OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Lavar Munroe

For The Slain Dragon Is Precisely The Monster of the Status Quo
2013
Cardboard, cloth, rubber, and bed mattress

Drawing on the stages of Joseph Campbell's Monomyth, LAVAR MUNROE assumes the role of trickster "to confront and disrupt disparities faced by the excluded and marginalized poorer-class blacks in the ghetto." He frames the economically disadvantaged as heroes and villains, kings and queens, gods and goddesses in his painting, sculpture and installation. He repeatedly blurs the line between the two-dimensional and the three-dimmensional just as he blurs the the line between honor and shame, rich and poor, man and animal. Born and raised in Nassau, Bahamas, Lavar moved to the United States in 2004 to attend Savannah College of Art and Design, where he received his BFA. In 2013, he received his MFA from Washington University in Saint Louis and was awarded a Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant and a scholarship to attend Skowhegan. In 2014, he will mount solo exhibitions at Segal Projects in Los Angeles and The National Art Gallery of the Bahamas. Lavar lives and works in Germantown, Maryland.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Could you talk about your chosen role as "trickster?" Are all artists tricksters?

Lavar Munroe: As an artist-trickster, my role is more amoral than immoral. It’s neither blasphemous nor extremely rebellious. It is my duty to blur the lines between what society dictates as right and wrong, since most societies are managed in a way whereby the dominant class benefits more so than the majority. In reference to the subjects my work targets, I speak with the voice of the ghetto, as the ghetto has little if any voice outside of its own confines. I embrace the idea of being a rebellious force against what is considered normal within the larger constructs of society. My duty is to be a champion of sorts for disadvantaged people who call the ghetto home.

I am the embodiment of cultural and societal hero. When considering the roles of the trickster, the folktale hero Robin Hood comes to mind. The idea of robbing the rich to give to the poor is parallel to that of the disruption of rules, boundaries and the status quo, all of which are attributes of the trickster. In The Hero With A Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell states, “for the mythological hero is the champion not of things to become but of things becoming; the dragon to be slain by him is precisely the monster of the status quo.”  



My work rebels against the status quo. It contradicts societal norms, and it celebrates what the mainstream dismisses. My art favors the disadvantaged and fights hierarchy. I intend to visually lure mainstream society with my work, allowing me the opportunity to further engage and educate people who look like me, who have lived the way I have and outsiders who could benefit from gaining a more realistic and broader understanding of the stereotypes I examine. It also affords me the opportunity to use the institution as my message board, exposing the taboos and preconceived ideas held against those most desperately in need.

 Maybe subconsciously all artists are tricksters, but my undertakings are all executed consciously.  

BIG C: Goddess of Coke (Heavens' Dust)
2012
Mixed Media Assemblage
20ft x 11ft x 14ft

OPP: You grew up in the Bahamas. Did your upbringing inform the work you make now?

LM: Born and raised in the “impoverished” community of Grants Town in Nassau, Bahamas, I grew up challenged with a lot of stigmas and stereotypes that were associated with the community that I lived in. Though many people lived by meager means of survival, my family and I were economically more privileged than the vast majority of people in our community. There was simultaneously a sense of pride to be from the ghetto and a sense of resentment towards those who were afforded better lives outside of the ghetto.

Over the past nine years, I have observed many behavioral similarities between the mainstream society and the ghetto in the United States, a place that has constructed its own myths and stereotypes concerning race, poverty and hierarchical social structures. I have an advantage of having experienced both mainstream society and the ghetto, so I am able to use the stereotypes that exist in each sector to measure the strengths and downfalls of the other.

OPP: I'm curious about the manifestations of poverty in the Bahamas versus the cities you've lived in since moving to the U.S. What are the differences or similarities in your experience?

LM: There are similarities between the Bahamas and the United States in regard to societal structures and economic deprivation among poorer class blacks who reside in the ghetto. Like the ghetto in America, the ghetto in the Bahamas is an unstable place where many people are undereducated, mis-educated, uneducated, and left unfit to compete in the larger job market. As a result, many turn to lives of crime.

I retain my sense of pride to be from the ghetto and have learned to use the negative stereotypes of the ghetto as fuel for my visual investigations.

Boy Predator, Boy Prey
2012
Cardboard, duck take, cloth and acrylic on canvas
72’’ x 52’’

OPP: What are the benefits of addressing real-life "societal divisions dictated by wealth, class and race" through fiction and myth?

LM: Like mythological practitioners of ancient cultures, I use myth as a tool to further understand and evaluate societal disparities and my own existence. I use personification and allegory to narrate and elaborate on real life events. 
Though framed in fictional narratives, my forms and images are all based on real life occurrences that I have either personally experienced or encountered through research (readings, documentaries and real world conversations).

In mythological narratives, beastly hybrids and animals function as allegoric substitutes for humans. The intersection of the paradigms of historic, civic and contemporary notions of the animal serve as a trajectory of investigation in my work. My intentions are to evoke a sense of power and employ social hierarchy, while also pointing to Otherness. In so doing, the animal is metaphor for the human Other. In particular, I am interested in contradictory understandings and the idea of skewing meanings as it relates to the animal in pre-modern and contemporary societies. 

from Shank=Survival

OPP: Shank=Survival is a series of sculptures that are also functional shanks. It seems counter-intuitive to make these make-shift weapons pretty, but then I think of bejeweled swords throughout history and the sacred moment in every quest movie I've ever seen when the hero/heroine forges his/her own weapon. Could you talk about aestheticization of tools of violence in this body of work?



LM: Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth, or the Hero’s Journey inspired this work. I was interested in the mythological stages of initiation, survival and the return as they relate to time served in prison. In many ghettos, having served time in prison is considered a rite of passage. I metaphorically align prison with the stage of the "Belly of the Beast" where, through violent and heroic acts, heroes are either born or reborn.



Aesthetically, I used material and color as a vehicle for revealing prison as a simultaneously violent, heroic and homoerotic space. I thought of the shank as trophy, the shank as weapon, the shank as phallus and the shank as relic. I was also interested in the notion of concealment through disguise. Pearls, flowers, pink cloth, thread, among other “feminine” materials, were used to make weapons which belong in the arguably male-dominated space of the prison. 

This body of work was executed at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. The environment there fueled the early beginnings of the shivs; my studio metaphorically and psychologically became the confines of a prison cell.



Untitled Bed no. 2
2013
Cardboard, duct tape, mattress skin, adhered with flour and water

OPP: House of Indulgences is your only performative work to date. While in residency at Atlantic Center for The Arts in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, you recreated a dilapidated building used as a crack house from the street you lived on as a child from memory and performed inside it. What was your personal experience performing like? Do you think it was very different from what viewers experienced?



LM: That experience was surreal. I was intentionally under the influence of a substance and temporarily became that person that I grew up seeing. Putting myself in that state was important to the performance and to the message I wanted to portray. Becoming THE addict engaged both the audience and myself. I got a first hand experience of being crippled and watched, but not helped by able members of society. During the opening, visitors got to experience what it is like to peer into a crack house littered with broken glass and debris and to see a person in a hallucinogenic state desperate for help. As people looked over my lifeless body, I heard a few somber sobs and words such as powerful, touching, sad, compelling and moving. Many people also speculated that I was someone brought in off of the streets. Comments such as “that is not the artist” and “is that the artist?” echoed across the space. 

OPP: Where Heroes Lay is a series of “bed” sculptures made mostly of brown cardboard, evoking the cardboard boxes that many homeless people sleep on and in. Tell us about this series.

LM: The series grew from a material exchange with a homeless person. Periodically, I removed soiled cardboard pieces from the homeless person’s sleeping quarters and replaced it with clean cardboard. In a sense, I became a maid. By serving him as the trickster, I inconspicuously inducted the homeless person into the role of the Hero. Secondly, presenting the Hero’s soiled bedding as a consumer good in the art-market allows the objects to serve as weapons of critique and ridicule targeted against mainstream society.

To see more of Lavar's work, please visit lavar-munroe.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence 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 solo exhibition I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) recently closed, and she is currently preparing for another solo exhibition titled Everything You Need is Already Here (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Stephanie Patton

Meeting
2013
Vinyl, batting, muslin
55" x 86" x 17"
Photo credit: Mike Smith

Multimedia artist STEPHANIE PATTON uses humor, word play and an attention to materiality to address the universal human experiences of suffering, comfort and healing in her quilted sculptures, videos and installations. Stephanie is represented by Arthur Roger Gallery and is a member of the artist-run collective The Front, both in New Orleans. Her numerous solo exhibitions include Private Practice (2013) and Diffuse (2010) at Arthur Roger Gallery, as well as Upkeep (2012) and General Hospital (2011) at The Front. In 2013, her work was included in group exhibitions at the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art, Pepperdine University (Malibu, California), Biggin Gallery, Auburn University (Auburn, Alabama), Vox Populi (Philadelphia) and Acadiana Center for the Arts (Lafayette, Louisiana). Stephanie lives and works in Lafayette, Louisiana.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Could you talk about the relationship between pain, healing and humor in your work?

Stephanie Patton: Healing takes many forms, both physically and emotionally. Painful experiences can lead to creative expression and are often the impetus behind some of the most engaging work. What source material would a stand-up comedian have if it weren't for strange life experiences and painful moments?

