tag:blog.otherpeoplespixels.com,2013:/posts OtherPeoplesPixels Blog 2021-01-15T13:09:39Z OPP tag:blog.otherpeoplespixels.com,2013:Post/1631074 2020-12-23T16:25:11Z 2020-12-23T16:29:56Z OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jackie Milad

It Means Desert, Desert (2020). Installation view. Photo credit: Vivian Doering

JACKIE MILAD thinks of her layered, mixed media works as time-based art. She employs layering as a strategy to protect, hide and transform recurring symbols like eye, snake, brick wall, and breast. She cuts and draws and paints and sews, cannibalizing previously-exhibited works to make new works. A part of one piece becomes the beginning of another. This ongoing, ever-evolving process of creation refuses the notion of artworks as static, archival objects. Jackie earned her BFA at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts and her MFA from Towson University. In 2019, she was named a Janet & Walter Sondheim Prize Finalist and a Robert W. Deutsch Foundation Ruby Grantee. Recent solo exhibitions include: Chaos Comes and Goes (2019) at C. Grimaldis Gallery (Baltimore), Portate Bien (2020) at Langer Over Dickie (Chicago) and It Means Desert, Desert (2020) at Julio Fine Arts Gallery (Loyola University, Maryland). Only three days left to see her work in Re-Materialize at Arthur Ross Gallery at the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia). It closes on December 20, 2020. Jackie lives and works in Baltimore City, Maryland.

OtherPeoplesPixels: When I say the word layers, where does your mind go?

Jackie Milad: History. Ancestors. Information. Hidden. Protected. Removable or changeable.

Nope, No Way (2019) Mixed Media Collage on Paper. Photo credit: Vivian Doering

OPP: Who are your artistic ancestors? 

JM: It was during undergrad at SMFA where I was first introduced to Performance Art and was really inspired by the work of women performance artists of the 60s and 70s and in particular: Yoko OnoAdrian PiperJoan Joanas and Valie Export. It was their fearlessness and vulnerability I was drawn to and how they used their bodies to examine and critique the politics of othering and to deconstruct power structures such as white supremacy and patriarchy. Other influences include Howardena Pindell and Jack Whitten for their textural mixed media works and their processes. 

I love maximalist audio and visual experiences, it's hard to narrow it down because there is so much out there from mainstream pop culture to experimental work—however, my absolute favorite movie is Dario Argento's 1977 Suspiria, for its garish lighting and beautiful compositions. I also really love the synchronized dance sequences in Busby Berkley films of the 1930s for the extravagance of it all.

Chaos Eyes Redux (2020) Mixed media. 72" x 72"

OPP: You use recurring formal strategies like transparency, overlapping and reusing parts of old work to make new work. How do these serve your conceptual interests?

JM: Layering is a vital element in my work. Every layer shows a new choice; it’s a record of my decisions. History is a complicated thing; it is almost always told from the perspective of the dominant power. Showing the history of my hand is a way to tell my own story, my own history. I also dig back into the layers or cut and paste older works to reveal the past. My work is personal, and some of the layerings are meant to reveal and later protect or hide information. 

Additionally, I think a lot about how works of art are read. There is a general expectation that the work will be broken down into basic and understandable codes, whether by the artist themselves a writer, or by a curator. I like to defy this expectation by stacking layers, mixing up multiple signals, codes, and even languages. I rarely give it away. I want people to understand and accept that not everything has to be for them, not all symbols have to be revealed and explained—and sometimes it can be confusing and left a mystery.

The Flood Six - Hyena (2018) Acrylic, flashe, marker and collage on paper. 50" x 42"

OPP: Do you think of your mixed media collage works as representing some kind of space, be it physical, mental or social?

JM: I think of them as representing all of the above, or more accurately a record of time within the physical, mental, and social-political spaces. It takes time for me to layer the works, the pieces do not have an endpoint or finish point—they are more of an ongoing ever-changing, malleable record of my hand, my decisions, and of my observations of those things outside of my control. Ideally, in my studio, I am cutting from one piece to add to another in a fluid ongoing intuitive process. I compare them to doing performance art or time-based work.

OPP: How do you think about the works that you’ve sold or gifted in terms of being ongoing?

JM: Once the works leave my studio, they become out of reach or off-limits for obvious reasons. In a way, the objects become something else, they become more of a document or remnant of the performance/process. It would be amazing to one day collaborate with a collector to have work returned to my studio so that a piece could have another life yet again... and again and so on.


Yallah Sim Sim (2020) Video. 4 minutes.

OPP: You use a pastiche of found and created imagery in Yallah Sim Sim (2020), a digital animation with the feel of a sacred dance party. Many symbols have been accumulating meaning for most of human history—pyramid, eye, snake, tear drop—and you use them in a way that is completely idiosyncratic. Tell us about the combinations of images and sound in this work.

JM: I did this video in collaboration with my spouse, Tom Boram. We worked on this video after a research trip to my father’s homeland of Egypt in January. Going from ancient site to ancient site, and seeing a repetition of pharaonic symbols, but more importantly, the confluence of many cultures and epochs on one surface was very inspiring. The video recreates the experience of seeing the layers of Egyptian history competing with wayward touristic signs, a far-off Pizza Hut sign, or a booming car stereo playing mahraganat (Egyptian electronic dance music). This is really on point with what I’m getting at in my own 2D works In this video piece— information collapses onto itself in a chaotic pop kind of way. The writing is literally on the wall of tombs built for ancient pharaohs, turned Coptic monasteries, turned mosques, turned touristic sites. One fascinating architectural example is the pharaonic Luxor Temple which the Romans converted and renovated to be a church, and then later Arabs literally built a mosque (still in use) on top of the ruins of both the church and temple.

Untitled (2019) from Chaos Comes and Goes

OPP: Can you talk about the untitled golden necklaces works from 2019? The composition and palette in these predominately black works is so paired down compared to most of your recent work.

JM: This piece and the other work in this series were done as a counter to the larger collage works. I have several works in which I single out one pattern or theme. I like the idea that a viewer can get a very unfiltered view of a symbol that is repeated and layered throughout my larger dense pieces. I think of the series as a map key to the other work.

Quarantine One-a-Day Drawings (2020) 7" x 7." Photo credit: Vivian Doering

OPP: Tell us about your quarantine experience. It included making a drawing a day. How were these works generated by the early days of the pandemic.

JM: Ah, quarantine. Well, I live with my husband, two dogs, and my nine-year-old son. At the start of the lockdown with schools closing and our jobs going entirely online, there was no time or energy to work in the ways I did pre-Covid. Going to my studio seemed impossible, so to maintain momentum and some mental stability I cut up some small 7” square paper and started drawing, but of course, was regularly interrupted, so what I thought would be these quick simple sketches turned out to take all day to make. This slowing down of my process was important to do at the time. I needed to slow down and be okay with it. I’m not actively doing the quarantine drawings anymore, I’m back in my studio, but I do have plans to go back to making them at some point.    

Gold Bars (2020) Mixed Media Collage on Hand-Dyed Canvas.

OPP: What are you currently most excited about in your studio?

JM: These days in my studio, I've been using the time to think and experiment with materials. Just yesterday I cut up a canvas piece that I've shown in an exhibition recently and started to reconfigure it by sewing other remnants and painting over it with a palette of colors I rarely use. The pandemic and the general stress of this year have made it hard to be consistently productive, so I am taking small steps to find a way forward—and sometimes that means a dance break in my studio or lying on the floor for a different perspective. 

To see more of Jackie's work, please visit www.jackiemilad.com and follow her on Instagram @_jackie_milad_.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020).

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tag:blog.otherpeoplespixels.com,2013:Post/1628847 2020-12-17T12:48:49Z 2020-12-17T12:52:48Z OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Annie Bissett

ACTIVATE (Gay Liberation Front). White Line Woodcut with Toner Transfer. 14.5" x 20.5" (37 x 52.4 cm). Photo credit: Stephen Petegorsky

Printmaker ANNIE BISSETT explores the visual symbols and verbal cliches associated with various belief systems: from the religious to the political to the economic to the prophetic. Working primarily in moku hanga, she has tackled religious relics and spiritual cliche, the historical struggle for gay liberation and the idiomatic expressions associated with wealth and poverty in capitalist America. Annie's numerous solo exhibitions include: Playing with Fire (2018) at Oxbow Gallery (Northampton MA), Past/Present/Now (2016) at Charles Krause Reporting (Washington DC) and I Was a 20th Century Lesbian at Hosmer Gallery (Northampton MA.) Her work is in the permanent collections of notable institutions like New York Public Library, Boston Public Library, Portland Museum of Art, and Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College. You can purchase Annie's four self-published books here. Annie lives and works in Providence, Rhode Island.

Other Peoples Pixels: Can you explain moku hanga for the non-printmakers among us?

Annie Bissett: Moku hanga, which means “wood print,” is a centuries-old Japanese way of printing that uses waterborne pigments, brushes instead of rollers, and a hand-held printing device called a baren instead of a mechanical press. Woodblock printing was brought to Japan in the 8th century by Buddhists from China and was first used to reproduce religious texts. After a time colors began to be added by hand and then, as woodblock printing became the primary form of commercial printing in Japan, printers began to carve blocks for each color. Japanese woodblock prints, also called ukiyo-e, are known especially for their intense use of color. 

CLASS PICTURE. Japanese woodblock (mokuhanga). 14.5" x 20.5" (37 x 52.4 cm). Photo credit: Stephen Petegorsky

OPP: How long have you been using this method?

AB: In the early 2000s, after spending about 20 years working digitally as a commercial artist/illustrator, I found myself longing to make work for myself instead of clients and to work with my hands instead of on the computer. I tried painting and failed, tried collage but didn’t enjoy the search for source materials, and then I tried making drawings that I scanned and colored in Photoshop. That felt right, except that I was still at the computer. A friend noted that my drawings looked like Japanese woodblock prints and, serendipitously, I heard of a workshop being offered near my home by a New Hampshire printmaker named Matt Brown. I took that three-day workshop and fell in love with the method.

Selections from Secret Codewords of the NSA, each 6" x 6." Photo credit: Stephen Petegorsky

OPP: What keeps you returning to moku hanga? What do you love about the process?

AB: Although I’m a great admirer of Japanese art and aesthetics, I didn’t start working with moku hanga because of an interest traditional Japanese art. I took up moku hanga because it’s an artistic medium that is neither toxic nor messy, and it’s compact and portable enough to do on the side in my small home-based studio while I continue to serve my freelance digital commercial illustration clients. It’s also a beautiful method—wood, water, natural pigments, brushes, hand-held carving tools and handmade paper are the simple materials that make the method a pleasure to work with. And after my long career as a commercial artist working with four-color offset print technology, the transparent color overlays inherent in woodblock printing make intuitive sense to me.

Because the Japanese brought this art form to unimaginable heights of perfection, working with moku hanga can be a difficult burden to bear. Not many 21st-century western artists could hope to achieve the degree of perfection attained by the great 17th- and 18th-century ukiyo-e masters, but unfortunately that type of work is what many people think of when you say "Japanese woodblock.” I try to avoid this silent standard in people’s minds by calling what I do moku hanga or watercolor woodblock print—a term I especially like. Even though the method does come with a lot of cultural weight, I try to take the support of the beauty and elegance and history of the method without letting go of my own voice and my American concerns and identity. 

I LOVE YOU. Japanese woodblock (mokuhanga). 14.5" x 20.5" (37 x 52.4 cm). Photo credit: Stephen Petegorsky

OPP: What role does text play in your work?

AB: My major in college was English literature. That, plus my decades as an illustrator, where my job was essentially to read a document and then make pictures to go with it, predisposes me to work with words and text. 

Language is totally weird. It’s a mystery that we rarely treat with the awe and respect it deserves. If we were to spend just five minutes watching ourselves speak we would know this. Where do our words come from? Do we really know what we’re about to say before we say it, or do the ideas form simultaneously with the words? Are the movements of our tongue and lips conscious or unconscious? When I look at these questions I find language to be a strange fluid blending of conscious and unconscious, of mental and emotional, of controlled and uncontrollable. And I believe that we reveal ourselves and our innermost states in a brutally honest way through our speech.

MIXED FEELINGS (full set). Japanese Woodblock Print with transfer drawing. Each print is 12.5" x 19." Photo credit: Stephen Petegorsky

OPP: Printmaking—the origins of reproducibility of image and text—is the perfect media to address cliche. I’m thinking of the spiritual cliches on the banners from Relics (2016) and the economic cliches in Loaded (2012). Do you use cliche with sincerity or irony?

AB: To me, cliches appear to be ossified or “frozen” bits of language that we use either as shorthand or as meaningless filler in our speech. I guess the question I’m asking when I work with cliche is, what happens if you soften or “melt” a cliche? Does meaning return? Is there something to discover there? I think yes. 

So to answer your question, I’m 100% sincere in my use of cliches, although the results are often very humorous and/or full of irony, because people are funny.

A REAL FAKE: THIS IS NOT MUHAMMED. Watercolor woodblock print with gold mica, rubber stamp, and removable printed veil. Photo credit: Stephen Petegorsky

OPP: I also see a scholarly interest in the iconography and stories from all the major world spiritual traditions. Is this purely scholarly interest?

AB: I’ve always been a seeker—it seems to be a baked-in part of my personality. As a young child I was interested in my friends’ beliefs, religions and traditions and was invited to their churches, temples, mosques and celebrations. I was raised mainstream Protestant, I got “born again” in high school, and then, accompanied by a lot of pain, I lost my religion when I realized I was gay in my freshman year of college. But even in my post-Christianity period I continued to study various spiritual traditions, and I’ve practiced a number of them. 

Religion, as is true of all human constructs, can be a force for good or for evil. Religious power can easily be warped and manipulated to rationalize all manner of cruelty and bigotry. But at their best, the various religions are repositories of human wisdom, aspiration and spiritual technology that come to us from our ancestors, through centuries of history, and sometimes at great cost. I think there’s much of value to be found there.

DEFY (ACT UP). White Line Woodcut and Rubber Stamping. 14.5" x 20.5" (37 x 52.4 cm) Photo credit: Stephen Petegorsky

OPP: Tell us about the prints from the ongoing series I Was a 20th Century Lesbian that I’m reading as “flags” for various activist organizations that played a role in the history of gay liberation. Are these flag prints based on real flags from these groups?

AB: That group of prints, which I call Counterspells, uses a printmaking method called “white line woodcut” that was developed in the early 20th century in the gay mecca of Provincetown, Massachusetts. As in moku hanga, white line woodcut uses watercolor as ink, but instead of multiple blocks a single block (matrix) is incised with a line drawing and colors are painted by hand, one small area at a time. Although the matrix can be re-used, each white line print is a monoprint (one of a kind). 

Using the white line method allowed me to use a single matrix—a simple grid of equilateral triangles—for all the prints. I chose the triangle to reference the downward-pointing pink triangle that was sewn on the uniforms of imprisoned gay men and other sexual offenders in Nazi concentration camps. In the 1970s, the gay community reclaimed the pink triangle as an international symbol of gay pride.

Many of the gay liberation organizations I depicted were short lived, but they built on one another, so to use the same matrix for all of them let me express this in a tangible way. On the other hand, it was quite a limiting format, having to express the essence of each organization through this grid of triangles. I think you’re right that they do read as flags, but I invented them.

Selected images from Woodblock Dreams Tarot (in progress), 2018-2020. Photo credit: Stephen Petegorsky

OPP: What’s cooking in your studio right now?

AB: I’ve been working on a woodblock tarot deck for 2 years. For the four tarot suits (56 cards) I created woodblock backgrounds, textures, and illustrated elements which I then scanned and collaged in Photoshop. Thus, those digitally-collaged woodblock prints only exist digitally. There are 21 additional cards in the tarot called the Major Arcana, and I’m creating those as fully developed woodblock prints in very small editions (four of each). Each of those prints is scanned, reduced in size, and type is added digitally. For the sake of time, treasure and sanity, it’s the only way I could imagine making an affordable tarot deck that I could complete in my lifetime.The deck is called Woodblock Dreams Tarot, and I expect to have it ready for the printer by the spring 2021. It’s been a good project for the Time of COVID.

To see more of Annie's work, please visit www.anniebissett.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020).


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tag:blog.otherpeoplespixels.com,2013:Post/1626097 2020-12-09T13:34:24Z 2020-12-09T13:43:59Z OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Szu-Wei Ho

The Maze (2019) Graphite, color pencil, watercolor, gouache on paper. 29 ½" x 41 ½"

Bodies become landscapes in the surreal drawings and prints of SZU-WEI HO. Braided hair weaves in between and around figures—human, animal and mannequin—engaged in fantastical and lively rituals. Szu-Wei earned her M.F.A. in Printmaking at Pratt Institute (Brooklyn, New York) after receiving her B.A. in English Language and Literature at the National Taiwan Normal University (Taipei, Taiwan). She has exhibited at International Print Center (Chelsea, NY), A.I.R. Gallery, (Dumbo, NY) and Gallery 456 at the Chinese American Arts Council (NY, NY), where she had two solo exhibitions in 2014 and 2019. Szu-Wei recently relocated to Taichung, Taiwan, where she and her husband are currently setting up an art studio and printmaking workshop.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Can you talk about the surreal qualities of your work?

Szu-Wei Ho: I come from a background of literature and love of storybooks. So when I started to create art, stories naturally came first. In my images there are a lot of natural elements, animals, fairytale motifs, human events, and everyday objects. These are glued together by rearranging and reinterpreting my daily encounters. This is the most fun and intriguing creative process I could enjoy for now, so I stick with it. But I also think my work is deeply rooted in reality, which is always more surreal than what I could imagine, especially the year 2020!

Reins (2019) Graphite on paper. 29 ½" x 41 ½"

OPP: The braid is a recurring form in your drawings and prints. It shows up in The Braided Island (2011), Braid (2014) and Reins (2019) to name a few. What does it mean to you? What keeps you coming back to this visual motif?

SH: Human hair is like an extension of us, which grows but without senses. It plays such an important role in our appearances, sometimes even defines our look. Braided hair especially aroused me not only because of it’s woven and lush texture, but the action of braiding and the reason behind it could carry many sexual, social and cultural connotations. Braids can have different colors, which could imply race and point to beauty standards. As a girl, I had a popular doll with ankle-length, blond hair. I brushed and braided her hair everyday. It was like a rule of thumb that to be pretty and to be a princess, long blond hair is the standard.

Hair Salon No.4- Braid Me A Spring, Spider Man (2011) Etching. 9" x 12"

OPP: And your braids move beyond the human head. . . 

SH: Yes, braids show up in my work as tentacles, tails, ropes, fiddleheads, and question marks. Whichever shapes they take, they imply female existence and cultural restraints. From the Brothers Grimm, the image of Rapunzel letting her hair down from the tower bewitched me. The captive woman connects herself to her mother-like figure and her lover with the long braid, which was like an umbilical cord. And then she was pregnant with twins. 

Where It Is Damp and Foggy (2019) Graphite on paper. 29 ½" x 41 ½"

OPP:Landscapes and bodies are often conflated in your drawings, prints and ceramics. Is the landscape a way to talk about the body or vice versa?

SH: Landscapes are just like bodies; they breathe and grow. I like to magnify the body to the scale of landscape so it becomes a giant or an island. And to minimize landscape, they just look like creatures lying there. I’ve lived on islands all my life, whether in Taiwan or New York. I love the idea of being surrounded by water, and the unique quality of being isolated but open at the same time.

Blue Egg I (2012) Ink, watercolor, and Gouache on paper. 44" x 30"

OPP: Please tell us about the relationship between color and graphite in Blue Egg I (2011) and Ripe (2019).

SH: I think color and grayscale talk to each other when they are in the same picture. In these two pieces both the focal points have bright and colorful appearances. The others with only grayscale would fall to the background. But with the impression of the colors that first meet the eye, the grey scale then opens to more air and possibilities. 

In Blue Egg I, the colorful part is at the center: a number of figurines danced around a blue egg. The figurines were like mannequins but only with the lower body, and they were decorated with different objects on top of narrow sticks. They were running, walking or dancing, as if a celebration was going on. Colors could emphasize the liveliness of the event.

In Ripe, the only bird in bright colors was the one that held an egg. One can tell the bird head was a costume as the eyes were hollow. This colorful bird confronted the viewer with no facial expression, making the viewer wonder who was hiding behind and what kind of emotion there should be. I applied so many bright colors on this bird to create a theatrical event.

Ripe (2019) Graphite and color pencil on paper. 29 ½" x 41 ½"

OPP: Ripe and The Maze, both from 2019, feature a colorful parakeet costume hiding an egg protected by human arms. What is the egg being protected from?

SH: The idea of a colorful parakeet came from the sun conure I met at the place I used to work. She lost her mate a long time ago, but still laid infertile eggs from time to time. It was a natural habit, but I felt sorry for her, as if she would be lost by us taking those eggs away. Thus the sun conure became a character I used to talk about reproduction and motherhood. The human arms topped with a bird costume would hold a huge egg like a pregnant woman holding her belly. 

I do not intend to have the egg being protected from specific things, but to just present the way a mother would be protective and cherish her prize by holding it in her arms. But ironically, what is in the egg is another question. . .  it could be just another infertile egg the sun conure bears.

The Braided Island (2011) Etching, aquatint, spitbite, drypoint. 22 1/2" x 31" 

OPP: How does the egg in these new drawings from 2019 relate to the Blue Egg I (2011) and Blue Egg II (2012)?

SH: In the earlier drawings Blue Egg I II, the egg symbolizes life and happiness, in a naive way. Robin's Egg Blue is a color I am not very familiar with when I grew up in Taiwan, but it is so popular in the United States. It is a very bright and eye-catching color, which I think is a bit superficial when applied to objects and merchandise. That is the feeling I want on the egg: a bit too happy, too good to be true.

In Ripe and The Maze, the eggs held by human hands are only in grayscale, because I want some more uncertainty, and more of a feeling of the past. 

I would say eggs in these earlier and later drawings relate to each other while the environment changes- eggs are still eggs, but what happens through time would possibly affect what was inside the eggs. 

Blue Egg II (2012) Ink, Gouache and color pencil on paper. 88" x 30"

OPP: You mentioned the crazy year that has been 2020 at the beginning of the interview. How has the pandemic and other world events impacted your studio practice? Working on anything new?

SH: This February my husband and I moved back to Taiwan after almost 12 years in NYC. At that time Asia was the center of the pandemic, but we still made the move because we were 7 month pregnant and wanted to raise the baby with more family support. Because of Covid, everything we packed and cargo shipped from Brooklyn took more than 6 months to arrive. We are now setting up a new art studio and printmaking workshop in Taichung, where we live. Luckily Taiwan has been a very safe place to stay, so hopefully everything will be on track next year to make some new work.

To see more of Szu-Wei's work, please visit www.szuweiho.com and follow her @szuweiho.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020).


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tag:blog.otherpeoplespixels.com,2013:Post/1623914 2020-12-03T13:18:28Z 2020-12-03T13:22:42Z OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Alex Schechter

How Intentions Differ (2020) Pine, OSB, Latex Paint, Carving Foam. 63” x 16” x 19”

ALEX SCHECHTER traffics heavily in material symbolism. His sculptures combine traditional woodworking methods, digital fabrication and found objects with video and animation to explore the myths of the Manifest Destiny and the Wild West. Alex holds a BA in Studio Art/Religious Studies from Grinnell College and an MFA in Sculpture from Rinehart School of Sculpture, MICA. Recent exhibitions include: Cowboys and Carpentry: Alex Schechter and Sutton Demlong at Sykes Gallery (Millersville, PA) and Its Construction Conceals:  Iren Tete and Alex Schechter at Ghost (Omaha, NE). He just completed a residency at The Hambidge Center for the Creative Arts in Georgia. Alex lives and works in Philadelphia, PA.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Before going to MICA for your MFA, you got a BA in Religious Studies from Grinnell College. How does that early focus on religion inform your art practice?

Alex Schechter: In so many ways! Religious studies has been the major heuristic for study for me for most of my career. One of the basic definitions of religion begins with identifying the “three c’s;" cultus, cosmology, and community. I find myself drawn to those frameworks as a space for most of my projects. What are the actions or rituals of this system? What does it explain? Who is involved? 

Myth Of The West (Genesis 32:22-31) (2018) Plywood, LED lighting, House Paint, Ebonized Ash Wood, Rubber, Pine, Cactus, Artificial Flower. 20”x 33”x 45”

OPP: Which system do you mean? The universe? Or something smaller?

AS: My work is primarily focused on American Mythology. As a country, I think we lack a defining national identity, with no ethnic or religious antecedents that define many (particularly european) cultures. We instead have a somewhat ad-hoc collection of symbols and rituals that form this constellation of “americanness.” I think a lot of my training, particularly when it comes to religious ethnography, helps to shape that understanding and translation of a deep ambivalence I have around my familial history as well as my personal embrace and revulsion of what it means to be American. 

I grew up on a horse ranch in rural Wyoming. In this environment, quotidian realities of daily life come into sharp contrast with the romantic idealization of the Wild West. For much of U.S. history, the West was an ordinal concept, an endless resource to compete with European culture, a blank canvas to be tamed with violence, or an escape route for self reinvention. Despite the clear and harsh consequences of climate change, the realities of colonization and genocide, not to mention the inconveniently finite nature of natural resources, the idea of the Frontier retains a perennial popularity as a Promised Land. The sculptural objects I make attempt to collapse the utopian ideals of Frontierism and the consequences of its reality.

New Frontier (Allegory of the Cave) (2020) Film stills, Wood, Enamel Paint, Rearview Mirrors, Plastic Rabbits Feet, Hardware. 45" x 42" x 20"

OPP: How does the combination of traditional craft, digital fabrication and found objects serve your conceptual interests?

AS: As previously mentioned, I did not go to art school for undergrad. While that education was great for conceptual development and critical thinking, it meant that I have come into making in a pretty circuitous fashion. I’m trying to make things in a way that works for the idea. I’m a decent carpenter, so wood tends to be a foundational structural material for many of my objects. I’m trying to become less precious about my hand being evident in the objects I make though. 

I love craft, especially woodworking, but sometimes it feels like a crutch, or a conceptual governor. My woodworking skills tend to build towards a human sized scale. I’ve been increasingly interested in branching into other methods of fabrication (including other people doing the fabrication) because they simply allow me to do things I cannot with my skill set. My interest in digital fabrication has really accelerated this drive to expand methods of making. If I can have something milled out in an afternoon rather than carving it for weeks, i’ll take it. 

For all that, I’m pretty enamored with found objects for basically the opposite reason. I love the embodied meaning in objects that are collected or sourced.

Heavy Lift (for Sergei) (2020) Monitor, Wooden Shelf, Potatoes, Zinc, Copper, Wires, Raspberry Pi, Digital animation. 24 "x 20" x 8”

OPP: That is evident in your comprehensive material lists, which give the sense that every object or material is included for symbolic purposes. I’ve been thinking about visual synecdoche and metonymy while looking at your work. Do you think those are appropriate words to describe how you approach materials?

AS: As a kid, I was really obsessed with the nutritional labels on foods. The atomization of say, salad dressing, into its nutritional attributes and a hierarchical list of ingredients, starting with the familiar (olive oil) and descending into the esoteric and sometimes frightening (sodium benzoate) felt like a mystery. A miniature scavenger hunt at the dinner table.

I’ve seen stage magicians do the same thing, they will explain how they are going to do a trick. That there is a trap door, that there a two assistants, that it isn’t their real thumb, and yet you are still astonished by the illusion you are seeing in front of you. The whole is not just greater than the sum of its parts, it is more exciting because you know what those parts entail.

My hope is that by listing the totality of the parts used in any given piece, there is a bit of alchemy that happens. The meaning of material is not just the shape of the whole object, but the embodied meanings of each individual object play with each other in a space. I think there is a difference between house paint and automotive paint, and house paint and a houseplant. Maybe its a bit onanistic but I think the indexing allows space for the creation  of meaning beyond the title and form of the artwork. It gives a peak into process without the explicit one-to-one mapping that happens with a full statement or artist talk. I think about some of the stories of Donald Barthelme, which work to morph impressionistic accumulations of single events or actions into a holistic understanding of an event or a place in time.

Further West (2019) Laser Etched Drywall, Pine, Maple, Hardware, Plastic Boot Tray, Perlite, Cacti, Artificial Flowers. 55”x 40”x 40”

OPP: Will you pick a favorite piece and talk us through all the materials and their meanings?

AS: Sure, let's look at Further West, 2019, which was part of a body of work examining the concept of the cold war era Space Race as an extension of Manifest Destiny. I would argue that much of the American project has been oppositional and reactionary to exterior political pressure. Much of the space race, and NASA in general—which I think of as the greatest public art project of all time—was in direct opposition to the Soviet national project. This piece uses the iconography of westward expansion to look a the moon race as an extension of that process, a need to push “American Greatness” to increasingly far reaching lands.

