OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Adriean Koleric

Viper Sisters and The House of The Holy!!!!

Using digital and handmade techniques, ADRIEAN KOLERIC assembles collages from 1950s publications like Mechanix Illustrated and Life, Action Comics from the 1970s, and images of romantic landscapes and Nicholas Cage's head culled from the Internet. His collages are fantasy landscapes that offer an escape from hum-drum reality. Adriean is interested in democratic modes of disseminating art, including Flickr, Tumblr and street art. His most recent collage series, The Viper Sisters and The Sinister Reasoning of Abstracta!!!!, is available for purchase as at Blurb.com, an online, self-publishing platform. He has just completed his first album cover for the Edmonton-based, electronic band Zebra Pulse. Adriean lives and works in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Who are the Viper Sisters!!!!? How did the series of collages begin?

Adriean Koleric: The Viper Sisters!!!! came about around Christmas of 2012. I was pretty burnt out at the time and kept having this urge to work on a series of collages that were more scaled down than what I had been doing. I was after a somewhat punk vibe. I came up with the name first. I wanted a name that could easily have been a band’s name in the early punk movements of the 70’s. I jotted down the name The Viper Sisters!!!! and rattled off the first of 60-plus panels in minutes. It was like a three-chord composition. The three chords were character, landscape and accessory. In all honesty, this was supposed to be a one-off joke series for me to giggle about to myself. But it was pretty addictive, especially with the convoluted, Smiths-esque titles. They only enhance the experience and humor for me.

I used a number of social media outlets when posting the Sisters series. The interest especially began to grow on Flickr. From there, they began to pop up on Tumblr sites, blogs, etc. I received a lot of comments asking where the sisters were going next, who exactly are they represented, why they carried the head of Nicolas Cage. As the series progressed, people began to follow each panel as though each one was a continuation of the last. But in reality, it was one battle scene of destruction after another. These are awful characters who have no respect for life. They don’t experience remorse. Yet, somehow, viewers connected with them. I’m guessing it comes down to the escapist avenue they provide from our daily grind. It was a loose series for me that, of all the work I’ve done, reached the most people. Several galleries even approached me to show the pieces which still makes me chuckle a bit.

Viper Sisters and The Valley of Mercer!!!!

OPP: Did you turn them down? Are you more interested in disseminating work through the internet than through the gallery system?

AK: I did accept one of the gallery shows. If I’m asked, then that shows me there’s genuine interest in the work. But I hate the process of writing proposals—nine times out of 10 they are full of shit—just to appease a selection committee. Plus I can’t stand meetings, especially art-related ones. They go nowhere and are boring as hell. If I wanted a life like that, I’d have been an accountant.

I’m more interested in producing, putting it out there and moving on. If someone wants to sit there and dismantle my work, then have at it. Once it’s posted, it’s no longer mine.

OPP: You've worked in both digital and cut-paste collage. Can you talk about the differences in these methods?

AK: For me, digital is a helluva lot easier in terms of throwing a composition together. The ability to adjust the scale and tone of images and to duplicate individual components makes it more controllable than traditional cut-paste. The process is always easier, but it’s harder to walk away from the piece at the end. I just want to keep fiddling with add-ons, layers, etc. Cut-paste is a much slower and more involved process. I develop more of a relationship with the piece because I spend the majority of time flipping through pages, cutting, tossing, ripping . . . crying. I have an idea in my head, and then I have to treasure-hunt for the clippings that will help me achieve the vision. I’m always relying on the hope that I will come across that magical image which will take me to my rainbow land. It’s a damn lottery most of the time! I also find it more satisfying at the end because I am physically holding the finished product in my hands as opposed to messing about with a printer. It makes the hassle worth it.

Untitled 26, from The Life and Times of B.Sherman
2010 Digital collage

OPP: In another creative life, you were a furniture designer. What made you shift from the three-dimensional to the two-dimensional?

AK: My last furniture piece was a lamp called MONSTER. This piece was specifically designed to cater to the designer toy community and it looked like an over-sized toy with an "eye" for a lens and clean surfaces that could be a platform for artists to interpret as they saw fit. I wanted to create a vehicle that would allow me to collaborate with artists that I had been following at the time. So once I hooked up with guys like Chad Kouri and Motomichi Nakamura, the two-dimensional bug hit me hard—especially collage, a medium I hadn’t touched since I was a teen. I literally dropped all interest in furniture design and haven’t gone back since. That was eight years ago.

OPP: What kinds of collage did you make as a teenager?

AK: My collages back then were pretty crude. They were mostly made up of content from magazines I got in movie theaters as well as old Action Comics. I was fascinated by Superman, who was the primary character used in these collages. In most cases, he was in a dialogue with other popular icons of the day, including RoboCop, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character from Commando and Stallone. It was very teenage boy-masculine. The dialogue was awful. Arguments over chocolate milk were about as intelligent as it got.

OPP: How does your training in design influence your collage work?

AK: It makes me focus more on aesthetics rather than concept. The latter has never been a priority for me and always has a danger of skewing the viewers' perceptions. I want viewers to think for themselves. Ever ask a writer to draw out his/her book in order to explain it to you? Sounds silly doesn’t it?

Untitled 55, from America
Digital collage

OPP: Clearly, you are a Star Wars fan, as evidenced by your 2009 solo show Herd, featuring an army of modified and decorated imperial walkers, your series Star Wars Galaxy 5 TOPPS (2010), and all the TIE fighters, X-Wing fighters and storm troopers that populate your collages. Is fandom an important part of your work?

AK: The funny thing is that I’m not that big of a Star Wars fan. I don’t even own a single DVD copy!!

OPP: Wow! I’m actually shocked. I was certain you were a fan. What is it about Star Wars that makes it come up over and over again in your work? How much are you counting on the viewer to recognize these iconic images?

AK: For me it was all about the iconic imagery that I wanted to reinterpret. I liked the idea of taking a well-known image and making viewers look at it in a completely different way. It’s also a way to draw in viewers by providing a sense of familiarity. They recognize a few items, feel comfortable enough to enter, but then realize they are in another place. From there, I hope the thought process shifts and sheds a new light on what was once old and true to them. 

Modern Hopeful #3
Paper on Plywood
8" x 12"

OPP: Talk about the recurring visual motif of absent human heads. Sometimes the heads are replaced with with cameras, boxes, furniture, and other times, the figures are simply headless or the faces are erased. There are a lot of examples in your Sketch Card Set (2012) and in your series Paper vs. Wood (2011-13). In The Life and Times of B.Sherman (2009-2011), the heads are mostly replaced with pieces of furniture you yourself designed and parts of machines that I don't recognize. How do you think about these replacement "heads"?

AK: It really started with the B.Sherman series. I wanted to somehow preserve the work I did as a furniture designer. B.Sherman is my direct connection to my furniture design past. His ‘head’ is actually the very first piece I designed. At the time it was called "Sherman" but was later renamed "Bento." I had a string of attachments to the piece and wanted to somehow keep it alive in my work. It was a way of creating a self-portrait, and it allowed me to travel through each piece. It sounds hokey, but it really is about escapism for me. We all want that moment to change our heads and just go elsewhere for awhile.

OPP: Escapism generally has a negative connotation, as if it is solely a function of a character flaw in people who have no sense of reality or no skills at dealing with the real world. But I see it more as continuum of healthy and unhealthy behaviors. The desire to escape is a natural human impulse that we all experience at one time or another. In fact, I think fine art is as much a part of the escapism continuum as mass-media culture. What do you think?

AK: For me, art is entertainment. Entertainment is there to take us away from the daily bull. That is escapism. Well to me it is. Anyone who thinks escapism has a negative connotation is either a liar or the most dry person out there. We need to recharge ourselves every now and then. I like the idea that right now, some guy in his cubicle is reading this interview and checking out my stuff. I’ve given him a moment in his 9-5 drab day to loosen up. I, myself, have the skills to deal with the real world, but, man, there are days when I could care less.

To view more of Adriean's work, please visit thinkitem.com.

