OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Katie Vota

Douglas Fur
Cut Paper
28" x 40"

KATIE VOTA’s delicate cut-paper works appear to float off the wall, casting shifting shadows that evoke the gentle motion of leaves rustling in the breeze. The combination of material and image—paper, sometimes cut to the brink of disintegration and enlarged micrographs of the cellular structures of natural dye plants—is a testament to the simultaneous fragility and robustness of nature. Katie was an artist-in-residence at ISLAND Hill House in Michigan in 2011. Later that same year, she received a Fulbright Fellowship to study natural dyes in Cuzco, Peru. Her work is currently on view in the group exhibition Under Construction at the Indianapolis Art Center through August 4, 2013. She will be a first year MFA candidate at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the fall of 2013, and you have 9 more days to support her education by contributing to her Indiegogo campaign. Katie lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Could you explain the process behind your current cut-paper work? How is delicacy integral?

Katie Vota: I start with the most fragile thing I can think of—an idea of form and line derived from a delicate slice of plant, laid on a slide to be viewed at a microscopic level. It’s truly beautiful to think that everything in the universe is made up of such tiny pieces, of atoms, of cells. I build my images from cellular micrographs. I draw and re-draw in big, sweeping lines and gestures, preserving the essence of the plant I’m referencing. It’s the least precise, least delicate part of the process. Then, I draw again, but this time with an exacto knife.

Cutting is a painstaking, methodical process. It’s a more precise form of drawing that’s  akin to a scientific process. My space and hands must be clean—ah, the perils of working with white paper! I can’t lean on the paper at the edges of my mat or it will damage the paper’s structure. A delicacy of touch is required with cutting tools or I’ll cut too much away.

Cutting is a subtractive process. It’s like chipping away at a stone block, or relief carving—the piece emerges slowly over time. I cut a while. I hold it up and look at the reflection in the windows of my studio. I walk away, have a cup of tea or pet the cat. Then I come back and look at the reflection again. I sit down and keep working. Deciding it’s finished is about balancing the amount of detail present in the work with whether or not it will buckle in on itself because I’ve cut too much out. A cut paper piece can be too delicate.

When I exhibit these works, I hang them about an inch off the wall so that they cast shadows that change and move. Delicacy is the fragility of the paper floating away from the wall; it seems to weigh nothing, to occupy so little space. This lightness allows for intricacy in the form of a single line that moves through the entirety of a piece. The works move and sway slightly if there’s a light breeze or if you're walking past quickly. In those moments, I think of them as breathing, as if the plant within the piece has found a new life.

Cut Paper
40" x 14"

OPP: This work is specifically based on the cellular imagery of natural dye plants, correct? How has your interest in natural dyes evolved since your 2011-2012 Fulbright trip to Peru?

KV: Correct. I first fell in love with the process and labor of natural dyeing during my senior year of my undergrad at MICA. I love the nuance of color found within the dyes, the presence of the hand in the work, the physical process of collecting the plants, and the staggering amount of chemical knowledge required to understand the differences between dyes. So I went to Peru on my Fulbright to expand my knowledge. I worked with 13 dye plants in the Cusco region of Peru. Although the plants were native to Peru, the colors they yielded were similar to what I could get from plants here in the States. I began to wonder: Are the cellular structures of good dye plants similar? And can I then infer whether a plant is a good dye plant by looking at its cellular structure? 

The color a dye plant yields depends on so many variables—rain fall, soil type and acidity, climate/temperature, amount of sun—that it’s hard to get repeatable results. There isn’t much research on the topic. Initially, I tried to find scientists to help me take cellular micrographs of my plants. When that proved difficult, I switched tactics and began scavenging for existing micrographs from databases that catalog plants seeing rapid effects from disease and climate change. It turns out I was right. You can see structural similarities between plants of the same family, all of which give the same color.

I’ve come to have a contextual understanding of the growing world around me, of how the actions of people affect the world. I can walk down a street and feel a sense of connectedness with my surroundings, rooted in my knowledge of local wild craft dye plants. I started examining and pH testing the soil as well as the dye baths, to better understand why I was getting color variations. I decided to start growing my own plants, including Yarrow, Coreopsis and Madder, so I could control the variables that affect color. I discovered how much I enjoyed growing things.

Being so involved with plants created a domino effect. I can’t help but care about the quality of my dirt and how the chemicals I use in dyeing effect the local water table. I think about the quality and locality of the food I eat, about giving back to the planet that sustains me and gives me the resources to use plants as dye. 

Plus, there’s something magical about the fact that many of the plants we take for granted—weeds and garden plants, for example—give us colors in infinite variation. I’m fascinated by what might have caused these plants to evolve in this way.

Broken Path Gradation
Weaving with natural dyes

OPP: How did your older work in weaving lead to your current body of work?

KV: In the fall of 2009, about the time natural dyes began appearing in my work, I was working exclusively in weaving, manipulating structures on the loom to create large, fragile open weave textiles. There were too many structural limitations on the loom, so I started “translating” the weavings onto paper. I projected light through them and traced the shadows. Then I began cutting into the paper to create faux open weaves. Something clicked, and I began working between paper and weaving, allowing one to influence the other. The structure of the paper works would decay until it was almost unrecognizable and suddenly I’d have an "ah-ha!" moment and I would go back to the loom with something really fresh, something I never would have come to otherwise.

OPP: Could you expand on the theme of decay in your work?

KV: I approach decay as part of a cycle of transformation and recreation. Natural dyes are fragile. They fade over time with exposure to light. As I projected light through the weavings, I ran the risk of destroying the color. By using these dyes, I embed decay into the work because their colors are fugitive. Every time I show them, I have to consider how the exhibition space will affect their color. Are there windows? A skylight?

Decay and transformation show up in the site-responsive installations I’ve done. I love the freedom of someone saying “here’s this space, breathe life into it.” In 2011, I was given a chance to show in an old brewery that had since been turned into a music venue. It was dank and humid. The staircases were dark and dirty and littered with cigarette butts. The space was chilly and had high rounded ceilings; it used to hold beer casks. The paint was peeling away. I created a cut paper piece that mimicked the look and feel of the paint. I was so drawn to its faded colors and the slight greying that resulted from exposure to moisture. I suspended the piece from the ceiling and let the paper be exposed to the moisture and decay in the same way the paint had. The piece cast shadows on the walls and looked as if it belonged there, floating, sagging and swaying.When I took it down, it had to be recycled. There was nothing more that could be done for it—it had decayed past saving, but that was the point. 

Nine Types of Light
Cut Paper Installation
6' x 24'

OPP: You'll be starting graduate school at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the fall of 2013. How do you feel on the verge of being an MFA candidate?

KV: I can’t decide if I’m more excited or terrified. I’m leaning towards excited. Since I finished new work for Under Construction, a group show that opened in June at the Indianapolis Art Center, I've had the time to just goof off, generate ideas and make mock-ups. This summer feels like the calm before a storm. . . the more time I spend wandering aimlessly through my sketchbook, the more I want it to start already.

OPP: Tell us about your plan to make it happen without taking out any privatized loans.

KV: SAIC gave me a financial aid package, but after scholarships and federal loans, there’s about $3,000 left. It’s not a large amount of money, but it’s not something I just have lying around. I started an Indiegogo campaign so that I won't have to take out a private loan on top of my federal loans. I’m offering editions and prints, small cut works and even some of my previously-exhibited large works as incentives. People of all different demographics and income brackets can own a piece of my work. 

Cut Paper
22.5" x 60"

OPP: How is crowdfunding particularly relevant to visual artists?

KV: Sometimes I feel like people in the sciences might have an easier time getting donations than those in the arts. Potential funders look at their projects and say, "yeah, curing cancer is something I can put some money towards. But what does art give people?" I had this problem in choosing a country to apply to for my Fulbright grant. Many countries only wanted scholars, scientists, doctors—people who could do physical good on the ground. But what about cultural enrichment? Isn’t that important too? 

I’ve seen friends raise money via Kickstarter and Indiegogo to do research and large-scale art projects that otherwise would have been outside their budgets. It doesn’t take much. If 100 people donate $10 each, that’s a good chunk of change.

