OPP Art Critics Series for the OPPblog: A New Feature for our Readers!

Awhile back, we asked OPP’s Facebook fans what types of articles they wanted to see us add to the OPPblog. Topping the list was the idea that we should invite art critics to write about OPP artists. We know a good critic or two, and of course, were more than happy to oblige . . . but since OPP artists are from all over the globe, how would we set up studio visits? 

Instead of having the critics visit a show or do a studio visit, we decided to ask them to look at artists' websites and write about the online experience of the work. Unconventional perhaps, but it makes perfect sense for OtherPeoplesPixels, especially since these days our art is probably seen more often on our websites than in any physical setting. Though this may be an unusual challenge to pose to an art critic, these experimental essays aim to address an important facet of the contemporary art viewing experience. 

We all look at art online. We spend time on artists' websites, search artists' names on Google Images, lurk on their Facebook pages, reblog and heart art we like on tumblr, and organize collections of our favorite images on our iDevices.

In fact, most of us probably encounter a great deal more art online than in museums, galleries, artist-run spaces and as public art installations. We think of the work of our favorite artists, but perhaps we've only seen it on the Internet, never IRL (that's "in real life" for Internet newbies). Nevertheless, this work continues to be inspiring and meaningful to us.

But we haven't really come to terms with whether or not this is a valid way to see, experience, and understand art . . . or have we? Is this a discussion we still need to have, or is the discussion already over simply because we've all implicitly accepted that we can understand, be influenced by and judge art that we see online?

If we assume we can readily understand a painting or photograph we see online, what about performance art, time-based works or installations? This is not a new issue, since these media have always faced the issues of documentation, but when we don't experience art firsthand, and then mediate further through a screen, how does this alter our experience of the work? One thing we know is that documentation becomes increasingly important, since we all know bad photography can make good work look bad, and poor presentation can make complex works hard to understand.

In the spirit of continuing to explore/explode Mr. Walter Benjamin's idea of the "aura," OPP is tackling this idea head on by asking art critics to look at artists' work—not at a show in a gallery or museum—but through their artist websites. 

The Critics Series for the OPPblog will see some of our favorite art critics writing about OPP artists' work, the challenges of online art viewing, and the website as gallery. Keep your eyes out for our first post on May 14!

OtherPeoplePixels Interviews Melissa Wyman

Spring Play @ VIAF Performance Festival.
2009
Performance/ Installation

MELISSA WYMAN’s training in close contact martial arts informs her grappling performances and workshops, drawings of wrestling bodies and private Fight Therapy Sessions. Her interdisciplinary art practice involves teaching Brazilian jiu-jitsu as a method of exploring the psychological and physical relationships of the participants. Melissa received her MFA in Social Practice from the California College of the Arts in San Francisco (2008), where she was a recipient of the Barclay Simpson Award. She has created and presented work in the United States, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and Chile, and her book, Fight Therapy: A Discussion about Agency, Art and the Reverse Triangle Choke, was published in 2010. Melissa lives in Stanford, California.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Can you give us a brief history of your background in martial arts? When did you start training? What style?

Melissa Wyman: My love of movement and awkwardness in dance class lead me to martial arts. I started with aikido in 1995 and trained for about four years, and then I trained in Japanese jiu-jitsu and tai chi for a couple of years. When I moved to Japan in 1999, I was introduced to Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) and was immediately hooked. BJJ is specifically designed for smaller and weaker people to be able to deal with larger opponents. In turn, larger people learn how to grapple with smaller opponents and have the opportunity to focus on their technique rather than strength. For the last twelve years, I have been training mainly in BJJ, complimented by a little kickboxing and mixed martial arts (MMA). I’ve trained in Japan, New Zealand, San Francisco and South Korea. I took a brief break when I got pregnant, but I’ll enter competitions again when my daughter will let me train more than three days a week, maybe when she is old enough to train with me. 

Now I am back in the United States. I help instruct the Stanford Grappling Club. I also attend Women’s Open Mat organized by Shawn Tamaribuchi and Lana Stefanac in the Bay Area, which is when an awesome group of women from different clubs all over the area get together to spar. I actively competed in BJJ from 2002 to 2007 in Japan, New Zealand and the United States.
2008
Video
3min and 20sec

OPP: Since 2006, your project Fight Therapy has included performances, installations, workshops and drawings that all make use of or reference various forms of organized sparring. What was the impetus for Fight Therapy?

MW: Many forms of physical activity are therapeutic, especially sports that provide a healthy release of built up tension and give you an adrenaline boost to work with. When I train regularly, I feel more productive, more ready to participate in the world. Whether it’s boxing, kickboxing, MMA or wrestling, there is a deep camaraderie and empathy that takes place between people who ritualistically grapple, punch or kick each other by mutual agreement in a safe environment. I want my training partners to come back and train with me the next day, so we can also take care of each other. The project began when I decided to take grappling out of the gym and put it  into an art context.

OPP: Can you talk about the tension between aggression and collaboration in your work?

MW: I am very interested in the tension between aggression and collaboration and the difference between aggression and violence. I come from hippie roots with a strong belief in empathy and non-violence. I would define a violent act as one in which an organism—plant, animal, human, organization, corporation or government—acts in a way that isn’t mutually understood or wanted by its counterpart(s). Aggression, on the other hand, is energy that can be channeled, matched and worked with in various productive ways.  Most of my work is based around interpersonal relationships and communication. As someone who has been in a relationship for thirteen years and has lived in various countries during this time, I’ve learned that miscommunications and disagreements are a natural part of the human experience. But if you statically butt heads with someone, no one goes anywhere. If you can move, turn, roll and transition from one position to another, it gets interesting. Relationship building depends on the flow of both verbal and non-verbal communication between “grappling partners.” Awkward moments and transitions offer opportunities for growth.
Art vs Craft
2008
Collaborative project with artist Andrew Tosiello (Art) and action weaver Travis Meinolf (Craft), who trained with me for an intense two months before having an unchoreographed match at California College of the Arts in San Francisco.

OPP: You've conducted over 100 Fight Therapy Sessions between 2006 and 2011. How are those different from the interactive performances Costume Fight Therapy and Spring Play (both 2009)?

MW: The different aspects of the project fall under the same conceptual framework, but in practice, the Fight Therapy Sessions do something that the performance can’t and vice versa.

The private Fight Therapy Sessions take place in peoples' homes; they are always between two people and without an audience. As the fight therapist, I act as a coach. This creates a personal experience for the participants to work it out on the mat. Anyone can invite someone to do a Fight Therapy Session for any reason. I’ve had friends, lovers, ex-lovers, family members, teachers and students, and even diplomats from different countries work with one another. I provide the mats, teach grappling techniques, offer guidance and create a safe context in which people can grapple with one another. I make it possible for the smaller or physically weaker person of the pair to keep the grappling conversation going. The private Fight Therapy Sessions remain an undocumented experience and live on in conversation, thus giving depth to the project as a whole. The interactive performances are more of a spectacle with multiple participants and an audience. They are run similarly to the private sessions: I do a warm-up, teach some techniques, and then facilitate grappling between people. The grappling itself, like in the private sessions, is not choreographed. Some performances have a theme. In Costume Fight Therapy, participants dressed up in costumes that represented identities they were grappling with. This provided a group experience to “discuss”—through the physical grappling—shared issues. In Spring Play I fought my husband, Dion, in front of a huge audience in South Korea. This performance was loosely choreographed because we were telling the story of our relationship through our fighting. We actually met through Japanese jiu-jitsu in California when Dion came to visit and trained at the same place I was training. He was a New Zealander living in Japan where he was also training in BJJ. I moved to Japan and began to train at the same club. We were both teaching English at the time. After moving countries several times together, we found ourselves living in South Korea where he was working as a New Zealand diplomat. I was working on being a diplomat’s wife and an artist with odd jobs. For this performance, I wore a dress and Dion wore a suit. Feedback from the audience made me realize that the performance was also about grappling with societal expectations about gender roles.
I See 3 Asses
2012
Mixed media on paper
A collaboration with the Chicago art going public who were invited to draw on, write on, and deface my paintings.
2 X 3 feet

OPP: Collaborative Combative (2012) was part of an exhibition at Error Plain 206 in Chicago. You invited the gallery going public to collaborate with you by defacing the previously completed Fight Therapy paintings and drawings. Was this sanctioned defacement of your drawings and paintings always part of the plan? Was it difficult to watch as the collaboration/defacement began?

MW: That show was initially going to be a Fight Therapy event. Before the show, the gallery owner was advised that inviting the public to participate in a fight-related event in his space could have some legal implications. So the curator, Sarah Nelson, and I discussed other options. I decided to bring a selection of drawings and paintings and invite another kind of aggressive participation. I felt that my drawings were missing the energy that existed in the participatory work. One of the aspects of that work that I enjoy is that I create a context for things to happen. I don’t have total control over the outcome. I wanted to do this with my drawings. I was curious to see to what extent the drawings would actually be defaced. Oddly enough, it was satisfying and surprisingly rewarding to see people draw and write on the drawings. I was happy that the audience engaged with them even when what was written and drawn wasn’t complimentary. Each piece is now it’s own conversation, and I think they are all more interesting and energetic works. After agreeing that participants could sign a waiver and that I would be very clear with people that I was not a licensed therapist, I also facilitated a few Fight Therapy Sessions in the space.