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

OPP Art Critics Series: Look at Them, Please

By Danny Orendorff

Left: Yves Klein (French, 1928–1962). Leap into the Void negative (top), 1960. Right: Yves Klein (French, 1928–1962). Leap into the Void negative (bottom), 1960. Both images © Yves Klein, ADAGP, Paris; Photo: Shunk-Kender © Roy Lichtenstein Foundation. Image via the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

One day in 2007, I eavesdropped upon a lunchtime conversation had by two smartly-dressed women whose lanyard press credentials implied that they work in media. They were joking about a male coworker one had taken to calling “the predator.” The other delighted in the viciousness of the nickname, due to what I perceived to be her basic contempt for this coworker of concern. Then, suddenly, the originator of the nickname clarified: “predator” was, in fact, her abbreviated way of referring to the male coworker's simultaneous professional roles as both “producer” and “editor” of whatever news program employed them all. Producer and Editor. Or, in brief: Predator

It had never really occurred to me before how both producing and editing one's own journalistic news program, purporting to showcase “reality” or “the truth," might constitute an act of predation. But, then again, considering To Catch a Predator, Fox News, TMZ, “reality” television, and the whole fact-bending concept of “infotainment” altogether (replete with respective owner and advertiser conflicts of-interest): “predator” quickly becomes an incredibly useful turn of phrase.  I suppose its usefulness is why this act of eavesdropping has stuck with me

Luckily, performance artists are not journalists (usually), but they nevertheless produce their own actions in the world or for the camera, and later edit those same actions for public consumption, or (I mean) exhibition. This is, perhaps, no better illustrated in the history of performance art than Yves Klein’s infamous “Leap into the Void” work from 1960, the iconic photographic “documenation” of Klein’s leap actually being a photomontage composite of the two negatives seen above. Just what might Klein have been preying upon with this early gesture of image culture deceit?  

All performers are manipulative, and always have been. This is not a bad thing. I live with one, and have dated more than a few. They're going to use your mind, and your time, and your attention, and (often dreadfully) your participation. This is true whether you view something live in the moment, or something documented, edited and republished elsewhere. You're in luck if you need to feel needed, because performers are the neediest of all artists. Look at them. Look at them, please. Only you can give them what they need. 

Take, for example, Tampa-based artist Sarah Lynn Kelly. She spends a lot of time in front of the computer, as many of us Netflix marathoners, online daters, and bored, late-night Internet grazers are prone to do. Grazing, as a matter fact, is just one act of many forms of predation. The grazer does not kill their food source, but instead picks at it slowly, bit by bit, allowing the source to regenerate between feedings. The Internet, it might be easy to argue, is the ever-replenished prey of Kelly's parodic and maniacal performance practice exploring hyperlinked girl culture under advanced capitalism.

Sarah Lynn Kelly, Like, Y R U Sooo Obsessed w/ME?, Digital Video, 2012

In performances for the camera like 'Say You Wanna Dance, Uh Huh Ya' and 'Like, Y R U Sooo Obsessed w/ME?' (both from 2012), we see Kelly within the familiar digital rectangle of lo-fi online videos. It is likely Kelly owns a Mac of some sort, and has simply pressed record on her Photo Booth application to document these later transmissions of exorcized youth-culture melodrama. Utilizing the inherited language of Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston lyrics, Kelly performs teenage heartache, tragedy, and redemption within the vernacular of pop music and their accompanying visuals. Here she is using cheap visual effects to multiply and parade her sexuality following an adolescent rejection, and here she pierces through the saccharine anguish of being dumped in a Lisa Frank inspired clip appropriate for your local Korean Karaoke chamber. 

Just last year, Semiotext(e) published the English translation of Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl, originally written in 1999 and attributed to the French literary critics group Tiqqun. In it, the writers propose that the complete subsumption of desire by consumerism has reached its apex in the theoretical figure of the Young-Girl—a figure whose youth, sexuality, and, so-called 'freedoms' have been so totally designed, controlled, and manipulated by capitalist Empire into something seemingly natural and already inhabited. Capitalism is a predator, surely, but it operates much more like a parasitoid in this case: one that forms a symbiotic relationship with its host.  So fully internalized, it is perhaps the Young-Girl's only recourse against the slow-death brought on by capitalist predation to bite-back, and I believe Sarah Lynn Kelly may be attempting to do just that.  

Sarah Lynn Kelly, Say You Wanna Dance, Uh Huh Yah, Digital Video, 2012

Do you think Kelly is actually this way? Do you believe Klein actually took that leap? Interestingly, as an educated MFA-grad performing some grossly media-saturated form of adolescence, Kelly chooses to embody the artificial capitalist monstrosity that is the Young-Girl almost literally—replete with come-hither Internet gazes, make-up in excess, and an apparent relationship to celebrity that falls some sinfully entertaining place between deity worship and frenemy shit-talking. This is what capitalism has “made” of her, and Kelly pushes the artificiality to the fore with her use of glitchy visual effects, Tumblr-style graphic overload, and digital-lingo shorthand. She may appear naive or vulnerable to the lechery of the Internet (aka “the void”), but she is not; this is exactly Kelly’s way of luring us in to her own antagonistic form of media mania.

Perhaps this is lending Kelly’s practice too much weight, or perhaps not enough. Either way, for those like Kelly, performing strange ways in the bedroom or in the art gallery (on camera, or off), independently producing and editing real action allows the individual some small, self-authored method of rebuttal. 


Editor: Alicia Eler

Copyeditor: Claire Potter

Chicago, Illinois

June 11, 2013

This is the third essay in the  OPP Art Critics SeriesTo read the previous essay, "Autobiography and Its Documentation" by Jason Foumberg, click here. To read the first essay in the OPP Art Critics Series, "The Child is (Un)dead: Taxidermy Art as Victorian Post-Mortem Photography" by Managing Editor Alicia Eler just click HERELook for our next installment on June 11, 2013. 

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Lisa Vinebaum

New Demands? (Chicago)
Performance, Chicago
Photos: Kenny Smilovitch

Interdisciplinary artist, writer and educator LISA VINEBAUM uses the visual language of protest placards to commemorate historical struggles for workers’ rights. In New Demands?, her ongoing series of walking performances, she calls attention to the present-day erosion of these rights by reinscribing slogans back into historically significant sites of the labor movement. Lisa holds a PhD in Art and an MA in Textiles from Goldsmiths, University of London and a BFA in Fibers from Concordia University in Montreal. In her critical writings, she explores the social histories of textiles and the performance of labor in the work of contemporary artists. She will co-chair the panel "Crafting Community: Textiles, Collaboration, and Social Space" at the annual College Art Association conference (February 2014) and co-edit a special issue of "Textile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture" with Dr. Kirsty Robertson. Lisa lives and works in Chicago, Illinois.

OtherPeoplesPixels: How are your placard performances like one-person protests? How are they not protests?

Lisa Vinebaum: The performances draw on the form, rhetorics and histories of protest, but they aren’t protests. Protest is fundamentally about social change, making demands and proposing concrete alternatives. I’m concerned with raising awareness about specific issues and with commemoration, history and memory. I'm interested in performance as a vehicle for social interaction. I do understand how the performances can be read as one-person protests, but they also draw on street performance, performance art, memory studies, social practice and dialogical art, as well as discourse in gender, feminist and postcolonial studies.

I alter slogans adopted from historical protests and strikes to make them more universal. The placards reference specific events from the history of labor activism, but the work is about inscribing these histories into urban sites today, drawing connections between past and present struggles. I rely on ambiguity to allow the work to transcend protest. The slogans “On Strike for Fair Wages” or “The Right To Collective Bargaining” are easily associated with protest but not necessarily any specific one. The slogans resonate across time and are still relevant today.

Not a self-hating jew
Performance, Montreal, Quebec

OPP: Do you initiate conversation with viewers while you are performing? Which slogan elicited the most engagement and response from viewers?

LV:  I wait for viewers to engage with me. I want to leave any interaction up to them. I get the most responses when I use a Yiddish language slogan. So many people stop me to ask what language it is and what the placard says. I also get a lot of Jewish viewers who want to talk to me. They all recognize the language even if they don't speak Yiddish. Many of them also had parents or grandparents who worked in the garment industry. These placards also attract interaction from Hasidic Jews, who tend to be more insular and not have a great deal of interaction outside of their own community. The Not a self-hating jew performance got a hugely positive response, which I wasn't expecting.

OPP: Your 2011 performance Radical Jewish Emplacement was censored by campus security despite being part of an official Concordia University conference event. I love the look on your face—both irritated and amused—in the image on your website that documents the moment of confrontation with the security guard. What were you feeling at that moment? 

LV: My reaction was, “You have GOT to be kidding me!” It was so ironic. I was having a heated discussion about Israel and Palestine at the site of so much censorship on the issue—this was the exact goal of the performance—and along came Mr. Security Guard to censor it. I couldn’t believe it. The conference organizers tried to intervene, but the security guard threatened my job—I was part-time faculty at the time—if I didn’t stop the performance. I later learned that the guard lied about why the performance was stopped. The incident reinforced my views about the need for more discussion and debate on what’s going on in Palestine. There has been a lot of censorship regarding Israeli government policies and the treatment of Palestinians, not only in Montreal but also Toronto and New York and on many university campuses. It’s incredibly counterproductive.

OPP: Do you have a planned strategy for dealing with the shutdown of discourse?

