OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Eric Ashcraft

The Sun Don't Shine in your TV
2011
archival inkjet print
4.24" x 6"

ERIC ASHCRAFT juxtaposes nature and technology, painting and sculpture and the found and the original in his mixed media work emphasizing the blurry, rich spaces between the binaries we often use to define things. His work has been shown most recently at The Missoula Art Museum (Missoula), Mt. Comfort (Indianapolis) and as a part of a two-person exhibition Poseur at Grizzly Grizzly (Philadelphia). Upcoming exhibitions include Taste at Small Black Door (New York). Eric lives in Yakima, WA.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Many of your pieces are paintings on modified found objects, so they are part painting-part sculpture. But juxtaposition seems to be an even stronger defining strategy driving all the work.

Eric Ashcraft: Lao Tzu once proposed that truth is apprehended through the understanding of fundamental binaries. Often, when one considers how best to describe the interactions of things around us, “discontinuity” proves to be a valuable signifier. A thing or event becomes best described by what it is not. The mind works to separate things, to classify, in order that it may abstract experiences into symbols, and orchestrate symbols into concepts. This is what we see in language, i.e. not dark but …, not soft but …, etc. It is no coincidence that a recurring theme in mythological constructions is that the fabric of nature itself is comprised of the interaction between opposites. It is also fascinating to me that natureas described by quantum field theoryworks in much the same vein as many of our mythologies would suggest. The laws of nature are very nearly symmetrical with respect to particles and antiparticles, which providefor lack of better termsa balance between the fundamental components (interactions) of reality.

When it comes to drawing lines between sculpture and painting, I often think, loosely and imperfectly, in terms of the classical binary opposition between mind and matter. In a limiting way, I relate properties of painting (surface-illusion) with mind, and properties of sculpture (form-space) with matter. In this context, I then enjoy attempting to erase the lines of separation, suspending knowledge of their respective attributes, which brings me closer in affinity with the traditions of mysticism. In moments of illumination, these systems of opposites are transcended and dissolved into a homogeneous continuity. And there, interconnectedness is laid bare and inarticulate. 

On a basic level, I don’t see much of a difference between the two; one easily becomes a surface for the other. Both are composites of thought and action. Both manifest as objects, limited by the material of which they are comprised. Both inevitably decay in time and are defined in accordance with the limiting symbols of language and difference. And importantly, both are constantly being redefined as the parameters in which they exist, evolve, expand and reconstitute under new paradigms. And so these half-painting, half-sculpture “hybrids” are a kind of articulation of this malleability of form and classification. In general, this perpetual fluctuation of category is a continuing drive for me.

Midsummer Liaison
2011
acrylic on beer case
8" x 10.5" x 5"

OPP: So, do you identify as a painter, sculptor or as a conceptual artist?

 EA: If I had to choose between being identified as a painter, a sculptor or a conceptual artist, I would choose to be a banana. When it comes down to it, I’ll use whatever method necessary to allow an idea or experience to come to fruition, and usually concept takes priority. It is also probably obvious that I have a debilitating fear of being categorized, but it is important for me to allow myself to creatively wander and be a bit delusional. Truly, I think it would be best to not consider myself an artist at all and circumnavigate the issue.

OPP: Touché. A specific juxtaposition I see over and over again is the combination of the untouched, romantic landscape with various forms of technology: in My Kind of Romance (2008) you added a neon dress shirt, and, in Entertainment Tonight (2008), you put the painting on a TV set, and in Tell Me if I am not Happy (2011), the landscape covered the jacket of an undisclosed VHS tape. Could you talk about the recurring combination of the romantic landscape with technology?

EA: It really comes from numerous places. Some of the most visible to me are a consideration of the history of beauty and the seduction of the observer, the manifestation of both as signs, and conflict between immersive space and the obstructive tactility of our urban detritus. I remember, in the case of My Kind of Romance, being really interested in different materials and images employed in order to seduce. The image of the untouched landscape, which in this case, was a kind of compendium of historical influences varying from Corot, to the tyrant of our grandparents’ walls, Mr. Thomas Kinkade, and the physical presence of neon. Both have qualities that entice. One, an image that satisfies a kind of escapist yearning, relates to desires for purity, and the other, neon, is a more urban material. It's eye-candy, employed to catch one’s attention, reeling one in to consume. The shirt also stands in as an abstracted modern presence within a nostalgic and fictitious ideal. 

Perhaps a general interest in the sublime is a more apparent source of the combination. Technology, in a way, embodies a new experience of the sublime, one that provides awe through a shear overabundance of information. Where we once could stand on a precipice and feel the awesomeness of a great expanse, belittled and terrified by the vastness of space and unharnessed nature (in some places this still happens, especially in relation to outer space), we can now feel a similar phenomenon via the great expanse of information that confronts us through our exponentially generative technologies.

Ground Control
2010
oil and china marker on board
22" x 22"

OPP: Talk about the theme of erasure in works like BEST IF USED BY JAN 01 12 (2011), The Hard Bones Under the Flesh (2011) and Were It to Begin and Were It to Cease (2011).

EA: I was interested in revealing the form or material under the advertising or image. I was sort of trying to reveal the essence of the object by taking away its skin. In doing so, the material and form became both reduced and more coherent in the modern sense. By cutting away at a structure, you can begin to understand how it works. You can break it down and simplify it. These works were kind of dissections in a very superficial sense.

OPP: So, is the tendency towards deconstruction as a way to comprehend related to the experience of vastness and awesomeness of the sublime in whatever form?

EA: You know, I have never seen a connection between them; perhaps you are picking up on something. I sort of think of the sublime as this moment where things can’t be reduced or taken apart, as being in affinity with rapture. It can only be talked about and deemed a sublime experience after the fact. So there is a rift between experience and understanding. First, one experiences, then knowledge is extracted from that experience once it is decoded into a language of logical understanding. Deconstruction is a utility for obtaining knowledge. The experience of the sublime is a state of dissolution into the unknown. So, perhaps they are connected in the sense of being complements.

Day and Night
2011
two men's size 11 shoes made from cutting and reassembling two pairs of personally used Adidas shoes

OPP: There are some fascinating anomalies in your oeuvre: The Cracked Picket (2009) and Summertime (2010), for example, represent extremely different styles of painting. They are so distinct that it seems to be a conscious choice. I'd love to hear more about these pieces, and why you chose to paint the way you did? 

EA: Painting has an immense history that is nearly impossible to ignore, to the point that virtually any mark you make on a surface can carry a cultural and political significance. I like to visualize aesthetic approaches as varying tools in the toolbox; you can build content through renegotiating the terms of a thing’s representation and by questioning the validity of a thing’s historical definition or stature.

I think of style as really organic in this way. Different styles can be used to express different ideas. Some things are simply more effective rendered in a particular way. In The Cracked Picket, I remember trying to navigate between styles in such a way that the overall aesthetic wouldn’t fall into one category or the other, sort of walking the fence between cartoon and realism, humor and seriousness, abstraction and representation. Even the paint application was stuck somewhere between thick and thin. The combination of the perspective and the abundant thickness of the painting’s layers made the house feel like a real object in person, as if it were poised to fall off the surface. The fabricated quality of the house was magnified by rendering it in a synthetic medium: acrylic. Also relevant was its scale; it was much too big to be an illustration and too small to be a completely immersive illusion. It almost felt as if it should have been inhabited by hobbit-sized dolls.

I painted Summertime through a childhood memory of a confrontation with the decaying corpse of an entangled and unfortunate cow. There are a lot of contradictions at play, conceptually, physically and in regard to taste. I was trying to achieve a balance between an evasive apparition-like quality and a solid mass. The paint needed to be more of a mutating agent, accented by moments of heaviness shifting into transparency. The method of paint application was influenced greatly by the subject. I was revolving around death as a subject and a metaphor for painting as a whole. I was considering ambiguities in form through the use of an extremely plastic and fleshy material, mainly oil. I wanted to represent Death, unveiled as an elapse of time rather than as something instantaneous and foreign. I saw this concept as being in conjunction with the character of painting itself. A painting is built in time and ultimately decays in time, much the same way we do. A painting represents an expanded period of time. The time of its making is inherent in the “finished” work, in the layers of its construction. But it is never truly finished until it ceases to exist.

Good Company
2011
airbrush on prepared print and frame
28" x 24"

OPP: What you are saying leads me to think of your work through the lens of contemporary remix culture, which is something close to my own heart. Throughout art history, new work has always drawn on old work, but your work makes this creation of meaning through juxtaposition more apparent because it is less concerned with having a definitive, "original" style. I'm enjoying thinking of your work as painting remix, similar to sampling in Hip Hop or the creation of new narratives in fanvids, mash-ups and supercuts. Is there any connection between your work and these non-art-world forms?

EA: Definitely. I enjoy that connection. All of these methods mix and clash material from a nearly inexhaustible and ever-growing media archive. Everything is up for grabs. The exchange of information has become so fast that classified channels of expression don’t have much of a shelf-life. There is always something new being born from the old, and I see no sign of it slowing down. So many turning points in history really come from separate languages combining into new forms. In a way, these “non-art-world” (non-art-world-yet?) methods pay homage to older methodologies of creativity, particularly appropriation in Cubist and Dadaist collage.

I think material that has a real physical history can be “remixed” as well. As our experience of media and technology becomes more integrated with the physical, the barriers between real and virtual begin to seem less distinct; it is truly hard to distinguish what is original from what is synthetic. I’ve begun to think of the two as unified harbingers of information.

As the exchange of information becomes increasingly more rapid, I see a possibility for material and image manipulation to expand to encompass increasingly more collisions of aesthetics. I envision the future of communication as a vast array of interweaving symbols that no longer function on a two-dimensional levelas current language doesbut instead a multi-dimensional ocean of layered meaning and non-meaning, abstraction and image, symbol and space.

On another note, if you choose to sample something, you can sample and still put your twist on it -- in fact it’s hard not to, the way you can still hear a characterizing finesse behind a great DJ’s flavor of blending chosen source material. Originality can be found in the idiosyncrasies. When you are taking influence, or even straight up stealing, the result doesn’t have to be derivative, and even that isn’t always a bad thing. I still entertain the idea of uniqueness, but one doesn’t need to be original in one way. You can be creative through multiple mediums and even multiple identities. You don’t need to wave a banner around with a singular product to be successful.

Untitled
Drawing
2011

OPP: What new development in your art practice are you most excited about right now?

EA: There are a lot of avenues I’ve been exploring that are particularly rewarding. I feel as if right now I’m in a state of transition between multiple platforms, and new methods of expression have begun to unveil themselves. I’m beginning to try to fuse disparate platforms of expression that I’ve used in the past with new visual languages I’m trying to develop. In this respect, digital methods of production and explorations into new fields are especially enticing. In this approach, I have been making these twisted erotic drawings and digital works I haven’t shown anyone yet. I really don’t know how to describe them, which is exciting. 

To view more of Eric's work, please visit ericashcraft.com.

Happy Thanksgiving... One Day Late

I was busy cooking casseroles made with cereal and mayonnaise yesterday morning, and I forgot to say Happy Thanksgiving! It's not a mistake that there was no Featured Artist Interview as I took the day off to cook and not be on the computer for a change, but I can certainly understand your disappointment. We'll return next week at our regularly scheduled time with another outstanding artist.

