OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Benjamin Cook

Swimmers, 2016. Acrylic on Paper

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

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

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



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

OPP: What influences your work outside of fine art?

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



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


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

Untitled 071315, 2015. Acrylic on Paper

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

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

Untitled painting for the Internet, 2014. Acrylic on Paper

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

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

Untitled painting for the Internet, 2014. Acrylic on Paper

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

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


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


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

Arch, 2015. Graphite on Paper

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


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

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

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

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

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

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Alyssa Dennis

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

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

OtherPeoplesPixels: What role does transparency play in your drawings?

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

Stripped Opacity Construction Playground, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Urban Edibles, 2012

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

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

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

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Miatta Kawinzi

Yield, 2016. Digital Photograph. Dimensions Variable

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


Rhombus, 2016. Digital Photograph. Dimensions Variable

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include
shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Allison Zuckerman

Summer Rain, 2017

ALLISON ZUCKERMAN collapses the processes of painting, collage and photography into one another in wall-hung works and free-standing cut-out sculptures. Her imagery is a mash-up of sources from the Western painting canon to porn to cartoons and comics to fashion magazines. Across these realms of visual culture, she examines gendered power dynamics and their relationship to the imagery we consume. Allison earned her BA at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia in 2012, followed by her MFA at The School of the Art Institute Chicago in 2015. Since then, her work has been included in group shows in Chicago, Copenhagen, New York and Mexico City. Her solo show Act Natural is currently on view at Kravets Wehby Gallery in New York, NY. You can check it out until June 3rd, 2017. Allison lives in New York City.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Let’s start with Act Natural, your new show at Kravets Wehby Gallery (New York City) that will be on view through June 3rd, 2017. What thread ties this body of work to older bodies of work?

Allison Zuckerman: Satire ties the current body of work to the older. The desire to critique the power dynamics between men and women, told through a personal perspective, fuels most if not all of my work.

Autumn Rhythm, 2017

OPP: And what’s new in this show (thematically, formally or materially)?

AZ: Collaging seamlessly is materially new for me. Previous to Act Natural, I would adhere my collage to canvas but for this show, I opted to imbed my images in the paintings through a process of printing directly onto canvas. I planned a large portion of each painting, but left areas open to painting and improvisation.

Thematically, I’ve been working to create visual “mash-ups” of art history, my own imagery and internet culture. I am very interested in merging high and low art. I find that there is so much visual language available to us today, that visual sampling is an inevitable mode of creation.

Bored Nude, 2016

OPP: I’m with you on the fact that visual artists have so much visual information to respond to and that we should respond to our surrounding culture. And I think artists should think ethically about what to appropriate and to what end. Are there any sources that are off limits in your mind?

AZ: Being a dog person, cats are off limits.

OPP: Have you ever had your intentions in a particular piece grossly misinterpreted because your viewer didn’t understand what sources were being mashed up?

AZ: No—I think part of the fun of these works for the viewer is that they support multiple interpretations. 

OPP: So how do you go about merging all these sources in terms of process? You mentioned that both painting and digital printing are at play.

AZ: I create oil and acrylic paintings and subsequently photograph them. I then integrate portions of the photographed paintings digitally into new work. After printing the hybridized piece, I add paint again.

Bored Apple Picker, 2017

OPP: Tell us about the wide eyes which appear collaged onto the paintings? They work differently in each piece, sometimes creating a look of boredom, sometimes vapidness, sometime panic to the point of trauma. How do these eyes relate to the various representations of female bodies you reference?

AZ: The eyes are sourced from a large scale oil painting I created of my own eyes. I will sometimes repaint them, using the original painting as the source or will directly print them onto canvas, repainting portions of them, therefore changing them in some way every time they are repurposed. They relate to female bodies from pop and high culture in that they simultaneously activate and charge the bodies with subjective anxiety. To me, the eyes are like an “on” switch. The eyes make the bodies forces to be reckoned with, rather than passive bodies intended primarily for visual consumption.

OPP: What’s the significance of that repeated graphic motif that resembles cartoon seaweed or a stylized comb?

 AZ: The cartoon seaweed/stylized comb is sourced from Matisse’s artist book Jazz, which contained prints of colorful cut paper collages. I use his shapes to not only imbue my paintings with movement but also to pay homage to Matisse and art history.

from She Rocks at Kravets Wehby Gallery, 2017

OPP: Tell us about the relationship between the conventional wall-hung paintings and the life size cardboard cut-outs. When did you first introduce the form of the cut-out into your practice? What do the cut-outs do that the paintings cannot?

 AZ: The cut outs function as extensions of the paintings and are collage pieces that occupy the viewer’s space. If the paintings act as bricks, the cut outs are the mortar. I began using the cut outs during graduate school and because of their light weight, I was able to place them in public contexts as well and experiment with art interventions and performance. As I continued creating the sculptures, they became more intrinsic to my practice, and I began treating them like free standing paintings. Thus, I changed from creating them on cardboard and opted for aluminum. They are much more durable and archival, and reference phone and computer screens because of their one-sidedness, thickness and materiality.

In Media Res II in Extract at the GL Strand, Copenhagen, 2015

OPP: You recently curated The Staging of Vulnerability for SPRING/BREAK Art Show in New York. Can you talk about this foray in to curating and how it relates to your painting practice? What was your curatorial strategy?

AZ: I approached this curatorial project much in the same way I approach my installations. I wanted to create a dream-like world with these artists’ work, using color, material and content to emphasize mood and context. For example, while one artist created a rose from thread, another painted a rose as a tattoo onto his figure. In another instance, a cut out sculpture of enlarged feet was placed in close proximity to a painting of isolated feet. Repetition of motifs tied the entire show together. I wanted the space to feel surrealist and liminal. To me, curating has so much in common with collaging, and I was very excited to have the opportunity to work with these talented artists to create an installation that functioned as a singular piece.

To see more of Allison's work, please visit allisonzuckerman.com
 
Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Michael Barrett

Memories for the Future, 2014. A 320 hour performance.

MICHAEL BARRETT explores the construct of American Masculinity in performances informed by his personal experiences as an athlete, Marine and cancer survivor. Early comically poignant videos highlight both a cultural obsession with protecting male genitalia and his own lost testical. His live performances range from rowdy training exercises simultaneously filmed with a Go-Pro camera to thoughtful, repetitive actions that memorialize the loss of both civilians and soldiers to war. Michael exhibits and performs internationally. He has had solo shows at the former Trifecta Gallery (Las Vegas, Nevada) and Perfex Gallery (Poznan, Poland) and his recent group exhibitions include shows at Hole of Fame Gallery (Dresden, Germany), Galerie Michaela Stock (Vienna, Austria) and Berkeley Art Center (California). Michael will perform at Grace Exhibition Space in Brooklyn on May 19th as part of Itinerant 2017. In 2017, he will attend the Performance-Kunst Workshop at Kunstpavillon Burgrohl and WORK.ACT.PERFORM, a performance art symposium in Dresden, Germany. He will be an Artist-in-Residence at Galeria Racjez (Poznan, Poland) for six weeks, followed by a Performance Art Studies workshop in the Czech Republic. Michael is based in Las Vegas, Nevada.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What does the endurance mean to you, both in your work and in your life?


Michael Barrett: During the first years of elementary school, it was suggested that I attend speech therapy twice a week. Exactly, who made the suggestion is beyond me and I carry no recollection of discussing the matter with my parents. It occurred so early in my life, I only recall bits and pieces, such as leaving the classroom during ‘art time’ to practice the letter ‘s’ within the small, closet-like office, of the speech therapist, with a boy named, Skip.

Up until this time, I didn’t realize people could suffer from a speech impediment. To learn that there might be something ‘wrong’ with the way in which I communicated, had a negative affect on my identity and the fear of language and sharing thoughts out loud, drastically altered my behavior as a young person.

Rather than relying on the spoken word, I navigated toward gesture, action, and the body as alternative methods of meaning making, challenging learning environments, and understanding multiple entry and exit points of interpretation. From an early age, endurance has meant sustaining an ability to communicate within a world that demand one to be present, to show up, to produce, and to speak your mind.

Once upon a time, I believed endurance made up a large part of who I was and where I had been as a person and artist, but as I mature and grow, I am constantly reminded that endurance is so much larger than just myself. Endurance transcends borders and extends beyond my fingertips, bridging gaps capable of connecting others to new points of discovery.

Rubber Room: Push and Pull. Go-pro video still from endurance performance.

OPP: I’ve been thinking about your performances, which deconstruct western masculinity and its connection to violence and athleticism, as growing from the lineage of avant-garde Feminist art. In the same way, women’s studies requires an exploration of individual women’s experience of their conditioned gender, we need to hear about actual men’s experience of conditioned masculinity. Do you see your work in relation to Feminist art?

