Artists & Social Media Series: Jake Myers on the Importance of Facebook Etiquette

Jake Myers is visible on and offline as an artist and in the artist-run project space scene through The Octagon Gallery, a space that he runs out of his home. It's not a stretch to say that Jake Myers is everywhere. In his artwork, Myers seeks to deconstruct the myth of artists as pale, gangly and unathletic. In the READ Posters series, he appropriates those 90s-era READ posters that typically picture athletes holding up a book and replaces them with Chicago artists. The posters act like offline memes, yet they embody Myers’ distinct aesthetic—equal doses light 90s nostalgia and local art community participation. The opposite of an egotistical artist, Myers is instead most concerned with remaining chill and making sure everyone else has a good time. When I arrived at Jake and his girlfriend Lara’s loftspace/studio that doubles as The Octagon Gallery, I was greeted by Leland, their loveable, two-year-old greyhound rescue pup. "He only raced for two years," says Myers, sympathetically rubbing Lee’s elongated skull. "That’s not very long, but he didn’t do very well." As I sat down on the couch to start our conversation, Lee hopped up and nestled his long body next to mine. Then Jake and I put away our touchscreen phones and started talking, IRL.  

This is the third post in a five-part series about how artists use social media. Read the previous two posts about artists Sabina Ott and Ellen Greene. Have ideas for a topic you'd really like covered on the OPP blog? Email us at blog [at]

Artist Jake Myers with his pooch, Leland

Alicia Eler:  How do use social media as an artist? I'm talking about Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Reddit, Digg…

Jake Myers: I pretty much only use Facebook—that is the only social media outlet that I do. I've set up Tumblrs, but that’s mostly to show documentation of things, and to show the aftermath of projects. I'm not doing the sharing, liking, following of people on Tumblr. It's a fast way for me to be at a show, take a picture, and share it. The Tumblrs end up acting more like archives. I send people to those Tumblr links when I'm applying for grants. 

To be honest, I mostly use Facebook. I feel really annoying—I'm always inviting my friends to art events that happen at least once a month. But it's cool, because they show up.  They wouldn't know about these things otherwise, because we don't go to high school or college together anymore. Facebook is the channel that can pull all these people in. I can kind of keep tabs on how many people will probably show up. I have a formula: You take the number of people who say they are going and divide it in half. That's usually about the number of people who will show up. Facebook helps you know how much beer to get and also what kind of expectations to have for the show.  

AE: Do you post your own work to Facebook?

JM: I don't know. I'll occasionally post work-in-progress, and I'll occasionally post those READ posters like the one with Eric Fleischauer reading a the book Howl by Allen Ginsburg, but yeah….I don't know what the significance is as far as copyright goes on Facebook. Do they own it?

Eric Fleischauer Reads, 2012

AE: There was some weird copyright stuff going on lately about how if you don't repost this Facebook status update, Facebook will own all your images and text.

JM: Which is weird because I don't know if I necessarily believe in copyright, so I don't know why I'd repost that or even be concerned with it. I guess I occasionally post things, but mostly in-progress work. I don't want to post too much, because you don't want to give away everything that you're about to have at an opening. 

AE: That's something I think about a lot. There's this one artist who posts all of his work in-progress, almost-done…it's like watching reality TV, watching him go through the emotional turmoil of making work. If I am watching the entire thing on Facebook, I'm less inclined to go to the show.

JM: Yeah, I'm mostly concerned with annoying people by filling up their news feeds. I already feel like I'm posting too much about my artwork. I'll post "hey I'm at this show!" or "hey I'm doing this tonight." After awhile it becomes white noise to people. I have one friend who invites me to events of his three or four times a week. It gets to a point where you almost stop paying attention to it if you hear it so many times. I try to post just enough so people are like, "oh, I didn't even know that was happening!" I don’t want people to think, "oh my god, this guy again!"

Jake Myers takes a break from clogging everyone's news feeds with posts about his artwork and event invites to The Octagon Gallery for this serious portrait of him and Leland, 2012

AE: So what's a good posting amount? How do you find a balance?

JM: I'm still figuring that out. If I'm in really huge group shows, a lot of the time I won't invite all of my friends. I'll just invite the few people who I know will want to go. If I'm in a solo show, I’m solely responsible for bringing people there. It's a really weird equation that is mostly about guessing. 

AE: I see you on Facebook as a real community leader. I don’t think you’re over-the-top or obnoxious—just a guy who’s trying to get the word out. I remember thinking “oh, it’s that Octagon Gallery guy! He’s having a show!” Judging from your Facebook presence, you just appear really involved in the local art community. 

JM: OK, that's cool. That'd be awesome if other people thought that, too. I like to try to bring together as many of the cool, endearing art people as I can. Just judging by the amount of people that are coming to Octagon, I feel like I've been pretty successful. We show amazing artists at Octagon, too. So I guess I am successful as an organizer.

The Octagon Gallery's team-focused logo

AE: Do you think Facebook actually makes a difference in the way you organize? Do you think you would be at the same point you are without Facebook?

JM: That's hard. I don't think I would have met as many people or gotten as many people to show up without Facebook. It has been integral. It's really weird, because I've thought about it, and my uncle is an artist at Packer Schopf Gallery in Chicago. He does paintings about the Internet and YouTube—Doug Smithenry is his name. Yet he does very little Facebook or social media promotion. I invited him to be at the show I curated called Society of the Spectacular, which questioned how simulated realities, virtual landscapes and digital social networks shape our daily experiences and what we perceive as reality. Because the show was all about how social media has affects us, I went overboard with the Facebook posts—it was a conceptual gesture. Doug was just floored by how many people showed up. He was like, "this is unreal! How did you get so many people to show up?" People were sharing the event and posting about the event, so I feel like in that way. Facebook has been really positive in spreading the influence. 

AE: Your READ posters feel really meme-like to me. Was that intentional? 

JM: That's cool. I want to make as many of them as possible. I want to build on them and photograph as many Chicago artists as I can in this weird, athletic, super official way…they're bossy, really bossy, but also funny and quirky, because there's this other thing of them being artists and athletes. It’d be cool if they became a meme. Right now it's more of a physical meme. I made a READ poster for the Industry of the Ordinary’s mid-career survey at the Cultural Center. You can take one of those for free. I'm hoping that the 2,500 posters I printed will be up all over Chicago.

AE: Memes are memes, and then art that references a meme is different than a meme itself. But what if other people wanted to make their own READ posters? That’s very much in the spirit of the social web—like, “hey, we can all join in and make this!”

JM: Like, we all join in and make our own READ posters? That'd be pretty cool. I'll just start a website that's a hub of these. Not a Tumblr. I think it would be better to do an archive of them with the original file size, so people could download them and print them off and just have a collection of these absurd posters. Cuz I give 'em away for free, and it would be awesome if I didn't have to pay for the printing cost.

AE: I think you should meme-ify them.

JM: It's weird faux nostalgia too, so to meme-ify it and make it fresh is a weird gesture.

AE: This has been a pretty weird IRL interview, so I might send you some Facebook follow-up questions….

JM: OK, that sounds good. I'm way better at responding to email questions, I've lived in the Internet age so long. When I'm talking with someone face-to-face, I feel like I leave my body and someone else just starts talking for me. It almost becomes like word salad, a stream of consciousness. It happens all the time when I'm giving a lecture at school. I'll realize that I've been talking for like five minutes straight. 

Face of Fatality, 2011

Jake and I said our goodbyes. I rubbed Leland’s head, walked past the giant skull outside of the Octagon Gallery wall curtain, and headed out the door. The very next day, I spotted an article on Hyperallergic that I thought might interest Mr. Myers, especially in light of our recent conversation about visibility via social media. The Hyperallergic article I forwarded to Jake was an interview between two NYC-based performance artists. This part seemed pretty relevant:

SR: Do you have any advice for young artists trying to make it in the art world?

JC: Work really, really hard. Go to openings, meet people in the art world, make them recognize you. Then any small show you have, make it count. Take a huge risk, spend money you don’t have. Invite important people. Eventually, they will come.

PO: Don’t worry about selling your work. Worry about people knowing who you are and what you do. Be seen. Nobody’s going to know you if they don’t see you. It’s a chess game whether you like it or not."

Jake responded via email: 

JM: I read the article and thought these guys would be fun to party with. Probably obnoxiously overconfident and ironic, but they still seem like fun. I'm wondering how this works in terms of social media. This idea of "being seen" vs. just being annoying and eventually getting blocked from peoples’ feeds. Maybe I'm being overly self-aware?

Either way, I am so excited about the future Internet exposure coming from your article with OPP and will promote it a bunch on Facebook!

