OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Leslie Bell

Cosmic Wall-Les Territoires (installation view)
Water-based paint, chalk and pen on Mylar, paper and wood cut-outs
8' x 40'

LESLIE BELL's immersive, colorful collage installations hover in the threshold between abstraction and representation. The organic, rhizomatic lines evoke explosions, sea life and planetary movement, but formal decisions are often influenced more by materiality than imagery. Leslie received her BFA from Alberta College of Art & Design in 2002 and completed her MFA in Painting and Drawing at Concordia University, Montreal in 2009. In 2008, she attended the Cosmic Ray Research residency at The Banff Centre, and has been the recipient of numerous project grants from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts (2008, 2010 and 2011). Leslie's stop-motion animations of water-based paint over back-lit glass have been screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival (2013) in Australia and the Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival (2014) in Toronto, among others. She has exhibited widely throughout Canada, including solo shows at Skew Gallery (2011) and SQ Commons (2013), both in Calgary, where Leslie lives and works.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Are your collage installations pure abstractions? What visually influences you in the creation of these works?

Leslie Bell: These collages, composed of over a hundred paper and paint-on-Mylar cutouts, were developed from two different directions. The paper shapes are made by tracing projected photographs of trees, plants and fireworks explosions as contour line drawings and then cutting them out by hand with an X-acto knife. This process is a holdover from older works. In undergrad, I was primarily a landscape painter who worked from image references that I projected and traced. When I switched to abstraction, I incorporated these contour drawings into the layering of the paintings and later into stand-alone drawings on paper. Over the years I have shot hundreds of photographs on hiking excursions in British Columbia, on holidays in Europe and of my own houseplants. These photos are now my source materials for the white paper collage pieces that are a direct development from this early abstract work.

The paint-on-Mylar shapes fall under the category of pure abstraction. The material conditions, rather than any outside images, dictate the formal language, but those abstractions sometimes lead me to think about sea-life, mucous and cellular organisms, which in turn influences the work. I work on the floor, pouring out puddles of FW ink and acrylic paint and allowing them to blend and mix as they dry. Saturated puddles of ink on Mylar dry in a particularly interesting incremental way, leaving thick lines and edges and creating smaller shapes within the form. I started out making jellyfish-like shapes, and I embraced the way folds in the plastic or uneven floors would allow "tumors" or new "limbs" to sprout overnight. With jellyfish in mind, I considered giving the shapes "tentacles" and then began to incorporate gestural lines of paint, mirroring the action of a swinging wrist and arm into the shapes as outcroppings. From there, the shapes made me think of the mind maps I draw in my sketchbook composed of circled text and lines, as well as strings of sap or snot, so I began adding intricacy to the forms by making multiple puddles of paint or "nebulae" connected by swooping and drooping swaths of lines made with large flat brushes. The frosted Mylar I use comes on four-feet wide rolls, so I would make larger shapes by stretching the "snot strings" lengthwise. At a certain point I became fascinated by the texture that can be created by splashing and dripping concentrated ink into the puddles with an eyedropper—it looked like leopard spots to me—and I went through a whole period of making "leopard amoebas."

Cosmic Wall-Banff (detail)
Water-based paint, chalk and pen on Mylar, paper and wood cut-outs
8' x 20'

OPP: What first led to the shift from painting to installation?

LB: I first started the Cosmic Collage in 2008; my goal was to solve a problem in my painting practice. At the time, I was really into the work of Julie Mehrutu, Matthew Ritchie, Dil Hildbrand and Melanie Authier, and I was struggling to emulate their work. I sought a level of layered complexity that just wasn't happening in my paintings. It occurred to me that pre-planning the compositions through collage might achieve the level of intricacy and layering I was looking for.

My work took on an unpredicted trajectory. The collage itself became a satisfying, exciting, fully-realized body of work. New material explorations changed the aesthetic, and I began to consider installation and space. But I always kept my original goal in mind. Over the next year or two, I poked away at some paintings, working from the photo documentation I took of the first collage-installations at The Banff Centre and Galleries Les-Territoires. Thinking of my favourite painters, I switched to oil paint for these studies and began from some simple questions: canvas or birch panel? Paint loosely or photo-realistically? Masking tape hard-edges: yes or no? I considered these initial studies to be failures up until SIM 1 when something "clicked" aesthetically.

Pith 4
Oil on birch panel
48" x 60"

OPP: Could you talk about the intersection of dimensionality and flatness in Simulation Series (2014)?

LB: The paintings from Simulation Series are essentially photo-representational paintings of abstract source material. I place two-dimensional forms into three-dimensional systems, photograph them and then paint the resulting abstraction with the same representational techniques that I developed when I painted from life and landscape. I love the idea that the viewer can recognize and appreciate the tropes of traditional, representational painting, including cast light and shadow, colour value and focal depth, while the subject is unrecognizable: I’m literally simulating abstraction.

With my earlier abstract paintings, any sense of flatness or space was an unintentional byproduct of trying to develop an abstract aesthetic through a combination painting and drawing while being unsure of my direction. I was trying to achieve a virtual space through a mental process without any real reference points. But with the Simulation Series, which references Baudrillard's notions of hyperreality, I embraced the ambiguity between abstraction and representation, between the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional.

The initial source materials are flat shapes that occupy real space, casting interesting shadows that I exaggerate in the paintings. The bends in the paper in the collage and the source lighting create highlights and shadows that add value and ambient light to the original local colours. The photos I take of the three-dimensional installations distort the forms through cropping and a combination of sharp focus and blur that can be emphasized through a combination of hard-edge and gestural blending techniques.

Cosmic Wall-Skew
Wall collage, water-based paint, chalk and pen on Mylar, paper and wood cut-outs
15' x 40'

OPP: Are your Cosmic Wall installations planned or improvised? What are some of the practical logistics of hanging your installations?

LB: The installations are loosely planned. I reuse the shapes with each new installation. After finding out where the work will be shown next, I get a general idea of what kind of superstructure I'm going to go for based on the conditions of the space (on the wall or hanging from the roof, horizontal swoop or water-fall, one main shape or small clusters, etc.) With this in mind, I make as many new shapes as time allows with the specific space in mind. I always start out with a general idea of the composition, but the installation grows incrementally and decisions are made organically in the process. I'm never very picky about exact placement of every piece. It is an abstract collage after all, and I personally enjoy accidental formations and surprises that happen through the process.

Through the different installations, the individual pieces have suffered some wear and tear, and I often need to patch some chipped bits up with paint or retire them altogether. All the individual bits have a maximum size of 4 x 8 feet because everything is stored in flat, cardboard portfolio packs—with the exception of some 20 foot ribbons that get rolled up for storage in a box. I've learned through experience that the paint shapes need at least a week of drying time before being packed away, and I need to separate them with newspaper or they will stick together.

Oil on birch panel
60" x 60"

OPP: Do you use assistants?

LB: At first, I did all the work from creation to installation myself, but as early as the Les-Territoires installation I began to delegate tasks and rely on installation assistants. I invited my friends to help me X-acto knife out my paper shapes to save time. The more complicated wood shapes were made by a professional printing company using computer laser cutting. My husband would hang my wood bits for me because I'm not strong enough to lift them. He's a commercial electrician and figured out the framework for hanging the heavier wood pieces, which are anchored to walls with metal rods painted white or hung from the roof with aircraft cable, using supplies he pilfered from construction sites. The collage itself is hung with clear push pins and fishing wire.

With the Glenbow Museum and Art Gallery of Calgary installations, I had a team of professional installation technicians helping me. I spread out all the shapes on the floor and handed them pieces one at a time while they were up on ladders. I told them where and how high to hang things, and they problem-solved to make it happen. The installation process is generally a fun and stress-free collaboration with the installation technicians, and I'm open to their suggestions in terms of installation and lighting.

Cosmic Wall-Glenbow
Wall collage, water-based paint, chalk and pen on Mylar, paper and MDF cut-outs
12' x 20' x 5'

OPP: In general, are your animations pure stop-motion or do you ever employ digital editing techniques?

LB: I try to achieve as much as possible in-camera with the hand-painted stop-motion techniques, but there are some digital effects added in post-production using AfterEffects. But with every digital effect added, the original source material becomes slightly degraded. I am compulsively obsessed with maintaining as much high-definition detail as possible. (I abhor seeing these films projected in SD!) So I make sure the lighting is perfect before filming and for the most part, I use the original paint colours and light levels. I crop and blur with the camera set-up instead of using computer scale change and blur filters.

When I first started Chromafilm, I was still learning animation, and I had some strategic struggles trying to achieve pre-set goals based on combining existing aesthetics of paint animation with my own pure abstract painting technique. I was thinking about animation as a way to create a living painting, emulating the experience of painting as the mind works through the possibilities and permutations of abstract composition. But I mostly wanted to make moving versions of the paint-on-Mylar shapes from the Cosmic Collage.

Stop-motion animation, water-based paint over back-lit glass
3:38 minutes

OPP: What about speed and mirroring in Chromafilm (2011)?

LB: I was never really satisfied with the level of frenetic activity of Chromafilm. Throughout the process, I did as much as possible to slow the paint down, but paint dropped into water moves at a certain speed and the camera takes a certain amount of time to capture each individual picture. The paint-on-glass painting technique is achieved with Golden fluid acrylics mixed with water and some glycerin (which never dries) poured over a glass window on a light table that is tipped slightly by a margin of millimeters. I wanted the final film to be HD, so I needed to capture the largest possible image files. Each individual frame took about two seconds to capture. Those two seconds felt so long as I watched the colour explode on the table into the water.

I learned a lot while tinkering with AfterEffects. I discovered the mirroring effect, which anchors the movement centrally and alleviates a previous sea sickness that came from watching the fast-paced movement flow rapidly from side to side. I learned to colour reverse by switching the curves, which turned the white background to black and altered the original stained glass-like color palate to an ultraviolet one. This aesthetic turned the recognizable paint on a light table into a cosmic and psychedelic field. 

Stop-motion animation, water-based paint over back-lit glass
16 minute loop

OPP: Your animation Apollo (2011) pulses back and forth in imagined scale. One second I see outer space; the next I'm looking at carbonation bubbles rising in a glass. As I watched the 16-minute loop, I fluctuated back and forth between wondering how certain effects were achieved and surrendering to the visual pleasure. What’s different in the process of this piece?

LB: One day while shooting Chromafilm, I took a break to go for a walk and when I came back, the paint had dried somewhat and mixed into a thick gooey puddle with some air-bubbles in it. On the computer screen, this shot looked like a starry sky. This moment was the impetus for Random Peter, Aquarius and Apollo. I shot Random Peter that same day. I used a brush to scrape away paint, and then shot image sequences as the paint slowly spilled in and filled the mark. In real time, the paint was moving at a slug’s pace because the paint mixture had less water in it than what I used for Chromafilm (speed problem solved).