2012
Participatory Combat Drawing: documentation

OPP: Animal: Collaborative Combative Drawing at Southern Exposure in San Francisco (2012) combines the participatory events with drawing in a completely new way? Can you describe what happened?

MW: This event was both a workshop and a performance. I invited a handful of Bay Area artists. Some brought their own partners. Others allowed me to pair them up. Fourteen artists were asked to come prepared with an animal that they wanted to draw; this could be a power animal or a creature with which they identified. We started the evening with a physical warm up. I taught self-defense and movement techniques relevant to the activity that they would be doing. I gave each pair a 5 x 8 feet piece of paper. The public was invited to participate with smaller paper or watch. Each piece of paper was marked lightly down the middle. The artists had 45 minutes to draw the body of the animal on their side of the paper starting at the ass (or tail) and working towards the middle of the paper. They would meet in the middle at the shoulders of the animal and stop. When the whistle blew—marking the end of the 45 minutes—the objective was for each artist to draw the head of his or her animal on the partner’s side of the paper without letting the partner do the same. So it was a visual, physical and metaphorical clashing of heads. They had three minutes to push, pull and fight with each other to get their marks down on the paper. It turned into a very high energy evening with lots of movement and some maniacal laughter. The works created stayed up for the weekend and may still be shown at a future date.

OPP: Are there any new developments in your practice? Any upcoming public events?

MW: I have a few more Collaborative Combative Drawing events coming up in August 2013. First, on August 2nd at the Steynberg Gallery in San Luis Obispo, I will have a Collaborative Combative Drawing event with local artists that will be open to the public to witness. The works will remain up for the month at the gallery. Then, on August 10th, I will do a separate workshop at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art for people who where interested in trying Collaborative Combative Drawing. Anyone can sign up. The workshop will be from 1 to 3 pm. The work will remain on display for the rest of the month. Then in the summer of 2014, my work will be in Soft Muscle, curated by Adrienne Heloise, at Root Division in San Francisco.

Currently, I'm working on ways to push and explore the Collaborative Combative concept. I've been inviting Bay Area artists to do one-on-one Collaborative Combative Coffee (and drawing) Sessions with me. These sessions are similar to the other Collaborative Combative Drawing sessions, but each one is a more personal experience between me and another artist. We discuss our work and the challenges we face in our practices, ranging from time, space, material or financial limitations to mental blocks in our creative processes. We each come up with a visual representation for one of our artistic blocks and combat draw with each other.

I've also been presenting my work at various colleges and workshopping both Fight Therapy and Collaborative Combative Drawing with the students. This model is simultaneously a cross-disciplinary ice-breaker, a physical warm up and an intervention into everyday problem-solving in personal, professional and academic settings. I plan to find more and interesting contexts to explore this platform as an art practice. Stay tuned!

To see more of Melissa's work, please visit melissawyman.info.

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 Ian Davis

Resource
2011
Acrylic & spray paint on linen

IAN DAVIS's allegorical paintings reveal a suspicion of the hubris embodied in Enlightenment-era notions of progress. Homogeneous hoards of men—anonymous peons, executives and soldiers—congregate in and around architectural and industrial structures that dwarf them. They gather to worship at the altar of Science, Industry and Technology, just as the religious supplicants gather to worship God. The settings include sweeping auditoriums, highway systems, dams, quarries, excavation sites, thus symbolizing the flawed belief that domination and containment of the natural world improves the human condition. Ian's work is included in several public collections, including The Saatchi Gallery in London and Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Missouri. In 2012, he was a New York Foundation for the Arts fellow and an artist-in-residence at The MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire. He is represented by Leslie Tonkonow Gallery in New York, where he will have a solo show in March 2014. Ian lives in Saugerties, New  York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Paintings like Reflecting Pool and Lemons (both 2011) represent nonwhite people, but these pieces are exceptions that prove the rule. The majority of the paintings are populated with droves of white men in business suits and dress shirts. I read this as a very intentional and highly allegorical choice. Can you talk about the conceptual reasoning behind the homogeneity of figures that congregate in your paintings?

Ian Davis: The paintings are highly critical of humanity. I'm displaying humanity in its most vile form. I feel pretty comfortable with portraying these people as white men, since I think they deserve the lion's share of the blame given the subject matter of the work—greed, hubris, willful ignorance—and,  since I'm a white man, perhaps I'm most comfortable criticizing myself. Recently I've been thinking a bit more about the identities of the figures. It has occurred to me that the figures could in some cases just as easily be Asian men. They do all have black hair.

The homogeneity is both a formal and narrative element. I'm not interested in portraying individuals in these paintings. These are about the mass, the herd. This is about the messed up stuff that happens when a bunch of people get together and stop thinking. But I'm also attracted to pattern, and something formally magical happens when you cluster a bunch of people together all dressed alike. The way the figures interlock and interact becomes something else entirely. I keep coming back to painting rooms full of people sitting. There's something mechanical about it. It's dark in an Orwellian way.

You know, I'm a firm believer in mystery. So I hesitate to look too closely at why I'm doing something. I'm content to just find something compelling without examining it too much. When I'm doing a crowd of people and this weird line between figuration and abstraction is being blurred, it just feels appropriate. In 2005 I was at Skowhegan in Maine, and the sculptor Charles Long came by my studio. He talked about doing something and not knowing why. I think he gave me permission, or allowed me to give myself permission to not know what something means. It's not a cop out, but rather a method for getting out of your own way.

Reflecting Pool
2011
Acrylic on linen

OPP: Are the figures in your paintings victims or perpetrators?

ID:
Generally, the people aren't really doing anything. Even when they are supposedly playing a participatory role, their main function is to act as a passive mass. Of course there are exceptions to this, but when the figures are active, they are mostly just noticing things or pointing at things. They are reactive, not active. Really they are both perpetrators AND victims, without realizing it. They ARE the problem. They have caused it, and they will be affected by it.

OPP: Pieces like Auditorium (2006), Climate (2009) and Monument (2013) remind me of the countless Nazi Nuremberg Rallies images I have seen. Are you consciously referencing these historical images? What are some points of reference in your work?

ID:
I've seen Triumph of the Will, if that’s what you mean. The images in that movie are powerfully scary, but the geometry is incredible. You can see the same geometry in images of soldiers from North Korea and of two thousand Chinese people dancing in synchronicity. It’s in Edward Burtynky's photographs of factory interiors and Busby Berkeley movies.

I'm drawn to images of large groups of people. I like the feeling of endless pattern: this vibrating, radiating thing you get when you really extend something. It happens in Bridget Riley's paintings, too . . . and also in old panoramic photographs. I think it relates to music somehow—this rhythmic, droning, trance-like pattern you get with Jimmy Reed or Booker T & the MG's.

But you know what I kept noticing in Triumph of the Will? In every long shot of an endless row of soldiers, there's always one guy who is a bit too tall. At the moment you notice that, you remember that these are actually people. It changes everything.

Monument
2013
Acrylic on linen
60 x 65"

OPP:
Many of the images you are referencing emphasize the idea of humans as cogs in a system, mindless drones who just play their parts. But the moment when you notice the tall guy is the moment when you remember that we aren’t objects. We have agency—if we choose to use it. Is that the moral message in your work? Or am I reading into it?

ID: It's not really a moral message. Generally speaking, I depict all the elements of a narrative—i.e. a bunch of scientists in lab coats sitting in an auditorium watching a reel-to-reel tape recorder on a stage—but what is actually happening is a mystery. Like De Chirico or Magritte. There's no question about what you're seeing, but why you're seeing it remains unexplained. So when I'm making a painting and there are 500 figures in the same pose with the same clothes on, each one looks different simply because I physically can't do it exactly the same way twice. You start to notice imperfections or variations, and that becomes a way to access the mystery.

OPP: I've read several reviews—one by Roberta Smith for The New York Times and one by Chris Packham for Pitch.com—in which they refer to the "cuteness" of your paintings. These were in no way negative reviews, but I found that word utterly imprecise. The word cute implies a lack of content, which is so obviously not the case. Calling your paintings cute is an imprecise way of commenting on the style. Is your painting style, which is more illustrative than realistic or expressionistic, intentional or intuitive? How does that style support your conceptual concerns?

ID:
It bothers me when words like "cute" or "whimsical" or "playful" are used in relation to my work, but what can I do if people misread them? I just figure they haven't looked at them closely. I don't think about it. I just don't care! That probably sounds nasty or something, but I just can't do anything about it. I'm not going to change what I'm doing because somebody called my work "cute."

There's probably something inherent in the way I paint that leads people down that path. Maybe they see a relationship to folk art because of the flatness and patterning. Maybe it's the scale. When I think about how I want my work to look, I think of Bruegel's epic scale, Magritte's deadpan, utilitarian paint handling and LS Lowry's sense of color. It's not a formula, but those are examples of learning from other artists by looking.