AE: Do you think we're different on social media than we are in real life?

JM: Probably. That's a really loaded question. You can't really pick up on someone's body language or verbal tone on social media, but I guess that's pretty obvious. I think social media informs how others view you and can definitely inform your interactions in real life. Your interactions with people in person and how well you know their personalities probably gives the text you read and the pictures you see of them additional context as well. To answer your question: Yes, we're different people online, but both identities inform each other. 

AE: How do you decide when to change your profile picture? Why do you change your profile picture?

JM: I tend to decide on impulse. 

In Jake Myers' latest Facebook profile picture, he is pictured riding Sarah and Joseph Belknap's "How I Learned to Stop Worrying" (2012). This sculpture was part of The Octagon Gallery's booth at Chicago's MDW Art Fair.

AE: Should our offline lives mirror our online lives? Is Facebook a mirror or a refraction?

JM: Theo Darst or Ryan Trecartin would probably give you a more informed response, but I'll try. 

I don't have any concrete advice about how people should construct their online identities. Everyone does it differently, and some are more of a mirror while some are more of a refraction. Circumstances for people change as well, and sometimes people won't post something for weeks just because they are busy but if they have newfound free time, you might see a lot more activity. 

Again, I think that both online and physical identities affect one another. Or, depending on your audience, they might not: I bet my relatives who aren't on Facebook might not even know that I'm making art or curating. 

AE: Is it possible to have too many Facebook friends? 

JM: I don't know. I don't have anywhere near 5,000 which is the maximum number of friends you can have. Maybe after this article I'll have some more.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Libby Barbee

Incidental Interference
Collage on paper

LIBBY BARBEE's colorful collages and interactive sculptures address the construction of landscape and the frontier myth of the American West with a nuanced attention to the psychological and cultural implications of place. She received her MFA from the Maryland Institute Collage of Art in 2011, and was recently an artist-in-residence at Platte Forum (Denver, Colorado). In September 2013, Barbee will present a site-specific installation at Howard County Center for the Arts in Ellicott City, Maryland. Libby lives and works in La Veta, Colorado. 

OtherPeoplesPixels: What do you find compelling about Colorado? How has this place affected your work?

Libby Barbee: You know, it is really kind of strange. I grew up in a very small rural town on the southeastern plains of Colorado, but it was not one of the beautiful, mountainous areas that people often think of when they imagine this state. I always spent a lot of time outdoors. From the time I was a kid, I loved science and everything creepy or crawly. But as an adult, I never really thought of myself as an “outdoors” person and never felt particularly tied to the landscape of the American West. Before relocating to Baltimore for graduate school, I had been working for a couple of years on a series of paintings about gender and domestic spaces. My work at that time was still concerned with place, but it was more figurative and all about culture. Having grown up in the land of horrible landscape art, landscapes were pretty much the last thing in the world that I was interested in painting.

When I started graduate school, I fell into a serious creative slump. I no longer felt connected to what I was exploring in my studio practice. Even worse, I felt completely disoriented and claustrophobic on the East Coast. I had spent all of my life in a place where you could just look out and see for hundreds of miles in any direction. Suddenly I was in a landscape where I was totally dwarfed amongst all of the people, buildings and trees. It was just suffocating; I was dying to escape the place. On top of it all, I was experiencing some serious culture shock. I still maintain that people are people no matter where you are, but there are some very real differences between the attitudes and perspectives of East Coasters and West Coasters. It took some adjusting to.

Collage and charcoal on paper

OPP: How did your work change then?

LB: I somehow started making these charcoal drawings of this nude figure wearing a coyote hood. There wasn’t really any indication of the landscape in the drawings, but they had everything to do with this figure interacting with an imagined space. The figure’s placement and posture was very performative, almost as if it were performing a ritual or dance. Eventually these small drawings led to a large artwork that developed along one wall of my studio. It started as another of these charcoal drawings—the coyote-hooded figure carrying a grain mill on its back. I was at a point where this whole endeavor needed a push, and I began to add a rocky mountain ridge to the composition. I just kept adding page after page of paper until the drawing filled the whole wall. It was from this drawing that the idea of collage emerged. I had printed off some images of rock faces as a reference, but I got impatient. To speed up the process, I started cutting them up and taping them to the paper surface.

By the time I was finished with this giant drawing/collage, everything that I had been thinking about, experimenting with and biting my nails over just began to gel. I started to become consciously aware of the importance of the Western landscape and all of its cultural baggage in the fabric of my reality. I was able to contextualize my connection to the West and began to understand the activity of drawing these charcoal figures—which before had seemed unconnected and inconsequential—as a performative act of re-establishing my place in and perspective on the world. The figures quickly fell away in my work, and the landscape became the central actor. I also became more and more cognizant of and interested in the role of the mythic West in the larger American cultural consciousness. Before going to the East Coast, I don’t think that I had really ever completely understood the enormity of the importance of that particular landscape and the symbolism that it holds as the essence of American-ness. It has been interesting for me to see how my explorations have grown organically from something very personal to encompass these larger spheres that are progressively more universal.

I have been back in Colorado for about a year and half. Now I do live in one of those beautiful mountainous spots—a cute little town nestled below the Spanish Peaks of southern Colorado. We have small herds of deer that live in town and sleep in our front yard, and on cold mornings after a light snow, the sun sets the mountain aglow in a manner so brilliant you really begin to wonder if it isn’t nature’s attempt to imitate Thomas Kinkade. It has all of the makings for horrible landscape paintings.

The ranchers and old hippies here are left over from the communes that brought in artists from New York in the 1970s with the possibility of “dropping out.”  It's the same desire, of course, that attracted the ranchers and the cowboys before them, and the miners and the trappers, and—going all the way back to the beginning of the American Frontier—the pilgrims. All of them had the hope of trying it all anew, wiping the slate clean in a place unencumbered by culture, undirtied by human rules, hierarchies and restraints. It’s all a farce, of course. There is not much free or natural or unconstrained left about this place. It is all broken up, parceled out and divided by property lines, fences and water rights. The forests are managed by logging and fire, and the parks get new trails every year. But it really is a beautiful illusion.

Reimagining Bierstadt: Rocky Mountains (detail)
Collage on paper
40" x 58 1/2"

OPP: How is the Colorado art scene different from the Baltimore art scene?

LB: Baltimore is so full of energy. There is a really strong DIY attitude in Baltimore, and people just make things happen. You might go to see an ad hoc exhibition in someone’s living room one night, and the next night, you can see the same artists’ work in an exhibition at the Maryland Art Place or another well-established art venue. There are so many unoccupied buildings in the city that it is really easy for artists to find communal living spaces, studio spaces and spaces for all sorts of exciting exhibitions, performances and other forms of exchange. The whole scene is more about experimentation and the exchange of ideas than about sales or status. There is a lot of support for emerging artists.

The Colorado art scene is, of course, much smaller and more diffuse. I live in a very rural spot about three hours from Denver, so I am pretty isolated from any contemporary art scene. Usually when I tell people that I am an artist, I get some answer like: “Oh, you are?!!! Well, you should meet my neighbor Larry. He makes just the neatest sculptures of sunflowers and animals out of old tractor parts. You would just love them!” And, in all honesty, I really kind of do love them.

I spent two months in Denver last spring doing a residency at a wonderful arts organization called Platte Forum. I had lived in northern Colorado for about eight years during and immediately following my undergraduate studies at Colorado State University, and this was the first time that I had spent much time in the Denver area since leaving Fort Collins in 2008. I had the opportunity to get a better feel for everything that is going on there, and I honestly was quite shocked. I met so many artists who are doing really interesting things, and there are a growing number of organizations, residencies and venues that support contemporary art and emerging artists. I have always believed that you can tell the health of an art ecosystem by the amount of support that is shown for emerging artists. If all of the artwork is being shipped in from other places or you just see the same artists over and over again, you know that the system is unhealthy. I think that Denver is on the move and heading in a great direction. As soon as I am finished being a hermit in the mountains, I think that I will head there. 

The Harvest of Particles
Collage and guache on paper
15" x 21"

OPP: I'd love to hear more about the creation of colorful landscape collages like Reimagining Bierstadt: Rocky Mountains (2012) and The Harvest of Particles (2011), which involve both collage and painting. Could you explain your collage process? Do you plan your compositions in advance?

LB: A lot of my work begins with reading. I love to read about science and natural history; certain ideas just catch my attention. I’ll start out with a general concept or even a catch phrase and get to Googling. My husband swears that I am a research addict. Honestly, I don’t know what I would do without books and the Internet. I allow myself to be pulled along by the research, often discovering connections between ideas I never would have imagined fitting together. The collages are about synthesizing all this disparate information. 