The sequences I used for both Aquarius and Apollo were made by using a sponge off frame to soak up paint from under the bottom of the frame and squeeze it out over the top. When you see an explosion of dots in the frame, that was achieved by whipping a goop of paint from a paintbrush from out of frame. This process took more than half a year, and I ended up with 48 minutes of raw footage.

There is a particular effect that is more predominant in Apollo where the bubbles seem to streak in chains or lines. I copied the clip multiple times and repeatedly offset it by a single frame. When it looks like molecules slowly popping in and out, that’s actually a set of clips multiplied and offset about 40 times. I personally consider it both the success and bane of Aquarius and Apollo that the animation is so seamless that it is not readily apparent that it’s origin is hand-painted. Typically stop-motion animation is appreciated largely for the amount of work that goes into it. Because these films seem to be digitally created, that aspect goes unnoticed.

Acrylic and pen on masonite panel
4' x 6'

From a purely process point of view, do you prefer painting, installation or animation more?

LB: Overall, my practice is a combination of intuitive and analytical approaches. These varied processes fall somewhere along a spectrum between active/reflective spontaneity and compulsive methodology.

Painting is challenging and makes me think at every step. It is an energetic process where I am reflecting and responding to each and every brush stoke. Discoveries are made, boundaries pushed and surprises happen. When I feel like I've mastered a particular technique and I'm sure of how a painting will turn out, I move on to a new series of paintings. I don't like going through the motion of painting when I feel I already have the answers. To me, painting is a thought process as opposed to a technical one. Installing my collage work is downright fun. All the production work is already done. I literally wave my hands around, and, like magic—the magic is that other people do all the labour—a massive art piece comes to fruition.

I like animation because, I get so involved in the rhythmic methodical making and the rabbit-hole of editing that I can spend hours at it without stopping. By the time I was working on "Aquarius", capturing the stop-motion paint reached a point where I repeat the same action hundreds of times without the need for much reflective thinking or interpretation. The same could be said for hand-drawn cel-animation; although it leads to new forms, it involves an iterative process where I am basically tracing the same shape over and over again with only a small set of slight changes. These methodical actions put me in a meditative state where all thought or stress leaves my head. Video editing also satisfies my masochistic need to focus on very small details and set-up overly complicated processes where I create an unnecessarily labour-intensive procedure that could not be explained in simple terms.

I feel like you just asked me to pick my favourite child!

To see more of Leslie's work, please visit lesliebell.ca.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Kris Grey/Justin Credible

Performance Still (Clifford Owens Seminar at Pioneer Works, Brooklyn, NY)
Performance and Concept by Kris Grey
Photograph by Kris Grey and Fivel Rothberg

Gender queer artist KRIS GREY/JUSTIN CREDIBLE’s interdisciplinary practice includes video and ceramics, as well as a variety of performance modes: storytelling, drag, educational lectures, social interaction in public space and endurance. They explore the intersection of gendered embodiment, authority, intimacy and social justice. Kris received their BFA in Ceramics from Maryland Institute College of Art (2003) and their MFA in Fine Arts from Ohio University (2012). They perform and lecture internationally, most recently at Performatorium: Making It, Difficult at Neutral Ground Contemporary Art Forum at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, Canada and Performing Franklin Furnace, curated by Clifford Owens at Participant Inc. in New York. Gender/Power, a collaboration with Maya Ciarrocchi, will begin a series of 2015 residencies at Baryshnikov Arts Center in March, Invisible Dog Art Center in Brooklyn in the summer and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Process Space in the fall. From March 25 - 28, 2015, you can see Gender/Power performances at Gibney Dance Center in New York City. Kris will be the 2015 Perry Lecturer at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. Kris’s home base is Brooklyn.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Both your BFA and MFA are in Ceramics, but it seems that you are now focused on performance, video and social activism. What led to the shift from object-making to performance? Do you still find time for the studio? Do you ever miss object-making as a practice?

Kris Grey: I’ve been making objects and performances in parallel for as long as I can remember. I developed a performance persona named Justin Credible as a parallel to my studio practice in the early 2000s. That character allowed me to perform an array of alternative masculinities through drag performance. As Justin, I organized and performed with the Charm City Kitty Club from 2005-2009. I also performed in bars and on stages all over Baltimore and the Washington DC metro area. It wasn’t until grad school that I started producing performance and live art under the banner of visual art—in essence combining my creative identities.

I come to my work through craft. The way I use my body is closely tied to the way I use clay or other sculptural materials. With clay I work through form and build objects that exhibit, subvert or superseded gendered expectations. Ceramics is magical alchemy! You combine materials, manipulate forms and then place them under extreme duress to produce beauty. The material qualities of the body are similar. Bodies are always marked by socialization. Much in the way that clay records its own history, the body reveals its own stories. Flesh is pliable and plastic. It can be formed and reformed just like clay. 

I have taken that methodology on as a life project. My body is my main raw material. I use hormones and surgeries as a way to craft a queer form outside the binary of male and female. The material may change, but the core interests are constant—namely gender, authority and social justice.

Bottoms Up
Porcelain, glaze, decal
6"x 6"x 3"
Butt Plug service, microwave and dishwasher safe.

OPP:Ask A Tranny is an ongoing, interactive, public performance, social action and online project" which has been performed in Newark, London, Baltimore and Kuopio, Finland. How do you pick where to perform this piece? Has one place been more challenging than another? Where did you receive the most welcoming, enthusiastic response?

KG: The first time I performed Ask A Tranny (AAT) I was in London on a study abroad trip. I didn’t even have a passport before that summer. I was 30 years old, and travel was something I thought to be beyond my class status. Getting a passport probably seems simple to most people, although costly. However, for me there was a major consideration about what “sex” I should list myself as. I am gender-queer identified with a transgender history. I don’t self-identify as either male or female exclusively. When I applied for my passport, I had begun to take testosterone and my appearance was somewhere on the masculine spectrum though I didn’t have facial hair. I’ve never had the intention of changing my ID sex markers since I feel the M/F binary is arbitrary and insufficient. I am listed as “F” on all of my IDs including my license and my passport. I like to think of that F as standing for feminism. I saw my new passport as a conversation piece that made passing through security checkpoints particularly contentious. Whether I’m holding a passport or a sign, I’m enacting the same “performance”—performing myself as gender-queer for an audience of strangers and with differing stakes. At a border I risk detainment. In the public there are different risks. The passport and the cardboard sign both function as prompts for conversations around gender, embodiment and self-actualization. 

Since travel provoked this work, it seemed appropriate to perform it in many different geographical locations. I made a sign that fits into my suitcase and I take it along wherever I go. I usually perform in places of public gathering. Some sites have a particular resonance their history, for example Speakers Corner. I’ve run AAT in public parks, shopping centers and on college campuses. Sometimes there is resistance from police or authority figures who think, at first, that I am soliciting money. It helps to know and understand local laws for public use, which can vary greatly across cultures. In general, it is not illegal to hold a sign and conduct conversations in public spaces. That is what happens in AAT. The result, when I appear in public and make myself vulnerable, is that strangers meet me there with their own care and vulnerability. We exchange stories and create empathetic connections. Gender and my transness is the place we start but the conversations are as varied as the participants. Every single time I’ve performed AAT, I have had genuine, interesting and transcendent experiences with people I’ve never met before and will likely never see again.

How To Perform Trans Visibility in Three Easy Steps
A quick "how to" for those interested in performing trans visibility in the public.

OPP: Correct me if I'm wrong, but it is my understanding that tranny is generally considered a derogatory term these days. I can definitely see that you are reclaiming the term and therefore controlling it's perception with your performance, but I wonder if you ever get push back within the trans community for using the term tranny?

KG: I use the term tranny to identify myself. It’s personal to me. You are correct. Tranny is a trigger word that makes some folks feel unsafe. Though I’m very intentional in my use, I know that this particular word can be difficult and potentially harmful for those people. I would never say I’m “reclaiming” the word tranny. As someone on the trans masculine spectrum, it is not mine to reclaim. There is a great wide debate about who may use the term and who should not. I am certainly not advocating any position by my use of the word to identify myself.

I make my work with sincerity and I am always open to being challenged or critiqued. When people attend the public performances or see video footage I think that sincerity is communicated.

Performance Still (The Ice Palace at Cherry Grove, NY)
Performance and Concept by Kris Grey
Photograph by Kris Grey and Gordon Hall

OPP: While looking at all your work online, I was reminded of Bob Flanagan nailing his penis to a board, Stelarc's suspension and body modification and Marina Abramovic's 1974 performance Rhythm 0. Suspicious Packages (2010 and 2012) also reminds me at times of Martha Rossler's seminal feminist video Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975). How does your work relate to the art historical trajectory of endurance work?

KG: I’ve certainly been influenced by all the artists you list. I hope that my work continues in a legacy built of live art/body work, AIDS activism and feminism. I could make a list a mile long of writers, artists and activists I admire and seek to emulate. Trans* and gender queer artists like Kate Bornstein, Del LaGrace Volcano, Vaginal Davis, Leon Mostovoy, Heather Cassils and Tobaron Waxman come to mind. Body/live art artists including Linda Montano, Annie Sprinkle, Elizabeth Stephens, Barbara Hammer, Martha Wilson, Julie Tolentino, Rocio Boliver, Franko B, Dominic Johnson and Ron Athey, inspire me. I owe a great deal to the leadership and guidance of my teachers and mentors from high school to the present. While I look to other artists for inspiration, I am also indebted to the body workers and healers, trans* people, queers, crafters, sex workers and outcasts who have made their lives and work outside the frame of visual art.

Intergenerational dialog has been the key to my development in performance. I’ve had the great pleasure of performing for and working with amazing artists. Ron Athey’s work and writing have deeply influenced me and I’m so humbled to have built a relationship with him over the past two years. The first time I performed Homage, in 2013, Ron installed my chest piercings. In January 2015, we both performed in Regina, Saskatchewan, at Performatorium. We had the chance to participate in each other’s work again. This time, Ron worked together with another artist, Jon John, to help prepare my body for my performance. It’s an incredibly intimate thing to bring other people into your work through your body. And it’s such a gift when the people you admire invite you to perform in their work, as Ron did at Performatorium. That’s the best kind of mentorship for a live artist! 

Suspicious Packages (Finland)
Single Chanel Video

OPP: Whether in casual conversations in public spaces, in videos like How To Perform Trans Visibility in Three Easy Steps (2012) or in storytelling performances like Body Dialectic (2012), you project a warm, down-to-earth presence. You put people at ease and make it comfortable for them to ask questions. Is this just your personality or something you to cultivate and maintain?

KG: It may just be my personality. I was always coming home with report cards from school with teacher comments that read “too social in class.” I’ve always been interested in people; I just want to tell stories and hear stories. In a way I’ve built my practice around that desire. But being welcoming is a practice I’ve cultivated over time. I grew up in hospitality. My parents owned a small, seasonal motel in Upstate New York. I worked there from the time that I was in diapers until I left for college in Baltimore. While other kids were on summer vacations with their family, I was working. The motel was very formative. It brought strangers from all over into my life. I learned how to entertain.