The way I paint is descriptive. I'm trying to remove gesture, to paint the way a guy who isn't trying to make art would paint—which is probably impossible. It's both intentional and intuitive. I went to art school but not graduate school. I'm not self-taught, but I wasn't given any instruction at all that led me to paint this way. I arrived at my style by making hundreds of paintings that were derivative of the things I liked looking at, including Orson Welles' films, JG Ballard's novels, Plains Indian Ledger drawings and Baker Overstreet's work. I had to figure out how to make my paintings. I think you have to invent your personal way of making a painting. That seems, to me, to be the point. It has to be your invention.

Excavation
2008
Acrylic & spray paint on linen
65 x 70"

OPP: One of the most enigmatic and evocative images is Rooftops (2012), in which a series of nearly identical rooftops are filled with hundreds of indistinguishable figures. I can't tell if they are waving for help from an overhead plane, pointing at something in the sky or trying to communicate with each other. The way the image is cropped implies that these rooftops with people on them could go on for miles . . . or forever.  It makes me think of the trope in zombie movies when the humans escape to the roof only to get stuck there with no way out. In your painting, it's like ALL the people are stuck on the rooftops. So, no one's coming to help. What's happening in this image, and what are the pink parts on the surface of the rooftops? Did you have a specific narrative in mind? 

ID: I don’t know if I should say this, but I don't consider Rooftops a very successful painting. The idea initially was to make a painting in which all the figures were reacting to something off in the distance, something outside the picture plane. I was thinking about a personal experience I had being on a rooftop in New York on September 11th. The pink shapes are supposed to be puddles of water, reflecting an acid pink-colored sky, which could indicate either something apocalyptic or a really epic sunset. I know that this painting was unsuccessful because you had to ask me what the pink parts were. I tried to convince myself that I could pull off painting the reflections in the puddles pink. And you're not the first person to ask me about this. If somebody had come into my studio while I was making this and thrown a drink into my face, I might have reconsidered. I might have painted the puddles blue instead.

Rooftops
2012
Acrylic on linen
60 x 65"

OPP: Well, I respectfully disagree that it is unsuccessful. It’s one of my favorites because not knowing what the pink was kept me musing about the narrative. It evoked that mystery you've referred to. Do you have a favorite painting of your own?

ID:
Skeptics is one I really like, because I just made it. I didn't sweat and worry over it. I like the ones that happen easily, but some are a lot more pleasant to make than others. Wee Small Hours has nice light in it. I wanted to make an all blue painting. The color palette is based on a Frank Sinatra album cover. I’m pleased with the end result, but it wasn't very fun to make. It took about seven months, and that is just so long to look at one painting. Nothing should take that long. By the end, I never wanted to see the thing again. If I feel that I'm steadily making progress on a painting, then I'm enjoying it. If I'm dealing with endless weeks of doing and redoing and not really seeing any development, then work doesn't feel like it has anything to do with making art.

OPP: You’re in the middle of preparing for your next solo show at Leslie Tonkonow (New York) in March 2014, correct? Will this show have any surprises in it? Any changes in direction or content?

ID:
Right now I'm trying to figure out how to make my next show. I've been getting in my own way a lot lately, just being a bit too aware of whether things are enough of a progression to justify their existence . . . self-defeating things like that. I'm just finishing up a big painting of Bohemian Grove that depicts a bunch of industrialists looking at themselves in vanity mirrors. I'm trying to figure out how to paint things that aren't solid—things that move—like plumes of smoke, lava and fire. I hope I figure something out soon. It happens really slowly. There's always a long pause between thinking about what I want to try and getting up the nerve to actually try it.

To view more of Ian's work, please visit iandavisart.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 Emily Barletta

Untitled 40 (detail)
2013
Thread and paper
12.25 x 13.75 inches

EMILY BARLETTA’s accumulations of embroidery and crochet stitches mark the passage of time. Her recent embroideries on paper are formal abstractions that reveal a connection between organic growth and human mark-making, inviting the viewer to contemplate the relationship of the individual parts to the whole. Emily received her BFA from The Maryland Institute College of Art (2003). She is a Pollack-Krasner Foundation Grant recipient (2011) and a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellow in Crafts (2009). Recent exhibitions include Art/Sewn at the Ashville Art Museum and The Sum of the Parts at Maryland Art Place. Emily’s work is currently on view in Repetition & Ritual: New Sculpture in Fiber until May 25, 2013 at The Hudgens Center for the Arts (Deluth, Georgia). Emily lives in Brooklyn, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your recent embroideries on paper are compositionally simple and conceptually complex. They are formal abstractions made from one or two repeated gestures, but the accumulation of the stitched marks doesn’t only use repetition as a compositional element. It provides an opportunity to contemplate the nature of repetition. What does repetition mean to you?

Emily Barletta: In the recent works on paper, I have been thinking about building walls, piles and mountains. The repetitious stitch is a way for me to fill up a surface and create these imaginary structures, much in the same way they would be built in real space, by adding piece to piece. A stitch, whether it is embroidered or crocheted, equals a mark. If I accumulate enough marks of any kind I can grow a structure or build a pile. It takes time to physically pull a thread through paper or to do a crochet stitch, so this mark becomes the record of the space in time when this action occurred. With my early crochet work, the same piece by piece accumulation referenced cellular structures, molds and plants growing.

Untitled 31
2012
Thread and paper
18 x 24 inches

OPP: Why do you choose to embroider on paper instead of fabric?

EB: Over the last 10 years I’ve tried embroidering many times on fabric only to be frustrated with the result. I always wanted the fabric to be more solid and less flimsy. It was really difficult to have a thread tension I was happy with.

Sewing on paper changes the art from being an object to being a drawing or a painting. I went through a change in my thinking where I became concerned with how people display art in their homes. I looked at the art I own and display at home and thought about the sculptural and crocheted art I was making at the time. I had a hard time imagining it in someone’s home. I was also frustrated with how every single crocheted wall piece I made created it’s own dilemma of how to hang it. I wanted my work to be simpler and possibly more accessible. I wanted to be able to visualize my art on someone’s wall, but I also wanted to create something that a person would want to live with.

OPP: How does sewing on paper change the process? Is the composition preplanned or determined intuitively as you go?

EB:  I usually have a specific vision in mind when I start. Sometimes I lay a drawing on tracing paper over the real paper and poke holes through it, but the tracing paper is more of a guide than something I follow exactly. If there isn’t a drawing, then I usually fill out the paper with a base color as a guide and I pick out the colors before I start. I poke the holes as I go. I look and see where I want the stitch to be or the next several stitches and I poke the holes, sew through them and then repeat. When you sew on fabric you can just put the needle through, but if I did this with paper it would crinkle or bend, and the holes might tear. I have a strong need to keep the paper as pristine as possible.

Spill
2006
Crocheted yarn
33 x 50 x 2 inches

OPP: You mentioned your early crochet work, which is more sculptural and draws connections between our bodies and the environment. Pieces like Untitled (goiter) (2008) and Untitled (spleen) (2008) and Scabs (2008) reference the body, while other pieces reference organic forms like water, barnacles and moss. Why is crochet particularly suited to exploring organic forms? Any plans to go back to it?

EB: The form of crochet stitches is organic in nature. It makes soft curves and not hard lines. Again I had a problem with the softness of the material. Also, I was frustrated with the great amount of time it took to complete a crocheted work. For me, each piece of art leads to the next, but when I spent too much time on one, I would often lose the next idea before I would get to it. So there was a lack of flow and connectedness between my thinking and my studio practice. I have some ideas for large site-specific crocheted work I would like to make some day. If the opportunity presents itself, I may go back to it, but for now I am very satisfied with the speed and possibilities of sewing on paper.

OPP: How often is making your work grueling or monotonous? How often is it a delight?

EB: If the work feels grueling or monotonous, I give up and try something else. I am a firm believer that the act of making is supposed to be enjoyable. I think it is almost always a delight or, at the very least, relaxing.

OPP: I’ve heard a lot of viewers respond to embroidery work by commenting on the patience of the artist. Viewers who’ve never used these techniques can’t comprehend what the experience is like; they say they could never have done it. Do viewers comment on your patience? If so, is it a distraction from the content of your work or does it add to the content?

EB: I definitely get those comments about patience. I also get questions about how long it takes to make something. It can be distracting, but I think of the drawings as recordings of the passage of time, so it makes sense that other people would identify with that aspect of the work. However, the work doesn’t require patience because I love doing it.

Untitled 6
2011
Thread and paper
18 x 24 inches

OPP: There is an unfortunate but enduring cultural assumption that embroidery is women's work. This idea dates back to the Victorian era when a woman's value as a wife was symbolized by her embroidery skills, despite the fact that men and women actually embroidered alongside one another in guilds in earlier eras. Embroidery is increasingly more accepted as a significant form of art, but these gendered assumptions about materials and techniques still persist. I'm curious about your personal experience. Have you ever experienced this dismissive attitude about your chosen medium? Is it changing?

EB: The fact that I sew doesn’t come from any social, political or feminist agenda. It’s just what I enjoy doing. I have experienced this dismissive attitude. Usually it is not from inside the art world but rather from people who might not understand the art world. They relate what I’m doing to something they’ve seen in a craft context or they want to try to replicate my work as a craft project. I don’t know if there has been a shift, but I do hope to see more exhibits that hang paintings next to drawings next to something sewn. I already see that happening with several contemporary artists—Louise Bourgeois, Orly Genger, Ghada Amir, Ernesto Neto, and Sheila Hicks, to name a few—who have paved the way in the contemporary art world for fiber to be seen as an acceptable medium.

