Artists & Social Media Series: Julia Barbee’s Social Scents

Portland-based artist Julia Barbee wants to know what you smell like. Or, at least what type of scent you would select based on your ecommerce profile or a Craigslist ad that you post. Barbee wanders into that strange strip of creative space between fine art and high fashion, adding touches of anonymous Internet moments along the way. In the portfolio section on her website, she lists her social media projects and offline, physical artworks, which often inform each other. She is interested in the temporal aspects of one’s identity, including experiences of the visual, the auditory and the ephemeral. Barbee received her MFA in 2011, graduating magna cum laude from California State University at Long Beach.

This is the fourth post in a five-part series about how artists use social media. Read the previous three posts about artists Jake Myers, Sabina Ott and Ellen Greene. Have ideas for a topic you’d really like covered on the OPP blog? Email us at blog [at] otherpeoplespixels.com.

Alicia Eler: One of the first Web-only pieces on your site that I noticed was Oral in which you post images of your mouth missing teeth, post-bike accident, to social media sites. The inspiration is taken from something that happened to your physical body, but the project itself exists only online through images. Tell me about the project. Could it have worked offline?

Facebook Portrait #18
2012
Digital Photo

Julia Barbee: A local fashion writer published an article about my bike accident in response to my first Facebook image and status update. It created an audience in the newspaper's online readership. I was posting images with a personal Facebook account. The text responses became an important part of the screenshots I kept to document that work. This was before I decided to change my Facebook to only a business page. While on bed rest from my accident, I started a personal Pinterest account as well, and pinned many of those images there. I exhibited the Oral series of portraits offline in an installation for a show called Content 2012 at the Ace Hotel in Portland, Oregon. I launched a new perfume called "Couple Found Dead in the Fragrance Hotel," taken from a word search of "hotel, perfume, and crime." I am using documentation from the Content show to sell "The Couple Found Dead in the Fragrance Hotel" perfume on Etsy.

Couple Found Dead in the Fragrance Hotel Perfume
2012
perfume, glass, plastic
$47

AE: Interesting. So in this way, the online work ended up translating to an offline exhibition and then subsequently to an ephemeral line of perfume that combined both ideas. On the perfume and Pinterest front, I love how you couple an image of a bison with the text from a Craigslist ad that in some way relates to the smell of a lover. Talk a bit about how this functions on Pinterest. Why did you post it to Pinterest and not to Facebook?

I don't have a girlfriend
2012
digital pin on Pinterest

JB: My online work is largely experimental, intuitive and framed by my interest in ephemera and scent. I am not interested in the proliferation of my splintered identity through countless social media accounts, but rather in the idea that the combined image and text become decentralized and do the work on their own. The largest critique people have of Pinterest is the lack of authorship, so I am exploiting that.

In light of the narcissism these social media sites breed, I knew publishing images of my face missing skin and teeth on any of them would fight directly against the promotion of a desire to be ME. Subsequent to the "pins," of the Oral series, I wanted to push my exploration of the aesthetic on Pinterest in particular, because the sole function of the site is to "curate." Initially I started searching for "bad" or "ugly" photography, thinking in terms of the visual language of the site. Those searches only displayed beautiful photographs of puns, and posters with animals saying things like "bad hair day," "bad boy," or kitsch photography. I knew Craigslist would be a source of "bad" or "ugly" images, without the use of the retro photo filters you find on Instagram. These images would be devoid of self-consciousness. I use Craigslist Portland for the tangibility of pinning images from local geography, and I started combining my ongoing collection of text from Craigslist related to smell with disparate images from Pinterest.  

Etsy, where I sell perfumes, and Pinterest are starting to fold in on each other, just like Instagram and Facebook. Etsy has changed some of its language to emulate Pinterest’s. In the section where you see the most current activity of shops you "admire," the language is now "followers" and "following” like on Pinterest. Etsy has also recently reformatted that page with larger images to reflect the Pinterest-style layout. I’ve been a small business owner for a decade. I owned a deconstructed clothing and accessories line for ten years and have been an antique dealer for almost the same amount of time. Throughout this time, I have been fascinated by the combination of the DIY movement, the nostalgic aesthetic, the acceptance of blatant plagiarism, and the rapid growth of small businesses online. The homogenized, tribe-based aesthetic on both Pinterest and Etsy had appeal in the beginning.

AE: You mentioned that you started using Pinterest while on bed rest. What maintains your interest now, post-surgery and resting period? How has participating on Pinterest change the work you make with it and on it? 

JB: Amusement derived from my own practice is largely what maintains my interest, so finding strange and intuitive combinations keeps me energized. I think it is healthy to critique a system where people are taking themselves and their taste way too seriously.

My initial relationship with most social media sites was that of a complacent user. However, all of these social sites ultimately center on self-promotion. Promotion of my lifestyle, my taste, my world, my products, and your jealousy of me and my style. And I eventually find myself wanting to critique the behavior I start to abhor in myself as a result of participation in these virtual worlds. Pinterest in particular gave rise to the misuse of the word "curate" I would postulate. 

Smell
2012
Etsy Treasury List
I did an olfactory search of the word smell, as part of my art practice, and picked one item per page, placed them in order, and restricted myself to choosing something on every other page.

AE: I’m also noticing that on your Etsy project, Treasury Lists, you curate a collection of work that wouldn’t normally end up on that ecommerce site. What’s the deal?

JB: My Treasury List work on Etsy is a critique of their DIY homogenized aesthetic, and my Lists are developed through scent-based text searches. I highlight work that has low numerical value measured in "Views" "Admirers" and prior inclusion in "Treasury Lists;" on some level it is my exhibition and promotion of the underdog. Looking at my practice on these respective sites as virtual exhibition is critically important; I want to create dialogue from within, rather than trying to launch a critique externally. However, documenting the work through my website allows me to reach both willing, and unwilling participants in the conversation.

glorious giant a spiced voluptuary howling mystery
2011
perfume, glass, plastic
$47

AE: I'm interested in your fascination with the ephemeral nature of perfume; perfume exists as a physical form, yet the essence of it and the responses it produces can travel through the Internet "air," as such. How did you become interested in perfume-making as an art form?

JB: While in graduate school, I was examining my career in independent fashion and working with physical materials as wearable sculpture. I became interested in perfume as sculpture. I used my body as site, removing visual cues and performing with scents. It remains a challenge to communicate the invisible through visual means. I use text a lot. I am interested in the evocative phenomena of poetry, which sometimes appears in the unexpected form of a Craigslist personal ad. It is a means to translate these ideas because language is similarly ephemeral. My visceral, scented work can challenge the visual culture, but it does make the pictorial representation of my practice a challenge.

AE: I’d like to take a turn away from social media sites as spaces for artmaking toward the more straight up social media strategy questions. How do you use Facebook for personal use? For professional use?

JB: I hated Facebook from the beginning and saw it solely as a means for self-promotion and voyeurism. If I had my druthers, I would not use the Internet much. So the fact that my practice is moving so heavily towards the digital medium is a stretch for me personally and professionally. I try to see it as a tool like any paintbrush or camera. I interact on Facebook as a business owner and artist. This does include personal relationships with clients or friends, but I keep my personal life as private as possible.

AE: Do you use Twitter and Tumblr? I didn't see links to those on your site. If you don't use them, why is that?

JB: I don't use Twitter and Tumblr. I would rather spend more of my time offline; it's a form of self-protection. I want to fight social media's influence on the way I see myself. The ease with which I can find my value in "likes," "friends," "followers" and "repins" is alarming. I don't want to live my life online to the degree that I forget my neighbor who sleeps in the street. So much of the world lives without computers at all. We live in a scary world of mind-altering affluence.

AE: I agree. Spending too much time on social sites can really warp one’s sense of relationships. But what about Craigslist, another site that interests you. Do you see it as social media site? Why or why not?

JB: I think that ultimately it is a social site. People are promoting themselves on Craigslist as much as on any other site. There are people who regularly post to different forums, and have created personas through personal ads. In front of a screen, our various representations of ourselves collide with each other. 

AE: Do you see much difference between our online and offline selves? Or do we just flow between the two? 

JB: I think those things flow most of the time. Online personas are likely to be much harsher, dirtier and more fantastical. They can be prideful and judgmental, and I guess we just have to decide which personas we want to spend time feeding.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jennifer Koch

Emma
2011
Ceramic

In her life-size terracotta sculptures, artist JENNIFER KOCH reveals the reproductive exploitation of female factory farm animals. Her calves, piglets and chicks appear emaciated and vulnerable. Their facial expressions reveal an experience of intense suffering and terror. Research into common agribusiness practices and a lifetime of working with animals fuels her art practice. Jennifer received her BFA from the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth in May 2012. Her first solo show opens on November 27th, 2013 at Colo Colo Gallery in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Jennifer is currently based in Worcester, Massachusetts, where she is a full-time artist-in-residence at the Worcester Center for Crafts.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us a little about your history as an artist. Have you always worked primarily in clay?

Jennifer Koch: I have been drawing and making things since I was a little kid. From middle school through high school I was primarily interested in photography. I didn’t use clay until my senior year of high school. It was love at first touch! I initially applied to college as a ceramics major, but for a long time my love of ceramics was in competition with my interest in photography. I changed my major several times. Eventually, ceramics won because I found I could be more creative with clay. It's more hands on. I love physically building things: sculptures, pottery, weaving and jewelry. Though I appreciate painting, drawing and photography, I’m not much of a two-dimensional art maker.

Sophie
2011
Ceramic

OPP: I absolutely relate to the animals you portray. I feel pangs of sympathy; they feel so human to me. Their expressions and postures are so pitiful that I found myself grimacing as I looked through your website. The one that affected me the most was Sophie. For a brief second it was a little funny, because I thought of how my cat presents herself to me and has no problem sticking her business in my face at unexpected moments. But then, of course, I noticed how thin that calf is and how she looks like she is being forced down, and then the whole sculpture became about rape and violation for me. In fact, the other calves, Anna and Laura, are also shown in what feel like extremely vulnerable sexual positions. Can you talk about this choice?

JK: I read a very interesting book a few years ago called The Sexual Politics of Meat by Carol Adams, which contributed to my interest in the connection between animals and feminism. My work is specifically focused on the reproductive exploitation of animals. As a woman, I find it the most abhorrent part of the entire animal agricultural system, which depends on the continuous pregnancies of young animals who will die before they reach adulthood. The animals are artificially inseminated while they are essentially babies themselves. There is no consent in this process—the animals have no voice. I want to provoke the question, “Is this rape?” If it’s not, why not? If it is, or if thinking about it makes us uncomfortable, perhaps we need to readjust our actions as consumers of the products these animals produce. If we recognize that animals are sentient beings and have their own desires, should the right to consent be exclusive to humans? I recognize that this is a very challenging and sensitive thought process, but I don’t believe in shying away from something because it’s controversial. 

