OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Andréa Keys Connell

The Pursuit of Hercules (detail)
Clay, paint, gold luster, wooden canoe
11'x 30'x 12'

ANDRÉA KEYS CONNELL's slightly-larger-than-life ceramic figures are monuments to human vulnerability. Exhibited in groups, they nonetheless appear isolated and longing for help. . . or possibly connection. Their dense, fragmented bodies, drooping heads and extended arms poignantly register the weight of the world. Andréa earned her BFA in 2002 from Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore and her MFA in 2009 from Ohio University in Athens. Solo exhibitions include Un-Home-Like (2010) at The Sculpture Center in Cleveland, Gently Down the Stream (2012) at The Clay Studio in Philadelphia and Being With, exhibited at Maramec Contemporary Gallery (2014) in Saint Louis and the Ivan Wilson Fine Arts Center (2015) at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Andréa lives in Richmond, Virginia, where she works as an Assistant Professor and Clay Area Head in the Department of Craft/Material Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us a little about your sculpting process and your choice of ceramics as your medium.

Andréa Keys Connell: I had my "coming to clay" moment when I was a junior in college. Prior to that, I was focusing primarily on painting and photography. When I found clay, a connection between my brain, heart and hands clicked on, and I never left the clay studio. When I think about it now it makes a lot of sense. My mother collected Majolica, Zsnolnay and Herend. When I was little, I played with the figurines as though they were dolls. When she would catch me, she would take them and place them back on their shelves, reminding me of their preciousness. Their "preciousness" only made them more valuable to me and the narratives that I would impose on them.
I think I am also just more of a three-dimensional thinker when it comes to making. It was such a relief to me when I found clay. . . to be able to discover a form through the ability to touch it in the round. It is such a physical relationship, and when making life size or larger figures, I find myself hugging and pressing up against, pushing and pulling on the clay. All of this contact is imprinted on the surface of the clay. . . it's a pretty delicious way of making!

I build my pieces hollow, moving between coils, slabs and pinching. Building hollow provides me with the ability to form my figures by pressing from the inside. This feels very natural to me in thinking about the body: the skin/clay is shaped by what is beneath it. In this case, it is the internal pressure that I am using to shape the skin. There is an endless supply of metaphors in this way of making and representing the figure.


OPP: There are a lot of disembodied heads, arms and legs in your work. In installations like Un-Home-Like (2010) and The Pursuit of Hercules (2011), the partial figures read as adrift, drowning or swimming in a floor made of water. But the isolated heads and torsos from Gently Down the Stream (2012) don't read that way at all. They seem more severed. How are these figures different?

AKC: I thought of the figures in Gently Down the Stream as being submerged, like in a swamp, stuck in time and certainly fractured. I was also looking at a lot of photojournalism during the making of this installation and thinking about the fragmentation inherent in a photograph: the physical fragmentation of the frame and the emotional fragmentation as the person looking in on the moment captured.

OPP: There’s another metaphor! I often think that way, too, about processes I use in my own work, but I’ve found that not all viewers think that way about the objects in front of them. How often do viewers comprehend the metaphors that you see naturally as part of the process? If they don’t think metaphorically, are they missing the point?

AKC: Hmmm. . . I don't know if they would be missing the point because I am totally open to individual interpretation. I would never expect someone to see or think about things the way that I do, but I do hope that the essence of the content is felt. For example, if a person views a leg sticking out of the floor as a glimpse of a part of a whole body or a broken section of the body, the idea of fragmentation still exists in both interpretations. Whether metaphorical and literal, each read carries similar anxieties. I think of my content as a means for making an image, and that image has endless ways of being interpreted. I guess you could say that my content development is more a part of the process. I have never made a piece and I felt strongly, "THIS is what I want the viewer to take from this piece." Viewers tend to try to relate to my work in a humanistic way; they bring their own individual experiences to their interpretation of my figures.

Gently Down the Stream
Clay, paint, cardboard boxes
12'x 13'x 30'

OPP: Your figures, which seem to be either young children or old adults, are generally slightly larger than life size and sometimes out of proportion. How do scale and age intersect in your work?

AKC: I work very deliberately to blur the lines of gender, age and time. In a sense, I am attempting to create an internal portrait, and I don't believe in gender or age or even time when confronting the inside. I watch people a lot, and I think about how we carry ourselves. You can read a lot about a person in their body. These are all observations that I take to studio and at times exaggerate.