And, as I’ve seen time and again in community arts, people like to be involved in the making of art. The ability to fund a project lets people feel connected to the work. They helped it come into being and that gives them sense of accomplishment and ownership. 

Most artists don’t have a steady cash-flow in order to make larger works, so crowdfunding allows them to dream bigger and to make those larger works a reality. As grants and art endowments continue to shrink, it will be harder and harder for artists to land the funding to make work. That’s not a great place to be, but most of the artists I know are resilient and will find a way. I think crowdfunding is going to be one of those ways. 

To contribute to Katie's Indiegogo campaign, go here.
To see more of Katie's work, visit katievota.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and spiritual significance of repetition in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her work is on view through September 2013 in
Abstracting the Seam (Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago), and she has two upcoming solo exhibitions: I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (Klemm Gallery, Adrian, Michigan) in November 2013 and Right Here, Right Now (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.

OPP Art Critics Series: Four Tips from a Critic to Artists

By Abraham Ritchie

Viewing art through the internet has fundamentally changed the way we experience it. This OPP Art Critics Series challenge, which asks a collection of critics to look at art through the "lens" of a website, recognizes that reality and places a premium on the art rather than a geographic location. The OPP challenge felt similar to a typical anonymous online web encounter of artwork. After looking at a number of artists’ websites,  I found the site of Patrick D. Wilson, an artist I’ve never met and who lives and works literally on the other side of the world from me in China. There’s no replacement for experiencing artwork in person, but there’s also no escaping exploring the online experience of artwork, either. The artist should not try to deny this reality but rather embrace the possibilities and make the most out of it they can. This essay will give a broader view of what makes for a successful and effective online viewing experience, especially for those seeking more information about an artist and their work.

Patrick D. Wilson. House Crisis (2010). Wood and laminated photographs, 33" x 33" x 28"

When it comes to a critic looking for more information on an artist they’ve just encountered, my first recourse is almost always to do a quick Google Search to find their professional website, then maybe seeing if the artist is on Facebook (if they have a Facebook Page or a publicly viewable profile) or Twitter. It's hard to overstate the importance of this tenuous first encounter, which is completely passive from the side of the artist, and intensely active from the side of the critic. When I'm researching more about an artist, I delve into what the artist has set up on their website, exploring an artist’s oeuvre, academic career, exhibition history, personal history and social media accounts in order to have a more informed opinion about the work.

Incomplete or unsatisfactory websites hinder a critic’s work and in some cases even causes them to skip writing about an artist altogether. During one panel I recall a colleague being asked how he decided which works to write about. Given the choice between works of similar quality, his very honest answer was simple: "Usually the ones with the best images online." Without a complete, well-maintained web presence that successfully makes that first connection to someone seeking information, artists may be losing crucial coverage of their work—without even being aware of it.

Wilson made that first connection, immediately drawing me in with the single work on his landing page. House Crisis immediately struck me as Buckminster Fuller-esque with hints of dystopian elements as a polyhedral, skyscraper-like object burst through and over a more traditional wooden house. As an image, the photo communicates the artwork clearly. It’s a straightforward, high-resolution (consider making your images suitable for print publishing with 300 dpi resolution at least), well-lit documentation of a compelling sculpture that lets the artwork stand alone as the center of attention. Here are four tips for artists who want to create compelling websites.

This encounter on the artist’s homepage illustrates my first word of advice: Lead with your best work. You wouldn't apply for a grant using an artwork you were unsatisfied by, so why put anything less than that on your homepage? I wanted to learn more about the artwork on Wilson’s landing page, since the title was nowhere to be found (hint, hint). I clicked on the image but it was not linked to another page.  

Here’s a second suggestion: Follow up on a successful first encounter by making it easy to access more information or other artworks. Fortunately, websites are easily organized by the artist and easily navigable by the visitor to the page via tabs up top. This made it easier to view more of Patrick Wilson’s artwork. 

That’s my third piece of advice: Keep your site organized by eliminating page redundancies, encouraging exploration within your site, and keeping navigation options simple. Since the work itself hinted at something domestic and ominous, I wasn’t surprised to see that the work that interested me from the homepage was titled House Crisis, and dated 2010, a significant year in the global Great Recession and attendant global housing bubble crises. Wilson’s other work intrigued me and I kept exploring his ideas and art. I particularly liked the polyhedral motif that recurred in many artworks, but in ways that seemed fresh each time, not like a crutch or a “brand.” Infinity Crate (2009) struck me as a creative, not to mention alluring, response to the way science tries to understand massive concepts—like how a simple equation can explain the mind-boggling relationship between mass and energy.

Patrick D. Wilson. Subdivision (2013). Work in progress, laminated C-prints.

Letting visitors know what you are currently working on is essential, too. We can track the development of ideas from an array of past work into the new works that are in-progress. You let us know that you are actively creating something, which is a good time to inform the visitor of your upcoming exhibition where we could see the piece in its completed form. Showing your newest work and the creative process behind it starts a virtual relationship between critic and artist. I was able to see the new work that Wilson was making. I learned through his website that he was working in his studio on the piece Subdivision (2013), which again employed a polyhedral structure creating a sprawling construction of housing construction. Through its rubble, this piece creates close-up views of angles depicting both detritus and new construction scaffolding. Leaving the geometric approach, Solar Storm (2005) took basic and familiar materials like track lights and light filtering scrims and transformed them into an indoor Aurora Borealis. Similar to Wilson’s other works, this concept was aided by the aesthetic appeal of the piece that came through in the photos online.

Patrick D. Wilson. Solar Storm, 2005. Aluminum, acrylic, computer controlled LEDs. 300" x 84" x 84.

Properly interested in these works and more besides, I attempted to find information about the artworks and the artist himself; if the pieces had been exhibited before, if Wilson shows with a gallery, his CV all of which are unfortunately absent from his page. 

That’s my fourth and final word of advice: Tell your history. Most people online don’t know you, so introduce yourself through your work and don’t forget to include exhibition and educational history. Tell people about your artistic interests with a brief artist’s statement; don’t worry about including the latest trendy theoretical terms, just tell it like you’d tell me in a bar. Cheers!

Abraham Ritchie is the Social Media Manager for the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. He writes for Chicago’s Newcity Newspaper  and Bad at Sports. He has written for the National Endowment for the Arts, the United Kingdom's Spectator and Madison Newspapers, Inc. His opinions and commentary have been featured on Chicago Tonight, Chicago's WBEZ 91.5 FM, WGN 720 AM, Chicago Tribune and Art21. Abraham Ritchie is the former Senior Editor for ArtSlant and former Deputy Editor for FlavorPill Chicago. He holds a BA in Art History from University of Wisconsin-Madison and an MA in New Arts Journalism from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Follow his adventures on Twitter: @AbrahamRitchie.

This is the fifth essay in the  OPP Art Critics SeriesRead the previous essays: "Get Back (to the present moment)" by Claudine Isé; "Look at Them, Please" by Danny Orendorff; "Autobiography and Its Documentation" by Jason Foumberg; and "The Child is (Un)dead: Taxidermy Art as Victorian Post-Mortem Photography" by OPP Art Critics Series' Managing Editor Alicia Eler. 

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Allen Brewer

Bette Davis
Oil on panel
14" x 14"

Artist, illustrator and educator ALLEN BREWER is searching for the truth. He uses a variety of conceptual strategies to erase traditional means of personal perception and the conscious pursuit of artistic style in an attempt to get at the "thingness" of his subjects. For his Blind Drawings and Blind Paintings, he doesn't look at the substrate as he draws. For his most recent solo project VERBATIM at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, he recreated works in the museum's permanent collection based solely on the written descriptions given by museum goers. Allen has exhibited at Burnet Art Gallery at LeMeridien Chambers, The Soap Factory and Soo Visual Arts Center, all in Minneapolis. He also works collaboratively with last week’s Featured Artist Pamela Valfer. In 2012, Brewer and Valfer participated in the EVA International Visual Art Biennial (Limerick City, Ireland). For their next project, they will collaborate on a project for the Minnesota Biennial at The Soap Factory. Allen lives and works in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

OtherPeoplesPixels: For your series Carbon Drawings, you copy found vintage imagery using typewriter carbon. In reference to this series, you state on your website: "The result is a 'ghost,' devoid of any human embellishment or direct mark making. . . By eliminating my own perception of the thing, I am getting closer to its truth." Why is the truth of a thing important to you? Can you ever really find it?

