OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Matthew Dale Janson

After the Great Wave in Three Compositions (composition two)
2011
Foam, bathtub, photographs, paint, bath-towel, shredded currency, wig, wood, blank DVDs, polystyrene, ‘plaster with plastic’ mock-up, plaster, chair legs, epoxy, shower curtain, shower curtain rod, couch arm, couch cushion, steel posts, steel rods, plastic decorations, graphite, vinyl, beach ball, latex and duct tape on casters
Dimensions variable

MATTHEW DALE JANSON's colorful, textured sculptures combine traditional art materials with found objects and industrial materials to create delicately-balanced abstractions of the body, both human and animal. In 2010 and 2012, he was a finalist for the Sondheim Prize and is currently a nominee for the 2012 Baker Artist Awards. Matthew lives in Baltimore, MD.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your material lists are always very detailed, almost like you are making sure all the materials get credit for their role in your sculptures. Can you talk about materiality in general and why you choose the materials you choose?

Matthew Dale Janson: Sometimes I choose an object for its name, its sound, its meanings, or its form and color as it relates to its possible meanings. Basically I’m sentimental and concerned with an object’s history as I understand it and imagine it to be interpreted by my audience.

Foucault talks about an author as being a kind of barrier or a gatekeeper, someone who chooses what not to let in rather than someone who generates what goes in. Making long kitchen-sink lists of materials is a kind of perverse authorship. How do we accept certain concepts while saying no to others? It’s important when we seem so created by what we are not. A meaning means what it means by not meaning what it does not mean.
Hieros Gamos
2011
Foam, mirrored glass, wood, wax, plastic jewels, steel rods and paint on casters
51” x 75” x 51”

OPP: Do you generally have a vision of what the sculptures will look like before you start? Or do they shift and change as you are working?

MDJ: I know how I want something to feel, and I also know that that is a rare feeling which requires a lot of patience. I owe much of that ‘knowing’ to my painting background and to many of the artists I’ve met.

Time is so present in a painting, and that makes it immensely difficult to ‘do.’ I think life can be boiled down to one question: “what I am I going to do next?” Painting takes the question on like a bull. I try to paint in three dimensions.  

OPP: So, you started out as a painter? What led to the switch from 2D to 3D?

MDJ: I never really switched. I just stopped showing my paintings about four years ago. I felt my sculptures were much stronger and my voice much clearer. Right now I’m working on some new paintings which look like they may take shape as a full body of work. Some are on canvas but most are ‘non-traditional’ paintings using foam, a variety of supports and paints.

Put a straw under baby
2012
shredded currency, foam, paint, unicorn feathers, steel, glass container top, fake fur, unicorn tail, plastic bag, glue, pad-lock (locked), and some chain links (cut)
25" x 22" x 19"

OPP: Many works are abstractions of the figure, and those that aren't still have a visceral quality. The sinews of the polystyrene evoke the body, but the colors and textures of the materials destabilize that. I'd love to hear your take on this pairing of the plastic and the man-made with the visceral.

MJ: They seem more and more impossible to divide. I often think about the Body Worlds exhibit. It originated in Europe by a German artist, but, when the show came to the States, it went straight to our science museums. It was made educational, complete with an anti-smoking message right before the exit. The artist stripped away the decay of the human body and replaced it with plastic, and we looked at it as death. But it was a carnival and a strange cultural event both here and in Europe.   
Heads
2012
Foam, idoine, display stand, 1/2 of a promotional educational poster (heads), fake cotton, hair spray, and just a little paint
29" x 73" x 28"

OPP: In your online public application for the 2012 Baker Artist Awards, a fund which supports Baltimore's artists, you say you think of your project as "shopping at Walmart to make religious statuary." Could you expand on this?

MDJ: I have trouble imagining a reality without religion. Some days I’m agnostic and some days atheistic, but I see religion everywhere. For me Art is another religion, and it’s easier to believe in than the Abrahamic religions or any religion with clear separatist logic. I prefer that kind of logic to remain murky. I always felt like a ‘religious person.’ It’s just harder to know what that is without a rulebook. And I want Dow Chemical to sponsor my Church of Difficult Art. 

OPP: Was there ever a time when you made a drastically different type of work than the work that's currently on your website?

MDJ: My work has always been a singular project in my mind. It’s been a way for me to explore my mind. And I hope it’s drastically different in the future.

If you'd like to view more of Matthew's work, please visit matthewjanson.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Judith G. Levy

On The Seventh Day, movie trailer
2011

JUDITH G. LEVY uses humor, story-telling and the suspension of disbelief in her interdisciplinary practice to explore the intersection of public and private history. Her work reveals how personal experience, culture and historical events shape our identities, and her investigations of memory focus on what we remember and what we forget. She is the recipient of several grants and commissions, most recently an Andy Wharhol Foundation Rocket Grant. In 2012, her short film On The Seventh Day will be screened at the following film festivals: The New York City International Film Festival, The Rhode Island International Film Festival, The Boston LGBT Film Festival, The Vegas Indie Film Festival, The Palm Springs Gay and Lesbian Film Festival and The Columbia Gorge Film Festival. Judith lives in Lawrence, KS and works in her studio in Kansas City, MO.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us a bit about your history and development as an artist.

Judith G. Levy: First I’d like to thank you and say how pleased I am that you invited me to be one of your featured artists. Thank you for this opportunity to speak about my work and my artistic evolution. During my high school years, I was fortunate to have had excellent art, creative-writing and history teachers who really encouraged me and taught me my first lessons in taking intellectual and creative risks. While at Hunter College in New York City, I really began to learn about conceptual art, performance and film-making, and I was exposed to so much exciting work by other students and by the professional artists in the city. I made drawings, paintings and photographs, and I shot film. I shared everything, except the film footage, with my friends, keeping it private until I was ready to figure out how film was going to fit into my work. This did not happen until many years later.

During my college years, I understood little about the possibilities of thinking conceptually in an interdisciplinary way and nothing about the use of humor in a legitimate art practice. Nor did I know how to let the concepts drive my work. I did, however, create what I now know were mixed media installations on the walls in my house. For many years, family obligations and earning a living took up much of my time, but I always voraciously read newspapers and novels, watched narrative and documentary films, wrote stories, and made my wall projects and drawings late at night.

It’s easy for me to see where the roots of some of my work reside. I grew up in a home where politics and history were discussed frequently and where ideology and dogma were questioned with Talmudic intensity. I was also aware of my family’s secrets as well as the omissions, inventions and alterations in their narrative descriptions of their lives and the lives of our extended family members and friends. I began to understand that memory, both voluntary and involuntary, is patched together with fragments that may change over time.

When I was in the seventh grade, I did research in my school’s library and wrote a glowing report on all the good that President Andrew Jackson did for our country. It was only later that I learned, on my own, that he was responsible for Indian removal, ethnic cleansing, and The Trail of Tears. I had not read about these events and actions in the books in my school’s library. Around the same time that I wrote the Jackson report, I was reading a lot of fiction that didn’t hold back a thing. Books, like Strange Fruit by Lillian Smith, which I’d found hidden in my father’s tool shed. Smith’s book, published in 1944, is a story about racial strife in a small, Southern town. It, along with Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, Roth’s Call It Sleep, Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and Agee’s A Death in the Family, began to articulate for me what I knew intuitively and experientially—that events have considerable context and that people have complicated feelings and motives for both their actions and inactions. I began to realize, as author David McCollough wrote, “History is who we are and why we are the way we are.”

Memory Cloud
2009
Plastic viewers, 35mm slide transparencies, metal armature
Photo by Tad Fruits, IMA

OPP: Have you always been an interdisciplinary artist?

JGL: Throughout my life, I was evolving into an interdisciplinary artist, but I didn’t really know it until about 2008. I was fulfilling my exhibition obligations for a Lilly Endowment Creative Renewal Arts Fellowship that I’d been awarded the year before. This fellowship grant encouraged travel, and I went to Germany and Poland to explore my family’s origins. In Poland I made a short video for my upcoming exhibition, and it really wasn’t a very good film. However, I also made a successful, interactive installation about memory, an animation, some paintings, a comic strip and some collages. It was around this time that I really began to think, focus and create in a new way. I fully embraced an interdisciplinary approach to conceiving and making work, and it seemed like the most perfect, complete and natural thing in the world to do, like breathing. And like breathing, it didn’t feel like a voluntary choice, but rather that the most intrinsic and essential element of my artistic existence had come home to roost. An interdisciplinary practice was going to allow me to create layered, complex, yet accessible work that would rely upon all of my skills as a visual artist. At the same time, it would permit me to integrate my interest in writing, filmmaking and performing, as well as tap into my longtime passion for fiction, history, politics and culture. Kansas City has been an excellent fit for me, and I’ve lived here for a little over four years. I have found the arts community to be very supportive of my interdisciplinary practice and full of opportunity.

OPP: Personal and collective memory, history, revisionism and historical bias are recurring themes in your work. Did you ever consider being an historian? How much is historical research part of your art practice?

JGL: Recently writer/filmmaker Errol Morris was quoted as saying, “I despise versions of postmodernism that suggest that there is no such thing as truth, that the truth is up for grabs, relative and subjective… Narrative does not trump all; it does not trump the facts. The facts are immutable. You may not be able to apprehend them or they may be elusive, but they are there.”

I create narrative inventions to attempt to undo omissions, falsehoods and revisions that occur all the time. I’m seeking the truth, with the emphasis on seeking. Of course, I realize that because I use invention, it may seem as though I’m doing the very same thing that I criticize and question in others. However, my intention is not to reconfigure or rewrite the truth, but to make work that gets closer to it.