Sometimes I do plan my compositions in advance (it is the smart thing to do, after all), but I am impatient. More often, I find a few images that fit the idea that I am after and that somehow have a life of their own. They become sort of like actors on a stage, and they often dictate the direction of the composition. It is weird, because sometimes I will completely eliminate them in the end, but the resulting composition could never have been created without them.

As I start constructing the collage, I go through this whole back and forth process of finding images and creating paint swatches. The painting is great, because it is mindless and cathartic, and I can really concentrate on the audiobook that I am listening to. I drip and swirl and puddle it until I have a nice big stack of painted paper that I can cut from. Then, I try to match the printed images with the painted swatches, and when I can’t do that, I fiddle with Photoshop (which I hate) until something works. Once I am fed up with Photoshop, I go back to puddling and swirling. Amidst all this back-and-forth, are long hours of cutting stuff out with Exacto knives and gluing. Eventually it all just works itself out. It is a stupid process really, and sometimes I hope that I figure out something better.

Collage, Paint

OPP: What are your sources for your collages? What is your collection process like?

LB: My collection process is really a hodgepodge of approaches, and I am sure it would seem like complete lunacy to anyone who walked into my studio and tried to make sense of it. Nevertheless, there is some twisted and confusing logic behind it all.

The process is constantly changing, and the rules of the game are different from piece to piece. Sometimes the process emerges out of necessity. I know that I need a certain color, texture, value, and I go out looking for that. More often, however, I set up parameters for myself: I only use images found by Googling a certain word, by searching a particular data base or by using images of only one particular place. I am obsessed with the US Geological Survey, and I can spend hours looking through images on the organization’s website. I am constantly looking for new ways of picturing the world, and I keep hundreds of photos saved on my computer in folders with names like piebald deer and icebergs.

OPP: How is the process of collage itself connected to your ideas about the American wilderness?

LB: We imagine nature to be pure, unchanging, timeless. Most importantly, we often define nature as an absence of human intervention. We see the human and natural worlds as distinctly separate. This has been historically important in a nation whose identity depends on the idea of the untouched/uncivilized landscape as the mechanism for political and spiritual purification and the creation of a stronger, better, freer nation.

But, in reality, “nature” and “wilderness” are cultural fabrications. Yellowstone National Park, for instance, is a beacon of American wilderness. And yet, its plants, animals and geology have been utilized and manipulated by humans for thousands of years. We identify national parks as “natural” spaces, but a lot of effort goes into maintaining them. They are an attempt to reconstruct a pure and unchanging state that never really existed.  

Collage is essentially the construction of cohesive images out of very incoherent parts. I set out to deconstruct images of landscape in order to reconstruct them in a new light. In one of the first works, I used photos of landfills, feed lots and parking lots to create rock faces. In another painting, I used one aerial photograph repeated over and over again to create a panoramic view of rolling hills and plains. I hope that viewers will move from the cohesive image to the incoherent parts and begin to think about the facts that are overlooked in their perceptions of the idealized American landscape.

 To see more of Libby's work, please visit

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 Abdul Abdullah

Adik Lelaki (little brother)
oil on canvas
40" x 40"

ABDUL ABDULLAH explores themes of belonging and alienation in the context of a Muslim-Australian identity, using his own background as a touch point. His paintings, photographs, video and performative public collaborations operate from a spirit of generosity, while they simultaneously reveal cultural misperceptions about the Muslim-Australian experience. In 2009, he received the Highly Commended in the NYSPP at the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra and was named a Perth Rising Star by Insite Magazine. In 2010, he was included in the inaugural Triple J list of 25 Under 25 + Smashin' It. Abdul lives in Perth, Australia.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your background is in painting, but lately you're taking more of an interdisciplinary approach. Tell me about your interest in portraiture. How did it begin?

Abdul Abdullah: Before I studied art, I studied journalism. I am a curious person, and I am particularly curious about people. Art school for me better satisfied my curiosities and was a more immediate way to address the questions I had. I like people, and I want to understand them. Portraiture seemed like a rational method to pursue. To the chagrin of my lecturers, I painted throughout art school and resisted other mediums. At the time, I wanted to graduate from art school with a practical skill. While painting is still the backbone of my practice, I now see the medium as second to the idea and look to find what processes best suit what I am trying to communicate visually.

Celebration 8
oil and enamel on canvas
48" x 48"

OPP: One thing that really stands out for me about your portraits is the consistency with which the context is stripped away from the figures you paint. Mostly they float in blank fields of color, as in King Keanu (2011), although sometimes the light from some unknown source remains on their faces, as in Serani (2012). How does this formal choice reveal your conceptual concerns?

AA: What I am looking to do is find an efficient mode for the consumption of an idea. It is a reductive method that seeks to put across a simple idea quickly. Often the canvas serves the purpose a plinth can serve in a sculpture. I want to direct the audience to what I find important in an idea.

OPP: I find your body of work Celebrations and Gold refreshing in its emphasis on joy and the notion of honoring the individual. Can you talk about this work and how it developed? Is it a reaction to something in the art world?

AA: Celebrations and Gold was my return show to my hometown Perth after almost two years away in Melbourne and Europe. Melbourne was an amazing city with a lot going on, and I found myself only trying to replace the friends I already had in Perth. I began to feel that cities were much more the same than different, and what really matters is the people you love who live in them. This particular body of work was a way of celebrating the friendships I had in my hometown. I painted the people around me who I loved and in the way that I liked to think of them. I put them in crowns and showered them in confetti. In essence, I celebrated what they meant to me. It wasn't consciously a reaction to anything in the art world, but in hindsight, I can see how this was a way of differentiating myself from a lot of the clinical, academic art I was surrounded by in Melbourne and positioning myself unapologetically as the emotional and reactionary artist I am.

Abdul-Hamid Ibrahim Percival Charles Charles Charles Charles 2
C-type print

OPP:  Your most recent photographs were shown at the Melbourne Art Fair in August. They feature you and an older man, and the titles refer to your paternal lineage. Could you talk about this theme in your work?

AA: The photographs featured my father, or likenesses of my father. Lineage is a subject that has become very important to me. I am a seventh generation Australian with a direct paternal link to a convict who arrived here in 1815, after stealing two stamps and a watch chain in London. My paternal line is exclusively of British origin. On my mother’s side, it is Malay. My father converted to Islam in 1972 and took the Arabic name Ibrahim Abdullah. He married my already Muslim mother, and they raised their children as Muslims.

While my roots run deep in this country, I have found myself continuously having to justify my position as both an Australian and as a Muslim. My skin is brown, and I have an Arabic name so people think I must be from somewhere else with values that don’t correspond with Australian values, or they say that I have assimilated well. Both statements are incorrect. My family has been in Australia for 200 years. I haven’t changed to assimilate into Australian society; I have always been the way I am. Even the cable guy that came to fix my internet the other day said, “I saw your name and thought I’d have trouble with you, but you speak English well." This is symptomatic of the broader Australian attitude. We might have opened our borders, but the White Australia Policy, which restricted non-white immigration to Australia, was only abolished 40 years ago. The personal revolution my father underwent when he became a Muslim that same year defined who I am and how I identify myself today. I am an Australian, I love my country, and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, but I certainly don’t fit the Aussie stereotype.

OPP: As an American, I'm not sure I know exactly what the Aussie stereotype is. Could you explain what you mean?

AA: The Aussie stereotype, as I understand it, is the white, sun-bleached by-product of British colonization. At best it's the laid-back, rough-around-the-edges Crocodile Dundee type. At worst, it's nationalist, xenophobic and white-supremacist. Australia did not suffer apartheid, but our historical experience is not dissimilar. Indigenous people were not classed as human beings until the 1970s, and the term asylum-seeker has somehow become synonymous with illegal immigrant. The Cronulla riots in 2005 were perpetrated by flag-bearing people fitting this stereotype who claimed ownership of the term Aussie. Placards on the day denounced Wogs, referring intially to Lebanese-Australians. But as the day went on, the term seemed to refer to anyone who wasn't white. Broadly speaking, I wouldn't call those who fit the young Aussie stereotype consciously racist, but rather they are South Park Conservatives, and by that I mean, well-meaning idealists with oversimplified, right-leaning politics. They have an egocentric view of the world that reveals a limited understanding of domestic and international history. They wear Rusty brand shorts and flipflops no what the weather is, and they look like Chris Hemsworth or Kylie Minogue.

Intimate Ambassador Ayres
oil on canvas
16" x 16"

OPP: You did a collaborative project with two other emerging Australian artists, Nathan Beard and Casey Ayres, called The Greater Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. The project deals with cultural stereotypes and the experience of living in a multicultural society. Explain the historical reference of the project's title and describe the public performance project.

