures hold space differently. With them it is less about looking at something as a spectator, and more about living in its world. In this way I think they open up another doorway into my work. Their small size may make them more easily approachable, perhaps more accessible. I know for me, as the maker, the combination of material and size allows me to take them less seriously, which I view as a positive thing.  

Me, Myself, Pretending Not To See, 2019. water, raw pigment, dye, ink and watercolor on canvas. 48" x 36"

OPP: It’s been almost two months since the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic. How are you coping? How is your studio practice being affected?

LE: I’m in NYC. A few days before the order to shelter in place came out I began carrying art supplies with me when I went home. I chose colored pencils, watercolor crayons, some ink and drawing paper—things that were mobile and light. Drawing isn't usually a regular part of my practice, but I began drawing. There was so much panic, so much unknown everywhere, that I was actually able to access a sense of freedom when I began to work. I didn't ask myself what it meant or how these drawings fit into the rest of my work; instead I focused on the pleasure of the material. Of course I've inevitably ended up working with my usual themes, though I've mostly returned to an internal emotional landscape. I live in Manhattan, and my studio is in Brooklyn so I can ride my bike to my studio. I'm incredibly grateful for this. For days that have been poor weather or that I have felt particularly affected by the world's situation, I have carved out a small area at home to work in. I've been calling the drawings Isolation Drawings. Of course I didn't think I'd be drawing for this long. As the months go on, and I continue to work with this medium I've begun to understand that this experience will have a permanent effect on my practice.  

To see more of Loren's work, please visit www.okloren.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 she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020). Under Illinois' Shelter-in-Place order, Stacia has returned to remix video as a relevant and accessible medium and will exhibit an updated version of Solace Supercut in the window of Riverside Arts Center FlexSpace. Towards Luminescence: Radiant Frisson | Solace Supercut: a two-part exhibition featuring work by Chicago artists Mayumi Lake and Stacia Yeapanis runs from  May 18 – June 26, 2020.


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews dani lopez

(for the bisexual dykes who lost all their lesbian friends after they fucked a guy), still from the tv show The Bisexual, 2019. Hand-embroidered sequins, imitation silk, thread, and interfacing. 36" x 18."

DANI LOPEZ uses textile processes to "reimagine her closeted queer youth into an out loud one." Informed by autobiography and pop culture, her weavings, soft sculptures and sequined banners balance narrative and abstraction in an exploration of queer and femme identity. dani earned her BFA in Drawing and Painting at the University of Oregon in Eugene and her MFA  in Textiles at California College of the Arts in San Francisco. In January 2020, dani’s solo show dykes on the dancefloor was on view at Root Division in San Francisco. Her work was recently included in Typos + Spills + Broken Glass at Amos Eno Gallery (Brooklyn) and the 33rd Annual Materials: Hard + Soft International Contemporary Craft Exhibition (Denton, TX), and her work will be included in a show titled Notes on Erasure at CTRL+SHFT (Oakland) in August (hopefully). dani lives and works in Oakland, CA.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us about the relationship between abstraction and narrative in your work.

dani lopez: The oscillation between abstraction and narrative has been present in my practice for over 10 years. When I feel like I rely on narrative too heavily, I shift to abstraction to make things more oblique and harder to read. And when the abstract work is being read in ways that aren’t specific enough for me, I move back to the narrative work. In the past, I worried that I’d have to choose one side over the other in hopes of a coherent practice. It’s only until recently that I have become more comfortable with this back and forth. When I look at my entire body of work, I see that the abstract and narrative work need each other for balance, and they inform each other as the work grows. The constants that connect the two are the role of my hand, the way that color factors in and materiality.

tell me that love isn’t true, 2019. Handwoven cotton yarn and novelty hand cut fabrics. 36" x 108."

OPP: What materials are you most attracted to? 

dl: My materials are purchased at Joann’s Fabrics, Michaels and local fabric outlet stores. In the past, this was a financial necessity for me. As time went on, I realized that my high school drop-out/working-class background, the necessity for these “cheap” materials, and the dialogue I was having with queer art history and culture were a stable ground for me to work upon. Looking back to the 90s DIY culture—I was a teenager in the mid/late 90s—and to the queer aesthetics that I was so attracted to, the material choices became easier and easier for me to make. It was also an act of refusal to more sophisticated, clean, minimal materials/aesthetic choices that I can’t separate from the cishet male painter canon (I was a painter in undergrad).

The work evokes a campy, sad aesthetic in the way that we often find ourselves calling a friend after a break-up/rejection and as we’re crying, we—or at least me—make jokes at our own expense for levity. That space between heartbreak and humor, in attempts to alleviate the pain, if even for a moment, is where a lot of my narrative springs from. 

Fuck…, 2018. Machine sewn and hand embroidered cotton. 22" x 17."

OPP: What does the recurring form of the bow mean to you?

dl: Initially, I was attracted to its connotations of decoration, frivolousness and hyper-femininity. As that body of work grew, my interest in narrative and the posture that these objects were holding became more and more developed. Each bow came to embody a personality, a feeling, or an archetype. With the work maybe the feeling just comes and it goes, I realized the bows could symbolize something I was going through at the time (coming together and coming undone, over and over). These static objects were also activated by the act of tying them up and pulling apart, hinting at time.

baby femme, 2017. Handwoven fabric; cotton dyed with commercial dye, acrylic yarn, wire, and sequin fabric. 34" x 29."

OPP: dykes on the dancefloor is a series of hand-embellished, silk banners. Each one is dedicated to dykes that share a common experience (for example, ACT-UP dykes who cared for their gay brothers while they were dying of AIDS and trans dykes who were able to feel free and fall in love). Are the TV shows and movies referenced in the titles the impetus for the work? 

dl: This body of work began with me watching the French movie, BPM. There’s a beautiful dance sequence throughout the movie and it made me think about the moments on the dance floor when someone is partially illuminated. For the first work, ACT-UP dykes who cared for their gay brothers while they were dying of AIDS, I chose a still from BPM that features a lesbian on the dance floor. I had these stills printed on fabric (imitation silk and now velvet) and began embroidering sequins over the illuminated areas. I think of them as reinterpretations and interventions of queer culture and history. They also contribute and participate in the culture and history as well. The titles refer to what is happening at that moment, but they are my titles (with the reference to the still after the title).

(for the dykes who only came out to themselves and in their fantasies), still from Black Mirror’s San Junipero episode, 2019. Hand-embroidered sequins, imitation silk, thread, and interfacing. 36" x 18."

OPP: Sequins can serve the contradictory purposes of hiding and highlighting the surface of fabric. This seems conceptually important in this series.

dl: This is another example of my balancing act of representation and abstraction. In some of the stills, you can see a figure, but I make sure to obscure it. Other times I purposely choose stills that are confusing or look like flashes of light, but there is always a figure in each work. To me, seeing queer womxn on the dancefloor losing themselves in the moment, dancing with their girlfriend, or trying to make their ex jealous are really beautiful and intimate moments that I wanted to capture. I’m also protective of these moments, I want queer womxn to be visible and for them to feel seen, but I don’t want these to be easily consumed images. The viewer needs to do a little work with these works, just in the way that I needed to really work to find these images to work with. Finding images of queer womxn on the dancefloor was challenging and that frustration is definitely a part of this body of work.

(for the trans dykes who never felt safe enough to come out), still from tv show Euphoria, 2019. Hand-embroidered sequins, imitation silk, thread, and interfacing. 36" x 18."

OPP: It’s been more than a month since the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic. How are you coping? How is your studio practice being affected? 

dl: This answer varies from day to day. My studio practice has been dramatically affected, partially because I’m no longer going to my studio—it’s in San Francisco and I’m in Oakland. I’ve also lost access to a loom I work on in a different space. But my headspace has also been affected as well. Some days it feels so good to work on embroidery or to work on writing for future performance work. Other days everything feels pointless and I just call friends, watch tv, eat cookies, or zone out.

I’m employed (for now) and that feels like enough on any given day. The one constant is that I’m still reading, which is the foundation of everything for me. I’m working out more, doing yoga more, and meditating twice a day to manage the anxiety and depression. These are the things that feel doable and also really good because so many things don’t feel good right now. I daydream about having a huge house party at my place (I’ve got a great roof for it) with all my friends and hugging each and every one of them, once all of this is over.

