OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Lauren Fensterstock

Mirror Displacement #2
paper, plexi, charcoal
9 x 20 x 5 ft
Installation at Austin Museum of Art-Arthouse

LAUREN FENSTERSTOCK combines art historical references to Modernism with Victorian craft traditions in her dense installations of handmade paper flowers, charcoal and mirrors. Her meticulaously built monochromatic gardens appear minimal from afar, but a closer look reveals an indulgent attention to detail. Recent exhibitions include Two Takes on One Space: Lauren Fensterstock and Steve Wiman at The Austin Museum of Art (TX), Incidents of Garden Displacement at The Ogunquit Museum of American Art (ME) and Dubh: Dialogues in Black at Oliver Sears Gallery (Ireland). Her upcoming solo exhibition Lauren Fensterstock: The Celebration of Formal Effects, Whether Natural or Artificial opens on March 3, 2012, at the John Michael Kohler Art Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Lauren is also a writer, curator and educator living in Portland, Maine.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your recent work makes marvelous use of quilling, a paper craft that is most associated—despite its long history— with the leisurely labor of upper class women during the Victorian era. Can you explain what quilling is for our readers? When and why did you first learn the technique?

Lauren Fensterstock: Quilling is the art of curling strips of paper by wrapping them around a pin or dowel—artisans used pen quills for this task, hence the name quilling. It has also been called paper lace or paper filigree and was sometimes used to decorate reliquaries when precious metals were not available. Quilling was included in a group of crafts thought of as accomplishments for young ladies including painting tables, embroidery and piano. My work is inspired by quilling, but most of the forms and techniques that I use veer away from tradition. Quilling designs tended to be very flat and symmetrical, whereas I prefer to get a little messy.
A Third Nature no 7
paper and charcoal under glass
10 x 10 in

OPP: Looking at the shadow box pieces of Third Nature (2007), it appears you first started quilling in a contained way that is much closer to the historical tradition, which tends to revolve around the creation of heirlooms and mementos. But in the last few years, those framed pieces have grown into site-specific installations which combine the quilled paper flowers with charcoal and mirrors. What initially led to the shift into installation?

LF: One of my original inspirations was an object called a Claude glass. Allegedly developed by painter Claude Loraine, this small black mirror was used to capture scenes for landscape painting. Tourists also took these mirrors into the picturesque landscape to find “scenery.” With my first quilling pieces, I was attempting to make something that approximated the size of one of these looking glasses. Those boxes were partly filled with loose charcoal which alternately obscured and revealed the ornamental designs inside. This was a way to allow real characteristics of nature to speak to the reductions of nature symbolized by the Claude glass.

The glass made these pieces highly reflective. Standing in front of one of these pieces, you would first see yourself, then see inside and finally, perhaps, catch a glimpse of the fictitious illusion of yourself inside the scene. But I truly wanted to be inside the landscapes, hence the installations. Gardens are experienced temporally. They change and reveal themselves through different vantage points. I wanted my work to do that. More recently, the shadowboxes have also gotten bigger—up to 12 feet wide—so these have also taken on a more landscape-like presence.

OPP: Do you create all the parts for the installations by yourself or with the assistance of others?

LF: I have a studio assistant 10 hours a week, but otherwise I make everything. As you can imagine, it is very slow going. I love to get lost in the labor, just like the ladies of the parlor. I listen to a lot of books on tape and a lot of NPR. I love the satisfaction of completing each tiny part. The work involves a lot of repetition, so each part is like an atom in a complex whole.
paper, charcoal, plexi
14 x 12 x 5 ft
Installation at Sienna Gallery, Lenox, MA

OPP: In works like Parterre (2008), Mound (2010) and Incidents of Garden Displacement (2011), your lush paper and charcoal "gardens" are entirely black. Was the choice to make these works monochromatic an aesthetic or conceptual decision?

LF: The black is partly an homage to my original source—the Claude glass. It also makes reference to other sources that I think about: Ad Reinhardt, Malevich, minimalist sculpture in general. I am interested in the way that people have actually reshaped nature through gardens to create a metaphoric image of the universal order. These images vary widely, from the Apollonian hierarchy of Versailles to the democratic nostalgia of the English landscape. My work draws from multiple sources, including garden theory, minimalism, metaphysics, ultimately mixing them together. The monochromatic tone provides a kind of equalizing effect.

The black also allows the work to appear totally minimal. At first you think you are looking at a black hole, a void, and then you realize that this is actually an insanely complicated object. Then it slips back to looking like the void again. The color black is magical. The potential for depth, shadow and confusion is immense—especially when it is paired with reflective surfaces.
OPP: I definitely see the explicit reference to Minimalism—and I like the word play!—in Colorless Field (2012). But as I looked through your website, I was thinking more about mourning than Minimalism. The quilling done all in black led me to think of another Victorian-era craft, hair art, which was often made with the hair of a deceased loved one as a memento. Is anything being mourned in your installations?

LF: I’m very interested in Victorian mourning culture and even own some hair jewelry. I love that stuff. Victorians used those mementos to bridge the gap of loss. The objects were like touchstones that allowed individuals to connect across the divide of life and death. For me, this is a gesture approaching the sublime—something I might associate more with Modernism. But the universal visual language of Modernist images often leaves me feeling cold. I’m interested in figuring out how to attain a kind of non-objective experience with objects. How can we reach the sublime through familiar materials and the natural world? In a way, I want to take the successes and failures of all of these various fields, blur them together and allow the best and the worst to have it out. It is interesting to see how something like 17th century French formal gardens and Victorian crafts can work together toward similar goals, but I also like the way they expose the other’s shortcomings.

But am I mourning something? Maybe. I was a major teen goth, and I’m a sucker for a good sweeping melodrama. I think, maybe, I just like getting lost in a drama, whether it’s rooted in something real or in a total fabrication. But then again,  I am also the kind of girl who cries during commercials!
paper, charcoal, plexi
5 x 10 x 20 ft
Installation commissioned by Bowdoin College Museum of Art

OPP: Do you consider your work to be part of a feminist art tradition or do you make work from a feminist perspective or position?

LF: As I suggest above, I am interested in blurring boundaries to create a sort of equaling effect. I like the idea of mashing together things that feel incongruous. The artist Robert Smithson has been a huge influence on my work, and I regularly appropriate forms and ideas directly from his projects. Pairing references to a macho earth artist with a ladies’ parlor art? It may seem strange, but that feels right to me.

I draw freely from a variety of sources, both high and low, natural and manmade, male and female. I suppose attempting to escape the prescriptive confines of language in that way could definitely be considered a feminist directive.

OPP: I think that synthesizing the binaries that exist in our language is absolutely a feminist directive because binaries pit the culturally-defined masculine and feminine against each other. Blurring the boundaries between those things is a significant act, in my opinion. We’ve already talked about quilling, but I’d love to hear more about your interest in Robert Smithson. How has his work influenced yours?

LF: I find him fascinating. He had a vast knowledge base and applied it in so many media—writing, drawing, earthworks, sculpture. His essays are fantastic. I particularly love his writing on Frederick Law Olmstead and his photo essay Incidents of Mirror Travel in the Yucatan. Mirror Travels was inspired by a Victorian travelogue Incidents of Travel in Yucatan by John Lloyd Stevens. I’m interested in the way he draws from history and slyly recontexualizes our understanding of the past. His notion of time is also unique. For Smithson, history is a specific period, and we have the potential to move into an era after the end history, where time is no longer understood as a progression.
OPP: What new direction in your studio or upcoming opportunity are you most excited about?

LF: My show at Kohler marks the culmination of a body of work that has spanned the last five years. After this, I have some time to experiment, to read and research. Currently, I'm working on a public art commission for Maine General, a new hospital opening in September in my home state of Maine. Then have a solo show at Sienna Gallery in Lenox, Massachusetts coming up in August 2013. I’m excited to work toward that show without a sense of predetermination. I want to find something new. I’m just starting to do some research into the history of Romanticism and thinking a lot about escaping rationalism. I’m not exactly sure what’s coming next, which is a bit scary and also thrilling. I have been thinking about color. I keep looking at Anish Kapoor’s use of red. He talks about red being even darker than black. I want to find out if that is true…

To see more of Lauren's work, please visit laurenfensterstock.com.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Yoskay Yamamoto

mixed media sculpture with hand carved bass wood
8 x 15 x 8 "

YOSKAY YAMAMOTO was born in Toba, Japan and moved to the United States when he was fifteen. His sculptures and paintings playfully mix American and Japanese cultural references, emphasizing a personal experience of cultural hybridity. His sculptures of iconic characters from cartoons, video games, books and movies are simultaneously familiar and foreign. In December 2012, Yoskay was commissioned by Perrier to create a large scale sculptural installation at Pulse Miami. He is represented by LeBasse Projects in Culver City, California and lives nearby in Los Angeles.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your work is a fusion of these two distinct cultural backgrounds. Currently you exhibit primarily in the United States. Are the references to Japanese culture in your work ever lost on American audiences?

Yoskay Yamamoto: It really depends on each viewer to connect with the Japanese references in my work. Sometimes they get lost, and sometimes people point out the subtle references that I didn't even recognize before. Either way I’m not really concerned if the references get lost. Some people seem to be fixated on finding meaning with everything, but I'd rather have the audience find their own story. When I make art, my primary focus is to create work that excites me or makes me smile.

empty howl
mixed media on paper
30 x 40"

OPP: Dragons and koi are both recurring creatures in your paintings and in the history of Japanese painting. Some examples from your work include screaming for the sunrise (2009) and koibito in pale blue (2007), which features a man with a fish head. Both of these paintings have also spawned limited edition vinyl figurines produced by Munky King, a Los Angeles-based designer toy company, which seeks to blur the line between toy and fine art. Could you talk about the symbolism of these creatures in Japanese culture and your interest in them?

