OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Hector Madera


HECTOR MADERA expertly wields colored masking tape and photo backdrop paper, creating a dizzying environment of pattern and aggressively bright colors. His masked portraiture, abject sculpture, neon banners and screen-printed pillows surround the viewer in installations that portray a frantically-fluctuating, unstable rush of emotions. Hector earned his BFA from Escuela de Artes Plásticas (San Juan, Puerto Rico) in 2004 and his MFA from Brooklyn College CUNY in 2011. His solo exhibitions include el pah-­‐pay-­‐lone (2011) at Metro: Plataforma Organizada and Papo Tiza & Co (2012) at Roberto Paradise, both in San Juan, and, most recently, Shameful acts, disgraceful episodes, grandiose moments, insignificant achievements and everything in between (2015) at Espacio 20/20 in Santurce, Puerto Rico. In 2016, his work will be included in group shows at the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture in Chicago and Brian Morris Gallery in New York and a solo show opening in May at KB Espacio para la cultura in Bogota, Colombia. Hector lives and works in New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Pattern and color has always been a significant part of your practice, but you really amped that up to 11 in your most recent solo show, Shameful acts, disgraceful episodes, grandiose moments, insignificant achievements and everything in between (2015) at Espacio 20/20 in Santurce, Puerto Rico. Why is the intensity of saturated color so important in this body of work? How does it relate to the title?
Hector Madera: For Shameful acts, disgraceful episodes, grandiose moments, insignificant achievements and everything in between, I created a body of work that illustrated my mental state at a particular moment in my career. Through the employment bold and colorful images, I wanted to achieve an environment where feelings of sadness, tension, anxiety, disorder, euphoria and happiness—just to mention a few—were all tangled up, creating a disparate and muddled celebration of the ups and downs of the everyday life.


OPP: I can certainly see that in the framed smiley/frowny faces. Could you talk about the floor-installed works? I’m particularly interested in what looks to be balls of discarded patterned duct tape and the imagery on the pillows.

HM: These crumbled artworks in a way are rooted in two words inflao and desinflao, Spanish slang for inflated-deflated. An old friend uses these terms frequently to describe the feeling of being happy, excited, fulfilled or frustrated, down, empty. I inflate balloons that then are covered with layers of tape and ultimately with thick layers of clear acrylic. I make tiny holes with a pointy object so that the air comes out slowly. As the air releases, the acrylic hardens, preserving the final crumbled shape. When developing these artworks, I think about extracting the good out of bad situations. In many ways, it is an attempt to transform a discarded object or gesture that represents frustration or failure into something beautiful, something grand.

The imagery used for the soft sculptures is a combination of bold graphics and colors mixed with strippers with voluptuous bodies in sensual positions and digital drawings in where I recreate psychedelic-hallucinatory-euphoric effects. These sculptures are closely linked to the strange comfort found in deliriously indulgent moments.


OPP: When did photo backdrop paper and colored tape first enter your practice? Why do these materials continue to be compelling to you after all these years?

HM: I was already working with masking tape as a way to join single papers together to create a bigger support to work with. Then, during my MFA years at Brooklyn College, I decided to replace paint with colored tape. Backdrop paper showed up a bit later when I first saw the material in a thrift shop. I was very interested in its color intensity and matte finish. The paper is sturdy, acid free and fadeless. So, conservation-wise, it made complete sense to incorporate it into my practice. I first used it to create sphere-like, crumpled paper sculptures that represented discarded ideas. Now these paper backdrops have become the support of my large-scale mixed media collages.
It is my intention to create compelling works of art in which the presence of paper is part of the strength of the work. They say we are living in a more and more paperless society. I like to think that I am defying the perception that paper is becoming obsolete.

Salvador 2012
Colored tape, carton sealing tape on c-print
48 x 64"

OPP: What role does masking play in your practice in general? Can you also talk specifically about masked portraits like Salvador 2012, untitled 2012 (Rene) and Willem 2012?
HM: On a trip to Paris I was wandering around the Marche Aux Puces de Saint Ouen when I saw this book filled with close up portraits of 20th century masters, Picasso, Matisse, Serra etc. I bought it without hesitation for only one euro! A little later I decided to pay a double homage. First I selected the portraits of all the artists whom I had studied at some point. Then I covered the portraits with a mask design inspired by Los Super Medicos, my favorite tag team wrestlers when I was young.

In the masked portraits you mentioned above and in my overall practice the act of masking is equivalent to the act of painting. Through the luchador mask, I explore the themes of hiding, filtering and diffusing in order to have the opportunity to become something else. The wrestler character works as a great analogy for the life of an artist. He is in a constant struggle for survival, he can rally from behind to be victorious or simply end up beaten on the mat.

Bust of Emanuel Augustus (Collaboration with Jose Lerma)
Photographic backdrop paper

OPP: You've collaborated with Jose Lerma on various monumental busts made from photo backdrop paper. How did the collaboration come about? How did it influence your solo work?

HM: The collaboration with José started in a very casual way. We are very good friends and when I moved to New York he was one of the first people I called. Since then, we were always hanging out, and he became my mentor. I guess he liked the sculptures that I was making with backdrop paper, and one night we started talking about making bigger things with the material and technique. We decided to collaborate for a works-on-paper show in Chicago. That’s when we collaborated on the Bust of John Law. This triggered all the collaborations we have done.
José's unique vision, mentorship and friendship has been very important in my formation as an artist. We share common interests, which influenced my practice and made our collaboration an effortless one.

Beau ca. 1610
Holographic tape, colored cardboard and acrylic on paper
22" x 30"

OPP: Could you talk about your combination of cartoony vampire teeth and Elizabethan-era ruffled collars in pieces like Papo ca. 1586, Mike ca. 1628 and el primo ca. 1689 (all 2013)?

HM: These characters are based in real people whom I've met over the years and who, for one reason or the other, don't live life as everybody else. They are unique people with unique stories. I have used them in many different artworks before. In this particular series, I wanted to pay homage to these everyday characters by creating faceless portraits with ruff necks. I am interested in the effect the ruff neck creates of holding the head up high in a very proud and lordly-style pose. The teeth are inspired in my fascination for vampires and eternal life. In these works, I’m creating busts or portraits of everyday people, "unimportant people," the ones with "minor histories.”

OPP: As you answer these questions, the theme of the underdog is emerging and now I see it both in your image and material choices. Do you relate to the archetype of the Underdog?

HM: Totally. I relate to the underdog. In sports, I always end up rooting for the team, boxer or player that is labeled as the unlikely winner. My upbringing has a lot to do with this, and I believe that limitations force you to be creative. You're forced to try things you would otherwise never have attempted. . . not only in art, but in life itself.

To see more of Hector's work, please visit hectormadera.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). Stacia will create a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show opening at The Ukrainian Museum of Modern Art on February 5, 2016.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Caitlin T. McCormack

Night Glaive
Photo credit: Jason Chen

CAITLIN T. McCORMACK draws connections between discarded and inherited lace remnants and the remains of baby birds, lizards and small rodents in her stiffened cotton, crochet skeletons. Her textile bones read as Wunderkammer relics thanks to the black shadow boxes and antique museum vitrines in which they are displayed. Caitlin earned her BFA in Illustration, with honors from University of the Arts, Philadelphia in 2010. In 2015, Caitlin's 2015 exhibitions included three-person show Exquisite Echoes at Gray Gallery, collaborative installation Ex Silentio at The Art Department and solo show Mnemosyne at Paradigm Gallery + Studio. She has an upcoming show with bone-carver Jason Borders at Antler Gallery (Portland, OR) in March 2016, a solo exhibit at La Luz de Jesus (Los Angeles) in June 2016 and a two-person show with Philadelphia artist Sabrina Small at The Mütter Museum's Thomson Hall Gallery (Philadelphia) in January 2017. Caitlin lives and works in Philadelphia.

OtherPeoplesPixels: When did you first learn to crochet? When did it first enter your art practice?

Caitlin T. McCormack: My grandmother was a very talented crocheter; she taught me the basics of the craft. She was actually a bit of a hard-ass, for which I'm grateful. Both of my grandparents passed away very close to one another right after I graduated from college. I inherited a large quantity of cotton thread that my grandmother and her sisters had once used to crochet all sorts of things. Crocheting initially proved to be a mindless, repetitive method of dealing with grief. I eventually found that producing excessively knot-addled, over-stitched bits and pieces allowed me to generate material with more volume than, say, a doily. My grandfather was also a skilled bird-carver, so in an attempt to create a tribute to and a synthesis of my grandparents' very separate creations, I tried to construct what evolved into the brittle, fibrous innards of a wooden bird.

Inevitable Canyon

OPP: Many of your stiffened crochet skeletons are recognizable as baby birds, lizards and small rodents, but some are less mundane and more monstrous, like Night Glaive (2015) or Ianuaria (2013). Are these imagined creatures or based on actual skeletons?

CTM: I tend to base my skeletons off of animals that are indigenous to the East Coast, where I'm from—squirrels, deer, foxes, finches, and a variety of domestic animals. My memories tend to center around specific animals that were present during an incident, i.e. the cat that was at the party when this happened, or the squirrel that was sitting on the windowsill when that happened. I grew up in the woods, so animals have always been very important to me and carry kind of a totemic significance. My process involves deviating from a skeleton's authentic form, though, so once I've begun working off of a sketch that has been totally warped by my visual biases, it's hard to say what's going to happen. Sometimes what I produce is so distant from my initial intention that it feels right to incorporate additional, grotesque elements into the structure.