OPP: Last fall, you quit your day job to make art full-time, something most of us artists fantasize about. Congratulations! What’s hard about it that you didn’t expect? What's amazing about it? Any advice for artists who want to move in that direction?

EB: When I quit I knew it wasn’t going to be forever. I’m currently in the process of trying to find a job again. But it’s been the most positive art-making experience of my life. There honestly hasn’t been anything hard about it for me. I think it’s possible that some people could have trouble with the isolation of being alone all the time, but I really like being alone. It’s great to be able to finish work more quickly and really be present in the making process from one day to the next. My general advice is to be nice and take time to personally respond to any inquiry you get about your artwork. Networking, even if over the Internet, is really important. Also, apply for grants and shows. Do the research. You should spend as much time on the business end of running your studio as you do making art. 

To see more of Emily's work, please visit emilybarletta.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 Hector Hernandez

Hyperbeast Lives

HECTOR HERNANDEZ's photographs of bodies in motion, swathed in brightly colored fabric, examine the figure's relationship to space. Face and gender obscured, the human bodies are stripped of all markers of human identity, allowing them to become otherwordly hyperbeasts. In 2012 he was nominated for "Austin Artist of the Year Award" in the 2D category by the Austin Visual Arts Association. His work was recently shown at SXSW 2013 and in Cantanker: The End at Big Medium Gallery in Austin, Texas, where Hector lives.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your work strongly references fashion photography with its emphasis on the female body as an object, but it resists that designation because the accumulation of repeated poses and visual motifs asks me to muse about the intent of the images in a way I never would with fashion photography. Are you influenced by fashion photography?

Hector Hernandez: Interesting that you bring up fashion photography. To be honest, fashion photography has never been a source of inspiration for me. I can see why people might think that it is, but no. I can say that my recent work has been somewhat inspired by Christo and Jeanne Claude’s The Gates and a desire to experiment with movement. What I am trying to do with my new work is to capture that one second in time when everything is perfect: the power of the body, the energy going through the fabric and the balance of light.

Who are you?

OPP: You (almost) always obscure the identity of your models by hiding their faces, either with masks, sheets or pompoms. In early work, your models seem to be predominantly female, which brings to mind the discourse surrounding the male gaze and the objectification of the female body in art history. But some of the images also reference superheroes, who are masked for a very different reason. Could you talk about this recurrence of the masked female in your work? What does it mean to you?

HH: I have always been interested in the idea of identity in art. Some of my work is an attempt to explore this concept, but also to have the viewer feel that they can relate to my subjects. 

My exploration began with the Astro Girl series. Astro Boy, a Manga character from the 1950s, is this little, shiny, cool-looking, powerful boy-robot that seems to be perfect. Created to replace a scientist’s dead son, he is summarily rejected for the very fact that he is not human. So, while we may see the face of a shiny perfect little boy, behind that mask there is another story. The same is true for all of us. Behind our masks there are other stories, other perceived imperfections.

In my Astro Girl series, I created a character that is supposed to represent physical beauty and perfection. But despite the model’s perfection, she wears a smiling mask. By photographing her at awkward angles and poses, and in odd situations, I am attempting to expose what lies behind the mask: the vulnerabilities we hide and our fear of showing people who we really are.

The superhero series was really about indulging myself. I’ve always loved superheroes like Batman, Superman, Spiderman and their associated imagery and stories. I decided to create my own character, Mrs. Nitroglycerin. Since there are plenty of male superheroes out there, I created a female character with her own look and weaponry. The look I came up with draws on some recognizable superhero imagery, but I also tried to make her stand apart and to make it clear that she is nobody’s sidekick. 

Mrs. Nitroglycerin

OPP: Does Mrs. Nitroglycerin—interesting that she’s a Mrs., not a Ms.—have an origin story? Tell us about the design of her mask and her axe.

HH: The idea was to make a female supervillain, the anti-Capitan Planet. Mrs. Nitroglycerin isn’t planting trees; she’s cutting them down. I wanted her character to have a colorful weapon, and I thought that an axe would be the perfect accessory.

At the time, I was experimenting with different materials and started working with foam sheets. I love the possibilities that are open to me when working with foam. There are lots of color choices, and the material is easy to manipulate. When it came to designing Mrs. Nitroglycerin’s look, I decided to use a Batman mask as a foundation. The iconic shape of the mask would give the viewer something that was instantly recognizable, but by adding the layers of color and texture, I hoped to create a unique look and character.
 
When I was done, all she needed was a name. I wanted something that sounded dangerous . . . explosive. And, what’s more explosive then nitroglycerin? I decided to make her a Mrs. to give her a bit of a backstory. There is clearly a husband out there, maybe estranged, maybe missing . . . Is he her better half or her worse half? Who knows?

Hyperbeast

OPP: Hyperbeast and Hyperbeast Lives, your most recent bodies of work, are very different. It's clear how they grew out of the older work, but some of these models could be either male or female. And the bodies are less sexualized than in earlier work. Was this intentional? What is a hyperbeast?

HH: I agree that the Hyperbeast series is very different from my older work, but still heavily influenced by the same inspirations. This new series is still about form, life, light and movement. When I first began the series, I was interested in creating new characters, but I also wanted to add an element that I felt had been missing from my previous work. Color. The explosion of color is the “hyper” in hyperbeast. Bold, untamed and vibrant.

The move towards gender ambiguity in these pieces is deliberate. No flesh is exposed, and I do in fact use both female and male models in the series. The creatures are not human at all, and because of this I feel that their genders should be left unrecognizable.

I began the series by experimenting with fabrics and how light reflected on them. When I added movement, the fabric changed from something I recognized as a piece of cloth, thin and fragile, to a mass of shapes and light. The hyperbeast was born. 

I imagined that these creatures exist in some other universe, that they roam wild somewhere, like lions or giraffes in Africa. I am simply capturing them in their natural habitats. Then again, I sometimes imagine that these hyperbeasts exist in our own world at some hidden level. They could exist, hidden to us in the same way that atomic and subatomic particles used to be hidden. These creatures could be a part of our world, dancing and living in the same spaces where we exist.

OPP: The shift out of the white cube and into the world helps me see the figures as creatures. In the studio shots, I read them more like sculptures, but in Hyperbeast Lives, they do become more alive. Are abandoned buildings the natural habitat for Hyperbeasts? Or will you eventually photograph them in other environments?

HH: When I started on this series, I did want the Hyperbeasts to look like sculptures. The idea was that the creatures were sort of like hunting trophies. I was the taxidermist mounting the beasts and making them look alive.
 
But after experimenting in the studio, I wanted to see the beasts completely free in the wild. I’ve always loved the way old abandon buildings look, so that’s where I went to find them. But, I do think that they live other places, too . . . I’ve caught glimpses of them here and there.

Dogs of War

OPP: I'd like to hear more about your mixed media work, which combines your photographs with appropriated imagery from comics and advertisements. Would you pick your favorite mixed media piece and talk about the juxtaposition of the imagery you chose?

HH: I started working with mixed media four years ago and had very clear ideas about what I wanted to do. The intention was for every mixed media piece to represent a distinct moment in my life that had some kind of impact or that shaped who I am today. The piece that I feel illustrates this idea most strongly is Dogs of War. In this piece I juxtapose images of an Imperial Walker with advertisements and images of crying women.

As a child, I loved Star Wars (and still do). I loved every aspect of it: the toys, the movies, the characters and especially the story. But, it is fundamentally a story about war. As a child, I didn’t understand what that really meant. That changed somewhat when I was seven with the bombing of Libya. I remember very clearly the day that I sat down with my grandmother to watch the evening news that was flooded with images of the bombing. The destruction, the talk of war, and Tom Brokaw’s repeated assertion that “we were a nation at war” convinced me that the fighting and the bombings would arrive at my doorstep any minute.

Yet, at the same time that these frightening realities were being reported, there were still commercial breaks. Along with the footage of bombings and interviews with soldiers’ crying mothers and wives there were commercials for cleaning products, cars, sodas, chips, and Star Wars toys. Dogs of War is my attempt to collect those disparate images and ideas from that one moment.

OPP: What was on the last role of film you shot?

HH: The last time I used film was back in 2008. I shot two roles but only developed one. The shots in that one developed role included some that would later lead me to the Astro Girl series. The undeveloped role actually contained some pictures of my mom’s dogs. My mom actually asked after those photos for about a year, but I never got around to developing them. I should probably do that at some point . . . 

To see more of Hector's work, please visit hectorhernandezart.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 Dena Schuckit

A Bird On a Bonnet
2013
Acrylic on wood
23.5" x 31.5"

DENA SCHUCKIT’s colorful, dynamic paintings act as poetic abstractions of explosions, car accidents, house fires, war and other disasters as seen in Internet news site slideshows. She explores the age-old conflict of man versus nature through a lens of optimism by revealing the beauty in the moment before the reality of the chaos crystalizes. Dena received her BFA from the University of California at Santa Cruz and her MA from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London. She was a master printer with Crown Point Press for 12 years. Her work is featured in collections at the University of the Arts, London, and the Parsons School of Design, New York. Dena lives in London, England.