I believe the same is true for many visual artists, musicians and performers. There have been many instances in my own work when I was drawn to an idea, material or image for no particular reason. Then later the relevance became clear to me. One example is Life Saver. In 2006, while in residency at the Vermont Studio Center, I kept envisioning a grid-like pattern of multiple inner tubes covered in white vinyl lying on the floor. I wasn't quite sure why this image kept entering my mind. I later realized that this was in fact my own reaction to Hurricane Katrina and the devastation that it had caused here in Louisiana. This idea was not completely resolved until 2008, when I decided to suspend the inner tubes from the ceiling instead of placing them on the floor. Instead of white vinyl, I used mattress quilting—a material that I continue to use today—for the first time because of its multiple references.

I have heard that an artist has one or two great ideas in a lifetime, and the core of my work is based on striving to empathize with and understand those afflicted with physical and mental health issues. Certainly, we are in a day and age in which mental health is a growing concern, and it is luckily not as taboo as it was in the past. I am particularly interested in how physical ailments often manifest as extreme stress and/or traumatic emotional states and vice versa. I strive to illustrate connections between physical and emotional states in my work. This is especially the case in the white vinyl pieces that I have made in recent years.

Life Saver
2008
Mattress quilting, inner tube
48" (diameter) x 15"

OPP: The patterns in pieces like Strength, Valor and Meeting in your 2013 exhibition Private Practice evoke the raked patterns in Zen gardens, and I see a connection between the handwork of quilting and the contemplative state associated with the Zen garden. Is this a visual reference for you?

SP: Zen gardens were not a direct reference for me, but I see the visual and conceptual connection. In researching visual symbols relating to the emotions, I was very drawn to the Adinkra symbols of West Africa. These symbols are very simple, yet visually powerful and could easily translate into the material of vinyl that I continue to explore. The emotions they represent are conceptually appropriate for what I was trying to convey in Private Practice. Some of the white vinyl pieces such as Strength and Valor were taken directly from the Adrinkra symbols.
 
OPP: I imagine from the shapes of these pieces that quilting vinyl is unwieldy and difficult. What is it like to work with this material? When did you make your first quilted piece?
 
SP: Yes, working with vinyl is quite a challenge. I have often described it as "wrestling alligators"!  Years ago, I first used quilted fabric pieces for various installations. Satin was my fabric of choice. I made quilted satin walls for my 1996 thesis show while I was a while a graduate student at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. These quilted walls lined a lingerie showroom which showcased fantasy lingerie products such as the Heart Filter™ and the Anxiety Guard™ by Renella®. In 2004, I used quilted satin to reconstruct the interior of a minivan for a project entitled Custom Built. Although I was still very interested in the idea of padding or cushions, I later discovered that vinyl was a more appropriate choice both in terms of its physical properties and its conceptual impact. Certainly the idea of padded walls comes into play. For me, these pieces allude to protective environments whether that is a reference to mental health and/or any soft, protective, physically-comforting space. My first stuffed, white vinyl piece, Protection (2008), hung flat against the wall. In 2011, I made Center Piece, which was more of a relief sculpture that pulled away from the wall. Today they continue to take various forms. I am interested in pushing the materials in ways that I have not yet encountered.

Private Practice
2013
Installation view
Photo credit: Mike Smith

OPP: Your videos Conquer (2013), Heal (2011) and Diffuse (2008) are embodied metaphors for emotional experiences that use language as a jumping off point. I also see a relationship to the trajectory of feminist performance art. Are you influenced by pioneers like Martha Rosler, Janine Antoni, Hannah Wilke and Marina Abromovic? If not, what has influenced you?
 
SP: Although I highly regard all of these amazing pioneers and their great contributions to performance art, I cannot say that I was directly influenced by them. I consider my main influences to have come form various musical personas such as Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn. I've also been inspired by female comedic players such as former members of the cast of Saturday Night Live including Gilda Radner, Molly Shannon, Rachel Dratch, Tina Fey and Amy Poeler. I LOVE the SNL men as well! I've been making videos since 1995 and had the opportunity to study various types of performance in NYC between 2000-2002 at the Upright Citizens Brigade, Gothum Writers Workshop and the New School. This amazing experience has informed my more recent video work.
 
Funny enough, another major source of inspiration for me was actually the mail order catalogs that my grandmother kept next to her recliner, such as Old Pueblo Traders and Dr. Leonard's. I grew up looking at these catalogs when I was bored as a child visiting her in the country. The gadgets in these catalogs inspired some of my earliest work, as in the products that I made for the lingerie showroom that I mentioned. They also led me to the idioms that I have used in my video work including "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade" and "walking on eggshells.”

Diffuse
2008
Video
17 minutes 31 seconds

OPP: Do you have a favorite piece of your own work? Is it the same as the piece you consider to be most successful?


SP: That’s a hard one! I am very attached to the white vinyl pieces at the moment. One of my favorites is Center Piece because of its visual simplicity and the discoveries that it has led me to. This piece was in fact the springboard for all of the white vinyl pieces that I am continuing to make today. A few of my other favorites are my video Diffuse and the sculptural works, Life Saver and Bronze SAS Shoes. Although it is hard for me to judge which of these would be representations of my best work, I do feel that Diffuse is one of my most successful videos. The others that I mentioned are successful to me in the sense that they are all very true to my visual and conceptual intent.



OPP: You mentioned Renella as part of your MFA work. She’s your alter ego, a country singer, who, when asked in an interview what was inspiring about her trip to the Palace of Versailles, responded, "It's all about being fancy." She doesn't appear anywhere on your artist website, but I discovered her on your Vimeo page and found that she has her own Facebook page. It looks like she's had numerous public appearances in and out of the art world. Does she still perform? How does this character relate to your more recent sculptural and video work?
 
SP: Renella is actually taking a well-deserved nap at the moment. . . she’s a character that I began to develop in 1992 when I did a performance of a fictitious wedding with fellow artist, Jack Rivas. I needed a name for the bride and Renella Rose Champagne was born! She married Junior Rivas on April 17, 1992. This was a huge collaboration for me. It involved an eight-month engagement, many traditional parties and bridal events along the way, and the wedding itself was attended by 150 guests. I have pursued several major projects and have done many performances in and out of the art world as this character including the lingerie showroom I mentioned.

In 2005, I chose to devote my creative energy to my multidisciplinary studio work. Although Renella is not visually present in the current work, there is a sense of her ongoing spirit throughout my sculptural and video work. I am certain that she will find her way more directly into my work again someday. Renella has a way of making an appearance when least expected!

To see more of Stephanie's work, please visit stephaniepatton.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence 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 solo exhibition I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) just closed, and she is currently preparing for another solo exhibition titled Everything You Need is Already Here (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Benjamin Lyon

Dendroclimatological Meditation (detail)
2012
Kraft, tissue, and drawing paper, pine branches, india ink, colored pencil
84"x 24"x 36"

Drawing, whittling and shredding paper are all forms of mark-making in BENJAMIN LYON's time-intensive art practice. He seamlessly unites both natural and manufactured materials in mysterious altars and monuments, revealing reverence and curiosity about time, chance and the nuanced experience of change that only occurs through ritualistic, haptic repetition. Benjamin earned a BA in Environmental Sustainability and Social Justice with a minor in Fine Arts from San Francisco State University. He continued his artistic development at City College of San Francisco, and is in the process of applying to graduate school. Benjamin lives in Brooklyn.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Could you talk about the presence of repetition in your practice and in the resulting work? I see it in the india ink drawings, the paper-shredding and the whittled pine branches, which are all forms of mark-making or marking time.

Benjamin Lyon: Repetition drives my practice because it brings me into the moment of making. Usually it gets me started and keeps me going. The work often begins without a plan. I think it grows out of a faith in the power of chance; I let go of control and rely more on the experience of making to guide me instead of its outcome.

My work is an intimate conversation with time. Time is fascinating to me because it's both abstract concept and a real experience. It's hard to define in an concrete way. There are so many different interpretations of it depending on what, who and when you are.

All of my work is handmade, and often I choose the repetitive act because it helps me become comfortable with anxiety and boredom. It's therapeutic for me. I dedicate a lot of my studio time to making marks, whittling sticks, shredding or braiding paper. Ultimately, the marks and objects function as witnesses that tell a story of change, and that story is written in nuance.

Wishing Well
2013
Kraft paper, newspaper, india ink, acrylic, watercolor, plywood, oak
55"x 25"x 16"

OPP: You repeatedly use brown kraft paper, wax paper, newspaper, construction paper in your works. What draws you these particular types of paper? Could you talk about using a two-dimensional material as a sculptural material?

BL: I've chosen these items because they're accessible, inexpensive and often taken for granted. The challenge for me is to take an object or material that is not precious and to inject meaning into it and express something important. And since my work often appears whimsical or other-worldly, I anchor it in reality with the familiar papers we find in our houses or on the newsstands.

Paper is a magical material. When I was a kid, art was always two-dimensional. My dad was an architect/engineer, and all of his work was prepared with different types of paper. I trained as a draftsperson with him for a handful of years and learned his quirky and efficient methods of constructing working drawings. These sheets contained layers upon layers of ink drawings on tracing paper. They were glued, taped, whited-out, xeroxed. They contained pasted notes and hand-drawn details that were repeatedly removed and replaced with the old torn edges of other sheets of paper. Each stage of the process remained subtly visible on the original, but would disappear once the paper was xeroxed on a copier set to a low sensitivity. The sheets were neatly organized but wilted by the end of the process. They had a lot of character. If you looked closely, you could see that they documented all of the changes over time.