I wrote a computer program that converted data from select sections of amateur astronomer Walter Goodacre’s 1910 map of the moon into vectors that were laser-etched onto drywall. Using materials that are traditionally used for household construction in sculptural objects creates an uncanny feeling, making a material that is so ubiquitous but we never pay much attention to precious or elevated. Thinking about the walls of the home as something that moves, or is in transition is an important thought process for me. Being untethered is both exciting and disorienting.

I always have pine 2x4s around my studio, and they’re my go-to for anything structural. This main body of the sculpture mimics the radial arms of a wagon wheel, buried in the sand, an iconic image from western films. The crutch-like leg that props up the framed wall is American curly maple. Sometimes, you need nicer wood. I’ve become increasingly conscious of being able to assemble and disassemble work easily for installation, so the hardware was a necessity for transportation. Rather than hiding these connection points, I wanted to highlight them with brass hardware. I was looking at a lot of late 19th century surveying equipment. They are beautiful machines and the contrast of brass on wood is a gorgeous look. 

My weird color palette is generated through the remnants of other people’s discarded materials. I buy most of my paint from the “oops” section at the hardware store paint counter. They sell it for around $.50 (a pint?). It’s fun to see trends over the years of what colors people are almost-painting things.

I bought the plastic boot tray that holds the perlite—if there was a sandy desert on the moon, this is what I imagine it looking like—at a tractor supply store because I loved that shape. It is meant as a place to rest your boots when you have come in from a day of hard labor. I like the idea of this object designed for holding dirt to contain a different sort of dirt. . . in this case, a miniature desert.

I’ve been using cacti in a lot of my sculptures recently. I like the look of them and they are pretty resilient to changes in environment/don’t need to be watered very often. They also serve as a metonym for The West. I’ve been buying plants from Home Depot a lot over the last five years or so as sort of a treat for myself when I go to the hardware store. They clearly do not care about longevity for plants, and often it takes a lot of work repotting and nursing plants back to health after they are purchased. The cacti, which are non-flowering, are sold with these tiny plastic flowers hot-glued to the tops of them. I find this very funny and like to leave them on when I include a cactus in my work.

Pervasive Practitioners (2020) Ash Wood, Birch Ply, Latex Paint, Beeswax. 82” x 24” x 15”

OPP: Tell us about your newest body of work, M.E.K.A. I’m not familiar with that acronym. What does it stand for? 

AS: M.E.K.A. doesn’t really stand for anything, though sometimes I retcon titles Most Even Keep Alive? My Ego Korrupts All? But the title is more a nod to a 90s cartoon trend of creating tortured acronyms for a catchy nickname, like S.H.I.E.L.D. or M.A.S.K. And mecha is a term for a sci-fi subgenera where teenagers pilot giant robots. 

This has been an unusual body of work for me. I had a number of shows and longer-term projects put on hold or cancelled due to COVID-19. My studio practice had gone into a rut. I was fairly depressed and was having difficulty putting much conceptual rigor into anything. To justify being in the studio, I started playing around with arranging shapes and objects in an unlocked and unoccupied studio next to mine. I had made a scale model of a robot from the Gundam cartoon that I used to watch in my middle school days. I really liked the shape and the translation from the flatness of anime to a physical object. I started looking up more giant robot films and cartoons and isolating the heads from them. There was a certain challenge in replicating these cartoon shapes into something with heft and dimension. This has been an exercise in formalism, color, and installation, rather than the more conceptually driven objects I tend to make.  

The Shortest Distance Between Two Points (2020) Pine, Ply Wood, Felt, Automotive Paint, Latex Paint. 11”x 84” x 28”

OPP: I don't know. I think you are selling yourself short. You might be tapping into the collective unconscious. Either that, or I just can’t escape viewing everything made in 2020 through the politics of the pandemic (i.e. economy vs public health.) I see the robot heads as representing the dangers of relentlessly-onward-marching Progress. It seems very significant that the robots have been beheaded and are propping up the systems of objects. Your thoughts?

AS: I don't know that I'm selling myself short, as much as allowing myself to work intuitively, something I mostly only do with my drawing and illustration practice. I'm very enamored with the design of these giant robots even though have very little context for their stories or personalities—despite my visual fascination, I've watched very little anime. I'm both interested in and skeptical of this sort of science fiction, where incredible levels of technology, global and interstellar economic and political systems are all easily reduced to combat between between giant robots. How simple compared to the intertwined and endlessly complex realities of climate change and global economic collapse that we face in our daily lives.

I'm both interested in technology and skeptical of Positivism, this idea that progress is somehow linear and inherently good. A book that really caused me to rethink the understanding of technical progress was Keven Kelly's What Technology Wants (2010). Conceiving of a Technium, a "greater, global, massively interconnected system of technology vibrating around us." is both thrilling and, existentially, a bit nerve wracking. Perhaps the decapitation of these robots is a way of symbolically reestablishing a dominance over these systems, but I don't think that completely covers it. As with many of the topics I tend to fixate on, there is both a love and a revulsion that co-mingle. Even with my discomfort, I tend to want to ritualize and care for objects. In this case, I literally put them on pedestals.

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

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020).

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tag:blog.otherpeoplespixels.com,2013:Post/1621099 2020-11-25T13:58:30Z 2020-12-01T15:34:13Z OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Laura Mongiovi

From Schoolhouse To White House (2019) Wood, tassels, flocking, yarn. 58” x 76” x 12." 
Title from Alice Allison Dunnigan’s autobiography, A Black Woman’s Experience: From Schoolhouse to White House. Kentucky History: Honors Alice Allison Dunnigan, first African-American female correspondent in the White House and member of the Senate and House of Representative press galleries.

LAURA MONGIOVI’s sculptures are material-driven contemplations of the past, both sociopolitical and geologic. She uses the repetition of stitching, braiding, and knitting to physically process local history. The resulting abstractions crafted from tactile materials, are paired with informational text, drawing attention to lesser-known people and events. Laura has an MFA from University of Colorado Boulder and a BFA from Florida State University. In 2019, she initiated and co-organized the Deeper Than Indigo: Southeast Textile Symposium at Flagler College (St. Augustine, FL). Recent solo exhibitions include The Grass is Blue (2019) at Georgetown College in Kentucky and Northward (2018) at Arts on Douglas in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Laura is a recipient of the Northeast Florida Individual Artist Grant (2018) and the Arrowmont Pentaculum Residency (2020). She lives and works in St. Augustine, Florida.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us about the relationship between material and geographic location in your work? 

Laura Mongiovi: I often research a particular time and place. I am interested in exposing origins; I consider the past a vital component in understanding the present and navigating the future. I am most interested in sensual experiences and utilize associated materials. Our relationship with distinct materials taps into our senses, powerful conduits for reflection and emotional response. 

Upon researching Northeast Florida, where I currently reside, I discovered the history of indigo plantations. I began experimenting with indigo dye and ink to visually communicate stories about a color that led to enslaved labor. Such stories bring awareness to the humanitarian histories, as well as current textile practices, associated with the production of indigo. Another example, I collected water from the Atlantic ocean and boiled to produce salt. The salt was incorporated into a piece about Kentucky geographic history for a solo exhibition The Grass Is Blue at Georgetown College. Kentucky was once underwater, covered by the Atlantic Ocean and present day salt licks are residue of receded ocean water. The memory of salt and taste allows the viewer to connect with this information beyond the visual experience.  

Tracks (2019) Felt, faux fur, yarn, thread. 14" x 17"
The demand for fur in Europe was great. Indigenous peoples hunted beyond their own needs so they could trade fur for tailored shirts, guns and gunpowder.

OPP: You’ve stitched thread into felt for years. What keeps you coming back to these materials? 

LM: Tufts and elevated marks echo topography. As I work, I trace my hands over the surface, aware of valleys and mountains. I am mapping, connecting with space and time.  

OPP: Tell us a bit about your process? How do you start a new piece, generally speaking? 

LM: My process is deeply rooted in research. My research includes tangible experiences as well as gathering resources about a particular time, place or subject. I carefully consider how materials and processes can visually communicate content and meaning. If I don’t have the materials or process knowledge, I will embark on a search for materials and learn a new process. I then begin exploring materials and/or process. Sometimes my first attempt is successful. The majority of time, I am reworking ideas, learning about materials and process for future pieces.  

Claimed Union With The Earth (2019) Yarn. 45” x 56” x 5." 
Title from bell hooks poem #5. Kentucky History: The significance of hair and sweet grass among Indigenous Peoples. 

OPP: Many of your works might be viewed solely as material abstraction if the viewer didn’t read the title card. In two recent series, The Grass is Blue and This Land is My Land, the long-ignored histories of Indigenous peoples and enslaved Africans are highlighted via titles and supporting text. Do you consider this language part of the work or the context for the work? Is this distinction important to you?  

LM: This is a good question – led me to reflect on how I arrived at decisions to use language. I was a gallery monitor during my undergraduate years. I noticed the majority of visitors read the title card before viewing visual work. I came to the conclusion that people wanted to “know” what they were looking at, an explanation, and relied on the title card to guide perception. This observation led me to eliminate titles from my work for many years. I wanted the work to speak for itself, the visual experience to dominate and the viewer to arrive at their own interpretation. As I matured in my studio practice and expanded my research practices, I realized language providing historical reference can serve as context and not necessarily guide the viewer toward a particular conclusion. I also see this information as an additional honor toward the visual stories I am telling. Perhaps similar to a plaque that accompanies a visual commemorating a person or event. So, yes this distinction is important to me as my intent is to create visual work that provides moments for investigation and contemplation while acknowledging the past.  

This Land Is My Land (2019) Felt, metallic thread, air dry clay, wood, steel, paint. Detail. 
Shell middens, left behind by indigenous peoples, buried under colonialism. 

OPP: 2020 has been a challenging year—that’s putting it mildly—for most of us. How have the events of the past six months affected your studio practice?  

LM: With projects and exhibitions postponed, I have time to explore ideas that have been kicking around and finish pieces that have been patiently waiting for me in the studio. Some of these ideas and pieces may not work out and that is okay. Time spent investigating will lead me to new ideas. So, I would have to say the unusual circumstances of 2020 have afforded me time to reflect and catch up. 

To see more of Laura's work, please visit www.lauramongiovi.com and follow her @lmongiovi.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020).

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tag:blog.otherpeoplespixels.com,2013:Post/1618547 2020-11-18T12:00:29Z 2021-01-15T13:09:39Z OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Luis Romero

Untitled, 2015. Acrylic on paper. 20.5" x 25.5"

LUIS ROMERO's dimensional, layered works confuse and capture the eye with overlapping, repeated marks. Somewhere between sculpture and collage, these accumulations of hand-drawn, layered canvas, paper and cardboard are often held together by staples, merging pure abstraction with mundane materials that keep the viewer grounded in the real world. Luis earned his Post Baccalaureate Certificate and MFA at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Recent exhibitions include solo show Who Says Words with My Mouth? Who Looks Out with My Eyes? (2018) at Adams and Ollman Gallery (Portland, OR) and Between Land and Sky (2019), curated by Nazafarin Lotfi, at Everybody Gallery (Chicago). In March, Luis's solo show at Museo de las Américas (San Juan, Puerto Rico) was put on hold due to the pandemic. Echolalia is now open and on view through January 23, 2021. You can see a video walkthrough of the exhibition here. Luis lives and works in Chicago, IL.

OtherPeoplesPixels: How do found materials show up in your work. In other words, tell us about the surfaces you are drawn to make marks on and the materials you use to make marks.

Luis Romero: In grad school I began covering found objects with marks all over. The idea was to envelop the object. I was using mostly pens and sharpies on things like brown paper bags and organic objects like leaves, branches, stones. In Home/Hypnosis (1999), I first started exploring a sort of camouflage effect on found objects within a limited palette of whites and grays. At a period when I felt the need to open up what I was doing, I started working with materials found in the street. This time it was the material rather than the object that interested me. I started constructing little fetish-like objects made of materials found around my neighborhood and downtown. I wanted the raw textures and the colors. (No organic materials this time.) It was easier for me to experiment with colors if I found them already existing in objects. Some have pen, others acrylic marks, but I used marks sparingly. The result, or one of the results of that period was the work Selected Fetish Drawings which I exhibited at the Drawing Center. Somebody asked me around that time if I was thinking of Schwitters when I did this, but actually it had more to do with the exercises that Josef Albers made Rauschenberg do when he was his teacher. (Off The Wall by Calvin Tomkins was very important for me. I think I did my first experiments with found objects around the time I read that work in Puerto Rico well before going to grad school.) Since then I’ve used found materials sparingly. Mutant Map of the United States for example, has some found trash from the street. I wanted it to have echoes from that fetish period. 

Untitled, 2010. Acrylic and pen on cardboard. 8.25" x 17.25"

OPP: What about cardboard specifically? Why is this a surface you return to again and again?

LR: The cardboard that I use nowadays is mostly found but that’s not what attracts me. I mean, I could very well work with cardboard that I’ve bought. What attracts me to cardboard is the warmth and the roughness, and that, like paper, the material also exists outside of the realm of art. The fact that the material is colloquial, is connected to everyday life, is more important to me. It is in fact very important for all I do. 

I'm Not That Innocent. 2015. Acrylic on paper and canvas. 17" x 27.25"

OPP:You were a 2010 3Arts Award recipient. In your intro video, you said, “My drawings are a surface, but they also want to suggest something that you cannot see.” What is the something we cannot see, for you?

LR: I should explain first that after college I began constructing drawings with layers of paper. I should explain first that after college I began constructing drawings with layers of paper. In some cases the layers suggest something very organic and in others something very architectural. They always reminded me of books too. All these constructions were very enveloping. Working with layers gives volume to the work and creates a relation between surfaces. In any case, my statement just means that works in that period were very interested in suggesting a space behind the surface, or between the surfaces, as something that was evidently there but that you could not see. Something unknowable and seductive. When things are not explicit, the mind of the viewer becomes more active. I wanted to activate a sense of wonder. The marks seem to begin from the invisible space, from the shadows. That’s why people often examine my work from different angles trying to see between the layers of paper. My works are constructed somewhat differently these days but I still try to suggest an area that is not seen. 

Home/ Hypnosis. 1999. Pen on found materials, plastic. 6.25" x 20" x 18"

OPP: What role does optical illusion play in our work?

LR: It’s a very useful tool. I’m referring specifically to the illusion or the visual confusion created by camouflage. When the mark is not contained within margins of a page but goes around it and seems to exist beyond the material, the objects with the same patterns blend. They loose individuality. They become less substantial. The mark is overpowers the object. The insight really goes back to that Home/Hypnosis work. But I do it now in different ways. Different surfaces can blend if they have similar patterns. In my studio I move things around just to make more space to work and often find random connections. Many pieces have started that way. Surfaces with similar patterns find each other by chance. They attach themselves visually. It's very weird. Very organic. 

Green Rectangle, Absolutely Baroque. 2017. Acrylic on paper and canvas. 20" x 16"

OPP: Do you think about abstraction as pure color, form, line and material? Or are these and the processes you use metaphors?

LR: I rarely know what the project is going to be about. I always think of my task as finding the organizing principle for each piece, the “as if.” Finding it is something that happens while working; in the act, not a priori. Often the processes I use carry echoes of other activities.

Some works have begun just because I want to see two particular colors together, or because a particular shape is interesting, without considering what it could mean or what it suggests. There have been cases where I use the same color scheme of a previous work because I’m trying to explore the way the work is constructed and don’t want to be too concerned with harmonizing colors. Sometimes I just happen to have left over pieces from a previous work. But all those elements (color, form, line and material) do carry associations that I eventually use in creating a work. I don’t think they could be “purified” from these associations. They are multiple, and fluid but they are central to the work. Using those associations is part of the fun. 

Space Fortress During Facial Devastation Stage. 2020. Acrylic on paper. 27.5" x 36.5"

OPP: Talk about your recent painted paper constructions. 

LR: Those works are very recent, and I speak somewhat tentatively because I’m still trying to understand them and what they can do. I guess I’d say that for a few years now I have been trying to create a kind of visual ambivalence in my drawings using layers and mark repetition. I use layers and camouflage to create confusion between the foreground and background. 

In-progress work in the studio

OPP: How are they both drawing and sculpture?

LR: With these new paper constructions I’m trying to use that visual ambivalence in space, not just on the wall. As with my 2D work, the eye blends the repetitive patterns, but they occur in separate pieces that stand separately and that occupy a space. In some of my experiments the constructions expand, in others they are closer. These days I’m figuring out how to use density. I am also trying to see how to use color. Some of the results have been very site specific. Artists like Jesus Rafael Soto and other Latin American Op Artists have been on my mind. Also Helio Oiticica and even Paul Klee and  Mondrian, who if I recall correctly was doing installations in his studio late in his career. 

It’s amusing because I arrived to these works in a way that was somewhat different for me. Kind of hard to explain but there was a little bit more deliberation than usual. I tried these constructions for all sorts of reasons that were not related to what I was doing at the moment. The change felt a bit abrupt in relation to the piece I was working on. As I have been writing this response I am realizing how related in fact these pieces are to my previous works. My paintings have been slowing becoming installations over the last year. With a piece like Landscape Showing Butt, I started to place small sections that were detached from the main area. My Own Private Summer Something is really something like an installation. There was a progression that I hadn’t noticed. In terms of my deliberations, well it turns out I wasn’t doing what I thought I was doing. That’s why a couple of years ago I titled a show “Who Says Words with My Mouth? Who Looks Out with My Eyes?” Art making sometimes feels that way. 

To see more of Luis' work, please visit www.romeroluis.com and check out his Instagram @total_romero.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020).

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tag:blog.otherpeoplespixels.com,2013:Post/1609415 2020-10-28T15:18:24Z 2020-10-28T15:18:24Z OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Russell Prigodich

Brace (2019) Soap, aluminium. 8" x 20" x 12."

RUSSELL PRIGODICH's minimal color palette allows his materials—soap and metal—to take center stage. He juxtaposes rigidity and flexibility, durability and impermanence, hard and soft in elegant sculptures that sometimes only last days. In recent works, physics and chemistry are at play as the weight of steel pulls and presses on the shrinking, drying soap. Other works employ common domestic objects—matchbook, radiator, drawer—as "proxies for the people who live among them." Russell earned his BA in Studio Art at Saint Michael’s College (Colchester, VT) and his MFA in Sculpture at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. In 2019, His work was included in exhibitions at Conroe Art League (Conroe, TX) and Five Points Gallery (Torrington, CT). Other notable shows include a two-person exhibition  Site: Brooklyn Gallery (Brooklyn, NY). He has been an Artist-in-Residence at UMass Dartmouth (2015-16) and The Studios at Billings Forge (2009) in Hartford, CT. Russell lives and works in Maryland.

OtherPeoplesPixels: How long have you been working with soap as a primary material? What do you love about it? What is challenging about this material when it comes to process?

Russell Prigodich: I have been using soap on and off for about 12 years now. It can be a tricky material. I love the soft folds and wrinkles that soap holds and its relation to the body, but it can be a mess to work with. Anything it touches gets soapy, hands tools, finished metal, so I have a set of tools and supplies I use only for soap. There can be a lot of setup time and energy just to have 1 fold go wrong on a big sheet and then that piece is shot and has be reprocessed. But despite these challenges, I love the material. 

Humans use soap every day, now more than ever, and it is a material with which people have developed a relationship. This daily use and the sensual and visceral nature of it, bring the viewer in. It intrigues them and helps them to relate to the work physically, emotionally and conceptually.

Radiator (2017) Soap and lead.

OPP: What are the similarities and differences in the process of manipulating metal and soap? I imagine they aren’t as different as their final forms imply.

RP: Until recently I was using sheets of metal and sheets of soap, trying to build a relationship between the two materials with process. Both are cut, bent and folded into forms, the steel obviously rigidly holds its form while the soap shifts with time and age. Both require planning because once the fold is 

made it cannot be undone. The metal really has to be forced into shape while I often let the soap and gravity dictate the final form. I think of the process as a means of engaging with the viewer, emphasizing the act of folding.

Matches (2017) Soap and lead.

OPP: In your artist statement, you write: “These sculptures recast seemingly mundane objects of daily domestic life as proxies for the people who live among them. […] Their monochromatic clarity and minimalism invite the viewer to psychologically inhabit them.”  Can you say more about the minimal aesthetic as a vehicle for conveying psychological experience?

RP: I want to try and leave room for the viewer to bring their own experience to the work, and I think that the minimalist aesthetic leaves a space for that. The objects evoke ideas/places such as containment, room, love and loss. By outlining the concept I hope to leave room for the viewer to fill in their own narrative. More recently I have been building tension into the work, forcing the metal and soap together. Some recent soap and aluminum pieces only lasted a couple of days before the soap broke. The simplicity of their forms and surfaces allow the actions and results to be the main focus.

Box of Nails (2017) Soap and lead.

OPP: In Fold, soap mimics fabric, often draped over a radiator or folded neatly in a drawer. So the metal either supports or contains the soap. How do you think about the relationship between the two materials in this body of work? Are these physical or metaphoric relationships?

RP: I think they are both. The physical relationship is evident in their stark structural difference. When I think about soap as a skin both representing and standing in for the human body, the steel sometimes becomes the skeleton, holding and supporting it. This is most evident in Radiator, where I bent the square tubing on a diagonal so as the soap slumped and aged, the metal structure underneath became more and more prominent. In some works, the soap stands in for the body, a piece representing the whole. It’s folded into the steel structure, protected, stored, or contained, locked away; it can go a lot of ways depending on the work. Even though the soap is impermanent and the steel is enduring, the soap takes center stage, it’s about us and the steel works are the spaces we have lived.

Untitled (2019) Soap, aluminium. 10" x 24" x 12."

OPP: Your 2019 works that combine soap with aluminum are more abstract than the soap and lead works. How has your approach shifted in pieces like Brace and Rotor?

RP: In these works, I really wanted to dramatize time. The soap has always had a lifespan lasting months and years, slowly shrinking, cracking and aging. But, as I said,  some newer pieces only last days. There is suspense in an aluminum disc being held by a soap rod. We don’t think it will last and we wonder when it will finally break. I wanted to focus on that anticipation. I also was intentionally trying to make more abstract work. I liked the domestic reference of Fold and I think it helped build the dialogue between the soap, metal and viewer, but I was feeling confined by it. Also, I had access to a machine shop and that process lent itself to abstraction. I really believe in the meaning of material, listening to it and allowing it to speak. 

To see more of Russell's work, please visit www.russellprigodich.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020). 


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tag:blog.otherpeoplespixels.com,2013:Post/1602035 2020-10-08T13:37:34Z 2020-10-14T16:46:24Z OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Ricky Armendariz

This Is Not A Sign, 2020. oil on carved birch plywood. 24" x 24"

RICKY ARMENDARIZ's bright-hued painted surfaces are inscribed with creatures from Native myth, famous figures from the Western painting cannon, tattoo imagery and references to car culture in the Southwest. Carved in clean, beveled lines and thin crosshatching, his imagery doesn't just sit on the surface, but is part of the surface. This physical quality is a metaphor for the entwined relationship between what we call traditional and what we call contemporary. Ricky earned his BFA at University of Texas at San Antonio and his MFA at University of Colorado at Boulder. He has been represented by Ruiz-Healy Art since 2012. You can see his work in their San Antonio gallery through October 31, 2020 in Manos (hands), a two-person show also featuring the work of Andres Ferrandis. At their Manhattan location, Ricky's work is on view through October 17, 2020 in the group show Con(Text). His solo exhibition Smoke Signals and Other Reliable Means of Communication just opened at Flatbed Press (Austin, TX) and runs through October 17, 2020. Ricky lives and works in San Antonio, Texas.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us about the relationship between tradition and innovation in your work.

Ricky Armendariz: I grew up not understanding the difference between high and low art, self-taught and academic art forms. My walls were covered with folk art and traditional paintings. It’s that hybridity that has informed my aesthetic approach to art making. My work is a mix of both traditional and nontraditional techniques. The painting process is very traditional with oil glazes to create the skyscapes or landscapes. After several months of drying time, I use a large power tool to etch imagery into the surface of the painting. I enjoy being slightly irreverent with the painting process.

Juan de Pareja, 2016. oil on carved plywood. 37" x 48"

OPP: How does the process of adding paint and then carving it away in serve your conceptual concerns?

RA: The idea was to reference carved wood signs of the American Southwest. My initial intention was to subvert the Southwestern stereotype; originating in 50-60s American cinema. The carved mark, which is a marring of the surface, serves as a counter balance to the refinement of the painting process. I also believe the carved mark reinforces the significance of the imagery, due to its permanence. The burned drawings have a mark that underscores the graveness of that imagery. 

Cono de Fuego, 2018. oil on birch panel. 48" x 48"

OPP: Various animals show up again and again: coyote, jack rabbit, buffalo, snake, crow. In your work, are these animals characters, allegories, references to myth, or simply non-human beings living in the world? 

RA: American myth is very dogmatic; figures are good or bad. Native traditions have more nuanced characters in their myth. Much of my work is referential of myth and allegories found in classical works of art as well as my own oral tradition. I’m interested in the parallels between my own myths, the myths of other people and in that connectivity of these allegories.

Meet You On The Other Side, 2020. oil on carved birch plywood. 24" x 24"

OPP: Coyote is a trickster, right? How does he show up in your work? What does he do in your work that he doesn’t do in traditional indigenous myth?

RA: Yes, but it's more complex than that. In myth protagonists often are complex individuals. Characters are both good and bad and everything in-between especially within indigenous myths. I possess aspects of the coyote, I identify with him.  He is someone that has difficulty seeing the good in things. Depending on the story, he is an individual who is dissatisfied with the gifts he has been given. He consistently looks to the greener grass just outside his reach. 

Myth is a living thing. Characters change, stories change and the complexity of the characters evolve. I don’t use many known myths, I prefer to write the myths in-between the myths we are familiar with.  I actually write stories that I use as a guide for the work.

Last Ride of Juan Diego, 2018. oil on birch panel with lights. 24" x 48"

OPP: When did you first introduce light bulbs into your work? Are you creating new constellations based on contemporary culture?

RA: I did that back in graduate school as a way to reboot our traditional constellations. I also believe in fate and chance and how that shapes our lives. I am of Mexican decent, and we tend to live very closely with our superstitions and our belief in things that are hard to quantify.

Blown off Course, Guided by Spirits, 2020. oil on carved birch plywood. 48" x 48"

OPP: How has your art practice been impacted by the pandemic and the collective socio-political unrest of 2020? 

RA: I know this is a very serious and grave time in our world. I’m getting a lot done in the studio, I am thankful to have a flexible schedule. Sometimes my everyday life has greater complications as so many others would attest to. My work is informed by current cultural and political events. It seems we all are in a state of panic, fatigue and hopelessness. It’s hard to ignore the fires we are all experiencing, and for that to have no affect on the things we are making. I will say that sometimes it’s difficult to speak to this while you’re in it, but much of my work these days is flavored by anxiousness and a desperate desire to hold on to the positive things we have in our lives. 

To see more of Ricky's work, please visit www.rickyarmendariz.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020). 


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tag:blog.otherpeoplespixels.com,2013:Post/1589922 2020-09-02T15:45:56Z 2020-10-26T00:39:18Z OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Sara Allen Prigodich

Tyvek, 2018. Porcelain, oxides, wood, concrete. 14" x 11" x 9."

SARA ALLEN PRIGODICH (@s_prig) makes "physical representations of our psychological incongruities," utilizing material as emotional metaphor. In recent sculptures, the domestic interior meets the structural bones of a building in works where porcelain mimics folded fabric held up by plywood scaffolding or trapped in blocks of concrete. Sara earned her BFA from the University of Hartford and her MFA from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Her work was most recently included in group shows at Edward J. & Helen Jane Morrison Gallery at University of Minnesota Morris (2020), CADE Gallery at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, MD (2019), Automat Collective (2019) and Spillway Collective (2019) (both Philadelphia). In 2021, she will a solo show at Five Points Gallery (Torrington CT) and two-persons shows at Harford Community College (Hartford, MD) and Millersville University (Millersville, PA). Her work is included in the permanent collections at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and University of Hartford. Sara lives and works in Annapolis, MD.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Porcelain seems to be your ceramic of choice. What is it about this material that makes it a staple in your studio?

Sara Allen Prigodich: I use porcelain clay because of its smooth surface texture, strength when fired, and its malleability when constructing. My favorite stage within my process is the initial clay manipulation. I enjoy pushing the limits of the soft, thin, delicate porcelain slabs to see how far they can go in regard to stretching, inflating, pulling or slumping. 

I want my works to be honest. I embrace all the histories my forms—cracks, tears and holes—take as they are made; these elements that would have once been a sure sign of failure in my process have now come to emphasize the exposed state of the sculpture. It is my intention that my sculptures embody the moments of truth and honesty between people and spaces, without edits and corrections.  

The white color of porcelain is also comparable to a blank canvas; allowing me to apply whatever oxide or glaze color I’d like to the surface. Even the most subtle colors on my work are often the result of building multiple layers of sprayed materials, and at times multiple firings as well. 