Much of  my research is preoccupied with how the perception of objects can either represent or obscure complex social realities. The Hummel figurine is an example of such a visual trigger that I have used throughout my work. The Hummel began production in Germany in 1935, the same year the Nuremburg Laws were passed. Though production ceased during WWII, it immediately picked up at the end of the war. The popularity of Hummel figurines grew as American soldiers stationed in West Germany began sending the figurines home to their loved ones as gifts to ease the anxieties of those who awaited the soldiers safe return home. Hummel figurines ultimately became an emblem of a pastoral, healthy and safe Germany. In my early work, the youthful chubby cheeks of the Hummel have been stretch and deflated, and the healthy round bellies have become distended and heavy. This is all a result of the internal pressure that I am using to form the figures. By manipulating the pastoral qualities of the Hummel and by incorporating realistic human features such as defined fingernails and lips and a very intentional gaze, I seek to represent a more complex social narrative than exists in the original figurines.

Un-Home-Like (detail)
Stoneware, house paint, wooden cabinet
5.5'x 12'x 10'

Up through 2012, whole bodies of work were monochromatic, not just individual pieces. Why was monochrome the right decision for earlier bodies of work like (dis)Placement (2009) and Un-Home-Like (2010)? What led you to pursue a more accurate rendering of color in recent work like Then the Wind Blew... (2015), and several works from Being With (2014)?

AKC: The monochromatic work was often trying to represent the look of wet clay, such as in (dis)Placement, Gently Down the Stream, and The Pursuit of Hercules. (dis)Placement was specifically referencing terracotta because the original Hummel was sculpted out of terracotta, then a mold would be made and it would be cast in porcelain. For that piece, I was interested in the idea of the discarded. Essentially, I wanted the pieces to refer to malleability.

In Un-Home-Like, the pieces actually have house paint that I had mixed based on the primary colors used in Delacroix's painting The Barque of Dante. I made washes of these colors and dripped them in many layers over the figures. Being With and Francis were painted with oil paints. I was looking at a lot of religious statuary, particularly 17th -18th century wooden saint statues. I loved the look of them and was making pretty specific references to them in these pieces, so I just went for it. And Then the Wind Blew is essentially a giant figurine and I wanted it to look like that, so I glazed it. 

Being With

OPP: I love the cardboard boxes as both pedestals and containers in Being With (2014) and Gently Down the Stream (2012). They seem to add to the feeling of despondency in the figures. What led to this decision?

AKC: You got a lot of the references right. They are pedestals and containers. I also wanted these very heavy ceramic figures to appear simultaneously lighter than they are and on a precarious edge, which can be quite unsettling when standing in front of them. The figures stand at a slight lean, and they really tower of over you. There is the feeling that they could collapse at any moment. I think this lends to their own vulnerability, which also points to the viewers vulnerability by being in their presence. They are referencing monuments, but they are quite pathetic in their structure. They are trying really hard, but pointing very clearly to their own weakness.

OPP: Could you talk more about why you choose to represent vulnerability in your sculptures and elicit vulnerability in the viewer key? Would you say this is the key theme that runs through all your work?

AKC: I think that is a really good observation, and I don't know if I totally realized the presence of vulnerability in pretty much everything that I make. What a great thing to see—thank you!

I do think about vulnerability often, perhaps because I feel it so often. There can be so much beauty and destruction in vulnerability, and to open oneself up to another requires so much trust. My interest in that kind of vulnerability runs parallel to my persistent thoughts around responsibility to one another. I am always concerned with the ripple effect of actions, the necessity of vulnerability, and the responsibility involved in the awareness of another person's vulnerability.

To see more of Andréa's work, please visit andreakeys.com.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jonny Green