Although public and private narratives, history, revisionism and historical bias are definitely recurring themes in my work, I have never considered being an historian in spite of the extensive amount of historical research that goes into my work. I think of myself as an interdisciplinary artist whose work is conceptual. Historic and cultural research is a crucial part of my artistic practice. It can be very time-consuming, because my work depends on getting the facts and the details right. This means that when I’m creating a family tree for Hansel and Gretel, I am reading about such things as fraternal orders in Germany prior to World War I, 18th century spellings of German names, German emigration to the United States, the formation of the Progressive Party in Kansas and the flu pandemic of 1917. In Huckleberry Finn, both for the video and the family tree, I researched the early Black Press in the Midwest, lynching in the United States, abolitionists in Missouri, Mark Twain’s childhood friends, the history of slave names, the growth of African American churches and indentured servants. For The Lone Ranger’s video, family tree, postcard album and family artifacts, some of the subjects I studied are: the Texas Rangers, 19th century horse and cattle ranches, volcanoes in Turkey in the 1700s, John Muir and Sarah Bernhardt’s performance in Kansas City in 1906.

I spent many months on The Last Descendants project, because every invention must ring true in order to successfully create suspension of disbelief. This is crucial. If I don’t succeed in making you believe that I am interviewing the last living relative of The Lone Ranger, the whole thing will fall apart. I also must find all of the historical and factual information I need, so that when I reference a Civil War battle, the sinking of the Titanic or the Spanish Flu Pandemic, everything is correct.

Memory Cloud, detail
2009

OPP: Many of your works reference the ways we glorify moments and places from history, by using materials associated with tourism like souvenir plastic photo viewers, as in Memory Cloud (2009). I'd like to hear more about these installations.

JGL: Memory Cloud is an interactive installation that I created for the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 2009. It was based on a small prototype I’d created for my Lilly Endowment Creative Renewal show in 2008. I was thinking about what Susan Steward describes in On Longing, as “the conventional view of time in the everyday lifeworld” and how she contrasts traditional, linear notions with a model “offered by fiction” in which “the time of everyday life is itself organized according to differing modes of temporality, modes articulated through measurements of context and intensification." My attachment to little, plastic, souvenir viewers goes back to my having received one that included an image of me sitting on a horse during a childhood visit to a dude ranch. Every time I looked into the viewer, I felt as though I’d instantly entered into a private, miniature world and that I was miniature, too. It occurred to me that I could create something that captured the vast, shifting, non-verbal aspects of memory by creating a large, amorphous cloud comprised of hundreds of these plastic viewers while using them as sculptural elements. At the same time, I thought I could articulate memory’s visual and narrative specifics in the images within each one. I figured that this interactive installation would inevitably provoke memories and prompt conversation, as participants verbally shared their remembrances with one another. I also thought that many of the people who looked into the little viewers would engage in silent, private recollections as they, too, entered into tiny worlds of remembrance.

In creating Memory Cloud, I was also thinking about the Midwest, where I’d felt welcomed and where I've made my home for over 15 years. I was interested in what I was observing about how Midwesterners tried to describe themselves. It seemed to me that people in the middle of the country had a harder time defining their regional identity than people living on either coast. I wondered if the coastal oceans had buffeted definitions in place for those living closer to the edge.

During my Creative Renewal Arts Grant trip to Poland and Germany, I got closer to my own identity and family history, as well as to the duality of my Jewish and non-Jewish heritage. I visited Tarnow, where my Polish Jewish relatives had been murdered and Leipzig, where some of my German Lutheran family members had supported the Nazi regime. In Memory Cloud, I became very interested in creating a visual, interactive installation that would be simultaneously poignant and provocative. I also wanted to create something that people could touch, so that as they held one of the plastic viewers, each holding a unique, found image of Midwesterners from the 1940s to the 1970s, it would fold them into the enormity of their own histories and associations. I believed that every time someone picked up a plastic viewer and viewed an image, his or her own set of memories would be aroused and appear intact, or in fragments, or hardly at all.

I also care deeply about how photography captures the “everydayness” that Harry Harootunian writes about in his essay “Shadowing History." The taking of a photograph is so often an effort to create memories, and Harootunian acknowledges that in order to remember, we must transform an experience into something that can be retrieved at a later date. I also think that my use of found photographs in this and in other work is using signification and re-signification to acknowledge the overwhelming presence of beauty, sadness and death in all experience.
Frederick Douglass Park, Valor, Virginia
2010
inkjet on paper mounted on Sintra
23" x 61"

OPP: And what about the postcards in Panoramic Postcard Installation (2010)?

JGL: I used many pieces of vintage postcards to create new images that looked like old ones. I’ve always seen postcards as tidbits of public history and culture. I've always liked them, not just as souvenir items, but also because of the incongruity of personal messages being sent in a very public manner. So I embarked on using portions of found postcards to augment their seemingly innocuous purpose and transform them into provocative statements about our American past. I believe that souvenirs are historical and cultural representations and that a picture postcard of the Old South or a miniature Berlin Wall inevitably shrinks any struggle with meaning. I was determined to use the same form and appearance to counter this, and I wanted to make pleasant-looking postcards as a way to seduce the viewer into a challenging conversation.

I question what role tourism plays in our understanding of public history, and I am suspicious of glorification. Perhaps this stems from what I understand about the relationship between glory and power and how aggrandizement of position, policy or purpose can wreak tragic havoc upon people, places and things. Remember my discovery about The Trail of Tears. In my Panoramic Postcard, Frederick Douglass Park, Valor, Virginia, I created a tribute to Frederick Douglass that includes depictions of a statue of George Washington from a Kansas City, Missouri park; a refurbished slave auction house from South Carolina; images of Newport mansions; and many other pieces of postcards from all over the United States. By putting them together into a fictional depiction of a tourist site, I explore how public history is described and how commercialism contributes to a limited understanding of what actually happened. This postcard addresses the North’s role in the slave economy of the South, Washington’s flawed and limited definition of democracy, and commercial tourism’s efforts to turn a slave auction site into a spruced up tourist attraction. Here I investigate our inclinations to redefine what actually happened in order to forget what actually happened.

The back portions of these postcards contain image descriptions that mimic typical postcard language. It seems to me that the traditional language on postcards has often upheld prevailing notions that circumvent the truth. For example, Splendid Country Roads, Refuge Co., South Dakota, is a postcard that depicts Indians sitting by the side of the road near their teepees and also shows two touring cars with sightseers taking in the beautiful, pristine views. On the far right side of the postcard is the Statue of Liberty. The postcard also shows two roads, split in the middle by trees. The description reads: "Touring by automobile is a fine way to explore America’s natural beauty and also visit with Indians who sell their handmade crafts."

I certainly think it is important to acknowledge the role of irony in my work, for the implication is that the land in the postcard was stolen from the Indians who are living on the side of the road, the cars are intruding upon nature, the statue of liberty is replicated in a cornfield, and the split road is a metaphor for two avenues of justice: one for those who have power and the other for those who don’t.

Civil War #8
2007
flashe and acrylic on board
16"x20"

OPP: You've had work on billboards and flags and in the Indiana State Park. And you did a collaborative performance called Everybody Loves a Parade (2008) as part of On Procession, an art parade sponsored by the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Could you talk about your experiences making public art and why you chose some of the forms and venues you chose?

JGL: Most of the public art I have created has been in response to a call for work. The exceptions were two Girls Brigade (2007) solo exhibitions, one in Chicago and one in Minneapolis. The Girls Brigade project explores child warriors, Celtic history and the use of signage to create group affiliation. In Chicago, near the former NavtaSchultz Gallery, Girls Brigade figures, flags and a banner were exhibited on Lake Street. I was really happy about showing this work in Chicago, where I was able to create an alley filled with Heraldic flags and place figures of the Girls along a very busy street. In Minneapolis, several Girls Brigade figures hung on the exterior wall of Soo Visual Art Center’s building. In both of these cities, I think many people saw the work, because they happened to be walking or driving by it. I like the serendipity in this. I also like that public work becomes part of the environment. In making outdoor work, I have explored commercial products such as polyester banner and sign material, Sintra, and marine-grade plywood.

In 2008 I’d been reading Walter Lippmann’s Public Opinion, and I was thinking about Lippmann’s writing about democracy, partial truths, stereotypes and the public’s lack of information. I was paying particular attention to the chapter, "The World Outside and the Picture in Our Heads," which explores how we form world-views and beliefs through erroneous and partial information as well as through limited direct experience. I had also been investigating the possibility of being able to wear a video on my body as an emphatic way to express personal opinions in public settings. In 2008, when the Indianapolis Museum put out a call for work for On Procession, I collaborated with another artist, and we created a two-person performance piece for the parade called Everybody Loves A Parade. This work consists of matching military, camouflage outfits and DVD chest packs that display identical video compilations of historic, military parade footage and youth parades set to the music of "The Washington Post March" by John Philip Sousa. The two of us marched in the parade, while wearing the outfits and DVD players. Everybody Loves A Parade explores the glorification of war through military parades and suggests that most of us understand little about the past, because we did not experience it. Because we are tempted to emphasize the most appealing aspects of history, we often compartmentalize events and shape them to fit preconceived ideas.