Fold, 2015. Porcelain, glaze, wooden structure. Each shelf unit 13" x 48."

OPP: Most of your sculptures include porcelain masquerading as folded fabric. Tell us about your use of this repeated visual motif.

SAP: It has been said that clay is the ultimate imposter, a material that lends itself to any surface, texture or volume, but at the end of the firing, it still becomes hard as stone. Like many ceramists, I find myself depending upon the structural integrity of ceramic, yet also fighting its dense, rock-hard finish. The clear intention and economy of touch is an important part of my handbuilding process. I attempt to conceal the hardness of the material by maintaining a visual softness. 

The softness of the forms closely resembles the body, its domestic environment and thus the human condition. The connection to domestic objects such as fabric and clothing relates the work to home, shelter, and structure. The purpose of using a dense, hardening material rather than fabric lies in its permanence. Ceramic both archives a moment of touch and records deterioration as a symbolic form of loss and change. It has the capability to freeze a moment in time, to hold a gesture and to preserve it. 

The flesh-like surface on a folded and draped form creates a strange and somewhat uncomfortable perspective on the human condition. I see these “skins” as husks or vacated selves. While the deflated quality of the forms appears to be a domestic material of sorts, it also has an emptiness that places it in the past. This emptiness reinforces the documentation of the event or action that has taken place and underscores the ambiguity of what remains left behind.

Gravity, 2020. Porcelain, oxides, concrete, steel. 13" x 9" x 9."

OPP: In your newest work, there are a lot of material references to construction: insulation foam, concrete and drywall, for example. Is this choice driven more by concept or by material? 

SAP: Each material I use serves as a different vocabulary within a visual language, taking each material’s inherent associations into consideration. For example, the stability and strength of concrete versus the fragility and weakness of splintered plywood. To see a fragment of rafters, or the layers within a wall removed from a domestic space, allows us to fill in the rest of the visual image and to recreate our own memory within. I use variations of these non-ceramic materials and found objects as a means to strengthen the presence of form as well as the presence of absence.

Logically Speaking (Front View), 2017. Porcelain, Wood. 16" x 8" x 10.5."

OPP: What role do the ceramic parts play?

SAP: I see the ceramic portions of my sculptures as referent to domestic objects that relate back to the body, while the exterior armatures that surround the ceramic serve as imagined structures or emotional props. A thematic reoccurrence within my work is the abstracted ideas surrounding domestic spaces, or the perceptions of house versus home. The concept of shelter is a global experience that can allow access to the work for all. By creating fragments of domestically referenced spaces, one can project their own past experiences or memories onto the object and complete the space.

Blocks, 2017. Watercolor and Ink. 14" x 20"

OPP: How do the drawings relate to the sculptures?

SAP: Drawing and sketching have always been integral parts of my practice. Almost all of my sculptures start with a sketch or two, but I also make small drawings independently from my three-dimensional work.  The imagery and subject matter between them is often similar, but with enough subtle differences to allow for a progression of ideas—almost a conversation—between the two- and three- dimensional pieces. 

I’ve always felt that my drawings allow me to defy gravity and entertain impossibilities in construction that I wouldn’t be able to physically build in my sculptures. Sometimes a drawing may morph into an idea for a sculpture, but often they are more freeing and not tied to the physics of reality.

Prop, 2017. Porcelain with oxides, poplar wood. 9.5" x 9" x 5.5."

OPP: How has your practice been impacted by Covid-19? 

SAP: Conceptually, my work has always carried themes of depicting a “presence of absence” and with Covid-19, I can’t think of a more apropos understanding of our current collective consciousness. As an entire species, we are communally experiencing what it means to be unable to be present with those we love and care about. We may be fortunate enough to have virtual communication, but when the screen turns off that physical absence becomes almost palpable. These thoughts continue to motivate my thinking within my work.

Nest, 2019. Porcelain, oxides, wood, hydrocal, insulation foams. 12" x 8" x 8."

OPP: Any new directions?

SAP: I now have extremely limited access to certain ceramics facilities that I use. While I still work from a home-studio space, I now have more limitations. As an educator, I’m always encouraging my students to push themselves out of their comfort zones within their artwork, so I’ve been looking at these limitations in a positive light; seeing them as new challenges that will present innovative solutions and explorations. Currently I’ve been experimenting with plaster and hyrdocal as alternative media to preserve forms in different compositions. It’s been fun to try different things, and I’m looking forward to seeing where this new direction takes me.  

To seed more of Sara's work, please visit www.sarallen.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020). 

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tag:blog.otherpeoplespixels.com,2013:Post/1584923 2020-08-19T16:44:30Z 2021-01-09T09:04:26Z OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Maya Mackrandilal

ANTI/body # 8, 2018. Mixed media on wood panel (found plaster object fragments, fabric flowers, beads, paper, prints, textiles, spray paint, gesso). 50 x 30 x 8 inches.

Transdisciplinary artist MAYA MACKRANDILAL employs collaboration, performance, social media, object-making and writing to imagine "a future after the end of white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism." Her sculptures and collages challenge the East/West binary, merging classical Greek references with the Hindu pantheon. Her performance persona is a contemporary incarnation of the Goddess Lakshmi, who seeks to restore a "culture of abundance, radical justice, and balance" to our world. Maya earned her BA in Studio Art at University of Virginia and her MFA in Sculpture at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In 2019, she presented a collaborative multi-media performance titled Schizophrene at Threewalls in Chicago, and her work was discussed in depth in Nalini Mohabir's scholarly essay “Kala Pani: Aesthetic Deathscapes and the Flow of Water after Indenture,” published in the peer-reviewed journal Asian Diasporic Visual Cultures and the Americas, 5. Maya has a creative essay in the forthcoming “Liminal Spaces: Migration and Women of the Guyanese Diaspora,” (2020) and has just completed an artist residency at Secret Land (Altadena, CA). Her work is on view through November 2020 in the exhibition What is Feminist Art? at the Smithsonian Archives for American Art in Washington, DC.  Maya lives and works in Los Angeles.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Let’s start with the sculptures and sculptural paintings from ANTI/body. Tell us about how the materials, images and found objects you choose work to collapse binaries in these works.

Maya Mackrandilal: I started this series while working on my essay, The Aesthetics of Empire: Neoclassical Art and White Supremacy. I wanted to create pieces that visually represented the interconnected global histories and futures that white supremacist mythologies attempt to erase. I selected objects, textiles, and images that reference both “Western” and “Eastern” art history, combining them together into hybrid beings that push back against the mythology of a pure, white art history untouched by the Other. In the sculptural works, I painted over and broke apart (white) plaster neoclassical sculptures and inserted flowers, extra limbs, beads, and colorful textiles which reference practices and traditions from the global South, in particular the abundance of South Asian sculptural forms and global folk-art practices. The “binaries” are probably most easily visible in the sculptural paintings that incorporate collage – I take images of classical sculptures and insert South Asian iconography, surrounding them with folk-art embellishments. For instance, in ANTI/body #4, I combine an image taken from a metope on the Parthenon depicting a centaur astride a fallen Lapith and insert a depiction of Kali in the centaur’s upper body. The centaur can be seen as a metaphor for an outsider (barbarian) who upsets the rational order of Greek culture (coded as “white” by European art historians during the 18th century) – here Kali (who in my artistic iconography is a stand-in for an uncolonized Black queer femme body) takes up the role of the barbarian, locating the tensions in our present culture when the “natural order” of white supremacy is upset by the creative resistance of people of color. 

ANTI/body #4, 2017. Mixed media on artboard (found objects, prints, spray paint, Flashe paint, acrylic paint, gesso)

OPP: What year did you write the essay The Aesthetics of Empire: Neoclassical Art and White Supremacy and what prompted it?

MM: I initially wrote The Aesthetics of Empire in 2017 in response to protests that had arisen around the country calling for the removal of white supremacist statues like the Robert E. Lee monument in Charlottesville. As a graduate of the University of Virginia, I was well aware of the Lee statue, as well as the wide array of neoclassical statues and architecture that permeate the university and the surrounding city. I was also aware of the legacy of white supremacy and the ongoing racial terrorism (often framed by those in power as “isolated incidents”) that Black UVA students, faculty, and Charlottesville residents face. I wanted to use the opportunity to extend our gaze from the obviously white supremacist histories of confederate statues to look at the ways the dominant culture uses neoclassicism to inscribe white supremacist thinking on our collective subconscious. In the essay I focused on how white Americans from the Founding Fathers to the Daughters of the Confederacy relied on neoclassicism as a dog-whistle of European cultural superiority over people of color and a justification for violence. 

ANTI/body #9 (Kalifia as Libertas), 2018. Mixed media (found objects, spray paint, Flashe paint, wire, pvc pipe, steel flange, epoxy clay, wood). 26 x 14 x 12 inches

OPP: Confederate monuments are now coming down—both pulled down by protestors and officially removed by local governments—in multiple locations. Can you reflect on your essay now in light of recent events?

MM: Looking back, I wish I had discussed more in-depth the ways that contemporary alt right and neo-nazi groups continue to use classical iconography in this way. Watching the recent toppling and removal of some of these statues (as well as their defense by the police and the deployment of federal paramilitary forces to ostensibly protect them), further supports the immense power these symbols have in our culture. I recently watched a talk with the artist Badly Licked Bear who shared that from an indigenous perspective, objects are subjects and that an act of violence against an icon of the oppressor is a sacred ritual act, an act with material significance. The part of me that is hopeful can look at these events as a spiritual cleansing of our collective, a way for us to reimagine what it means to be a community beyond the domineering gaze of the white male patriarch. What monuments can we build when we are not ensnared by the classical form and the racist/sexist ideologies that it perpetuates? How can these anti-monuments broaden and deepen our cultural memory and contribute to the psychic healing of historically oppressed groups? How could we reimagine architecture to facilitate non-hierarchical societal relationships and mutual aid? To me, the removal of these statues is the initial act in a longer project of building a society that is centered on justice, abundance, and care, and I do believe that truly radical artistic forms can support and inspire this work. 

@globalmatriarch Instagram Feed, 2017. Digital Composite.

OPP: Can you talk about how you use social media and hashtags as an art medium, not just a way to gain visibility? I’m thinking of #NEWGLOBALMATRIARCHY.

MM: I remember writing #NEWGLOBALMATRIARCHY in my sketchbook about five years ago. I was thinking about the possibilities of hashtags as ways to collaboratively build a concept. A hashtag can’t be owned or controlled, which makes it a point of great peril and potential (I’m thinking of men’s rights activists taking over feminist hashtags or K-pop fans taking over anti-black hashtags). I was reading about matriarchy as a political and social system, particularly in indigenous cultures, and I wondered, how could we imagine this world — a world built on non-hierarchical consensus, abundance, and respect for the land and all beings—into being within our emerging global culture? Social media seemed like a place to attempt such an intervention. It offers a built-in archive (you can search #newglobalmatriarchy on Instagram and see all the artists and projects connected with it) and a way for the idea to grow and change as people interact with it over time. I also created online accounts for my performance persona, the Goddess Lakshmi (@globalmatriarch on Instagram and TwitterGlobal Matriarch on Facebook) that allows for a virtual performance of some of these ideas through tweets and memes as well as sharing images from events. I had been focusing on the in-person Poetry and Performance Circles in LA, but with our new post-COVID lives, I’m going to be developing these accounts further, including starting a NEWGLOBALMATRIARCHY YouTube channel for the Goddess that will feature videos and livestreams from a liminal space called “The Womb Chamber” as well as future collaborative virtual projects.

#NewGlobalMatriarchy, 2016. Performance Still

OPP: Tell us about the ancient goddess Lakshmi and how you make her contemporary in your performances and photographs.

MM: Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and abundance, is an incredibly popular goddess in the Hindu pantheon. In traditional depictions, she stands on a lotus flanked by elephants, gold pouring out of her hands – the idea is that praying to her will bring money and abundance to one’s life. Within Hinduism, the divine force (which permeates all things) is divided into three aspects, the creator, maintainer, and destroyer. Each of the three aspects has a masculine and feminine form. Vishnu and Lakshmi are the masculine and feminine forms of the “maintainer” aspect of the divine, and in times of great need, these two divine beings become incarnated on Earth through avatars (Krishna and Rhada, Rama and Sita, among many others) in order to restore balance. 

When I was young, I participated in a religious ceremony where I was one of two girls selected to “stand in” for the goddess and participants made offerings to us as we sat quietly, like living statues. One of the rules was that the girls selected had to be prepubescent, meaning we had not yet had our periods. This is a product of a sexist patriarchal belief in many Hindu traditions that periods are “unclean.” When I was an adult, I started to think: perhaps a deeper reason is that if you worship a grown woman as a goddess, a woman who might have opinions, she might take the opportunity to share some of her thoughts, she might not be as docile as a child, she might start to demand power. Perhaps in times before patriarchy, it was a grown woman, a wise woman, who was worshipped as a goddess in these rituals. Looking around the world, I decided that the need was very dire for the Goddess to come to Earth to restore balance in the face of environmental destruction, thousands of years of patriarchal violence, structural racism, class oppression, and violence against queer people.

Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth, 2015. Pigment print on bamboo paper with Flashe paint and collage. 66 x 44 inches. With performances by Jacob Young and RLB

OPP: Where did Lakshmi first manifest in our world?

MM: Because she is the goddess of abundance, and her divine form would be both a reflection and a critique of the dominant culture, Lakshmi initially incarnated as a Kardashian-inspired woman making it rain as she stood atop a white man wearing a confederate flag speedo, with another white man dressed as a capitalist pig beside her on a leash. Her iconography has been updated from conventional depictions, but she maintains some of the traditional mudras (hand gestures). The performances are an extension of this initial photographic incarnation, where the Goddess entered the world – some of her excursions include: visiting the 2017 Women’s March in LA, reading poetry through a megaphone on Hollywood Boulevard, and organizing Poetry and Performance Circles at Los Angeles Valley College. Everywhere she goes, she spreads the doctrine of radical abundance and the liberation of Black, queer women, the abolition of prisons and borders, the destruction of capitalism, decolonization, and the celebration of all genders and sexualities.

OPP: You often collaborate on performance, video and social media work. How do your solo work and your collaborations inform one another? Do you prefer one way of working over the other?

MM: At its heart, my work is about imagining and materializing a better world, a world in which all women and queer people are free. This work can be deeply personal, and it is from this place that my solo work arises. But I also know that one person cannot materialize a different future, only a collective can do that. For me, collaboration is about building a network of artists who are invested in this future. This “network” isn’t about professional development (though we certainly support one another in that way), but about building coalitions between women and queer people of color, even if those coalitions are only temporary. Some of the collaborations are for a single event, where I disclose a liberated space and invite others to join me in activating that space. Other collaborations, like my work with Stephanie Graham and Scarlett Kim, are more long-term. These are creative friendships in which we explore common ideas and themes over the course of years. I enjoy this collaborative work because it allows us to very explicitly push back against the idea that an artist is an isolated genius cut off from the world. As my friend and writing collaborator Eunsong Kim recently said: the mythology of the lone creative artist and capitalism go hand in hand because it perpetuates the narrative that we don’t need structural support, communities, and education in order to be creative. Collaboration pushes back against this capitalist mythology that we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, it fully incorporates the ways that art is made in community. Even when I am alone in a studio or in my living room making art, I am supported by my family, my friends, my teachers, my ancestors, and the global community of creative people, whether they identify as artists or not. 

Lunar Mandala, 2020. Welded steel ring coated in shellac and red pigment, cast bronze calabash, palm frond fragment, textiles, fabric flowers, dried plant material, foam, beads, textile embellishments, ceramic objects, acrylic paint, spray paint, Flashe paint, glue. 3 x 105 x 105 inches.

OPP: You recently completed a residency at Secret Land in Los Angeles. Was the residency affected by Covid19? 

MM: COVID-19 had a pretty big impact on this residency. I was fortunate that the studio space was single-occupancy, so I was able to social-distance and spend time working there safely. The largest negative impact was that accessing supplies became quite limited. I could not stop by the hardware store to pick something up or visit my favorite stores in the Fabric District in downtown LA. I also couldn’t invite anyone over for a studio visit. On the other hand, I had the benefit of having nothing else to do other than work remotely for my day job and then go to the studio in my free time. This made it even more like a “real” residency, where you are able to get away from your life and seclude yourself somewhere to pour everything you have into your work. Also, because of financial limitations, I have not had a studio space in ten years – I’ve been making work in my living room, my partner says it is like living with Basquiat when I’m deep into a project, so even with the negative effects of COVID, this was an incredibly transformative time for my practice. I was able to reconnect with materials I had stored in corners of my apartment since my undergraduate years and work more intuitively since I didn’t have to meticulously plan out a project ahead of time. 

Demerara Mandora, 2020. Steel (rusted and sealed with acrylic spray), jute rice sack, carved and painted calabash (gourd), chicken wire, wood, foam, spray paint, acrylic paint, Flashe paint, textiles, beads, flowers, steel screws, glue. 54 x 39 x 9 inches.

OPP: What did you make while you were there?

MM: The piece I am most excited about that came out of the residency was Demerara Mandorla. It is an assemblage work that contains references to my family history, Demerara is the name of the region in Guyana where my mother is from. The rice farm where my mother was born and raised is referenced through the rusted steel, chicken wire, decorated calabash, jute rice sack, and the teal color of the wood fragments that form the rays emanating out. The mandorla shape is a form that I used to work with quite often when I first started making art as a symbol of divine feminine power, but it is also a symbol of the union of opposites, which points to a kind of liminality or transitory state. The textiles and embellishments represent for me my multi-racial heritage and the complex histories this identity encompasses as well as the aggressive abundance of the ANTI/body series. The piece feels like a circling back, a culmination, but also a form that builds and expands, something that energizes me to keep creating. 

To see more of Maya's work, please mayamackrandilal.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020). 


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tag:blog.otherpeoplespixels.com,2013:Post/1581363 2020-08-05T16:30:50Z 2020-08-09T01:54:46Z OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Adam Manley

Ordinary Rendition: WTRBRD, 2018. Ash, danish cord, fabric. 6' long x 30" wide x 24" tall

ADAM JOHN MANLEY makes tall, teetering structures that threaten to fall, landmarks that travel from one location to another, and beautiful torture devices that would look good in any living room. Whether located in domestic space or the landscape, his sculptures make the viewer conscious of their expectations of the site they occupy. Adam earned his BA in International Relations at State University of New York at New Paltz and his MFA in Furniture and Woodworking at San Diego State University. His solo exhibitions include Itinerant Landmarks (2014) at UW Wisconsin, Staying Put (2014) at Space Gallery in Portland, ME and Ordinary Rendition (2018) at Indianapolis Art Center. In 2020, he won First Place at the annual Materials: Hard and Soft exhibition at Patterson-Appleton Arts Center in Denton, TX. In 2021, Adam will be a Windgate ITE Fellow at The Center for Art In Wood in Philadelphia, PA. He lives and works in San Diego, CA.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Do you identify more strongly as a sculptor or a furniture maker? Does the distinction matter to you?

Adam John Manley: I personally struggle with these identities, but lean more towards sculpture and object making in my practice. As an educator, I teach furniture design, fabrication, including both traditional techniques and contemporary technologies to undergraduate students. To graduate students, I teach more conceptual practices through the lens of furniture and craft. My work tends toward large scale sculptural and mixed media practices based in wood and craft techniques. 

Itinerant Landmark: Waterfront, 2016.

OPP: It seems that you often subvert utility in some way, usually by highlighting the transience and instability of functional structures that we expect to stay in the same place. Can you talk about the relationship between utility and instability in your work?

AM: Utility and functionality are points of departure. To me, furniture and related familiar functional objects come with built-in associations that I mine and subvert in order to de-contextualize and re-contextualize. Those built-in meanings that come with, say, a chair, a sawhorse or a dining set can become confounding and allow for a re-evaluation of one’s sense of place and associations, by decontextualization. In other words, when an object closely associated with one location—and a set of memories and histories—is uprooted, melded with another object and placed in a new setting, suddenly we can imagine both that object and that place in a new light. We can place ourselves within it. We can begin to rewire our associations. I appreciate a certain precariousness coming through in these objects. We are transient, we are fleeting, we are simply passing through. I want my work to feel like it has been there forever, but also like it is out of place: to make the viewer squint and wonder how this thing fits into its surroundings, and what it means that it is there. 

Staying Put, 2014.

OPP: Adrift (2009), Rocking Chamber (Turns Everything Upside Down) (2010) and Staying Put (2014) are just a few works that people could sit in, but none of your documentation shows people using these “functional” objects. Do you want viewers to interact with them?

AM: My work operates on a number of levels, sometimes from far away in a landscape, up close in person, and at times in photographic form. I believe that the lack of humans in all of those variants allows every person to place themselves within that environment in their mind’s eye. I want the work to imply use and interaction and force each person to make their own fundamental decision as to how one would engage. Another part of this strategy, is that the work is often intended to highlight a certain melancholy mood and hint at an engagement between the person and a vast, unyielding, and at times uninhabited surrounding. The emptiness of the objects hints at a sense of the post-apocalyptic. The amalgamation of multiple familiar objects, the dislocation of those objects and the emptiness of the scenes creates an absurdist condition that makes for a moment of contemplation. 

Ordinary Rendition: PLLRY, 2018. Ash, plywood, paint. 45" tall x 36" wide.

OPP: Ordinary Rendition (2018) began, as you say, “from a thought: torture devices are furniture too.” This is a really compelling and challenging idea. First, how do you define furniture?

AM: Ordinary Rendition is a still-evolving body of work that was a departure for me. Furniture includes a whole realm of structural objects, designed to interact with, support and supplement our bodies and some of the other objects that we live with and around. How is a torture device different from this? Some furniture has incredibly specific uses: a chair is made to provide a surface upon which we sit. on the other hand, a table is pretty vague. It is a flat surface; things—basically anything—go on it. Sometimes we sit at it as well, depending upon the type of table, location in a house, etc. Also, furniture has histories, both universal and personal, and not all of those histories are good, or even neutral. 

The idea to translate these objects into furniture forms was also based on the fact that we are living in a moment oversaturated with violence. Graphic violence and the destruction of the other are becoming (have become) incredibly visible, part of the landscape of our world. We can watch in nearly real time as horrific acts are committed by police, children, governments, criminals, terrorists, etc. To place these items into the home was an attempt to take that to the next (maybe logical) step. That we in fact live with this in our home. Throughout history, we have been willing to destroy the other to get what we want. This is an attempt to force an association with everyday comfort and implicate us ALL in histories and current climates of violence. This is one fundamental part of this work. It is self implication. It is a comment on complicity and how we become comfortable with things that we should not. 

1.5 Million Homes (Power Comes in Waves), 2011. Diving board, wood, mechanical parts. 4' x 12' x 3'

OPP: Tell us about your choice to create torture devices that are beautiful, sleek, even sexy.

AM: Finally, to present it as “beautiful, sleek, even sexy” is intended to further this push/pull between attraction, desire, and even lust, and repulsion. The work is presented as hip, in the way that so many design objects instill a desire for a certain lifestyle. Our search for status through objects, will often allow us to overlook where they come from, either literally (the iPhone) or historically. 

Transient Windmill (Nevada desert), 2008. Poplar, redwood, hardware.

OPP: It’s been more four months since the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic. How are you coping? How has your studio practice been affected?

AM: I have been lucky enough to maintain access to my personal studio, where I am mostly teaching, meeting with administrators about the coming semester, and conducting business as the board president of the Furniture Society. It has been really difficult to find the mental space to be incredibly creative, but those things will come. Since you sent this questionnaire, we have also come to a moment in which racist policies in this country are coming to the forefront and so, my mind is even further removed from my own work, which seems trivial when considering a world in which Black people have to worry about being murdered for existing. Add to that the stress and fear that the pandemic brings, and a general sense that I, as a white, straight, 30-something, male artist, have it incredibly good right now and always, makes for hard time to work. And rightfully so. It’s a time for searching our souls and figuring out how we change this world, all while battling an invisible virus…. anyway. That stuff is all making it a hard time to make with any kind of conviction or urgency. 

To see more of Adam's work, please visit www.adamjohnmanley.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020). 

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tag:blog.otherpeoplespixels.com,2013:Post/1576102 2020-07-22T11:32:01Z 2020-07-22T11:35:43Z OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Diyan Achjadi

Dip, 2018. Ink and gouache on paper. 48" x 60"

DIYAN ACHJADI uses painting, drawing and printmaking to investigate the visual languages and meanings of ornament and pattern. Informed specifically by the "(mis)representations, (mis)translations, and imaginings of Indonesia," her works often include the hybrid animals of Javanese myth, references to historical textiles and dizzying mash-ups of pattern and popular imagery. Diyan has exhibited widely across Canada and beyond. Recent projects include a  year-long commission for the City of Vancouver Public Art Program called Coming Soon! and NonSerie (In Commute), part of How far do you travel?, a year-long exhibition on the exterior of public buses commissioned by the Contemporary Art Gallery (CAG) in partnership with Translink BC. A publication documenting Coming Soon! is available for purchase through the Contemporary Art Gallery. You can see Diyan’s work in the exhibition The Tin Man Was A Dreamer at the Vancouver Art Gallery through November 1, 2020. Diyan lives and works in Vancouver, Canada.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What do you say to people who dismiss pattern and decoration as superficial?

Diyan Achjadi: We need to constantly unpack the ways that we arrive at these types of judgements and recognize the implicit and explicit biases at play. Racism, sexism, and white supremacy inform, produce, and reproduce problematic notions of good and bad taste, as well as notions of "real" or "superficial" work. The dismissal of pattern and decoration is a form of reifying modernist European paradigms. We know that patterns can be deeply infused with symbolism and meaning. We also know the ornament and decoration as material history hold many clues as to the ways that images and information circulate and are reproduced. For instance, there's an ornamental cloud form that I often draw, based on a batik pattern found in Cirebon, a city on the north coast of Java, where some of my father's family are from. This pattern, called megamendung, is emblematic of this city and seen everywhere—on uniforms, as architectural detail, as wrapping paper, for instance. This cloud has similarities to cloud forms one might see on Chinese textiles or painted ceramics, which one could see as an artifact from centuries of international trade, exchange, and in the batik pattern is a synthesis of multiple cultural influences.

Unfashioned Creature, Half Undone, 2015. Ink, gouache, and acrylic on paper. 62" x 96"

OPP: Tell us about Creature Drawings (2015-2016) and Venationes (2014-2015). How do you employ mythic creatures to talk about both dissonance and harmony when the decorative languages of two cultures collide?

DA: These two groups of works have slight differences. In Creature Drawings, I wanted to explore spaces of hybridity, where there's not a fixed understanding of place, time or logic and to imagine a space where different forms of visual language that are often seen as not belonging together co-exist and build off of each other. The creatures become a way of articulating a personality or narrative within this space. For instance, the title of Unfashioned Creature, Half Undone is a line from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, which was a way for me to allude to questions of hubris. Back and Forth has a two-headed monster (acknowledging that the idea of the monster is also culturally loaded) going in opposite directions simultaneously, resulting in stasis. In these works the creatures are explicitly fictional.

Venationes (after __ , after ___), 2014. Lithography. 49.5 cm x 38 cm

OPP: And what is different in Venationes?

DA: I was responding to a 16th Century book that was meant to be factual but included images of dragons and unicorns within the volume as if they really existed. I was doing some research on how Europeans imaged animals from Asia in printed matter, which led me to a book about hunting games.

The creatures in this series of prints are more about trying to understand the ways that we value certain parts of non-human animals as valuable or precious—such as tusks—and the violence in that gesture.

Java Toile, 2015. Toner Print on Tyvek. 9 sheets, each 144" x 40." Photo credit: Paul Litherland

OPP: What does Toile de Jouy mean to you?

AD: The patterns associated with Toile de Jouy, with its intricate lines and drawings, were made possible through advancements in printing technologies. So, from a printmaker's perspective, they've always held a place of interest for me. As a form of decoration, I have also been fascinated by the types of scenarios that are often portrayed in these patterns, such as European pastoral tableaus and fantastical Chinoiserie landscapes. The form is also tied to imperialism and colonialism, from the aspects of production to the images portrayed and the spaces that these patterns would populate.

Java Toile (detail), 2015. Toner Print on Tyvek. 9 sheets, each 144" x 40." Photo credit: Paul Litherland

OPP: Tell us about the new content that you have injected into this old pattern in False Creek Toile (2016) and Java Toile (2015).

AD: For Java Toile, I began the project by thinking of the extinction of non-human animals that used to populate the island of Java, where I am from. I wanted to make links between that extinction and land exploitation, commerce, capital, and tourism. The drawings respond to  archival images, postcards, news images, ceramic figurines, and photographs that I've taken on my trips back home. For False Creek Toile, I was thinking of lost landscapes in parts of Vancouver that were once water, but have in the past century been filled and are now asphalt and concrete.  

