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.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Kristyn Weaver

2011
Graphite on paper
38 x 25"

KRISTYN WEAVER courts absurdity anywhere she can, inadvertently referencing Internet memes that tap into the joy of shared ridiculousness. Her graphite drawings of cats in unexpected places and modified found object sculptures entertain, ultimately posing the question: Does art have to be so serious all the time? Kristyn received her BFA from The University of Texas at Austin (2004) and her MFA from Washington State University (2008). In 2010, she received the Austin Critics Table Award for Outstanding Work of Art in Installation. Recent exhibitions include Fakes II at the New Jersey City University Visual Arts Gallery in Newark and Man & Animals: Relationship and Purpose at Avera McKennan Hospital and University Health Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Kristyn lives and works in Brookings, South Dakota.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Talk about your interest in the absurd, both in general and in your work.

Kristyn Weaver: I have always reveled in the ridiculous and the ludicrous. I delight in silly things that don’t need to happen. Marveling at how someone’s brain conceived of something so perfect in its bizarreness. My philosophy of creation has always been that of enjoyment, both for me and for the viewer. In that, absurdity runs parallel to enjoyment. My hope is that if I enjoy something, someone else will, too. And that delight in the pointlessness connects us in a purer way than a clear message or narrative could. Art in itself is at variance with reason, yet we still endeavor to create it and seek it out.

Limp Stiletto (detail)
2005
Silicone rubber and leather
12 x 6 x 12"

OPP: A simple pleasure shared with another person is a profound human experience that is never pointless. To me, the connection is the point. It’s just an unexpected point that not everyone thinks should be the function of "capital A-Art." That’s one of the functions of entertainment, but many people want to guard the border between art and entertainment because they believe allowing that border to be fluid denigrates art. Do you think there is or should be a border between art and entertainment?

KW: In my opinion, the sooner we can get the masses to consider themselves legitimately entertained by "capital A-Art," the better. The type of entertainment that art provides inspires divergent thinking. I have always considered it to be more reminiscent of the way that we entertained ourselves as children when we were left outside to our own devices. There can simultaneously be very strict self-imposed rules and complete gratuitous freedom. It is wholly unfettered by reason, and you get out of it what you put in. That is why I aspire to make work that morphs from viewer to viewer and can be interpreted in a myriad of ways. Art is more denigrated by people choosing not to see it as a sincere form of entertainment. I find it disheartening when people feel that they have to “get it” to enjoy it. If only they could experience a moment of enjoyment without reason. The sooner that people consider themselves “entertained” by something other than Iron Man, the better.

The imagery I work with in both the drawings and sculptures is sourced from the everyday. They are populist images like cats, celebrities and so forth. Access to this subject matter is not exclusive; it really belongs to everyone. The question that I ponder when people say they don’t get it is why does the act of me creating/pairing/composing these different situations and making “Art” out of it and then placing it in a gallery change the relationship that the viewer has with it? Part of the reason I choose certain subjects/images is because they are accessible to the larger public and have the potential to attract others besides myself.

Nope... Face Down Garfield
2009
Mirror, plexi glass, contact paper, plush Garfield
42 x 29.5 x 12"

OPP: What isn't absurd?

KW: The collective absurdity. . . and ellipses. . . and cotton candy.

OPP: Speaking of absurdity, is Nope. . . Face Down Garfield a reference to Chuck Testa?

KW: Well, it is now. I had actually never heard of Chuck Testa before your question and I watched his video on YouTube. That man deserves a medal.

OPP: Instead of a traditional artist statement, you've written a treatise. In it, you first say that you don't want to use language to define your work, but then you go on to use quite a lot of words. It's very funny and also gives a clear sense of how you think about the nature of art. It feels like a piece in and of itself. How did you generate the Q&A format? Are these questions you were repeatedly asked or questions you ask yourself?