OPP: Do you generally feel drained or jazzed after a public performance?

KG: Some of the content of my work is challenging. The core of my identity is an agitation to the very structure of binary socialization. I work through the lens of gender, but I’m ultimately interested in disrupting systems of power and dominance. I find it most effective to lead with vulnerability. I get nervous before I perform, sometimes for weeks before I appear on stage or in public. I’m an extrovert and something of an exhibitionist, but when the content of the work is so raw and personal I find it necessary to recharge after. During and immediately following a performance I feel elated. Some works, like Homage and (sub)Merge, take me through my body and out. Homage is really a meditative transcendence. Afterwards, I feel very vulnerable and fragile. I try to treat myself tenderly and with extra care. Sometimes that means that I need to be alone in a space that feels safe.

Intimate Gestures
Performance Still (Athens, OH)
Performance and Concept by Kris Grey
Photograph by Kris Grey and Paige Wright

OPP: I love what you say about leading with vulnerability. Personally, I believe that social and political change can be best brought about through activism based in storytelling, as opposed to protest, although they can certainly work in tandem. I’m thinking specifically about the changes in representations of LGBTQ characters in TV and movies over the last decade.

KG: I agree. Storytelling is an incredibly effective tool for social change. I cannot say if it's more or less effective than protest or if there is a clear delineation between the two. ACT UP and Gran Fury created an incredible amount of social change through protest. There is a vast difference between mainstream media storytelling and street-level activism, but it's hard to totally dismiss television programs because they have an incredibly wide reach. I think it's dangerous to judge work based on political efficacy alone.

We may also be thinking about storytelling in different ways. In my practice, direct community engagement through storytelling—and by storytelling, I mean people saying their truths of their lives in their words out loud to others for witness—can create revolution.

Body Dialectic
Performance Still (Athens, OH)
Performance and Concept by Kris Grey
Photograph by Kris Grey and Louise O'Rourke

OPP: What are your thoughts on recent media representations of trans characters, specifically Sophia Burset from Orange is the New Black and Maura Pfefferman from Transparent?

KG: The radical potential of trans* narratives is that they could disrupt a central power structure which touches every part of our lives: binary gender. I will say that we’ve never had a champion like Lavern Cox. She is such an incredible force, and I’m proud of the conversations she’s creating off screen. I admire her tremendously.

I am wary of mainstream media. Some of my earliest memories of trans* people come from daytime talk shows I saw as a kid. Someone would come out and be introduced to the audience who would be waiting with placards to guess if the guest was a man or a woman. From that kind of sensationalism, which still happens today, we have newer exploitations where after a lengthy introduction, the trans* guests break down and thank the host for letting them tell their story. . . except they hadn't just told their story! The host had interpreted and mediated it for the audience.

Consistently, in movies, on television and in the news, trans* people are portrayed as pathological. The dominant narrative produced is of being trapped in the wrong body. The wrong body narrative, so closely tied to the definition of transexualism from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, centers heteronormativity and distracts from any variation on the male/female binary. This dominant narrative reaffirms trans* folks as a strange apparition in need of medical and psychological intervention rather than a part of human diversity and who need access to life chances in health, housing, education and employment. Further, it skirts the real societal ills— sexism, misogyny, patriarchy and racism—that produce violence.

I suppose what I want to say here is that it depends on who's doing the telling. Trans* characters are increasingly complex; this is a good thing. The media machines that produce them are starting to cast actual trans* people, though not all the time and certainly not enough. I think trans* roles can be played by trans* people but I also think trans* actors can play non-trans roles. We often hear backlash when a cisgender person gets cast as a trans* character, but I'd like to see more diverse casting across all media, on TV, on stage, in movies, etc. Instead of casting for the lead “female” role, why not just cast for the role? Don’t immediately limit the possibilities of who could play that person. I want to see new representations of gender-queer and non-binary folks. It’s totally fine for people to feel like they’ve been “trapped in the wrong body,” but I don’t feel that way. I’d like to see more visibility for other non-binary people who feel differently.

To see more of Kris's work, please visit kristingrey.com.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Joshua Schwebel

A black leather glove was stolen from the office of the director of the MFA program at NSCAD. While I never admitted to having taken it, the program director was convinced that I was the culprit, even after the glove was anonymously returned to his home mailbox. I have since collected black leather gloves found on the street, and am anonymously mailing these one by one to his house.

JOSHUA SCHWEBEL repeatedly uses the strategies of displacement, redirection, impersonation and counterfeit in his conceptual, action-based practice. Whether he is leaving counterfeit missed delivery slips on the doors of art galleries, submitting exhibition proposals "on behalf of" other artists or paying people to visit a Montreal art gallery in order to skew attendance statistics, his projects often have the feel of art-world pranks while simultaneously calling into question our perceived distinctions between fiction and reality, as well as expectation and actual outcome. Joshua earned his BFA from Concordia University in 2006 and his MFA from Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in 2008. Recent solo exhibitions include [Caché] at AKA Artist-Run (2014) in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and Artspace (2013) in Petersborough, Ontario, and Micah Lexier (2012) at articule (Montreal, Quebec). In January 2015, Joshua began a year-long residency at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin, representing the province of Quebec, where he usually calls home.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Do you relate to the archetype of the Trickster?

Joshua Schwebel: I am really interested in shifting the ways that information refers to reality, and in so doing, constitutes the reality of the “real.” In much of my work, I try to shift or displace the relationship between information and reality, to show how our experience of what “is” is constructed by our anticipation of that expected reality. That being said, I do not identify with The Trickster even though my work has been labeled this way before. The Trickster archetype is expropriated from Indigenous and First Nations mythology, and since I have respect for other cultures’ symbolic integrity, I cannot accept this label. It perpetuates a problematic and privileged ignorance to pick and choose from cultural symbols.

Letter to articule director (from Please Do Not Submit Original Works)
Once learning that my imposter-submission had been accepted, I knew that I would have to disclose my action and the reasoning behind it, so I sent this letter to Julie Tremble, director of articule.

OPP: For Presentation: MFA Thesis Project (2008), you perpetrated to be working intensely on a tangible sculpture only to end up presenting nothing at the opening. In retrospect, you had been working on a year-long performance about anticipation and expectation. You were working the entire year, just not in the way people thought. Were you surprised by the response?

JS: I really enjoyed that project and felt a lot of energy and excitement while preparing for the public encounter with the (absent) work. I wasn’t expecting that people would misunderstand the project or would respond negatively to it. However, students and faculty both reacted quite strongly, and their reactions were surprising. I remember feeling in a bit of a panic over how the atmosphere in the school suddenly shifted. Before the show, I was a relatively unremarkable student, whereas, during and after the show, I found that I had ignited very strong reactions. This was exhilarating, because I really want to make work that creates a reaction, but also, like I said, unexpected. I wanted to create that reaction, but I didn’t anticipate how it would feel for me to be identified as the source of this reaction.

Working (part of Presentation: MFA Thesis Project)
A series of digital photos in which the artist is "working."
Photo Credit: Cam Matamoros

OPP: Can you describe the reactions more specifically?

JS: I prefer not to focus on people’s reactions without more carefully considering the stakes or factors within the work. Setting up my work as provocative of negative reactions reduces what I am doing to how people react to what I'm doing. In many of my works, nobody reacts, or there is no public. I do not consider these works any less interesting or deliberate!

To focus on emotional reactions overlooks the significant risk that I invest personally in enacting a work. For me, the type of critique I am pursuing also deliberately and necessarily involves deep personal risk. This is because I am part of the system, and I can only critique the system as a part of it. However, this means that I also cannot escape the impact of it, and must also examine my own investment in the system and culpability for its flaws while showing how corrupt and inadequate it is. In the case of the MFA project, I was risking my degree. I was daring the faculty and the committee to specify the conditions by which the MFA is granted, by potentially failing the degree as a result of my project's demonstration of the degree's bankruptcy.

Presentation: MFA Thesis Project
Opening reception

OPP: How does the challenge of human emotion aid or obstruct your conceptual agenda?

JS: I am interested in provoking and upsetting systems and social constructs. If people are so attached to these systems and processes that they become upset when I apply pressure to an unexamined aspect of a system, their reaction is only part of the work insofar as it elaborates the limits of the social system I am addressing. I am interested in how people protect systems, and how limits can be articulated by these protective behaviors.

Sometimes people get angry, but this is not the goal of my work. It's merely a byproduct. My intention is to create an intellectual disconnect: I am engaged in challenging values that privilege certain forms of encounter. Sometimes when values are challenged, people react emotionally, and I think in these cases, emotions are an expression of frustration or misunderstanding. But I am not trying to hurt anybody, just make them reconsider what they think, or indicate certain circumstances in which they act or react without thinking.

OPP: How has your MFA project affected the trajectory of your work since then?

JS: I have been refining many of the themes I discovered through that work: the relationship between expectation and absence, the circulation of the fictive or counterfeit and how the art gallery can turn anything into art, since it both signifies and neutralizes all content. Since then, I have looked more closely at these themes, finding new connections and permutations in so doing. Looking back at the project, it still feels familiar and exciting to me since it opened up a large territory of concepts, which I’m still exploring.

He pretended to be JPM
He pretended to be John
He pretended to be Eric Clapton as George Harrison
He pretended to be Don Knotts replacing Brian Epstein
He pretended to be Charlie Brill impersonating John Lennon
He pretended to be Neil Aspinall, impersonating Paul, aka Faul
He was also pretending to be Ringo Starr pretending to be Captain Kangaroo, but that scheme bellyflopped.
You see, not all things are what they seem to be.
Inkjet prints on paper, installation view
36" x 48"

OPP: Impersonation is a staple strategy for you. In Please Do Not Submit Original Works (2012), you submitted a proposal for an exhibition to the gallery articule "on behalf of" Canadian conceptual artist Micah Lexier. In Vertigo: Between the Deaths (2009), you hired an actor to impersonate you in both your personal and professional life. Fonograph (2011) examines "the conspiracy theory that Paul McCartney of the Beatles died in a car crash in 1966 and was replaced by an impostor." Could you talk generally about your interest in impersonation?

JS: This is a difficult question, because impersonation is so central to my practice. The more I work with the concept, the further it leads me. Part of my work is a critique of the cult of the artist’s name, and how, as artists, it seems less important to produce any ‘thing’ as it is to produce and circulate our names. Disturbing the artist-brand is sacrilegious, and impersonation is a technique to achieve this disturbance. Another aspect involves the debates around performance art and documentation, and how the live event of performance is made permanent (and no longer live) by its documentation. I see an analogy between the performance document and the role of the impostor or impersonator. I am conceptually attracted to any value system that both requires and denigrates a substitute, impersonation being one expression of this. 