Paper was such a large part of my development as an artist, that it seemed only natural to use this traditionally two-dimensional material, historically used for documentation, to create three-dimensional sculptures that document change over time.

Befriending 5,000 Splinters
2012
Fallen pine branches, kraft paper, india ink, colored pencil
3"x 18"x 18"

OPP: Paper is just wood in a manufactured form, and the presence of shredded paper makes me think of the absence of wood shavings that must have been produced when the fallen pine branches were whittled down. Was it the process or the material that drew you to wood-carving and whittling?

BL: I'm glad that the pieces produced such imagery for you. Through the visible marks of the tools, I'm trying to evoke the presence of work and its energy. In those pieces you're seeing manufactured forms as well as my own marks. Present are the many stages of transforming a specific material by machine or by hand. All of this is possible only with work. Tom Sachs is an artist that I admire. In an interview with Gaia Repossi, he says: “I'm trying to communicate transparency. I'm looking to show the scars of labor and the evidence of construction.” I relate to his sentiment. There is something truly satisfying about the act of creating. From cooking tasty food to building a sturdy book shelf, if a thing is made well and the process is satisfying, it makes all the difference for the maker and user.

I can’t say that it is either the process or material that draws me to these practices because it’s almost always both. I use a material in a way that illuminates the actual work done over time, but I also often choose acts that the viewer won't ever see in the final product. For example, I frequently go on walking adventures through the city and its parks in search of a material to gather. Or, in the new drawings that I'm developing, I've made a gazillion little, repetitive and beloved marks that I call “ink scratches.” I'm not using pens with ink cartridges but instead dipping a pen with metal nib into an ink well after every few marks. It's a little bit ridiculous. . . but enjoyable. It slows everything down for me.

For each piece, I chose materials that represent both nature and culture. I mix the two symbolic artifacts to address a perceived dichotomy. Time-intensive work allows the two symbols become more similar than they are different.

To Love and To Work
2013
Basswood, gathered fallen pine branches and redwood bark, acrylic paint
18"x 12"x 16"

OPP: Many of your pieces, including Fortune Teller (2012), Befriending 5,000 Splinters (2012), and Dendroclimatological Meditation (2012), evoke altars for me. Others, like Tangle Ish (2013) and Wishing Well (2013), are like monuments, sites of human longing or reverence. Does this reading echo your intentions? If so, what are these sculptural altars and monuments for?

BL: Observing the work through someone else's eyes can be really valuable for seeing new things! After considering what you've said about the 2012 pieces appearing as altars and those from 2013 resembling monuments, I think that the two different years mark different stages in a process of conjuring the energies of both natural and cultural elements. The altars from 2012 were made with the intention of awakening the ideas. I wanted viewers to feel as though they had stumbled upon a ceremony in an unknown world. I created my own rituals that could induce magic, bringing me closer to understanding nature, culture and time. The imagined ceremony itself was distant from the site that remained. It felt distant for me, too, because it was new.

Perhaps the altars did work as I intended, awakening the energies to produce the monuments in 2013. Reverence is a great word that I also use to describe those pieces. I have a deep respect for the world around me with all of its experiences and interactions. The respect that I try to maintain adds mystery to everyday situations. Life is rich with possibility when you allow the unknown to exist instead of desiring full control.

Tangle Ish
2013
Newspaper, walnut section, Ikea wood slats, Manzanita branches, string
46"x 20"x 20"

OPP: How does your experience as a teenaged graffiti artist in San Francisco relate to your current work in sculpture and drawing? What did you learn in that time that affects the work you currently make?

BL: Graffiti was a rush of excitement. It was a tight community that admired and hated each other at the same time. We shared secrets, tricks of the trade and lived and worked by a code that's hard for everyone to understand. But the code is heavy and present. It's an interesting subculture that I still have a lot of respect for. I think that writing graffiti did not so much transfer into a visual style for me, rather it developed my interest in the process of creating.

I started writing graffiti when I was in middle school. I still have old drawings of my first pieces on paper dating back to '91. The pieces are so funny with their letters filled in with brick patterns and their star-dotted letter "i"s! We'd go out walking in the streets searching for new spots to plan our pieces before heading to the wall, or we'd explore the streets while bombing, which is what we called tagging. But what's most memorable to me is the practice I put into perfecting my moniker. I must have filled hundreds—I mean hundreds!—of spiral notebooks with my name. I'd write my tag over and over and over, slightly varying the styles or the spelling in search of that perfect combination. This is where I developed my fascination with repetition, the nuance of change over time and the never-ending exploration of my surroundings.

To see more of Benjamin's work, please visit benjaminlyonart.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence 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 solo exhibition I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) recently closed, and she is currently preparing for another solo exhibition titled Everything You Need is Already Here (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Kyoko Imazu

Cat town
2013
Etching and aquatint
44.5 x 39.5cm

Japanese-born KYOKO IMAZU has been fascinated by fantasies of small animals like cats, rabbits and rodents overthrowing society. Her etchings, artist books and cut-paper installations are equally populated with real animals and legendary creatures from Japanese folklore, as well as fictional rabbits from novels and cartoons. Kyoko received her BFA in Printmaking from RMIT University in Melbourne. In 2013, she was an artist-in-residence at The Art Vault and the Australian Tapestry Workshop and had four solo exhibitions: Feathers and Fur at Odd One Out (Hong Kong), Animalis at Port Jackson Press (Fitzroy, Australia), Adore at Bird's Gallery (Melbourne) and Mammals from Melbourne Museum at the Consulate-General of Japan (Melbourne). Her work is on view in a group show called Tiny Universes at Tooth + Nail Studio Gallery in Adelaide, South Australia until November 22, 2013. Kyoko lives and works in Melbourne, Australia.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Have you always been drawn to animals as subject matter?

Kyoko Imazu: Yes. Images of animals have always given me pleasure and excitement, and I have always loved drawing animals. In fact, I don’t remember any time when I wasn’t drawing animals, even as doodles in textbooks at school or on letters.

My mum loved animals, and I enjoyed showing off my drawings to her. Growing up, we always had pets: dogs, cats, fish, turtles. I watched any and all TV programs about animals. In a way, nothing’s changed in my practice since childhood.

Baku
2012
Etching an aquatint
36.5 x 46 cm

OPP: Etchings of real animals, such as the northern pika and the sugar glider, and legendary creatures from Japanese folklore, including the Nue and the Baku, populate your work. It's like the real and the fictional live together in one world. Is it the world of your private imagination or is the coexistence of real and fictional creatures in your work a metaphor for something else outside of you?

KI: Nue and Baku are Yōkai from Japanese folklore. Yōkai are creatures/ monsters transformed from animals, as well as formless, natural phenomena like wind and thunder. Some can be household objects, or even live in rooms like kitchens and bathrooms! As a child, I was convinced—and very scared—that there were Yōkai and other creatures lurking behind me or hiding in the dark corners of the house. They were as real as my dogs and cats, on the same level of existence.

My work is a continuation of that memory. I like mixing real and mythical animals together because I love imagining what it was like to live in the world before all animals were named and categorized. There was a time when rhinos were as fantastical as unicorns.

Meeting
2012
Etching an aquatint
30 x 26 cm

OPP: You made an artist book called I want more rabbits! (2013). But actually, you already have quite a few rabbits! They recur persistently in different styles throughout your work in different media. Sometimes they are realistic, sometimes comical, sometimes combined with other animals. Then there are the rabbits that have parts from different fictional rabbits, like Fiverus Bokko Rabbit (2007), which has the face of Fiver from Watership Down and the ears and tail of Captain Bokko from The Amazing 3, and Rogerous Bugsy Rabbit (2007), which has Roger Rabbit's ears and Bugs Bunny's foot. Could you talk about why rabbits are so significant to you personally and in your work?

KI: My first drawing was a rabbit, and my primary school art project was of rabbits. I probably just enjoyed drawing their long ears and cute, round tails to start with. But, by drawing them over and over, the image of rabbit has become almost like a personal emblem. My eyes seek rabbit forms everywhere, in logos and packaging or in the shape of cloud or a stain.

When I relocated from Japan to Australia, I learned that rabbits are considered to be vermin and an environmental disaster, despite also being domestic pets. In Japan, they are fetishized and show up in traditional arts and crafts, as well as popular culture. I thought this difference between the two countries was striking. I am fascinated by the fact that a tiny, cute animals like rabbits can multiply so fast so that they become a threat to people and the environment. I love imagining a society overthrown by small animals—cats, rats and birds, as well—that we usually don’t find threatening.

Cufulin
2013
Etching and aquatint
45 x 39.5 cm

OPP: Do you have a favorite fictional rabbit?

KI: Rabbit from Chōjū-giga is my favorite. It's a famous set of four picture scrolls made by monks in Kozan-ji temple in 12th century Kyoto. It's considered the oldest manga in terms of techniques. Chōjū-giga depicts anthropomorphic rabbits, monkeys, frogs, foxes and so on without any words. It was probably a caricature, but I can imagine the monks having a chuckle while drawing them.