Railway + Jackson site, August 2018. Photo credit: Harry Armstrong

OPP: Your recent project Coming Soon! (2018-2019), commissioned by the City of Vancouver Public Art Program,is visually distinct from previous work. Is this a new direction or an outlier? Or did the project grow naturally out of previous works?

AD: I’m not sure if it's a new direction or an outlier! While it looks different visually than many other works that I've exhibited, it was made concurrently with drawings such as Sinking or Dip. Some of the core aspects of the project—questions of value, labour, time, craft—are a consistent thread throughout my practice. I have also always had an interest in art that circulates beyond traditional white-cube gallery spaces, whether in domestic contexts, ephemeral posters, or animations made for public spheres. The project also grew out of a desire to spend more time in the print studio. I teach printmaking and am very immersed in its techniques, contexts, and history, but so much of my recent work has been in drawing. I wanted to make a concerted investment into these techniques and make printmaking visible in my practice in a way that I don't think I have before. 

The history of printmaking as a mode of distribution is intimately intertwined with the technologies of image and text reproduction. I was curious to make a public project that was anachronistic, where its modes of production used processes that were once considered quick and impersonal, but now are seen as rarified and craft-centric. I also wanted to invite passers-by to pause at what they were seeing. The works were all posted or pasted on temporary construction fences that usually have notices, advertisements, and the occasional graffiti. My hope is that passers-by will notice the prints and start to pay attention to what was happening behind these fences. In many ways I approach my drawings in a similar way, where I hope to invite a slowing down in the process of looking.

At the Moment They Collided, 2013. Ink, gouache, and silkscreen collage on paper. 22" x 30"

OPP: How are you coping with life during a global pandemic? How is your studio practice being affected?

AD: I’m very lucky in that I have stable employment and have continued to have work throughout this. I'm also very lucky to be in Vancouver at this time, where we are now finding ourselves in a slow, cautious, and measured reopening. I have been thinking through what it means to make things in the studio, and what and who I am making things for. To make pictures is always a strange activity, and now it seems even stranger than ever. With the isolation and changing social structures necessitated by the pandemic, I find myself wanting to work on things that give me a sense of connection, dialogue, and community. 

I've been working on a four-person drawing project that started just before everything shut down, with three friends and colleagues from graduate school—Ilga LeimanisMelissa Manfull, and Doreen Wittenbols—where we have been mailing drawings to each other, and responding to the previous person's mark making and imagery before sending it on to the next person. It's been really lovely to get these large drawings in the mail and be in dialogue with these three other artists through this process. I'm realizing more and more how much I value working collaboratively, and the challenges and joy in the process of figuring things out together. I've been making a few very short comics in response to assignments from another friend, which have stretched me to think through narrative and storytelling more deliberately. I'm also beginning a new animation that will use some small, intimate watercolour drawings made in the past few months as its starting point.

To see more of Diyan's work, please visit www.diyanachjadi.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020). 


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tag:blog.otherpeoplespixels.com,2013:Post/1570622 2020-07-08T11:17:09Z 2020-07-08T11:21:35Z OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Mary Henderson

Walnut Street, 2016. Gouache on paper. 15" x 30"

MARY HENDERSON's photorealistic oil paintings of crowded gatherings have taken on new meaning in the Covid-19 era, but she has been painting protests, political rallies, music festivals, outdoor concerts, conventions and sporting events since 2014. She strips the backgrounds away, emphasizing the physical gestures and facial expressions of the people. Viewed together, these works are an opportunity to contemplate the events that bring strangers together. Mary earned her BA in Fine Arts from Amherst College in Amherst, MA and her MFA in Painting from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA. In 2018, she was a finalist for The Bennett Prize and has been awarded several grants from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. In 2019, her work was included in group shows at Foley Gallery (New York, NY), Thinkspace (Los Angeles, CA), Muskegon Museum of Art (Muskegon, MI) and Tiger Strikes Asteroid (Philadelphia, PA). Her work is represented by Lyons Wier Gallery (New York, NY), where she has an upcoming solo show in 2020. Mary lives and works in Philadelphia, PA.

OtherPeoplesPixels: How does the hyperrealism of your paintings support the content of the images? 

Mary Henderson: It’s my *hope* that it supports the content, but figuring out what degree of detail to include is always a trial and error process. Because I am interested in the specifics of gesture and body language, I feel like I have to be fairly precise about anatomy. At the same time, I don’t want the content of the work to be drowned out by the technique. So there’s a balance. Painting always involves abstraction and distillation, but I lean towards more detail as a way to draw the viewer in and invite more active participation in interpreting what’s going on.

Fervent, 2017. Oil on panel. 20" x 40"

OPP: Have you always painted this way?

MH: Some of my earlier paintings were actually a lot more intense in their level of hyperrealism — grains of sand, strands of hair, etc. Eventually that became less interesting for me to execute. I look at a lot of different kinds of work, but when it comes to the process of making a painting, there seems to be a sweet spot for the level of detail that I find engaging. Too much is… too much, but I love getting sucked into patterns and textures. I’ve tried to paint more abstractly and more gesturally in the past, but it hasn’t worked for me. That could always change, though.

Cups, 2017. Oil on panel. 30" x 60"

OPP: Are all your images sourced from social media? Do you set out looking for particular types of images? What kinds of images repeatedly draw you in?

MH: Right now, about half of my paintings are based on my own photographs, but I also draw from social media and image searches. It’s important to me not to paint spaces or groups that don’t feel familiar to me in some way, so I try to choose images based in part on that idea. I look for images that remind me of people that I know or experiences that I’ve had. I also try to make selections for a diversity of tones. Some of the images I work with feel very positive and joyful, while others are really off-putting. I try to balance those positive and negative associations. Finally, I try to avoid anything that is too current or too raw. I don’t want to exploit or sensationalize or “rip from the headlines.” Obviously the images that I’m using have connections to this moment, but they aren’t taken from this moment.

Winter Coats, 2017. Oil on panel. 12" x 24"

OPP: Crowds of people are the unifying factor in recent paintings of protest rallies, music festivals, parties—did I miss anything? Are all these paintings part of the same body of work?

MH: The images are taken from all sorts of events: the types you mentioned, as well as games, conventions, neighborhood events (I’m sure I’m also missing something). They’re all part of the same loose body of work, although the paintings have definitely shifted a bit since I began working with these images in 2014. This is the longest I’ve stuck with a series in the course of my career, so I guess it makes sense that the work would evolve. 

Climbers, 2016. Gouache on paper. 15" x 30"

OPP: Can you talk about your choice to pull the backgrounds out?

MH: I started removing the backgrounds because I wanted to focus on what people were doing versus who they were. I think the decontextualization slows down the reading of the image a little. I’m also interested in how we make judgements about activities and behaviors. We are so primed as humans to make quick decisions about people, and to assign in- and out-group status to people we encounter, based on very subtle cues. I’m trying to interrupt and interrogate that process a little. For the same reason, I take out most identifying details. Not to make a point (“don’t be so quick to judge!”), but more out of curiosity: how do people communicate shared identities in the absence of clear markers?

Listening, 2017. Oil on panel. 20" x 40"

OPP: Do you think of your paintings as critical, celebratory, neither or both?

MH: Definitely both! I am, by temperament, not much of a joiner. Becoming part of a large group is something I usually only do out of necessity, either practical or moral/political. So even the paintings that are mostly about joyful solidarity probably have some sense of discomfort running through them. At the same time, I want my paintings to feel humane, even when I have a negative reaction to my subjects.

OPP: It’s been almost three months since the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic. How are you coping? How has your studio practice been affected?

MH: I was doing a residency at Hambidge in Georgia when the pandemic hit. It’s so quiet and remote there, so I was a little removed from everything as it unfolded. I found out that my kids’ school was cancelled while I was there. Normally, I work from a studio outside my house, but I had to bring everything home and try to set up a makeshift studio where I could work while also homeschooling my first-grader. (I have a teenager, as well, but he’s fairly self-sufficient.) It’s been kind of a mess, but I’m still making work—just really slowly. 

Microphone, 2016. Oil on panel. 20" x 40"

OPP: Protests are happening everywhere, and they look different with most protesters wearing masks. Are you working on any new paintings in the context of protests to defund the police? What do you hope these paintings communicate to viewers?

MH: The pandemic and the current protests feel too fresh for me to approach directly! Obviously, current events have completely recontextualized my paintings. If I’m making paintings of crowds while my neighborhood is literally being tear-gassed, it’s going to affect the work in some way, and I’m certainly not trying to be apolitical as an artist. But I am trying to channel my immediate responses into political action, rather than into my work. I can’t control the context in which my paintings are viewed, and it’s been weird to find the ground shifting under me like that. But that’s fine and inevitable (even if I sometimes feel like I want to tell people that I started this series over half a decade ago!). I am sure there are artists who are making great paintings of people in masks right now, or making very profound work that directly addresses the current protests, but I don’t think I’m the right person for that job. When I think about images of protestors being beaten and tear-gassed, it feels hubristic for me to try and take something like that on. Those images stand on their own. 

To see more of Mary's work, please visit www.maryhenderson.net.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020). 


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tag:blog.otherpeoplespixels.com,2013:Post/1547193 2020-05-20T14:07:43Z 2020-05-20T14:14:59Z OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Loren Erdrich

The Gatherer, 2019. Watercolor and acrylic on ceramic. 4.5" x 3" x 3.75"

Water, with its soft, flexible and incisive power, is a primary material in the work of LOREN ERDRICH. She surrenders to the fluidity of raw pigments and watercolor on silk, canvas and paper in figurative works that seek to blur the boundaries between inside and outside, self and other, pleasure and pain. Loren earned her BFA at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and her MFA at Burren College of Art, National University of Ireland. In 2020, her work has been included in Mirror Eye at Ortega y Gasset Projects and Spill Over at The Delaware Contemporary. Loren has been an artist-in-residence at Jentel Foundation (Wyoming), Santa Fe Art Institute (New Mexico), Art Farm (Nebraska) and Sculpture Space (New York). Loren lives and works in New York, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: In your artist statement, you wrote that water is “the ultimate disobeyer of boundaries.” Please tell our readers why water is such a dominant force in your practice.

Loren Erdrich: I have an innate attraction water—it’s figured large in my dream life since I was a child. I've always understood and respected its immense power. As a medium, I think the draw has to do with its resistance to control. When a medium is harder to control, I am forced to remain looser, which in turn allows space for the magic of unintentional movements to occur.  Its resistance of perfection, tightness and mastery is invaluable to me. I love how it can be both hard and powerful, and soft and giving, and that it is comfortable in that duality. 

Me And You At The End Of The World, 2019. Water and raw pigment on muslin. 20" x 24."

OPP: Can you talk about the balance of control and surrender when working with watercolor? This also seems to be content on your work.

LE: At some point in my practice I began to realize that the qualities I valued in a medium mirrored what I sought as content. People would ask me what my work was about and to answer I would launch into an explanation of the way raw pigments and dye behave when mixed just with water. I fell in love with how unstable it all seemed, how I would have to corral the water, pigment and dye and coax them into recognizable forms. And that even after hours of coaxing I always had to submit to the natural drying process that occurred and shaped the final product. I felt as though I continually straddled control and mayhem, that at any minute it could teeter one way or the other. This mirrored my content. I have always sought out that moment in a transition or a transformation, when instead of being one thing, or the other, you are both. And that space of both is often gorgeously wild and powerful. It's not a comfortable space. It's messy. It's a merging point. Instead of the either/or, it's the and. It's a space that has the power to topple a world of pre-fixed categories and societal rules.

Go Away, 2018. Raw pigment and acrylic on canvas. 12" x 16"

OPP: The facial expressions on your figures are ambiguous: they may be in the throws of orgasm or they may be in intense physical pain. What’s the relationship between sexuality and suffering in your work?

LE: There was a while when I searched for that ambiguous expression; I wanted to see in others what it looked like to teeter between control and mayhem. I found this expression most readily in images of orgasm and pain, but it also appears when you laugh so hard you cry, or even when you sleep. I was looking for moments of release, when for once you are not in control of yourself, because control is impossible. As for a relationship between sexuality and suffering, as a woman in my 20s and early 30s, sexual imagery was the best way to translate my internal experience onto a page. It encompassed all the pleasure, shame, and pain I felt growing up. To me the images were about power, conflict, a search for freedom and a space to let go. The work was always about an internal landscape, an emotional language that I hoped someone else would understand. At some point sexuality became less of a primary focus in my imagery. To be sure it is still present, but now the work appears less driven by one's relationship to another, and more about one's relationship to a larger environment. 

I Give Birth To Myself, 2018. Ceramics and string. 2.5" x 2.75" x 3.25"

OPP: Talk to us about your tiny ceramic sculptures. What do these sculptures do that the 2D works don’t?

LE: I think of the tiny sculptures as 3D paintings.  I do them when the 2D work seems momentarily impossible.  I often repeat imagery that already exists in a painting or drawing. The sculptures hold space differently. With them it is less about looking at something as a spectator, and more about living in its world. In this way I think they open up another doorway into my work. Their small size may make them more easily approachable, perhaps more accessible. I know for me, as the maker, the combination of material and size allows me to take them less seriously, which I view as a positive thing.  

Me, Myself, Pretending Not To See, 2019. water, raw pigment, dye, ink and watercolor on canvas. 48" x 36"

OPP: It’s been almost two months since the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic. How are you coping? How is your studio practice being affected?

LE: I’m in NYC. A few days before the order to shelter in place came out I began carrying art supplies with me when I went home. I chose colored pencils, watercolor crayons, some ink and drawing paper—things that were mobile and light. Drawing isn't usually a regular part of my practice, but I began drawing. There was so much panic, so much unknown everywhere, that I was actually able to access a sense of freedom when I began to work. I didn't ask myself what it meant or how these drawings fit into the rest of my work; instead I focused on the pleasure of the material. Of course I've inevitably ended up working with my usual themes, though I've mostly returned to an internal emotional landscape. I live in Manhattan, and my studio is in Brooklyn so I can ride my bike to my studio. I'm incredibly grateful for this. For days that have been poor weather or that I have felt particularly affected by the world's situation, I have carved out a small area at home to work in. I've been calling the drawings Isolation Drawings. Of course I didn't think I'd be drawing for this long. As the months go on, and I continue to work with this medium I've begun to understand that this experience will have a permanent effect on my practice.  

To see more of Loren's work, please visit www.okloren.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020). Under Illinois' Shelter-in-Place order, Stacia has returned to remix video as a relevant and accessible medium and will exhibit an updated version of Solace Supercut in the window of Riverside Arts Center FlexSpace. Towards Luminescence: Radiant Frisson | Solace Supercut: a two-part exhibition featuring work by Chicago artists Mayumi Lake and Stacia Yeapanis runs from  May 18 – June 26, 2020.


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tag:blog.otherpeoplespixels.com,2013:Post/1540597 2020-05-06T10:59:55Z 2020-05-20T14:14:52Z OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews dani lopez

(for the bisexual dykes who lost all their lesbian friends after they fucked a guy), still from the tv show The Bisexual, 2019. Hand-embroidered sequins, imitation silk, thread, and interfacing. 36" x 18."

DANI LOPEZ uses textile processes to "reimagine her closeted queer youth into an out loud one." Informed by autobiography and pop culture, her weavings, soft sculptures and sequined banners balance narrative and abstraction in an exploration of queer and femme identity. dani earned her BFA in Drawing and Painting at the University of Oregon in Eugene and her MFA  in Textiles at California College of the Arts in San Francisco. In January 2020, dani’s solo show dykes on the dancefloor was on view at Root Division in San Francisco. Her work was recently included in Typos + Spills + Broken Glass at Amos Eno Gallery (Brooklyn) and the 33rd Annual Materials: Hard + Soft International Contemporary Craft Exhibition (Denton, TX), and her work will be included in a show titled Notes on Erasure at CTRL+SHFT (Oakland) in August (hopefully). dani lives and works in Oakland, CA.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us about the relationship between abstraction and narrative in your work.

dani lopez: The oscillation between abstraction and narrative has been present in my practice for over 10 years. When I feel like I rely on narrative too heavily, I shift to abstraction to make things more oblique and harder to read. And when the abstract work is being read in ways that aren’t specific enough for me, I move back to the narrative work. In the past, I worried that I’d have to choose one side over the other in hopes of a coherent practice. It’s only until recently that I have become more comfortable with this back and forth. When I look at my entire body of work, I see that the abstract and narrative work need each other for balance, and they inform each other as the work grows. The constants that connect the two are the role of my hand, the way that color factors in and materiality.

tell me that love isn’t true, 2019. Handwoven cotton yarn and novelty hand cut fabrics. 36" x 108."

OPP: What materials are you most attracted to? 

dl: My materials are purchased at Joann’s Fabrics, Michaels and local fabric outlet stores. In the past, this was a financial necessity for me. As time went on, I realized that my high school drop-out/working-class background, the necessity for these “cheap” materials, and the dialogue I was having with queer art history and culture were a stable ground for me to work upon. Looking back to the 90s DIY culture—I was a teenager in the mid/late 90s—and to the queer aesthetics that I was so attracted to, the material choices became easier and easier for me to make. It was also an act of refusal to more sophisticated, clean, minimal materials/aesthetic choices that I can’t separate from the cishet male painter canon (I was a painter in undergrad).

The work evokes a campy, sad aesthetic in the way that we often find ourselves calling a friend after a break-up/rejection and as we’re crying, we—or at least me—make jokes at our own expense for levity. That space between heartbreak and humor, in attempts to alleviate the pain, if even for a moment, is where a lot of my narrative springs from. 

Fuck…, 2018. Machine sewn and hand embroidered cotton. 22" x 17."

OPP: What does the recurring form of the bow mean to you?

dl: Initially, I was attracted to its connotations of decoration, frivolousness and hyper-femininity. As that body of work grew, my interest in narrative and the posture that these objects were holding became more and more developed. Each bow came to embody a personality, a feeling, or an archetype. With the work maybe the feeling just comes and it goes, I realized the bows could symbolize something I was going through at the time (coming together and coming undone, over and over). These static objects were also activated by the act of tying them up and pulling apart, hinting at time.

baby femme, 2017. Handwoven fabric; cotton dyed with commercial dye, acrylic yarn, wire, and sequin fabric. 34" x 29."

OPP: dykes on the dancefloor is a series of hand-embellished, silk banners. Each one is dedicated to dykes that share a common experience (for example, ACT-UP dykes who cared for their gay brothers while they were dying of AIDS and trans dykes who were able to feel free and fall in love). Are the TV shows and movies referenced in the titles the impetus for the work? 

dl: This body of work began with me watching the French movie, BPM. There’s a beautiful dance sequence throughout the movie and it made me think about the moments on the dance floor when someone is partially illuminated. For the first work, ACT-UP dykes who cared for their gay brothers while they were dying of AIDS, I chose a still from BPM that features a lesbian on the dance floor. I had these stills printed on fabric (imitation silk and now velvet) and began embroidering sequins over the illuminated areas. I think of them as reinterpretations and interventions of queer culture and history. They also contribute and participate in the culture and history as well. The titles refer to what is happening at that moment, but they are my titles (with the reference to the still after the title).

(for the dykes who only came out to themselves and in their fantasies), still from Black Mirror’s San Junipero episode, 2019. Hand-embroidered sequins, imitation silk, thread, and interfacing. 36" x 18."

OPP: Sequins can serve the contradictory purposes of hiding and highlighting the surface of fabric. This seems conceptually important in this series.

dl: This is another example of my balancing act of representation and abstraction. In some of the stills, you can see a figure, but I make sure to obscure it. Other times I purposely choose stills that are confusing or look like flashes of light, but there is always a figure in each work. To me, seeing queer womxn on the dancefloor losing themselves in the moment, dancing with their girlfriend, or trying to make their ex jealous are really beautiful and intimate moments that I wanted to capture. I’m also protective of these moments, I want queer womxn to be visible and for them to feel seen, but I don’t want these to be easily consumed images. The viewer needs to do a little work with these works, just in the way that I needed to really work to find these images to work with. Finding images of queer womxn on the dancefloor was challenging and that frustration is definitely a part of this body of work.

(for the trans dykes who never felt safe enough to come out), still from tv show Euphoria, 2019. Hand-embroidered sequins, imitation silk, thread, and interfacing. 36" x 18."

OPP: It’s been more than a month since the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic. How are you coping? How is your studio practice being affected? 

dl: This answer varies from day to day. My studio practice has been dramatically affected, partially because I’m no longer going to my studio—it’s in San Francisco and I’m in Oakland. I’ve also lost access to a loom I work on in a different space. But my headspace has also been affected as well. Some days it feels so good to work on embroidery or to work on writing for future performance work. Other days everything feels pointless and I just call friends, watch tv, eat cookies, or zone out.

I’m employed (for now) and that feels like enough on any given day. The one constant is that I’m still reading, which is the foundation of everything for me. I’m working out more, doing yoga more, and meditating twice a day to manage the anxiety and depression. These are the things that feel doable and also really good because so many things don’t feel good right now. I daydream about having a huge house party at my place (I’ve got a great roof for it) with all my friends and hugging each and every one of them, once all of this is over.

To see more of Dani's work, please visit www.danilopez.us.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018) and Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019). Her work was recently included in the three-person show Manifestations at One After 909 (Chicago). Stacia's solo exhibition The Thin Line Between One Thing and Another was on view in January 2020 at Finlandia University.


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tag:blog.otherpeoplespixels.com,2013:Post/1539690 2020-05-04T12:16:05Z 2020-10-07T21:38:09Z Congratulations to Selva Aparicio and Silvia González, winners of the MAKERS grants

MAKER Grants, funded by Chicago Artists Coalition and OtherPeoplesPixels, are an annual, unrestricted award opportunity for Chicago-based visual artists. MAKER Grants recognize that Chicago is home to a unique and thriving ecology of engaged and socially-conscious makers, who often work outside of traditional forms or without commercial support. MAKER Grants, therefore, endeavor to honor these artists whose work actively engages with social issues—with an eye towards using the strategies, beauty, and meaning of art-making for positive change.

Congratulations to the 2020 recipients, Silvia González and Selva Aparicio. Both artists were asked to tell us a little about their practices and how they plan to use the award money.


Silvia González

Butterfly Suitcase Collage, 2020.

My work has multiple layers to it. I am an artist and educator in Chicago Public Schools, and I often find my practices directly or indirectly aligning whether it is through praxis or the process of reflecting on the projects I develop. My personal work tends to take the form of installation, and I use screen printing, sound, collage, and drawing to create work relating my experiences at the intersection of myth and memory. As a collaborator on multiple projects and with other artists, I have also learned the importance of collective imagination and care. I am currently a member of the Chicago Act Collective, and this has really grown my belief in the importance of forming interconnected collectives rooted in deep connection, tenderness, care, and a desire to positively impact community.

Compass To Now | Here, 2020. Interactive Installation.

My most recent work is with 6018 North at the Chicago Cultural Center for the group show called In Flux--Artists and Immigration. I invited artists Patricia Nguyen and Joseph Josue Mora in creating a series of artists book documenting the history of settlement, resettlement, unsettlement and national immigration policy in context with local organizing and grassroots efforts. I created an interactive installation piece that prompted visitors to become participants in archiving their own narratives and experiences with Chicago, community, and their own neighborhoods. 

Tierra | Madre | Mother | Ship, 2018. Collage, Sculpture, Installation, Flowers, Print.

The Maker Grant that I've received is testament of the support Chicago continues to give their artists. It is through the Maker Grant support that I am reminded my work is seen and upheld by a creative advocates and celebrated among like-hearted community members. I am grateful for the consistency of this support and can only imagine continuing to grow it forward the best way I can. The first thing I did when I was able to go public with the award was to buy raffle tickets to support undocumented families during this time via the organizing of community member Victor Arroyo by way of La Carnalita. I was also able to buy some needed resources to continue my remote learning curriculum planning as well as personal art projects. I am using a portion of the funds to continue supporting the POC Artist Space virtually. POC Artist Space is an online Facebook resource page where Chicago artists of color can network, connect, share resources, and digital space. It has also served as a critique and salon space where artists can get feedback on works in progress or propose salon sessions for professional, educational, and artistic development. It is a project I started in 2016 that has since grown to over 800 members. Last but not least, I am giving the remaining portion to my family—my mom and sister—to use as needed. 

Silvia's website |  @silvia.ines.gonzalez

Selva Aparicio

Entre Nosotros (Among Us), 2020. Concrete tiles cast from human dead Donors. Dimensions variable. Photo credit: Robert Chase Heishman

I scavenge for nature's discarded flora and fauna and create sculptural installations with them as an act of tribute. Among these materials are human cadaversinsect wings and body partsoyster shellsfallen leavesolive pits and more. I’ve always explored themes around death, transitioning, fragility and the passage of time - themes that will be increasingly common with climate change, overpopulation and extinction. I’ve been especially interested in ethical issues around managing human bodies in the medical field, burial practices and surgical procedures.

Velo de luto (Mourning veil), 2020. Magicicada wings, sewn with hair. Photo credit: Robert Chase Heishman

Given the specific nature of my work, in both it’s time-consuming process and scale, and then the overall fragility of each piece I make, requires that I rely on grants like this to continue sharing my artwork at all. All of the materials I use in my work have been and will always be ethically sourced by my own hand - I carefully scan my environments to choose or incept each new project. For instance, for one of my last pieces Velo de Luto, I had to drive to Kansas from Chicago to collect the wings from the 17 year cicadas that swarmed in that year. I waited for them to die, just as I wait for all of my materials to be discarded or dead before I use them. 

Entre Nosotros (Among Us), 2020. Concrete tiles cast from human dead Donors. Detail. Photo credit: Robert Chase Heishman

Part of the grant will go towards the making of Impresiones de Ausencia (Impressions of Absence), a large memorial to honor all of the individuals that donated their bodies to education and research. Receiving this grant is instrumental to having the resources I need to produce the piece. I feel strongly that these individuals must receive recognition for offering the most generous gift a human has to offer - their body.

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tag:blog.otherpeoplespixels.com,2013:Post/1534250 2020-04-22T11:03:03Z 2020-08-28T17:24:15Z OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jeffrey Meris

Now You See Me; Now You Don't (Installation View), 2020. Plaster body cast, AC motor, steel. 

In sculpture and performance, JEFFREY MERIS investigates "the impacts of naturalization, (dis)placement and racial interpellation." He subverts the expected materiality of monuments by utilizing shopping carts, plastic crates, cinderblocks and plastic gallon jugs to draw attention to everyday, overlooked experiences. His recent kinetic sculptures explore the simultaneous invisibility/hyper-visibility of People of Color in American society. Jeffrey earned his A.A in Arts from the College of the Bahamas, his BFA in Sculpture from Temple University and his MFA in Visual Arts from Columbia University. He is a two-time Harry C. Moore Lyford Cay Foundation Scholar (2012 and 2017) and a Guttenberg Arts Artist-in-Residence (2016). In 2019, he attended Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, and is currently a studio Fellow at NXTHVN in New Haven, Connecticut. Jeffrey's work was recently included in overmydeadbody (2020), curated by Laurie Lazar and Tavares Strachan, at Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco, and his first solo project in New York will open in June 2020. In Fall 2020, his work will be included in an exhibition addressing climate change in the Caribbean at 4th Space, Concordia University (Montreal, Canada) and a NXtHVN 2020 cohort exhibition. Jeffrey lives and works in New Haven, Connecticut.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us a bit about your artistic trajectory? Have you always made art? What made you start?

Jeffrey Meris: I spent most of my formative years in the Junkanoo Shack (Studio) in my country of origin the Bahamas, where I met my mentor and Guardian Angel, Jackson Logan Burnside. Junkanoo is the premier cultural festival that involves costuming, music, folklore and dance. When I was not sitting in the front of my television drawing sketches of Sailor MoonPokemon, or Gundam Wing as a child, I was building my future with the Gaza Boyz. Jackson was the very first “artist” I knew. Formally he was an architect, and he encouraged me to study Architecture. Instead I decided to pursue Art. Through my studies, I received a residency at Popopstudios and this was the definitive moment where I knew that art would take me to my purpose in life. I’ve since attended art schools in the Bahamas and the U.S.

Now The Day is Over, 2018. Shopping cart, square hollow stock metal, nuts and bolts.

OPP: Many works have a monumental quality, but are made with distinctly un-monumental materials. Do you think of your works as monuments? If so, to what? Or to whom?

JM: Monuments in the public discourse have this odd side effect of othering, and it is specifically this otherness that I am interested in. The word monument signals a certain historic trajectory rooted in imperialist grandeur and exquisite materials such as bronze or marble,  What happens when these materials are subverted? I often consider the ways I can use everyday objects to refract a different sense of  monumentality. Shopping carts, plastics, bottles, vinyl, crates are all more significant in everyday life than an esoteric statue lost in the Ramble of Central Park. I am also interested in what scale shift and visual reorientation does to the relationship between the viewer and the known function of an object. 