MB: Much of what I do challenges American Masculinity as a historical construct that greatly influences many aspects of life. After a battle with testicular cancer, in 2001, I began to specifically focus on Masculinity through a feminist lens. Slowly and carefully, developing a masculine narrative to challenge and question five key areas of masculinity with the hope of urging a discussion on how masculinity empowers and disempowers.

Writers and artists such as Susan Sontag (feminine as masculine/masculine as feminine), Stephanie Springgay (the skin and cloth), and Donna Harraway (The Cyborg Manifesto) have certainly played a part in directing my concepts and methodologies as an artist, researcher, and teacher. I have identified five areas of exploration—physical force and control, work and occupational achievement, patriarchy, outdoorsman, heterosexuality—based on scholars who offer new perspectives on how we can broaden what it means to be masculine and what function masculinity serves.

Incentive Training: Session Three. Performance still.

OPP: I’m very interested in Dear Dresden (2016), Memories for the Future (2014) and 723 (2014). In both of these performances, you perform repentant gestures, memorializing victims of war with the numbers of actions mirroring the numbers of victims of the violence of war. Can you talk about the relationship of endurance, repetition and healing in these works? 



MB: History tells a story about the spiraling struggle over masculine representations. One might interpret these narratives as an enduring battle, not as an objective reality, but a construct that inadequately bridges issues concerning leadership, ethics, knowledge and power. Stories of these bridges offer numerous examples of how inadequate power structures are utilized to decide what wars are fought, how votes are cast, who does and doesn’t receive.

As the U.S. enters into the longest war of its brief history, Germany enters into its 72nd year since the end of World War II. Both events offer opportunities to reflect upon and question how history repeats itself. I refer to our past and current situations as “spiraling out of control while building tension as we rotate through time.”

I am always questioning and analyzing how we as citizens, or better yet, generations of war, carry on? How will the human spirit endure such tragedy again and again? In what ways will following generations repeat the same horrific cycles we currently inhabit? What happens when the tension bursts?

In time, we may find ourselves in a predicament beyond our imagination. With time, we could possibly discover/know harmony, mutualism and level means of communication. Through time, we might find ourselves as humans and social-beings, capable of cooperating and moving forward together and with one another.

For this to occur, we must endure time. As physical forms, as mental thought processors, as emotional nests, we must endure through and beyond our current time and the habits of previous generations.

723, 2014. Go-pro video still from live performance.

OPP: For me, your identity as an ex-Marine is key to the poignancy of these performances. Dear Dresden and Memories for the Future made me think about the veterans who apologized to the Sioux Elders in a ceremony at Standing Rock in December 2016 for the U.S. treatment of Native Americans. How important are the various aspects of your identity—as artist, as white male, as ex-Marine, as cancer survivor—to understanding your body of performances? Is this less or more important when watching individual performances?

MB: Years ago, I considered it important for the audience to know I was a cancer survivor and to know the work commented on my experience with cancer. I used to believe my background information added a certain element of validity or better yet, it offered a slice of life for the audience. Now, I am not so sure. I can laugh about it now, but roughly 10 years ago, a mentor abruptly made the comment during critique: “nobody gives a fuck about Michael Barrett.” Yes, a little harsh, and it did sting. Yet as I've had some time to lick my wounds and ponder the critique, I’ve found there's something to be had in the statement. Something that might be holding back, preventing and disrupting access to my work. While, I do believe there might have been a more tactful way of stating that I was getting in the way, it motivated me to research aspects of cancer, military and athletics that were of interest to me, yet less about ‘me’ specifically. This helped with building bridges for others to access my work. Reinterpreting the five elements of masculinity are examples of common links between the three areas.

Rather than specifically commenting on my personal experiences, I attempt to remain mindful of a more humanistic approach and focus on creating keyholes for the audience to access, comment and question their own perspectives. I am aware my background will always be present. I cannot remove myself from the history. As an artist, I aim to use my background as platform for communicating and challenging topics of importance rather than the background serving as the topic itself.

Incentive Training: Session Four, 2010. Still of live performance.

OPP: Can you talk about your recurring costumes—the jock strap and the hood—in performances like Lombard Street Hustle (2011), Incentive Training: Session Four (2010) and Standing Room Only: Episode One (2012)?

MB: I’m aware there is space for interpreting my work during this period as bondage, S&M, or the underground dungeon scene, but I hope I have left adequate space for elements of loss, recovery, and function, when viewed through a humanistic and/or medical lens. I refer to this ’lens’ as delving deeper and beyond the medical gaze—a single, all knowing perspective which only scans the surface for immediate information. The idea of medical lens penetrates the surface/skin in multiple areas in search of unexplored spaces, concepts and access points, therefore rupturing previous power structures while simultaneously gathering, analyzing and presenting qualitative information regarding lived experience, personal narrative and autoethnography.

The intention of the work is not necessarily presenting a didactic tracing of lived experiences, yet I carefully select, and most of the time, make each piece of attire by hand, so that it references a certain event, space, time, etc. For example, a black jockstrap was part of my attire while recovering from a battle with testicular cancer. The hood is a way of separating Michael Barrett from Artist Michael Barrett. It’s a psychological tool that helps remind both me and the audience that the performer and the person under the mask are two separate beings.

Performing is really really difficult for me. I don’t perform for fun, nor do I spend much time thinking about what to perform. The concepts/issues/problems usually reveal themselves and won’t leave me alone until I tend to them in some manner. Once in a while, my responses resemble art. Other times, they resemble everyday life. Regardless, when performing I find the need to separate myself from the performer. The transcendence that occurs is very similar to experiences I had as a Marine and athlete and require separation through subtle mental shifts. The hood helps.

Corporal Punishment, 2011. Performance still.

OPP: You are currently pursuing your PhD. in Art and Visual Culture Education at University of Arizona. Will you tell us about this program and why you chose to pursue another degree beyond your MFA?

MB: Applying to the Art and Visual Culture Education doctoral program at the University of Arizona has been extremely beneficial to my practice as a performance artist and has opened up a plethora of new opportunities as a researcher and teacher. Since enrolling, I have had the pleasure of teaching and performing in Germany, Poland, Austria, Italy and the Czech Republic. The experience has instilled an awareness that my identity, is in constant flux, rather than situated in a singular fixed position. One constantly meshing, bridging, overlapping, and sharing, attributes of art, research, and teaching (A/R/Tography).

While teaching with Performance Art Studies at the Michaela Stock Galleria in Vienna, Austria, I was first introduced to the Performance Art Context diagram, created by Boris Nieslony and Gerhard Dirmoser. Using the lens of an A/R/Tographer, I narrowed my focus down to understanding the Performance Art Context diagram in a framework that employs Deleuze and Guattari’s theories of the rhizome and Nomadology: The War Machine, as well as Donna Haraway's The Cyborg Manifesto.

I place this inquiry in context of contemporary trends in performance art pedagogy and political climates in higher education. I suggest that research on understanding performance art education practices in emerging technologies be conducted with a view to gain a cohesive social understanding, rather that isolated views on curriculum and pedagogy, with pre-determined understandings of what art education is and what it could be.

By problematizing current access to the diagram as an educational tool, I argue for a contemporary post-classroom interpretation of the information within a virtual reality platform, which could potentially benefit/better serve educators while simultaneously increasing access to knowledge and meaning-making within the field of Performance Art.

I am currently entertaining questions like How does re-interpreting the Performance Art Context diagram redefine the body as a educational tool for meaning making and acquiring knowledge? How might the acquired information function in virtual reality as a way for resisting hierarchies, challenging oppressive methods and past institutional stereotypes regarding how, when, and where learning takes place? How might the application and utilization of a critical lens encourage a post-humanistic approach that helps us uncover marginalized bodies and silenced voices?

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

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Scott Hazard

Drop, Stone, Trace. Sculpture/Maple, Paper, Text. 15" X 15" x 8"

Informed by garden design and Zen Buddhism, SCOTT HAZARD's layered, paper sculptures and installations offer both mental and physical space for the viewer to find respite or refuge. He carefully tears crisp, white sheets of paper, then spreads them out, expanding two-dimensional space into three-dimensional space. These staggered papers evoke drifts of snow and rolling hills, punctuated by cultivated paths of rubber-stamped text meandering through empty space. Scott studied Landscape Architecture (1996) at California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo and earned a MFA (2005) at the University of Florida. His most recent solo show was Memory Gardens (2015) at Adah Rose Gallery (Washington DC), where he is represented. His work is also available from Simon Breitbard Fine Arts in the San Francisco Bay Area and has been featured in a number of magazines and online publications, including The WILD Magazine, Glamcult, BOOOOOOOM, Juxtapoz, Hi-Fructose, and Colossal. In 2012, he was awarded an Artist Fellowship in Visual Arts from the North Carolina Arts Council. Scott is  and  Scott lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You studied Landscape Architecture before earning your MFA. How does this background inform your scuptures?