Allen Brewer: Truth is something I’ve always questioned. Growing up, we are fed a steady diet of embellished truths. . . fables, half-truths and white lies. All of these are meant to soften the blow of disappointing factual realities such as our impending death, trust in others and “true love.” My attempt to find out what is real or true is hopeless. I realize that. Yet I think we can find some truths in the search, whether it’s an uncanny moment that speaks louder than the event or a unique pairing of line and form to construct a more accurate reality.

Colored pencil
30" x 40"

OPP: The more I look at all your work which attempts to erase the hand and perception of you as the artist, the more I think about the difference between perception and interpretation. Perception is how we experience the external world through our senses and interpretation is the meaning and value we ascribe to that information. Your actions direct me toward an object or image and—to use your word— its "thingness," but, for me, the truth doesn't lie there. The truth is in the feedback between a thing and a human, in the interpretation. I always go back to thinking of you and why you, as an artist and as a human being, choose to copy or recreate one thing and not another. Do you think erasing perception highlights the role interpretation plays in meaning-making? Or are you not concerned with interpretation?

AB: I am concerned with interpretation, especially since it’s all we have to make sense of objects and events. We have a limited language that helps in this process. But, ultimately, the “thingness” attributed to such objects and events means nothing; a spiraling into Platonic theory essentially disproves the primacy of the form’s physicality over the idea of the form. By erasing—as best I can—my interpretation of the “thing,” I attempt to present a more objective idea of the “thing.” I’m interested mainly in the open-endedness of ideas, which for me, represents the truth. I seek to present an unvarnished transcription with which the viewer can find their own truth, not a myopic narrative or interpretation. Truth is a slippery subject; there are lies everywhere we look. My work deals directly with photography and text. We tend to complacently accept these two standards in media as truth, which is a phenomenon I recognize as imperfect.

Installation shot

OPP: Introduce us to your most recent project VERBATIM, which just closed at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA). It takes your exploration of transcription one step further by including a go-between, another level of mediation between you and the work of art you are transcribing.

AB: VERBATIM started out as a site-specific experiment with two goals: 1) to present work based solely on the museum guests’ written interpretations of artworks within the museum, free from my own agency, and 2) to use this process to further expand upon my compulsion towards mediated work. I placed description forms throughout the MIA, asking guests to isolate one artwork, write about it in detail and then turn it in for me to decipher.

Once in the studio, I read and re-read each description, forcing myself to forget my knowledge of said piece and to construct the work based solely on the literal (Platonic) meaning/idea of each written word. For instance, people tended to use overly romantic phrases and emotion when writing, which, according to my imposed rules, were unusable. Instead, I relied on descriptors and nouns that could exist as more universal systems and codes. Hierarchy also helped sort the large ideas in the descriptions from the smaller moments, which aided in the ever-growing rulebook of this project. Eventually, I realized that I was dealing with an ever changing expanding/contracting conceptual issue: language. The end result was an exhibition that mimicked the permanent collection of the MIA. VERBATIM was a reflection of famous works filtered through the barrier of language and nuance of interpretation. I’ve gained confidence and insight with this project, causing me to integrate mediation more seamlessly with intent in my work.

OPP: I'm interested in the fact that "people tended to use overly romantic phrases and emotion" when describing the works of art. It seems to imply that the museum goers who participated in VERBATIM experienced visual art more through their emotions than through their eyes. Was this a surprise to you? Does this say anything about the true nature of visual art?

AB: The responses I received—about 200 in total—were split between personal, emotional reflections and overly-analytical lists of sizes, materials, proximities and diagrams. I could tell who had art education by the writing style and word choice, but I didn't let that particular phenomenon guide my choice or which pieces to recreate. I looked for a unique voice in the description, one that exemplified the contracting and expanding nature of language itself. The way in which people write about art is revealing. Each person who took time to describe a work used their own codes and systems of description, which made my task that much more difficult. Not only did I have to decipher that code and its context, I also had to somehow address it as a universal. In hindsight, if I had another go at this project, I would ask 200 different people to describe only ONE piece, then make work based on the 200 differently nuanced descriptions, similar to Francis Alys’s St. Fabiola project. The true nature of visual art will always exist as a collection of subjective voices, giving it credence within a certain context.

Oil on paper
12" x 9"

OPP: You will be collaborating with last week's OPP Blog Featured Artist Pamela Valfer for the upcoming Minnesota Biennial at The Soap Factory. How are the two of you approaching this exhibition? 

AB: ,,,—read as Comma Comma Comma— is the title of the biennial. The meaning in those marks gives freedom to presentation, installation and meaning. They literally mean (to me) “and then. . . and then. . . and then. . .” The co-curators are David Petersen and John Marks, former directors of Art of This, an artist-run venue in Minneapolis with month long exhibitions and one-night events. AOT was a space for emerging and underrepresented artists who were willing to take risks with space and presentation. There was a refreshing fluidity there, and the program included artist talks, lectures and workshops.

,,, will resemble that platform, and Pam and I have respected the approach by continuing our idea of post-studio collaboration. We are married and share a small studio, so there is no room for ego and secrets once we enter it. Our working concept is that of opposition, concerned with the slippery space between reality and meaning. That’s all I can say for now, as we are currently working and thinking. I can tell you that we are not making traditional collaborative pieces, by which I mean the passing back and forth or the simultaneous partnership of one substrate. We are each making new work that represents or embodies the concepts in our solo work,. Then we will experiment with those pieces as dialog and conflation on a shared wall in the studio—a practice space, if you will. The Soap Factory, a 12,000 square foot, uninsulated structure is 100+ years old. The wall surfaces include exposed brick, drywall, metal, wood and glass. All of these factors will guide Pam’s and my decision-making process, for it would be a shame to NOT recognize the specificity of the exhibition space.

Phenomenological evidence of natural occurrences
Found objects
Installation shot of COMMON PLACE, a collaboration with Pamela Valfer

OPP: And I'll ask you the same question I asked Pamela: how has collaboration changed your solo practice?

AB: The collaborative process has reinforced the fact that perception is NOT universal. Working with Pam—or anyone for that matter—is akin to the first day of school. You show up to a group of strange faces, all with their own histories and sets of rules. In order to survive, you must make friends and be willing to be vulnerable and open to seeing the validity of their ways. You may disagree with your mates, yet you’ll see them again in the morning, so humility and flexibility keep you from killing each other. In the end, you’ll shed the idea of difference in favor of something shared. The opinions and perspectives Pamela offers make the self-questioning in my own work more meaningful. She reminds me (as I hope I remind her) that we are not islands operating in vacuums.  We’re more like an archipelago. . . a series of islands connected by a zip lines.

To view more of Allen's work, please visit allenbrewer.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and spiritual significance of repetition in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her work is on view through September 2013 in Abstracting the Seam (Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago), and she has two upcoming solo exhibitions: I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (Klemm Gallery, Adrian, Michigan) in November 2013 and Right Here, Right Now (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Pamela Valfer

Set #1: Cabrini Green/Good Times (detail)
Graphite on Paper
108" x 96"

Artist and educator PAMELA VALFER explores theories and experiences of contemporary hyperreality in her mash-up drawings of real and fictional landscapes and painstakingly pixelated renderings of mediated versions of actual architecture. She received her MFA from the University of Minnesota in 2002. Her work has been exhibited at Burnet Art Gallery at LeMeridien Chambers (Minneapolis), The Bindery Projects (St. Paul, Minnesota) and CUBE Centre for the Urban Built Environment (Manchester, England). Since 2007, her work has been included in The Drawing Center’s curated artist registry. Pamela also works collaboratively with Allen Brewerwhose work will be featured here on the OPP blog next week. In 2012, Brewer and Valfer participated in the EVA International Visual Art Biennial (Limerick City, Ireland). For their next project, they will collaborate on a project for the Minnesota Art Biennial at The Soap Factory (Minneapolis). Pamela lives and works in Minneapolis.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Could you talk about the exploration of hyperreality in your most recent piece Set #1: Cabrini Green/Good Times?