Artists & Social Media Series : Ellen Greene as the Gloved Female Magician

OPP: We're excited to bring you something new today to inform and inspire how you use social media as an artist. Arts writer and critic, Alicia Eler, is the author of this series in conversation with artists who use social media to their advantage. We all know we're "supposed" to be promoting ourselves as creative practitioners on social sites, but how can we do this authentically? Should we and can we use these sites to share our work, create a following, find opportunities or even contribute to and feed back into our art practices? We hope you enjoy this post and stay tuned for more on this subject on the OPPblog.

For this first installation, Alicia spoke with artist Ellen Greene, who puts a feminist twist on the hypermasculine language of tattoo flash. She creates and paints this new lexicon of tattoo flash onto womens’ leather handgloves, which act as a second skin that allows the tattoo-covered mother to tell her story. She recently wrote a catalogue essay for Ms. Greene's latest exhibition, Invisible Mother's Milk at Packer-Schopf Gallery; it will run in the next issue of Raw Visions magazine. 

Have ideas for a topic you'd really like covered on the OPPblog? Email us at blog [at]  otherpeoplespixels.com.

Artist Ellen Greene

AE: Before we get into social media, tell me a bit about your work. You use acrylic paint on vintage leather womens’ hand gloves. Your use of symbols is interesting to me—you take the language of classic tattoo flash and reimagine it through the lens of a badass mom who’s also an outright feminist. Why do you make what you make? Why do you only use gloves? Why not soft leather shoes or even t-shirts, for example? 

EG: I began collecting gloves because they were objects that I found intriguing. They are made with such fine thin leather and stitched together so delicately over every finger. They are symbolic of an über-feminine aesthetic and belonged to a certain kind of lady who dressed very formally for church, funerals and parties. When I would find them in a thrift store, in bins with coin purses and doilies, they just seemed so beautiful and sad at the same time. They were something forgotten. So, for a time gloves were just beautiful things that I would collect and take back to my studio. I began to paint on them around the same time that I was getting tattoos. I was drawn to the hyper-masculinity of traditional tattoo art. When I say traditional, I mean the western tradition of sailor-style tattoos with imagery of panthers, ladies with big boobs, birds, stars and hearts. I loved how the tattoo artist could use only a few simple images to imply so many emotions. The body became magical, covered with symbols of the person's experience. 

Even though my first attempt at painting tattoo images was quite rudimentary, I kept painting on the gloves until I felt that I had an honest aesthetic. The end product of image on glove was something I had never seen before. The femininity in the gloves combined with the tough, masculine aggression of the tattoo vocabulary created something entirely new.  

As for creating shoes or t-shirts, I would never say never—but to me that kind of work feels more like fashion or something that is mass-produced. I paint on gloves because they are a metaphor for ladies' hands. There is a certain kind of historical attitude towards being a "lady." Heavily tattooed ladies' hands are taboo, and taking those ideas to make a kind of gloved object is interesting to me.

Hell Bent
2011
Ink and acrylic on vintage gloves, steel and wood frame
12.5" x 17"

AE: Your work is very visually engaging, conjuring notions of tattoo and biker cultures, while also crossing into the world of womens’ fashion and feminism. How do images of your gloves tend to work on social media sites like Facebook? What is your sharing strategy, if you have one?

EG: I feel like people are discovering this work and its context. How it works in social media is still unfolding. I am still learning how to share it! It falls into many different categories, and that's what makes it spread easily through the different niches that you describe. Tattoo people, feminists, burlesque and sideshow people and fashion people all like the gloves. Social media allows people to see something and re-broadcast it to people in their niches. In doing so, they frame it into a context that means the most to them. I can’t say I have a strategy other than keeping the information output steady, making sure that my website is up-to-date, and continuing to show and make work.

Girls, Girls, Girls
2012
Hand sewn by glovemaker Daniel Storto, painted by Ellen Greene

AE: You have a great Facebook following, both on your personal page and your artist page. How did you cultivate this audience? What do they add to your practice? How do you tend to and engage with that community?

EG: Thank you! I have two pages—a personal Facebook page and a professional Facebook artist page. My artist page has only one identity—me as an artist. No pictures of random family events or what I ate for dinner will appear there like they do on my Facebook personal page. I set up my artist page with the knowledge that I would want a space that would be very professional, could link to my OPP website, and grow past my personal page's capacity. It allows people outside of my personal life to comment, share or interact with me but it keeps me, as a person, at a distance. 

My personal page is where real life and my art interface more. I find a personal page very useful as a way to interact with people who may not see the posts on the artist page, which has limited interaction abilities. I find the personal page useful for talking to people I know in real life, liking posts and just being more casual. I think I engage the community by just sharing about my passion for art. That's what people connect with. I have made many new connections that allow for collaboration and support. Some online connections have become collectors and friends. I feel pretty positive about my connections on Facebook. They lead to some really interesting real life events and opportunities. You just have to interact with Facebook and think of it as a tool you can use well or not.  

Lylas
2012
Acrylic and wax on paper

AE: I noticed that you use Twitter and Tumblr as well. How useful are they? How do those function in the confines of your overall art practice?  Twitter seems to be most useful for net-artists of some kind, and I know there’s a big Tumblr community of queer artists. How do your images perform on those sites? Please provide your Twitter and Tumblr names here, too.

EG: I have my Twitter linked to my artist Facebook page. So, it tweets out my Facebook posts at the same time. That way I don’t have to actually go to Twitter. I haven’t warmed up to Twitter as I have to Facebook. I try to look at it, interact with it, but I don’t feel like I have personal connections with people there. That being said, I don’t hate it. I just don’t speak its language! It feels very coded with hash tags and @ symbols—it’s not picture-based, unless you click the links. It also feels very huge; it is corporate and celebrity-based. and very fast-paced. It is fleeting and not personal at all, for me. Twitter is all public all the time! I’m sure if I gave a better effort at it, I would get it. It’s a matter of time and energy that I have for social media and, well, Twitter just doesn’t get that much attention from me. 

Overall I feel very positive about social media. I can’t say I hate any of it. I think some people live in these spaces and that is dangerous, but for me they add a sense of interaction that I wouldn’t otherwise have. Tumblr is nice, but it has a very young identity. There are lots of interesting images but the narratives that people put together on there are very much to do with younger people concerns—music quotes, young love and crushes, product obsessions like makeup and clothes and online celebrity. There is a part of me that remembers what it was like to be a teenager and 20-something, so I understand what that expression is and how it forms an identity for a certain time. It's like when you lived and died by your favorite band quotes. But when I was that age there was no Tumblr or Twitter or online identities. So our teen/twenties aesthetic angst was expressed in mix tapes and paper ‘zines. It was still a very intimate act to share that expression between people. I don’t really relate to putting your heart online. Tumblr feels like a format my oldest daughter would be into. She is just getting into anime online culture and making art and drawings that she posts. I have to tell her to be careful about the energy and identity that she puts out there, but I know that she has an artistic spirit and for her generation growing up online is part of how they frame their youth. She doesn’t feel so alone when she can feel like part of an online community.

I do feel that it is important to be present and interactive with different social media formats, especially for artists. I’m sure I could be doing more to maximize my outreach and exposure on Twitter and Tumblr. But for now, its about the work—not the hype—and I just hope people can see it in real life because the gloves are so sensual in a way digital representation cannot capture.

Twitter: @ellengreeneart

Tumblr: artbyellengreene.tumblr.com

AE: What role does Pinterest play in your practice? The demographic on that site encompasses mostly women, and the niches that get the most traction are fashion and home design. 

EG: I like Pinterest for organizing images and for marking sites that I’d like to visit later. When I was looking for pillows for the living room, I pinned many a pretty pillow and then was able look at them all and decide which one I liked best. It is the most consumer-focused of all my media sites! I am very visual so I like the way it allows me to easily categorize images. In contrast to Facebook, I don’t make Pinterst focused on just my artwork. But I do  have my personal page linked to Tumblr and Pinterest so that when I interact with either of those places, it posts it back to my personal Facebook page and adds to that narrative. That way, it comes full circle and feels cohesive as an online identity.

As far as the niche demographic of it being for lady scrapbookers originally—I love that! Scrapbooking, doll collecting, crafting those are all modes of making that actually interest me. They are all obsessive, ladylike, housewife-type modes of making. I can pin a million different gloves that I don't actually own but that I want to have some visual reference for.

In Memory of My Dear Mother
 2012
Acrylic and wax on paper
5" x 7"

AE: Does social media take away from your actual studio practice? 

EG: Only when I let it be a time suck. When I was first starting out I could easily get very obsessive about what everyone else was doing. I participated in their narratives, and realized that I had to pull back and keep it about what I was doing. I don’t have a lot of available time to waste on social media. It actually can be difficult just to find the time to do what I should be doing on there—posting, keeping people engaged and starting conversations. I try to spend much less time posting about non-artwork related information. I also keep out of politics and religion. 

When I use social media as part of my studio practice, it includes networking, collaborating and sharing. I try to post something once a week but I look at and talk about things on a daily basis. Facebook probably takes away more from time I could be reading a book than my studio time. I am very protective of that space and time so I can easily turn off Facebook when I am in my studio. When I am at home relaxing, that’s when I can be on it for too long—it's like watching TV or eating too much candy. You just gotta cut yourself off and know when enough is enough. 

Ellen Greene's Artst Studio 

AE: What are five tips you can offer to artists who are looking to build up a strong audience on social media?

EG:

  1. Make strong work
  2. Don’t live your life online—unless it is part of the work. If it is, then great—go for it and make it work for you, but know it is only a small part of reality. 
  3. Say please and thank you to people who support you and say nice things about the work. A like can be similar to  a nice smile or nod of the head IRL acknowledgment. But taking the time to type ”Thank you that means a lot,” or to write a personal message after you see someone in real life can build a nice friendship both online and in real life.
  4. Do reach out and interact with people, but be sure to respect peoples' Timeline space. Don’t junk up your feed or other peoples sites with too much chatter/spammer. 
  5. When posting artwork, share all pertinent information about the piece, including size, medium, where people can buy it, and what you were thinking about when you are made it. Present it in a professional way; add links, and tag people respectively etc.

AE: What’s next for you? Where can we see your work?

EG: My show “Invisible Mother’s Milk” opened on November 2 and is up at Packer Schopf Gallery through December 29th. I am part of a group show at Parlor Gallery in New Jersey that will be opening in 2013. I have lots of projects coming up next Spring. Like my artist page on FB! You will know what I am up to because I keep up with my social media sites. 

Ellen Greene Artist FB Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ellen-Greene/132461926826773

Ellen Greene's OPP Website: http://artbyellengreene.com/home.html

Packer Schopf Gallery: http://www.packergallery.com

ALICIA ELER contributes art writing and criticism to Artforum.com, Hyperallergic, Art Papers and Newcity Newspaper. Her writing has been published in Time Out Chicago, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Gallery News, Kansas City Review and Flavorpill, and she blogged independently about BRAVO's reality TV series Work of Art: The Next Great Artist, Season 1. Alicia writes catalogue exhibition essays, curates work by emerging contemporary artists, and lectures on art and writing. She is the owner of Queen Bee Creative, a boutique communications firm specializing in creative individuals and small businesses, and is currently the Visual Arts Researcher for the Chicago Artists' Resource. Visit aliciaeler.com for more information. 