"Fall": refabrication
Pen and ink
I found a letter to the editor of Art in America written by Carl Andre denouncing an unauthorized reproduction of his (mechanically produced) work. I reproduced this letter by hand, and inserted my hand-written copy in the place of the printed letter. I left the magazine in the archives of a library (location undisclosed).

OPP: Is there a meaningful distinction between these impersonations of individuals and your hand-drawn versions of mass-produced printed material in projects like How to Get Into A Major Museum Collection (2012) and Circulaire (2014) or "Fall:" refabrication (2010)?

JS: Not really. I see the drawing work as a direct extension of my interest in impersonation. Both impersonation and drawing stem from a fascination with identity as construction, and  both attempt to study how our personal claims to identity (which we believe to be knowable, visible, self-contained and rational) are haunted by the non-transparent, incomprehensible, secretive and fragmentary. My drawn work is intended to exist as counterfeit. The counterfeit is fundamentally but invisibly different from the authentic object. However, to function as counterfeits, rather than technically sophisticated replicas, they must be circulated as everyday objects amongst everyday objects. The disruption they might enact can only operate in circulation.

How to Get Into a Major Museum Collection
Markers, pen on acid-free paper
1,396 tags each measuring 1.5 x 3"

OPP: Let's talk about the practicalities of documentation as it relates to funding and exhibition proposals. In most cases, one must read a lot to understand your work, which can count against an artist when decisions are made by panels. How have your methods of documenting your work changed over time? Any advice for other conceptual artists whose work does not have a prominent visual component?

JS: I struggle occasionally with the limited attention span of juries and the conservative structures of portfolio submissions. I am not by any means the first artist to work with context-specific work or to evacuate meaning or aesthetic appeal from the image. It bothers me that juried submissions presuppose an image-centric practice. I think the wrong approach is to change one’s work to meet these institutional expectations. I am sure that my career suffers from this position, but I am pretty hard-headed about what my work is and what it isn’t. The work requires explanation, and thought, which I am not willing to abandon or compromise. For other artists, my advice is to keep being stubborn and keep being patient.

To see more of Joshua's work, please visit joshuaschwebel.com.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Amy Hughes

She's Sweet N' Sour

AMY HUGHES' photographs are colorful, textured and sensual. Combining found props and crafted objects with the human figure, she invites the viewer to imagine the taste, smell and feel of her "fabricated world of surreal imagery and visceral pleasure." Amy earned her BFA in Fine Art Photography (2013) from Texas State University, San Marcos. She's exhibited her work at Flatbed Press, UP Collective and the University Galleries at Texas State University. Amy lives and works in Austin, Texas.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You construct scenes to photograph, as in Conscious Fantasy, and photograph scenes you discover, as in Revert and Enter Exit. From a process point of view, do you prefer one way of working?

Amy Hughes: I do prefer one way of working, but it was a task to find what that was exactly. In general, my process still starts off with street photography as in Revert and Enter Exit, which was photographed in my home town of Midland, Texas. Those photos are not only nostalgic to me because they are remnants of my roots, but street photography fulfills me in that same manner. I love the experience of reloading film and roaming until my senses and eyes grab onto what I find appealing. And I’m enamored with the history of street photography.

But there came a time when I was looking at my street photos littered across that white wall, and I couldn’t help but feel annoyed by the banal. I thought, yes, I do like these photos, but where’s the weird? Where’s the challenge? Where are those bits of funk that exemplify me as the creator? That’s when I decided I needed to take it to a level where I felt like I had stamped a piece of my individuality on every photo.

I began a new approach of executing these odd combinations of visions I’ve always had floating around in my mind. I began to feel overwhelmingly fulfilled by the control I now I had over my work. Layers of pleasure and satisfaction came from directing the models and taking them out of their comfort zone, constructing scenes rather than stumbling across them and using my hands to craft the three-dimensional props I envisioned rather than hoping they fell into my lap. Street photography is not be my main focus anymore, but it certainly got me to where I am. It still warms up my artistic eye and mind to get the ball rolling on what I really love to do: constructing the scenes in Conscious Fantasy.

She Wears the Pants

OPP: Texture and color are dominant features in Conscious Fantasy. The photographs are very visceral. They are visually seductive, but almost immediately I imagine what these scenes smell and feel like. Photography, as a medium, doesn't usually have this capability. Could you talk about sensuality and photography?

AH: The bright colors in these photographs are the initial spark that sets off a trail to other senses. I like my viewers go through the process of being far away and thinking, ok, that’s a bright portrait or still life. Then as they approach, they think, oh gross! that’s actually sardines, PB&J or raw meat. Ultimately, I want that prop to spark a memory of what the object really smells and feels like.

Photographs are powerful visual fragments of documented time. They trigger past memories. It’s pretty remarkable how smell, taste and touch have just as much power to evoke strong memories. I find it fun and challenging to kill a few birds with one stone and incorporate layers of colors, textures and distinct smells or tastes so the viewer does step away having felt that odd visceral combination you don’t always come across in photography. A majority of my photo shoots involve getting messy. That’s what I love about it. I’m leaving the mark of my hand in each photograph.

Potent Gems

How you go about choosing/collecting the props you use in the Conscious Fantasy photographs?

AH: My prop approach comes in different waves, but I have to credit my love for fashion photography and my antique shopping addiction. I’m drawn to retro/vintage anything. Items from my collections work their way into my photographs because I see them as individual pieces of art on their own. I especially love the aesthetic of the 1950s-70s. I try to combine the pieces from that era with contemporary prop choices.

Aside from constantly collecting for my photos and personal pleasure, my approach is to simply lay in silence with a notebook and pen next to me. I love seeing where my mind goes with no restraint. Many interesting blends of nature melting into the artificial world roll across my eyelids. I grab my pen and hurry to write down what I saw, then repeat. From there, I pick what objects on the list are most affordable and what I’m able to get my hands on. For Potent Gems, I wanted wearable food. I settled on getting my hands on some shrimp cocktail. Then thought of ways to push it further to make the shrimp a main focus. I decided to string a shrimp necklace! Then that’s when I go into my stash of retro clothes, bedding, china and style something that appropriately compliments the crafted prop.

I prefer portraiture to still life, so I always incorporate human or animal properties when possible. But mostly I enjoy opposing elements and placing objects where they aren’t supposed to be. It’s like I’m creating these temporary sculptures that are too surreal to exist in the mundane world.  


OPP: Even when humans are present, these photographs are never portraits in the conventional sense. Most often, the face is obscured or only partially revealed. Could you talk about your choice to obscure faces?

AH: I usually don't show the whole face for two reasons. In practical terms, my props often don't scale up to the size of the human body, so I zoom in to display what it is I'm trying to focus on. More poetically, the eyes are the windows to the soul. If I include the eyes, the focus becomes the face and who that person is. I don't want viewers thinking, Is the model pretty/ugly? Uncomfortable? Do I like her makeup? Do I know her? I try to avoid evoking questions which would render the rest of the photograph as a second thought.

Ingrown Hairs

OPP: Do you always carry your camera?

AH: My cameras are like children, so I don’t take them places they may get severely hurt or lost. It really just varies depending on what that day’s plans hold. I always have my 35mm on me while traveling or trekking around unknown territories, but no, the kids don’t accompany me on daily errands. As for my constructed scenes, those photos are mostly set up inside on designated shoot days.

OPP: What's next for you? What's your next planned shoot?

AH: Wrapping up the second part of Conscious Fantasy in Austin, Texas is what’s on tap for me! This city oozes bright, eclectic and inspiring visuals everywhere. I couldn’t be in a better place while working on this series. The next planned shoot is this week. It involves working a mini cactus into my friend’s hair bun. I’m surprised I have friends by the end of these photo shoots. . . hahaha.

To see more of Amy's work, please visit amyhughesphotography.com.

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

OtherPeoplePixels Interviews John Early

Semicolons and salt shakers
Installation View

An existential thread runs through the work of interdisciplinary artist JOHN EARLY. His rearrangements of discarded car parts encountered in his everyday life, a video of his son painting the sidewalk with water and room-sized sheets of paper covered in shoe prints, scuff marks and stains from his studio floor: these all are records of ephemeral marks made by human beings. John received his BA from University of Virginia (2000) and his MFA from Washington University (2010). He has exhibited extensively in group exhibitions including shows at Center of Creative Art (2011 and 2012) and White Flags Projects (2009) in St. Louis and Whitdel Arts in Detroit (2013 and 2014). Recent solo exhibitions include Objects in mirror (2014) at The Garage in Charlottesville, Virginia and Semicolons and salt shakers (2014) at beverly in St. Louis, where John lives and works.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Could you talk about your interest in mark-making?

John Early: My interest in mark-making is a conceptual extension of drawing, which at its core is the record of a gesture. There’s something very primal and human about the act of making a mark. In reference to why he makes art, Felix Gonzalez-Torres said, “Above all else, it’s about leaving a mark that I existed.” I find that both beautiful and profound. I’m very much interested in this view of mark-making—one that frames the mark in terms of evidencing presence. Looking back, this interest has been with me for at least the past fifteen years. One piece that immediately comes to mind is from a fellowship exhibition in 2001. It consisted of scuffs and smudges made by a basketball on the gallery walls as visitors shot at a hoop I installed at the far end of the space. I think a couple of people were annoyed with this ball ricocheting everywhere, but it was a lot of fun. 

Swivel swing
Graphite and stool

OPP: Swivel swing and Standing snow angel, both 2010, invite viewers to become aware of their own arm span through mark-making. Your static-shot video Star gazing (2011) reminded me that if we are receptive to the information our senses offer, so much is going on all the time, even when it seems like nothing is happening. To what extent is your work about embodied mindfulness or noticing?

JE: My work definitely touches on those themes quite a bit, though they aren’t the impetus for pieces like those you mentioned, which often begin with simple questions. What might it look like to measure the wingspan of everyone in the world? What would it be like to watch a single ray of sunlight travel from the sun to the earth? (The duration of Star gazing—8 minutes and 20 seconds—approximates the time this would take.) Of course, such inquiries could be pursued or “answered” in any number of ways ranging from the scientific to the poetic. My approach to such wondering focuses on experiential knowledge, human scale and the element of time, which, taken together, invite new experiences of familiar things. 

Star gazing
Digital video
8:20 minutes

OPP: I've been thinking about the title of your recent exhibition Semicolons and salt shakers (2014) at beverly in St Louis. The function of semicolons and saltshakers is to bring out the existing flavor of a sentence or a dish. This is a really exciting framework for your dry-wall sculptures that emphasize the boundary between the floor and the wall. That space is always there, but somewhat overlooked unless one is painting the molding. Does my read jive with how you think about the work in that show? 