Many animal byproducts are contingent on the reproductive exploitation of female animals. Cows are kept continuously pregnant in order for factory farms to get the maximum amount of milk and all other dairy products. The male calves are unwanted and become veal. Eggs are byproducts of female chickens' reproductive systems. If males chicks hatch, they are disposed of and usually in horrific, but industry-standard ways—like grinding them up while they are still alive or throwing them into the garbage where they die of suffocation, exposure or starvation. In my work, I present the problem of using animals as objects. There is a natural connection between the methods of oppression and exploitation of women and of animals.
Amanda
2011
Ceramic

OPP: Well, I was going to ask you if it is significant that all the animals have female names, but now I think the answer is clear. But do the responses to the sculptures change when viewers read the titles?

JK: The titles were of much debate during my final thesis critique in May (2012). Initially, it was important to me that viewers understood that all of my sculptures are female, and I hoped to increase empathic response by giving them human names. But I got the feedback that the titles change the message of my work, that the human names turn the work into a metaphor for the human experience. That is something I want to avoid. It’s all about the animals. Based on that feedback, I've decided to change the titles to something more informative. I had started considering new titles this summer and then got distracted with my new work and forgot about it until I was sent this question! Thank you for the reminder!

OPP: You’re welcome. I have to say that I love the female names as titles, but they did lead me down that path to thinking about my own suffering as a human being and the experience of suffering in general. It’s my natural tendency to see metaphor, even where there is also literal truth.

JK: I think that’s not just your reaction but human nature. We can really only experience the world as humans and are barely even able to relate to other humans who are not very similar to us. I was hoping to reach people via empathy, but it’s very difficult for people to think outside their own species, and I overlooked that in my optimism.

OPP: Can you share any alternatives you’ve considered? 

JK: I only have a few alternative names worked out for the pieces that are on my website. Laura, the calf with the large udder, will potentially be renamed Mastitis, which refers to an inflammation of the breast tissue due to infection. Nicole, the piglet that hangs from a steel nipple on the wall, will be renamed Weaned. There are also new pieces with similar titles that aren't yet on my website. Some of these only appear in studio shots on my Flickr stream right now, because they haven’t yet been professionally photographed. 

Elizabeth
2011
Ceramic

OPP: You mention in your statement that you "create work that is conceptually driven by research of common agribusiness practices and from the animals’ physical experiences and emotional responses." And it's obvious that your portrayal of the suffering of animals has both personal and political significance, because you have a link to Vegan Outreach on your artist website. Are you disappointed if viewers contemplate the suffering alone and don't go that extra step of considering their own choices about whether to eat meat?

JK: It's not just about meat consumption; it's about the use of animals who have their own desires and lives. I am using emotion as the entry point to get people to think about the consequences of using animals for personal benefit in their daily lives. Animals are treated as objects in our society and have been for a very long time. I hope to add to the discussion about whether their exploitation is ethically acceptable.

Animals are sentient and emotional beings who form relationships with each other as friends and family. If left alone, they lead their own lives independent of humans. Is it ethically acceptable to deprive these animals of their freedom to lead self-guided lives just so that we can have the products we want? I might not have been challenged to think about this, but my family frequently rescued abused or neglected animals when I was young. I got to see their personalities evolve as they adjusted to more comfortable lives. My horse, Jester, was probably the most influential. I saw him change from aggressive and anti-social to calm. Now he plays with other horses. Professionally, I was a dog groomer for seven years; for a few years, I was also a caretaker of dogs, cats, goats and birds. I’ve also worked at a veterinarian office and at a small pet supply store. I just can't view animals as objects.

My life had to change when I realized that I used them in my own life, not just as a food source but also for entertainment, clothing, beauty products and health products. I want to share that thought process through my art. I don't expect many people to change their actions as a result of considering my sculptures, but I want to keep the discussion moving forward. I would be disappointed if I wasn’t successful in creating a debate. Social change is a long process, but I believe in it. My work won't likely be the turning point, but it’s a reminder and a push. My work aims for an idealistic outcome, but my expectations are realistic.

OPP: You've recently graduated with your BFA and are currently an artist-in-residence at Worcester Center for Craft. How has the residency changed your work?

JK: The Worcester Center for Crafts has been great so far. I have a wonderful work space and supportive colleagues who aren’t afraid to give me the feedback I need. It’s very different from being in school because there are no deadlines except the ones you make for yourself. It has been a challenge to learn to work in a self-directed way. There’s a learning curve, but eventually I’ll get the hang of it. 

I knew before I started the residency that I’d be working smaller, since I don’t have access to an enormous kiln any more. I plan on getting back to larger pieces this winter and tackling a new construction method. It’s taking some time to work up the nerve, because there WILL be failures. Let’s face it: no one likes failures, even if they’re expected.

In the meantime, I’m experimenting with new surfaces. I’ve been trying out underglazes and oxides at different firing temperatures, as well as adding acrylic paint and gouache after firing the clay. I’m also trying to bring more context and narrative to each piece. I’m using interactions between other animals and objects to bring more meaning to the animals’ expressions. I’ve made two sets of mother sheep with baby lambs that are reaching for each other. The interaction is between the mother and the baby as well as with the obstacles separating thema wooden palate in one piece and a fibrous thread in the other.

To see more of Jennifer's work, please visit jenniferkochart.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 Joseph James

"Outburst"
2011
Cut paper, acrylic paint
110 x 90 cm

The quality of the line in JOSEPH JAMES' work is stunningly beautiful. His cut paper "drawings" both hide and reveal information about his sources, pushing the viewer to contemplate what was there before. He shows us the complexity and mystery that can exist in a simple, repeated gesture. Joseph exhibits internationally, and his work is included in several prestigious museum collections including the Saastamoinen Foundation Collection at the Espoo Museum of Modern Art and the Vexi Salmi Collection at the Hämeenlinna Art Museum. His upcoming solo show at Galerie Anhava opens in April 2013. Joseph lives in Helsinki, Finland.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us about your history as an artist. How did your printmaking background lead to the cut paper "drawings" you make now?

Joseph James: I started my undergraduate studies at Winthrop University in South Carolina as a painting and sculpture major. I ended up switching to painting and printmaking because I felt more comfortable working in two-dimensional media. I studied new media printmaking techniques at Saimaa University of Applied Sciences in Finland and started making art full time. This led into my graduate studies in the printmaking department at The Finnish Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki.

At the academy I began to understand that the reason I liked printmaking had less to do with making prints and more to do with the process-intensive techniques. I was also looking for a way to combine my interests in drawing, painting and printmaking, and I got the idea to make some paper cuts. At first, I tried to keep printmaking part of the process by cutting on top of acrylic glass plates and printing the cut marks. As the series developed, I let go of the printing altogether.

"Center of the Earth"
2010
Cut paper, acrylic paint
Detail

OPP: You emphasize process when you identify your medium as "cut paper." While the objects themselves are beautiful in a purely formal way, they become more compelling to me when I think about how they were made. The cutting process is enigmatic and impressive because the lines are so delicate and varied. Is the cutting done by a computer or a machine or by hand?

JJ: The cutting is done by hand with a small hobby knife. It is a slow and meticulous process, which is extremely rewarding for me as the maker. It’s crucial to the meaning of the work that it be cut by hand. My piece The Entanglement was laser cut in steel, but the feel of this work is completely different. The meaning is also changed by the process. I would like to try laser-cutting paper and other materials at some point, but I don’t see it ever replacing the cutting by hand technique. 

OPP: I agree that whether the cuts are made by hand instead of by machine significantly affects the meaning of the work. But meticulousness as a quality can be read in lots of opposing ways: patience, obsessiveness, focus, engagement, meditation. Can you expand on what the hand-cutting technique means to you, outside of the pleasure of the process?

JJ: For me it’s about opening up a channel through all of the questioning and overanalyzing that separates me from the act of creating. In other words, it is about action and creation. I’m okay with all of the opposing ways this can be read. Meaning emerges from the ambiguity of the seemingly simple, straightforward act of cutting.

OPP: Are you thinking about the source images while you cut them up? 

JJ: I’m not thinking about the source image at all while I cutjust the drawing. The cutting is almost mechanical. It’s like tracing the drawing, and where the lines fall in relation to the substrate depends on that initial drawing. I often cut the piece from the backside, so it is not until after the cutting is finished that I even see what it looks like. At this point, I treat each piece like a new experience or perception. I let go of the original idea and the source material, which are really just starting points. I try to view it objectively. 

"Arena"
2011
Cut paper
100 x 50 cm

OPP: What are the substrates you cut from? 

JJ: I use posters, magazines and photographs, as well as fine art paper, hand-painted paper and hand-made collages. 

OPP: Some pieces, like Absurdity and Outburst, are scribbles and reveal the beauty in what appears to be an unplanned line. Others, like Animal Farm or Union Camp, seem to highlight preexisting lines in found images. There's a sense of pulling out the skeleton of an image. Is there a distinctly different process for these pieces?

JJ: The main difference is the drawing process, but there are other subtle differences as well. My process is like a set of variables that I can rearrange and adjust to varying degrees. I can draw from life or not, use a source image or not, and be faithful to the image or not. I can also change the material and substrate, the number of layers, the installation and so on. With each piece I gain more experience. I learn more about myself and the work, bringing that to the next piece, too. The process is dynamic. The cutting is probably the most stable aspect of the work, but I notice that it even changes slightly from piece to piece. 
 

"Brushstroke"
2011
70 x 40 cm

OPP: I called your pieces "drawings," but they could also be talked about as sculpture when they are exhibited on pedestals or hanging in space. How do you make decisions about the installation of each piece?

JJ: The presentation of this work is very important. It was easy at first because I was learning about the behavior of the material and allowing each piece to dictate how it would be installed. With the hanging pieces, when I finished the cutting and picked them up, they just collapsed in every direction. It was a surprise at first, but I saw the beauty in the natural tendency of the paper to react to gravity and just took advantage of that by hanging it from the ceiling. The idea of showing them on pedestals came from wanting to capture the feeling of the pieces when they are lying on the tabletop being cut. I haven’t used that option since the first exhibition of this work.

I install the other works with small nails directly into the wall. I do not use frames. In this way, they interact with the space like a sculpture would. The pieces work best when there is a lot of open area around them. This makes the wall almost disappear. The pieces look like they are suspended in mid-air. 

To view more of Joseph's work, check out his website at josephljames.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 Chloe S. Watson

Wall with Columns
2012
Acrylic on paper
4 x 6 inches

CHLOE S. WATSON's enigmatic renderings of nondescript landscapes and architecture are based on places she has lived. Her work investigates the abstraction of fact through memory. She deals with experiences, objects and people that should evoke emotion, but instead all the emotion is stripped away. The viewer is left with only a graphic rendering of a human experience. What's left out is as important as what remains. Her work is currently included in Binderful, an online exhibition at Baker Fine Art, which is housed in an actual binder and will begin traveling to art spaces around the country in late January 2013. Her upcoming solo show at Delaplaine Visual Arts Center (Frederick, MD) opens in August 2013. Chloe lives in Farmington, Maine, where she and husband, the artist Jason Irla, run the space Points North out of a retired horse barn.