Creating work for a specific site or show can catapult something I’ve been thinking about into becoming reality and prompt me to think about my materials. For example, in responding to a call for work, such as The Dining Room Project in Kansas City at The Paragraph Gallery and The Epsten Gallery, I was able to create You Never Dine Alone, a video installation about the mundane, conflicted and poignant interactions we have with others when we dine and about memories of food. I created an interactive installation consisting of a table, two chairs and two place settings, one for a gallery guest and the other for the monitor that displayed a looped video. The video contained 18 brief segments of individuals eating and speaking about subjects that range from the death of a grandfather to a school cafeteria food fight.

Huckleberry Finn: The Last Descendants, video trailer
2011

OPP: The Last Descendants (2011) is a video series and installation, in which you interview the living descendants of the fictional characters Huck Finn, Hansel and Gretel, and The Lone Ranger. The interviews use fiction and humor to talk about how the personal biases of individuals affect the way we remember the past. To me, the implication is that history is always a kind of fiction, because there is always some perspective left out. What were your intentions with this series?

JGL: In The Last Descendants, I do use public history, fictional narrative and humor to explore how we understand, describe and remember personal and public events. I am interested in how these personal and public narratives get constructed. I use historical facts, fiction, invention and the suspension of disbelief to question what we know and how we know it. For example, in the Hansel and Gretel video, the male character John talks about a relative in glowing terms, until his sister Diane corrects him by stating that the man was a “deserter” during the Revolutionary War. In another reference to a relative, he skirts the issue of a Nazi affiliation. John also brags about belonging to a fraternal order in Germany, and he fails to say that it doesn’t include women until asked by the interviewer. In Huckleberry Finn, the surprise is that Huck’s living relatives are African-American and that Huck and Jim were half-brothers, because Huck’s father raped a slave. This information counters the vague background that Mark Twain gave Huck and emphasizes the horrors of slavery. In addition to having the characters in these videos invent, color or obscure their familial history, I want to place personal stories in the context of larger fields of time and place. I do this somewhat in the video interviews, but I especially focus on it in the large, family trees that include many decades of war, epidemics, immigration, persecution, as well as indications of triumph, love, faith and courage. Both the videos and family trees are provocative and underscore my feeling that personal and public history is largely interpreted. It depends on who is telling the story, how the story is being told and why. Although I invent things, my intention is quite a different one from those who deny the Holocaust or question President Obama’s birth certificate.

It is important that I also include information on the family trees that isn’t usually included, such as murder, rape and robbery. I use the suspension of disbelief to create a hybrid of fact and fiction and to show that what we think we know about people, events, personal friends or public figures may not be the truth. The display case containing The Lone Ranger’s personal possessions and family heirlooms addresses the use of objects to create personal and public narratives about the past. These objects arouse our nostalgia in a way that can interfere with getting closer to the truth, but they also provide a great deal of joy and solace, as they let us touch and hold bits of history in our hands. It felt critical to me to use familiar fictional characters as a point of departure, because this provided rich, familiar ground for exploration and development. I believe that by using these characters, I made it easy to engage the audience in work that addresses challenging subject matter.

The Lone Ranger: The Last Descendants, video trailer
2011

OPP: Your work is funny, but not stand-up-comedian funny. It's more wry-smile funny. I was totally amused with the defensive reaction of the Lone Ranger's great-great-great niece when she is asked what she knows about his relationship with Tonto. She says, "Look, I've heard this homosexual thing before, and don't get me wrong. I have nothing against gays. I saw Brokeback Mountain and I liked it… but I would like to set the record straight." How is comedy perfect for talking about important social issues like racism and homophobia? What are the potential pitfalls?

JGL: I’m really glad you like the humor in my work. It is important to me to use humor and irony, when I can, to address difficult subjects. I think it is easier to see things about ourselves, if we see them in others first, and laughter just helps that along. I don’t usually use the words “funny” or “comedic” to describe my work, although some may say the work is funny or comedic at times. The premises are serious, but I like to use humor to create believable characters. I couldn’t resist setting the Lone Ranger’s great-great-great-niece up the way I did to reveal her feelings about LGBT issues, because we are still dealing with these civil rights and and humanitarian concerns in the United States. I also like to debunk heroes like The Lone Ranger, not because I don’t like them, but because I’m cautioning us to examine how much power and adulation we give to any one person. In Huckleberry Finn, we chuckle when one of the sons exclaims that he isn’t going to receive a “Finn Family Fun” t-shirt anytime soon, because the white side of the family isn’t interested in having a family reunion with the black side of the Finn family. I am clearly fabricating this narrative. However, we know that this kind of prejudice continues to exist.

The risk I take in using humor and irony to address political and social issues is that I might not be effectively humorous or ironic. If I miss my mark, then nothing will work. I think humor and irony can be respectful and still potent. Here again, I don’t think I’m writing comedic scripts. I think I use humor and irony to illuminate important questions and issues, and the issues are paramount.

OPP: What new projects are you excited about?
 
JGL: The first project I’d like to describe is the one I’m very excited about and currently working on. Last year I received an Andy Warhol Foundation Rocket Grant through the auspices of The Charlotte Street Foundation and The Spencer Art Museum. I am creating a video called NV in KC (Envy in Kansas City). I created a fictional narrative and use documentary-like interviews to explore envy among artists and institutions in Kansas City. My intention is to explore a subject that is rarely discussed among artists and to help define some of the creative challenges that artists face. In this project, I use humor to deal with some of the difficult aspects of envy. Local artists, musicians and performers are participating in this project, as well videographers and lighting and sound crews. We are completing the first edit now, and we hope to have the project finished by late fall.

After I complete NV in KC, I’ll be working on an installation, thinking about a short video and exploring some 2-D work that has been on the back burner.

To view more of Judith's work, please visit judithglevy.com.

Staying Connected to Your Viewers

Mailing Lists are a great way to stay connected to your viewers, and are easily incorporated into your OPP site.

There are a lot of great email list services that can help you craft your email newsletters. You can use any mailing list service that can provide you with a URL for your list. Two commonly used companies are Constant Contact and MailChimp.

Once you have your Constant Contact mailing list set up, you need your list link. Here are instructions on how to find it:

With MailChimp, you'll first need to create a mailing list. Once it is created just go to Forms, then Share it, and there you will see your Subscribe Form URL.

There are a few ways you can add your mailing list to your OPP site. You can utilize our Nav Section Links and place the URL as a link in your Navigation Section. Or, you can place it in your Artist Statement on your home page.

You can also place the URL anywhere Special Formatting is supported, such as on your Contact Page:

And there you have ityou've now made it easy for your viewers to keep up with your work.

Happy Emailing Everyone!

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Dan Solberg

REMEMBER
2012
Air mattresses, spray paint
6' x 12'

DAN SOLBERG's interdisciplinary practice "often documents or extracts portions of a natural occurrence, and through careful selection and alteration, leaves the viewer unsure of where the pure artifact ends and where [he has] intervened" (Dan Solberg, Artist Statement 2012). Most recently, his work has been exhibited at ROYGBIV in Columbus, OH. Dan has recently relocated from Washington, DC to Brooklyn, NY and is in the process of setting up a new studio.

OtherPeoplesPixels: In most of your work, you use found objects, images and footage. Tell us about your collecting process.

Dan Solberg: About half the time, the objects I use are ones that find me. In those cases, the object is something that I stumble across or come in contact with as part of an ordinary day. Those kinds of objects usually spark new ideas instead of completing existing ones. The other half of the objects I use are those "completion" ones, where I'm working on an idea already and know the sort of piece I'm looking for, but it needs something that's not quite there yet. To be honest, my process is not glamorous or thrilling. I usually search for things online or hunt around at standard retail outlets. I generally prefer to use consumer-grade materials.

9th Floor Sonata (still)
2010
Video projection
Variable dimensions
60 minutes

OPP: Videos like 9th Floor Sonata (2010), Contra Reset (2009), Glowers (2008), and Side Scroller (2008) all involve still shots with a very slight amount of motion and change over a long period of time. I see this same quality in installation pieces like Out the Window, Above the Trees (2006). For me, they are about patience, the need for stillness, the difficulty of endurance, and how anything can be an opportunity for meditation. Does that resonate with your interests? 

DS: Yes, definitely. A word I often come back to is "mesmerization." I make pieces that acknowledge the act of looking or watching needed to take them in. We're still at a point where using a sense other than sight to take in an artwork is pretty novel. Sure, there's sound that accompanies video, but I think film has pushed that forward more than art itself. As such, I make pieces that reward the act of looking (and sometimes listening) as opposed to using that action solely to push the viewer to think about a particular idea. I provide a space for that deeper consideration by the viewer, but I think it's necessary to lay ideas out on a reflective surface.

OPP: Sandstorm (2009) is a sculptural sound installation that, of course, requires listening, but it's intensely aggressive because the volume is at maximum. That's part of the piece. So, I'm not sure if listening is "rewarded." Will you talk about this piece and how viewers respond to it?

DS: If Sandstorm were a purely audio piece, I'd agree that it would come off as aggressive, but since the audio is coming out a tiny speaker, played from an even smaller mp3 player, and part of this whole sculptural space, it has other context to balance out the aggressiveness of the volume and repetition. That said, Sandstorm does reward an astute listener with its unique audio distortions (a result only achieved at maximum volume), and subtle differences, depending on where the viewer stands in proximity to its front. Many viewers name the song right away when they hear it, while others recognize it but don't know from where; this was the level of mainstreamness I was hoping for. The suspended mp3 player also gets a lot of attention since it's being held up by taut tension and I think people anthropomorphize it since it sort of looks like the cords coming out of each side could be outstretched arms.