Pamela Valfer: The project is essentially a commentary on the cultural or subjective construction of "reality." "Reality" is not straightforward; it's complicated idea. I use Brutalist architecture from the 1950s to the mid-1970s as the tableau for this idea because it is a great metaphor for constructed idealism as it was set forth by one group of people to solve the problems of another group of people in relation to planned urban housing development. The ideas underlying these Modernist architectural designs were based in utopian thinking that impressed a kind of social engineering upon urban, low-income, city-dwelling populations. In the end, many of these buildings and communities—Cabrini Green being a perfect example—failed due to shoddy construction and high crime. Rather than focus on the building itself, I became interested in looking at the projection of this building through the television show Good Times. The source image I chose was not of the actual building, but rather of a television set based on Cabrini Green. The set itself is the subject. It is the copy of the real, constructed out of cardboard, paint and foam. This is the space where actors play out imagined scenarios from the daily struggles of the real families of Cabrini Green. These are all veneers. This is where hyperreality exists. It is the new reality; the copy becomes the original, simultaneously commenting on its own failure through the lackluster truthiness of the construction (set design, actors et al.). This is my experience of Cabrini Green, my knowledge developed topically through a pop culture edifice.

Landscape Simulation: The Shining/Gilligan's Island/Magnum PI
Graphite on Paper
48" x 48"

OPP: There's a similar collision of fiction and reality in your series Landscape Simulations. These graphite landscapes pair landforms and architecture from movies with real world landmarks and/or they combine existing landforms and architecture in ways that we couldn't physically experience. One piece places Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye on the surface of Mars, as seen in a Star Trek episode. Another places the historic Checkpoint Charlie—which is actually in Berlin—in Gordale Scar, a limestone ravine in North Yorkshire, England. About the series, you say, "No hierarchical importance is placed on the notion of my 'real' experience versus a mediated one, a contemporary truism that is pervasive throughout our relationship with nature." I think the assumed hierarchy that privileges the "real" over the mediated emerges when simulation is confused with substitution. What do you think?

PV: For one, I think that "substitution" denotes a "one is better than the other" attitude and therefore becomes a  hierarchical approach. I am more interested in presenting these possibilities on equal footing because what we experience directly and what we are given to digest through the mass media culture are often inseparable. Culture shapes our reality and our reality contextualizes culture. This blending becomes interesting when it collides with our connection to nature. Many of us—myself included—are removed from a direct connection with it, so many of our ideas come from the above-mentioned grey zone. I think it is this distance that allows us to objectify and denigrate nature, dislocating our relationship further into a digestible reality.

OPP: A mediated experience of nature is not the same as a direct experience of nature, nor is it an unreal experience. Has this mediated experience of nature ever stopped you from having a direct experience of nature? How do simulations of nature enhance or detract our experiences of the natural world?

PV: Experience and reality are, in essence, tricky territories to explore. The project was born out of living in the west of Ireland for four months. Ballyvaughan, where I lived, is a small town nestled on the coast and is strikingly beautiful. It was a truly immersive experience with nature that I had never had before. During my time there I noticed that all my references for such familiarities were formed from my adolescent experiences of pop culture and not necessarily from direct experience. This got me thinking about how perception is often constructed out of constructions. If our minds are filled with constructions, then I feel it is important to know who is doing the constructing that we take as real. My pop culture recollections are as real to me as standing in a field: a point that is important to recognize. 

Landscape Simulation: Planet of the Apes/ Tatooine/ County Clare, Ireland
Graphite on Paper
19" x 28"

OPP: I would agree that both experiences are wholly real, but aren’t they qualitatively different? I don’t mean that one is better than the other, just that each experience has a different quality to it. Do your pop culture recollections affect your physical experience of nature?

PV: Yes, they are qualitatively different but quantitatively the same. These pop culture memories serve as real memories amongst the many lived and fictional memories. As our new experiences are synthesized through our previous experiences, it stands to reason that, yes, past experiences—both real and fictional—contextualize the now. In terms of the physical, no; in terms of the metaphysical, yes.

OPP: Is drawing the ideal medium to explore simulation?

PV: I chose drawing specifically for its ability to mimic a simulation. I could have easily done the work with paint, for instance, but felt that drawing was the proper vehicle for my ideas. Drawing is a presentation of reality, but at the same time lacks a kind of truthiness in its atonal qualities. It presents without giving: a kind of hollow exchange. If I had executed these in paint, I feel my effort would have been too cheeky. Paint can mimic reality too closely with its seductive colors and illusionary possibilities. Drawing, on the other hand, has a built in failure to that end. It presents an idea but ends before delivering, at least in the way that I built the drawings. I endeavored to remove all personality of mark. It was important for the drawing marks to not convey a sense of self, rather to be a neutral space in which an emotional position is not asserted. I am not interested in presenting personage within the work.

Set #1: Cabrini Green/Good Times (detail)
Graphite on Paper
108" x 96"

OPP: You've begun collaborating with next week's OtherPeoplesPixels' Featured Artist Allen Brewer. You've known each other for years but never collaborated until recently. How did this collaboration begin? 

PV: True. We first became open to the idea of collaborating when we had an exhibition at Occupy Space in Ireland for EVA International Visual Art Biennial in 2012. We realized that we couldn’t approach it as a standard two-person show because the exhibition site was spatially challenging. We didn’t exactly know how this would shape up. We just trusted in the process and decided to leave the possibilities open, abolishing any preconceived notions of how this would behave visually. The final decisions about the show were made in the space itself. We made our own work singularly, but, once in the space, we revisited the work with a new sense of possibility. It allowed us to see our previously constructed works with fresh eyes. We became open to new prospects and juxtapositions not previously offered with the singular work, which was quite freeing. Allen and I checked our egos at the door for sure. We ended up collaborating with each other as well as the space, often creating new works by combining already completed pieces. Rethinking and reconstructing allowed for unexpected results. This was a new experience for both of us and we were extremely happy with the outcome. It created the potential of a post-studio process.

Common Place
Two person exhibition with Allen Brewer
EVA International Visual Art Biennial, Istabraq Hall, hosted by Occupy Space, Limerick City, Ireland

OPP: Has it changed your solo practice in any way?

PV: For sure. I am certainly open to more possibilities now in how I approach my ideas and work. Everything is on the table. I am no longer pigeonholed into one way of working, rather the idea leads the medium and vice versa. For instance, I am currently working on a performance project with Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit for the Mike Kelley's Mobile Homestead project. I might not have considered performance as a methodology/medium previously, so instances like this support my new vision of working.

I am also currently working on a collaborative project with Allen for the upcoming Minnesota Art Biennial at The Soap Factory. We are taking the best of our past collaboration experience and trying to push it forward one step further. We are making work both together as well as independently for the show with the idea that much of the work might shift or change once in the space. In essence, making the work on-site and once again trusting in the process over outcome.

To see more of Pamela's work, please visit pamelavalfer.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and spiritual significance of repetition in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her work is on view through September 2013 in
Abstracting the Seam (Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago), and she has two upcoming solo exhibitions: I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (Klemm Gallery, Adrian, Michigan) in November 2013 and Right Here, Right Now (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Christopher Ottinger

Film strip projector, lab stands, DCX lens, ground glass, daylight filter, wood, enamel
Dimensions variable

CHRISTOPHER OTTINGER mines objects that relate to the history of media technologies in order to understand human perception and the relationships between humans and machines. He uses projection, mirrors and the guts of discarded electronics to create sculptural machines that appear to look at themselves, asking viewers to consider the presence of consciousness in technology. Christopher received his MFA from Washington University in 2011. In 2012-2013, he was in residence at BOLT, where he will remain as a mentor-in-residence for 2013-2014. In the spring of 2014, he will also be an artist-in-residence at the Media Archeology Lab in Boulder, Colorado. Christopher lives and works in Chicago, Illinois.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What is media archaeology? How does it influence your practice?