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Amy Honchell

2011
Detail
Cloth, thread, scale lumber, acrylic paint, ultrafine glitter
26 x 52 x 6"

AMY HONCHELL's soft sculptures, drawings and installations explore the relationship between the body, the landscape and architecture, with attention to the histories embedded in her donated and selected materials. Her work makes use of the tension between soft and hard structures, both literal and metaphoric, evoking the themes of flexibility and stability, support and collapse. Her work has recently been seen at SOFA Chicago, Glitz at the Annmarie Sculpture Garden & Arts Center and Objects at Jean Albano Gallery, where she is represented. Amy lives in Chicago, IL.

OtherPeoplesPixels: The aesthetic of the early work is more pop-y, possibly more graphic than your current work: bright colors, manufactured objects like marbles and balls and stockings. Did you make an intentional shift away from this aesthetic? 

Amy Honchell: This makes me think of a quote from David Brett’s book, Rethinking Decoration: Pleasure and Ideology in the Visual Arts. He writes, “I am just as likely to be interested in the cheap and cheerful as with the profound and sublime.” I think this is similar to the things I am attracted to—both as a maker and a consumer.

The shift in my practice that you are asking about really had its roots in 2004, and it was more like a series of growing pains than a planned out strategy. Up to that point in time, a lot of my material inspiration came from objects that I found at places like K-mart or dollar stores. I was attracted to things I considered to be part of our cultural vernacular: toys, women’s undergarments, even things from the hardware store. The items I was most drawn to suggested pleasure, play, or even something a bit more titillating. The color palette was definitely bright and pop culture inspired.

My work was investigating the relationship between bodies and architecture, the ways both things had internal systems that kept them functioning. I was very interested in skin—as a pliable surface that existed in liminal or interstitial space (both a part of the inside and outside of things)—and this was true whether you were talking about the skin of a living organism or the skinning of a building. I was stretching, piercing, inflating, and dissecting materials to make site-specific installations.

Then, in 2004, I had the opportunity to travel to Tokyo for a month-long residency and exhibition through Tokyo Gei Dai University. While in Japan, I found that I was struggling with my practice, and it took me by surprise. Here I was, in a city awash in pop-y cultural icons, colors and images, and I felt I needed to make something more restrained (both in its color palette and its materials). The piece, Many Different Sensations are Possible, marked the beginning of a shift for me. It was somehow less about surface, and more about place.

Detail
2004
Fishnet stockings, rubber balls and toys, tinsel

OPP: How did you end up working more with masses of fabric than found/purchased objects?

AH: Fast forward to 2008, my practice took a more pronounced step in a new direction, one which provided the underpinnings of my current investigations. I received a large donation of fabric and clothing from an anonymous donor (all I knew was that he was the son of a woman who had been an avid sewer). I felt that I had inherited the history of another maker, and it gave new life to my work. At the time I thought of the donation as an organ donation for my practice. With the new surplus of material, I began to experiment with a new way of sewing and constructing the sculptural elements. The resulting piece, Purl, is comprised of modular components which, in turn, are made of layers of cloth built-up under a stitched/drawn surface. While the top fabric is new, the under layers revealed through the translucent surface reflect a longer historyone that was not of my choosing.

While I was developing this piece, I kept making drawings of the components that looked more and more like landscape. I felt that I was building a terrain of sorts out of layers (strata?) of cloth. I knew that the work needed to be pushed farther if a viewer was going to read it in the same way that I was imagining.

Drawing (with ink on paper and more dimensionally with thread and wire) became more and more a part of my practice, and it really allowed me to see things in a variety of ways, leading me to actually build/construct the structures that now inhabit the landscapes I sew.

Convenient Passage
2011
Cloth, thread, wood, acrylic paint
72 x 72 x 24"

OPP: "Invisible patterns—topography, weather patterns, bodily systems—are the basis for my site-specific installations and drawings." Could you expand on the connection between the body and the landscape in your work?

AH: When I first wrote that artist statement, I was thinking somewhat visually/formally about how the body and the land can both be framed in ways that appear to be the same—the slope of a body in repose can be like the slope of a mountain (just look at a Edward Westin’s photographs of nudes and sand dunes, and you’ll know what I am talking about).

As I have gone further into making and thinking about the work, I think there are other kinds of connections. Both the body and the landscapeand architecture, for that matterare spaces that are inhabited. I grew up in northeastern Pennsylvania in the heart of the Endless Mountains. I have lived in the Midwest for more than a decade now, but I still think of the landscape of my childhood as my point of reference. I think about traveling along the two lane highways that have been cut out of the side of the mountains to go see my grandmother. Some things are embedded in me: the regular curves in the road, the particular shade of reddish-purple earth that was visible on the wall of rock we drove along, the river far down below in the ravine, the lushness of the foliage at certain times of the year. I consider it a sort of muscle memory, the way we can navigate through a place just because we have done it so many times before. I think there is a deeper connection to place that many of us have that is not about nostalgia but rather something more basic. Heidegger says that dwelling precedes building, and this is sort of the angle I am taking.

I became interested in Guy Debord and the Situationists’ notion of dérive—walking without intention, unplanned journeys and discovery through getting lost, or maybe finding what you didn’t know you were looking for by responding to the landscape/cityscape around you. How we go about locating is of interest to me. Rebecca Solnit’s book A Field Guide to Getting Lost introduced me to Gary Paul Nabhan’s idea of traveling by abstraction: as adults we translate our experiences (locations, movements, etc.) through other media. Maps are translations of physical spaces. Children, on the other hand, experience things in a much more immediate way. They see where they are, unmediated. All of this comes back to the body, back to knowing, responding, feeling something about the places we are, were or want to be. I think there is a different kind of manifest destiny at play—not a politicized one, but the drive and desire to keep exploring, the promise of potential that can be embodied by both people and place.

7 Billion Short Tons: Greater Hardness, High Luster
2011
Detail
Cloth, thread, wood, acrylic paint, ultrafine glitter
96 x 30 x 27"

OPP: I love the 2011 drawings from the exhibition Fictional Landscapes of precarious structures in undulating landscapes. It seems that the ladders and bridges will all collapse, and some of them don't even seem to go anywhere. In contrast, there is so much density in the fabric landscape sculptures. They feel so heavy and sturdy. I read this as about the fragility of our man-made structures, especially in relation to nature.

AH: Thanks! This entire body of work grew out of the idea that soft and hard could be inverted. I love the notion that a (soft) landscape could actually provide the structure to a (hard) architecture—that the malleability of the ground would be the only thing supporting the built environment. I was very excited when I discovered that hard and soft are two terms used to describe different types of infrastructure, too! I definitely wanted to play with that a bit.

I built and drew the ricketiest structures I could think of. The sculptures don’t stand on their own; they only work in the landscapes I create. This imagined world has its own logic in that way—the physics are just off enough. The structures I built and drew were informed by imagined and real structures, including those featured in Bernd and Hilla Bechers’ Typologies. I was drawn, in particular, to the wooden winding towers (old mining structures from Pennsylvania). Although I had not been to these sites before, they felt familiar, and it was as if I knew them. They were made utilizing the materials that were at hand. The construction seemed to have been developed as the structures were being built instead of based off of a real plan.

The structures I imagine (on paper and in wood) are cobbled together, fragmented. They are examples of modern ruins. The types of structures (to date) have ranged from hunting blinds to communication towers to bridges to mining apparatuses.

I wanted to think about creating structures that had a simultaneous sense of failure, desperation and improbability. They are tenuous remnants in this fictional landscape, representing a trace of previous inhabitants, but the context is ambiguous, suggesting a different kind of vanitas theme, perhaps. I think of them as somewhat akin to American painter Thomas Cole’s suite of paintings, The Course of Empire, where the rise and fall of a civilization is situated in a landscape that remains fairly constant. Although, I have to say that I think the work I am making is a bit more ambivalent than the didactic message of this historical example.

I have come to realize that this body of work is informed by the place where I grew up, in the heart of coal mining country in Pennsylvania. The relationship that people have to the land and its resources is complex there. I think it is hard for many people to know what holds value and what is lasting right now. This interests me on lots of levels. Something about being in the Midwest this long has made me really think about the mountains a lot more than I ever did when I lived on the east coast!

Yellow Ladder, Vertical Inclination
2011
Ink on bristol
11 x 14"

OPP: Could you describe the process of making the fabric landscapes? How do you pick the textiles you use?

AH: These pieces have two components—the under layers and the top cloth. The bulk of the textiles I work with are acquired by chance and are, therefore, somewhat random. The materials that I use to build up the under layers of the sculptural landscapes often come from donations I receive from other people or organizations. I cut the donated cloth into strips and sort them on shelves in my studio by color and value (light to dark). The only limitation I put on this is that I prefer to use woven cloth rather than knits because the structure of woven fabrics gives me a sturdier foundation.

The top fabrics, however, are always new, and I select them based on a certain color story I am interested in for each piece. This material is always the same kind: a sheer, four-way stretchy knit synthetic fabric that I have been using for years. I know how to manipulate it to make the things I am interested in. The irony is that if you ever want to sew with it the right way, it can be very tricky stuff to work with. I just muscle it into compliance, but I would be hard-pressed to turn it into something functional like a garment.

I have been asked if it is conceptually important that the under cloth is found or not of my own selection. I think that it is because I end up with all kinds of things that I would never (in a million years!) select or purchase on my own. The fact that I use this for the strata of each piece means that the variety makes things more complex. It also feels akin to how history and geology work. Sediment and layers are built up over time and different types of rock end up next to one another, sometimes due to a cataclysmic event, a rupture of sorts. I still control the materials, but it is far more interesting to work within the breadth and limitations that come my way for this particular work. I am able to excavate as I construct. Cloth is able to reflect history differently than earth, but it still has that ability.

I develop little fractured narratives in my mind while I am working on each new piece, and these help guide my choices. I think that the intimacy we all have with textiles is an underlying part of the story. I am constantly discovering new things in the cloth that drives the work forward.

Untitled (Squall)
2006
Installation view
Nylon fabric, various fabric strips, netting, tulle, sound element
Dimensions variable

OPP: Much of your work is site-specific installation. Do you tend to plan out ahead of time exactly what will happen in a given space? Or do surprises happen during installation? 

AH: For the large-scale pieces, I definitely prefer to plan as much as I can in advance. I make drawings to scale and sometimes build models so I can really think about how best to engage and occupy the site. My father is an architect, and I grew up drafting existing floor plans for him and thinking a lot about how space translates from 3D to 2D and back again. It is easier for me to work this way, so that I can concentrate when I arrive on site to install.

That said, this does not mean that I always know how everything will fit or go once I am face-to-face with the site. I often arrive with more of a game plan than an idea that is set in stone. Many sites require me to make adjustments that could not be anticipated ahead of time in order for the piece or show to really work. It is always a little exciting and a little nerve-wracking. I like to be as organized and prepared as I can be, so I always have plans B, C, etc. in my back pocket just in case. It usually means that I end up bringing more than I need with me. Sometimes I will end up taking a lot of it with me when I am done, and sometimes it all ends up getting used.