To see more of Dani's work, please visit www.danilopez.us.

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 she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018) and Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019). Her work was recently included in the three-person show Manifestations at One After 909 (Chicago). Stacia's solo exhibition The Thin Line Between One Thing and Another was on view in January 2020 at Finlandia University.


Congratulations to Selva Aparicio and Silvia González, winners of the MAKERS grants

MAKER Grants, funded by Chicago Artists Coalition and OtherPeoplesPixels, are an annual, unrestricted award opportunity for Chicago-based visual artists. MAKER Grants recognize that Chicago is home to a unique and thriving ecology of engaged and socially-conscious makers, who often work outside of traditional forms or without commercial support. MAKER Grants, therefore, endeavor to honor these artists whose work actively engages with social issues—with an eye towards using the strategies, beauty, and meaning of art-making for positive change.

Congratulations to the 2020 recipients, Silvia González and Selva Aparicio. Both artists were asked to tell us a little about their practices and how they plan to use the award money.


Silvia González

Butterfly Suitcase Collage, 2020.

My work has multiple layers to it. I am an artist and educator in Chicago Public Schools, and I often find my practices directly or indirectly aligning whether it is through praxis or the process of reflecting on the projects I develop. My personal work tends to take the form of installation, and I use screen printing, sound, collage, and drawing to create work relating my experiences at the intersection of myth and memory. As a collaborator on multiple projects and with other artists, I have also learned the importance of collective imagination and care. I am currently a member of the Chicago Act Collective, and this has really grown my belief in the importance of forming interconnected collectives rooted in deep connection, tenderness, care, and a desire to positively impact community.

Compass To Now | Here, 2020. Interactive Installation.

My most recent work is with 6018 North at the Chicago Cultural Center for the group show called In Flux--Artists and Immigration. I invited artists Patricia Nguyen and Joseph Josue Mora in creating a series of artists book documenting the history of settlement, resettlement, unsettlement and national immigration policy in context with local organizing and grassroots efforts. I created an interactive installation piece that prompted visitors to become participants in archiving their own narratives and experiences with Chicago, community, and their own neighborhoods. 

Tierra | Madre | Mother | Ship, 2018. Collage, Sculpture, Installation, Flowers, Print.

The Maker Grant that I've received is testament of the support Chicago continues to give their artists. It is through the Maker Grant support that I am reminded my work is seen and upheld by a creative advocates and celebrated among like-hearted community members. I am grateful for the consistency of this support and can only imagine continuing to grow it forward the best way I can. The first thing I did when I was able to go public with the award was to buy raffle tickets to support undocumented families during this time via the organizing of community member Victor Arroyo by way of La Carnalita. I was also able to buy some needed resources to continue my remote learning curriculum planning as well as personal art projects. I am using a portion of the funds to continue supporting the POC Artist Space virtually. POC Artist Space is an online Facebook resource page where Chicago artists of color can network, connect, share resources, and digital space. It has also served as a critique and salon space where artists can get feedback on works in progress or propose salon sessions for professional, educational, and artistic development. It is a project I started in 2016 that has since grown to over 800 members. Last but not least, I am giving the remaining portion to my family—my mom and sister—to use as needed. 

Silvia's website |  @silvia.ines.gonzalez

Selva Aparicio

Entre Nosotros (Among Us), 2020. Concrete tiles cast from human dead Donors. Dimensions variable. Photo credit: Robert Chase Heishman

I scavenge for nature's discarded flora and fauna and create sculptural installations with them as an act of tribute. Among these materials are human cadaversinsect wings and body partsoyster shellsfallen leavesolive pits and more. I’ve always explored themes around death, transitioning, fragility and the passage of time - themes that will be increasingly common with climate change, overpopulation and extinction. I’ve been especially interested in ethical issues around managing human bodies in the medical field, burial practices and surgical procedures.

Velo de luto (Mourning veil), 2020. Magicicada wings, sewn with hair. Photo credit: Robert Chase Heishman

Given the specific nature of my work, in both it’s time-consuming process and scale, and then the overall fragility of each piece I make, requires that I rely on grants like this to continue sharing my artwork at all. All of the materials I use in my work have been and will always be ethically sourced by my own hand - I carefully scan my environments to choose or incept each new project. For instance, for one of my last pieces Velo de Luto, I had to drive to Kansas from Chicago to collect the wings from the 17 year cicadas that swarmed in that year. I waited for them to die, just as I wait for all of my materials to be discarded or dead before I use them. 

Entre Nosotros (Among Us), 2020. Concrete tiles cast from human dead Donors. Detail. Photo credit: Robert Chase Heishman

Part of the grant will go towards the making of Impresiones de Ausencia (Impressions of Absence), a large memorial to honor all of the individuals that donated their bodies to education and research. Receiving this grant is instrumental to having the resources I need to produce the piece. I feel strongly that these individuals must receive recognition for offering the most generous gift a human has to offer - their body.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jeffrey Meris

Now You See Me; Now You Don't (Installation View), 2020. Plaster body cast, AC motor, steel. 

In sculpture and performance, JEFFREY MERIS investigates "the impacts of naturalization, (dis)placement and racial interpellation." He subverts the expected materiality of monuments by utilizing shopping carts, plastic crates, cinderblocks and plastic gallon jugs to draw attention to everyday, overlooked experiences. His recent kinetic sculptures explore the simultaneous invisibility/hyper-visibility of People of Color in American society. Jeffrey earned his A.A in Arts from the College of the Bahamas, his BFA in Sculpture from Temple University and his MFA in Visual Arts from Columbia University. He is a two-time Harry C. Moore Lyford Cay Foundation Scholar (2012 and 2017) and a Guttenberg Arts Artist-in-Residence (2016). In 2019, he attended Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, and is currently a studio Fellow at NXTHVN in New Haven, Connecticut. Jeffrey's work was recently included in overmydeadbody (2020), curated by Laurie Lazar and Tavares Strachan, at Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco, and his first solo project in New York will open in June 2020. In Fall 2020, his work will be included in an exhibition addressing climate change in the Caribbean at 4th Space, Concordia University (Montreal, Canada) and a NXtHVN 2020 cohort exhibition. Jeffrey lives and works in New Haven, Connecticut.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us a bit about your artistic trajectory? Have you always made art? What made you start?

Jeffrey Meris: I spent most of my formative years in the Junkanoo Shack (Studio) in my country of origin the Bahamas, where I met my mentor and Guardian Angel, Jackson Logan Burnside. Junkanoo is the premier cultural festival that involves costuming, music, folklore and dance. When I was not sitting in the front of my television drawing sketches of Sailor MoonPokemon, or Gundam Wing as a child, I was building my future with the Gaza Boyz. Jackson was the very first “artist” I knew. Formally he was an architect, and he encouraged me to study Architecture. Instead I decided to pursue Art. Through my studies, I received a residency at Popopstudios and this was the definitive moment where I knew that art would take me to my purpose in life. I’ve since attended art schools in the Bahamas and the U.S.

Now The Day is Over, 2018. Shopping cart, square hollow stock metal, nuts and bolts.

OPP: Many works have a monumental quality, but are made with distinctly un-monumental materials. Do you think of your works as monuments? If so, to what? Or to whom?

JM: Monuments in the public discourse have this odd side effect of othering, and it is specifically this otherness that I am interested in. The word monument signals a certain historic trajectory rooted in imperialist grandeur and exquisite materials such as bronze or marble,  What happens when these materials are subverted? I often consider the ways I can use everyday objects to refract a different sense of  monumentality. Shopping carts, plastics, bottles, vinyl, crates are all more significant in everyday life than an esoteric statue lost in the Ramble of Central Park. I am also interested in what scale shift and visual reorientation does to the relationship between the viewer and the known function of an object. 

Mouth to Mouth, 2019. Steel, chaise lounge, conduits, recycled bottles, resin, fiber glass, tubes. Photo credit: Roni Aviv

OPP: Tell us specifically about Mouth to Mouth (2019) and Now the Day is Over (2018), which both evoke grandeur through height.

JM: When I made Now The Day is Over (2018), I was interested in the subjectivity of a shopping cart; it acts as both a site of play, a vessel and a civilizing apparatus, the thing that facilitates an end to a hunter/gatherer lifestyle. Carving out the side panels of the shopping carts and leaving a skeleton revealed the precarious state in which production, consumption and exploitation leaves a fragile global community. 

