OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Sara Schnadt

Drafting Universes
2010

OtherPeoplesPixels: You describe exploring technology in your work both as subject and media. In doing so your primary media are installation and performance. Let’s talk about the relationship the performances and installations have to one another in your artmaking process and how the combination of disciplines plays into how viewers perceive your work in varying locations.

Sara Schnadt: I am trained as a performance/installation artist so I naturally think about ideas as live gestures and environments at the same time. Space, architecture and gesture are fundamental to how I think. In the past four years the installation component of my work has developed to the point where the intention holds up without the live presence. This has opened up the possibilities for my work in terms of where and for how long I can show a work (a month with regular performances versus an evening) which has been exciting. Most of the time a live activity is integral to my work, though. It's at the heart of the work's concept, like building the internet in Connectivity or creating versions of the universe in Drafting Universes. I also sometimes use found movement in a similar way to how I consider found objects. I see them as materials with a previous life and history. For example my piece Reading Gestures uses found pedestrian movement—body language that people use to create a private space in a public library in order to get lost in what they are reading. It was created for a space that was the Chicago Public Library's reading room from the 1880, through the 1980' and drew from images of readers spanning this time period for movement material.

I do have two recent pieces that are installations without a live element. But one of these is an adaptation of a performance remnant—a mistake when the room-scale installation component of my Connectivity piece (a representation of the Internet in string and wire) was sent back from an international show as a compact three foot ball. The other, Network, is the idea of a gesture in string—a virtual network structure cutting across an ordinary space. But even this piece is going to become a performance in it's next iteration.

When I am there live inside of my work, the audience tends to take on an engaged spectator role or sometimes they respond like they are seeing the inside of my studio and are interested in getting close to the creative process. When I am not there live (either during the run of a piece with scheduled performances or with my pure installation pieces) I think that the audience experiences my work more actively and intimately because I am not there to serve as an intermediary. The experience of the work is much more charged when I am there live however, and there is a place for both kinds of engagement in most of my work.

Connectivity (Condensed)
2011

OPP: In reviewing the performances you’ve created in the last decade I am especially interested in noting each work’s duration. Many range from one to three hours performed multiple times over the course of an exhibition while others occur once and last a few days. Could you speak about how you determine the duration of a performance?

SS: I consider the format of the presentation opportunity as part of the site or situation I am responding to. In most cases, the overall duration or run of a piece is a response to the opportunity (a one-night-only, site-specific performance festival versus a month-long run in an exhibition space). If I have the time to create a series of performances within a larger exhibit time-frame my preference is to perform for three hours at a time. This gives a focused enough time window that you can have a decent accumulation of audience (which really gives the work energy) but also is long enough to push me beyond my comfort level for stamina. Pushing past this point, which happens usually about an hour in for me, puts me in a heightened meditative space and makes the performance more transformative because I really become part of the work.

Connectivity
2008, 2007

OPP: I am similarly interested in your costuming in the performances you’ve created in the last decade. In Drafting Universes and Continuity you are dressed in what could be interpreted as business attire, and in Network and Network Hub you are dressed in everyday attire, while in Connectivity you wear a custom-made orange jumpsuit that could be described as both futuristic and prison or inmate apparel-inspired. What factors go into your costuming choices?

SS: I think of the costume as part of the sculptural element of each piece. Some of my work is more abstract and some more pedestrian in it's vocabulary, and so the costumes vary accordingly. If there is a real type of person I am embodying for the piece, then I will put together a costume that suggests this person. For Continuity my intention was to be dresses in historically-ambiguous travel attire, since the piece included a large collage of travel images from a wide range of historical sources. I also chose the color palette of this costume to match the piece. For Drafting Universes I was a scientist or science worker, but I also wanted to keep the read very open so the audience could make a variety of references from my activity. I actually rotated through three costumes during this performance because it was a little tricky to get the balance just right. Also the installation element is very abstract visually, so a lab coat was just too literal. I will fine-tune the costume more for its next showing.

For the building of Network we are wearing street clothes because the installation process is not part of the work. With Network Hub, (a piece about airplane flight patterns) I am shooting for a balance between a pilot and a stewardess, since both those roles facilitate flight. Also, simple lines and a single color look good formally with the piece. I have worked with a fashion designer for one on my pieces, Chicago-based Agnieszka Colon. She lent me a gown that she made out of a woman pilot's flight suit, which I wore to be both an architect and municipal worker role as I 'built' the Internet in my piece Connectivity.

Chicago Artists Resource (CAR)

OPP: Connectivity celebrates Web 2.0, the collective activity of creating and sharing information online. Web 2.0 is integral to the website and online community you created as co-founder and technologist for Chicago Artists Resource at the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. Do you consider yourself a hybrid artist in that you work at the intersection of art and technology in both your work as an artist and your work with Chicago Artist Resource? How do the two inform one another?