YY: From what I understand, both the koi and the dragon represent good luck or good fortune in Japanese culture, but this isn't the reason I created these characters. I was really into mythological creatures at the time. I love how the creatures in mythology are combinations of many different living things. I also think it's romantic. The stories are explanations of things that people didn't understand at the time.

OPP: Koibito is part fish, part boy, right? Is he a mythological creature? What does he express about you?

YY: Koibito was originally created to commemorate my pet fish, Tuna. He died because of my carelessness and laziness. But at same time, Koibito symbolizes the sense of alienation that I felt growing up in California. It's kind of like the phrase "fish out of water.” I felt and still feel like I don't completely fit in anywhere. . .  either in Japan or in the United States.

vinyl, edition 150
6 "

OPP: Why did you decide to recreate koibito and screaming dragon as designer toys?

YY: I thought it would be a good way to expose my art to a broader audience. And a vinyl toy is a great way to make a more affordable work of art.

OPP: In March 2012, you had your first all-sculpture solo exhibition, Joke's On Me. . .  at LeBasse Projects. The exhibition featured many recognizable childhood icons from cartoons, video games, books and movies such as Bart Simpson, Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man and Hello Kitty. What struck me are the facial expressions of these characters as you've recreated them. Many are neutral, but they read as desperately sad because we are so used to seeing these characters smiling. Do you think of them as sad?

YY: I like referencing the iconic childhood characters in my work because everyone has certain personal attachments to them. They are not necessary about my childhood. I enjoy altering the appearance of these iconic characters and giving them a slightly different look. I really don't think of them as having sad expressions. To me, they are neutral. It’s the oddness of them that excites me.

big headed boy
mixed media sculpture with hand carved bass wood
11 x 6 x 5"

OPP: You use a lot of different fabrication methods for those sculptures, including plastic, cast resin and vinyl, but I'm most interested in the hand-sculpted basswood. When did you learn wood-carving?

YY: Woodcarving is the newest skill that I picked up for my sculptural work. Wood is more challenging than other materials that I use, but I love the organic look of the final product. When working with clay, you can always add more mass and volume as you need it. But when you are carving, once you take a piece off, that's it. You can't undo it.
I learned by trial and error, gaining a few scars on my left hand along the way. Now I wear cut-resistant gloves to protect my hands. :)

still thinking of you. . .
cast resin sculpture, auto body paint

OPP: You are about to participate in a unique event in Hawaii. Tell us about it.

YY: Yes. In February I'm participating in Pow Wow Hawaii, in which a group of artists work together to paint murals in Hawaii for two weeks. Collaboration on the murals is really up to each individual artist. Since painting a mural is a territory I'm not too familiar, I think I'm gonna approach it with a basic idea in my mind.

OPP: What’s your favorite piece of yours? Why?

YY: My recent favorites are carry me away and I hope it will reach you eventually. These pieces helped me head in a different and new direction that I'm excited about. When I completed carry me away, I really felt more closely connected to my work than before. It's rare to have this sensation with my work so it felt pretty special.

To see more of Yoskay's work, please visit yoskay.com.

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

OPP Artists & Social Media Series: Reverend Lainie Love Dalby Preaches Spirituality via Social Networks

Reverend Lainie Love Dalby is not a pop culture goddess by any means. In a time of heightened economic, spiritual and emotional insecurity exacerbated by media-saturation, the Reverend is here to help people “live their best life”—but not in the Oprah sense of the word. The NYC-based urban priestess, who is often referred to as “The Lady Gaga of Consciousness,” aims to help others through ritualistic practices, workshops and her own effervescent presence. OPP interviewed her about her thoughts on pop culture “deities,” and the interconnectedness that social media and the Internet bring to our hyper-networked lives. She advises us on how to reach enlightenment—not through inundation of media images, but rather thorough a spiritual journey of creativity, love and reinvigorating one’s inner life. Dalby has performed at the SCOPE Art Fair in New York, DALBYWorld in Brooklyn, New York's Riverside Church, Cuchifritos Gallery and the Art in Odd Places Performance festival. She holds a BA in architecture from Cornell University. In 2011, she graduated from the One Spirit Interfaith Seminary. 

This is the fifth and final post in Art Critic & Curator Alicia Eler’s Artists & Social Media Series for the OPP blog.

Alicia Eler for OtherPeoplesPixels: What makes you different than the pop culture deities you emulate?

Reverend Lainie Love Dalby: Quite simply, I am here to be of service to our ailing world. I show up fully in all my work offering my integrity of presence, outrageous creativity and BIG love. I offer any tools and wisdom that I have available to make others’ lives better, harvested from my numerous years of raw personal experience, pain and suffering. I want to make others‘ lives better. Up until 2009, I lived as multiple personas–all constructed within my art practice & life–including an internationally known dominatrix, a celebrity stylist, an avant-garde fashion maven and a pop rapper. I became a shell of myself in moving between these “identity players." I became a full-blown hedonist and fame monster that was totally bankrupt – financially, spiritually and emotionally. My life had become devoid of meaning, with a permanent flashing neon sign exclaiming "CLOSED" over my heart. I had lost my personal anchor to what really mattered. I was in a full-blown premature midlife crisis. I wanted to die, straight up. In that moment though, I knew there had to be a better way . . . so I surrendered and began my spiritual journey. I chose in that moment not just to live, but to live fully and to be vibrantly ALIVE, to find my truth and to make a difference in the world. I chose to redefine what living meant for me, to not accept life has given and to create my own rules. My decision to let go of my old story was my first radical act of self-love and the beginning of my journey to come out of hiding and save my own life as well as countless other lives.

At the end of your life, you're going to ask: Did I live fully alive? Did I LOVE BIG? Did I make a DIFFERENCE in the world? What do you want the answer to be? 

AE for OPP: A friend said to me recently: "The Internet is new age-y." I took this to mean that the Internet allows us to be able to connect with others through a more spirit and emotion-based and less physically confining non-space space. What are your thoughts on this? What does spirituality have to do with the Internet—and specifically with the social web and social networks?

RLLD: The Internet has allowed modern day spirituality, and ancient wisdom as well, to spread in all their numerous forms with greater speed, efficiency and urgency than ever before. It is also helping to end the greatest illusion permeating our lives today: that we are separate, isolated individuals. There is a mass movement to shift the consciousness of humanity, a global awakening towards ONENESS that is occurring via midwives and midhusbands across the planet—transformational leaders who are largely using social media to spread the good word. I am part of this tribe since it is CRUCIAL at this time on our ailing planet. Nearly 20,000 children are dying per day from starvation, gun violence is at an all-time high, over two billion people live in abject poverty on under $1.25 a day, and paintings are being sold for over $76 million dollars. This is money that could be used to feed and educate more than one million children in Africa for a year. If we were to adopt LOVE as our new bottom line, everything would start to shift. I am actually writing an arty book on this topic that will be available soon, and I intend to spread it virally across the Internet via social media. You can find out more about it here for now, though: www.loveequalscurrency.com.

Lainie Love Dalby's forthcoming book, Love = Currency

AE for OPP: Your work relies heavily on social media, or the sense of being connected to others through a non-physical presence. Do you feel like social media is more of a promotional venue, or a space for making actual creative work? I am thinking about your Twitter presence and Facebook page?

RLLD:  I believe that venues of social media are what you make of them. We will never have the same experience on the computer as being with someone face to face, flesh to flesh in an intimate real-time, real-space connection. But often the latter isn’t necessary to communicate important messages and share creativity]. I believe that offering something of VALUE is the most important aspect to remember when using social media. Promotion comes as a side effect of showing up in the world with something meaningful that will help to change someone’s world. One inspirational sentence or kind word can change the course of a person’s life forever, so it’s crucial to be able to stand 100% behind what you’re putting out in the world via these channels of expression—especially since social media certainly pushes us to create more: more connection, more outreach and more value overall. We have to guard it vigilantly and make sure it’s not virulent crap we’re releasing into the world.

I teach a group course each spring for artists, ministers and outsiders on using social media marketing and branding to get their unique voice out into the world—because I know its importance.

Lainie Love Dalby's Twitter presence @lainielovedalby

AE for OPP: I also noticed that your website TEEMGorgeous.com/LainieLoveDalby.com has a presence on multiple social networks, including Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter. Tell me a bit about why you decided to exist in so many social media sites?

RLLD: People learn and absorb information differently, so working across multiple platforms of expression and communication allows me to reach a larger audience. Creating a movement, not just making art, requires that you implement as many of the tools as you have available to you at the time. Some people learn best in an immersive context that affects all of their senses—you can see proof of this in my YouTube video of my blessing performances at SCOPE Art Fair this past year—while social media seems more suited for the younger generation that has it born into their blood.

TEEMGorgeous.com is one of my main teachings, and it serves as a multidimensional social sculpture involving installations, art works, self-development adventures and more to generate massive personal and social change. Art is profoundly human by nature, and TEEMGorgeous begins with the premise that every being is an artist in charge of his or her own transformation. Because of this, your greatest masterpiece is creating a life that you would totally love and feel ALIVE in each day in order to TEEMGorgeous in the world. I merely serve as the catalyst for courage, creativity and BIG love in the process. Isn’t it about time that you too took the reins of this delicious idea & began to curate your own life & transformation? Mining the depths of your own human potential? Living fully, laughing heartily and being fired up with intense passions and joy, and following the invisible directions to that radical place where you are "intoxicated by your own rapture."