Outposts
2011
Ultrafine glitter, velvet glitter, acid free glues on watercolor paper
9 x 12"

OPP: What new work or idea are you most excited about?

AH: "The grey film of dust covering things has become their best part."(Walter Benjamin, "Dream Kitsch")

My recent body of work continues to invert notions of soft and hard, fixed and malleable, structure and collapse—and I am using glitter! The sculptural pieces and drawings explore value, memory and landscape. I believe that drawing is an extension of touch, of the hand. Whether I'm drawing with a pen, thread or glitter, I think about the haptic gestures made and recorded on, in and through a surface.

I am creating smaller fragments of imaginary landscapes made from recycled cloth and clothing. They support the ruins of a miniature civilization’s infrastructure. The architectural fragments on the surface of the soft terrain may hint at a lost population’s industry, power, wealth and failure. The failed structures I build often have the residue of glitter. The glitter is like dust, which serves as as a reminder of past wealth. Drawings made of glitter capture the geographic evolution of this fictional land.

As I said before, I grew up in the heart of Pennsylvania coal mining country, where everything of value is hidden beneath the earth, covered in black dust. Returning to Benjamin's quote, I wonder what it would mean if dust were glitter, if all the residue of history were reduced to sparkling, iridescent flakes. 

Glitter is little more than dust. It was created around the time of the Second World War from scraps in a machinist's shop. The machinist, Henry Ruschman, was determined to find/create something of value out of discarded material. This is an impulse that is echoed by my current studio practice.

Glitter, as a fine art material, is often seen as a kitschy elementa material better relegated to grade school art classrooms, gaudy gifts and holiday decorations. Sometimes the value of a material lies beneath the surface and must be unearthed, like mining for minerals or precious metals. I want to imbue glitter with value, to transform it into something spectacular that is not so easily dismissed. 

It is important to me that the materials for the sculptures I make are primarily found, donated and repurposed from other sources. To give the cloth and clothing I collect from other people—often complete strangers—a second life is part of my ongoing investigation of where value resides in the material world.

The landscape of my childhood has also experienced a repurposing in recent years and is a large influence in this current body of work. The Endless Mountains populated by turn of the 20th century coal mines and parcels of farm land where people struggled to get by year to year have recently undergone a dramatic shift in their value. With the hydraulic fracking techniques used to release natural gas from Marcellus shale, previously poor communities are experiencing a boom of wealth as the gas companies move in, buy mineral rights to land and fill the country roads with trucks and men from across the country. This economic boon is complicated by social and ecological factors that many people failed to anticipate or were simply willing to live with if it meant that money could be made in a difficult economy.

Memory—although not nostalgia—also plays a role in this body of work. I am interested in the way memory shifts and is malleable, yet stands as a landmark of sorts. Collective, as opposed to individual memories interest me: the way it was, the way we were.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Rick Leong

Floating Forest
2010
Oil on canvas
6' x 10'

RICK LEONG paints dense, psychologically-charged landscapes influenced by both the traditions of Chinese, Japanese and Canadian landscape painting. He explores our human experience of the landscape, often using the metaphor of twilight to reveal the intangible border between the internal and external, the subjective and the objective. He is currently an artist-in-residence at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, where he will have an exhibition opening at the Anna Leonowens Gallery on November 13, 2012. Rick lives in Victoria, British Columbia.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What is the origin of your interest in landscape?

 Rick Leong: When I was an undergraduate, I was working with themes of political identity and what it means to be a Chinese-Canadian. I worked with imagery derived from Chinatown kitsch, manga and anime, basically developing a warped sense of Asian history and culture through visual language. There are a lot of senior artists working within those themes of identity and displacement, particularly in Vancouver, where I am from. I felt that I was essentially walking in their footsteps and really wanted to forge my own path. By the time I was headed to graduate school, I felt that the work that resonated with me the most were classical Chinese and Japanese paintings and prints. I didn't simply want to emulate those artists and their works so much as I wanted to join in this beautiful conversation they were having about the landscape and our relationship to it. I wanted to try to recreate the feelings they inspired in me rather than recreate their techniques or methodologies. I think this became a fundamental influence on how my practice would develop over the next several years.  

OPP: Is there a specific artist or piece from either of those landscape traditions, or from Vancouver that is particularly influential for you?

RL: The paintings of Kano Motonobu have had a tremendous influence on me, particularly his painting Birds and Flowers in Four Seasons. He is known for creating wa-kan, a technique that combines classical Chinese and Japanese styles.

Night Fall
2012
oil on canvas
6' x 6'

OPP: In the spirit of full disclosure, I'm going to reveal a personal bias: I've never been partial to landscapes in general. I love being in nature, but what I love about it is my emotional experience of feeling connected to the world. Often straight landscapes don't do much for me, even when I can recognize their beauty, because they don't elicit my emotions. But I feel very different about your work. In paintings like Hush (2010), A Still Melody (2009) and Dancing Serpent in Dawn's Quiet (2006), the vines, branches and trees look like creatures. Plants are, of course, alive, but in your work, they appear to have personalities, to be animated emotionally. It's this quality that gets me really interested in investigating the paintings further. Are you intentionally imbuing nature with personality? If so, are your intentions in doing so different from my experience viewing the work?

RL: When I create a body of work for an exhibition, I typically try to recreate the experience of venturing into a particular kind of landscape. I start with the dawn. As the viewer moves through the exhibition, encountering the different elements of the landscape from different perspectives, it transforms into night. I often build my landscapes around animal forms or text, mainly as a compositional device but also as a way to imbue the work with a hidden layer that gives me the opportunity to develop a more profound viewing experience. The inspiration for Hush came from the experience of walking alone in the woods in the Rocky Mountains, and the silence was like a blanket. The only noises were my footsteps and my breathing, and I became lost in thought. The text written in the branches of the tree in Hush is "the sound of silence is the sound of self."

I work predominantly from memory in these works, and what I don't recall exactly I invent or imagine. In this way, I am not creating a document of a particular place but rather the experience of places that seem familiar in a tacit way. This process allows for the unexpected that arises in the creation of a work to exist and develop into something tangible. When laying down textures for grounds to build upon, I'll often pick up on forms that I see developing and flesh them out. This has led to an interest in the gestalt, or the process that helps us define or order the chaos around us. It is how we make sense of letters from typographic shapes, for example. In this way, I have started to think of the landscape as a visual language that I can use to talk about other things that may interest me. So the work is in part about the landscape and how we experience it and what we take away from it and carry around within us, but it is also a form of language and communication. The phenomena of the gestalt extends to the way that we anthropomorphize the landscape as well. When we walk by a tree and we see a face in it, it is part of this process. There is something fundamentally compelling about this process that persists throughout our history, such as in Taoism and Shintoism all the way to Disney. Part of my process in creating a work is to allow those elements that arise to take on a personality of their own. I like to think of this as allowing the painting to have some say in its own creation, to dialogue with the work as I am making it.

Oneiric Perception
2012
mixed media on panel
48' x 48'
 
OPP: One metaphoric theme I see in a lot of your work was highlighted in your exhibition at Art Gallery of Greater Victoria called The Phenomenology of Dusk (2012): thresholds, in-between-ness, hybridity. Could you talk a bit about this body of work and how metaphor plays out in your landscapes?

RL: As I was building these landscapes that always began with the dawn and ended in darkness, I became more aware that the paintings were focused on the day. I realized that this is only a part of the way that we experience the landscape. I began to break down the landscape into three distinct ways of experienceday, night and twilight. The Roaming Gloam was my first deliberate project that dealt with the in-between aspect of twilight. I approached the work as an experience of a place situated within time. Time as place. As I began to venture into the realm of phenomenology and ontology, I began to think of the in-between time of twilight as a metaphor for the threshold between the subjective interior realm and the objective external realm. I am interested in how each informs our experience of the other. It goes back to the gestalt in the way that we project aspects of ourselves onto the landscape when we see a face or form within the landscape and, alternatively, how we situate ourselves within constructs of space and place within our own thoughts and dreams. 

Supernova
2010
watercolour, ink, oil on canvas
46" x 48"

OPP: The Wilderness (2010) is a series of  "spacescapes depicting cosmic phenomena, constellations, and the mystery and romance of the unpredictable forces of nature and their impact on the human experience."  This body of work is formally so different from the rest of your work, which is usually so dense with vines and trees and details that pull the viewer in closer. This work is conceptually connected; it's the macro to the micro of The Phenomenology of Dusk (2012). In terms of your experience of the process of painting the work, not the content or final product, did you enjoy working on one of these bodies of work more that the other?

RL:The impetus for The Wilderness was the desire to create the experience of the landscape at night. When the woods, rivers and lakes become obscured by darkness, the eyes drift to that which is illuminated. I wanted to approach it in my typical way, to create this experience of a place as one moves through it, experiencing it from different perspectives. Again, there are the familiar aspects which manifest as shooting stars and constellations, yet we have to project more of our imaginations into the work as it is the great unknown wilderness of our time. The work was a challenge for me to create, as there is less critical mass to manipulate. I began working from the material itself, staining the linen with inks, pouring and pooling the watercolours, and finally fleshing out the forms with oils. In relation to The Phenomenology of Dusk the processes were at radically different ends of the spectrum between control and chaos. Both have their pros and cons, so I don't necessarily prefer one over the other so much as I strive for the ability to shift my methodology as the work demands.

Lichen Animal
2010
Oil on canvas
5' x 4'

OPP: What new piece, idea or upcoming opportunity are you most excited about?

RL: I am currently the artist in residence at NSCAD, and I am working with lithographs and screenprinting for the first time, as well as making paintings. It is an exciting cross discipline experience for me, and I am learning a lot. The work I am doing here culminates in an exhibition at the Anna Leonowens Gallery, and will be part of a larger body of work that will be shown at Two Rivers Gallery in Prince George in January, 2013.  

To see more of Rick's work, please visit rickleong.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Helen Maurene Cooper

Junk nails with jam on Mexican cookie
2009
Ink jet
40 x 26"

HELEN MAURENE COOPER is concerned with the traditions of storytelling mutated by pop culture. Her work engages various photographic traditions from her recreations referencing portraiture and pop culture to her large-scale macro photographs bordering on abstraction to her recent documentary photography. She is one half of the collaborative duo Baccara, a 2012-13 BOLT Artst-in-Residence at Chicago Artists' Coalition. She is also a  co-founder and co-director of Azimuth Projects which aims to expose new audiences to Chicago's bountiful art community. Helen Maurene lives and teaches in Chicago, IL.

OtherPeoplesPixels: In your statement, you mention that your works are influenced by "[your] preoccupation with longing, desire, and the containment of wildness." Could you say more about "the containment of wildness?"

Helen Maurene Cooper: I think my preoccupation with "the containment of wildness" has a lot to do with the cultural climate and the media imagery present in my growing up… Maybe, it’s about the disconnect between the representations of women—luscious flamboyant and proud—on the covers to all of Mom’s country music albums and their sad, whiny songs. Maybe it’s about music videos from the 1980’s and the subtle racism that masquerades as cultural fetish: numerous visions of Africa, wild life, woman on safari… long, curly, wind-blown hair; bi-racial relationships; the desert; the jungle. Maybe it’s about coming of age in the AIDS crisis, protection foregrounded in desire. These are some thoughts. I have more, but really as long as I can remember I have looked for visual representations of that which is uncontained, which is then naturally reflected in my art.