AA: The Greater Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere was a collaboration with fellow Eurasian artists Casey Ayres and Nathan Beard for the 2012 Next Wave festival in Melbourne. The title refers to Japan’s geo-political ambition in World War II, called the "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere." We dropped "East" from the title and made it more inclusive. The project consisted of an embassy for the fictional empire where we the artists acted as hosts or ambassadors. We transformed a space at the National Gallery of Victoria into an orientalized kitsch set that acted as the backdrop for a series of performances and workshops. These included dancers, musicians and performers, as well as experts in different Asian arts and cultures. We wanted to turn a mirror on the exotic and hold it up to the way Asia is consumed by the Australian public. The whole project was tongue-in-cheek, but we were able to reveal some uncomfortable stereotypes.

OPP: There seems to be a precarious balance between irony and a sincerity in the act of performing as ambassadors. This irony-sincerity hybridity underscores what you've said about your experience as a Muslim-Australian, in the sense that it is a synthesis of two things which people often think of as opposing. I'm wondering about the tone of the performances and workshops. Was it in contrast to the "orientalized kitsch set" or in line with it?

AA: It's important that The Greater Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere was a humorous engagement with these topics, it was also an earnest investigation that carefully handled different cultural discourses. Our workshops were authentic collaborations with Asian-Australian performers, artists and experts. The set and our costumes were exaggerated facsimiles of the real thing, but our engagement with the people we hosted was sincere and not supposed to be ironic.

The Greater Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere
Promotional image

OPP: Those gold suits are amazing! Could you talk about the role of costuming and accessorizing in the project?

AA: The costumes we wore for the duration of festival were based on a Prada design and were made while on a research trip to Thailand in 2011. As the ambassadors we decided we were each going to identify with one of the three imagined pillars of our empire: passion, beauty and wisdom. The crowns we chose and our demeanors were designed to reflect these traits. The gold fabric was chosen, because we felt it reflected the kitsch themes of the space and idea.

OPP: What effect did your collaboration in The Greater Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere have on your own individual practice?

AA: While I have been consciously expanding my practice over the last three years, this collaboration took it to places I hadn’t ever imagined. It involved theatre, dance, performance and audience interactivity. We existed in the space as part of the artwork and interacted with our audience as performers. It really revealed to me what is possible when you are trying to communicate an idea and how, when making art, the idea absolutely must be privileged over the medium. At the same time this does not undermine the value of painting, but rather reinforces the reasons I paint when I do and when I use other means of communications as opposed to painting. 

OPP: What new idea or project are you excited about right now?

AA:  In 2013 I will be exhibiting and working on a body of work that explores the notion of "home." Australia, being a relatively new nation with colonial beginnings has an uncomfortable relationship with this idea. What does "home" mean in the contemporary multicultural Australian context? As a seventh generation Australian, who is also a Muslim and who isn't white, I have mixed feelings about identifying with my nationality. I am an Australian and I love my country, but there is a segment of society in which people claim the same thing but deny my right to do so. I don't have a "mother-country," and if this isn't my home, then where is? I think this question is relevant to an entire generation of Australians who don't identify with bushrangers.

To see more of Abdul's work, please visit

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 be 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 TEMPLATES: OPP's BIGGEST Update of the Year!

Just in time for those end-of-the-year residency and grant applications (or showing your website to Aunt Violet over the holidays), OPP is excited to announce our BIGGEST UPDATE of the year!

OPP websites now have a whole bunch of gorgeous new Template options, with flowing layouts, and a choice of 3 different sizes -- so your images can be as large as you like! These Templates are simple and classy, so they let your work really take the foreground. You can choose from over 250 variations of 35 brand-new subtle patterns, or over 130 solid colors. Go to the "Templates" section of your OPP Control Panel to try them out -- and get a fresh new look for your site for 2013! with subtle "Shatter" Template

So, all your friends have white websites? Well, with OPP, white now comes in flavors! Look closely…we think these Template's patterns are so nice because they're really subtle. They won't interfere with viewing your work, while still imparting that certain je ne sais quoi.

Some of them are aaaaalmost completely solid colors but with little flecks, or with a simple fabric texture or a chic paper pattern. (Of course there are also lots of options for those who prefer gray birds, black florals…or pink pleather, you cheeky monkey!) We guarantee you'll find something that will set your site apart *and* look stunning with your work.

The new Templates also have the option to show your work at 3 different sizes: M, L and XL. You'll remember we updated Zoom Images recently, so your artwork can now been seen much larger and your Zooms can now fill the screen -- even if you, or that curator checking out your work, are using a giant cinematic display.

Here are some tips to help you get the most from the new update:

* Check on the size of your Artwork and Zoom Images. Your OPP site will now show them at the largest possible size, based on what you originally uploaded, and the Template size you have chosen. If your Image are not as big as you'd like them to be, go ahead and re-upload. To take maximum advantage, your images should be at least 2500 px on the longest side. (Remember: images still should be under 10MB and 4092 px on any side.)

* If you haven't already, go to "Home Page Image" and select one of your Artwork Images to show up on your Home Page. (We added this feature on Dec. 6th) This will enable the new larger size images for your Home Page too, and means you no longer have to upload new images twice.

* Check out the Body & Menu Fonts sections for more choices on your font sizes, so you can have perfectly sized type with your new Template. (We added this on Dec. 6th too!)

* The size of your Title and Nav Fonts may change in the layout of the new Templates. Fonts may render differently at different sizes, be sure to check and adjust your fonts, if needed, to be sure you have one you love.

You can see some examples of OPP-ers using the new Templates here:

Lilly McElroy (<--- Lilly is exploring the iconic American Landscape; how it inspires us, leads us on, and often fails to live up to the dream.)


Montgomery Perry Smith (<--- Monte creates beautiful, provocative forms in tittilating materials like foam, glass and fleece.)


Jenny Kendler (<--- This is my site...hi! I’m interested in complicating the space between Nature and Culture and exploring human beings’ complex relationship(s) with the natural world.)


Carl Baratta (<--- Carl's paintings are double-plus good! How could Indian-miniatures-meets-kung-fu fail? Did we mention he makes his own paint from scratch?!)


Mara Baker  (<--- Mara's work, often created from re-purposed non-traditional materials, investigates the signifiers of deterioration and residue.)


Andrew Scott Ross (<--- Andrew's intricate paper works explore the history of the human imagination.)


We hope you love the new Templates and have fun updating your websites! We're always cooking up new ideas at the OPP lab, so let us know if there's something you'd really like to see by emailing your suggestion to support [at]

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Amy Elkins

Rick (Tight Head Prop Forward), Princeton, NJ.

AMY ELKINS's photographic portraits question traditional assumptions about gender, identity and emotion, revealing vulnerability and fragility in the masculine experience. Her work has recently been seen at the 2012 International Young Photographers' Exhibition in S. Korea and The Bursa International Photo Festival in Turkey. Based in Portland, Oregon, Amy is currently an artist-in-residence at Villa Waldberta International Artist House in Munich, where her work is also on view in Next Generation: Contemporary American Photography at Amerika Haus.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your work has some painterly references even though you are a photographer. What are your influences in terms of portraiture?

Amy Elkins: I think this is something that I do quite subconsciously. I studied painting, drawing, collage, printmaking and other forms of hand-to-paper art-making for years before taking my first photography class. While I fell in love with photography and the way that it could instantly transform or capture reality, I’ve always been drawn to painting. I remember the first time I walked through the Metropolitian Museum of Art and saw early Dutch and American paintings depicting people in dramatic light and lavish environments with rigid and elegant postures…that visual contrast resonated with me. 

I've been abroad in Munich at a residency for the past few months, and I constantly find myself in so many museums. I've easily spent hours/days just looking at the awkward qualities in these paintings—the gestures, expressions and environments.

Contemporary photographer Rineke Dijkstra’s series of young matadors had a huge impact on me, and I still believe they are incredibly compelling. I'm also influenced by Lise Sarfati and her portraits of young inmates in Europe, Fazal Sheikh’s daylight studios in refugee camps, Carl de Keyzer’s Siberian prison camp portraits and definitely the works of August Sander

Brendan, Brooklyn, NY

OPP: In your statement for your ongoing series Wallflower, you say: "In a reversal of the traditional male gaze, the images confront some of the cultural grounds underlying gender, opting to focus on the beauty, sensitivity and vulnerabilities found in a sex that has long been held to masculine expectations and stereotypes." Can you define the notion of the female gaze in the same way the male gaze has been defined throughout art history? 