Scott Hazard:
Most of the pieces I create serve as vessels for gardens or garden-like spaces. They are places intended to be inhabited or explored, and they are intentionally carved out and/or constructed out of a larger environment or context, yet incorporate and reveal aspects of that context. The origin of the English word garden refers to a sense of enclosure; the oldest use of the word indicated the fending off of wilderness to cultivate a more or less safe haven. My work references some European notions of garden design from the 1700s and 1800s where shaping a space was often about composing and framing a view of an idealized landscape from a particular point in space. There are also important links to Chinese and Japanese traditions in garden design in that the experience of moving through the space is critical to the viewer's perceptions of the garden, and the gardens were often thought of as microcosms of the world.


Sovereign Cloud, Tree and Opening Sky. Sculpture/Photography, 23" X 23" x 8"

OPP: What does the void mean to you? Are the voids in your work more spatial or metaphorical?

SH: I think of the 'void' as the space or context in which every ‘thing’ exists more so than an absence of something. It is a place where experiences can be detached from ideas and assumptions. My thinking about the ‘void’ is rooted largely in Buddhist notions of emptiness. With that, I am focused on creating and articulating intimate spaces which encourage people to delve in and explore.
 
The voids or openings in my sculptures do work metaphorically in a couple of ways. We use language and images most often to bear down on definitions and concisely articulate what we are trying to convey. A void introduced into this landscape of information works to create a spatial and perceptual opening to allow for a moment of respite from specificity and ideally lead towards a more complete and poetic understanding. Gaston Bachelard touches on this idea in his essay Dialectics of Outside and Inside when he wrote, “language through meaning encloses while poetic expression opens it up.” This respite translates to moments of quiet in a seemingly endless amount of stimulus and information. John Cage and his writings and works on silence are integral to my thinking regarding the void also. He considered silences to be “sacred spaces resonant with creation.” Similarly my work seeks to create a brief break in the din of noise we exist in and allow for a more focused mode of being, if only for a moment.

The reductive perceptual experiences I work to create are also metaphors for the notion that the mind functions in part as a reducer (see Henri Bergson as mentioned by Aldous Huxley in his essay The Doors of Perception, and The Organized Mind, a fantastic book about thinking in an environment of information overload by Daniel J. Levitin.) In this mode the mind is blocking out multitudes of information at any given moment in order to focus on what is at hand or apparently most important/needing attention. I am working to facilitate a diffused space, one that is both inviting and enveloping but using the same information one might be seeking a departure from.

Landscape: Threshole. Sculpture/Photography. 6" X 8.75", 12.5" X 16.25" X 3.75" w/ Frame

OPP: In your series Photo Constructs, you turn photographs into sculptures by adding depth. I think about worm holes and portals to other dimensions when looking at works like Sovereign Cloud, Tree and Opening Sky and Landscape: Threshole. Do you think of them that way? If so, where do they lead?

SH: To some extent, I do want to convey the idea of the spaces in the work as portals to another unknown place. Many of the photo pieces have no terminus within sight to heighten this sensation. There is also the idea that there are many ways a thing can be understood coursing through my work. The spaces or voids in the objects I create are influenced by Zen Buddhist notions of focused attention achieved through meditation and idealized states of mind. By setting up the layers of paper or photographs at intervals in a physical space, I work to create a sensation of simultaneously looking at and through. Each layer in the work is a slightly different iteration of the layers that are immediately adjacent. In this way, each work is composed of many versions of the same thing. A hole is torn in one reality only to reveal another slightly different reality behind the first one. Some pieces, like those you mention above lead to an unknown destination, others are more concerned with creating a space that focuses attention on one portion or aspect of the photo.

These portals also reference the bellows of an early camera, or the space within some optical instruments from the 1700s and 1800s, such as the stereoscope. These spaces within cameras and optical instruments, in addition to their role in making an image, focus the user’s attention by blocking off outside influences to the image being viewed. In this sense the photo pieces function as both image and instrument. Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels and similar pieces are never too far from my mind when thinking through this work.

One Square Foot of a Place to Focus/An Excuse for Staring at the Wall. Sculpture (Maple, paper, text). 11.75" X 11.75"


OPP: Tell us about the introduction of text and the shift away from photographic surfaces in Text Constructs.

SH: Both the image and text based work originated around the same time, but I have concentrated more on the text based work for the past few years. The focused use of text can minimize the visual information in each piece and keep the initial visual reading of the work more concise. The text also allows for a metaphorical and literal reading of the spaces or voids that are formed within each work. The words stamped on the layers of paper encourage a non-linear and haptic reading of the space and text by pulling them in layer by layer, word by word. I love working through the ways the text can engage with the space and enhance a sense of movement, and how that sense of movement can in turn influence the reading of the text. I appreciate a lot of Visual and Concrete Poetry, especially early works from Vito Acconci. The masses of text in my work are often written in second person to speak directly to the viewer. Lately, I have also been working towards incorporating text from used books, mainly books about how humans have engaged (whether through exploration, documentation, utilization or exploitation) with the landscape.



Detail of Endless Sea. Sculpture (Ash wood, paper, text). 10" X 18" X 23"

OPP: Obviously repetition—of language and in the process of tearing—is a big part of your process. Is repetition tedious or relaxing for you? Does meditation play a role in your practice?

SH: Absolutely, repetition is an important part of my process for creating the work. It helps provide the level of detail necessary to pull the viewer into the work and the repeated layering of the paper helps the viewer visually track through and into the work. I don't formally meditate, but the production process for the greatest part is meditative. Each word in the text pieces is typically applied manually with rubber stamps, so the repetitive actions help eliminate outside thoughts and bring about a more mindful, focused mode of attention. I typically work in two to four hour periods due to my schedule, so it’s not too hard to maintain the attention required to consistently apply the text and carefully tear the paper. The repeated text becomes a texture that when read helps purge outside ideas and focus on what is at hand when viewing the work. Ultimately, creating an inviting and meditative space is an important aspect of each piece.



Silent Geography, 2014. Sculpture/Installation. 18 x 24 x 30

OPP: In Silent Geography (2014), you shifted scale tremendously. Your page-sized torn papers became a landscape of snow drifts that are waist-high. I interpret the text as spaces that humans trod. Can you talk about the relationship of the scale of the text versus the paper?

SH: This project was a fantastic opportunity to work with the awesome people from Projective City and the former Mixed Greens gallery as part of their ParisScope collaboration. This site-specific installation consumed the entirety of the floor of the gallery to create an immersive psychosomatic garden. Similar to my wall mounted and smaller sculptures, the format of the project mandated that viewers may not physically enter the space, but can only experience the work from just outside the gallery through a peep-hole. It was very exciting to work at this scale and translate forms, paper and text in a way that could literally envelop a person exploring the space.  The size of the text was large enough so that each person moving through the space could easily see and track the text without needing to significantly disrupt their movement, and small enough to beckon a closer look and resemble a lot of the physical printed matter we interact with. As you note the masses of text could resemble evidence of human impacts caused by people passing through or inhabiting the spare landscape—they also allude to water in terms of how it flows to and collects in low spots, eventually seeping in to the landscape or evaporating.

To see more of Scott's work, please visit scotthazard.net.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include
shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Sam Pasapane

Savagings, 2017. Concrete, roller chain, steel, dye. 26" x 36" x 36"

SAM PASAPANE's concrete and steel sculptures range from dense, heavy masses to meandering, curvy networks. Visual references to both urban infrastructure and nature sit comfortably next to one another in her process and material-driven practice. Sam earned her BFA at Maryland Institute College of Art. She earned her MFA at Rhode Island School of Design, where she is now an Adjunct Professor. She was an Artist-in-Residence at Vermont Studio Center (2013) and Franconia Sculpture Park (2010-2011). She has exhibited in To the Moon (2016) at The WURKS (Providence, Rhode Island) and as part of the City @ Casket program, established as an urban extension of Franconia Sculpture park at Casket Arts Community Complex (Minneapolis). Sam lives in North Adams, Massachusetts.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You mention in your statement that your grandfather was a steel worker. How does personal history and history in general inform the work you make in steel?

Sam Pasapane: People usually call me Sam, not Samantha. The reason is because my grandfather also went by Sam Pasapane. We were very close, he taught me how to throw a ball and would play catch with me and shoot hoops. Never once did he tell me that I couldn’t play baseball or basketball because I was a girl. I was a catcher just like him, played basketball just like him and was a swimmer just like him. Then I went to an art college—not like him.