OPP: Ah! This is definitely an example of a piece that is a lot harder to understand online. I haven't seen it in person, so I made assumptions as to what the experience of encountering it would be like. Even with your video documentation, I imagined the sound to be louder and more aggressive than it probably is in a gallery space.

DS: Yeah, I've never been totally satisfied with the documentation of that piece. Maybe a walk-around video would serve it better.

Sandstorm
2009
Wood, speaker, mp3 player, cords
3.5ʼ x 9ʼ 
Darude's song “Sandstorm” plays through the speaker on repeat at maximum volume.

OPP: Many works make use of digital noise to create abstractions, as in Night Sky: Santa Barbara 2008-01-31 04:06:50 AM – 04:22:39 AM (2008), 25% of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit 2007 720p HDTV by Cybermaxx.avi (2009) and of_other_spaces.pdf (2010). Are these works representations of the literal breakdown of information or metaphors for something else? 

DS: Even more so than representations, all of the pieces you mentioned are physical evidence of actual glitches and distortions that occurred without prompt. I know there is a way to alter the compression of a video file to make it look like my Sports Illustrated video, and other artists like Takeshi Murata have done fantastic work using those tools, but I was more interested in the way the systems broke themselves down. They are artworks almost entirely born out of the machine, making them the most found-object-like of all my artworks. I think this is a palette rich with metaphor, especially considering the lack of artist's hand at play.

OPP: Will you draw the metaphor or metaphors out for the readers?

DS: I'd prefer to leave concrete metaphors for viewers to determine for themselves; that's why I picked loaded topics for the subject matter of the videos. At least as far as the pieces featuring glitch aesthetics go, I'm most interested in viewers interpreting metaphor and then assigning that viewpoint to who or what made the artistic decisions that lead to that interpretation. The majority of the "artistic" process in those pieces was conducted by a machine with minimal to no human instruction. Perhaps that's a metaphor for the futility of art interpretation though.

of_other_spaces.pdf (detail)
2010
Digital inkjet prints, clip frames
11" x 14" each
Series of 18 pages spanning two Foucault essays, containing sporadic
instances of digital interference as a result of a faulty download

OPP: In 2010, you opened an art space called Craig Elmer Modern in St. Louis, MI, and had a 2-person exhibition there with Jake Cruzan. Does the gallery still exist?  

DS:  Sadly, the gallery only ended up existing for our show. We did originally have plans to host more exhibitions in the space, but I ended up moving out of town, and we were just borrowing it for free until someone came around who actually wanted to pay money to rent the space.

OPP: What did you learn about being an artist by running the space?

DS: Running the gallery was a lot of additional work, but it was great to have total control over the space and how we wanted the show to look. Before the opportunity for the gallery space came up, we were considering building walls in a storage unit we rented so we could at least get some nice install shots, but the gallery forced us out into the public a bit more, and made me step a little outside of my comfort zone.

OPP: Any plans to try your hand at being a gallerist again in the future?

DS: It's not something I'm seeking out. I'd love to do more curation, but I don't think gallery ownership is in the cards.

No Title (Middlegrounds)
2010
Digital photographic prints
30" x 20"
Part of the Middlegrounds photo series

OPP: In 2012, you've been doing more installation with found objects, like Remember, Clubs and Megaplates. What has led to this shift? 

 DS: I'd say I've been working with more "fabricated" objects than "found" ones. In contrast to my digital work, I've been intentionally buying things and manipulating them by hand. The simple answer is that I like to cycle through a variety of processes to keep any one from feeling too rote or typecasting me in a particular medium. The materials selected for an artwork are extremely important, but I don't have loyalties or allegiances to one medium over another.

OPP: Are you working on anything brand new in your studio right now?

DS: I'm working on iterating Remember and modifying Clubs, but I'd also like to put myself in another video (probably shoot it with my non-HD Handycam), and do another piece with music. I've got some awesome-looking old, blocky computer speakers that I'd like to use, but to what end, I've yet to figure out.

To see more of Dan's work, please visit dansolberg.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jennifer Mills

 FRESH ART 
June 2010
Sullivan Galleries Chicago, IL
Residency Project
Photos courtesy the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Yoni Goldstein and Joe Iverson.

JENNIFER MILLS is an interdisciplinary artist who conflates art-making and art-selling in an ongoing exploration of the value of art. She uses her interactive performances and installations as a way to disseminate thousands of artworks for free or for prices as low as a penny. Jennifer is currently in residence at BOLT, a year-long studio residency in Chicago, and her solo show LOW MIDDLE HIGH will open September 5, 2012 at CULTUREfix in New York City. Jennifer lives in Chicago, IL.

OtherPeoplesPixels: I've read that you studied classical voice and performance when you were young, and you are well-versed in drawing, painting, video, and performance. Tell us a bit about your trajectory as an artist, and how you got to making the work you are making right now.

Jennifer Mills:  Where did you read that?! Yes, I studied opera when I was little, because my mom signed me up for a youth opera camp one summer. I was so mad at her, because I had never opened my mouth to sing a peep in public and I was terrified. I spent the first day of camp with the fear sweats and going to the bathroom a lot, but I quickly ate my words and came to love it. Thanks, Mom. I studied classical voice all through college. It taught me a lot about the discipline necessary in a creative life. Studying voice made me interested in performance art, and all along the way I was just drawing and painting because there was always a 40% off coupon in the Sunday paper's ads for "Michael's Arts and Crafts Store."

September 2011
Art Prize Grand Rapids, Michigan
Performance and Installation

OPP: You paint, draw, and make sculptures, but ultimately you are actually a conceptual performance artist working "to create a new system of defining value in the art world." Talk about why it's important to make art about the value of art.

JM: It's spectacular to see that a painting has sold for millions of dollars at auction, but I also believe anyone's creative work can be seen as spectacular. For me, there is some magic in selling a painting for $1. I like to think that the missing monetary value converts into a different kind of value, a kind of personal value that is more rare.

OPP: The thing that strikes me most about your performances, especially ones like Street (2010), in which you paint a portrait of anyone willing to stand on the X outside the storefront window you were stationed in, is the spirit of generosity and levity that seems to pervade these performances. There appears to be a real joy in the exchange between artist and viewer/participant, as opposed to the antagonistic relationship which can exist in a gallery or in a museum, especially with those not educated in art who often feel like they are missing something. Is this the whole point for you? Or is this just a nice byproduct of something else you are more interested in?

JM: To me it is a very important part of the whole, so it is so nice that you see that in the work. Thank you. I like to think that real joy and connection happens some of the time, and I always hope for more. I'm definitely working with and against the antagonistic exclusivity that exists in some art institutions, and that is something I like to parody and call attention to.

STREET
March 2010
Street Performance
Contemporary Art Space, Chicago, IL

OPP: You've done several different performances where you make custom works of art for viewers after interviewing them, including Fresh Art (2010), Personalized Sculptures (2012), and Custom Made (2010). Could you describe the interview process? What's the interaction generally like between you and the viewer/participant? 

JM: It's a little bit like being an untrained, pretty bad tarot card reader. We just get to talking! Sometimes I provide prompts like a question or some visuals I ask them to respond to. In a short amount of time with a little bit of information, I try to come to an educated guess right then and there about what kind of artwork they would like that I can make with the art materials I have stocked in the project's installation. It takes about 30 minutes to talk, be inspired, and make them art to take home. This project has usually been very fun, and sometimes extreamly meaningful for both of us. Of course, sometimes it feels like I'm grasping at straws too. We are just people talking and responding, so anything can happen. I'm now wondering if this made-to-order work is directly influenced by my time as a 'sandwich artist' in college. I loved that job.

($3.75/EA)
December 2009
School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Performance Installation
Photos courtesy of Joseph Mohan

OPP: You often make very large editions of inexpensive originals, drawing each one by hand, as you did in (3.75/EA) (2009) and Penny Project, which began in 2009 and is still going, I believe. Why make such large editions?

JM: I can't really say, but right now I'm looking at a giant stack of cats I just painted for a project. I probably could have been doing a million other exciting things, but I don't regret a single cat.

OPP: Oh god, how many are there? Does your hand hurt?

JM: Let's just say I better get a job with health insurance soon before my hand falls off. Today I am finishing up a series of 240. I can usually do 100 a day. As far as how many 'Mills Originals" are out there, I think it is now close to 5,000. One day I hope to have a "99 Billion Served" sign above my head!

OPP: How important is it that these hand-made multiples look exactly the same, as if they were prints, not originals? Are you disappointed or satisfied with the variations that must inevitably occur?

JM: Variety is the spice of life! The more defects the better. I'm not perfect!

100 Stars Without Makeup
from TABLOID SERIES
2012

OPP: You have a solo show called LOW MIDDLE HIGH organized by Recession Art Collective and opening next week CULTUREfix in NY. Could you tell us about the venue and about what new projects you'll be exhibiting?

JM: The venue and the collective are awesome. It is a beautiful project space on the Lower East Side that programs all kinds of amazing events and exhibitions. One weekend that I was at CULTUREfix, there was an art show, an experimental chamber orchestra and a comedian. I've been working with RAC for a few years, we came together due to the similar way the recession inspired our outlook on art. They are fantastic to work with. I'll be showing a ton of multiples which are for sale individually, a series of new paintings I have done of tabloid pages, and an installation of paintings with bulls eyes that you can win playing darts! I'm looking forward to it. It opens September 5th if anyone wants to come. 