OtherPeoplesPixels: On first glance, most of your paintings appear to be abstractions. But very quickly, I begin to see the referents to explosions, car accidents, house fires, war and other disasters. Could you talk about the interplay between abstraction and representation in your work? Was your work ever more abstract or more representational than it is now?

Dena Schuckit:
I work from the photo slideshows that run online next to stories of events like earthquakes, wild fires and other natural or manmade disasters that are usually a world away. The slideshows change the way we experience the news. We’re all accidental photojournalists now, on hand to document and immediately transmit every event around the globe as it happens. It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that everyone, everywhere, has a cell phone that can take a picture shoved into a back pocket. Digital media bring this barrage of images from far-away places into our homes without any real context to help viewers wrap their brains around the actual impact of these events. They’re abstract both in a formal and conceptual way.The photos are vivid, accidental landscapes from the world I know, but that world is completely out of context. They are gorgeous rearrangements—fragments of things I recognize—but they are presented in puzzling, perplexing compositions. I’m drawn to their abstract quality, and I don’t want to mess with that in the way I interpret them. My work has always been semi-abstract. It’s easy to remain abstract with this source material because the paintings aren’t based on any one specific headline event or incident, and the news photos that I’m working from are already somewhat visually abstract. That said, I do try to paint little people into the panels somewhere so that there’s a suggestion of scale and perspective. Otherwise the paintings appear completely nonrepresentational. Even as abstractions, they’re still landscapes, and I like that viewers can sense some space or depth.
Blast Boom Bust
2012
Acrylic on wood
28" x 39.5"

OPP: I'm instantly attracted to the color and composition of your paintings. Personally, I find them very beautiful. Are you making horrible events more beautiful than they are or are you revealing some terrible beauty that already exists in tragic events?

DS: The paintings I make are abstract. I don’t think they’re either horrible OR just beautiful. But I do think they’re beautiful. I reinterpret the elements of the collected images that drew me to them in the first place: color, composition and, most importantly, a mysterious sense of place.  The photos that I work from are engaging primarily because they’re NOT horrible or terrible in and of themselves. That’s the irony of them. They’re unique, abstract compositions created by chance events in nature and captured immediately; the dust has literally not yet settled there. We know that the events from which these photos are isolated have serious effects on the people involved, but that’s something we infer. As snippets and fragments contained by the four sides of my computer screen, these landscapes are far, far removed from the environment they’re representing. They’re a surreal "calm after a storm" or an unfamiliar and intriguing terrain. They’re familiar elements shaken up and rearranged, heaped and piled into some pretty interesting architecture. I’d say they’re even inviting. They’re the world we all live in, completely different from the one we inhabited a moment ago.
Bumper
2009
Acrylic on wood
10.5" x 12.5"

OPP: Tell me about your process of collecting and organizing the source imagery for your paintings.

DS: I was pulling these abstract frames from events around the world down to my desktop for months before I started painting from them. I just wanted to think about them, to not forget. I began collecting images to remind myself about color and mood, and then I slowly started organizing images into vague categories by type or subject: crowds, building collapse, under sea, above sea.

When I start a painting, I sift through these slideshow images and shuffle them around to make connections, like an imaginary collage. A composition materializes in my mind, and that’s where I start. Then the painting evolves as it does. Source imagery is shuffled in; source imagery is shuffled out. Each piece takes on a life of its own until all the rubble has settled into something I couldn’t have planned.

OPP:
It’s interesting to think about the translation of information and imagery back and forth between the physical world and the digital world. First, by-standers and photojournalists capture real world events digitally and upload them to the Internet. Then you download them and re-interpret them back into a concrete physical form: a painting. Is the act of painting connected to the not-forgetting you mentioned before?

DS: I think the collecting is just feeding my hoarder monster. It’s satisfying the same urge as finding raw material like pieces of wood or metal on the street and dragging it home for some future project. I think most artists have piles like this—stashes of material saved and organized in some way for later use. The digital stash takes up far less physical space than the wood and metal, which is a bonus.  There’s so much surreal raw material and information to work from in these photos. As a group, they map our ever-changing environment. Then the painting is a sort of figurative exploration, a delving into new realms. To begin a new panel, I collage bits and pieces in my head, but I still need to see the source to remember details and elements. Each photo is unique and contains something special I don’t want to forget: colors, angles, textures.
Green Smoulder
2010
Acrylic on wood
20" x 16"

OPP: Talk about your instinct to create order out of chaos. You've mentioned it as part of your process. Do you see this as an aesthetic instinct specific to artists or as human one?

DS: As an artist, my source material is based in chaos, my working space is an absolute catastrophe, and my paintings, I think, are a riot of color and texture. Maybe it’s different for minimal artists, but then again a minimal artist is still tasked with finding some order in the chaos outside his or her studio.The world is a chaotic place. On a huge scale and on a tiny scale, in big groups and individually, we attempt to rein in the bits and pieces. We shuffle and reorganize and categorize to gain some control over our environment. But that’s never going to happen. It’s an impossible endeavor.

OPP:
  A line from your artist statement really struck me: “Like confetti from a popper, expanding energy sends colorful riots of material into momentarily suspended chaos where the abstract arrangements that result hang in poses new and unfamiliar.” It’s a completely accurate description of what your paintings look like, but the poetry is very disconnected from the horror we know will be experienced by the people who are affected by these various disasters. Is it fair to say that your paintings are not about the explosions and fires and disasters themselves, but about the poetry of that captured moment just before anyone has to deal with the consequences of the events represented?

DS:
My work is definitely not about disaster. I don’t think there’s any horror in my landscapes either. The opposite is true, actually. They’re about navigating a new and constantly evolving terrain in the man versus his environment conflict and doing it with optimism, a sense of calm and hope for regeneration and safe passage. And some whimsy as well.When I started collecting the headline photos, which are random images I found mesmerizing for all their mystifying and awesome and somewhat scary qualities, I became interested in 18th century notions of the sublimeKant’s dynamic sublime and also Edmund Burke's ideas—and the relationship between beauty and fear. But the act of painting from these photos is a personal resolution to look on the bright side, to find the beauty in all the uncertainty.

To view more of Dena's work, please visit denaschuckit.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 Caroline Wells Chandler

Roots Rock (detail)
Stretched blanket, foam, paint, pompoms, gold leaf, stickers, magic doodles, skull and crossed bones sequined applique, fruit magnets, moss, moss rocks, foliate forms, pine cones, resin casted: lobster gummies, shark gummies, dino eggs, and juju fish, model magic, sculpey casted: cheerios (both honey nut and original), honey smacks, honey comb, apple jacks, gold fish, kix, and cocoa puffs, glow in the dark bugs, birds nest, plastic baby dinosaurs, plastic monkeys, plastic palm trees, plastic robin's eggs, plastic eyes, pearl tipped straight pins
63" x 60"
2012

CAROLINE WELLS CHANDLER queers craft and consumer culture materials such as pipe cleaners, pompoms, stickers, breakfast cereal and candy in his densely constructed surfaces. He reveals an idiosyncratic experience of a normative culture that can be both “a comforter and a discomforter." His detailed material lists imply that every single thing we encounter—both material and text—is part of the complex web of personal and cultural myths that feed into the construction of our identities. Caroline received an MFA in Painting and Printmaking from Yale in 2011 where he was awarded the Ralph Mayer Prize for proficiency in materials and techniques. Notable exhibitions include Myth Maker (2012), a solo show at Vox Populi in Philadelphia, Deep Cuts (2013) at Anna Kustera in New York City and Interwoven at Arlington Arts Center in Virginia. Synchronicities, a solo show, will open in May 2013 at Open Gallery in Nashville, Tennessee. Caroline lives in Long Island City, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: In your most recent work, found blankets, which feature manufactured and glorified representations of animals in the wild, are stretched inside excessively embellished frames featuring pompoms, cheerios, gummy bears, stickers, plastic toys and other colorful materials from craft stores and grocery stores. I read these pieces as a meditation on the similarities and differences between our culturally constructed, collective fantasies about wilderness and our personal, idiosyncratic experiences of kitschy, manufactured goods that are evocative of childhood in the 80s and 90s. Can you tell us about your intentions with this body of work?

Caroline Wells Chandler: The series you speak of is titled Tranny Chaser. The title references Ru Paul's ballad of the same name. The work bridges a variety of culturally constructed dualities including the hunter and the hunted, the hunter and the gatherer, the embodied and the superficial and the real and fabricated. My intent is to dissolve perceptual binaries through the process of queering form. This body of work explores my personal mythology that inevitably spills over into a mythology about culture through the deployment of images associated with Americana naturalism coupled with Surrealistic tendencies. Overall I am interested in the mythologies that humans live by and how these personal and collective stories are internalized via text and images. The idiosyncratic is a tool to empower the individual. The idiosyncratic proposes that we all posses the ability to become our own cartographers and to discover terrains on our own terms with our own maps. I couple this process of navigating the work and world with pre-existing texts, theories and materials to avoid pure fantasy.    