Mouth to Mouth (2019) also uses elevation as a strategy. If an everyday object enters the sublime, are the working class people most commonly associated with that object raised up as well? This sculpture responds to the tragic capsizing of a Florida-bound ship in the Bahamas in February 2019. Thirty-five Haitian immigrants died. Elevated fifteen feet in space by an architectural steel structure above the mass of siphonic objects is a chaise lounge, indexical of the parallel economies of tourism and immigration. I was 27 when I made Mouth to Mouth; my mother was 27 when I was born. 

Light, Medium, Dark, 2017. Found crate, transparent furniture plastic, HVAC sheet metal: angle iron 40" with 1/4" holes, peanut shells blessed by mother's labor. 54" × 22" × 16."

OPP: Light, Medium Dark (2017) is a see-through monolith filled with peanut shells resting on a plastic crate.

JM: This work is a monument to my mother and her labor. Sesly would spend hours unshelling peanuts to eventually make dollar sized bags of roasted peanuts. Her hands are chapped, blistered and charred to this day from that labor, yet it is that work that provided sustenance for our family. I felt the epicness of the emptied shells because a poetic sculptural making was happening as she poured her devotion into the survival of her offspring. Her technique of roasting salted peanuts in sand to a light, a medium, or a dark roast was much similar to the way that colorism, xenophobia and sexism intersect to form the most toxic of all discriminations against Black Immigrant women. Misogynoir declares a valuation of a woman's value  based on the complexion of her skin making dangerous correlations of education, class and sexuality. Despite everything, her story is one of triumph. 

Neither For U.S., Nor By U.S., 2017. Asphalt, passport, Christian bible, clothes on wood with cinderblocks.

OPP: Let’s talk more specifically about the recurring materials you’ve mentioned: shopping carts, milk crates, plastic milk jugs, cinder blocks, metal. Why these objects, over and over again?

JM: Those are the tools that I understand the most visually. These materials act as portals for understanding larger architectural systems. The plastic gallon bottle is about the body. It signals respiratory function or malfunction. I’ve come to know the breath as being one of the most transcendent processes that nature offers. Two years ago, while I was in grad school I took a swimming class—it’s crazy to believe how unaquatic I was despite growing up in the Caribbean. Pool is to lungs as gallon jugs are to fluid. This relationship has stuck with me ever since. Not to mention that these gallon jugs are repurposed in Caribbean countries as vessels for transporting potable water. 

The concrete blocks refer to architecture and to the visual landscape in the Bahamas where a house made of concrete blocks meant upward mobility and security. Like many others, my home was constructed of T 1-11 plywood siding covered in a thin layer of concrete. Hurricanes could blow these wood paneled homes away in the blink of an eye, year after year. Like many recurring materials in my work, the concrete block has a double meaning. It symbolizes the life I am building and struggling with and the life my family and many others strive for. It simultaneously carries the legacy of Black youth culture and growing up economically challenged.

Shopping carts are probably my favorite object ever invented! They remind me of the TV robots that mesmerized me as a kid. Also, I worked in Grocery Stores, packing bags and pushing shopping carts for tipping customers. Shopping carts speak to a necessity, to those that have, need and want. The very cart that keeps the nuclear family fed can also keep the homeless sheltered. I also think of carts as elegant post-modernist objects in and of themselves, and I attempt to extend that beauty through augmentation and elevation. 

I grew to love steel in my practice because it is rigid yet flexible. Steel functions as steel yet it does only what you ask of it. Case in point: the sleek angled curves for the structure of Now The Day is Over (2018). 

The Block is Hot, 2020. Plaster body cast, AC motor, steel, cinderblock, aircraft cable, U-link, pulleys, ratchet strap. 96" x 66" x 32"

OPP: Your most recent work Now You See Me; Now You Don’t (2020) has an industrial horror movie feel, while being totally un-gory. The severed body parts—cast from your own body—in this make-shift laboratory scene evoke violence, but the lack of blood makes that violence less visceral, more symbolic. What kind of violence do you want viewers to contemplate?

JM: Now You See Me; Now You Don’t roots itself both in my own experience being Black in America and Ralph Ellison’s epic novel Invisible Man. Two years ago, I received a ticket for jumping an MTA  turnstile in New York City. I fumbled to swipe my card correctly until eventually the machine read ‘insufficient funds.’ I jumped. Two police officers arrested me and recorded my weight as 250 pounds and my height as 6'5," neither of which is true. If you could see me, you’d understand the hyperbole. I’m 6’2” and 175 pounds. 

I was acquitted after the judge ruled that I was in "the right" for my actions. Records showed that I had indeed paid yet there was a malfunction in the turnstile. In the waiting-room, almost all defendants were Black-or-Brown, unlike my alma matter where the opposite was true. In the words of Zora Neale Hurston “I felt most colored when I was thrown against a sharp white background.” There I stood, hyper-visible in this  judicial arena, yet invisible in the systems of education. Now You See Me; Now You Don’t (2019) tightropes this fine line, using the body as a vessel for the violence of racial interpellation. Through actions of self destruction these works seek to break the bondage of white society's gaze and free themselves from the burden of racist body bias and conventions. Seven sculptures are presented in this body of work. Six of the seven sculptures kinetically destroy themselves over perforated sheet metal. On My Knees (2019) is the only non-kinetic work in this series; it evokes both kneeling gesture and milk crates as monuments. 

On My Knees, 2020. Plaster body cast, steel, milk crates.

OPP: It’s been more than 3 weeks since the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic. How are you coping? How is your studio practice being affected?

JM: I’ve been super lucky to be a part of NXTHVN, co-founded by Titus KapharJonathan Brand, Board Chairman Jason Price, and led by Executive Director Nico Wheadon.. NXTHVN actually took an unprecedented approach and has offered us additional financial and institutional support in the wake of Covid. Thank you! Shout out to the entire family of studio and curatorial fellows, apprentices—especially my apprentice Aime Mulungula—staff, board members and supporters

I wake up everyday, and I am so blessed to have a studio next door from my apartment, a 30 second commute. The days get a bit monotonous but I am extremely grateful for that. I am going to hold space for all of those disproportionately affected by this Pandemic, those that can’t afford the luxury of social distancing, those that are ill and have passed. I recognize my privilege, and send my thoughts to those coping with the uncertainty. 

I purchased my very first welder back in January, and the freshness of hot welded steel is almost like taking a shot of espresso. I feel invigorated! This also gave me the time to go back to one of my earlier passions of cooking (keep in touch with my Instagram stories @jeffreymeris to see what’s on the menu), and I also made Self-Care-Saturday a thing where I make brunch, listen to my body and inner self and take care of my plants.  

To see more of Jeffrey's work, please visit www.jeffreymeris.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 she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018) and Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019). Her work was recently included in the three-person show Manifestations at One After 909 (Chicago). Stacia's solo exhibition The Thin Line Between One Thing and Another was on view in January 2020 at Finlandia University.


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Emily Kaelin

Forest Offering (3), 2019. Acrylic on canvas. 36" x 24."

EMILY KAELIN's paintings are deeply psychological. Her female subjects of weep black blood from their many eyes; they foam and spew noxious fluids from their indistinct mouths. These women are suffering but also learning and transforming. Images of disease and decay coexist with verdant growth, expressing the inherent contradictions of internal experience. Emily earned her BFA at Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design (Denver, Colorado) and her MFA at Burren College of Art (Ballyvaughan, Ireland). She has been an Artist-in-Residence at Hypatia-in-the-Woods (2019) in Shelton, WA and the Nes Artist Residency in Skagaströnd, Iceland. In 2019, she opened her solo show I am a Monster and curated Viscera: Experimental Performance of the Grotesque at Mockbee Gallery (Cincinnati, Ohio). Follow Emily @vvitchinheat to see new and in-progress works. She lives and works in Cincinnati, Ohio.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You’ve said all your works are self-portraiture. In what way?