OPP: You have used accordion-style cut paper in both installations and very small artist books. Will you pick your favorite artist book and tell us the story since we can't hold it in our own hands?

KI: I like to keep the narratives open and ambiguous so that viewers can make up their own stories, but I imagine a basic tone and theme.

Rabbit Hunt begins by showing people trying to catch rabbits with nets and ferrets. A group of small rabbits attacks a hunter while another hunter with dogs is pointing at the group, seemingly trying to set his dogs on the rabbits. Some rabbits are caught, but the rabbits fight back by turning themselves into a Cerberus-like creature. It ends with a large rabbit roaring against a machine-like structure.

Rabbit hunt
2013
Paper, leather, board
6.3 x 7cm

OPP: Rabbits and other small, non-threatening animals become symbolic of the idea of power in numbers, especially when it comes to disempowered groups of people. Thinking of it that way changes I want more rabbits! into a rallying cry. Now I’m imagining the rabbits as workers organizing for their rights. Have you ever thought of your work as political?

KI: I draw ideas and inspirations from memories and stories. Similarly, I encourage viewers to bring their own memories and associations to my work. They can decide if it's personal or political.

For me, this idea of non-threatening animals becoming huge in numbers comes from my memory of growing up around rice paddies in Japan. There are thousands of tiny green frogs singing throughout the night during the summer that made me unable to sleep. To this day, I have nightmares about my house filled with frogs from floor to ceiling.

Autumn Moon (detail)
2010
Paper
Variable installation

OPP: What do you love about cut paper as a medium?

KI: I love being able to see small worlds emerging out of strips of plain paper while I’m cutting. It looks abstract from afar, like decorative lace, but there is a narrative upon closer inspection. It becomes quite intimate once it’s in the viewer’s hands.

I also love the physical act of cutting paper with a surgical scalpel. It takes a while to come up with drawings for each scene but once the design is finalized and the cutting starts, it demands concentration. Or else I get blood on my work! It is quite meditative; I can usually forget about everything else when I’m cutting paper.

OPP: You recently spent two months in residence at the Australian Tapestry Workshop (ATW). You worked on several new artist books there, but also learned to weave. Will weaving become part of your toolkit? Any plans to make new work in this medium?

KI: I hope tapestries will become part of my work. The great craftsmanship that’s required to create a tapestry is quite similar to printmaking and bookbinding. I’m intrigued by the weight of the history attached to those media.

I want to create tapestries with my animals and monsters, but tapestry weaving requires years of training. I wouldn’t dare exhibit my tapestries any time soon, but I’ll continue to practice. Weavers at ATW still employ the same technique from 15th century. It is so magical to imagine people now still using the same technique from medieval times in totally different environments for different purposes.

To see more of Kyoko's work, please visit kyokoimazu.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 solo exhibition I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) closed recently, and she is currently preparing for another solo exhibition titled Everything You Need Is Already Here (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Nathan Haenlein

Hypnostage
2010
Graphite on Paper
18"x 21"

NATHAN HAENLEIN’s graphite drawings of old ladies at slot machines, the willingly-hypnotized, car engines and snow storms use the geographic region of the Rust Belt as a container for exploring universal ways of coping with the life’s difficulties. His gel pen drawings, on the other hand, employ an arbitrary analog system that leads to complex, colorful patterns. The underlying connection for these disparate ways of drawing is an investigation of patience and repetition. Nathan received his MFA from the University of Iowa in 2002 and is currently a professor at Sonoma State University. His work has been included in Shifter magazine (2006 and 2009) and the forthcoming international drawing annual Manifest (2014). He has had solo exhibitions at Visalia Art Center (2008), Cleveland's now defunct Exit Gallery (2006) and The Ridderhof Martin Gallery (2003) at Mary Washington College. His work is included in the group exhibition Deadpan (the art of the expressionless), which closes on December 7, 2013, at Whitdel Arts (Detroit) and in a juried solo exhibition at the online exhibition site Gallery Gray. Nathan lives and works in Santa Rosa, California.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What do the seemingly unrelated subjects of your meticulous graphite drawings have in common?

Nathan Haenlein: This body of work began with the collapse of our economy in 2008, the bankruptcy of GM and subsequent bailout by the government. I was raised in Michigan and Ohio. The majority of my family was employed or benefited from the auto industry. I was distracted by what I read and heard in the news and the reality of the people living through the lowest point in an economy that had been below the national average for decades. My graphite drawings are broken into conceptual subgroups that expose the complexity of a geographic area and the varying possibilities of experience.

The willingly-hypnotized are a metaphor for the Rust Belt. For years, the people in this area watched as economies constricted and changed their cities. Works depicting food, vice and escape shine a spotlight on how we cope. Additionally, the drawings elicit a small amount of shame followed by guilt. These feelings are powerful motivators that can cause either change or stagnation. The factory and its products are the gems in my work. I focus on the product and how they make it. I think of them as science and the genius of engineering. Lastly, the environment is always present. The weather and landscape shape a community. I am interested in natural beauty and the human impulse to control it.

Mount Pleasant Freedom
2010
Graphite on Paper
11"x 13"

OPP: Are the human subjects in your drawings individuals or are they just symbols of unwavering consumption? Do you relate to them or feel compassion for them?

NH: The human subjects in my drawings are archetypes. Since I have lived in California for ten years, I have become more and more removed from the day-to-day experiences I have taken on in my work. I purposefully avoid the use of friends and family as subjects. The distance, both physical and personal, allows me to build a narrative without conflict. I am absolutely empathic to the individuals in my work. I come to them with a sense of loss and hope to somehow elevate them from struggle. I take extreme care and patience producing the drawings. I am at times conflicted about the act of consumption. Why we consume and how what we consume shapes our personal economies, class and perceived wellness. Where does this lead us?

Untitled
2008
Gel Pen on Paper
32"x 40"

OPP: What are your thoughts on patience and repetition in the digital age?

NH: As I answer these questions for the blog of the company that hosts my website, the obviousness of the digital age is too apparent. It sounds moot to use the term, but the speed of change has an impact on how I work and experience art in general. I fall victim to the constant distraction that technology affords. My studio practice is a counterbalance to these distractions.

Since childhood I have been a model of impatience; my daily life is a battle of impulse control. These struggles have led me to hone my working habits. There are now long periods of exaggerated patience. I have yet to understand my ability to focus completely on the production of art works. Additionally, the daily act of working satisfies my compulsions/obsessions and brings about a state of equilibrium. I am curious about the act of repetition. Whether it is revisiting the same ideas or repeating the same physical exercise, this need for repetition in our lives somehow reflects the human condition in a non-narrative way. What propels these acts and thoughts?

OPP: In my opinion, it's about a spiritual need. Repetition involves a way of comprehending the world that is beyond the intellect, especially when it includes a physical act, an embodied motion. Through physical repetition, anxiety can be transformed into presence. So when you say that your studio practice is a counterbalance to the distractions of speediness and technology, I think about meditation, which is about coming back to the body and to the present moment. Is it a stretch to call your studio practice a meditation practice?

NH: It would be a stretch to call my practice meditation. I think of meditation—which I have been advised to utilize by professionals—as an internal space of absolute calm, a way to remain still both physically and mentally, and recharge. While my studio work is very repetitive, it is wrought with a constant stream of thoughts and urges I tamp down in order to produce the work. I find the finished art works have a richness that comes from forced patience and this internal battle. Lastly, I think you answered my question on what propels these acts and thoughts, and I will adopt the idea of repetition transforming anxiety into presence.

Volt
2010
Graphite on Paper
11"x 13"

OPP: Quad Drawings, a series of geometric, gel pen drawings, and your resin and enamel paintings from 2006 are stylistically different from the realistic, graphite drawings? What made you decide to unite these two styles as postcards in 2011?

NH: The Quad Drawings and resin works grew together in my studio, informing each other and allowing me to formally investigate a two dimensional plane. All of the quad works began with a detailed plan before entering the studio. I focused on color and a mathematical system similar to knitting or crochet to create the compositions. Additionally, this detailed plan was an analog system, quoting the vector software used to produce the resin work. I was interested in building a three dimensional illusion simply by my counting and color choice. After years of counting, color testing and sitting still, filling in rectangular boxes, I became dubious of my intent and started to question whether these drawings were fulfilling my need as an artist.

In 2008, I simply put down the gel pen and cleaned my brushes. I needed a new challenge. I was no longer able to ignore my needs for a concrete narrative in my work. I made rules: no color, no counting, be descriptive and simplify my tools. The graphite drawings are the result of these new rules. They are visually completely different, but the planning and execution of the drawings mirrored the quad works. The tedium of my practice started to take its toll on my production, and slowly I began to break these rules. My intent in the postcards was to give myself a break from a rigid system that didn’t/doesn’t allow any play or improvisation in the production. Soon I had made over 50 new small pieces, and my daily practice was consumed by working on the postcards. I still don’t know if this is a bridge of the two bodies of work, but I continue to produce these small works.

List 10
2013

OPP: Your newest body of work is a series of paintings of repeated racquetball instructions. The text reads like an advertisement, encouraging the constant striving to be better that advertising always capitalizes on. Stylistically, the work evokes psychedelic concert posters from the 60s. When I Googled you, I found that you have a racquetball player profile and ranking, so obviously you have some experience with the game. How did this body of work grow out of your personal experience? Is racquetball a metaphor in this work?