Mouth to Mouth, 2019. Steel, chaise lounge, conduits, recycled bottles, resin, fiber glass, tubes. Photo credit: Roni Aviv

OPP: Tell us specifically about Mouth to Mouth (2019) and Now the Day is Over (2018), which both evoke grandeur through height.

JM: When I made Now The Day is Over (2018), I was interested in the subjectivity of a shopping cart; it acts as both a site of play, a vessel and a civilizing apparatus, the thing that facilitates an end to a hunter/gatherer lifestyle. Carving out the side panels of the shopping carts and leaving a skeleton revealed the precarious state in which production, consumption and exploitation leaves a fragile global community. 

Mouth to Mouth (2019) also uses elevation as a strategy. If an everyday object enters the sublime, are the working class people most commonly associated with that object raised up as well? This sculpture responds to the tragic capsizing of a Florida-bound ship in the Bahamas in February 2019. Thirty-five Haitian immigrants died. Elevated fifteen feet in space by an architectural steel structure above the mass of siphonic objects is a chaise lounge, indexical of the parallel economies of tourism and immigration. I was 27 when I made Mouth to Mouth; my mother was 27 when I was born. 

Light, Medium, Dark, 2017. Found crate, transparent furniture plastic, HVAC sheet metal: angle iron 40" with 1/4" holes, peanut shells blessed by mother's labor. 54" × 22" × 16."

OPP: Light, Medium Dark (2017) is a see-through monolith filled with peanut shells resting on a plastic crate.

JM: This work is a monument to my mother and her labor. Sesly would spend hours unshelling peanuts to eventually make dollar sized bags of roasted peanuts. Her hands are chapped, blistered and charred to this day from that labor, yet it is that work that provided sustenance for our family. I felt the epicness of the emptied shells because a poetic sculptural making was happening as she poured her devotion into the survival of her offspring. Her technique of roasting salted peanuts in sand to a light, a medium, or a dark roast was much similar to the way that colorism, xenophobia and sexism intersect to form the most toxic of all discriminations against Black Immigrant women. Misogynoir declares a valuation of a woman's value  based on the complexion of her skin making dangerous correlations of education, class and sexuality. Despite everything, her story is one of triumph. 

Neither For U.S., Nor By U.S., 2017. Asphalt, passport, Christian bible, clothes on wood with cinderblocks.

OPP: Let’s talk more specifically about the recurring materials you’ve mentioned: shopping carts, milk crates, plastic milk jugs, cinder blocks, metal. Why these objects, over and over again?

JM: Those are the tools that I understand the most visually. These materials act as portals for understanding larger architectural systems. The plastic gallon bottle is about the body. It signals respiratory function or malfunction. I’ve come to know the breath as being one of the most transcendent processes that nature offers. Two years ago, while I was in grad school I took a swimming class—it’s crazy to believe how unaquatic I was despite growing up in the Caribbean. Pool is to lungs as gallon jugs are to fluid. This relationship has stuck with me ever since. Not to mention that these gallon jugs are repurposed in Caribbean countries as vessels for transporting potable water. 

The concrete blocks refer to architecture and to the visual landscape in the Bahamas where a house made of concrete blocks meant upward mobility and security. Like many others, my home was constructed of T 1-11 plywood siding covered in a thin layer of concrete. Hurricanes could blow these wood paneled homes away in the blink of an eye, year after year. Like many recurring materials in my work, the concrete block has a double meaning. It symbolizes the life I am building and struggling with and the life my family and many others strive for. It simultaneously carries the legacy of Black youth culture and growing up economically challenged.

Shopping carts are probably my favorite object ever invented! They remind me of the TV robots that mesmerized me as a kid. Also, I worked in Grocery Stores, packing bags and pushing shopping carts for tipping customers. Shopping carts speak to a necessity, to those that have, need and want. The very cart that keeps the nuclear family fed can also keep the homeless sheltered. I also think of carts as elegant post-modernist objects in and of themselves, and I attempt to extend that beauty through augmentation and elevation. 

I grew to love steel in my practice because it is rigid yet flexible. Steel functions as steel yet it does only what you ask of it. Case in point: the sleek angled curves for the structure of Now The Day is Over (2018). 

The Block is Hot, 2020. Plaster body cast, AC motor, steel, cinderblock, aircraft cable, U-link, pulleys, ratchet strap. 96" x 66" x 32"

OPP: Your most recent work Now You See Me; Now You Don’t (2020) has an industrial horror movie feel, while being totally un-gory. The severed body parts—cast from your own body—in this make-shift laboratory scene evoke violence, but the lack of blood makes that violence less visceral, more symbolic. What kind of violence do you want viewers to contemplate?

JM: Now You See Me; Now You Don’t roots itself both in my own experience being Black in America and Ralph Ellison’s epic novel Invisible Man. Two years ago, I received a ticket for jumping an MTA  turnstile in New York City. I fumbled to swipe my card correctly until eventually the machine read ‘insufficient funds.’ I jumped. Two police officers arrested me and recorded my weight as 250 pounds and my height as 6'5," neither of which is true. If you could see me, you’d understand the hyperbole. I’m 6’2” and 175 pounds. 

I was acquitted after the judge ruled that I was in "the right" for my actions. Records showed that I had indeed paid yet there was a malfunction in the turnstile. In the waiting-room, almost all defendants were Black-or-Brown, unlike my alma matter where the opposite was true. In the words of Zora Neale Hurston “I felt most colored when I was thrown against a sharp white background.” There I stood, hyper-visible in this  judicial arena, yet invisible in the systems of education. Now You See Me; Now You Don’t (2019) tightropes this fine line, using the body as a vessel for the violence of racial interpellation. Through actions of self destruction these works seek to break the bondage of white society's gaze and free themselves from the burden of racist body bias and conventions. Seven sculptures are presented in this body of work. Six of the seven sculptures kinetically destroy themselves over perforated sheet metal. On My Knees (2019) is the only non-kinetic work in this series; it evokes both kneeling gesture and milk crates as monuments. 

On My Knees, 2020. Plaster body cast, steel, milk crates.

OPP: It’s been more than 3 weeks since the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic. How are you coping? How is your studio practice being affected?

JM: I’ve been super lucky to be a part of NXTHVN, co-founded by Titus KapharJonathan Brand, Board Chairman Jason Price, and led by Executive Director Nico Wheadon.. NXTHVN actually took an unprecedented approach and has offered us additional financial and institutional support in the wake of Covid. Thank you! Shout out to the entire family of studio and curatorial fellows, apprentices—especially my apprentice Aime Mulungula—staff, board members and supporters

I wake up everyday, and I am so blessed to have a studio next door from my apartment, a 30 second commute. The days get a bit monotonous but I am extremely grateful for that. I am going to hold space for all of those disproportionately affected by this Pandemic, those that can’t afford the luxury of social distancing, those that are ill and have passed. I recognize my privilege, and send my thoughts to those coping with the uncertainty. 

I purchased my very first welder back in January, and the freshness of hot welded steel is almost like taking a shot of espresso. I feel invigorated! This also gave me the time to go back to one of my earlier passions of cooking (keep in touch with my Instagram stories @jeffreymeris to see what’s on the menu), and I also made Self-Care-Saturday a thing where I make brunch, listen to my body and inner self and take care of my plants.  

To see more of Jeffrey's work, please visit www.jeffreymeris.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018) and Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019). Her work was recently included in the three-person show Manifestations at One After 909 (Chicago). Stacia's solo exhibition The Thin Line Between One Thing and Another was on view in January 2020 at Finlandia University.


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tag:blog.otherpeoplespixels.com,2013:Post/1529158 2020-04-09T18:08:07Z 2020-04-09T18:08:07Z OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Emily Kaelin

Forest Offering (3), 2019. Acrylic on canvas. 36" x 24."

EMILY KAELIN's paintings are deeply psychological. Her female subjects of weep black blood from their many eyes; they foam and spew noxious fluids from their indistinct mouths. These women are suffering but also learning and transforming. Images of disease and decay coexist with verdant growth, expressing the inherent contradictions of internal experience. Emily earned her BFA at Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design (Denver, Colorado) and her MFA at Burren College of Art (Ballyvaughan, Ireland). She has been an Artist-in-Residence at Hypatia-in-the-Woods (2019) in Shelton, WA and the Nes Artist Residency in Skagaströnd, Iceland. In 2019, she opened her solo show I am a Monster and curated Viscera: Experimental Performance of the Grotesque at Mockbee Gallery (Cincinnati, Ohio). Follow Emily @vvitchinheat to see new and in-progress works. She lives and works in Cincinnati, Ohio.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You’ve said all your works are self-portraiture. In what way?

Emily Kaelin: I’ve made intentional self-portraits since I was young. In art school I made it a habit to do these regularly alongside whatever other work I was doing. Self-portraits were particularly challenging—for me anyway—because it was impossible to look at my physical self objectively enough to render it in a way that felt accurate. Early on I abandoned the idea that my self-portraits had to be realistic. It became more important to accurately render my internal perception(s) of myself, and in doing so my style and imagery became more abstracted, expressionistic and surreal. 

The work that I’ve made in the past six or seven years didn’t begin as self-portraiture explicitly. The more that I made, the more I realized that it was always about me. Specifically, it was about trying to envision multiple versions of myself, on a psychic level, especially my shadow selves. These works are self-portraits in that their existence and my process of making them is a deliberate method of working towards a better understanding of myself.

I am Sublime Suffering, 2019. Acrylic on canvas. 36" x 48."

OPP: Who are the Rotting Queens? What are they queens of?

EK: I like dichotomies; beauty and decay, sacred and profane, the sublime and the abject. I’ve used these in my work, both in form and in content, long before I even knew what I was doing. I like the emotional alchemy—the simultaneous attraction and revulsion— that happens when these dualities are combined. The Rotting Queen figures are one of many extensions of this conceptually. I guess you could say they are all queens of abject matter or phenomena: sickness, blight, death, blood, wounds, mutilation, etc. Yet some of the sub-titles and much of the imagery are suggestive of more life-affirming natural forces—the moon, flowers, moss, venus—and there are elements of beauty and ornamentation. Some figures are more brutal looking than others, and there elements that suggest rot and beauty simultaneously: bloody pustules that could be rubies, glitter that is also blood. 

The Rotting Queens are facets of my shadow selves. Making this work may be an attempt to reconcile the darker and uglier sides of myself with my ideal self, but without my knee-jerk self-hatred and perfectionism. Rather I make those facets sacred and their disturbing nature precious, resplendent even.   

Rotting Queen (the empress), 2015. Acrylic and spray paint on canvas. 30" x 40."

OPP: Can you talk more broadly about Barbara Creed’s notion of the “Monstrous-Feminine” in your work?

EK: The Monstrous Feminine is yet another theme that existed in my work long before I was really aware of it, and the reasons for its ubiquity are both personal and political. Much of my personal attraction to beauty and revulsion comes from my own personal experiences of duality in life: pain, suffering, ecstasy, love, emptiness and abundance. These feelings are universally felt, eve if individually varied in experience. 

Pain is an inevitable and necessary part of living, but I meditate often on the unnecessary pain we inflict on ourselves and others when we happily or ignorantly collude in systems of oppression that cause suffering in the interest of preserving some ideal or some some specific privileged group. 

I think the female experience is an example of this, and there is specific suffering that comes with that experience. Patriarchy is an oppressive system that has been ubiquitous world-over for millennia, even though it is ENTIRELY a made-up construct. Patriarchy creates a duality in the condition of women: we are sacred, worshipped goddesses or vile, fearsome witches. Beauty is painful and female suffering or degradation is eroticized. Artist Wangechi Mutu says that “anything that is desired or despised is always placed on the female body.” I like the female monster because she is subversive; she revels in what makes her despised because it is what makes her strong. Her strength is demonized precisely because it threatens those who would try to subdue her. 

On the one hand, my work is about my own reconciliation and reclamation of my inner ugliness and pain. On the other hand, it is a reclamation of what is culturally despised and ugly in women. This is recast as power, beauty and liberation.

Works from I don't want your love unless you know I am repulsive, and love me even as you know it. 2014. Watercolor on paper. 22" x 30."

OPP: Let’s talk about the mouths. They foam and weep like open wounds; they vomit noxious-looking fluids, and drip black blood. These images certainly evoke illness and disease, but I also read these as an expression of both silencing and vitriol. Like, if you hold anger in long enough, it erupts and spews in all directions. How do you think of the mouths?

EK: The mouths evoke a kind of leaking of internal darkness that can’t be helped or in some cases a complete eruption of that darkness. I use images of physical pain, illness and injury to suggest emotional or psychic pain and illness made manifest. My own experience with mental illness has happened most substantially on an internal level. It is difficult to confront pain that feels trapped inside of you and can’t be seen by others or felt tangibly. Perhaps the mouths are trying to hold in all the pain, but it leaks out anyway, an experience I certainly relate to :)

Nature Spirit (2), 2019. Watercolor on paper. 22" x 30."

OPP: Your most recent paintings from 2019-2020 have a new quality: hope. Where earlier works had both bleached and dark voids for backgrounds, these have thriving, growing plant life. What lead to the introduction of verdancy, which can be a metaphor for abundance?

EK: As I’ve continued to push my content further, I’ve further contemplated the dichotomies I work with and how I can expand and develop their complexity and nuance. Beauty becomes further enfleshed through fecundity, abundance and lushness. In my newest work, the counterpoint of decay and abjection is becoming more visceral. I’ve begun studies of carcasses and flayed flesh, exploring how to paint these elements in their own lush, rich way. I did an artist residency last fall in the forests of the Olympic peninsula of Washington, where I studied rendering the forest’s verdancy, lushness, darkness, and strangeness. I happened to find a gutted, skinned deer carcass on one of my walks, sans head and hooves, was the perfect foil for the more verdant foliage I’ve been working with lately. It was that image that inspired me to take my imagery to a more visceral place.

Forest Offering (1), 2019. Acrylic on canvas. 36" x 24."

OPP: We are in the midst of a global pandemic. Is Covid-19 changing your work right now?

EK: It is certainly affording me abundant time to devote to my own art practice! But as I am working on more “visceral” imagery at present, I am reminded again of inevitable cycles of pain and joy, emptiness and abundance, and all the ways that we amplify our pain unnecessarily as humans. I see that same drama playing out in our present pandemic scenario. There’s this mentality that we have to suffer to deserve anything in life, that we have to suffer for the sin of living, of existing. Maybe humans are masochists. I worry that I am a masochist. But I also believe in transcendence of pain. I believe in facing, embracing and transforming pain. It’s the only way to truly grow, and it is inherent in the cycles of life and death and rebirth. It’s why I make art. I feel powerless in the face of the suffering that exists in our world; so much of it is human made. But I can find power in what I can control, what I do with my own pain, how I transform it.

To see more of Emily's work, please visit www.emily-kaelin.com

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018) and Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019). Her work was recently included in the three-person show Manifestations at One After 909 (Chicago). Stacia's solo exhibition The Thin Line Between One Thing and Another was on view in January 2020 at Finlandia University.


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tag:blog.otherpeoplespixels.com,2013:Post/1523552 2020-03-25T12:22:13Z 2020-03-26T12:30:26Z OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jayanti Seiler

Untitled, from Of One and The Other (2013-2018)

JAYANTI SEILER captures the emotional complexity of relationships between humans and animals in photographic essays that explore a range of spaces where they interact. She has spent time with owners of exotic big cats, taxidermists, falconers and young people in the 4-H Club, who raise animals to be brought to Livestock auctions at the Volusia County Fair. She photographs at sanctuaries that care for abused wild and domestic animals, traveling safaris, zoos, and wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centers. Her poignant images reveal contradictory truths that can't be easily reconciled; caretaking and love often cross paths with exploitation and death. Jayanti earned her MFA at the University of Florida and her BFA in Photography at the Rhode Island School of Design. Her photographs have been published in numerous magazines, including The New York Times LENS, LIFE FORCE (UK), LENSCRATCH, Véganes contreculturel (Canada), Vision (Beijing), Edge of Humanity, Muybridge’s Horse, Bird In Flight (Russia). Her work has been exhibited at the Southeast Museum of Photography (Florida), Chiang Mai University Art Museum (Thailand), Harvard University, Museum of Contemporary Art Georgia, and Washington State University. In 2018, she released a first edition fine art book of her series titled Of One and The Other, capturing the complexity of human-animal relationships. Jayanti lives in Deland, Florida, where she is an Associate Professor at the Daytona State College Southeast Center for Photographic Studies.

OtherPeoplePixels: Vulnerability seems to be the thread tying all your work together, but your photographs don’t feel exploitative. How do you cultivate the empathetic gaze?

Jayanti Seiler: I aim to build a relationship of trust between my subjects and myself. I am transparent with my subjects about why I am photographing them. With the human-animal work, I made the conscious decision to set some of my beliefs aside and acknowledge that each person I met does love animals in some way and that this love manifests differently along the spectrum. I remained open to the opinions about animals and the justifications that support them. My commitment to approach my subjects without judgment and listen to their perspectives sets them at ease. I explain that I am making photographs of a diverse range of human-animal encounters and through this experience I want to learn about their particular relationships with animals. By adopting an attitude that is as neutral as possible and a format that is not documentary, I cultivate perhaps a shared concern on some level between subject, photographer and viewer.

Untitled, 2016, from Love and Loss (2013-2019)

OPP: Can you say more about not taking a documentary approach?

JS: Photography is an inherently problematic medium when it comes to finding an even give and take, when the photographer is who determines how a subject is represented or perceived. Troubled by this dilemma, I sought ways to address problematic forms of representation used in documentary practices by implementing strategies that dilute the authority of the medium of photography. For the film and installation, Docket, which came out of my experience as a Guardian ad Litem volunteer, I asked individuals that had “aged out” of the foster care system to speak alone with the camera. By removing myself as a factor, emphasis was placed on the voice of the individual and their unfiltered story. The comfortability of the subjects surprised me when I discovered the depth of emotion that poured out of each of them. I feel that intervening in my own process as image-maker, depoliticizing the photographic agenda and acknowledging the inadequacies of representation in past work has contributed to how I chose to confront the messy indefinable nature of our relationships with animals from a place of honesty and compassion.

Untitled, from Of One and The Other (2013-2018)

OPP: How much do you guide your subjects in the photographic work? How much do you wait for the decisive moment?

JS: I believe in taking an informed and impassioned approach to communicating with my subjects. Well before I started making the pictures, I was volunteering in shelters and sanctuaries, which gave me an enlightened perspective. I experienced firsthand the unique dynamic between injured animals and individuals that dedicate their lives to their care. It is important to me to immerse myself in the subject matter and be a participant as well as a storyteller. Working in wildlife rehabilitation became a means of entry into these worlds and I was compelled to photograph the fragile harmony at stake particularly for birds of prey in captivity. When the series expanded to include other complicated relationships with animals that were more controversial I wanted to make it evident in the work that you have to look at this topic from many different angles because it is far from black and white. I seek a poetic way to represent what I am feeling about my subjects and lead the viewer into the content. Even though I feel strongly about the topic, I take a gentle approach as opposed to a radical one. My pictures are an invitation not a confrontation and more theater then documentation. 

In knowing clearly what I want to communicate, it is necessary for me to both guide my subjects as well as wait for the decisive moment. I look for, as well as evoke, unexpected encounters and rare moments when the veil separating humans and animals lifts and a connection is established. This idea came out of my own desire to interact with wild animals, which is why I made the pictures of people interacting with big cats. The images of people hugging big cats are enactments of the fine line between adoration and exploitation captured the moment it surfaced between the cub and the person. I am sensitive to subtle gestures a subject might exude, both human and animal; I work with those cues and weave in my narrative. Some of the interactions are candid and others are a blend of directed and found moments. I use this approach to nudge the image in the direction I envision without compromising the integrity of the moment.

Untitled, 2016, from Love and Loss (2013-2019)

OPP: The images from Love and Loss especially made me cry. What a sad and complicated set of emotions! What was your experience with 4H before beginning this series?

JS: I’m happy the images touched you. My colleague in the photography department at Daytona State College introduced me to the people that run the Livestock auctions at the Volusia County Fair in Deland, Florida. He had been shooting behind the scenes there for several years. I was granted a press pass to photograph as well. I learned about the program through my colleague and became more familiar with 4H over the years as I met the children and their families. It was interesting to see the same children returning each year and witness how much they evolved from being so new to the process, unsure and timid alongside eager parents coaching them, to confident seasoned participants that now coach the newcomers.

Untitled, 2016, from Love and Loss (2013-2019)

OPP: Do the kids talk to you about the complicated emotions that you capture? How aware are they of what they are feeling?

JS: The children are complicated; there are many layers to them. I hear a multitude of comments and some really stick with me. During the course of the week, the kids tell me it is hard but they are ok with it. They are steadfast in their dedication to the program and feel that what they are doing is very good for them, as well as for the animals. Parents have told me that the process is difficult and is definitely not for everyone because of how emotionally trying it can be. They’ve said that if some of these kids were not in the program that they would be on the streets. Despite their hard exteriors, the children are very affectionate with their animals. At the conclusion of auction night they have limited time to say good-bye. The tone completely changes. Waves of emotion pour out of them during these last moments with their animals. They sit quietly with them; their faces tear streaked as they grieve openly. Before this time they are so busy with the prep and the performance that there is a bit of a disconnect. They are all business on the show floor, very poised and intent on capturing the attention of the judge. When they win there is that incredible sense of accomplishment and pride. It is a celebration of their devotion to the health and growth of that animal. 

There are a lot of justifications that help them compartmentalize their sadness. They say the week is so hard on the animals that by auction night the animals are essentially “ready to go." They have said the pigs don’t stop growing and by two years of age they are so large and uncomfortable that they have to be slaughtered. They tell me that we are going to eat meat anyways therefore why not have us take care of the animals in a humane healthy way instead of in a slaughterhouse. Then there are some that begin the process of grieving and saying good-bye well before the auction. One child told me that she walked her pig up to the top of a hill and sat in a patch of flowers with her the day before the fair. They seem to move on pretty quickly after their animals are gone; they are capable of coming back each year to repeat the process again. Although their grief is unmistakable, they feel it is just part of it. They are forever impacted by their experiences whether the reality of raising animals for slaughter has a positive or negative effect; it is different for every individual.

Untitled, 2012, from Clemency Raptor (2012-2013)

OPP: Of One and The Other (2013-2018) goes beyond the 4H images to capture other relationships between humans and animals, some caring and some exploitative. Some images look violent but actually capture life-saving actions, like the bird being x-rayed. Can you talk about this slippage between optics and reality?

JS: I have noticed several paradoxes in these environments, especially in rehabilitation centers for birds of prey. The reality and the optics contradict one another in the bird pictures because rehabbers are altruistic in their attempts to shield animals from harm, yet they have to maintain an emotional distance because this is essential to the bird’s survival in the wild when released. I depict a level of clinical detachment due to the volume of death that comes along with working to save animals that are injured. The harsh reality that rehabbers face is that there is simply not enough space for all of the birds to live out their lives in captivity and the ones that are deemed unreleasable have to be euthanized. Despite their efforts only some of the birds are released. The images symbolize this grim reality and are therefore visibly unsettling. In some of the most altruistic environments that I photograph in there is often the most detachment, which is considered humane in rescue and rehabilitation. A hood over the bird’s eyes is meant to keep him calm while he is being examined; yet the slumped posture and docile appearance of the bird addresses the conflict intrinsic to these types of encounters.

Untitled, from Of One and The Other (2013-2018)

OPP: It also strikes me that some of the most tender pictures involve the most exploitative actions. I’m thinking of the young men caressing taxidermy deer heads.

JS: There is a duality of violence and manufactured tenderness found in the image of the young man holding a deer head to his forehead in front of a red fence. The image is also intended to symbolize the complexity and irony found in our relationships with animals. The man’s gesture represents a taxidermist or hunter’s admiration for his craft or can be read as an expression of remorse. The portrait symbolizes the boundaries and belief systems that clash and overlap in society, one of these being that hunters have a closer relationship with nature then someone who turns a blind eye and buys their meat in a sanitized package in the supermarket because it is easier then killing and butchering it themselves. The care the taxidermist takes when meticulously crafting keepsakes from hunted animals is a form of preserving the living. The picture depicts brutality but also the love that a hunter or taxidermist has for nature. 

Untitled, from Of One and The Other (2013-2018)

OPP: What other complicated stories have you encountered?

JS: Extremely common are the stories of animals in captivity that were bred for use as pets, although they wind up being kept in less then desirable conditions because their owners find they cannot properly care for them. Because of this inability to respect and honor our boundaries, animals end up being neglected and then rescued by sanctuaries, which are overflowing due to the volume of animals caught in this mess. Animals are entangled in a vicious cycle as well as the people involved with their care. The animals are hybrids, inexorably caught between two worlds: unable to survive in nature, they are condemned to captivity. Many people make enormous sacrifices for the good of their rescued animals that are not always ideal. Caretakers of rescued tigers have had to make the difficult choice to put their animals on display in glass transport cases at wealthy people’s parties in order for guests to take pictures of themselves next to the tiger. Ironically, this helped the caretakers finance large enclosures for their tigers. The image of the white tiger in the glass transport case among enclosures was made to symbolize this dilemma, and the tiger was in no way harmed. Her caretakers are altruistic and bound by their commitment to provide a good life for their big cats, which they consider members of their family.

Untitled, from Of One and The Other (2013-2018)

OPP: It seems that you offer the same empathy to all your subjects. Do you ever experience a sense of conflict when photographing a situation that you don’t feel is ideal for the animals? How do you deal with that?

JS: Yes, I did feel a sense of conflict because I was stuck in the middle between rescue groups that advocate for preservation and protection and (therefore oppose cub encounters as inhumane) and the people selling these encounters, who say that they are educating the public about the plight of animals in the wild. I was caught up in the ethics of what people were doing and the price animals were paying one way or the other. It helps me to take into account that most of the people I meet have good intentions and there were circumstances that led them to compromise. When I say that my subjects all love animals, I admit this is a way to find the positive in the negative. I put my camera between my subjects and myself at times as a distancing device to take a step back and be more of an observer. The notion of distance is cultivated in my images as well. A lot of my own conflict with what I witness surfaces in the images. Despite the sad situations that I see with the 4H children, I find comfort in their maturity and devotion. 

Through the many discussions that have been sparked by the images and the dialogue that has been created, I feel reassurance that the message I aim to impart is reaching people. Witnessing the growing movement where animals are seen more and more as sentient beings and the spotlight that National Geographic, among others, has repeatedly cast on numerous undesirable conditions for animals brings me so much hope that attitudes are changing.

To see more of Jayanti's work, please visit www.jayantiseilerphotography.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018) and Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019). Her work was recently included in the three-person show Manifestations at One After 909 (Chicago). Stacia's solo exhibition The Thin Line Between One Thing and Another was on view in January 2020 at Finlandia University.

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tag:blog.otherpeoplespixels.com,2013:Post/1522391 2020-03-21T21:54:49Z 2020-03-21T21:55:03Z Benjamin Cook's Social Distance Gallery

Call for submissions on Instagram

OtherPeoplesPixels interviewed Featured Artist Benjamin Cook three years ago about his practice, which is driven by a fascination with the structures, rules and algorithms that guide both our online and offline lives. Now he is the creator of Social Distance Gallery, which will be posting BFA and MFA thesis exhibitions that are cancelled or limited in access due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The digital exhibitions will be hosted on Instagram at @socialdistancegallery. See the details for submission here.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What gave you the idea for @socialdistancegallery?

Benjamin Cook: My studio practice involves digitally-based projects that explore image dissemination and ways in which digital images are consumed. I teach at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, and we had to cancel BFA shows because of the pandemic. Our students were understandably upset, and I thought my practice could be used to help in this situation.

OPP: Do you have volunteers to help you or is this a solo effort?

BC: It’s just me right now. There have been a number of people who have reached out and offered assistance, so I have a group of people that I can turn to if things get overwhelming.

Screencap of @socialdistancegallery

OPP: At last view, you have 16.7 K followers. How did you go about getting your message out? It seems to have moved really quickly. How many submissions have you received?

BC: I made the page on March 13th and have around 75 submissions so far. I posted on the feed and story of my personal account first. I reached out to my network and asked people to share the story. It really took off from there. I can’t thank my friends enough for helping get this thing rolling.

OPP: Is this project helping you cope with staying home? 

BC: It’s something to work on, but I stay busy either way. I am definitely not immune to the feelings of fear, confusion, uncertainty, and grief that everyone is going through. We all feel it no matter how busy we stay.

OPP: Are you finding any time right now to work on your own work?

BC: This project is a part of my practice, so I guess you can say I haven’t had time to do things that weren’t my own work. I could probably use some extra time to sleep.