Thunder Spoon
Stretched blanket, foam, paint, pompoms, copper leaf, shetland pony, mancala beads, tacks, brads, flowers, sculpey casted: oatmeal, and coffee beans, moss
48" x 65"
2012

OPP: Could you expand on the idea of queering form?

CWC: Queering form is a mode of making that involves the appropriation of the everyday in order to expand or augment its use, function or meaning. This is achieved in a variety of ways including changing the scale, the material or the relationship/s to other object/s and/or context. As a result, the use, function or meaning is subverted, critically engaged and expanded.

OPP: It seems like your titles play into that mode of queering form, too. I'm not always sure I'm getting every reference, but I have the sense that the titles are helping to subvert and expand on the original context.

CWC: The titles are very important and they contextualize the pieces. For example, I Singing to Nelson is a reference to the masculine softball player Marla Hooch from A League of Their Own. Her power is actualized when she performs on stage in drag—for her, this means wearing a dress. In an inebriated state, she sloppily sings her heart out to Nelson, the man of her dreams. The title is the slurry speech she retorts to her teammate who is trying to subdue her and get her off stage. Marla asserts herself, "I Singing to Nelson. Ain't I Baby!?!” Totally entranced geeky Nelson affirms, “You sure are!” This scene is a celebration of queer form. An analogous action is echoed in the structure of the pieces from the Tranny Chaser series, in which I take the familiar and everyday and place it in an unusual context.  
I Made It Through the Wilderness
Stretched blanket, foam, paint, pompoms, gold and bronze leaf, liquid plastic, stickers, model magic heart peeps, sculpey casted sweet-tart hearts, resin casted cherry candies, plastic eyeballs, pornography, carpet liner 
72" x 63"
2011

OPP: That's clear in your use of materials as well as language. You have extensive—almost aggressive—materials lists for each piece. Many viewers don't read material lists—some don't even read titles!—and many artists would simply say "mixed media." Why do you choose to be so specific?

 CWC: The material lists are as important as the titles. They are ingredient based poems. In L'ours I sculpted decoys of Lucky Charm's cereal from polymer clay and resin. The well known jingle in the Lucky Charms commercials functions like an incantation: 'Hearts, stars and horse-shoes, clovers and blue-moons. Pots of gold and rainbows and the red balloon!' The sing-songy repetition of the jingle works to make us internalize the idea that indeed Lucky Charms cereal IS magical and delicious! The work fluctuates between moments of experiencing Teddy Grams, Honey Combs and Cheerios as concrete objects and believing in their function as symbols, bridging disparate perspectives on how myth functions. Joseph Campbell’s belief that myths are archetypes of the collective unconscious tangos with Roland Barthes’ view of myths as propagandistic tools of potential fascisms.

Each material functions like a word in a Mallarme poem: both have an expansive and collapsible quality. The state of this quality is dependent upon formal play. Sometimes the Cheerio symbolizes the idea of the self proposed by Jung because of its structure and other times it symbolizes the promise of a wedding ring because of it's correlation to nearby forms. Sometimes a Cheerio is just a Cheerio. I'm interested in using materials symbolically, because symbols are three fold in meaning, namely: personal, universal and cultural. This allows for inclusivity; many entry points and interpretations of the work are encouraged.
Can You Find the Christmas Mouse?
Faux velvet, pompoms, duct tape, panel
18" x 24"
2010

OPP: Looking back at older work, I see what seems to be an intentional and recurring use of childlike aesthetics and references. Some of your earlier work, such as the intaglio print anatomical studies and the hand-embroidered self portraits as first ladies, has the quality of childlike scrawl. Then there are the sculptures made from Teddy Bears you bought at Walgreens, the hand crocheted life sized costumes based on the outfits of the American Girl dolls and your video Christmas 1990: Becoming Molly McIntire (2010) that reveals a very personal experience of the American Girl cultural phenomenon. But this isn't your average nostalgia. What is it?

CWC: The work that deals with looking back involves a process of investigative interrogation disguised as nostalgia. I don't associate these bodies of work with nostalgia because they do not look fondly to an earlier time. Becoming Molly McIntire is filled with pathos. Absence and presence is visually deployed through the weight of the hand crocheted costumes of the American Girl Doll historical characters. Ominously they each hang as victims and oppressors, providing few options regarding our culturally constructed notions of identity. The embroidered works and anatomical studies akin to the sculptural works you mention deal with an idea of subverting the gesture both literally and metaphorically via action. Rather than deploying nostalgia, the maker is interrogated. I was trying to force myself to be honest about my relationship to the enacted roles we perform. Memory was a tool in doing this because memory allows the individual to time travel, and it collapses our linear notions of time by stretching and folding it. I can simultaneously be 26, the age that I made Christmas 1990: Becoming Molly McIntire, and five, the age that I received Molly. This process has a Shamanic quality associated with soul retrieval.  
As Above So Below II
Stretched cotton on panel, sculpey, resin, pompoms, sequins, stickers
18" x 24"
2012

OPP: Do you remember why you wanted Molly McIntire so bad? What did she mean to you then? Do you think of that desire differently now that you look back at it as an adult?

CWC: I am a trans person, and I grew up in an extremely heteronormative environment where this identity was not an option. Molly was an archetype that I could successfully perform via drag. She was the only tomboy option out of the available dolls. I wanted her so badly because she wore shorts and because she was nerdy. She allowed me to be a misfit and socially “appropriate” at the same time. Dolls, of course, represent our notions of the ideal and, at that time and until very recently, I was very concerned with performing the role of the dutiful daughter. Making this work allowed me to breakdown the hegemonic roles within my family structure in order to love more fully. Looking back as an adult, I think I confused wanting to be Molly with wanting to date someone like her. I would switch back and forth between these states fluidly in order to bask in desire.

OPP: The mention of your desire to perform the role of the dutiful daughter makes me think of your videos The Message (2009) and Johnny Seagull Johnny Clyde (2010), both made in collaboration with your mother. Both explore the expectations placed on us by our families and the surrounding culture to perform gender in a prescribed way. But your mother represents a different position in each of the videos. In The Message, she encourages conforming to norm of “Southern femininity and grace and genuineness” and in Johnny Seagull Johnny Clyde, she reveals her own resistance as a child, admitting that she wanted to be a boy. It doesn’t really matter if either of these roles she plays are true to life, but I find it touching that she participated in the creation of this work. What was it like working with your mother in this way? Is she simply a performer in the videos, or was she also a part of the conceptualizing of these videos?

CWC: The summer prior to attending graduate school, I lived at home with my parents in Virginia. Before that, I lived for several years next door to Patsy and Calvin, my grandparents on my mother’s side, in Tyler, Texas. During my short return to the nest, my mom kept on saying phrases to me that ended up in The Message. It was intriguing because my mother’s suggestions regarding my conduct were the exact phrases that Patsy would say to me. The function of this matrilineal knowledge fascinated me. I asked my mom if she would make a video with me regarding all of the things that she would say. She agreed, and we made it in two takes. For the first take, I was in the room and we both started to laugh uncontrollably whenever we looked at each other.  So for the second take, I turned the camera on and left the room and waited until she told me that she was finished. For both videos my mother is not reading a text. She is giving directions or reciting a story.  

In Johnny Seagull Johnny Clyde, my mother tells a story about a gender queer identity that she constructed as a child growing up in East Texas. She repeatedly told me this story as a child. About a year after making The Message, I called my mom while she was driving to meet my sister for brunch and asked if she would be interested in making another video with me about her Johnny Seagull Johnny Clyde identity. She agreed and told the story on the spot as if she were reciting or reading a text. With her permission, I captured the sound for the piece on my cell phone's speaker and I recorded the sound on my computer.  I had found and viewed the original super 8 film footage for the first time in VHS form the same summer we made The Message. I was delighted and amazed to see my mother in drag. The myth became reality.


Johnny Seagull Johnny Clyde
Collaboration with mother 
2:43
2010

OPP: In your statement, you say,"Ultimately my work explores where culture ends and the individual begins." Is that a fixed place? What have you learned about that place in the process of making your work?

CWC: For me, the place where culture ends and the individual begins is the body. This space houses locations that are both fixed and transitional. The body is the mediator between hegemonic external norms and one's internal desires and motives. The hegemonic trappings of the normative oppress, not because they exist, but because they are reinforced daily as superior and correct ways for one to navigate the world. The internalization of texts and images raises the question “Where does the self begin and culture end?” This process of internalization culturally embeds and implicates the body. I believe these ideas are best explored in the structure of the pieces in the Tranny Chaser series. The blankets encased in scatological opulence of cultural detritus operate in a geological fashion: a hot magma centrifuge surrounded by a hardened cooling crust. They are heavenly bodies navigating space. They belong to the same universe while maintaining autonomy.

To see more of Caroline's work, please visit carolinewellschandler.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).

New platform for the OPPblog!