JE: I really love that read. I’d never given much thought to any associative or symbolic link between the two words. I liked the idea that a semicolon signifies a pause—which points back to the idea of noticing you mentioned earlier—and a salt shaker is a nice alliterative complement that also doubled as an allusion to the everyday. This is a prominent theme running through all the work included in the exhibition: photographs, sculptures and a video of my son painting the sidewalk with water.

The drywall pieces were scale models of the walls of my home studio. This conflation of space in which I both live and work is integral to my recent work, so I felt it was important to transpose elements of that space into the gallery. In planning out and envisioning the exhibition, none of the pieces made sense apart from the context in which they were made and currently lived. Traditional modes of display—white pedestals and wedges; wall works centered at 60 inches or whatever—often don’t work for my pieces. Even with pieces I’ve shown in multiple venues, I tend to install them differently each time they’re exhibited. Context just has such an enormous impact on how we experience any artwork. Anyway, I suppose I view all of my work as installation-based to some degree.

Objects in mirror
Found car parts

OPP: Could you talk about the difference between object arrangements like Untitled (Twain) (2013) or the various works made from found car parts from Objects in mirror (2012) and your photographs of found object arrangements like Salad Spinner (2014) or Cairns (2013)? When do you choose to exhibit a photograph of an arrangement instead of the arrangement itself?

JE: The sculptural pieces you reference are projects in which objects are gathered over time and organized in response to a particular space or context. Untitled (Twain) was part of a pop-up project I did with the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis where several of us drove around town one morning collecting interesting debris—literally anything one of us saw that piqued our interest—and created a temporary sculpture that we juxtaposed with Richard Serra’s Twain (1982). A conversation between eight huge sheets of Cor-ten steel and an arrangement of colorful refuse seemed like a nice one to have. Similarly, Objects in mirror—an ongoing project with multiple iterations—consists of collecting automobile parts I see throughout the course of my day and arranging them in the form of a midsize sedan.

The photographs are part of a series extending these interests in modest materials and ephemerality, with each image acting as a “certificate of presence” (to borrow a phrase from Roland Barthes) that bears witness to the commonplace stuff of the world by calling attention to a particular encounter with it. Because the nature of these photographed “arrangements” is typically very temporary—my son dumped out the wooden blocks and bike helmet from the salad spinner (after all, it was his creation to begin with)—I haven’t often faced the question of whether to exhibit an arrangement or a photograph of it. For the beverly exhibition, however, I did include several individual objects that were also present in photographs I showed. 

Salad spinner
Digital image

OPP: As a contributor to Temporary Art Review, you interviewed your neighbor, fellow artist Tuan Nguyen, in March 2014. You asked a really great question about how being a father has impacted his art practice. Now I want to ask you to please answer your own question.

JE: Thanks, that was such an enjoyable conversation. In the nearly five years since becoming a father, I’ve definitely experienced greater freedom in my art making. I mean, sure, part of this is due to the general posture of wonder that children have toward the world. And I don’t mean to downplay that, but I think an even larger reason for my work changing in this way is more of a practical one: I simply don’t have as much time to work in the studio as I did previously. Some of my earlier work could become a bit belabored on occasion, but I feel more freshness in my work now. I’ve been forced to be more decisive, which has been great. Giving up some of those old habits of over-thinking took some getting used to, but it’s been nice to shed that skin and transition into a new phase of making. 

First "a"
Embroidery, peach crate, roll of tape, books, and a jar of dust
Dimensions variable

OPP: What about your most recent forays into embroidery? My assumption about Maroon Alex (2014) and First “a” (2014) is that you are documenting/memorializing/making more permanent your son’s first marks, like the embroidery is a “certificate of presence.” What led you to embroider instead of photograph these?

JE: I’m not sure how this series might evolve, but the impetus to use embroidery stemmed from the practice of sewing cross-stitch patterns to celebrate and remember significant events in the life of a family, such as the birth of a child. I grew up in a home with embroidery, mainly cross-stitch, on our walls—some patterns were quite ornate and included plants, animals, the alphabet and a short sequence of numbers—so I felt a connection to the visual language of the cross-stitch. I thought it would be a fitting vehicle through which to explore commemoration and remembrance, albeit of less momentous "events" in the life of my family today. This required learning the basics of embroidery, as I had no previous experience with it at all. I liked that it made me slow down. In a world where we continuously record anything and everything, to practice a relatively slower, more limited mode of "capturing" was a nice change of pace and perspective. There are several complex early scribble drawings done by my first son that I have visions of translating into cross-stitch form, which really I'm looking forward to. But I’ve been excited about them for about a year already, so we’ll see if they materialize!

To see more of John's work, please visit john-early.com.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Selina Trepp

Dismount after the Win
Archival pigment print
40 x 29 inches

Interdisciplinary artist SELINA TREPP creates illusions of physical and conceptual space, conflating a variety of distinct artistic disciplines. She makes videos of herself painting her own portrait on a two-way mirror and creates immersive environments in which life-sized projections interact with tangible objects and sound. Most recently, she's been creating photographs of constructions in her studio which include paintings, her body, mirrors and sculpture. Ultimately, she expertly synthesizes each of these disciplines, highlighting the natural and imagined boundaries between them. Selina earned her BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1998 and her MFA from the University of Illinois, Chicago in 2007. She has exhibited extensively in Chicago and Zurich,  Switzerland, including shows at Glass Curtain Gallery (2014), The Franklin (2014), the Museum of Contemporary Art (2013), the DePaul Museum of Art (2012), message salon (2012) and Christinger de Mayo (2010).  In 2014, she mounted two solo exhibitions—Val Verità at Document Gallery and Waiting for the Train at Comfort Station—in Chicago, where she lives and works.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Surface, reflection and transparency are all present in your work in a variety of concrete ways. Could you talk about your recurring use of mirrors, see-through surfaces and video projection? Do you view these materials and media as symbolic? 

Selina Trepp: In my work these materials and media are not intended to be symbolic. I use them for what they do, not what they imply. Mirrors, in particular, have always been present in my work. I am intrigued by their ability to create simple magic, analogue trickery, and I am challenged by the heavy-handed symbolism that comes with the use of a mirror. Mirrors let me manipulate space, multiply objects, combine images, insert myself and move light and projection.

Video projection similarly can be used to create an illusionistic space or scenario affecting an actual space. Working with projection is as much about the space I am projecting into and onto, as it is about the video that is being projected.

No one is an Island
Mixed media installation
Variable dimensions

OPP: Can you offer an example from your work with projection and talk about how the space it was displayed in was affected?

ST: In No one is an Island (2007), the relationship between projection and space is most obvious. For this piece, four simultaneous projections activate the installation space. The gallery itself becomes the location of the action. The projections inject narrative performance and a sense of passing of time into the space.

Rather than projecting a cinematic landscape rectangle, my projections are matted and upended. They have an amorphous outline and soft edges; they blend with the surface they are projected onto. My goal for this work is for the projections to function as actors in the space, rather than as short films that are projected onto a screen.

Marvin and Ruby, an adult and a child who are completing each other’s reality in this piece, were filmed on a black background. They appear to float, hovering in space, like ghosts. On the floor sits a sculpture made of large pieces of mirror stacked and angled precariously on top of one another. Two projections bounce off the mirrored surfaces of the sculpture onto the architecture, covering the space with abstract shapes slowly fading from cold white to warm white to black.

Space Oddity
Inkjet print on self-adhesive vinyl, lcd monitor-dvd player, 5-minute video loop
150cm x 165cm

OPP: I'm particularly interested in Sherlokitty Surveillance Systems 2003 (2003), Space Oddity (2005) and The Baron in the Trees (2006). These pieces mix life-sized vinyl stickers of various screens with actual screens. Because I'm viewing it online and not in person, there is extreme spatial confusion and an added layer of screen-ness. It's hard to tell what is two-dimensional and what is three-dimensional. I assume that it was less disorienting when you first showed these pieces because the moving video revealed the real screen. As a viewer, did I lose or gain something by only seeing the virtual documentation?

ST: You lost a lot by not being able to experience that work in space. This body of work is disorienting in real life, but in a different way than in the documentation. The works have a distinct trompe-l’oeil effect. Initially they seem to have mass; they look “real.”As you move in closer, they flatten out and focus.

Thinking About Inheritance

OPP: Could you talk about flattening space and condensing time in Thinking About Inheritance?

ST: Thinking About Inheritance consists of a series of 12-minute videos and video stills, in which I trace and paint over my reflection on a two-way mirror. The camera is placed on one side of the mirror, recording the process, while I sit on the other side, painting over my reflection directly onto the mirror. The painted portrait obfuscates the photographic portrait over time. I paint myself away.

Looking at my history as an artist, I noticed that I had consistently avoided painting. Actually it was completely out of the question for me to paint; the form itself felt conservative and affirming of an antiquated understanding of what art is and should do. And a more profound reason I didn’t want to paint was because my mother and grandmother are/were both painters. The space of painting was taken by them, and for a long time it was important for me to work within my own territory.

Given my history, deciding to paint was a transgressive move for me. The issue of time is located in that part of the piece: in examining the progression of means of representation historically and personally through my own progression as an artist and as human. On a more pragmatic level, time is actually not condensed at all. The videos are shown in real time with no edits. They show me painting for as long as it takes to complete the painting.

The flattening of space in the videos as well as in the stills functions on multiple levels. Primarily the space of the photographic image and of the painted image become one through the analogue device of painting onto the mirror and the digital device of capturing this action with a camera. The surface of the mirror, where I paint, is what the camera focuses on. That image is captured by the lens of the camera. It’s a flat surface. There is not much depth of field, or else I can’t focus the lens. On another level I am reversing the historical progression of portraiture, in this case going from photography to painting, from objective to subjective.

The Painter
20 x 30 inches

OPP: The figure has often been present in your work, but usually in performance and video, as in No One is an Island (2007), When I hear Thunder, I take a Bow (2008) and Appear to Disappear (2009). Your newer work feels distinctly lo-fi—although conceptually more sophisticated—when compared to your early work with projection. Could you talk about your turn to figurative painting and its unconventional intersection with video, photography and sculpture?

ST: My earlier work took place outside the studio and was often collaborative and social. In 2010 I decided to invert that mode of working and went from having a social-post-studio-practice to having an anti-social-studio-practice. Now working alone within the confines of my studio, I use all I have at my disposal in that space to make art. Economy (gestural and literal) and improvisation guide my process.

While I use painting, installation, performance and sculpture to create my images, it is the camera that allows me to pull those dimensions together. I use that mix of media because I like to do all those things. It makes making enjoyable.  

OPP: In October of 2012, you made a decision "that instead of buying any more materials for art making, [you] would only work with the material [you] already have in [your] studio." Was this decision practical, ethical or conceptual? Are you still working under that restriction? 

ST: I am still working under that restriction, although strictly speaking, it’s not true. The final product is a photographic print, usually mounted and framed, a new object, which I store in my studio. The decision was both conceptual and political, and the practical, economic and ethical implications of non-consumption are all part of it.