Don't Let Our Youth Go To Waste

JONNY GREEN’s meticulously-rendered paintings of slapdash sculptures merge still life and portraiture. The crude, tiny objects—built from plasticine, ribbons, electrical tape, screws and mismatched clock parts—further his exploration of the human experience of smallness in the face of disaster, loss and uncertainty by portraying these flawed creations with unabashed dignity. Jonny earned his B.A. from Norwich School of Art in 1989 and his M.A. from Royal College of Art in 1991. He has exhibited widely throughout the United Kingdom. Most recently, his work was included in the juried exhibition Contemporary Visions V (2015) at Beers Contemporary and in Saatchi’s  New  Sensations  and  The  Future  Can  Wait (2014) at Victoria  House in  London. In 2013, Jonny was shortlisted for the prestigious Threadneedle Prize. You can see his work until May 8, 2015 in Still Life: Ambiguous Practices, curated by Frances Woodley, at the Aberystwyth University Galleries in Wales. His work will also be included in Distorted Vision, the inaugural exhibition at The Dot Project in London, where Jonny lives and works.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Past works have focused on disaster scenes, masquerading as landscape and influenced by famous paintings from art history. Carpark of Earthly Delights (2012), for example, references Hieronymus Bosch's masterwork from the 15th century, and many works are reminiscent of Albert Bierstadt, not just Dead Lake (After Bierstadt) (2012). Are these natural or man-made disasters?

Jonny Green: Both. That series of works began in 2008, right after the big financial crash. My studio at the time faced onto Canary Wharf, one of London's financial centers. I was listening to the news reports of the panic and looking out onto the bank buildings. That particular atmosphere of shock and fear are what triggered and informed those paintings. I started looking at the apocalyptic works of people like John Martin with their strong sense of human smallness, something his work shares with the Hudson River Group, particularly Bierstadt. What interested me in particular was the notion that the whole thing was a fabrication, Bierstadt's visions of the Rockies are exaggerated and romanticized in order to instill awe in the audience. It's very Hollywood. So in my paintings of that period, people are reverting to primitive states within these apocalyptic environments, making peace with their gods, seeking absolution or having sex.

The Cleansing
Oil on linen
136 x 200 cm

OPP: The Oil Cloud Series (2012-2013) isolates the colored smoke/clouds from the disaster landscapes. You give the amorphous forms personality by giving them human names, referring to the convention of naming hurricanes. Beryl and Alberto, both hurricanes from 2012, even have eyes, further supporting the personification of natural disasters. What else can you tell us about your intentions with this series?

JG: This series is an ongoing one actually. I've recently made a couple more of them. I'd been looking at a lot of archival photographs of early ecological and industrial disasters. I found a series of daguerreotypes of fires in early oil fields and began to use them as a very loose source material for that group of paintings.

At the same time I’d been researching the convention of attaching human names to hurricanes, which has its beginnings in the Caribbean hundreds of years ago. Storms were initially named after the saint of the day the hurricane occurred on from Roman Catholic Liturgical calendar. I felt that it was a symptom of our need as humans to anthropomorphize the things that we don't understand or that frighten us. We have a habit of seeing faces or consciousness in almost anything. It's an evolutionary throwback that’s still pertinent to our survival.

Oil on linen
68 x 61 cm

OPP: Now let's turn to your most recent paintings of haphazardly-made sculptures. These are part portrait, part still life. What led to this shift in your work?

JG: I'd had to take a break from the painting studio for family reasons and leave London for a few weeks. I was staying with my  family in Yorkshire in the North east of England. Unable to paint, I found a box of filthy old plasticine from my childhood and began modeling with it late at night when everyone else had gone to bed. I then photographed these weird little objects, using the materials available to me, i.e. kitchen towels as a backdrop, an old lamp as the only lighting. I was surprised by the power of the images and decided to try and make paintings from them on my return. I think the reason they worked is that I have absolutely no personal investment in sculpture as a practice, which allowed me to be completely free and open with their construction in a way that is perhaps impossible for me with painting.

I really just free-associate and slap things together. Their flaws and lack of artistry are what makes them interesting to me. This is completely at odds with the process of photographing and painting them, which is really painstaking. I think every artist is looking for a process for making their work that suits their temperament. It's a surprisingly difficult thing to find, but this combination of carefree and painstaking works for me.

The First Cut Is The Deepest
Oil on canvas on board
88 x 122 centimeters

OPP: The tendency to anthropomorphize and our neurologically-wired habit of seeing faces is of course also at play in this body of work. All this has got me thinking about the human brain, which is a recurring motif in the sculpture paintings. How do you think about the brains in pieces like Tipping Point (2014) and Fracaso (2013)?