So you're probably noticing that things look a bit different here. Our old blogging platform, Posterous, shuts its virtual doors later in April due to acquisition by Twitter, but Posthaven has been created by Posterous's original founders as a way to continue their mission of offering simple, classy blogging. Posthaven is in public beta and doesn't currently support visual customization -- so we're in aesthetic 'basic mode' for a while here while the Posthaven gurus ramp up their platform to full speed. You might also see a few typos in the tags that Posthaven is working to fix. Bear with us! For now, we are loving the new, larger format and lovely high-res images! 

And not to worry, you can still browse through our full archive of articles and continue to expect all your favorite content to keep rolling in: OPP Artist Interviews, Tips & Tricks for your OPP site...and keep your eyes peeled for an exciting new series where we ask art critics to write about OPP artists through the lens of their websites, and discuss the issues involved with viewing art on the Internet.

Tune in tomorrow for our regularly scheduled Artist Interview!

(If you're interested int he whole blog drama, more info can be found at the links below.)



OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Norm Paris

Geode (Pistol Pete)
2011
Graphite, Forton MG, Pigment, Resin, Glass
20" x 12" x 8"

Artist, sports fan and educator NORM PARIS explores the allegories of decline present in western narratives of heroism. His sculptures and drawings frame the bodies of professional athletes like Michael Jordon and historical figures like George Washington as architectural ruins and fossils thus rethinking the myths surrounding monumentality. Norm received his BFA from The Rhode Island School of Design, where he is currently an Assistant Professor in Drawing, and his MFA from the Yale School of Art, where he was core faculty from 2003-2008. He is represented by The Proposition Gallery (New York) and his work is included in the West Collection. Norm lives in Brooklyn, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What exactly is Forton MG? It seems to be your favorite material, and you stretch its capabilities in a lot of directions. What does it offer that other sculpture materials can't?

Norm Paris: Forton MG is a casting mixture made of resin and gypsum, so it's part plastic, part plaster. There is something modern about the material’s synthetic nature; its plastic underbelly is “pop,” while its plaster-like appearance is classical. Forton is a shape-shifter, a chameleon. It is an aqueous solution that can be poured into any kind of mold, but it can also take on the properties of various metals and pigments. Lately I have been adding brass, iron and bronze powders to the mixture, which allows the cast to mimic metal. It can receive a patina just like metal can. The cast does contain metal, but the majority of the material, the binder, is something else. In that sense, it is both real and fake. Increasingly, I am using Forton in conjunction with other found materials and moving between different modes of sculpture and drawing. I want to avoid that point where material exploration becomes habit and expand the formal purview of the work.
Michael Jordan, Save The World (installation view)
2005
Forton MG, Casein, String

OPP: The figure of Michael Jordan is a repeated motif in your work, appearing first in your 2005 sculpture installation Michael Jordan, Save The World.  I'm not sure if you are a Michael Jordan fan, but I suspect your interest in basketball—or baseball or football—isn't purely artistic, aesthetic or critical. Do you identify as a sports fan?

NP: I loathed Michael Jordan when I was growing up in Cleveland, but he was unavoidable. He was the first sports figure to become a global brand. Just watch some highlights, maybe the 1988 Slam Dunk Contest, and you will find that Jordan is a Hellenistic sculptor and a performance artist. He uses the aesthetics of Michelangelo to sell himself as a god within the Arena. But at the time I was just angry that Ron Harper (guard, Cleveland Cavaliers) was nixed from the Dunk contest because of some stupid injury.

MJ’s sudden fragility by the 2002-2003 season opened the door for a lot of that work from 2005-2009. He had physically declined in a way that made sports fans uncomfortable. Jordan couldn’t follow his own script. What caught my attention at the time—besides an unexpected fit of intense nostalgia—was how the discrepancy between the ideal and the real highlighted the faulty nature of the myth surrounding MJ. While I was working on the MJ installation in my Philadelphia basement studio in 2004, it struck me that I was making these sculptures of an athlete-as-hero while the country was at war, while the Weapons of Mass Destruction crisis was in full swing. My engagement seemed out of step with what was happening. I think Michael Jordan, Save The World was an awkward attempt to come to terms with an array of public, private and political concerns. My work has changed a lot since that piece, but ultimately I am still interested in the strange fragility of these monumental figures.

So yes, I am a sports fan. But while I’m personally invested in pro sports, I’ve also become fascinated by the unstable allegories that underscore a game or a season, looking at the phenomenon the way that Roland Barthes looked at wrestling. Since the action in a game is in real time, stories are constantly created and then torn apart. Spectators—myself included—imbue players with heroic meanings only to find that this affect is obsolete a moment later. Someone dropped a ball, or missed a shot, or tore an ACL, or retired. Athletic allegories are inevitably temporary because of bodily limitations, changing circumstances and shifting opinion over time. Gravity brings us all down. Robert Smithson’s ideas about entropy don’t only apply to the earth and the ground, but also to the figure.

The Fight (detail/staff)
2006
etching

OPP: Michael Jordan: Disasters of War (2006-2009), your drawings and etchings which reference Goya's famed series of the same name, feature Michael Jordan as ALL the figures. Could you talk about this choice?

NP: I am interested in the foggy and spastic relationships in the Disasters etchings because there is no chance to settle the dilemma. The lack of closure becomes the point. I wanted to construct narratives that were not necessarily linear. And so I substituted every figure from Goya’s original compositions with Jordan; this basic rule sets the stage for a Freudian sense of conflict—he saves and maims and kills himself. I thought a lot about dark humor when I was making these prints. The gratuitous nature of them and the ridiculousness of the situation was alternately funny, inappropriate and sad. Like in Tarantino’s Inglorious Bastards, overwhelming and ironic violence is the embodiment of a complex and uncomfortable emotional space. In that film, like in these etchings, instincts of victimhood and aggression are in flux.

I tend to find icons and to replace them whenever necessary. This happens in sports but is even more pronounced in the combustible narratives of politics. Goya’s original prints were protest etchings against the Peninsular War, and the inappropriate superimposition of Jordan calls a lot into question. I was looking at a fracture or conflation between this deflated leisure myth and a larger sense of real violence. 

Tondo (The Fordham Wall Still Stands)
2010
Graphite on Paper
42" x 42"

OPP: There is a shift away from the figure. It's not absolute, but it is noticeable. Afterwards there are more sculptures of precarious structures, which may or may not be ruins of buildings that once functioned, but definitely don't now. Can you talk about this intersection of architecture and mythic heroes, which was drawn out in your solo show The Wall Still Stands (2011) at The Proposition in New York?

NP: As I finished the Disasters etchings I became more interested in the space around the action rather than the figure itself. I made the sculpture Rubble Fragment I (Mezuzah), and I realized that a piece of concrete could become the heroic figure instead of a literal classical body. I used the same substitution rule that guided the Jordan prints in the Reconstruction drawings, but architectural structures like two-by-fours and cinder blocks were the stand-in for human presence. Some of the drawings become defunct altars or shrines; others are failed utopian building projects.

I wanted to allow for a wider array of subject matter rather than harping on one obvious signifier. The architectural structures from the drawings are based on figures from sports clippings I've received from my father over the years and screen shots from old footage of baseball games, but they are heavily camouflaged. Bridge/Fortress/Hillis  began as a sculpture of the former Cleveland Browns running back Payton Hillis. Holding It Together (Pistol Pete) is based on Zurbaran's Saint Serapion. I was interested in the fragility of the structure, and its simultaneous sense of building and decay. This work explores some of the same terrain as the more overt sculptures and prints; but now I am encoding, encasing and cutting apart the source. Human form is roughly translated to architecture or rock formation. I’ve been looking at old sports writers like Henry Grantland Rice, who had a tendency to rename the heroes of the day as immovable rocks or some other monumental vision; the 1936 Fordham Rams for example, were coined the “Fordham Wall” and their offensive line was “The Seven Blocks of Granite.” This type of metaphor can be found in all sorts of places, from Percy Bysshe Shelley's Ozymandias to Pink Floyd's The Wall.
Steve/Joseph/Carpenter/Structure
2011
Forton MG
45" x 20" x 20"

OPP: What do George Washington and Caesar have in common with Pistol Pete, Michael Jordan, Vince Lombardi, Jim Brown and Arnold Schwarzenegger?

NP: I witnessed all these figures through the lens of reproduction as a primary source of aura. Growing up, the distance of the photograph, print or video, and now the internet, allowed me to fill these vessels with my own meanings. There are countless posters of Michael Jordan stuck in mid-air as if he could levitate forever. Even the painting George Washington Crossing The Delaware is a fabrication which is only loosely based on historical fact, and yet this vision is as real as it gets. These people have been worshipped, albeit in vastly different times and places. While there are qualitative differences that separate them—George Washington actually did effect the world more than Pistol Pete—I am more interested in these icons as the embodiment of an internal response to popular American mythologies. They are mostly boyhood visions of manhood, all of which are more complicated than they initially appeared.

OPP: If you absolutely had to pick—pretend the world will end if you don't—would you rather go to an art opening or a sporting event?

NP: That’s like picking a favorite child. The question presents a false choice. I can have my cake and eat it too. I was drawing on my apartment floor as I watched game 7 of the 1997 World Series

And besides, sporting events can be art. Robert Smithson always talked about how the movies that were the most important to him and his peers were the B-movies, the sci-fi movies rather than the art flicks. These cultural artifacts were the platform on which he built his work. He was also immensely well-read and informed about art history, and he was certainly a part of the art world. He was intimately invested in all of his obsessions, and he reveled in the fact that he did not have to choose. I feel the same way.

