OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Rain Harris

Bauble
2006
Porcelain, luster, rhinestones, pearls
12" x 12" x 7.5"

RAIN HARRIS examines our assumptions around "good" and "bad" taste in relation to class, geography and time period. Her ornate, decadent porcelain sculptures and her expansive installations, all of which teeter precariously on the imagined boundary between “high” and “low” art, reference Victorian, Americana and Baroque aesthetics. Rain received her BFA in Ceramics from Rhode Island School of Design and her MFA from Ohio State University. In 2012, she was an artist-in-residence at The Pottery Workshop in Jingdezhen, China, and will exhibit work made there in a two-person show with her husband, fellow ceramicist Paul Donnelly in October 2013. Rain lives in Kansas City, Missouri.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You have worked in a variety of media, including wood, fabric and Plexiglass, but your most common medium is porcelain. When did you first start working with this material?

Rain Harris: I made my first major body of work in ceramics at camp when I was seven. It was a series of bowls that could double as paperweights—or quite possibly lethal weapons. But in all seriousness, I started art school with the intention of becoming a jeweler, not a ceramicist. I needed to take an elective course. At the time, ceramics was one of the only things available. Truthfully, I did not see clay as a long-term option as it seemed too “crafty” and “messy.” My initial interest in jewelry and fine metals still seeps into my work, but clay immediately made sense to my practice. I often approach it with an eye toward diminutive grandeur and extreme preciousness, regardless of the scale I am working at.

Initially I worked in stoneware, but as my conceptual ideas evolved, my material choices needed to change. When I started to develop work that was influenced by court dinnerware and the decorative arts, porcelain was the obvious choice because of its smooth surface, white color and historical associations.
Americana (detail)
2007
cnc routed wood paneling, plexiglass, paint
50' x 11' x 7.5'

OPP: What do you love about working in clay? 

RH: I love the malleability of ceramics, and I frequently call clay "the chameleon of art materials." Because it can be manipulated by hand or cast into molds, its appearance can change everytime. It can mimic gold or silver. It can be shiny, matte or almost plastic-like. Visually, it can appear either hard and rigid or soft and fluid. The results can be amazingly varied.

OPP: Is there anything you hate about clay?

RH: I have a love-hate relationship with ceramics in general. I currently work with molds so I have the ability to easily make multiples. This allows me to make larger, more complex structures, and it also gives me the freedom to be less precious with my work. But the big problem with ceramics is its fragility during firings. Shipping and transporting are also an issue. My loss rate can be really frustrating at times.   

OPP: In your statement, you say: "I ask if an ugly object can be in ‘good taste?’ Also, can a beautiful object also be a tasteless object?" I see this in the gaudiness of your sculptures. That they are gaudy is undeniable, and gaudiness is culturally associated with bad taste. And yet, I find the sculptures, without a doubt, beautiful. But part of the beauty lies in how smart they are. Do you see the objects you make as beautiful or ugly?

Bliss
2006
Porcelain, luster, plexiglas, rhinestones
12" x 9" x 13.5"

RH: Arguably, beauty is not a quality inherent in objects. It only exists in the mind and eye of the beholder. Taste is also a learned behavior. That aside, I would categorize almost everything I have made as simultaneously beautiful and ugly. Each attribute is reinforced and amplified by its polar opposite. In my poison bottle series, the inherent gaudiness of the bottles is more pronounced than in other bodies of work. Normally my work has a restrained gaudiness. I use vintage floral decals to decorate the surface of the sculptures. Unlike most people in the contemporary art world, I do not consider decorative or pretty to be bad words. How those qualities are used determines their validity. 

OPP: I’m glad you brought up the idea that decorative is sometimes considered a bad word. It should NOT be a disparaging term, but is often used to dismiss work. I actually think decorativeness as a concept is much more complex than most people believe. It is often associated with superficiality, but I'd like to emphasize that superficiality is about the surface, and the surface is the first point of impact. I think it is often the viewer who doesn't penetrate the surface when work has a decorative quality. It's not the decorativeness of a piece that keeps viewers from going deeper; it's the viewer's assumptions about what decorativeness means that halts appreciation for the work. What's your take on the concept of decorativeness?

RH: I have always believed that decoration can be used as a narrative device. Repetitive symbols, archetypes and color choices can tell a visual story rather than being simply picturesque. Layout and composition, scale, color and process can be something visceral and emotional, something that has a greater meaning. Ultimately, pattern is larger than life; even when it is small, it has the ability to expand infinitely.

My work is heavily layered with visual information. I stack and arrange patterns and forms so it becomes difficult to determine where the pattern begins and ends. Is the design the form or the space behind it? This process is a balancing act. I push the decoration to the point where it is just about to collapse under the visual weight of its own embellishment. By doing this I am able to keep a sense of order, largely because I am responding to the patterns inherent in the structure of the work. I practice restraint in excess: In each piece, I challenge myself to stop just short of “too much.”

Synthetic Blossom
2009
slip-cast porcelain and decals

OPP: Artificial Phylum is an ongoing series of porcelain sculptures inspired by images of weeds and wild flowers. The sculptures themselves, however, are hard, shiny and decorated in kitschy decals and colors—specifically, Tangerine makes me think of two chairs I grew up with. Can you talk about this tension between the organic and the manufactured?

RH: The forms in Artificial Phylum are largely developed by the loss of information. I start by photographing plants and rendering them as computer-aided drawings. Instead of making these forms precise like the original plant forms, I simplify and let the visual information dissolve around the edges. Technology aids the abstraction. I cut my originals out of pink foam on a CNC router with a chunky drill bit, further reducing the visual information.

In earlier projects, I created designs that were visually dense. But in Artificial Phylum, flatness became incredibly important because it allowed the colors and patterns to become more aggressive. It allowed me to create work that was minimally excessive. Reduction allowed me to create stylistic cadences that suggested familiarity without resorting to mimicry. By distancing myself from the original object, I was able to create hybrids that were an amalgamation of organic qualities and manmade design.  

I have always had an odd relationship with color. I am fascinated with color combinations that are inherently ugly—not the kind of ugly found in a lavender Wal-Mart polyester teddy bear sweater. That is revolting. I am more drawn to the unpleasant hues of a dirty, 1970s harvest gold kitchen. I use colors that are almost nice but just aren’t pretty. These shades could masquerade as designer colors, but they are just too something—too dirty, too sallow, too jarring, too wrong, but almost right. I don’t necessarily gravitate to specific colors, but I am simultaneously attracted to and repulsed by certain combinations. I like red, but it is much better when paired with a shocking orange. I am fine with pale mossy dirty green, but it is so much “nicer” when paired with a sickly yellow-brown and maybe a splash of metallic gold.
Tangerine
2008
Slip-cast porcelain and decals
12.5 inches in height

OPP: In the summer of 2011, you did an artist residency at The Pottery Workshop in  Jingdezhen, China, known as the Porcelain Capital. Tell us about your time there.

RH: My husband Paul Donnelly and I worked there for a month. There was a huge learning curve because the porcelain in Jingdezhen handles itself much differently than what we were used to. It’s a beautiful, crazy-super-white porcelain that is fired at a very, very high temperature. I currently fire to cone 6 at around 2200℉, and most people in the United States only fire as high as cone 10. In Jingdezhen they fire to about cone 13, so it is substantially higher.

The forms I designed were variously sized flat wall pieces that ended up slumping in the kiln because the prototypes should have been designed differently to compensate for the heat and the way the clay moves in the kiln. Unfortunately, I did not realize this until almost the end of the residency when everything was fired. I was playing around with these flat wall forms that had inlays of a glow in the dark glaze. When viewed in normal light, they are very subtle as the white surface has darker white inlaid patterns. When the lights are off, the patterns in the surface of the pieces glow in the dark.

Paul and I are going back this summer if we get funding. Now that we understand how to compensate for the material differences, we can accomplish more. We have a two-person show scheduled for October 2013 with Red Star Studios, a ceramics collective in Kansas City. The exhibition will either be at the current space they share with Belger Arts Center or in their immanent new location. It will revolve around the work we made in Jingdezhen, and Paul and I will both be showing our individual work as well as some collaborative pieces. Right now I am working on a gridded piece that will be similar to a piece Paul made in 2008. He is making the cups, and I am decorating them with transfers I made in Jingdezhen. The piece will be large and will blur the line between art, furniture, design and display. 

To see more of Rain's work, please visit rainharris.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and existential significance of participating in mediated culture in her embroidery, video, sculpture and collage works. She received her MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2006), where she will begin teaching in Spring 2013, and is currently a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT Residency in Chicago. Notable exhibitions include Losing Yourself in the 21st Century (Maryland Art Place, Baltimore), MP3 (The Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago), Please Stand By: Stacia Yeapanis + Readymade (Baang & Burne Contemporary, New York), Over and Over Again (BOLT Project Space, Chicago).

MAKER GRANT is here! OPP & The Chicago Artists' Coalition offer a $3000 individual artist grant!