OPP: Lacewilds (2014) and Bound as it Were (2015) combine found textiles with your crocheted cotton string. How do you think about the connection between antique textiles and skeletons?

CTM: When I'm working on pieces in that vein, I like to imagine that a garment has disintegrated and reformed itself in the image of a tenacious animal's remains. It has a lot to do with the persistence and transmutation of memory and how innate the significance of cloth and thread can be in a person's life. I began hunting for found remnants from garage sales and flea markets in an attempt to introduce imagined histories into my work. I enjoy speculating about the possible origins of the scraps, how their undisclosed narratives might compliment or even conflict with my own experiences, and the various ancestral bonds that might still linger in the material.

The Mesmerist's Daughters
Mixed media

OPP: Tell us about the work in your website section Illustration. Why do you refer to this work as 3D illustration instead of photography? Are these commissioned works?

CTM: I began working on those images during my time at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, where I majored in Illustration, and used that method to produce my thesis. I think I latched onto the term "3-D Illustration" because it allowed me to indulge in my desire to convey narratives and accompany text with tangible, hand-constructed elements. Using imagery from dreams as inspiration, the works are usually created just for fun. They are occasionally displayed as prints alongside their sculptural subjects. I'm also in the process of creating illustrations for a narrative written by Philadelphia poet, Chris McCreary.


OPP: Could you talk about display in your recent solo show Mnemosyne at Paradigm Gallery in Philadelphia?

CTM: Mnemosyne was comprised of pieces evocative of taxonomical specimens, in addition to works involving found textiles, antique frames and pieces of furniture with sculptures hidden in drawers. With this body of work, I tried to provide a sense of unraveling domesticity, a familiar space that has grown foreign with the passing of time. I intended for this show to be the second installment in a cycle of three exhibits, tracing the way a memory can become warped as it deviates from its authentic, incidental roots and becomes an unrecognizable artifact of a nearly forgotten experience.

To see more of Caitlin's work, please visit caitlintmccormack.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).

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Rebecca Potts

Radiant Color Chart, Softened
Acrylic on wood, resin adhesive, cow hide
48 x 30 x 18"

Informed by her research into metaphysical philosophy, REBECCA POTTS explores the transmutation of matter and energy as manifested in sculpture and painting. Her angular, wooden sculptures evoke webs, dome-like architecture, stained-glass windows. Most often radiating from a central point, they are portals, focus points for the attention and energy of the viewer. Rebecca earned her BFA (1998) from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro and went on to earn her MFA (2002) from Cranbrook Art Academy in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. She attended Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 2003. She has exhibited primarily in New York, including Working Artists (2015) at Academic Gallery, Abraxas at Temporary Agency (2014), Upfront at Feature Inc (2011) and New York 2111 (2011) and Scattered Logic (2009) and at The Texas Firehouse. Rebecca lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels:You make primarily wall-hung sculptures, although there are exceptions to this rule—Sandal and Matador from 2010, The Wise Will Have Passage and Casual Proximity from 2008, to name just a few. Could you talk about the wall as a space for sculpture? What draws you there more often than to the floor?

Rebecca Potts: Wall-based sculpture has more of a seductive energy; it draws you towards it. Whereas free-standing work—that you might trip over—has a bit more of a masculine, declarative energy. The fact that less than a 360 degree view is presented is also intriguing. Why? Is it holding something back, does it have secrets, is it trying to behave like a painting? The works from 2014 and 2015 are quite fragile and line based, dealing with machinations on energy and space personified. Mounting them on the wall is semi-protective, but also ensures that the encounter by the viewer happens at eye level, allowing for a projection of the self into the work.

Acrylic, paper mache, wood, fabric
21.5" x 21" x 12"

OPP: Before 2013, you were using more found materials in your work—fabric, pieces of jewelry, sequins, corks and a glass eye—as well as plaster and clay. Since 2014, it appears that you are working exclusively with wood and paint. Earlier work seems more bodily with lots of gloppy textures, fabric folds and curved lines, while newer work feels more architectural with straight lines, angles and hard edges. Was this a conscious shift? How has this evolved over time?

RP: Found and scrap materials have always been attractive to me. I collected the corks for The Wise Will Have Passage (2008) while working in a restaurant. Sometimes I encounter things on the walk to my studio, as in Bigger There (2013). Broken pieces of jewelry or worn out clothes might find their way into sculptures, as in the belt used in Chicken Skin (2011) or the material in (E)West (2011). Working with found or accumulated materials is rich in possibilities for additive practices. It is how I innately approach art making, and is a very improvisational and reactive process. It’s a very animistic way of working. As I am creating, there is some direction from the work itself.

The shift occurred as a result of a desire to look beneath surface as my primary focus and define space in a more subtle, energetic way. The work from 2014-15 still uses that method of using units and accumulation, but employs the most basic unit: the line. I am interested in defining space that is at once structured and permeable—the cell wall, for example—or describing radiation physically. The shadows cast by these pieces both push them out and away from the wall as well as accentuate their materiality. 

The Net of Light's Origin
Acrylic on wood, resin adhesive, monofilament
26 x 28 x 17"

OPP: The forms of your most recent sculptures (2014-2015) evoke a multiplicity of images: stained glass windows, shields, talismans, spider webs. The forms radiate from a central point, sometimes concave and sometimes convex. How do these forms relate to your interest in energetic transmutation?

RP: The radiant form is associated with many ideas, from the big bang to human auras to descriptions of heat or light. Heat and light are difficult to sculpt, but may be suggested, and a number of the evocations you bring up are three dimensional objects that exist primarily in a language of line. Transmutation is a transformation of material or element into another state or form. This body of work explores transformation in several ways: of energy into vector, vector into line, line into delineator of spatial boundary and skeletal structure into architecture. The same thing happens as the form casts its shadow, transforming back into something intangible but still visible. The concave versus convex aspects close off or open up the ends of the work, similar to a closed versus open circuit. Many of these pieces, such as both Radiation Gray/Gold and Radiation Yellow/Gray have central hanging elements that spin in accordance with the currents in the room, a transformation of motion occurring as a physical demonstration of time.

Solar Wedding Basket
Acrylic on wood, resin adhesive, cork, twine
26 x 30 x 5"

OPP: One could view your work through a purely formal, material, or aesthetic lens. But your statement—and the links you include on your website—makes it clear that you view your work through a spiritual lens. . . something which the contemporary art world is slightly uncomfortable with, but curious about. How has your spiritually-driven work been received?

RP: I would say it works on all these levels, but would use the word metaphysical over spiritual. Metaphysics is a philosophical investigation of that which is beyond sense perception whereas spiritual speaks more to an experiential self-exploration. For the current series of work, studying the Medicine Wheel has been formally and conceptually important. It uses the four directions to correspond to various elemental, animal, human, earth and cosmic states. Through these associations one can describe existence, tell the story of time and creation, as well as achieve personal growth. It is a simple coded system loaded with symbolic information: lines, circles, spirals, vectors and colors that become increasingly complex as one's understanding of their corresponding connections deepens. This system is used in many cultures worldwide with slight variations. Another influential source was Jack Schwarz's book, Human Energy Systems, for what the form of energy might look like. Similarly Bernini's treatment of The Holy Spirit as not only beams of light but spears of gold in The Ecstasy of St. Theresa informed my ideas about representing light and energy in dimensional form. I don't see the work as dependent on these sources, though. I've had very positive response to this body of work, with and without commentary.

Untitled 2012-13

OPP: Here's a slightly strange, practical question. . . there's another Rebecca Potts, who is an artist. Her work is very different from yours, and her website pops up when I google your name. Have people ever confused the two of you in a professional context? Any advice for other artists with the same problem?

RP: I am aware of her and I'm sure she is aware of me, though our paths have not yet crossed. We have never been confused in a professional context that I know of. I would say that duplicate names in professions are not unheard of, and as far as advice would go, I would say it is a very individual choice in how one approaches it. I know people who have changed their names to deal with this very problem, and at least one other person who has not. I think Rebecca Potts just sounds like a sculptor's name, right?

OPP: If I were to walk into your studio right now, what would I see?

RP: You would see a lot of things in progress. I tend to work on anywhere from three to five things at once, so as not to be slowed down by paint or glue needing to dry. It also helps me to work on an idea in more than one way, to see what works. Sometimes I come up with something on the fly that I want to try, and that becomes its own thing. The new pieces as a whole are more trapezoidal in nature than the works discussed above, although they still have the four directional points represented. They also are beginning to fill in a bit more with solid fields on the inner and outer planes. Though they are not finished, I am moving towards reincorporating some materials (fabric and grill cloth) that I have used before. I seem to be circling back to some previous ideas, while still remaining conceptually in the same world. It's a spiral progression, rather than a linear one!

To see more of Rebecca's work, please visit rebeccapotts.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, 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 last month at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL).