Screencap of @socialdistancegallery

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tag:blog.otherpeoplespixels.com,2013:Post/1516444 2020-03-04T13:58:49Z 2020-03-04T14:00:03Z Going Strong: Kathryn Refi

Did you know the OPP blog has been featuring exceptional, living artists since 2011? We are committed to looking at the full trajectory of each Featured Artist's work, as represented on their websites. As an artist myself, I don't think of individual artworks or projects in a vacuum. I'm more interested in how one work leads to another and what drives artists to keep making. So it's exciting to revisit artists interviewed in the first few years of the blog and find out what's changed and what's stayed the same in their practices. Today's artist is Kathryn Refi (@kathrynrefi).

Finger Flowers, 2019. Hand-cut archival inkjet prints. Overall dimensions variable. Each flower is 17 3/4 x 17 3/4 inches.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What's new in your studio, practice or work since you were interviewed back in 2013?

Kathryn Refi: Probably the single greatest change since 2013 is that I moved from Athens, Georgia to New York City. I've been living in Brooklyn since the summer of 2014. It's hard to know all of the specific ways this shift has affected the changes in the content of my work, but it seems inevitable that it has.

All My Edges (in 2cm Squares, in the Shape of a Circle), 2018. Archival inkjet collage on polyester film. 59 1/2 x 49 3/4 inches.

My work had been centered on images and patterns I experienced in my environment and now it is derived from photographic images of my actual body. Before I was trying to negotiate the way my body was interacting with the outside world, while now the entire visual content of the work is my own physical body. I am very surprised that photographic imagery has become the starting point in my process. I think that some of this has to be the subconscious influence of the work of a couple of important friends I have made here in NYC: Jennifer Grimyser and Kate Stone. I think their beautiful work has crept into my brain, where I am processing it and using it as an ingredient in the cooking up of my own images. 

Untitled, 2019. Cut and woven photographs. 64 1/2 x 19 inches.

All of my work starts with life-size inkjet prints of digital images of parts of or all of my body. I am cutting up and rearranging the prints to create new images of myself, patterns, and wall-sized weavings. It is empowering to be in control of the image of my body and manipulate it however I am compelled to. I am enjoying seeing the way my body mutates into new shapes and images as I reorganize its components. A lot of play and visual discovery is happening in my studio. There is still a systematic approach to all of the work, which is a definite through line to what I was making previously. Repetition of form, with an underlying grid structure, continues to be a motif. 

Untitled, 2019. hand-cut inkjet prints. 57 x 38 inches.

I am excited to continue exploring in my studio. I never would have guessed that I would be making the images that I am now and so can't wait to see what I'll be creating in another seven years.

Some recent pattern studies. 2020. Woven inkjet prints. 12 x 12 inches each.

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tag:blog.otherpeoplespixels.com,2013:Post/1511214 2020-02-19T15:52:18Z 2020-02-20T15:22:39Z OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Natalie Hunter

Installation view of Billows and Breathing Spaces2019. At Centre 3 for Artistic and Social Practice. Photo Credit: Andrew Butkevicius

In an era when most people only encounter photography on their digital devices, NATALIE HUNTER reminds us of the physicality of photography. But she doesn't rely on the conventions of prints framing and hanging on the wall to do it. Instead, she combines the intangible staples of film exposure—light and time—with the material aspects of sculpture. She prints on transparent film and silk, folding and bending images, pinning them to the wall in undulating waves and draping them over wood and metal and plexiglass structures. Natalie holds a BA in Visual Art with a Concentration in Curatorial Studies from Brock University and an MFA from the University of Waterloo. She was awarded a Canada Council for the Arts Research and Creation Grant in 2018 and Ontario Arts Council Creation Project Grants in 2018 and 2019. In 2019, she mounted two solo exhibitions: Staring into the sun, curated by Marcie Bronson, at Rodman Hall Art Centre (St. Catharines, Ontario) and Sensations of breathing at the sound of light at Factory Media Centre 9 (Hamilton, Ontario). Her work was also included in the group show Shaping Time (2019) at Latcham Art Centre (Stouffville, Ontario). Natalie’s solo exhibition Billows and Breathing Spaces (2020) Just opened at Centre 3 For Artistic and Social Practice in Hamilton, Ontario and will be on view through March 5. Natalie lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

OtherPeoplesPixels: It’s rare that your images are framed and hung on the wall in a conventional way. Why do you work with photography as sculpture?

Natalie Hunter: I very much look at photographs as material fluid things that are tangible objects vulnerable to the elements. There is an element of stillness in sculpture and photography that speaks to the present moment, but also the past. The negative and positive aspects of photography mirror that of sculpture and casting. Both are traces,  just in different ways.

I’m interested in the spaces we create for ourselves, both physical and psychological in nature and how they shape memory and lived experience. I entered grad school as a sculptor and started taking digital imaging and film studies courses. Working on images through the screen became incredibly frustrating for me. I would often go to the library and print transparencies of images I wanted to work with because it was cheaper than printing snapshots. But I soon found they were really lovely to work with and handle in my hands. To fold, curl, layer, arrange them on a light box or the surface of a projector. They spoke more to material process and making with my hands. I knew I wanted to eventually make my images more sculptural and scale them up. Ever since, I’ve been trying to work my way out from the wall into three-dimensional space and make images a physical, experiential encounter.

Helios (2019) Hand applied window film, light. Interior day view. Photo credit: Jimmy Limit

OPP: Can you tell us a bit about your process? How does the moment of exposure relate to the installation? Are these disconnected parts of the process?

NH: The starting point for most of my work boils down to light and time and their psychological, emotive, and material influences on space. For the past 6 or 7 years, I’ve been layering images through multiple exposures and by layering transparent photographs to make new images. This act of layering both inside and outside of the camera transcends logical ideas of time. I use colour filters, sometimes hand-made ones, to bring attention to the layers and reveal process. They separate different moments of time and leave clues as to how the images were made. And they introduce an element of chance. They affect the way light enters the camera. I never really know what the image will look like until the film gets developed.

Once the image exists outside of the camera and becomes a physical thing, I consider the exhibition space as an element of the work. Often, the pieces change when they are installed a second or third time or from my studio to the gallery space. I need to do site visits, and I usually respond in an emotive way that speaks to a unique characteristic of a space in order to converse with it. Memory plays a big part in this. I hope to produce a kind of encounter between viewer and work that elicits memory or a sensorial response.

The sun's rays do not burn until brought to a focus (2017) Giclee print on transparent film, poplar, sunlight. various dimensions. print: 12" x 50"

OPP: How do materiality and immateriality intersect in your work?

NH: My work hovers between materiality and immaterially like most of our experiences. I use translucent and semi-translucent materials—transparent film, backlight film and silk—to manifest ephemeral, immaterial concepts like time, memory, space, light, air, breath in material ways. The physical aspects produce immaterial encounters. I use light in the exposure of my images, but also in the installation within the exhibition space. For me, light is quite kinetic. . . or it makes the work kinetic through the passage of time. 

Light is fundamental to photographic processes, and its manipulation is a material process in my work. Light is intangible, like time and memory, and it affects physical spaces. Natural light is always changing, while artificial light is static. These differences produce both stillness and subtle motion in my work. For example, my transparent film works produce latent imagery within a space when they are lit. They behave in a kinetic way when exposed to natural light, and a rather still way when illuminated with traditional gallery track lightning.

Songs of May (foreground), The sky seemed to fold in ribbons of palest sunlight, 2019.

OPP: In your recent work Breathing Spaces (2019), you printed on silk charmeuse for the first time. What led you to print on fabric instead of transparent film for the various Billows sculptures?

NH: During the opening of my solo show Staring into the sun (2019) at Rodman Hall last year, a visitor commented that, despite my works being on transparent film, they seemed to contain a kind of weight, almost like fabric. I was able to unintentionally fool a viewer into touching the work, thinking they were experiencing textile pieces, when in actuality it was a combination of the transparent photograph and it’s latent copy. This interested me a lot in terms of my investigations into perception, memory, and experience. The physicality of the work led a viewer to think they were looking at a different material. I decided to test the material properties of fabric in relation to light and to space. 

Billows, two breaths at dusk (2019) Archival pigment prints on 12.5mm silk charmeuse draped over hand shaped copper, hardware, maple, light. 34" x 52" each print, installation dimensions variable. Studio view.

OPP: Is this a new direction?

NH: I wouldn’t say that it’s a new direction in the sense that I’m abandoning my process working with light and transparent film. I see these explorations with silk as another dimension of what I’m already doing, folding space and time outside of the camera. The silk has different physical properties and absorbs light in a different way. When illuminated, the back becomes a diffused mirror image. Transparent film produces latent imagery. The silk drapes instead of folds, and you can see your body through it when draping it over your hand, for example. All of these materials and explorations are related. I was lucky to receive Ontario Arts Council Grants and A Canada Council for the Arts Research and Creation Grant, which allowed me to test new materials and experiment. I’ve made some of the largest transparent film pieces I’ve ever made, tested how images behave on silk, and worked with colour films and resins as both sculptural and image materials. Some of the large transparent pieces and works on silk are on view at Centre 3 for Artistic and Social Practice in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada from February 6 - March 5.

To Breathe Light 2/4 (2019) Archival pigment prints on backlight film mounted in double sided custom floor light box (plexiglass, poplar, LED lighting, hardware). 36" x 24" x 5"

OPP: Can you talk about abstraction versus legibility of the image?

NH: Over time my work has become more abstract. Photography has a history of being mistaken for truth. The processes and materials I am working with are true, and yet they produce something more abstract than what we would consider truth in experience. I’m really interested in the exploratory, transformative power of materials to translate everyday experiences. Memory is just as important as breathing in our human experience, and I’m interested in exploring how that manifests and transforms through time. We are all unconsciously shaped by the spaces we inhabit on a daily basis, and I know that my work is often influenced by the spaces where I spend the most time. Space is something psychological just as much as it is physical, and I want to explore both of these aspects of space in my work. 

Dappled (2019) Archival inkjet prints on backlight film draped over custom poplar and aluminum sculptures. Approximately 24" x 60" x 36" each.

OPP: I appreciate the materiality of your sculptures, especially since its rare that I see a physical photograph anymore. Has your work changed in relation to not just the emergence of digital cameras, but specifically in relation to the pervasiveness of smart phone cameras, selfies and Instagram?

NH: As an artist and educator I’m constantly grappling with the immaterial digital world we find ourselves in. I question why I make photo-based work in an age when we are so saturated and bombarded with images on a daily basis. Do I really want to add to that massive pool of images? What makes mine different? I rarely take selfies and use social media largely for circulating my art practice. For the past six or seven years, I’ve been teaching a university online digital imaging course to upwards of 250 students per term. It’s a real challenge teaching through a screen and constantly being available to students. I’m acutely aware of screens and my time with them. Truthfully I’m frustrated with them. It’s important for me to use my hands and make material work, and I’m interested in pushing my work further into the sculptural realm. 

It’s rare that we encounter a physical image anymore. I wonder how much of our memories are made up of actual experiences, or streams of images we consume in our daily lives. I want my work to be experiential and challenge the boundaries between the pictorial and physical worlds we live in. I find my more recent work makes use of both film and digital cameras. For a while I couldn’t afford a a good quality digital camera to make the images that I wanted. So I used medium format film. I still use film, but lately I’ve been using both media while layering within the camera, and I’m interested in combining them in a body of work. Both have their positives and limitations.

To see more of Natalie's work, please visit natalie-hunter.com

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018) and Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019). Her work was recently included in the three-person show Manifestations at One After 909 (Chicago). Stacia's solo exhibition The Thin Line Between One Thing and Another just opened on January 16, 2020 at Finlandia University.

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tag:blog.otherpeoplespixels.com,2013:Post/1506599 2020-02-05T13:36:28Z 2020-02-05T14:04:23Z OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Thomas Albrecht

Sand (2016) Performance still.

THOMAS ALBRECHT's performances employ physical endurance and metaphor to address existential inquiry and ritual.  His body, of course, is the primary material, but recurring props—rocks, rope, spotlights, a briefcase—shift their meaning from one performance to another. A rope might be a noose or a tool of measurementSimple actions of holding or dragging rocks, as well as breaking one rock with another, are metaphors for how humans respond to our own challenges. Thomas earned a BFA at Rhode Island School of Design, a Master of Arts in Religion at Yale and an MFA at University of Washington. He has performed and exhibited throughout the United States and internationally, most recently at Performance Is Alive at Satellite Art Show (NYC 2019), Garner Arts Center (Garnerville, NY 2019), ITINERANT Performance Art Festival (NYC 2018), and Woodstock Art Museum (Woodstock, NY 2018). His 2018 solo show unmoored at Joseloff Gallery at Hartford Art School (Hartford, CT) was a cycle of five performances. Thomas lives in Kingston, NY.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Between earning your BFA and MFA, you earned a Master of Arts in Religion at Yale. How does this degree influence your art practice?

Thomas Albrecht: I am interested in what individuals believe. Belief grounds what we give meaning to: what we value and what we don’t; what makes us get out of bed in the morning versus pulling the covers over our heads. Late writer David Foster Wallace asserted that, “Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.” I agree with him. Much of our living is founded on what we give ourselves over to: how we, with whatever freedom we have in our lives, choose this over that. Where we draw lines and take stands. My time at Yale allowed me to pursue a line of inquiry that developed when I was very young and continues to the present day. I grew up a minister’s son in a large Midwestern church. I remain humbled by how human beings navigate life—individually and collectively—and how we sustain or shift belief when life does not go as planned. The amount of suffering and loss that accumulates during a lifetime must be countered by belief, which allows for remaking the world over and over again. And this often has nothing to do with organized religion. This process of world re/creation is absolutely necessary for anyone seriously involved with making. Giving meaning to images, objects, and ideas grounds the choices we make in forming a world we can believe in, work for, renew.

Like the Delayed Rays of a Star (2019) Performance still.

OPP: You’ve repeatedly worn the costume/uniform of a businessman. Is this a recurring persona?

TA: I like repetition in my work, whether it involves what is worn, used or actioned. The grey suit is a costume/uniform that is ubiquitous across cultures, symbolizing male power and success. It’s a nod to the “everyman.” This signifier is then routinely subverted by the actions I take in a given performance—like sullying the suit with material such as dirt or ash—or the situations I place myself in; e.g., walking into the sea or laying prostrate on a city sidewalk. 

Dogs Barking in Winter (2018). Performance still.

OPP: What about the costume, that I interpret as a monk’s robe, in Dogs Barking in Winter (2018) or Shivaree (2018)? 

TA: The clothing used for Dogs Barking in Winter and Shivaree is actually a simple, navy dress made of muslin by my textile-designer daughter, though I appreciate the read of it as a monk’s habit! Both performances were in response to reported events in my maternal grandmother’s young life, at the time of her marriage to my grandfather. “They made me wear a navy dress,” she shared in a low, hushed voice, at age 89. She had five daughters and told none of them of her experience of public shaming at the hands of her midwestern farming community. She told me, her grandson when I was 19. Being made to wear a navy dress at her wedding was her small town’s method of casting stones, extending an old narrative of shame: naked in the green garden; a scarlet letter; forbidden to wear white. In all of these stories, a young woman bears disgrace for the social “good”: naked, marked, humiliated. The desire to know, the desire to love, the desire to desire, all penned-in by guilt; recrimination for stepping beyond the line. Take this stone. Putting on the navy dress was, for me, taking up the stone of my grandmother’s lifelong shame—that she carried in secret—so that I could finally set it down. Though she passed in 2005, just shy of her 102nd birthday, I believe she was present for each performance. 

sea/shore (2019) Performance still.

OPP: How do you think about the boulders that are recurring props and tools in your work?

TA: Actual stones have weight; stones connote heaviness, heft, permanence, time. Real stone wears away, eventually becoming sand and dust. In many of my performances since 2013, I have used actual rocks, as well as “fake” stones made of unfired clay that have the same weight, look, and feel. I like this slippage between “real” and fictive in my work. 

My first performances with stones were collaborations with artist Rae Goodwin, and they drew inspiration from Mark Strand’s poem To Begin, where the struggle to initiate creative work is likened to “lifting the stones from one’s teeth.” Both Rae and I were navigating the end of significant personal relationships, and we recognized the very real challenge of being able to speak emotions that seemed impossible to voice. So we put stones in our mouths, which was discomfiting, difficult and strange. We held heavy stones over our heads to the point of physical exhaustion. Participating in these collaborations, I saw that stone, as metaphor—used in cultural narratives since time immemorial—could be used again and again to pose questions about the weight of loss and shame, and about perseverance, and it served to ground my work for years to come. 

One of the most iconic still images of my work captures me standing, waist-high in the ocean in my everyman suit, my head level to the horizon, and holding a large unfired clay stone on my shoulder. This singular picture holds great meaning for me, and about my work as a whole.  

Return (2015) Performance still.

OPP: On your website, you represent your performances in still images. I have no sense of the duration of these performances or the sounds. My impression is these performances generally last quite a while. Can you talk about the duration of your work?

TA: My performances are quite minimal, and often durational. Duration, for me, involves a test of body and mind, both as artist and for witnesses of my work. I do not practice my performances, so each one is a unique experience for me as maker, and for those observing. I like the improvisational demands this way of working sets up for me, challenging me to think through my choices while making, in real time; and to remain vigilantly attuned to what is taking place as my body and mind tire. This way of making is not so dissimilar to the way I move through the rest of my living. Life for me is an endurance test of mind, body and soul, none of which is separate from the other. Observation, patience and awareness are key.  

Catch-As-Catch-Can (2014) Performance still.

OPP: Do your performances include sound?

TA: While spoken language does not regularly enter into my performances, silence, or quiet, is used as a strategy to focus viewers’ attention on the action, gesture or movement taking place. I employ sound repetitively to disrupt expectations of a given space and as a reminder that time cycles: a shovel dragging through dirt along an old factory floor, hour upon hour; a clay stone is pounded repeatedly until it returns to dust, the echo reverberating in a freight elevator; a body jumping up and down while trying to catch a balloon tied to one’s wrist, the resulting sound of breathing, bodily fatigue and disappointment.

A Certain Distance (2018) Performance still.

OPP: Tell us about the series of performances you did for unmoored (2018) at the Joseloff Gallery at the Harford Art School.

TA: It was an incredible opportunity to produce the cycle of five performances that constituted unmoored. I remain extremely grateful to the director for granting me such incredible trust and support in the development of this personally significant body of work. I am not certain I will have another opportunity quite like the one I was afforded for unmoored. I originally was going to install still images of prior work, but after visiting the gallery and feeling very unexcited about representing live art via a collection of quiet pictures, I jettisoned the idea and proposed to do a series of performances connected by a conceptual thread. The director was incredibly supportive of the idea, agreeing to open the exhibition with an empty gallery and trusting me to develop the performance series with very little lead time.

unmoored (2018) Installation shot.

OPP: How did each performance build upon the last?

TA: The series began in a completely empty exhibition space, and each performance left a trace or remnant for gallery viewers to experience. In the first performance, I traced and retraced a projected horizon, so that when overhead projectors were turned off, a drawn line—marked and erased for hours, like a tide marking a shore—hovered on an otherwise blank wall. The next performance left a halo of ash where an image had been hung, contemplated, and removed; a dusting that covered a large section of the gallery floor. In both circumstances, on wall and floor, the remaindered trace could be viewed as a temporal drawing. The third performance  involved stillness, with me standing with a heavy clay stone, wedged into a corner of the gallery, trained under a bright spotlight of the kind used in theatre productions. The performance ended with my setting the stone down and turning the light back on viewers, before placing it back on the floor and unplugging it. The dress I wore for the performance was left to rest on the floor, in the same corner where I had stood, and the clay stone and spotlight remained as additional remnants. The fourth iteration involved dragging a wood palette covered with 40 clay stones through the whole of the open exhibition space. Unintended was the scratched passage of the palette across the gallery floor, a marked reminder of the absurd action of the performance. The final action involved removing each stone from the wood palette, and creating a bed of stones in front of the wall where the horizon line still hovered. I lay on the stone bed—beneath a frame of flickering light from an old projector—until I finally arose, shut off the lights of the gallery, turned off the projector, and exited the darkened space. 

In the Wilderness (2018) Performance still.

OPP: Was there an overall narrative that a viewer could only understand if they saw the entire series?

TA: unmoored was significant for me as the performances could be experienced as distinct actions, yet each related to others through a conceptual thread based on repeated attempts—often absurd and futile—to mark experience and locate time. The gallery opening empty, and then activated each week through distinct performances that left physical traces, was a rare opportunity to experience space being created while memory could be witnessed and tracked. One could visit the gallery at any moment of the exhibition and find something to experience that was distinct and yet connected. Even empty, the gallery felt charged with anticipation of what was to come. What emerged was one of the most meaningful projects of my life, particularly the ongoing questions that continue to resonate beyond the clearing of the gallery space.


To see more of Thomas' work, please visit www.thomasalbrecht.com and follow him @thomasalbrecht69.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018) and Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019). Her work was recently included in the three-person show Manifestations at One After 909 (Chicago). Stacia's solo exhibition The Thin Line Between One Thing and Another just opened on January 16, 2020 at Finlandia University.

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tag:blog.otherpeoplespixels.com,2013:Post/1500735 2020-01-19T18:02:59Z 2020-01-26T05:08:19Z OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Seth Goodman

The Watersports Tape (2018) Gouache on Paper. 11" x 14"

SETH GOODMAN's figurative drawings and paintings are fictional vignettes created in response to reported news. His subjects range from America's ruling class—politicians, business men, federal judges, heads of state—to unknown individuals from the lower class, highlighting income and power disparities. His masterful rendering adds gravity to his satirical humor. Seth earned his BFA at University of North Carolina at Asheville and his MFA from Towson University in Maryland. He has exhibited across the U.S. and in Berlin, Germany, where he was an Artist-in-Residence at Takt Artist Residency (2012). In 2019, he opened two solo exhibitions: Behind the Capital Curtain at Lock Haven University (PA) and Certitudes and Tittle-Tattle at Howard County Community College (Baltimore). Seth is an Associate Professor of Art at Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, where he lives. 

OtherPeoplesPixels: What’s the best language to describe your work: satire, parody, allegory? 

Seth Goodman: Depending on the specific piece, I think I’m comfortable with allegory or satire. But on a more personal level, my work is a result of me feeling an intense responsibility to be informed and involved with some of the most significant current happenings in our world. I want to insert my voice in the larger conversation. I’ve trained as a painter my entire adult life. Given my control and understanding of the medium, I choose to make paintings and drawings about these important topical events and influential people. I listen to the news and podcasts as much as I possibly can, sometimes for twelve or more hours on studio days. I am absolutely obsessed with everything happening in our world, especially events that intersect with politics and economic injustice.  

Barbara Bush at the Border (2019) Gouache on Paper. 11" x 14"

OPP: It doesn’t seem though that your work advocates for any partisan point of view, so they aren't politically dogmatic, which is a good thing.

SG: I have no real interest in making work that is simply a reflection of my political beliefs or leanings. I’d classify the narrative elements in my work as closer to a visual form of prose poetry that’s heavily embedded in the power of both scenario and the use of known celebrity figures as conceptual symbols. Mix in a creative penchant to use episodic structure that is both physically apparent with compartmentalized spaces and with episodic narrative structure, and that’s essentially my work. The omnipresent third person voice represented in the text exudes a distinctly banal tone. I hope this brevity adds to the satisfaction the viewer can gain when absorbing or deconstructing the work more as poetry with hidden meaning. 

The Florence Fiasco (2016) Graphite and Gouache on Paper. 11" x 14"

OPP: Walk us through the choices you make in a single piece.

SG: In the painting Florence Fiasco, Mitch McConnell and Jared Fogle meet by chance while vacationing in Italy. Right away, I’m asking the viewer to connect these two public figures as spokesmen who represent entities beyond themselves. Both have a dark cloud hiding behind them. Jared's darkness is no longer hidden given that he’s currently living in prison. But with Mitch, just throw a dart at his voting record and you’ll probably find something that has either hurt the interests of the American people, caused pain to some group of human beings abroad in the form of military action or sanctions, or enriched the wealthiest among us under the guise of supply-side economics. They’re dressed as the quintessential dorky tourists, complete with comfy sneaks, light backpacks, ball caps for sun protection and cargo pockets to fit the extra gear. They are unable to connect to this other land and culture. Using the Rick Steves’ guidebook, they decide to hitch up to engage in the most cliché of tourist activities in Florence. No offense to Rick Steves, but he also represents the “square” who attempts to, but largely fails at, engaging the outside world on an equal level. They’re the cursed Americans giving all of us a bad name. United States domestic and foreign policy represents every single American regardless of who we voted for. Rightfully so, the world sees us and judges us based on our policies and actions.

Young Scalia (2016) Gouache on Paper. 11" x 14"

OPP: I feel an uncomfortable sensation of pity for the people you represent. The speculation about their private moments humanizes them, evoking empathy, while simultaneously revealing their hypocrisy, evoking disdain. What are your thoughts on this response?

SG: I’m absolutely thrilled and fascinated to hear you say “an uncomfortable sensation of pity.” When representing public figures, I often think about how our thirst to worship celebrities contributes to the superhuman status of star power. There’s a whole lot about the ruling class that disgusts me, but I think there’s a lot of grey area in there. Even the Dick Cheneys or Vladimir Putins of the world are not pure evil. What events in their personal history led them to act the way they do now? Thinking about our elected representatives, is it really so obvious that lawmakers are beholden only to corporate interests? A left of center example could be Cory Booker, who voted in 2017 against allowing Americans to purchase cheaper pharmaceuticals from Canada, stepping predictably in line with his heavy Big Pharma ties in New Jersey and with his past campaign contributions. Does Booker really think that his constituents believe that Canadian drugs are less safe? How is that possible? One right of center example is Jeff Sessions. He was denied a federal judgeship in the 80s for being overtly racist only to be confirmed just a few short years ago as America’s top law enforcement officer. In May of 2017, Sessions announced families crossing our border illegally would be separated, partly in the hope of establishing a deterrent from crossing. He even attempted to use Christian doctrine as a defense of his actions. I think it’s pretty safe to say Jeff Sessions is worthy of our condemnation, but there has to be more to it than that. I’m sure he doesn’t go home from work every night only to burn ants with a magnifying glass or torture little puppies. I love imagining what makes these people tick and attempting to poetically toy with the hypocrisy that might escape a mainstream view. 

I also love that you mention the “speculation about their private moments." I think this sentiment plays nicely with the tension imbued in the work involving a truth/rumor dynamic. Some scenarios are very obviously invented, occasionally introduced like gossip but very clearly as fiction. With some of the other situations that I portray, I’m hoping the viewer might really believe that they are true events. Maybe it’s something obscure that actually occurred involving a particular public figure. This tension is exciting for me to contemplate, especially when a work is finished and installed. It becomes an interesting intersection with the fake/partisan news movement that’s so prevalent today.

Diane's Nightly Ritual (2019) Gouache on Paper. 14" x 11"

OPP: I’ve noticed the glaring absence of President Donald Trump. Why? Too easy?

SG: I have really tried to steer away from Trump-centered narratives for a few reasons. First, so many satirical works about Trump are already being broadcast on a variety of different platforms that it’s like trying to bake a gourmet cake and sell it at Sam’s Club. It’s too easy for my message to get drowned out or get dumbed-down. Next, it’s too easy in the sense that his despicable and foolish behavior is very public. If he were a nicer person, I would feel deeply embarrassed for him. Lastly, I have dozens or even hundreds of ideas for new works that I’m very excited to make that do not involve portraying Trump directly. I can largely avoid him without sacrificing anything. 

That said—because I absolutely could not resist—I have recently made two works that include Trump. The Episode of Rosanne that Never Aired portrays the Connor gang traveling by royal carriage in a foreign land. Along the way, they picked up a stray dog and a few disheveled orphan children. They eventually get to a great fortification, and the gate is manned by Trump. Will he let them pass? I thought this plot would have been a plausible future episode of Rosanne that also would’ve actually guest-starred Trump, if the show wasn’t cancelled. The other work depicting Trump needs to be properly photographed before posting to my website, but it’s about Trump’s Access Hollywood comments coming alive in a fictional version of his man cave. It also involves Ivanka and Trump’s need to “make great deals.”

Proletariat Parade Goer (2018) Oil and Gouache on Board. 20" x 18"

OPP: Tell me about the Proletariat works from 2018. In these paintings, unknown consumers, voters, protestors evoke zombies for me. Whose perspective is being represented here?

SG: This short series is mostly about the socioeconomic class convulsions in America. The protagonist certainly has zombie-like qualities, but he’s not a zombie. He originates from a 1980s American cult classic movie Robocop. There’s an infamous scene that shows the bad guy getting doused with toxic waste, then waddling around with his flesh melting off yelling “Help me! Help me!” Even if viewers don’t recognize the specific movie reference, I thought he would be a good form to represent the underclass as repulsive and damaged. 