The Jockey and his Wife
Archival pigment print
29 x40 inches

OPP: What surprises have emerged from working this way? What has been illuminating? What has been frustrating?

ST: The biggest surprise is how fruitful and fun it is for me to work under this constraint. My studio time is playful and engaged. I am intimately aware of the materials I have and adept at seeing all the potential ways to use and reuse them. As materials and colors run out my work changes. Things are in flux, always.

Since materials are finite, I overpaint a painting once it has played its part in a photo. The same goes for the sculptural elements: they are taken apart and reused as needed. The act of investing effort into making things and then letting go of them in itself has become a valuable part of my work and my general outlook.

So far nothing has been frustrating. When it gets frustrating, I will stop this project and go buy materials.

To see more of Selina's work, please visit selinatrepp.info.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Tom Ormond

Inside Out
Oil on Linen
183 x 193 centimeters

TOM ORMOND's oil paintings make visible the unseen energies surrounding the intangible intersection of progress and nature. In layered compositions featuring the hard angles and straight lines of architecture and the recurring visual motifs of the geodesic dome and a column of climbing rays of light, he presents our habitual human attempt to contain the uncontainable. Tom earned his BA in Painting from Loughborough College of Art and Design in 1996 and his MA in Fine Art from Goldsmiths in 2005. Recent exhibitions include group shows Disclosure (2014) at Chart Gallery in London, Beautiful Things at Next Door Projects in Liverpool, The Future Can Wait (2013) at Victoria House in London and Digital Romantics (2012) at Dean Clough in Halifax. His solo exhibition Everywhere from Nothing (2013) opened at Charlie Smith in London, and he won The Open West Curator's Prize in 2014. Tom lives and works in London.

Work in Progress
Oil on Linen
128 x 183 centimeters

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us a bit about your background as an artist.

Tom Ormond: I did a BA in Painting at Loughborough College of Art from 1993–96, where I ended up painting stuffed animals and golf courses. Afterwards, I landed an internship at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. I did very minor bits of research for the Painting and Sculpture department and the Film and Video department. Then I moved to London and tried to be a ‘proper artist’—dole and squalor. In 1998, I became an artist’s assistant to Damien Hirst. It was still a relatively small set up. At its best it was like a family business and was exciting.

In the relative isolation of my own studio, I painted caves, apes and diagrams. I earned an MA in Fine Art at Goldsmiths in 2005. I finished there making mash-up paintings of Prince Charles’ Poundbury—his answer to late 20th century architecture—and Stubbs-esque landscape paintings—horses removed, morphing modernist structures encroaching. Damien bought work from my degree show and later showed it at the Serpentine Gallery. That exposure allowed me to focus exclusively on my practice and led to a period of working with a commercial gallery.

The architectural elements infected the landscape, and I began painting exploding and morphing structures. In 2007, a travel scholarship allowed me to travel round the U.S. visiting nuclear test sites, experimental architectural sites and off grid communities. I made paintings in response to the trip: large canvases with centralized explosive forms—built up from layers of poured paint, marks, diagrams and obliteration—onto which I would impose geometric structures.

Sol Space
Oil on linen
92 x 76 inches

OPP: Many of your paintings seem to be revealing invisible structures within architecture or energy channels breaking through architecture to the sky above. I go back and forth between thinking of these as stills from a sci-fi film sequence in which something is being created or destroyed and imagining that these are static moments and you are revealing the energy that is already always around us. Thoughts?

TO: I enjoy the ambiguity you describe, and I aim for the snapshot versus the constant. I’m interested in architecture in a state of transformation: dynamic, physical and tangible, possibly violent. This comes across in a painting as a snapshot, which is almost contradictory to the slower pace required for the revelation of the something that is unseen, inward or abstract.  I paint as if our eyes could see magnetic fields or even ideas and creativity before their physical realization, using technologies yet to be discovered.

Painting allows me to create the snapshot and look beyond. It starts with an idea which is acted upon, made real, built up, erased, revised, reformed, informed and responded to until a moment is reached that is made up of all those moments. Painting can also show the light bulb above someone’s head.

Oil on linen
72 x 88 inches

OPP: How do feel about the Futurists? Visually, I see a connection to your work.

TO: I can see how you might look at my paintings and think they were made by someone inspired by the Futurists, but really they aren’t. Since early on, I’ve had a block against the Futurists, particularly the paintings, which I’ve associated with a certain dead handling of paint. I’ve never really taken them to be that futuristic, so I’ve not been seeing them in context. I’ve never looked much deeper into the movement and worked in oblivious naivety of them. Weirdly though, I’ve recently embraced that same dead handling of paint, which for me represents an old fashioned idea of the future. I’ve come round to their work on a formal level.

Artist's Studio Viewed from Without
Oil on Linen
34 x 48 inches

OPP: Do you share any conceptual ground with them?

TO: I’m with them on wanting to express dynamism in painting and also their celebration of the industrial as beautiful. But in other ways, I’m almost an anti-futurist. I don’t hate the past. In fact, I often revel in it for Disney-esque consolation. I look to the past as much as I look to the future, which at times I view with trepidation. I admire the optimism and true belief of the Futurists. I can see it was born out of a frustration with a particular situation and the weight of European (Italian) history, yet I am almost nostalgic for a time such as theirs where the future seemed so hopeful.

We’re at the other end of a century and have seen how many of the Futurist beliefs have panned out—war cannot be viewed in a positive way as a cleansing process. Science is still glorified, yet it is tainted with doubt, informed by many developments of the 20th century. Today we, too, struggle to believe in man’s triumph over nature.

In thinking about the future today, I look back at markers of progress and former visions of the future—science, war and architecture—subjects to which the Futurists were drawn and looked forward to. I picked up on similar visual motifs: painterly explosions, geometric architecture, collapsing space, creation of light, effects of gravity. But if the Futurists were around to today, they probably wouldn’t paint, and it’s the anachronism of painting the future which draws me.

Hardtack Moon
oil on linen
60 x 70 inches

OPP: Could you talk about your use of hard angles, rays and straight lines?

TO: The hard angles and lines balance the more fluid gestural parts of the early layers of each painting. These marks suggest architectural fragments, part of a futile attempt to give a quantifiable shape to a morphing, shifting, unquantifiable form. I like the idea of trying to build an Epcot-like dome around a nuclear explosion.

Linear elements allow me to suggest varying degrees of plausible architecture. Straight lines aren’t immediately present in nature yet everything we build involves them. In older works, I exploited an ‘offness’ of perspective and scale. More recently, I’m basing works on existing spaces or architectural models, so it makes sense to use perspective as a tool to create a ‘believable’ space in which the impossible or improbable can be believed and tested. The three-dimensional grid is a means to locate one thing in relation to another. Our modern mind understands the logic of these spaces. The two-dimensional illusion of the three-dimensional space can temporarily support the illogical in a way the actual three-dimensional realm cannot.

The rays, forming along x, y and z axes, represent an artificial light generated or received, a non-religious halo. These are the visible product of something abstract. . . as if thoughts, actions or aspirations could be viewed through a pair of first-generation-philosophical-glasses. Their blocky graphics are the precursors to the more sophisticated three-dimensional enabled lenses to come.

Oil on linen
22 x 18 inches

OPP: I’m curious about older works like General and Figure, both from 2010, and Fusileer, Guardian and Vela Uniform, all from 2008. These non-traditional portraits are of figures of military power. How do they relate to your landscapes?

TO: Portraiture can give away answers to questions about time and scale that I hope remain open, so I’ve always been cautious. People feature in my research as influential characters—architects, scientists, ecologists, etc— but rarely make it beyond the sketch-book.

When I was dealing more directly with images of nuclear blasts—which are essentially scientific records—I began to view these fleeting, morphing spheres as the ultimate expression of the modern era. . . a scientific global architecture of humans grappling with their control of nature. I want that to stretch beyond the reference to the historical document, and I treat the figures in those paintings the same way.

They are based on images of people involved in the Manhattan Project, selected for their look rather than their individual significance to history. I didn’t want them to be recognized as specific individuals or as historical heroes or villains. I see them as representing what humans are capable of in the modern era. The paintings only began to work when I treated them like architecture and landscape. With all distinguishing traits removed, they could become constructed god figures.

To see more of Tom's work, please visit tomormond.com.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Courtney Kessel

In Balance With

Mother, artist and academic COURTNEY KESSEL collapses the divide between public and private by performing with her daughter Chloe and bringing the objects of her everyday life into the gallery. In performance, video and installation, she "strives to make visible the quiet, understated, and often unseen love and labor of motherhood." Courtney received her BFA in Sculpture from Tyler School of Art (1998) and completed an MFA in Sculpture & Expanded Practices and a certificate in Women’s & Gender Studies (2012) from Ohio University. In 2014, her solo exhibition Mother Lode opened at David Brooks Art Gallery, Fairmont State University in West Virginia, and she performed as part of New Maternalisms (2014) at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Santiago, Chile. Jennie Klein has covered her work in a chapter titled “Grains and Crumbs: Performing Maternity” in the hot-off-the-presses Performing Motherhood: Artistic, Activist, and Everyday Enactments. E.g. Courtney Kessel: You and Me is on view at Brigham Young University Art Museum (Provo, Utah) through May 2015, and her work is included in the upcoming group show Mother at University of Southern Queensland Arts Gallery (Toowoomba, Australia). Courtney is the Exhibitions & Events Coordinator for the non-profit arts organization, The Dairy Barn Arts Center and teaches in the School of Art at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your sculptural installations and performances mostly revolve around the themes of balance and space as they relate to motherhood. You've collaborated with your daughter in the creation of works like In Balance With, which has been performed a handful of times, the video Sharing Space (2012) and the cut plywood sculptures of Spaces in Between (2012). How did this collaboration begin and how has it evolved? Is your daughter a decision-maker in the work or a performer?

Courtney Kessel: In Balance With was first performed in 2010.  At the time, my daughter Chloé was 5 years old. She informed the work and was an active participant, but she was not so much a collaborator. During that first performance, which was for a small audience of maybe 20-30 invited guests, I didn’t know exactly how the piece was going to end. I had been communicating with Chloé throughout making sure she was comfortable and okay. After I reached a balance, I asked if she wanted to come down. She said no. It was then that I realized the performance is over when she is no longer interested and occupied. It is a metaphor for our lives together. I can only do my work so long as she is content.

Now that she is older and understands the work differently, she has had an influence on things. We were at a restaurant one day, and she was cold. I had on a cardigan. She sat on my lap and put her arms inside my sleeves. It was she who said that we should do this as a performance. That’s where the video sketches became Sharing Space.

Sharing Space

OPP: In your recent solo exhibition Mother Lode (2014), you created three sculptures made from "curated household items." For anyone who has ever been in a home with children, it is clear that all this stuff takes over. It is constantly being moved, cleaned up, reorganized. It encroaches on the environment. I love the way these "monuments" allow you, as the mother, to play and build like a child while simultaneously reclaiming the adult space of having a art practice and art career. Can you describe the process of curating the objects?