AE: I think the two types of gazes we are referring to can be seen very differently depending on the type of work we are connecting it with. Throughout art and photography history, the male gaze is used to explore and portray female sensuality, sexuality, beauty and vulnerability. This portrayal suggests to the audience that women should be seen this way. I am not trying to reverse the role of power that has been assumed by the male gaze. I am simply turning the gaze around a little and exploring the notion that females aren’t the only gender susceptible to fragility and vulnerability. Society looks at gender in very black and white terms, and those terms seem so far from the actual vast gradient of what makes up who we all are. In my image making, I ask the viewer to engage in questions regarding gender code and societal standards of masculinity and femininity. 

OPP: Two bodies of work, Black is the Day, Black is the Night and The Sunshine State, are ongoing explorations of inmates on death row. The pieces are portraits but not in a traditional sense. I'd like to hear more about both of these projects.

AE: I’ll talk about Black is the Day, Black is the Night first—it’s the catalyst for Sunshine State—and a project that isn’t currently on my website: Parting Words. Black is the Day, Black is the Night began through my correspondence with men who were and still are serving primarily death row sentences across the United States. It all began one rainy afternoon in Brooklyn when I came across a website for prisoners seeking pen pals. There were advanced search options for those who were serving life in prison and those serving on death row. Out of morbid curiosity, I clicked on the death option. What unraveled before me felt equal parts disgusting and mesmerizing. I saw hundreds of profiles staring back at me. After a lot of thought and recurring visits to this website, I decided to write several men serving death row sentences and two men serving life sentences who had entered prison as juveniles. I sent them letters introducing myself. I began my interactions with very simple questions about identity, memory, time and distance. I was curious about how being so far removed from society impacted their notions of self, of others and of home. I was curious about how facing life or death in prison as a result of acting out on a violent impulse brought them into a heightened mental state of stress and vulnerability.

I never thought any of these correspondences would turn into a photography project. Simply put, I was curious about their lives. I knew that this was a rare opportunity for me to be in touch first hand. I felt it deeply connected with the multifaceted exploration of masculinity I had already been working on. I never expected what ended up unfolding. There was such sincerity in the letters, and such a readiness for collaboration. So I began constructing images from the text they were sharing with me, and then I would send those images to them. They critiqued and sometimes decorated their cells with the images. This went on for years. These images were the only types of portrait that I could make of them. 

Of the seven men with whom I originally corresponded, I remain in touch with only one. He has been in solitary confinement since 1995 for a crime he committed at age 16. One man was released in 2010 at the age of 30 after 15 years in prison. Three men opted out of the correspondence. One man was executed in 2009, and another met the same fate in March 2012.  

19/32 (Not the Man I Once Was)
Portrait of a man having thus far served 19 years of a Life without Parole (solitary) sentence where the ratio of years spent in prison to years alive determined the level of image loss.

OPP: How are your other two projects different from Black is the Day, Black is the Night?

AE: Sunshine State and Parting Words spurred off of Black is the Day, Black is the Night. That's when I became more involved in my research about the U.S. death penalty. Sunshine State encompasses every mug shot from one of the most populated prison death rows in the country. For every portrait, I remove all details of the original image until it becomes just spectrums of color and light. Through this process, I speak to the loss of self within such a massive prison population. I do this knowing full well that these experiences are just part of an even more massive, nationwide prison death row population.

In the forever ongoing project Parting Words, I combine mug shots from every inmate executed in the state of Texas with their last words. The new portrait is made entirely of text and gradiations. The portraits are recognizable and clear when seen from far away, but as the viewer approaches them they dissolve into text. These are the last vestiges of each man that still remain. This project began when one of my prison pen pals in Texas was executed. 

OPP: Can you expand on the underlying connection between violence and vulnerability in your work? It's present in both the inmate projects and Elegant Violence, which is an ongoing series of portraits of rugby players.

AE: This is a connection that I have been making only in my most recent work, but have wanted to explore for some time. In Wallflower, I look to male subject matter in a way that pushes and challenges gender stereotypes by placing both masculine and feminine together in one frame. Because the men are out of context—they are sitting bare and in a created/fictional environment that is neither mine nor theirs—the viewer is left to read simple body language and gesture against a floral paper backdrop. The subject's vulnerability comes through in the portrait, and the relationship between sitter and photographer. 

Recently I looked again at gender stereotypes. Rather than push against or challenge notions of gender, I examined the idea that men act on violent and competitive impulses. How do those impulses create vulnerability? The physical exertion, the rush of adrenaline, the injuries...these create a less guarded portrait of heightened vulnerability. The rugby athletes are not entirely focused on me and my camera but rather on what they have just experienced in the game. 

The letters and images I made with inmates over the years look at the vulnerabilities of living a life in infinite solitude, or of facing one's death as a result of acting out on violent impulses. The men I portray had already served 12-26 years in prison when I first contacted them. Time forced a break in their notions of self. Through our exchange of letters and art, we looked into memory collapse, changing notions of self and how infinite time impacts both. The act of violence is broken down in both projects, but that's mostly due to circumstances. I often look for that moment of vulnerability, that moment of being unguarded. That moment is when I feel compelled to make portraits.

Lucas, New York, NY
February 07, 2010

 OPP: I like the term "longitudinal portrait" that you use to describe your bodies of work Lucas and Gray, which are both portraits those individuals. What's it like to photograph the same person over a series of years, especially a young boy going through the process of adolescence and becoming an adult man?

AE: I love what unfolds before the camera when I make extended portraits. There’s a patience that has to exist because I know that the project(s) could go on for years; they could endlessly shift in direction, too. The only concrete elements are the subjects themselves. Their lives and environments may shift in numerous directions. I have no idea what future portrait sessions might be like. 

This is true for both Gray and Lucas. Gray had a serious medical condition that had the ability to shift the way he felt and the way his body, face and mood appeared before the camera. His body was physically altered through illness, surgery and recovery. I started photographing him when we lived together in 2004, and I've followed him ever since. The project is loose and flutters in and out of both of our lives.

The project with Lucas began when I met him at a friend's wedding. He was 12-years-old. He was at the wedding with his parents; I contacted them a few weeks later to ask if I could make his portrait. I didn’t necessarily think that I would photograph him for years to come, but here we are several years later and I'm still working with him. It happened organically. We both agree that this has to continue. Over the years, Lucas has literally grown up before the camera. There are so many subtle shifts I catch during these portrait sessions that would otherwise go unnoticed in the day-to-day. In this project, things are far more structured and formulaic; I photograph him every 3-4 months. The shifts are massive when look at the images in sequence. I find this fascinating.

Constellations and the New Arch, Brooklyn, NY

OPP: Right now you are in residency in Germany, correct? Tell us about the residency. What will you be working on while you are there?

AE: Yes, I am currently a month into the Villa Waldberta International Artist Residency Program, which provides artists (writers, actors, poets, film makers, photographers, painters, sculptors, musicians) with a furnished apartment in an historic mansion. It's located in the countryside, an hour's train ride outside of Munich. Each artist receives a stipend. I am here for two months thanks to a nomination from Curator Stefan-Maria Mittendorf, who recently assembled an exhibition of American photographers (including Alec Soth, Doug Rickard and Laurel Nakadate, among others) called Next Generation: Contemporary American Photography

Given that the work environment is very different than my own fully equipped studio back home, I’ve learned to work in new ways. I’ve spent quite a lot of time editing images that I've taken in my past seven weeks abroad. I shot formal portraits for a new project that I worked on during my two-week stay in Copenhagen. I also shot informal, lo-fi images that I see as a response to being a foreigner traveling alone for an extended period of time. This is a new experience for me. I’ve been experimenting with printing these lo-fi images on various paper types. I played with sequencing them into several small books/zines, temporarily titled Whilst I am Drawing Breath, which is taken from a poem by Rose Ausländer

Both projects are too new to talk about in further detail. They are still very much evolving. I have a little under a month left here, and while I’ll continue to work on these projects I also plan on attending Paris Photo and visiting London and Salzburg before heading home. My trip back includes a four-day layover in Iceland where I will soak in geothermal pools, and another several days in NYC to work on Lucas. When I return to Portland, I'll shake off the jetlag and start making work prints. I’ll have been out of my regular reality for three-plus months, and will definitely be ready to jump back in. 