The specific scenarios and accompanying text allow for a more nuanced exploration of class strata concerns. One work shows a shopper at Hobby Lobby uncontrollably salivating from sale prices, only to be considered freakish by the cashier. With this, I’m asking the viewer to recall the controversies about the hard-right, Christian-owned Hobby Lobby empire. One involved denying contraceptive options to employees and the other was about the illegal smuggling of countless, historically important, artifacts out of the Middle East into a personal collection. Within the painting, the packed store shelves may prompt connections to the object hoarding and the class separation of wealth while the salivation reference may speak more to the contraception angle with salivation being an uncontrollable biological action akin to sex drive. The reaction of disgust by the cashier is meant to speak to ideas of judgement. 

Another work in the series speaks more to the celebrity worship of the ruling or political class and how insignificant the commoners or proletariat-class can be considered. A crowd of sign-bearing supporters assembles, en masse, to see a glimpse of the passing presidential motorcade. My proletariat character pushes his way directly into the path of the motorcade procession. This is, in one respect, a nod to the demise of the Robocop character being smashed and subsequently liquefied by a fast moving car. It’s also meant to show the obscene lengths we will go to in order to view of the rich and famous. The motorcade protects the ruling class from outside threats, and in this instance, it also insulates them from our filthy and damaged bodies and our unbearable presence.  

Unsettled Proletariat (2018) Oil on Paper. 22" x 28"

OPP: Earlier works revolve around unrecognizable “common people” of America. I’m thinking of works like Coping with End Times (2014), Supporting the Troops Without a First Thought (American Edition) (2015) and Inside the Single Wide (2011). Are these based on actual individuals, or are these allegorical Americans? What is being critiqued in these earlier works?  

SG: I grew up in a low-income small town in Upstate New York that was located next to a very high-income town, Saratoga Springs. This shaped my perspective early on in life to be concerned with income and class disparities in America. Seeing the world through a lens based on class and wealth remains a noticeable component of my current work as well.

Economic inequality is arguably the most pressing issue of our day. My earlier work attempts to connect with these issues but from the bottom up. Much like Harmony Korine did with the movie, Gummo, I want to give a voice to America’s underclass but do it largely informed by my personal history. So, to answer your question more directly, some of the painted characters may reference myself, others might connect loosely to people that I’ve known in the past but have a likeness that is appropriated, while others are folks that I’ve actually come across or know intimately.

The Bet (2018) Gouache on Paper. 11" x 14"

OPP: Tell us about your most recent solo exhibition Behind the Capital Curtain, which opened in November 2019. What was the overall goal of this show?

SG: I’ve had an extremely productive period in the last three years or so. Behind the Capital Curtain was my second solo exhibition in 2019, and it contained a large group of the work that I made over that three-year period.  

More than anything, I’m hoping the viewer will become more interested in the movements of our political system and world events and the innate responsibility that we have to become an active part of it. I feel this is the most realistic “best case” to expect from the viewer. It’s highly doubtful that I will have the power to change a person’s political stance, especially considering the divisiveness of the times we live in.  There’s a ton of outstanding, relevant and original creative content out there that we can engage with and I need to feel that what I’m saying is worth the viewer’s time and effort. If I can spark an interest in people to think about some of these topics more deeply, then I’ve more than done my job.

To see more of Seth's work, please visit sethgoodman.net.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018) and Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019). Her work was recently included in the three-person show Manifestations at One After 909 (Chicago). Stacia's solo exhibition The Thin Line Between One Thing and Another opened on January 16, 2020 at Finlandia University.


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tag:blog.otherpeoplespixels.com,2013:Post/1497026 2020-01-08T18:29:41Z 2020-01-08T20:05:51Z OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Judith Brotman

Because the Object Was of an Amicable Nature (Unless and Until Backed Into a Corner) (left) and Because the Object Spoke Both Harshly and Adoringly of You (But Never in Your Presence or Above a Whisper) (right) (2019). Mixed media.

JUDITH BROTMAN's interdisciplinary practice revolves around text, material and process. All of these are employed in the act of inquiry into the complex nature of a human life. In awkwardly elegant installations and precarious sculptures, she cultivates an aura of uncertainty and a poignant combination of anxiety and confusion with touches of resilient optimism. Her text pieces, most recently created for the context of Instagram, and audio works that address the viewer in the second-person balance the fantastical with the mundane, encouraging the viewer to think more deeply about their own, often conflicting, motivationsJudith earned both her BFA and MFA from School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her work is included in the public collections of the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), Illinois State Museum (Chicago) and the Joan Flasch Artists' Book Collection (Chicago). In 2019, Judith's work was included in A Creep that Snakes: A Tic of Words and Symbolsa two-person show with Dutes Miller and curated by Scott Hunter (Tiger Strikes Asteroid, Chicago) and Breach of Contractcurated by Paul Hopkins (Heaven Gallery, Chicago). In May 2020, her work will be included in a group show at Heaven Gallery, curated by Lauren Ike. Judith lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You gravitate towards recognizable objects one might buy at a hardware or drug store—bungee cords, wire, napkins, plastic tubing—as well as objects that look like they were once part of some functioning system. What draws you to these materials?

Judith Brotman: The work I have on my OPP website goes back about 15 years. Throughout this time, I have gravitated toward humble and/or useful materials. A very incomplete list includes such things as dead leavesbook pages, thread, wire, paper, napkins, tissues, and—as you mentioned—hardware store objects.    

As I am inordinately unhandy, I rarely know the actual functions of the hardware store objects when I purchase them. I simply gravitate to shapes, textures, colors that interest me and whose uses might be loosely implied. I believe there is a unique, visceral response to seeing something even vaguely familiar: objects that refer in some way to a lived life. Everyone recognizes a napkin and its function; I’m interested both in working with AND subverting the original function. 

I frequently combine like and unlike materials. In some of my sculpture pieces, I hope to convince the audience, even for a moment, that the transition from one material to the next is a natural one—especially when it is not! The possibility of a transformative experience is part of the content of my work, and I use material shifts/transformations as a metaphor for that.

Because Just East of Heaven is Somewhere Else (2019). Mixed media. Dimensions variable.

OPP: Have your material choices changed over the years?

JB: In more recent work (the past 3 to 5 years), my material choices have become increasingly specific. I’ve been working a lot with tissues—unused! The first two pieces that incorporated them were titled Kleenex (highly embellished) From My Mother's Funeral and Strange Object Purchased on My Last Day in Vienna and Kleenex (embellished) From My Therapist's Office. The tissues were embellished with sequins and beads and combined with other objects. Since then, I’ve been asking certain people, usually close friends, if they will give me tissues to be used in my work. I think of these tissues as carriers of the giver’s emotions; that aspect is very important to me. 

Embellishment is meant to decorate and add weight/meaning to what is considered to be a highly disposable object. On the other hand, I also consider it to be a rather absurd and compulsive gesture to heavily embellish something as fragile and disposable as a tissue; they are among my most labored pieces, although I am aware they won’t last very long. Often the tissues begin to shred even as I am working on them. Much of my work doesn’t survive more than one or two showings. I am very interested in the ephemeral and this, too, impacts my material choices.

Highly embellished Kleenex with just enough space left to absorb nine tears (2019).

OPP: I also notice a lot of wrapping, winding and twisting in wound strips of paperFrench knotstwisted wire and knotted thread. Why these actions over and over again? Do you see these actions as metaphors?

JB: I do see these actions as metaphors—even multiple metaphors. It’s important in my work to include these stitches, twists, etc., as evidence of the maker’s hand and the process of making. In past work—larger installations—the winding and twisting were often structural, used as a joining mechanism. Lately the repetitive marks have become increasingly decorative in the form of sequins, beads and stitches. I also use these repetitive gestures as a nod toward the passage of time.

Untitled (The Odyssey) (2016). All the pages of Homer's "The Odyssey"-stitched & altered. Dimensions variable.

OPP: In your statement, you speak of the “space of not knowing.” Your visual language “suggests the unfinished or incomplete, and might evoke the question, ‘What happens next?’”  How do viewers respond to “the resulting cliffhanger of uncertainty?”

JB: That’s a great question. I’m not sure that anyone, including me, loves uncertainty. Many of us try very hard to think and even construct ways to believe certainty exists. But as far as I know, it does not. I think one can develop a tolerance for not knowing or uncertainty, and I believe it makes for a richer, more complex life. 

My work has increasingly taken on a political stance. I’ve always considered my work a kind of meditation on who and what can be known, understood, undertaken and even accomplished in the context of a lifetime. In recent years, the distinction between the personal and political has blurred for me, and I see all of it as uncertain AND interrelated. 

Slow Time (2016). Mixed Media. Dimensions variable

OPP: I’m surprised to hear you use the word “political” in relation to your work, but I think I know what you mean. The inherent uncertainly of life has become more glaringly obvious in today’s political landscape. And, of course, the personal is political. Is self-reflection a political act?

JB: I'm not interested in telling people what to think as I don't believe that it serves much purpose in any real way. But I do feel that paying close attention to what/how one thinks has the capacity to impact all aspects of a lived life. . . personal & social/political. The fundamental question driving all my work is: How do you commit to the things that matter most (relationships, profession, social/political/ethical beliefs) in an uncertain world? I have more questions than answers, but a partial response is that ongoing self-reflection can be a way of better knowing ourselves and our very complicated and precarious motivations.  

The possibility, as opposed to the certainty, of transformation is also, as I mentioned, an important aspect of my work. Self-reflection, very careful listening to others, and an openness to uncertainty are pathways to transformation. 

I have been asked on occasion if I’m interested in resolving and/or concluding. I am not. My perspective is that as long as we’re breathing, we’re in flux. That is both the good and the bad news. It’s pretty great that we have the opportunity to revise and rethink over the course of an entire lifetime. But expecting our most tenaciously held beliefs will serve us well forever can be a dangerous game. 

Instagram post, 2019

OPP: You’ve worked with text for a long time in a variety of ways. For at least a year, if not more, I’ve been seeing your multiple-choice napkins in my Instagram feed, which is a refreshing pause in the stream of images. Can you talk about your choice to write in the second person?

JB: I write in the second person in most of my text-based work, including older audio pieces in which I narrate a series of mini-fictions about what will happen to “you.” I write this way as means of seeming to speak directly to each individual person in the audience.  

The multiple-choice format on the napkins implies that a response is called for with each post. I do think about the multiplicity of 'you's (friends, colleagues, students, strangers) as I write for Instagram, even though I have no idea who will be reading any particular post. I am aware of the fact that some of my close friends will read this work very differently than a total stranger might because the line is blurred between my life and a fictional persona I’ve created. 

Life In Progress (2019). Napkin, sequins

OPP: Has Instagram changed the way you think about text?

JB: Instagram has changed a lot of my thinking— period!  No one would ever recognize this from my many (many many) posts, but I have been ambivalent about it from the start. I am more interested in work that is processed slowly over time. And I have similar feelings about life; understanding is something that takes time and evolves slowly over the course of a lifetime, and only with a commitment to self-reflection. Instagram is, of course, largely the opposite: instantaneous, quickly digested and then forgotten. New and different tends to rule on social media.  

Initially, like many artists, I was posting images of my work and life. But about two years ago, I began posting the napkins. Many of the questions and answers are darkly funny and quite a few are also on the personal side. I truly had no expectations about whether or not people would respond. In fact, I most likely would have predicted they would not, perhaps because in similar circumstance, I probably would not respond. (The secret is out!) I have been amazed and actually quite moved at the number of people who have responded and consistently respond. Posting on Instagram continues to feel very experimental to me because I’m typically unable to predict what people will respond to most. I feel as if Instagram has made me braver and has encouraged me to dig deeper within THIS body of work, as the posts that are the most raw seem to get the best response. 

Instagram post, 2019

OPP: Do you create work just for Instagram?

JB: My current Instagram work (short texts written on my hands) is only meant for Instagram; I have no interest in showing it elsewhere. This is actually the first time I’ve felt that a body of work is ONLY meant for that format. Sometimes I try to push my own boundaries and post something I anticipate will not get a positive response.  My success rate of predicting is very low. 

When I talk about looking for responses to my text posts on Instagram, I’m not referring to a wish to be “liked.”  (Which, of course, we all do to some extent!)  But these posts, as opposed to most other work I do, have a performative or call/response aspect to them, and I’m very interested in seeing how far and where this interaction can go!   

My Instagram posts are, in many ways, a critique of social media even while being a part of it. I believe social media does indeed serve a useful function. But I am critical of how it overshadows real life interactions. I enjoy much that I see on Instagram and Facebook. I appreciate the opportunity to celebrate my friends’ good news and successes and to respond when something sad is posted. But I also grow weary of the posts that serve no function other than over-the-top narcissism, proclaiming a charmed existence that none of us actually inhabit. I question the “social” function of these posts. Admittedly, social media is addictive, and I spend much more time on it than I ever dreamed I would.  

Instagram feed, 2019.

OPP: I keep trying to come up with a phrase to describe the nature of the text: playful musing, philosophical inquiry, mindful observation, stream of consciousness, mindless chatter brought about by boredom.

JB: Terrific list! The only one that doesn’t personally resonate is mindless chatter brought about by boredom; I’m almost never bored. I do mean for my writing to have a humorous component, but I’m also extremely serious about the work. In that sense, philosophical inquiry is the closest to what I consider the heart of the work.  

The humor and play are ways to catch your interest. I often give away the napkins as gifts at exhibitions. I feel that if I’m really asking someone to consider and reconsider their thinking, then perhaps there should be something gifted to them in exchange. I’m not sure that any one or two napkins or texts give a strong sense of what the inquiry is or where it’s headed. That’s why the Instagram format is particularly useful for this body of work. Over time the dark humor becomes more pointed and so does the thrust toward self-scrutiny. It also becomes clearer over time and many napkins that no singular answer is ever sufficient. We are much too complex for that. 

Instagram post, 2019

OPP: In each of these, I imagine you simply jotting down your thoughts. Do you carefully craft the texts in your work or do you think them and record?  

JB: The extent of crafting depends upon which of my text-based works we’re discussing. I spend the longest time crafting and revising my audio pieces. In works like As the Story Opens and The 93 Days of Summer, I narrate how life will unfold for “you.” These are focused on uncertainty with mundane, spectacular and unsettling events transpiring over time. All the while, you are encouraged to pay careful attention despite the chaos and randomness. I have spent up to a year or more on these pieces, longer than almost any sculpture installation I’ve created. Certainly, the napkins and other Instagram pieces do not involve anywhere near this kind of revision. But I do spend more time with them than one might assume. They are meant to appear spontaneous and automatic, as if I couldn’t get my thoughts out quickly enough.  

I do, in fact, write a lot. Often my morning coffee is accompanied by jotting down whatever I’m thinking about. . . unedited. Some of this writing is kept and revised but much of it is thrown away at the end of the day. The reality is that there’s an enormous difference between my stream-of-consciousness writing and anything that’s shown or posted. Much more so than in my 3D work, I think about the reader quite a bit as I write.  

I see text having various and slightly different roles in each of my current bodies of work. Titles have become increasingly important to me, so much so that I consider them as important as the images/objects. Recent installation titles such as The Ghosts From Your Past Will Be Late For Dinner (but may be on time for other meals and activities) and Because Certainty (having no tongue) Couldn't (exactly) Say clearly give an enormous amount of direction for understanding the work. 

My Instagram post today was three words written on a napkin in cursive with a Sharpie: "Can you talk.” Yes, people seemed to like it. The question is: am I making inroads into real communication or going straight down the slippery slope I’m so adamantly against?  To be continued. . .

To see more of Judith's work, please visit www.judithbrotman.com and her Instagram @judithbrotman.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018) and Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019). Her work was recently included in the three-person show Manifestations at One After 909 (Chicago). Stacia's solo exhibition The Thin Line Between One Thing and Another opens on January 16, 2020.

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tag:blog.otherpeoplespixels.com,2013:Post/1494605 2020-01-01T13:43:34Z 2020-01-01T16:51:46Z Another one bites the dust—
In other words, Happy New Year!!! January 1st is an opportunity to reflect on the past year and make plans for the near future. (Resolution #1: to update my OPP website regularly!) Before delving into 2020, I'd like to take this opportunity to reflect on my favorite OPP interviews of the past year. These five artists stood out to me, both for their excellent work and their clear articulation of their content. Please take some time to read their interviews. 

SARAH K. WILLIAMS' background is in painting and sculpture, but "perfectly still objects make [her] restless." She creates scores for sculptural performances, both performing herself and directing others. These hard-to-classify works linger in between theater, performance art and sculpture. (Read the interview)

Mid-Sized Creatures: a 3-act sculptural performance for 3 performers and cello. 2017. 
Performers: Annelyse Gelman, Thalia Beaty, Ashley Williams, and Sarah Williams. Cello: Clare Monfredo. Text: Ashley Williams 

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CHRISTOPHER LIN combines organic materials—plants, soil, teeth, hair—with synthetic and technological materials like polystyrene, electrical cords and LED lights. His sculptures and installations are thoughtful arrangements of found objects that make the familiar just unfamiliar enough to elicit contemplation. . . of climate change, of the impermanence of the body and self, and of the contemporary human condition. (Read the interview)

Excoriate, 2015. Glue, skin, hair, and gut sutures. 1 x 48 x 36 inches.

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Influenced by science fiction, history and hip-hop, DONTÉ K. HAYES works in the spirit of Afrofuturism. His hand-built ceramics allude to the black body through texture and color, while his titles refer to both the imagined possibilities and the historical truth of the African Diaspora. (Read the interview)

Dalek, 2018. Ceramic. 16" x 13" x 13"

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Performance, persona and endurance are driving forces in the videos and photography of ANNETTE ISHAM. With a penchant for the absurd, she explores a range of subjects, from "middle school sociology" to competitiveness to a near mystical relationship between various female protagonists and their surrounding landscapes. (Read the interview)

Woman and Landscape Still 2, 2014. Video still.

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JOSÉ SANTIAGO PÉREZ combines coiling, one of the oldest human technologies, with the brand-spanking-newness of plastics, a material that will likely outlast human life on the planet. He thinks metaphorically about the relationship between the passive core and active element, while his color palate of pastels and neons evokes the "remembered colorscape of L.A. in the 80s and 90s." (Read the interview)

Aytú, 2019. wall hanging

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tag:blog.otherpeoplespixels.com,2013:Post/1485475 2019-12-04T17:13:09Z 2020-04-27T10:34:10Z OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Michael Zachary

Cover Version, Frederick Church's "Above The Clouds", 2019. CMYK ink markers on paper. 15 x 22 inches.

For MICHAEL ZACHARY, drawing is analogous to the JPEG, a now-dominant mode of image compression and consumption. His meticulously rendered landscapes are composed of interconnecting CMYK lines that refer to etching, engraving and commercial printing. By visually revealing the mechanics of his drawing process, he points to the "false dichotomy between the way we romanticize nature and intellectualize technology." After all, vision itself is a lossy process. Michael received his MFA from Massachusetts College of Art and Design and is a recipient of support from The Berkshire-Taconic Foundation’s Artist Resource Trust, The Massachusetts Cultural Council, Boston University’s Blanche Coleman Trust and the Surdna Foundation. His most recent solo exhibition was Mistranslations of Nature and Mistranslations of Mistranslations of Nature (2019) at The Magenta Suite (Exeter, NH). His work is available for purchase through Room 68  (Provincetown, MA), and his self-published catalog will be available on his website in December 2019. He has been an ongoing contributor to Big Red & Shiny: Boston’s Online Art Journal since 2011. Michael lives and works in Boston.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us about your artistic background. Has drawing always been your chosen medium?

Michael Zachary: Like a lot of artists, I started out painting. But I just didn’t like the way most people look at paintings. I like to go to museums and watch other people watching works of art. You can actually learn quite a lot from watching how they see. I started to get the feeling that lots of people don’t even really look at paintings at all. It’s like they just think “OK, this is a painting and I know how I am supposed to react to it so I’ll go through the approved motions” and the experience of actively looking and discovering things in the work just kind of stops before it even gets going. There is an authority to painting they just can’t get past. So, part of my motivation wasn’t to start making drawings per se but to make some hybrid things that existed between the established categories and short-circuited people’s attempts to define them. I was hoping that when people saw my pictures, they would have to ask themselves “What is it? Is it tactile or digital? A drawing or painting? Handmade or mechanical?” and that the work would elude all of these easy definitions and force them to do a bit of thinking and a bit of looking and come to their own conclusions. That was my initial impulse. It was only later that I started to realize how well those instincts mapped onto some of the other seemingly unrelated questions I had been thinking about.

Waves Study, 2019. CMYK ink markers on paper. 15 x 22 inches.

OPP: What kind of questions? I’ve heard you refer to drawing as “an emerging and experimental technology”…

MZ: I think a lot about how drawing relates to our dominant mode of image creation and consumption, which is the JPEG. And I think most of us definitely haven’t thought deeply enough about how digital tools change the way we see. We should be thinking about levels of compression and resolution because levels of compression and resolution create a subtle but pervasive hierarchy of information. They separate what we see into the qualities the jpeg algorithms can record and those they can’t. But the problem is that all that happens effortlessly and invisibly at the level of the code, so we just sort of accept the fact that the jpegs on our screens are reasonable facsimiles of reality. But they aren’t! And that is where the parallels between drawing and coding become really interesting to me.

The problem with code is how static it is. The algorithms are always the same; all jpegs contain the same kind of information. The surface is always the same and the structure is always hidden so they just feel interchangeable and disposable to me. And drawing feels like it does exactly the opposite thing. The great thing about drawing is that it can be algorithmic like code, but you can also change the rules whenever we want, so you can pick and choose what information is most important at any given point in the drawing. And that makes drawing a more flexible and adaptive technology than the jpeg. It’s slower, but it is always adapting itself to the moment and increases our agency rather than limiting it.

Detail

OPP: Limit is a good word. Can you talk about the self-imposed limitations of your practice and how they serve your conceptual interests?

MZ: Honesty and transparency are really important to me. I’ve never liked work that is too arcane or hermeneutic because they seem like huckster’s tricks that build up myths around artists, making us seem more mysterious and powerful than we really are. If you view drawing as rule-based and algorithmic—which I do—then why keep the rules a secret? That is an unfair way to play a game and disrespectful to your play partners in the audience. No fun for them at all. So, I set as one of my basic rules that I would limit my mark making to only the most basic and affectless marks. Nothing up my sleeve. I want any poetry and excitement I manage to put in my drawings to come from someone being able to follow my decisions and my thought process as directly and effortlessly as possible. Anyone should be able to do what I do. No special tricks required. 

And of course, I also limit my level of resolution in these drawings as well. I could draw with a much smaller aperture between the lines and make drawings that would be much higher in “resolution.” But I don’t want to give you everything. Not because I enjoy playing coy, but because seeing by eye is a “lossy” process just like the jpeg algorithm is. And I’d rather be honest about that. I want to record the signal where I can record it in a phenomenologically accurate way, but I also want you to know where the gaps are. I don’t want to fill them up with noise to cover my tracks.

Tangle 1, 2018. CMYK ink markers on paper. 20 x 17 inches.

OPP: What are the sources for your landscape drawings?

MZ: They all start with direct observation of real places. From there, it’s a bit of a process of deconstruction and distillation. I take a lot of source photos and then I use every trick in the book to play around with one simple idea: How much can I take away without changing the fundamental experience of this place? What information should be conserved through the act of drawing and what should be eliminated? The really interesting thing is that these questions don’t really change if we shift our frame of reference from our optic nerve and visual cortex to digital algorithms or to a drawing. Biological and technological systems seem to follow the same basic rules to answer the same basic question: What part of this is the signal and what part is noise? 

Cover Version, Martin Johnson Heade's "Orchids and Hummingbird", 2019. CMYK ink markers on paper. 14.5 x 23 inches.

OPP: That logic could be applied to any place, or even an object. But you very intentionally choose landscapes as your imagery. Why?

MZ: Landscape is the perfect vehicle because we have this false dichotomy between the way we romanticize nature and intellectualize technology. We think of nature and of seeing by eye as objectively “real” rather than socially and biologically constructed, and we think of technology as somehow fake. It just doesn’t hold up to real scrutiny. As soon as you start superimposing digital ideas over drawing ideas over the way biology works and all those distinctions between artificial and natural, mechanical and organic start to collapse. When that happens,  then we can start to ask the right questions and see where they lead. In my mind, those are the questions about resolution and projection, about what we aren’t seeing and what we are actually constructing in our heads and then projecting onto the landscape.

Horizon Line, Glasgow, 2017. CMYK ink markers, conte crayons, and graphite on paper. 18.5 x 16.5 inches.

OPP: While looking at your work, I’m thinking about the relationship between pointillism—and the Impressionists as precursor to your work—and pixelation. The CMYK pens and pencils clearly reference to both digital color printing and screenprinting. Why lines instead of dots?

MZ: As I said, I don’t see much distinction between digital algorithms and pointillism or the history of etching and engraving that these drawings also echo. To me they are all different technological answers to the basic questions about how we see. There is a great story John Cage tells where he talks about a teacher who kept demanding he find additional new solutions to a particularly challenging problem he had already solved. Finally, he arrived at a point when he had to admit there were no more solutions, to which his teacher replied, “What is the principle behind all of the solutions?” which is of course the most important question to ask. I hope by combining all these solutions at once in my drawings that I can ask a similar question.

As to the lines vs. dots issue, lines do something very important to me that dots don’t do: they thwart edge detection almost like camouflage. Using lines at the scale that I do, every mark is interwoven and completely contingent on every other mark. You can’t really isolate a single line or group of lines in the same way you can a dot or a group of dots, and that has important implications for how you navigate one of these drawings. I like the idea that at a basic level these drawings are all one interconnected field of information and that any borders or divisions you see are a result of what you bring to the drawing and not something I’m imposing on it. There is something about keeping things open and understanding that everything is part of everything else that cuts right to the heart of what I think seeing is. The parts are only ever understood in relation to the whole, never in isolation! I think that the imposition of borders and categories onto the landscape is a pretty powerful authority to have, and I don’t want it. I want you to have it and I want it to happen in your head, for you to have to construct those aspects of the experience for yourself. I really don’t believe in the idea of the artist as an authority, our exchange feels way better to me when the viewer is a co-equal partner and we both bring something to the image.

 Installing Sky Field, 2018. CMYK colored pencils and graphite on wall. 4 x 5 feet.

OPP: How is creating the wall drawings a different experience than making the drawings?

MZ: First of all, they are site contingent. They make me think very strategically about focal depths and levels of resolution, and how those things can change the way people move through a given space. And second, they are usually a collaboration with whatever community stakeholders invite me into their space. The haptic experience of drawing the lines over and over evokes thought processes that make them consider a lot of the questions we’ve been talking about in a very personal and felt way. After they draw with me, many people really understand these questions more viscerally than when they just look at the drawings.

I really love sharing that experience with people and seeing how it changes their perceptions. So, in many ways the wall drawings are the full realization of some of the ideas I’ve been working through in the drawings for years because of how they become heightened when they are shared. I hope to be doing many more of these collaborations in the future!

To see more of Michael's work, please visit drawsoftly.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018) and Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019). Her work was recently included in the three-person show Manifestations at One After 909 (Chicago).

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tag:blog.otherpeoplespixels.com,2013:Post/1480084 2019-11-20T16:26:24Z 2019-11-20T16:26:24Z OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Sonya Blesofsky

Acanthus Lintel: Ridgewood, 2019. Scraped paint.

SONYA BLESOFSKY's ephemeral installations and sculptures deal with decay, development and gentrification. She uses these issues as metaphors for loss, transition and memory. Her works depend—physically and historically—on their sites. Some consist of recreated elements of the built environment—both ornamental and functional—out of butcher paper, velum, cardboard and aluminum foil, while others are cuts directly into the gallery walls that reveal the hidden history of the building. Sonya earned her BFA in Community Studies/Studio Art at University of California Santa Cruz and her MFA in Painting at San Francisco Art Institute. Her solo projects are numerous, including shows in San Francisco, New York, Miami, and Knoxville. Most recently she created Window Study: St. Göran’s Gymnasium, Arkitekturens Grannar in Stockholm, Sweden. In 2019, she is a NYSCA/NYFA Fellowship Recipient in Architecture/Environmental Structures/Design. Sonya lives and works in Brooklyn.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You got your MFA in Painting in 2005, but you now work exclusively in sculpture and site-specific installation. What were your paintings like?

Sonya Blesofsky: My paintings dealt with some of the same anxieties and fears that my current installations address, and they represented the same issues of fragility and loss, only the power dynamic in the work was the opposite of the kinds of pieces I make now. The paintings were always received as having been made by a man. They were very large images of almost monstrous semi trucks painted on shiny metal.  I think they had qualities viewers equated with masculinity: strength, power, overt forcefulness, monstrousness that both attracted and repelled. (As an aside, I don’t like to characterize “masculinity,” but am conjecturing about what led people to assume the work was made by a man.)

Study for Gair Boiler, 2009. Butcher paper.

OPP: What led you to shift into 3D work?