I believe this to be a powerful message that creates deep value in people’s lives. It also serves as a means for growth and overall happiness, so any way that we can get it out in the world is valid, ergo multiple channels of creative expression via social media. The overall message: Wake up. Reclaim your inner life. Make something out of nothing. Be risky. TEEM Gorgeous. And change the world.

The ARmaTure for Prayer: A Wearable Sculpture of Visible & Potent Global Prayers (post Hurricane IRENE)
12" x 18" Metallic Print (Edition of 3)
Wearable sculpture made from 1000 Origami Cranes with Prayers folded inside

AE for OPP: The Healing Hut for O.P.R.A.H. (Open Prayers, Recommendations & Hugs) makes me think about the power of Oprah, who is clearly a celebrity. I'm thinking about how Oprah positions herself as a pop culture deity, offering up a way for people to discover their true selves. How does this piece subvert the notion of Oprah as an all-loving pop culture deity? Or is this reinforcing Oprah's place in American pop culture?

RLLD: Oprah is one of my (s)heroes, and people have long looked to her work as a place of refuge in an ailing world. I deeply admire her life path and her own powerful journey of self-transformation and effecting change. The title Healing Hut for O.P.R.A.H. (Open Prayer, Recommendation And Hugs) is a tribute to her tireless work and her great importance in the world. The interactive sculpture was the centerpiece for The Diamond Den NY solo show, where I invited participants to crawl into this sacred sculptural artifact so that they could release their suffering, examine themselves, forgive and learn to "live their best life." Almost like a modern day confessional—or like Oprah’s work—it served as a space for solace and refuge.

Interior of The Healing Hut for O.P.R.A.H. (Open Prayers, Recommendations & Hugs)
Sacred memorabilia from 'The Diamond Den NY'

As people continue to move away from church-based communities, they still need the sense of community that churches used to provide. To be tapped into a network of millions of women from across the world is a powerful pull and a necessary home for some. From her magazine to her book club to new programming and #SuperSoulSunday, Oprah offers a powerful way for women (and men) to learn the transformational journeys of other individuals. Overall, she is a fellow midwife shifting the consciousness of humanity, and I am deeply honored to be working alongside her and other incredible women of our time.

Oprah and Rainn Wilson present SoulPancake, a one-hour program exploring "love through many lenses." 

Alicia Eler is an art critic and curator whose projects focus on American pop and consumer culture, social networked identities, and the history of queer aesthetics. Her recent reviews examine our modern perception of the natural world. Alicia is currently the Chicago Correspondent for Hyperallergic and Artforum.com, Blogger-in-Residence for the Art21 Blog, Curator for ACRE Projects, Visual Art Researcher for the Chicago Artists’ Resource, and Writer/Editor for the OtherPeoplesPixels.com Blog. Her writing has also been published in Art Papers, RAW Vision Magazine, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Flavorpill, ReadWriteWeb and Time Out Chicago. Visit www.aliciaeler.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Eileen Hutton

Collaboration with the Irish Black Bee (detail)
Honeycomb sculpture, beekeeping equipment
45cm x 20cm x 55cm

EILEEN HUTTON emphasizes environmental ethics in her art practice. Her collaboration with small birds and honey bees in the creation of nest and hive sculptures is mutually beneficial. She provides her collaborators with the opportunity to do what comes naturally to them for the perpetuation of their species, and, in return, she gets to make that into art. The resulting sculptural objects highlight the beauty of the natural world while emphasizing the wonder that emerges when humans collaborate instead of conquer. Eileen received her PhD in Studio Art from the National University of Ireland in 2012. Her upcoming solo exhibition The Birds and the Bees opens on April 12, 2013 at Siamsa Tíre, the home of the National Folk Theatre of Ireland. Eileen lives in Ballyvaughan, Ireland.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Where did you grow up? Did it have an effect on your interest in ecology and the environmentally conscious work you make now?

Eileen Hutton: I grew up in Orange Park, Florida, where it's warm year round. I spent a lot of time outdoors—at the beach, swimming, waterskiing, biking and camping. Looking back, that time definitely helped me develop an appreciation of and contentment with being in the natural world. My interest in ecology and environmental concerns grew naturally and certainly progressed once I started making art. The two disciplines easily overlap as the constant act of questioning and problem solving are central in both the art and scientific communities.
A Collaboration with Great and Blue Tits
hexagonally shaped nests, sustainably sourced spalted beech, aluminum brackets and screws
30 cm x 130 cm x 30 cm

OPP: You have collaborated with Native Irish Black Honey Bees to create honeycomb sculptures and with Great Tits and Blue Tits to create nest sculptures that you exhibit in galleries. The idea of collaborating with animals to make sculptures is fascinating because we don't usually think of animals and insects as having this kind of agency. The work is certainly about a harmony with nature and an emphasis on the awareness of our roles as humans in the world, which makes me curious about the aesthetic decisions you make. How much are the aesthetics of the hives and nests determined by you and how much by the bees and the birds?

EH: That's an interesting question—one I am asked often. The work is conceptually based, but I see myself first and foremost as a maker. It is important for me to have a part in the creation of the sculptures.

In the first two nesting seasons, I built the nesting boxes to determine the nests' final hexagonal form so my aesthetic decisions are most evident in the shapes of the finished nests. In the third season, I had a heavier hand in determining the final outcome. I added various materials colored wool, string, yarn, brightly colored craft feathers, cow and horse hairinside the boxes, and the birds built their nests among these materials. Or they didn't, and the nests were left abandoned. For me, the birds' building always takes center stage. The intricate weaving and layering of found materials and the soft round hole that they make for cradling eggs always results in a remarkable object. Once I install the nest in the gallery setting, the display plays a large role in how the collaborative relationship is visually expressed.

A traditional framed honeycomb is rectangular. But the top bar beehive I built, which looks similar to a watering trough, allows the honeycomb to become much more sculptural in form. The bees are responsible for building the perfect hexagonal cells of the comb, but I unobtrusively move the top bars around to encourage the bees to make unusual forms, such as double tear drop shapes and white crown structures. Once again, the decisions I make about installation, including the addition of sound recordings, are crucial to the experience of the final sculpture. But it is the bees’ architecture and precision that are the most prominent features of the sculptures.

The Collaborations with the Native Irish Black Honeybee
Each mounted box contained a small speaker that played a sound recording of my process of beekeeping combined with the hum of the colony. The hexagonal cells amplified the recording. This image shows a viewer listening to sound recording emanating from small speakers.

OPP: Did you first learn beekeeping in order to collaborate artistically with the bees or was it a skill you already had that grew into an art project?

EH: I decided to learn beekeeping as the result of research on the current plight of the honeybee. An easy way to bolster a priority species' population is to maintain artificial habitats. I knew an art project of some sort would probably develop, but it took about six months before I had any solid idea of what it would be.

OPP: You emphasize the ethical environmental implications of creating art and encourage artists to be aware of the environmental impact of their art practices. I think artists should be encouraged to act ethically in other areas as well. I've never liked the attitude that, as artists, we get to do whatever it takes to make our work regardless of the impact on individuals. I'm thinking about workSophie Calle's Address Book (1983), for example—that objectifies individuals without considering the emotional impact on them in order to reveal some truth about culture. Do you think this is a symptom of something in the art world specifically, or just representative of how people are in the world in general?

EH: I would say that the art world is generally representative and reflective of the world itself. Certainly there are artists whose production methods or ethical contexts are questionable, but there are also artists whose practices are incredibly sensitive, ecologically and socially beneficial and remarkably innovative. Ideally, it is this latter type of work that resonates with people. 

Take Away Nesting Boxes
Visitors to the exhibition viewing and subsequently removing the take away nesting boxes.

OPP: I like that you want to focus on the positive. Who are some artists whose practices have influenced you aesthetically or ethically?

EH: Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison, as well as Brandon Ballengée, have had considerable influence on my practice. The works of these three artists engender conscientious relationships between humanity and the natural world through ameliorative actions and through the creation of images and objects. For me, it can be difficult to balance my practice so that the work is both centered around the practice of making and extends positively beyond itself into the world.

OPP: Do you have plans to collaborate with any other insects or animals?

EH: My next collaboration will be with earthworms—once I receive funding. Earthworms, often overlooked and certainly undervalued, are a priority species and play a variety of vital roles in ecosystems and especially agroecosystems. Through a series of sculptures and drawings, I want to make visible and explicit their critical role.

OPP: Can you give us more details on how the collaboration will work?

EH: I want to build a series of Evans boxes, which are three-dimmensional, glass-fronted terreria, that measure 80 cm × 31 cm × 1 cm. Inside the boxes, I will compress multiple layers of soils, various organic materials such as leaves, grasses and compost from my surrounding environment. The layers in the boxes create a kind of framed earth drawing or an organic landscape representation. I will then place one or two worms inside the boxes for up to three days. As the earthworms move around the Evans’ boxes, they will create an intricate pattern of tunnels. Removing the front panel of glass, I will then remove the earthworms and release them into designated areas in order to directly benefit—on a modest scale—a surrounding agroecosystem. Finally, I will pour plaster casts into the earthworms’ tunnels. The glass will be replaced to maintain the integrity of the sculptures and earth drawings.
Third Season Collaborations

OPP: What are you working on while you wait for funding?

EH: For now, I'm working on the next series of nest sculptures—knitting square sweater-like holders in which the birds will build their nests. Lately, the care that drives my practice has a domestic feel to it. We'll see what happens.

OPP: Ah! There’s obviously a connection between the labor of the birds and the bees and the history of undervalued labor in feminine handicraft! Will the sweaters be part of the final sculptures or will they be removed like the hexagonal nesting boxes you built? Are you introducing more artificial, crafty colors or mimicking the natural aesthetics of the nests? 