Emily Kaelin: I’ve made intentional self-portraits since I was young. In art school I made it a habit to do these regularly alongside whatever other work I was doing. Self-portraits were particularly challenging—for me anyway—because it was impossible to look at my physical self objectively enough to render it in a way that felt accurate. Early on I abandoned the idea that my self-portraits had to be realistic. It became more important to accurately render my internal perception(s) of myself, and in doing so my style and imagery became more abstracted, expressionistic and surreal. 

The work that I’ve made in the past six or seven years didn’t begin as self-portraiture explicitly. The more that I made, the more I realized that it was always about me. Specifically, it was about trying to envision multiple versions of myself, on a psychic level, especially my shadow selves. These works are self-portraits in that their existence and my process of making them is a deliberate method of working towards a better understanding of myself.

I am Sublime Suffering, 2019. Acrylic on canvas. 36" x 48."

OPP: Who are the Rotting Queens? What are they queens of?

EK: I like dichotomies; beauty and decay, sacred and profane, the sublime and the abject. I’ve used these in my work, both in form and in content, long before I even knew what I was doing. I like the emotional alchemy—the simultaneous attraction and revulsion— that happens when these dualities are combined. The Rotting Queen figures are one of many extensions of this conceptually. I guess you could say they are all queens of abject matter or phenomena: sickness, blight, death, blood, wounds, mutilation, etc. Yet some of the sub-titles and much of the imagery are suggestive of more life-affirming natural forces—the moon, flowers, moss, venus—and there are elements of beauty and ornamentation. Some figures are more brutal looking than others, and there elements that suggest rot and beauty simultaneously: bloody pustules that could be rubies, glitter that is also blood. 

The Rotting Queens are facets of my shadow selves. Making this work may be an attempt to reconcile the darker and uglier sides of myself with my ideal self, but without my knee-jerk self-hatred and perfectionism. Rather I make those facets sacred and their disturbing nature precious, resplendent even.   

Rotting Queen (the empress), 2015. Acrylic and spray paint on canvas. 30" x 40."

OPP: Can you talk more broadly about Barbara Creed’s notion of the “Monstrous-Feminine” in your work?

EK: The Monstrous Feminine is yet another theme that existed in my work long before I was really aware of it, and the reasons for its ubiquity are both personal and political. Much of my personal attraction to beauty and revulsion comes from my own personal experiences of duality in life: pain, suffering, ecstasy, love, emptiness and abundance. These feelings are universally felt, eve if individually varied in experience. 

Pain is an inevitable and necessary part of living, but I meditate often on the unnecessary pain we inflict on ourselves and others when we happily or ignorantly collude in systems of oppression that cause suffering in the interest of preserving some ideal or some some specific privileged group. 

I think the female experience is an example of this, and there is specific suffering that comes with that experience. Patriarchy is an oppressive system that has been ubiquitous world-over for millennia, even though it is ENTIRELY a made-up construct. Patriarchy creates a duality in the condition of women: we are sacred, worshipped goddesses or vile, fearsome witches. Beauty is painful and female suffering or degradation is eroticized. Artist Wangechi Mutu says that “anything that is desired or despised is always placed on the female body.” I like the female monster because she is subversive; she revels in what makes her despised because it is what makes her strong. Her strength is demonized precisely because it threatens those who would try to subdue her. 

On the one hand, my work is about my own reconciliation and reclamation of my inner ugliness and pain. On the other hand, it is a reclamation of what is culturally despised and ugly in women. This is recast as power, beauty and liberation.

Works from I don't want your love unless you know I am repulsive, and love me even as you know it. 2014. Watercolor on paper. 22" x 30."

OPP: Let’s talk about the mouths. They foam and weep like open wounds; they vomit noxious-looking fluids, and drip black blood. These images certainly evoke illness and disease, but I also read these as an expression of both silencing and vitriol. Like, if you hold anger in long enough, it erupts and spews in all directions. How do you think of the mouths?

EK: The mouths evoke a kind of leaking of internal darkness that can’t be helped or in some cases a complete eruption of that darkness. I use images of physical pain, illness and injury to suggest emotional or psychic pain and illness made manifest. My own experience with mental illness has happened most substantially on an internal level. It is difficult to confront pain that feels trapped inside of you and can’t be seen by others or felt tangibly. Perhaps the mouths are trying to hold in all the pain, but it leaks out anyway, an experience I certainly relate to :)

Nature Spirit (2), 2019. Watercolor on paper. 22" x 30."

OPP: Your most recent paintings from 2019-2020 have a new quality: hope. Where earlier works had both bleached and dark voids for backgrounds, these have thriving, growing plant life. What lead to the introduction of verdancy, which can be a metaphor for abundance?

EK: As I’ve continued to push my content further, I’ve further contemplated the dichotomies I work with and how I can expand and develop their complexity and nuance. Beauty becomes further enfleshed through fecundity, abundance and lushness. In my newest work, the counterpoint of decay and abjection is becoming more visceral. I’ve begun studies of carcasses and flayed flesh, exploring how to paint these elements in their own lush, rich way. I did an artist residency last fall in the forests of the Olympic peninsula of Washington, where I studied rendering the forest’s verdancy, lushness, darkness, and strangeness. I happened to find a gutted, skinned deer carcass on one of my walks, sans head and hooves, was the perfect foil for the more verdant foliage I’ve been working with lately. It was that image that inspired me to take my imagery to a more visceral place.

Forest Offering (1), 2019. Acrylic on canvas. 36" x 24."

OPP: We are in the midst of a global pandemic. Is Covid-19 changing your work right now?

EK: It is certainly affording me abundant time to devote to my own art practice! But as I am working on more “visceral” imagery at present, I am reminded again of inevitable cycles of pain and joy, emptiness and abundance, and all the ways that we amplify our pain unnecessarily as humans. I see that same drama playing out in our present pandemic scenario. There’s this mentality that we have to suffer to deserve anything in life, that we have to suffer for the sin of living, of existing. Maybe humans are masochists. I worry that I am a masochist. But I also believe in transcendence of pain. I believe in facing, embracing and transforming pain. It’s the only way to truly grow, and it is inherent in the cycles of life and death and rebirth. It’s why I make art. I feel powerless in the face of the suffering that exists in our world; so much of it is human made. But I can find power in what I can control, what I do with my own pain, how I transform it.

To see more of Emily's work, please visit www.emily-kaelin.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 she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018) and Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019). Her work was recently included in the three-person show Manifestations at One After 909 (Chicago). Stacia's solo exhibition The Thin Line Between One Thing and Another was on view in January 2020 at Finlandia University.


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jayanti Seiler

Untitled, from Of One and The Other (2013-2018)

JAYANTI SEILER captures the emotional complexity of relationships between humans and animals in photographic essays that explore a range of spaces where they interact. She has spent time with owners of exotic big cats, taxidermists, falconers and young people in the 4-H Club, who raise animals to be brought to Livestock auctions at the Volusia County Fair. She photographs at sanctuaries that care for abused wild and domestic animals, traveling safaris, zoos, and wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centers. Her poignant images reveal contradictory truths that can't be easily reconciled; caretaking and love often cross paths with exploitation and death. Jayanti earned her MFA at the University of Florida and her BFA in Photography at the Rhode Island School of Design. Her photographs have been published in numerous magazines, including The New York Times LENS, LIFE FORCE (UK), LENSCRATCH, Véganes contreculturel (Canada), Vision (Beijing), Edge of Humanity, Muybridge’s Horse, Bird In Flight (Russia). Her work has been exhibited at the Southeast Museum of Photography (Florida), Chiang Mai University Art Museum (Thailand), Harvard University, Museum of Contemporary Art Georgia, and Washington State University. In 2018, she released a first edition fine art book of her series titled Of One and The Other, capturing the complexity of human-animal relationships. Jayanti lives in Deland, Florida, where she is an Associate Professor at the Daytona State College Southeast Center for Photographic Studies.

OtherPeoplePixels: Vulnerability seems to be the thread tying all your work together, but your photographs don’t feel exploitative. How do you cultivate the empathetic gaze?

Jayanti Seiler: I aim to build a relationship of trust between my subjects and myself. I am transparent with my subjects about why I am photographing them. With the human-animal work, I made the conscious decision to set some of my beliefs aside and acknowledge that each person I met does love animals in some way and that this love manifests differently along the spectrum. I remained open to the opinions about animals and the justifications that support them. My commitment to approach my subjects without judgment and listen to their perspectives sets them at ease. I explain that I am making photographs of a diverse range of human-animal encounters and through this experience I want to learn about their particular relationships with animals. By adopting an attitude that is as neutral as possible and a format that is not documentary, I cultivate perhaps a shared concern on some level between subject, photographer and viewer.