SS: Yes, absolutely they do inform each other. And yes, I do consider myself a hybrid artist. Or just an artist with multiple intersecting interests. I got involved with arts administration early in my career. I wanted to understand the infrastructure around artists' practice in order to give my own work a context and to participate in activities that enrich this infrastructure and allow me to be part of something greater than myself.

My work with CAR has directly affected my art practice. It has expanded my art network both locally and nationally, inspired me to focus on technology innovation as a central theme in my art, and shown me that I can pull off large complex projects. The scale and ambitiousness of my art has grown as a direct result. My art practice also affects my work with CAR because I am much more effective as an advocate for artists' professional practice when I am actively practicing myself. In terms of working at the intersection of art and technology, this is just where I feel most engaged.

OPP: You keep a research blog that is accessible from your website. How do you approach researching some of the specific details and networks that appear in your work? How do your viewers tend to engage with the information you present to them both online and in exhibition spaces?

SS: I've realized over the past few years that the scale, complexity and processes in my art have been informed by my work with Chicago Artists Resource. Overseeing development of this large and comprehensive web site has involved a lot of research on professional practice content for artists. A taste for research-intensive creative process has since become part of my art. Sometimes this has meant researching global internet access, sometimes data visualization, sometimes found movement, and sometimes large quantities of images. Sharing interesting information that I come across on my blog is something I do for further background on projects, and because some of the stuff I've found is really fabulous. In addition, some of my finished projects include specific information that is relayed as part of the work's concept. When this happens I think of the art as a data visualization, and it has to be clear, direct and informative. I never want my work to be dependent on reading the label to get its ideas across. Other projects are supported by my research, but factual data is distilled and abstracted in the final piece and has become something else, more aesthetic.

OPP: What is next for you?

SS: What's next for me job-wise is finalizing plans for national syndication of CAR, which I've been working on for the past year. I'll also be overseeing the upgrade of the current CAR site so that the interface is more user-friendly and the large quantities of content on the site are more prioritized to artists' interests. And on September 29th, I’m moderating a panel on social media strategies for artists at Chicago Artists Coalition.

Art-wise, I have a solo show at Counterpath Gallery (Denver) which opens September 2nd. I'll be their inaugural show. And in October I'll be doing an 'Artists Connect' talk at the Art Institute of Chicago, discussing my work in relation to Agnes Martin, Sarah Sze, Olafur Elliasson and others. For the end of the year I’m learning to code and developing an interactive data visualization for the Apps for Metro Chicago Competition, based on data from the city’s new open data initiative. I am also beginning to develop a new movement/new media/installation work that involves performing a social network.

Longer term, sometime next year, I am doing a project at Minus Space (Brooklyn) in their new Dumbo space. I’m excited to work with Minus Space because their invitation to join their flat file has really influenced my work over the past two years. Applying the lens of minimalist reductive art to what I do has egged me on to try new directions and distill my ideas into simpler forms.

To view more of Sara Schnadt’s work visit saraschnadt.com.

Image Credits: John Sisson and Courtesy of the Artist

Your Virtual Business Card : Optimizing Your OPP Website for Mobile Devices

As an Artist, being able to display your work while you're on the go is important. When you are out and about and wish to share your work, your OPP site can serve as your virtual business card.

To ensure that the work on your OPP site is viewable on mobile devices, be sure that:

  • You are using a Template for your site, and not a Flash Skin
    • FYI -- you'll only see the Flash skins as an option in your Control Panel if you've been using one for a long time. If you don't see this option, don't worry --- this means you're using the mobile-friendly Templates!
  • Your 'Image Settings' are set to 'Shared (HTML)', not 'Protected (Flash)'
  • Your 'Zoom Image Settings' are set to 'Shared (HTML)'

You can now display your work on anyone's mobile phone or device -- instant access to your work. Big deal, you say? You can now...

  • Have coffee with a writer who's anxious to blog about your work (press! yes!) and show them your work on your mobile device
  • Share your body of work with others during studio visits, or with fellow residents while at an art residency
  • Present your work while networking at art fairs, conventions, and conferences
  • Meet with a potential collector and make a sale

Worried about your work being stolen, because you won't be using our 'Protected (Flash)' settings? We'll address those concerns in an upcoming post. Stay Tuned!

    OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jimmy McBride


    M1 V2 (The Crab Nebula)
    2011
    Quilt
    87 inches x 78 inches

    OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell me more about your fantastical persona for your quilted wall pieces. You are a space trucker traveling back and forth from rock to rock delivering salt and vinegar who has a lot of time on your hands prompting you to download a grandma program that has taught you how to quilt—do you create all of your work from the perspective of this persona?