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Shawn Huckins

The Jolly Flatboatmen In Port: I Be Making Moves Forgetting That I Already Have Moves
Acrylic on canvas
40 x 52 in (102 x 133 cm)

Painter SHAWN HUCKINS superimposes Facebook status updates and tweets on top of meticulous recreations of 19th and 20th century paintings. The appropriated text, rendered in large, blocky letters, stretches across the entire surface of each painting, acting as a screen through which we view the images of bygone eras. The juxtaposition of past and present offers us the opportunity to contemplate both what has changed and what is still the same. Shawn earned his BA from Keene State College in New Hampshire and has received grants from Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism (2010), from Artists’ Fellowship Inc. (2011 and 2012) and from The Haven Foundation (2013). He's had solo exhibitions at Foster/White Gallery (2012) in Seattle, L2Kontemporary (2012) in Los Angeles, Art & Soul Gallery (2014) in Boulder and Goodwin Fine Art (2015) in Denver. Shawn is represented by Goodwin Fine Art in Denver, Foster White Gallery in Seattle and Modernism Inc Gallery in San Francisco, where he will have a solo exhibition in Spring 2016. Shawn lives and works in Denver, Colorado.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your practice rests heavily on the strategy of juxtaposition. It's the thread that connects Paint Chips to American Revolution and The American __tier. Does the juxtaposition in these different bodies of work function differently or have a different aim?

Shawn Huckins: The underlying theme to all my current, past and student work has been American culture.  At first, I was studying American architecture with store fronts, gas stations, and the like. Later, in Paint Chips, I was studying the mundane aspects of American culture by superimposing everyday life and objects on common paint cards people use to choose their bathroom colors: a Wal-Mart employee collecting carts, or automobiles laying in flood waters, for example. In my current series, The American __tier, I examine American language and its progression by contrasting two ways of life—one centuries past and the current social media driven society we live in today.

390D - Flood Cars
Acrylic on canvas mounted on MDF
49 x 40 in (124 x 102 cm)

OPP: In American Revolution and The American __tier, you superimpose "21st century lexicons – Facebook status updates, tweets, texting acronyms"on carefully-rendered recreations of 18th and 19th century paintings and photographs. We literally read the image through the text. But we can also read the text through the image. Will you pick a favorite piece and talk about how the juxtaposition affects the meaning of both the text and the image?

SH: When I marry text to an image in the beginning phases of my paintings, I try to choose text that will work well with the image, and I use this process on the majority of my paintings. Sometimes, however, the text and image will have no direct correlation with one another.  For example, when I use simple phrases such as OMG or LMAO.

One of my favorite paintings is from American Revolution. The painting, titled Because He Has Swag And Knows How To Wear His Pants: Daniel Verplanck,  shows a seated, young boy in clothing that indicates he is from an upper class family. The text—CUZ HE HAS SWAG N KNOWS HOW TO WEAR HIS PANCE—came from a comment left on a photo of Justin Bieber wearing pants with the waist coming down to almost his knees. The juxtaposition of this young boy, who is formally dressed and really does know how to wear his pants, provides a provocative contrast to Bieber’s style of wearing pants. Not only do I contrast the way language has evolved over the centuries, but also how fashion has evolved and how the definition of what’s considered 'in,' like it or not, has changed.

Fur Traders Descending The Missouri: Oh My God What The Hell! You Never Did That, Like That’s Like Fucking Crazy! If I Did That I’d Be Like Wow
Acrylic on canvas
33 x 40 in (84 x 102 cm)

OPP: What's your process for and/or experience of collecting social media jargon? Is there a method? Do the sources matter to you? I'm curious if you follow specific people or just meander through random twitter feeds. Do you ever write the text?

SH: This is, bar none, my least favorite process. It involves sitting at a computer for a length of time looking for the right text to use. And it’s a lot more difficult than one would think seeing the thousands of texts/tweets sent every second. I have found an easier method, though, in my years of painting this particular series. In my everyday routine, I will come across a particular word or short phrase that I find interesting—for example, “everything is hilarious”—and make a note of it. When I’m ready to research texts,  I will search for that phrase for people using those keywords on Twitter and Facebook. This is far easier than trolling around various people’s twitter accounts to find that right phrase. Twitter is a great source for text because there is a limited amount of space a person can use, so it can be a potential gold mine. I never write my own phrases as I think it would sound too contrived. I will tweak and bend text to be more fitting to an image, but I will retain the meat of the text to keep it authentic to the original person’s intentions.

Dorothy Quincy: Don't You Realize That I Only Text You When I'm Drunk
Acrylic on canvas
44 x 34 in (112 x 86 cm)

OPP: Do viewers who have never known a world without social media or the internet respond differently/understand the paintings in American Revolution and The American __tier differently than older viewers?

SH: Both young and old viewers appreciate the message I am representing with my paintings.  And yes, for different reasons. Older viewers understand the "old" ways of communication—letter, phone, in person—and see a stark difference in the way people communicate today. Younger viewers, who have always been immersed in social media, may appreciate the contrast of the old and new and may idolize a simpler way of life before the hoards of technology. I honestly thought that older viewers wouldn’t appreciate my work, but at one exhibition in 2012, an older man in his mid 70s acquired a painting on opening night.  

OPP: What do you think about the concept of Progress? Are we evolving, devolving or staying exactly the same?

SH: In regards to becoming smarter, more efficient and healthier with advancing technology, I would say we are most certainly evolving at a rapid pace. Advancing technologies are wonderful and have had positive effects for the human population. But I also think with the abundance of technology, aspects such as human interaction and language could possibly be devolving. The human experience in regards to one-on-one interaction with another human being or even nature, is slowly becoming more and more distant. It’s safe to say that we have an emotional bond with our phones, but sometimes that bond puts strain on actual human relationships.

Sunrise On The Matterhorn: Laughing Out Loud Duh.
Acrylic on canvas
40 x 32 in (102 x 81 cm)
OPP: Humans are often extolling or bemoaning the fact that things have either gotten better or worse. But I think humans are ultimately kinda the same, just with new conditions. When the printing press was invented, it caused the same kind of cultural, social and political upheaval that the internet has in our lifetime. Admittedly, the scope of change may be more extreme with the internet, but I think humans are basically the same. Some of us are open minded; some of us are not. Do you see any continuity between the culture represented in the paintings of the 19th and 20th century and the culture represented by the texts in the 21st century?

I would agree that humans have been pretty much the same over the coarse of history. I wonder what people said when the light bulb came to market. Ha! Change can be uncomfortable for people. Some adapt to it, embracing it full force, and others want life to remain the same as it was in the "good old days." One main difference between the 19/20th and 21st centuries is the amount of images captured. The portraits painted in earlier centuries were mostly for the privileged upper class who could commission them.

Once the camera was invented, ordinary people could have a time stamp of their families at a more affordable price and moments were typically reserved for special events. Today, almost everyone has a smart phone with a camera, so anything and everything is photographed. Whether it be someone’s dinner for the night, a big night out or the cat. . . the abundance of images has grown exponentially. With that abundance, it’s harder to be in the moment and enjoy it. We're so busy capturing it with a camera that we miss the intimacy of the moment.

To see more of Shawn's work, please visit shawnhuckins.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, runs through December 19, 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL).

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Stoney Sasser

Habit(at): Garden Variety (detail)
Fabric, Hex Netting, acrylic, latex, glitter, great stuff, foam, yarn, polystyrene fill, cotton batting, chalk markers
Dimensions Variable

STONEY SASSER investigates the interconnectedness of humans, plants, animals and the surrounding material culture in sprawling installations that climb the walls and creep along the floors. These otherworldly landscapes, featuring patterned fabric, glitter and fringe, are campy, playful prosthetics for nature's creatures and plants. Stoney has a BA in Psychology and a BFA in Painting from the University of Montana in Missoula. In 2015, she earned her MFA in Painting and Sculpture from Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois and was recently included in Fresh: New Master Artists, a survey of recent MFA grads across the country, at Contemporary Art Gallery, Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana. Stoney lives in Missoula, Montana.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You have a background in science and experience with organic farming. How does that feed into the work that you make as an artist?

Stoney Sasser: I consider my practice to be holistic in nature, where facets of my life feed my “art.” So my education, time on the farm, hours in meditation and days traveling and exploring all certainly inform my practice of making. I like to consider an idea that Gregory Bateson addresses in his book Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity. He searches to find the pattern which connects and asks, What pattern connects the crab to the lobster and the orchid to the primrose and all the four of them to me? And me to you?

In a very physical way, I am asking this same question, using the body as a locus for a broader conversation. For me, the question is extended beyond how biological organisms are connected to include how we are all connected to material culture, artifice and waste. If the biological and non-biological are all made from stardust, is it sacred or profane? My activities in the world help inform these concerns and investigations both visually and conceptually.

First Piggy
Plaster, fabric, foam, welding rods
approx 3.5'x 1.5'x 8'

OPP: Can you talk about the materials you choose for your installations and your process? It seems that First Piggy, Second Piggy (on the mountain) and Third Piggy (at the roast) from 2014 are reorganizations of the same material? If so, is that a recurring installation strategy?

SS: YES! My fascination with materials drives much of my installation practice. This enthusiasm is blundered by a relentless question: When we replace our natural world with man-made artifice, what do we do with all of this stuff?! In the pursuit of re-wilding, I see my installations as proposals for biological prosthetics.