OPP: That makes a lot of sense to me. You bring up the representations of women that you were seeing as you grew up... there is something particularly feminine about your work. But I say that with hesitancy, because I want to avoid essentializing the female experience or defining the feminine only in relation to the media... but would you agree that the wildness your are talking about is specifically feminine?

HMC: Completely, but it has to do with the performance of femininity: the complexities, the artifice and the authentic (if that even exists). In the time between my undergraduate and graduate schooling, I did a photography project in Philly about trans people living as women. When I was shooting Birds of Appetite, the process of adorning myself—my nails, fake eye lashes, makeup and clothing—was much like what I witnessed the women I photographed in Philly do… it was drag in its own way.  

Cat tails
2007
Archival Pigment Print
30 x 40"

OPP: When constructing photographs, do you tend to have an idea for an image and then seek out the appropriate costumes, props and backdrops? Or does it happen the other way around?

 MHC: The way I construct a photograph really varies from piece to piece. My graduate school work, Birds of Appetite, began with general image-based research. I took hundreds of stills from Veronica Hart films, and I plastered my studio with variations of gestures and scenes that were used as the basis for creating my own narratives. I then produced and directed images with myself as the actress, sometimes with a male counterpart. The positioning of bodies was the primary principle. I then chose the location and added costuming where it was appropriate. As the work evolved, the components shifted. Sometimes, I would find a wig or a garment and build a scene around that. At one point, I was really interested in the zoo as a backdrop, so I scouted locations from the camel house to the primate house and then picked costumes and color palettes based on those chosen locations. When I begin staged photography projects, I usually give myself some kind of starting point that helps me organize my brainstorming, such as pulling film stills and building from there. Once I am pleased with the images I am producing, I allow myself to deviate from the process and pick another element as the leading criteria. 

OPP: Your later series Hoodwink also uses custuming and props as it "juxtapose[s] the self-conscious language of portraiture with exaggerated bodily details and urban niche cultural signifiers?" What are the origins of this body of work?

MHC: It’s hard to talk about Hoodwink with out talking about Hard Candy. Both projects happened simultaneously and, to a certain extent, are still in progress. They come out of the very strange racially/ culturally segregated organism that is Chicago. Since finishing graduate school, I have taught photography in the Community College system primarly to nonwhite and economically disadvantaged students. Both bodies of work are very much a product of conversations with my students regarding financial and cultural barriers in the city.

The first iteration of this work, which never made it to a website, was a much more literal collaboration. I asked my male students to generate lists for me of slang they thought would be funny to hear white men say. I then took those lists to an airbrush artist and had him make t-shirts for me with these sayings.Then I went to bars in Wrigleyville and asked white men to pose for me wearing the shirts. The images I made in that four-month period leave me cold; there is something about them that is so stupid, it misses the point of cultural appropriation. The men I photographed were so not in on the joke. I then tried the same idea out at a few lesbian bars, but much to the same end, visually uncoupling and just embarrassing.

Untitled with Cupcake
2010
Archival Pigment Print
50 x 60"

OPP: How do the signifiers of race, class and gender play out in relation to the portraiture you reference?

HMC: I was watching a lot of hip hop videos at the gym and was so attracted to the aesthetic of the women in them that it made me want to return to female subjects and to play with their tropes of femininity. I wanted to make portraits, I wanted the control of working in a studio, and I liked the scripting of clothing. For me, this is a more natural method of playing with cultural appropriation. Much like with Birds of Appetite, I picked a visual starting place: Mannerist painting, which is seductive, formal and gestural as hell, much like the hip hop videos. I chose to have my models wear accessories similar to women in the videos—acrylic nails, acrylic hair and plastic jewelry—all things that are put on the body that do not represent identity, but point to race and class within an American context. Most clothing came from Rainbow at Chicago and Kedzi, the wigs from a wig store in the same shopping center, weave and graphics by Kara Wabbel of Barbara and Barbara and backdrops from China via Ebay.   

OPP: Is the process of shopping for the shoots as important to you as the photo shoots themselves?

HMC: The process of shopping is one of the necessary details; there is pleasure in the hunt and making the puzzle pieces work. But it is not as important as shooting the picture. 
 
Pink grill
2009
Pigment Print
19 x 24"
 
OPP: So let's talk about Hard Candy specifically, because that series does something slightly different, but related to what Hoodwink does by focusing in so close to the details of the accessories you mention. It's a series of large-scale macro photographs exploring the aesthetics of nail art in relation to decadent materials like icing, glitter, and candy. The compositions are formal and have an intense lushness and sensuality. They definitely evoke a sense of longing in me. They make me want… abstractly. What I mean is, they awake a desire for things I didn't want before I saw the photographs. Do you have a personal connection to nail art?

MHC: I got my first set of acrylic nails when I was in graduate school shooting Birds of Appetite. I was scripting myself as characters based on ultra-feminine personas from B-movies, porn and country music of the early 1980s, and all those characters had long, oval, sculpted nails. I would sit in the nail salon and wait for my polish to dry, all the while longingly looking at the designs on the hands of women around me. In my first year of teaching college, I began to notice the nuances in nail design on the hands of students and clerks at various stores. I began asking questions about these shops and, with vague intersection coordinates, began to venture into various neighborhoods on the far west side. As Americans, we know the cultural norm. The stereotype is that all nail shops are Asian-run, but what exists in pockets of Chicago is a very different model. Hispanic and African-American women run the shops, operating as independent contractors. I could go on all day about the financial model, but the pertinent part is that Chicago has a very specific nail culture, and shops run by Hispanic and African-American women often use very different styles and techniques than those seen at Asian shops. The style and model comes out of Detroit.

There is a name for every type of design and acrylic add-on, subtraction and cultural element. The titling in each of my photographs is significant. If the women I photographed had had her nails done at an Asian shop, the photograph is titled “Design with…" If the nails come from an African-American shop, then the photograph is titled with the language assigned to the design: money, junk, 3d, inlay, stripes, lines, drag, etc... It’s somewhat annoying to me that nail art has become so popular and really co-opted in the past year, but, again, it isn’t the nail art of or produced by working class women that has become popular. It is nail art for privileged women, done in high-end salons. Nail art in Chicago and the Midwest is its own thing; it’s very insider. I get my nails done in other cities, but you can’t find a tech in New York or Philly who knows how to lay acrylic, inlay or do detail brush work the way you can in Chicago. It’s very specific to the cultural flavor of urban Midwest living.

I tried to photograph nails for a year and a half before I finally broke down and just got my own acrylics. Wearing large acrylic nails changed my ability to make photographs; any women in the know could look at my nails and tell what shop I had been to. The quality of the work is something that really identified me as an insider. I photographed my students and clerical workers at Harold Washington College for a solid two years. Currently, I am still shooting but making more abstract images, with larger color and sparkle fields.   Untitled
2012
14 x 11"

OPP:  Recently, you've been taking portraits on site at the nail salon in Chicago where you have been getting your nails done for years. Could you talk about the shift from the photographs of the nail art itself to photographs of the nail artists and clients who have their nails done?

MHC: I actually started going to a new salon in March, and my tech and I are the same age—most of the techs are in their early 30s. The shop is known for its raucous techs and clientele. Collectively there is good amount of gossiping about men, and there’s a lot of watching of reality TV and commentary on everything. Because the shop is such a social place, asking to photograph in the salon didn’t feel like a major invasion (even though I am white and they are not, we are of very similar economic demographics), and I thought they might be receptive to the idea.

I was looking at Sammy’s, New York, 1940-44 by Lisette Model a good deal this summer. It’s a bar portrait of a women and a solider. These two figures take up the majority of the frame, with small headspace for two male characters in the background. The flash falls on the woman. Her make-up, clothing and hair are highlighted, and there is sweetness to the moment she shares with the sailor. I loved the details of the female character's face and the intimacy shared between two people in this image. I spent a good deal of time thinking of how I could play with this strategy of intimacy and isolation in space. And I spent even more time gazing across the nail table at Mz. Carla, my nail tech. The desire to photograph her and, specifically, to photograph her from that distance of the table became really strong. I liked the space between us and the idea of isolating a figure so that you really didn’t have too much contextual information. It took several weeks of negotiation with Mz. Carla and other women in the shop, but I have now steadily been photographing every to  every other week. I always get my nails done, and then I hang out for another hour or two and photograph. I take 4x6 prints of the shoot from the week before and give them to the techs and to their clients.

OPP: It's interesting to me that you flip back and forth between staged studio photography, where you are in control of everything, and this on-site shooting that requires you to just respond to whatever is happening in front of you. It seems like most photographers do one of the other.

HMC: It’s a very different type of photography than I’ve done in years. The strategy is more in the documentary tradition, but the work is still evolving. In many ways, it’s much harder than making staged photographs. I have to move quickly and recall strategies of street photography as I frame and shoot.  Also, this new work requires a vulnerability and an openness that can, at times, feel awkward. I’m feeling very challenged and rewarded. 
  Baccara at the Starving Artist benefit
Promotional image
2012

OPP: You also have a collaborative practice with Madeleine Bailey known as Baccara. How did this collaboration start? How has it been fruitful?

MHC: Baccara began as a case of mistaken identity with artist Madeleine Bailey. We were both MFA candidates at SAIC and overlapped briefly. A few years later, we were introduced at a party and immediately began to talk about the possibility of collaboration. When we look back on that night, we are still surprised that we proposed such closeness without knowing one another. In the past two years, we have created several bodies of work, done our own homemade residencies in Indiana and created a shared studio practice. This summer we were in a two-person show at Electricity is Magic in Toronto called White Noise Syndrome and are currently 2012-13 BOLT residents at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition with a shared studio space.

To give you something more formal, our artists’ statement reads: “Drawing on mythologies of romance and stories of mistaken identity, our name channels the image of the Black Rose as depicted through the Harlequin romance novel ‘Knights of the Black Rose.’ While the Black Rose is not found in nature, botanists have manipulated the genetics of several varieties of roses, creating a hybrid black rose that actually appears to be a deep red or purple. Appealingly, Baccara is also the name of a successful female Spanish musical duo, whose hits melded disco, pop, and elements of Spanish folk music in the 1970s. With particular affection for ’Yes Sir, I can Boogie’ and ‘Sorry, I'm a Lady,’ we took the name of the genetically modified flower and the campy folk disco band and made it our own: as Baccarra, we are a Chicago-based female duo that produces photographs and works on paper as well as performance and narrative based videos, embracing artifice and the absurd through childhood games and sexual parody.”

Baccara, is a two-headed, red-headed monster, a powerful friendship, a creative union and a business partnership.

OPP: Can you tell us about the collaborative performance Baccara did at the Starving Artist benefit for Chicago Artists' Coalition a few weeks ago?