To view more work by Jennifer, please visit jennifermills.org.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Christina Pettersson

The Hunting Ground
2010
Graphite on paper
45" x 80"

CHRISTINA PETTERSSON explores decay, memorialization, and resurrection in large-scale graphite drawings that reference classic literature from the English Canon. Her romantic landscapes, populated by a recurring female figure surrounded by animals, reveal the wildness of the experience of a world in decline. Most recently, her work has been exhibited at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood in Florida and at Launch F18, curated by Site95, in New York. Christina lives in Miami, Florida.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You draw exclusively in graphite. What are the challenges of this medium and what are the benefits?

Christina Pettersson: I am able to achieve a tremendous amount of detail working with graphite, but it's a very silvery medium. I sometimes miss the true darkness of charcoal or oil. It's also very difficult to photograph well. If I try to capture the authentic grey of my drawings, it looks dull, and I find I have to cheat the contrast for reproduction purposes. It's a shame. On the other hand, it's cheap, non-toxic, and absolutely the most comfortable medium I've ever used. And I've tried plenty. It reminds me of writing too: the singular aesthetic of words on white. It's strange to think that in all my years of schooling no one ever told me I could just draw if I wanted. I had to be a painting major... then fiber, then sculpture. When I finally started just drawing again in my late twenties, I knew immediately that this was it for me.

Resurrection
Solo Show, Spinello Gallery
2010

OPP:  Most of your drawings are quite large, bigger than the body of the viewer to be sure. Have you always drawn on this scale? Why is the scale important to the work?

CP: The body is almost always to scale with life, and has been for a long time. I find it very difficult to relate to a figure otherwise. I want the viewer to be able to step right up and feel as if s/he could step into the page, as my figures are stand-ins for the viewers themselves. I want the viewer to imagine being in the various scenarios I put them in. The fact is they are not much about my personality. I want to be a storyteller. Rauschenberg said that narrative is the sex of art, and I think I understand what he meant. I am drawn to the pleasure and pain of beautiful tales, and it is not about fulfilling logic.

OPP: I'm interested in the fact that you say they aren't much about your personality, because the figures are in your own image, correct? Can you talk about the desire to insert yourself into  "the pleasure and pain of beautiful tales?" 

CP:  The figures are almost always of me, but I don't consider them "self portraits." Admittedly, something about that term gives me the heebie jeebies...as if I'm trying to bare my soul, I guess.  Let's face it though: there's no avoiding yourself, no matter what you do. Yet when we write the stories about ourselves, we inevitably change them. So why not steal from the better narratives of the Bible, literature, mythology? In art, the whole of history becomes a record of my own life. The act of drawing is so bizarre and primal. It is the demon's whisper that no book is closed forever, so keep digging. So, I would rather resurrect Ophelia from Shakespeare's murdered chambers, without any idea of what will happen, than to tell you what I already know.


Legend
2009
HD single channel video
Running time 4'30"

OPP: There's is a pervading sense of Romanticism in both your drawings and in your video work. I mean that in terms of the mid-late 18th century ideals in European literature and art that were a response to the Enlightenment. There was a call back to nature and an attention to the wildness of the emotional life that is seen historically as a reaction to the hyper-rationalism of the Age of Enlightenment. Can you talk about these values in the context of our contemporary world?

CP: Absolutely. Most of my stories are resurrected from the best literary tales throughout history, spawned by murder or undying love. These are the primal fires that fuel my desire to be alive in the world. The figures were previously in large expanses of empty space, but lately the background has been playing a larger role. The sense of distance that it evokes echoes the romantic landscape tradition, from Claude Lorraine to the Hudson River School. The “sfumato” of the landscape—to use one of the four canonical painting modes of the Renaissance—literally means "gone up in smoke." I love those weird Pagan landscapes, too, especially Giorgione's Sleeping Venus, which shows a woman inexplicably reclining on flowing fabric in the romantic outdoors. There is this sense of an empire on the brink of collapse from it's own decadence. The old world is receding, and this reclining woman is both protector and destroyer. I want to restore that epic and mythological dimension, a sense of awe and reverence for the world.

The Slow Extinction
2010
Graphite on paper
48" x 96"

OPP: From 2004-2008, you made a series of drawings of bricks taken from the houses of famous writers, including William Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe, and William Butler Yeats. Then, in 2009, you made drawings of the overgrown graves of Zora Neale Hurston and Eudora Welty. The first thing that strikes me is the difference in how History treats male and female writers. Was this part of your intention when you made the later drawings?

CP: It was, though I'm not sure how deliberate it was at the time. Now that seems obvious to me, too, but in the beginning I worked on instinct and trust. I did initially visit the last surviving house of Zora, down the street from where she was buried in Fort Pierce, Florida. But it was a mean and lonely place of poverty and obscurity she died in. It was the opposite of the brick and magnolia grandeur of Faulkner's estate. Her grave itself was unmarked for over a decade, a mere empty lot beside the train tracks, until Alice Walker bought her a tombstone. The tree I drew is a Brazilian Pepper. It's not a tree so much as a shrub, an invasive species no one plants intentionally. It grows in the ditches among the weeds. Welty, on the other hand, was a white woman who was born and died comfortably, and was buried in a beautiful Civil War-era cemetery in Jackson, Mississippi. At her grave is a proud Juniper tree. So even between the two there is a great psychological distance.


Jack Kerouac's House, detail
2007
Graphite on paper
55"x120"

OPP: The second thing that struck me about these drawings is more about you than the drawings themselves, and I see it in all your work that references literary texts. In your statement about the brick series, you say: "A lone graphite drawing of a brick, surrounded by a great expanse of white paper, can tell the story of how spirit actually finds its way inside of matter and how humans tend to it." This is a beautiful idea that gets at one of my personal interests: fandom. Although fandom is usually associated with media, like TV shows and movies, or sports, I love the idea of literary fandom. It's really the same thing: an intense engagement with a "text" (in the flexible, postmodern sense of the word), in which the text is a portal to other ideas or to other people. Did the houses and the graves you chose have personal significance for you?

CP: Yes! All great love affairs. Fandom is a perfect way to describe it. After all, stealing bricks from houses is certainly as weird as tearing off a scrap of cloth from a singer and keeping it at your bedside table. We each choose our own holy relics. Text, in particular, is a portal for me, because I can lift certain phrases and sentences off the page and carry them around in my head. They hang about for months and years, haunting me, repeating and repeating. I could stare at a painting by Caravaggio forever, but I could never carry it around afterwards. Not even a hand or a foot. My mind won't hold on to it. Drawing the bricks was partly about that—an attempt to make as close a copy as possible. In the end though, a drawing of a brick is not really a brick at all. But with writing you can make an exact copy. I suppose this is the real source of my romantic relationship with the world. When I walk down the street on a fall day, Shakespeare is incanting:

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

And so on. I just looked up the word incantation, by the way. "Ritual recitation of verbal charms or spells to produce a magic effect." Isn't that wonderful?

It's a shame most people only read stuff like Shakespeare in high school. Writers were great prophets in the past, like oracles or augurs. Tennyson was one of the last poets famous enough to have crowds of people follow him down the street to his home on the Isle of Wight. That was long ago. That was fandom of a different color.

OPP: Before, you mentioned you want to tell stories and that the graphite reminds you of writing. Did you ever want to be a writer instead of a visual artist?

CP: Always! More than I wanted to be an artist probably. But getting your second choice in life isn't at all bad. I just want more time to read: weeks, months, years. It's the only thing that makes me wish I believed in an afterlife, because like Borges, "I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” So, third career choice: librarian? 

To view more of Christina's work, please visit christinapettersson.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews John Stark

from series Black Mirror

JOHN STARK's paintings are hauntingly ambiguous. The hooded figures, whose faces we never see, peform rituals which evoke the mystical and the mundane, asking the viewer to decide if what is being portrayed is sinister or soothing. John is a finalist for The 2012 Threadneedle Prize, and his work will be on view this September as part of 20/12 London Art Now. He lives and works in London, England.

OtherPeoplesPixels: In an illuminating interview last year on dazeddigital.com, you mention quite a few art historical influences. But I also see elements in the paintings that make me think of contemporary horror movies, heavy metal album covers, and fantasy posters? Are these also an influence for you?

John Stark: Yes they have been, but influences come from all experience, and the paintings tend to be born out of ideas as old as the world itself. I don't try to create original ideas. For me, originality is novelty. In the spirit of modernism, I try to find new ways of expressing the old. By presenting this subject matter now, the meaning shifts when consumed in the contemporary context and the tendency is to draw comparisons within the specific social or cultural realm. I was influenced by elements of popular culture earlier when the language was forming, but now the work tends to have a life of its own and perpetuates itself within the structure of its own narrative drive. 

from series Meliora Silentio

OPP: What is the structure built from branches and supporting a body hidden under a blanket? I've seen it in several of your paintings and others have similar structures, but it looks like there's no body. Is this an invented structure or something with a real world referent that I'm not familiar with?

JS: A funeral pyre. Similar structures can be found around the world and were used by different cultures at different times. The first painting I made like this depicted a Native American funeral pyre. In this custom, they believe the soul is carried up to the sky by birds of prey when the cadaver is consumed. Also in Zoroastrianism, they build a concrete turret called a 'Tower of Silence' to elevate the body of the floor so as not to infect the ground as the earth is considered pure. The architecture of these structures or houses for the dead is something I found fascinating, and I went on to create more versions of ‘stick architecture’ that became more like gateways or portals used in various tribal rituals of initiation, alluding to the painting itself as a gateway to pass through (in the metaphysical sense).