KW: I still hesitate to use words to define my work. I wish I could use images to answer these questions—insert picture of grandmother’s hands here. The work is already communicating with the viewer. Words have the potential to unnecessarily complicate things. . . but, I digress. The Q&A format came about as an attempt at a more succinct way of answering certain questions that I was asking myself. I referred to it as a treatise to add ridiculous formality to the whole stream of consciousness mess.

The Kittenseum
2007
Graphite on paper
24 x 32"

OPP: Since 2007, you've been making a series of graphite drawings of cats that have the feel of internet memes (although I don't think I've seen these particular memes anywhere). It all started with Kittenseum but continued with Staring Contests and your series of cats inserted into Steve McQueen movies. KnowYourMeme.com charts the early origins of cats on the Internet, but cites 2007 as a moment of major growth:

. . . the online popularity of cat-related media took a leap forward beginning in 2006 with the growing influence of LOLcats and Caturday on Something Awful and 4chan as well as the launch of YouTube, which essentially paved the way for the ubiquitous, multimedia presence of cats. The LOLcat phenomenon is thought to have entered the mainstream of the Internet sometime after the launch of I Can Has Cheezburger in early 2007. (Knowyourmeme.com)

Could you talk about the relationship between your drawings and the phenomena of cats on the internet?



KW: My series of cat drawings began because I had an epiphany that I should be making art that I wanted to spend time with and see happen, and not to question from where these desires stemmed or what it all meant. I think that the Internet viewing world at large had the same inclination. Cat memes fulfill our unabashed desire for release through frivolity. We don’t have to question why we like watching them or what it is that draws us to them. We can just sit and appreciate them for what they are (often for hours at a time). If I am going to put my art out there for consideration by the public, I want it to be something that is valid in its simple, joyful enrichment of the time that viewers spend with it. In summation, cats are fuzzy. I want to hug them, and so does everyone else.

Today I Cut Out the Words
2010
Newspaper
12 x 12 x .5"

OPP: In sculptural work, including your series of altered newspapers, rubber sculptures and altered school chairs, you use the repeated strategy of rendering everyday objects useless, at least in the way that they were originally intended to be used. Have you stripped these objects of function or have you created a new function?

KW: I suppose I have done a little bit of both. Most of the objects’ direct functions are to make one's life easier, and now, in their altered form, the ease of their use has been stripped. My sincere endeavor in creating these pieces is to have the objects to be viewed in a fresh way. Not necessarily in a different way than their initial pre-altered form, but just with an added dimension. It is my intention to transform them in a way that doesn’t obliterate their relevance or original form, but draws attention to something that might have otherwise gone without consideration. I want the viewer to ruminate on objects that take up space.

Lines Out
2013
Ball point pen on paper
18 x 24

OPP: It seems that that’s also what you are ultimately doing with your cat drawings and with the very notion of frivolity or absurdity. Forgive me for putting words in your mouth—and please feel free to disagree—but it’s like you are saying: “You think you know what frivolity and silliness is, but guess what, it’s something more profound than you think. Boo-ya!

KW: Perhaps it is more of a Shazam! than a Boo-ya! But yes, I suppose I want to say that the notion, desire and need for absurdity and frivolity are, in a strange way, serious and are just as deserving of one’s contemplation as anything else. The act of pondering and taking something away from a work of art doesn’t have to be only reserved for works that have somber themes. I want the joy that comes from encountering this work to be just as valid of an emotional experience as a deadpan work elicits.

OPP: What are you working on right now in your studio?

KW: Currently, I am finishing up my second drawing of cats with rap lyrics and working on another pen-swirl drawing like Jonathon Livingston Seagull (2013) where I cover the entirety of a Sculpture Magazine. This one will probably take me the better part of a year, because I can only do so much at one time before it starts to make me feel like a lunatic. I have some sculpture projects on the horizon where I’ll be working with expanding foam. I also have plans for a new series of large drawings of various exploded diagrams. In addition to that, there is a Morris Louis inspired painting that I have been dreaming about for some time, and some expressionistic paintings on paper that I envision hanging sculpturally off the wall. I haven’t really done any paintings since I was at The University of Texas for undergrad, so. . . fingers crossed on those two.