3000 Maker Grant Announced

Yet another way that OtherPeoplesPixels is showing it's love to artists, OPP is co-sponsoring the brand-new Maker Grant with our friends at CAC to assist one amazing Chicago-based artist with an unrestricted $3000 grant. We know how hard it can be to pay the studio rent or purchase the weird supplies you need for your ambitious new project -- so we're stepping up to help you take your art practice to the next level. What could you do with $3000? We want to see it happen!

The Maker Grant is funded by a portion of proceeds from the Chicago Artists Coalition's annual Starving Artist fundraiser and a matching contribution from OtherPeoplesPixels. The Maker Grant recognizes both CAC's and OPP's mutual commitments to supporting local artists' practices and professional development.

The deadline to apply is March 31, so get cracking!
 
The Maker Grant is open to visual artists based in the Chicagoland area who are:

  • Artists who can show that they are at a defining moment to achieve growth in their creative and professional careers.
  • Artists who demonstrate a strong and active engagement with, and professional commitment to, their artistic practice.
  • Artists whose work as cultural makers impacts the development of art and culture in a meaningful way.

Read more detailed criteria & apply here. Good luck!

Maker Grant

The mission of the Chicago Artists Coalition is to build a sustainable marketplace for entrepreneurial artists and creatives. As pioneers in advocacy and professional development, we capitalize on the intersection of art and enterprise by activating collaborative partnerships and developing innovative resources. The Chicago Artists Coalition is committed to cultivating groundbreaking exhibitions and educational opportunities, and to building a diverse community of artistic leaders that defines the place of art and artists in our culture and economy.
 
OtherPeoplesPixels is a portfolio website service designed by artists for artists, dedicated to helping artists and other cultural makers share their creative work with the world. Founded in 2005, OPP has remained an independently run, triple bottom line company and continues to support many arts, environmental & social justice initiatives through The OtherPeoplesPixels Fund.

OtherPeoplePixels Interviews Nathan Prouty

Hot Spots & Rocks bits and bobs
2011

NATHAN PROUTY's small-scale, abstract, ceramic sculptures ellicit a wide range of associations. They read as toys, trophies, fetish objects, consumer products and isolated body parts. Each whimsical and colorful piece maintains an uncanniness and sense of humor that makes it impossible to dismiss as eye candy, while simultaneously engaging the viewer in the pleasure of looking. Recurring formal motifs like piles, shafts and nubs offer the viewer the opportunity to contemplate the attractiveness of the sculptures, as well their ambiguous referents. Nathan's work has been exhibited at Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts (Newcastle, ME), The Clay Studio (Philadelphia), The Fuller Craft Museum (Brockton, MA) and Lacoste Gallery (Concord, MA) and is featured in The Best of 500 Ceramics: Celebrating a Decade in Clay (2012), published by Lark Crafts. Nathan is currently an MFA candidate in Ceramics at Ohio University.

OtherPeoplesPixels: In your artist statement, you say, "I have a problem. I am an image junkie" and later "My sculptures are the consequences of my addiction." This, of course, has the same humor in it that I also see in the work itself. But do you really think your image collecting and hunting is more excessive than other artists?

Nathan Prouty: I wouldn’t say that my attraction to images is more or less obsessive than other artists. If there is one truth about art weirdos like us, it is that we spend a large chunk of our lives in our own headspace. But looking outward is a huge part of—if not the reason for—what we do. As artists, we have a stronger drive to look and to ask questions about what we are seeing. The seeing and the asking become so intertwined that they fuse together into one process. But understanding the world through looking is just one method of processing and filtering and understanding the crazy thing that is the human condition.

 When people write or talk about my work, they tend to glom onto the Internet imagery idea, maybe because of my blog or because of my statement. The work responds to Internet culture and Tumblr-style image de-contextualizing, but that is not the main subject or inspiration of the work. I’ve just noticed that this is a relatively recent read, and it’s interesting. But it’s too simple of an explanation. It is an easy way for people to feel they’ve figured the work out. They'll say, “Oh, he's mashed together a bunch of images he found online. Now I get it!”

I position myself with self-depreciation and humor in my work, statements and writing because I genuinely believe that we shouldn’t take everything so seriously. But the humor also disarms people who have convinced themselves that they hate "capital 'A' art." Suddenly they can’t stop looking at the giant pile of sparkling unicorn crap in the middle of a pedestal. I love seeing the work manipulate the entrenched prejudices of viewers.

The universal language of humor is one of the most powerful things we have in our toolkit as humans. It primes us to relate to each other and to make our way though the slog that is life on this blue dot. I have to live in that space of goofiness and chuckles to stay sane. If there is a negative in my way of seeing, it is that I have a tendency to go dark and cynical really quickly. But the work itself is so happy and goofy that it compensates for all the darker stuff and enables me to keep my head above those murky waters. I’m not really a quote guy, but Joseph Campbell said we should “participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world…” I try to live by that as much as I can.

"Bobo Getches Snatches the Matches"
2010
Earthenware, Wood, Plexiglass
9" x 3" x 7"

OPP: Most of your sculptures are painted earthenware. Can you tell us a bit about this material?

NP: Clay is the axis around which things revolve in my studio. But I ditch it in heartbeat if it gets in the way for any reason. It’s not really a point of pride or something to champion from the rooftops. It’s a matter of pragmatism and efficiency. I use whatever it takes to get the job done: paint, glaze, underglaze, china paint, embossing powder, flocking, glitter and resin. One of the quirks of clay—and here I'm generalizing a bit—is a pretty major trade off between strength and color. You can either have bright, awesome, saturated color on lower temperature clay that is more fragile or you can have so-so colors—browns and grays and all that crunchy, hippy, macramé stuff—on really high-temperature, robust ceramics. That’s the mug you want in your hand at the  Renaissance Fair, when the guy dressed in the crappy jester costume says something about your mother. High fire stuff is strong and dense and can really cause some Ren Fair damage! That’s why a lot of the functional stuff you see is brown; at those higher temperatures, the color just burns out. There are some absolutely stunning effects you can get at that higher temperature range, but I’m really in love with the versatility of the color and surface of the lower range material. A majority of my surfaces are glazed. The commercial glaze you can get off the shelf these days is pretty amazing in terms of its color range. I do use paint for texture on the plexiglass bases, but that’s about it these days. Within the old-school ceramics crowd, there is this unspoken rule that unless you mix the glazes yourself, you are not a "real" ceramicist, which is just a bunch of dogmatic jock-potter junk. I do and use whatever it takes to get the result I want.

OPP: What's it like to work with clay?

NP: Clay is a royal pain in the ass to work with. It’s fussy and fragile and dirty. It is probably one of the most inconvenient media to work in, but it is also awesomely versatile if you know how to tease what you want out of it. Clay has this insane ability to mimic. Ceramics can look like plastic, steel, grass or Formica.

The labor is crazy with clay, but the clay I use is the dumbest stuff that’s available. It's low-fire white stuff meant for summer camp ashtrays and kindergarten blobs. But it is plastic and flexible as hell and takes colors really well. Secretly, I love the fact that I am using clay that was meant for children’s projects to make my work.

2012
Ceramic, underglaze, acrylic, wood, glitter, resin, silken cord, mixed media
Detail

OPP: What do you hate about clay?

NP: One of the things that drives me crazy about clay is “the community.” I say that with a big eye-roll and sweeping air quotes. I think it’s awesome that the medium has this robust base of people that get together to "talk clay," and there is such a widely distributed academic community revolving around ceramics. But at the same time, I am skeptical. It can result in some pretty lazy thinking. There is very little criticality in our corner. While it’s nice that everyone gets a trophy for showing up, it creates some steep, uphill battles for ceramic artists, who are not interested in spending a week obsessing over kiln design or who went to which MFA program. And because there is such a culture of subpar criticality, it’s easy to overcompensate and try to shove tons of concept and meaning and academic language into work that should just exist on its own. This is where the academic MFA factory really becomes the default way of surviving and thinking, which is a bit troubling to me. I am too much of a skeptic to trust any "default" just because it is "the way things are done." I might be contradicting myself. I don’t really have a thesis there; I’m just making observations based on my own experiences. Ok, now I'm hopping off my soap box.

A lot of the clay work that is "making it" out there in the larger art world right now is this stuff that is clunky and poopy and super-summer-campy—I don’t know how else to describe it. Like, chunky ashtrays with drippy glazes. Sterling Ruby and Arlene Shechet, are two that come to mind. Let me be clear though that they all make really beautiful work—I would kill for a Sterling Ruby piece. But the fact that curators and museums, suddenly willing to consider ceramics and rushing to jump on the bandwagon, are gravitating towards that genre specifically and somewhat exclusively is a bit odd. For those people who really know the material, the clunky ham-fisted look is water way under the bridge, and I question why there is not more innovative, diverse work getting picked up. It’s out there, but we never see it "cross over." The net needs to be cast WAY wider, and the ceramic folks bear most of the responsibility in making that happen although no one wants to cop to it. I think this is somehow tied into the same reasons we still see Peter Volkous being included in "cutting edge" contemporary ceramics exhibitions. Again, he makes great, powerful work, and I'm not suggesting that it should be shoved aside. But it is time to bring some additional voices and ideas to a wider audience.