EH: The sweaters will be an integral part of the nests. The nests made with the birds this past season are prototypes for the upcoming season. Aesthetically, I'm attracted to bright, crafty materials. The birds are normally attracted to muted, organic materials. The juxtaposition of those with the vivid wools I've introduced visually emphasizes the collaborative effort. It allows the work to simultaneously express the contrived and the natural, allowing the to nest exist both as a conceptual and craft-inspired object.

To view more of Eileen's work, please visit eileenhutton.com.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Monica Martinez

Wurm-Haus Headquarters
Live Mealworms, Wood, Cardboard, Ink, Pen.
5’ H x 4’ L x 2’ W

MONICA MARTINEZ is a sculptor, industrial designer and educator who is interested in social change. Her fascination with both permanent and mobile food production and distribution structures like grain silos and urban food carts has morphed into a hybrid art/culinary practice. At the 2011 San Francisco Street Food Festival,Monica launched Don Bugito: Prehispanic Snackeria, the nation's first food cart serving edible insects. Monica lives in San Francisco, California.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You have been referencing food production and distribution structures for years in your sculpture and photographs. Some examples include The Failure of A Warehouse (2009), Precarious Landscape (2008), and Micro Entrepreneurs (2007), a series of food cart photographs. Where does this interest come from?

Monica Martinez: As a kid growing up in Mexico City, I was exposed to the rich visual aesthetics that you find in a city ruled by informal economies. I’m referring to the improvised means of temporary or permanent street food stands, crowed street food markets and those precarious physical structures created out of necessity and urgency around the city. This early exposure has always been reflected in my artistic work. Once I formalized my studio practice, I discovered that what I am attracted to and interested in are the dynamics that make cities function. In the case of the work you mentioned, I was thinking about the flow of food through the structure of a city and about the material response needed to sustain and feed a large population while simultaneously generating capital.

My interest also grew as I researched industrial architectures such as silos, granaries, warehouses and food markets as well as any other artifact involved in the transportation and storage of food such as wooden pallets, crates and sacks. I am fascinated by the phenomena of “food storage.” These structures house the food that meets the demands of large populations in urban centers. They also control and regulate the economic aspect of urban food surpluses.

Cardboard, Concrete, Wood, Ink, Pen
11” H x 11” D x 16” W

OPP: Can you expand on that? How do the structures regulate the surpluses?

MM: Granaries and silos were originally built with the intent of sheltering the food and seeds from rodents and harsh years to come, but eventually someone figured out that holding the material and releasing it in a controlled manneror not releasing it at allcould produce more wealth. This led to the discovery of controls in food as a market. Today, especially in large urban centers, the food surpluses transit through many warehouses and storage spaces before arriving at supermarkets and then, eventually, our tables. These storage spaces may be doing more than simply holding the product to create more capital. They might be actively preparing the food for the market. One example is Cavendish bananas, the most consumed bananas in the world. Most distributors receive them when they are completely green. There is a special temperature-controlled room in their warehouses that allows the bananas to mature to specific commercial standards so they can enter the market at the right time. These buildings mean a lot to me; I see them as icons of power. 

OPP: Wurm-Haus Unite d'Habitation (2010), Wurm-Haus Headquarters (2010) and Wurm-Haus Unit - Home Micro Farm (2010) are all simultaneously sculptures and actual farms for Mealworms, a high protein and low cost food source. Could you talk about the intersection of architecture and sculpture with social and environmental concerns in the various incarnations of Wurm-Haus?

MM: I like to think that there is not much difference between architecture and sculpture. Both address form, space, materials and their interrelationships. When I began working on the first version of WurmHaus, I was looking at the global panorama of modern mechanization and industrialization of food production—basically factory farms, massive agricultural crops and other macroscale operations. But in my studio, I was working on a microscale. I started questioning the relationship that exists between the architectural spaces of the food that we produce and consume and the spaces we inhabit. I found a lack of connection between these two types of spaces. Nowadays, there is an urgency to add an environmental focus to our food production and our urban living conditions. I began reading about the mechanics of insect architecture and the relationship of insects to their spaces and food storage. I discovered that architects like Le Corbusier and Gaudi were influenced by the world of insect architecture. These architects intended to implement better living quarters for humans, but sadly they disregarded the importance of improving our production and consumption of food from an architectural point of view.

Unite d'Habitation -Wurm-Haus

OPP: What led to the shift from sculpture that documents and references movable structures of food production and distribution to your active participation in those things via Don Bugito, your street food project?

MM: In 2010 I showed the WurmHaus works at Eyelevel Gallery in Brooklyn, and we offered a fancy edible insects dinner to a crowd of 40 people. This dinner was such a success: people responded much more strongly to the edible insects than to the static sculptural works sitting in the gallery.

I decided to expand WurmHaus into a food project that eventually became a food business. I conceived of Don Bugito as a social sculpture project. I wanted to reach a wider audience, but it is a big challenge to introduce edible insects into the North American food market. I had to apply for permits from the city and the health department in order to operate. Ironically I have become a street food vendor and am now inside the world that has always inspired me.

Don Bugito at the San Francisco Street Food Festival

OPP: Don Bugito has garnered a lot of attention both in both art and foodie circles. What are the challenges of a project that is a hybrid art/culinary endeavor?

MM: So far this project has been a huge challenge, but it's given me the opportunity to connect with hundreds of people. Once these foods are completely introduced into the American food market, I hope to eventually create social change. In general I have found more support in the culinary world than in the art world, but the former has a hard time recognizing me as a chef. Professionally speaking, I am not a chef. I approach food as one more material in my creative palete; it has to be cut, heated and transformed, just like metal, wood or plaster. My first day in an industrial kitchen, I got a steam burn on my right hand. This made me think that kitchens are just another version of shops. There are things that can hurt you, and you have to be on top of things to prevent injury. But the art world is also confused about what it is that I’m trying to do. It's unclear how to integrate my work into an exhibit or art dialogue. I hope this will eventually change.

OPP: It definitely seems to be an issue of framing. There are precedents in the art world such as Rirkrit Tiravanija’s dinners. And you mentioned the term "social sculpture," which was coined by Joseph Beuys in the 1960s. Are you influenced by these artists? Do you consider what you do to be part of the art as social practice or relational aesthetics models?

MM: Joseph Beuys has certainly influenced my creative thinking. So has Gordon Matta Clark’s Food project. My recent work relates more to the ideas that Beuys proposed as social sculpture than the Art as a Social Practice or Relational Aesthetics models. When I began working on the idea to introduce edible insects into the American food market, I encountered many obstacles that required a lot of thinking and planning. I had to build conceptual and physical structures to support this idea. WurmHaus was the first step that led to Don Bugito. I found that through food and cooking, I could introduce ideas into a cultural realm as a commercial enterprise. It is a physical operation that introduces an alien material through a social operation. In 2010 I joined La Cocina (a nonprofit food incubator here in San Francisco) for support and guidance in this endeavor, and I would say that this project has become an open ended social object. 

The Little Cardboard Industry
HDPE, Cardboard, Hardware
9' H x 7' W x 10' L

OPP: How has running a food business impacted your studio practice? Has it changed the way you think of your role as an artist?

MM: I am struggling a little bit right now in trying to understand how my work fits into the commercial art world that I was part of before I started this project. I have spent the past two years completely immersed in Don Bugito, and I am not sure yet how my studio practice will evolve as a result of this.

OPP: Is there anything you miss about being an artist making sculptures in the studio for exhibition in a gallery?

MM: It is hard to answer this question as I never considered myself a dedicated studio artist. Most of the time, the ideas for my work come directly from objects that surround me out in the world rather than discoveries in the studio. I usually spend more intense time in the studio right before a show instead of as an everyday or regular practice. What I miss the most is being able to fabricate whatever object I have to build. I enjoy engineering and solving fabrication problems. I think I prefer being in the studio more than a kitchen, where I still feel that there are a lot of intimidating rules and techniques that have to be learned. Food is certainly a medium where the public can be more critical than in contemporary art. I think we artists have an invisible shield that protects us. We can make whatever we want, but there is not much space in the culinary world for something that looks as disturbing as a Wax Moth Larvae Taco or a Toasted Crickets Tostada.

To learn more about Monica's work, please visit monicamartinez.com.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Mark Porter

Autohaemorrhaging Actuator #5
Materials: aluminum, steel, wood, glass, rubber, nylon, air pumps, pigmented fluid, electric motors, plastic, motion sensor, plexiglass, natural sponges

Walking into a MARK PORTER exhibition feels like entering a mad scientist's laboratory, complete with test tubes and a complex web of cords and vinyl tubing. His kinetic, motion sensor-activated sculptures are hard at work, making repetitive marks on the galley wall or floor with a foaming, pigmented fluid. Some of the machines barely seem to function. But even when they fail, they accomplish the task of being stand-ins for humans and animals. In 2012, Mark had two solo exhibitions in Chicago:Autohaemorrhaging Actuators, Recent Kinetic Sculptures and Preliminary Drawings at Peanut Gallery and Autohaemorrhaging Actuator at The Sub-Mission. He also curated Machinations: Kinetic Sculptures in the Age of the Open-source at Glass Curtain Gallery, where he is the Exhibition Coordinator. His first artist monograph Replication Machines, Territorial Markers and Preliminary Drawings is available for purchase through Blurb. Mark lives in Chicago, Illinois.

OtherPeoplesPixels: When did you build your first machine? Was it a kinetic sculpture or something else?