I felt some loss of connection; but one day I walked into the metal shop and finally found my place and my people. When I told my grandfather that I was learning to weld and using steel as a material, I found out that he worked at U.S. Steel, which I never knew. He was the type of person that loved to tell stories about his family growing up, not work and not the war. I was amazed and it felt right. In my second year of grad school my grandfather passed away, which was really hard. My use of steel had been receiving a lot of push back in grad school. But at that time, my need to stay connected to him and my love for the material kept me working with this material.

Unfolding, 2013. fabricated steel. 37”x 29 ½” x 38½”

OPP: What kind of push back?

SP: Some people don’t consider steel a contemporary material. I have been told that Richard Serra ruined the use of steel for artists, and that no one but him can use it anymore. So, the critique I have received is how can my art be contemporary, if my material is not? The word Postmodern got thrown around a lot. This criticism was both frustrating and helpful. It forced me to question and then to justify my material choice, while recognizing that some people will always have criticism, and I have to make art that is true to me.

The history of steel is important as well. The advent of affordable production of steel marks the rise of society as we know it today. It made the railroad possible, which pushed the expansion of this country. It enabled the construction of the major cities; skyscrapers could not stand without it. The rise of production of steel marks the beginning of the rise of American economy and America as a powerhouse. The end of steel production marks a time of transition, and economic instability. I don’t hold steel production on up a pedestal; the production process is dirty and America’s expansion was genocide on the native people. But it is deeply connected to us; it is both a literal and metaphorical foundation of our society.

Inflations Inflamed, 2014. Forged steel, silicon rubber. 90" x 50" x 56"

OPP: Can you talk about rendering soft-seeming organic forms in hard materials like steel and concrete? Have you ever been inclined to work with a soft material?

SP: I actually do work with silicone, which is a newer venture for me. I take molds off of my manipulated steel forms and then cast them in silicone rubber, coloring them to look like steel. I’ll insert these sections back into the steel structure. With my sculpture Inflations Inflamed, there is an air compressor in the base of the sculpture, so parts of the sculpture slowly inflate and deflate on a timer. This is new, I’m still working out how I feel about it.

Other than silicone, I have made attempts to use soft materials… a result from being in grad school. To a person who doesn’t have the experience working with steel it would seem that I could create sculptures faster using softer materials. But I am able to work intuitively with steel. It is very direct: you heat it, squish it, weld it, done. Concrete is similar, you can cast it or build with it like clay, but instead of having to fire it you just let it cure. When I have tried using softer materials, I hit a wall. It was more tedious to get materials to behave the way I wanted, and attaching them together is frustrating. I do like to create artwork that is durable. I have been given the suggestion to just “dip tube socks in resin,” and if I wanted to make artwork involving socks maybe I would… who knows I might one day.

My reasoning for pushing these rigid materials into soft-seeming forms is that these materials have the physical capability to do so, which usually goes unseen. Most people observe these materials when they are in their solid state. I manipulate them when they are in-between being a liquid and a solid, and capture that physical state. I’m interested how much I can exert myself onto these materials to bring them back to a “natural” form. Steel and concrete both derive from nature and have been manipulated by man to be rigid, industrial materials.

I Squish ‘em, and Stack ‘em, and Squish ‘em (detail), 2014. Forged mild steel. 66-1/2" x 20- 3/4" x 20 3/4"

OPP: I see images that evoke nature—tree stumps in some early work and, of course, the pothole pieces—as well as references to urban infrastructure, as in Inflations Inflamed (2014). Are your abstracted forms more inspired by things in the physical world or by the processes you use to manipulate your materials?

SP: My entry into sculpture was definitely influenced by nature. I remember looking at natural formations and thinking, “man, art can never capture that beauty.” It literally took tens of thousands of years for some of these landscapes to look how they do. But I tried anyways, creating objects from man made materials that were originally from the earth. I was interested in how we interact with them, walk around them, touch them and feel overwhelmed by them.

But over time, I have definitely become more influenced by the processes used to manipulate materials, which is a result of becoming more skilled at my craft. Conceptually, I’m still influenced by organic forms that exist, but I have been thinking more about urban infrastructure. My hometown is a small city in New Jersey, outside of New York City. When I was growing up, the town was depressed; stores were moving out to the malls and most restaurants were leaving. We were left with banks and some restaurants. When I was in college, bars and stores started popping up. And then the construction began, and it has not stopped. At first this was uplifting because more people were coming to town, and it was coming back to life. Every time I go back to visit my parents something has been torn down, and something new has been put up. Buildings are getting taller—the town is literally getting darker from the buildings casting shadows. There is something alluring about a town that is full of life: people walking everywhere, eating outside, enjoying the town. But when will it end? What if the economy of the town tanks again? What happens when the new apartment buildings become dated? Will they be allowed to become run down? The best part of my town growing up was the cultural diversity in the town, I know that will be pushed out if this need for expansion doesn’t stop. So, this is something that I’ve been thinking about for awhile now.

Into the Pothole, 2011. Fabricated Steel. 54 1/2" x 24 1/2" x 40"

OPP: A practical question: how do you store your large, heavy works?

SP: Hah, yeah that is a good question. I have learned to make my sculpture so that they come apart and can be stored in sections; with the intention that I can manage to carry a section by myself. My studio is big enough that I store my work there.

This did not happen with Savagings; it does come apart into two sections, but it’s like 300 pounds. So even in two sections I need help moving it. In my brilliance, I made the perfect form that is a pain in the ass to grab. Your hands just slide; there’s no where to get a hand hold on it. . . ugh! I do this to myself.

I live in a postindustrial town in northwestern Massachusetts because it allows me to be able to afford a big enough studio to make my work. So I don’t live in New York City because I can’t afford it. There’s no way I could get a space large enough to make what I want to make. I do feel isolated sometimes, but luckily I teach sculpture at a couple different colleges out of the area, so I get to leave. . . and interact with artists

Bridging the Gap, 2011. Fabricated Steel. 7'-5" x 16'-8" x 9'-4"

OPP: Does the size or weight ever inhibit what you make or where you exhibit?

SP: As far as showing work, I entered the world of sculpture via public sculpture, and I managed to get a couple of them to be permanent, thankfully. My work has downsized since I make work to be shown indoors now, so that is part of it. The other part of it is practicality, I will make big work again if I get paid to do so and if the sculpture stays at the intended location. I am more restricted in terms of the location because shipping is so expensive. But I do have a truck, so if I can drive it then I can show there.. But generally, I don’t feel too limited for where I can show because my sculptures do come apart in sections. However with the new series I’m working on, if the gallery space is not on the first floor and there’s no elevator, I would be hesitant to exhibit there. Like I said, Savagings is a heavy one.

Extinguished, 2013. Concrete, steel rod, steel washers graphite. Variable dimensions.

OPP: Savagings (2017) is my favorite piece. I love the combination of roller chain with dyed concrete, and I’m a sucker for a good representation of a void. How do you think about the void in this piece?

SP: Thanks. It’s my first sculpture in awhile that I’ve been happy with. The idea of the void was the impetus for this sculpture. I love voids as well; I am continuing to use the void for the current series I’m working on. I was making more linear work before, and I wanted to break that structure. I started thinking about this sculpture with my hometown in mind. When does the construction and development stop? For an outsider driving through, it reads as a really nice urban town, full of businesses and happy people. There is a macro and micro view of the situation, both sexy and disturbing.

I was thinking of machinery, the caterpillars ripping up the earth, razing buildings. At first I wanted the void to be made with caterpillar treads, which led me to using roller chain because the treads run on top of roller chain. I will also admit that I was creating this sculpture during the presidential election. So at the same time that I am thinking about the gentrification of my home, I was drawing mouths and sculpting them out of clay. These two ideas fused in the creation of this sculpture. I’ve been told that it reads as being of the body, and we are living in the age of the sphincter, so that’s appropriate. I feel that we are standing on the edge of a precipice and we don’t know where we will end up when we get to the other side.

To see more of Samantha's work, please visit samanthapasapane.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interview T.C. Moore

Quagga Mare, 2014. horse hair. 56" x 60"

T.C. MOORE's poetic, sculptural eulogies for deceased and endangered animals shift us out of our human-centric mode into the quiet contemplation of the lives of other beings. She creates knotted, sewn and etched works with shed horse hair, hoof clippings, found bones and scraps from the fur industry, often mending or embellishing the found materials in the spirit of healing and honoring. After completing degrees in Interior Design (1980), Architecture (1984) and Landscape Architecture (1986), T.C. went on to earn her MFA in 2012 from JFK University, Berkeley. She has exhibited widely throughout California, with solo shows at Garage Gallery in Berkeley and Gallery Route One in Point Reyes Station. In 2016, her solo show Interconnected at the Compound Gallery in Oakland featured her horse hair sculptures. Two works were featured in the 2016 West Marin Review, which was awarded the “most visually stunning book” by the New York Book Industry Guild. T.C. lives in
Santa Rosa, California.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Horse hair is a dominate material in your sculptural, fiber-based practice. What is your personal history with horses?