If you want to see more of Kristyn's work, please visit kristynweaver.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 Nathan Vincent

Locker Room (detail)
2011
Installation
12' x 19'

NATHAN VINCENT's mother taught him to crochet at the age of 10. As an adult, he has employed the historically feminized handicraft of crochet to examine cultural signifiers and accoutrements of American masculinity—tools, cigars, a lazy boy, a lawn mower, a briefcase—playfully calling into question culturally constructed notions of gender. In his newest work, Nathan explores power dynamics, surveillance and aggression, rendering tools of brute force, including dynamite and language, soft and yielding in his chosen medium of yarn. Nathan earned his BFA from Purchase College, State University of New York. He was a finalist for the West Prize in 2008 and was an artist-in-residence at Museum of Arts and Design (New York) in 2012. His upcoming solo show at Muriel Guepin Gallery in New York opens December 13, 2013, and his installation Locker Room will be on view at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art from January 17 to March 16, 2014. Nathan lives and works in New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Have you been crocheting ever since you were a kid?

Nathan Vincent: After I initially nagged my mother enough to teach me to crochet, I went on to learn knitting. She didn't know how to do that, or wasn't interested in teaching me, so I purchased a knitting book for kids and taught myself. I made some granny squares, some socks, a scarf, and some mittens. After that I didn't really do anything with needlework again until I was in college. It must be like riding a bike though. I picked it up and remembered everything pretty easily. It was strange how it came about, too. My friend was crocheting herself a sweater, and I borrowed her hook for a couple hours and ended up with some random 3D shapes when I realized I could make sculptures out of this material!

Gazelle, Lion, Bushbuck
2009
Crocheted yarn, taxidermy inserts

OPP: What do you like about the process of crochet, as opposed to the result?

NV: The process of crochet is not only soothing but also rhythmic. Once you get going, it is very difficult to stop. Until your arm starts aching, and then it's easy to put it down. HA! I think I love its versatility best. There's something wonderfully flexible about deciding spontaneously that the piece you are working out needs to expand and all you have to do is add in a few stitches. Additionally, while I try to be very precise, crochet is wonderful at hiding mistakes, and I love that.

OPP: Because crochet is such a versatile medium with amazing formal capabilities and numerous cultural associations, there is some really fantastic, under-appreciated work out there. What other contemporary artists working in crochet are you interested in or looking at?

NV: Gil Yefman is working with some really interesting ideas, and I love his aesthetic. Sheila Pepe, of course, is doing great work with large scale installations. And, Jo Hamilton is amazing at portraiture!

Screw #6
2009
Crocheted yarn, metal hook
27" x 9" x 5"

OPP: Your crocheted screws (2004-2009) stand out to me. They speak vulnerably about masculinity and yet they remain playful like a lot of your other soft sculptures. They are reminiscent of flaccid male genitalia because you've embraced the natural sagging properties of the crochet instead of building an internal armature for the sculpture. What made you decide to make these sculptures different than the others? How do you think about those differences?

NV: You hit the nail on the head. *smirk* I chose to make the screws because I was looking to soften objects that stand out as rigid, strong, obvious symbols of masculinity. As I started the pieces I realized that since they were already out of scale, I might as well exaggerate everything in order to speak to the issues around masculinity and femininity that I was so interested in. The elongation and knotting of these pieces pushes their confusion and compounds the references to genitalia.  

I think part of what you are asking is, why haven't I let all of my pieces take on the loose, sagging, fabric like qualities of crochet? This is a conscious decision on my part. For some time, I've been making representational work, and I'm interested in that moment when you realize that the object in front of you is actually made of yarn. This recognition and the humor, discomfort or bewilderment it causes compel folks to consider the ideas I'm putting in front of them. If all of the work was limp, it wouldn't have the same effect.

Locker Room
2011
Installation
12' x 19'

OPP: Did you know before you started Locker Room (2011) that you would crochet the entire room or did it evolve after you made a single sculpture? Did you have assistants?