Mark Porter: My first machines were actually drawn on paper. I was pretty young—four or five—when I first became obsessed with sci-fi, mostly Star Wars. (I still am.) I loved thinking about how the ships had the ability to do something as fantastic as moving people across the galaxy and as tragic as blowing them to pieces. I was fascinated by how the ships were capable of harnessing a seemingly unattainable and unnatural energy. I spent hours every day drawing space ships of all sizes and shapes. Some were similar to the designs of Star Wars ships, but eventually I created my own.

Materials: steel, aluminum, glass, air pumps, pigmented soapwater

OPP: Where do you find your materials?

MP: I’m a bit of a scavenger. I’m always looking around for bizarre, ill-conceived inventions and objects that have a compelling sense of personal history, not necessarily to be incorporated into sculptural projects. I think about each object in its current state and ask a lot of questions about it, “What caused that dent or bend? What was the object originally intended to do?” Sometimes I can figure it out, and sometimes I can’t. At any rate, I love this sense of mystery. I love re-contextualizing objects. I both respond to them as they come to me, and alter them to suit my needs. 

I do purchase some things like electric motors, scientific lab glassware and vinyl tubing. I also think of these as re-contextualized objects. It’s about making an object do something it was not intended to do. But it’s important to me that the sculptures look handmade. People often think of machines as sterile and precise. To a certain degree they are, but they are also organic and messy. They break down, need maintenance and become dirty though use—like us. 

OPP: Do your sculptures grow intuitively from responding to objects you collected without a plan? Or do you deliberately seek out or purchase what you need to execute a preconceived design?

MP: When I create a sculpture, the idea I want to communicate or the goal I want the machine to achieve is just the starting point. Each machine is designed to do—or to at least try to do—something specific such as marking territory or creating mini tornadoes. However, improvisation is a big part of my process. Part of the design stage happens when I am scavenging for objects or when I’m looking at a collection of stuff that I've already found. Obviously, I work with a lot of metal. Approximately 75% of the work in my last exhibition Autohaemorrhaging Actuator was constructed from discarded aluminum lawn chairs and walkers. As with most of my pieces, I wanted to both preserve the integrity of the chairs and walker parts and totally transform them. Some elements remain recognizable while others do not. So, the re-contextualizing occurs through my fusion of found objects with custommade objects or with mechanisms I have created from stock materials such a stock aluminum or Plexiglass. My work is inherently an example of how every design evolves throughout its production process.

Preliminary for Island Formation Machine
Graphite, colored pencil, oil stick and gesso on paper
24" w x 14" h

OPP: You often exhibit your preliminary drawings alongside the sculptures themselves. Could you talk about how they work together?

MP: When I create artwork, I’m channeling the inventor part of my personality. I think about design—mechanical or otherwise—as an extension of the human hand. Designs aren’t always successful, but they are a reflection of the individual who conceived them. My drawings and sculptures both reflect that inventor part. They exist as the same body of work, but they ultimately serve different purposes.

Sometimes the drawings exaggerate the potential success or productivity of the machines; other times the machines are more productive than the drawings predict. By exhibiting them together, I ask the viewer to compare the similarities and the differences and to ask questions about the evolution of the idea from paper sketch to sculptural object: “What is different and what is similar? Does it matter if they are different/similar?"

OPP: Do you enjoy drawing and building equally or is one part of the process more pleasurable for you?

MP: I think of myself primarily as a sculptor, but I do enjoy making the preliminary drawings. Trying to convey a three-dimensional object on a two-dimensional plane is a hilariously frustrating, inadequate and torturous process. But drawing is very direct and immediately satisfying because it can be gestural and exaggerated. The drawings are an outlet for me to document and develop the ideas for machines I want to build.

When I create the drawings, I layer images in the same spirit in which I fuse found objects with custombuilt objects. First, I create a series of drawings that convey ideas I want to modify or develop further. I photograph the drawings, manipulate them slightly in Photoshop, print them using a toner-based printer and transfer them onto drawing paper with wintergreen oil. Then I further manipulate the images by drawing over them. I merge multiple images from previous drawings together to form a new, more developed idea. This process of building and layering is pretty noticeable when all of the drawings are shown together. When I’m building the sculptures, I reference the drawings much like one would any type of blueprint or schematic drawing.

Territorial Marker #6
Materials: aluminum, steel, electric motor, air pump, glass, vinyl tubing, pigmented soap fluid, natural sponges

OPP: I loved your recent solo show Autohaemorrhaging Actuators, Recent Kinetic Sculptures and Preliminary Drawings at Peanut Gallery in Chicago. I was most struck by the cacophony of motion and sound. Seeing all of those machines at work on their separate functions but in the same exhibition space is pivotal to how I understand your work. I loved watching them all moving and trying, huffing and puffing and breaking down. I find them poignant. They have an existential quality to them. They just keep going, even when they shouldn't—even when their actions have no real purpose and their motion seems only to be about staying in motion. Does this resonate with the way you think about the sculptures?

MP: First of all, thanks! These comments definitely resonate with me. As I mentioned before, my creations are not only machines but also representatives and extensions of the human hand. That’s what I love about making art in general; I can create something that speaks for me.

I have a frustrating and rewarding relationship with my sculptures. When I install an exhibition, I plug the pieces in and let them do what they were meant to do. Sometimes there are no surprises, and everything chugs along as I intended. But the machines don’t always do what I planned. They begin to do what they want to do. In the end I am always certain that I have created machines that are confident and determined: they try really, really hard regardless of whether they fail.

The individual pieces are always changing. As they age, they need repairs and upgrades. The same piece rarely looks the same from show to show. I don’t make major alterations to each piece, but each piece changes through its use. I’m not interested in creating precious sculptural objects. My sculptures evolve; they are performative. I often refer to them as “prototypes” because I never really think of them as complete. My drawings are the exception: once they are finished, they are finished. In creating them, I develop an idea to a certain point and then I move on to the next one.

Autohaemorrhaging Actuator
Installation at The Sub-Mission (Chicago)
Dimensions Variable
Photo by Rob Karlic

OPP: According to the press release for Autohaemorrhaging Actuators, your recent sculptures are intended to "mimic biological functions and human/animal behaviors such as demarcation, the process of marking of one’s personal territory, and autohaemorrhaging, the action of animals deliberately ejecting blood from the body as a defensive tactic." I've also read several reviews in which people refer to your sculptures as drawing machines. It's interesting to think about the connection between drawing, biology and mechanization in your work. We often assume that what drives us as artists is a function of higher consciousness, but what if it isn't? Is there a connection between what we all do as artists and the biological functions you refer to in your titles? 

MP: Absolutely. I think that all living things are certainly driven by a higher consciousness, but they are also controlled by their bodies. Humans and animals are all engaged in a life long battle between what the mind wants and what the body wants. It’s fantastic when they are in sync, and it's interesting and tragic when they are not. I’m fairly obsessed with making the drawing machines, the territorial markers and the Autohaemorrhaging Actuators because I am interested in the natural necessity of self-expression. My work is both commentary on and a living example of what happens when the mechanisms designed to carry out expression are working correctly or incorrectly. The fluids that cycle through these works represent something that is essential to the machine. The fluids can be read as blood, transmission fluid or paint; they are vital to the body and vital to the mind.

To view more of Mark's work, please visit markportersculpture.com.

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

Artists & Social Media Series: Julia Barbee’s Social Scents

Portland-based artist Julia Barbee wants to know what you smell like. Or, at least what type of scent you would select based on your ecommerce profile or a Craigslist ad that you post. Barbee wanders into that strange strip of creative space between fine art and high fashion, adding touches of anonymous Internet moments along the way. In the portfolio section on her website, she lists her social media projects and offline, physical artworks, which often inform each other. She is interested in the temporal aspects of one’s identity, including experiences of the visual, the auditory and the ephemeral. Barbee received her MFA in 2011, graduating magna cum laude from California State University at Long Beach.

This is the fourth post in a five-part series about how artists use social media. Read the previous three posts about artists Jake Myers, Sabina Ott and Ellen Greene. Have ideas for a topic you’d really like covered on the OPP blog? Email us at blog [at] otherpeoplespixels.com.

Alicia Eler: One of the first Web-only pieces on your site that I noticed was Oral in which you post images of your mouth missing teeth, post-bike accident, to social media sites. The inspiration is taken from something that happened to your physical body, but the project itself exists only online through images. Tell me about the project. Could it have worked offline?

Facebook Portrait #18
Digital Photo

Julia Barbee: A local fashion writer published an article about my bike accident in response to my first Facebook image and status update. It created an audience in the newspaper's online readership. I was posting images with a personal Facebook account. The text responses became an important part of the screenshots I kept to document that work. This was before I decided to change my Facebook to only a business page. While on bed rest from my accident, I started a personal Pinterest account as well, and pinned many of those images there. I exhibited the Oral series of portraits offline in an installation for a show called Content 2012 at the Ace Hotel in Portland, Oregon. I launched a new perfume called "Couple Found Dead in the Fragrance Hotel," taken from a word search of "hotel, perfume, and crime." I am using documentation from the Content show to sell "The Couple Found Dead in the Fragrance Hotel" perfume on Etsy.

Couple Found Dead in the Fragrance Hotel Perfume
perfume, glass, plastic

AE: Interesting. So in this way, the online work ended up translating to an offline exhibition and then subsequently to an ephemeral line of perfume that combined both ideas. On the perfume and Pinterest front, I love how you couple an image of a bison with the text from a Craigslist ad that in some way relates to the smell of a lover. Talk a bit about how this functions on Pinterest. Why did you post it to Pinterest and not to Facebook?

I don't have a girlfriend
digital pin on Pinterest

JB: My online work is largely experimental, intuitive and framed by my interest in ephemera and scent. I am not interested in the proliferation of my splintered identity through countless social media accounts, but rather in the idea that the combined image and text become decentralized and do the work on their own. The largest critique people have of Pinterest is the lack of authorship, so I am exploiting that.