CK: I love how you understand these pieces! They are very much monuments that tower from floor to ceiling. Not that my house looks this way. . . but it feels like it! These sculptures derive from In Balance With: they include the household items that were on the seesaw. These things from home became like self-portraits that change each time. They are specific to us, though not so specific that others cannot relate.

The curated aspect of the selected objects truly holds the meaning; those proximities and juxtapositions make each work different. That was the fun part for me! Like you said, it allowed me to pretend and play the same as Chloé does at home, but in the gallery in a very formal way. I actually took a U-Haul trailer to my parents’ house to get some of the stuff. THEY had children (three of us and then grandkids) and still had mounds of toys, books and things lying around. They are preparing to retire soon and will downsize, so I just gave them a head start! The work really is to visibly demonstrate that children do take up space, both physically, but also mentally. Once they are in your life, they are always there. . . no matter how old they get. I call this the “eternal maternal.”

As I went through the objects at our house and my parents' house, I was looking for things that could create structure like furniture, drawers, a dollhouse built by my dad, a car seat, a TV. Then I looked for sheer quantity. I went through books, stuffed animals, small plastic toys, VHS tapes and more with the intention of these things telling a story. From Cabbage Patch Kids to Finding Nemo, there is a timeline of "stuff." But there was a limitation: I couldn't take things that my siblings would get mad at me for taking. . . :)

Mother Lode (installation view)
David Brooks Art Gallery, Fairmont State University

OPP: Was there a construction plan before you began?

CK: Once the truck bed and U-Haul were unloaded into the gallery, I had absolutely NO idea how the towers would look.  Initially, I had planned to take rope, yarn, twine and bungee cords to attach everything together. But once I got started, it became a balancing act. Could I connect the ceiling to the floor in order to architecturally change the space? How did the individual objects change once they were turned on their side and stuffed with other objects? What kinds of meanings were formed by the side by side placements? It was very intuitive, but it was also very formal. Like the formal balance of a post-modern sculpture or putting a mark on a canvas, there were very specific decisions that weren't necessarily based on color per se, but rather based on aesthetic decisions. 

OPP: Was your house empty for the run of Mother Lode?

CK: I have an ongoing joke in our house that if I can’t find it, it’s probably in the gallery. . .  I really do the take things that we are currently using and put them in my work. One day, I was looking for a jar of dried beans that I knew I had just had in my hands. I wanted to make soup and was determined to find those beans. I eventually realized that they were in fact in the show.

Mother Lode

OPP: Will you ever recreate these sculptures as they were in this show?

CK: The sculptures from Mother Lode will never be recreated. Like a portrait, the work will always be different; evolving, changing, and growing. Each time these objects are restructured into a new work, they tell a different story and take on new meanings. In Symphony of the Domestic II, I added to the "stuff" from In Balance With, which represented my daughter and I. It grew to include people who formed my foundation. Like a pedestal holding something up, the base is comprised of items that represented my family, friends and mentors who continue to support me.

The pedestal holds up a 16mm projector which plays a stream of consciousness text: love every body as any body of water mater water under the bridge the gap gape gap her words her story write her story word for word for word for word forward. I used a script typewriter to stamp, print, embed the words onto the film. I am interested in the non-gendered, non-hierarchical aspect of printing or stenciling. Where a pen to paper or brush to canvas has the element of “acting” upon something, I am more engaged with leveling that or flattening the hierarchy. By stamping, printing, imprinting and stenciling, I am able to mechanize/mobilize language to becoming one with the substrate or at least to become equal to it. Each time the film passes through the projector and the other items for that matter, the words slowly degrade and will disappear eventually.

Symphony of the Domestic II (detail)

OPP: Who influences you in thinking about the labor of motherhood?

CK: I think about the labor that Mierles Laderman Ukeles’ work was about. That was the labor of maintenance. It was gendered, but not specifically about mothering. It is important that she put that in the gallery. I reference her because of the politics of placing that gendered and private practice into the gallery. I think about the work that Mary Kelly made that was about her son through the lens of psychoanalysis. That was about mothering, but not so much about the subjectivity of maternity. By placing psychoanalysis in there, she was able to distance herself as a mother but still sneak it into the space of the gallery through the didactic referencing of the objects.


OPP: Do you ever feel like your work is not taken seriously because it is about the labor of motherhood? Have you had any dismissive comments from viewers?

CK: So far, I have not received any dismissive sentiments from viewers or critics. I’m sure it exists, but I haven’t heard any yet. Many people have the ability to relate to my work. Whether they are mothers or children of mothers, viewers witness a little bit of their own experience or that of their mother’s.

I do this work in part as a protest. For all the amazing women artists who have gone before me, who had to hide their maternity for the sake of their careers and for so many who chose NOT to have children for their careers. . . that was one kind of “choice” from the second wave of Feminism. I always wondered why it was so frowned upon to be a mother and a professional. It’s the gendering of those stereotypes that I really can’t stand. Why do girls have to have pink things and boys blue? Why are women trying to hide wrinkles, fat and gray hair, but for men it is fine?

I am interested in putting the specific, subjective experience of the mother in the gallery whether you want to see it or not. It is not some idealized/generalization of the mother, but rather a specific, real experience.

To see more of Courtney's work, please visit courtneykessel.com.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Colin O'Con

Untitled (Black Mountain)
Acrylic and Oil on Canvas
53" x 78"

COLIN O'CON presents viewers with the mystery of nature in paintings and immersive installations. His fluorescent palette appears at times otherworldly or manufactured because we sometimes forget that nature itself creates such intense colors. Colin graduated Cum Laude with a BFA in Painting and Drawing from the University of North Texas in 2000. In 2004, he earned his MFA from Hunter College in New York (2004) and won the Tony Smith Sculpture Award. His work has been included in exhibitions at Fresh Window (Brooklyn), Rawson Gallery (Brooklyn), Lesley Heller Workspace (New York), The Alexandria Museum of Art (Louisiana), Boston Center for the Arts, Artspace (San Antonio), and CSAW (Houston). Alongside his visual art practice, he plays in the bands Dark Carpet and Sportsman's Paradise. Colin lives and works in Brooklyn.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your color-saturated landscapes appear otherworldly, like they might exist on a planet with a different atmosphere. Are you painting our world or another?

Colin O’Con: All of my experiences come from this world, so I'm definitely painting our world. It's more a questioning of what our "world" is and how we perceive and create that idea. The palette is a conceptual choice. I use fluorescents for their visceral punch, their popular culture implications and the otherworldliness that they evoke.

But it's an interesting question. . . what other worlds are beyond our planet? I am certainly fascinated by pictures of space but mostly because of how fictitious they are. I'm interested in that illusion. And it’s not only the images. Take the recent satellite comet landing and the so called "song" it was emitting. Listen to the "song." Someone made that song. It is made from a frequency that is sped up so we can hear it and whoever "produced" it put a bunch of reverb on it and panned it back and forth to make it sound "spacey,” I guess. It’s a complete fabrication!

Untitled (Earth Like Planet)
Acrylic on Canvas
40" x 41"

OPP: Does that fabrication relate to art-making?

CO: Yes, both involve illusion masquerading as fact. It is this illusion of nature or representations of that I'm most interested in.

OPP: What does the Sublime mean to you?

CO: It is the awe that ensues when you see something horrible but have that safety net of distance or reproduction. I often paint images of the sun, which is the most constant thing in our lives. It literally gives us life. We gaze upon it in awe and bask under it. . . yet it's a giant explosion in the sky. That is the sublime.

Untitled (Big Sun)
Acrylic and Oil on Canvas
60" x 60"

OPP: What is your most memorable experience in nature?

CO: This one is very hard for me. I grew up near the Kisatchie National Forest in Louisiana, and the swampy bayou landscape seeps through in most of my work. I've spent an enormous amount of time hiking and camping. I’ve had so many great experiences, but two memories come to mind. One is the swirling toxic colors in the hot springs at Yellowstone. I was in the third grade, and I couldn't quit looking at those colors. More recently, I hiked to the base of a glacier in the North Cascades in Washington with my wife and some friends. It was incredible, like being on the surface of the moon. We hit the summit right at dusk. Then a full moon rose and spot lit all of the mountains and glaciers around us. Amazing. The next morning we saw an avalanche. It was very far away, but the sound and the sight was an insane experience.

OPP: Tell us about commissioned installation for Immersive Space (2013) at the Alexandria Museum of Art. Is this your only installation to date?

CO: Actually, it is not. I came to painting through the back door. I was making installations and conceptual work most of my academic career. For example, I made large, walk-in gardens with trails that viewers could stroll through, composed mostly of objects bought at dollar stores. My first painted floor piece, composed of hundreds of two inch flowers, included a viewing platform and every wall was painted and collaged with trees.

My work has always been based in nature, and I wanted to translate those ideas into paintings. An installation physically solves or completes everything for the viewer. With painting, the viewer has to complete the experience in their minds. But even while primarily painting on canvas for several years, I continued to make sculpture, particularly the arch sculptures.

Untitled (Installation), Alexandria Museum of Art Commission for Immersive Space
Plywood, acyrlic/latex paint, styrofoam
21' x 26'
Photo credit: Jeff Stephens

OPP: What inspired the arch sculptures?

CO: They were inspired by the mountain forms I was painting. Several years before, I had seen the Delicate Arch in Utah. That area of the country had a big impact on me. The forms are so surreal that they almost seem fabricated. You see the arch form as well as the rainbow form over and over in contemporary signage, and I was interested in exploiting that idea.

And then, the arch sculptures led me back to creating installations mostly because they needed a place to live and the painted floors were the perfect environment. In turn, the sculptures influenced the paintings, resulting in the more abstracted Rainbow Paintings. It's an exciting conversation between the paintings, the sculptures and the installations. The viewer can have the visceral experience of the installations or the intimate experience of the paintings.

Untitled (Rainbow #2)
Acrylic on Canvas
9" x 12"

OPP: Dark Carpet, also featuring the work of Jeff Byrd and Tracy Grayson, at Fresh Window in Brooklyn just closed on December 13, 2014. What was the organizing principle of the show?

CO: The show was named after our band Dark Carpet, which played a few shows in conjunction with the exhibition, including the closing on December 12th. Our music started out as improvised noise but quickly became more straight-up rock n roll diverging into noise freak outs. Jeff Byrd comes from an improvisation background. I've done a lot of that as well, but have also played in several traditional bands. However, in Dark Carpet I moved from drums, my main instrument, to guitar and vocals. That was a big change for me. Our third member, Tracy Grayson, had never played an instrument before, and we convinced him to try it. We are all pretty limited musicians, but we use that to our advantage by crafting simple songs and creating interesting sonic textures.