MHC: Baccara created a sensorial experience in which guests at the Starving Artist benefit selected one of two chocolates provided by Vosges Haut-Chocolat. Guests were then blindfolded and guided to select their preference between each of two scents, sounds and tactile experiences. Three masked assistants (Jackie Rivas, Alysia Alex, and Kaylee Wyant) assisted in this procedure and photographed every aspect of the event. Props used were two scent vials, one ipod with headphones, one brass object and one pheasant pelt. Madeleine and I were dressed to embody each of the two choices, one being baroque the other being “gypsy passion." Approximately 400 chocolates provided by Vosges were hung from the ceiling using a series of empty frames stretched with screen and strung with thread. Given the guests sensorial choices, they were photographed in front of one of two backdrops. The background represented their taste, and they were given a corresponding chocolate: the absinthe truffle was wrapped in burlap and corresponded to the “gypsy passion,” and the lulu truffle (created for this event) was in purple silk and was paired with the baroque background.
 To see more of Helen Maurene's work, please visit hmcooper.com.  

Ghouls of the Art World: Scammers

There are a lot of things to watch out for while conducting business over the Internet. Although everyone is a target, artists are targeted with specific types of tactics. (Lucky world, scammers are customizing their methods!) Although the prospect of a sale can be enticing and exciting, please be on the lookout.

A few things to watch out for are:

  • Out of the ordinary shipping requests
  • Mentioning the use of shipping companies or agents
  • Offering to send more money than the amount due and then asking you to somehow send back the difference (scammers prefer Western Union, because it is untraceable once the wire transfer is picked up)
  • Emails with several misspellings, grammatical and formatting issues
  • Never mentioning specifically which pieces of yours they are interested in
  • An overeagerness to make things easy for you
  • The buyer being in a extreme hurry to close the deal or not wanting to give you enough time to make sure the funds have cleared
  • Just because the buyer is willing to pay by credit card doesn't mean it isn't a scam or the funds are yours for good! Scammers use stolen credit card information, which will result in a chargeback once the real person discovers their information has been stolen

    A great way to vet a purchase inquiry to ensure it is a serious one is to ask the interested party a series of questions. While responding to the inquiry to thank them for their interest, ask specific questions, such as:

    • What do they think of the work they are asking about?
    • What is their interest in collecting artwork such as yours? (Contemporary, Environmental...customize to your field of expertise)
    • And if it might seem legitimate but you are still a bit unsure, begin a fresh email to the potential buyer, apologize for 'losing' their other email and ask them again which pieces they were interested in

    Reluctance on the buyer's part to answer any of the above should raise some red flags for you.

      You can also use an online tool to trace the IP address of the email address the email is from. If it is from a location that is very different from where the buyer is saying they are from, this could be an indication that it is a scam.

      Money orders can also be couterfeited, and remember that domestic U.S. Postal Service money orders cannot exceed $1,000.00 (one thousand dollars) in value. If you have any doubts, you can always call the U.S. Post Office Money Order Verification System at 1-866-459-7822 to verify the authenticity of any U.S. Postal money order.

      Check out this list of tips and commonly used scammer names. The FBI also has a lot of general fraud information as well. And, if you come across any scams yourself, please help get the word out!

      OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Bayeté Ross Smith

      Taking AIM Installation at Kala Art Institute
      2009
      Mixed Media
       
      BAYETE´ ROSS SMITH uses photography, video and public installation to investigate the ways we perform our racial, gender and cultural identities through clothing, music and the communities of affinity we choose. He reveals both the pleasure of performing our chosen personas, as well as the dangers of perceiving these personas in others. Bayeté has exhibited at such notable venues as the San Francisco Arts Commission, the Brooklyn Museum, the Oakland Museum of California and MoMA P.S.1. In 2011, he was the recipient of the Franconia Sculpture Park/Jerome Fellowship. He is currently the Associate Program Director for KAVI (Kings against Violence Initiative), a non-profit organization, as well as an educator. Bayeté lives in Harlem, NY.

      OtherPeoplesPixels: In one sense, you are a documentarian of identity and how our identities are connected to the communities and sub-cultures to which we belong, whether those are subcultures of affinity, as with Gatling (America) and Lady Like, or communities that evolve out of geography, as you examine in West Baltimore Lives. But I wouldn't call you a documentary photographer. How do you identify as an artist?

      Bayeté Ross Smith: I would describe myself as a photo-based multimedia and mixed media artist. It is important to me that my work be relevant to everyday life and resonate with people from a broad range of backgrounds, from those in the arts, to those in athletics, business, and politics, to kids in elementary school. I like for my work to build off of every day themes and issues we all face. It is also important that my work be relevant internationally. So I do my best to create work that is activated by the audience in some way, either directly or indirectly. I want the viewers' imaginations to activate the work. Beyond the basic story line I create for them, I want the viewers to have an experience that expands their thinking about specific groups of people, social issues or social interactions. But I don’t just want to be didactic. Ha! Art school word. Seriously though, being didactic is not necessarily wrong, but I want to go beyond that. I want their imaginations to complete the story and complete the experience. That also makes it important for me to base my work in some form of fact or reality. I like to think my work contains elements of truth. I think that gives it a solid foundation that is relevant to people other than just myself.

      OPP: What is your relationship to documentary photography?

      BRS: I began my career as a photojournalist working for the Knight Ridder Newspaper Corporation. So journalism and documentary photography are at the foundation of how I work artistically. I began my approach to art making by telling stories. These stories always had factual elements to them. I use that perspective as an entry point for most of my work. If I am telling relevant stories, I must think like a journalist. It’s not all about my vision or perspective, though that is definitely part of it. Any journalist that tells you otherwise isn’t being honest. But as journalists, we do try to remove our perspective as much as possible. I am no longer a photojournalist, so I incorporate more of my perspective into my work. I still leave the narrative open, so that the viewers can apply their own personal experience to the experience of the artwork. I also want to make my work an easy “read," but allow for there to be several layers to it as well. So while there are elements on the surface that people can easily recognize and relate to, there are also a variety of issues and questions raised upon further reflection. As I mentioned, I like for there to be significant factual elements in my artwork. I think that makes the work more relevant and more engaging. However, I believe it is important use one's imagination to build on the elements of life we experience on a daily basis.

      A Match Made in Nikes
      Digital C-Print
      30" x 40"
       
      OPP: Your ongoing photographic series Pomp and Circumstance: First Time To Be Adults began in 2005. This is series of portraits taken at proms, which you say are one of the last American rites of passage. When you make these photographs, are you the official prom photographer?

      BRS: In most cases I am not the official prom photographer. Generally, I am there to shoot 50-100 fine art portraits as an extra feature for the individual school’s senior prom. I don’t want the hassle of managing photo orders. Each participant gets a free 5”x 7” photograph though.

      OPP: How many proms have you been to over the years?

      BRS: I have photographed proms in New York, New Jersey and California. It has been a challenging project to continue because I can only shoot it during a few weeks in the spring. It can also be challenging to develop connections with people at the various schools. A lot of times the faculty and administrators don’t take the time to understand what I am doing and how it is a benefit to their students, but also that it doesn’t require any real extra work on their part. Over the years I have shot over a dozen proms, and I am planning to do some shooting in the south and midwest over the next several years to finish up the project. I think it becomes more interesting when you look at images from proms over a period of 10 years.

      OPP: Although I don't think I took an official prom picture, I fondly remember the the classic laser background from the 1980s. Are you using the contemporary equivalent in your portraits?

      BRS: I create all the backgrounds based on conversations with each school’s student government. So the background represents that school and their students. The students are encouraged to express themselves in a commemorative fashion. These are not typical prom photos in the sense that the youngsters are allowed to pose however they would like. I encourage them to be creative, but also to be thoughtful because these pictures will represent them for years to come. I am very interested in how identity is formulated, expressed and perceived at the start of adulthood. The prom is still the first official adult night out for many young people in America.

      Lo Relle Two
      2010
      Digital C-Print
      30" x 40"

      OPP: What I love about this series is the way it reveals that a large part of identity is performance. These teenagers may or may not understand that, and I may or may not have understood it when I was that age. But we've all been teenagers, and as a viewer of the work, I can recall that how I presented myself to the world was immensely important to me. But these pictures don't seem critical of the subjects. Instead, they reveal the pleasure of the performance, and that's what makes them so compelling. Could you talk about the idea of performing identity in your work?

      BRS: Performance is a very interesting aspect of identity. We all have a way of wanting to be perceived by others. We perform these aspects of identity on a daily basis. We perform a different identity for our parents, than for our children, than for our business associates, than for our significant others. This becomes more clear when you think of celebrities who have a “public” persona versus a “private” persona, but we all perform identity for the different communities we are a part of and in different situations. This aspect of identity is amazing to me. I think you can see it very clearly when you examine young people performing their adult identity for the first official time and in a commemorative fashion.

      However, the performance of identity can also be very subtle. I like examining identity and how it is performed by looking at explicit and implicit forms of this performance. Someone recounting their personal history for example, like in West Baltimore Lives, is more explicit. Recording someone’s favorite song and a memory they want to share, like in my boombox project Got The Power, is a bit more implicit. The way identity is performed is also interesting when you examine people’s preconceived notions about specific performances. A classic example would be racial profiling like in the Trayvon Martin case. You not only have George Zimmerman racially profiling Trayvon and it resulting in Trayvon’s death, but the police department participating in a similar form of profiling, where they didn’t think it was important to conduct a proper investigation, because Zimmerman’s “story checked out." Both the performance of identity and the perception of that performance can be extraordinarily informative. 

      OPP: You make a good point about the continuum of the perceptions of identity: on the one end, are the ways we perceive ourselves and choose to participate in performing our racial, cultural and gender identities and, on the other end, is the space of stereotype and prejudice, in which others are perceiving us and making judgements about our performances. In general, I would say your work focuses on the first end of the spectrum. Do you agree? Is that a conscious choice on your part?

      BRS: To some degree, yes. I believe it fosters more critical thought and self reflection to allow people to realize their preconceptions on their own. It tends to resonate more when they discover it themselves as opposed to being told by an exterior force. That is why a lot of my work is designed so that it is activated by the viewers' personal experiences. When someone looks at an image from Our Kind of People and realizes they feel similarly about the white guy in the suit as they do about the black guy in the hoody, that means something to them. That is not something I can tell them, or even show them; it's something that they must come to on their own. Similarly, if someone hears a story in one of the Got The Power mix tapes that is similar to a memory they have, or they hear a song in the mix tape that is meaningful to them, they feel a certain connection or kinship with the community that created that mixtape. Somewhere in their mind they feel as if "they are like me." This feeling can't be evoked by showing them facts or statistics.

      My work focuses more on the 1st part of the spectrum you describe than on the 2nd for this reason. But I also feel this is the more interesting aspect of the spectrum. It's at the core of individual identity, and, as Americans, we emphasize the individual so much. The other end of the spectrum is interesting as well, because it does not always manifest itself in overtly negative ways. Preconceptions aren't as simple as being good or bad. We need to understand them, why they exist and where they come from. We perform identity based on our roles in various communities. At the core of my work,  I am fascinated by how people interact, both in the socializing we do on a personal level and in the social systems we create. Ultimately the way we envision ourselves dictates how we create and participate in these social systems and personal interactions. I think it is something that is at the core of how we evolve as humans.

       

      More Than Three
      2007
      Giclee Print
      6' x 8'

       OPP: You mentioned Got the Power, which is a public installation, sculpture, oral history, mix tape and a tumblir blog, all rolled into one. It's my favorite piece, by the way. There have been several incarnations of the piece in different locations, each one documenting the people of that community through their stories and the songs they contribute to the mix tape. Could you talk about why you chose the form of the boombox tower?