Christopher Ottinger: For some, media archaeology is about the artistic and theoretical practice of mining the technological media past in order to re-envision the technological present and to suggest alternate paths technology might take in the future. For others, it’s just media theory in a fancy hat. Personally, I think it’s a bit of both. In my own practice, media archeology frames the theoretical conversation around my work, but I tend to think of myself as more of an alchemist than an archaeologist in the studio.

OPP: To “alchemist,” would you add designer, inventor or tinkerer?

CO: Probably a mixture of the three—definitely a tinkerer, though. I like to play mad scientist and dissect old junk. That’s the fun part. There is also a fair amount of prototyping, experimentation and research that goes into the work, but I feel most like an artist when I rip the guts out of a broken video camera or an old television set and discover some new use for those objects. Perhaps taxidermist should be in there as well.

Blue Ghost and Incandescent Ghost
Installation shot from Ghost Machine

OPP: Your recent solo exhibition, Ghost Machine, in the BOLT Project Space in Chicago features three pieces that are part sculpture and part machine. In NTSC Ghost, three handheld projectors cast the image of the familiar SMPTE color bars onto a spinning screen. Blue Ghost uses a piece of glass to project the image of static from one cathode ray tube to another, while Incandescent Ghost turns an old film projector into a camera obscura that sees itself. What was the premise of the show? Could you talk about the intersection between sculpture and machine in your work?

CO: The meaning of this body of work only became clear to me recently. My brother wrote the essay for the show. He and I had been discussing the work in terms of the history of moving images and inquiries into the nature of technological objects. My brother then introduced psychoanalysis into the conversation. We started asking questions like, “what does it look like when machines think?” and “what is infancy like for a machine, from a cognitive standpoint?”

It didn’t really come together, however, until Sarah Nardi from the Chicago Reader asked me why these objects appear to be looking at themselves. It occurred to me that these objects aren’t just machines trapped in a state of arrested development. They represent machines at a very specific moment in their development as beings. These works are machines standing at the threshold of consciousness. They have not yet formulated a language with which to assert themselves as autonomous beings, but they are taking that first step.

The sculptural or furniture-like aspect of these works places them in a domestic context that is both familiar and alien. This is similar to a television set, which is both a piece of furniture and has the ability to summon ethereal worlds out of thin air.

Machines For Seeing Modify Perception (detail)
Digital print, glass, lightbox, mercury glass tumbler
Dimensions variable

Are the machines metaphors?

CO: My use of metaphor in this body of work comes from reading about object-oriented ontology. This sounds like a super nerdy branch of philosophy—which it is—but Ian Bogost’s book, Alien Phenomenology, is fairly useful in terms of ideas. In short, Bogost’s theory is that, in order to understand the nature of a thing, we must attempt to understand the thing from the thing’s perspective. Obviously, this is impossible. We’re never going to really know what it’s like to physically be a hammer or a teapot, but Bogost suggests that we can estimate that experience through a kind of productive metaphor.

My sculptures function as visual metaphors for the pre-cognitive experience of machines. Language has not yet formed. The machines are concerned only with sensation, but there is no thinking to give these sensations meaning. It’s like early childhood development research for technical objects—Melanie Klein is probably turning over in her grave right now.

Blue Ghost (Detail)
Wood, enamel, hardware, blue CFL, cathode ray tubes, electronic components, plate glass
Dimensions variable

OPP: Ghosts and machines show up repeatedly in your earlier work as well: Snow_Ghost (2008), Ghost Machine #3 (2011) and Phone Ghost (2011), to name a few. The phrase ‘ghost in the machine’ originally refers to Gilbert Ryle’s critique of the Cartesian assertion that the mind and the body are distinct from one another. In Ryle’s book, The Concept of Mind, the machine is the human body. But over the years the phrase has been recontextualized through science fiction and pop culture as a way to explore our fears about technology. There seems to be a lot of confusion online about what the phrase means, but the semantic shift is telling: what we think about technology is connected to what we think about human nature. How do you think about ghosts and machines?

CO: Whether we’re talking about Descarte or a film like I, Robot, I see the ghost that inhabits the machine as consciousness. Of course, we don’t actually have conscious machines yet, so the consciousness revealed here is more like an impression or a representation of a consciousness that’s still forming.

Nevertheless, these technological ghosts allow us to gain some insight into what experience or thought might be like for a technological object. The recurring ghost machine in my work is basically a device for conjuring a machine’s consciousness, like a technological séance. There are countless examples—Pepper’s Ghost and Robertson’s Phantasmagoria—of pre-cinematic technologies that were used to “summon” specters out of thin air. I’ve recreated some of these technologies, but made them more about media technology itself, rather than about demons or spirits.

I agree that what we think about technology is connected to what we think about human nature. That relationship is also changing. As machines become more intelligent, their natures begin to resemble our own. We are becoming more dependent on them to make sense of the world around us. Considering technologies like smartphones or augmented reality gizmos like Google Glasses, it’s not difficult to envision a time when a conversation about the relationship between human and machine is not a conversation about difference or otherness but rather about a shared ontology.

Somewhere between living and extinction (prototype)
Wood, enamel, hardware, electronic components, vinyl record, 45rpm turntable, sound

OPP: Would you tell us about a failure in your studio that led to an unexpected success?

CO: This is an interesting question because, in order to formulate a response, I would have to identify what I consider to be a success, and I’m not certain that I know what that is. But I can offer an anecdote about building NTSC Ghost. The interaction of the projectors and the rapidly spinning screen in this piece create a volumetric hologram. Originally, though, I set out to make a piece where the screen moved very slowly. Long story short, I aimed a Super 8mm projector at the motor/screen assembly one day and powered the whole thing up, not realizing that I had the motor turned to its fastest setting. For about three seconds, this miraculous image appeared on the screen. Then, the motor, its housing and the screen all went flying through my studio because none of it was bolted down. I ran out of my studio trying to avoid flying debris. Once the dust had settled, I realized this piece was—somewhat violently—telling me what it wanted to be.

OPP: What are you tinkering with in your studio at the moment?

CO: The usual: trying to figure out new ways to electrocute myself. Seriously though, mostly I’m just experimenting with some new materials. I recently got an Arduino, and I’m trying to learn how to do some basic coding for some kinetic pieces I’ve been playing with. I'm also putting a show together for Heaven Gallery in Chicago for spring 2014, so I've been doing research and doing studio visits for that. The show is still in the early planning stages, but I'm thinking it will deal with media archaeology in some way.

To see more of Christopher's work, please visit christopherottinger.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and existential significance of participating in mass media culture in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her work is on view through September 2013 in Abstracting the Seam (Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago), and she will mount a solo show titled I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.

Scammers, Passwords and Bears, Oh My!

Summer is in full swing! Everything comes alive during the summer -- unfortunately, not all of it good. Before we all go running off carefree into the woods and sun, let's take a moment to remember what to beware of.

First, off -- Scammers.

Scammers are always lurking out there. They possess cockroach-like hardiness, and are ever-present, unfortunately. Be especially aware when someone is contacting you about purchasing your work, as this is a common way to scam artists. (We know...how incredibly unethical to be targeting artists?! Go scam corporations instead, you jerks!)

Please see this great resource, and also see our earlier post as well. Remember to follow your instincts, and never, ever agree to send a check "for overpayment" as part of a sale.

Next up, Passwords. We all know how crazy the heat can make some people -- especially lately, with these record breaking temperatures.

Always, always keep your password under lock and key! As with all of your important accounts -- it's not generally a good idea to share your password with anyone. Also, be sure to change your password regularly. You can find our password requirements here. If you do share your password with anyone, remember that you are handing over your website, carte blanche -- and they will be able to do and change anything and everything in your account. Not a good thing if you and your formerly trusted friend part ways.

And last but not least, Bears. You never know when you'll run into one. Brush up on these tips so that you'll be prepared.

Be safe but have fun out there, OPP-ers!