"Hercule"
2010
earthenware, glaze, acrylic, mixed media
5.5" x 3.5" x 3.5"

OPP: Your sculptures are abstract, but I see a lot of recurring forms in them, including shoes, both male and female sex organs. Sometimes they look like unusable, complicated wireless mice. I get the sense that it doesn't matter to you if what I see is where you started from, but would you pick your favorite piece and give us the insider info on what you were thinking about when you made it?

NP: Oh man. Yeah, I really love that viewers can bring their own associations to the work. But I feel guilty sometimes because it’s too easy for me to just shrug and play innocent with the content—“you see whatever you wanna see, man!” At the same time, it is hard to delve into and thoroughly unpack the meaning because the work is kind of about everything, and therefore it's kind of about nothing. It's about the everyday, in all the many ways that word has meaning.  

It's sex, death, love and angst all wrapped up in a poop joke. And I am ok with the poop joke being front and center. It's the punch line that is delivered first, and you as the viewer need to work backwards towards the actual set-up of the joke, which may or may not have some more serious undercurrents bubbling up. But if all you see is the poop, I can't get uppity about it. All that said, what I say in my statement is also true: the pieces are a consequence of crazy amounts of input from all corners, not all of it necessarily visual. It’s not just about the imagery but also the implications behind that imagery. Any given piece is actually some neurotic algorithm of history, advertising, emotion, design, desire, frustration and nerdiness.

Right now, my favorite piece is Hercule. It came out of my Masterpiece Theater phase, when I was watching a bunch of PBS murder mysteries and period pieces. Hercule Poirot, created by Agatha Christie, is the main character in this great, campy PBS show that has been running forever. That piece is the only one I still have in my possession, and I think I’m going to keep it for myself. It’s this dainty, small pink thing that lies low and flat. It has a certain formal command of its own space, similar to the character in the TV show—dainty, meek, but razor sharp and easily underestimated. It holds this blob covered by these little strips of bandages or toilet paper, almost like a hat. I was thinking about old-school Universal Studio monsters like the Mummy and about toilet paper and its uses and connotations—what an odd thing! The base of Hercule—in fact, the bases of most the pieces—references countertops and laminate surfaces of the post-war American material boom. Thanks to new chemical technology, anything could be made to look like anything else. The little slice of 1950s kitchen countertop that Hercule sits atop represents the insane abundance of products and material wealth that was part of the new, post-WWII American reality.

"Chimpy Hits the Deck"
2009
lowfire white earthenware, porcelain, glaze, luster, wood, plexiglass, paint
9" x 5" x 9"

OPP: You are in your second year of graduate school at Ohio University. How has your work changed since you've been there?

NP: Oh boy. When I decided to go back to school, I made the conscious decision to seriously reevaluate what had become habitual in my studio practice. One thing that has really cracked wide open for me is the idea of placement. I have started to think about the hierarchy and taxonomies of display within the home. If I hear one more grad student talk about the "realm of the domestic," I think I might barf. Yet I find myself right there too, somewhat begrudgingly.

I make these precious, fetishized objects, and they go out into the world. But what happens next? Lately, I’m thinking about the display of cherished, sentimental objects. Why does grandma’s clock go on the mantle, but that weird mason jar full of seashells that you brought back from Myrtle Beach goes on the back of the toilet tank? I’m thinking about the emotion and memory that objects absorb and about the beauty and wondrousness of us as a species, as viewed through our junk. The little, old lady down the street cherishes that crappy, dollar-store resin angel with all her heart. It’s enough to make you tear up. It’s crazy and beautiful at the same time.

To see more of Nathan's work, please visit nathanprouty.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and existential significance of participating in mediated culture in her embroidery, video, sculpture and collage works. She received her MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2006), where she will begin teaching in Spring 2013, and is currently a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT Residency in Chicago. Notable exhibitions include Losing Yourself in the 21st Century (Maryland Art Place, Baltimore), MP3 (The Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago), Please Stand By: Stacia Yeapanis + Readymade (Baang & Burne Contemporary, New York), Over and Over Again (BOLT Project Space, Chicago).

Out with the Old, and in with the New...Reorder your Nav Sections & Links!

Hi OPP-ers!

With the New Year, comes new...Copyright Dates! Please check out our post last year if you’re having trouble updating your Copyright.

Remember that the system will automatically update your Copyright to include 2013 if you add new work to your site in 2013! So get crackin’!

That’s the old news -- let’s move on to new news.

Notice anything New about your Control Panel lately?


We’ve redesigned the ‘Nav Section Labels’ and ‘Nav Section Links’ areas and merged them into one big, awesome section entitled ‘Create and Reorder Labels & Links’. That’s right, you now have the ability to control the order of your website Sections!

Let’s start with some background information. You continue to have five default sections:
  • Artwork
  • News
  • Links
  • Contact Page
  • PDF Page

You also continue to have the option of having up to six Nav Section Links. These Nav Section Links can be links to anything you’d like -- to an announcement about a new show, press about your work, to your blog, or even to an image or folder in your Artwork section.

You can view all of your website Sections and Nav Section Links in the ‘Create and Reorder Labels & Links’ area of your Control Panel.

Moving the sections around is really easy -- just drag & drop each section to the order you want them to be in, and then click Update at the bottom of the screen.

You can also take advantage of the Nav Section Links. Please note that using the Nav Section Links does not create a new section on your site. It simply allows you to link to something else -- including parts of your own site.

Let’s say you want to link directly to a folder in your Artwork section or to an image in your Artwork section, from your Home Page. Simply view your folder or image as a visitor would, and copy the URL that is displaying in your browser window when you are viewing that page.

Then, paste that URL in the ‘URL/Link’ area of your choice. You can also name the link by placing a label in the ‘Nav Link Name’ section.

The image or folder you are linking to in your Artwork section must continue to exist in your Artwork section, and cannot be removed from that area or hidden.

Till next time OPP-ers!

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Lauren Fensterstock

Mirror Displacement #2
2011
paper, plexi, charcoal
9 x 20 x 5 ft
Installation at Austin Museum of Art-Arthouse

LAUREN FENSTERSTOCK combines art historical references to Modernism with Victorian craft traditions in her dense installations of handmade paper flowers, charcoal and mirrors. Her meticulaously built monochromatic gardens appear minimal from afar, but a closer look reveals an indulgent attention to detail. Recent exhibitions include Two Takes on One Space: Lauren Fensterstock and Steve Wiman at The Austin Museum of Art (TX), Incidents of Garden Displacement at The Ogunquit Museum of American Art (ME) and Dubh: Dialogues in Black at Oliver Sears Gallery (Ireland). Her upcoming solo exhibition Lauren Fensterstock: The Celebration of Formal Effects, Whether Natural or Artificial opens on March 3, 2012, at the John Michael Kohler Art Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Lauren is also a writer, curator and educator living in Portland, Maine.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your recent work makes marvelous use of quilling, a paper craft that is most associated—despite its long history— with the leisurely labor of upper class women during the Victorian era. Can you explain what quilling is for our readers? When and why did you first learn the technique?

Lauren Fensterstock: Quilling is the art of curling strips of paper by wrapping them around a pin or dowel—artisans used pen quills for this task, hence the name quilling. It has also been called paper lace or paper filigree and was sometimes used to decorate reliquaries when precious metals were not available. Quilling was included in a group of crafts thought of as accomplishments for young ladies including painting tables, embroidery and piano. My work is inspired by quilling, but most of the forms and techniques that I use veer away from tradition. Quilling designs tended to be very flat and symmetrical, whereas I prefer to get a little messy.
A Third Nature no 7
2007
paper and charcoal under glass
10 x 10 in

OPP: Looking at the shadow box pieces of Third Nature (2007), it appears you first started quilling in a contained way that is much closer to the historical tradition, which tends to revolve around the creation of heirlooms and mementos. But in the last few years, those framed pieces have grown into site-specific installations which combine the quilled paper flowers with charcoal and mirrors. What initially led to the shift into installation?

LF: One of my original inspirations was an object called a Claude glass. Allegedly developed by painter Claude Loraine, this small black mirror was used to capture scenes for landscape painting. Tourists also took these mirrors into the picturesque landscape to find “scenery.” With my first quilling pieces, I was attempting to make something that approximated the size of one of these looking glasses. Those boxes were partly filled with loose charcoal which alternately obscured and revealed the ornamental designs inside. This was a way to allow real characteristics of nature to speak to the reductions of nature symbolized by the Claude glass.

The glass made these pieces highly reflective. Standing in front of one of these pieces, you would first see yourself, then see inside and finally, perhaps, catch a glimpse of the fictitious illusion of yourself inside the scene. But I truly wanted to be inside the landscapes, hence the installations. Gardens are experienced temporally. They change and reveal themselves through different vantage points. I wanted my work to do that. More recently, the shadowboxes have also gotten bigger—up to 12 feet wide—so these have also taken on a more landscape-like presence.