NH: There is an apparent under-current of obsession in all of my work. I am obsessed with racquetball. It keeps me up at night. I replay matches in my head and focus on points where I could have made better decisions. I decided to make a gouache painting of the growing list of things I need to work on. Before I knew it, I had made eight. I photographed the courts I played on, digitally printed them on fine art paper and painted the list directly on the court. My initial intent was to become a better player, but soon these paintings started to reflect a larger narrative of my daily experience.

The game for me is a metaphor for control. The paintings let me impart my will on the game. While making these paintings, I began to look at vintage GM ads and the promises of a better life through Chevy. These absolutes are mirrored in my lists. I have never shown the list paintings, but for some reason I decided to put them on my website. I still read the list before each match. And I have enjoyed answering this question immensely.

OPP: What about the experience of flow? Do you feel it more on the racquetball court or in your studio?

NH: Again, I am enjoying these questions too much!! I believe there is a time when flow in the studio happens. It is so elusive, here then gone, and only recognized days later that it occurred.  But to link my obsessive hobby/sport with my professional practice is giving me too much credit as a racquetball player. My studio is a place of ideas and actions converging into objects. Also, the underlying structure of my studio practice hinges on current conceptual concerns for the project at hand. Whatever the content, it is the impetus for making the work. Racquetball on the other hand can be a metaphor in my work, but it doesn’t go both ways for me. I can remember a NBA finals game when Michael Jordan scored an insane amount of points in the first half, and the announcers proclaimed he was in a place of “flow." I guess my point is that flow comes to the truly invested and focused regardless of the endeavor. I have not reached that yet in racquetball.

To see more of Nathan's work, please visit nathanhaenlein.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence 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 solo exhibition I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For is on view at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) until December 6, 2013, and she is currently preparing for another solo exhibition titled Everything You Need is Already Here (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.

I'm grateful. . .

Your regularly-scheduled Featured Artist interview will be back next Thursday. But since Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday—sharing food and watching TV with the ones I love make me feel grateful—I'd like to take this opportunity to say I'm thankful for this fantastic job. As an artist and educator, asking other artists about their work and their experiences making art couldn't be more satisfying. I've had the opportunity to get to know numerous amazing artists. The only thing that would make it better is to see all this work in person.

So on the occasion of Thanksgiving, I'd like to highlight a few of my favorite interviews from the past three years. Click the names to go to the interviews.

Spring Play @ VIAF Performance Festival
2009
Performance/ Installation

Resource
2011
Acrylic & spray paint on linen

Thunder Spoon
Stretched blanket, foam, paint, pompoms, copper leaf, shetland pony, mancala beads, tacks, brads, flowers, sculpey casted: oatmeal, and coffee beans, moss
48" x 65"
2012

Nathan Prouty
Hot Spots & Rocks
Bits and bobs
2011

Mound
2010
Paper, charcoal, plexi
14 x 12 x 5 ft
Installation at Sienna Gallery, Lenox, MA

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

Opening Soon (Grand Gateway Mall, Shanghai)
2009
Lightjet Prints
Grid of 4, 20" X 30" each

Floating Forest
2010
Oil on canvas
6' x 10'

Reversed Racism
Hand-embroidered cotton
Series of 12 counted cross-stitch images of stills taken from the George Holiday video of the Rodney King beating

Happy Thanksgiving!

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Homa Shojaie

Cocoon (detail)
2011
Warps of Raw Canvas

Iranian-born artist HOMA SHOJAIE's background in architecture and painting informs her work in frayed canvas. Architecture responds to the needs of the body in space, while the repeated, meditative gestures in her painted surfaces and deconstructed canvases respond to the need of the spirit to be embodied. Homa received a Bachelor of Architecture from The Cooper Union in 1991. She attended the year-long BOLT Residency (Chicago) in 2011-2012. Her frayed canvas works, which bridge painting and sculpture, have been displayed in solo exhibitions Ascent in the BOLT Project Space (2012) and Cocoon at Flash Atolye in Izmir, Turkey (May 2013). Most recently, her work was included in the group exhibition Fibre to Fabric at Madder Moon (September 2013) in Singapore, where Homa now lives and works.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your 2012 solo exhibition Ascent was a series of sculptural and wall-hung works made from frayed canvas. Tell us about the process of fraying. What led you to begin to deconstruct the surface that you had previously painted on?

Homa Shojaie: During a studio visit, my friends Jonathan Miller and Anna Kunz challenged me to re-examine the surface on which I painted. At that point I was painting on store-bought, stretched canvases. So I bought a 50 yard roll of raw canvas and got to work.

The series Frayed Canvas Works started as an examination of the surface and site of painting. My first gesture was to cut a piece of raw canvas out from the roll and then fray the edges to create a defined surface. The warp threads that are freed from the surface of canvas have an uncanny energy when piled together, and the wefts hanging from the edges have such fluidity. These discoveries began to drive the process. Some of the themes that emerged were: body and persona, border and boundary, connectivity and freedom, complementarity and separation, masculine and feminine, maximum and minimum, tension and compression. As I was pulling out these thousands of threads, I pretty quickly realized that I had started to put lines into my painting for the first time. Before I started fraying the canvas, my paintings were fields, so I really owe the introduction of line into my painting to all those pulled out threads. They were physical lines that emerged from the surface of the canvas, as if they had placed themselves there.

Ascent
2011
Raw Frayed Canvas
1' x 12' x 12'

OPP: Many of the pieces in Ascent relate to the body. Did your training in architecture play into this body of work?

HS: Canvas is such a beautiful material. It is like skin. Then you fray it, and it looks like hair, which also brings you to the body. Then there are the spines: each one is a group of threads bound together by a central column that approximates the height and width of an average human spine.

My friend Sheila Mostofi, who has the best eye in the world, helped me to hang the show, and there were certainly hours of architectural debates during the installation. But my architect side also showed up earlier in the creation of work for the show. In order to respond to the height of the Bolt Project Space, I made Ascent, the piece that lent its title to the whole exhibition. The smaller spines measured about 36 inches. Ascent was a 21-foot-long spine. The idea for this scale shift came up in one of the Bolt Residency group discussions when we were planning for a group show in the Bolt Project Space. Even though I ended up presenting Requiem For Waking Things, an architectural collaboration with filmmaker Melika Bass, in that show, the idea of responding to the dimensions of the room lingered. I later made Inside and Outside, two columns that each measure 1 x 1 x 12 feet, the exact size of actual architectural columns throughout the exhibition space at Chicago Artists’ Coalition.

There was also the presence of a persona in the project called Girl on the Lower Deck, which is the title of the piece that began the fraying. Most of the writings on the spine pieces are investigations into who this character is, what she thinks, feels and wants. Sometimes I refer to this dimension of the work as the emotional side. Architecturally, the Girl on the Lower Deck is the inhabitant of the whole series.

Everything is Possible from Word Series
2010
Oil on Canvas
72"x 48"

OPP: Aside from the canvas itself, I see connections between your frayed work and your paintings, in the presence of a repeated gesture. Is the repeated gesture a kind of meditation?

HS: The repetition existed in the earlier paintings in the form of the brush stroke. Later in the Word Series, I was really meditating, sometimes on the subject and sometimes on the word. I wrote the words over and over in the hopes that the painting would become what the words described or pondered. The act of writing in itself is a repetition. It is also an act of weaving, both literally (the rows, weaving a textural field) and metaphorically (weaving a world of meanings and associations).  

OPP: Aside from its presence in your work, what does repetition mean to you in your life?

HS: There are repetitions I cherish: a walk with a friend on a path we’ve been on before, the way my parents answer a Skype call, the love of the familiar. And then there is the default repetition of habits: going to grocery store again, emptying the dishwasher, listening to the rotating CDs in the car stereo that I haven't changed for a year, hearing myself repeat a sentence I have said before and will say again, complaining.

In my work, sometimes I fray canvas for days. The act of pulling out the threads one at a time becomes a measure of a large chunk of time and the area of the canvas that becomes free. . . these are all repetition. I do it because these works demand it. I imagine that one day the work/ the process might not demand it anymore, and then I will no longer do it.

Feather and Gold Part
2011
Installation shot

OPP: Last year, you moved from Chicago, where you were part of a community of artists, to Singapore, where you knew no one but your family. How has this move affected your studio practice and your work?

HS: My work changes every time I change my studio space. Even in Chicago when I moved two blocks away into a new space, my work would change. My initial thought when I got to Singapore was: I  will never fray another piece of canvas. I did a series of Skype portraits during the first three months because I was on Skype six to seven hours every day talking to friends and family all over the world. But soon, at the suggestion of my new studio neighbor and now friend, Susanne Paulli, I was knotting threads to a piece I had brought from Chicago, and it genuinely felt real. With every knot, I was tying the cut-off past to the possibility of a future, creating a continuity. As long as I find these wonderful and brilliant friends, things always work out.

Right now, I am working on two different bodies of work. One is a series of paintings called Sexiness, and the other is called How To Stretch Canvas named after the essay Jonathan Miller wrote for Ascent. It is an investigation into the space, structure and materiality of stretched canvas. I’m exploring the relationship between the canvas and the stretcher by taking it apart and reconstructing it in a new way. So in a way, after 14 months, I am back to my usual studio practice: two parallel bodies of work, seemingly unrelated, but each feeding into the other.