To view more of Amy's work, please visit

Artists & Social Media Series: Sabina Ott Discusses the Politics of Facebook Inclusivity and Why Tumblr is Perfect for Artist-Run Project Spaces

Artist Sabina Ott is no stranger to the social web. For more than 25 years, she has been investigating the process and act of painting. The Internet and Gertrude Stein’s prose are two of her major influences. “To me, Stein is the prescient literature to the Internet because her work follows the process of present, lifted, moved, re-experienced, present, lifted, moved, re-experienced,” says Ott. "The idea behind Stein's work mirrors the process of experiencing content on the web, from the layered world of a single Wikipedia page to the rabbit hole of prowling someone’s world as seen through their Facebook profile."

Currently Ott is working with grotesque, environmentally hazardous materials to create life-size sculptures chipped from giant blocks of Styrofoam—the modern day artist’s carving stone, if you will—along with plants one might find at chain convenience stores and swaths of neon spray paint. Her work is a meditation on the convergence of personal subjectivities, manmade synthetic objects, memories of the past and the effervescent landscape of the future. She also runs the artist project space Terrain out of her Oak Park home. Utilizing the front porch, she creates opportunities for artistic interventions in the suburban landscape. Terrain provides artists, ranging from emerging to established, the opportunity to gain additional exposure in a non-commercial setting. Tumblr is integral to Terrain—and sometimes, this artist project space only exists in that virtual form. 

This is the second post in a five-part series about how artists use social media. For the first post about OPP artist Ellen Greene, click hereHave ideas for a topic you'd really like covered on the OPP blog? Email us at blog [at]

Ben Fain at Terrain 

Alicia Eler: When did you first join Facebook? 

Sabina Ott: I first started being on Facebook so that I could reach out to artists I knew all around the world. But I had no filters. I said yes to anybody, because I thought, that's what this was—a global network! This is not about being picky and keeping an isolated community of friends. So I instantly got 1,500 friends. I was like, “Yahoo! Everybody! Yes!” But what happened was I started running the artist project space Terrain out of my Oak Park home. I was using social media to promote Terrain, and as a result I stopped using Facebook to promote my own work. It takes so much energy to do both. Plus when I logged into Facebook, my news feed was just a stream of political commentary and peoples' baby pictures. Right now my main activity on Facebook is hiding people from the news feed. I’m trying to curate it so that I see what I want to see. I can’t deal with another photo of someone's three-year-old doing something completely uninteresting. But on the other hand, I completely understand their impulse to post these photos. 

AE: Tell me about the experience of posting your own artwork to Facebook. 

SO: I posted a lot of my art in 2010 when I started this new body of work. I had stopped making work for awhile because I got really sick. When I began again, I was making these Surrealist eyeball paintings and sculptures—they were about seeing and being seen and about asserting my body or eye into a space. Facebook was a perfect platform for that, because it brings up questions of voyeurism, of who is seeing what, and of how people see in a non-physical space. I just posted tons of this work to Facebook. I would get into conversations about the work, and people would say it was wonderful and be all "Yay Sabina!" And I would say "Yay thank you!" I would just get this high, this incredible high. 

"that" (2011) from Sabina Ott's Facebook page
polystyrene, plexiglass, pigment print on paper, foam, canvas, acrylic and enamel paint
28" x 18" x 10"

People were like, “I cant wait to see this!” At one point I thought, who needs a gallery if the whole point is to have your work seen? Facebook is great for that. It really works. Recently I changed my Facebook cover photo, but on the whole I haven’t been posting my work that much. It takes a lot of attention. But then I posted one piece of artwork and received 30 likes on Facebook. That was really satisfying. Then I thought maybe I should withhold a bit and post less of my artwork; before I had been so out there with my art. I hadn't been doing the personal aspect of Facebook either, and then I started listing my family members on there. So I opened it up to family, not just art people. It was an idea about a personal politic, really. Why can’t I have my husband, dog, nieces, nephews and art students all in the same space?  

AE: Would you consider the Facebook profile a space for political intervention? I am thinking about ideas of the personal as political.

SO: Yeah, I do. It’s important to think about Facebook in this way. It's similar to the way I am doing Terrain, too. It’s like, yes, it’s my house—but yes, you can come over. I think that sort of inclusivity is important. At the same time, when I got like 1,800-1,900 Facebook friends, I kind of overdosed on it. That’s when I stopped doing my personal posting as much. 

AE: How did your Facebook posting change when you hit that number? 

SO: I was just getting a lot of crap on my wall. I lost focus on it as a sort of subversive act of blending my art, personal life and public persona. And I realized I was collecting friends, which I like doing as well…

AE: What do you think of the way New York Magazine Senior Art Critic Jerry Saltz uses Facebook? He’s like the Facebook Art Critic. 

SO: You know, I'm a contrarian—I can't stand the way Jerry uses Facebook. You realize that all these people he is friends with are posting comments for him, but only kind of. People are having conversations on Jerry’s wall on the slim chance that he will look in and say, “That one! That one is brilliant! I'll go to their studio!” Facebook has really worked for him as an artistic presence. It's interesting that writers and curators can have that sort of presence on Facebook, maybe even more than visual artists. 

A post from Jerry Saltz's Facebook page

AE: Let’s go back to how you say you rebuilt your community first through Facebook. Tell me about why this happened. 

SO: I think it happened this way because I moved so much—from Los Angeles to St. Louis to San Francisco to Chicago. Nobody knows where I'm living or where I'm from anymore. I was very much identified as an LA artist for about 15 years of my career. Recently someone asked me how I was enjoying St. Louis. That was 15 years ago, and I was running the grad program at Wash U. Through the Facebook virual presence, I am able to re-establish my physical location and presence.  

"First Eye" (2008)
ostrich egg, plastic rose, ink print, glitter and spray paint
14 x 12 x 6 inches approx.
Private collection, Pasadena, CA

AE: Has Facebook reconnected you with people from your past? Do you use Facebook Lists at all to filter your friends?

SO: No, but I should use lists. It was the strangest thing watching people from elementary school and people I used to sleep with who were like, “Hi!” I have so many old boyfriends that are now Facebook friends, which is hilarious to me. I have much better relationships with them on Facebook than I did in real life. This guy I was previously engaged to twice is a real pontificator on Facebook. He's a philosophy guy and a Jungian therapist. He's decided to take on my work through Facebook. He'll say things like, "Imminence! You've always been about imminence!" And he'll go on and on about my work in Facebook comments and messages. I'll say, "Will you write a catalogue essay for me?" And he'll say, "You're lazy! You've always been lazy!" So there is this kind of distilled relationship that happens on Facebook—it is simultaneously personal and artwork-related. 

AE: How do you use social media for Terrain, the project space that occupies the front porch of your Oak Park home? 

SO: The Terrain site is on Tumblr and Facebook. The Tumblr page is more formal and elegant. The Facebook Group is like, "Bah! Go here! Go there!" I went onto Facebook and put everyone I know into the Terrain Facebook Group whether they like it or not. It's a Group, not a Fan Page. The Facebook Group makes it so that every time I post something, everyone gets a message about it. But I mostly post stuff like, “This is happening here and there.” Terrain has been really successful in a year, and by successful, I mean people know about it, it has a presence and it has an identity. In fact, it has exactly the kind of identity I want it to have—it’s participatory, and people also feel that if they see it on Facebook and Tumblr, they don’t have to go and see the real, physical thing. And that’s perfectly okay with me. 

AE: Really? You don’t care if people actually come out to the space and openings? That’s something I think about a lot when it comes to artists and social media. Sometimes if I see a lot of artwork on Facebook, I’m less inclined to check out the show. Doesn't that bother you, too?

SO: It's different with Terrain—it's one piece, one thing that’s subject to the elements. And it’s in the suburbs of Chicago. A lot of people I know aren't going to get there. They may come to the opening if they are within a 10-mile radius. I truly want people from all over the world to look at Terrain and the work we show. It worked tremendously well for Claire Ashley, who showed at Terrain in April–May 2012.  

Claire Ashley at Terrain

I like that the Terrain Tumblr allows people to know about the space without having to physically be there. Terrain isn’t meant for the social web per say, but it does work well on there. On the other hand, if an exhibition feels like it’s meant just to be photographed and posted on the web, that’s annoying. But in this case, it gives a shelf life to something that’s really impermanent. There are scraps of Terrain—like the space I had at the MDW Art Fair—but they will never be installed that way again. It’s best to have Terrain be a piece within a piece within a piece. Terrain as a concept is a piece, the Terrain Tumblr site is a piece, and then there are pieces within that, which are the artists' works at Terrain. Facebook is the active voice of Terrain—the conversational part of the place, if you will. I don't know how I would do that kind of meta-interplay with my own artwork.  