Untitled, 2016, from Love and Loss (2013-2019)

OPP: Can you say more about not taking a documentary approach?

JS: Photography is an inherently problematic medium when it comes to finding an even give and take, when the photographer is who determines how a subject is represented or perceived. Troubled by this dilemma, I sought ways to address problematic forms of representation used in documentary practices by implementing strategies that dilute the authority of the medium of photography. For the film and installation, Docket, which came out of my experience as a Guardian ad Litem volunteer, I asked individuals that had “aged out” of the foster care system to speak alone with the camera. By removing myself as a factor, emphasis was placed on the voice of the individual and their unfiltered story. The comfortability of the subjects surprised me when I discovered the depth of emotion that poured out of each of them. I feel that intervening in my own process as image-maker, depoliticizing the photographic agenda and acknowledging the inadequacies of representation in past work has contributed to how I chose to confront the messy indefinable nature of our relationships with animals from a place of honesty and compassion.

Untitled, from Of One and The Other (2013-2018)

OPP: How much do you guide your subjects in the photographic work? How much do you wait for the decisive moment?

JS: I believe in taking an informed and impassioned approach to communicating with my subjects. Well before I started making the pictures, I was volunteering in shelters and sanctuaries, which gave me an enlightened perspective. I experienced firsthand the unique dynamic between injured animals and individuals that dedicate their lives to their care. It is important to me to immerse myself in the subject matter and be a participant as well as a storyteller. Working in wildlife rehabilitation became a means of entry into these worlds and I was compelled to photograph the fragile harmony at stake particularly for birds of prey in captivity. When the series expanded to include other complicated relationships with animals that were more controversial I wanted to make it evident in the work that you have to look at this topic from many different angles because it is far from black and white. I seek a poetic way to represent what I am feeling about my subjects and lead the viewer into the content. Even though I feel strongly about the topic, I take a gentle approach as opposed to a radical one. My pictures are an invitation not a confrontation and more theater then documentation. 

In knowing clearly what I want to communicate, it is necessary for me to both guide my subjects as well as wait for the decisive moment. I look for, as well as evoke, unexpected encounters and rare moments when the veil separating humans and animals lifts and a connection is established. This idea came out of my own desire to interact with wild animals, which is why I made the pictures of people interacting with big cats. The images of people hugging big cats are enactments of the fine line between adoration and exploitation captured the moment it surfaced between the cub and the person. I am sensitive to subtle gestures a subject might exude, both human and animal; I work with those cues and weave in my narrative. Some of the interactions are candid and others are a blend of directed and found moments. I use this approach to nudge the image in the direction I envision without compromising the integrity of the moment.

Untitled, 2016, from Love and Loss (2013-2019)

OPP: The images from Love and Loss especially made me cry. What a sad and complicated set of emotions! What was your experience with 4H before beginning this series?

JS: I’m happy the images touched you. My colleague in the photography department at Daytona State College introduced me to the people that run the Livestock auctions at the Volusia County Fair in Deland, Florida. He had been shooting behind the scenes there for several years. I was granted a press pass to photograph as well. I learned about the program through my colleague and became more familiar with 4H over the years as I met the children and their families. It was interesting to see the same children returning each year and witness how much they evolved from being so new to the process, unsure and timid alongside eager parents coaching them, to confident seasoned participants that now coach the newcomers.

Untitled, 2016, from Love and Loss (2013-2019)

OPP: Do the kids talk to you about the complicated emotions that you capture? How aware are they of what they are feeling?

JS: The children are complicated; there are many layers to them. I hear a multitude of comments and some really stick with me. During the course of the week, the kids tell me it is hard but they are ok with it. They are steadfast in their dedication to the program and feel that what they are doing is very good for them, as well as for the animals. Parents have told me that the process is difficult and is definitely not for everyone because of how emotionally trying it can be. They’ve said that if some of these kids were not in the program that they would be on the streets. Despite their hard exteriors, the children are very affectionate with their animals. At the conclusion of auction night they have limited time to say good-bye. The tone completely changes. Waves of emotion pour out of them during these last moments with their animals. They sit quietly with them; their faces tear streaked as they grieve openly. Before this time they are so busy with the prep and the performance that there is a bit of a disconnect. They are all business on the show floor, very poised and intent on capturing the attention of the judge. When they win there is that incredible sense of accomplishment and pride. It is a celebration of their devotion to the health and growth of that animal. 

There are a lot of justifications that help them compartmentalize their sadness. They say the week is so hard on the animals that by auction night the animals are essentially “ready to go." They have said the pigs don’t stop growing and by two years of age they are so large and uncomfortable that they have to be slaughtered. They tell me that we are going to eat meat anyways therefore why not have us take care of the animals in a humane healthy way instead of in a slaughterhouse. Then there are some that begin the process of grieving and saying good-bye well before the auction. One child told me that she walked her pig up to the top of a hill and sat in a patch of flowers with her the day before the fair. They seem to move on pretty quickly after their animals are gone; they are capable of coming back each year to repeat the process again. Although their grief is unmistakable, they feel it is just part of it. They are forever impacted by their experiences whether the reality of raising animals for slaughter has a positive or negative effect; it is different for every individual.

Untitled, 2012, from Clemency Raptor (2012-2013)

OPP: Of One and The Other (2013-2018) goes beyond the 4H images to capture other relationships between humans and animals, some caring and some exploitative. Some images look violent but actually capture life-saving actions, like the bird being x-rayed. Can you talk about this slippage between optics and reality?

JS: I have noticed several paradoxes in these environments, especially in rehabilitation centers for birds of prey. The reality and the optics contradict one another in the bird pictures because rehabbers are altruistic in their attempts to shield animals from harm, yet they have to maintain an emotional distance because this is essential to the bird’s survival in the wild when released. I depict a level of clinical detachment due to the volume of death that comes along with working to save animals that are injured. The harsh reality that rehabbers face is that there is simply not enough space for all of the birds to live out their lives in captivity and the ones that are deemed unreleasable have to be euthanized. Despite their efforts only some of the birds are released. The images symbolize this grim reality and are therefore visibly unsettling. In some of the most altruistic environments that I photograph in there is often the most detachment, which is considered humane in rescue and rehabilitation. A hood over the bird’s eyes is meant to keep him calm while he is being examined; yet the slumped posture and docile appearance of the bird addresses the conflict intrinsic to these types of encounters.

Untitled, from Of One and The Other (2013-2018)

OPP: It also strikes me that some of the most tender pictures involve the most exploitative actions. I’m thinking of the young men caressing taxidermy deer heads.

JS: There is a duality of violence and manufactured tenderness found in the image of the young man holding a deer head to his forehead in front of a red fence. The image is also intended to symbolize the complexity and irony found in our relationships with animals. The man’s gesture represents a taxidermist or hunter’s admiration for his craft or can be read as an expression of remorse. The portrait symbolizes the boundaries and belief systems that clash and overlap in society, one of these being that hunters have a closer relationship with nature then someone who turns a blind eye and buys their meat in a sanitized package in the supermarket because it is easier then killing and butchering it themselves. The care the taxidermist takes when meticulously crafting keepsakes from hunted animals is a form of preserving the living. The picture depicts brutality but also the love that a hunter or taxidermist has for nature. 

Untitled, from Of One and The Other (2013-2018)

OPP: What other complicated stories have you encountered?

JS: Extremely common are the stories of animals in captivity that were bred for use as pets, although they wind up being kept in less then desirable conditions because their owners find they cannot properly care for them. Because of this inability to respect and honor our boundaries, animals end up being neglected and then rescued by sanctuaries, which are overflowing due to the volume of animals caught in this mess. Animals are entangled in a vicious cycle as well as the people involved with their care. The animals are hybrids, inexorably caught between two worlds: unable to survive in nature, they are condemned to captivity. Many people make enormous sacrifices for the good of their rescued animals that are not always ideal. Caretakers of rescued tigers have had to make the difficult choice to put their animals on display in glass transport cases at wealthy people’s parties in order for guests to take pictures of themselves next to the tiger. Ironically, this helped the caretakers finance large enclosures for their tigers. The image of the white tiger in the glass transport case among enclosures was made to symbolize this dilemma, and the tiger was in no way harmed. Her caretakers are altruistic and bound by their commitment to provide a good life for their big cats, which they consider members of their family.