T.C. Moore: I was one of those annoying little girls in class that was always daydreaming and doodling in the margins of her rulers, far more interested in living in the confines of my imagined world then being present in the one where everyone else seemed to exist. My earliest fantastical recollections included people replaced by animals; animals seemed safer, kinder and cuter. My parents’ marriage was difficult, and my mother often sent me off to her mother’s farm in order to relieve herself of parental duties. It was on this farm where I recall my first aesthetic experience.

My grandparents did not have horses, but I remember the day two young women rode up onto my grandparents’ property. The horses were enormous, frightening and the most beautiful animals I had ever seen. I became obsessed with horses from that day forward. When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said a horse. It took me some time to understand that you do not grow up into another species. I painted, drew and pretended horsies until middle school, when it was no longer cool to do so. My bedroom however, remained my private horse cave, with walls plastered with horse posters, drawings and pictures of horses cut out of newspapers and magazines. I always wanted a pony for Christmas, but my parents could not afford one. The desire for anything and everything horse persisted into adulthood. When my mother died I inherited enough money to finally purchase the pony I never got for Christmas. I now own two ponies, a mare named Tinka and a gelding named Arlo.

...in a smooth and flowing manner #6, 2012. horse hair & canvas. 20" x 20"

OPP: When did horse hair first enter your art practice?

TCM: In grad school I was struggling with my paintings; I felt all I was doing was illustrating. One spring day in 2010, I was with my horse shedding out her winter coat. This is a yearly occurrence. Most horse owners throw this unwanted undercoat in the garbage. I was using a rubber curry-comb, and it became clogged with hair, so I dumped it upside down onto the stall floor. I had done this many times before, but somehow this time I saw the hair in a different light. A shock of excitement ran through me, and I started collecting my horses shed winter coat. Horse hair as a medium felt so authentic and true to my being. I loved the color, the smell and the feel of it. The idea to use it came about from this one simple, pure and intimate act of grooming. The hair has a spiritual quality, like the horse is always present with me, even when I am not actually with a horse. The hair becomes a surrogate, not just for horses, but all animal essences.

Feed Bags, 2012. horse hair, canvas, acrylic + horse teeth. 12' X 8" x 14'-0"

OPP: How do you have so much of it? Is it just from Tinka and Arlo?

TCM: Collecting, organizing and storing the hair has become another side of my artistic practice. I started by asking other horse owners if I could have their horse’s shed winter coats. I also advertise on a local community web-site for horse owners and ask people to save the hair—it doesn’t have to be clean. I pay for pick up or postage. It was easy from there to start also working with mane and tail hair. I also purchase this hair on-line, so I can get the lengths and quantities that I need.


OPP: What are your art historical inspirations? 49 Days of Mourning (2013) references both a quilt and the Modernist grid. The series of horse hair “drawings” on canvas …in a smooth and flowing manner (2012) make me think of a less rectilinear Agnes Martin, while the Feed Bags (2012), on the other hand, recalls the off loom woven structures of Claire Zeisler and Leonore Tawney.

TCM: Art Historical inspirations are many and if the work is minimal, abstract, primitive or has anything to do with line or natural materials you can almost guarantee I will love it. Artists, like Chris Drury, Ernst Haeckel, Ann Hamilton, Agnes Martin, Kate MccGwire, Wenda Gu, Eva Hesse, Louise Bourgeois, Joseph Cornell, Mark Bradford, Paul Klee, Leonardo Drew, Deborah Butterfield, Julie Mehretu, Darren Waterston……

COW, 2016. dyed horse hair, cow skull, acrylic + wood. 37" x 21" x 11"

OPP: Tell us about your newest body of work Sporting Life. For the first time, you’ve dyed the horse hair in vibrant colors. . . not unnatural colors, but certainly unnatural to the animals being eulogized.

TCM: The latest body of work came about after finding bones from animals on my hikes. The bones, like the horse hair, have spiritual essences. I became obsessed with collecting them. A colleague of mine found a deer skull that I coveted, and she was generous enough to give it to me. This is the red white-tailed deer skull. I wanted to bring the two mediums together, but I wasn’t sure why or how. In the process of making my work I discover its context.

It is a journey I start without a preconceived idea about its end. I started to drill 3/16” homes into the antlers and inserting the horse hair, but once I was finished it felt rather gratuitous. Somehow they just keep reminding me of something until it finally hit me. I was doing something familiar, I was doing my own version of my my deceased father’s taxidermy hobby.

When I was young I saw my father as all powerful, like Dick Tracy. His power and presence was expressed even when he wasn’t around in our home through his taxidermy displays on our walls, shelves and coffee tables. Growing up I had a strange ambivalence with his trophy mounts in that they displayed the beauty of animals which I love, but at the same time the horror that they were killed at my fathers hands. When I realized I was partaking in this reverse taxidermy, I started putting the skulls on traditional mount forms. I was initially hesitant, even a little frightened about using such vibrant colors because it didn’t seem natural. Then I realized it expressed the unnaturalness of trophy mounts. It is pretty strange that humans as species have developed a display system that prepares animals to lifelike effect, but only after we have taken their lives away.

Ivory Billed Woodpeckers - Extinct, 2015. mirror + metal. 13" x 9"

OPP: Reflections is a series of etched mirrors, featuring various endangered species. First off how, how the hell did you photograph those mirrors so well?

TCM: Photographing the mirrors, initially was a challenge. Fortunately, Don from Almac Camera in San Francisco figured this one out for me. I told him I needed the mirrors to be on a black background, this wasn’t a problem. However, the images obviously showed the camera in the shot and the animals, that I wanted to appear ghost like basically disappeared with studio lighting. So we experimented until Don came up with the idea of putting black velvet facing the mirrors and cutting a hole just large enough for his camera lens to peak through. He also shots the work off-centre, so even the lens isn’t visible in the final shot. What else can I say except I recommend Don at Almac Camera, great pricing as well.

Pangolin, 2016. etched mirror + wood. 11"x9"x1/2"

OPP: More importantly, do you identify as an animal activist/artist? How do you balance the practical concerns of animal activism and environmentalism with the aesthetic concerns of art-making? Are those concerns ever in conflict with one another?

TCM: Yes, I am an animal activist/ artist, a card carrying PETA member for years, not to mention a vegetarian. This is a tough question and one that I have given a lot of thought. Sometimes I ask myself, wouldn’t my time be better spent doing something directly beneficial, like working for the Sierra Club or Greenpeace or the National Resources Defense Council? I am not under any illusions that one person can change the world. But everyday I make small, informed choices and decisions based on the underlying ethical premise of animal/environmental concerns. I have also learned that you have to be true to yourself and have faith in the power of art. I believe we are all blessed or cursed with who we are intrinsically and with that comes a responsibility. I believe art-making allows me to evolve, share, explore, express and record in a way that traditional activism does not. My concerns, thoughts, dreams and fears are personified in an artifact that can be shared as a aesthetic experience which is different from other activist experiences.

Bunny Slippers, 2015. fur, feet, wool, snare, wood + plastic. 8" x 20" x 8"

OPP: You’ve written that your work “is inspired by the Biophilia hypothesis, a term coined by E.O. Wilson which states that humans as a species have a universal love for the natural world.” If that’s true, why do you think it is so easy for 21st century humans to trash the planet and ignore the effects of their behavior on the surrounding world?


TCM: As a species, we have a tendency to be chauvinistic, narcissistic and dogmatic. We also do whatever comes easiest. I am not saying all humans are like this, but we do have a tendency to see the world only through our eyes and only with our own personal gains at the forefront of our reality. However, humans as a species also possess the capacity to change their behavior in drastic ways, more so than any other species on the planet. So, there is always hope.

To see more work by T.C., please visit topazemoore.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014) and the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interview Tom Pazderka

Heaven Abyss, 2016. Oil, ashes and charcoal on burned panel. 43"x 57"

Informed both by "Czech fatalism and American optimism," TOM PAZDERKA's interdisciplinary practice is loaded with symbols of conflicting ideologies: burned books, raw two-by-fours, buildings crashing down, remote rustic cabins and the famous, solitary individuals who retreated there. In Freedom Club, he highlights underlying connections between notorious (Ted Kaczynski) and beloved (Henry David Thoreau) cabin dwellers. In Twenty Years of Progress, he explores a never-ending cycle of creation and destruction in drawings on charred book pages. Tom earned his BFA at Western Carolina University in 2012 and his MFA from University of California, Santa Barbara in 2016. He just closed a solo exhibition called Into Nothing: New Paintings in Ash and Oil at the Architectural Foundation of Santa Barbara, that was accompanied by a public discussion with artist Maiza Hixson titled Art(ists) of Survival. Since June 2016, Tom has been an Artist-in-Residence at Red Barn Project Space, UC Santa Barbara, where he curated the group show Somewhere or Nowhere At All. In June 2017, his solo exhibition American Gothic will bring the Residency to a close. Tom lives and works in Santa Barbara, California.