AE: I was reading the artist statement about networking that you have on your website. You discuss similarities between the act of painting and the digital, virtual world. You write: “So- somewhere in the middle of the textures, gestures and the overall formlessness that makes up painting (that special space within which subjectivity thrives) I form connections to the digital virtual world. Perhaps it’s the permeability, the boundary-less-ness of the web—overflowing with information and simultaneous endless connections and associations—that seems so very painterly. Indeed, one of the qualities of painting is its all-over-ness, because to experience a painting is to escape from linearity and simultaneously experience the past (memory), the present, and the future (fantasy). Experience becomes flat –as in systems theory, where flatness is used to describe non-linearity.” Does this include the social web, or are you just speaking about the Internet as a digital, virtual world?

SO: I think these ideas connect to the social web, because I can’t separate roaming on the web from the social aspects. The Internet is a portal, and so it is a portal to information; but it's also a portal to someone else's mind, and it's very personal too. I surf a lot on Facebook. I'm like the perfect Facebook person—I disappear into the rabbit hole. There might be someone I never sit down and talk to in real life, yet I am following their interests on Facebook. To me, that’s a gift, and I am happy to receive it. I am sure there are people who explore my Facebook page in the same way, following the Facebook path down its trajectory. 

Sabina Ott in her studio with new work

AE: Is there an artist on Facebook who you follow closely? Or are there artists who, through their Facebook presence, influence your work?

SO: Artist Stephanie Barber did a piece at The Poor Farm around the same time I showed there. She cut out a poem that she wrote out of grass turf. Stephanie lives in Baltimore. She writes these weird haikus, and if she lived here, we would definitely hang out. Instead, we are Facebook friends, and every time she writes a poem it pops up on in my Facebook news feed. Being able to see her work and that of other artists I admire but who don’t live nearby, makes my world really big. 

People say the Internet is bad, and they think it cuts out social graces. But I don't think so. I think it makes people better. They learn more. They are exposed to more. They have to tolerate more. They have to be conscious of what they say. And they have to learn how to reach out. I think it's really good, and I like it a lot. I felt really liberated by the Internet. I first got into it when I moved to St. Louis. It was right before there was this open Internet. Like, you could live without an email address. Schools were trying to require email addresses. I had just made this website, and the background was one of my paintings. I was totally into it, but I think a lot of that happened because I moved away from LA and my home and things just dropped into the rabbit hole. Thanks to Facebook, the chances of people just dropping off when you move away are a bit less. 

I went to Australia in 1996, when the country was much more on the web trek than the U.S. You can see the cultural shift that happened there because of the Internet. With the advent of the Internet, they weren't on the edge of the world in the wrong time zone on an island. When they were, it was so much more alive. Australians had a whole alternate universe island before the Internet. So with the Internet, something is lost—but everything is affected and reflected and still has its own identity. That's what's interesting about how the Internet gives exposure. And you still misunderstand it, which is what you want. 

In Australia, there was this artist there named Mike Parr—he was kind of like what John Baldessari is to the U.S. Or maybe Mel Bochner. Parr’s work was almost identical to theirs, but he was not exposed to international artists via the Internet. He developed his work in an Australian way. This kind of thing happens less nowadays, but even so, you still don’t lose that local sense. 

Mike Parr
Hold your breath for as long as possible (still from video, 1972
Image via

To learn more about Sabina Ott, visit her website:

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Eric Ashcraft

The Sun Don't Shine in your TV
archival inkjet print
4.24" x 6"

ERIC ASHCRAFT juxtaposes nature and technology, painting and sculpture and the found and the original in his mixed media work emphasizing the blurry, rich spaces between the binaries we often use to define things. His work has been shown most recently at The Missoula Art Museum (Missoula), Mt. Comfort (Indianapolis) and as a part of a two-person exhibition Poseur at Grizzly Grizzly (Philadelphia). Upcoming exhibitions include Taste at Small Black Door (New York). Eric lives in Yakima, WA.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Many of your pieces are paintings on modified found objects, so they are part painting-part sculpture. But juxtaposition seems to be an even stronger defining strategy driving all the work.

Eric Ashcraft: Lao Tzu once proposed that truth is apprehended through the understanding of fundamental binaries. Often, when one considers how best to describe the interactions of things around us, “discontinuity” proves to be a valuable signifier. A thing or event becomes best described by what it is not. The mind works to separate things, to classify, in order that it may abstract experiences into symbols, and orchestrate symbols into concepts. This is what we see in language, i.e. not dark but …, not soft but …, etc. It is no coincidence that a recurring theme in mythological constructions is that the fabric of nature itself is comprised of the interaction between opposites. It is also fascinating to me that natureas described by quantum field theoryworks in much the same vein as many of our mythologies would suggest. The laws of nature are very nearly symmetrical with respect to particles and antiparticles, which providefor lack of better termsa balance between the fundamental components (interactions) of reality.

When it comes to drawing lines between sculpture and painting, I often think, loosely and imperfectly, in terms of the classical binary opposition between mind and matter. In a limiting way, I relate properties of painting (surface-illusion) with mind, and properties of sculpture (form-space) with matter. In this context, I then enjoy attempting to erase the lines of separation, suspending knowledge of their respective attributes, which brings me closer in affinity with the traditions of mysticism. In moments of illumination, these systems of opposites are transcended and dissolved into a homogeneous continuity. And there, interconnectedness is laid bare and inarticulate. 

On a basic level, I don’t see much of a difference between the two; one easily becomes a surface for the other. Both are composites of thought and action. Both manifest as objects, limited by the material of which they are comprised. Both inevitably decay in time and are defined in accordance with the limiting symbols of language and difference. And importantly, both are constantly being redefined as the parameters in which they exist, evolve, expand and reconstitute under new paradigms. And so these half-painting, half-sculpture “hybrids” are a kind of articulation of this malleability of form and classification. In general, this perpetual fluctuation of category is a continuing drive for me.

Midsummer Liaison
acrylic on beer case
8" x 10.5" x 5"

OPP: So, do you identify as a painter, sculptor or as a conceptual artist?

 EA: If I had to choose between being identified as a painter, a sculptor or a conceptual artist, I would choose to be a banana. When it comes down to it, I’ll use whatever method necessary to allow an idea or experience to come to fruition, and usually concept takes priority. It is also probably obvious that I have a debilitating fear of being categorized, but it is important for me to allow myself to creatively wander and be a bit delusional. Truly, I think it would be best to not consider myself an artist at all and circumnavigate the issue.

OPP: Touché. A specific juxtaposition I see over and over again is the combination of the untouched, romantic landscape with various forms of technology: in My Kind of Romance (2008) you added a neon dress shirt, and, in Entertainment Tonight (2008), you put the painting on a TV set, and in Tell Me if I am not Happy (2011), the landscape covered the jacket of an undisclosed VHS tape. Could you talk about the recurring combination of the romantic landscape with technology?

EA: It really comes from numerous places. Some of the most visible to me are a consideration of the history of beauty and the seduction of the observer, the manifestation of both as signs, and conflict between immersive space and the obstructive tactility of our urban detritus. I remember, in the case of My Kind of Romance, being really interested in different materials and images employed in order to seduce. The image of the untouched landscape, which in this case, was a kind of compendium of historical influences varying from Corot, to the tyrant of our grandparents’ walls, Mr. Thomas Kinkade, and the physical presence of neon. Both have qualities that entice. One, an image that satisfies a kind of escapist yearning, relates to desires for purity, and the other, neon, is a more urban material. It's eye-candy, employed to catch one’s attention, reeling one in to consume. The shirt also stands in as an abstracted modern presence within a nostalgic and fictitious ideal. 

Perhaps a general interest in the sublime is a more apparent source of the combination. Technology, in a way, embodies a new experience of the sublime, one that provides awe through a shear overabundance of information. Where we once could stand on a precipice and feel the awesomeness of a great expanse, belittled and terrified by the vastness of space and unharnessed nature (in some places this still happens, especially in relation to outer space), we can now feel a similar phenomenon via the great expanse of information that confronts us through our exponentially generative technologies.

Ground Control
oil and china marker on board
22" x 22"

OPP: Talk about the theme of erasure in works like BEST IF USED BY JAN 01 12 (2011), The Hard Bones Under the Flesh (2011) and Were It to Begin and Were It to Cease (2011).

EA: I was interested in revealing the form or material under the advertising or image. I was sort of trying to reveal the essence of the object by taking away its skin. In doing so, the material and form became both reduced and more coherent in the modern sense. By cutting away at a structure, you can begin to understand how it works. You can break it down and simplify it. These works were kind of dissections in a very superficial sense.

OPP: So, is the tendency towards deconstruction as a way to comprehend related to the experience of vastness and awesomeness of the sublime in whatever form?