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Erin Wozniak

Open Wide
Oil on panel
8" x 6.5"

Permeated with the distance and closeness that exist in everyday moments of intimacy, ERIN WOZNIAK's oil paintings and graphite drawings offer the opportunity to contemplate human vulnerability. She meticulously renders the surface of the skin and the boundaries between individuals, emphasizing the body as the physical and psychological interface between one’s self and the external world. Erin received her BFA from the Columbus College of Art and Design in Ohio and studied at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. She is represented by Hammond Harkins Galleries (Bexley, Ohio), where she most recently exhibited her work in Contemporary Realism: Four Visions. In 2013, her pastel drawing Morning won “Best in Show” in the 71st Annual May Show in North Canton, Ohio. Erin lives and works in Canton, Ohio.

OtherPeoplesPixels: How is the idea of the human body as "the interface of interaction between subject and object, self and other, inside and outside" expressed in your work?

Erin Wozniak: My fascination with the body begins with mortality and the human fear of injury, sickness, aging and death. These are lurking threats to any sense of autonomy or control over one’s body or life. Exploring this vulnerability is central to my work. I am also interested in the way our bodies and minds are shaped by the people we know, the genes we carry and the society and culture in which we exist. The effects of this tangled, symbiotic relationship between inside and outside can literally be seen on the surface of the human body in the form of folds, wrinkles, scars, blemishes and tattoos. These are all markers of interactions and time, and this is where my obsessive rendering comes into play.  

OPP: Your work strongly conveys a sense of intimacy that leads me to wonder if you are intimate with your subjects. I don't actually need to know who the subjects are to understand the work, but I do wonder if you approach drawing strangers in the same way you approach drawing family members and friends.

EW: My paintings and drawing are an extension and reflection of my life, so it is natural for me to depict family members, not to mention the convenience and comfort. I have done commissions in the past in which I’ve drawn and painted strangers, and the act of drawing and painting is very similar whether I know the subject well or not. When I draw family members I approach the drawing as if I were drawing a stranger. Drawing and painting are acts of searching and discovering; they are methods of comprehending. Whether I’m drawing a stranger or doing self-portrait, I ask myself, “Who is this person?”

Graphite on paper
11" x 11"

Do you draw from photographs? If so, do you compose in the camera or crop images in the drawing stage? Tell us about your process.

EW: Inspiration for my work typically comes from everyday observations and evolves from there. Photography and Photoshop allow me to compose quickly, to try different points of perspective and lighting situations, and to decide whether an image works better in color or grayscale. After multiple shoots, I usually narrow down my references to a handful of photos that I will work from. Although I rely on photography, I prefer to work from direct observation if possible. Most of my work ends up being a composite of time spent working both from life and photos.

OPP: Why do you prefer drawing from life? Is it about the process or the final outcome?

EW: Viewing someone from a photograph versus studying that person in three-dimensional space is a completely different experience. Working from life allows you to respond to the physical presence of someone or something and challenges you to deal with things like shifting light, subtle movement and changes over time. I like the amount of control I have when working from photography, but the unpredictability of working from life usually helps to invigorate a drawing and is a necessary part of my process. I find working from photographs alone to be limiting. Through the lens of a camera, visual information like detail, color and value are distorted from the way we optically perceive these things. I want the final outcome of my drawings and paintings to feel like more than just a superficial copy of a photograph.

Oil on muslin over panel
11.5" x 11"

OPP: Are you familiar with the photographs of Elinor Carucci? Your work reminded me a lot of her book Closer, in which she photographs intimate moments between her and her family members. She is often present in the shot. Because the titles of her photographs confirm that the subjects are her family members, I feel more like a voyeur—although an invited one—looking at her work than I do looking at yours. I think it has something to do with the nature of drawing versus the nature of photography. What do you think?

EW: I wasn’t familiar with her work, but thank you for bringing her to my attention. Her work is very intriguing. For me, the difference between photography and drawing is that when I look at a drawing I am pulled into the viewpoint of the artist more so than with photography. With a drawing, I think about the artist, what the artist's mark-making tells me about the person they drew and how they felt about that person.  

Maybe this awareness is what makes a drawing seem physically less voyeuristic than a photograph. A photograph makes you feel as if you are right there looking at something in real life. A drawing has more artifice to it. However, the awareness of the artist that comes with viewing a drawing brings about a different kind of voyeurism—less physically jarring, but more psychological. As viewers, we enter the mental space of the artist and understand how every square inch of the subject was combed over with visual study and, in turn, every square inch of the paper was touched. This sense of touch, along with a sense of time, is what I think drawing possesses that photography cannot. More than an instant is captured in a drawing. A drawing is a compression of each moment of the ongoing struggle to capture what you are seeing and feeling on a piece of paper.  

OPP:There's something sad about pieces like Estuary and Cleft, in which the subjects seem alienated from one another. But all the pieces are about people being close to one another and about the distance that is sometimes present in closeness. Do your drawings romanticize intimacy or reveal the reality of an everyday experience of it?

EW: I’d like to think that my drawings reveal a relatable reality of everyday intimacy and that they communicate a sense of distance, desire and dependence that can be present in relationships. 

Graphite on paper
12.5" x 17"

OPP: These drawings seem sad to me, but I think that might be too simplistic. Perhaps they just make me sad. I feel both the distance and the desire in them. How would you describe the dominant mood that pervades these drawings?

I think there is a sense of sadness in trying to hold on to something, trying to hold onto a relationship or a moment in time that is constantly slipping away. A lot of my work reflects this experience. Even the process of drawing itself reflects this desire to preserve something impermanent. 

Could you talk about Open Wide? This painting strikes me as quite different from the others. The blackness inside the mouth creates a sense of horror for me, like there's nothing in there. Just emptiness. Is horror or emptiness something you were thinking about?

EW: This painting is different from others in that I strayed from reality more than usual. I often find myself completely changing a composition in response to what I feel a painting needs. In the case of Open Wide, I didn’t originally plan for the mouth to be a void. While painting and repainting the mouth, I tried painting it black, and it just worked. When I started this painting, my intention was to create a confrontational portrait of a woman that was equally powerful and vulnerable. I wanted to create a Medusa-like figure that would confront the viewer’s gaze. I think the emptiness seen inside her evokes a sense of horror because it represents darkness or the unknown.

Oil on muslin over panel
11" x 8.25"

Is there anything in-process in your studio right now that you'd like to tell us about? 

EW: I have an old painting of a wall that I started years ago. I never finished it because I lost interest. It’s a painting of an old, marked-up wall covered in chipped paint. But recently I started thinking about the wall painting in relation to a self-portrait I want to do. It’s been years since I have done a self-portrait. I started working on this painting—repainting the wall to fit seamlessly with the image of myself and mostly working from observation—probably a week after giving birth to my second child. I wanted to focus on my own image and the idea of time and change. I thought the wall would work well as the backdrop to a self-portrait, and metaphorically it makes sense.

To see more of Erin's work, please visit erinwozniak.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and existential significance of participating in mass media culture in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006, and is currently a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT Residency in Chicago.Her work is on view through September 2013 in Abstracting the Seam (Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago) and she will mount a solo show titled I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Kris Knight

Blue Ribbon
Oil on Canvas
18" x 24"

Painter KRIS KNIGHT repeatedly employs dichotomies in his narratives of rural escapism and imagination: hunter and hunted, naked and costumed, regal and common. His cast of androgynous characters embody vulnerability, alternatively concealing and revealing themselves as they play out romantic fantasies that appear both innocent and erotic. Kris graduated with honors from the Ontario College of Art and Design, Toronto. In 2013 he presented new work in a solo exhibition, Secrets Are The Things We Grow, at Mulherin + Pollard in New York and represented Katherine Mulherin Contemporary Art Projects at VOLTA NY with a solo project titled Blue Gaze.  Until June 30, 2013, his work can be seen in ROCK$THEM a group exhibition curated by Laura O'Reilly at Rox Gallery in New York. Kris lives and works in Toronto, Canada.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Do you consider your work to be portraiture in the traditional sense?