NV: I set out to make an entire locker room. Of course, the execution of this changed over time and was refined as I started to make the piece. But, there is quite a bit of pre-planning in an installation of this size. I did have some assistance on this piece. It took me over a year from start to finish, and I had one friend who spent a week with me knitting away. I couldn't have finished it without her. (Thanks Courtney!) In addition, the Bellevue Arts Museum gave me a sum of money to assist in getting the piece done, and Lion Brand yarn donated all the yarn! It takes a village sometimes.

OPP: How do you feel about using assistants in your work?

NV: My ideas about employing assistants have changed over the years. When I first started making art, I thought it was a huge sell-out to have any help. I wanted my own hands to make every inch of every sculpture. I still feel a connection to the art and want to be involved, however, I have come to realize that my dreams are often bigger than there is time in the day. At some point if you want to make large scale projects, you just have to have help. So, I have enlisted a few people for projects since Locker Room. I still do all the designing and make all the swatches, but I hand off very simple tasks to others when time requires. For instance, I made over 1,000 sticks of crocheted dynamite for a recent installation, DON'T MAKE ME count to three!, and I definitely had help making the tubes for the dynamite. Because I feel the need to be involved and actually touch the art, I made a ton as well and assembled everything myself. On the whole, I do my own work. But sometimes you just need that extra pair of hands!  

As a side note, I have met some of the most interesting people by hiring assistants. I prefer to use community-based services like Craigslist to seek them out, and I have a small group of people I am now friendly with because of my artwork!

Men's Room
2007
Crocheted cotton thread, framed
14" x 19"

OPP: In recent work, you appear to be shifting away into new territory. For example, Joystick and Play with Me (both 2011) seem more about nostalgia and the differences and similarities between playing video games and doing handicrafts. And then there are the crocheted gas masks. Are these about connections between gender, aggression and war? Or is this a break from previous subject matter?

NV: That's a very good question. It's funny how clearly one thing leads to another within an artist's mind, but from the outside it's a completely different story! When I started working with crochet, I was very interested in ideas surrounding gender and gender permissions. I found it interesting that men were allowed to do some things and women others. Where do these ideas come from? Who decides these things? How does it affect us as individuals? What objects or symbols speak of gender and why? This is where the boy toys came from. For me, these objects are clearly cemented in masculine culture, as if to say, "This is what it means to be a man."

I was on this kick of recreating objects that said "boy" or "man," when I realized that a lot of the work I was making dealt with aggression and violence. I began to think deeper about this and noted that strength is almost always connected with masculinity. And, what is the easiest way to express strength? Through weapons. By projecting a sense of power. This led to my interest in power relationships, and I started to use yarn as a metaphor for weakness against these strong and powerful weapons. I am still dealing with these ideas today and picking them apart.

Be Good for Goodness Sake
2012
Yarn, wood, bench, astroturf, cameras, iphone
8' x 8'
Project Venue: Fountain Art Fair in Collaboration with Alex Emmart of Mighty Tanaka

OPP: I actually see the crochet and the yarn as representing the strength in those pieces. Obviously, dynamite has more brute force, more physical strength than yarn, but I think of weapons as representing fear. Humans never would have developed weapons if we hadn’t feared that we weren’t naturally strong enough to defend ourselves. In life or death situations, violence and aggression are necessary to defend ourselves. But in contemporary life, most violence is a response to an imagined threat, not an actual one. That’s why the connectivity and flexibility represented by the web of the crochet—not to mention the therapeutic, meditative  benefits—seems to offer an alternative to the fight/flight response. Thoughts?

NV: I can see your point about weapons being borne out of fear. That is definitely the case. And, I agree that most threats these days are imagined. For me the dynamite made of yarn in DON'T MAKE ME count to three! is analogous to a world of empty threats. We are often in power relationships where we follow orders or instructions—first from our parents, then our teachers and bosses and governments—because we are told to, without thinking about whether it is in our best interests. Because these threats exist—you'll get a spanking, you'll go to hell, you won't make enough money—we stick with the program, often missing the fact that the consequences are insignificant or inconsequential.

