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.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Alisha Wessler

Untitled
2012
Pen and ink on paper

ALISHA WESSLER's work revolves around a "propensity for detail." This propensity emerges in the accumulation of marks in her intricate pen and ink drawings and in the repetition of gestures in her sculptural installations. In 2012 she received a Rackham International Research Award to travel to Serbia and Croatia, where she researched and made art as a response to the collections she found in museums and other sites of memory pertaining to former Yugoslavia and its socialist past. Alisha is currently an MFA candidate at University of Michigan, School of Art and Design, and in 2013, her MFA exhibition will take place at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, where she will display her work amongst the existing collection.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Most of your drawings have an intense accumulation of detail. How does this formal quality relate to your conceptual concerns?

Alisha Wessler: It’s true, the things I make are the result of many collected and accumulated parts coming together. They feel like they have minds of their own—through countless layers and additions, they are often unrecognizable from the form they began with. I feel that this desire to make many small marks is linked to the act of collecting—both figuratively and conceptually. I think a lot about collecting and the compulsion many of us have to possess small parts of the entire universe.

OPP: Yes, I know what you mean. Whenever I see an accumulation of detail, I always think about the process of creating it and about the experience of the maker. For me, those are tied to the meaning of the piece. But not everyone looks at art with these things in mind. In your experience, how have viewers responded to the accumulation of detail in your work?

AW: I've received a wide array of responses, ranging from those who feel that the detail pulls them in—making them stop, look, and wonder—to those who feel wholly overwhelmed by it. Some viewers, trying to make sense of the work, see (unintentional) forms emerge in the detail—and that's when things get interesting. And, of course, there are also the comments referring to my patient (or obsessive) nature or about the eye strain the work must cause me!

Maiden Voyage
2008
acrylic and ink on panel
12 x 12 inches

OPP: I see a similar kind of obsessive accumulation in the fabric stalagmites and stalactites of Back Channels, which was part of a two-person show at Johansson Projects in Oakland, CA. Could you describe this installation and talk about your intentions?

AW: I would describe it as a two-part installation: the interior was a cave environment that visitors were invited to walk into, while the exterior was an amorphous sculptural form that crawled into the gallery space with a tail-like end. The cave entrance was built into a pre-existing archway, utilizing the unique architecture of the gallery space. I wanted to create an experience that would make the audience forget where they were while they were inside, yet would also make them aware of its artifice on the outside.

I’ve always been drawn to simulated environments—from museum dioramas to amusement park rides to religious grottos. Caves are a common theme in these fabricated spaces and, similarly, “real” caves are popular tourist destinations. I find the obsession with caves particularly interesting as they are naturally occurring sites of wonder but at the same time, humans have a history of altering them to make them even more fantastic. While researching caves, I read about an organist who dreamed of building a “stalacpipe” organ inside the Luray Caverns of Virginia and how he finally succeeded. The lithophone actually produces music by tapping the ancient stalactites with rubber mallets thus creating an eerie effect: somber organ hymns accompanied by intermittent dripping sounds from the cave.

Back Channels
2009
Paper, fabric, wire, starch
10 x 5 x 8 feet (internal) 8 x 17 feet (external)

OPP: In 2010, you illustrated Heinrich Hoffman’s cautionary verses to children in Der Struwwelpeter, published by Container Corps.  I’d love to hear more about this project.  Were you hired as an illustrator by the publisher? Or did you conceive of the project and approach them?

AW: Container Corps had the idea to publish a new version of Der Struwwelpeter and asked me to illustrate it. The original drawings from the 1845 version are incredible, so at first I found it a daunting task but I eventually got over it and started making my own interpretations.

OPP: What's your favorite drawing from the collection? Does it coincide with your favorite story?

AW: My favorites would have to be the hunter and hare characters from “The Man Who Went Out Shooting,” in which the hunter becomes the hunted. I like the details from the poem, especially how the unfortunate hunter awakes to find the mother hare pointing his very own gun at him and wearing his spectacles.
Something Left Behind
2011
Watercolor on paper

OPP: In 2011, you were in Prague as an artist-in-residence at Meet Factory. What did you work on while you were there? 

AW: It was a wonderful opportunity to live and work in Prague for two months. The residency is housed in a former factory building in an industrial neighborhood far away from the touristy center. My studio was enormous with high windows overlooking the railroad tracks below and then beyond to the east bank of the Vltava.

While I was there I constructed a mountain-cum-tower-ruin with a miniature airship hovering above—caught in an ambiguous state of fleeing or discovering. The idea came to me while hiking around Český ráj beneath the ruins of a fortress that had been built into the cliffs during the 15th century. I began imagining the area in all its various stages: how at one point humans discovered the mountain and had plans to make it more useful and then, at another, how they had fled, leaving all their work behind. I wanted to create a still space in time where the viewer could imagine a hopeful scene as easily as a disastrous one. While I was there I spent a lot of time at the Bleší trh flea market where I found materials and inspiration. For instance, the aircraft I built was modeled after one from a book on Czech aviation.

It was during the construction of this project that I realized my propensity for detail, leading me to my most recent body of work. This project is an ongoing series of small artifacts, representing the intangible nature of dream imagery and exploring questions of intimacy and scale.

Artifact (compass)
2012
Salt crystals, wax and clay on wood

OPP: Are these drawings of artifacts? Or are you now making small sculptures? I'd love to hear a little more about this in-progress work.

AW: The current project is a series of small sculptures and drawings revolving around "artifacts" from dreams. In my dreams, I have always encountered uncanny three-dimensional forms and their fleeting quality has made me want to collect and record them in some tangible way. I find it fascinating that inside the dream, the objects appear logical and familiar, but upon waking, it is often impossible to locate language precise enough to describe them. They cannot be embellished, nor can they be communicated with any accuracy. Instead, they exist in a realm entirely their own, rarely remembered with true clarity and yet difficult to forget entirely.

The objects I make mirror this indeterminate place—both in process and outcome. I use a wide range of materials, both natural and synthetic, including found elements such as: milkweed, horsehair, wax, wood, mud, sea-reed, and salt crystals. In a nearly alchemical process, these materials come together and then are carved away at until they reach their desired form.

To view more of Alisha's work, please visit alishawessler.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Matthew Dale Janson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Judith G. Levy

On The Seventh Day, movie trailer
2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OPP: Have you always been an interdisciplinary artist?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Memory Cloud, detail
2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Huckleberry Finn: The Last Descendants, video trailer
2011

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

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

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

The Lone Ranger: The Last Descendants, video trailer
2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

Staying Connected to Your Viewers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Emailing Everyone!

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Dan Solberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jennifer Mills

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

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

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

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

September 2011
Art Prize Grand Rapids, Michigan
Performance and Installation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

100 Stars Without Makeup
from TABLOID SERIES
2012

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

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

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