OtherPeoplesPixels: The most consistent formal quality in your landscape paintings is an exploration of architectural space through color and line. Objects are flattened into mere shapes: mountains become triangles, a sand dune becomes a pink blob, a doorway becomes a blue rectangle. How does this abstracting of architecture and landscape reveal your conceptual concerns?

Chloe S. Watson: I’ll give a little background about the origin of this work first: I didn’t start taking my paintings and drawings seriously until my second year of graduate school at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Before graduate school, I was primarily working three-dimensionally and thought of my drawings as preliminary studies for future sculptures or installations. I was struggling with my sculptural work, and I was encouraged in graduate school to examine my drawings. They were more interesting formally and accomplished things that the sculptures couldn't. Through drawing and painting, I could reference architectural spaces that would be impossible to physically bring into the studio.

The early spatial paintings came out of the formal drawing exercises I was doing in my studio—cutting out and arranging flat paper sculptures, lighting them, and drawing them from life. At the time, I was thinking a lot about my personal experiences and memories of spaces. I had just read The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard. Reading about architecture as a container for memories struck a chord with me and is something I think about constantly. My family moved around many times while I was younger, and readjusting to a new place became the norm; it had a profound effect on me as a person and an artist.

I began translating my memories of architectural spacesmy childhood bedroom, for exampleinto the backgrounds for those strange forms, and I would insert other objects into the paintings as well.The paintings are mostly about absence verses presence and substitution; substituting nondescript forms for furniture that lived in a particular space kept the viewer from accessing the “true” memory of that place. I was also interested in creating a visual vocabulary of nondescript objects that could be read as windows, doors, holes or even streams or puddles of liquid. These forms suggest but never dictate what roles they play in the paintings. This is still important to me, because it allows room for any interpretation from the viewer.

Mills
2011
Acrylic, Contact paper, colored pencil on panel
10 x 16 inches

OPP: I see what you mean about what the drawings can do that the sculptures can't. In a painting like Wall with Columns, I can see that there are two columns in this space and a drawing of two columns on a wall in the background. When I first glance at the piece, I see the representation of a three-dimensional space, but the more I stare, the more that space disappears into pure color and line. It goes totally flat. Then I have this Magic Eye experience: the image keeps moving back and forth between the second and third dimension. Your drawing of the columns becomes equivalent to your drawing of a drawing of a column. How is this connected to your ideas about memory?

CSW: I’m glad that you had that experience, because I attempt to confuse the viewer’s perception of space in most of these paintings. That confusion is connected to what I find fascinating about remembering: everyone’s memory malfunctions. I read Daniel Schacter’s book The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers, which categorizes the essential malfunctions of memory and articulates many of the ideas I reference in my paintings and drawings. Memories are never set in stone; one “chooses” to recall certain details or events if the recollection is essential and powerful enough. Individual memories are weak or strong because of their purpose and how often those particular memories are accessed.

In the paintings of previous spaces I’ve inhabited, I am interested in creating these warped perceptions of space, because my memories of those spaces are certainly already distorted. Wall with Columns is based on my old studio in Baltimore that had two very prominent but annoying columns directly in the center of the space. When I begin a piece, I often ask myself, "What are the main players in this piece and why?" In this particular painting, it was the columns. I wanted the columns to seem more monumental and intrusive than they actually were. I highlighted that importance by repeating their forms through a line drawing in the background. The green outline is not definitive; the viewer could be looking at a door or window, a hole in the wall specifically cut for these two columns to slide through, or an object resting against the wall. There is a significant connection between art and remembering for me; both rely on individual interpretation to perceive what is or is not authentic.

Jerks Poster
2012
Digital print
12 x 18 inches

OPP: In 2011, you drew 73 jerks from your personal history, documenting them only by their hairstyles. The cataloging of personal data and memories transformed into a stripped-down graphic rendering is a strategy you use repeatedly, as in 17 Bedrooms and Paintings on a Map. 73 Jerks stands out in its representation of the human form. What made you shift gears from the spatial paintings you were doing before?

CSW: I need to feel challenged in the studio, and the paintings had become too easy for me to figure out. It was like my hand and brush were so trained they knew exactly where to start and what to do. I was restless. In June 2011, I did a residency at The Wassaic Project in Wassaic, New York. I went there intending to work on those paintings, but for several months before that I had been considering a project about all of the jerks I’d ever known. I felt timid about actually following through. The jerk project would be so different visually, but conceptually it was connected to the spatial paintings; visually, it translated as an examination of my personal narrative and memories. By the time I arrived at the residency, the jerks were stuck in my head.

I had brought several yearbooks from my schools with me as well as numerous photographs that my mom had just given me. I meticulously went through all of my sources and took notes about who I was considering including and why. After only four days at the residency, I had already finished all 73 of the drawings. I decided to work chronologically so that the drawings would create a sort of timeline. In order to keep the figures nonspecific and thus universal to viewers, I drew only the hair of each jerk. 

OPP: Did you enjoy making the drawings?

CSW: It was interesting to spend the 20-45 minutes drawing each hairstyle and thinking about why I was including that particular person in the series. I’m not sure what made me decide to quantify the jerks and think of them like data in a science experiment, but I had a blast making the graphs and attempting to write very analytically about the correlations between age, gender, hair and one’s likelihood of being a jerk to me. I highly enjoyed making 73 Jerks, but it is a project that I am only going to explore once. I have no intention of creating another volume of jerks and honestly hope that I don’t have to.

Data Visualization: Jerk Hair Color
2011

OPP: Quoting from your statement for your project Paintings on the Map: "This project is a continuation of my exploration into architectural spaces as containers for memories. I began by completing a series of paintings based on eleven residences significant to my personal narrative. Combing through photographic sources, I attempted to capture what I felt was the most memorable aspect of the space when I occupied the residence." Could you talk about the interactive aspect of the project that followed the creation of the paintings? How did this project get at your interests in a way the paintings alone could not?

CSW: Paintings on the Map grew out of the 4" x 6" studies I was doing earlier this summer. My husband and I recently moved from Baltimore to Maine. Before we left, we met the couple that was moving into our Baltimore apartment, which was a space I absolutely loved. I had this urgeand felt it my dutyto communicate to the new occupants why and how much I loved this apartment, in the hopes that they would value the space as much as I did. I recognized that the painted studies were postcard-sized and wondered what would happen if I sent a small painting through the mail as a postcard to the new tenants. And what if I sent a piece of art to other strangers who currently live in my past dwellings? They have no idea that we are connected to each other through the history of a place. Would the admission of "I used to live in your house" make the current residents feel uncomfortable?

I decided to write a QR code and web address on the backside of each card, which offers an explanation as to what they were looking at. I was aware that my handling of the imagery on the card might be difficult for the resident to understand or access. I also loved the idea that the card could serve as a gateway to more information that exists on a Google Map, and it was up to the recipient whether or not they access that information. In my introduction to the online map, I provided my contact information and asked recipients to please send me a photo of the painting in their home. I also asked them to share any memorable experiences they’ve had in their space. I was a little pessimistic about getting any replies, but two recipients sent me photographs and shared stories about their current homes. I was ecstatic to see my painting hanging in the place it was based on. It was as if an extension of myself was living in that space again. There was also something wonderful about sending a giftespecially one that could be mistaken as junk mailto a complete stranger and imagining the recipient’s reaction to getting a weird piece of art one day in their mailbox.

OPP: You recently curated Methods of Exchange, which also involved the mail. It was the inaugural exhibition at Points North, the new art space you run with your husband Jason Irla in a retired horse barn in Farmington, Maine. This particular curation involved your sending all the invited participating artists painted postcards in exchange for the pieces they sent you to show in the exhibition. Do you see this exchange of work as part of your artistic practice?

CSW: I don’t know if this sort of exchange will continue in my artistic practice, but I certainly want it to continue outside of that in my daily life. I sent handwritten letters and care packages to friends all the time when I was younger, but as I got older and took on more commitments, it became difficult to continue that kind of giving. I couldn't justify it in the age of convenient, online communication. But I was determined to not let moving to rural Maine become a death sentence to my social life and art career. I still feel that there is no excuse for giving in to the isolation here when there are so many ways to keep up with the rest of the world. Method of Exchange was my way of introducing the Farmington community to a group of artists that my husband and I are excited about and want to share. The show was also about forming broader conversations about home and distance. I might not be able to travel to your home in San Francisco, but for only 45 cents my small painting can get there in less than a week.
Cloverlea
2012
Mixed media on paper
4 x 6 inches

OPP: Recently you've been working in three-dimensional soft sculpture? Is this the first time? What led to the shift away from painting?

CSW: A very important aspect of my studio practice is that it isn't defined by medium or material. The direction of my work is dictated by the ideas. The methods necessary to complete projects are secondary to the concepts. I have a varied skill set and backgrounds in sculpture, fiber and material studies, painting and drawing. I’m confident that I can learn any other approach or technique in order to complete a project. I still consider these three-dimensional soft sculpturesspecifically those in Idyllic Landscape Unit— to be paintings, because they are created with acrylic on canvas. They are simply paintings that exist in three-dimensions. More recently I've become interested in creating work that is about my current place. I could easily live in any other place and communicate visually, but there is something particular about my experiences in rural Maine. The idea of packing up a scaled-down version of my surroundings, sending them off to a completely different area of the world and allowing the viewer to imagine themselves living in this setting really intrigues me. This new work is partly about the convenience of shipping, storing and installing the landscape elsewhere, but it’s also about the effect materiality has on the reading of these models. There is something comical about using AstroTurf as a footprint for this picturesque scene of rural life or using sheep’s wool to depict the mythology of the moose up here in Maine. I’m still painting—mostly small landscape-based studies—but my focus right now is primarily on creating these three-dimensional models. I am so enamored with my new surroundings and want aspects of this setting to simultaneously exist elsewhere.

To view more of Chloe's work, please visit chloeswatson.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).

Artists & Social Media Series: Jake Myers on the Importance of Facebook Etiquette

Jake Myers is visible on and offline as an artist and in the artist-run project space scene through The Octagon Gallery, a space that he runs out of his home. It's not a stretch to say that Jake Myers is everywhere. In his artwork, Myers seeks to deconstruct the myth of artists as pale, gangly and unathletic. In the READ Posters series, he appropriates those 90s-era READ posters that typically picture athletes holding up a book and replaces them with Chicago artists. The posters act like offline memes, yet they embody Myers’ distinct aesthetic—equal doses light 90s nostalgia and local art community participation. The opposite of an egotistical artist, Myers is instead most concerned with remaining chill and making sure everyone else has a good time. When I arrived at Jake and his girlfriend Lara’s loftspace/studio that doubles as The Octagon Gallery, I was greeted by Leland, their loveable, two-year-old greyhound rescue pup. "He only raced for two years," says Myers, sympathetically rubbing Lee’s elongated skull. "That’s not very long, but he didn’t do very well." As I sat down on the couch to start our conversation, Lee hopped up and nestled his long body next to mine. Then Jake and I put away our touchscreen phones and started talking, IRL.  