OPP: What other pieces exploring power dynamics are you planning or working on?

NV: I will be showing Be Good for Goodness Sake, an installation I made in collaboration with Alex Emmart, along with several other pieces related to the installation in December at the Muriel Guepin Gallery in New York City. This piece speaks directly to the power dynamics that exist in a world of constant surveillance. We've been told through the years by religion that the gods are watching us. We better not screw up or we'll suffer eternal damnation. As technology has developed we've found ways to install actual physical presences to watch over us and keep us in line. These ideas are explored through a series of security cameras, doilies, as well as broadcast footage and encourage the viewer to contemplate such issues. Is this something we are comfortable with? Does our behavior change when we are on view? And, what role do we play in this relationship?

To see more of Nathan's work, please visit nathanvincent.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 Erin Minckley Chlaghmo

2012
Found textiles, acrylic paint, gouache, PVA
52" x 34"

Drawing on personal experiences of alienation, assimilation and identity construction, artist and educator ERIN MINCKLEY CHLAGHMO explores the shifting line between experiences of belonging and not belonging in her textile-based work. Her large-scale sculptures are amalgamations of found and printed fabrics, combining patterns which carry seemingly disparate cultural, racial and religious associations. Her use of textiles highlights the similarity between animal (scales and plumage) and human (armor and clothing) means of camouflage and protection. Erin received her MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2012. Recent exhibitions include the first Interfaith Biennial at Dominican University (River Forest, Illinois), Fiber Options: Material Explorations at the Maryland Federation of Art (Annapolis, Maryland and Chroma at the Urban Institute of Contemporary Arts (Grand Rapids, Michigan). Flags Mistaken for Stars, Erin's collaborative project with artist Eric Wall, is on view on the roof of Lillstreet Art Center throughout October 2013, and there is a closing reception for the group show Fiber Optics on October 11, 2013 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Erin spends half the year in Chicago and the other half in Morocco, where she and her husband run an educational tourism company.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Could you talk generally about the interaction between the decorative and the protective in nature and in culture?

Erin M. Chlaghmo: I began to research camouflage a few years ago. I was interested in armor structures found in nature, such as fish scales, feathers, etc. There was this interesting moment where I realized that manmade armors are replicating those found on animals, and patterns that hide military vehicles, aircraft and soldiers are mimicking the landscape of a given region. Decoration is actually a survival technique. Without it, the form would be revealed as it moves or in contrast to the scenery. So, this is an integral part of how I build a motif or pattern structure. The individual unit or figure is disguised by the background or final form through the use of repetition and accumulation. The correlation to culture is that an individual can attempt to stand out or blend in depending on who they surround themselves with. Notions of belonging and un-belonging are themes that drive the work I make.

Manifest Destiny
2012
Fabric, felt, Moroccan textile, canvas, Heat 'n' Bond, hot glue, thread
12' x 14' x 3'

OPP: Why are textiles the perfect vehicle to explore belonging and barriers to belonging?

EMC: Fabric has a historical relationship to the body through garments, adornment, rights of passage and nomadic dwellings. Fabrics shape our lives. We feel at once welcome and familiar with certain cloths. We make associations to our personal experiences when we see materials like acrylic felt or wool or any material. Much of the work I make aims to start a conversation. An enormous textile like Phobia creates a relationship to the viewer's body and the architectural space, alluding to the infinite. It is bigger than me and you, and it is out of control. It is both scary and seductive.

OPP: You use both found textiles and print your own fabrics for use in your sculptures. Do you tend to print in response to what you find? Or do you seek out the textiles you need in order to execute your vision?