Kris Knight: The majority of my characters are based on real people—mostly friends and family—but sometimes they are come from the mass media. I start off with photo references as a template for my portraits, but then drop them halfway through the painting, often changing the sitter’s hair color and physical attributes altogether. I don’t adhere to the historical notion of the portrait, where the portrait has to be pleasing to the sitter or the patron to be deemed successful. For me, the sitter is a character that I use to help illustrate my narratives. There’s a lot more freedom when you remove the pressure of reproducing what already exists.

Loose Lips Sink Ships
Oil on Canvas
40" x 30"

OPP: Your color palette is very consistent—lots of pastels and muted tones. Why do you choose these colors? How does color convey emotion in your work?

KK: I’m really inspired by the softer palette historically found in neoclassical portraiture, especially French 18th century portraiture. I’m drawn to the pastels and the ghostly skin tones found in the work of Joseph Ducreux and Louise Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun. There is something both luscious and decaying about their palettes that I hope translates in my work as well.

I love all things French Revolution, too, especially the portraiture of the aristocracy that was done during and right before this period. The heavy, white powder make-up that was in vogue at the time gave the sitters what we now consider a ghostly look. I’m fascinated by this act of concealment. They wanted to look like porcelain, without imperfection, because having a tan meant you were a commoner, a laborer. But we now know that this white, lead-based makeup was toxic. It slowly poisoned the people wearing it. Whenever anyone performs a front of perfection, it always fails in the end. Beauty is powerful and tragic; it declines as we decay, but we never stop trying to preserve it.

Color does trigger emotional response, as well. We attach our own histories to our senses, consciously or not. I want the colors of my palette to have the same sense of contradiction that my imagery has: equally vivid and deadening at the same time.

Parvenu (The Historical Rise of the Art Jock)
Oil on Canvas
36" x 48"

OPP: I noticed a recurrent visual motif of ineffective masks in your 2011-2012 solo show The Lost and Found. In paintings like Mischief, Caught and My Porcelain Life, these masks hide nothing about the identities of the subjects. They are more like decorative blindfolds that obscure vision rather than protect identity? How does this relate to the title of this body of work?

KK: I’m really interested in the dichotomy of sanctuary and susceptibility, especially in costume. My characters are often wearing elements of protection—sweaters, furs, masks—that are too delicate to protect or hide anything. I want my characters to be as guarded as they are vulnerable. The Lost and Found paintings are about a group of disenchanted youths who subtly play with roles of being the hunter and the hunted. As much as the characters in these paintings try to be lost, they are very much aware of who is watching them. 

OPP: Is this about an abstract sense of voyeurism or do you have a specific watcher in mind? Are the characters complicit objects of the voyeur?

KK: In this series I definitely played with the concept of voyeurism but gravitated more towards the emotional state of what it is like to feel lost and how we come back from this place. All of my exhibition themes stem from my own experiences even though I paint other people. The Lost and Found series was my response to feeling a bit burnt out from too many deadlines. Since I graduated from art school ten years ago, I have been painting everyday, working insane hours in preparation for exhibitions. Sometimes I get overwhelmed with pressure. Sometimes I want to get lost, but I always seem to find my inspiration and my way back.  

OPP: In much of your work, it appears that everyone is getting ready to go to a masquerade ball, but no one wants to finish dressing. Could you talk about the juxtaposition of costuming and nakedness in your work? How does this relate to androgyny and representations of gender, sexuality and/or asexuality?

Lake Erie (Gold)
Oil on Canvas
30" x 36"

KK: When I first started painting professionally, I was interested in androgyny in terms of gender. Now I am more interested in creating neutrality and ambiguity in regards to mood. I like tiptoeing between dichotomies of hot and cold, especially in facial expression, atmosphere, palette and sex. Sometimes I want my characters to appear as virginal as possible, and other times I want them to appear overtly ostentatious in their sexuality. But, most of the time, I want them to fit right in between. I like confusing the viewer in the subtlest ways.

The characters I paint hide truths of who they are, where they come from and whom they love. They often put on airs of regality with elements of historical costume to mask the fact they are socially or economically the opposite. They long for the grandeur of the past and try their best to posture class, but their trashy tear-aways always give them away.

OPP: I wouldn't describe your paintings as stylistically campy, but I see and hear details that make me think of the discourse surrounding camp. Do you think of your work in those terms?

KK:  I love camp and use humor as a way to offset the seriousness in my work. My earlier works tended to be a lot more campy but now I approach camp and humor in a more subtle fashion. There are a lot of small elements of camp in my works that I find funny; these are responses to growing up gay in unromantic, small towns in rural Canada. I love a good knock-off Adidas two-stripe tracksuit, and I love a cheesy subversive title.  

Putting on Airs
Oil on prepared cotton paper
11" x 14"

OPP: In a recent interview with Parker Bruce for Gayletter.com, you mentioned having worked in galleries for years and that that was a great learning experience. You are now represented by three galleries internationally: Katharine Mulherin Contemporary Art Projects in Toronto, Spinello Gallery in Miami and Rize Art Gallery in The Netherlands. Can you offer any practical advice for emerging artists who are seeking gallery representation?

KK: I think it’s a really amazing time to be an artist because we have an abundance of resources to help get our work out. I book the majority of my exhibitions and make the majority of my sales from curators and collectors seeing my images online. This obviously wouldn’t have been possible 20 years ago. I have key professional relationships with contacts around the world who have helped build my career. Some of them I’ve never met in person, and I may never meet them. I decided to be represented by galleries in the traditional sense, but that’s not the only way of making a career as an artist today. I have many friends who have built their audiences online. They are feverishly self-sufficient and have full control over their careers, all because they are Internet and online-media savvy. Again, this would not have been possible twenty years ago. 

What’s key for an artist today is to have a good website and to have good documentation of current work. As for an artist seeking representation, it’s very much the same as applying for a job. Do your research. Seek out galleries that have a like-minded aesthetics and mandates that appeal to your own practice and where you are at in your career.  

To see more of Kris's work, please visit krisknight.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and existential significance of participating in mass media culture in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She
is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006, and is currently a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT Residency in Chicago.Her work is on view through September 2013 in Abstracting the Seam (Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago) and she will mount a solo show titled I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.

OPP Art Critics Series: Get Back (to the present moment)

By Claudine Isé

When asked to consider the role that digital images play in our understanding of and engagement with works of art, I was drawn to exploring parallel questions about non-visual artworks. I think most of us can agree that a digital reproduction (or any form of reproduction, really) can never replace an in situ encounter with a painting, sculpture, performance piece or installation–or even viewing a photograph in person, despite its own status as a reproduction. But what about audio works like Michael Rakowitz’s The Breakup: A Project for Jerusalem, comprised of a ten-part radio series and a live home to and reenactment of the Beatles’ last concert that the artist created for a 2010 exhibition in Jerusalem

Michael Rakowitz
The Breakup, Episode 1
radio broadcast
30 minutes

Of course, the concert was a one-time-only event, but all ten radio episodes can be accessed through the project’s website.  I began to think about how artists’ websites also function as archives. I wondered if, in some cases, it was possible for a website-archive to serve not just as an image repository but to also provide a way to extend an artwork’s life indefinitely?

But wait: Let’s take a few steps back and consider the project’s original context. Written and narrated by Rakowitz and broadcast over a series of October evenings through a Palestinian radio station in Ramallah, The Breakup blends documentary, autobiographical and poetic elements to offer a sustained exegesis on the events, emotional and otherwise, that led to the Beatles’ demise. At the same time, its narrative also draws connecting lines between that band’s ultimate inability to “come together” and the collapse in negotiations between Israel and Palestine, and going back even further, to the Middle East’s failure to unite under the banner of Pan-Arabism in the late 1950s and 1960s. Rakowitz created the show in response to the exhibition’s call for works addressing the context of and conditions faced by the occupants of Jerusalem, the city at the core of the Israel-Palestine conflict which is itself “broken up” into alienated parts.    

Working from archival material—a complete, 150-hour set of raw audio tapes of the Beatles, recorded during the so-called “Get Back” sessions by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who was filming the documentary Let It Be at the time—Rakowitz crafted an alternative Beatles’ narrative that, although it doesn’t significantly depart from Lindsay-Hogg’s construction of events, nonetheless homes in on key moments and factors leading up to the end we already know is coming: John and Paul’s rivalry, Ringo’s apathy, George’s sense of isolation from the others, the incursions of Yoko Ono. 