This is the third post in a five-part series about how artists use social media. Read the previous two posts about artists Sabina Ott and Ellen Greene. Have ideas for a topic you'd really like covered on the OPP blog? Email us at blog [at] otherpeoplespixels.com.

Artist Jake Myers with his pooch, Leland

Alicia Eler:  How do use social media as an artist? I'm talking about Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Reddit, Digg…

Jake Myers: I pretty much only use Facebook—that is the only social media outlet that I do. I've set up Tumblrs, but that’s mostly to show documentation of things, and to show the aftermath of projects. I'm not doing the sharing, liking, following of people on Tumblr. It's a fast way for me to be at a show, take a picture, and share it. The Tumblrs end up acting more like archives. I send people to those Tumblr links when I'm applying for grants. 

To be honest, I mostly use Facebook. I feel really annoying—I'm always inviting my friends to art events that happen at least once a month. But it's cool, because they show up.  They wouldn't know about these things otherwise, because we don't go to high school or college together anymore. Facebook is the channel that can pull all these people in. I can kind of keep tabs on how many people will probably show up. I have a formula: You take the number of people who say they are going and divide it in half. That's usually about the number of people who will show up. Facebook helps you know how much beer to get and also what kind of expectations to have for the show.  

AE: Do you post your own work to Facebook?

JM: I don't know. I'll occasionally post work-in-progress, and I'll occasionally post those READ posters like the one with Eric Fleischauer reading a the book Howl by Allen Ginsburg, but yeah….I don't know what the significance is as far as copyright goes on Facebook. Do they own it?

Eric Fleischauer Reads, 2012

AE: There was some weird copyright stuff going on lately about how if you don't repost this Facebook status update, Facebook will own all your images and text.

JM: Which is weird because I don't know if I necessarily believe in copyright, so I don't know why I'd repost that or even be concerned with it. I guess I occasionally post things, but mostly in-progress work. I don't want to post too much, because you don't want to give away everything that you're about to have at an opening. 

AE: That's something I think about a lot. There's this one artist who posts all of his work in-progress, almost-done…it's like watching reality TV, watching him go through the emotional turmoil of making work. If I am watching the entire thing on Facebook, I'm less inclined to go to the show.

JM: Yeah, I'm mostly concerned with annoying people by filling up their news feeds. I already feel like I'm posting too much about my artwork. I'll post "hey I'm at this show!" or "hey I'm doing this tonight." After awhile it becomes white noise to people. I have one friend who invites me to events of his three or four times a week. It gets to a point where you almost stop paying attention to it if you hear it so many times. I try to post just enough so people are like, "oh, I didn't even know that was happening!" I don’t want people to think, "oh my god, this guy again!"

Jake Myers takes a break from clogging everyone's news feeds with posts about his artwork and event invites to The Octagon Gallery for this serious portrait of him and Leland, 2012

AE: So what's a good posting amount? How do you find a balance?

JM: I'm still figuring that out. If I'm in really huge group shows, a lot of the time I won't invite all of my friends. I'll just invite the few people who I know will want to go. If I'm in a solo show, I’m solely responsible for bringing people there. It's a really weird equation that is mostly about guessing. 

AE: I see you on Facebook as a real community leader. I don’t think you’re over-the-top or obnoxious—just a guy who’s trying to get the word out. I remember thinking “oh, it’s that Octagon Gallery guy! He’s having a show!” Judging from your Facebook presence, you just appear really involved in the local art community. 

JM: OK, that's cool. That'd be awesome if other people thought that, too. I like to try to bring together as many of the cool, endearing art people as I can. Just judging by the amount of people that are coming to Octagon, I feel like I've been pretty successful. We show amazing artists at Octagon, too. So I guess I am successful as an organizer.

The Octagon Gallery's team-focused logo

AE: Do you think Facebook actually makes a difference in the way you organize? Do you think you would be at the same point you are without Facebook?

JM: That's hard. I don't think I would have met as many people or gotten as many people to show up without Facebook. It has been integral. It's really weird, because I've thought about it, and my uncle is an artist at Packer Schopf Gallery in Chicago. He does paintings about the Internet and YouTube—Doug Smithenry is his name. Yet he does very little Facebook or social media promotion. I invited him to be at the show I curated called Society of the Spectacular, which questioned how simulated realities, virtual landscapes and digital social networks shape our daily experiences and what we perceive as reality. Because the show was all about how social media has affects us, I went overboard with the Facebook posts—it was a conceptual gesture. Doug was just floored by how many people showed up. He was like, "this is unreal! How did you get so many people to show up?" People were sharing the event and posting about the event, so I feel like in that way. Facebook has been really positive in spreading the influence. 

AE: Your READ posters feel really meme-like to me. Was that intentional? 

JM: That's cool. I want to make as many of them as possible. I want to build on them and photograph as many Chicago artists as I can in this weird, athletic, super official way…they're bossy, really bossy, but also funny and quirky, because there's this other thing of them being artists and athletes. It’d be cool if they became a meme. Right now it's more of a physical meme. I made a READ poster for the Industry of the Ordinary’s mid-career survey at the Cultural Center. You can take one of those for free. I'm hoping that the 2,500 posters I printed will be up all over Chicago.

AE: Memes are memes, and then art that references a meme is different than a meme itself. But what if other people wanted to make their own READ posters? That’s very much in the spirit of the social web—like, “hey, we can all join in and make this!”

JM: Like, we all join in and make our own READ posters? That'd be pretty cool. I'll just start a website that's a hub of these. Not a Tumblr. I think it would be better to do an archive of them with the original file size, so people could download them and print them off and just have a collection of these absurd posters. Cuz I give 'em away for free, and it would be awesome if I didn't have to pay for the printing cost.

AE: I think you should meme-ify them.

JM: It's weird faux nostalgia too, so to meme-ify it and make it fresh is a weird gesture.

AE: This has been a pretty weird IRL interview, so I might send you some Facebook follow-up questions….

JM: OK, that sounds good. I'm way better at responding to email questions, I've lived in the Internet age so long. When I'm talking with someone face-to-face, I feel like I leave my body and someone else just starts talking for me. It almost becomes like word salad, a stream of consciousness. It happens all the time when I'm giving a lecture at school. I'll realize that I've been talking for like five minutes straight. 

Face of Fatality, 2011

Jake and I said our goodbyes. I rubbed Leland’s head, walked past the giant skull outside of the Octagon Gallery wall curtain, and headed out the door. The very next day, I spotted an article on Hyperallergic that I thought might interest Mr. Myers, especially in light of our recent conversation about visibility via social media. The Hyperallergic article I forwarded to Jake was an interview between two NYC-based performance artists. This part seemed pretty relevant:

SR: Do you have any advice for young artists trying to make it in the art world?

JC: Work really, really hard. Go to openings, meet people in the art world, make them recognize you. Then any small show you have, make it count. Take a huge risk, spend money you don’t have. Invite important people. Eventually, they will come.

PO: Don’t worry about selling your work. Worry about people knowing who you are and what you do. Be seen. Nobody’s going to know you if they don’t see you. It’s a chess game whether you like it or not."

Jake responded via email: 

JM: I read the article and thought these guys would be fun to party with. Probably obnoxiously overconfident and ironic, but they still seem like fun. I'm wondering how this works in terms of social media. This idea of "being seen" vs. just being annoying and eventually getting blocked from peoples’ feeds. Maybe I'm being overly self-aware?

Either way, I am so excited about the future Internet exposure coming from your article with OPP and will promote it a bunch on Facebook!

AE: Do you think we're different on social media than we are in real life?

JM: Probably. That's a really loaded question. You can't really pick up on someone's body language or verbal tone on social media, but I guess that's pretty obvious. I think social media informs how others view you and can definitely inform your interactions in real life. Your interactions with people in person and how well you know their personalities probably gives the text you read and the pictures you see of them additional context as well. To answer your question: Yes, we're different people online, but both identities inform each other. 

AE: How do you decide when to change your profile picture? Why do you change your profile picture?

JM: I tend to decide on impulse. 

In Jake Myers' latest Facebook profile picture, he is pictured riding Sarah and Joseph Belknap's "How I Learned to Stop Worrying" (2012). This sculpture was part of The Octagon Gallery's booth at Chicago's MDW Art Fair.

AE: Should our offline lives mirror our online lives? Is Facebook a mirror or a refraction?

JM: Theo Darst or Ryan Trecartin would probably give you a more informed response, but I'll try. 

I don't have any concrete advice about how people should construct their online identities. Everyone does it differently, and some are more of a mirror while some are more of a refraction. Circumstances for people change as well, and sometimes people won't post something for weeks just because they are busy but if they have newfound free time, you might see a lot more activity. 

Again, I think that both online and physical identities affect one another. Or, depending on your audience, they might not: I bet my relatives who aren't on Facebook might not even know that I'm making art or curating. 

AE: Is it possible to have too many Facebook friends? 

JM: I don't know. I don't have anywhere near 5,000 which is the maximum number of friends you can have. Maybe after this article I'll have some more.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Libby Barbee

Incidental Interference
2012
Collage on paper

LIBBY BARBEE's colorful collages and interactive sculptures address the construction of landscape and the frontier myth of the American West with a nuanced attention to the psychological and cultural implications of place. She received her MFA from the Maryland Institute Collage of Art in 2011, and was recently an artist-in-residence at Platte Forum (Denver, Colorado). In September 2013, Barbee will present a site-specific installation at Howard County Center for the Arts in Ellicott City, Maryland. Libby lives and works in La Veta, Colorado. 

OtherPeoplesPixels: What do you find compelling about Colorado? How has this place affected your work?



Libby Barbee: You know, it is really kind of strange. I grew up in a very small rural town on the southeastern plains of Colorado, but it was not one of the beautiful, mountainous areas that people often think of when they imagine this state. I always spent a lot of time outdoors. From the time I was a kid, I loved science and everything creepy or crawly. But as an adult, I never really thought of myself as an “outdoors” person and never felt particularly tied to the landscape of the American West. Before relocating to Baltimore for graduate school, I had been working for a couple of years on a series of paintings about gender and domestic spaces. My work at that time was still concerned with place, but it was more figurative and all about culture. Having grown up in the land of horrible landscape art, landscapes were pretty much the last thing in the world that I was interested in painting.