    Jimmy McBride: Yes, all of the quilts are theoretically from the perspective of the space trucker.  Early on there was no story to go with the quilts, but they're a lot of mindless labor to make and I have a very fertile imagination and love of science fiction. Also, at the time I started making the quilts I had taken a break from "making art" and just wanted to try doing something I had never done before. One thing led to another and a new artistic practice was born. After a while I developed the space trucker as a way to contextualize the quilts and put them in a framework that would make sense. With this more conceptual take on quilt making I also wanted bring it more into the realm of "high art" rather than a purely craft process. 

    OPP: Do you go by your real name, Jimmy McBride, while “in character”?

    JM: There's a lot of the story that's still in my head, including the trucker’s name and how he lives, where he comes from, but I haven't figured out how to get that information out. Right now people just assume that Jimmy McBride is the name of the space trucker.

    OPP: Your space trucker persona makes me wonder what kind of art you made while growing up. Did you have imaginary friends as a child? Or perhaps a science fiction-inspired imagination?

    JM: All of the above. There was a special effects TV show on when I was a kid called "Movie Magic," and the very first thing I wanted to be was a special effects makeup artist. Despite growing up in the suburbs, my house was on a lot that included a large wooded backyard with a creek running through it. I was an only child with not many friends and I would run around the woods all day making up epic tales of gods and monsters. I made a lot of paper mache sculptures and watched a lot of Star Wars and Star Trek.

    OPP: How does the genre of science fiction influence your work, generally?

    JM: I'd say its the basis for my work. Initially most of my influences came from movies and TV: Star Wars and Star Trek: The Next Generation, Aliens, Bladerunner, 2001, Dune, Mad Max, Waterworld, and Firefly. Recently, I've started reading a lot of science fiction art and concept on the internet: Assimov, Stross, Gibson, Dick, Le Guin, Vinge, and Herbert, for example. A couple of years ago I started doing a lot of research on pirates as well which has influenced the story. I've found that the more that I take in from as many different influences as possible makes the story I tell through my work that much better and more complex.

    Jet in the Carina Nebula
    2010
    Quilt
    73 inches x 89 inches

    OPP: You keep a process/research blog that is accessible from your website. How do you approach selecting the source images you share on your blog?

    JM: The idea for the blog is to give a "behind the scenes" look at what I do. I like to keep my site as streamlined as possible including the story of the space trucker and keeping everything conceptually sound and coherent. With the blog, I get to show how things are going in the studio, what's influencing certain pieces, showing how things come together and explaining certain technical aspects of how I actually construct the quilts.  As with the main site, I try to keep the images oriented towards the "how and why" of making the quilts and not too much extraneous info like what I had for lunch. I do stray every once in a while, but mostly it's just where I get my material, how I make the patterns, etc.

    OPP: Seeing some your preliminary color and fabric charts and seeing the quilts in-progress emphasizes how involved and time-consuming each piece is. How do you select the fabric you quilt?

    JM: All of the fabric for the quilt tops are from second hand stores. I especially like this aspect of the quilts both for practical and conceptual reasons. Quilts originally were made from clothes that were worn out or things that were going to be discarded, so I like the nod towards the history of quilt making, but also there aren't really many fabric stores on the space truckers route so he has to use any fabric he can get his hands on. The fabric is mostly button down shirts. I try and match the colors of the shirts to the images as best I can.  After working with this material for so long, I've found that small plaids and patterns give me the best matching capabilities.

    The Milky Way Galaxy V2
    2010
    Quilt
    60 inches x 60 inches

    OPP: Are you self-taught or did you have a human equivalent to your persona’s “grandma program” to instruct you in sewing and quilting?

    JM: I am a completely self taught quilter.  My mom taught me how to do a little sewing when I was young and I knew my way around a sewing machine when I began, but I basically knew nothing about quilting. Ironically, I learned a lot about the tricks of the trade of quilting by watching YouTube videos.

    OPP: You’ve recently received a $25,000 AOL’s 25 for 25 Grant and had a show at The Museum of Contemporary Art in Oslo that traveled to The Museum of Contemporary Art, Bergen (Norway)—congratulations. Tell me a little about the impact your increased visibility has had on your artmaking.

    JM: Thanks! The grant was a watershed and complete surprise. I did apply for it, but thought it was a shot in the dark. The grant allowed me to take a break from working a day job for a while and just focus on making art. It's really been great getting my stuff out into the world, having people see it, and giving me feedback. At the end of the day though, it hasn't really altered my artmaking; it's still me with some old shirts and my sewing machine.

    OPP: What are you working on now?

    JM: Currently I'm working on a quilt based off of an image of M83. M83, or Messier 83, is the technical name of the Southern Pinwheel Galaxy which is a barred spiral galaxy in the constellation Hydra. Charles Messier was a French astronomer that first catalogued permanent deep space objects, giving them numbers to differentiate between stationary objects and moving ones, like comets. After that I'm going to focus on more of the Sci-Fi storytelling quilts, and less on direct representation of images of space.

    To view more of Jimmy McBride’s work visit jimmymcbride.com.