LV: It’s up to me to decide when to walk away from viewers who want to talk to me. Fortunately, I haven’t had many hostile responses. Most people are very receptive and engaging. There was one instance in Montreal when a man, who clearly had some mental health issues, became enraged by a slogan on my placard and threw a garbage can. That was the only time I felt threatened and unsafe. Generally, I’m vigilant and always do a site visit or practice run in advance. Also I’m very aware that I might be stopped by the police or other authorities, in which case I’d be non-confrontational and stop the performance if needed.

Collective Bargaining
Performance, Chicago
Photos: Kenny Smilovitch

OPP: Your ongoing series New Demands? "[connects] the current crisis in timed labor to historical struggles for workers’ rights." What do you mean by the "crisis in timed labor”?

LV: I mean a general assault on workers’ rights and the massive decline in pay and benefits for workers. Ever since Ronald Reagan fired the striking air traffic controllers in 1981, there has been a concerted attempt to curtail rights—the right to unionize, to paid vacations, to health benefits, to earn overtime—that workers won during the first half of the 20th century. Working conditions have been on the decline for the past 30 years, and today companies tend to employ large numbers of part-time workers so as not to pay health benefits or contribute to retirement savings. The minimum wage has not kept pace with inflation—it should be almost $30/hour. There have been a plethora of laws and corporate policies that make it harder to join a union or maintain collective bargaining rights. In 2012, unionization rates were at their lowest in 97 years in the US. There’s also globalization, which has led to the loss of tens of thousands of good American jobs and to the creation of dangerous, low paid jobs across the developing world. Overall, there have been dramatic losses for workers while there’s been an exponential rise in the accumulation of wealth by executives.

OPP: You’ve performed New Demands? in the U.S. and in Canada. Is there a different history of protest in Canada than in the U.S. that affects the reception of the work?

LV: I’m not that well versed in the history of protest in Canada. In general, people in Canada are more passive than here in the U.S. There’s a certain “Canadian reserve” that probably comes from having been a British colony for so long. One exception is Québec (where I grew up), which was mainly colonized by France and is a predominantly French-speaking province. As in France, demonstrations and protests happen all the time. People are adamant about defending certain rights and taking to the streets to do so.

When I performed New Demands? in Montreal in 2012, there was a province-wide student strike against higher tuition fees. There were tens of thousands of people out in the streets for over two months, and it brought down the provincial government. You don’t see that happening in the rest of Canada. Also, unions are extremely powerful in Québec. McDonald’s and Walmart workers unionized there for the first time ever. Since you don’t see the same kinds of cutbacks to worker’s rights in Québec as here in the U.S., people generally take the right to unionize for granted. That difference was reflected in the responses to my 2012 performance in Montreal.  Many viewers didn’t consider the slogans on my placards to be as relevant today.

I think the response has less to do with national borders and more to do with specific, local contexts. For example, there are differences in how viewers respond to the performances in various neighborhoods within Chicago. I recently performed in New York, and no one talked to me. That was a first. In Montreal and Chicago, lots of people talk to me when I perform. Chicago has a really rich history of labor struggles. There are many more artists who explore labor issues in Chicago than there were in Montreal. I don't think people there relate to the messages in my performances in the same way; they don't see that labor rights and working conditions are under attack. It's not that one city is necessarily better or worse than the other in terms of audience. Viewers in Montreal are still very interested in the histories and strikes that I seek to commemorate in the work.

New Demands?
Performance, Montreal, Québec
Photo: Vincent Lafrance

OPP: Could you talk about your recent performances in Chicago that deal with artistic labor?

LV: For the last two iterations of New Demands?, I held a bright yellow placard that read, “Art work IS Work.” The point, which may seem obvious to those of us who are practicing artists, is to recognize art work as work. Statistically, very few practicing artists are actually paid for their labor—only the most commercially successful artists can live off making art. Most artists must work as educators, studio assistants, arts administrators, graphic designers, web designers. . . and many, many artists work in the service industry.

The terrible working conditions for part-time and adjunct faculty is an area that I’ve begun to explore in my performance work. There are large numbers of artists with MFAs and substantially fewer full-time positions. Part-time teachers aren’t paid very well and receive no health benefits, summer pay, or employer pension/retirement contributions. So working conditions for artists are incredibly precarious, especially so when you consider the general lack of respect for the arts in our society—the arts are seen as a luxury or as frivolous. So the issue of timed labor is very connected to issues of artistic labor. These performances pay tribute to the many attempts by artists to organize and unionize, including the Artist’s Union and the American Artists’ Congress of the New Deal era, the Art Workers’ Coalition of the late 1960s and early ‘70s, and W.A.G.E. (Working Artists and the Greater Economy) and Occupy Museums today.

OPP: What new performances are you planning now?

LV: As part of the Performance Studies International (PSi19) conference in June 2013, I’ll be doing two performances at Stanford University commemorating recent strikes on the campus and exploring working conditions for part-time faculty.

I’m also hoping to do a performance in London in the near future. It will explore connections between the recent fires and building collapses in the garment industry in Bangladesh and domestic sweatshop conditions for Bangladeshi immigrants in East London. This neighborhood, where I lived for five years, is a historical site of domestic textile labor by immigrant workers: French Huguenot weavers, Eastern European Jewish tailors and seamstresses, Caribbean garment workers and now large numbers of Bangladeshi women doing piecework in their homes. I’m in the initial stages of research toward a series of public performances: I want to stage larger processions using banners and possibly costumes to commemorate the strikes and actions I’ve been referencing as a solo performer.

To see more of Lisa's work, please visit lisavinebaum.com.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Maker Grant Runner-Up David Leggett

OtherPeoplesPixels would like to congratulate the winners of the inaugural 2013 Maker Grant: Mary Patten, the winner of 2013's Maker Grant, and David Leggett, the Maker Grant Runner-Up. The Maker Grant is a partnership between OPP and Chicago Artists' Coalition to bring an unrestricted funding opportunity to contemporary Chicago-based artists. We'd like to thank our hundreds of applicants and specially congratulate our 25 finalists. The strength of your applications made the jury's decision very difficult, and we look forward to seeing many of you apply again next year.

The Winners were chosen by our outstanding jury:
Candida Alvarez, artist and professor, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Michael Darling, James W. Alsdorf Chief Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art
Claire Pentecost, artist and participant in dOCUMENTA (13), professor, School of the Art Institute of Chicago

In case you missed the full announcement, you can read more here.
Since David also happens to be an OPP artist, we wanted to follow up on our interview in April 2012 in order to see what he's been working on in the studio lately...

White Guilt
Collage and acrylic on paper mounted on canvas

OtherPeoplesPixels: Congratulations on winning the Maker Grant runner-up prize! How will you use the money?

David Leggett: I will be using part of the money for an airbrush kit and art supplies. I've always wanted to try air brushing since I was a kid. I just never got around to it until now. I’m not sure how that will affect my work.

OPP: Has anything changed in your practice since our interview last year?

DL: I like to think I’m always changing with my work. As I get older, I pick up new techniques and approaches and drop the ones that no longer work. That’s not to say I never go back to old ideas and techniques from time to time. Lately, I have been using more collage elements like clay and found images. It’s a challenge to make them work in a composition, and these things have a history to them before I apply them in my work. I’ve had some images for years and have only recently found places for them to go. I have also been using spray paint and a paint marker a lot lately. I like the aesthetic look of them both. I know it is very popular to use these materials now, but they are new to me.

Let that boy cook
Collage and acrylic on panel

OPP: Any favorite pieces from 2013?

DL: Let that boy cook and Chiraq are two pieces that I really enjoyed making. Both of these paintings include found images that I’ve had in my studio for years.

OPP: You recently exhibited work in a group show called (I'm Your) Hoochie Coochie Man at Tracey Williams, LTD in New York. Your work was viewed alongside that of three other Chicago-based artists: Trew Schriefer, Tim Nickodemus, and Rachel Niffenegger. According to the press release for the show, "The influence of Chicago is most evident in work by David Leggett, who reflects the city's popular culture while registering the influence of the Chicago Imagists." How do you think of the designation of being a "Chicago artist?" Would your work be different if you lived somewhere else?

DL: I’ve never really thought of myself as a “Chicago artist,” but I admire a lot of the Chicago Imagists. They have been a great influence on me, but so have many other artists, writers, comedians . . . the list goes on. My work reflects the environment that I’m in. I’m sure if I lived in a small, rural town my work would be influenced by that. I might be a great landscape artist and not know it.

But I always have a strategy for shows. When I learned the title and the other artists that would be in the show, I knew what approach I wanted to take. I wanted to display more of my Chicago roots for that show. I stuck with themes and subjects that reflected both good and bad aspects of Chicago that I often think about. I wanted to poke fun at what cities like New York may think about Chicago. This is in contrast to a group show called Squirts that I was in a week later at Regina Rex in New York. The work for that show was more focused on humor and popular culture outside of Chicago.

from Coco River Fudge Street
Blog drawing

OPP: When I interviewed you last year, you said you probably wouldn't keep up your daily drawing blog, Coco River Fudge Street, after the related exhibition at Hyde Park Art Center. But I see drawing through the end of March 2013. Are you still making a daily drawing? Why did you decide to keep going after all? Have the drawings since the exhibition changed in any substantial way?