I commonly salvage materials from thrift-stores or the side of the road. I am drawn to fabrics, glitter, craft-kitsch supplies. I love them for their enthusiasm, flat-footedness and ability to relate to ‘everyday people’ (specialization in art-jargon not required in the experience). I also use industrial supplies: hex netting, Great Stuff, caulk, paint. These materials are a language of construction and transformation. In my studio, I play, experiment and make mistakes in an attempt to learn their capacity for transformation and to become some cousin of the biological.

All of the Piggys are reiterations of each other. I used the constituent pieces to negotiate gesture, composition and space. I commonly will reuse many of the same elements and physical pieces in my installations. With each installation, however, I typically incorporate at least one new element. This process is useful for me because it is additive, and as I establish this often bizarre and jubilant lexicon, I can rearrange the syllables to create new meanings. So instead of creating new work with each show or opportunity, my work rather calls and responds to itself over time. 

Soothsayer (detail)
Fabric, Chicken Wire, Video Cameras, Projector
Dimensions Variable (approx 15' x12' x15')

OPP: Could you say more about biological prosethetics?

SS: Somewhere in the back of my mind is a constant tickle of concern, what are the ramifications of humans living outside the parameters of ecological equilibrium? My "proposals for biological prosthetics" are perhaps a tongue-in-cheek solution to waning ecological diversity and the increasing homogeneity of bio-forms.

The attempt to "rewild" with the debris of humans is both useless and fascinating. On one hand, an amalgamation of human debris will never contain the anima of the bio-spectrum - it won't eat, love, reproduce or die. It is still subject to entropy, but not in the same capacity as a vehicle-of-vita. I was reminded of this limitation when visiting Biosphere 2 this summer. In the 1980s, scientists ran a social and ecological experiment to see if humans could sustain themselves within an artificially constructed biosphere. Ultimately the original goal failed when they had to break the seal to let in more oxygen, but although a lot of interesting, important research has come from Biosphere 2. While visiting I was struck by how, despite the brilliance and creativity of humans, the intelligence and interdependence of our biosphere is paramount. If there wasn't a complex network of trees, plants and animals and wind to keep them healthy and water to keep them nourished, none of us would have a chance at existence. It's humbling. 

In saying that, the proposal for biological prosthetics is a playful way to create, honor and evoke the wild, the exotic and the intersection between the biosphere and humans.

Antumbra V
Collage, Print, Mixed Media

OPP: Your prints and collages are much more abstract than your installations, which seem to be otherworldly landscapes. What are the connections between the two- and three-dimensional work? From a process point of view, do you prefer one way of working over the other?

SS: My two-D and three-D practices compliment each other. I enjoy both for the functions they serve. My installation work is complex, often tedious. It can take months of work to develop the constituent pieces. Due to the nature of installations, I am unable to see the end result until the last piece goes into place. Somewhere in the middle of construction I generally find myself yearning for the simple days of using paper and charcoal. Thus my two-D practice allows me access to a more simple way of working. I like to assign myself constrained variables to explore as a means to simplify, parse out and clarify qualities I might be looking for in my other work.  

OPP: I want to know more about the videos represented by stills. . . are these in-process pieces? Winner Winner Chicken Finger Master With Sound, which I found on Vimeo, is strange and funny and I want to see more! It looks like this video may be part of a triptych… what can you tell us about your video work?

SS: My video stills are indeed in-process iterations of a time-based investigation. I explore various lines of study through video—wind studies, light-based movement and my own movement studies, for example. In each of these I explore gesture and transformation. I commonly use video as a means to see if I can turn my body into something else, often creatura in nature. Winner Winner is an example of this, where I am flushing out my bug-like nature and exploring perversion in consumption. Much of this work is absurd and reveals the works’ kinship to the carnivalesque. 

Fresh (detail)

OPP: Your work was included in Fresh: New Master Artists, a survey of recent MFA grads across the country, at Contemporary Art Gallery, Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana. The show closed in mid November. Tell us about what you showed and how you see it now that a month has passed.

SS: My install for Fresh was an opportunity to negotiate the challenges of being a material-heavy, installation artist while on the road. I approached activating the space using paint and some materials gathered while in Louisiana. But I also incorporated scents and sounds into the installation. I had about three days for installation, much of which were negotiating the floors which were noisy and distracting to the work. In hindsight, I was most excited by the relationship of lines between the wall, my urchins and the lined structure on which they were suspended as I was considering ideas of drawing in space. In the future I would like to take the elements of the paint and the urchin-like forms and multiply them in density to further complicate the space and the viewer's experience. I also was excited to test scent as a fourth-dimension of experience in my work. I am looking forward to working with different scent pairings and am currently searching for more bizarre options from which to choose.

To see more of Stoney's work, please visit stoneysasser.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). Her most recent show was Form Unbound (2015), a two-person exhibition at Dominican University's (River Forest, IL) and she'll be exhibiting at the Ukranian Institute of Modern Art (Chicago) in February 2016.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Scott Patrick Wiener

Northeast United States in Forest Green (circa 1975)

SCOTT PATRICK WIENER is not a landscape photographer. However, he does use a camera to explore how our personal and collective visions of place are manifested in the clichés of landscape photography. Whether using drones to capture images that blur the line between surveillance and Romantic painting or printing appropriated images from his father's travel archive in the least archival way possible, he participates in and interrogates the attempt to hold on time and place. Scott earned his BFA from Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 2001 and his MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2007. In 2010, he attended Skowhegan and received a DAAD Scholarship for Fine Art to study in Leipzig, Germany. His extensive group exhibitions include shows at the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts in New York (2014), the Boston Center for the Arts (2014), and Kunstverein Weiden in Oberpfalz, Germany (2012). In 2015, his work was included in Another Spectacle at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, Survey Without Surveillance at Nave Gallery in Somerville, Massachusetts, and he mounted solo exhibition I Can't Hear What You Can't See at Emmanuel College in Boston. Scott lives and works in Arlington, Massachusetts.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Where does your interest in landscape come from?

Scott Patrick Wiener: First and foremost, the medium of photography. I don't say this to be coy. I excavate and invoke all manner of photographic traditions in my work. Landscape just happens to be the focus at the moment. . . well many moments. . . or really all of them since grad school. What really draws me to the genre is how it used for colonialist purposes in both personal/private and socio-political arenas. (Yikes, have I become a landscape artist?) I’d really like to get back to portraiture at some point or at least invoke it in some project connected to either Landscape Acquisition or Surrogate Parables.

Untitled 2 (Spies in the Sky)
Archival Inkjet Print
40" x 60"

OPP: Are photographic landscapes simply mediated experiences of nature or something else entirely?

SPW: Hmmmm? That’s a big question so please bear with me. Yes, landscape photographs are mediated experiences of nature, but so is simply walking through the woods. Humankind constructs an ideal from that experience and produces/reproduces it in language. Then we make decisions, based on our cultural dispositions, about what are appropriate representations for those concepts. This starts with painting and ends in the hands of the tourist, ultimately finding its way to postcards, calendars, computer desktops, etc. All this to say that cultural norms for the representation of nature are most purely expressed as cliché.

To your question, I find landscape photographs to be some of the most fascinating expressions of banality in our culture. Yes, these clichés flatten out meaning, reducing it to a cultural norm, but there is also something amazing about clichéd representations: they are one of the few places in human culture where large groups of people can agree on something. This is incredible to me. So I use extremely familiar representations of landscape in my work to establish a zero ground for consumption before distorting the view and making it unfamiliar. I like to think that happens at the moment of reception, when my materials work to disintegrate the line between the subjective (interpretive moment) and objective (banal representation). Most of my recent work with landscape imagery is appropriated as well, so the images already exist and have been consumed. I simply work to transform them, to give them another life beyond the one they already lived. It’s a kind of bastardized resurrection.

I was giving a talk recently and someone asked whether or not it was barbaric to embody the view of an other in re-presentation. This was a great question and held me accountable to the famous Adorno quote that I use in my lectures: “To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” I thought for a moment and responded by saying that I am not embodying an others gaze but taking its evidence (the photograph) and subjecting to an filtration process where it is transformed in its final expression. Therefore I do not propose that an other's gaze, or subject position, is my own. Rather, I am a consumer of images, and those images must be revisited so the suppressed content of the original can emerge for consideration dressed in its new skin.

Southeast from Neutrals Camp at Bergen-Belsen

OPP: "The ongoing project Landscape Acquisition (2012–Present) is a multidisciplinary exercise in the collision between familiar vocabularies of airborne surveillance and the Western history of beauty in art." This in-progress project seems connected to The Luxury of Distance (2008-2010), in which you photographed views of the landscape looking out from various concentration camp sites. The connection for me is a collision between what we see and what we know—based on text— to be true of the point of view. Thoughts?

SPW: I really like your read! When working on The Luxury of Distance in Germany, I wanted to establish an antagonism between seemingly opposite forms of representation established as baselines for depictions of wartime trauma and beauty in nature. The connective tissue for me is banality. Our culture knows and expects certain kinds of images to stand in for particular subject matter. Also of importance is the mutually constitutive dimensions of the language/image dichotomy. When one views images, one describes to themselves; when one reads text, one imagines based on description. I aggressively positioned the body between depictions of the the sublime and horrific. Further, the commemorative view of trauma is utterly denied.