OPP: Why is it a recurring motif in your work?

JS: I'm interested in the way these motifs operate as memento mori and function as poignant symbols for Nietzsche's idea of the eternally recurring cycle and also call in to question Jung's belief in the immortality of the soul. I'm also attempting to comment on contemporary ways of viewing images of death and how they’re digested in the modern western world. We are becoming more desensitized by way of simulated deaths through media and film which enables us to suppress the reality of it behind a vale or bury it in the grave of our cultural memory, as if we have no innate notion of our own death. It is only the shock of a loved one’s death that persuades us that we can or even will die one day. So the intention with these particular works is for them to hover somewhere between the two oppositions. On one hand, they appear quite synthesized like fantasy art, and on the other, they depict something very real and poignant. It's a reminder that you will die and of the question of what happens at that point.

from series Apiculture

OPP: The figure in your paintings is always hooded or turned away from the viewer of the painting. Or the face is shrouded in hair or covered by fabric. Why is that?

JS: It keeps them guessing ; )

OPP: One series Apiculture (2008-2012) has spanned years. What is it that drew you to the subject of beekeeping?

JS: It was an intuitive decision that happened gradually, and it's now six years since the idea first formed. I felt the beekeepers provided an adequate metaphor that could be read from many different vantage points, and a painted world for the keepers to inhabit with potential narrative possibilities was born. It felt a bit like Phillip Guston when he discovered his world of clansmen: in a documentary he states he felt like a movie director with a new cast when making those works. As I fell deeper into the subject, I found interesting parallels between beekeeping and the fact that it has frequently been a monastic practice like mead, liquor, and beer production. I became focused on these kinds of rituals for their allegorical potential and their inherent mystical nature. Today there are shamanistic bee cults in practice that worship the bee and the symbol of the hive, which has been used to represent utopian society to varying degrees by many diverse communities, corporations, and religious groups throughout history.   

OPP: Could you talk about the ideas of ritual and alchemy that tie apiculture and painting together?

JS: I like to think the physical process of the bees at work mirrors the process of creating a painting. Pollen becomes honey through an act of alchemy: the worker bee uses its body as the space for transformation and then regurgitates the liquid gold. Similarly, the dead stuff of paint essentially inert matterbecomes charged through the practice of painting. Also the process is analogous with an alchemical pursuit towards a kind of philosophical gold where the metaphysical becomes physical, or the process of painting becomes a means towards self individuation. More specifically, the Black Sun is the starting point; you must travel into the darkness to find the light. So, regarding the alchemical symbolism inherent in the imagery, it refers directly to the mystical pursuit of painting.

OPP: Metaphysics is obviously a major theme in your work. Would you say your role as an artist similar to that of a metaphysician, interpretting the world for others? Or are the paintings themselves just the result, the evidence, of your private metaphysical inquiries?

JS: Metaphysics is naturally a part of painting. It's wrapped up in the strange intangible process where mind becomes matter and physical labour is transformed in the paint through time and space. Painting, for me, is a way of being that forces out questions about the nature of existence, so that is what I do. Through painting, I investigate the world from a personal perspective, where thoughts and feelings become manifest, which in turn are further interpreted by the viewer. My investigation tends to centre on universal (or Jungian) archetypes and their manipulation, so the paintings are dependent on this exchange between the artist and the beholder. To function, the paintings must be felt or understood.

from series Black Mirror

OPP: Your newest body of work, Black Mirror, seems to expand what you started with Apiculture into new and more mundane (i.e. less seemingly mystical) rituals like shaving and book binding, but they still maintain the aura of something secret and solemn happening. These are NOT funny paintings. I see in them the mystical experience/transcendence of self through ritual, labor, and magic. Older bodies of work reference magic and possible dark arts as easily as they reference Christian or Tibetan symbols. These same religious/mystical/ spiritual rituals are still visible in the new work, but now the trappings are of labor and nature and science. Are you making a point about mysticism and the everyday? Or am I just seeing what I want to see in your mirror?

JS: I think you understood the paintings very well from your question, and the paintings are supposed to be very much a question. In the new work for Black Mirror, there was a definite intention to focus on more banal imagery which I tried to compliment with a more photo-real, Vermeer-esque painting language, allowing a new kind of tension to occur. Because of this, the works appear more removed than previous works, but the subject is more loaded and charged due to the heavy religious and scientific connotations and the paradoxical nature of the imagery. The depiction of labour is consistent in this series, as in Apiculture, and refers to the process out of which the work is born. The intention is to question the inherent value attached. My work is not conceptual; it relies on the physicality of the paint and its technical manipulation, so what you see is what you get. Although I’ve found, depending on what the viewer brings to these paintings, the readings will vary dramatically. Some see depictions of prisons or concentration camps, and others see a modest but tough existence driven by love, compassion and devotion. I prefer the latter.

To view more of John's work, please visit johnstarkgallery.co.uk.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Steven Pearson

Attempts to Contain are Futile
2009
Acrylic, Spray Paint, Paint Pen on Canvas
54.5" x 72"

STEVEN PEARSON combines numerous painting techniques and media to create dynamic,  colorful abstractions of digital information and everyday experiences. His compositions are orchestrations of chaos and balance that reveal a myriad of influences from fine art and pop culture. Steven has been an Associate Professor in the Art & Art History Department at McDaniel College since 2004. He is also the Director of the college’s Rice Gallery and lives in Westminster, MD.

OtherPeoplesPixels: I see a lot of different aesthetics and references in your work: graffiti, graphic design, comic books, and the history of abstraction in painting. Tell us about some of your influences.

Steven Pearson: My influences are extremely varied, from Baroque painters like Rubens and Rembrandt, to comic books and graphic novels. I started out as a narrative figurative painter and was influenced by the Baroque. I love the use of composition and movement in many of Rubens’ paintings and the way he carries the eye through every inch of a painting. I’ve tried to bring that kind of movement and use of space into my own work. In comic books, I’m interested in the use of the page and the panels. The panels are used to control the information, organize the story, and convey a sense of time, but within the panels themselves, there can be these moments of intense drama. It’s amazing how much can actually be conveyed in one page without overwhelming the viewer. There is a definite connection between those dynamic compositions of Rubens and the compositions found in a comic book. Good graffiti contains that dynamic movement and drama as well, but what interests me more in looking at graffiti is the layering of different murals and tags upon each other. It conveys a sense of history and time.

As for influences from the history of abstraction I’d have to say I am interested in the space and design of Al Held, Frank Stella, Franz Ackerman and Julie Mehretu; the rawness and brushwork of DeKooning and Terrence La Noue; the push/pull of Hans Hoffman; the openness to gain information and ideas from varied visual resources of Grace Hartigan; the use of color of the members of the Washington color school; and the potpourri of marks, images, information, and politics found in Basquiat. I’ve probably taken a little from each of them, plus many more over the years, and found ways to blend it together with my own sensibilities to create my own voice, which we all do. At least I hope I have, but it’s always a work in progress.

Mesmer
2011
Acrylic and Paint Pen on Birch Panel
48" X 48"

 OPP: You use a lot of different types of paint, including acrylic, oil, spray paint and paint pens, and this leads to a lot of very different kinds of brush strokes within the same painting. How did you develop this way of painting? Can you talk about the conceptual underpinning of this convergence of styles developing out of the medium itself?

SP: I enjoy contrasts. They add balance. Balance is an important part of life. We are constantly looking for it, and sometimes we even find it. Spray paint gives me a misty, speckled treatment of an area to balance the flat, opaqueness of acrylic. Loose, active brushstrokes balance the hard, taped edge. The paint pen gives me a clean outline that makes drips and splashes appear very controlled, balancing the chaos of chance that actually created them. Both as a figurative painter and an abstract painter, I was more conscious about trying to achieve variety of paint applications when I painted in oils. But when I switched to acrylics, I was doing the Heroes and Villains series and needed the paint to just sit flat, opaque, and have mostly a hard edge, so it wasn’t as important.

At the end of that series, I wanted to explore the nuances of painting a little more. But I also felt like I needed to be willing to bring in any medium necessary— and that made sense to the paintings—to add contrast and variation to the surface. As an undergraduate student in the early 1990s, I had silk screened into paintings, sewed collaged paintings together, and worked on various surfaces. Not all of these experiments were successful, or even good, but it’s that process of experimentation and discovery that is fresh and invigorating and keeps me coming back to the studio. I also believe that those areas of contrasting brushstrokes, or little introductions of a different medium draw a viewer in and keep them engaged.

Gaining Momentum (Corner Installation)
Photo by Alan Skees
2010
Acrylic, Spray Paint, Paint Pen on Panel
96" x 192"

OPP: I love that you acknowledge that not all experiments are successful. And I often find that I learn as much from my failures as from my successes. Will you tell me about a failure that taught you a lot about your own work?

SP: I will try to answer that with a general lesson I have learned, which is that all of the failures have taught me not to approach each painting like it will be a masterpiece and to not be too set on an initial idea, but be open to change and revision and let the work tell me where it needs to go. A specific example is the painting Gaining Momentum. I did that painting at the Vermont Studio Center, and I had a set idea and a small sketch I was working from in the first week or so of the painting. I wanted these two opposing forces (in my head, I was thinking of two Hokusai waves) coming at each other. After a week, I stepped back and looked at the painting and realized I had two colorful phallic-looking shapes opposing each other instead of two wave-like forces. Not the result I was looking for. After some commiseration, I took the the 16 panels off of the left wall, laid them on the floor and just loosened up. I poured paint, spray painted, and drew in charcoal until I had a ground that I could build on that wasn't overly planned out. Another interesting thing about that painting is I had intended it to be a 16' wide flat painting, but when I got into the studio provided for me at the residency, I found that there wasn't a 16' wide wall. So I mounted the panels in the corner, just to start working. After working on it for 2-3 weeks, I realized that the corner installation allowed you to get more physically immersed in the painting and be enveloped by the color.