OtherPeoplesPixels: In your artist statement, you say “Often I combine a particular Czech fatalism with an American optimism to strange effect.” Can you say more about how you bring this fatalism and this optimism together in your choice of materials, images and subject matter?


Tom Pazderka: Yes, great question right from the start. Czech culture is by nature fatalistic and pessimistic about the future. It comes from centuries of struggle for its own voice and freedom from the rule of neighboring nations and empires. For the past one to two hundred years, there has been an unofficial national discussion about the ‘lot of the small nation’ and what this really means. History is offered as a solution and as an obstacle to national progress and interests. Throughout history, Czechs have struggled for freedom from oppressive forms of religion, then feudalism, the aristocracy and monarchy, the empire, then communism. Finally, with today’s freedom comes another kind of servitude in the form of consumerism and political and cultural deferral to the West. It’s only taken 25 years for pessimism and fatalism to rear its ugly head again.

America and Americans do not have this issue. The world to them is open and wide. Perhaps an entire century of victories and becoming one of the world’s superpowers is a way to achieve cultural hegemony and solidify positive feelings of optimism for the future, regardless of the true nature of these victories. Even the smallest of American grassroots movements—no matter how big or terrible the opposition is—always maintains optimism and hope for change. American nature seems to be one of persistent triumphalism that seems to go back centuries to the Protestant work ethic. This is unheard of in Central Europe. If I was to boil it down I would say that America seeks to constantly renew itself at the expense of the old, while Europe and Czech in particular, seek to solidify and reconcile its present with a chaotic and problematic past at the expense of its future.

Outpost, 2016. Burned image and woodcut on recycled pallets. 72" x 72"

OPP: So how does this affect you personally?

TP: I was born in the Czech Republic, while it was still Czechoslovakia, but moved to the U.S. when I was 12. I have been in the country long enough to be considered half Czech and half American. But I often feel like I am neither Czech nor American. The particularities of the two cultures at play here are sometimes in opposition. I, myself, have become infected by the optimist bug. This is why I am drawn to dark and beautiful imagery and the grit of raw materials. I am attracted by things that are terrifying but also aesthetic. And I use a lot of wood because it’s a humble material, readily available everywhere, but at the same time it is what the U.S. is built upon.

Falling Twilight, 2014. Charcoal on burned book paper. 120" x 48"


OPP: A recurring strategy in your work is burning images onto tiled two-by-fours and book pages. How do construction and destruction meet, physically and conceptually, in your series Twenty Years of Progress (2014).  


TP: In Twenty Years of Progress I chose several significant events that took place between the years 1994—the year I emigrated to the U.S—and 2014, when returned to the Czech Republic for an artist residency. All of the events have negotiated destruction in some way. Some were quite notorious, such as the burning of churches in Norway or the demolition of the Murrah building in Oklahoma City. But one of them went completely unnoticed and that was the demolition of the building of the former Czech Communist Party newspaper Rude Pravo (Red Law). It was as if the shame of those years had to be erased without fanfare and masked by a new type of ideology; what replaced the building were offices and a shopping center.

The physical destruction came through actually burning books in a pit—a symbolic act for the willful destruction of knowledge. The charred remains of the books were then used to make works like those in Twenty Years of Progress. Years earlier, I had used torches to ‘draw’ into wood. The resulting images were quite strong because they became part of the substrate instead of sitting on top of it. They were burned into the wood like memory is burned into one’s mind. Then there was the smell. During my grad years, the joke was that everyone knew when I was around because there was a strong smell of a burning fire inside the studios. Conceptually, destruction seems to always precede a new beginning.

Lost Wisdom: a Secular Book Burning, 2012. Burned books

OPP: That makes me think of the Phoenix, rising from the ashes. Fire, in particular, is important in your work.

TP: Yes, fire is this basic element that gives warmth and comfort but can hurt or kill if one gets too close. I also think of fire in metaphysical terms, as the fire inside that burns with anxious desire for knowledge. Gaston Bachelard wrote a great, short book on this subject called Psychoanalysis of Fire. He identifies certain archetypes—from the arsonist to the Promethean figure— who are drawn to fire.

Despite what we know about the world through science and religion, we know very little about fire itself. Fire is not a just a simple consequence of heat. There must always be an excess to heat to create fire and an excess of something to fuel the fire. . . otherwise it disappears. As such, fire is simply a manifestation of some inward potential that moves outward. Enough heat and a spark create fire, but the physical manifestation itself is as elusive as electricity. One cannot touch it or feel it or grab it, but one can definitely be burned by it. The movement of fire creates powerful meditative states in its observers, and I know this because I’ve stared into fires since I’ve been a young kid.

Drawing for Genius and Madness, the Thoreau Kaczynski Tableau, 2012. Recycled wood and charcoal. 36" x 17" x 2"


OPP: You’ve been exploring the cabin as a form and a symbol for several years. When did the cabin first show up in your work?

TP: I can pinpoint this pretty precisely. In 2012, I made a drawing on on some scrap two-by-fours of two cabins: one was Henry David Thoreau’s Walden Pond cabin and the other was Ted Kaczynski’s Montana cabin. The scrap wood was made to look like it might have come out of each cabin as a sample of a floor. I called the work Drawing for Genius and Madness, the Thoreau Kaczynski Tableaux because I intended it to become a larger work, an installation perhaps. When I came across the images of the Kaczynski cabin and compared it to the images and floor plans of Thoreau’s cabin, I was immediately struck by the similarities. There were differences, of course. But on the whole, the size and layout of both cabins were eerily alike. This is when I got really interested in the writings of and about Thoreau and Kaczynski.  What were the circumstances that made these two who they were/are and how might this be significant to the American experience? I was then introduced to the work of filmmaker James Benning, who built replicas of both cabins in the mountains of California for very similar reasons. Benning’s work culminated in a very provocative book called Two Cabins with critical essays by Julie Ault and Dick Hebdige (with whom I studied at UC Santa Barbara). The essays describe Thoreau and Kaczynski’s relationship to the strange tapestry that is the American experience of wilderness and to one another. 

Freedom Club: Martin, 2016

OPP: How has your thinking about what the cabin symbolizes changed over the years? When did your interest in the cabin shift to an interest in the cabin dwellers?

TP: From early on the cabin seemed to me to be the symbol of freedom, a particular kind of American freedom, tinged with a rustic patina of traditionalism. The more I dove into research about Thoreau and Kaczynski, other patterns started to emerge and now I tend to think of the cabin more as a place fantasy, similar to ‘the room’ in Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker, where one’s innermost and deepest desires are supposed to come true. This is of course a trap, because nobody truly knows what one desires. By going to a place where desires become reality, one’s confronted with the very knowledge that desire is nothing more than desire for desire itself.

My entire graduate thesis, Psychoanalysis of the Cabin, was based on a reading of the cabin as a place of refuge not just for individuals but also for the entire nation that used the symbol of the cabin as a nostalgic vehicle for a collective national unconscious. Scenes of rustic Arcadia show up in post-apocalyptic sci-fi films like Oblivion, and since the filming of Birth of a Nation, where the last showdown scenes take place inside a log cabin, Hollywood’s been unable to extricate itself from the Romantic fantasy of a rustic nationalism.

Once I’d exhausted the material on Thoreau and Kaczynski, the figure of Martin Heidegger and his hut in the Black Forest of Germany emerged. It was an opening into the cabin life of Europeans, which is entirely different from the American experience. I partly grew up in a cabin in the mountains of Czech Republic and all of a sudden here was a method by which to understand that experience. I began to read studies done on what’s called the ‘cottaging’ culture in Czech Republic and what little there is known about the tiny house movement in the U.S. This is where some of the cabin dwellers first appear, but mainly as a result of their relationship to one another, either directly or indirectly through similarities in outlook or politics.

Freedom Club Cabinet of Ted and Henry, 2016. Photo credit: Tony Mastres


OPP: What strikes me about all the cabin dwellers you’ve chosen is that they are all men, except Leni Riefenstahl—but in this case, the exception might prove the rule. I don’t want to imply that the qualities of nationalism, individualism, madness and desire for dominance are only present in men. But I do see them as conditioned by Patriarchy and cultivated by looking at History through a patriarchal lens. What are your thoughts on how Patriarchy affected these Cabin Dwellers?