Untitled, from Of One and The Other (2013-2018)

OPP: It seems that you offer the same empathy to all your subjects. Do you ever experience a sense of conflict when photographing a situation that you don’t feel is ideal for the animals? How do you deal with that?

JS: Yes, I did feel a sense of conflict because I was stuck in the middle between rescue groups that advocate for preservation and protection and (therefore oppose cub encounters as inhumane) and the people selling these encounters, who say that they are educating the public about the plight of animals in the wild. I was caught up in the ethics of what people were doing and the price animals were paying one way or the other. It helps me to take into account that most of the people I meet have good intentions and there were circumstances that led them to compromise. When I say that my subjects all love animals, I admit this is a way to find the positive in the negative. I put my camera between my subjects and myself at times as a distancing device to take a step back and be more of an observer. The notion of distance is cultivated in my images as well. A lot of my own conflict with what I witness surfaces in the images. Despite the sad situations that I see with the 4H children, I find comfort in their maturity and devotion. 

Through the many discussions that have been sparked by the images and the dialogue that has been created, I feel reassurance that the message I aim to impart is reaching people. Witnessing the growing movement where animals are seen more and more as sentient beings and the spotlight that National Geographic, among others, has repeatedly cast on numerous undesirable conditions for animals brings me so much hope that attitudes are changing.

To see more of Jayanti's work, please visit www.jayantiseilerphotography.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 she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018) and Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019). Her work was recently included in the three-person show Manifestations at One After 909 (Chicago). Stacia's solo exhibition The Thin Line Between One Thing and Another was on view in January 2020 at Finlandia University.

Benjamin Cook's Social Distance Gallery

Call for submissions on Instagram

OtherPeoplesPixels interviewed Featured Artist Benjamin Cook three years ago about his practice, which is driven by a fascination with the structures, rules and algorithms that guide both our online and offline lives. Now he is the creator of Social Distance Gallery, which will be posting BFA and MFA thesis exhibitions that are cancelled or limited in access due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The digital exhibitions will be hosted on Instagram at @socialdistancegallery. See the details for submission here.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What gave you the idea for @socialdistancegallery?

Benjamin Cook: My studio practice involves digitally-based projects that explore image dissemination and ways in which digital images are consumed. I teach at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, and we had to cancel BFA shows because of the pandemic. Our students were understandably upset, and I thought my practice could be used to help in this situation.

OPP: Do you have volunteers to help you or is this a solo effort?

BC: It’s just me right now. There have been a number of people who have reached out and offered assistance, so I have a group of people that I can turn to if things get overwhelming.

Screencap of @socialdistancegallery

OPP: At last view, you have 16.7 K followers. How did you go about getting your message out? It seems to have moved really quickly. How many submissions have you received?

BC: I made the page on March 13th and have around 75 submissions so far. I posted on the feed and story of my personal account first. I reached out to my network and asked people to share the story. It really took off from there. I can’t thank my friends enough for helping get this thing rolling.

OPP: Is this project helping you cope with staying home? 

BC: It’s something to work on, but I stay busy either way. I am definitely not immune to the feelings of fear, confusion, uncertainty, and grief that everyone is going through. We all feel it no matter how busy we stay.

OPP: Are you finding any time right now to work on your own work?

BC: This project is a part of my practice, so I guess you can say I haven’t had time to do things that weren’t my own work. I could probably use some extra time to sleep.

Screencap of @socialdistancegallery

Going Strong: Kathryn Refi

Did you know the OPP blog has been featuring exceptional, living artists since 2011? We are committed to looking at the full trajectory of each Featured Artist's work, as represented on their websites. As an artist myself, I don't think of individual artworks or projects in a vacuum. I'm more interested in how one work leads to another and what drives artists to keep making. So it's exciting to revisit artists interviewed in the first few years of the blog and find out what's changed and what's stayed the same in their practices. Today's artist is Kathryn Refi (@kathrynrefi).

Finger Flowers, 2019. Hand-cut archival inkjet prints. Overall dimensions variable. Each flower is 17 3/4 x 17 3/4 inches.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What's new in your studio, practice or work since you were interviewed back in 2013?

Kathryn Refi: Probably the single greatest change since 2013 is that I moved from Athens, Georgia to New York City. I've been living in Brooklyn since the summer of 2014. It's hard to know all of the specific ways this shift has affected the changes in the content of my work, but it seems inevitable that it has.

All My Edges (in 2cm Squares, in the Shape of a Circle), 2018. Archival inkjet collage on polyester film. 59 1/2 x 49 3/4 inches.

My work had been centered on images and patterns I experienced in my environment and now it is derived from photographic images of my actual body. Before I was trying to negotiate the way my body was interacting with the outside world, while now the entire visual content of the work is my own physical body. I am very surprised that photographic imagery has become the starting point in my process. I think that some of this has to be the subconscious influence of the work of a couple of important friends I have made here in NYC: Jennifer Grimyser and Kate Stone. I think their beautiful work has crept into my brain, where I am processing it and using it as an ingredient in the cooking up of my own images. 

Untitled, 2019. Cut and woven photographs. 64 1/2 x 19 inches.

All of my work starts with life-size inkjet prints of digital images of parts of or all of my body. I am cutting up and rearranging the prints to create new images of myself, patterns, and wall-sized weavings. It is empowering to be in control of the image of my body and manipulate it however I am compelled to. I am enjoying seeing the way my body mutates into new shapes and images as I reorganize its components. A lot of play and visual discovery is happening in my studio. There is still a systematic approach to all of the work, which is a definite through line to what I was making previously. Repetition of form, with an underlying grid structure, continues to be a motif. 

Untitled, 2019. hand-cut inkjet prints. 57 x 38 inches.

I am excited to continue exploring in my studio. I never would have guessed that I would be making the images that I am now and so can't wait to see what I'll be creating in another seven years.

Some recent pattern studies. 2020. Woven inkjet prints. 12 x 12 inches each.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Natalie Hunter

Installation view of Billows and Breathing Spaces2019. At Centre 3 for Artistic and Social Practice. Photo Credit: Andrew Butkevicius

In an era when most people only encounter photography on their digital devices, NATALIE HUNTER reminds us of the physicality of photography. But she doesn't rely on the conventions of prints framing and hanging on the wall to do it. Instead, she combines the intangible staples of film exposure—light and time—with the material aspects of sculpture. She prints on transparent film and silk, folding and bending images, pinning them to the wall in undulating waves and draping them over wood and metal and plexiglass structures. Natalie holds a BA in Visual Art with a Concentration in Curatorial Studies from Brock University and an MFA from the University of Waterloo. She was awarded a Canada Council for the Arts Research and Creation Grant in 2018 and Ontario Arts Council Creation Project Grants in 2018 and 2019. In 2019, she mounted two solo exhibitions: Staring into the sun, curated by Marcie Bronson, at Rodman Hall Art Centre (St. Catharines, Ontario) and Sensations of breathing at the sound of light at Factory Media Centre 9 (Hamilton, Ontario). Her work was also included in the group show Shaping Time (2019) at Latcham Art Centre (Stouffville, Ontario). Natalie’s solo exhibition Billows and Breathing Spaces (2020) Just opened at Centre 3 For Artistic and Social Practice in Hamilton, Ontario and will be on view through March 5. Natalie lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

OtherPeoplesPixels: It’s rare that your images are framed and hung on the wall in a conventional way. Why do you work with photography as sculpture?

Natalie Hunter: I very much look at photographs as material fluid things that are tangible objects vulnerable to the elements. There is an element of stillness in sculpture and photography that speaks to the present moment, but also the past. The negative and positive aspects of photography mirror that of sculpture and casting. Both are traces,  just in different ways.