OPP: Do you create all the parts for the installations by yourself or with the assistance of others?

LF: I have a studio assistant 10 hours a week, but otherwise I make everything. As you can imagine, it is very slow going. I love to get lost in the labor, just like the ladies of the parlor. I listen to a lot of books on tape and a lot of NPR. I love the satisfaction of completing each tiny part. The work involves a lot of repetition, so each part is like an atom in a complex whole.
Mound
2010
paper, charcoal, plexi
14 x 12 x 5 ft
Installation at Sienna Gallery, Lenox, MA

OPP: In works like Parterre (2008), Mound (2010) and Incidents of Garden Displacement (2011), your lush paper and charcoal "gardens" are entirely black. Was the choice to make these works monochromatic an aesthetic or conceptual decision?

LF: The black is partly an homage to my original source—the Claude glass. It also makes reference to other sources that I think about: Ad Reinhardt, Malevich, minimalist sculpture in general. I am interested in the way that people have actually reshaped nature through gardens to create a metaphoric image of the universal order. These images vary widely, from the Apollonian hierarchy of Versailles to the democratic nostalgia of the English landscape. My work draws from multiple sources, including garden theory, minimalism, metaphysics, ultimately mixing them together. The monochromatic tone provides a kind of equalizing effect.

The black also allows the work to appear totally minimal. At first you think you are looking at a black hole, a void, and then you realize that this is actually an insanely complicated object. Then it slips back to looking like the void again. The color black is magical. The potential for depth, shadow and confusion is immense—especially when it is paired with reflective surfaces.
 
OPP: I definitely see the explicit reference to Minimalism—and I like the word play!—in Colorless Field (2012). But as I looked through your website, I was thinking more about mourning than Minimalism. The quilling done all in black led me to think of another Victorian-era craft, hair art, which was often made with the hair of a deceased loved one as a memento. Is anything being mourned in your installations?

LF: I’m very interested in Victorian mourning culture and even own some hair jewelry. I love that stuff. Victorians used those mementos to bridge the gap of loss. The objects were like touchstones that allowed individuals to connect across the divide of life and death. For me, this is a gesture approaching the sublime—something I might associate more with Modernism. But the universal visual language of Modernist images often leaves me feeling cold. I’m interested in figuring out how to attain a kind of non-objective experience with objects. How can we reach the sublime through familiar materials and the natural world? In a way, I want to take the successes and failures of all of these various fields, blur them together and allow the best and the worst to have it out. It is interesting to see how something like 17th century French formal gardens and Victorian crafts can work together toward similar goals, but I also like the way they expose the other’s shortcomings.

But am I mourning something? Maybe. I was a major teen goth, and I’m a sucker for a good sweeping melodrama. I think, maybe, I just like getting lost in a drama, whether it’s rooted in something real or in a total fabrication. But then again,  I am also the kind of girl who cries during commercials!
Parterre
2008
paper, charcoal, plexi
5 x 10 x 20 ft
Installation commissioned by Bowdoin College Museum of Art

OPP: Do you consider your work to be part of a feminist art tradition or do you make work from a feminist perspective or position?

LF: As I suggest above, I am interested in blurring boundaries to create a sort of equaling effect. I like the idea of mashing together things that feel incongruous. The artist Robert Smithson has been a huge influence on my work, and I regularly appropriate forms and ideas directly from his projects. Pairing references to a macho earth artist with a ladies’ parlor art? It may seem strange, but that feels right to me.

I draw freely from a variety of sources, both high and low, natural and manmade, male and female. I suppose attempting to escape the prescriptive confines of language in that way could definitely be considered a feminist directive.

OPP: I think that synthesizing the binaries that exist in our language is absolutely a feminist directive because binaries pit the culturally-defined masculine and feminine against each other. Blurring the boundaries between those things is a significant act, in my opinion. We’ve already talked about quilling, but I’d love to hear more about your interest in Robert Smithson. How has his work influenced yours?

LF: I find him fascinating. He had a vast knowledge base and applied it in so many media—writing, drawing, earthworks, sculpture. His essays are fantastic. I particularly love his writing on Frederick Law Olmstead and his photo essay Incidents of Mirror Travel in the Yucatan. Mirror Travels was inspired by a Victorian travelogue Incidents of Travel in Yucatan by John Lloyd Stevens. I’m interested in the way he draws from history and slyly recontexualizes our understanding of the past. His notion of time is also unique. For Smithson, history is a specific period, and we have the potential to move into an era after the end history, where time is no longer understood as a progression.
 
OPP: What new direction in your studio or upcoming opportunity are you most excited about?

LF: My show at Kohler marks the culmination of a body of work that has spanned the last five years. After this, I have some time to experiment, to read and research. Currently, I'm working on a public art commission for Maine General, a new hospital opening in September in my home state of Maine. Then have a solo show at Sienna Gallery in Lenox, Massachusetts coming up in August 2013. I’m excited to work toward that show without a sense of predetermination. I want to find something new. I’m just starting to do some research into the history of Romanticism and thinking a lot about escaping rationalism. I’m not exactly sure what’s coming next, which is a bit scary and also thrilling. I have been thinking about color. I keep looking at Anish Kapoor’s use of red. He talks about red being even darker than black. I want to find out if that is true…

To see more of Lauren's work, please visit laurenfensterstock.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and existential significance of participating in mediated culture in her embroidery, video, sculpture and collage works. She received her MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2006), where she will begin teaching in Spring 2013, and is currently a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT Residency in Chicago. Notable exhibitions include Losing Yourself in the 21st Century (Maryland Art Place, Baltimore), MP3 (The Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago), Please Stand By: Stacia Yeapanis + Readymade (Baang & Burne Contemporary, New York), Over and Over Again (BOLT Project Space, Chicago).

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Yoskay Yamamoto

sideways
2012
mixed media sculpture with hand carved bass wood
8 x 15 x 8 "

YOSKAY YAMAMOTO was born in Toba, Japan and moved to the United States when he was fifteen. His sculptures and paintings playfully mix American and Japanese cultural references, emphasizing a personal experience of cultural hybridity. His sculptures of iconic characters from cartoons, video games, books and movies are simultaneously familiar and foreign. In December 2012, Yoskay was commissioned by Perrier to create a large scale sculptural installation at Pulse Miami. He is represented by LeBasse Projects in Culver City, California and lives nearby in Los Angeles.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your work is a fusion of these two distinct cultural backgrounds. Currently you exhibit primarily in the United States. Are the references to Japanese culture in your work ever lost on American audiences?

Yoskay Yamamoto: It really depends on each viewer to connect with the Japanese references in my work. Sometimes they get lost, and sometimes people point out the subtle references that I didn't even recognize before. Either way I’m not really concerned if the references get lost. Some people seem to be fixated on finding meaning with everything, but I'd rather have the audience find their own story. When I make art, my primary focus is to create work that excites me or makes me smile.

empty howl
2009
mixed media on paper
30 x 40"

OPP: Dragons and koi are both recurring creatures in your paintings and in the history of Japanese painting. Some examples from your work include screaming for the sunrise (2009) and koibito in pale blue (2007), which features a man with a fish head. Both of these paintings have also spawned limited edition vinyl figurines produced by Munky King, a Los Angeles-based designer toy company, which seeks to blur the line between toy and fine art. Could you talk about the symbolism of these creatures in Japanese culture and your interest in them?

YY: From what I understand, both the koi and the dragon represent good luck or good fortune in Japanese culture, but this isn't the reason I created these characters. I was really into mythological creatures at the time. I love how the creatures in mythology are combinations of many different living things. I also think it's romantic. The stories are explanations of things that people didn't understand at the time.

OPP: Koibito is part fish, part boy, right? Is he a mythological creature? What does he express about you?

YY: Koibito was originally created to commemorate my pet fish, Tuna. He died because of my carelessness and laziness. But at same time, Koibito symbolizes the sense of alienation that I felt growing up in California. It's kind of like the phrase "fish out of water.” I felt and still feel like I don't completely fit in anywhere. . .  either in Japan or in the United States.

koibito
2008
vinyl, edition 150
6 "

OPP: Why did you decide to recreate koibito and screaming dragon as designer toys?

YY: I thought it would be a good way to expose my art to a broader audience. And a vinyl toy is a great way to make a more affordable work of art.

OPP: In March 2012, you had your first all-sculpture solo exhibition, Joke's On Me. . .  at LeBasse Projects. The exhibition featured many recognizable childhood icons from cartoons, video games, books and movies such as Bart Simpson, Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man and Hello Kitty. What struck me are the facial expressions of these characters as you've recreated them. Many are neutral, but they read as desperately sad because we are so used to seeing these characters smiling. Do you think of them as sad?

YY: I like referencing the iconic childhood characters in my work because everyone has certain personal attachments to them. They are not necessary about my childhood. I enjoy altering the appearance of these iconic characters and giving them a slightly different look. I really don't think of them as having sad expressions. To me, they are neutral. It’s the oddness of them that excites me.

big headed boy
2012
mixed media sculpture with hand carved bass wood
11 x 6 x 5"

OPP: You use a lot of different fabrication methods for those sculptures, including plastic, cast resin and vinyl, but I'm most interested in the hand-sculpted basswood. When did you learn wood-carving?