I want to paraphrase Sontag here from Regarding the Pain of Others. She says that photographs make distance explicit in reception, not close proximity, but the latter remains our demand for the image. This closeness is impossible. I want to invoke that position so once again the body is compromised by geographical, psychological, and temporal distances.

The Landscape Acquisition project also invokes physical distance through the detached gaze of unmanned aerial surveillance, but here that distance is collapsed by the very real and violent consequences one can inflict on an other from afar. It is said that the more images one has of another culture/people/place, the more power the producer has over that space. Not only can one see more, but behind the visual production of the subject lies the implication that the seer has more advanced technology and therefore is more of a threat.

The Untitled (Spies in the Sky) pictures abide by this menacing framework and are most similar to the work in Germany in that they visually conflate beauty in nature through landscape aesthetics established by Romantic painting and the sinister, detached view of aerial surveillance. The latter uses the position of looking down and grain in the photograph to invoke cold-war style surveillance pictures. Here, the exertion of power over geography becomes the will to establish control over place via the production of technological imagery.

Some Kind of Equilibrium
Video still

OPP: When you work in video, it is with a photographer's eye. Videos like The Wanderer (2011) and Some Kind of Equilibrium (2010) are static shots of barely moving bodies. They function like photographs with sound, but also remind us that an inherent part of photography's nature is the illusion of stopping time. Why do you sometimes choose video instead of a still image?

SPW: You’re picking up on years of my trying to understand and use video, which remains difficult for me, but ultimately necessary. The only way I could initially approach the medium is from an understanding of the still image. That is why the earlier video works you mention are so static. I chose video for those pieces primarily because the still images I made initially for the works were so booooooooooring. Later I realized that movement within a single static frame was very important and that I could trap gestures of im/balance when confronted with a natural environment in Some Kind of Equilibrium and striving for a sublime experience in The Wanderer. The latter was particularly significant for me in that it places a slightly overweight dude—me in another life—in Friedrich’s wanderer/hero role and forces him to repeat the same walk up a set of stairs placed intentionally at the top of some sad hill. The video loops infinitely without cuts to make clear the Sisyphean dimension of the act. This experience for me is about longing for the sublime experience of nature idealized by the western world in philosophy, painting, photography and moving images. But standing in front of an aesthetic object is not the sublime as Kant would have it because the body is not present in the wilderness, comprehending simultaneously the horrific and beatific dimensions of the natural world. It is an experience of the idea of the sublime.

More recent video work has moved beyond the static shot into places with far more movement (eg. Rehearsal for Sonata in C and  Three Surveys). I guess my exploration of the still frame eventually gave me permission to move beyond it.

My Light Bulb Burn Gray (After My Father)
16 Archival Inkjet Prints (11” x 17” each)

OPP: Processes in I Want the One I Can't Have (2012-Present) and My Light Bulb Burns Gray (2012-13) are significant to the content of the work about fading memory and the inability to hold on to our experiences or grasp the experiences of others. Can you explain how you reproduced these images and talk about why you choose those particular images?

SPW: Both of those series from the Surrogate Parables project use images appropriated from my family's travel archive, mostly photographed by my father. Selecting the pictures was based on a simple premise: I chose the most common pictures that a tourist might take to show how they had both acquired and established image-ownership over their destinations. The Eiffel Tower, the Hollywood sign, the Grand Canyon all exemplify those types of pictures. People who travel for the purpose of leisure all make images like this, myself included. I wanted to use the recognition of that common language to establish a foundation for the reception of the work. The pictures also indicate ownership over place in the act of “capturing” the destination and containing it within the four edges of the frame; a kind of image-based bourgeois colonialism.

In the My Light Bulb Burns Gray series I digitally drench the images in 18% gray (neutral photo gray), leaving no white highlight or black shadow. This was the first iteration of the Surrogate Parables project and makes literal a ‘graying out’ of nostalgic experience of travel imagery. The attempt to preserve a moment deemed historic through photography is at the heart of this work.

The process in I Want the One I Can't Have is a bit more involved. Memory motivates this work as well, which pulls images from the same travel archive. Here, I turn the originals into inkjet transparencies, place them against a piece of construction paper under glass, and expose them to sunlight for a week. After this time, the image appears due to the fading of the non-archival dyes in the paper. In display, they are never fixed. They are transient, fugitive images that change and fade over time, just as memory does. Eventually they disappear completely, forcing a confrontation with the human obsession with preserving the self beyond death by denying the image that possibility. No matter how permanent we want our images to be, we continue to change, as does our understanding of them every time we open a history book or remove the top off the shoe box that houses the most personal of family pictures.

I remain frustrated by the way the paper is ignored in photographs to focus on the depicted event. In this work I prioritize the material before the image so that the paper itself has conceptual consequences for the interpretation of the event in question. This way the paper is a significant part of how the picture is interpreted and experienced. When encountered, there is no denying that the material is construction paper. It may even be the first thing one notices. This forces the recognition of a place in time where the past and present coincide in an impermanent and consequential way, which is antagonistic to a historicist understanding of photography as an image that forever places a halt on a given moment. This idea is continues to motivate all of the work I do with technologically reproducible imagery.

To see more of Scott's work, please visit scottpatrickwiener.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, runs through December 19, 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL).

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Aisha Tandiwe Bell

#decrown (in Bone)

Interdisciplinary artist AISHA TANDIWE BELL explores the shifting fragmentation of our multiple identities. In performance, ceramics, video, painting and spoken word, she embodies the role of the Trickster, laying metaphoric traps in order to reveal the ones we don't know we are stuck in. Aisha earned her BFA in Painting (1998) and her MS in Art and Design Education (1999) from Pratt. She was a 2006 Skowhegan Fellow and earned her MFA in Ceramics from Hunter College in 2008. Aisha has exhibited extensively throughout New York, as well as internationally in Guadaloupe, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.  Her work is currently on view until January 17, 2016 in Dis place at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts in Brooklyn. She was chosen by curator and art historian Sarah E. Lewis to be included in Rush20: 1995-2015, a limited edition print portfolio marking the 20th Anniversary of Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation. The portfolio is on view at Corridor Gallery (Brooklyn) through Dec 20, 2015 and also traveled to Scope Miami in early December. In 2016, her work will be included in one for Mama one for eye at Gallery One (Jackson State University) in Jackson, Mississippi and in one two three fifths at Space One Eleven in Birmingham, Alabama. Aisha lives and works in Brooklyn.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You write and perform spoken word poetry and combine this text-based work with images of your sculptures and drawings. Which came first in your history as an artist: text or image? Does one or the other dominate the way you think?

Aisha Tandiwe Bell: There has always been a codependent relationship between text, narrative and the visual manifestation of my subconscious. Often, the visuals come first and l have to find the language to ground the form. Sometimes the language comes first or alone. During undergrad at Pratt, I was invited to join the spoken word group "Second 2 Last.” Throughout the group's 10 year run, I experimented with attaching narrative to my art. I'm not sure if either form dominates the way I think. I am more familiar and experienced with words, but I am better at telling multiple stories simultaneously with my visual language. For that reason, my most recent work uses narratives that do not explain the image. Instead, they run parallel and tangential, asking the viewer to fill in the spaces with their own interpretations.

Tangents and Segues
Documentations of performance at Mocada October 2015
Photo credit: Dyani Douze

OPP: Could you talk about the recurring metaphor of the trap? It shows up in sculptural works like Trap Couplet (2012) and Trap Unadorned (2012), as well as drawings like Dream Catcher 2 (2012) and in performances like Tangents and Segues (2015).

ATB: I made my first traps in 2006. I found that the figure distracted many viewers from the conceptual focus of my work. I went through a distilling process, isolating the core concept that underlined all of my work—everything I'd made since 1998. . . I came up with the word trap. My figures are trapped in the walls. They are trapped  in the boxes/bodies of race, sex, class. . . In these series of non-figurative traps, I explored the formal possibilities: golden holes and ditches, nets in trees, heavy clay boxes that fell from the ceiling. I've settled, for now, on these tricked out traps. These people-sized cardboard boxes take on personas. They are seductive bait. They simultaneously reference stereotype, consumerism, hyphenated identities, shelter, class, displacement, homelessness and childhood. I also refer to them as dream catchers, the title brings to mind indigenous American spiritual objects, I want the viewer to think about what that is in the context of these cardboard cloth works that represent traps that catch and hold your dreams, hopes, and potential.

clay and tempura

OPP: Identity is such a complex concept and experience. It includes both how we see ourselves and others see us. It can offer a sense of belonging and be the source of othering, depending on point of view. It can be a heavy burden and other times a source of pride. How do your headshells, in all their various iterations, speak to this issue?

ATB: It would require several dissertations to effectively answer this question, which is why I feel like visual language allows us to metaphorically fold time and space and cover huge and heavy subjects simultaneously. That being said, these heads/shells/masks/hats/faces deal specifically with my ideas as related to code switching, hyphenated identities, multiple consciousness and shapeshifting. They are armor, burdens, crowns, building blocks, balancing acts. They are tools some of us use to navigate varied spaces, negotiate uneven relationships and possibly get ahead (bootstrapping). I juggle many identities. I am African American Caribbean woman, middle/working class, interdisciplinary artist, mother, wife, educator and more. In our overstimulated present, shifting identities are also fragmented/incomplete, no one specialized in a single channel identity. Often, once buried under multiple identities, assumptions and stereotypes, the individual becomes invisible or at most, a two dimensional outline.

chameleon (detail)

OPP: Your recent work from 2015 is a series of figurative wall works that combine ceramics and drawing. Could you talk about how the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional meet in this series and what it means for the figure to be breaking out of the wall?