When I started graduate school, I fell into a serious creative slump. I no longer felt connected to what I was exploring in my studio practice. Even worse, I felt completely disoriented and claustrophobic on the East Coast. I had spent all of my life in a place where you could just look out and see for hundreds of miles in any direction. Suddenly I was in a landscape where I was totally dwarfed amongst all of the people, buildings and trees. It was just suffocating; I was dying to escape the place. On top of it all, I was experiencing some serious culture shock. I still maintain that people are people no matter where you are, but there are some very real differences between the attitudes and perspectives of East Coasters and West Coasters. It took some adjusting to.

Untitled
2009
Collage and charcoal on paper

OPP: How did your work change then?

LB: I somehow started making these charcoal drawings of this nude figure wearing a coyote hood. There wasn’t really any indication of the landscape in the drawings, but they had everything to do with this figure interacting with an imagined space. The figure’s placement and posture was very performative, almost as if it were performing a ritual or dance. Eventually these small drawings led to a large artwork that developed along one wall of my studio. It started as another of these charcoal drawings—the coyote-hooded figure carrying a grain mill on its back. I was at a point where this whole endeavor needed a push, and I began to add a rocky mountain ridge to the composition. I just kept adding page after page of paper until the drawing filled the whole wall. It was from this drawing that the idea of collage emerged. I had printed off some images of rock faces as a reference, but I got impatient. To speed up the process, I started cutting them up and taping them to the paper surface.

By the time I was finished with this giant drawing/collage, everything that I had been thinking about, experimenting with and biting my nails over just began to gel. I started to become consciously aware of the importance of the Western landscape and all of its cultural baggage in the fabric of my reality. I was able to contextualize my connection to the West and began to understand the activity of drawing these charcoal figures—which before had seemed unconnected and inconsequential—as a performative act of re-establishing my place in and perspective on the world. The figures quickly fell away in my work, and the landscape became the central actor. I also became more and more cognizant of and interested in the role of the mythic West in the larger American cultural consciousness. Before going to the East Coast, I don’t think that I had really ever completely understood the enormity of the importance of that particular landscape and the symbolism that it holds as the essence of American-ness. It has been interesting for me to see how my explorations have grown organically from something very personal to encompass these larger spheres that are progressively more universal.

I have been back in Colorado for about a year and half. Now I do live in one of those beautiful mountainous spots—a cute little town nestled below the Spanish Peaks of southern Colorado. We have small herds of deer that live in town and sleep in our front yard, and on cold mornings after a light snow, the sun sets the mountain aglow in a manner so brilliant you really begin to wonder if it isn’t nature’s attempt to imitate Thomas Kinkade. It has all of the makings for horrible landscape paintings.

The ranchers and old hippies here are left over from the communes that brought in artists from New York in the 1970s with the possibility of “dropping out.”  It's the same desire, of course, that attracted the ranchers and the cowboys before them, and the miners and the trappers, and—going all the way back to the beginning of the American Frontier—the pilgrims. All of them had the hope of trying it all anew, wiping the slate clean in a place unencumbered by culture, undirtied by human rules, hierarchies and restraints. It’s all a farce, of course. There is not much free or natural or unconstrained left about this place. It is all broken up, parceled out and divided by property lines, fences and water rights. The forests are managed by logging and fire, and the parks get new trails every year. But it really is a beautiful illusion.

Reimagining Bierstadt: Rocky Mountains (detail)
2012
Collage on paper
40" x 58 1/2"

OPP: How is the Colorado art scene different from the Baltimore art scene?



LB: Baltimore is so full of energy. There is a really strong DIY attitude in Baltimore, and people just make things happen. You might go to see an ad hoc exhibition in someone’s living room one night, and the next night, you can see the same artists’ work in an exhibition at the Maryland Art Place or another well-established art venue. There are so many unoccupied buildings in the city that it is really easy for artists to find communal living spaces, studio spaces and spaces for all sorts of exciting exhibitions, performances and other forms of exchange. The whole scene is more about experimentation and the exchange of ideas than about sales or status. There is a lot of support for emerging artists.

The Colorado art scene is, of course, much smaller and more diffuse. I live in a very rural spot about three hours from Denver, so I am pretty isolated from any contemporary art scene. Usually when I tell people that I am an artist, I get some answer like: “Oh, you are?!!! Well, you should meet my neighbor Larry. He makes just the neatest sculptures of sunflowers and animals out of old tractor parts. You would just love them!” And, in all honesty, I really kind of do love them.

I spent two months in Denver last spring doing a residency at a wonderful arts organization called Platte Forum. I had lived in northern Colorado for about eight years during and immediately following my undergraduate studies at Colorado State University, and this was the first time that I had spent much time in the Denver area since leaving Fort Collins in 2008. I had the opportunity to get a better feel for everything that is going on there, and I honestly was quite shocked. I met so many artists who are doing really interesting things, and there are a growing number of organizations, residencies and venues that support contemporary art and emerging artists. I have always believed that you can tell the health of an art ecosystem by the amount of support that is shown for emerging artists. If all of the artwork is being shipped in from other places or you just see the same artists over and over again, you know that the system is unhealthy. I think that Denver is on the move and heading in a great direction. As soon as I am finished being a hermit in the mountains, I think that I will head there. 

The Harvest of Particles
2011
Collage and guache on paper
15" x 21"

OPP: I'd love to hear more about the creation of colorful landscape collages like Reimagining Bierstadt: Rocky Mountains (2012) and The Harvest of Particles (2011), which involve both collage and painting. Could you explain your collage process? Do you plan your compositions in advance?



LB: A lot of my work begins with reading. I love to read about science and natural history; certain ideas just catch my attention. I’ll start out with a general concept or even a catch phrase and get to Googling. My husband swears that I am a research addict. Honestly, I don’t know what I would do without books and the Internet. I allow myself to be pulled along by the research, often discovering connections between ideas I never would have imagined fitting together. The collages are about synthesizing all this disparate information. 

Sometimes I do plan my compositions in advance (it is the smart thing to do, after all), but I am impatient. More often, I find a few images that fit the idea that I am after and that somehow have a life of their own. They become sort of like actors on a stage, and they often dictate the direction of the composition. It is weird, because sometimes I will completely eliminate them in the end, but the resulting composition could never have been created without them.

As I start constructing the collage, I go through this whole back and forth process of finding images and creating paint swatches. The painting is great, because it is mindless and cathartic, and I can really concentrate on the audiobook that I am listening to. I drip and swirl and puddle it until I have a nice big stack of painted paper that I can cut from. Then, I try to match the printed images with the painted swatches, and when I can’t do that, I fiddle with Photoshop (which I hate) until something works. Once I am fed up with Photoshop, I go back to puddling and swirling. Amidst all this back-and-forth, are long hours of cutting stuff out with Exacto knives and gluing. Eventually it all just works itself out. It is a stupid process really, and sometimes I hope that I figure out something better.

Collapse
2010
Collage, Paint
Detail

OPP: What are your sources for your collages? What is your collection process like?



LB: My collection process is really a hodgepodge of approaches, and I am sure it would seem like complete lunacy to anyone who walked into my studio and tried to make sense of it. Nevertheless, there is some twisted and confusing logic behind it all.

The process is constantly changing, and the rules of the game are different from piece to piece. Sometimes the process emerges out of necessity. I know that I need a certain color, texture, value, and I go out looking for that. More often, however, I set up parameters for myself: I only use images found by Googling a certain word, by searching a particular data base or by using images of only one particular place. I am obsessed with the US Geological Survey, and I can spend hours looking through images on the organization’s website. I am constantly looking for new ways of picturing the world, and I keep hundreds of photos saved on my computer in folders with names like piebald deer and icebergs.

OPP: How is the process of collage itself connected to your ideas about the American wilderness?

LB: We imagine nature to be pure, unchanging, timeless. Most importantly, we often define nature as an absence of human intervention. We see the human and natural worlds as distinctly separate. This has been historically important in a nation whose identity depends on the idea of the untouched/uncivilized landscape as the mechanism for political and spiritual purification and the creation of a stronger, better, freer nation.

But, in reality, “nature” and “wilderness” are cultural fabrications. Yellowstone National Park, for instance, is a beacon of American wilderness. And yet, its plants, animals and geology have been utilized and manipulated by humans for thousands of years. We identify national parks as “natural” spaces, but a lot of effort goes into maintaining them. They are an attempt to reconstruct a pure and unchanging state that never really existed.  

Collage is essentially the construction of cohesive images out of very incoherent parts. I set out to deconstruct images of landscape in order to reconstruct them in a new light. In one of the first works, I used photos of landfills, feed lots and parking lots to create rock faces. In another painting, I used one aerial photograph repeated over and over again to create a panoramic view of rolling hills and plains. I hope that viewers will move from the cohesive image to the incoherent parts and begin to think about the facts that are overlooked in their perceptions of the idealized American landscape.

 To see more of Libby's work, please visit libbybarbee.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 Abdul Abdullah

Adik Lelaki (little brother)
2012
oil on canvas
40" x 40"

ABDUL ABDULLAH explores themes of belonging and alienation in the context of a Muslim-Australian identity, using his own background as a touch point. His paintings, photographs, video and performative public collaborations operate from a spirit of generosity, while they simultaneously reveal cultural misperceptions about the Muslim-Australian experience. In 2009, he received the Highly Commended in the NYSPP at the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra and was named a Perth Rising Star by Insite Magazine. In 2010, he was included in the inaugural Triple J list of 25 Under 25 + Smashin' It. Abdul lives in Perth, Australia.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your background is in painting, but lately you're taking more of an interdisciplinary approach. Tell me about your interest in portraiture. How did it begin?

Abdul Abdullah: Before I studied art, I studied journalism. I am a curious person, and I am particularly curious about people. Art school for me better satisfied my curiosities and was a more immediate way to address the questions I had. I like people, and I want to understand them. Portraiture seemed like a rational method to pursue. To the chagrin of my lecturers, I painted throughout art school and resisted other mediums. At the time, I wanted to graduate from art school with a practical skill. While painting is still the backbone of my practice, I now see the medium as second to the idea and look to find what processes best suit what I am trying to communicate visually.

Celebration 8
2011
oil and enamel on canvas
48" x 48"

OPP: One thing that really stands out for me about your portraits is the consistency with which the context is stripped away from the figures you paint. Mostly they float in blank fields of color, as in King Keanu (2011), although sometimes the light from some unknown source remains on their faces, as in Serani (2012). How does this formal choice reveal your conceptual concerns?

AA: What I am looking to do is find an efficient mode for the consumption of an idea. It is a reductive method that seeks to put across a simple idea quickly. Often the canvas serves the purpose a plinth can serve in a sculpture. I want to direct the audience to what I find important in an idea.

OPP: I find your body of work Celebrations and Gold refreshing in its emphasis on joy and the notion of honoring the individual. Can you talk about this work and how it developed? Is it a reaction to something in the art world?