DL: I stopped for a time. But I was compelled to start up again in July until the end of August 2012 after a bizarre review of my blog drawings was brought to my attention. I went back to Coco River Street with more focus than I had when the project officially ended months before. The new drawings were a response to that review, but I also missed the daily activity of drawing. I use a lot of pop cultural references in the blog drawings, and since I had stopped, a lot had happened in the news and a lot of things were on my mind. I started it up for another two months while I was working on the New York shows earlier this year. It helped with the nervous energy I feel when I make paintings, and I included drawings from the blog in both shows. I know I’ll never do another full year of daily drawings, but it is fun to come back from time to time.

To see more of David's work, please visit davidleggettart.com.

OPP Art Critics Series: Autobiography and Its Documentation

By Jason Foumberg 

Claire Greenshaw 



Banana, paperback

Every thing is an image. The Internet, that luminous machine, makes this so. Today’s images are casual; they are detachable; they are found objects; they are anonymous. 

This essay is about one image: Claire Greenshaw’s Autobiography. This artwork and its documentation are inseparable, until I view it in person, which, given the odds of fate, may be soon or may be never. 

I am tasked with a writing experiment: to interpret artwork seen only via an artist’s website. I chose to write about Greenshaw because her artwork, as viewed online, exemplifies, for me, art that is a symptom of the Internet. Greenshaw’s studio practice seems to sprout directly from this web.[1]

Who is Claire Greenshaw? I do not know. I have not scheduled a studio visit; I have not emailed any questions. I have made a rule: Autobiography will tell me everything I need to know. Will the artist like this game? I do not know. What I do know is that images on the Internet are intrinsically coherent and inherently whole. They have to be. 

A surprising byproduct of the Internet’s freefall velocity and infinite space-time is stillness. Pause. Performances, videos, objects, and post-objects are converted to stills. This is, in part, a consequence of viewers who demand that all art objects be documented and depicted online, making the Internet a repository of readymade images. 

A banana peel draped over a paperback constitutes Greenshaw’s Autobiography. As a sculpture (medium: banana, paperback), Autobiography, now documented, looks perfect as an image; it is a three-dimensional collage. Presumably the sculpture no longer exists as it did on that day in 2010 when it was photographed. The paperback is likely shelved, the peel now mold and dust. (As I write this, I can look out my window and see a banana peel that someone tossed onto the roof of my garage weeks ago, now putrefied. The time-based object does not retain its banana-ness.) But, the documentation of the sculpture survives, as fresh as if it were a Scratch ‘n Sniff.

The banana peel is a gag. It is also a memento mori. The paperback is a Diana Dors biography from 1987–my generation may best know the British actress from her appearance in a film still on The Smiths’ Singles album cover. Greenshaw combined the two elements, each image like Clip Art with its own pre-fab signifiers, to make a tragicomic artwork. Here today, gone today. It tiptoes on slapstick. Like images on The Jogging, Autobiography delivers a punch line, however obscure it may be.

Documentation of art is a practical task performed in response to an impractical object. Documentation and image-distribution accidentally turns artworks into disposable omens and intuitive icons. Accidents, as a creative strategy, can be very fruitful. Greenshaw’s found culture is a funny thing; it is nature—our nature. Culture is naturally occurring. It slips into your day like a banana peel or a dead actress. Culture is a given. It exists before you, through you, and beyond you. You can even go foraging for culture: in magazines, museums, or mirrors. Like nature, culture comes with its own anxieties: if we don’t grab it, it will disappear forever; it may already be too far gone. Autobiography is made of cultural rubbish, and rubbish is, of course, the mark of life, the residue of being alive, proof that we have a shared language and exist in a shared ecology, however diverse and anonymous.



[1] As such, Greenshaw’s artwork is in cahoots with the art strategies of Brad Troemel, Brenna Murphy, Andrew Norman Wilson, and many others.


Editor: Alicia Eler

Copyeditor: Claire Potter

Chicago, Illinois

May 28, 2013

This is the second essay in the series OPP ART CRITICS for the OPPBlogTo read the first essay in the OPP Art Critics Series, "The Child is (Un)dead: Taxidermy Art as Victorian Post-Mortem Photography" by Managing Editor Alicia Eler just click HERELook for our next installment on June 11, 2013. 

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Noelle Mason

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

NOELLE MASON embodies collective trauma in time-consuming and endurance-based processes like cross-stitch embroidery, tapestry weaving, performance and skydiving. Her interdisciplinary practice juxtaposes the presence of the human body with the voyeuristic nature of surveillance video and photography, exploring the effect of such technological mediation on our responses to traumatic events and tragedies. Noelle received her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and is represented by Thomas Robertello Gallery in Chicago. She is an educator and board member at SuperTest, a non-profit organization established to facilitate the production of contemporary art related events in Tampa, Florida, where she lives and works.

OtherPeoplePixels: How does the recreation of video surveillance images in handmade embroidery and tapestry weaving address the mediation of trauma? 

Noelle Mason: I am primarily interested in the fact that we are manipulated not only by the content of the media spectacle but also by the nature of the computer and television screens through which we view it. The embroideries investigate surveillance images that are associated with traumatic events that gain traction with a mass audience. These images are forensic; they are mined after the event has already taken place. The dead eye of the surveillance camera captures images without discretion. Cartier-Bresson’s decisive moment is forgone in favor of a general and indiscriminate view. This non-human aesthetic imbues these images with a kind of perceived trustworthiness that most photographic images lack in the age of Photoshop. There is now a broader understanding of how easily the photographic image can be manipulated.

Our access to the surveillance images is most often screen-based and always editorialized. The embroideries, weavings and the stained glass works specifically address the flatness of digital imagery through a marginal shift in medium, while the installations and performances drastically re-mediate the event in question, sometimes to the point of complete obliteration. By changing the form of content and the spectators’ spatial relationship to it, I de-editorialize the images that I use. This unpacking provides an alternative space for contemplation of traumatic events and destabilizes the mediated image. 

Nothing Much Happened Today (for Eric and Dylan)
Cotton cross-stitch

OPP: What is the significance of time and endurance in this work?

NM: The Columbine, Rodney King and Loadtruck images are cross-stitch embroideries. This form of stitchery is an analog to pixilization. I wanted to digest these images one pixel at a time, to own them by remaking . . . to attempt to understand by processing them through my body, thus making me a participant in them. The Columbine image gave me tendonitis in my elbows and carpel tunnel in my hands. In a very painful and material way, it changed me as I changed it.

Time is a huge part of this work. These iconic images depict 1/30th of a second of the events that they represent, and that frame bears a timecode that contributes to it’s “truthiness.” This 1/30th of a second became something much larger and more memorable—a kind of evidence not only for the police but for the nation. The process of cross-stitch is slow, calculated and conservative. It’s deliberate in contradistinction to the messy and disposable nature of surveillance video. I wanted the viewer to feel the disorientation of two different speeds, two different senses of time smashing together. 

OPP: In recent years, the scope of content addressed in embroidery has broadened dramatically, but we have not entirely shaken off the persistent perception of embroidery as women's work. Much of contemporary embroidery challenges such culturally constructed notions, which grew out of the Victorian performance of femininity. Are your cross-stitch embroideries of surveillance images of traumatic events part of this trajectory?

NM: I very deliberately chose cross-stitch embroidery because of its historical location as a feminine craft. One of the most intriguing things about Columbine and the Rodney King beating is the performance of masculinity through clothing and accessories. The Columbine kids wore trench coats and army boots, and the LAPD wore dark uniforms and carried guns and billy clubs. In this way, these events are very much about gender performance. I’m interested in the idea of hysterical masculinity. The word hysteria is derived from the female anatomy—the Greek hystera means uterus. Hysterical masculinity is the distinctly irrational behavior of men and boys who, fearful of acknowledging their own frailties, seek to expunge "weakness" through violence and accessorizing.

Ground Control
Wool rug made in Mexico by José Antonio Flores and Jonathan Samaniego in exchange for the amount of money it would cost a family of four to be illegally transported across the US/Mex border, ASTER
6' x 8'

OPP: Many of your pieces or bodies of work are titled with a date. Sometimes it's undeniably recognizable like 9/11/2001. Others like 3/3/1991 or 4/20/1999 didn't stand out to me as numbers, but the content of the images made it immediately clear that these are dates of national significance, too. The series of weavings and cross-stitch embroideries in 7/18/1984 depict the transportation of illegal immigrants across the U.S.-Mexican border by coyotes. But when I googled the date, I found it was the date of the San Ysidro McDonalds' Massacre, when James Oliver Huberty opened fire with a semiautomatic rifle in a McDonald's, killing 21 people and injuring 19 more. Can you talk about the connection between the massacre and the border-crossing images?

NM: I have begun grouping the date pieces under the title Human Hunting, which is a direct reference to the Huberty Shooting. All of these works are concerned with the dehumanization which is brought about by both the act of being surveilled and the aesthetics of machine vision. Each of the dates that I chose identifies a significant moment of collective trauma, and they often uncover prejudices that are bubbling just under the surface. The Rodney King beating uncovered deep-seated racism within the LAPD and across the nation as we witnessed the varied responses to the event.

The Huberty shooting was similar in that it that exposed a violent hatred toward Mexican immigrants. I also have a more personal experience of that event. My father was a San Diego police SWAT sniper. I remember watching the standoff after the McDonalds Massacre unfold on TV at my grandparents' house. At the time, I was less affected by the trauma of the event than I was excited at the possibility of seeing my father on television. Ultimately, James Huberty was killed by one of other snipers on the team. The body of work that is identified by the Huberty massacre deals specifically with immigration, surveillance and points of conflict on the U.S.-Mexico border. The Huberty massacre seemed to be an interesting vector for this work. At some point I wish to deal directly with the Huberty massacre but haven’t yet figured out how to approach it.

Drywall, electronics, lights, surveillance cameras, monitors
8' x 8' x 8'

OPP: You've done many performances that draw on the history of performance art, using your own body to explore experiences and perceptions of discomfort and endurance. The audience gets to witness and imagine what you are experiencing in interactive, durational performances like Well Hung Over: In honor of those who died in the Chicago Lager Beer Riots (2008) and Mise-en-Scene (2004). Did you perform either of these more than once? What did it feel like physically and emotionally to perform these works?

NM: I have performed all of the pieces more than once. As a classically trained actor who studied techniques derived from theatre of cruelty, I don’t have to think much about the performances anymore. There is a headspace or performance mode I occupy—much like in meditation—that helps me ignore discomfort or pain. It is important to rehearse performance art in the same way one rehearses a play. People are to some degree unpredictable; rehearsal helps the performer anticipate a variety of interactions and plan for them so as to maintain control over the image s/he is creating.

For Mise-en-Scene, I stood in darkness inside a sealed eight-foot cube, receiving electric shocks whenever a viewer pressed a large, red video game button located on the outer wall of the cube. The viewers watched what was happening inside on monitors that received a real-time feed from closed circuit, infrared surveillance cameras. The most difficult part was my inability to anticipate where or when I was going to be shocked. Up until the moment that performance began, I had thought about my body as a sculptural object. I had prepared for the pain involved, but I underestimated the psychological difficulty of being alone in the dark, unable to return the gaze of the viewer.

Gravity Study
Pinhole photography, skydiving
20" x 20"

OPP: Decision Altitude (2011), a recent series of photographs made using a pinhole camera while skydiving, appears upon first glance very different from all your previous work. It seems to lack any political or collective trauma content. Is this a break from previous work or is this a more abstract exploration of themes in your previous work?

NM: It is true that Decision Altitude is not as directly political in nature as some of the other work, but I don’t feel the need to be thematically consistent in my work. That being said, this work does have interesting intersections with my performance work, and it continues my investigation of the ability and failure of photography to represent experience. When you jump out of an airplane, the ground—and everything on it—is an indecipherable, Cartesian mess. In the time between jumping out of the plane and landing on the ground, one goes through an intense physical and psychological experience that completely defies the sterile view of the Earth from above. It is a more embodying experience than almost anything except pain, and death is always present. My intent was to capture that incomprehensible mixture of aerodynamics and adrenaline on film. Skydiving gets you as close as possible to the fantasy and freedom of unassisted human flight, but that pleasure is also peppered with the possibility of premature death.

OPP: I see what you mean about photography’s inability to communicate the complexity of the psychological, emotional and—dare I say?— spiritual aspects of the experience of diving. Any plans to incorporate video or live performance into this exploration?

NM: Decision Altitude is the beginning of an ongoing exploration into skydiving, a sport that I have become increasingly more invested in. I have begun to organize freeflyers at my local drop zone and recently set a national record for Women's Upright Vertical formation skydiving. I am currently training for the Women's Head Down Vertical Formation Skydiving World Record. I also compete on a four-way belly team with the Florida Skydiving League and will be taking my exam to get my accelerated free fall instructor rating this month.

In terms of new work, Vertical World Record is a multichannel video installation that shows the moment of stillness when a world record-breaking vertical formation skydive comes together and settles out just before it breaks apart into pieces again. Ground Rush is a parachute inflated by fans in perpetual flight. I am also working on a project called Column, which serves as an anti-monument to western architecture—the foundation of Renaissance perspectival vision. This project is essentially an airboat fan encased in a large (9' x 9' x 5') white pedestal. A column of air is pushed out through a six-foot hole in the pedestal at a speed of 150 miles per hour. A net made of stranded stainless steel wire would allow the viewer to experience this work by moving close to, touching and potentially walking through the column of wind.  I will also mount performances in which I hover within the column of wind that I hope will be completed later this summer.

To view more of Noelle's work, please visit noellemason.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and existential significance of participating in mass media culture in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and is currently a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT Residency in Chicago. Notable exhibitions include Losing Yourself in the 21st Century (Maryland Art Place, Baltimore), MP3 (The Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago), Please Stand By: Stacia Yeapanis + Readymade (Baang & Burne Contemporary, New York), Over and Over Again (BOLT Project Space, Chicago). Her work is on view through September 2013 in Abstracting the Seam (Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago) and she will mount a solo show titled I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.

Vanity Galleries

Ah, Spring. The flowers are blooming, and the birds are chirping. You've been in the studio all winter, laboring away. Maybe you haven't landed as many gallery showings as you would have liked so far. You start to hear things -- things that are possibly too good to be true: "Want to show your work? Display here and your work will sell!" Sounds great, right? Please don't be deceived -- beware the Vanity Gallery!

Yup, they sound like what they are. But for those of you who don't know, a vanity gallery is an art gallery that charges the artist fees to exhibit their work. They make most of their money from the artists themselves, rather than from sales to the public.

Now, these are not the same thing as Artist-Run Initiatives (or Cooperative Galleries). Artist-Run Initiatives are collaborative efforts by artists who pool their resources to pay for exhibits and publicity.

Landing gallery showings is a multi-step process that requires patience, time, tenacity and persistence. Things may not happen as quickly as you'd like, and and the disproportion of artists to galleries have enabled this Vanity Gallery market to pop up. It has been able to sustain itself by taking advantage of this disproportion, and also perhaps by taking advantage of weary artists.

Remember that getting solo shows is very difficult to do. Always do your homework when researching a prospective showing space. Follow your gut! Utilize your network -- talk to other artists and ask questions. And if there are fees, ask and ask again about how the fee structure works, and what those fees are going to specifically.

Stay positive, and keep on creating work!

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Alex Gingrow

This one is for me personally. I mean, it's not for sale. Well, EVERYTHING is for sale, but...
Graphite and acrylic on paper
22" x 30"

ALEX GINGROW's satirical text paintings reference art gallery provenance stickers and quote gallery gossip and snippets of conversations she has overheard while working full-time as a mat cutter at a framing shop in midtown Manhattan. Individually, each painting evokes a scathing drama of indiscretion and vanity. But, as a group, the paintings reveal a persistent metanarrative of class, value and labor as they relate to art production. Alex received her MFA in painting from Savannah College of Art and Design in 2007. She mounted her first solo show, All the Money IS in the Label in 1012 at Mike Weiss Gallery. In 2014 she will participate in The Fountainhead Residency in Miami. Alex lives in Brooklyn, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: The quotes in your recent series All the Money IS in the Label range from obnoxiously pretentious to surprisingly ignorant to potentially profound. There are even moments of poetry. I easily imagine the snobby, entitled person who said "Restoration Hardware? I mean, why? My cleaning lady has that stuff" and the ignorant person who said, "So, what, what's the deal with that gallery? Do they, like, only show black artists?" But other quotes are more ambiguous because we don't have context or tone of voice to help us understand the meaning of the words. I end up really musing about who the people are and what their lives are like. Do you remember who they are once you write down the text?

Alex Gingrow: So far, yes, I can remember the context and speaker of each quote. Every piece has a story behind it. Some are long and detailed and others are as simple as an overheard conversation. As the series continues, this could change. But when I look back at my source material, I am less interested in the quotes from conversations I can’t remember. The details validate the narrative for me even if I don’t share them publicly or if they don’t come through in the finished piece.

I do sometimes take quotes out of context but only when they speak to a higher truth or injustice. And yes, there are certainly moments of poetry. Years ago, a friend told me a tale over several adult beverages. He had a studio across the way from Mary Boone’s apartment back in the SoHo days and watched her light tampons on fire and throw them from her balcony. The story was old. The event was older. But it stuck with me, and I loved it. So, Balcony Burning Tampon Tosser is an homage both to the story, to the storyteller, to Mary Boone and, most of all, to the joy that is slumming around a cozy dark bar with art friends telling wild stories, even if they are a little taller than the truth.

I love storytelling, and I come from a long line of animated storytellers. I find great joy in retelling a story for an interested viewer. There’s a moment of magic when I share a story behind one of the quotes, and the person to whom I’m speaking has a parallel story. Then we launch into a whole conversation based on a simple one-line narrative.

Christie is just a low-class, redneck name with a fancy spelling. Might as well be Krystal. Or Tammi.
Graphite and acrylic on paper
22" x 30"

OPP: What’s the difference between storytelling and gossip? Is it an important distinction?

AG: It is an important distinction. My intent is to generate a narrative, not to spread dirty or juicy secrets. Gossip has an identifiable face, place and plot. Those are the details that hold the recipient’s attention, and I choose the word "recipient" carefully because I think gossip, by nature, is delivered. My goal is to set up the rough sketch, an outline of sorts. Then it becomes the viewer’s job to fill in the blanks according to his or her own experiences, ideas and assumptions about tone of voice. Completion of the narrative becomes a participatory event. Every title is somehow related to the correlating gallery, but the speaker is never identified. It could be the gallery owner, a collector, an artist, a passerby or even someone randomly talking about one of the artists shown by the gallery. The tone is set when the viewer decides who the speaker is. Thus, the story is completed by the viewers’ own ideas. This is why I generally don’t publicly share the genesis of the titles.

OPP: You admit in your statement that this body of work is a "sharp critique of the world in which [you] choose to maneuver." I like that you emphasize the fact that we can be both willing participants and critics of our chosen communities. Has the gallery gossip that you witness on a daily basis at your day job ever made you question your own desire to be part of the New York art scene?

AG: Oh lord, yes. Everyday. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t want to turn to some of the people I encounter at work and in the art world and ask, “Do you HEAR yourself? Do you seriously think it’s okay to BEHAVE like that?!?” I’ve realized that some people truly and absolutely do not care one iota if they come across as assholes. It amazes me. 

But! I can’t be too bitter because they are my source material. I’ve made artistic strides out of a coping mechanism. I think a lot of really good art comes from anger and spite. If the rest of the world could figure out how to channel those very natural human emotions in more creative ways, we’d probably have a more peaceful world and better art to experience.

New York does have its own special breed of viciousness. But I’m not sure that I could operate anywhere else right now. Sure, I have my moments when I need escape more than I need to breathe, but there’s an electricity to the raw brazenness of the New York art world that feeds my practice. I worry that anywhere else would seem too quaint at this point. So I take the good with the bad. The upside to the New York art world is the closeness of the community. I’ve only been here for six years and have met so many smart, talented, kind and supportive artists. I don’t ever want to take that for granted.

Graphite and acrylic on paper
22" x 30"

OPP: The fact that the people coming to pick up the artwork from the framing shop don't consider you, as a service worker, important enough to be discrete in front of reveals an implicit class discrimination and a critique of beliefs about the value of different types of labor. They likely have no idea that you are an artist who also performs a kind of labor that they do value—or at least purport to. Is there a relationship between the labor you do at your day job and the meticulous, creative labor you do when painting?

AG: I’d give anything to be able to support myself solely from my art and to be able to spend long, uninterrupted periods of time in the studio everyday. But that’s not the case right now. I will continue to punch the time clock twice a day and take my lunch at the cold metal-topped table in the drafty back corner of the shop.

I think there is a correlation between service industry workers and the emerging-whatever-you-want-to-call-the-non-Koons/Hirst/Murakami artists in today’s art world. Art has become such a commodity, such a luxury item. Maybe it’s been this way since the advent of the gallery system—and perhaps it’s better to keep fragile egos in check anyway—but the artist as an individual seems to be valued less than the monetary value of the art in the market. Here, gallerists seem way more concerned with how they’re going to sell a work, whether the materials are all archival and how quickly we can pump out new works. Artists sometimes seem like the service workers in the gallerists’ industry. But I’ve witnessed artists being treated differently in other cities and countries, where gallerists take on artists because they like the art and trust the thought processes of the artists. It’s a relationship, not a business arrangement

Man in Ambulance
Charcoal and conte crayon on paper
60" x 42"

OPP: I have to ask about Victim Series (2006-2007), a series of drawings of victims of various violent crimes or disasters. The subjects appear to all be people of color and many are children. This work is so distinctly different—both in subject matter and tone—from your deadpan, text-based work. It's so visceral and emotional and feels even more so after reading the comments of players in the New York art world. Is the satire in your new work a total break from this series or is there an underlying conceptual connection between these older drawings and the work you are doing now? 

AG: Victim Series is the body of work that I presented for my master’s thesis at the Savannah College of Art and Design. The impetus of the series was oddly similar to that of the provenance sticker series in a few ways. I was angry about the disregard many of my fellow students had for the U.S. war in Iraq. In response to an assignment to create an image that was mediated several times over, I chose to draw an image I lifted from a Canadian website of an Iraqi man recovering from wounds sustained in the war. 

Around the same time, I listened to George W. Bush give a speech on our “progress” in Iraq. During the reporters’ questions at the conclusion of the speech, someone asked the President how many Iraqis had been killed to date. His response was, “30,000, more or less.” After I listened to this speech, I got online to find a transcript because I couldn't believe what I had heard him say.  Mind you, this was 2005—before the overwhelming prevalence of YouTube and instantaneous video on the Internet. The only transcript I could find was the official White House transcript which EDITED OUT Bush's flippant "more or less." The transcript read: "30,000 Iraqis. . . and 2,140 of our own troops in Iraq."

I decided to draw his idea of more or less. Babies, children, young men and women. Bombed, killed, maimed, terrified. More or less. The works in the series are large, charcoal drawings. I wanted the images to have an engulfing presence. I used charcoal to both add to the sense of burning and soot and so that I could physically rub and blend the medium as I worked, so as to have a sense of touch and tenderness with the images. I worked on this series for a little over a year and eventually incorporated text from Bush’s speeches into the images. I had to resort to reading his speeches because I got too distractingly angry when I heard his voice. After working on these drawings for a while, I couldn’t get out from under the dark cloud of death and corruption and sadness that was my studio practice. Between that time in graduate school and my move to New York, where I no longer had a studio space that could accommodate the massive amounts of charcoal dust I was creating, I laid the series to rest. The drawings are rolled up in my studio and I look forward to showing them someday. With every political season, the context changes, but they still carry the same potency as they did when they were created. 

I am a young artist with dynamic ideas.
Graphite and acrylic on paper
22" x 30"

OPP: What have you been working on since the exhibition at Mike Weiss Gallery? Are continuing on with the appropriated text or shifting gears into something new?

AG: I am still working on the sticker series. There are about 40+ pieces in the series so far and a good many more waiting to be made. I still make myself laugh when I’m working on them, which is how I know I should keep going. That said, as evidenced by the Victim Series drawings, I tend to make major shifts every now and again. Some artists get to be known for one certain body of work, and they never really stray from it. That works for them, and it certainly works for their gallerists and collectors.

My practice depends on fresh experiments, new ideas and pushing myself outside of my comfort zone. I am working on some ideas and sketches for an interdisciplinary project that deals with personal narrative, family history and ice skating. I grew up skating and loving it, and I've recently been reexamining the sport in terms of its parallels with the art world and my own studio practice. The project—a long time in the making—will include durational video, a script and sound piece, text-based paintings, model-building and costume design. I am trying to find that sweet spot between so-personal-it’s-universal and awful, sappy, here-are-my-first-world-problems. It’s a fine, fine line. Thankfully, I have plenty of asinine and vitriolic art world quotes to commemorate in the meantime.

To see more of Alex's work, please visit alexgingrow.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and existential significance of participating in mass media culture in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and is currently a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT Residency in Chicago. Notable exhibitions include Losing Yourself in the 21st Century (Maryland Art Place, Baltimore), MP3 (The Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago), Please Stand By: Stacia Yeapanis + Readymade (Baang & Burne Contemporary, New York), Over and Over Again (BOLT Project Space, Chicago). Her work is on view through September 2013 in Abstracting the Seam (Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago) and she will mount a solo show titled I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.

OPP Art Critics Series: The Child is (Un)dead: Taxidermy Art as Resurrected Victorian Post-Mortem Photography

By Alicia Eler

Slipping the fur skin of a dead animal over a perfectly crafted taxidermy form produces a visual illusion of life, much in the tradition of a trompe l’oeil painting. In traditional taxidermy terms, the relationship between man and animal is that of a hunter conquering nature. The tradition of taxidermy as art dates back to English Victorian-era taxidermist Walter Potter, who created anthropomorphic dioramas of squirrels playing cards in a parlor, a classroom of rabbits seated in rows of long wooden desks, and many other assorted scenarios that more closely resemble illustrations from a Beatrix Potter children’s book than Damien Hirst or Maurizio Cattelan’s respective, well-known animal form artworks. In the works of taxidermy art by AC Wilson and Peregrine Honig discussed here, however, the taxidermy of a young animal (or, in human terms, of ‘children’) locates the work in a tradition much more akin to Walter Potter’s delicate dioramas. Wilson and Honig’s works stand in contrast to the more brash, cynical nature of Hirst and Cattelan’s works by allowing the darker underbelly of childhood fairytale and fantasy to speak through their forms.

Walter Potter was initially inspired to create his taxidermy dioramas by his sister, Jane, who showed him a book of nursery rhymes. He displayed his taxidermy works in his very own Walter Potter’s Museum of Curiosities, located in Sussex, England, which first opened in 1861; by the time of his death in 1914, the museum housed about 10,000 taxidermy objects. Potter’s dioramas embodied a sort of morbidity of childhood, which coincided with the Victorian era’s idealization of childhood, as evidenced by Charles Dickens’ portrayals of children as ‘innocents’—the symbols of all that was “good in the world,” before the onset of adulthood institutions and behaviors.[1] Quite literally speaking, the perceived morbidity of childhood is subject of a vast visual tradition, established and popular throughout England in the late 1800s, known as post-mortem photography. Contemporary artists Peregrine Honig and AC Wilson harken back to these visual representations of dead children in artworks that suggest the absurd, circular proximity of life and death.  

Walter Potter's taxidermic creations via thelovebiscuit.com
Before we discuss these contemporary works by Honig and Wilson, however, it is important to contextualize contemporary taxidermy art. Damien Hirst’s 1991 The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living is a dead tiger shark floating in formaldehyde, preserved in a glass vitrine for the eyes of onlookers. This work marked a new trend of taxidermic technique as part of ‘high art’ that often had very little to do with childhood and is likened more so to the tradition of taxidermied animals as hunter’s trophy. Italian conceptual artist Maurizio Cattelan’s satirical, morbid taxidermic sculptures utilizing horses, dogs, mice and donkeys emerged a few years later, in 1995.

Peregrine Honig's Twin Fawns sculpture consists of taxidermy fetal twin deer curled inside each other, housed in a womb-like vitrine created by the artist. This work imagines the preservation of a state other than life or death—that of resurrection and/or un-birth. The twin fawns occupy an in-between state—since they did die inside their mother’s body they were, in fact, never born, but here they are in their taxidermic after life. Complicating the matter, the twin fawns do have a life online, housed at their internet domain, purchased and maintained by the artist: twinfawns.net. Here they are viewable in their post-mortem-pre-natal flesh, and visitors can read about how they came into being through an accompanying story, written by Honig, in which the artist muses on the nature of the fawns' manmade preservation and our cultural relationship to death and dying:

"We dress death in lilies and bronze the names of our dead sons on walls. we erect altars of toys and hold candlelight vigils to express hope. my twin fawns sleep endlessly on their baby blue block in my studio. the twins never opened their eyes yet their wondrous fatality evokes an acceptable alternative to death."
The fawns’ exaggerated features embody a cartoonish surrealism. I have watched the twin fawns ‘grow up’ in the way that cartoons do—meaning I, the viewer, grow up, as they resemble the same age forever. Psychologically, Honig has constructed them in a fictional, virtual space, available for public viewing, much in the manner of Potter’s taxidermy art dioramas housed at his Museum of Curiosities.

Yet, unlike a Beatrix Potter story, there is no narrative to the fawns. They exist because a man found the carcass of a pregnant deer on the side of the road, and felt compelled to cut it open. Upon doing so, he discovered that the deer had twin fawns inside of her belly, and decided to taxidermy them both. Honig later discovered the twins at a mom ‘n pop oddities store in Kansas City, and went back repeatedly until the owner agreed to let her purchase them. The previous owner, he told her, returned the fawns after repeatedly having the same dream about them. Honig recalled the dream to me:
“It’s a dream that you are in a field and they are running around,” she says. “The dream does not change, it’s just that you have these two sidekicks with you. They are more like a shadow than something that is making noise. [In the dream,] they are neutral objects.”
The shop owner sold the fawns to Honig with the agreement and understanding that she would not return them. Every night for the first few weeks after she bought them, Honig notes that she had the same dreams about them as the previous owner. Nowadays she still dreams about the fawns, but less frequently.

Peregrine Honig, Twin Fawns via twinfawns.net

In AC Wilson's taxidermy animal series (Appear and disappear (2012), Rut (2012) and What happens when you die (2011), the artist uses a rabbit, a plethora of chicks and a single fawn to discuss loss. In Appear and disappear, a taxidermy rabbit sits atop a magician's stand next to a picture frame that has been turned upside down. The piece references the ‘hat-trick,’ in which a magician pulls a rabbit out of a hat, astounding onlookers. In Wilson's rendition, no such hat exists, and the rabbit's taxidermy form, instead, is the visual illusion used to reference human mortality. 

AC Wilson, What happens when you die, taxidermy fawn, bed, cremation tag (2011) via ac-wilson.com

AC Wilson, What happens when you die, taxidermy fawn, bed, cremation tag (2011) via ac-wilson.com

In his artist statement, Wilson considers his work in relation to ideas of loss:

"My work deals with loss. This includes feelings of abandonment, worry, and reflection. Materials are chosen based on our general awareness of them, including any references to ideas or narratives they may possess.”
Rut features a grouping of taxidermy ducklings arranged in a circle on top of a clean, white pillar. There is an absurd, existential quality to these tiny birds, who are forever marching in a circle going nowhere fast. Maurizio Cattelan employs similar humor in his piece Bibididobidiboo (2012), in which a taxidermy squirrel lays slumped over a tiny table, empty shot glass nearby, a gun resting on the floor as though dropped from his tiny paws. This humorous take on suicide, or on the way we use anthropomorphism to discuss subjects deemed morbid, is ambiguous enough to be open-ended, and funny enough to make light of death.  Similarly, the chicks in “Rut” march on to nowhere, suggesting a similarly absurd act of futility.

"Appear and disappear"
taxidermy rabbit, picture, magician's stand

taxidermy ducklings

In Wilson’s work What happens when you die, a single fawn stands atop a bed, the kind it might’ve had had it been a human child. The fawn’s ears are alert, and its big, black eyes are childlike and wide-open. Nearby, a circular black cremation tag hangs from one of the walls. This subtle anthropomorphism of the fawn nudges viewers into imagining someone they love dying quietly in the middle of the night, only to be reawakened in this animal form.  It might be the afterlife of the post-mortem childhood death, a visual representation of what would a have been a post-mortem photograph of a child during the Victorian era. The tiny fawn straightens its legs, digging its shiny black hooves into the soft white mattress. Its glass eyes reflect the white gallery light—like a ghost or, perhaps, a long-exposure mirror of death itself.

"What happens when you die"
taxidermy fawn, bed, cremation tag

[1]Hugh Cunningham, The Invention of Childhood, “The Victorians,” pg. 149

Editor: Danny Orendorff
Chicago, Illinois
May 14, 2013

This is the first post in the OPP ART CRITICS for the OPPBlog. Look for our next installment on 5/28!

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Michael Arcega

Piñata Mobile (installation view)
Paper materials, wheat paste, dum-dums, mylar, string, cables, steel, and mixed media.

MICHAEL ARCEGA's research-based, interdisciplinary art practice is informed by historic events, political sociology and linguistics. Working primarily in sculpture and installation, he uses wordplay, material significance and joke formats to explore how unbalanced power dynamics affect the development of cultures. Michael is a 2012 Guggenheim Fellow in Fine Art and a 1999 Artadia Award recipient. He has been an artist-in-residence at Headlands Center for the Arts, Fountainhead Residency and Beamis Center for Contemporary Art. His work has been exhibited at such notable venues as the deYoung Museum, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, the Orange County Museum of Art, The Contemporary Museum in Honolulu, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Cue Arts Foundation, and the Asia Society in New York. Michael received his MFA from Stanford University, and he currently lives in San Francisco, California.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You've dealt with the themes of conquest and colonialism throughout your practice. Earlier work such as Conquistadorkes (2004), War Clubs (2008) and SPAM/MAPS: World (2001) addressed the conquest of people and land through force. But more recent work—which we'll turn to in a moment—addresses lexical borrowing and cross-cultural exchange. Even though the subject matter is serious in all your work, the tone is humorous and playful. How does linguistic humor and wordplay serve your conceptual goals in dealing with this subject matter?

Micheal Arcega: Great question. I’ve always been interested in language and its sociopolitical contexts. Humor comes naturally to me, and it’s a great way to cloak a topic that is often dense or problematic. Both language and humor are subjects and strategies I use in order to address serious topics.

Jokes have formats that I like to use, and embedded in those are a formal rhythm and pace. For instance, simple jokes start with a call and response. Then, there’s an inversion—a kind of magic or alchemical transformation happens—and, finally, laughter or a moment of revelation for the audience. I aim to include these stages in my work.

Language has become more of a subject than a strategic element in my recent work. I’ve been exploring a more complex linguistic model—Contact Language Generation. Pidgin and Creole languages often develop between two or more cultural groups when power is unbalanced. Plantations, for instance, are places where many people from varying ethnic groups are controlled by a powerful state or group. I'm thinking about Hawaiian Creole English from Hawaiian plantations and Gullah in the plantations in the Southern U.S. The existence of these languages are a testament to peoples’ amazing ability to adapt, challenge and subvert an oppressive system. I’ve been interested in finding a visual equivalence for this kind of subtle protest—the kind that happens under the radar. So, I hope my work doesn’t overtly exclaim, but rather calmly questions.

O.M.G. (installation view)
Poly-tarp, tent poles, mosquito netting, rescue & utility ropes, carabiners, and mixed media
Size varies per installation

OPP: You’ve written that your series In Tents: Visualizing Language Generation and Sociopolitics “explores Pidgin and Creole languages through the visual language of temporary architecture.” Can you explain how the tent sculptures do that?

MA: The parallel I’m making has to do with the stability of language against the permanence of architecture. For instance, if a Neoclassical building is like formal, spoken English, then an unsecured lean-to is like pantomime with some words thrown in. Pidgin languages are fairly unstable and are under negotiation with their speakers. These would be like architectural forms that can change at any time. Temporary tent encampments, which spring up in response to natural and/or economic disaster, are contemporary examples that can be conflated with historical slave plantations where many ethnic groups were forced to co-exist. Creole languages are developed on the site and are usually stabilized by a new generation. These languages are native and unique to the cultures, landscape and the sociopolitical context involved. So, the tents that I made—including a lamp post, toilet, mailbox and fire hydrant—represent the moment in language generation that is unstable but deeply informed by the dominant architecture of the urban landscape.

OPP: In 2011, you made two pieces about the transformation of one thing into another. In Loping Honoring (a translation/ a correction), the national anthem of the Philippines was “corrected” in Microsoft Word and sung as an opera. Here the transformation is instantaneous and occurs through technology. The "correction" can easily be understood as an error. In Lexical Borrowing: Saw Horse by the Sea Shore—Understanding Manifest Destiny, you transformed an American kayak into a Pacific outrigger canoe as "a material analog of how linguistic shifts occur." This is a representation of a much slower transformation over time. Tell us about the process of transforming one vessel into the other. Is there a moral implication in this kind of transformation as it relates to linguistic shift?

MA: Both works are commentaries on oppression and imperialism. Firstly, Lupang Hinirang, the national anthem of the Philippines was a colonial construct. In the transformation from Lupang Hinirang to Loping Honoring, technology has been misused, causing the national anthem to become illegible. Language collapses into a series of markers of “high” culture (e.g. opera), and becomes a mere echo of the solidarity in the national anthem. My intent here was to expose the entropy caused by empire.

In Lexical Borrowing: Saw Horse by the Sea Shore—Understanding Manifest Destiny, I present a case or proposition that could be understood as reverse colonization. The American kayak begat a new model that leads to a Pacific outrigger canoe named Baby. The object on the bottom of the sawhorses is a makeshift outrigger that was added to the American canoe that needed to be stabilized during a tidal shift on the James River. The makeshift outrigger, fashioned from branches and empty plastic soda bottles, is proof that influence from the Pacific is affecting the continent. In essence, the piece signifies the decline of empire through challenges to its technologies and the replacements of its markers of power. This work is motivated by the possibility of change for the future rather than the lament of the past.

Lexical Borrowing: Saw Horse by the Sea Shore—Understanding Manifest Destiny
Mat board, wood, found plastic bottles, river water, and mixed media
4' x 7' x 3'

OPP: Since your sculptural and installation practice is very research based, you must spend as much time reading as creating objects. What's the ratio of time spent "in the studio" versus researching? Do you prefer one part of your practice more? 

MA: I’m not sure if I can quantify the percentages of my practice because it changes all the time. But there is definitely more academic research and administrative work than there is actual production. This is fine with me. I am invested in making, but my practice is grounded in conceptual art.

I try to make my work pleasurable. I allow my research to be guided by things that I’m curious about. Sometimes there are difficult tasks, but it is always rewarding. This pleasure keeps me engaged in my work and helps make it sustainable for the long haul.

Eternal Salivation
Plants and animals
7.5’ x 15’ x 10’

OPP: Your most recent exhibition Baby and the Nacirema (2012) at The Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco was an art exhibit that took on the guise of an anthropology exhibit. After Baby—the Pacific outrigger canoe you mentioned before—was created, she went on a journey. Could you tell us about Baby's expedition and about the Nacirema and the collection of their cultural artifacts?

MA: The departure point for this fictional work is the conflation of two narratives: the Lewis and Clark expedition—representing all westward expansion in America—and Horace Miner’s Nacirema. Both cases describe a people inhabiting North America. Lewis and Clark surveyed the continent for the coming colonists. They described the topography, indigenous peoples, flora and fauna through the text and objects they sent back to Thomas Jefferson. Many decades later, anthropologist Horace Miner described the colonizer’s neurosis about their overly complex lives after decimating the native population. My exhibition, Baby and the Nacirema continues this inquiry, but it takes on the point of view of the colonized, indigenous North Americans, observing the Nacirema culture through the lens of the Pacific, rather than the Atlantic. Nacirema is "americaN" spelled backwards.

The premise of the exhibition was that Baby and crew went on an expedition across North America to describe this invasive culture of the Nacirema. They collected cultural artifacts and used them to unlock the meaning of a significant Nacireman text (The New Colossus), cataloged objects and inventions (Cultural Phonemes) and described important symbols and icons (Piñata Mobile). They also displayed Baby (Medium for Intercultural Navigation), the symbolic, yet seaworthy vehicle that was used for the expedition as well as photo documentation of its creation.

The visual language of museums informed the overall tone of the project. Wunderkammern and early collections are extensions of an empire just like cartography. Also, patents and land grants established “legal” ownership of land, but these were alien concepts to indigenous North Americans. Historically, some collecting institutions have functioned as a repository for colonial war booty. For instance, a lot of specimens from the Lewis & Clark expedition ended up in Charles Willson Peale’s Philadelphia Museum. As much as I love them, museums, maps and collections are the residual marks of imperialism.

Nacireman Inventions: Cultural Phonemes
Polymer clay and wire
Size varies per installation

OPP: Why is it important that, as Americans, we "other" ourselves?

MA: “Othering” ourselves allows for empathy and sympathy. As members of the most powerful nation, we need to be even more empathetic. Otherwise, we can become more self-centered and psychotic as a nation. I believe individual citizens from the United States and other developed nations have greater responsibility because these nations have greater influence due to their global/social position. For students of anthropology, linguistics, sociology or any other social science, the interpretation of the cultures they study will inevitably have a bias. "Othering" ourselves allows us to develop more neutrality and objectivity, which can yield a more accurate picture of the subject at hand.

OPP: Is it useful to do this type of exploration through visual art?

MA: I’m not sure if visual art is the best place to look for lessons, although it’s definitely capable. Those in the arts don't have a responsibility to educate viewers about morality or facts. I believe that art—in the broadest sense of the word—is one of the many places where we can articulate truths that aren’t necessarily facts. It is one of the best places to ask questions, leaving the viewer/participant to seek the answers.

OPP: Are you working on any new projects?

MA: Right now, I'm in residency at Al Riwak Art Space in Bahrain, which will culminate in a solo show that opens on May 28, 2013.  The work focuses on translations and mistranslations, and the form of the show is developing onsite, determined by the circumstances in Bahrain. I’m interested in the loss that occurs during translation and how we try to fill in the gaps. There might be issues with legibility, but there will always be that situation when two or more cultures try to communicate with one another.

To see more of Michael's work, please visit arcega.us.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and existential significance of participating in mediated culture in her embroidery, video, sculpture and collage works. She received her MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2006), where she will begin teaching in Spring 2013, and is currently a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT Residency in Chicago. Notable exhibitions include 
Losing Yourself in the 21st Century (Maryland Art Place, Baltimore), MP3 (The Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago), Please Stand By: Stacia Yeapanis + Readymade (Baang & Burne Contemporary, New York), Over and Over Again (BOLT Project Space, Chicago)