ATB: I started as a painter. Painting the figure too large for and trapped within the two-dimensional space of the canvas, boxed in. I focused on the gaze, imagining the subject as aware of the viewer and looking back, conscious of the relationship between the entertainer and the entertained. These paintings were for me a metaphor for the state of Black people in America and questioned the degree to which we shape American culture, verses the degree of material power we hold in said culture. The first step is to be conscious of these realities. So the heads push through the two-dimensional space and invade the space of the view. I liken the two-dimensional to stagnation. The relief is the moment of realization, a pushing through liminal or peripheral space. Realization becomes the catalyst for change, and then the faces come off of the wall and move into the fourth dimension as performance. In 2004 I started to paint the two-dimensional figure directly to the wall. Referencing graffiti, Ndebele house painting  and indigenous forms of two-dimensional art-making. I liked the idea of defacing the white wall, the history of European painting as well as well as leaving my mark in a manner that makes it less of a direct commodity.

Photo credit: Selina Roman

OPP: Your 2013 project Susu is definitely not an art commodity. Tell us about the site, process and resulting sculptural form in this project.

ATB: Susu was a commissioned by The Laundromat Project, which invites artists to make art at local laundromats as a way to engage the surrounding community and an audience that may not make it to traditional art spaces. In ancient Akan, SUSU means little little (bit by bit). It is a form of micro economics. I proposed a project that involved collecting clothes in front of my local laundromat. As people left clothing I asked them to also leave words— one word, a paragraph or poem, I gave no limitations. The collected clothing was bleached and dyed one of the primary colors. The work was line dried outside the laundromat and the dripping dyes were caught on heavy watercolor paper. The clothing and the clothing line became a giant skirt that I wore in a performance in which I recited the words that had be contributed by the community. Prints made on the watered color paper covered in the drips from the drying clothes were given away to the audience. These same clothes then became two large cocoon-like sculptures. One that lived in a local community garden for eight months and another that permanently resides in the laundromat. The leftover clothing was donated to a shelter. I would like to do more community-based projects as well as explore the possibilities of transforming  soft, old clothes into hard, fragile sculpture.

Video documentation of interdisciplinary installation

OPP: SuSu metaphorically compliments your ideas about multiple identities. The project is a process performance and a spoken-word performance. It’s social practice. It’s the dyed drip drawings. It’s public sculpture. It’s the generous and sustainable gesture of donating the leftovers. If any one person only witnessed one aspect of the project, they would not have an accurate understanding of the whole, and yet their experience of the part is valuable. It reminds me of the parable of the blind men and the elephant. They fought because they had each touched a different part of the elephant, and so they couldn’t agree on the nature of the elephant. That brings me back to all the identities we have. It seems to me that problems only emerge when we get attached to a single identity, both in viewing ourselves and in viewing others. Could Susu be a model for how to have a holistic relationship with our identities and the identities of others?

ATB: This is a good question; I have to really think on it. The simple answer is just yes. Because there is no waste in Susu, it is sort of like the golden rule, like the most idealized utopian construct. In many ways it is an ideal that charts the layering of identity metaphorically with simple yet connected actions. But on the other hand, identity is not fixed in the same way an elephant or an ideal is. Just when we think we see the entire elephant, it's shape shifts. I think that we have to accept and understand the moments as individual statements. Each element stands on its own, in its own space, with its own allegory and with its own potential to shift and become, altering the mechanisms and overall shape of the whole. Identity is as mutable as language and, as Lacan says, language is shaped like the subconscious. Susu becomes a stepping stone, a way to begin to see how complex and multidimensional identity is, but it does not take into consideration or perform the fluidity of each element.

To see more of Aisha's work, please visit superhueman.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,just opened at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL) and runs through December 19, 2015.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Javier Carmona

Tavola Dialogue, Understudy from In the Arena

JAVIER CARMONA’s photographs read like stills from motion pictures, hinting at the process of their own production. He directs and performs with actors in scripted scenes in rented apartments in far-away countries. In recent projects, he performs the character of Xavier, whose navigation of romantic relationships is an exploration of language, gesture and intimacy, both between humans and in relation to the cultural specificity of geographic locations. Javier earned his BFA from The School of The Art Institute of Chicago in 1994 and his MFA in Photography from The University of New Mexico in 1997. He has exhibited extensively throughout the United States, Mexico and Italy, and his work was most recently seen in Front and Center, the culminating show for the Center Program Residency at Hyde Park Art Center. In 2016, Javier will have solo exhibitions at Galería de Arte Contemporáneo, Secretaría de la Economía in Mexico City and The Photo-Four Gallery at South Suburban College in South Holland, Illinois. In March 2016, he will present Making a Scene: Towards an Actor’s Method for Still Photography at the National Conference of the Society for Photographic Education. Javier teaches at Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois and lives in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Could you expand on your notion of an "epic picture?"

Javier Carmona: It’s my reaction to the limitations placed on photographs by defining them as categories. There’s a part of me that loathes talking about pictures in terms of portrait, still life, landscape. Curators seem insistent on cataloging an image as a way of assigning its meaning. I don’t know how to answer the question, “Are these portraits?” I can’t bring myself to teach that way. I don’t get it.

I’d rather address the picture as a temporal phenomenon; an epic picture negotiates a narrative not bound by time. The still photograph is decontextualized time, even though we think of it as originating from a linear sensation of it. I anchor the still picture in a dialogue with the moving image. In cinema, the methodology of fusing the external world with the rehearsed intentions of a performed action is so much more of an accepted circumstance. My work brings that audience expectation of cinema to the still photograph.

Years ago, in my dissertation, I paraphrased Brecht’s idea of the Epic Theatre and began using the phrase Epic Photography; the epic picture is one which looks for a renewed, human expression of the actual and resistant world. In this sense, our phones take pictures, but they’re often obstacles to our tangible surroundings. I’ll take the sensual and the social over the virtual.

But let me be clear: it is possible to make an epic picture with a cell phone. Epic is not about scale or file size. I'm for any device that engenders contact with the external place. I'm more critical of our self-hypnosis with gadgets; our debilitated social behavior because of them. My principle camera these days is my Samsung Galaxy Note. It's the biggest cell phone they make, but still discreet. It makes the initial mark, like location scouting."

Love Streams - an Italian play > Sequence one: The Sea

OPP: Are your characters archetypes or individuals?

JC: The key word is character. Even when I perform in front of the camera, I play someone named Xavier. That simple letter change—from Xavier to Javier—allows me a conceptual distance. I can embrace an affectation other than my own.

So many of the recent projects, like In the Arena, have started with scripts in which the actors play characters. I’ve noticed my impulse to give them X names: Xoraida, Xenobia, Ximena, Xan, Xochitl. The X finds variable pronunciation; perhaps an extension of a mutable identity. It’s the mathematical unknown. It serves to exoticize these characters for an audience. Perhaps the characters approach the archetypes of audience expectation—an ethnically ambiguous visage we could call Latin.

Love Streams-an Italian Play > Sequence three: Inland

OPP: As the viewer, I feel a sense of longing that I also read in the characters. I'm longing for the rest of the story—all the parts between the captured moments. . . the moments I don't get to see—and they seem to be longing for connection or belonging. I am drawn in by the intimacy and vulnerability in the images themselves. What roles do intimacy and vulnerability play in the process of making the images?

JC: I tell myself to make straight forward pictures about what I don’t understand. That requires risk and yes, I hope, emotional vulnerability. I want the characters to examine what they don’t know about each other and the circumstances of their surroundings. The scenarios are largely written that way. It’s important the characters suddenly realize they are not where they once were, that they’re on an indifferent street in Mexico City or an arresting intersection in Rome.

I had a long habit of going to Mexico to photograph, but a handful of years ago, I began renting furnished apartments to extend my stay there as long as it was sustainable. I wanted to have a resident’s intimate knowledge of the place I had been born, but only knew in brief, albeit regular intervals throughout my life. Even before I knew to articulate it, I longed to create a cinematic illusion of what that other reality might be. So the Xavier character emerged as one negotiating a romantic relationship. The series, Mexican Cinema evolved into something I called The Enamorates / Los Enamorados. I thought of Xavier’s female foils as extensions of this intimate knowledge. To know Ximena, was to broach the immediate circumstance. Do the female characters become embodiments of ideals? Maybe initially, but only as a starting point.

Love Streams-an Italian Play, my ongoing work in Italy, initially came from an opportunity to teach in Florence during the summer. There emerged a parallel search for this intimacy you’re perceiving. In this case, it was a culture that resembled my own, but different enough to pose the obstacle of language toward understanding. I liked the prospect of being a chameleon there, of being mistaken for an Italian. On the streets, I would be asked for directions as if I were a resident; inevitably this informed the Xavier character. In Italian there is no letter J. So it was easier to be Xavier.