Continuity (detail)
2013
Raw frayed canvas, threads, wood stretcher, black ink
3.5 m X 1m

OPP: Do you have any advice for other artists about moving to a new city where they have find their way into an existing art community?

HS: Be open and do your work. Go to museums, openings, artist talks, discussions and shows. I knew that as soon as I got to Singapore I needed to find a studio and start working. Preferably this studio would be in a community setting where I could be in contact with other artists. I started to call different artist organizations. I went to gallery openings and asked the gallerists where their artists had their studios. I sent tens of emails to artists I found on the Internet. I joined Singapore Contemporary Young Artists (SYCA), a wonderful group of artists and the only art group in Singapore that accepts non-Singaporean members. It was crazy, but it paid off. I found a studio in a setting where there were 15 other artists, and a lot of my friendships started from there.

That’s the practical side. There is also the emotional side. Allow yourself to feel displaced, homesick, lonely, sad and all the other emotions that come with a big move. And then seek solace. Nothing pulled me out of homesickness more than seeing a great show, lecture or a movie. I joined a film group last year. We watched masterpieces of Asian cinema, and this year we are watching Singaporean movies. This has been such a great way to feel the culture and begin to embrace it. Give yourself time, encouragement and get Skype.  

To see more of Homa's work, please visit homashojaie.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 solo exhibition I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For is on view at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) until December 6, 2013, and she is currently preparing for another solo exhibition titled Everything You Need is Already Here (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Kevin Earl Taylor

Shrine
2013
Oil on panel
25" x 30"

KEVIN EARL TAYLOR's oil paintings are part fantasy, part allegory and part social commentary. He highlights humanity's repeated, misguided manipulation of nature, asking, "how can we relate to animals as beings rather than objects?" Kevin received his BFA from Savannah College of Art and Design in Illustration (1994) and exhibits internationally. His numerous solo exhibitions include shows at Circle Culture in Berlin and Hamburg, Rebekah Jacob Gallery in Charleston, South Carolina and Guerrero Gallery and Eleanor Harwood in San Francisco. His solo show Inner Wilderness at Rebekah Jacob Gallery runs from November 1 to December 31, 2013 with an opening reception on November 14. Kevin lives and works in San Francisco.

OtherPeoplesPixels: My favorite paintings are Sympathetic Situation (2013), Negotiation (2012) and Red Thread IV, which portray interactions between animals that usually don't interact. Sometimes there's potential danger. Sometimes there's a sense of poignant possibility that these animals could be friends. Are these paintings fantasies or allegories?

Kevin Earl Taylor: A bit of both actually. I enjoy a sense of mystery in my paintings, so I’d rather imply a story than tell one. The narrative becomes the abstraction. It's a way of letting the work transform with regard to the viewer. The best way I can explain my approach would be similar to starting a story at the end instead of the beginning. I prefer things to feel somewhat unresolved. It's that type of situation that draws a person in. It's in our nature to want to solve it. When my paintings are most successful, they are making people's minds restless.

Sympathetic Situation
2013

OPP: Animals are often portrayed as objects in many of your paintings. Could you talk about the differences and similarities in pieces where animals are surrounded by scaffolding, as in The Whale Structure (2013), The Chimp Construction (2013)) and The Rhinoceros Construction, and pieces where animals are portrayed as art objects on pedestals, as in Pisces (2013, The Ram Installation (2012) and 23:12:56.78 (2013)?

KET: The scaffolding pieces, or "constructions," reference humanity's ongoing action to dominate, manipulate and reinvent nature. The animals are synthetic, seemingly forgotten and "in progress." They could exist in the not so distant future as relics, initiated during a time which parallels man's own extinction from earth.

The pedestal series presents organic matter as artifact. I was amused by the idea that preserving a thing often requires removing it from its natural environment. We put something in a museum or zoo to appreciate it, making it untouchable, dysfunctional and guarded. I was hoping people might think more about appreciating animals while they still exist in nature.

I've had people feel sympathy for the animals in these paintings, but it's not necessary. The animals in the pedestal and construction works are no more alive than a church or hospital. What these works have in common is the now absent human hand which constructed, plotted and staged the elements within them. They ask us to remove ourselves from the center of our own universe.

Polaris
2013
Oil on panel
48" x 26"

OPP: What about Shrine (2013) and Beckoning (2013)? Is worship a different impulse?

KET: The idea of worship runs through much of my work, but it exists more as a vehicle to focus on things being mesmerized by other things. It's a way to emphasize an admiration between disparate entities.

OPP: Do the animals admire the humans in any of your work, or just each other? Is admiration a necessary part of coexistence?

KET: It's more of an equal respect for one another and their respective roles within the ecosystem. Essentially, I'm trying to dissolve the imaginary boundaries separating humans from nature and coax people to treat everything as an imperative part of the cycle. The more I can twist the characteristics of the diverse elements of nature, the better. It's easy to forget that we too are animals, and our ever increasing separation from the natural world tends to spawn poor decision making. I'd like to think that if we treated our habitat with the same sensitivity as non-human animals do to theirs, we'd consider the consequences of our actions much more than we do presently.

OPP: The very notion of animals as art objects brings to mind Damian Hirst's The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991), et al. Whatever this piece was originally about is constantly overshadowed by its price tag, and whatever potential meanings it had are almost shutdown by the spectacle of it. I'd like to put aside speculation on Hirst's intentions and his personality, and think about the work itself. A painting of a dead shark as an object can do something an actual life-size, dead shark cannot, and vice versa. Were you thinking of Hirst's shark at all when you painted Chapel (2013)? Are there any similarities between your piece and his?

KET: I wasn't thinking about Hirst directly when I painted Chapel.However, 03-23-56-48 is another painting from the Pedestal series that references his work directly. For me, it was a way to make the museum scene more "realistic.” As far as similarities within our work, I imagine we're skirting along the same lines; asking questions which challenge the concepts of nature, art and mortality.

Chapel
2013

OPP: Many new and emerging artists receive no comprehensive professional practices training, even in graduate school. Even the most practical amongst us has had the fantasy of randomly being discovered and offered a solo exhibition. And that does happen to some artists, but not most. You've had a lot of solo shows, more than one every year since 2005. Can you offer any practical advice or anecdotal experience to younger artists who are seeking solo exhibitions and confused about how to land them?

KET: Persistence and patience. Strive to make unique work for the right reasons and eventually people will take notice. If things aren't happening fast enough, don't get discouraged. You don't want to be in the spotlight when you're not ready. It's hard to recover from something like that. Let things happen organically, so you're always where you're supposed to be, working with people who genuinely believe in what you do. Whatever you do, NEVER be completely satisfied with the work you're making. . . and remember, it's not a contest. If you want to compete, go out for the football team.

To view more work by Kevin Earl Taylor, please visit kevinearltaylor.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 solo exhibition I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For is on view at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) until December 6, 2013, and she is currently preparing for another solo exhibition titled Everything You Need is Already Here (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Morgan Rosskopf

You And I Are Intertwined
2013
Mixed media drawing
50" x 55"

MORGAN ROSSKOPF combines free drawing, collage and intaglio printing in the creation of two-dimensional works that evoke the poignant tension between beauty and excess, desire and pain. The flat surfaces of her pieces appear to seethe with motion and emotion due to surprising juxtapositions and dramatic scale shifts between images representing American middle-class aspirations towards status and pleasure. Morgan graduated Magna Cum Laude with a BFA in Printmaking from Sonoma State University in 2010. She received her MFA from the University of Oregon in 2013 and was awarded the Philip Halley Johnson Schlorship in 2011. Her work has recently been included in Light Out at White Box Gallery, Speaking Between at Disjecta Gallery and A(muse) at LaVerne Krauss Gallery, all in Portland, Oregon. Morgan lives and works in Los Angeles.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You describe yourself as "visual hunter-gatherer." Do you think about hunting and gathering as a subject in your work or just a method?

Morgan Rosskopf: Hunting and gathering images is both subject and method. Or perhaps the subject of my work is also fueled by its method. I believe that all my images already exist; I just have to find them and rearrange them. Accumulating images is not simply a process that leads to a final product. It is also a way of discovering what my work is about. It is mostly intuitive: I tear images I am attracted to out of magazines and then reflect on that attraction. Once I have an understanding of what I want my drawing to be about, I look for other images that speak to the drawing’s overarching idea, even if they are seemingly unrelated or tangential. Certain ideas push me to collect a large amount of a particular type of image, often leading to countless hours on Google or Bing. I typically end up with a mess of downloaded images on my desktop.

The images I ultimately use are always fragmented and removed of their original context. The way we see ourselves and the rest of the world is comprised of a multitude of images. I see myself and my work as an accumulation of ideas and experiences. I am especially interested in how our inevitable accumulation of everything leads to paradox and internal conflict. My completed drawings are composed portraits of psychological states, each fragmented image contributing something to the larger, interwoven chains of meaning.

2013
Mixed media on paper
60" x 34"

OPP: Could you talk about the tension between beauty, desire and the "conventional middle class aspirations and feelings of internal dissonance" that inspire your work?