The three of us are all visual artists and musicians. Dark Carpet is our collective music project, but we each maintain separate studio practices. It was interesting to see our visual work together in the show. We spend an enormous amount of time together. We all share a common sense of humor and a love for the history of music and art. We are constantly introducing one another to new music, artists, books and movies. There is a shared aesthetic that is flowing between us.

OPP: How is creating music different than making visual art, aside from the obvious?

CO: They are very different mostly because music is collaborative and art making is usually a solitary endeavor. However, I feel that they have a lot more in common than most people think. Mike Kelly said that even though he didn't know how to play an instrument he realized that he didn't have to know, and that noise and sound could be his instrument. I realized that early on as well. I knew that I wasn't a virtuosos. Virtuosity rarely leads to anything good. It's the approach that matters.

To see more of Colin's work, please visit colinocon.com.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Alana Bartol

Wrapped Rocks
Performed at Artcite Inc. in Windsor, ON

ALANA BARTOL "hopes to create spaces in which transformation, moments of connection and reflection can occur." In both community-engaged and studio-based projects, she acts as a facilitator and a catalyst for communal creations, inviting viewers and participants to actively shape the work. Alana earned her BFA from University of Windsor in 2004 and her MFA in Sculpture from Wayne State University in Detroit. She has received numerous grants through the Ontario Arts Council, including the National and International Residency Grant to fund her upcoming residency with bioart pioneer Joe Davis at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in spring 2015. She will also be participating in a six-week residency with Lucy + Jorge Orta at the Banff Centre for the Arts. Upcoming exhibitions include Bioart: Collaborating with Life at Karsh-Masson Gallery (Ottawa, Ontario) and Far Away So Close: Part III at Access Gallery (Vancouver, BC). Along with friend and collaborator Arturo Herrera, she will debut the first issue of ARTWINDSOR, a quarterly publication that focuses on art created in Windsor, Ontario, where Alana lives and works.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Do projects like Detroit Windsor Journal Project (2006), Wrapped Rocks (2009 and 2013) and Hands to the Earth: After cj fleury (2012) have a shared aim? How do these projects fulfill your conceptual concerns?

Alana Bartol: I am interested in how humans find, confront and engage with the living, non-human world. We are part of nature, yet we separate ourselves from it. We control, manipulate and contain it, while longing to find our place within it. My work is based in the idea of micro-transformations. Through everyday, individual actions, we can effect change in our relationships with the environments and one another.

In Wrapped Rocks and Detroit Windsor Journal Project, participants were invited to create an individual piece that is then presented as part of a larger installation. Often the methods of “art making” are simple, everyday actions: wrapping, arranging, collecting, tying, weaving, walking, journaling. If objects are produced, they often exist temporarily or are given away to the participants. For Hands to the Earth, the mandala was left in the community garden and dispersed by the elements. In Wrapped Rocks, participants have the option to contribute their rock to the pile or take it with them.

For the Detroit Windsor Journal Project, journals were created on the same day by hundreds of people of all ages in both cities. As the journals arrived by mail, my collaborator, Ben Good and I documented and installed the journals in the gallery. We invited the participating students to see the show. Many had never been to an art gallery and were excited by the scale of the project and the fact that their contributions were important and unique. I hope it instilled a sense of confidence and pride.

Since 2009, I have re-created Wrapped Rocks over five times in different environments including galleries and community organizations. In some spaces, what begins as a quiet, reflective activity slowly turns into a room buzzing with conversations. The first time it was created, a woman was adamant that I explain what the piece meant, “was it a comment on climate change or a reference to war?” My response was “both.” In all of my work, I am concerned with how we relate to the earth and one another. These relationships are deeply intertwined. 

Detroit Windsor Journal Project
October 2, 2006
A field trip was arranged for participants from Christ the King Elementary School in Detroit to visit the Elaine Jacobs Gallery where their work was on display.

OPP: How do you solicit participation?

AB: My approach has generally been to set up a space and invite people to participate. For example, Hands to the Earth began with a small group of community gardeners, but quickly attracted many people. There were many reasons for this: we were working outside, food was offered, it was part of a MayWorks celebration, it was promoted in various ways and it was visually pleasing. People wanted to be part of it. Passersby became participants, assisting in the design and placement of materials. One man went home and came back with yard waste from his garden to contribute to the creation of the mandala. Another man left and came back with a camera and a ladder so he could document the work. It is amazing to see how a work can have a  ripple effect in a community, even a small one can leave a lasting impression. I still get requests to re-create this piece by groups all over Windsor.

Hands to the Earth: After cj fleury
A community arts project in collaboration with the Campus Community Garden Project at the University of Windsor, local artists and community members.

OPP: Please introduce your curatorial projects Artist For Hire (2013) and Art S.E.A.L.S. and talk about responses from the public. Are non-artists generally surprised to find out the kinds of jobs artists do?

AB: Both projects arose from community discussions regarding the often-poor working conditions and levels of remuneration within the arts. In 2013, I had just finished a contract with the Ontario Arts Council, working with artists and organizations to develop community-engaged projects and secure grant funding. I was struggling to find a balance between my work in the arts and my own art practice, as is the case for so many artists. Artist For Hire: All Skills Required (2013) was a series of performances. I invited 16 Windsor, Ontario-based artists and arts workers/administrators to perform skills that they have used to generate income in the gallery space. These included housekeeping, dish washing, holistic energy work, dog walking, nude modeling, administrative, data entry and office work. Artist for Hire didn’t draw a large audience outside of the arts community, but it served as a starting point for these types of conversations in Windsor and lead to the development of Art S.E.A.L.S. (Skills Exchange and Learning Series): Survival Skills Training, a project I co-curated in 2014 with Andrew Lochhead.

For Art S.E.A.L.S., nine artists from Windsor and Hamilton, Ontario each presented a skill they use in their art practice at the Hamilton Farmers’ Market and the Windsor Public Library and a “non-art” skill used in employment outside of their artistic practice at the Art Gallery of Windsor and the Workers, Arts and Heritage Centre (Hamilton). Audiences in both cities were curious about what it was like to work as an artist. There was a lot of interest in having conversations with the artists to gain insight into their working processes and the ways in which their work outside the arts influenced their artwork. It broke down the audience/artist barrier. Depending on the nature of the “performance,” audience members felt comfortable approaching the artists and initiating conversations. It made visible and acknowledged the time, materials, resources and labor required to create artwork.

Artist For Hire
Srimoyee Mitra, Curator
Skill: Cleaning
While pursuing her MA in Art History, Mitra worked as a housekeeper.

OPP: How persistent is the myth of the starving artist?

AB: The myth of the “starving artist” does persist and is somewhat warranted. Like many artists, I have held a number of jobs including a nude model, factory worker, cashier, server, janitor, educator, arts administrator, sessional and adjunct instructor, arts consultant and grant writer. I also worked as an employment advocate and a career counselor for art and design students. I have had a lot of experience working with people in the arts and it is incredibly difficult to make a living as an artist without additional employment or another source of income or financial support. Many artists can expect to spend 75% of their time on administrative work for their practice: responding to emails, applying for exhibitions, balancing budgets, promotion through social media, updating websites, organizing documentation, adjusting images and writing grants, creating application materials or developing proposals. On top of that, you need a space to create, time to connect with other artists, resources and tools, the ability and means to travel and take time off work to participate in residencies, professional development activities, conferences, workshops or exhibitions. These are all important aspects of a career in the arts. In my experience, these are not skills that students of art always learn and they are not easy skills to attain. If you have representation, a dealer, curator or agent might do many of these things for you. However, if you don’t create works that can be distributed in the commercial art market, you probably need to learn how to do most of these things on your own or find good collaborators. Skill sharing and bartering are central support systems in many arts communities.

Un-camouflaging #16
Photo Credit: Brigham Bartol

OPP: What's a ghille suit? Could you explain the idea of "un-camouflaging?"

AB: A ghillie suit is traditionally worn by military snipers and hunters to camouflage the human body in natural landscapes. It is created with a combination of synthetic and natural materials. I order ghillie suit kits from hunting supply stores. I sew the netting into wearable forms and tie the jute onto it. Burlap and other materials can also be used. It is a time-consuming process. The colors, textures and form are important considerations. Plants, grasses and other natural materials from the landscape are then gathered and woven into the suit. When moving through various landscapes, the threads of the suit pick up leaves, burs, sticks and sometimes garbage from the environment.

I find inspiration in environments that are familiar to many North Americans: urban pathways, community gardens, parks, domestic spaces, backyards and suburban neighborhoods. The term “un-camouflaging” explains what I do as Ghillie. A shift between concealing and revealing is integral to the work. I began to do public walks in the suit, deciding where I might stop to camouflage and choosing when to reveal and conceal myself, altering my form. The suit allows me to become part of, while also standing apart from, the landscape. As Ghillie, I am still and quiet. I do not speak or respond verbally. I become invisible and watch, much like a hunter or sniper. I sit, stand, crouch or sometimes fold my body in on itself, becoming a pile of grassy material.

I first learned about ghillie suits when I was living in Vermont, but the character Ghillie evolved after I moved back to Windsor, a city fraught with many environmental and socio-economic issues. Around this time, I was reading trickster stories from different cultures and began thinking about how these tales often revolve around modes of survival. These stories offer insights into how humans make choices about what we need and value and how those choices affect the world. In Windsor, Ghille may serve as a foreboding or protective guardian figure, but she is also a trickster of sorts. She moves between human-made and wild environments. As a non-human entity that can travel between worlds, she embodies the masculine and feminine and transcends the body.

Ghillie Crossing
Photo Credit: Brigham Bartol

OPP: If money and resources were not an issue, what's your fantasy community arts project?

AB: It’s hard to imagine a project where funding, time and resources are not an issue! I would create a sustainable community arts project that could serve as a support organization and residency program of sorts for artists. The program itself would be envisioned as a community arts project, one that would allow artists to work alongside professionals in other fields and be properly compensated for their time, much like the Artist Placement Group, a radical artist-run organization founded in Britain in the 1960s that temporarily “placed” artists in businesses and government offices. Though each artist was paid for their time, labor and expertise, there was no expectation that they produce ideas, objects or projects for the place of work.

I have always found ways to work and create opportunities for other artists to work in spaces where they “don’t belong.” Artists, through their inherent creativity can bring new insights, perspectives and ideas, contributing to and transforming society. Bioartist Joe Davis is a great example. An Artist, Researcher and Scientist, working in the Biology Department at MIT and the George Church Lab in the Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, he is able to connect with scientists and collaborate with them to realize projects that most artists could only dream of creating. 

In my hypothetical program, a team of artists and professionals from other disciplines would work to develop the project philosophy and program structure. Securing places for artists to work would be part of my job and practice. With a supportive work environment, a good wage (including benefits) and a schedule that allowed me to sustain my practice, it would be a dream job.

To see more projects by Alana, please visit alanabartol.com.

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