In Italy, I really began to think mostly in gestures and physical actions. I am still hoping to get that idea right: how two people might learn to negotiate emotion, despite communication.

The in-between moments you describe are the ones in which I think photography works best—when it resists explanation and revels in ambiguity. There’s more to be learned by ambiguity than a straightforward recitation. While I have been shooting these scripted scenarios to eventually also be a proper short film, I fear the ambiguity of the still may be lost once the image begins to move and explain itself.

Bucareli Trailer, Pt. IV from Mexican Cinema
OPP: I'd like to see the film because I’m ultimately curious about these characters for whom I've created my own stories. I’ve filled in the blanks, and a part of me wants to know if I’m right. On the other hand, my own longing to know and the way your still photographs resist my REALLY knowing seems to be the point. Is this related to what you meant by the “resistant world?”

JC: I'm often told, "These photographs should be films," implying this narrative speculation is not the purview of the still. I disagree. That longing you're describing, is much more indelible in a still that isn't replaced by the next moving frame. Photographs resist explanation as much as the external world resists providing the answers.

But ultimately the "resistant world" deposits the rehearsed gesture "on location," inviting an interaction with elements out of one's control, making credible what is enacted in the process. It's what I see in Cassavetes or French New Wave films made on streets, without permission and probably why they were my central influences.

Sub from In the Arena

OPP:  You occasionally use subtitles, sometimes in English and sometimes in Spanish. Where does the text come from? Do you think about audience when deciding which language to use?

JC: The text is pulled directly from the scripted scenes. The sequence of stills which make up In the Arena, highlights the physical gestures being performed. In the film version I’m editing, I’ll likely have the entire narrative subtitled regardless. Very likely the text will fluctuate in language and waiver in the accuracy of its translation. It would become a second dialogue over the spoken one.

I don’t mind that the subtitles or even the titles for the images go untranslated for what is initially an English-speaking audience. If they’re interested, they’ll use the universal translator on their phones. Otherwise, it’s another layer of ambiguity. Is it mischievous to give untranslated Spanish or Italian titles to works seen mostly by an American audience? Hopefully it makes them self-conscious of their role as an audience. To me it broadens the definition of what should be a mainstream experience of art viewing. It’s asking the audience to consider more information as part of who they are.

Still from Los Enamorados

OPP: Language and translation is just one part of comprehending work that bridges multiple cultures. You've exhibited throughout the United States and extensively in Mexico City. Is your work understood differently in Mexico versus the U.S.?

JC: Is the work understood differently in Mexico? Oh gods, yes! And that’s so refreshing. Having those actual conversations with different audiences is the heart of the dialogue the work is looking to engage. As if the work itself provides the pretext to interact socially with people I’d like to know further. Despite my Mexican birth or fluency in Spanish, Mexicans regard me as an American artist, with the accompanying exoticism. I’m intrigued by how I’m perceived in these different places. It feeds the character. When I started going there as a young artist, gaining social acceptance in my country of origin was an unspoken motivation; exhibiting work was a way to do that. Now I go find a community I miss enormously.

In the States, many art people go straight to gender in this work and are often unwilling to allow me the conceit of playing a fictional character. I showed Mexican Cinema to a book publisher, who felt the work was mostly about surrounding myself with beautiful women and dismissed it outright. I’m still baffled by that. I couldn’t get her to engage with the importance of location in the evolving narrative. Was she culturally intolerant or offended by a perceived sexism?

I tend to not have the work explain all these references, for fear of becoming didactic. Ambiguity is king. But it comes at a cost when the audience isn’t aware of the cultural baggage you’ve arrived with.

I exhibited a few stills from In the Arena in Mexico City recently. They got it. They were eager to have a conversation about the telenovela and how it affects the Mexican expression of emotion. There’s an acting school in Mexico City that teaches a melodrama class called Bofetada y Lagrima, which focuses on the slap and crying for the camera. I think a discussion of that in an American context would be extraordinary. 

The Reforma Rehearsals, Part I
13:08 minutes

OPP: What about specific geographical references that American audiences might not get, such as the Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City? How does this location add another layer of meaning in The Reforma Rehearsals, Part I and II (2013)?

JC: The Paseo de la Reforma is Mexico City’s principle artery. It’s one of the busiest—maybe ten lanes in some stretches—stitching together the many monuments of the city’s identity. To have a film, where an actor, walks as slowly as possible in real time against the current of the fastest traffic, is akin to reclaiming an individual presence in this vast city. It takes her nearly 15 minutes to cross 50 feet in the volatile context of chance occurrence. That’s epic, as I’d like to think of it; the gesture is not bound by time.

Declination Movement, 09 from Casuals of the Sea

OPP: I initially read your work more literally as about intimacy and vulnerability, gender roles and possibly archetypes from the telenovela, which I had an inkling about, but didn’t feel well-versed enough to comment on. I was particularly curious about the vulnerability of the Masculine. But now, I see the romance as an allegory for cultural and geographic belonging. What I initially thought of as a longing for human connection, I now see as a more general longing for belonging. Thoughts?

JC: Belonging? That works. . . You know, you're reminding me that I've rarely felt comfortable in a room full of people where everybody looks and sounds the same. I've always felt more at ease in heterogeneous surroundings. And that alien feeling happens in Mexico, too.

At the same time, I've had an instinct to understand by infiltration. My interest in language and gesture allows me to be a chameleon. Making pictures and now studying acting exists in this context. I loved that I've been confused for an Italian or someone of Middle Eastern descent. It sets up the challenge to find a way to belong. To learn how they greet or love.

To see more of Javier's work, please visit javiercarmona.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, runs through December 19, 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL).

Two BIG Updates: More Media Types and a Welcome Page!

We just released new goodies for you kittens and cats—and so we thought we’d make a blog post both to explain what these updates are all about — and to jump start some ideas on how you can use them to make your site awesomer-er.

You may have noticed that last month we added GIFs as an Artwork type, so bring on the animated funtimesTM! Other than hi-larious videos of a guy slipping on a banana peel, GIFs can be used on your website more practically as a great way to give a sense of what a complex artwork is like, by showing frames from a time-based video, performance, or photo essay. An absolutely amazing looking way to use GIFs is to give a 360 degree view of 3D work, where you animate moving around a sculpture/installation.  We hope you guys have been enjoying this new whizzbang,  and just in case you haven’t added a GIF yet...DO IT! 

You can easily make GIFs using Photoshop or free online services like imgflip.com, makeagif.com & gifmaker.me

And, because once you have a good thing, you want it everywhere—this week, we added GIF capability, along with Youtube and Vimeo videos, as News, Links and Home Page media too — so you can add a short video about your recent book signing or gallery show, along with the News post about it, or have a video artwork be on your Home Page!

We also created a totally new page type: a Welcome Page! Use this to make a great first impression on your visitors. Some ideas include a beautiful image of your work or studio with your site title on top, or an animated GIF that starts with your name and then cycles through several artworks. This can give people a great start on understanding your practice, and one click takes your viewers through to your home page and the rest of your site. 

For my website, I decided to give a preview of my work using an animated GIF. I used http://gifmaker.me/ , which I had never tried before, but it was simple and intuitive. 

First, I picked some of my favorite hi-res images of my work, and pasted them into a Photoshop files I created in a relatively “browser shaped” horizontal format, placing my name over top in a font I liked. I then arranged the layers in the order I wanted them to be in in the GIF—which allowed me to “test out” the animation by turning layers on and off. 

I then easily uploaded each saved out .jpg layer into GIFmaker, adjusted the speed to my preference, set it to the highest possible quality, and clicked the “Create GIF Animation” button. I then used the link below to download my new GIF, and then uploaded it to the Welcome Page section of my OPP website, selecting “Fill Screen,” but you can test out checking or not checking the boxes to see what you prefer.  I love my new welcome animation! 

Some other great ways to use the Welcome Page could be to use a still jpg image with text that announces the release of your new monograph  or an upcoming workshop, or to showcase your newest project. 

No matter what style you choose, it’s generally always going to be a good idea to have your site title or a short welcome message so your viewers know what they’re looking at. 

An important thing to note is that we used our OPP wizardry to ensure that people who visit your site don’t see your Welcome Page over and over. They’ll just see it each time they first visit. But this means that you as the site owner will also encounter the same issue, so if you want to preview your Welcome Page as you’re working on it, you can use the “Preview” link that appears after you click the “Update” button while working on your Welcome Page. Alternately, you can delete the /home.html from your URL in the browser and reload the page.

Here are a few OPP-ers who have already discovered this feature and it’s powers:


NEON TUNDRA - ALICE BUCKNELL  - ‘80s arcade music plays in my head as I watch this for hours. 

VIOLET LEMAY - This is beyond cute-dorable.



JULIE KANAPAUX - Classy & classic.

SHAWN HUCKINS - A great “working in the studio” shot. 

CHRIS HERNANDEZ - Bold and intriguing. Blood!

Have a neato Welcome Page you want to share? Send it to weheartart@otherpeoplespixels.com and we’ll share our favorites on Facebook!