JG: I think about the brains as characters just like the sculptures that are more suggestive of human beings. A couple of years back I'd gone to visit my father in hospital. He had pneumonia and was also being treated for a particularly aggressive water infection. Although temporary, the change in his behaviour was dramatic. His memory had gone, and he had lost all sense of time and place. He was extremely confused. On speaking to the doctors, we found out that the infection was the cause of this. It was bewildering to me at the time that something so minor as a urine infection could cause such a change in personality, and I began to investigate the condition. I began thinking about the brain as this fragile, sensitive jelly-like entity, that contains everything about a person. The rest is just dressing.

OPP: Have you ever considered exhibiting the sculptures themselves?

JG: Not so far, but I wouldn't rule it out for the future. I don't think they work as they are largely because I work on them from one angle. I’m looking for an image to paint so I rarely consider what the back, top or bottom looks like. It might be quite interesting to play with the scale of them, to make them human-sized for instance, which would be quite a challenge technically as most of them are only a couple of inches tall.

White Wedding
Oil on canvas on board

OPP: Some of the paintings are not large at all—Romeo (2014) is 21 x 16.6 centimeters and Grand Mal (2014) is 21 x 17 centimeters—while others shift the scale of the sculptures dramatically. Babel (2013) is 145 x 122 centimeters and Agitant (2013) is 122 x 153 centimeters.

JG: Making choices about scale is largely intuitive. Sometimes I get it wrong the first time around. For example, The Rt Hon started off as one of the really small paintings. When it was complete, I realized that it didn't resonate the way I'd hoped and needed to be substantially bigger.

There is something about the nature of little objects—their abject and pathetic demeanor, the fact that they appear to be trying to validate their existence with flowers and the draping of ribbons—that drives me to give them a voice, assert their rights. I’m aware that there is something ridiculous about the notion of asserting human rights for a lump of dirty old plasticine, but it's that anthropomorphism that makes them more than bits of old rubbish.

To see more of Jonny's work, please visit jonnygreen.net.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Amy Santoferraro

B.B. Baskets

Trained in Ceramics, AMY SANTOFERRARO applies the spirit of that medium, which she says is "best at masquerading as other things," to whatever materials attract her attention: plastic, pool noodles, wood aluminum, foam. Her own inclination to collect informs her work in a variety of media as she tackles the themes of nostalgia, attachment, desire, value and imitation. Amy has a Bachelors of Arts Education and a Bachelors of Fine Art from The Ohio State University (1998-2004). She earned her Masters of Fine Art in Ceramics from Alfred University in 2012. She has had solo exhibitions at The Clay Studio (2009) in Philadelphia, c.r.e.t.a. rome (2013) in Italy and Add to Basket will open at MudFire in Decatur, Georgia in May 2015. She is a 2015 Spring McKnight Resident Artist at Northern Clay Center in Minneapolis and will give a lecture on her work on Tuesday, April 21, 2015 at 6:30 pm in NCC’s Library. Amy teaches Ceramics at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas, where she lives.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Ceramics as a medium is intimately connected to the history of the vessel, which is really the history of human progress. I'd like to hear you muse on vessels in general, in ceramics, in your life or in your practice.

Amy Santoferraro: At the risk of sounding like Miley Cyrus. . . vessels hold stuff, and stuff makes up our world. The vessel strongly influences my work because my practice revolves around ideas of collection and the questioning of value and sentiments associated with stuff we choose to surround ourselves with.
The vessel was my first entry into ceramics. I fell in love with creating a useful object that had a built-in guideline: if it holds water and you can drink out of it, you have succeeded! The cup remains present in my practice as a way to get the work out of the studio and into hands. I always make a “take away” or a smaller more practical, more attainable object that represents the larger work but can fit in your hand or not break your wallet.

One of my grad students recently reminded me of possibly the first use of clay to form a vessel, in which woven baskets were lined with clay to transport water from stream to home. In the BaskeTREE series I like to believe that I am quite literally flipping that idea on its head. Vintage and modern day baskets have been translated into plastic and flipped upside down to hold the now all-important junk we need for survival. . . more plastic relics of our existence.

Although I am reluctant to admit it, I am very thankful for Peter Voulkus, who was the first ceramist to buck the system and have his way with the vessel. He fought this battle 60 years ago and his work represents a sustained victory for all ceramists. Now we can both embrace and reject the idea of the vessel. That said, there is nothing sadder than an ironic teapot, but nothing quite as ballsy as a not-pot in contemporary ceramics (of course there are fantastic exceptions to this idea).