YY: Woodcarving is the newest skill that I picked up for my sculptural work. Wood is more challenging than other materials that I use, but I love the organic look of the final product. When working with clay, you can always add more mass and volume as you need it. But when you are carving, once you take a piece off, that's it. You can't undo it.
I learned by trial and error, gaining a few scars on my left hand along the way. Now I wear cut-resistant gloves to protect my hands. :)

still thinking of you. . .
2012
cast resin sculpture, auto body paint

OPP: You are about to participate in a unique event in Hawaii. Tell us about it.

YY: Yes. In February I'm participating in Pow Wow Hawaii, in which a group of artists work together to paint murals in Hawaii for two weeks. Collaboration on the murals is really up to each individual artist. Since painting a mural is a territory I'm not too familiar, I think I'm gonna approach it with a basic idea in my mind.

OPP: What’s your favorite piece of yours? Why?

YY: My recent favorites are carry me away and I hope it will reach you eventually. These pieces helped me head in a different and new direction that I'm excited about. When I completed carry me away, I really felt more closely connected to my work than before. It's rare to have this sensation with my work so it felt pretty special.

To see more of Yoskay's work, please visit yoskay.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and existential significance of participating in mediated culture in her embroidery, video, sculpture and collage works. She received her MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2006), where she will begin teaching in Spring 2013, and is currently a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT Residency in Chicago. Notable exhibitions include Losing Yourself in the 21st Century (Maryland Art Place, Baltimore), MP3 (The Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago), Please Stand By: Stacia Yeapanis + Readymade (Baang & Burne Contemporary, New York), Over and Over Again (BOLT Project Space, Chicago).

OPP Artists & Social Media Series: Reverend Lainie Love Dalby Preaches Spirituality via Social Networks

Reverend Lainie Love Dalby is not a pop culture goddess by any means. In a time of heightened economic, spiritual and emotional insecurity exacerbated by media-saturation, the Reverend is here to help people “live their best life”—but not in the Oprah sense of the word. The NYC-based urban priestess, who is often referred to as “The Lady Gaga of Consciousness,” aims to help others through ritualistic practices, workshops and her own effervescent presence. OPP interviewed her about her thoughts on pop culture “deities,” and the interconnectedness that social media and the Internet bring to our hyper-networked lives. She advises us on how to reach enlightenment—not through inundation of media images, but rather thorough a spiritual journey of creativity, love and reinvigorating one’s inner life. Dalby has performed at the SCOPE Art Fair in New York, DALBYWorld in Brooklyn, New York's Riverside Church, Cuchifritos Gallery and the Art in Odd Places Performance festival. She holds a BA in architecture from Cornell University. In 2011, she graduated from the One Spirit Interfaith Seminary. 

This is the fifth and final post in Art Critic & Curator Alicia Eler’s Artists & Social Media Series for the OPP blog.

Alicia Eler for OtherPeoplesPixels: What makes you different than the pop culture deities you emulate?

Reverend Lainie Love Dalby: Quite simply, I am here to be of service to our ailing world. I show up fully in all my work offering my integrity of presence, outrageous creativity and BIG love. I offer any tools and wisdom that I have available to make others’ lives better, harvested from my numerous years of raw personal experience, pain and suffering. I want to make others‘ lives better. Up until 2009, I lived as multiple personas–all constructed within my art practice & life–including an internationally known dominatrix, a celebrity stylist, an avant-garde fashion maven and a pop rapper. I became a shell of myself in moving between these “identity players." I became a full-blown hedonist and fame monster that was totally bankrupt – financially, spiritually and emotionally. My life had become devoid of meaning, with a permanent flashing neon sign exclaiming "CLOSED" over my heart. I had lost my personal anchor to what really mattered. I was in a full-blown premature midlife crisis. I wanted to die, straight up. In that moment though, I knew there had to be a better way . . . so I surrendered and began my spiritual journey. I chose in that moment not just to live, but to live fully and to be vibrantly ALIVE, to find my truth and to make a difference in the world. I chose to redefine what living meant for me, to not accept life has given and to create my own rules. My decision to let go of my old story was my first radical act of self-love and the beginning of my journey to come out of hiding and save my own life as well as countless other lives.

At the end of your life, you're going to ask: Did I live fully alive? Did I LOVE BIG? Did I make a DIFFERENCE in the world? What do you want the answer to be? 

AE for OPP: A friend said to me recently: "The Internet is new age-y." I took this to mean that the Internet allows us to be able to connect with others through a more spirit and emotion-based and less physically confining non-space space. What are your thoughts on this? What does spirituality have to do with the Internet—and specifically with the social web and social networks?

RLLD: The Internet has allowed modern day spirituality, and ancient wisdom as well, to spread in all their numerous forms with greater speed, efficiency and urgency than ever before. It is also helping to end the greatest illusion permeating our lives today: that we are separate, isolated individuals. There is a mass movement to shift the consciousness of humanity, a global awakening towards ONENESS that is occurring via midwives and midhusbands across the planet—transformational leaders who are largely using social media to spread the good word. I am part of this tribe since it is CRUCIAL at this time on our ailing planet. Nearly 20,000 children are dying per day from starvation, gun violence is at an all-time high, over two billion people live in abject poverty on under $1.25 a day, and paintings are being sold for over $76 million dollars. This is money that could be used to feed and educate more than one million children in Africa for a year. If we were to adopt LOVE as our new bottom line, everything would start to shift. I am actually writing an arty book on this topic that will be available soon, and I intend to spread it virally across the Internet via social media. You can find out more about it here for now, though: www.loveequalscurrency.com.

Lainie Love Dalby's forthcoming book, Love = Currency

AE for OPP: Your work relies heavily on social media, or the sense of being connected to others through a non-physical presence. Do you feel like social media is more of a promotional venue, or a space for making actual creative work? I am thinking about your Twitter presence and Facebook page?

RLLD:  I believe that venues of social media are what you make of them. We will never have the same experience on the computer as being with someone face to face, flesh to flesh in an intimate real-time, real-space connection. But often the latter isn’t necessary to communicate important messages and share creativity]. I believe that offering something of VALUE is the most important aspect to remember when using social media. Promotion comes as a side effect of showing up in the world with something meaningful that will help to change someone’s world. One inspirational sentence or kind word can change the course of a person’s life forever, so it’s crucial to be able to stand 100% behind what you’re putting out in the world via these channels of expression—especially since social media certainly pushes us to create more: more connection, more outreach and more value overall. We have to guard it vigilantly and make sure it’s not virulent crap we’re releasing into the world.

I teach a group course each spring for artists, ministers and outsiders on using social media marketing and branding to get their unique voice out into the world—because I know its importance.

Lainie Love Dalby's Twitter presence @lainielovedalby

AE for OPP: I also noticed that your website TEEMGorgeous.com/LainieLoveDalby.com has a presence on multiple social networks, including Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter. Tell me a bit about why you decided to exist in so many social media sites?

RLLD: People learn and absorb information differently, so working across multiple platforms of expression and communication allows me to reach a larger audience. Creating a movement, not just making art, requires that you implement as many of the tools as you have available to you at the time. Some people learn best in an immersive context that affects all of their senses—you can see proof of this in my YouTube video of my blessing performances at SCOPE Art Fair this past year—while social media seems more suited for the younger generation that has it born into their blood.

TEEMGorgeous.com is one of my main teachings, and it serves as a multidimensional social sculpture involving installations, art works, self-development adventures and more to generate massive personal and social change. Art is profoundly human by nature, and TEEMGorgeous begins with the premise that every being is an artist in charge of his or her own transformation. Because of this, your greatest masterpiece is creating a life that you would totally love and feel ALIVE in each day in order to TEEMGorgeous in the world. I merely serve as the catalyst for courage, creativity and BIG love in the process. Isn’t it about time that you too took the reins of this delicious idea & began to curate your own life & transformation? Mining the depths of your own human potential? Living fully, laughing heartily and being fired up with intense passions and joy, and following the invisible directions to that radical place where you are "intoxicated by your own rapture."

I believe this to be a powerful message that creates deep value in people’s lives. It also serves as a means for growth and overall happiness, so any way that we can get it out in the world is valid, ergo multiple channels of creative expression via social media. The overall message: Wake up. Reclaim your inner life. Make something out of nothing. Be risky. TEEM Gorgeous. And change the world.

The ARmaTure for Prayer: A Wearable Sculpture of Visible & Potent Global Prayers (post Hurricane IRENE)
12" x 18" Metallic Print (Edition of 3)
2011
Wearable sculpture made from 1000 Origami Cranes with Prayers folded inside

AE for OPP: The Healing Hut for O.P.R.A.H. (Open Prayers, Recommendations & Hugs) makes me think about the power of Oprah, who is clearly a celebrity. I'm thinking about how Oprah positions herself as a pop culture deity, offering up a way for people to discover their true selves. How does this piece subvert the notion of Oprah as an all-loving pop culture deity? Or is this reinforcing Oprah's place in American pop culture?