AA: Celebrations and Gold was my return show to my hometown Perth after almost two years away in Melbourne and Europe. Melbourne was an amazing city with a lot going on, and I found myself only trying to replace the friends I already had in Perth. I began to feel that cities were much more the same than different, and what really matters is the people you love who live in them. This particular body of work was a way of celebrating the friendships I had in my hometown. I painted the people around me who I loved and in the way that I liked to think of them. I put them in crowns and showered them in confetti. In essence, I celebrated what they meant to me. It wasn't consciously a reaction to anything in the art world, but in hindsight, I can see how this was a way of differentiating myself from a lot of the clinical, academic art I was surrounded by in Melbourne and positioning myself unapologetically as the emotional and reactionary artist I am.

Abdul-Hamid Ibrahim Percival Charles Charles Charles Charles 2
2012
C-type print

OPP:  Your most recent photographs were shown at the Melbourne Art Fair in August. They feature you and an older man, and the titles refer to your paternal lineage. Could you talk about this theme in your work?

AA: The photographs featured my father, or likenesses of my father. Lineage is a subject that has become very important to me. I am a seventh generation Australian with a direct paternal link to a convict who arrived here in 1815, after stealing two stamps and a watch chain in London. My paternal line is exclusively of British origin. On my mother’s side, it is Malay. My father converted to Islam in 1972 and took the Arabic name Ibrahim Abdullah. He married my already Muslim mother, and they raised their children as Muslims.

While my roots run deep in this country, I have found myself continuously having to justify my position as both an Australian and as a Muslim. My skin is brown, and I have an Arabic name so people think I must be from somewhere else with values that don’t correspond with Australian values, or they say that I have assimilated well. Both statements are incorrect. My family has been in Australia for 200 years. I haven’t changed to assimilate into Australian society; I have always been the way I am. Even the cable guy that came to fix my internet the other day said, “I saw your name and thought I’d have trouble with you, but you speak English well." This is symptomatic of the broader Australian attitude. We might have opened our borders, but the White Australia Policy, which restricted non-white immigration to Australia, was only abolished 40 years ago. The personal revolution my father underwent when he became a Muslim that same year defined who I am and how I identify myself today. I am an Australian, I love my country, and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, but I certainly don’t fit the Aussie stereotype.

OPP: As an American, I'm not sure I know exactly what the Aussie stereotype is. Could you explain what you mean?

AA: The Aussie stereotype, as I understand it, is the white, sun-bleached by-product of British colonization. At best it's the laid-back, rough-around-the-edges Crocodile Dundee type. At worst, it's nationalist, xenophobic and white-supremacist. Australia did not suffer apartheid, but our historical experience is not dissimilar. Indigenous people were not classed as human beings until the 1970s, and the term asylum-seeker has somehow become synonymous with illegal immigrant. The Cronulla riots in 2005 were perpetrated by flag-bearing people fitting this stereotype who claimed ownership of the term Aussie. Placards on the day denounced Wogs, referring intially to Lebanese-Australians. But as the day went on, the term seemed to refer to anyone who wasn't white. Broadly speaking, I wouldn't call those who fit the young Aussie stereotype consciously racist, but rather they are South Park Conservatives, and by that I mean, well-meaning idealists with oversimplified, right-leaning politics. They have an egocentric view of the world that reveals a limited understanding of domestic and international history. They wear Rusty brand shorts and flipflops no what the weather is, and they look like Chris Hemsworth or Kylie Minogue.

Intimate Ambassador Ayres
2012
oil on canvas
16" x 16"

OPP: You did a collaborative project with two other emerging Australian artists, Nathan Beard and Casey Ayres, called The Greater Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. The project deals with cultural stereotypes and the experience of living in a multicultural society. Explain the historical reference of the project's title and describe the public performance project.

AA: The Greater Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere was a collaboration with fellow Eurasian artists Casey Ayres and Nathan Beard for the 2012 Next Wave festival in Melbourne. The title refers to Japan’s geo-political ambition in World War II, called the "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere." We dropped "East" from the title and made it more inclusive. The project consisted of an embassy for the fictional empire where we the artists acted as hosts or ambassadors. We transformed a space at the National Gallery of Victoria into an orientalized kitsch set that acted as the backdrop for a series of performances and workshops. These included dancers, musicians and performers, as well as experts in different Asian arts and cultures. We wanted to turn a mirror on the exotic and hold it up to the way Asia is consumed by the Australian public. The whole project was tongue-in-cheek, but we were able to reveal some uncomfortable stereotypes.

OPP: There seems to be a precarious balance between irony and a sincerity in the act of performing as ambassadors. This irony-sincerity hybridity underscores what you've said about your experience as a Muslim-Australian, in the sense that it is a synthesis of two things which people often think of as opposing. I'm wondering about the tone of the performances and workshops. Was it in contrast to the "orientalized kitsch set" or in line with it?

AA: It's important that The Greater Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere was a humorous engagement with these topics, it was also an earnest investigation that carefully handled different cultural discourses. Our workshops were authentic collaborations with Asian-Australian performers, artists and experts. The set and our costumes were exaggerated facsimiles of the real thing, but our engagement with the people we hosted was sincere and not supposed to be ironic.

The Greater Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere
Promotional image
2011

OPP: Those gold suits are amazing! Could you talk about the role of costuming and accessorizing in the project?

AA: The costumes we wore for the duration of festival were based on a Prada design and were made while on a research trip to Thailand in 2011. As the ambassadors we decided we were each going to identify with one of the three imagined pillars of our empire: passion, beauty and wisdom. The crowns we chose and our demeanors were designed to reflect these traits. The gold fabric was chosen, because we felt it reflected the kitsch themes of the space and idea.

OPP: What effect did your collaboration in The Greater Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere have on your own individual practice?

AA: While I have been consciously expanding my practice over the last three years, this collaboration took it to places I hadn’t ever imagined. It involved theatre, dance, performance and audience interactivity. We existed in the space as part of the artwork and interacted with our audience as performers. It really revealed to me what is possible when you are trying to communicate an idea and how, when making art, the idea absolutely must be privileged over the medium. At the same time this does not undermine the value of painting, but rather reinforces the reasons I paint when I do and when I use other means of communications as opposed to painting. 

OPP: What new idea or project are you excited about right now?

AA:  In 2013 I will be exhibiting and working on a body of work that explores the notion of "home." Australia, being a relatively new nation with colonial beginnings has an uncomfortable relationship with this idea. What does "home" mean in the contemporary multicultural Australian context? As a seventh generation Australian, who is also a Muslim and who isn't white, I have mixed feelings about identifying with my nationality. I am an Australian and I love my country, but there is a segment of society in which people claim the same thing but deny my right to do so. I don't have a "mother-country," and if this isn't my home, then where is? I think this question is relevant to an entire generation of Australians who don't identify with bushrangers.

To see more of Abdul's work, please visit abdulabdullah.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 be 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).

NEW TEMPLATES: OPP's BIGGEST Update of the Year!

Just in time for those end-of-the-year residency and grant applications (or showing your website to Aunt Violet over the holidays), OPP is excited to announce our BIGGEST UPDATE of the year!

OPP websites now have a whole bunch of gorgeous new Template options, with flowing layouts, and a choice of 3 different sizes -- so your images can be as large as you like! These Templates are simple and classy, so they let your work really take the foreground. You can choose from over 250 variations of 35 brand-new subtle patterns, or over 130 solid colors. Go to the "Templates" section of your OPP Control Panel to try them out -- and get a fresh new look for your site for 2013!

jennykendler.com with subtle "Shatter" Template

So, all your friends have white websites? Well, with OPP, white now comes in flavors! Look closely…we think these Template's patterns are so nice because they're really subtle. They won't interfere with viewing your work, while still imparting that certain je ne sais quoi.

Some of them are aaaaalmost completely solid colors but with little flecks, or with a simple fabric texture or a chic paper pattern. (Of course there are also lots of options for those who prefer gray birds, black florals…or pink pleather, you cheeky monkey!) We guarantee you'll find something that will set your site apart *and* look stunning with your work.

The new Templates also have the option to show your work at 3 different sizes: M, L and XL. You'll remember we updated Zoom Images recently, so your artwork can now been seen much larger and your Zooms can now fill the screen -- even if you, or that curator checking out your work, are using a giant cinematic display.

Here are some tips to help you get the most from the new update:

* Check on the size of your Artwork and Zoom Images. Your OPP site will now show them at the largest possible size, based on what you originally uploaded, and the Template size you have chosen. If your Image are not as big as you'd like them to be, go ahead and re-upload. To take maximum advantage, your images should be at least 2500 px on the longest side. (Remember: images still should be under 10MB and 4092 px on any side.)

* If you haven't already, go to "Home Page Image" and select one of your Artwork Images to show up on your Home Page. (We added this feature on Dec. 6th) This will enable the new larger size images for your Home Page too, and means you no longer have to upload new images twice.

* Check out the Body & Menu Fonts sections for more choices on your font sizes, so you can have perfectly sized type with your new Template. (We added this on Dec. 6th too!)

* The size of your Title and Nav Fonts may change in the layout of the new Templates. Fonts may render differently at different sizes, be sure to check and adjust your fonts, if needed, to be sure you have one you love.

You can see some examples of OPP-ers using the new Templates here:

Lilly McElroy (<--- Lilly is exploring the iconic American Landscape; how it inspires us, leads us on, and often fails to live up to the dream.)

 

Montgomery Perry Smith (<--- Monte creates beautiful, provocative forms in tittilating materials like foam, glass and fleece.)

 

Jenny Kendler (<--- This is my site...hi! I’m interested in complicating the space between Nature and Culture and exploring human beings’ complex relationship(s) with the natural world.)


 

Carl Baratta (<--- Carl's paintings are double-plus good! How could Indian-miniatures-meets-kung-fu fail? Did we mention he makes his own paint from scratch?!)

 

Mara Baker  (<--- Mara's work, often created from re-purposed non-traditional materials, investigates the signifiers of deterioration and residue.)

 

Andrew Scott Ross (<--- Andrew's intricate paper works explore the history of the human imagination.)

 

We hope you love the new Templates and have fun updating your websites! We're always cooking up new ideas at the OPP lab, so let us know if there's something you'd really like to see by emailing your suggestion to support [at] otherpeoplespixels.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Amy Elkins

Rick (Tight Head Prop Forward), Princeton, NJ.
2010

AMY ELKINS's photographic portraits question traditional assumptions about gender, identity and emotion, revealing vulnerability and fragility in the masculine experience. Her work has recently been seen at the 2012 International Young Photographers' Exhibition in S. Korea and The Bursa International Photo Festival in Turkey. Based in Portland, Oregon, Amy is currently an artist-in-residence at Villa Waldberta International Artist House in Munich, where her work is also on view in Next Generation: Contemporary American Photography at Amerika Haus.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your work has some painterly references even though you are a photographer. What are your influences in terms of portraiture?