In light of the narcissism these social media sites breed, I knew publishing images of my face missing skin and teeth on any of them would fight directly against the promotion of a desire to be ME. Subsequent to the "pins," of the Oral series, I wanted to push my exploration of the aesthetic on Pinterest in particular, because the sole function of the site is to "curate." Initially I started searching for "bad" or "ugly" photography, thinking in terms of the visual language of the site. Those searches only displayed beautiful photographs of puns, and posters with animals saying things like "bad hair day," "bad boy," or kitsch photography. I knew Craigslist would be a source of "bad" or "ugly" images, without the use of the retro photo filters you find on Instagram. These images would be devoid of self-consciousness. I use Craigslist Portland for the tangibility of pinning images from local geography, and I started combining my ongoing collection of text from Craigslist related to smell with disparate images from Pinterest.  

Etsy, where I sell perfumes, and Pinterest are starting to fold in on each other, just like Instagram and Facebook. Etsy has changed some of its language to emulate Pinterest’s. In the section where you see the most current activity of shops you "admire," the language is now "followers" and "following” like on Pinterest. Etsy has also recently reformatted that page with larger images to reflect the Pinterest-style layout. I’ve been a small business owner for a decade. I owned a deconstructed clothing and accessories line for ten years and have been an antique dealer for almost the same amount of time. Throughout this time, I have been fascinated by the combination of the DIY movement, the nostalgic aesthetic, the acceptance of blatant plagiarism, and the rapid growth of small businesses online. The homogenized, tribe-based aesthetic on both Pinterest and Etsy had appeal in the beginning.

AE: You mentioned that you started using Pinterest while on bed rest. What maintains your interest now, post-surgery and resting period? How has participating on Pinterest change the work you make with it and on it? 

JB: Amusement derived from my own practice is largely what maintains my interest, so finding strange and intuitive combinations keeps me energized. I think it is healthy to critique a system where people are taking themselves and their taste way too seriously.

My initial relationship with most social media sites was that of a complacent user. However, all of these social sites ultimately center on self-promotion. Promotion of my lifestyle, my taste, my world, my products, and your jealousy of me and my style. And I eventually find myself wanting to critique the behavior I start to abhor in myself as a result of participation in these virtual worlds. Pinterest in particular gave rise to the misuse of the word "curate" I would postulate. 

Etsy Treasury List
I did an olfactory search of the word smell, as part of my art practice, and picked one item per page, placed them in order, and restricted myself to choosing something on every other page.

AE: I’m also noticing that on your Etsy project, Treasury Lists, you curate a collection of work that wouldn’t normally end up on that ecommerce site. What’s the deal?

JB: My Treasury List work on Etsy is a critique of their DIY homogenized aesthetic, and my Lists are developed through scent-based text searches. I highlight work that has low numerical value measured in "Views" "Admirers" and prior inclusion in "Treasury Lists;" on some level it is my exhibition and promotion of the underdog. Looking at my practice on these respective sites as virtual exhibition is critically important; I want to create dialogue from within, rather than trying to launch a critique externally. However, documenting the work through my website allows me to reach both willing, and unwilling participants in the conversation.

glorious giant a spiced voluptuary howling mystery
perfume, glass, plastic

AE: I'm interested in your fascination with the ephemeral nature of perfume; perfume exists as a physical form, yet the essence of it and the responses it produces can travel through the Internet "air," as such. How did you become interested in perfume-making as an art form?

JB: While in graduate school, I was examining my career in independent fashion and working with physical materials as wearable sculpture. I became interested in perfume as sculpture. I used my body as site, removing visual cues and performing with scents. It remains a challenge to communicate the invisible through visual means. I use text a lot. I am interested in the evocative phenomena of poetry, which sometimes appears in the unexpected form of a Craigslist personal ad. It is a means to translate these ideas because language is similarly ephemeral. My visceral, scented work can challenge the visual culture, but it does make the pictorial representation of my practice a challenge.

AE: I’d like to take a turn away from social media sites as spaces for artmaking toward the more straight up social media strategy questions. How do you use Facebook for personal use? For professional use?

JB: I hated Facebook from the beginning and saw it solely as a means for self-promotion and voyeurism. If I had my druthers, I would not use the Internet much. So the fact that my practice is moving so heavily towards the digital medium is a stretch for me personally and professionally. I try to see it as a tool like any paintbrush or camera. I interact on Facebook as a business owner and artist. This does include personal relationships with clients or friends, but I keep my personal life as private as possible.

AE: Do you use Twitter and Tumblr? I didn't see links to those on your site. If you don't use them, why is that?

JB: I don't use Twitter and Tumblr. I would rather spend more of my time offline; it's a form of self-protection. I want to fight social media's influence on the way I see myself. The ease with which I can find my value in "likes," "friends," "followers" and "repins" is alarming. I don't want to live my life online to the degree that I forget my neighbor who sleeps in the street. So much of the world lives without computers at all. We live in a scary world of mind-altering affluence.

AE: I agree. Spending too much time on social sites can really warp one’s sense of relationships. But what about Craigslist, another site that interests you. Do you see it as social media site? Why or why not?

JB: I think that ultimately it is a social site. People are promoting themselves on Craigslist as much as on any other site. There are people who regularly post to different forums, and have created personas through personal ads. In front of a screen, our various representations of ourselves collide with each other. 

AE: Do you see much difference between our online and offline selves? Or do we just flow between the two? 

JB: I think those things flow most of the time. Online personas are likely to be much harsher, dirtier and more fantastical. They can be prideful and judgmental, and I guess we just have to decide which personas we want to spend time feeding.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jennifer Koch


In her life-size terracotta sculptures, artist JENNIFER KOCH reveals the reproductive exploitation of female factory farm animals. Her calves, piglets and chicks appear emaciated and vulnerable. Their facial expressions reveal an experience of intense suffering and terror. Research into common agribusiness practices and a lifetime of working with animals fuels her art practice. Jennifer received her BFA from the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth in May 2012. Her first solo show opens on November 27th, 2013 at Colo Colo Gallery in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Jennifer is currently based in Worcester, Massachusetts, where she is a full-time artist-in-residence at the Worcester Center for Crafts.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us a little about your history as an artist. Have you always worked primarily in clay?

Jennifer Koch: I have been drawing and making things since I was a little kid. From middle school through high school I was primarily interested in photography. I didn’t use clay until my senior year of high school. It was love at first touch! I initially applied to college as a ceramics major, but for a long time my love of ceramics was in competition with my interest in photography. I changed my major several times. Eventually, ceramics won because I found I could be more creative with clay. It's more hands on. I love physically building things: sculptures, pottery, weaving and jewelry. Though I appreciate painting, drawing and photography, I’m not much of a two-dimensional art maker.


OPP: I absolutely relate to the animals you portray. I feel pangs of sympathy; they feel so human to me. Their expressions and postures are so pitiful that I found myself grimacing as I looked through your website. The one that affected me the most was Sophie. For a brief second it was a little funny, because I thought of how my cat presents herself to me and has no problem sticking her business in my face at unexpected moments. But then, of course, I noticed how thin that calf is and how she looks like she is being forced down, and then the whole sculpture became about rape and violation for me. In fact, the other calves, Anna and Laura, are also shown in what feel like extremely vulnerable sexual positions. Can you talk about this choice?

JK: I read a very interesting book a few years ago called The Sexual Politics of Meat by Carol Adams, which contributed to my interest in the connection between animals and feminism. My work is specifically focused on the reproductive exploitation of animals. As a woman, I find it the most abhorrent part of the entire animal agricultural system, which depends on the continuous pregnancies of young animals who will die before they reach adulthood. The animals are artificially inseminated while they are essentially babies themselves. There is no consent in this process—the animals have no voice. I want to provoke the question, “Is this rape?” If it’s not, why not? If it is, or if thinking about it makes us uncomfortable, perhaps we need to readjust our actions as consumers of the products these animals produce. If we recognize that animals are sentient beings and have their own desires, should the right to consent be exclusive to humans? I recognize that this is a very challenging and sensitive thought process, but I don’t believe in shying away from something because it’s controversial. 

Many animal byproducts are contingent on the reproductive exploitation of female animals. Cows are kept continuously pregnant in order for factory farms to get the maximum amount of milk and all other dairy products. The male calves are unwanted and become veal. Eggs are byproducts of female chickens' reproductive systems. If males chicks hatch, they are disposed of and usually in horrific, but industry-standard ways—like grinding them up while they are still alive or throwing them into the garbage where they die of suffocation, exposure or starvation. In my work, I present the problem of using animals as objects. There is a natural connection between the methods of oppression and exploitation of women and of animals.

OPP: Well, I was going to ask you if it is significant that all the animals have female names, but now I think the answer is clear. But do the responses to the sculptures change when viewers read the titles?

JK: The titles were of much debate during my final thesis critique in May (2012). Initially, it was important to me that viewers understood that all of my sculptures are female, and I hoped to increase empathic response by giving them human names. But I got the feedback that the titles change the message of my work, that the human names turn the work into a metaphor for the human experience. That is something I want to avoid. It’s all about the animals. Based on that feedback, I've decided to change the titles to something more informative. I had started considering new titles this summer and then got distracted with my new work and forgot about it until I was sent this question! Thank you for the reminder!

OPP: You’re welcome. I have to say that I love the female names as titles, but they did lead me down that path to thinking about my own suffering as a human being and the experience of suffering in general. It’s my natural tendency to see metaphor, even where there is also literal truth.

JK: I think that’s not just your reaction but human nature. We can really only experience the world as humans and are barely even able to relate to other humans who are not very similar to us. I was hoping to reach people via empathy, but it’s very difficult for people to think outside their own species, and I overlooked that in my optimism.