RLLD: Oprah is one of my (s)heroes, and people have long looked to her work as a place of refuge in an ailing world. I deeply admire her life path and her own powerful journey of self-transformation and effecting change. The title Healing Hut for O.P.R.A.H. (Open Prayer, Recommendation And Hugs) is a tribute to her tireless work and her great importance in the world. The interactive sculpture was the centerpiece for The Diamond Den NY solo show, where I invited participants to crawl into this sacred sculptural artifact so that they could release their suffering, examine themselves, forgive and learn to "live their best life." Almost like a modern day confessional—or like Oprah’s work—it served as a space for solace and refuge.

Interior of The Healing Hut for O.P.R.A.H. (Open Prayers, Recommendations & Hugs)
Sacred memorabilia from 'The Diamond Den NY'
2012

As people continue to move away from church-based communities, they still need the sense of community that churches used to provide. To be tapped into a network of millions of women from across the world is a powerful pull and a necessary home for some. From her magazine to her book club to new programming and #SuperSoulSunday, Oprah offers a powerful way for women (and men) to learn the transformational journeys of other individuals. Overall, she is a fellow midwife shifting the consciousness of humanity, and I am deeply honored to be working alongside her and other incredible women of our time.

Oprah and Rainn Wilson present SoulPancake, a one-hour program exploring "love through many lenses." 

Alicia Eler is an art critic and curator whose projects focus on American pop and consumer culture, social networked identities, and the history of queer aesthetics. Her recent reviews examine our modern perception of the natural world. Alicia is currently the Chicago Correspondent for Hyperallergic and Artforum.com, Blogger-in-Residence for the Art21 Blog, Curator for ACRE Projects, Visual Art Researcher for the Chicago Artists’ Resource, and Writer/Editor for the OtherPeoplesPixels.com Blog. Her writing has also been published in Art Papers, RAW Vision Magazine, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Flavorpill, ReadWriteWeb and Time Out Chicago. Visit www.aliciaeler.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Eileen Hutton

Collaboration with the Irish Black Bee (detail)
Honeycomb sculpture, beekeeping equipment
45cm x 20cm x 55cm

EILEEN HUTTON emphasizes environmental ethics in her art practice. Her collaboration with small birds and honey bees in the creation of nest and hive sculptures is mutually beneficial. She provides her collaborators with the opportunity to do what comes naturally to them for the perpetuation of their species, and, in return, she gets to make that into art. The resulting sculptural objects highlight the beauty of the natural world while emphasizing the wonder that emerges when humans collaborate instead of conquer. Eileen received her PhD in Studio Art from the National University of Ireland in 2012. Her upcoming solo exhibition The Birds and the Bees opens on April 12, 2013 at Siamsa Tíre, the home of the National Folk Theatre of Ireland. Eileen lives in Ballyvaughan, Ireland.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Where did you grow up? Did it have an effect on your interest in ecology and the environmentally conscious work you make now?

Eileen Hutton: I grew up in Orange Park, Florida, where it's warm year round. I spent a lot of time outdoors—at the beach, swimming, waterskiing, biking and camping. Looking back, that time definitely helped me develop an appreciation of and contentment with being in the natural world. My interest in ecology and environmental concerns grew naturally and certainly progressed once I started making art. The two disciplines easily overlap as the constant act of questioning and problem solving are central in both the art and scientific communities.
A Collaboration with Great and Blue Tits
hexagonally shaped nests, sustainably sourced spalted beech, aluminum brackets and screws
30 cm x 130 cm x 30 cm

OPP: You have collaborated with Native Irish Black Honey Bees to create honeycomb sculptures and with Great Tits and Blue Tits to create nest sculptures that you exhibit in galleries. The idea of collaborating with animals to make sculptures is fascinating because we don't usually think of animals and insects as having this kind of agency. The work is certainly about a harmony with nature and an emphasis on the awareness of our roles as humans in the world, which makes me curious about the aesthetic decisions you make. How much are the aesthetics of the hives and nests determined by you and how much by the bees and the birds?

EH: That's an interesting question—one I am asked often. The work is conceptually based, but I see myself first and foremost as a maker. It is important for me to have a part in the creation of the sculptures.

In the first two nesting seasons, I built the nesting boxes to determine the nests' final hexagonal form so my aesthetic decisions are most evident in the shapes of the finished nests. In the third season, I had a heavier hand in determining the final outcome. I added various materials colored wool, string, yarn, brightly colored craft feathers, cow and horse hairinside the boxes, and the birds built their nests among these materials. Or they didn't, and the nests were left abandoned. For me, the birds' building always takes center stage. The intricate weaving and layering of found materials and the soft round hole that they make for cradling eggs always results in a remarkable object. Once I install the nest in the gallery setting, the display plays a large role in how the collaborative relationship is visually expressed.

A traditional framed honeycomb is rectangular. But the top bar beehive I built, which looks similar to a watering trough, allows the honeycomb to become much more sculptural in form. The bees are responsible for building the perfect hexagonal cells of the comb, but I unobtrusively move the top bars around to encourage the bees to make unusual forms, such as double tear drop shapes and white crown structures. Once again, the decisions I make about installation, including the addition of sound recordings, are crucial to the experience of the final sculpture. But it is the bees’ architecture and precision that are the most prominent features of the sculptures.

The Collaborations with the Native Irish Black Honeybee
2012
Each mounted box contained a small speaker that played a sound recording of my process of beekeeping combined with the hum of the colony. The hexagonal cells amplified the recording. This image shows a viewer listening to sound recording emanating from small speakers.

OPP: Did you first learn beekeeping in order to collaborate artistically with the bees or was it a skill you already had that grew into an art project?

EH: I decided to learn beekeeping as the result of research on the current plight of the honeybee. An easy way to bolster a priority species' population is to maintain artificial habitats. I knew an art project of some sort would probably develop, but it took about six months before I had any solid idea of what it would be.

OPP: You emphasize the ethical environmental implications of creating art and encourage artists to be aware of the environmental impact of their art practices. I think artists should be encouraged to act ethically in other areas as well. I've never liked the attitude that, as artists, we get to do whatever it takes to make our work regardless of the impact on individuals. I'm thinking about workSophie Calle's Address Book (1983), for example—that objectifies individuals without considering the emotional impact on them in order to reveal some truth about culture. Do you think this is a symptom of something in the art world specifically, or just representative of how people are in the world in general?

EH: I would say that the art world is generally representative and reflective of the world itself. Certainly there are artists whose production methods or ethical contexts are questionable, but there are also artists whose practices are incredibly sensitive, ecologically and socially beneficial and remarkably innovative. Ideally, it is this latter type of work that resonates with people. 

Take Away Nesting Boxes
2012
Visitors to the exhibition viewing and subsequently removing the take away nesting boxes.

OPP: I like that you want to focus on the positive. Who are some artists whose practices have influenced you aesthetically or ethically?

EH: Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison, as well as Brandon Ballengée, have had considerable influence on my practice. The works of these three artists engender conscientious relationships between humanity and the natural world through ameliorative actions and through the creation of images and objects. For me, it can be difficult to balance my practice so that the work is both centered around the practice of making and extends positively beyond itself into the world.

OPP: Do you have plans to collaborate with any other insects or animals?

EH: My next collaboration will be with earthworms—once I receive funding. Earthworms, often overlooked and certainly undervalued, are a priority species and play a variety of vital roles in ecosystems and especially agroecosystems. Through a series of sculptures and drawings, I want to make visible and explicit their critical role.

OPP: Can you give us more details on how the collaboration will work?

EH: I want to build a series of Evans boxes, which are three-dimmensional, glass-fronted terreria, that measure 80 cm × 31 cm × 1 cm. Inside the boxes, I will compress multiple layers of soils, various organic materials such as leaves, grasses and compost from my surrounding environment. The layers in the boxes create a kind of framed earth drawing or an organic landscape representation. I will then place one or two worms inside the boxes for up to three days. As the earthworms move around the Evans’ boxes, they will create an intricate pattern of tunnels. Removing the front panel of glass, I will then remove the earthworms and release them into designated areas in order to directly benefit—on a modest scale—a surrounding agroecosystem. Finally, I will pour plaster casts into the earthworms’ tunnels. The glass will be replaced to maintain the integrity of the sculptures and earth drawings.
Third Season Collaborations
2013

OPP: What are you working on while you wait for funding?

EH: For now, I'm working on the next series of nest sculptures—knitting square sweater-like holders in which the birds will build their nests. Lately, the care that drives my practice has a domestic feel to it. We'll see what happens.

OPP: Ah! There’s obviously a connection between the labor of the birds and the bees and the history of undervalued labor in feminine handicraft! Will the sweaters be part of the final sculptures or will they be removed like the hexagonal nesting boxes you built? Are you introducing more artificial, crafty colors or mimicking the natural aesthetics of the nests? 