TP: I think that historically, our culture has focused mostly on the men that managed to be seduced by escape and solitude and then occasionally turned their otherwise non-participatory, non-social behavior into anti-social behavior. Ted Kaczynski is a case in point. The most obvious example here is Henry Thoreau, a philosopher, metaphysician, radical, curmudgeon and anti-social in one person. Our conditioning as a society comes at us from many directions, the strongest of which seems to be media. When the story broke on Kaczynski, it was hard to make out what was actually true about the person who was being portrayed. Thoreau was shunned during his lifetime, and nobody read Walden until well after his death. Why or how Thoreau’s work was appropriated as symbolic Americana is anybody’s guess. Rebecca Solnit identifies several counter-intuitive issues at play in the figure of Thoreau in her short essay The Thoreau Problem. Thoreau writes of country life, the cabin and solitude, but nothing about the fact that he frequently went to town to purchase items he needed or that his aunt did his laundry. I believe that the Patriarchal lens you mention is used to clean up the image of a man from a vaguely ambiguous idealist to one of a resolved activist for strong values. This lens narrows and simplifies what would otherwise be a much more interesting portrait, and this is the case of all of the individuals in this series.

I’ve opted for inclusion of a couple women, Leni Riefenstahl, who more or less went into hiding after the second World War and Judi Bari, a fairly notorious anti-logging activist involved with Earth First!  A third woman was going to be Hannah Arendt, whose work on culture and totalitarianism is exceptional, but her main and only tie to cabins was through Martin Heidegger.

I believe that culture, and Western culture in particular, conditions men to be escapist. This is where we get the idea of the man cave, a place within one’s home to which a man can momentarily escape from the pressures of the outside, including the family. Women are conditioned differently, I suppose to be more oriented toward social groups. This is why it is difficult to find women among the above mentioned Cabin Dwellers. That is not to say that women do not go to cabins, they just do not tend to go on their own, or at the very least they do not tend to plan various acts of domestic terrorism from a place of solitude.

I also have to point out that the cabin as escapist refuge seems to be more an American phenomenon.  Again, this is not an absolute, but in Czech culture, cabins and cottages were used primarily as second homes for entire families (similar to Scandinavia), not just for the sole purpose of an escape for the male head of the family. There are of course exceptions. In the U.S. however there seems to be a line of a kind of Eden associated with the cabin stretching back to early American history with the Homesteading Act, Thoreau and Emerson at the beginning and Edward Abbey and Ted Kaczynski at the end. Each instance is a type of exercise in existential freedom and self-exile. The flip side to the Kaczynski scenario could perhaps be the case of the Lykov family in Russia. They escaped persecution for their religious beliefs by hiding in the far eastern portion of Syberia, living virtually isolated for more than four decades until Soviet scientists rediscovered them when they flew overhead in a helicopter sometime in the 1970s.  Agafia, the last remaining Lykov, is still living in the same hut, living off the land, and practicing religion as her ancestors have always done.

Bringers of the New Dawn, 2017. Oil on burned wood panel with charcoal and ashes. 50 x 33

OPP: You’ve described American history and culture as “a history of space and stuff (objects, property, etc) which contains its absolute inverse, the unspoken history of lack and loss (spirituality, individual rights, etc). This opposition is itself driven by the strictly American concept of power, and the myth of growth at the expense of everything else.” This statement resonates with me so strongly right now in the third month of the Trump Administration. Has this current political moment spawned any new directions in your work?

TP: I have to say yes. While I wasn’t a close follower of the presidential campaign because deep inside I knew that Bernie did not stand a chance of winning, I was nonetheless keenly aware of the situation. Trump represented everything that is currently wrong with Western culture: vulgarity, baseness, an absorbing self-interest bordering on pathology and above all an insatiable drive toward power that means nothing beyond itself. The Ego’s desire to announce itself endlessly plays itself out in the figure of Trump first as a real estate mogul, then as a celebrity and finally as president of the United States. But this desire for endless adoration and validation creates an abyss in its wake. What this abyss is, is currently unclear.  I tend to personalize a lot of my work so that the abysses that I paint now are directly related to personal loss. It is then a bit easier to point outward, toward our culture and say, this is our collective loss that we try to cover over with a seemingly endless supply of stuff and entertainment so that we may not deal with our own responsibility and grief. As a result, my work has become much darker and brooding. I’ve eliminated all color and left only black and white. The paintings I make now are sooty black from the ash and charcoal I use to smear over the burned surface. Sometimes I think they should be uglier, but the small amount of optimism I still have keeps the images rather beautiful to look at. I make no reference to cabins, except for the fact that I paint on wood and leave some of it exposed. I think that this move leaves the cabin symbolically in place. The latest turn back toward painting is a direction I started to call the American Gothic, after the famous painting by Grant Wood.  Wood’s painting is an enigmatic piece. The only reason that it’s called American Gothic is because of the Neo-Gothic window at the top of the house. Everything else about the painting, including the architecture of the house and style of clothing, is rural American. The painting is for that reason not about the couple in the foreground, but entirely about the house in the back. I find this kind of ambiguity fascinating because it seems to me to be the opposite of today’s climate in which everything has to be spelled out.

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

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include
shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014) and the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014). She created site-responsive installations for Form Unbound (2015) at Dominican University and SENTIENCE (2016) at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Resist the Urge to Press Forward, a two-person show with Brent Fogt, is on view at Riverside Art Center (Riverside, Illinois) until April 15th, when there will be a closing reception and artist talk. Stacia just completed Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago), which could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Kevin Blake

Quaint Anticipation Of A Famous Phrase, 2017. Oil on Paper. 53" x 65."

KEVIN BLAKE’s chaotic surfaces contain abstract marks, figures, graphic line drawings and worked, textured accumulations of paint that might have been applied with a palette knife. Ultimately this multiplicity of rendering styles serves to underline the intertextuality of American cultural myths inherited from print, television and film. After earning a BFA in Painting and Drawing (2004) and an MA in Art Education (2011) from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Kevin went on to earn his MFA in Visual Arts (2014) from The Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University. What the Cool Pigeon Knows (2017), his first solo exhibition, is currently on view at Riverside Art Center's Flex Space until April 15th. Another solo, Post Celestial Intemperance, will open at The University of Indiana Northwest in Gary, Indiana in November 2017. Kevin is a contributing writer at Bad at Sports and New City. He lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: How do you use incomplete images—or voids—and spatial confusion of foreground and background in your work? I see it most in A Pretty Thing of Pure Diversion, but it certainly shows up elsewhere.

Kevin Blake: I remember seeing an engraving by William Hogarth called Satire On False Perspective, which changed the way I make images. With such simple visual devices, Hogarth is able to create a novel connection with the viewer by creating what would later be classified as an “impossible object”—an idea thoroughly explored by the surrealists, Marcel Duchamp, M.C. Escher and many others. When the viewer finds these perspectival errors, impossibilities, or nuances that defy the reality of the image, the idea becomes clearer. The author becomes present in that moment. Suddenly, everything becomes possible in the space, and the clue which sent you back into the image to review it as an object infused with an idea (rather than a picture about ideas), begins to betray its secrets.

Eventually, the image unfolds completely to reveal a dialogue that you've been engaged with in your own mind. When I found Hogarth’s etching, I could see myself following the sign posts in the image, just the way they are aesthetically set up to do. I could see myself standing back and watching it all happen. I remember this being the first image that somehow took me outside of myself to reveal myself, and it was done through language. Through visual pun. Through cuing a historical visual cannon that makes the definitions for things like the “impossible object,” possible. This image by Hogarth encouraged me to try to understand what it means to communicate with the audience by somehow occupying multiple roles in the making of the image. Storyteller. Painter. Writer. Viewer. Diplomat. Poet. Dreamer. The roles are infinite. The perspectives are infinite. The paintings are an attempt to communicate and highlight the co-presence of history through these various lenses.

Twig of The Hider That Tanned Him, 2016. Oil on Paper. 60" x 84."

OPP: And how does your combination of abstract, gestural marks with figurative representation feed into this multiplicity of perspectives?

KB: I think I’ve gone some distance in explaining the conceptual approach to the kind of fragmentation you suggest is happening in the paint itself, but I think it follows that the aesthetic is born in this mosh pit of ideas. And the paintings certainly are a mosh pit. A garbage heap. A junk closet. Paint slams against drawing. It obliterates the ground it rests on. And within its bounds, ideas rest, waiting for a viewer to bring them to life in their minds. Fragmented space, voids, and confusing perspectives not only support my conceptual framework, but also create and represent a break in the continuity of thought. My work is impulsive. It is reductive. It attempts to capture the viewer at a colloquial baseline in its imagery, and from there, the onion can be delayered—crying eyes and all.