OPP: Can you share any alternatives you’ve considered? 

JK: I only have a few alternative names worked out for the pieces that are on my website. Laura, the calf with the large udder, will potentially be renamed Mastitis, which refers to an inflammation of the breast tissue due to infection. Nicole, the piglet that hangs from a steel nipple on the wall, will be renamed Weaned. There are also new pieces with similar titles that aren't yet on my website. Some of these only appear in studio shots on my Flickr stream right now, because they haven’t yet been professionally photographed. 


OPP: You mention in your statement that you "create work that is conceptually driven by research of common agribusiness practices and from the animals’ physical experiences and emotional responses." And it's obvious that your portrayal of the suffering of animals has both personal and political significance, because you have a link to Vegan Outreach on your artist website. Are you disappointed if viewers contemplate the suffering alone and don't go that extra step of considering their own choices about whether to eat meat?

JK: It's not just about meat consumption; it's about the use of animals who have their own desires and lives. I am using emotion as the entry point to get people to think about the consequences of using animals for personal benefit in their daily lives. Animals are treated as objects in our society and have been for a very long time. I hope to add to the discussion about whether their exploitation is ethically acceptable.

Animals are sentient and emotional beings who form relationships with each other as friends and family. If left alone, they lead their own lives independent of humans. Is it ethically acceptable to deprive these animals of their freedom to lead self-guided lives just so that we can have the products we want? I might not have been challenged to think about this, but my family frequently rescued abused or neglected animals when I was young. I got to see their personalities evolve as they adjusted to more comfortable lives. My horse, Jester, was probably the most influential. I saw him change from aggressive and anti-social to calm. Now he plays with other horses. Professionally, I was a dog groomer for seven years; for a few years, I was also a caretaker of dogs, cats, goats and birds. I’ve also worked at a veterinarian office and at a small pet supply store. I just can't view animals as objects.

My life had to change when I realized that I used them in my own life, not just as a food source but also for entertainment, clothing, beauty products and health products. I want to share that thought process through my art. I don't expect many people to change their actions as a result of considering my sculptures, but I want to keep the discussion moving forward. I would be disappointed if I wasn’t successful in creating a debate. Social change is a long process, but I believe in it. My work won't likely be the turning point, but it’s a reminder and a push. My work aims for an idealistic outcome, but my expectations are realistic.

OPP: You've recently graduated with your BFA and are currently an artist-in-residence at Worcester Center for Craft. How has the residency changed your work?

JK: The Worcester Center for Crafts has been great so far. I have a wonderful work space and supportive colleagues who aren’t afraid to give me the feedback I need. It’s very different from being in school because there are no deadlines except the ones you make for yourself. It has been a challenge to learn to work in a self-directed way. There’s a learning curve, but eventually I’ll get the hang of it. 

I knew before I started the residency that I’d be working smaller, since I don’t have access to an enormous kiln any more. I plan on getting back to larger pieces this winter and tackling a new construction method. It’s taking some time to work up the nerve, because there WILL be failures. Let’s face it: no one likes failures, even if they’re expected.

In the meantime, I’m experimenting with new surfaces. I’ve been trying out underglazes and oxides at different firing temperatures, as well as adding acrylic paint and gouache after firing the clay. I’m also trying to bring more context and narrative to each piece. I’m using interactions between other animals and objects to bring more meaning to the animals’ expressions. I’ve made two sets of mother sheep with baby lambs that are reaching for each other. The interaction is between the mother and the baby as well as with the obstacles separating thema wooden palate in one piece and a fibrous thread in the other.

To see more of Jennifer's work, please visit jenniferkochart.com.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Joseph James

Cut paper, acrylic paint
110 x 90 cm

The quality of the line in JOSEPH JAMES' work is stunningly beautiful. His cut paper "drawings" both hide and reveal information about his sources, pushing the viewer to contemplate what was there before. He shows us the complexity and mystery that can exist in a simple, repeated gesture. Joseph exhibits internationally, and his work is included in several prestigious museum collections including the Saastamoinen Foundation Collection at the Espoo Museum of Modern Art and the Vexi Salmi Collection at the Hämeenlinna Art Museum. His upcoming solo show at Galerie Anhava opens in April 2013. Joseph lives in Helsinki, Finland.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us about your history as an artist. How did your printmaking background lead to the cut paper "drawings" you make now?

Joseph James: I started my undergraduate studies at Winthrop University in South Carolina as a painting and sculpture major. I ended up switching to painting and printmaking because I felt more comfortable working in two-dimensional media. I studied new media printmaking techniques at Saimaa University of Applied Sciences in Finland and started making art full time. This led into my graduate studies in the printmaking department at The Finnish Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki.

At the academy I began to understand that the reason I liked printmaking had less to do with making prints and more to do with the process-intensive techniques. I was also looking for a way to combine my interests in drawing, painting and printmaking, and I got the idea to make some paper cuts. At first, I tried to keep printmaking part of the process by cutting on top of acrylic glass plates and printing the cut marks. As the series developed, I let go of the printing altogether.

"Center of the Earth"
Cut paper, acrylic paint

OPP: You emphasize process when you identify your medium as "cut paper." While the objects themselves are beautiful in a purely formal way, they become more compelling to me when I think about how they were made. The cutting process is enigmatic and impressive because the lines are so delicate and varied. Is the cutting done by a computer or a machine or by hand?

JJ: The cutting is done by hand with a small hobby knife. It is a slow and meticulous process, which is extremely rewarding for me as the maker. It’s crucial to the meaning of the work that it be cut by hand. My piece The Entanglement was laser cut in steel, but the feel of this work is completely different. The meaning is also changed by the process. I would like to try laser-cutting paper and other materials at some point, but I don’t see it ever replacing the cutting by hand technique. 

OPP: I agree that whether the cuts are made by hand instead of by machine significantly affects the meaning of the work. But meticulousness as a quality can be read in lots of opposing ways: patience, obsessiveness, focus, engagement, meditation. Can you expand on what the hand-cutting technique means to you, outside of the pleasure of the process?

JJ: For me it’s about opening up a channel through all of the questioning and overanalyzing that separates me from the act of creating. In other words, it is about action and creation. I’m okay with all of the opposing ways this can be read. Meaning emerges from the ambiguity of the seemingly simple, straightforward act of cutting.

OPP: Are you thinking about the source images while you cut them up? 

JJ: I’m not thinking about the source image at all while I cutjust the drawing. The cutting is almost mechanical. It’s like tracing the drawing, and where the lines fall in relation to the substrate depends on that initial drawing. I often cut the piece from the backside, so it is not until after the cutting is finished that I even see what it looks like. At this point, I treat each piece like a new experience or perception. I let go of the original idea and the source material, which are really just starting points. I try to view it objectively. 

Cut paper
100 x 50 cm

OPP: What are the substrates you cut from? 

JJ: I use posters, magazines and photographs, as well as fine art paper, hand-painted paper and hand-made collages. 

OPP: Some pieces, like Absurdity and Outburst, are scribbles and reveal the beauty in what appears to be an unplanned line. Others, like Animal Farm or Union Camp, seem to highlight preexisting lines in found images. There's a sense of pulling out the skeleton of an image. Is there a distinctly different process for these pieces?

JJ: The main difference is the drawing process, but there are other subtle differences as well. My process is like a set of variables that I can rearrange and adjust to varying degrees. I can draw from life or not, use a source image or not, and be faithful to the image or not. I can also change the material and substrate, the number of layers, the installation and so on. With each piece I gain more experience. I learn more about myself and the work, bringing that to the next piece, too. The process is dynamic. The cutting is probably the most stable aspect of the work, but I notice that it even changes slightly from piece to piece. 

70 x 40 cm

OPP: I called your pieces "drawings," but they could also be talked about as sculpture when they are exhibited on pedestals or hanging in space. How do you make decisions about the installation of each piece?

JJ: The presentation of this work is very important. It was easy at first because I was learning about the behavior of the material and allowing each piece to dictate how it would be installed. With the hanging pieces, when I finished the cutting and picked them up, they just collapsed in every direction. It was a surprise at first, but I saw the beauty in the natural tendency of the paper to react to gravity and just took advantage of that by hanging it from the ceiling. The idea of showing them on pedestals came from wanting to capture the feeling of the pieces when they are lying on the tabletop being cut. I haven’t used that option since the first exhibition of this work.

I install the other works with small nails directly into the wall. I do not use frames. In this way, they interact with the space like a sculpture would. The pieces work best when there is a lot of open area around them. This makes the wall almost disappear. The pieces look like they are suspended in mid-air. 

To view more of Joseph's work, check out his website at josephljames.com.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Chloe S. Watson

Wall with Columns
Acrylic on paper
4 x 6 inches

CHLOE S. WATSON's enigmatic renderings of nondescript landscapes and architecture are based on places she has lived. Her work investigates the abstraction of fact through memory. She deals with experiences, objects and people that should evoke emotion, but instead all the emotion is stripped away. The viewer is left with only a graphic rendering of a human experience. What's left out is as important as what remains. Her work is currently included in Binderful, an online exhibition at Baker Fine Art, which is housed in an actual binder and will begin traveling to art spaces around the country in late January 2013. Her upcoming solo show at Delaplaine Visual Arts Center (Frederick, MD) opens in August 2013. Chloe lives in Farmington, Maine, where she and husband, the artist Jason Irla, run the space Points North out of a retired horse barn.

OtherPeoplesPixels: The most consistent formal quality in your landscape paintings is an exploration of architectural space through color and line. Objects are flattened into mere shapes: mountains become triangles, a sand dune becomes a pink blob, a doorway becomes a blue rectangle. How does this abstracting of architecture and landscape reveal your conceptual concerns?