The radio show was broadcast over ten successive evenings, but through the website I was able to compress my listening of all ten episodes into a three-day time span. I’d planned to download them onto my iPhone so I could listen while running errands or taking care of various household chores. No such luck. As far as I can tell, the episodes can’t be downloaded, which meant that I could listen to them only in the vicinity of my computer. What’s more, the website playback required “real time” listening, just like radio: no fast-forwarding, no rewinding, only pause.(Playback requires Flash, which meant I couldn't play it on my iPhone or iPad, as Apple doesn't support Flash media—it's possible to play Flash media through the use of certain apps, but despite downloading several of them, I couldn't get playback to work consistently.) 

I don’t know if this enforced propulsion was due to technological limitations, copyright issues, or something else, but I didn’t have to listen for long before I recognized that the restrictions make perfect conceptual sense. The Breakup is about fruitless attempts at return, about the impossibility of moving backwards in time. “Get back…back…back…. Rewind. Rewind further…there. The beginning begins.” Rakowitz says this early on, soon after the start of the series’ first episode. The desire is primal: to “get back” to where you once belonged, and to get back what once belonged to you.

But let us get back to the questions I posed at the beginning. To my ears at the time of listening, The Breakup’s narrative seemed heavy on Beatles analysis and surprisingly light when it came to addressing the situation in the Middle East, its history of lines drawn and redrawn, of promises made and broken.

“This is all about the Beatles,” I remember thinking more than once. “He’s not really talking about any of the political stuff!”

Or maybe I just couldn’t hear everything Michael Rakowitz was saying. In the end, I still think context is defining. The place I couldn’t “get back” to was one that had never been possible for me to reach: the work’s first Radio Amwaj broadcast in Ramallah in October of 2010. I can’t know for sure, but I suspect that, were I another woman–a woman not unlike myself and yet in many ways so dissimilar from me, living in that troubled yet vibrant city I can read about with a mouse click, but which still seems very far away from where I sit now–if I were that woman instead of me, living there instead of here, I would have heard Rakowitz’s words differently. 

Despite that sense of removal, what I did hear resonated. Through the Beatles, Rakowitz talks about empathy, about love, about the all-consuming devotion of the fanatic, a figure he presents not as a faceless terrorist planting bombs in the shadows but as a diehard follower  who cultivates inspiration and even hope from the lyrics of songs like “Hey Jude” and “Let it Be.”

Throughout the program, Rakowitz’s cadence is steady and measured, his tone gentle, not unlike that of a father reading a bedtime story to his child. But the underlying message of The Breakup is a tough one: you can’t rewind, and you can’t fast-forward past present difficulties either, no matter how exhausted you feel, how desperately you want to get to that hoped-for place of future promise.  All we have is now, and if “now” sometimes seems unbearable, Rakowitz, towards the end of “Episode 5”, offers consolation through the phrase that memorably titled George Harrison’s first post-Beatles solo album: all things pass. This, too, shall pass.


Editor: Alicia Eler

Copyeditor: Claire Potter

Chicago, Illinois

June 25, 2013

This is the fourth essay in the  OPP Art Critics SeriesRead the previous essays: "Look at Them, Please" by Danny Orendorff, "Autobiography and Its Documentation" by Jason Foumberg, "The Child is (Un)dead: Taxidermy Art as Victorian Post-Mortem Photography" by OPP Art Critics Series' Managing Editor Alicia Eler. 

Look for our next installment on July 9, 2013. 

Interview with Maker Grant Winner Mary Patten

This article was originally published on Chicago Artists Resource (CAR), as part of their "Granted" series. "Granted" presents and analyzes successful grant & residency applications for Chicago’s arts communities to serve as primers for artists looking to navigate the oft-confusing and opaque rules and procedures of the application process. In this article, CAR Editor JC Steinbrunner talks with Mary Patten, artist and faculty at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, on winning the inaugural Maker Grant in the spring of 2013. Reposted with permission.
Panel (Installation view)
A multidisciplinary installation consisting of 4 channels of performance based video, a suite of four large prints—each corresponding to and mirroring one of the video channels and a large wall

The Maker Grant is a partnership between OPP and Chicago Artists' Coalition to bring an unrestricted $3000 funding opportunity to contemporary Chicago-based artists, along with a $600 Runner-Up Award. In addition, both the Winner and the Runner-Up receive free OtherPeoplesPixels websites, and we are looking forward to seeing the website that Mary will be constructing with OPP.

It would be hard to find a Chicago artist working to make more of an impact than the Maker Grant winner, Mary Patten. A self-identified “visual artist, video maker, writer, educator, occasional curator and political activist,” Patten’s work makes use of just as many media to explore the intricate and mutable scrims of reality we build for ourselves, often through the prism of political activism. In Patten’s work, modes of viewing take a central and experimental role; engaging with the work both changes and evolves it. Having won the Propeller Grant in 2011 for her Torture Justice Memorial Project, and recently won an overseas residency through SAIC, Patten seems well positioned to propel her work into new and interesting areas. Patten shared with CAR her plans for upcoming projects, as well as tips on how to research and write a successful grant application.

Video collage

Chicago Artists Resource: Tell us about the projects you have coming up. How will the Maker Grant play a part in realizing them?

Mary Patten: I’m going on sabbatical next year at a time [in my life] when some people would be thinking retirement. (I didn’t start working full-time for years, and I didn’t have a tenure-track job until I was 50.) I’ll get the time release from school with a significant pay cut. I am going to take two semesters off to work on two projects.

The first is a little open. It will take the form of a video and may become an installation. The tentative title is At the Risk of Seeming Ridiculous, a quote from Che Guevara. The quote continues “let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.” I don’t idolize him; I want to concentrate on the “ridiculous” part. I’m planning a fictionalized, auto-biographical journey of a minor artist who’s conflicted—a speculative self-portrait.

The other project requires some travel. The plan is to create an installation project with video, mapping the routes of two women. One is a pre-Tzarist Russian who attempted to shoot the governor of St. Petersburg. She bought a pistol and went to an event, shot and missed, and was arrested … but there was so much support for her. I will work with a cartographer to retrace her route to question that episode in history. Then I will link it to my contemporary, a friend serving a life sentence for driving a getaway car. I’m interested in exploring the undersides and ambivalences in these two failed actions. What was the fervent desire that drove these two women?

I’m planning to use the Maker Grant money to support me as I work on the production, shooting and editing of the first piece. The grant may mean travel for the Russian piece. It supports a combination of materials and, well, time. I have to raise money to offset expenses from my sabbatical.

I also got a month-long residency through SAIC in Krems, Austria. I’d applied three times; it’s very competitive. I’m going to be interviewing with people related to both of these projects. Krems is a good base to work to work from.

Mohammed Atta's Prayers (detail)
One of a suite of four drawings based on the FBI’s translation of four pages of scrawled notes found after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

CAR: Given your experience applying for—and winning—these grants and residencies, can you share some strategies for artists thinking about applying for funding?

MP: The main thing I’ve found is that it takes a lot of time to write a good grant. It’s a big undertaking. I’m kind of slow and deliberate and less efficient with writing time. Develop the right kind of language. Figure out whether what you’re applying for is a good match for your project. Really study the call and criteria and the mission of the organization.

It’s really important to decide which project to pursue from all the projects an artist might be working on. Be very careful in choosing your project. Make sure there’s a good correspondence with the grantor. One of the ways to figure that out is to look at whom else they’ve funded. You may have a pre-conceived notion of projects a grantor will fund, but looking at previously funded projects will help you know your object.

Carve out enough time and take the grant-writing project seriously. Make sure the budget makes sense. Make a convincing, compelling argument that includes your prior accomplishments, evidence of research, and really think about the questions that the grant organization is asking. Whether it’s an independent or collaborative proposal, have an internal process. Have a conversation or review with people close to you. And go to the workshops that are hosted by the granting organization.

Learn more about CAC and OPP's Maker Grant here, and be sure to apply next year!