EH: The sweaters will be an integral part of the nests. The nests made with the birds this past season are prototypes for the upcoming season. Aesthetically, I'm attracted to bright, crafty materials. The birds are normally attracted to muted, organic materials. The juxtaposition of those with the vivid wools I've introduced visually emphasizes the collaborative effort. It allows the work to simultaneously express the contrived and the natural, allowing the to nest exist both as a conceptual and craft-inspired object.

To view more of Eileen's work, please visit eileenhutton.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and existential significance of participating in mediated culture in her embroidery, video, sculpture and collage works. She received her MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2006), where she will begin teaching in Spring 2013, and is currently a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT Residency in Chicago. Notable exhibitions include Losing Yourself in the 21st Century (Maryland Art Place, Baltimore), MP3 (The Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago), Please Stand By: Stacia Yeapanis + Readymade (Baang & Burne Contemporary, New York), Over and Over Again (BOLT Project Space, Chicago).

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Monica Martinez

Wurm-Haus Headquarters
2010
Live Mealworms, Wood, Cardboard, Ink, Pen.
5’ H x 4’ L x 2’ W

MONICA MARTINEZ is a sculptor, industrial designer and educator who is interested in social change. Her fascination with both permanent and mobile food production and distribution structures like grain silos and urban food carts has morphed into a hybrid art/culinary practice. At the 2011 San Francisco Street Food Festival,Monica launched Don Bugito: Prehispanic Snackeria, the nation's first food cart serving edible insects. Monica lives in San Francisco, California.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You have been referencing food production and distribution structures for years in your sculpture and photographs. Some examples include The Failure of A Warehouse (2009), Precarious Landscape (2008), and Micro Entrepreneurs (2007), a series of food cart photographs. Where does this interest come from?

Monica Martinez: As a kid growing up in Mexico City, I was exposed to the rich visual aesthetics that you find in a city ruled by informal economies. I’m referring to the improvised means of temporary or permanent street food stands, crowed street food markets and those precarious physical structures created out of necessity and urgency around the city. This early exposure has always been reflected in my artistic work. Once I formalized my studio practice, I discovered that what I am attracted to and interested in are the dynamics that make cities function. In the case of the work you mentioned, I was thinking about the flow of food through the structure of a city and about the material response needed to sustain and feed a large population while simultaneously generating capital.

My interest also grew as I researched industrial architectures such as silos, granaries, warehouses and food markets as well as any other artifact involved in the transportation and storage of food such as wooden pallets, crates and sacks. I am fascinated by the phenomena of “food storage.” These structures house the food that meets the demands of large populations in urban centers. They also control and regulate the economic aspect of urban food surpluses.

Sin-Clear
2010
Cardboard, Concrete, Wood, Ink, Pen
11” H x 11” D x 16” W

OPP: Can you expand on that? How do the structures regulate the surpluses?

MM: Granaries and silos were originally built with the intent of sheltering the food and seeds from rodents and harsh years to come, but eventually someone figured out that holding the material and releasing it in a controlled manneror not releasing it at allcould produce more wealth. This led to the discovery of controls in food as a market. Today, especially in large urban centers, the food surpluses transit through many warehouses and storage spaces before arriving at supermarkets and then, eventually, our tables. These storage spaces may be doing more than simply holding the product to create more capital. They might be actively preparing the food for the market. One example is Cavendish bananas, the most consumed bananas in the world. Most distributors receive them when they are completely green. There is a special temperature-controlled room in their warehouses that allows the bananas to mature to specific commercial standards so they can enter the market at the right time. These buildings mean a lot to me; I see them as icons of power. 

OPP: Wurm-Haus Unite d'Habitation (2010), Wurm-Haus Headquarters (2010) and Wurm-Haus Unit - Home Micro Farm (2010) are all simultaneously sculptures and actual farms for Mealworms, a high protein and low cost food source. Could you talk about the intersection of architecture and sculpture with social and environmental concerns in the various incarnations of Wurm-Haus?

MM: I like to think that there is not much difference between architecture and sculpture. Both address form, space, materials and their interrelationships. When I began working on the first version of WurmHaus, I was looking at the global panorama of modern mechanization and industrialization of food production—basically factory farms, massive agricultural crops and other macroscale operations. But in my studio, I was working on a microscale. I started questioning the relationship that exists between the architectural spaces of the food that we produce and consume and the spaces we inhabit. I found a lack of connection between these two types of spaces. Nowadays, there is an urgency to add an environmental focus to our food production and our urban living conditions. I began reading about the mechanics of insect architecture and the relationship of insects to their spaces and food storage. I discovered that architects like Le Corbusier and Gaudi were influenced by the world of insect architecture. These architects intended to implement better living quarters for humans, but sadly they disregarded the importance of improving our production and consumption of food from an architectural point of view.

Unite d'Habitation -Wurm-Haus
2010

OPP: What led to the shift from sculpture that documents and references movable structures of food production and distribution to your active participation in those things via Don Bugito, your street food project?

MM: In 2010 I showed the WurmHaus works at Eyelevel Gallery in Brooklyn, and we offered a fancy edible insects dinner to a crowd of 40 people. This dinner was such a success: people responded much more strongly to the edible insects than to the static sculptural works sitting in the gallery.

I decided to expand WurmHaus into a food project that eventually became a food business. I conceived of Don Bugito as a social sculpture project. I wanted to reach a wider audience, but it is a big challenge to introduce edible insects into the North American food market. I had to apply for permits from the city and the health department in order to operate. Ironically I have become a street food vendor and am now inside the world that has always inspired me.

Don Bugito at the San Francisco Street Food Festival
2011

OPP: Don Bugito has garnered a lot of attention both in both art and foodie circles. What are the challenges of a project that is a hybrid art/culinary endeavor?

MM: So far this project has been a huge challenge, but it's given me the opportunity to connect with hundreds of people. Once these foods are completely introduced into the American food market, I hope to eventually create social change. In general I have found more support in the culinary world than in the art world, but the former has a hard time recognizing me as a chef. Professionally speaking, I am not a chef. I approach food as one more material in my creative palete; it has to be cut, heated and transformed, just like metal, wood or plaster. My first day in an industrial kitchen, I got a steam burn on my right hand. This made me think that kitchens are just another version of shops. There are things that can hurt you, and you have to be on top of things to prevent injury. But the art world is also confused about what it is that I’m trying to do. It's unclear how to integrate my work into an exhibit or art dialogue. I hope this will eventually change.

OPP: It definitely seems to be an issue of framing. There are precedents in the art world such as Rirkrit Tiravanija’s dinners. And you mentioned the term "social sculpture," which was coined by Joseph Beuys in the 1960s. Are you influenced by these artists? Do you consider what you do to be part of the art as social practice or relational aesthetics models?

MM: Joseph Beuys has certainly influenced my creative thinking. So has Gordon Matta Clark’s Food project. My recent work relates more to the ideas that Beuys proposed as social sculpture than the Art as a Social Practice or Relational Aesthetics models. When I began working on the idea to introduce edible insects into the American food market, I encountered many obstacles that required a lot of thinking and planning. I had to build conceptual and physical structures to support this idea. WurmHaus was the first step that led to Don Bugito. I found that through food and cooking, I could introduce ideas into a cultural realm as a commercial enterprise. It is a physical operation that introduces an alien material through a social operation. In 2010 I joined La Cocina (a nonprofit food incubator here in San Francisco) for support and guidance in this endeavor, and I would say that this project has become an open ended social object. 

The Little Cardboard Industry
2008
HDPE, Cardboard, Hardware
9' H x 7' W x 10' L

OPP: How has running a food business impacted your studio practice? Has it changed the way you think of your role as an artist?

MM: I am struggling a little bit right now in trying to understand how my work fits into the commercial art world that I was part of before I started this project. I have spent the past two years completely immersed in Don Bugito, and I am not sure yet how my studio practice will evolve as a result of this.

OPP: Is there anything you miss about being an artist making sculptures in the studio for exhibition in a gallery?

MM: It is hard to answer this question as I never considered myself a dedicated studio artist. Most of the time, the ideas for my work come directly from objects that surround me out in the world rather than discoveries in the studio. I usually spend more intense time in the studio right before a show instead of as an everyday or regular practice. What I miss the most is being able to fabricate whatever object I have to build. I enjoy engineering and solving fabrication problems. I think I prefer being in the studio more than a kitchen, where I still feel that there are a lot of intimidating rules and techniques that have to be learned. Food is certainly a medium where the public can be more critical than in contemporary art. I think we artists have an invisible shield that protects us. We can make whatever we want, but there is not much space in the culinary world for something that looks as disturbing as a Wax Moth Larvae Taco or a Toasted Crickets Tostada.

To learn more about Monica's work, please visit monicamartinez.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and existential significance of participating in mediated culture in her embroidery, video, sculpture and collage works. She received her MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2006), where she will begin teaching in Spring 2013, and is currently a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT Residency in Chicago. Notable exhibitions include Losing Yourself in the 21st Century (Maryland Art Place, Baltimore), MP3 (The Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago), Please Stand By: Stacia Yeapanis + Readymade (Baang & Burne Contemporary, New York), Over and Over Again (BOLT Project Space, Chicago).