 

Don Quixote's Folly was very similar. It took four months, several very ugly stages, and multiple configurations of the panels and overall shape to finally resolve it. If I wasn't prepared to push through several revisions and to be self critical, I would have either abandoned it in one of its incredibly ugly stages or tried to convince myself that it wasn't a bad painting. There are several paintings—that fortunately have never seen the light of day—that didn't get re-worked and resolved. I was convinced at the time that they worked. Luckily for me, I didn't have shows they were destined for, so I had time to think about them and either scrap them or paint over them. So to sum it up, I've learned from my failures to be open, count on revision, and to always know the location of a big dumpster.

Against Overwhelming Odds
2009
Acrylic, Spray Paint, Paint Pen on Paper Mounted on Panel
30" x 22.5"

OPP: The paintings from Dualities and Amalgamations (2009-2010) are a reflection of "our ability to receive and assimilate" the "flood of information on a daily, if not hourly, basis via a variety of technological means: emails, text messages, Facebook, Twitter, online newspapers, countless websites, as well as television and radio. In this sense, they are not pure abstractions. They are actually representations of information. But the viewer doesn't have access to what is being represented, because all the information is coded. In terms of contemporary painting, is pure abstraction even possible anymore? Is it interesting or relevant to your work?

SP: That’s a good question. Bob Nickas touches on that slightly in "Painting Abstraction: New Elements in Abstract Painting." He questions why artists who paint non-representationally reject the notion that their work is abstract. He suggests that the term abstraction should be used to cover artists who create representational abstractions, as well as artists who work from more formal, non-objective modes. Using abstraction as an umbrella word that covers a wide variety of abstract or non-objective painting makes complete sense to me as a painter in the 21st century. It is difficult and probably nearly impossible to remove yourself from the visual bombardment that we undergo daily, so how can someone paint pure abstraction? The questions will always be there: Where did you get that color? Why that shape?... and so on. I do think about it when I am creating painting, and I do like it when the sources of my visuals become so obscure that they are indecipherable, but I think my paintings would lose interest to me if I tried to actually divorce them from outside resources.

Too Good, Too Evil
2008
Acrylic on Panel
79.5" X 94"

OPP: I'd love to hear more about your series Heroes and Villains (2007-2008), which uses 1980s comic book covers as the source for your color palette and responds to the wood grain of your birch wood substrate as the source for the patterning. Why did you decide to put these 2 disparate sources together?

SP: I fell into that series on accident. I was about to build a new stretcher for a painting when I noticed a shape in the wood-grain of the birch plywood I was going to cut up for corner braces. The shape looked very similar to shapes that I would make when painting quick abstract studies on paper. I decided to do a couple of small paintings that just used the grain of the wood for the composition, with no additions brought in. After painting two of them I saw that I was using a contrasting combination of Liquitex Brilliant Blue and Cadmium Red Light. I like that combination together because of its intensity, but at the time I was painting them, I was watching Superman Returns. It made me think about the colors always used to depict heroes in comics, and conversely, the colors often used to portray villains. I decided to use the colors of heroes and of their arch nemeses as the palettes for my paintings, but I was afraid that if I tried to draw my own compositions, I would be too heavy handed in creating "hero shapes" and their villainous counterparts. I thought I could avoid that by using the wood grain as the "drawing" and letting the color represent those opposites. I also felt the use of the wood grain and the use of color as an addition was another way of introducing opposites. The wood grain was "truth." It was the natural pattern of the readymade substrate. The color was a fallacy added to that surface. It was another way for me to continue my focus on opposites and balance.

Continuation
2005
Oil on Canvas
72" x 96"

OPP: You have 2 upcoming solo shows in the fall/winter of 2012: Information Breakdown at Exhibit A Gallery at the Hamilton Street Club in Baltimore and Information Overload at the Visual Arts Gallery in Queensbury, NY. Was the work in these shows developed simultaneously? I'm assuming some connection based on the titles of the shows, but what will be distinctly different about the exhibitions?

SP: The work in Information Overload was developed first. In that series, I was focusing on a more intuitive process. These paintings are composed of shapes, forms, and colors of things I may have seen driving, or surfing the web, or walking, or driving. The paintings are built up and layered with these memories. In the process some get buried or fragmented, and some remain prominent and sit on the surface, much like the way we store and process information.

In this series, I also started tracing parts of the composition, or even parts of previous paintings, and would then repeat them and reconfigure them within a composition, cannibalizing one part to activate another. The painting Amalgamation is created from three previous paintings traced and recombined to create a new composition. This altered the memory and changed the story of those things. Some parts get enhanced and become more of a focus, and others become background. I think it is interesting composing a painting this way. It makes me think roughly of Jean Piaget’s adaptation process: assimilation and accommodation. We take in new information and incorporate it into our existing ideas (assimilation), or our ideas are changed based on new information (accommodation).

The paintings that will be in Information Breakdown are derived directly from the paintings in Information Overload, and from the process used to create Amalgamation. I started the first painting in the group that will be in the show, Over/Under, from traced portions of Amalgamation and Don Quixote's Folly. When I finished Over/Under, I traced it in 10" squares placed randomly over the composition and then transferred them to a new panel in random order to create a new composition. When that painting [Mesmer] was completed, I traced it in 10” squares and reconfigured it into a new composition [Intermittent Lucidity]. I am currently working on the fourth in that series that was traced from Intermittent Lucidity. All the information in the paintings can be traced back to Amalgamation and Don Quixote’s Folly, but it gets so broken down and re-ordered that it becomes nearly unrecognizable, altered, and new. I plan on repeating this process for 7 to 10 paintings, by which time I think the information will be so broken down, it will be like painting white noise.

To view more work by Steven, please visit srpearson.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Sara Holwerda

Barmaiden (Frame 4)
2011
Digital Image
16" x 11.5"

SARA HOLWERDA is a performance and video artist who uses movement and dance to explore the limitations of the represenations of the female body in western culture. Her references are varied and include painting, burlesque, vaudeville, movies, contemporary pop music videos, and YouTube tutorials to name a few. Sara recently received her MFA from Cranbrook and now lives and works in Chicago, IL.

 

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your performances and videos involve movement and dance. Do you have a formal background in these fields?

Sara Holwerda: Yes. I figure skated competitively for over ten years, and, as part of my training, I did ballet and yoga. In college I took modern dance at the YMCA and fell into some barefoot dance performances with middle aged hippies in the woods. (I went to college in Ann Arbor!)

What stuck with me the most profoundly from my experiences as a figure skater are the athleticism, costumes, badly-cut music, and kitschy sensibility. I also spent a few formative years performing on a synchronized skating team with about twenty other girls. We were all dressed the same and had the same hair and makeup. We performed in circles and pinwheels and did kicklines... It was the closest I have ever gotten to being a Rockette, and it was bizarre in a lot of ways.

The experience of being active in a completely self-conscious way for all my teen years has followed me into my late twenties. Even though I'm only moderately active, I notice that much of my self-concept is still tied up in how my body looks and how it performs. There is something about being female that requires you to perform at some level all the time, and as an artist responding to this cultural condition, I feel the need to do performance work.

One and Three Women
2012

OPP: In many performances such as One and Three Women (2012) or The Fall (2012), you perform with others. Are you always the choreographer of these performances or are they collaborators in creating the work?

SH: In both of those performances, I am the director, choreographer, and costume designer/seamstress. These two performances are an interesting comparison. In One and Three Women, I am performing with the group intentionally because this piece is about both the shared experiences between women and the ways one person can be split and see herself in parts. It's also personal in a lot of ways, and it felt natural to be in it. In rehearsals, my other performers helped me visualize the movements, and there was some collaboration in those moments. It was a choreograph-as-you-go type process, in which I would trap us or tangle us up and have to figure out where to go from there.

For The Fall, I had a much larger castfive dancers, a singer, a Tree of Knowledge, and three paparazziso I had to be more prepared with my choreography. I drew diagrams and sent PDFs to everyone to make rehearsals go faster. The scale of the project made it difficult for me to both direct and perform effectively. I performed as a Marilyn Monroe imitator, because I felt I needed to return to that rolewhen I was seventeen, I performed Marilyn Monroe's "Diamonds" solo in an ice show. That solo became an unintentional drag performance failure! My wig came off during a layback spin, and my middle-aged male partners were so nervous that they could barely velcro the "Cartier" on my wrists or lift me up. My inability to fit into this hyper-feminine role, which has been so iconic for so long, was part of my inspiration for the piece. Before I did this performance, I created the Marilyn fuchsia dress from that number as a burlesque costume, and I worked tearing off the costume bit by bit in The Fall. In retrospect, after going through the whole process of staging that work, I realized that I didn't need to perform this role. I learned an important lesson: with a large cast, I can direct more freely if I remove myself as a performer. I'm planning a re-staging of this performance, and I will not perform in it. 

The Fall
2012
Marilyn mimicry duet/ burlesque

OPP: Can you talk more specifically about The Fall and explain the performance to our readers?