The Desperado Concept, 2014. Mixed Media on Paper. 10" x 10."

OPP: What role does text and textuality play in your work?

KB: Language is the foundation of my work. Well, it’s the foundation of everyone’s work, of course, but I happen to make my bed in it. Whether the text remains simply as a title or it shows up on the canvas, it remains integral to the delivery of the message. Even if the viewer is not taken by the image, the text can make them look again. It is the ego that guarantees the double-take. The mind wants to figure “it” out. I see text as an opportunity to assure re-entry into the visual space. It both guides and deceives. This pause that text creates is very similar to the effect of the strategies I use to deploy paint. The words push the visual elements into different potentialities. They represent by both historical protocol and personal motivation; they are both designative and denotative,  representative and connotative. They take us outside of ourselves and back into ourselves. To me, text is a tool and an inseparable working component of my output.

Every Time He Wakes Up, There's Another Mouth to Feed, 2014. Mixed Media on Canvas. 96" x 78."

OPP: That leads me to think about the references to 1980s media texts—E.T., Iron Eagle, Rambo, He-Man and She-Ra—in Salvaged Mirages. Can you talk about this exploration of TV and movies as mirages?

KB: I named that series Salvaged Mirages for many reasons, but my favorite is that it is somehow hard to say mirages. Or it feels like that word should be singular only. Does a mirage so totally envelop immediate experience that only one mirage can exist at a time? Again, this simple device creates a break in the continuity of my thought, just as a mirage of an oasis might disrupt the mind of a thirsty traveler in the desert. Clever metaphors arise when you attempt to think about what your own thoughts may have been just a couple years after making a body of work.

Salvaged Mirages, from 2014, feels both foreign and necessarily my own. As a kid, I never thought about the ideas inherent in the things I consumed—visually or otherwise. No kid thinks about the implications of seeing Rambo obliterate an army, or how Night Rider sculpts the idea of the modern male hero, or how Married. . . With Children instilled the normalcy of disfunction in the familial unit. Though when you look in the mirror as an adult and want to know how this could be what you are seeing, you retrace your steps. All systems teach you to look behind you to understand what’s in front of you, and the inclination to mine that decade’s cultural residue, comes from the never-ending endeavor of trying to know oneself.

Defender of the Flag, 2013. Mixed Media on Panel. 48" x 48"

OPP: Have you gained any specific insights into how these media texts have affected you as an adult?

KB: I wonder if watching MacGyver religiously might have shaped the way that my paintings are made. MacGyver was a bricoleur—using whatever he had at his disposal to solve a problem. No object was without value. All things had multiplicity. Every object carried with it the ability to defy its quotidian value. So the mirage is something you think you see but, upon closer inspection, turns out to not be what you thought it was. However, what is salvaged from the mirage, I think, is whatever happens during the investigation of it. The mirage dissolves, but the picture becomes clear.

He Was On Like A Leech And Off Like A Dart, 2016. Oil on Paper. 18" x 24."

OPP: In The Fisherman’s Fables, I see representations of different kinds of “working”—from domestic and manual laborers to military officers, white-collar workers and pin-up girls—which seem to relate to the myth of the American Dream. How do these visual references to the 1940s, 50s and 60s operate in this work made in 2016-17? What’s the moral lesson in these fables?

KB: This newest series is a direct result of pursuing this trajectory—of tracking down threads of ideology and looking for the absolute edges of things. In casting such a wide net, I was forced to confront the spectrum of affects created by print. For centuries, print media was the intellectual marketplace in which all ideas were peddled and consumed. Its affects are responsible for the values that have, since its inception, become the chorus line of the archetypes I hone in on in my paintings. The home-grown country boy is one of these remote-controlled heroes. I collage him into time the way he feels collaged into my time—into my world of understanding, knowledge, and exploration. He exists as a kernel of the pastiche of the American Dream—just as his polarity rounds out the idea at the other end of the spectrum.

I am interested in these now smoldering images that remain the well from which print-based ideas continue to infiltrate an evolving digital world within the human psyche. The internet has transformed human records. We can now see the stuff in the cracks of our history, the deep fissures that for so long were left unchallenged and unexplored. We can see the thread of our past, like Ariadne following her way out of the labyrinth. Over here and over there, a different vision of the same idea is delivered in high definition and with all the confidence that a culturally sanctioned notion can offer. And every new day brings another perspective that evolves with the everyday task of being alive. The getting older. The work. The stress. The love. The everything. I try to let it all in, and let it all out. Inhaling and exhaling. When I step back from the work, the connected trees of association make their way back to each other, both in the individual paintings and on a macro scale when they hang together. This happens conceptually and aesthetically. At multiple levels. With multiple meanings. I craft them this way. I recognize these places I get to in the mind, in the imagination, and I am reminded once again, that we are living in the co-presence of our history. It doesn’t exist in the books. It cannot be contained by the words. It is scrambled. Always scrambled. And you must go into the imagination, into the mind, into that place with nutpick and toothbrush and work away at it. You have to try to unscramble the letters. That’s what these paintings do. They attempt to brush away a little dust by bringing other times and places into the forefront as a way of trying to understand how that imagery operates in the here and now. In my psyche, as well as the viewer’s.

Old Fruit Ripening Behind Famine Built Walls, 2016. Oil on Paper. 26" x 23."

OPP: I see a menacing, looming threat in a lot of the works, especially those in Last Gas Lamp on the Wagon Road (2013), where white men in dress shirts, military uniforms and cowboy gear wield guns. I see this as a representation of toxic masculinity. Does this relate to "the stuff in the cracks of our history, the deep fissures that for so long were left unchallenged and unexplored?"

KB: Last Gas Lamp on The Wagon Road was initially called Systems of Attrition For An American Patriarch. Your intuition serves you well. However, I don't think toxic masculinity is a social disease that I would qualify as a phenomena that has fallen into the cracks of our history. This idea has been, and continues to be, an intolerable symptom that people are more or less aware exists and rage against. That is not to say it isn't a clear and present danger to an evolving world. I do think a patriarchal society is one of many reasons that we have gaps in our history in the first place. We exist within a perpetually evolving tale that has been doggedly edited and refined. As human beings are born into this story, it is the circumstances of the present condition that shape the character. This reminds me of a Bruce Lee quote where he says something about pouring water into different containers. His point is that the water takes the shape of the container, as human beings take the shape of their surroundings. While I am interested in this idea and how patriarchy has shaped the world we live in, the thrust of my intention concerns complexity, in and of itself. I dive into this ocean knowing I’m not aiming for another coast. My intention is to stay at sea, floating in the collective debris of humanity. This doesn’t mean that I don't want to talk about about the issues inherent in the images I make, it means that I am presenting information in a way that is supposed to be about trying to parse culture. In this way, I try not to tie my hands to ideas. It is the mechanism that brings ideas into reality that I attempt to undermine, distort and project anew.

Breakneck Servility For The Relics of Our Time, 2016. Oil on Paper. 30" x 30."

OPP: You have a show up right now at Riverside Art Center (Riverside, IL) called What The Cool Pigeon Knows. Tell us about the work in the show. What is the underlying current drawing together works in the show?

KB: What The Cool Pigeon Knows, is an extension of the thesis I suggest in The Fisherman’s Fables—all of the paintings are a part of this series. Though, the work for this show was selected specifically for the Riverside Art Center. I’ve been going to shows there for the last couple of years, and I’ve noticed that a majority of the artists I meet there are women. So, I selected work that represented my investigations into female archetypes or their polarities, knowing that it would say more about me than it does about women. I began by thinking about the idea of the reporter which morphed into the informant or stool pigeon. I felt like I was putting my biases, conflicting ideas and ineptitudes on display—both conceptually and aesthetically. I felt like I was snitching on myself for the flaws inherent in the ideas present in the images. I felt like the images were telling myself why I think the way I think. There is a stool in the show with a box full of cut-up paintings sitting atop it, prompting show goers to take a sliver of failure with them. This is the trash heap of ideas from which these paintings are a natural extension. It is the pile of fleeting ideas that form the nexus of my conceptual framework. It is the elephant in the room. It is the stool pigeon.

To see more of Kevin's work, please visit kevinblakeart.net.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014) and the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014). She created site-responsive installations for Form Unbound (2015) at Dominican University and SENTIENCE (2016) at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Resist the Urge to Press Forward, a two-person show with Brent Fogt, is on view at Riverside Art Center (Riverside, Illinois) until April 15th, when there will be a closing reception and artist talk. Stacia just completed Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago), which could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse.