OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Teresa F. Faris

Collaboration with a Bird ll #3
Sterling silver, wood altered by a bird
3" x 4" x 1"

TERESA F. FARIS draws connections across species boundaries: "When removed from what is intended/natural and stripped of privilege one must find ways of soothing the mind." In wearable and non-wearable sculpture, she juxtaposes chewed wood—what she views as the byproducts of a captive, rescued bird's soothing practices—with sawed, pierced and pieced metal—her own creative practice. Teresa earned her BFA from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in 1995 and her MFA from University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1998. Her 2015 exhibitions include Bright at Rose Turko Gallery (Richmond, Virginia), Adorn: Contemporary Wearable Art at WomanMade Gallery (Chicago) and The Jeweler's Journey: From the Bench to the Body and Beyond at Peters Valley Gallery (Layton, New Jersey). Her work was recently included in Digging Deep at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts (Brookfield, Wisconsin) and is currently on view until October 8, 2016 in Color Me This: Contemporary Art Jewelry at Turchin Center for Visual Arts  (Boone, North Carolina). She has been invited to participate in Shadow Themes: Finding the Present in the Past at Reinstein/Ross Gallery in September 2016. Teresa has been Associate Professor and Area Head of Department of Jewelry and Metalsmithing at University of Wisconsin-Whitewater since 2013, when she won a College of Art and Communication Excellence in Teaching Award. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your work sits in the space where jewelry and sculpture overlap. Do you identify more as one or the other? Do you conceive of specific pieces as one or the other?

Teresa F. Faris: Jewelry and sculpture both exist to intrude, adorn, alter, etc. the space that it occupies. Some work calls for being in public in a small scale (on the body) and some in a large scale; both demand that the viewer contemplate their reaction/feelings about it.

Jewelry exists with the intervention of the wearer and sculpture exists with the intervention of the landscape or walls of a gallery setting. I do not see a great divide between the two disciplines because neither is utilitarian, and both may be made by people with a material fetish. Work is assessed based on its relationship to the viewer’s body, whether it is a giant steel structure or a neck piece.

Collaboration with a Bird lV, #3
Sterling Silver, wood altered by a bird, polymer, stainless steel
3" x 4" x 2"

OPP: What’s harmful about the hierarchy of Art and Craft?

TFF: The histories and theories of both art and craft are more similar than different. Humans enjoy categorizing for the sake of ego. Through categorizing we establish hierarchies. Hierarchies are harmful when used to marginalize anyone or anything for the sake of protecting privilege. If work is made of congruous material and content, I think it is art. If there was less of a divide between art/craft, there may be more opportunity for critical analysis and progression.

OPP: What kind of critical analysis?

TFF: When the field is very small and exclusive it can be about popularity of a person rather than the importance of their work.To look critically at work we need to see beyond a person and look at the work in relationship to the present, past a future dialogue. The most important question I ask myself when making something is whether or not it adds something new and challenges existing norms. Humans make so much stuff that just takes up space and wastes resources. This could travel into a discussion about decoration and the value of that, but I am mostly interested in progression from a socio/psychological and/or technical standpoint.

480 Minutes
Sterling Silver, Wood Carved by a Bird
4" x 12" x 6"

OPP: And what kind of progression?

TFF: What we chose to wear, eat, speak, etc. makes public our socio-political voice. To have conversations about objects that challenge the norm—wearing an object partially made BY a bird—asks people to reflect on their beliefs and actions. I am interested in the way that women, animals and marginalized individuals are treated based on centuries-old beliefs and superstitions. The ideas of challenging the beliefs of anthropomorphism and de-humanization will directly affect the choice of materials that people use. 

OPP: And that brings us to your ongoing Collaborations with a Bird? Tell us what drives this work.

TFF: Working in collaboration with non-humans rather than using or representing their bodies is most interesting to me. I work to recognize contradictions and change my action to minimize them in my work. For instance, I am not interested in and do not believe in the ideas of human dominion, so I do not to use animal bones, feather, skin, etc. At the same time, I live with a captive rescued, 24 year old parrot, who I desperately try to understand without placing human expectations on her. I seek to honor our differences with mutual respect. If we leave behind preconceived ideas, misinformation, anthropomorphism, fantasy and superstition, then the only thing left to do is observe. Through observation, privileges and disadvantages become clearer. While observing both captive and free non-humans, I have witnessed them performing repetitive movements and activities, and I wonder if they find the same soothing aftereffects that I am rewarded with when working at the bench.

Collaboration With a Bird
Wood chew toy, Sterling Silver

OPP: So it is the same bird every time? I was wondering about that.

TFF: Yes. I have lived with Charmin for 22 years. Because of illness, I was forced to keep a distance from her for a period of time. During that time, she was kept in a cage and I was confined to a bed. I watched her obsessively chew wood and arrange her space in very specific ways. It was during this time that I made the connection that when removed from what is natural or intended, we ALL find ways to sooth the distress. For her, it is chewing wood; for me, it is cutting metal.

OPP: How do you facilitate this collaboration?

TFF: Parrots chew wood in the wild and in captivity as a way to sharpen their beaks and to play. Their beaks grow in a similar way to human nails. It is completely natural for a bird to maintain a sharp healthy beak. A bird uses wood and stone just as we us nail clippers. Charmin has been given thousands of wood blocks over the years and always has several in her cage (her safe and private space). I have witnessed her decorate her cage with certain color schemes, changing them daily. In the past she was given blocks that had been dyed with food coloring, so she chose the colors based on her mood. She hasn't been given dyed wood in many years but still makes very deliberate decisions about where to place the wood blocks and how to shape them. When she decides that the wood bits are "finished" or no longer interesting or functional for her, she gives them to me. Through design and process I react to the bits that I receive. 

Sterling silver, Wood Chewed by a Bird

OPP: Pierced holes and lattice work are recurrent formal motifs in your work? Are these intentional, visual metaphors or simply the results of preferred processes?

TFF: I have recently discovered that the pierced patterns that I have been making for over two decades are result of a traumatic event that I experienced as a child. The subconscious mind works in ways that help to desensitize without damaging our emotional state.

I use discarded materials that have been abandoned and viewed as worthless. Positioning them next to silver and/or gemstones offers the viewer a moment of contemplation and introspection. The process of piercing and cutting works in tandem with the content of my work. My direct experiences inform the objects I make. As my experiences change, so will the process and  materials.

Collaboration with a Bird ll #4
Sterling silver, wood altered by a bird
4.5" x 4.5" x 1.25"

OPP: What’s going on in your studio right now? Anything new in the works?

TFF: There’s always something new in the works. Exploring materials and processes is a constant in my studio. Not all things are public. Now, more than ever I am charged to continue to explore the ideas dictating the Collaboration With a Bird series.

I am also currently working on pieces for an exhibition called Shadow Themes that will be at Reinstein and Ross Gallery in New York. The show opens in September 2016. The idea is to find the present in the past. In order to do that, I needed to travel through seemingly familiar, as well as lots of unknown territory. Many of things that I do not know or understand become glaringly present when I look to the past. The spaces between what I do and do not know spark my curiosity and drive me forward.

To see more of Teresa's work, please visit teresafaris.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 cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent 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 exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). Most recently, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in March 2016.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jonathan Keeton

Fall Afternoon, Rio Chama
29" x 57"

large-scale landscapes and nocturnes create a solemn sensation of being immersed in the outdoors. Using watercolor, acrylic and gouache, he works from photographs taken on hikes and conveys a quiet reverence for the natural world. Jonathan documents his sources and his process on his blog. His work will be included in the Rocky Mountain National Watermedia Exhibition, opening on September 16, 2016  at Foothills Art Center in Golden, Colorado. He recently won Best in Show at the New Mexico Watercolor Society Spring Show, and you can see his work (almost) every weekend through October 2016 with the Santa Fe Society of Artists. Jonathan lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

In your statement, you say: “I’m lucky to be able to return many years later to my first love, although I am keenly aware of where my art might be had I been working as a full time artist all those years, and am mindfully anxious to make up lost time now.” What took you away from painting and what brought you back?

Jonathan Keeton: After working as a school teacher and an actor (and a waiter and picture framer), I stumbled into the beginning of computer graphics in California and ended up pursuing a career in visual effects for thirty years. It was nice to actually be paid to do something like art, and I felt a strong need to prove that I could succeed in the ‘real world.' After many years, with some prodding from my wife, I thought that if I was ever going to be an artist I had better start in earnest while I still had energy for it. Most people prefer me now to how I was then…!

Laguna Mesa, Chama River Canyon
11" x 14"

OPP: Your landscapes never have people in them, but in every case, I imagine the point of view of a solitary hiker. These are intimate experiences of nature, not grand, romantic landscapes. There’s a solemn mood of contemplation. Is this just me reading your work through my own history of hiking in Northern New Mexico and Marin County or a tone you’ve intentionally set out to evoke for the viewer?

JK: What a perceptive question! In my landscapes, what I am most intrigued by is the sense of being in the landscape, as opposed to viewing it from a distance. That’s when I have the most powerful response myself, and it is usually a result of having hiked some ways first. So I try to convey that feeling if I can.

Cataract Bridge
30" x 40"

OPP: Why is it important to convey that sense of “being in the landscape?”

JK: I think that it’s a question of intimacy. Like the difference between seeing something, however pretty, at a distance, versus being in it. There is a sense, I think, of still being at a remove that I am trying to avoid; this is the same reason why I prefer to work large if possible. In a large painting the viewer is more likely to enter into it, as opposed to observing it from a (physical and emotional) distance.

OPP: Have you ever painted anything other than the natural world?

JK: Well, of course I paint nocturnes quite a bit. They are often cities or towns, but I feel that they reacquire a magical quality after the sun goes down somehow, that otherwise I find only in nature. I am intrigued by pools at night and also by florist shops in big cities. I would love to do a series of them. In each, I feel like there is a kind of a temple to the natural world of water and flora; a temple of yin if you will.

The Boarding House, Madrid NM
34 1/2" x 54 1/2"

OPP: I should have phrased that differently; I was thinking of the nocturnes as landscapes, too. Although clearly they are not untouched by civilization, as evidenced by the electricity, architecture and roads. But these are rural spaces, not urban spaces, and the human presence is again limited to the point of view of the hiker, or in the case of the nocturnes, the wander. Can you say a little more about similarities and differences between the nocturnes and the landscapes in terms of that “magic quality?”

JK: Well, I am attracted to landscapes that give me a certain feeling, and although I might not be able to describe or predict what I might find, there is a strong recognition when I see it in front of me. Whether I can paint it is another problem! And at night, the sense of being on a planet in space is much stronger than during the day. There is almost a science fiction sense of newness in certain landscapes and night scenes for me, as if they were being seen with fresh eyes, or for the first time. I remember being a camp counselor in Vermont long ago and the kids were always loud during hikes, so that their noise kept away any animals or sense of wonder, bless their hearts. Another counselor had the idea of taking them into the forest on night walks when there was no moon, so one couldn’t even see one’s hand in front of one’s face. It was striking how the kids' attitude completely changed then—they definitely felt like visitors and were awestruck. That’s kind of the feeling that I get and want to convey if possible.

Dawn, Turqoise Trail
8" x 12"

OPP: What’s your process? Do you paint from photographs, on site or from memory?

JK: I would be pretty darn proud of myself if I could paint them from memory! I take photographs and work from them in my studio. I learn a lot from painting on site, but dislike the result. Also, though, I am trying to paint a moment, when the light is a certain way, and everything in the scene changes when the light changes, so it’s pretty much impossible to do this work en plein air for me, when in five minutes everything changes.

A trick that I use to help is to print a version of the image that is exactly the size of my painting, and cut it into pieces to which I refer when I paint. By looking sideways instead of up at a reference, I don’t lose my place so much. I usually make a somewhat pale watercolor of the scene based on a pencil drawing, and that becomes a sort of watercolor sketch that then allows to paint with more boldness, once I have some idea of how everything fits together.

Upper Canyon Road
22" x 30"

OPP: What should a non-painters know about watercolor, acrylic and gouache? Do you have a preference? If so, why?

JK: As it turns out, watercolor is by far the most difficult medium. For some reason many people beginning an exploration into painting feel somehow that they should use watercolors, then abandon the whole idea as a result. Acrylics are considerably easier, although that’s not to say they are a cakewalk, and every medium requires study and practice. Gouache is a medium that I learned in order to not have to throw away ruined watercolors. Basically gouache is watercolor paint with added chalk, and then extra pigment to overcome the chalkiness. It’s opaque, unlike watercolor, and one uses white instead of the paper as white, as one does in watercolor.

I have come to have fewer prejudices against particular mediums, and ultimately see painting images as the goal. There are certainly images that I would only paint in acrylic. When I started painting in acrylic this year, there were several images that I had not considered possible to make as paintings that are now in the queue.

Highway 100, Vermont
22" x 30"

OPP: Why is landscape still relevant/more relevant than a time in history where painting the natural world was the only way to capture it?

JK: Wow, another great question. Well, first of all, we are more divorced from the natural world than at any time in our species’ history. There is a neo-Confucian idea that really struck me when I first encountered it in high school, expressed by the character, ‘Li’ (理). As I read then, it refers to the patterns in jade, but is intended to express the perfection in the apparent chaos of nature. That is exactly what I want to convey in my work. As to why I don’t just make photographs, especially since my paintings are so close in some ways to those photographs; I would describe my work as meditative and devotional, as opposed to emotional or expressive, per se. This is my own personal zen meditation in many ways, and if that feeling of awe and inspiration comes through at all, then I’m pretty happy.

To see more of Jonathan's work, please visit jonathankeeton.net.

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 cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent 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 exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart (2015), a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Most recently, Stacia created a site-responsive installations for Form Unbound (2015)a two-person show at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL) and SENTIENCE (2016) at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art (Chicago). In September 2016, her work will be on view in SHOWROOM, curated by Edra Soto, at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition as part of THE ANNUAL.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Dan Lam

Velvet Touch
Polyurethane foam, resin, acrylic on wood panel
12 x 12 x 8 inches

Over the years, DAN LAM's patterned, abstract paintings have slowly accumulated textures, evoking plastic skin diseases, paint barnacles and occasionally masses of caramel corn. Recently they have further evolved into rounded, bulging growths—think moss, tumors or cake-decorating gone unchecked—and frozen drips, which feel like fluorescent-colored, over-sized, gooey ice cream toppings hanging from a table's edge. In this space between painting and sculpture, desire and disease flirt with one another. Dan earned her BFA (2010) from University of North Texas and her MFA (2014) from Arizona State University. She has exhibited widely throughout Arizona, Texas and California, most recently in Prick (2016) at The Platform in Dallas. Dan’s work is included in a three person show called Puffy Prickly Poured at Anya Tish Gallery in Houston, opening July 15, 2016 and a solo exhibition called Coquette, opening August 6, 2016, at Fort Works Art in Fort Worth, Texas. Dan lives and works in Dallas, Texas.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What has led you from painting to sculpture?

Dan Lam: As you've seen in the evolution of my work, the work continues to leave whatever surface it exists on. I think my continued exploration in textures and materials has guided me to sculpture. When I was an undergraduate painting major, I had this catalyst sort of moment working on one of my last flat pieces. I was trying to create this sense of depth through layers of matte medium, trying to create a frosty, semi-transparent surface, which alternately revealed and hid stages of the process. It started to get really thick, and I became interested in finding new mediums that could allow me to layer even more. I started questioning what constitutes a painting, what it meant historically and what it meant to me. So I started to push my paint off the canvas, off the panel, moving onto other materials like hot glue, resin, and wax.

I'm very drawn to soft sculpture, anything soft and melting. I wanted to create that aesthetic in my work and using just paint and hot glue wasn't cutting it. I constantly explore and try out non-traditional media, so my experimentation with materials has led me to continue to grow off the panel and into three-dimensional space.

Getting Hot

OPP: Any plans to get away from the wall completely and onto the floor? What's the next step in the evolution of your work?

DL: I am currently working on some large scale floor pieces, big wall drips and various installations. Scale is the exciting part of these new pieces. I've worked large before, just not with this body of work, so that's new. Scale can change everything. I'm excited to see how the sculptures translate to living on the floor, taking up a wall instead of a shelf, and interacting with the corner of a room. When these factors change, it changes the process in small ways, which can generate new happenings.

Just A Babe
Polyurethane foam, resin, acrylic on wood panel
12 x 12 x 7 inches

OPP: Is building the form or covering its surface more satisfying?

DL: Both aspects of the process are satisfying to different parts of me. There is something very meditative in the pattern and rhythm of laying down the spikes. With the form, it's more fun and experimental because there's the unexpected. Chance is involved.

OPP: How much do titles matter in your body of work? Are they just ways to identify the work or clear lens through which we should read each abstraction? How do you feel when viewers don’t bother to read the titles?

DL: I think of the titles as some context for what I was thinking about when making the piece. They do give viewers a type of key for understanding the work, but I'm indifferent to whether or not people read the titles.

Drinking Watermelon
Polyurethane foam, resin, acrylic on wood panel
13 x 12 x 7 inches

OPP: If you had to pick one or the other for the rest of your life as an artist, would you pick color or texture?

DL: I would pick color. Color is primary for me. It holds the content, the emotion, the illusion. Color is difficult and I love an involved challenge. I'm drawn to it over anything else because of its ability to evoke feelings, it has a weight and can affect the people/things around it.

OPP: When asked about touching your sculptures in an interview for Maake Magazine, you said—about your more recent spiky sculptures— “Depending on the kind of acrylic I’m using or if I layer resin on top of the spikes, they can prick. So now there’s this layer of the desire to touch, but you kind of get rejected. This beautiful thing becomes potentially harmful.” Outside of your work, how is beauty dangerous? Or is it desire that is dangerous?

DL: Beauty, on one end of the spectrum, can be deceiving, distracting and create obsession. Desire is the fuel for action. Both have equal power.

Knobby Knee

OPP: How does your life outside the studio affect your practice?

DL: It's incredibly important to take care of your mind and body, so you can make the work you need to make. I don't work myself to exhaustion. I get my sleep. I exercise. I put time into other non-art related things like hiking, reading, etc. I believe all of these things contribute to a solid studio practice.

Art and art-making are intrinsically tied into my life; there is no separating the two. My practice is something I need and do daily. I can't see myself being better suited for anything else. This is it.

To see more of Dan's work, please visit bydanlam.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 cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent 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 exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). Most recently, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in March 2016.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Darren Jones

Sword, selfie stick, vinyl text

Artist and art critic DARREN JONES wields words well, cutting deeply and quickly to the point. He employs found text, accompanying imagery and site-specificity to contextualize his pithy, text-based works. Playing with homonyms, anagrams, puns, palindromes and insightful misspellings, he asks us to question the verity of contemporary cultural values espoused by advertising, religion and social media, especially the constant striving for perfection. Darren earned his BFA in 1997 from Central Saint Martins College of Art in London and his MFA in 2009 from Hunter College in New York. His most recent solo exhibitions include A Matter of Life and Dearth (2015) New York and Florida. at Index Art Center in Newark, New Jersey and Thunder Enlightening (2015) at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey. In 2016, he was an Artist-in-Residence at CentralTrak at University of Texas, Dallas. He is a regular contributor to Artforum, Artslant, Artcritical, and The Brooklyn Rail. Darren lives and works in New York and Florida.

OtherPeoplesPixels: As a visual artist who works primarily with text and as an art-critic who writes about the visual work of others, do you think there is a difference between visual thinking and textual thinking?

Darren Jones: In my case, increasingly, no. Words are the foremost source with which to foment my reactions to the world, whether in a visual arrangement for an artwork, or on a page for an article or review. In both, the aim is to describe and take a position. In art-making, there may be a greater aesthetic element or a requirement for imagery to expand the context, but the primary task is to utilize words in a manner that most effectively conveys one’s intentions. Writing an article, can be very similar to making a visual artwork. In both, one puts something down, considers it, edits it, walks away from it, comes back to it, tussles with composition, meaning, flow, etc. Writing is art-making.

Photographic print, vinyl text
24" x 36"

OPP: What word would you use to describe the short, pithy statements in your work: aphorism, maxim, proverb, epigram, mantra, affirmation, slogan? Does it matter what we call them?

DJ: Aphorismmaximproverbepigrammantraaffirmationslogan. They are probably best described as amalgams or corrupted, dissected or perhaps alternative-truth versions of your suggestions. Anti-proverbs, anti-mantras, etc. Sometimes it is helpful to regard the darker meaning of a statement, in order to counter the unrealistically and blandly positive.

Sketch for arranged products
Variable dimensions

OPP: I’m particularly interested in Sentencing Begins #1 and #2 from 2014, which remix product names into social commentary masquerading as advertising slogans. The Dawn of a Post-Freedom Era is dripping with sarcasm, while I Am Always Chasing Success is critical, but feels more empathetic to what I would call a primary problem of contemporary life. Can you talk about tone in your text-based works?

DJ: Tone can help to pry open a given or common phrase and tease out lesser considered meanings; while a lack of tone can allow for multiple conclusions. The deployment of tone within a work—wryness, archness, hostility, dubiousness—must be carefully considered because it can tilt the viewer to a particular response. Sometimes that might be the intention, other times less so. Tone then, in text based art, can be thought of as a tool, to enhance the piece or prescribe a characteristic to it, or when withheld, to restrict the artist’s influence on the perceived meaning of the piece.

8' x 5'

Even in your “non text art,” text—namely the title and materials list—is often extremely important to the meaning of the images or sculptures. In Duct (2014), for example, the materials list includes various hormones, proteins and enzymes: water, prolactin, adrenocorticotropic hormone, leucine enkephalin, mucin, lipids, lysozyme, lactoferrin, lipocalin, lacritin, immunoglobulins, glucose, urea, sodium, potassium. But a few photographs—Portrait as a Gargoyle (Castle Gloom) and Self Portrait as a Ghost, both from 2012—operate in a fundamentally different way. They seem more personal, emotional and visceral, as opposed to clever and conceptual. Your thoughts?

DJ: I grew up in Scotland, which has had a direct effect on both elements of my work that you describe. Edinburgh was the center of the Scottish Enlightenment. It's a hub of excellence in education, literature, medicine, science, politics and technology. Therefore, reason, precision of thought and the succinct presentation of ideas are a part of the intellectual legacy and character of Scottish society generally. At the same time it is an unimaginably romantic, otherworldly place, steeped in bloody centuries of mythology and the supernatural. When one grows up surrounded by ancient castles and other built heritage, legends of mythical beasts and mesmerizing ghost stories, the line between immediate reality and the supernatural is porous, both are believable, both exist. To this day, Scotland’s national animal is the Unicorn!

So, I am compelled as an artist by both the incisiveness and minimalism of wit and words, that eject the superfluous, and the enigmatic draw of the unknown, the romantic and the haunted. They have largely remained distinctive threads within my practice. . . although the list of chemicals I mention in Duct (2014), while purely scientific, isn’t so far distant in sound and tone from a fantastical list of ingredients one might see described in a witch’s spell. DEEPER UNDERSTANDING
Rearranged keys on broken computer
11" x 17"

OPP: I’m excited by the simplicity of the phrases and how their placement in certain sites or rendering in certain material adds complexity. Can you talk about site-specificity in works like Deeper Understanding (2008), You Will Find No Answers Here (2008), and Pumping Irony (2013)?

DJ: When words that we expect to see within environments that we have become familiar with are altered in a way that contradicts or tweaks social, religious or cultural standards that we have come to accept through repetition or resignation, they can provide a jolt to the complacencies and complicity we have surrendered to the status quo. Art which is effectively, surgically site-specific—and not merely lazily site-specific—retains great power to jar people out of their tacit acceptance of standard beliefs. In those circumstances we can see the disconnect between repetitive standards and more uncomfortable truths. The works you mention were all to do with opposing the odious righteousness of what we are taught to hope or believe in; computers are great and they work; looking muscular by going to the gym, and never giving up on your fitness goals is the optimum lifestyle choice; and religion has all the moral and spiritual aids you need to handle life’s challenges. It is about the ridiculous concept that failure is not an option. In fact that is correct, because failure is not an option, it’s a necessity.

Chalk on gym motivational board / digital image
5" x 7"

OPP: Can you talk practically about your experience as an art writer? Do you choose what you review and pitch it to the publications you write for or do you receive assignments?

DJ: Usually, it is a case of pitching what I’d like to write about. Sometimes a wider ranging article on a particular subject, an interview with someone in the art world or a review. The privilege of writing for several publications is that they each have their own approaches and aims, so I can tailor pitches and write on a wide array of topics in various formats and lengths.

Digital c print from text intervention
Variable dimensions

OPP: Can you offer any practical advice for new and emerging artists about getting their shows reviewed?

DJ: Offering advice in the art world often isn’t helpful because there is no one way to progress or to achieve one’s aims. Some artists don’t try to get their work reviewed at all, but instead concentrate on the work itself, on making it as effective as it can be. Or an artist might try very hard to get a review by focusing on fostering relationships with as many peers, colleagues and friends in the art world(s) as possible; by nurturing contacts and connections, building and constantly expanding a network, treating the art as a serious product to be promoted, exhibited, discussed and disseminated, and by committing to the business of being an artist. What I can say generally is that success in the art world—whether getting a show, review or making money from the art—depends a great deal on who you know. Those in power in the art world would rather deny this because they want legitimacy for their opinions on what is good and bad. But this is an arrogant aim, because art is utterly subjective. Nobody’s taste is superior to anyone else’s. And so the upper gallery system is built almost entirely on the forced opinion of those with influence, propped up with incomprehensible press releases and social media saturation. It is all very insidious. . . and yet, interesting artists, who say intriguing things, do still gain attention. So persevering is worthwhile.

To see more of Darren's work, please visit darrenjonesart.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 cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent 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 exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). Most recently, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in March 2016.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Erin Washington

Talking Board
Chalk and acrylic on panel
18" x 24"

ERIN WASHINGTON uses imagery, text and fugitive materials to evoke a long history of human inquiry into the form and meaning of the universe we live in. Perception and permanence are called into question. Theoretical Physics mingles with tangible objects from antiquity. Art historical references are balanced by philosophical ones. Erin received a BA in Studio Art from University of Colorado at Boulder in 2005. She went on to earn a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Painting and Drawing (2008) and an MFA (2011) from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Erin's 2016 exhibitions in Chicago include solo show Useful Knowledge at Zolla Lieberman, two-person show Hand of Mouth at Roots & Culture and group show Chicago and Vicinity at Shane Campbell Gallery. She was named a 2016 Chicago Breakout Artist by New City Art. Erin lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: I think of art, philosophy, myth and science all as modes of inquiry, which should be balanced, but not privileged over one another. What do you think?

Erin Washington: Oh of course! By no means do I propose that one mode of inquiry supersedes another. . . if anything, I am looking at these modes of inquiry as different languages attempting to ask the same question. Some languages are better at capturing different nuances to the question; some languages elicit a different type of response or forefront a different type of preoccupation. One language may be more lyrical or poetic, emphasizing romance and pleasure while a different language may be better at discussing facts and figures and analytics, using statistics to describe an agreed upon reality. My hope is to flatten any perceived hierarchy. . . screaming into the void unintelligibly, waiting for an answer from where I do not know. . .

wormhole shape = headstone shape
Chalk and acrylic on panel
16" x 20"

OPP: Many of your two-dimensional works are chalk on acrylic on panel. I’m curious about the permanence or impermanence of the chalk: is it fixed? Either way, the implication of erasure and accumulation of meaning is still there.

EW: Another instance in which the question might be more important than the answer! One of my favorite drawings is Robert Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning Drawing. A very young Rauschenberg obtained an original drawing by Willem de Kooning and spent weeks erasing it. Erased de Kooning Drawing is powerful because of the story and because of the action. . . conservationists have taken digital photographs of the piece, and now we can Google image search and find out what the actual de Kooning drawing looked like before Rauschenberg labored over its erasure. But it's not satisfying to look at the imagery of what the drawing looked like before it became what it is now. It's satisfying to see the ghost of its former self and to think of the actions of both artists involved.

OPP: Do you think of your chalk works as palimpsests?

EW: My fondness for Erased de Kooning Drawing should imply that yes, I do think of my work as palimpsests. I like that every mark, whether preparatory or finalized, is present and available to the viewer. Some marks clearly describe a thinking mind, while others are purely in existence for the moment and only remain as ghosts of themselves. Those ghosts might not be immediately available, but as trace rewards to the careful and attentive viewer.

Perhaps another way of thinking about it could be illustrated in this anecdote: very often painters will keep rags in their studios to wipe their brushes clean between marks; this helps keeps the paint “pure” and unmuddied from pigment picked up by other pigments on the wet canvas. This is common in drawing, too. The drawer will have a scrap piece of paper handy to “wipe off” the pencil/pen, or to keep the tip at a certain sharpness or degree of angle. A friend in school started wiping off his brushes at the bottom of his painting, so he had these interesting perceptual paintings for three-quarters of the canvas and then what amounted to an abstract expressionist painting at the bottom quarter. When I asked him about why he decided to do that, he referred to the bottom quarter of the painting as “the basement.” It was his way of acknowledging that those “cleaning the brush” marks were just as important to the painting as the mannered and controlled perceptual painting marks.

Negative Positive
Blackberries and oil paint on canvas
12 " x 12 "

OPP: In earlier works, you use other fugitive materials—saliva, moss, tea, and the juice from beets, pomegranates, blackberries, cranberries and raspberries—to make marks. These works tend to be more abstract, foregrounding the materials themselves. When and why did you first start working with these organic materials?

EW: My natural inclination is to be drawn to the materiality of media. I would look at artists like Dieter Roth or Wolfgang Laib and vibrate with excitement. If you want them to, materials can help dictate meaning and form and change the context in which a viewer engages with the work.

The contextual issues we discussed have been of interest to me for a long time. There came a point in exploring these ideas when I began to question the materials that I was using—at the time I was using oil paints. After all, if you’re dealing in inquiry of perception and permanence, eventually you turn that lens on not only Art History but inward as well. . . onto your supports and materials and eventually onto yourself. In other words, it felt weird to try to make work about these ideas using the immutable tools of Painting. While in graduate school at SAIC, one of my advisors picked up on my interest in the passage of time and permanence and suggested that I pick up The Art Forger’s Handbook to study methods and techniques for mimicking aged work. The secret spells and analysis of pigments and supports really tickled the witchy part of my heart, so I started expanding my scope of materials.

Suprematism (After K.M.)
Charred bone and oil on paper
(Left image: found bone, before charring. Right image: Charred bone and oil ground into 40" x 50" paper)

OPP: How are these materials connected to your cosmology references?

EW: When looking at natural pigments, I think of their very early uses, cave paintings and rituals, for example. Using spit and burnt wood and bones and rocks and earth, humans made marks to say we are/were here and to make sense of their world. To figure out how the world began and why we are here. . . that’s one of the most basic definitions of cosmology! The pairing lined up nicely.

And yes, you are correct, the earlier work was much more abstract for a couple of reasons. I was really interested in figuring out how these materials could work, but I was also a little distrustful of imagery at the time. I was wary that images could shut down nuance. I want the artwork to operate with multiple layers of meaning. In retrospect, I think that binary is over-simplified and has flawed logic.

eternal return
Chalk and acrylic on panel
16" x 20"

OPP: In eternal return (2015) and eternal return too (2016), you use the repeated image of the ouroboros, a serpent eating its own tail. The symbol shows up in numerous ancient cultures and has associations in several philosophical, mystical and psychological systems of thought. What does it mean to you in the context of contemporary culture?

EW: Supposedly the concept of the ouroboros is represented in some shape or form in most ancient cultures to symbolize cyclical recreations, introspection and self-reflexivity. In earlier drawings, I diagrammed Shapes of the Universe and Shapes of an Expanding Universe because I am fascinated with the Oscillating Universe Theory, in which an expanding universe eventually falls apart, but then provides energy/fuel for a subsequent big-bang. This means that all matter and space is forever expanding, collapsing and expanding again (and answering that tricky question “what was there before the big bang?”). I think it has been disproved or isn’t popular among scientists, but it’s such a comforting metaphor. It’s another example of a language of inquiry stumbling upon the poetic. The ouroboros is a visual representation of an eternal return. When I started drawing them, I wound up personifying them, wondering how does it feel for them to eat their own tails? Are they terrified? Are they excited? Are they gagging?

Hand of Mouth
Metalpoint, gouache and acrylic on panel
11" x 14"

OPP: Tell us about your recent show at Roots & Culture in Chicago.

EW: The show was a two-person show with myself and former Chicago artist Ron Ewert (now Brooklyn-based). We both reference and source imagery from other contexts within our paintings/drawings, and we also both have an interest in sculpture and installation as a meta-context/narrative to prop these two-dimensional objects upon. Ron, for example, creates stripped-down wall frames without drywall, often painting these naked two-by-fours bright colors and hanging his work on the wall-skeletons.

We had a couple of Skype studio-visits and realized that we both like using a sort of lateral-thinking/oblique strategy method of generating ideas. We were collecting images and realizing that a lot of them featured hands or mouths or hands with mouths. That’s how we settled on the title of the show Hand of Mouth, and I think that weird phrase influenced a couple of pieces for both of us.

Faith in Fakes (holodeck)
Mixed media installation.
Dimensions variable.
Also on view, Ron Ewert painting.

OPP: What new work did you present?

EW:  I featured more of my collage-based work,  as well as some new metal-point drawings. About a year ago, a friend gave me some metal-point tips with the challenge, “you like drawing and weird materials, try these: they’re the Olympics of drawing!” Metal-point pre-dates graphite and lead. When you’re drawing, you’re embedding metal deposits into the surface of the support, which means you cannot erase your marks.

As mentioned earlier, Ron and I both have an interest in installation acting as a meta-context for our two dimensional work. To this end, I created a mock Holodeck to hang paintings in. It’s an installation I’ve wanted to make for a while, and I was fortunate that Roots & Culture allowed me to do that. Anyway: Faith in Fakes (holodeck) makes reference to Star Trek The Next Generation (a show of great importance to a handful of dear friends in my life). It’s a room that creates virtual reality for the crew on Star Trek, and it’s a conceit that was always confusing to me. Here is a crew of people, essentially in a utopian society in which all races are treated equally and peacefully getting along. (The original Star Trek was one of the first network television shows to feature a racially diverse cast.) They are actively bringing PEACE to the galaxy. . . and yet, they need a virtual reality room to escape utopia every now and then? Furthermore: not only are they already in utopia, they’re astronauts (every child’s secret wish)! It’s often how I feel about my studio. I get to exist in this world. . . and yet I still need to escape into my studio to sit in a room alone and make drawings. . .

To see more of Erin's work, please visit erinwashington.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 cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent 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 exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). Most recently, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in March 2016.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Johnathan Payne

Bound #1
Ballpoint pen and ink pen on paper
6 3/4 in. x 5 1/2 in.

The racialized and gendered body—his body—is the jumping off point for JOHNATHAN PAYNE's performance, sculpture and installation. His performances include rituals that embody endurance, self-investigation, self-care and preparation for facing the world as a human in a particular body. Coming at the same content from another direction, his Constructions—beautiful, airy, fragile curtains, meticulously assembled from shredded, colored printer paper and comic books—and ballpoint pen drawings of dense, wavy lines that evoke human hair explore the body through abstraction and materiality. Johnathan earned his BA in Art in 2012 from Rhodes College, where he was the recipient of the Sally Becker Grinspan Award for Artistic Achievement. His solo exhibitions include New Drawings (2014) at Beige, Accumulations (2013) at InsideOut Gym and DHOOOOOOM! (2011) at Jack Robinson Gallery, all in Memphis. In 2015, he collaborated with photographer D'Angelo Williams on Room to Let, created and exhibited at First Congregational Church in Memphis. He will exhibit new Constructions and collage work at 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair courtesy of Jenkins Johnson Gallery. The fair will take place at Somerset House in London on October 6-9, 2016. Johnathan currently lives in Memphis, Tennessee but will be heading to Yale this fall to pursue his MFA in Painting/Printmaking.

OtherPeoplesPixels: “Intense preoccupations with self-concept, desire, and tribalism [were] the points of departure for” Meet Me Where I’m At (2015), a solo show that included sculpture and performance. The title reads to me as a call away from tribalism, a call to see humans as individuals, not others. Can you say more about how you think about tribalism?

Johnathan Payne: I define tribalism as the organization of individuals who have a deep kinship over a shared culture or commonality. A fraternity, an ethnic or racial group, and a church congregation are examples of tribes to me, and such tribes were catalysts for the conceptualization of the show. I also think about tribalism in relation to time and space, and how people can go in and out of particular tribes depending on those two variables. The show was the outcome of a lot of personal existential questioning. I was beginning to question my positioning in the tribes that I deemed myself a part of but felt somewhat distant to: past and (then) present relationships, the Black/Queer community, and my then live/work space at a church, to name a few. I wanted to examine the isolation I felt as an individual in relation to certain tribes and the difference between identifying as a tribe member and actively participating as one. So, your interpretation of seeing humans as individuals and not (or, interrelation to) others is very spot on.

Partial Self-Portrait
Graphite, ink pen and India ink on paper
12 in. x 12 1/2 in.

OPP: How do self-concept and desire play into, ignite or counteract tribalism?

JP: The past, current, and future self—elements that make up a self-concept—are occasionally at odds with one another. I think this oddity with one’s self is experienced by everyone at some point or another. Usually, I process some of these inner emotions/self schemas by asking myself, “What the fuck are you doing?” or “What were you thinking?” or “Where are you going?” These questions may sound ruminative and self-shaming, but they help me be real with myself and get to the meat of my personal goals and desires. Desire is a double-edged sword for me. I’ve felt the desire to be someone I inherently am not, to be among people whose tribe I don’t have immediate access to or would have to mute or sacrifice an aspect of myself to gain access to. These inner conflicts with certain desires have negatively informed my self-concept, and have brought certain insecurities to the surface in distressful ways. Meet Me Where I’m At ultimately became an attempt to reconcile my relationship with myself, and to see myself unique to the tribes I occupy and the ones I desired to be in.
It was important for me to work across disciplines and engage in time-intensive processes to create the work. I was thinking about the body a lot, specifically a racialized and gendered body, my body. I was questioning my relationship to my body and how my body existed in space and how it was being perceived by others. Poly-consciousness is very central to my lived experience, and the show became an opportunity to explore a personal multidimensionality across materials and forms. Mental endurance, positive self-talk and perseverance are all tools I use in my daily life to push through internal drama induced by the external world. Physical fitness seemed like an appropriate vehicle to examine this self-preservation. The home workout excited me because it is rooted in self-care, but also in solitude. There’s comfort in not being seen working out, in not being susceptible to the perceptions of other gym-goers. I wanted to turn all that on its head by doing Tae Bo in a gallery, to conflate the concepts of isolation, self-improvement and the external gaze.

Meet Me Where I'm At
Live performance/installation exhibition at Crosstown Arts (Memphis, TN)
May 8, 2015.

OPP: You did a performance for the same show, in which you performed a series of secular rituals—shaving your beard and hair, doing a Tae Bo video in a gym-mat-shaped ring of tea lights, bathing, and reading floating fortune cookies followed by beer-bonging your own bath water. In the documentation, we can’t see everything that the live viewers saw. What else can you tell us that we may have missed by not seeing this live?

JP: The live performance spanned roughly one and a half hours, start-to-finish. The audience and I were both entrapped in a lot of time together. There were many sounds of feet shuffling, people conversing, and beer and soda cans popping open by mid-performance. With the exception of shaving my head, bathing, and beer-bonging bath water, most of the performance was spent with my back facing the audience. It was a very personal experience for me, and the audience’s experience was secondary to my own. Occasionally, during the duration of the Tae Bo workout, I would stop to drink water from a bottle I placed outside the tea lights. There was a bit of comicality visible to a live audience, specifically when I responded with disbelief to particularly intense exercises. Audience members cheered me on when I got tired, or when I looked like I was really struggling to perform the moves. Eventually, some of the tea lights burned out entirely.

The Tae Bo workout was projected directly onto the wall, so the scale of the video was large. It consumed me, and in a way I had to compete for the audience’s attention, because the Tae Bo video is rather dynamic to watch on its own. In the video, you see Billy Blanks in the foreground a majority of the time. The fitness studio where the video was filmed has a padded red floor, with various signs on the walls. There is a large, diverse group of people participating in the video. Many racial groups, ages, and genders are represented. There are also a variety of fitness levels represented too. But, collectively, everyone looks confident and has a strong physique. The front row contains people who are incredibly fit, and they maintain the pace of Blanks’ commands. The video was produced and distributed in the year 2000, and it definitely feels stylistically and aesthetically dated in that sense. Billy is a very lively figure throughout the video. He is encouraging, uplifting, militant and authoritative, all in one. My body language throughout the performance shifts, particularly during and after the bathing sequence. At that point, I am directly facing the audience and actively engaging with them. It was certainly me at my most vulnerable moment, but also my most powerful moment.

Meet Me Where I'm At
Performance still

OPP: A year later, what do you think about your own performance?

JP: This performance continues to be a lot for me to unpack. I think about my relationship to Billy Blanks and how his projection of Black masculinity is very divergent from my own. My attempt to mirror his appearance and keep pace with him is difficult, unsuccessful and ultimately unnecessary. I find comfort in that “failure,” in that ability to affirm Blackness across a spectrum, detached from competition and a monolithic representation. I still contemplate the line between self-care and self-medication, and my relationships to my past and current self. I continue to ask myself a lot of questions surrounding who I am and how I exist in the world. Ultimately, I think the performance challenged me to relinquish some of the internalizations that impeded me from being able to be my authentic self.

Installation view

OPP: In your Constructions (2015-present), made from both shredded comic books and colored printer paper, I’m most interested in the idea of transforming a narrative form into abstraction, even if it is an abstraction that hints at a functional object (a curtain). Can you discuss the two different papers in relation to the forms?

JP: My Constructions series developed from an ongoing interest to appropriate comic books in my work. Since 2011, I have explored the comic image and consider Ray Yoshida and his retrospective at the Sullivan Galleries at SAIC to be one of the most significant moments for me as a visual artist. Seeing the way Yoshida extracted and arranged forms from various comic books into specimen-like formations against spacious white grounds really stuck with me. In my Constructions, I make tapestry-like collages that attempt to evoke the vulnerability, complexity and tactility intrinsic to particular embodied identities. These evocations are manifested through color, pattern, and material. I play with color and pattern in different ways depending on the paper I choose.

When I shred comic book paper, the compositional and formal elements become colorful strips of pixelated, whimsical information. I then play around with these strips, creating patterned designs until I discover one that is compelling enough for me to explore further. Then, I set out to make a large scale artwork. From a distance, there is a formal uniformity to the Constructions made out of comic book paper. Yet, when viewed at an intimate distance, the comic Constructions offer a lot of complexity and detail in relation to color, line, and subject matter. I deconstruct depictions of whiteness, “justice,” heteronormativity, and patriarchy embedded in many comic books. The resulting form is not intended to be a reimagining or response to the original comic narrative. Though a familiarity exists, my goal is to transform the material into something rather unconventional.

I developed a stronger interest to play with color in my work after exploring the art of Black Abstractionists. The work of Alma Thomas, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Odili Donald Odita, Howardina Pindell and Stanley Whitney really resonates with me. So, I began to experiment with colored printer paper. I enjoyed that, similar to comic books, there was already visual information to respond to, though in this instance, it’s just flat, predetermined color. I began to use this paper as a tool to build pattern, tamper with light and shadow, and reference color field paintings and geometric abstractions. I layer warm and cool colors atop one another in an attempt to blend colors and create a visual vibrancy where the two shift rather seamlessly. I consider these particular constructions to be more broadly derivative of paintings. Also, the colored printer paper is usually stronger than the comic book paper, because of its ream weight and it being newer paper most times. So, I find that there’s a greater ability to experiment with surface texture. The surfaces of the colored paper constructions tend to buckle and bend, which reiterates the idea of vulnerable, yet resilient bodies and identities within society. I’m excited to explore both materials more in graduate school, as well as other printed material/archived publications.

Munch (detail)
shredded comic books and adhesive
96 in. x 83 in.

OPP: Tell us about your recent collaboration Room to Let (2015) with photographer D'Angelo Williams. What did you each bring to the project?

JP: D’Angelo’s MFA thesis work titled Beauty Kings stages various black men adorned with a deep burgundy turban standing in isolation within urban and rural landscapes. I was deeply inspired by this work and had the pleasure in participating as a model for him. His thesis work and my studio projects at the time were the catalysts for the show. Following Meet Me Where I’m At, I began working on a series of gestures and drawings that were intended to be somewhat dark in tonality and thematic content, so I wanted to balance that out with a project that was more participatory, colorful and playful. We decided to further investigate portraiture photography and abstract drawing together.

D’Angelo specifically brought a strong background in shooting and editing photographs to the project, and I brought a collaborative painting and drawing background. We both desired to explore color, identity and abstraction using space, material, fabrics and textiles and willing participants. We shot the photographs at First Congregational Church in Memphis, where I lived and worked as an events coordinator and a hostel resident assistant—the church runs an international traveler’s hostel called Pilgrim House. We borrowed linens and blankets from the hostel and asked guests if they wanted to pose for us. Initially, I was hesitant to ask strangers to participate. We would both approach someone, explain the themes and ideas surrounding the photos, and ask if they were interested. To my surprise, a lot of people expressed interest, and for some, it was a significant highlight of their time in Memphis. 

Rochelle on Southside Roof
Digital print
22 in. x 17 in.

OPP: What surprises emerged during the process?

JP: We worked together to drape the fabrics over the guests, making formal decisions based on the specific locations in the building and the personalities of each model. What struck me early in our project was how beautiful these fabrics looked adorned on the models. These were sheets and blankets that I’d spent a year interacting with as a staff member—washing, folding, cleaning—and I’d given them no particular mind and ascribed absolutely zero value to them. But, in reality, there was a lot of power inherent in them. That power was invisible to me, and the project really encouraged me to search for meaning where it’s (perceivably) least expected. We shot the photographs in various spaces within the church and made collaborative drawings and one shaped painting in my studio, which was also located inside the church. We exhibited the work in one of the rooms we photographed in, and opened the exhibition to churchgoers, hostel guests  and friends. It was wonderful to witness so many different people engaging with the art.

Room to Let really informed my interest to explore color, tactility, materiality and abstraction, and how all those elements can represent embodied identities. Working with D’Angelo was incredibly affirming, and I found comfort where we overlapped as artists and individuals.

Untitled (Jungle)
Acrylic paint, India ink, ballpoint pen, and permanent marker on paper

OPP: In your most recent video performance Training Session (2015), you do forward rolls on a small gym mat over and over again, wearing a T-shirt that says Up Against the Wall Mother Fucker. What are you training for?

JP: I am training for sustained self-preservation against the systems within society that wish to destroy me. In Training Session, I wanted to portray a pro-Black political sentiment through embodiment, text and the urban environment. I had finished reading Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and was thinking a lot about the vulnerability inherently attached to the Black body. How, at any point, it can be extinguished and how that threat of extinction can induce an internalized violence that is both protective and self-destructive. Coates writes, “. . . this is your country. . . this is your world. . . this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.” That line really resonated with me as I strove to determine what being free in my own Black body looked like. I wanted to show myself struggling in a repetitive act, that danced the line between external and internal influencers. That in-between is a rich space to me.

I also wanted to connect this performance with a Black Power narrative. The line on the shirt is a quote from Amiri Baraka’s poem Black People. In the poem, Baraka affirms the need for Black people to make their own world by any means necessary, including violence onto white people. The poem goes:

You can't steal nothing from a white man, he's already stole it he owes you everything you want, even his life. All the stores will open if you say the magic words. The magic words are: Up against the wall motherfucker! this is a stick up... We must make our own world, man, our own world, and we can not do this unless the white man is dead. Let's get together and kill him my man.

Though I’m not a violent person, I wanted to incorporate the theme of a racial-political uprising, but on the individual level. I wore the shirt in the performance to evoke the aggressive, combative tone in the poem. I paired this loaded text with a repetitive action—the somersault, a rudimental gymnastics technique—that hinted at notions of personal development, amateurism and innocence. I also wore a wrestling ear-guard to reinforce the idea of combat sport, but also to hint to a potential opponent. Though in reality they are many in number, two “opponents” depicted in the video include the hard, overgrown externalized world around me, as well as the internalized shackles that impede me from nurturing a radically Black identity.

Training Session
Filmed October 11, 2015 in Memphis, TN.
Documentation courtesy of David Bergen.

OPP: Training Session, which was made last October, took on renewed relevance two weeks ago, with the police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. . .

JP: The recent police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and the shooting of Dallas and Baton Rouge police officers are tragic and continuous reminders of the difficult reality that is existing in a Black body in America. It’s horrible to think that images of Black people have been constructed in ways beyond our own imagining or control and that these constructions ignite such brutality and violence onto us. In her book Citizen, Claudia Rankine speaks to a particular anger: “the anger built up through experience and quotidian struggles against dehumanization every brown or black person lives simply because of skin color.” I’ve heard this anger be referred to as Black Rage, and I see a connection between it and the internalized fear I mentioned earlier. I empathize entirely with these emotions and understand the root causes behind their extreme, outward manifestations. I also am able to confront my particular vantage point, which is from a place of privilege. I understand that the way I maintain and/or channel my emotions is unique to my experience. I haven't always been the most comfortable affirming my Blackness or confronting racism in the past, but I'm unpacking that suppression in my life right now. I think all of this is visible in Training Session.

To see more of Johnathan's work, please visit johnathanpayne.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 cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent 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 exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). Most recently, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in March 2016.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Edra Soto

Graft, 2013 - ongoing
Architectural intervention at Cuchifritos Gallery + Project Space
Wood or adhesive

Influenced by her upbringing in Puerto Rico, EDRA SOTO explores the cultural, symbolic and historical meanings of vernacular patterns and objects. Her projects often have multiple iterations and require audience-participation to be truly activated; participants read the newspapers at the rejas-adorned "bus stops" in GRAFT, play dominoes in Dominodomino (2015) or consume pineapple upside-down cake in The Wedding Cake Project (2009-ongoing). By merging research with autobiography and audience-participation, she reveals the intersection of the individual with the collective. Edra earned her MFA at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2000. She's also an alum of Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Beta-Local in Puerto Rico, and most recently the Robert Rauschenberg Residency. Her numerous 2016 exhibitions include There was no joy in the brilliance of sunshine at Efrain Lopez Gallery (Chicago), Relocating Techniques at Corner (Chicago) and the Elmhurst Art Museum Biennial: Chicago Statement (Elmhurst, Illinois). In August 2016, her work will be included in Poor and Needy: The Great Poor Farm Experiment IIX, curated by Lise Haller Baggesen and Yvette Brackmanin. Along with her husband Dan Sullivan, Edra runs The Franklin, an outdoor project space in Chicago. Her GRAFT project will be featured at the Western Avenue stop on the train line to O’Hare Airport in Chicago, where she lives and works.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Pattern and ornamentation are major players in your practice. How do you think about them, how do you use them and what would you like to add to the conversation around them?

Edra Soto: I think about patterns as markers of specific cultures. Nowadays, I cannot look at a pattern without wondering about its place of origin, and if appropriated, how it has been appropriated. Perhaps these are the most frustrating times, were there are no boundaries for what it’s being consumed. Going to retail establishments and seeing patterns used indiscriminately is somewhat disconcerting. Like any other mark or gestural representation, patterns have owners and places of origin.