Chloe S. Watson: I’ll give a little background about the origin of this work first: I didn’t start taking my paintings and drawings seriously until my second year of graduate school at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Before graduate school, I was primarily working three-dimensionally and thought of my drawings as preliminary studies for future sculptures or installations. I was struggling with my sculptural work, and I was encouraged in graduate school to examine my drawings. They were more interesting formally and accomplished things that the sculptures couldn't. Through drawing and painting, I could reference architectural spaces that would be impossible to physically bring into the studio.

The early spatial paintings came out of the formal drawing exercises I was doing in my studio—cutting out and arranging flat paper sculptures, lighting them, and drawing them from life. At the time, I was thinking a lot about my personal experiences and memories of spaces. I had just read The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard. Reading about architecture as a container for memories struck a chord with me and is something I think about constantly. My family moved around many times while I was younger, and readjusting to a new place became the norm; it had a profound effect on me as a person and an artist.

I began translating my memories of architectural spacesmy childhood bedroom, for exampleinto the backgrounds for those strange forms, and I would insert other objects into the paintings as well.The paintings are mostly about absence verses presence and substitution; substituting nondescript forms for furniture that lived in a particular space kept the viewer from accessing the “true” memory of that place. I was also interested in creating a visual vocabulary of nondescript objects that could be read as windows, doors, holes or even streams or puddles of liquid. These forms suggest but never dictate what roles they play in the paintings. This is still important to me, because it allows room for any interpretation from the viewer.

Acrylic, Contact paper, colored pencil on panel
10 x 16 inches

OPP: I see what you mean about what the drawings can do that the sculptures can't. In a painting like Wall with Columns, I can see that there are two columns in this space and a drawing of two columns on a wall in the background. When I first glance at the piece, I see the representation of a three-dimensional space, but the more I stare, the more that space disappears into pure color and line. It goes totally flat. Then I have this Magic Eye experience: the image keeps moving back and forth between the second and third dimension. Your drawing of the columns becomes equivalent to your drawing of a drawing of a column. How is this connected to your ideas about memory?

CSW: I’m glad that you had that experience, because I attempt to confuse the viewer’s perception of space in most of these paintings. That confusion is connected to what I find fascinating about remembering: everyone’s memory malfunctions. I read Daniel Schacter’s book The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers, which categorizes the essential malfunctions of memory and articulates many of the ideas I reference in my paintings and drawings. Memories are never set in stone; one “chooses” to recall certain details or events if the recollection is essential and powerful enough. Individual memories are weak or strong because of their purpose and how often those particular memories are accessed.

In the paintings of previous spaces I’ve inhabited, I am interested in creating these warped perceptions of space, because my memories of those spaces are certainly already distorted. Wall with Columns is based on my old studio in Baltimore that had two very prominent but annoying columns directly in the center of the space. When I begin a piece, I often ask myself, "What are the main players in this piece and why?" In this particular painting, it was the columns. I wanted the columns to seem more monumental and intrusive than they actually were. I highlighted that importance by repeating their forms through a line drawing in the background. The green outline is not definitive; the viewer could be looking at a door or window, a hole in the wall specifically cut for these two columns to slide through, or an object resting against the wall. There is a significant connection between art and remembering for me; both rely on individual interpretation to perceive what is or is not authentic.

Jerks Poster
Digital print
12 x 18 inches

OPP: In 2011, you drew 73 jerks from your personal history, documenting them only by their hairstyles. The cataloging of personal data and memories transformed into a stripped-down graphic rendering is a strategy you use repeatedly, as in 17 Bedrooms and Paintings on a Map. 73 Jerks stands out in its representation of the human form. What made you shift gears from the spatial paintings you were doing before?

CSW: I need to feel challenged in the studio, and the paintings had become too easy for me to figure out. It was like my hand and brush were so trained they knew exactly where to start and what to do. I was restless. In June 2011, I did a residency at The Wassaic Project in Wassaic, New York. I went there intending to work on those paintings, but for several months before that I had been considering a project about all of the jerks I’d ever known. I felt timid about actually following through. The jerk project would be so different visually, but conceptually it was connected to the spatial paintings; visually, it translated as an examination of my personal narrative and memories. By the time I arrived at the residency, the jerks were stuck in my head.

I had brought several yearbooks from my schools with me as well as numerous photographs that my mom had just given me. I meticulously went through all of my sources and took notes about who I was considering including and why. After only four days at the residency, I had already finished all 73 of the drawings. I decided to work chronologically so that the drawings would create a sort of timeline. In order to keep the figures nonspecific and thus universal to viewers, I drew only the hair of each jerk. 

OPP: Did you enjoy making the drawings?

CSW: It was interesting to spend the 20-45 minutes drawing each hairstyle and thinking about why I was including that particular person in the series. I’m not sure what made me decide to quantify the jerks and think of them like data in a science experiment, but I had a blast making the graphs and attempting to write very analytically about the correlations between age, gender, hair and one’s likelihood of being a jerk to me. I highly enjoyed making 73 Jerks, but it is a project that I am only going to explore once. I have no intention of creating another volume of jerks and honestly hope that I don’t have to.

Data Visualization: Jerk Hair Color

OPP: Quoting from your statement for your project Paintings on the Map: "This project is a continuation of my exploration into architectural spaces as containers for memories. I began by completing a series of paintings based on eleven residences significant to my personal narrative. Combing through photographic sources, I attempted to capture what I felt was the most memorable aspect of the space when I occupied the residence." Could you talk about the interactive aspect of the project that followed the creation of the paintings? How did this project get at your interests in a way the paintings alone could not?

CSW: Paintings on the Map grew out of the 4" x 6" studies I was doing earlier this summer. My husband and I recently moved from Baltimore to Maine. Before we left, we met the couple that was moving into our Baltimore apartment, which was a space I absolutely loved. I had this urgeand felt it my dutyto communicate to the new occupants why and how much I loved this apartment, in the hopes that they would value the space as much as I did. I recognized that the painted studies were postcard-sized and wondered what would happen if I sent a small painting through the mail as a postcard to the new tenants. And what if I sent a piece of art to other strangers who currently live in my past dwellings? They have no idea that we are connected to each other through the history of a place. Would the admission of "I used to live in your house" make the current residents feel uncomfortable?

I decided to write a QR code and web address on the backside of each card, which offers an explanation as to what they were looking at. I was aware that my handling of the imagery on the card might be difficult for the resident to understand or access. I also loved the idea that the card could serve as a gateway to more information that exists on a Google Map, and it was up to the recipient whether or not they access that information. In my introduction to the online map, I provided my contact information and asked recipients to please send me a photo of the painting in their home. I also asked them to share any memorable experiences they’ve had in their space. I was a little pessimistic about getting any replies, but two recipients sent me photographs and shared stories about their current homes. I was ecstatic to see my painting hanging in the place it was based on. It was as if an extension of myself was living in that space again. There was also something wonderful about sending a giftespecially one that could be mistaken as junk mailto a complete stranger and imagining the recipient’s reaction to getting a weird piece of art one day in their mailbox.

OPP: You recently curated Methods of Exchange, which also involved the mail. It was the inaugural exhibition at Points North, the new art space you run with your husband Jason Irla in a retired horse barn in Farmington, Maine. This particular curation involved your sending all the invited participating artists painted postcards in exchange for the pieces they sent you to show in the exhibition. Do you see this exchange of work as part of your artistic practice?

CSW: I don’t know if this sort of exchange will continue in my artistic practice, but I certainly want it to continue outside of that in my daily life. I sent handwritten letters and care packages to friends all the time when I was younger, but as I got older and took on more commitments, it became difficult to continue that kind of giving. I couldn't justify it in the age of convenient, online communication. But I was determined to not let moving to rural Maine become a death sentence to my social life and art career. I still feel that there is no excuse for giving in to the isolation here when there are so many ways to keep up with the rest of the world. Method of Exchange was my way of introducing the Farmington community to a group of artists that my husband and I are excited about and want to share. The show was also about forming broader conversations about home and distance. I might not be able to travel to your home in San Francisco, but for only 45 cents my small painting can get there in less than a week.
Mixed media on paper
4 x 6 inches

OPP: Recently you've been working in three-dimensional soft sculpture? Is this the first time? What led to the shift away from painting?

CSW: A very important aspect of my studio practice is that it isn't defined by medium or material. The direction of my work is dictated by the ideas. The methods necessary to complete projects are secondary to the concepts. I have a varied skill set and backgrounds in sculpture, fiber and material studies, painting and drawing. I’m confident that I can learn any other approach or technique in order to complete a project. I still consider these three-dimensional soft sculpturesspecifically those in Idyllic Landscape Unit— to be paintings, because they are created with acrylic on canvas. They are simply paintings that exist in three-dimensions. More recently I've become interested in creating work that is about my current place. I could easily live in any other place and communicate visually, but there is something particular about my experiences in rural Maine. The idea of packing up a scaled-down version of my surroundings, sending them off to a completely different area of the world and allowing the viewer to imagine themselves living in this setting really intrigues me. This new work is partly about the convenience of shipping, storing and installing the landscape elsewhere, but it’s also about the effect materiality has on the reading of these models. There is something comical about using AstroTurf as a footprint for this picturesque scene of rural life or using sheep’s wool to depict the mythology of the moose up here in Maine. I’m still painting—mostly small landscape-based studies—but my focus right now is primarily on creating these three-dimensional models. I am so enamored with my new surroundings and want aspects of this setting to simultaneously exist elsewhere.

To view more of Chloe's work, please visit chloeswatson.com.

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