I’m interested in the spaces we create for ourselves, both physical and psychological in nature and how they shape memory and lived experience. I entered grad school as a sculptor and started taking digital imaging and film studies courses. Working on images through the screen became incredibly frustrating for me. I would often go to the library and print transparencies of images I wanted to work with because it was cheaper than printing snapshots. But I soon found they were really lovely to work with and handle in my hands. To fold, curl, layer, arrange them on a light box or the surface of a projector. They spoke more to material process and making with my hands. I knew I wanted to eventually make my images more sculptural and scale them up. Ever since, I’ve been trying to work my way out from the wall into three-dimensional space and make images a physical, experiential encounter.

Helios (2019) Hand applied window film, light. Interior day view. Photo credit: Jimmy Limit

OPP: Can you tell us a bit about your process? How does the moment of exposure relate to the installation? Are these disconnected parts of the process?

NH: The starting point for most of my work boils down to light and time and their psychological, emotive, and material influences on space. For the past 6 or 7 years, I’ve been layering images through multiple exposures and by layering transparent photographs to make new images. This act of layering both inside and outside of the camera transcends logical ideas of time. I use colour filters, sometimes hand-made ones, to bring attention to the layers and reveal process. They separate different moments of time and leave clues as to how the images were made. And they introduce an element of chance. They affect the way light enters the camera. I never really know what the image will look like until the film gets developed.

Once the image exists outside of the camera and becomes a physical thing, I consider the exhibition space as an element of the work. Often, the pieces change when they are installed a second or third time or from my studio to the gallery space. I need to do site visits, and I usually respond in an emotive way that speaks to a unique characteristic of a space in order to converse with it. Memory plays a big part in this. I hope to produce a kind of encounter between viewer and work that elicits memory or a sensorial response.

The sun's rays do not burn until brought to a focus (2017) Giclee print on transparent film, poplar, sunlight. various dimensions. print: 12" x 50"

OPP: How do materiality and immateriality intersect in your work?

NH: My work hovers between materiality and immaterially like most of our experiences. I use translucent and semi-translucent materials—transparent film, backlight film and silk—to manifest ephemeral, immaterial concepts like time, memory, space, light, air, breath in material ways. The physical aspects produce immaterial encounters. I use light in the exposure of my images, but also in the installation within the exhibition space. For me, light is quite kinetic. . . or it makes the work kinetic through the passage of time. 

Light is fundamental to photographic processes, and its manipulation is a material process in my work. Light is intangible, like time and memory, and it affects physical spaces. Natural light is always changing, while artificial light is static. These differences produce both stillness and subtle motion in my work. For example, my transparent film works produce latent imagery within a space when they are lit. They behave in a kinetic way when exposed to natural light, and a rather still way when illuminated with traditional gallery track lightning.

Songs of May (foreground), The sky seemed to fold in ribbons of palest sunlight, 2019.

OPP: In your recent work Breathing Spaces (2019), you printed on silk charmeuse for the first time. What led you to print on fabric instead of transparent film for the various Billows sculptures?

NH: During the opening of my solo show Staring into the sun (2019) at Rodman Hall last year, a visitor commented that, despite my works being on transparent film, they seemed to contain a kind of weight, almost like fabric. I was able to unintentionally fool a viewer into touching the work, thinking they were experiencing textile pieces, when in actuality it was a combination of the transparent photograph and it’s latent copy. This interested me a lot in terms of my investigations into perception, memory, and experience. The physicality of the work led a viewer to think they were looking at a different material. I decided to test the material properties of fabric in relation to light and to space. 

Billows, two breaths at dusk (2019) Archival pigment prints on 12.5mm silk charmeuse draped over hand shaped copper, hardware, maple, light. 34" x 52" each print, installation dimensions variable. Studio view.

OPP: Is this a new direction?

NH: I wouldn’t say that it’s a new direction in the sense that I’m abandoning my process working with light and transparent film. I see these explorations with silk as another dimension of what I’m already doing, folding space and time outside of the camera. The silk has different physical properties and absorbs light in a different way. When illuminated, the back becomes a diffused mirror image. Transparent film produces latent imagery. The silk drapes instead of folds, and you can see your body through it when draping it over your hand, for example. All of these materials and explorations are related. I was lucky to receive Ontario Arts Council Grants and A Canada Council for the Arts Research and Creation Grant, which allowed me to test new materials and experiment. I’ve made some of the largest transparent film pieces I’ve ever made, tested how images behave on silk, and worked with colour films and resins as both sculptural and image materials. Some of the large transparent pieces and works on silk are on view at Centre 3 for Artistic and Social Practice in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada from February 6 - March 5.

To Breathe Light 2/4 (2019) Archival pigment prints on backlight film mounted in double sided custom floor light box (plexiglass, poplar, LED lighting, hardware). 36" x 24" x 5"

OPP: Can you talk about abstraction versus legibility of the image?

NH: Over time my work has become more abstract. Photography has a history of being mistaken for truth. The processes and materials I am working with are true, and yet they produce something more abstract than what we would consider truth in experience. I’m really interested in the exploratory, transformative power of materials to translate everyday experiences. Memory is just as important as breathing in our human experience, and I’m interested in exploring how that manifests and transforms through time. We are all unconsciously shaped by the spaces we inhabit on a daily basis, and I know that my work is often influenced by the spaces where I spend the most time. Space is something psychological just as much as it is physical, and I want to explore both of these aspects of space in my work. 

Dappled (2019) Archival inkjet prints on backlight film draped over custom poplar and aluminum sculptures. Approximately 24" x 60" x 36" each.

OPP: I appreciate the materiality of your sculptures, especially since its rare that I see a physical photograph anymore. Has your work changed in relation to not just the emergence of digital cameras, but specifically in relation to the pervasiveness of smart phone cameras, selfies and Instagram?

NH: As an artist and educator I’m constantly grappling with the immaterial digital world we find ourselves in. I question why I make photo-based work in an age when we are so saturated and bombarded with images on a daily basis. Do I really want to add to that massive pool of images? What makes mine different? I rarely take selfies and use social media largely for circulating my art practice. For the past six or seven years, I’ve been teaching a university online digital imaging course to upwards of 250 students per term. It’s a real challenge teaching through a screen and constantly being available to students. I’m acutely aware of screens and my time with them. Truthfully I’m frustrated with them. It’s important for me to use my hands and make material work, and I’m interested in pushing my work further into the sculptural realm. 

It’s rare that we encounter a physical image anymore. I wonder how much of our memories are made up of actual experiences, or streams of images we consume in our daily lives. I want my work to be experiential and challenge the boundaries between the pictorial and physical worlds we live in. I find my more recent work makes use of both film and digital cameras. For a while I couldn’t afford a a good quality digital camera to make the images that I wanted. So I used medium format film. I still use film, but lately I’ve been using both media while layering within the camera, and I’m interested in combining them in a body of work. Both have their positives and limitations.

To see more of Natalie's work, please visit natalie-hunter.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. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018) and Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019). Her work was recently included in the three-person show Manifestations at One After 909 (Chicago). Stacia's solo exhibition The Thin Line Between One Thing and Another just opened on January 16, 2020 at Finlandia University.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Thomas Albrecht

Sand (2016) Performance still.

THOMAS ALBRECHT's performances employ physical endurance and metaphor to address existential inquiry and ritual.  His body, of course, is the primary material, but recurring props—rocks, rope, spotlights, a briefcase—shift their meaning from one performance to another. A rope might be a noose or a tool of measurementSimple actions of holding or dragging rocks, as well as breaking one rock with another, are metaphors for how humans respond to our own challenges. Thomas earned a BFA at Rhode Island School of Design, a Master of Arts in Religion at Yale and an MFA at University of Washington. He has performed and exhibited throughout the United States and internationally, most recently at Performance Is Alive at Satellite Art Show (NYC 2019), Garner Arts Center (Garnerville, NY 2019), ITINERANT Performance Art Festival (NYC 2018), and Woodstock Art Museum (Woodstock, NY 2018). His 2018 solo show unmoored at Joseloff Gallery at Hartford Art School (Hartford, CT) was a cycle of five performances. Thomas lives in Kingston, NY.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Between earning your BFA and MFA, you earned a Master of Arts in Religion at Yale. How does this degree influence your art practice?