Go nuts you crazy kids.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Roxana Halls

Beauty Queen
Oil on Linen
90cm x 90cm

ROXANA HALLS' mostly female subjects negotiate the at-best-awkward, at-worst-strangling internalized cultural constructions/constrictions of femininity. In her representational oil paintings, they balance precariously on the edges of chairs and nervously/ecstatically laugh while consuming salad. Some sit statically with unconsumed popcorn, berries or sushi in their open mouths, while others pose demurely behind luscious heads of hair which threaten to envelop them. Roxana has been the recipient of the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Award (2001), the Villiers David Prize (2004) and the Founder's Purchase Prize (The Discerning Eye) (2010). Her numerous solo exhibitions include Appetite (2014) and Unknown Women (2015) at Hayhill Gallery in London. She is currently working towards her next solo show in 2016, and will be exhibiting in upcoming group shows and at art fairs. Roxana lives in London.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Beauty Queen (2014) and Laughing While Eating Salad (2013), which is directly connected to an internet meme, both take representations of femininity and make them slightly grotesque. I see these paintings as challenging cultural constructions of the Feminine, as perpetuated by mass media. Thoughts?

Roxana Halls: Well, firstly, you are right in your analysis and in connecting these images. They do indeed have a direct relationship although clearly the nature of it may not initially seem explicit. In essence you could see these pieces as representing the polar reaches of a preoccupation with the depiction of women's internalized rules of conduct and a conflicted, ever-fluctuating response to external expectations. They could be read as different stages in a life's cyclical return to phases of stasis and engagement, that while some of my figures suggest an escalating desire for abandonment, others are palpably constrained.

In my ongoing body of work Appetite, I'm posing questions about the ways in which women are appraised, influenced and policed within contemporary culture and how this 'self- surveillance' circumscribes the repertoire of legitimate actions available to women. The paintings themselves offer a riposte to any such self consciousness. The subjects instead indulge in 'catastrophic' behaviour; they are inappropriate and immune to self-censure. In many of these paintings the consumption of food seems to be the focus, but eating is so much more than a biological process. It is fraught with tension and expectation. In Beauty Queen, I wanted to extend the metaphor into the realm of female ambition, also seen to be indecorous in its pursuit of attention and fulfillment. The piece Oranges was directly inspired by Carolee Schneemann's 1968 performance at the ICA London, when the artist threw oranges at the audience while simultaneously delivering a lecture about Cezanne. She kept dressing and undressing, naked under her overalls.

Laughing While Eating Salad was directly inspired by the trend I tuned into in advertising & the media of women laughing alone while eating salad. I found these images captivating: this stereotypically feminine and inoffensive foodstuff being enjoyed with such over-articulated ecstasy! It's interesting that you see these images as slightly grotesque, I personally don't think of them in that way exactly, more unbounded and at risk of hysteria, but I'm aware of how uncommon it is that such expressions are depicted and this fascinates me and continues to inspire me.

Nest II
Oil on Linen
65cm x 60cm

OPP: Nest I and Nest II are related. They also call into question external expectations about the Feminine by covering the faces of what look to be supermodels—their postures evoke fashion photography—with their own hair.

RH: In the Nest paintings I wanted take a more mysterious, disconcerting approach. They hint at detachment and disengagement while simultaneously seeking to entice with the evident seductiveness of their bodies, clothing and hair. These women in contrast to those in the Appetite seem lost in a troubling borderline state. Possibly they are undergoing an evolution, or perhaps are smothered by self censorship? It won't surprise you to hear I'm very interested in the writing of Julia Kristeva and her discussion of abjection.

Equally the exploration I undertook in making such imagery calls to mind sources such as Baudelaire’s poem La Chevelure (c1857), and the Nick Cave song Black Hair. In both cases, there is something about the investment and singular focus upon one part of the female body which transmutes into something strange and peculiar. The more you get intensely involved with one part of the body, the more it starts to move into the abject and it becomes a substance which is both of itself and yet separate from itself.

Oil on Linen
75cm x 75cm

OPP: I've noticed a lot of precariousness in your work. A Little Light Reading (2012) and A Startler for the Careful Housekeeper (2011) are a few examples. These works and others from Shadow Play and Suspended Women read as allegorical to me. What's being balanced, on the verge of falling, in these series?

RH: These earlier pictures have very similar concerns to the other later pictures we've discussed. This apparent precariousness is a primary underlying theme in most of my work. I see it in the image of a teetering pile of crockery in danger of toppling, a laugh which seems to be just to one side of the boundary of hysteria or even the discomfiting ambivalence of a female performer. In Shadow Play, I wanted to reference the then-prevalent taste for vintage objets and the way this seemed to hint at a desire to posses the symbols of a certain kind of idealized polite culture and, as I saw it, the secure and 'lady-like' life they seemed to represent. I wanted to subvert such domesticated aspirations, and in some of the paintings I felt the barely glimpsed female protagonists were themselves seeking to sabotage the props of their lives.

Girl Table
Oil on Linen
105cm x 105cm

OPP: Your studio is in the saloon bar of a defunct 1930s London theatre, now a Bingo Hall. Aside from the influence of this physical space, what captivates you about Cabaret?

RH: Yes, I am extravagantly fortunate in having such a wonderful space to work in, and it clearly has exerted a powerful influence over my work. But in the best traditions of serendipity it has always felt oddly inevitable that I would make theatrical paintings. As a child I only wanted to be an actor, and until my very first, life-changing attempt at oil painting I had very little interest in any other direction.

In 2004 I was the recipient of the Villiers David Prize, an award intended to provide funds to enable an artist to travel and undertake research in order to embark on a creative project. My early fascination with theatre was clearly a component in my choice of subject, and at that time I was beginning to notice an emergent cabaret and burlesque scene in London, which exploded by the time I'd finished and exhibited the paintings. Also I've long been fascinated by the whole Weimar milieu, as much as a more home-grown Music Hall & Variety tradition. Mainly I saw within the theme an opportunity to explore the possibilities of artistry and autonomy and reflect on notions of gender, sexuality, identity and spectatorship. And of course it also unleashed a desire to engage in a project of ambitious and spectacular proportions! I've never entirely felt that the series was finished, and am still harbouring a smouldering wish to revisit the theme.

The Girlie Hurdy Gurdy
Oil on Linen
72 x 72 in

OPP: Could you talk about the relationship between the paintings in Tingle-Tangle, made between 2005 and 2009, and CURTAIN FALL - The Tingle Tangle Photographs, created in collaboration with photographer Matthew Tugwell in 2009? None of the photographs are direct re-stagings of the paintings, but they seem to have the same models. What led to the creation of the photographs?

RH: The creation of the Tingle-Tangle paintings was a complex and involved process which required a lot of commitment from my models. Many of them were actors and performers and genuinely brought something of their professional understanding to the characters I asked them to inhabit. I constructed sets in order to depict each separate performance. I made, sourced and found costumes and props. My practice of essentially building my own cabaret show out of cardboard and charity shop discoveries linked with the improvisational spirit of third rate variety! While I'm wary of ever explicitly revealing how a picture has been made because of the way this can affect the reading of a piece, I wanted to somehow offer a glimpse into the process of transforming these mundane elements into the spectacle you see in the paintings. I wanted to show the 'performers' themselves and give a glimpse of the glorious theatre in which I have my studio which partially inspired them. Once I was offered a show at the National Theatre, the possibilities of the exhibition space itself gave me the scope to explore this in collaboration with Matthew Tugwell.

Babette the Baloonette
Roxana Halls/Matthew Tugwell

OPP: In 2013, you completed a bespoke commissioned project, The Alice Staircase, an eight-interlinking-canvas interpretation of Lewis Carroll's famous work and, according to your website, you are currently creating a new major commissioned artwork, a seven-interlinking-canvas interpretation of The Wizard Of Oz. How do you balance commissions with your own projects? Have you ever turned a commission down? Do the commissions ever end up influencing your own work?
RH: Balancing commissioned work with my own projects is unsurprisingly a little tricky at times, as an interesting job may of course be offered just as you're fully engaged with your own momentum. But I've always seen the right commissioned work as not only financially rewarding but also a real opportunity for development. I say the right commissioned work because, yes, I have turned down work along the way when I felt the project wasn't best suited to my abilities or I've been too busy with preexisting commitments. The Alice and Wizard projects have given me really quite extraordinary opportunities to develop narrative structure and complexity, and to produce work based upon preexisting source material has been immensely challenging, freeing and rewarding. The development of these projects has undoubtedly had a powerful affect on my work which is affecting the direction I'm taking in my practice subsequently, even though my underlying themes remain a constant.

As I've described with the making of the Tingle-Tangle paintings, I've employed a somewhat extensive and complicated process of creation. When I came to conceive of the Alice Staircase, I knew right away that I couldn't build Wonderland in my studio! So while I again made my own costumes and asked friends to 'perform' the characters—I used this familiar approach partly to circumvent the inevitable difficulty in attempting to sidestep the dominance of John Tenniel's wonderful illustrations—I also decided to use photography, a source material I had rarely used up until this point. I've been using the same method in my ongoing Wizard of Oz series.
I've long held the view that the image I make and that which I hope to explore and convey within this image should be the guiding principle of my work and that the image should be brought into existence by whatever means necessary. Partly through the making of Alice and Wizard I feel I'm beginning to sense what further possibilities might be unfolding.

To see more of Roxana's work, please visit roxanahalls.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,just opened at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL) and runs through December 19, 2015.