My architectural intervention GRAFT presents representations of rejas (fence in Spanish) patterns that come from Puerto Rican domestic architecture. I create architectural interventions rather than turning them into sculptural objects in order to preserve the integrity of those patters. This way, I avoid turning them into some kind of merchandise with a commercial destination or retail value. In my pretend gesture, I symbolically transplant a portion of the Puerto Rican visual landscape into American territory, as if I was playing the role of the settler. Puerto Rican middle class cement houses and rejas pattern designers were presumed to be the creation of slaves brought to Puerto Rico by the Spanish conquistadors in the 1500s. An essay titled Comparative + Studies based on hypothesis, The African influence in the built-up Environment of Puerto Rico, author Jorge Ortiz Colom, attributes authorship of the fractal patterns to African slaves from the the republic of Ghana that were brought to Puerto Rico for free labor. The patterns are associated with the Adinkras visual symbols created by the Ashanty region in West Africa.

The rampant inner racism in the Caribbean makes me think that it is possible that there’s no populous knowledge of the origins the rejas because of racial discrimination. Spanish architecture is something that people can talk about and that is studied in high school; the rejas on the other hand are not a part of that roster of things we get to learn in high school. You have to be an artist or a scholar, go into research to learn about the African influence in domestic architecture. To me, this is a true motivator that gives value to these important piece of domestic architecture that defines Puerto Rican’s visual landscape.

Graft, 2013 - ongoing 
Architectural intervention at Terrain exhibitions
Wood or adhesive

OPP: Does recontextualizing the rejas from Puerto Rico in mainland U.S. cities ever run the risk of misrepresenting? Do you ever fear the contemporary cultural default to see the patterns as a surface instead of a language?

ES: Yes, it does run that risk. It is up to me to inform through my work the best way I can. I believe in these patterns because they provide an easy entrance to deeper issues of race and class. The hybridization that the patterns have already gone through makes them more relevant in relation to popular visual language (or visual access). They are already inserted in the commercial market. It is up to me to inform viewers about their origin through critical thinking and conceptual analysis. To this point, the extension of GRAFT invites writers from various disciplines (architecture, history, sociology, politics, poetry) to explore the rejas through their respective fields. Other extensions of GRAFT are in the works. This project becomes more and more fascinating to me as time goes by. It takes me time to learn about the projects I undertake. Through lots of reflection, research and conversations I have found motivation and inspiration to continue the course of GRAFT.

Say Everything
Installation view

OPP: Can you talk about your use of fans in the Tropicalamerican installations and Say Everything? Besides their practical function of moving air in the space to activate the hanging flags, what other symbolic, conceptual or formal functions do they serve?

ES: Say Everything responds to a personal experience in an outdoor setting. I was fortunate to attend the Robert Rauschenberg residency earlier that year and develop most of the work of Say Everything there. I tried to recreate my outdoor experience in the domestic gallery space. I took in consideration the interior architecture and decorative elements of the domestic space and assign roles to the various objects / elements that I included in my installation. A series of flags titled Tropicalamerican, embody the natural environment. In the middle of the room, in portrait position, they try to resemble trees; a series of chairs upholstered with beach towels resembles four legged animals; the fans represented the wind and animated the space with movement. It was a colorful and playful reverse role play: artificial versus natural environment.

from Tropicalamerican III

OPP: The clay spirals from Figures (2013-ongoing) have been exhibited on shelves with fluorescent light, on a circular slab of concrete, underneath a staircase, and on what looks to be a domestic tchotchke shelf. Can you talk about the flexibility of installation in this project?

ES: Perhaps opposite in its intention, I think of Figures as my response to the commercial market. What triggered my interest in Figures was the idea of making an object that comes out of a single coil. The coil is the most basic shape in building a ceramic form. The coil is the starter of something that possibly will be functional. I was teaching high school art at that time, and teaching a skill always opened up an opportunity to create something. This was one of those opportunities. I had never worked with air dry clay before. It’s a technological miracle: truly easy to work with, very clean and possible indestructible. My focus was to create an object that resembles a shell. Shells are protectors of organisms. Closer to home, they are popularly seen as Caribbean souvenirs. Displays are interesting because they can alter the connotation of the object, changing it from mass-produced to an artifact, from an archival object to one of spiritual connotations. I think about display forms as the providers of the environment we want to create for the work we make.

2013 - ongoing
Air dry clay

OPP: You recently co-curated—with Josue PellotPresent Standard for the Chicago Cultural Center. The show featured 25 contemporary, US-based Latinx artists. It was fantastic and received a lot of press. And The Franklin is now a staple Chicago venue. Tell us about your first experiences as a curator.

ES: When I was a student in Puerto Rico, I was obsessed with the idea of bringing different disciplines together into my work. I was studying at a conservative college where painting and sculpture were the validated forms of art. Performance and installation were too advanced at that time. After my first year at SAIC in Chicago, I developed the confidence to explore various disciplines in a single project. The I Love Chicago Project was my first multidisciplinary installation project. I invited friends who were musicians and  performance and sound artists to perform in my SAIC studio. I was also very curious about what other artists were making. While walking around SAIC artists’ studios, I started putting together ideas and associating their respective projects, to the point of feeling convinced that they will speak to a greater audience if they were together in one single space. This led me to my first curatorial project titled Glam Salon at the Student Union Gallery (SUG), a somewhat neglected space in a very desirable spot on campus, right in between the School and the Museum of the Art Institute. The SUG was not popular at the time (not sure why), and I saw that as an opportunity to remind other students of what is available to them. Michael X Ryan was the professor at that time in charge of this space, and I will always be grateful for his support and excitement for my project. He was very serious and intimidating to me, but very supportive to students.

The Franklin consolidates many attempts, many sculptural and performance projects that intended to bring different disciplines and audiences to a singular space or situation. The Franklin also allows me to give visibility and space to the communities of artists that need it, and it's an opportunity for me to showcase work by artists or curators that I have met throughout the years. One great thing about The Franklin is that it is at my home, a place I truly love. It makes things easier.

It's Been A Very Good Year, 2016
Painted fragments on paper

OPP: What’s challenging about balancing the roles of curator and artist? What’s beneficial?

ES: The greatest challenge of curating while maintaining your career is time. Managing how much time things take in the making, the networking, the organizing departments. . . it is difficult to balance. As long as it feels that it comes from a real place to me, I will pursue it. Being organized doesn’t come naturally to me. At some point I realized that I will be my own administrator and that in order to make things work I need to be organized. Providing artists opportunities for exposure allows me to balance my career, which at many times feels so self-centered.

To see more of Edra's work, please visit edrasoto.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 cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent 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 exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). Most recently, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in March 2016.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Justin Morgan Kennedy

Swine is Divine

Artist and educator JUSTIN MORGAN KENNEDY examines overlooked and dismissed places, resources and objects collected from both urban and rural environments. Whether in a concrete cast of a a rural Shenandoah deer path or an irregular, grid of found upholstery and imported mums, he hopes to draw our attention to what we do and don't value about our human habitats. Morgan earned his BA in Studio Art from George Mason University in 1997 and his MFA in Sculpture from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2000. He has had solo exhibitions at Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, where he was an Artist-in-Residence, in 2003 (Omaha, Nebraska) and the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts in 2008 (Wilmington, Delaware). In 2010, he was also an Artist-in-Residence at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center Arts Industry Residency. Most recently, he finished a collaborative piece called World Table with Workingman Collective at the Bascom Center for Visual Arts in Highlands, North Carolina. Morgan is an Assistant Professor of Sculpture Western Carolina University at and has relocated to Asheville, North Carolina.

OtherPeoplesPixels: “I am continually discovering the connections between ego, form and context.” Can you expand on this quote from your statement: what kinds of connections have you discovered?

Justin Morgan Kennedy: I have always been interested in the effects objects have in our understanding of place, time, memory and our consciousness as living entities. I have often questioned the potential influence of dreams on our waking lives and vice versa. What roles do memories and dreams play, and how do they contribute to a relationship between humans and their environs?

In some West African cultures, if one dreams of a memorable encounter with a stranger or lover, the dreamer will wake and render a carving of the person as a wood statue. By doing this, the dreamer hopes the new sculpture will act as a signifier and produce more dream encounters. Seeing a real world representation should incite further lucid dream encounters with this person. I personally connect with this philosophy, and it poses further questions about the role tangible form plays in our understanding of the seen and unseen world. To me tangible form and concept are linked. They inform one another. The African dream doll rite for me solidifies that objects or forms in our real waking life can inform the ethereal distant world we go during our sleep cycle—signifier and signified.  Objects and the physical dance to render or act as a bridge between the subconscious world and our waking life. I myself have had several dreams where I realized I was dreaming, woke up and drew the objects from my dreams. . . then made them.

Steel banding riveted together, wire
7 x 6 x 30ft

OPP: I’m curious about your choice of the word habitat that is in some titles and in your statement. What connotations does habitat have for you, as opposed to space, place or environment?

JMK: Websters defines habitat as:
1a :  the place or environment where a plant or animal naturally or normally lives and grows
b :  the typical place of residence of a person or a group
c :  a housing for a controlled physical environment in which people can live under surrounding, inhospitable conditions (as under the sea)
 2:  the place where something is commonly found

I like to explore the definitions of words, but at the same time see beyond their assigned meanings, especially since words are living and often take on new meanings. Habitat is about one’s experience in a particle place or environ for temporary or set periods of time. No single environ is permanent for any one culture, people or person. Time or a particular point in time (memory) should always be considered. Space, place, environ, and habitat all talk of context, but like a layer cake, they do so with greater degrees of complexity. 

Swine is Divine
Wall compilation
20ft X 35ft

OPP: Could you talk about your use of live plants and upholstery in installations like Swine is Divine and Fleur #3-Delmarva and Fleur #2 Columbian Gold-Kieffer?

JMK: I am interested in the language of materials and their link to social stratification or hierarchy. Objects and materials have meaning and multiple associations. They tell stories and refer to certain human social systems. All the materials in these pieces come from specific urban contexts: Baltimore, DC or Milwaukee. I wanted to create a different take on how landscape is portrayed in art, and I aim to get the viewer to re-question their set value system.

Swine is Divine is a reflection of Milwaukee’s social diversity and social problems. Posh folks live on the northside; poor and working class people live on the south. There are industrial areas, forests popping up from the decay and segregated communities. I include paintings of pines trees not painted by me, but rather bought from ebay. I like the statement it presents: we live in a world where artifice rules, so we should use the system and make it part of the content. Also the pine trees represent fast growth, since old growth hardwoods were cut down in order to grow conifers to meet our nation’s paper demand. I also include weeds grown in a custom Victorian bowl and another with big box shop perennials. We value these purchased, mass grown flowering plants and have disdain for weeds like dandelion or clovers. Yet the weeds, which we often pay to remove, have much more uses outside the aesthetic role of their box shop competitors: as food, dye and medicine. They also attract wildlife and are often drought resistant.