      BRS: The boombox is an iconic object. So even younger people who never actually used cassette tapes recognize the boombox as an icon of traveling music. Personally, I believe there is also recognition of the boombox as an icon of community music. Remember, the proverbial B-Boy or B-Girl with the boombox was not only playing music for himself or herself. They were really playing music for everyone else in the vicinity, even though that wasn’t always by request. So taking this iconic item and using it as a vehicle for creating portraits of different communities through audio just seemed perfect to me.

      The process of collecting the boomboxes was just as interesting as collecting the songs and stories. Next time I do this project I will document that process, too. Collecting the boomboxes can be rather expensive, so I always had to be very creative in order to stay on budget. The cost of boomboxes is actually the most significant obstacle to doing this project in more locations. However, I do have plans to expand this project to more locations in the coming year. Anyway, when collecting boomboxes, I find myself researching online and traveling to a bunch of different thrift stores, places that have old electronics, meeting boombox collectors, etc. I come across all types of people in search of them. The aesthetic works the best when the boomboxes are the classic ‘80s-looking boomboxes, but it also interesting to include a wide variety of them. I have seen people stare at the sculptures and count how many different models of boombox in the sculpture they actually owned.

      Got The Power: Minnesota
      2011
      Mixed Media and Sound
      6ft x 2ft x 15ft

      OPP: I particularly love the idea of defining the diversity of a community through the musical tastes of its members. It's really interesting to think about the idea of how race, class, and gender affect our musical tastes, but because there are no images of the people, we have to wonder about our assumptions. I'd love to hear more about the process of collecting the contributions from the members of the communities. What are some of the challenges of making community-based work like this?

      BRS: The biggest challenge is getting people to take the time to talk to me about their favorite song(s) and to take the time to share a memory with me. The average person doesn’t always understand that contemporary art can exist within their daily life, so explaining that you are doing an art project doesn’t always register, especially when it's a community-based, public art project. People tend to think art exists in a museum or a gallery, and often they don’t feel like they understand contemporary art. 

      The first time I did this project is was a commission for the Laundromat Project in Washington Heights. The sculpture was in a laundromat, so I would talk to people while they did their laundry. Even with that type of “captive" audience, it was challenging. I actually didn’t get anyone to share memories with me. I did get songs though. Interestingly enough, I originally had planned on this project being directly interactive, where people could actually walk up to the sculpture and play whatever they wanted. I soon realized that, even with the proper signage, people weren’t likely to do it. So I decided to take a more archival approach where I had people write their favorite songs on a list, and then I went out and got those songs for the “mixtape."

      2011
      Photograph on vinyl
      48"x36"

      OPP: Was it easier to get people to participate in any of the other locations?

      BRS: In Baltimore, collecting the stories was much easier. I worked with a colleague of mine, Raquel DeAnda, and we combined Got The Power with the West Baltimore Lives project. We used the music part of this one a little differently and had local musicians score the people’s stories about their memories. Collecting boomboxes in Baltimore was much easier than in New York. In Minnesota, it was the first time I created the boombox sculpture outside. So there were significantly different issues related to construction and weatherproofing. However it was great to be able to build on such a large scale! The Minnesota version was created for Franconia Sculpture Park and is still currently installed. So yay! It made it through a Minnesota winter. Since this version was in a sculpture park, I simply would talk to a variety of visitors and collect their favorite songs. This was probably the easiest place to collect songs. You know Minnesota people have that “Minnesota Nice” thing going. Collecting the stories was a little more difficult but not as challenging as in Washington Heights. I used an iPhone app to record all the stories and made sure I mixed them creatively and tried to make there be a correlation between the music and what specific memory was being shared. The other thing about Minnesota that worked to my advantage was that I was in a place, Franconia Sculpture Park, where people came to in order to experience art outside of a gallery. The park has a pretty good reputation in the Twin cities area, so most people I approached were pretty receptive. Therefore, the Minnesota Mixtape was the longest and most extensive. When I did the installation at the New Museum at the Festival of New Ideas, we basically moved the installation from the Laundromat Uptown to the New Museum. This was another casemaybe it’s New York—when I couldn’t get people to record memories. But people were very willing to share songs. Another aspect of this project that is very time consuming is tracking down the different songs people request. Though it is also kind of fun. The mixing is somewhat time consuming, too.

      All in all, Got the Power is a very fun project to work on. I think people will find it interesting to listen to the various mixtapes and compare and contrast the musical tastes of people from different regions. Some of what people hear may be surprising.

      Elizabeth: Marlin Hunting Rifle Cal 7mm-08

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

      BRS: I am very excited about I project I am working on with my cousin Will Sylvester. I can’t go into all the details just yet, but it involves Hip Hop album skits. I think it will be really interesting. And of course I am very excited about my current collaborative project, Question Bridge: Black Males. I am very pleased with how this project has been received at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, as well as at the Brooklyn Museum, Oakland Museum, the Utah MOCA and in Atlanta. We are currently making plans to tour the installation and film version of this project this fall through 2014. So far, it's scheduled to exhibit at the Schomburg Library for research in Black Culture in Harlem, the Contemporary Art Musem of St. Louis, the Birmingham Museum of Art, the Harvey B. Gantt Center in Charlotte, NC, as well as a variety of other locations in 2013. 

      I am also very excited about some upcoming photographing I am doing for my Gatling (America) project. I really like where this project is going and feel it can start some very needed discussions about guns and the role violence plays in humanity. These last two projects are not brand new, but there is still much work to be done one them.

      To view more of Bayeté's work, please visit bayeterosssmith.com.

      OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Tracey Snelling

      2010
      Mixed media installation
      El Diablo Inn

      TRACEY SNELLING creates hybrid spaces—between cultures, between locations, between media—in her multimedia installations and sculptures. Often referencing fictional representations of space in film and literature, she asks the viewer to step into the role of voyeur. Her miniature sculptures of motels, store fronts, and urban environments incite curiosity about what exists behind the facades, while her lifesize recreations of interiors allow the viewer to consider the facades of our cultural identities, which are even more difficult to penetrate. Tracey exhibits internationally and her work is on view this fall in Virginia, California, Utah, France, Denmark, Belgium and Norway. Tracey lives in Oakland, CA.

      OtherPeoplesPixels: Your installations usually involve miniature versions of buildings like gas stations, motels, and gift shops. Did you grow up with an interest in dollhouses or train sets, before you started making miniatures in the context of art?

      Tracey Snelling: When I was young, both my sister and I each had German manufactured Lundby Dollhouses: modern 1970's multi-storied ranch houses with orange carpets, lights and a fish tank that lit up. We played with those nonstop, acting out all sorts of crazy scenarios, such as the house burglar who breaks in and kidnaps the whole family. I also had little adventure figures and a speedboat, and I constructed an island setting in our garden, complete with a lake made by digging a hole, lining it with a black plastic trash bag, and filling it with water. 

      OPP: Tell me about the first miniature you made as part of your art practice?

      TS: The first small scale sculpture that I made as an artist was a craggy mountain that turned into a lit castle at the top of the rocks, based on a Dorothy Parker poem. I made it during a sculpture class at the University of New Mexico, but destroyed it when I left school. The first surviving small scale sculpture is called Untiltled 1. Inspired by a two dimensional collage I made of a brownstone apartment building missing its front wall, with all the rooms exposed, I constructed a small scale house. Both the inside and outside walls were covered with black and white collage from 1940's Life magazines, and small lights iilluminated each room. I went on to make ten untitled sculptures. These led to my more realistic sculptures--the first one being Motel (2002).

      LA Swimming Pool
      2011
      Wood, metal, plastic, paint, lights, transformer, lcd screens
      14 x 18 x 17 inches

      OPP: The buildings in your miniatures are so detailed and also feature LCD screens playing appropriated clips from movies and found videos in the windows. The process of designing, building and detailing must be complex and intricate. Tell us about what goes into the process of creating sculptures like LA Swimming Pool (2011), Stripmall (Los Angeles) (2007) or Mexicalichina (2011). Do you have assistants?

      TS: Often, I start with an idea either from my travels, photos I have taken or images I have gathered from the internet. I will make a very rough sketch, then start building. When I build, it's very intuitive, so it's difficult to use assistants until I have the main structures cut out and at least initially staged, waiting for assembly. Once the structures are somewhat determined, I sometimes work with assistants to get the work close to the finishing stages. Still, the works constantly change and evolve as I build them. It often feels like a puzzle that I need to solve, and once it's solved, the work is finished. Working on the small scale sculptures is quite a contrast to constructing or installing my installation work, where I often manage a dozen assemblers, professional builders and/or artists.

      OPP: How has the process changed the longer you do it?

      TS: Now I know certain building issues to avoid, ways to build the sculptures better and how to make the electronics more easily accessible. Recently, in LA Swimming Pool and Mexicalichina, the sculptures are starting to either grow vertically or break through the structure of the base. I'm excited about this development and look forward to more experimentation with this.

      Pass Off a Fisheye For a Pearl Trading Post (detail)
      2010
      Lifesize store installation with motion sensor, lights, sound, gifts
      9 x 12 x 9 feet

      OPP: A piece like Pass Off a Fisheye For a Pearl Trading Post (2010) features the juxtaposition of the commodified versions—the souvenirs and the signage—of Native American and Chinese cultures. It not only reveals a space where the commercial versions of these cultures meet, but hints at the border between the surface and the depth of any culture. There's also an exploration of the border between literal facades and interiors. The miniature sculptures only show the outsides of buildings and give the viewer a hint of what is going on inside, but the life-sized room installations allow the viewer to step inside. Why is it important to explore borders and liminal spaces?

      TS: After traveling through China and visiting Chinatowns in different cities in the West, I had been wanting to make a life-size Chinese gift shop (with motion censored lights, sounds, and moving toys). When Rena Bransten Gallery  offered to give me a ten year survey exhibition, I decided it was time to construct it. One of the challenges of a ten year survey was how to lay out the show so that it acted as an encompassing, overall environment, rather than as a show of individual works. I decided to have the exhibit flow from different locations and cultures, which then altered my plans for the gift shop. Instead of being a store with one entrance and solely Chinese gifts, it became a Native American trading post/Chinese gift shop with two entrances. It also acts as a passageway to the last area of the exhibition—China. The combination of these two very different cultures was fascinating to me. When combined in a gift shop, one gets the sense of how these inexpensive gifts and souvenirs from different countries are all probably made in the same factory. It also looks at how we travel as tourists and try to capture the layered, wonderful experiences by buying cheap, little trinkets and how these objects carry much more value than they would initially seem to.

      For a while now, I have explored combining larger or life-size scale structures with smaller ones. The first instance of this was in my exhibition Dulces at Wedel Fine Art in London. Big El Mirador (2007) was a seven-foot tall hotel with six synced videos in the hotel windows. At times, the action would move from one window to the other. There were two sets of videos--one set from black and white Spanish Buñuel films, and the other looking at love and drama in present-day American West. I also had a life-size rundown motel room called Room at El Mirador (2007) in the exhibit, which is now part of the David Roberts Art Foundation collection. Since then, I have worked with larger and life-size scale quite a bit. I find that, by having both the small scale and a version of the life-size scale together in one space, the experience of interacting with the subject expands exponentially.