Thomas Albrecht: I am interested in what individuals believe. Belief grounds what we give meaning to: what we value and what we don’t; what makes us get out of bed in the morning versus pulling the covers over our heads. Late writer David Foster Wallace asserted that, “Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.” I agree with him. Much of our living is founded on what we give ourselves over to: how we, with whatever freedom we have in our lives, choose this over that. Where we draw lines and take stands. My time at Yale allowed me to pursue a line of inquiry that developed when I was very young and continues to the present day. I grew up a minister’s son in a large Midwestern church. I remain humbled by how human beings navigate life—individually and collectively—and how we sustain or shift belief when life does not go as planned. The amount of suffering and loss that accumulates during a lifetime must be countered by belief, which allows for remaking the world over and over again. And this often has nothing to do with organized religion. This process of world re/creation is absolutely necessary for anyone seriously involved with making. Giving meaning to images, objects, and ideas grounds the choices we make in forming a world we can believe in, work for, renew.

Like the Delayed Rays of a Star (2019) Performance still.

OPP: You’ve repeatedly worn the costume/uniform of a businessman. Is this a recurring persona?

TA: I like repetition in my work, whether it involves what is worn, used or actioned. The grey suit is a costume/uniform that is ubiquitous across cultures, symbolizing male power and success. It’s a nod to the “everyman.” This signifier is then routinely subverted by the actions I take in a given performance—like sullying the suit with material such as dirt or ash—or the situations I place myself in; e.g., walking into the sea or laying prostrate on a city sidewalk. 

Dogs Barking in Winter (2018). Performance still.

OPP: What about the costume, that I interpret as a monk’s robe, in Dogs Barking in Winter (2018) or Shivaree (2018)? 

TA: The clothing used for Dogs Barking in Winter and Shivaree is actually a simple, navy dress made of muslin by my textile-designer daughter, though I appreciate the read of it as a monk’s habit! Both performances were in response to reported events in my maternal grandmother’s young life, at the time of her marriage to my grandfather. “They made me wear a navy dress,” she shared in a low, hushed voice, at age 89. She had five daughters and told none of them of her experience of public shaming at the hands of her midwestern farming community. She told me, her grandson when I was 19. Being made to wear a navy dress at her wedding was her small town’s method of casting stones, extending an old narrative of shame: naked in the green garden; a scarlet letter; forbidden to wear white. In all of these stories, a young woman bears disgrace for the social “good”: naked, marked, humiliated. The desire to know, the desire to love, the desire to desire, all penned-in by guilt; recrimination for stepping beyond the line. Take this stone. Putting on the navy dress was, for me, taking up the stone of my grandmother’s lifelong shame—that she carried in secret—so that I could finally set it down. Though she passed in 2005, just shy of her 102nd birthday, I believe she was present for each performance. 

sea/shore (2019) Performance still.

OPP: How do you think about the boulders that are recurring props and tools in your work?

TA: Actual stones have weight; stones connote heaviness, heft, permanence, time. Real stone wears away, eventually becoming sand and dust. In many of my performances since 2013, I have used actual rocks, as well as “fake” stones made of unfired clay that have the same weight, look, and feel. I like this slippage between “real” and fictive in my work. 

My first performances with stones were collaborations with artist Rae Goodwin, and they drew inspiration from Mark Strand’s poem To Begin, where the struggle to initiate creative work is likened to “lifting the stones from one’s teeth.” Both Rae and I were navigating the end of significant personal relationships, and we recognized the very real challenge of being able to speak emotions that seemed impossible to voice. So we put stones in our mouths, which was discomfiting, difficult and strange. We held heavy stones over our heads to the point of physical exhaustion. Participating in these collaborations, I saw that stone, as metaphor—used in cultural narratives since time immemorial—could be used again and again to pose questions about the weight of loss and shame, and about perseverance, and it served to ground my work for years to come. 

One of the most iconic still images of my work captures me standing, waist-high in the ocean in my everyman suit, my head level to the horizon, and holding a large unfired clay stone on my shoulder. This singular picture holds great meaning for me, and about my work as a whole.  

Return (2015) Performance still.

OPP: On your website, you represent your performances in still images. I have no sense of the duration of these performances or the sounds. My impression is these performances generally last quite a while. Can you talk about the duration of your work?

TA: My performances are quite minimal, and often durational. Duration, for me, involves a test of body and mind, both as artist and for witnesses of my work. I do not practice my performances, so each one is a unique experience for me as maker, and for those observing. I like the improvisational demands this way of working sets up for me, challenging me to think through my choices while making, in real time; and to remain vigilantly attuned to what is taking place as my body and mind tire. This way of making is not so dissimilar to the way I move through the rest of my living. Life for me is an endurance test of mind, body and soul, none of which is separate from the other. Observation, patience and awareness are key.  

Catch-As-Catch-Can (2014) Performance still.

OPP: Do your performances include sound?

TA: While spoken language does not regularly enter into my performances, silence, or quiet, is used as a strategy to focus viewers’ attention on the action, gesture or movement taking place. I employ sound repetitively to disrupt expectations of a given space and as a reminder that time cycles: a shovel dragging through dirt along an old factory floor, hour upon hour; a clay stone is pounded repeatedly until it returns to dust, the echo reverberating in a freight elevator; a body jumping up and down while trying to catch a balloon tied to one’s wrist, the resulting sound of breathing, bodily fatigue and disappointment.

A Certain Distance (2018) Performance still.

OPP: Tell us about the series of performances you did for unmoored (2018) at the Joseloff Gallery at the Harford Art School.

TA: It was an incredible opportunity to produce the cycle of five performances that constituted unmoored. I remain extremely grateful to the director for granting me such incredible trust and support in the development of this personally significant body of work. I am not certain I will have another opportunity quite like the one I was afforded for unmoored. I originally was going to install still images of prior work, but after visiting the gallery and feeling very unexcited about representing live art via a collection of quiet pictures, I jettisoned the idea and proposed to do a series of performances connected by a conceptual thread. The director was incredibly supportive of the idea, agreeing to open the exhibition with an empty gallery and trusting me to develop the performance series with very little lead time.

unmoored (2018) Installation shot.

OPP: How did each performance build upon the last?

TA: The series began in a completely empty exhibition space, and each performance left a trace or remnant for gallery viewers to experience. In the first performance, I traced and retraced a projected horizon, so that when overhead projectors were turned off, a drawn line—marked and erased for hours, like a tide marking a shore—hovered on an otherwise blank wall. The next performance left a halo of ash where an image had been hung, contemplated, and removed; a dusting that covered a large section of the gallery floor. In both circumstances, on wall and floor, the remaindered trace could be viewed as a temporal drawing. The third performance  involved stillness, with me standing with a heavy clay stone, wedged into a corner of the gallery, trained under a bright spotlight of the kind used in theatre productions. The performance ended with my setting the stone down and turning the light back on viewers, before placing it back on the floor and unplugging it. The dress I wore for the performance was left to rest on the floor, in the same corner where I had stood, and the clay stone and spotlight remained as additional remnants. The fourth iteration involved dragging a wood palette covered with 40 clay stones through the whole of the open exhibition space. Unintended was the scratched passage of the palette across the gallery floor, a marked reminder of the absurd action of the performance. The final action involved removing each stone from the wood palette, and creating a bed of stones in front of the wall where the horizon line still hovered. I lay on the stone bed—beneath a frame of flickering light from an old projector—until I finally arose, shut off the lights of the gallery, turned off the projector, and exited the darkened space. 

In the Wilderness (2018) Performance still.

OPP: Was there an overall narrative that a viewer could only understand if they saw the entire series?

TA: unmoored was significant for me as the performances could be experienced as distinct actions, yet each related to others through a conceptual thread based on repeated attempts—often absurd and futile—to mark experience and locate time. The gallery opening empty, and then activated each week through distinct performances that left physical traces, was a rare opportunity to experience space being created while memory could be witnessed and tracked. One could visit the gallery at any moment of the exhibition and find something to experience that was distinct and yet connected. Even empty, the gallery felt charged with anticipation of what was to come. What emerged was one of the most meaningful projects of my life, particularly the ongoing questions that continue to resonate beyond the clearing of the gallery space.


To see more of Thomas' work, please visit www.thomasalbrecht.com and follow him @thomasalbrecht69.

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. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018) and Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019). Her work was recently included in the three-person show Manifestations at One After 909 (Chicago). Stacia's solo exhibition The Thin Line Between One Thing and Another just opened on January 16, 2020 at Finlandia University.