Columbian Gold-Keifer grew out of my interest in adding color to my work. I thought to use something living instead of paint. Flowers have color, presence, and often require attentiveness to thrive; paint falls short in this respect. I thought of my youth working for my dad in Washington DC, selling flowers on the street corners. All the flowers we sold came from Columbia. I always thought flowers were so beautiful, but a luxury. People buy them for this reason, but behind the beauty lies hard work and a system of indentured servitude—sweat shops to a degree. I sought to explore this, so I put $500 worth of chrysanthemums in soda bottles collected from the trash cans at a local college campus. The bottles get reused but also revalued. Questions of value and perception are a constant theme in what I do.

Fleur #3-Delmarva
Upholstery, period textiles, acquired paintings, steel, light, lino floor tiles, 500 imported Columbian Fiji Mums.
15ft x 20ft

OPP: Tell us about your experience of La Guerra de Acqua (2011/12), in which you carried 80 lbs of water for 12 kilometers through the Italian countryside. What was the impetus for this project?

JMK: In 2011, I was teaching sculpture in Italy. I had been there before as a young traveler and had many strong memories of a place where good food and lifestyle were highly valued. On my 2011 visit, I noticed one particular change. People no longer used glass bottles for water or beverages. Italy was one of the last holdouts of tradition in my eyes , but like America, they had made the switch to easy and disposable plastic. At the same time, it was summer in Tuscany and hot. I had made several local inquiries about swimming in one of the nearby lakes as I did in my native Virginia. I was told that locals don’t swim in lakes; that only the barbarians—like the Germani—do. Being of barbarian, Scottish decent, I relished in being a part of this lower social stratification. I realized that between these two observations a project was present and needed to be explored.

For me, being in tune or in balance with my surroundings is the utmost pursuit. The use of plastic beverage containers has greatly increased in my lifetime and as a result, our waterways have been polluted with plastic BPA polymers. So much so that plastic polymers are now classified as natural because they are found in nearly all our natural bodies of water. So the switch to cheap and easy has had a heavy price. Water is key to all life and should be used and treated with respect. Glass is heavy. It breaks, but it has nearly no negative effect on water’s make up, and the bottles can be reused time and time again if treated with care. Swimming or interfacing physically with nature helps to reinforce our relationship with it. Allowing an outdated, Roman-like mindset of judging outside cultures is ridiculous. Crotona, where I was living, is a mountain top walled Etruscan city 1000 feet above the shores of Lago Trasimeno where the barbarian Hannibal destroyed a Roman army of 80,000 men with 30,000 men and a handful of elephants.

La Guerra de Acqua

OPP: Did you encounter people along the way? What happened when you reached your destination?

JMK: My idea was to go to the lake with 30 reclaimed, plastic water bottles (collected daily from a local restaurant) and a homemade backpack. I filled them with lake water to bring to the residents of Cortona. Since they would not go to the lake themselves, I would bring the lake to them. The 80 pounds of water was attached to a backpack and wired to my body. The goal was to place all the water in a large bowl in the main plaza for locals to dip their feet in. I began a day-long, 12 kilometer journey up a mountain to the town’s main plaza. People who saw me leave earlier that morning and return in the evening asked what I was doing. I responded “I am bringing the lake to the people.” 

It was so physically challenging—I really damaged my body—that just getting back to town with the water was a goal in itself. I believe the use of absurd amounts of labor can create a powerful, statement—romantic, but also sincere. In the end, I liked the fact that the water remained in the reused, 1-liter plastic water bottles that I collected. I displayed them in the local gallery along with a wall of images documenting the journey. I wanted to give value to the lake’s water, the discarded plastic water bottles and the romantic yet defeatist expenditure of labor that linked everything together. I hoped the viewers would come to question the reason for such a journey and see an absurd commitment to nature through sweat and physicality. The whole performance was  gesture to ignite a dialogue or conversation about that which we should regard highly.

Milwaukee Brown

OPP: You’ve done several projects in which you cast outdoor spaces—Milwaukee Brown and Fascimile— to be brought into the gallery. Can you talk about the particular spaces you chose to highlight and recontextualize in the gallery?

JMK: Both projects parallel one another in terms of meaning. I am interested in reality versus illusion and how we as humans often fall back on assumptions for guidance. We grow up in particular habitats. We understand these landscapes through a combination of individual experience and teachings from stories. Most of us have never been down a manhole cover into the sewers that lie beneath, but based off movies, media and books we expect to find a series of concrete tunnels, with a stream of water, trash and the occasional rodent passing through. What if I could play with this presumption or expectation and put another particular landscape where it should not be, using the materials, process and languages associated with this new context?

Facsimile sought to reconstruct within a gallery context a rural Shenandoah deer path using typical construction materials found in interiour architecture like concrete or tiles. But instead of being flat flooring, it undulates in elevation and is a cast deer path from the Virginia countryside where I am from. So it’s half country, half urban (or human). It highlights one distant location—not important to most—by being isolated within the white cube gallery, which has great power in providing an intimate relationship with all that is placed within it.

Milwaukee Brown, still in-progress, attempts to make visible that which is hardly ever noticed, almost completely ignored. The Brownfield—representing urban blight and the causality of industry—is plot of land where no one can build because of industrial hazards once produced there. How can I take that which we do not want to see and make it not only visible, but also beautiful? This questioning of value lies at the heart of my work.

To see more of Morgan's work, please visit justinmorgankennedy.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 cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent 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 exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). Most recently, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in March 2016.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Gwendolyn Zabicki

Erotic Puzzle
oil on canvas
16in x 20in

GWENDOLYN ZABICKI's representational paintings recall the long history of still life and genre painting. But her contemporary subjects—wrapped presents, the lit windows of urban buildings seen from ground level at night and construction workers—highlight an empathetic yearning. They are opportunities to imagine what we can't see, what we don't have access to, and to care what's there. Gwendolyn earned her BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2005 and her MFA from University of Illinois at Chicago in 2012. She's been an Artist-in-Residence at Vermont Studio Center (2013) and at Lillstreet Art Center (2012) in Chicago. She's exhibited widely throughout Chicagoland, including Visitation Rites III (2015) at The Franklin, Cool and Dark (2014) at Comfort Station, Emmett Kerrigan and Gwendolyn Zabicki (2014), a two-person show curated by Melody Saraniti as part of the TRIGGER Project at Hyde Park Art Center,  and solo show Present Paintings (2015) at Riverside Art Center. In the fall of 2016, her work will be included in New Business, a group show at Hyde Park Art Center. Gwendolyn lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your Present Paintings, which “are meant to be given away as gifts to strangers,” instead of sold, emphasize the process of giving, not the having that follows. And yet they are still paintings, which are arguably the most sellable art objects. Can a painting ever side-step commodification entirely?

Gwendolyn Zabicki: Paintings are very sellable art objects, but no one I know makes a living selling their art. Everyone does something else, like teaching or arts administration, that pays the bills. I think most artists are used to the fact that their art isn't going to make them rich, but they do it because they love it. My painting is no different. Painting can never side step commodification entirely, but nothing can. Land art and performance art—art forms that were never meant to be commodified—have been documented and that documentation is what is sold on the market.

Anne Harris (Gift on Wool Coat with Pink Satin Lining)
oil on canvas
20in x 24in

OPP: I recognize many of the names in the titles as fellow Chicago artists—Patrick Q Quilao (Three Black Gifts with Bow), Anne Harris (Gift on Wool Coat with Pink Satin Lining) and Karen Azarnia (Yellow Gift), for example. Were these paintings intended for these artists upon creation, and do you imagine what is in the box, even if you don’t tell the recipient?

GZ: Some of the boxes had real gifts in them—books, shoes, board games—and some of the boxes were empty. I chose boxes that had pleasing sizes and heft and that went well with the wrapping paper I wanted to use. I made the paintings without anyone specific in mind. Last year, I had a show called Present Paintings at the Riverside Arts Center. At the show, there was a sign up sheet that read:

After the close of Present Paintings, the paintings in this series will be given away at random to attendees of this exhibition. If you would like to be considered, please sign below. If you are selected to receive a painting you must agree to the following conditions:

1)This painting cannot be bought, sold, or bartered in the future. It can be re-gifted.
2) We (you and the artist) will be linked in a fiduciary relationship. You (the recipient) will be bound in an ethical relationship of trust and friendship with me (the artist), taking care of this painting indefinitely. Examples of our friendship may include: invitations to sibling weddings, texts, dinner parties, Christmas card exchanges, etc to be carried out in perpetuity.
Note: this is not a mailing list.

Amusement, boredom, fatigue in the face of a man at a performance of Ed Parzygnat, the Polish Elvis
oil on canvas
30in x 31 1/2in

OPP: “At the core of all my work is the fear that plagues many Millennials, the fear of missing out (on potential friends, on experiences).” Why do you think FOMO is stronger for Millennials than others? How does this fear register in your portraits of near-strangers and Night Paintings?

GZ: My parents are baby boomers and living in their cultural wake, I've spent such an enormous amount of time trying to catch up with the music, books, movies, political history, and art produced by their generation. And it's so easy to do now with the internet. You can just stay inside all day and eat cookie dough and watch Mahogany or Johhny Guitar. Or you can fall into a Wikipedia k-hole and spend an afternoon reading about the inevitable heat death of the universe or scumbag Republican strategist Lee Atwater. You will never ever catch up with all of the interesting ideas and people out there; for me that is wonderful and tremendously sad. Looking in someone's window at night is a reminder of that. You can see this person and you'd probably like them if you knew them, but you'll never know them. All you know is that they exist and you've missed them.

Gym People
oil on canvas
24in. x 32in.

OPP: I read the Night Paintings (2011-2015) as fundamentally empathetic, not voyeuristic, despite all the looking into windows. I think of long, directionless walks I’ve taken through Chicago, wondering about the lives of others and appreciating the idiosyncrasy of whatever is visible through the windows. Is this my own lens or would you call yourself an empathetic painter?

GZ: Your take is right. They are more wistful than prurient. My paintings need other people to exist, and I need other people. Painting is a very solitary practice, but I don't like to be by myself. I've been doing a lot of portraits lately, and it's really just like hanging out. I go the the sitter’s house, and we pick out something cute for them to wear, and then we usually eat or drink something. And then we think about poses and what to include in the background. It's collaborative, and it's social.

I am glad that there is such a social element to being an artist, that every Friday and Saturday I can go to an art opening and see all my friends there. I also get a lot of joy from teaching. My students are so much fun to be around, and I feel so energized after spending time with them. Movies about isolation or outer space are like my personal hell.

oil on canvas
24in. x 36in.