A live basketball game is a singularity. It happens in real time and only exists in that moment. I suppose the artwork is at face value more static (unless it is performative or interactive), but certainly the experience of the work is also singular since it is specific to that time and place.

While I love the community aspect of the art opening, the support for the work of friends and peers, the reality is that there is more flexibility in seeing an art show—and art openings are often the absolute worst time to view the work. The sporting event is often the ideal venue to view the spectacle. And so, from a situational and phenomenological point of view, I choose the game.

To see more of Norm's work, please visit normparis.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 Brian R. Jobe

Turfside Passage (Orlando)
2013
wood, 14" zip ties, sod
Detail

BRIAN R. JOBE's sculptures and site-specific installations explore the abstract concept of endlessness through a repetition of concrete forms. He uses common building materials such as cinder blocks, wood, roofing felt and plastic zip ties to draw in space, often creating an interactive pathway for the viewer. Brian's work is currently on view in two exhibitions: a two-person show titled Alignment 2x at the Center For Emerging Media at the University of Central Florida in Orlando (closing on February 22) and a solo installation titled Channel Modules at the Covenant College Art Gallery in Lookout Mountain, Georgia (closing on March 10). His upcoming solo show Land Overlap Wyoming opens in April 2013 at the University of Wyoming (Laramie), where he will simultaneously be a Visiting Artist. Brian lives in Knoxville, Tennessee. 

OtherPeoplesPixels: For years your most prominent recurring material has been the plastic zip tie. When did you first use this material in your work? What is it about this material that continues to be so compelling to you?

Brian R. Jobe: I first introduced plastic zip ties and loop locks into my work in 2004 during grad school and worked to utilize their material possibilities in a comprehensive way over the next seven years. My last piece that used zip ties was Turfside Passage: it served as a capstone for the material, stretching it to what I felt was its most visually resolved and public end.

I grew up drawing and always loved lines. When I started using plastic zip ties, they replaced the thread and mason’s line I was using before that time. At present, I’m interested in marking space and time by creating structural contexts. Today, linear or modular materials like wood, concrete blocks or bricks extend how zip ties have functioned in the work before. These materials provide structure and mark linear paths through repetition of form. I’m interested in pathways, corridors, highways, hallways and architectural forms that are often seen as a means to an end. But I construct them to be an end in and of themselves.

Tuft vs. Turf (Governors Island)
2009
14" zip ties, stair railings
84" x 113" x 102"

OPP: Your ongoing series Tuft vs.Turf includes outdoor, site-specific installations and found object sculptures. Between 2007 and 2011, you've wrapped plastic zip ties around road markers, cattle guards, railings, fire escapes, as well as found objects like a watering can, a hand saw, a meat tenderizer, and a utility lamp. Could you explain the title of the series? What does the gesture of wrapping these objects and sites mean to you?

BRJ: Tuft vs.Turf concluded in 2011 when I wrapped a forklift with zip ties which sat in front of the Blue Star Contemporary Art Center in San Antonio, Texas in conjunction with my solo show Blank Tides. The name Tuft vs.Turf highlights the tension between a spatial, geographic or static context and additive, physical markings. My aim with the ties is to re-contextualize a site or object so that the viewer might see it in a fresh way, in a reclaimed and also less functional way.

OPP: I read a more pointed ecological (or maybe philosophical) message in the early site-specific installations like Tuft vs.Turf (Cattle Guard) (2007) and Tuft vs.Turf (Gate) (2008). The fact that the zip ties are manufactured, made from plastic and often neon colors highlights the intrusion of the human hand into the natural environment. It seems significant that the plastic zip tie is a particular kind of strong, but temporary binding, and that it highlights these other means (the gate and the cattle guard) of the human attempt to dominate, or bind, nature. The meaning of the human intrusion shifts when you start to bring these outdoor installations into the city, as with Tuft vs. Turf (Fire Escape) (2009) and Tuft vs.Turf (Governors Island) (2009). When I looked at these, I began to think about the permanence or impermanence of graffiti and the way it is perceived of by some people as art and others as a public nuisance. What are your thoughts on this?

BRJ: Thanks for your highly considered reading of the work. While those interpretations weren’t my original intent, I’m glad to hear your observations and how you specifically relate to the series. It is always my aim for each piece to resonate on a universal level.

The immediate, secure, auditory gratification of each zip tie’s attachment paired with the temporal flexibility of the installations informed my selection of zip ties as the primary medium for that series. My goal throughout all of the Tuft vs. Turf projects was to create fluid, repetitive marks in space in order to highlight the architectural elements being wrapped and to alter viewers’ pre-conceived expectations about the element’s functionality. The pre-fabricated quality of the zip ties echoed the fabricated quality of the gate, cattle guard and fire escape.

For the rural interventions, I saw my action primarily as a way to respond to and spotlight the structural elements of a ranch environment. Similarly, it was my intent for the urban interventions to be seen in context (i.e. at a Chelsea gallery and at an art fair) and thus eliminate any question of its legality or any potentially subversive statement it may be making.

Turfside Passage (Knoxville)
2011
wood, 14" zip ties
84" x 28" x 288"

OPP: It looks like there was a shift in your practice around 2011, when you started to explore what you refer to as "the [innate] desire to move through corridors" in interactive sculptures like Turfside Passage (Knoxville) and in Land Overlap Tennessee #1 and #2 (2012). Is this desire a metaphor or some kind of biological imperative? Is that idea based in research or observation? Has audience interaction with Turfside Passage proven your hypothesis?

BRJ: Audience interaction with Turfside Passage has been the most dynamic I’ve witnessed. The participation ranges from the more private, personal experiences viewers have when walking through it to the delight of children running and screaming through it.

In my most recent work, I’ve reflected upon a motif that’s been recurring over the past ten years. When addressing large interior spaces, my inclination has been to create installations that require people to walk a circuit. That recurring pathway form, paired with a growing interest in architecture and public art, led me to create interactive corridors. Having an architect for a father, I’ve grown up thinking about space and material from an architectural point of view. I’ve recently decided that it’s a natural step for me to act on this tendency by building public structures. In fact, as my work shifts, I feel that I’ve only just begun my studio practice. I can finally can pair the material sensibility I’ve acquired with a clear vision towards representative and actual pathways. So, the desire to move through corridors is both metaphorical and actual. 

My research into the form of pathway has often been visual and first-hand, specifically in experiencing James Turrell’s The Light Inside at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the work of Richard Serra. Images of Richard Long’s walking pieces and by the scope of Robert Smithson’s oeuvre had a profound impact on me. I saw a terrific show last summer at Casey Kaplan in New York City of Liam Gillick’s recent projects that fired up my imagination. I also love the art of Sol LeWitt, Carl Andre, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, and Agnes Martin.

Channel Modules
2012
basswood, paint, flagging tape
7.5" x 64" x 3"

OPP: Your artist statement begins, "repetition signals endlessness." This statement combined with your corridors leads me to think about the postulation of the tunnel to heaven that people who have had near-death experiences talk about. And I think about the repetitive process of wrapping the zip ties as potentially meditative and maybe even evocative of the rosary. Is there a spiritual component to your work?

BRJ: As a child, I used to lie awake at night contemplating what it means to live forever after death, and I used to wish that forever were a fixed, quantifiable number like 10,000 years. The thought of endlessness has always been a startling notion, and my use of repetition in the work is a way for me to process the concept of forever.

Repetitive work can certainly be and has been meditative. The view of my corridors as “tunnels to heaven” is one of many associations that viewers may bring to the work. Personally, I’m coming from a place of wrestling with my smallness before God, and I’m exploring how the organization of material in sculpture can signal the wave of time yet to come.

Meridian Angle
2013
cinderblock, spray chalk, welding chalk, roofing felt
51" x 195" x 386"

OPP: Tell us about the work in the two exhibitions your work is in right now.

BRJ: Both shows have different goals. My work in Alignment 2x at the Center For Emerging Media at the University of Central Florida is paired with the work of sculptor Jason S. Brown, and the two of us created a new collaborative piece for the occasion. That work, Lifted Jacked, is composed of stacked troughs of gravel situated on steel posts, cinderblocks and packing foam. The piece started by considering gravel as an alternative future currency—something we may return to later on—but it became a formal, intuitive installation that suggests interstate overpasses more than bank vaults.

The work in my solo show Channel Modules at the Covenant College Art Gallery is largely new, experimental and site-specific. I created a room-sized work titled Meridian Angle. I lined the floor with roofing felt and organized a block pathway to create an interactive corridor. I addressed the non-traditional, architectural elements of the gallery and also subdivided the space in a way that challenges the viewer's expectations. In addition, there’s a repeating, stenciled form on the wall made with spray chalk over a template. On another wall is a six-foot-wide piece, titled Gravel Modules, which suggests many of the same concepts that the room-sized installation does, except in a more condensed, straightforward way. It’s probably my favorite of the new works since it is an archetype for many future concepts.

To see more of Brian's work, please visit brianjobe.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).