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Mark Porter

Autohaemorrhaging Actuator #5
2012
Materials: aluminum, steel, wood, glass, rubber, nylon, air pumps, pigmented fluid, electric motors, plastic, motion sensor, plexiglass, natural sponges

Walking into a MARK PORTER exhibition feels like entering a mad scientist's laboratory, complete with test tubes and a complex web of cords and vinyl tubing. His kinetic, motion sensor-activated sculptures are hard at work, making repetitive marks on the galley wall or floor with a foaming, pigmented fluid. Some of the machines barely seem to function. But even when they fail, they accomplish the task of being stand-ins for humans and animals. In 2012, Mark had two solo exhibitions in Chicago:Autohaemorrhaging Actuators, Recent Kinetic Sculptures and Preliminary Drawings at Peanut Gallery and Autohaemorrhaging Actuator at The Sub-Mission. He also curated Machinations: Kinetic Sculptures in the Age of the Open-source at Glass Curtain Gallery, where he is the Exhibition Coordinator. His first artist monograph Replication Machines, Territorial Markers and Preliminary Drawings is available for purchase through Blurb. Mark lives in Chicago, Illinois.

OtherPeoplesPixels: When did you build your first machine? Was it a kinetic sculpture or something else?

Mark Porter: My first machines were actually drawn on paper. I was pretty young—four or five—when I first became obsessed with sci-fi, mostly Star Wars. (I still am.) I loved thinking about how the ships had the ability to do something as fantastic as moving people across the galaxy and as tragic as blowing them to pieces. I was fascinated by how the ships were capable of harnessing a seemingly unattainable and unnatural energy. I spent hours every day drawing space ships of all sizes and shapes. Some were similar to the designs of Star Wars ships, but eventually I created my own.

Internal/External
2008
Materials: steel, aluminum, glass, air pumps, pigmented soapwater

OPP: Where do you find your materials?

MP: I’m a bit of a scavenger. I’m always looking around for bizarre, ill-conceived inventions and objects that have a compelling sense of personal history, not necessarily to be incorporated into sculptural projects. I think about each object in its current state and ask a lot of questions about it, “What caused that dent or bend? What was the object originally intended to do?” Sometimes I can figure it out, and sometimes I can’t. At any rate, I love this sense of mystery. I love re-contextualizing objects. I both respond to them as they come to me, and alter them to suit my needs. 

I do purchase some things like electric motors, scientific lab glassware and vinyl tubing. I also think of these as re-contextualized objects. It’s about making an object do something it was not intended to do. But it’s important to me that the sculptures look handmade. People often think of machines as sterile and precise. To a certain degree they are, but they are also organic and messy. They break down, need maintenance and become dirty though use—like us. 

OPP: Do your sculptures grow intuitively from responding to objects you collected without a plan? Or do you deliberately seek out or purchase what you need to execute a preconceived design?

MP: When I create a sculpture, the idea I want to communicate or the goal I want the machine to achieve is just the starting point. Each machine is designed to do—or to at least try to do—something specific such as marking territory or creating mini tornadoes. However, improvisation is a big part of my process. Part of the design stage happens when I am scavenging for objects or when I’m looking at a collection of stuff that I've already found. Obviously, I work with a lot of metal. Approximately 75% of the work in my last exhibition Autohaemorrhaging Actuator was constructed from discarded aluminum lawn chairs and walkers. As with most of my pieces, I wanted to both preserve the integrity of the chairs and walker parts and totally transform them. Some elements remain recognizable while others do not. So, the re-contextualizing occurs through my fusion of found objects with custommade objects or with mechanisms I have created from stock materials such a stock aluminum or Plexiglass. My work is inherently an example of how every design evolves throughout its production process.

Preliminary for Island Formation Machine
2010
Graphite, colored pencil, oil stick and gesso on paper
24" w x 14" h

OPP: You often exhibit your preliminary drawings alongside the sculptures themselves. Could you talk about how they work together?

MP: When I create artwork, I’m channeling the inventor part of my personality. I think about design—mechanical or otherwise—as an extension of the human hand. Designs aren’t always successful, but they are a reflection of the individual who conceived them. My drawings and sculptures both reflect that inventor part. They exist as the same body of work, but they ultimately serve different purposes.

Sometimes the drawings exaggerate the potential success or productivity of the machines; other times the machines are more productive than the drawings predict. By exhibiting them together, I ask the viewer to compare the similarities and the differences and to ask questions about the evolution of the idea from paper sketch to sculptural object: “What is different and what is similar? Does it matter if they are different/similar?"

OPP: Do you enjoy drawing and building equally or is one part of the process more pleasurable for you?

MP: I think of myself primarily as a sculptor, but I do enjoy making the preliminary drawings. Trying to convey a three-dimensional object on a two-dimensional plane is a hilariously frustrating, inadequate and torturous process. But drawing is very direct and immediately satisfying because it can be gestural and exaggerated. The drawings are an outlet for me to document and develop the ideas for machines I want to build.

When I create the drawings, I layer images in the same spirit in which I fuse found objects with custombuilt objects. First, I create a series of drawings that convey ideas I want to modify or develop further. I photograph the drawings, manipulate them slightly in Photoshop, print them using a toner-based printer and transfer them onto drawing paper with wintergreen oil. Then I further manipulate the images by drawing over them. I merge multiple images from previous drawings together to form a new, more developed idea. This process of building and layering is pretty noticeable when all of the drawings are shown together. When I’m building the sculptures, I reference the drawings much like one would any type of blueprint or schematic drawing.

Territorial Marker #6
2012
Materials: aluminum, steel, electric motor, air pump, glass, vinyl tubing, pigmented soap fluid, natural sponges

OPP: I loved your recent solo show Autohaemorrhaging Actuators, Recent Kinetic Sculptures and Preliminary Drawings at Peanut Gallery in Chicago. I was most struck by the cacophony of motion and sound. Seeing all of those machines at work on their separate functions but in the same exhibition space is pivotal to how I understand your work. I loved watching them all moving and trying, huffing and puffing and breaking down. I find them poignant. They have an existential quality to them. They just keep going, even when they shouldn't—even when their actions have no real purpose and their motion seems only to be about staying in motion. Does this resonate with the way you think about the sculptures?

MP: First of all, thanks! These comments definitely resonate with me. As I mentioned before, my creations are not only machines but also representatives and extensions of the human hand. That’s what I love about making art in general; I can create something that speaks for me.

I have a frustrating and rewarding relationship with my sculptures. When I install an exhibition, I plug the pieces in and let them do what they were meant to do. Sometimes there are no surprises, and everything chugs along as I intended. But the machines don’t always do what I planned. They begin to do what they want to do. In the end I am always certain that I have created machines that are confident and determined: they try really, really hard regardless of whether they fail.

The individual pieces are always changing. As they age, they need repairs and upgrades. The same piece rarely looks the same from show to show. I don’t make major alterations to each piece, but each piece changes through its use. I’m not interested in creating precious sculptural objects. My sculptures evolve; they are performative. I often refer to them as “prototypes” because I never really think of them as complete. My drawings are the exception: once they are finished, they are finished. In creating them, I develop an idea to a certain point and then I move on to the next one.

Autohaemorrhaging Actuator
2012
Installation at The Sub-Mission (Chicago)
Dimensions Variable
Photo by Rob Karlic

OPP: According to the press release for Autohaemorrhaging Actuators, your recent sculptures are intended to "mimic biological functions and human/animal behaviors such as demarcation, the process of marking of one’s personal territory, and autohaemorrhaging, the action of animals deliberately ejecting blood from the body as a defensive tactic." I've also read several reviews in which people refer to your sculptures as drawing machines. It's interesting to think about the connection between drawing, biology and mechanization in your work. We often assume that what drives us as artists is a function of higher consciousness, but what if it isn't? Is there a connection between what we all do as artists and the biological functions you refer to in your titles? 

MP: Absolutely. I think that all living things are certainly driven by a higher consciousness, but they are also controlled by their bodies. Humans and animals are all engaged in a life long battle between what the mind wants and what the body wants. It’s fantastic when they are in sync, and it's interesting and tragic when they are not. I’m fairly obsessed with making the drawing machines, the territorial markers and the Autohaemorrhaging Actuators because I am interested in the natural necessity of self-expression. My work is both commentary on and a living example of what happens when the mechanisms designed to carry out expression are working correctly or incorrectly. The fluids that cycle through these works represent something that is essential to the machine. The fluids can be read as blood, transmission fluid or paint; they are vital to the body and vital to the mind.

To view more of Mark's work, please visit markportersculpture.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and existential significance of participating in mediated culture in her embroidery, video, sculpture and collage works. She received her MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2006), where she will begin teaching in Spring 2013, and is currently a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT Residency in Chicago. Notable exhibitions include Losing Yourself in the 21st Century (Maryland Art Place, Baltimore), MP3 (The Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago), Please Stand By: Stacia Yeapanis + Readymade (Baang & Burne Contemporary, New York), Over and Over Again (BOLT Project Space, Chicago).