Blue/White Ware

OPP: The B.B. Baskets are so seductive. I like the malleability of those simple orbs. They can be so many things: marbles, berries, bubbles. What are they for you? Are the baskets themselves found ceramics?

AS: You nailed it! Sometimes the balls are just balls. But they are also bubbles, fruit, wishes, vomit, bubbling crud, excuses. . . pretty much anything that can build up to be overwhelming, disgusting and/or beautiful. The found baskets in this series fulfill my need to collect evidence of ceramics doing what it does best: masquerading as other objects and materials. One thing mimicking another due to nostalgia or sentiment rather than function or design, or skeuomorphism, is a huge part of my work and practice. I like to think of it as "materials behaving badly." The materials or objects at home depot, the thrift store, or in my studio are kinda like Girls Gone Wild: they reveal too much, are too fake and are too cheap. The B.B Baskets are an ongoing quest; I am always on the look out for small ceramic baskets and new B.B. colors.


OPP: What inspired this series?

AS: They started innocently enough as just airsoft BBs in a basket. My home is across a valley from Fort Riley, Kansas. The Kansas landscape mimics that of Afghanistan and Iraq in color and flatness, making it an ideal training ground for soldiers at the Army base before they head off to war. Everyday I hear and feel the rounds of firing and bombing practice while watching the neighborhood kids shoot each other with BB guns in the convenient overgrown bush hides of my yard. It is quite possibly the most surreal thing I have ever repeatedly experienced.  

I started collecting the BBs the kids left in the yard without any clear direction other than picking up and collecting the beautiful balls of color. The collection grew as the days passed, and I gradually began seeing them as material. I love that they can be so many things and don’t readily volunteer their origin story. It’s not essential to appreciate the resulting object and in no way is a statement about war or only a personal narrative.

2012 MFA Thesis Exhibition at Alfred University feels like a well-designed, but nonfunctional playground. Tell us about how you conceived of and developed this project?

AS: Again nailed it! I was thinking a lot about yards (which is now kinda wild considering the above story was two years after my thesis exhibition). Yards act as an outward expression to the world about the people who maintain them. Many of the objects featured it the exhibition are my recreation of objects you might find in yards: mailboxes, bunny hutches, decorative wagon wheels, that old camper that won’t travel and festive displays of unnecessary motion and lights.  

OPP: What about your inclusion of non-ceramic materials?

AS: Ceramics is never the only solution. My relationship with the material is best described as complicated or open. At times I am in love with it and am exclusive, but far too often I am lured by other materials because they are so very different and will never offer what clay or the ceramic surface can. In many cases I reconcile my devotion to the material because it’s what I know best and can cheaply and effectively manipulate it to work for me. There was a great fear before grad school of wasting or ruining rare, vintage, limited or oddly sourced materials because they are the complete opposite of clay, which is cheap and plentiful. This exhibition was the first time that I let those old hang-ups go. Nothing is precious in ceramics; breakages and surprises are plenty. I have found the same to be true with other materials. Bendy straws can be unbent. My sensitivity and ability to fearlessly adopt any material is a result of embracing the heavily process-oriented nuances that ceramics demand and my unwavering curiosity and desire to make everything work for me. I’m a boss.

plop block

OPP: BaskeTREE (2012) is a series of bonsai-like sculptures in bright, luscious colors. Each one seems to be a mini monument to visual pleasure. Have you ever cultivated an actual bonsai tree? How is your practice like this ancient Japanese practice?

AS: BaskeTREEs are personal landscapes. I think of them as executive desk attire and hope that they may replace mini zen gardens, finger labyrinths or those clanky ball thingies. BaskeTREEs are maintenance free houseplants but can still die. They are the longing for something to care for but not really. I am an avid succulent keeper and realize it’s easy. Bonsai might be next, but it’s a big commitment, like owning a parrot that could possibly outlive you. I am currently the heir apparent to an African Grey parrot.
BaskeTREEs are marketed and sold separately as floral arrangements. They are temporal in nature because they employ a wide variety of delicate and non-archival materials (Will floam ever die? Maybe it’ll lose its clumping quality over time. Who knows?) By using plastic, ceramic, aluminum, foam, and a variety of other materials interchangeably, I represent our disregarded and discarded junk as carefully organized and reconsidered, encouraging the celebration and questioning of a possible shelf life attached to an item for sale in a gallery. Acceptance, recognition, imitation and appropriation of these gleaned objects and materials allow a new identity to develop, a new sentiment that is a nod to the past, a charge to the future and highlights our need and affection for objects and materials. It is no coincidence that I lean towards stuff of little to no value. I beg these materials to acknowledge and engage their own artificiality and actively retain a bit of apathy in their new debut.