SH: The Fall is the kind of work I imagine myself doing more of, and it's probably the most emblematic of how my mind works creatively. There is a lot going on in this performance. I wanted to create a performance collage, with cultural, historical, and personal symbols and themes butting up against each other. The Fall is a theatrical spectacle that takes place in a restaurant/lounge, that puts the viewer in the position of guest/consumer. They are consuming the spectacle, all the costumes and dancing bodies, along with cocktails. The photographers are performing as much as the chorus girls, and the "star" is a lip-syncing Marilyn Monroe mimic. In this setting, the iconic Marilyn Monroe becomes Eve in the garden. She's a temptress and culturally understood as a sexual being andmaybe as a resulta tragic figure.

The performance had three main parts. First, viewers were greeted by servers wearing feathers. They were staring, stomping, hissing, and passing out pomegranate drinks. After everyone was served, the chorus line of servers performed the second part: the champagne parade, in which they held bottles above their heads as they did an aggressive song and dance number. While this was happening, a Tree of Knowledge was juggling pomegranates. The two Marilyn Monroe figures were frozen, coming to life every once in a while to do a little shimmy and sing a bit. The paparazzi were mirroring the chorus line, snapping pictures of the chorus and the audience. The third section was the musical mimicry. One of the two Marilyns sang a mash-up of the "Diamonds" number with Nicki Manaj's "Super Bass" while the other Marilyn lip-synced. All the while, the chorus line  was chiming in, and the paparazzi were snapping pictures. The mimicry/ lip sync became a burlesque with the second Marilyn taking off the iconic costume piece by piece, throwing it to the chorus, and finally slinking off the stage to join the hissing chorus line. 

The next time I do this, I plan on having more Marilyns, maybe interacting with video projections, and I would like to make the environment more specific, getting the details just right. It was a huge production for me at the time, and I tested the limits of what I could do with the resources I had. I learned a lot, and now that I've already made all the costumes, written a script, and have had the experience of performing it, I can think about improving the rest of the work. I want it to be a surreal experience that takes place in a working bar that has been transformed into a pop culture Eden.  
 

Chair Dance II
2012

OPP:  Chair Dance II references  stripping, in general, and Flashdance, specificallyat least to someone who grew up in the 80s. You start by simply performing standard sexualized gestures that we all recognize from movies about strippers, and perhaps real strippers. But that mimicry quickly becomes a struggle.

 

SH: That film was definitely in my mind, as well as the "Mein Herr" number from Cabaret. Also, when I was researching burlesque performances for The Fall, I noticed the chair reoccurring as a prop. It's definitely a sexualized prop, and you expect the female performer to behave a certain way with it. The dance is metaphorical, with the chair as a stand-in for the male viewer's body. In the dancer's interactions with the chair, there's a metaphor for an idealized sexual relationship or encounter. The woman is performing for the pleasure of the man, moving in ways that are objectifying her and making her physically vulnerable. Certainly, it's fun and possible to do these dances for one's own pleasure, but I'm not sure everyone doing or watching a chair dance is cognizant of the implications of it. 

 

I also researched chair dances via YouTube tutorials and found the whole thing a bit absurd. In one video a woman is counting off seductive gestures in eight counts, like "and rub his thigh, six seven eight." It seemed so crazy, this choreographed sexuality. I wondered what was being left out. In working with the chair, I realized how limited the motion is for the performer, and thus, how limited the metaphorical relationship is. I was also researching other more violent dance forms, like the turn-of-the century Parisian apache (AH-PAHSH), where a woman is dragged, thrown, and strangled in a dramatized street fight between her and two or more menusually, she's playing a prostitute, and the men are her pimp and her client. I wanted to explore the kind of danger a woman can experience if she presents herself in such a practiced, sexualized manner, and how far from ideal the relationships she gets into could be. 

 

OPP: What was it like to make this video? Did your personal experience mirror the metaphor? 

 

SH: Making this video required a great deal of training and rest. For about three weeks, I practiced prop falls and stage fighting moves with a mat every other day. On the days in between, I would go to the gym and focus on my core and flexibility. The shooting of the video took two days. The first day, I didn't get the framing right, yet I performed my whole routine several times full out anyway, foolishly exhausting myself. I got caught up in the performance, and forgot that it had to read on video and that I may need to save some energy to shoot it again. On the second day of shooting, I got the framing right, choosing a tighter shot that showed the camera in the mirrors. I performed several times. Finally on the last few takes, I had the right amount of abandon in the falls and had a good sense of improvisationeven though, by then, I had my routine down. Somewhere toward the end, my right shoulder began to hurt, probably from falling on it for two days. It got really tight and I lost some feeling in my hand. I had to sleep sitting up for two weeks, taking nightly Epsom salt baths to relax enough to sleep.


Chair Dance II was also an emotionally challenging piece to make. I'm a survivor of domestic violence; nine years ago I was attacked by an ex-boyfriend. The situations I was putting myself into with the chair definitely paralleled my attack. I never intended it to be a re-enactment or strictly autobiographical—until I saw the footage, I didn't realize how powerful the connections were. Even though I am no longer at the mercy of that experienceI've had time, therapy, and a wonderful husband to help me healI need to acknowledge my history when it appears in my work, and I need to be kind to myself in my process. In this piece, I did everything I could to make sure I was always in control, even when it looks like I'm not, and that allowed me to wholeheartedly explore the chair as a prop and a violent metaphor without being overcome by my own personal history. 

Put a Ring on It
2010
Digital Video

OPP: Your stop motion animations Put a Ring on It (2010) and Candyman (2011) explore the representation of women's bodies in contemporary music videos and are set to the pop songs by Beyonce and Christina Aguilera which give them their titles.  Why did you choose stop motion instead of live performance for these pieces?

 

SH: This is a great question. In these works, I was very interested in the way that stop-action animation in particular depicts an illusion of motion and how each frame is mediated by an outside force. In other words, the paper legs I use in Put a Ring On It cannot move themselves, and must be arranged very carefully in every frame. I see this level of mediation in all our pop culture images, from stylists, makeup artists, editors, Photoshop, and social normsevery image we see is carefully composed, every movement is carefully choreographed. It's an unnatural, artificial presentation, and I felt animation as a process expressed these conceptual concerns. In Candyman, animation allows me to create the illusion that I am a blond, a redhead and a brunette in a trio, dancing with a sailor's outfit on, none of which are true outside Photoshop and sequential imagery. I liked how false the image is, and how weird and jerky the animated movements are.

 

I could also dismember the body in Put a Ring On It, which would be harder to do in performance! I also like the flatness of cut paper and the composite digital image. It reminds me of paper dolls and makes the animations feel a bit playful and childlike, which emphasizes the fact that young girls model behavior from these videos. There are hundreds of videos posted to YouTube with girls mimicking Beyonce. Making my own frame by frame imitation of that video felt like the most absurdly devoted way to re-create it, using the most simple and helpless materials.

 

OPP: Post-feminism is a term I hear as often as post-racial, and I'm shocked that anyone thinks we are post-anything. Why is it still important to be making work about the representation of women's bodies, roles, and movements in art and pop culture?

 

SH: I'm so glad you asked this! I was lucky to work with the wonderfully feminist-friendly Mark Newport in graduate school. He is a great supporter of my work, and since he responds to cultural gender norms directly in his own work (re-imagining hyper-masculine superheros and football players), he is engaged with the issues I'm dealing with and gave me a lot of thoughtful feedback. Unfortunately, I've also experienced quite the opposite male perspective as well. Recently, a few male artists and academics have reacted to my mimetic performances as simply seductive acts, adding to all the other images of women being seductive. They refused to engage with the feminist discussion that is the content of my work, could not acknowledge that I was challenging the male gaze by photographing and video taping myself, and didn't seem to understand the decades of female self-portraiture, body art and performance art that I am in dialog with. They acted as if there was no need for this. One even said to me, "There have already been like, four or five waves of Feminism." This floored me! He displayed his devastating lack of knowledge and dismissed my work in one fell swoop. This kind of ignorance of Feminism at the highest levels of artistic production and discourse proved to me that it is important to continue making this work, and that it is important for all women to continue to cast a critical eye toward the culture they consume and the messages they are receiving. 

 

Certainly, Feminism has evolved. After all, I can call myself a feminist and still wear bras and shave my legs. But I agree with you that terms like post-feminism are premature, and worse could be part of a movement toward what author Susan Douglas calls "enlightened sexism." We're in a strong backlash, and there are daily reminders of this that reassure me that I need to keep making work. It's 2012, and being a woman is still fraught with demands on our bodies and roles. I walk down the street, and a stranger demands I smile. I see an ad with a close up of a woman's wet lips putting something in her mouth. I hear of another state threatening to take reproductive rights away from women. I see another Judd Apatow comedy using pussy, having a vagina, or being gay as the worst-possible, "hilarious" insult one man can hurl at another man. I hear about the struggles of women to give birth on their own terms: without lying down, without an unnecessary C-section, without being rushed to labor by an impatient doctor.

 

It's dangerous to be a woman in this culture, and if we're not careful, we will all believe our greatest value is how we look, how we move, and how well we can please others. Through my work, I aim to expose these dangers, to reveal the absurdities of what culture expects of us, and to imagine new possibilities for expression.

 

As long as Kelly Ripa is on TV  in her skinny jeans, breezing through 1950s housewife duties without a man in sight and telling me how I can be "even more amazing" with a new kitchen appliance, I have more work to do.

 

To view more of Sara's work, please visit http://saramholwerda.com.