SB: A pivotal piece that catalyzed the transition from 2D to 3D work was a small sculpture of a semi truck made of aluminum foil. Instead of asserting fear and power, this small piece turned the power dynamic on its head. It showed the viewer that they would need to exercise restraint to refrain from crushing the piece—which would have been very easy to do. Next up, I made a freeway overpass in cardboard, and that began my move into working with fragile materials. I created sculptural work in paper for the next ten years. Working in a 3D mode was a way to confront issues of power, fragility and my anxiety about everything in life being temporary in a more real and tangible way.

Gate and Razorwire, 2009. Vellum.

OPP:  You’ve mentioned fragility and impermanence. Can you talk specifically about how the materials you choose convey these concerns in works like Detour Ahead (2012), Study for TriBeCa Fire Escape (2007) and your 2011 show Tenement at Mixed Greens?

SB: I have always been concerned with loss—personal losses, community loss, and even the change and disappearance of inanimate things. I moved to NYC in 2005, which was the year the entire Brooklyn waterfront was rezoned, paving the way for over a decade of intensive change in the city. Working with paper, which is ubiquitous, temporary, and fragile, was a way to create a metaphor with my materials and speak to the fact that everything around us in the city is changing, will continue to change, and loss is an inherent part of living life.

I have a particular love for paper, and moreover, I’m happiest when making materials do what they’re not supposed to. Working with paper, foil and tape in a sculptural way was satisfying not only to my material sensibilities, but to my desire for a challenge, as it was always a great feat to get tape or paper to “stand” and form in three dimensions. There was always a lot of trial and error and learning as I went. On top of serving to push the metaphor, I am haunted by images of destruction—images of September 11th, for example—where metal structural columns are twisted and bent and look like they were made of aluminum foil.  

Façade, 2011. Installation view.

OPP: Can you talk about the visibility of support structures for freestanding objects in installations like Study in Proportions (2016), Afterimage (2017) and Sneaking into the Monument Lot from the Building on the Right (2019)?

SB: I am interested in underbuilt structures and makeshift architecture. I am not an engineer, nor architect, and the work is often about my vision for a structure to hold itself up with very little knowledge or planning on how to do so.  I tend to have a basic idea of how a structure will hold, but building structures on site is filled with unknown issues, and I end up creating a set of problems for myself that I have to be incredibly creative to get myself out of. So: ultimately I do know a bit about makeshift building.

I want to bring transparency to the fact that my structures are built on-site and with little planning, so I usually leave the process of making the work visible. As for holding up sculptural pieces with structures: in my latest work, I take a found architectural element and imagine where or how it might have been located in a domestic or utilitarian space. I look at clues in the found/scavenged elements and use those clues to tell me how the item might have been placed or used. For example, I look at notches and joinery in a structural beam to imagine how it might attach to a column, or how it might get angled in relation to other elements in a structure. 

Sneaking into the Monument Lot from the Building on the Right, 2019. Installation view.

OPP: In many recent installations, you cut into the walls of gallery spaces to reveal the bones of the buildings. Can you talk about the logistics of this kind of work?

SB: Cutting into walls is one of my most favorite parts of making the work. There is always something unknown, (will these studs be wood or metal?  Is there insulation back there?  Is there stucco over the brick? Where is the former window aperture behind here?) and often a small element of surprise. (I once based a good portion of an installation on a drawing—probably made by the contractor—I found behind a wall, along with a snap chalk line leveling the space.) I have learned that the craft of cutting is something important to me, and I take pains to make sure each cut doesn’t look like a crude cut made by an electrician to get to the conduit.  I carefully make cuts with a utility knife so that the cut is made with precision and care.  A hand saw will do almost the same precise cut, but the cleanest is with a utility knife, which takes time, strength and stamina.

Study for Bushwick Renewal: Voids, 2016. Existing studs and sheetrock, material removed.

OPP: Is it difficult to get exhibition spaces to allow you to make these modifications to their spaces?

SB: Every art space and gallery is different. I have been invited specifically to cut into a gallery’s walls, however, typically, it makes most art spaces, institutions and dealers a little uncomfortable when I start talking about cutting into their walls. Typically, I get asked to participate in an exhibition, and the organization/gallery asks for a proposal. I send them a proposal, and then I meet with them. Most galleries end up getting right on-board with my idea. With the others, I look them right in the eye and say, “I know this idea makes you uncomfortable, but I am going to ask that you consider my proposal very seriously.” I have become a fairly good plasterer, so I am capable of putting the walls back to their prior state.

Window Study: East 3rd Street Reveal I and II, 2017.

OPP: Why do you think it makes them so uncomfortable?

SB: My work has always involved acts of destruction in the process of creation, but walls are much more touchy for people. Walls are thought of as permanent—they’re actually not—and people are precious about their spaces.  Which I totally understand. My work is about asking the viewer/participant to confront their sense of preciousness, their attachment to things, whether those things be the walls of the space, or my artwork, which will eventually be destroyed when the exhibition comes down.  

Arson Study: Johnson Landmark Building, 2014 . Ebonized and burnt wood, powdered charcoal.

OPP: Architectural decay and failure serves both representational and metaphorical functions in your work. How so?

SB: I am interested in decay and failure related to architecture in seen and unseen ways. The sudden collapse of a building or a decaying historic structure are as important in my work as neighborhood rezoning and gentrification. These processes are brought on by myriad seemingly invisible forces that enable an historic building or ailing bridge to reach that state of disrepair in the first place. The causes are associated with our country’s hyper capitalist priorities. So, I am interested in historic preservation, but also in connecting the forces that drive urban development with the current social and economic issues that are their outcome.

I use issues of preservation, urban change, and destruction of historic structures as metaphors to discuss change and loss that are more personal to me. I have forever been fighting against a certain predisposition for sentimentality, and my experiences of transition and loss are some of the most profound I have gone through.  I use things like the loss of a structure as a metaphor to speak to the ways we regard the old and sick, as well as a way to speak to my own resistance to change.

To see more of Sonya's work, please visit sonyablesofsky.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018) and Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019). Her work was recently included in the three-person show Manifestations at One After 909 (Chicago).

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tag:blog.otherpeoplespixels.com,2013:Post/1474438 2019-11-06T12:54:34Z 2019-11-06T21:19:45Z OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews José Santiago Pérez

In[t][f]eriorities, 2019. sculpture (basketry)

JOSÉ SANTIAGO PÉREZ combines coiling, one of the oldest human technologies, with the brand-spanking-newness of plastics, a material that will likely outlast human life on the planet. He thinks metaphorically about the relationship between the passive core and active element, while his color palate of pastels and neons evokes the "remembered colorscape of L.A. in the 80s and 90s." José holds an MA from San Francisco State University and a BA from University of California, Santa Cruz. He earned his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His work has been exhibited in group shows in San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia and Boston. His solo shows include Flirting with Infinitudes (2018) at Wedge Projects and Passsivities (2019) at Ignition Project Space, and he has curated two exhibitions at the Leather Archive & Museum (all Chicago). In 2020, he will present solo shows at Pique Gallery (Cincinnati) and Roman Susan (Chicago). José lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: In your statement, you say you work “between the language and methodologies of craft, sculpture and performance.” I’d like to hear more about what distinguishes those methodologies? What do you use from each discipline?

José Santiago Pérez: These methodologies are valuable for how they inform and reform my approach to the body, its encounter with materials, and its experience of time. The hows of the encounter and how those hows do and possibly mean. I understand craft, sculpture and performance as ways of orienting the body towards and away from certain points of reference, personal and shared histories, objects or scenarios, etc. The combination of these orienting approaches makes a unique headspace possible for me as an artist. Together they shape relation and duration. They offer phenomenological ways of approaching an encounter and the possibility of relating to heres, nows, thens, theres, whats, whos, others. . . lo ce sea. How to approach. How to encounter. 

(Mint) Bights with Ornamental Edges,2018. Wall Hanging.

OPP: How do you relate to the languages of these disciplines?

JSP: I’m really interested in the mis/use of disciplinary language in my work. The ways disciplinary language makes and unmakes a knowing and known personhood. What one specialized discourse does—and how it does it—in a field where it doesn’t belong. The disciplinary attachments and entrenchments this trespassing and transposition might bring up for those of us that may be attached to disciplined entrenchments or trained to adhere to disciplined attachments.

This curiosity is partly rooted in trying to understand my experience of social life growing up in Los Angeles in the 80s and 90s as a non-belonger. I was marked brown in a white-oriented world, marked poor among privileged others, marked feminine in repressive masculine social spaces. A disorientation comes from being unable to enact the social scripts that organize relating, that make relating recognizable as relating correctly.

Today, i’m not as interested in laminating these circumstances or being attached to the difficult feelings around these circumstances. With the passage of time, I’ve become much more interested in the reparative joy and exuberant possibilities that may come from the mis/use of disciplinary languages. From one language trespassing into a field it does not belong. From the discursive formations that emerge from navigating a disciplinary space speaking a language foreign to it. What happens when craft-based processes are wrapped in the embodied, time-based language of performance, when a dramaturgy of sculpture is explored, when performance makes sculpture. . . algo así. . . ?

Re/Turn (Pipe), 2018. sculpture. variable

OPP: How do you think about color in general?

JSP: Growing up, our father used to work as a color mixer in a factory out in City of Industry. He mixed commercial color eight hours a day. Every day. For over twenty years. I grew up associating color with working class immigrant labor, with industry, work boots, sore bodies, sour dispositions and a bit of resignation. So i went monochrome for a few decades, to distance myself from that color story. . . and from being ‘de color’ laboring in color. A symptom of first-generation Salvadoran-American angst and internalized racism, I suppose. But. . . color is at the core of my family’s experience. It’s at my core. i’ve embraced and come to love and respect and understand it a little more. It’s taken time.  

In[t][f]eriorities (detail), 2019. sculpture (basketry). Photo Credit: Karolis Usonis

OPP: What about your palate of pastels and neons, specifically?

JSP: My recent palate—pink, tangerine, baby blue, mint, and lavender—condenses the remembered colorscape of L.A. in the 80s and 90s. Sometimes i get homesick and need color therapy. It immediately brings to mind summer days spent on the cross-town bus to and from Santa Monica Beach; the fumy atmosphere around neon plastic, utilitarian commodities, like a neon pink fly swatter or a mint laundry hamper, in densely packed the swap meets; the tangerine colored Spanish revival house in East LA that blasted ranchera music on Sunday afternoons. Neon squiggles and minty palm tree motifs. The palate is cheap, kitschy, nostalgic, unnatural and a bit unsophisticated. It pairs nicely with my plastic materials, which are often accused of having the same qualities.

I also use this color palette to encode the work in other personal narratives that i choose to withhold from the viewer. Like the hanky code, the use of color in my work signals different kinds of combined and condensed relations, archetypes, orientations and fixations. Their meaning is legible to those in the know. In my work, the encoded content isn’t limited to forms of sexual relating. I explore a wide range of pleasures and pains that come from relating, of being in specific arrangements of relating, of being in relation. . . entwined in relation. Color, for me, is where the relational magic and medicine is housed in my work. And in following Long Valley Cache Creek Pomo basket weaving Mabel McKay (1907-1993). . . the magic and medicine is the content that is not talked about.

And it helps that these pastels and neons look really cute together! 

Re/Coil (lavendar), 2018. sculpture (basketry). 7"d x 6"h

OPP: Coiled basketry is ubiquitous and unnoticed in contemporary life. I see it all the time, but most people haven’t thought deeply about the process.

JSP: Like textiles, coiled forms have been with us for thousands of years. Coiled baskets—as well as plated and twined baskets—have always been contemporary and have been companion-objects in domestic, social, agricultural, commercial, and spiritual life. They are helper objects. They extend the capacities of the body, the cupping of hands. They hold. They store. They keep. Cary. Gather. Collect. Process. In a sense, baskets have held human experience in their curved interiors. They’ve also been beautiful companions, and have been intentionally designed, patterned and embellished for aesthetic reasons. In some instances, the aesthetic, functional and spiritual are all woven into a basket and are intimately wrapped up together. Living, to quote Vietnamese filmmaker Trin T Minh-ha, is round.

And yet, the ubiquity of baskets, as you point out, renders them invisible. Disposable. Replaceable. Utilitarian. Ordinary. I mean, how often does our gaze linger on and wonder at a basket of chips at a taqueria? I’ve found that there is a tendency for basketry to be devalued and dismissed in the hierarchy of craft as contemporary art. Is it too crafty? Too caught up in an economy of the anthropological and ethnographic? Caught in a prison of function? Baskets exceed some boundaries, but don’t measure up in other ways. In short, basketry seems to be positioned as the lesser of the craft practices; a lesser of anything is always the condition for the elevation of another anything. That contingency of value interests me. It is a situatedness I am familiar with porque lo he vivido. Porque lo hemos vivido. By making plastic baskets, i foreground that economy of value.

Basket weavers, too, have historically been unnamed and unmarked, rendered unremarkable anonymities, like in many craft traditions. There are notable exceptions: Mabel McKay’s exquisite coiled baskets with innovations in beading and feather embellishment, Ed Rossbach’s plaited polyethylene baskets from the 1970s, John McQueen’s figurative and text-based baskets, and McArthur Genius Mary Jackson, who’s been coiling sweetgrass in the Lowcountry tradition for decades. But for the most part, basket weavers tend to go unnoticed in many instances. 

Yesterday's Treasures, 2019. sculpture (basketry)

OPP: Let’s talk about the process of coiling. How is it a metaphor for human experience? Tell us about the relationship between the “passive core and the active element”?

JSP: The choreography of coiling involves the wrapping of a pliable and linear material around another fairly pliable linear material. Wrapping is a process i love because it brings my attention to the body and the cycle of breathing. . . the circulation of air. An air current that is drawn in and a line that exhaled outward. The outside becomes the inside, then turns inside out. Regardless of the materials used to coil, the process of coiling remains pretty constant: wrap, guide the work into a circular or ovoid shape and stitch the current coiled material to the preceding coil. I tend to use a figure 8 stitch. Coiling is always re/turning and repeating infinitely.

Wrapping and coiling, for me, also materialize the rhythm and interval between arrival and departure. This process enacts the conditions that make desire possible. Desire being the drive to re/turn the distance between the other that desires and the other that is desired. The interval between loss and return being desire. For me, wrapping and coiling touch and handle the promise of return, the satisfaction of desire. And also the frustrations and anxieties of unresolved desire.

When i first started reading about coiled basketry, i kept running into variations of the term “passive” and “active” to differentiate the two material components necessary to create a coiled form. At the time i was working in a sex museum and my workdays slid across the spectrum of sub/dom, bottom/top, etc. I immediately started thinking of the passive core and active element of coiled basketry in proximity to the terms of ‘passivo’ and ‘activo’, the passive/active positionalities in sex play. I’m really interested in wrapping that spectrum of positions and erotics around the language of basketry and am understanding coiled baskets as forms that are both orifices and protrusions of varying degrees, that are not necessarily anatomical, but evoke a kind of repetition of offering and receiving. Touching and being touched. Holding and being held. Objects materializing the encounter of touch, contact, and intimacy.

One of the things i explore in my work with traditional and abstracted baskets is the ways in which those two foundational elements—a passive core and an active element—are co-constituting. One makes the other possible and vice versa. Coiled form is only possible through the repetitive relation of passivity and activity. In some of my baskets, plastic sheeting is used as a passive core and colored plastic lacing is used as the active element. In the new series of abstract baskets i’m working on for my upcoming show at Roman Susan, those positions are inverted. They’re a bunch of lovely little inverts!

Testimonio, 07, 2019. coiled emergency blankets and plastic lacing.

OPP: You’ve recently begun working with emergency blankets as a coiling core. Talk to us about this material and why you choose it.

JSP: Oof. . . when the first images of immigrant children in Texan detention facilities began circulating last year, i was really shaken to the core by what was happening. I kept thinking about all my family members, neighbors, friends and lovers, who have crossed the Mexico-U.S. border in search of protection, opportunity, a chance to secure the possibilities for a sustainable life, a sense of sovereignty. If it weren’t for the fact that they came to the U.S. prior to these current immigration policies, they may have wound up in densely packed cages, separated from their kin. . . where the home and shelter of a trusted adult’s embrace is replaced with a metallic, crinkly and almost weightless rectangle of alien material. Alien material….

Eventually, media coverage cycles through and attention shifts focus. There is so much scandal and corruption to attend to with the current Administration that the detention crisis at the border becomes one of a continuous stream of unprecedented perversions of the fantasy of U.S. democracy. Like the ubiquity of baskets, the continued kidnapping of children and holding them as political hostages runs the risk of becoming invisible. Performance theorist Diana Taylor coined the term “percepticide” to describe the psychic impact of the Dirty War in Argentina on the general public. The horrors enacted by the military dictatorship eventually reached a saturation point, and the kidnappings and disappearances enacted on the streets of Buenos Aires in broad daylight were no longer registered by the general public. . .  a kind of willful self-blinding.

I choose to work with the thin plastic sheeting treated with aluminum vapor we know as emergency blankets because its material properties record every fold, twist and gather. They become imprinted into its substance. Emergency blankets remember and record their interaction with the body. Recall those images of detention centers littered with crumbled silvery sheets. I’m employing it as a core for abstract coiled baskets because it materializes the condition of detained immigrants right now. At the core, i am an immigrant. And if we think far back enough. . . we’ll remember that the majority of us are held in that categorical basket, too.

Aytú, 2019. wall hanging

OPP: Aytú, Aynotú and Aysitú all collapse the rectangle and the grid and embrace the floppiness of plastics. This brings to mind the way the early American Fiber Artists embraced the material qualities of their work for formal innovation, but tried to sidestep the cultural meanings. But I think you are interested in both the materiality and the connotations of the materials. Can you talk about the connotations of plastic in general and of the specific plastics you choose?

JSP: Totally! Fiber artists like Arturo Sandoval were weaving and plaiting polymer-based materials like celluloid and mylar into wall hangings in the 60s and 70s, and Ed Rossbach made a plaited series of polyethylene baskets in the 70. And like you point out, formal concerns were foregrounded more than the cultural content of the materials themselves. I’m down with both.

A lot of what keeps me engaged with plastics is the semantic baggage they carry. In AytúAynotú, and Aysitú, I’m particularly interested in the floppy, droopy and limp-wristedness of the black plastic grid used as a substrate (sub/straight!) for piled plastic. Plastic has memory, is infinitely shape-shifty and malleable. It’s quite passive at it’s core, subject to endless repetitions of the limp-wristed gesture evoked in the titles.

More generally, the language clinging to plastics since their development has been that of the supplement, of surrogacy, of the copy, of the not-quite, of utility. Plastics are the Other of nature. They exist in relation to massification, cheapness, consumption and disposability. Plastics are throw-aways. Plastics have meaning in relation to the cultural imaginary of value and class. I see a connection between the way plastics are often overlooked and devalued and the way certain kinds of bodies are mishandled and devalued. Some people are treated as disposable and worthless. I remember overhearing an adult conversation as a child. . . someone described the way they were treated by a bank teller as “así: como un plástico tirado en la calle.” She was treated like a piece of discarded plastic on the street because she was a working class immigrant woman with dark and presumed-indigenous features trying to cash per paycheck. That testimonio has clung to me.

I’m also interested in plastics as the materialization of time. Up until the mid 20th century, plastics were hailed for their longevity. Plastic was durable and promised to endure. And it does, in the sense that plastics will outlive us. But I’m also struck by the fact that the substance from which plastics are made—petroleum—is the fossilization of life that predates human existence. I’m filled with wonder and repulsion when i handle plastic. I’m touching prehistoric life. . . and one day, my body will become petroleum, perhaps. I’m interested in the fact that this processed material exceeds a human time scale. It re/places me, in a sense. Roland Barthe thought of plastic as the material trace of transformation. Material change unfolds in its own duration. Plastic is a matter of time.

With/Held (Aproxymate), 2017. Photo documentation of performance based sculpture.

OPP: With/Held (Aproxymate) (2017) is a “performance based sculpture.” Can you describe the performance?

JSP: The body is silent and motionless on the gallery floor under a 50’x12’ sheet of milky polyethylene. Two lengths of cotton clothesline, arm-knitted synthetic fabric strips of brown and sky blue, handmade rope of hunter green fabric, and a length of mauve fabric are installed throughout the space.

There is an extended stillness.

Slowly, after the plastic sheet has settled over the body and the temperature under the sheet has shifted, when condensation begins to form where breath meets polymer, the body begins to move and activate the plastic.

The slow and rhythmic movement of body and material continues for a duration until forms and volumes are discovered.

The process of relating motion and discovery continues.

At some point, the body comes into contact with rope and begins to use it to bind the plastic.

Contact with other materials occurs and they are enveloped and enfolded into the discovered relating. 

Movement, re/shaping, and binding continue for an extended duration until all the materials in the space are incorporated together into a singular form.

There are two desecrate forms on the gallery floor.

There is an extended embrace.

They’ve touched.

They’ve transformed.

A separation. 


To see more of José's work, please visit www.josesantiagoperez.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018) and Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019). Her work was recently included in the three-person show Manifestations at One After 909 (Chicago).

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tag:blog.otherpeoplespixels.com,2013:Post/1469243 2019-10-23T12:52:04Z 2019-10-23T20:02:03Z OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Leah Bailis

Untitled Mask, Leah Bowery Mask, Untitled Mask, all 2017. 11" x 8" each.

LEAH BAILIS' work creates meaning through an intersection of materiality, humor and textual reference. She alludes to fictional characters and famous creatives in sculptures and fiber-based works that explore the human impulse to adorn oneself. Masks, embellished clothing, accessories and wigs, all of which can transform and empower the wearer. Leah earned her BFA in Film at Bard College in 1998 and her MFA in Studio Art at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill in 2005. She has exhibited at MASS Gallery (2013), Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts (2012), Hopkins Hall Gallery, Ohio State University (2010), Lump Gallery (2010) and the Philadelphia International Airport (2008), to name a few. Her numerous solo shows at Vox Populi Gallery (Philadelphia) include Hold Me (2012), Magical Thinking (2010) and Demo (2009). Her focus of late hasn't been exhibiting work. Her two daughters, born 2016 and 2018, are her recent successes. Leah lives and works in the Philadelphia area.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Let’s talk first about the recurring subject of the house/home in your early work made with cardboard. How did your favored material relate to the content of these sculptures?

Leah Bailis: When I first started making the houses I was using photos of houses in North Carolina—where I was living at the time—as my source and wood as my material. I liked the warmth of the wood against the cool white exteriors and the tension that created. I started using cardboard for a few reasons.  It felt like a good way to show the disposable nature of the new construction I was starting to reference. It helped convey a certain fragility. . . that the walls that I built could be easily torn down, that an imposing presence was actually the thinnest of facades. The chainlink fence cage I made could have easily been torn apart. I also thought it was funny, in a pretty formal way, that something so heavy could been made of something so light.

Fence (detail), 2007. Cardboard, paint. 39" x 36" x 30"

OPP: You’ve used your links page to offer us clips for the cinematic references in many of your works from around 2010-2013. I’m thinking of works like The Resurrection of Inger (From Carl Theodor Dreyer's Ordet)Self Portrait as Dirk Bogarde as Gustav von Aschenbach (From Luchino Visconti's Death in Venice) and BEFORE WE LEFT (BADLANDS).

LB: I added these links to film clips because they were specific sources of inspiration for pieces I have made. I studied and made film in undergraduate school. When I finished school I left with a strong love for the medium as a viewer and an understanding that I wasn't cut out to make films of my own. There are certain cinematic moments that have stuck with me over many years and I decided to try to visually interpret my experience of watching these scenes. I titled all of the pieces to clearly connect them to the moments I was describing. I didn't want to be obscure. I also wanted to lead the viewer to the films that are so important to me. 

Self Portrait as Dirk Bogarde as Gustav von Aschenbach (From Luchino Visconti's Death in Venice), 2010. Digital prints. Each 16 3/4" x 12 1/2"

OPP: What gets you about these films in particular?

LB: The resurrection scene in Dreyer's Ordet made me weep audibly the first time I saw it. It also reminded me of a zombie movie. It was beautiful, strange, austere, and magical. The final scenes of Visconti's Death in Venice are so moving. The protagonist gets a make-over to try to make himself appear younger for the beautiful boy Tadzio, the object of his desire. The results are clownish, and as he follows Tadzio around the hot, Plague-infested city, his new black hair dye mixes with sweat and drips down his face. The film images are filled with death, failure, and longing for youth and beauty. A friend of mine drew my attention to the scene in Malick's Badlands where Kit shoots a football.  The football doesn't deflate, so he kicks it flat. It was a funny moment that reveals a fragility of the persona Kit has created for himself. He is acting out being a man. 

Magic Mountain, 2010. Sequins on felt. 27" x 18 1/2"

OPP: How do you think about the film-related sculptures as a group? Is it important that we think of them in relation to one another or only to their sources?

LB: There are certain groupings that are important. Magic MountainOrdet, and Death in Venice pieces were shown together and relate closely. Magic Mountain is a reference to an excerpt from Thomas Mann's book. He used the phrase Field of Dreams to describe the magic of the projected film image. I sewed the phrase with sequins in order to make a tangible representation of the grainy, flickering, projected film frame. The themes of death and longing in the other two pieces and my attempts to make concrete these fleeting filmic moments, relate back to the sequin piece. 

Another grouping that is important to me is My Kuchar, Starring and EphemeraMy Kuchar is a bath mat monument to the (now) late, great filmmaker George Kuchar. There is a moment in his film Hold Me While I'm Naked—a film in which he plays a filmmaker trying to make a film, but all of his actors abandon him—where he comes out of the shower wrapped in a bathrobe, towel turban on head. He is part aging starlet, part Rodin's Balzac, part misunderstood auteur, part overgrown child. The other pieces are imagined detritus of the life that I imagine for Kuchar's character. Ephemera is a flowered long underwear top that I've worn since I was a kid. I embellished it with gold sequins, studs and other shiny things. I imagined his character wearing this shirt under his clothes or alone in his room in his mother's apartment.  Starring  is a scrap of paper I imagined the character carrying in his pocket, repeatedly opening it to read its inspirational message, then returning it to his pocket.

My Kuchar, 201. Bath mats, plaster, styrofoam.

OPP: Would it be going too far to talk about these sculptures as fan art? I should make clear that fan art is not a denigrating term for me, although I acknowledge that many people might sneer at it. I’m very interested in fan art as a creative, engaged way of comprehending the texts we love. It emphasizes the ways that viewers of film and television are not simply passive observers.

LB: It's totally fair to be talking about my work as fan art! And not just of films.  Blue Angel and Ain't Got No/I Got are portraits of Roy Orbison and Nina Simone, respectively. They are attempts to show how much, and specifically how I love both of them as musicians and people. Re-Buiding and Corner are fan art for Gordon Matta Clark. In the end, the work is as much about the sources of inspiration as my own experience being inspired.

AIN'T GOT NO/I GOT (NINA), 2012.

OPP: Since 2015, you’ve been making masks. Before we talk about the specifics, what does the form of the mask mean to you generally? What led you to start making this series?

LB: The masks function in different ways for me. Some are protective, offering a way to watch the world without being seen. Some are transformative, an empowering way to create one's own image. Some of the masks I imagine as a destruction of the wearer’s face. I have been working with these ideas long before I started making literal masks. I even think of the small houses I made as mask-like, deadpan with with window eyes, belying the domestic drama of the house. The series of denim masks I made came out of an invitation to be part of a project for which I would have to make 50 objects. I decided instead of making literal multiples, I would give myself the framework of the denim mask to play with. I had to produce them quickly, which freed me up to improvise. It was a new way of working for me, and I really enjoyed the process.  While some of the masks came from specific sources or ideas, others are intuitive.

Untitled mask, 2017. denim, pyramid studs. 11" x 8"

OPP: Can you talk about the relationship between the simple, almost crude fabric bases and your very labored embellishment with beads, stitch or sequins?

LB: A number of years ago, I had the opportunity to see an exhibition of the Gee's Bend quilts. I was really moved by the way well-worn clothing was used in the quilts. The wear on the fabric made the the pieces so personal, connecting back to the physical life of the wearer. The Quilt Mask I made was inspired by the Gee's Bend quilters. I made it out of faded black t-shirts, mostly my own. Hand-sewing the pieces of t-shirt together, was a way to honor the well-worn t-shirt. 

Embellishment was a strategy I used with earlier clothing pieces. With Ephemera, the piece about George Kuchar, and Failure, I was thinking about motorcycle jackets—more specifically the jacket from Kenneth Anger's Scorpio Rising—and how wearers decorate them to make themselves look and feel more interesting or important. I like the idea of actively failing to appear interesting or important. I am drawn to things that are shiny. I am drawn to things that are simultaneously funny and sad. I think failure can be heroic. In a more practical way, embellishing with beads or studs or stitches, allows me to be fast and slow at the same time, gestural and labored. I like the idea of taking a long time to fail.

To see more of Leah's work, please visit leahbailis.com

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based 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 Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018) and Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019). Her work was recently included in the three-person show Manifestations at One After 909 (Chicago).

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