OPP: I love what you say in your artist statement about collections: "Collections are spectacularly selfish satisfactions that are classless and limitless. Rich, snooty museum collectors in search of obscure works of art and unemployed QVC shoppers looking for one more crystal unicorn are essentially doing the same thing as me; strategically collecting objects to organize and make sense of our surroundings through interactions with the material world." I couldn't agree more. Why do you think our society primarily raises the first up as valuable and denigrates the second as wasteful?

AS: Oh man, this is a big one to tackle. I think it really comes down to the fact that money trumps feelings. Or maybe that money is measurable and feelings are not. I came a cross a beautiful passage The Sportsman’s Complete Book of Trophy and Meat Care as a young artist, and it has shaped how I think about the questionable value of objects and feelings.

"Men collect all sorts of things for all sorts of reasons. Some dote on fine art because they have developed a very special hunger for beauty that can be satisfied only by being around or by owning, great pictures. Others collect the very same pictures purely as a financial investment. Paintings, sculpture, artifacts and all manner of other items in limited supply (some of which make a reasonable man shake his head and retire to a corner to contemplate) have been used as currency hedges in recent years.

The point, rather, is that when you actually lay it out and analyze it, practically all of our most commonly accepted collecting hobbies have less reason than that of trophy collecting by the hunter or fisherman. That’s because the sportsman is commemorating a very special moment. . .”
(Tom Brakefield, The Sportsman’s Complete Book of Trophy and Meat Care)


OPP: Do you remember your first collection? Do you have a collection that has nothing to do with your art-practice?

AS: My first collection was "shoe poison," better known as gel silica packets. I kept records of each pair of shoes that helped contribute to my coveted collection of gel silica. Diagrams, dates of purchase, sizes, colors and materials were all meticulously cataloged. Only my best friends were invited into my top-secret laboratory/closet to view it and hear of my somewhat sinister plans to poison bad guys.  

I keep a couples collection, but only add to it when I'm in a relationship. I collect ceramic dogs, but only if they are black, white or a combination of both. I collect commemorative plates, but only if they are already outfitted with a hanging device. Every collection has a caveat otherwise it'd be completely out of control. Carefully chosen and organized collecting lets me believe that I am a collector and not a hoarder.

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

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Leslie Bell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pith 4
Oil on birch panel
48" x 60"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oil on birch panel
60" x 60"

OPP: Do you use assistants?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acrylic and pen on masonite panel
4' x 6'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Kris Grey/Justin Credible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suspicious Packages (Finland)
Single Chanel Video

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Joshua Schwebel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OPP: Can you describe the reactions more specifically?

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

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

Presentation: MFA Thesis Project
Opening reception

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Amy Hughes

She's Sweet N' Sour

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

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

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

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

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

She Wears the Pants

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

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

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

Potent Gems

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

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

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

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


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

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

Ingrown Hairs

OPP: Do you always carry your camera?

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

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

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

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

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

OtherPeoplePixels Interviews John Early

Semicolons and salt shakers
Installation View

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

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

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

Swivel swing
Graphite and stool

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

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

Star gazing
Digital video
8:20 minutes

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

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

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

Objects in mirror
Found car parts

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

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

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

Salad spinner
Digital image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Selina Trepp

Dismount after the Win
Archival pigment print
40 x 29 inches

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

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

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

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

No one is an Island
Mixed media installation
Variable dimensions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thinking About Inheritance

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

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

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

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

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

The Painter
20 x 30 inches

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

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

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

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

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

The Jockey and his Wife
Archival pigment print
29 x40 inches

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

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

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

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

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

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Tom Ormond

Inside Out
Oil on Linen
183 x 193 centimeters

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

Work in Progress
Oil on Linen
128 x 183 centimeters

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

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

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

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

Sol Space
Oil on linen
92 x 76 inches

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

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

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

Oil on linen
72 x 88 inches

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

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

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

OPP: Do you share any conceptual ground with them?

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

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

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

Hardtack Moon
oil on linen
60 x 70 inches

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

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

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

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

Oil on linen
22 x 18 inches

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

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

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

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

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

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