MR: Desire is this underlying force that shapes how we see and experience beauty, as well as the ideas that conflict with it or cause feelings of tension. Desire isn’t just something we feel, but it is also a form of self-expression. Fulfilling our desires can range from choosing what we eat for breakfast to what car we feel adequately reflects our sensibilities. Middle-class aspiration is such a strong, governing force on our desires. Middle-class aspirations are advertised to us everywhere, and the pressure to achieve status can be crippling. More so, many middle-class conventions are superficial and devoid of meaning. Despite my criticism and longing for alternatives, part of me still wishes to uphold these middle-class values.

Beauty gets wrapped up in this issue because we are obsessed with achieving it. When our expectations of beauty do not align with those of popular middle-class culture, feelings of dissonance start to grow. Even though we live in a postmodern culture where freedom of self-expression is our supposed mantra, that middle-class convention maintains a strong presence, complicating our personal desires.

I am interested in beauty that is strange, confrontational or kitschy. While I admittedly feel juvenile, my inspiration comes from rebelling against these conventions while I search for something that feels more genuine. For the most part, we all share similar ideas of what beauty is, regardless of class. However, I think it is important for us to question our ideas of beauty because they have become predictable and one-dimensional. Sometimes the role of beauty in popular culture is merely to denote that something fits into our paradigm of thought. The word beauty used to be reserved for things that were awe-inspiring, even slightly terrifying or unhinging. While I am not arguing that beauty needs always to be attached to the sublime, I do feel that pushing the boundaries of beauty is important. Doing this might never relieve feelings of dissonance, but it might provide a new and more satisfying way to experience beauty and fulfill our desires.

Caution Isn't Ours
2013
Mixed media on paper and frosted mylar
24" x 30"

OPP: There's a lot of interplay between literal and figurative meanings of the images you use in your drawings and collages. Do you always know consciously why you are putting images together, or do you get surprised in the process?

MR: My drawing process is largely intuitive, but I have to be smart about it. My method is based in collage and requires that I edit myself all the time, as my exposure and interest in images is overwhelming. It is easy for me to get carried away or to let my drawings wander conceptually. I have found that, if I limit myself to a few different symbols for each drawing, I have a little more control over what the image says. Though I try to exercise some control over my imagery, meaning will just suddenly show up. It often surprises me. Collage is a great tool for these types of moments because I can easily continue to expand on this new meaning or simply cover it up. Because I try to limit my signifiers, I rely on formal elements, such as color and quality of line, to harness these surprises. Black sumi ink is one of my favorite tools to create formal cohesion between disparate signifiers; silhouetting repeated images or interjecting a new one not only provides heightened contrast and visual variation, but it also evokes conceptual contrast. I have also found that there are a few constant symbols in my work, such as the cigarette, hair or roses, that make it into the drawings no matter what. They become superfluous and foundational at the same time, and I really like that juxtaposition. How many other superfluous things are in our lives that we just cannot live without?

Juxtaposition and paradox are the main conceptual forces in my work. I am particularly interested in the experience of cognitive dissonance: anxiety caused by holding two conflicting beliefs at the same time. Resolving cognitive dissonance requires that we let go of one conflicting belief or figure out a way to mediate the two. Juxtaposition is a natural way to visually represent such abstract feelings, as well as a way to explore where this conflict arises from or possible ways to find resolution. This is my favorite part of drawing because it lets me meditate on totally outlandish possibilities. I create strange metaphors, or indulge in my most exaggerated and melodramatic ideas as way to interrogate the complex actuality of our psyches. I enjoy conflating images as a way to make sarcastic jokes, probe delicate subjects or to make myself vulnerable to the viewer. There are moments where I let the drawings expand out of control and others where I maintain a more regimented process, mirroring the ebb and flow of our own internal dialogues.

The literal and figurative interplay of images is where all the fun stuff happens. For a long time I was nervous about my work being too easy to read, so I made vague references and tried too hard to muddy up my intent and meaning. Because collage creates a type of schizophrenia in the work, I realized that muddled meaning happened naturally. I was working against myself and my methodology by attempting to be vague or mysterious. Choosing to highlight the literal meaning of many images allowed juxtaposition and relationships between symbols to happen faster. It has enabled me to be more confrontational in my work.

Shorty Wanna Be A Thug
2013
Mixed media on paper
40" x 50"

OPP: Could you pick your favorite piece and tell us how you understand some of the juxtapositions?

MR: Shorty Wanna Be A Thug is probably the best example of literal interplay between images. I wanted to address the pain that comes along with desiring excess. Literally, this drawing pokes fun at the stomachache that follows a decadent dinner; it's our punishment for indulging in too much boozy and buttery goodness. Metaphorically, I was also interested in the psychological stress that often manifests as physical pain and seems to follow from a hedonistic and materialistic life. I spend a lot of time observing how the “good life” brings about a lot of internal conflict, both psychological and physical. I chose to address these ideas by conflating components of a lobster dinner with images of ulcers, bones and fatty tissue, chaotically and beautifully intertwined. Juxtaposition of images and meaning is my attempt at understanding our cultural and personal expectations. The act of juxtaposition not only posits one meaning with a counterpart, but also opens both up to the beautiful grey area that exists between their extremes. Derrida might call this différance, but I see it more as an acceptance of the reality we chose to make for ourselves.

OPP: You've recently received your MFA in Printmaking (June 2013) from the University of Oregon. How did your work change while you were in graduate school?

MR: In graduate school, the foundational ideas of my work did not change, but the way I executed them did. I have always been interested in the complex and often muddy nature of the psyche. My time in graduate school allowed me to investigate what that meant to me. I got to spend three years reading psychology and philosophy and indulging in all of my intellectual and creative interests. As a result, my ideas were clarified and complicated at the same time. My imagery became more specific, but it was also fragmented. I started drawing realistically, but with the intent to create something totally abstract.

Crystal Candy Mountain
2013
Mixed media on paper
36" x 36"

OPP: How have the first few months out been for you? What's next?

MR: Now that school is over, I have to keep pushing myself. My urge to create is always present, but it is easy to fall back on things I have made in the past, instead of looking forward into new territory. Immediately after school ended, I was commission by a public defense office up in Idaho to make a drawing that was inspired by one of their cases. This case in particular involved a baby that was exposed to so much methamphetamine that it was supposedly growing meth crystals on its skin! When I heard this story, I was immediately inspired by the images that were manifesting in my head. Even though I was overflowing with ideas, I felt the subject matter was so sensitive that I had to be careful with my imagery. Crystal Candy Mountain is the piece that came out of this commission. I was aiming to make something strangely innocent, grotesque and cracked out, and I think it worked. Sometimes making work for school has the ability to validate its “goodness,” and I am spending a lot of time fighting that. I can make good work outside of school.

Right now, I am interested in some vile imagery. I have been listening to a lot of hip-hop, and I admire how grotesque a lot of the lyrics are. When I am listening to these songs in my car, I often ask myself why I am not drawing images that parallel some of the grit and horrifying things these young rappers are talking about. The metaphors they use are so beautiful and confrontational, which is what I am about. Even though I find it incredibly difficult, I think it feels good to draw yucky things.

To see more of Morgan's work, please visit morganrosskopf.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 solo exhibition I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For is on view at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) until December 6, 2013, and she is currently preparing for another solo exhibition titled Everything You Need Is Already Here (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Doo-Sung Yoo

Vishtauroborg001.OMH5 version1.0
May 2011
Robotic Performance (preparation)

DOO-SUNG YOO has been re-contextualizing discarded animal organs in installations, robotics and performances since 2007. The mechanical sculptures of Organ-machine Hybrids have evolved into Vishtauroborg001.OMH5, a "performance project that incorporates robotics, electronic music and sound, dance, visual performance, and industrial design." Vishtauroborg Version 2.6 was featured on the cover of the 2013 summer edition of Media-N, a new media art journal. Doo-Sung's solo exhibition Replay: Red, Stench, Shriek, & Heat will be on view at the Columbus Metropolitan Library Gallery in Columbus, Ohio from November 9 to December 12, 2013. Doo-Sung has two MFA degrees: one from Sejong University in Seoul, South Korea (2003) and the other from Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio (2010), where he now teaches several courses.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Could you explain the title Vishtauroborg001.OMH5? How did this project grew out of your series Organ-machine Hybrids?

DooSung Yoo: Vishtauroborg is a compound word: Vishnu, minotaur, robot, organ, and cyborg. The 001.OMH5 is the artificial species’ number. Vishtauroborg is the fifth character in my Organ-machine Hybrids project (OMH), for which I reused and recontextualized discarded animal organs in installations, robotics and performances. The OMH characters—low-art-hybrids or low-artificial-animals—are ancestors to Vishtauroborg’s characters—high-art-hybrids or high-artificial-animals.  

Both projects aim to create a hybrid through artistic synthesis: physical transformation, as opposed to genetic modification. Both combine animal organs and electronic devices that collaborate with live animals (fish, for example) and human performers. The Vishtauroborgs are more technically advanced hybrid models and involve interdisciplinary media, exploring more complex experimental articulations. While the early organ-electronic devices are visual metaphors of transforming the body through mechanical means, Vishtauroborg explores how the mechanical motions can be harmonized with the human body and how artists find possible solutions for the disjunctions that occur when the natural is combined with the artificial.