Amy Elkins: I think this is something that I do quite subconsciously. I studied painting, drawing, collage, printmaking and other forms of hand-to-paper art-making for years before taking my first photography class. While I fell in love with photography and the way that it could instantly transform or capture reality, I’ve always been drawn to painting. I remember the first time I walked through the Metropolitian Museum of Art and saw early Dutch and American paintings depicting people in dramatic light and lavish environments with rigid and elegant postures…that visual contrast resonated with me. 

I've been abroad in Munich at a residency for the past few months, and I constantly find myself in so many museums. I've easily spent hours/days just looking at the awkward qualities in these paintings—the gestures, expressions and environments.

Contemporary photographer Rineke Dijkstra’s series of young matadors had a huge impact on me, and I still believe they are incredibly compelling. I'm also influenced by Lise Sarfati and her portraits of young inmates in Europe, Fazal Sheikh’s daylight studios in refugee camps, Carl de Keyzer’s Siberian prison camp portraits and definitely the works of August Sander


Brendan, Brooklyn, NY
2008

OPP: In your statement for your ongoing series Wallflower, you say: "In a reversal of the traditional male gaze, the images confront some of the cultural grounds underlying gender, opting to focus on the beauty, sensitivity and vulnerabilities found in a sex that has long been held to masculine expectations and stereotypes." Can you define the notion of the female gaze in the same way the male gaze has been defined throughout art history? 

AE: I think the two types of gazes we are referring to can be seen very differently depending on the type of work we are connecting it with. Throughout art and photography history, the male gaze is used to explore and portray female sensuality, sexuality, beauty and vulnerability. This portrayal suggests to the audience that women should be seen this way. I am not trying to reverse the role of power that has been assumed by the male gaze. I am simply turning the gaze around a little and exploring the notion that females aren’t the only gender susceptible to fragility and vulnerability. Society looks at gender in very black and white terms, and those terms seem so far from the actual vast gradient of what makes up who we all are. In my image making, I ask the viewer to engage in questions regarding gender code and societal standards of masculinity and femininity. 

OPP: Two bodies of work, Black is the Day, Black is the Night and The Sunshine State, are ongoing explorations of inmates on death row. The pieces are portraits but not in a traditional sense. I'd like to hear more about both of these projects.

AE: I’ll talk about Black is the Day, Black is the Night first—it’s the catalyst for Sunshine State—and a project that isn’t currently on my website: Parting Words. Black is the Day, Black is the Night began through my correspondence with men who were and still are serving primarily death row sentences across the United States. It all began one rainy afternoon in Brooklyn when I came across a website for prisoners seeking pen pals. There were advanced search options for those who were serving life in prison and those serving on death row. Out of morbid curiosity, I clicked on the death option. What unraveled before me felt equal parts disgusting and mesmerizing. I saw hundreds of profiles staring back at me. After a lot of thought and recurring visits to this website, I decided to write several men serving death row sentences and two men serving life sentences who had entered prison as juveniles. I sent them letters introducing myself. I began my interactions with very simple questions about identity, memory, time and distance. I was curious about how being so far removed from society impacted their notions of self, of others and of home. I was curious about how facing life or death in prison as a result of acting out on a violent impulse brought them into a heightened mental state of stress and vulnerability.

I never thought any of these correspondences would turn into a photography project. Simply put, I was curious about their lives. I knew that this was a rare opportunity for me to be in touch first hand. I felt it deeply connected with the multifaceted exploration of masculinity I had already been working on. I never expected what ended up unfolding. There was such sincerity in the letters, and such a readiness for collaboration. So I began constructing images from the text they were sharing with me, and then I would send those images to them. They critiqued and sometimes decorated their cells with the images. This went on for years. These images were the only types of portrait that I could make of them. 

Of the seven men with whom I originally corresponded, I remain in touch with only one. He has been in solitary confinement since 1995 for a crime he committed at age 16. One man was released in 2010 at the age of 30 after 15 years in prison. Three men opted out of the correspondence. One man was executed in 2009, and another met the same fate in March 2012.  

19/32 (Not the Man I Once Was)
Portrait of a man having thus far served 19 years of a Life without Parole (solitary) sentence where the ratio of years spent in prison to years alive determined the level of image loss.

OPP: How are your other two projects different from Black is the Day, Black is the Night?

AE: Sunshine State and Parting Words spurred off of Black is the Day, Black is the Night. That's when I became more involved in my research about the U.S. death penalty. Sunshine State encompasses every mug shot from one of the most populated prison death rows in the country. For every portrait, I remove all details of the original image until it becomes just spectrums of color and light. Through this process, I speak to the loss of self within such a massive prison population. I do this knowing full well that these experiences are just part of an even more massive, nationwide prison death row population.

In the forever ongoing project Parting Words, I combine mug shots from every inmate executed in the state of Texas with their last words. The new portrait is made entirely of text and gradiations. The portraits are recognizable and clear when seen from far away, but as the viewer approaches them they dissolve into text. These are the last vestiges of each man that still remain. This project began when one of my prison pen pals in Texas was executed. 

OPP: Can you expand on the underlying connection between violence and vulnerability in your work? It's present in both the inmate projects and Elegant Violence, which is an ongoing series of portraits of rugby players.

AE: This is a connection that I have been making only in my most recent work, but have wanted to explore for some time. In Wallflower, I look to male subject matter in a way that pushes and challenges gender stereotypes by placing both masculine and feminine together in one frame. Because the men are out of context—they are sitting bare and in a created/fictional environment that is neither mine nor theirs—the viewer is left to read simple body language and gesture against a floral paper backdrop. The subject's vulnerability comes through in the portrait, and the relationship between sitter and photographer. 

Recently I looked again at gender stereotypes. Rather than push against or challenge notions of gender, I examined the idea that men act on violent and competitive impulses. How do those impulses create vulnerability? The physical exertion, the rush of adrenaline, the injuries...these create a less guarded portrait of heightened vulnerability. The rugby athletes are not entirely focused on me and my camera but rather on what they have just experienced in the game. 

The letters and images I made with inmates over the years look at the vulnerabilities of living a life in infinite solitude, or of facing one's death as a result of acting out on violent impulses. The men I portray had already served 12-26 years in prison when I first contacted them. Time forced a break in their notions of self. Through our exchange of letters and art, we looked into memory collapse, changing notions of self and how infinite time impacts both. The act of violence is broken down in both projects, but that's mostly due to circumstances. I often look for that moment of vulnerability, that moment of being unguarded. That moment is when I feel compelled to make portraits.

Lucas, New York, NY
February 07, 2010

 OPP: I like the term "longitudinal portrait" that you use to describe your bodies of work Lucas and Gray, which are both portraits those individuals. What's it like to photograph the same person over a series of years, especially a young boy going through the process of adolescence and becoming an adult man?

AE: I love what unfolds before the camera when I make extended portraits. There’s a patience that has to exist because I know that the project(s) could go on for years; they could endlessly shift in direction, too. The only concrete elements are the subjects themselves. Their lives and environments may shift in numerous directions. I have no idea what future portrait sessions might be like. 

This is true for both Gray and Lucas. Gray had a serious medical condition that had the ability to shift the way he felt and the way his body, face and mood appeared before the camera. His body was physically altered through illness, surgery and recovery. I started photographing him when we lived together in 2004, and I've followed him ever since. The project is loose and flutters in and out of both of our lives.

The project with Lucas began when I met him at a friend's wedding. He was 12-years-old. He was at the wedding with his parents; I contacted them a few weeks later to ask if I could make his portrait. I didn’t necessarily think that I would photograph him for years to come, but here we are several years later and I'm still working with him. It happened organically. We both agree that this has to continue. Over the years, Lucas has literally grown up before the camera. There are so many subtle shifts I catch during these portrait sessions that would otherwise go unnoticed in the day-to-day. In this project, things are far more structured and formulaic; I photograph him every 3-4 months. The shifts are massive when look at the images in sequence. I find this fascinating.

Constellations and the New Arch, Brooklyn, NY
2008

OPP: Right now you are in residency in Germany, correct? Tell us about the residency. What will you be working on while you are there?

AE: Yes, I am currently a month into the Villa Waldberta International Artist Residency Program, which provides artists (writers, actors, poets, film makers, photographers, painters, sculptors, musicians) with a furnished apartment in an historic mansion. It's located in the countryside, an hour's train ride outside of Munich. Each artist receives a stipend. I am here for two months thanks to a nomination from Curator Stefan-Maria Mittendorf, who recently assembled an exhibition of American photographers (including Alec Soth, Doug Rickard and Laurel Nakadate, among others) called Next Generation: Contemporary American Photography

Given that the work environment is very different than my own fully equipped studio back home, I’ve learned to work in new ways. I’ve spent quite a lot of time editing images that I've taken in my past seven weeks abroad. I shot formal portraits for a new project that I worked on during my two-week stay in Copenhagen. I also shot informal, lo-fi images that I see as a response to being a foreigner traveling alone for an extended period of time. This is a new experience for me. I’ve been experimenting with printing these lo-fi images on various paper types. I played with sequencing them into several small books/zines, temporarily titled Whilst I am Drawing Breath, which is taken from a poem by Rose Ausländer

Both projects are too new to talk about in further detail. They are still very much evolving. I have a little under a month left here, and while I’ll continue to work on these projects I also plan on attending Paris Photo and visiting London and Salzburg before heading home. My trip back includes a four-day layover in Iceland where I will soak in geothermal pools, and another several days in NYC to work on Lucas. When I return to Portland, I'll shake off the jetlag and start making work prints. I’ll have been out of my regular reality for three-plus months, and will definitely be ready to jump back in. 

To view more of Amy's work, please visit amyelkins.com.


Artists & Social Media Series: Sabina Ott Discusses the Politics of Facebook Inclusivity and Why Tumblr is Perfect for Artist-Run Project Spaces

Artist Sabina Ott is no stranger to the social web. For more than 25 years, she has been investigating the process and act of painting. The Internet and Gertrude Stein’s prose are two of her major influences. “To me, Stein is the prescient literature to the Internet because her work follows the process of present, lifted, moved, re-experienced, present, lifted, moved, re-experienced,” says Ott. "The idea behind Stein's work mirrors the process of experiencing content on the web, from the layered world of a single Wikipedia page to the rabbit hole of prowling someone’s world as seen through their Facebook profile."

Currently Ott is working with grotesque, environmentally hazardous materials to create life-size sculptures chipped from giant blocks of Styrofoam—the modern day artist’s carving stone, if you will—along with plants one might find at chain convenience stores and swaths of neon spray paint. Her work is a meditation on the convergence of personal subjectivities, manmade synthetic objects, memories of the past and the effervescent landscape of the future. She also runs the artist project space Terrain out of her Oak Park home. Utilizing the front porch, she creates opportunities for artistic interventions in the suburban landscape. Terrain provides artists, ranging from emerging to established, the opportunity to gain additional exposure in a non-commercial setting. Tumblr is integral to Terrain—and sometimes, this artist project space only exists in that virtual form. 