EMC: Pattern has the ability to signify culture. A textile's motif is a signifier of origin or utility: like a cross, an American flag or a Southwestern diamond shape. People have an immediate reaction to imagery on fabric and make assumptions about the content when it is recognizable. This is a complicated language to speak because I'm working with a plethora of borrowed and imagined patterns. It's sometimes very difficult to speak about personal experience through images that are collectively already familiar. I'm trying to mine imagery that is not familiar so that a viewer has to make a choice about their own relationship to the meaning of the work. I'm trying to ask the question: Can images belong to a certain culture? Can I borrow and alter them? What does it mean if I do this?

Many years ago, I went to JoAnn's Fabric looking for recognizable patterns. I found so many prints that shocked me: Confederate flags, cowboys and Indians, Kwanza, Virgin Mary, etc. I was disappointed that the only imagery of people was so cliché and politically incorrect. I wondered, "What in the world would you make out of this fabric? Why do people buy this? Do they buy this?" I couldn't imagine a pair of curtains or a quilt or a child's dress made from these prints! I couldn't see any imagery that I related to, even though it was familiar. I had hoped to make cloth that told a story about my life. I bought them all and decided to make an artwork that expressed my frustration. I wanted to comment on the images by painting and inserting imagery into the pre-existing patterns. I painted the Mormon temple into one fabric with an idyllic scene of churches because I felt right at home in a sea of steeples. I painted a small silhouetted teepee into the distant background of a pattern with silhouettes of cowboys on horses to represent the lack of historical accuracy when depicting the Wild West. I more or less left my paintbrush behind when I finished that body of work. I began to manipulate the fabric itself instead of adding pictures on top.

American History Caught with Its Pants Down
2010
Found textiles, acrylic paint, PVA, thread, zipper, ribbon
40" x 32"

OPP: In particular, you use a lot of Moroccan textiles. Could you tell us about your personal relationship to Morocco? Did your interest in Morocco stem from your work or did the work grow out of personal experience there?

EMC: I lead a sort of double life. My husband is a Moroccan immigrant, whose family members all still live in Morocco. We travel back and forth to visit them, and we also run a summer tourism company there. I am a cultural translator of sorts. When I'm in Morocco, my family there calls me Hayat. I don't even go by my own name. My habits are extremely different, and I speak Arabic fluently. So, I have assimilated, I guess, into this other society, but only for part of the year. This truly has deepened my art practice because it is the research I need to enrich the work I make. Living somewhere where I am between belonging and being foreign, understanding and rejecting cultural norms, being understood and feeling helpless. . . these experiences repeat themselves in other facets of my life—and likely most people have felt this way at some juncture. Adapting and assimilating takes us back to the beginning of this conversation, where I talked about camouflage. I can't change my race, but everything else can change. I feel like a chameleon, aiming to adapt to every new experience in life as if I was meant to be there. As if I belong.

The textiles brought home from Morocco are an incontrovertible match to ideas already present in my work. Repetition, infinity, accumulation and ascending shapes are present in zillij, Moroccan tile patterns, and other architectural designs. The fabric there is rich with color and texture and is inexpensive. So, I line plain fabrics with it to give them added detail.

Adhan (Call to Prayer)
2013
13' x 40'
Digitally printed polyester, thread

OPP: Assimilation is often used as a bad word here in the United States where our nation was built by immigrants and where we value personal identity so strongly. There are negative associations when immigrants feel compelled or are forced to assimilate to a dominant culture, and there’s a sense that we all lose something if they lose their culture. Besides we are all immigrants, too. . . except for the indigenous Native Americans. But choosing to be a chameleon is different; there’s less fear that something important will be lost forever. Thinking about adaptability through a biological lens makes it seems less urgent that we hold so tightly to our identities. Is identity itself just a protective armor, a temporary condition? Would it be as easy to assimilate if you moved to Morocco forever and never came back to the United States?

EMC: Identity is so much more malleable than one thinks. There are grandmas who used to be punk rockers. There are Muslims who used to be Mormons. The assumption that once you change significant identifier that you can't go back is not true. You may never practice the old religion, just like grandma is no longer going to see the Ramones in concert. But, she still retains that part of her (even if in secret). Identity is like collage. You keep adding and adding; layers are covered up and perhaps "lost forever." But they're still there underneath.