      Pass Off a Fisheye For a Pearl Trading Post, as well as many of my other works, are good examples of my exploration and interpretation of culture. I translate culture into visuals that other cultures can understand. In my sculpture Mexicalichina, I have combined Hispanic, Chinese and Californian culture into one work that speaks to people from these cultures as well as from others. Though I enjoy traveling and looking at many different locations and cultures, the intersection of these cultures is even more fascinating to me. At the borders, unusual and interesting mixes start to happen. Unfortunately, clashes between different cultures happen here too. But that's also an important issue to observe.

      Wang's House
      2009
      Mixed media installation
      House: 197 x 203 x 203 cm, Telephone pole: 344 x 80 x 50 cm

      OPP: What is the role of cacophony in your installations?

      TS: When placing my sculptures and works in an installation, I am aware of the soundtracks of the different works and how they will combine. I spend quite a bit of time adjusting each sculpture's volume after placement. When the sounds mix, the feeling of the place that the works represent is captured further. For my exhibit Where Mr. Wong Sent Me at Galerie Urs Meile in Beijing, the theme of my work was my exploration of the places I visited in China. The sounds of local markets, busy streets, a traditional singer and a more modern song, firecrackers and kids yelling and playing combine to capture the feeling of walking down a bustling street in Chongqing or Beijing. At other times, it's necessary for the sounds to be quiet and distinct. I recently installed five new sculptures at an exhibition The Storytellers at the Stenersen Museum in Oslo. Each of my sculptures was based on a different literary work of Latin authors. The works were very individual and the sounds were more important as individual pieces than as a group, so it was necessary to adjust the balance so that one did not affect the others.

      OPP: My favorite part of an installation like Woman on the Run (2008) is the layering that creates a sense of seeing a single idea from multiple angels, all at once. What I mean is that it's hard to figure out what came first, because everything feeds into everything else. The video footage acts as backdrop for the life-sized motel rooms and miniature sculptures. The comic book features stills from the video. The miniature sculptures feature portions of the videos in their windows. The sculptures also act as backdrops for images in the comic. Could you talk about this layering?

      TS: This layering is an extension of all of my artwork, in one way or another. A photo I take of a motel might evolve into a small sculpture, which I then film and incorporate into an installation that might have several other aspects of that theme or even that particular motel. This layering in my work speaks to the idea of reality and how everything is subjective. There are so many nuances to each and every thing and experience in life. By adding layer upon layer to my works, I'm able to add different meanings and create a fuller, more engaging experience.

      Woman on the Run
      2008
      Mutli media installation

      OPP: How does the installation of Woman on the Run change every time you install it?

      TS: The idea initially came when I was making a series of photographs to accompany my installation Another Shocking Psychological Thriller to be shown at Lokaal 01 in the Netherlands. I titled the photo series Woman on the Run and these fed my ideas when I was invited to write a proposal for Selfridges in London.

      After the Selfridges exhibition, a friend and collaborator Idan Levin stepped in to act as producer and help me travel the installation in the U.S. We decided that it would be much more  interesting if the installation kept changing and evolving as we showed it. Since it's made of many components, we've been able to set the installation up differently in each location. Woman on the Run has traveled to Smack Mellon in Brooklyn, 21c Museum in Louisville, the Frist in Nashville, the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art in Winston-Salem, and is now showing at the Virginia MOCA. We have added the comic book in Louisville, a 16 foot billboard with projection in Nashville, a new projection and video in Winston-Salem, and our newest creation is a life-size fortune teller's storefront added in Virginia Beach. The Mystic Eye, as it is called, has a crystal ball that plays video related to the character's past or future. Old gypsy music plays in the background. If one calls the phone number on the front of the building, they are met with a special message.

      We also added a performance element during the opening. A young woman playing the character "Veronica" sat forlornly on the bed in the motel room, occasionally taking a swig of whiskey from the bottle in her hand. She also roamed over to the Mystic Eye, sitting and gazing into the crystal ball. In addition, we had a "detective" character who lurked behind the buildings and flipped a coin. Considered more as live sculptures than actors, the performers added a whole new dimension to the experience of the installation. We are now in the final stages of completing a new extension of Woman on the Run called Woman on the Run Redux. It's a site-conforming mystery treasure hunt that can be installed in various places, such as hotels and museums, with props as clues and tags that one can scan with their iPhone to see related videos. It can be shown independently of the original installation, or in conjunction with it.
       
      Flaghouse, Bedroom
      2011
      Lifesize room installation with video and sound

      OPP: Your most recent film, Nothing, premiered at the San Francisco International Film Festival this year. Was this your first foray into making a film which screens in a more traditional way, as opposed to a film or video for part of an installation?

      TS: This was my first endeavor into more traditional film, although Nothing would still be considered an art film or somewhat avant-gard by the general film viewer. While I writing it, I wanted to capture the quiet, long, slow, burning hot days in the desert combined with the drudgery of being stuck in one's life. There is no dialogue, and most of the sounds are ambient. The pacing of the film is deliberately slow, with the exception of one small part.

      OPP: What was different about working that way?

      TS: It was quite a different experience making this film, as opposed to building sculptures or an installation. Working as the director with a crew of seven is much more of a collaborative effort, even though we were all working to achieve my vision. By having professionals do what they do best, I was very happy with how the film turned out and how quickly we were able to achieve this. I definitely look forward to making more films, though the next one will most likely be feature length.

      When I initially came up with the idea for Nothing I envisioned it showing in a museum space, along with sculptures, installation, and a photo series that relates to the movie. The film festivals have been a good experience. Besides the San Francisco International Film Festival, it has also shown at several other festivals, and will be included in the Thessaloniki International Film Festival in November. I plan to develop the exhibition and its components, and to travel the show to museums in the next few years.

      To view more of Tracey's work, please visit traceysnelling.com.

      OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Ted Lott

      Attenuated Landscapes
      Installation Shot
      2011

      TED LOTT uses traditional building and woodworking techniques to create sculpture that blurs the line between form and function, often using unexpected scale shifts to engage the viewer. He is currently a year-long Artist-in-Residence at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania Art Department and will soon be heading to the Vermont Studio Center. In October 2012, his solo show Anamolous Infrastructures will open at Caestecker Gallery at Ripon College. Ted lives in Madison, WI.

      OtherPeoplesPixels: What was your first experience with woodworking?

      Ted Lott: My first experiences with woodworking happened during my time as an undergraduate. I went to art school with the intention of becoming a Sculpture major and took woodworking classes with the idea that it would be a good skill to help me make my work. Coincidentally, the college was starting a wood program at the same time, and I became so intrigued by the medium that I decided to major in it.

      OPP: What is it about this medium that you love?

      TL: One of the things that I love about woodworking is the incredible flexibility of the medium. There are so many things that you can do with the material in the realm of sculpture, furniture and beyond. It is a way of working that is truly accessible: a few basic tools and machines, and you can jump right in.

      Sit/Stay
      2012
      Pine, Found Chair

      OPP: You've stated that housing is possibly the most widespread use of wood throughout the modern world. Both Possible Architectures (2012) and Attenuated Landscapes (2011) reference this use as they explore how both architecture and sculpture relate to our bodies in space. With this in mind, can you talk about your use of scale in these bodies of work? 



      TL: In Attenuated Landscapes, the works are both diminished in scale and, at the same time, elongated in their vertical dimension. The idea was to create work that speaks about the ordinary material circumstances of everyday life: in this case, architecture. Taking an immense object such as a house and reducing its footprint causes us to relate to it in a much more personal way. Instead of being enveloped by the space, we start to relate to it as we would another person, on a human scale. The decision to elongate them vertically speaks to the desires of people to overcome or exceed their ordinary lives. I was seeking to instill a feeling in the same way that cathedrals or skyscrapers do. Expanding and reaching for the sky, these regular buildings become more than mere shelter.

      Possible Architectures, while utilizing some of the same techniques, is very different in focus. Furniture represents the human scale at its most basic; a chair is designed to hold a human body.  Architecture operates on the same principle, but the size is monumental. By combining the two, I was hoping to create cognitive dissonance, where the instinct to imagine yourself in the architecture clashes with the instinct to imagine yourself sitting in the chair. It is helpful that architecture and furniture share much of the same vocabulary of form, so that legs can become columns and arms turn into buttresses.

      OPP: For the architecturally-illiterate (like myself), could you explain balloon framing and it's history in the Midwest? 



      TL: Balloon framing is the process by which a building is made out of wooden studs and dimensional lumber, most widely known is the 2x4, but also 2x6, 2x8, etc. By most historical accounts, the method originated in the Chicago area in the mid to late 19th century. A variety of historical factors led to this innovation, most notably the availability of cheap and plentiful iron nails and the increased distribution of machinery used to create standardized lumber sizes. Prior to this time, most housing was made of local materials by local craftspeople, and the techniques used varied widely. With the advent of the railroads and steam power, lumber could be quickly cut to standard dimensions then shipped to ready markets. So you could say that balloon framing was one of the first industrial processes to enter the residential construction market. It took away the time-consuming processes of elaborate joinery, which were previously necessary, and allowed for faster and more economical building. The basic principles of balloon framing are still in use today and are the way most residential and much commercial architecture is constructed around the world.
      Feels like home to me
      2009
      Wood, Copper
      73"x46"x21"

      OPP: Your practice blurs the line between the functional and the aesthetic. You create both sculpture and furniture, and there are some pieces, such as Dinosaur Jr (2007) and Branch (2005) that blur that line so much, that I can't tell if they are furniture or sculpture. Do you see these parts of your practice as distinct from one another? Has your view of this changed over time? 



      TL: They are really two sides of the same coin. As I mentioned, I started into woodworking to learn how to better create sculptures. While I do not make much furniture these days, my background and training as a furniture-maker are constantly informing my work. The idea that a piece could be both is intriguing to me. 

      OPP: Will you weigh in on the never-ending debate on Art vs. Craft? 



      TL: To me, craft is a verb. One crafts things, be it a painting, a sculpture or a piece of furniture.  More interesting to me is the idea of use or function. I think we are seeing more and more art these days that engages these ideascommunity-based art, work based on social interaction, as well as object-based work. Someday, the art world will get over their cooties-like aversion to the word, and we will all be better for it.
      Landscape No. 3, 2008
      2009

      OPP: What's a typical day in your studio like?

      TL: I'm a daytime worker, so I like to get into the studio in the morning, but it really depends on what I am doing. If I'm deep in a project, I'll just jump right in where I previously left off. But if I'm starting something new, I often have to spend a lot of time thinking and really playing around with different options. However, once something gets going, I'm the kind of person who is thinking two, three, even four steps ahead, looking at the work and making judgments about where I am and where I am headed. Unlike a real architect, I don't make a full technical drawing of the work before I start. Instead, I will lay out the foundation, or in the case of the Possible Architecture work, put out the object, then make a few rough sketches where I can start to see the overall finished form. Then it's just a matter of building from the ground up. Sometimes, if a part of the building doesn't turn out, I'll tear it all out and start again, so it's a constant give and take between me and the work. 

      To see more of Ted's work, please visit tedlott.com.