This is the second post in a five-part series about how artists use social media. For the first post about OPP artist Ellen Greene, click hereHave ideas for a topic you'd really like covered on the OPP blog? Email us at blog [at] otherpeoplespixels.com.

Ben Fain at Terrain 

Alicia Eler: When did you first join Facebook? 

Sabina Ott: I first started being on Facebook so that I could reach out to artists I knew all around the world. But I had no filters. I said yes to anybody, because I thought, that's what this was—a global network! This is not about being picky and keeping an isolated community of friends. So I instantly got 1,500 friends. I was like, “Yahoo! Everybody! Yes!” But what happened was I started running the artist project space Terrain out of my Oak Park home. I was using social media to promote Terrain, and as a result I stopped using Facebook to promote my own work. It takes so much energy to do both. Plus when I logged into Facebook, my news feed was just a stream of political commentary and peoples' baby pictures. Right now my main activity on Facebook is hiding people from the news feed. I’m trying to curate it so that I see what I want to see. I can’t deal with another photo of someone's three-year-old doing something completely uninteresting. But on the other hand, I completely understand their impulse to post these photos. 

AE: Tell me about the experience of posting your own artwork to Facebook. 

SO: I posted a lot of my art in 2010 when I started this new body of work. I had stopped making work for awhile because I got really sick. When I began again, I was making these Surrealist eyeball paintings and sculptures—they were about seeing and being seen and about asserting my body or eye into a space. Facebook was a perfect platform for that, because it brings up questions of voyeurism, of who is seeing what, and of how people see in a non-physical space. I just posted tons of this work to Facebook. I would get into conversations about the work, and people would say it was wonderful and be all "Yay Sabina!" And I would say "Yay thank you!" I would just get this high, this incredible high. 

"that" (2011) from Sabina Ott's Facebook page
polystyrene, plexiglass, pigment print on paper, foam, canvas, acrylic and enamel paint
28" x 18" x 10"

People were like, “I cant wait to see this!” At one point I thought, who needs a gallery if the whole point is to have your work seen? Facebook is great for that. It really works. Recently I changed my Facebook cover photo, but on the whole I haven’t been posting my work that much. It takes a lot of attention. But then I posted one piece of artwork and received 30 likes on Facebook. That was really satisfying. Then I thought maybe I should withhold a bit and post less of my artwork; before I had been so out there with my art. I hadn't been doing the personal aspect of Facebook either, and then I started listing my family members on there. So I opened it up to family, not just art people. It was an idea about a personal politic, really. Why can’t I have my husband, dog, nieces, nephews and art students all in the same space?  

AE: Would you consider the Facebook profile a space for political intervention? I am thinking about ideas of the personal as political.

SO: Yeah, I do. It’s important to think about Facebook in this way. It's similar to the way I am doing Terrain, too. It’s like, yes, it’s my house—but yes, you can come over. I think that sort of inclusivity is important. At the same time, when I got like 1,800-1,900 Facebook friends, I kind of overdosed on it. That’s when I stopped doing my personal posting as much. 

AE: How did your Facebook posting change when you hit that number? 

SO: I was just getting a lot of crap on my wall. I lost focus on it as a sort of subversive act of blending my art, personal life and public persona. And I realized I was collecting friends, which I like doing as well…

AE: What do you think of the way New York Magazine Senior Art Critic Jerry Saltz uses Facebook? He’s like the Facebook Art Critic. 

SO: You know, I'm a contrarian—I can't stand the way Jerry uses Facebook. You realize that all these people he is friends with are posting comments for him, but only kind of. People are having conversations on Jerry’s wall on the slim chance that he will look in and say, “That one! That one is brilliant! I'll go to their studio!” Facebook has really worked for him as an artistic presence. It's interesting that writers and curators can have that sort of presence on Facebook, maybe even more than visual artists. 

A post from Jerry Saltz's Facebook page

AE: Let’s go back to how you say you rebuilt your community first through Facebook. Tell me about why this happened. 

SO: I think it happened this way because I moved so much—from Los Angeles to St. Louis to San Francisco to Chicago. Nobody knows where I'm living or where I'm from anymore. I was very much identified as an LA artist for about 15 years of my career. Recently someone asked me how I was enjoying St. Louis. That was 15 years ago, and I was running the grad program at Wash U. Through the Facebook virual presence, I am able to re-establish my physical location and presence.  

"First Eye" (2008)
ostrich egg, plastic rose, ink print, glitter and spray paint
14 x 12 x 6 inches approx.
Private collection, Pasadena, CA

AE: Has Facebook reconnected you with people from your past? Do you use Facebook Lists at all to filter your friends?

SO: No, but I should use lists. It was the strangest thing watching people from elementary school and people I used to sleep with who were like, “Hi!” I have so many old boyfriends that are now Facebook friends, which is hilarious to me. I have much better relationships with them on Facebook than I did in real life. This guy I was previously engaged to twice is a real pontificator on Facebook. He's a philosophy guy and a Jungian therapist. He's decided to take on my work through Facebook. He'll say things like, "Imminence! You've always been about imminence!" And he'll go on and on about my work in Facebook comments and messages. I'll say, "Will you write a catalogue essay for me?" And he'll say, "You're lazy! You've always been lazy!" So there is this kind of distilled relationship that happens on Facebook—it is simultaneously personal and artwork-related. 

AE: How do you use social media for Terrain, the project space that occupies the front porch of your Oak Park home? 

SO: The Terrain site is on Tumblr and Facebook. The Tumblr page is more formal and elegant. The Facebook Group is like, "Bah! Go here! Go there!" I went onto Facebook and put everyone I know into the Terrain Facebook Group whether they like it or not. It's a Group, not a Fan Page. The Facebook Group makes it so that every time I post something, everyone gets a message about it. But I mostly post stuff like, “This is happening here and there.” Terrain has been really successful in a year, and by successful, I mean people know about it, it has a presence and it has an identity. In fact, it has exactly the kind of identity I want it to have—it’s participatory, and people also feel that if they see it on Facebook and Tumblr, they don’t have to go and see the real, physical thing. And that’s perfectly okay with me. 

AE: Really? You don’t care if people actually come out to the space and openings? That’s something I think about a lot when it comes to artists and social media. Sometimes if I see a lot of artwork on Facebook, I’m less inclined to check out the show. Doesn't that bother you, too?

SO: It's different with Terrain—it's one piece, one thing that’s subject to the elements. And it’s in the suburbs of Chicago. A lot of people I know aren't going to get there. They may come to the opening if they are within a 10-mile radius. I truly want people from all over the world to look at Terrain and the work we show. It worked tremendously well for Claire Ashley, who showed at Terrain in April–May 2012.  

Claire Ashley at Terrain

I like that the Terrain Tumblr allows people to know about the space without having to physically be there. Terrain isn’t meant for the social web per say, but it does work well on there. On the other hand, if an exhibition feels like it’s meant just to be photographed and posted on the web, that’s annoying. But in this case, it gives a shelf life to something that’s really impermanent. There are scraps of Terrain—like the space I had at the MDW Art Fair—but they will never be installed that way again. It’s best to have Terrain be a piece within a piece within a piece. Terrain as a concept is a piece, the Terrain Tumblr site is a piece, and then there are pieces within that, which are the artists' works at Terrain. Facebook is the active voice of Terrain—the conversational part of the place, if you will. I don't know how I would do that kind of meta-interplay with my own artwork.  

AE: I was reading the artist statement about networking that you have on your website. You discuss similarities between the act of painting and the digital, virtual world. You write: “So- somewhere in the middle of the textures, gestures and the overall formlessness that makes up painting (that special space within which subjectivity thrives) I form connections to the digital virtual world. Perhaps it’s the permeability, the boundary-less-ness of the web—overflowing with information and simultaneous endless connections and associations—that seems so very painterly. Indeed, one of the qualities of painting is its all-over-ness, because to experience a painting is to escape from linearity and simultaneously experience the past (memory), the present, and the future (fantasy). Experience becomes flat –as in systems theory, where flatness is used to describe non-linearity.” Does this include the social web, or are you just speaking about the Internet as a digital, virtual world?

SO: I think these ideas connect to the social web, because I can’t separate roaming on the web from the social aspects. The Internet is a portal, and so it is a portal to information; but it's also a portal to someone else's mind, and it's very personal too. I surf a lot on Facebook. I'm like the perfect Facebook person—I disappear into the rabbit hole. There might be someone I never sit down and talk to in real life, yet I am following their interests on Facebook. To me, that’s a gift, and I am happy to receive it. I am sure there are people who explore my Facebook page in the same way, following the Facebook path down its trajectory. 

Sabina Ott in her studio with new work

AE: Is there an artist on Facebook who you follow closely? Or are there artists who, through their Facebook presence, influence your work?

SO: Artist Stephanie Barber did a piece at The Poor Farm around the same time I showed there. She cut out a poem that she wrote out of grass turf. Stephanie lives in Baltimore. She writes these weird haikus, and if she lived here, we would definitely hang out. Instead, we are Facebook friends, and every time she writes a poem it pops up on in my Facebook news feed. Being able to see her work and that of other artists I admire but who don’t live nearby, makes my world really big. 

People say the Internet is bad, and they think it cuts out social graces. But I don't think so. I think it makes people better. They learn more. They are exposed to more. They have to tolerate more. They have to be conscious of what they say. And they have to learn how to reach out. I think it's really good, and I like it a lot. I felt really liberated by the Internet. I first got into it when I moved to St. Louis. It was right before there was this open Internet. Like, you could live without an email address. Schools were trying to require email addresses. I had just made this website, and the background was one of my paintings. I was totally into it, but I think a lot of that happened because I moved away from LA and my home and things just dropped into the rabbit hole. Thanks to Facebook, the chances of people just dropping off when you move away are a bit less. 

I went to Australia in 1996, when the country was much more on the web trek than the U.S. You can see the cultural shift that happened there because of the Internet. With the advent of the Internet, they weren't on the edge of the world in the wrong time zone on an island. When they were, it was so much more alive. Australians had a whole alternate universe island before the Internet. So with the Internet, something is lost—but everything is affected and reflected and still has its own identity. That's what's interesting about how the Internet gives exposure. And you still misunderstand it, which is what you want. 

In Australia, there was this artist there named Mike Parr—he was kind of like what John Baldessari is to the U.S. Or maybe Mel Bochner. Parr’s work was almost identical to theirs, but he was not exposed to international artists via the Internet. He developed his work in an Australian way. This kind of thing happens less nowadays, but even so, you still don’t lose that local sense. 

Mike Parr
Hold your breath for as long as possible (still from video, 1972
Image via NotQuiteCritics.com

To learn more about Sabina Ott, visit her website: http://sabinaott.com