Vishtauroborg version 3.1 - Incompatibility
September 15th, 2012
Robotic Performance at Ingenuity Fest 2012, Cleveland

OPP: Do you have a favorite version/performance?

DSY: It is really difficult to choose a favorite. As the director, I, of course, like all five of Vishtauroborg’s versions because each one has different theme and focus with different characteristics. However, if I must decide, the 3.1 performance was the best so far. It was romantic; it combined Kazuo Ohno’s style of butoh improvisations and Merce Cunningham’s western style of improvisations with mechanical and random motions. The exaggerated facial expressions and improvised dance created a balletic harmony with both the organs and machines. The makeup designer also perfectly understood my vision, including androgynous characteristics and the combination of shamanistic visualizations of Japanese natives and Native Americans. It seems that art movements like contemporary dance can extend their life span with technological augmentations or evolve into new "species" of fine art.

The performance day of 3.1 was also very dramatic. Believe it or not, the crew of Vishtauroborg 3.1 and I had only two hours to set up and test the machines— ideally five to six hours are needed—due to the horribly unlucky break down of my car on the way to the Ingenuity Fest 2012 in Cleveland, Ohio. The machines worked well, although a part of the sound sensors was broken in the accident. It seemed to me somehow there was a spirit in the machine that automatically controlled itself through intelligence without the technical team’s perfect maintenance. It felt like a car racing competition: eight hours lost on a track, two hours with the car technician team and 30 minutes on the dead run to the finishing line. Unbelievably, we won the race!

OPP: You are usually the director, not the performer. But you wore the suit/exoskeleton at the Vishtauroborg project's inaugural performance at the ROY G BIV Gallery in 2011. What's it feel like to have it on?

DSY: It’s just like carrying two-year-old twins on your chest and back. Luckily, we don’t need to tie/untie the carrier of machines to change diapers! The machines weigh approximately 30 pounds each, but they are very stable and easy to balance the front and back for performing motions. Wearing one felt like exercising with dumbbells attached to my body.

It was quite strange to feel the wriggles, shakes, vibrations and pressures and hear the sound effects, which were mechanically created to react to the motion of my arms and hand. It gave the illusion of being a robot or cyborg, but my physical feelings were still in disjunction with the mechanical movements. 

Interestingly, I don’t feel any elements of fantasy or physical phenomena when I use a computer or smartphone. I cannot imagine how wearable technological augmentation, like the Google Glass, might expand our five senses at this point. The wearable devices will probably result in an experience of revulsion—as Masahiro Mori’s uncanny valley theory states—due to disjunctions between our organic, human senses and technology.

Vishtauroborg Version2.0 - Reembody
December 18th, 2011
Interdisciplinary performance at The Columbus Performing Arts Center (Columbus, Ohio)

OPP: For the performances you direct, are you choreographing the dance or collaborating with dancers who improvise?

DSY: I collaborate with professional dancers in the sense that I design the scenario for his/her own choreography within my artwork. The dancer’s choreography and improvisations have to illustrate the mood of each scenario of the performance. For instance, the introduction and the climax require different motions, sounds and other visual effects. The dancers must be able to create natural improvisations or choreography beforehand that works in conjunction with the articulations of other media, especially the mechanical motions.

As a director, I interweave visual and audio narratives from multiple media into a real time and place. It’s like recontextualizing material and expression, which creates new visual and audio metaphors and contexts. I ask questions when creating the scenario: What motions and expressions could be useful in the multiple performances? How do the choreographed motions (acting) connect with different media simultaneously (installation, sculpture, sound, makeup, costume, lighting, color, place)? What moments of harmony or disharmony of multiple media could be aesthetic metaphors? How do choreography and improvisation incorporate the mechanical motions in real time? How do the dancing motions enhance the visual narratives (like Mis-en-scen in cinematic and theatrical production) and create a mood, such as verisimilitude or surrealism?

Preparing for the performances of Pig Bladder-clouds in Rainforest, for example, all six dancers and I had many meetings and rehearsals for designing their choreography and allowing for improvisation. I recorded videos of all their practices and rehearsals. These were good sources to develop the art plan with other collaborators, including the mechanical engineer, the sound designer and the industrial designer. One day, I drove four hours round trip to capture Merce Cunningham’s original Rainforest (1968) video with my camera because only two libraries in Ohio have the original video tapes, and they do not check those tapes out. I showed my dancers the clips and other reference videos to influence the choreography. Also, I collected and recorded a lot of sound samples as references for the sound designers to create background music and sound effects.

It is not always easy to match my ideas with other collaborators’ creations. However, I am a driver of the art bus. The driver has to guide the project to a desired destination safely. Sometimes, my passengers cause a stir and suggest different routes. My art bus has been on a few happy journeys so far with my excellent passengers.

Pig Bladder-clouds in Rainforest
May 8th, 2010
Multimedia Performance

OPP: The feedback between movement and sound in the Vishtauroborg performances creates a different mood—for me, it's more cerebral, less visceral—than in your earlier robotic sculptures. I've only experienced sculptures such as Kinetic Pig Stomach (2007) and Lie: Robotic Cow Tongues (2007) through the video documentation on your website. Even though I've never seen them in person, I become very aware of sensations in my own body. I feel nauseous as I watch these dead parts moving. Do you have a strong visceral response to the organic materials you use?

DSY: I love raw flesh, meat and animal entrails in my art work. However, ironically, I am a vegetarian. Touching raw flesh and organs is still uncomfortable for me although I have used them for seven years. I observed more than three hundred butcherings of hogs, cows and lambs in slaughterhouses when I was collecting pig bladders and other organs for my pig bladder series. I still remember the red color, the stench, the sounds and the temperature of those horrible moments. As an artist, I challenge myself to transform disgusting materials into art. I ask myself, “How can discarded biological materials be used in art? How can a spectacle be both repulsive and beautiful at the same time?

OPP: Your work explores both negative and positive aspects of the human body’s response to an increasingly technologized society. Are you more optimistic or pessimistic about technology's effect on the body and on our lives?

DSY: I would prefer to be optimistic about technology. I do not believe that technology can solve everything, and there are risks associated with its effects on our mental and physical health. Human beings may encounter the tragedy of genetic catastrophe and the destruction of the human form from the evolutionary decay caused by technology. Or, dominant genes could ultimately choose technology to reconstruct new bodies to survive as the natural selection in the technological evolution.

The futurist Dr. Max More’s Technological Self-Transformation is quite interesting for me. Dr. More champions Extropianism, which argues that human beings may overcome biological, physical and mental constraints to improve human conditions with science and technology. The ideal human ultimately ascends to be a more advanced species or to move beyond the conventional parameters of human nature. Humanization of technology could save humans from the force majeure and extend human lifespans, leading to a techno-utopia, which conveys the notion of the human being’s rebirth with technology.

Video_Aqua001.c02: Robotic Pig Heart-jellyfish
2009
Robotics & Installation

OPP:
In other interviews, you've mentioned art-world influences including Nam June Paik, Joseph Beuys, Damien Hirst, Duchamp and Stelarc. What fictional representations of cyborgs or human-machine hybrids are interesting to you?

DSY: Most sci-fi cyborgs or robots embody fantastical fairy tales. They are much too exaggerated, likely in order to create a strong enemy for plausible stories. I do not believe that human beings will create an artificial intelligence that surpasses the human brain or organic processes. Android robots or humanoid machines would need to mimic a living being’s neural network to be lifelike entities capable of to overcoming their limited algorithms and forms. Cyborgs, which extend the existing human form and expand physical abilities, are possible.

In Robocop, police officer Alex Murphy, who was already murdered, is revived as a cyborg policeman. However, that story is still chimerical idea in physics. Can the human’s dead organism be revived in a machine without incorporating another living organism? Could the mechanical system perfectly cover or functionally replace the dead organism without inserting cloning and growing stem cells? How can the revived natural body in the cyborg sustain its life?

I agree with Stephen Hawking’s opinion that a disembodied human brain (data) could live permanently in a computer network, although it is just a theory for now. So, could the humans’ spirit (data) experience a revival into the digital network, like Major Motoko Kusanagi, the heroine of Ghost in the Shell? Kusanagi’s spirit-data briefly appears through hacking (connecting network) a gynoid (adult doll-female-robot) in the next series, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. I believe that those ideas could at least contribute to develop artificial intelligent systems in the robot industry. However, the duplication of human brain’s data and memories with/without an avatar or machine could be lifelike, but not a real-organic-existence. So, could we define that immaterial entity as a human? The current technology is still a small leap in the long voyage of those ideals.

My favorite robot character is the only surviving Laputan soldier in Hayao Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky, which is a very optimistic narrative of the human-nature-machine world. Lichen live on the robot’s shoulder and other animals play on the gigantic, walking robot’s body. The robot soldier is devoted to keeping bird’s eggs and gives flowers to other destroyed robot soldiers. It ultimately rescues the main human characters, illustrating robot goodwill toward humankind. Miyazaki’s robot soldier is a perfect example of an advanced machines that enhances the lives of humans and the natural environment.

To see more of Doo-Sung's work, please visit doosungyoo.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 solo exhibition I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For is on view at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) until December 6, 2013, and she is currently preparing for another solo exhibition titled Everything You Need Is Already Here (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.