OPP: You are also a skilled interviewer and have interviewed numerous painters for figureground.org. If you were interviewing yourself, what question would you ask? And the answer, please.

GZ: I was asked two very simple questions recently, but they are ones that everyone should think about. The questions were: What was the first piece of art that resonated with you? And when did you know you wanted to be an artist (and why)?

So the first piece of art that really mattered to me was an advertisement on the side of a carton of Dole brand Pineapple-Orange-Banana juice. My parents used to buy it, and it would sit on the table during breakfast when I was a kid. I had been to museums and I had seen important, iconic artwork, but I couldn't relate to any of that. It just seemed like museums were full of pictures of naked people fighting. So back to the juice carton. This advertisement on the juice carton was for a promotional contest. You could win a pair of baseball tickets if you sent in the UPC code on the bottom of the carton. The advertisement showed a grandfather and a grandson at a baseball game. The grandfather was holding a baseball mitt up into the air like he was going to catch a fly ball and the look on his face was of pure joy. He was in ecstasy. The grandson next to him was maybe five years old and not as good at faking emotion. He looked not upset, but a little bit bored and not nearly as thrilled as his grandfather. I looked at this image every day for weeks and I thought, oh my god, this moment that I am seeing is the moment just before the grandson says some awful, nasty thing to his grandfather. I am seeing the moment before he stabs him in the heart and says, "I'm bored. Baseball is stupid." I thought maybe the grandfather couldn't afford baseball tickets and only got them because he won them and that he wanted to share this special thing with his ungrateful grandson. This could play out in two ways. The best thing would be if they both forgot this moment, like it never happened. If the grandson remembered someday what he did, by the time he was old enough to apologize, his grandfather would be dead.

I was about ten or twelve years old at that time, and I had said nasty things to my mom. At that age I was embarrassed to be seen with her, not because of anything she did, but I was embarrassed by everything, to be seen at all. I snapped at her once in the grocery store for buying generic butter. We did not have a lot of money at the time and the generic packaging was so awful back then. I was ashamed to be poor and I was ashamed to be ashamed. All of this, this entire narrative was contained in that image on the juice carton, in the subtle expression on that young boy's face. This picture was devastating. I had to turn it away. This image was really my first deep read of anything. Because it sat on the table every morning, I was in a place to analyze it. When I was a little bit older, I learned that there was a whole profession of people who made images and who studied them and obsessed over them. So being an artist was a natural fit for a sensitive baby like myself.

To see more of Gwendolyn's work, please visit gwendolynzabicki.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 cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent 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 exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). Most recently, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in March 2016.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Marcelyn Bennett Carpenter


The stark, monochrome lines of MARCELYN BENNETT CARPENTER’s interactive, elastic installations are visually reminiscent of Minimalist sculpture. But these formal qualities belie the material qualities of flexibility and resilience. Her work entices viewers to become embodied participants, placing the sense of touch on par with the culturally-privileged sense of sight. Even her recent hand-woven drawings destabilize our habitual reliance on the visual by interrupting the image—a conceptual representation—with the tangible line of the warp. After earning a BA in Philosophy (Wheaton College, 1994) and a BFA in Drawing and Painting (University of Colorado at Denver, 1999),  Marcelyn went on to earn her MFA in Fiber from Cranbrook Academy of Art (Michigan, 2003). Recent exhibitions include Extreme Fibers (2016) at the Muskegon Museum of Art in Michigan and Touch, Touch, Touch (2015) at Arrowmont Gallery in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Her work has recently been featured in Essay’d, an online series of short essays that documents Detroit artists actively working around the city during this perplexing time of simultaneous ruin and generation. Her work is currently on view in Please Touch at the Target Gallery at the Torpedo Factory (Alexandria, Virgina) until July 7, 2016. Marcelyn lives and works in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Elastic plays a large role in your practice and shows up in so many different projects, including Snap, Tensions and various interactive installations. What was the first piece that used elastic?

Marcelyn Bennett Carpenter: During grad school at Cranbrook, I used elastic in an installation called Pinch Pots, in which I suspended little porcelain pots from elastic lines. I weighted the pots with sand and scented oil. People were encouraged to enter into the installation and play with the pots dangling on elastic. There were so many lines and pots that the pots jumped all over and would crash into the floor or into other pots. The sand sprayed out and the pots slowly were destroyed, but the elastic recovered. The sand and the broken pots were stepped on, creating sound and sensation on the feet. It was a really satisfying experience of destruction and discovery all at once. This interaction allowed for more of the senses to come into play, engaging the body more fully with the work.

Tensions: Yellow, Red, Blue
Elastic, Paper, Porcelain, felt, cotton, lead
60' x 20' x 20'

OPP: What have you learned about this material over the years?

MBC: Elastic is the perfect material for creating physical art work that you can feel. . . art that you touch and play with. Its main function is to move with the body. It responds to your movements, your action, and then it recovers. It holds a variety of tensions until it is released and returns back to its original form. 

I love elastic. I love how, like many textiles, we are using it almost 24/7. Our underwear, our bra straps, our pajamas, our swimming suits, our exercise clothing, our pants, skirts, hair ties all stay with us because of elastic’s ability to respond and hold tight while our bodies are constantly moving through space throughout the day. It is really hard to break elastic.

fitting: Coral #2

OPP: Can you talk about interactivity versus performance with your elastic installations? You’ve allowed for both.

MBC: I am still learning and experimenting with interactivity, performance and even non-interaction. There are many possibilities for how the work can behave in the world. I knew the work could lend itself to rigorous interactions with dancers, so when opportunities arose to collaborate, I took them. The only way to find out was to research it  and try it.

I see interaction more as the audience playing with the work. This exists when viewers physically handle the work or when they simply move around it. When someone looks up, bends down, or cranes the neck for a different view, they are moving with the work. They are physically engaged. When they dare to touch the work and manipulate it with their hands or body, I have gotten to a whole other area of the brain for them. The more sensations the work gives them, the richer the aesthetic experience, and the more they will remember, think and feel about the work.  

Three Loves
10' x 5' x 18'

OPP: I assume Pick-ups are meant to picked up by the viewer. How difficult or easy is it to get viewers to overcome the convention of not touching art?

MBC: I have always thought of getting people to touch the work as a design problem. How can I get the object to inherently communicate to the viewer to touch it. Fiber and ceramics lend themselves to touch naturally, and those are the main materials I work in. Half the battle is won. But the socialization to not touch in a gallery or museum is pretty strong, so often I resort to giving permission to touch on the signage. 

Luckily, I have been involved in two shows lately where all the work in the show was intended to be touchable. The title of the exhibitions were Touch, Touch, Touch and Please Touch.  I also curated a show called Handle with Care. This was a great way to go about it, and the spirit in the gallery is just terrific when people are playing and exploring art in this way.

There are other design problems: How do I allow for touch to happen and protect the work from damage? Do I control the way a viewer touches the work? Or do I allow for the destruction of the work through the interaction like in the wear and tear in my Pinch Pot installation. I have had an installation totally destroyed by dancers who didn’t understand the work’s limitations. In retrospect, I would have insisted on more practice time with the work before the performance. But work does get damaged, and I often struggle with whether I should fix it or should I let its disintegration be a part of it.

Porcelain, Stretch netting, and glass
24" x 48" x 40"

OPP: Is it harder with small objects than installations?

MBC: For me, the large scale installations are more satisfying because they are more open-ended and engage the whole body, but the smaller works like the Pick Ups and Snaps! are fun for the fingers and create a lot of visual pleasure too! I also don’t underestimate what the imagination can fill in. One reaction I often get from the Pick Ups is that people want to taste them! It is much better for them to imagine the taste than to actually taste stretch netting and porcelain!

Tamarack (detail)
Handwoven Drawing
4' x 6'

OPP: I see a formal connection between the warp of your hand-woven drawings and the taut vertical lines in Tensions and various interactive elastic installations. But the weavings are so static and discreet compared to the other projects, at least for the viewer. Is there an underlying conceptual thread between these two seemingly disparate bodies of work?

MBC: I think you hit the nail on the head. It’s all about the warp! I came to weaving after I had been creating my interactive installations for many years. I teach weaving and fiber arts full time at the Kingswood Weaving Studio at Cranbrook Schools. The verticality of the warp and the tension held by the loom were visually the same as my elastic installations! I quickly became immersed in figuring out how weaving could be integrated into my own work. My BFA is in drawing and painting, so I have been playing with how can I bring a more spontaneous, quick way of drawing and almost graffiti effect into weaving. Nothing in weaving is quick, but I found the handwoven drawings to be quicker and super satisfying for me. I am coordinating all these elements: the drawing, the string, the colors, the density of the strings. Once it is off the loom, I work back into the surface of the handwoven drawing with paint, stickers, and even embroidery. 

These works are pretty new for me; it’s been just a year. I am really intrigued by how I can draw on the wood slats, then veil the drawing in the warp. It reminds me of how my installations optically transform and even veil space. The warp does the same to the drawings. The warp appears and disappears, adding incredible depth and texture. If you look at the handwoven drawings from the side, you only see the warp threads and not the drawing. I also suspend the weavings out from the wall and paint the backs in bright colors, so there is a glow that surrounds the piece from behind. Shadows of light through the handwoven drawings are pretty incredible too. Even though space is treated two-dimensionally in the handwoven drawings, it is still about space and maybe that space is more inward than outward.

Abandon: Kingswood Parking Lot
Pencil and ink
42" x 36"

OPP: Please talk about the imagery in your most recent Abandon drawings. Will these become weavings?

MBC: The imagery in Abandon is very similar formally to the psychological Rorschach ink blot tests. I built upon these tests, though, by mirroring abandoned homes and locating the psychology in the home. One of the main indicators of abandonment is the foliage around the house, which takes over almost like a creature or unstoppable “destructive” force reclaiming the space back for nature. I also thought a lot about what it means to walk away from a home, to abandon it. So many memories, relationships, so much dysfunction, as well as familial, social and financial security are held in a house. So many of our psychological experiences occur in the space of a home. I flattened and ghosted out the houses and the surrounding foliage to abstract them and allow for a more imaginative interpretation. 

For the large weavings, I have used only the tree and foliage imagery so far. I really enjoy trying to give a tree personality and employing some of the textile design structures like repeating motifs and borders as in rugs, but these structures are not woven. They are drawn and then woven. Like I said, they are pretty new works, so I won’t eliminate the possibility of the houses working their way into them in the future. 

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 cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent 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 exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). Most recently, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in March 2016.