Also, people don't chose their family of origin or their race, but everything else can be changed. I grew up in a semi-Catholic, middle-class American family in Utah, and I converted to Islam and speak Arabic. Does the changed identity imply that I am less authentic? I propose that I am my best self, the person I was meant to be, when speaking in Arabic and fasting during Ramadan. I am a very flexible and adaptable person at my core. I like to accommodate others and see from their point of view. I am empathetic. I can blend in and communicate better in a foreign environment if I "do as the Romans do." That applies to every situation in life, not just living abroad. There's a fine line here between impostor and chameleon. I'm not pretending I'm Moroccan. I am fully aware of my whiteness and my origin, and so is everyone else. But, I am just trying to survive. The real me is inside. She is constantly donning different "armor,” not readying for battle, but adapting to my environment.

Many people live their life refusing to adapt. They never enter situations or environments that make them uncomfortable. They never associate with people that are not like them. This is the scary dilemma because, the longer you live your life afraid to adapt or refusing to relate to another who is physically or culturally unlike you, the more likely you are to build fear or hatred for the other. The "other" becomes a mystified person, assumptions are made, stereotypes are cast and barriers are built between you, but this border line is not real or tangible. This is the purpose of my life's work, both as an artist and as an educator. How do we break down these borders?

I also want to respond to the point you made about the word assimilation having a negative connotation. In the late 1800s, the first "Indian" boarding schools in America forced Native students to shave their heads, change their names, speak English and practice Catholicism. There is a heavy feeling when considering that assimilation could be forced upon a set of people towards a second group's aims. And although terribly atrocities were suffered by these children, they surely retained their identities. Their children are the ones who suffered loss of "authentic culture" and tradition. By the 1970s, 60,000 students attended these schools. The societies were considered "civilized," and the government abandoned the effort to educate Native Americans separately. Generations later, there is a huge push to educate youth about the Native languages and art forms. Now, many are uninterested and would rather play video games or get lunch with their friends at McDonald's. So. . . I'll need to ponder for a while about assimilation's reverse effects along a timeline of a few generations. I doubt that my children's children will regret not growing up the way I did. I'm hoping they appreciate living a life straddling two extremely different cultures.

Samurai
2012
Hand dyed and screen printed fabric, foil, discharge print, Heat 'n' Bond, thread, hot glue, felt
24" x 48" x 6"

OPP: You mentioned scales, which are are evoked in abstract pieces like Phobia (2013) and Exterior Perceptions (2013). They are used as armor in pieces like Choose the Right (CTR) (2012). They are decorative in your painted scale studies and mesmerizing in your latex wall painting Infinite Repetition (2012). Could you talk about this recurring visual motif in your work?

EMC: From small to large, overlapping and infinite, the scale or shingle pattern first appeared in a painting I made of a peacock. It was a labored process to create that artwork, and ultimately it didn't work to have spent so much time on the details of each feather. The thing I found that I liked the most about the bird was the layer pattern in her feather structure. This has been present in almost every work I've made since. The felt layers overlap (which hides the origin of each loop from sight) and get larger towards the bottom, and my paintings start at a central flower shape or tear drop and emanate outwards. The suits of armor all have this structure, too. Scales have for some reason kept my interest and flawlessly connect many bodies of work that are disparate in medium. Ultimately, it is a form that is abstract enough to be many things and nothing at once.

It is also a perfect way to illustrate the unit—the individual or unique original—repeated into an implied infinity. It becomes less about the singular and more about the plural or the gestalt. The human mind has the tendency to see the forest and not the tree. Another reference to camouflage and assimilation, the theories of gestalt name our brain's need to group things together by likeness, proximity, continuity and common fate and perhaps the human desire to belong. I guess, it's another metaphor for society. One worshipper is lost amongst a church full or worshippers; one prayer is lost amongst a lifetime of prayers. The scale is a physical representation of homogeneity and diversity amongst the whole.

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

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