EA: You know, I have never seen a connection between them; perhaps you are picking up on something. I sort of think of the sublime as this moment where things can’t be reduced or taken apart, as being in affinity with rapture. It can only be talked about and deemed a sublime experience after the fact. So there is a rift between experience and understanding. First, one experiences, then knowledge is extracted from that experience once it is decoded into a language of logical understanding. Deconstruction is a utility for obtaining knowledge. The experience of the sublime is a state of dissolution into the unknown. So, perhaps they are connected in the sense of being complements.

Day and Night
two men's size 11 shoes made from cutting and reassembling two pairs of personally used Adidas shoes

OPP: There are some fascinating anomalies in your oeuvre: The Cracked Picket (2009) and Summertime (2010), for example, represent extremely different styles of painting. They are so distinct that it seems to be a conscious choice. I'd love to hear more about these pieces, and why you chose to paint the way you did? 

EA: Painting has an immense history that is nearly impossible to ignore, to the point that virtually any mark you make on a surface can carry a cultural and political significance. I like to visualize aesthetic approaches as varying tools in the toolbox; you can build content through renegotiating the terms of a thing’s representation and by questioning the validity of a thing’s historical definition or stature.

I think of style as really organic in this way. Different styles can be used to express different ideas. Some things are simply more effective rendered in a particular way. In The Cracked Picket, I remember trying to navigate between styles in such a way that the overall aesthetic wouldn’t fall into one category or the other, sort of walking the fence between cartoon and realism, humor and seriousness, abstraction and representation. Even the paint application was stuck somewhere between thick and thin. The combination of the perspective and the abundant thickness of the painting’s layers made the house feel like a real object in person, as if it were poised to fall off the surface. The fabricated quality of the house was magnified by rendering it in a synthetic medium: acrylic. Also relevant was its scale; it was much too big to be an illustration and too small to be a completely immersive illusion. It almost felt as if it should have been inhabited by hobbit-sized dolls.

I painted Summertime through a childhood memory of a confrontation with the decaying corpse of an entangled and unfortunate cow. There are a lot of contradictions at play, conceptually, physically and in regard to taste. I was trying to achieve a balance between an evasive apparition-like quality and a solid mass. The paint needed to be more of a mutating agent, accented by moments of heaviness shifting into transparency. The method of paint application was influenced greatly by the subject. I was revolving around death as a subject and a metaphor for painting as a whole. I was considering ambiguities in form through the use of an extremely plastic and fleshy material, mainly oil. I wanted to represent Death, unveiled as an elapse of time rather than as something instantaneous and foreign. I saw this concept as being in conjunction with the character of painting itself. A painting is built in time and ultimately decays in time, much the same way we do. A painting represents an expanded period of time. The time of its making is inherent in the “finished” work, in the layers of its construction. But it is never truly finished until it ceases to exist.

Good Company
airbrush on prepared print and frame
28" x 24"

OPP: What you are saying leads me to think of your work through the lens of contemporary remix culture, which is something close to my own heart. Throughout art history, new work has always drawn on old work, but your work makes this creation of meaning through juxtaposition more apparent because it is less concerned with having a definitive, "original" style. I'm enjoying thinking of your work as painting remix, similar to sampling in Hip Hop or the creation of new narratives in fanvids, mash-ups and supercuts. Is there any connection between your work and these non-art-world forms?

EA: Definitely. I enjoy that connection. All of these methods mix and clash material from a nearly inexhaustible and ever-growing media archive. Everything is up for grabs. The exchange of information has become so fast that classified channels of expression don’t have much of a shelf-life. There is always something new being born from the old, and I see no sign of it slowing down. So many turning points in history really come from separate languages combining into new forms. In a way, these “non-art-world” (non-art-world-yet?) methods pay homage to older methodologies of creativity, particularly appropriation in Cubist and Dadaist collage.

I think material that has a real physical history can be “remixed” as well. As our experience of media and technology becomes more integrated with the physical, the barriers between real and virtual begin to seem less distinct; it is truly hard to distinguish what is original from what is synthetic. I’ve begun to think of the two as unified harbingers of information.

As the exchange of information becomes increasingly more rapid, I see a possibility for material and image manipulation to expand to encompass increasingly more collisions of aesthetics. I envision the future of communication as a vast array of interweaving symbols that no longer function on a two-dimensional levelas current language doesbut instead a multi-dimensional ocean of layered meaning and non-meaning, abstraction and image, symbol and space.

On another note, if you choose to sample something, you can sample and still put your twist on it -- in fact it’s hard not to, the way you can still hear a characterizing finesse behind a great DJ’s flavor of blending chosen source material. Originality can be found in the idiosyncrasies. When you are taking influence, or even straight up stealing, the result doesn’t have to be derivative, and even that isn’t always a bad thing. I still entertain the idea of uniqueness, but one doesn’t need to be original in one way. You can be creative through multiple mediums and even multiple identities. You don’t need to wave a banner around with a singular product to be successful.


OPP: What new development in your art practice are you most excited about right now?

EA: There are a lot of avenues I’ve been exploring that are particularly rewarding. I feel as if right now I’m in a state of transition between multiple platforms, and new methods of expression have begun to unveil themselves. I’m beginning to try to fuse disparate platforms of expression that I’ve used in the past with new visual languages I’m trying to develop. In this respect, digital methods of production and explorations into new fields are especially enticing. In this approach, I have been making these twisted erotic drawings and digital works I haven’t shown anyone yet. I really don’t know how to describe them, which is exciting. 

To view more of Eric's work, please visit

Happy Thanksgiving... One Day Late

I was busy cooking casseroles made with cereal and mayonnaise yesterday morning, and I forgot to say Happy Thanksgiving! It's not a mistake that there was no Featured Artist Interview as I took the day off to cook and not be on the computer for a change, but I can certainly understand your disappointment. We'll return next week at our regularly scheduled time with another outstanding artist.

Artists & Social Media Series : Ellen Greene as the Gloved Female Magician

OPP: We're excited to bring you something new today to inform and inspire how you use social media as an artist. Arts writer and critic, Alicia Eler, is the author of this series in conversation with artists who use social media to their advantage. We all know we're "supposed" to be promoting ourselves as creative practitioners on social sites, but how can we do this authentically? Should we and can we use these sites to share our work, create a following, find opportunities or even contribute to and feed back into our art practices? We hope you enjoy this post and stay tuned for more on this subject on the OPPblog.

For this first installation, Alicia spoke with artist Ellen Greene, who puts a feminist twist on the hypermasculine language of tattoo flash. She creates and paints this new lexicon of tattoo flash onto womens’ leather handgloves, which act as a second skin that allows the tattoo-covered mother to tell her story. She recently wrote a catalogue essay for Ms. Greene's latest exhibition, Invisible Mother's Milk at Packer-Schopf Gallery; it will run in the next issue of Raw Visions magazine. 

Have ideas for a topic you'd really like covered on the OPPblog? Email us at blog [at]

Artist Ellen Greene

AE: Before we get into social media, tell me a bit about your work. You use acrylic paint on vintage leather womens’ hand gloves. Your use of symbols is interesting to me—you take the language of classic tattoo flash and reimagine it through the lens of a badass mom who’s also an outright feminist. Why do you make what you make? Why do you only use gloves? Why not soft leather shoes or even t-shirts, for example? 

EG: I began collecting gloves because they were objects that I found intriguing. They are made with such fine thin leather and stitched together so delicately over every finger. They are symbolic of an über-feminine aesthetic and belonged to a certain kind of lady who dressed very formally for church, funerals and parties. When I would find them in a thrift store, in bins with coin purses and doilies, they just seemed so beautiful and sad at the same time. They were something forgotten. So, for a time gloves were just beautiful things that I would collect and take back to my studio. I began to paint on them around the same time that I was getting tattoos. I was drawn to the hyper-masculinity of traditional tattoo art. When I say traditional, I mean the western tradition of sailor-style tattoos with imagery of panthers, ladies with big boobs, birds, stars and hearts. I loved how the tattoo artist could use only a few simple images to imply so many emotions. The body became magical, covered with symbols of the person's experience. 

Even though my first attempt at painting tattoo images was quite rudimentary, I kept painting on the gloves until I felt that I had an honest aesthetic. The end product of image on glove was something I had never seen before. The femininity in the gloves combined with the tough, masculine aggression of the tattoo vocabulary created something entirely new.  

As for creating shoes or t-shirts, I would never say never—but to me that kind of work feels more like fashion or something that is mass-produced. I paint on gloves because they are a metaphor for ladies' hands. There is a certain kind of historical attitude towards being a "lady." Heavily tattooed ladies' hands are taboo, and taking those ideas to make a kind of gloved object is interesting to me.

Hell Bent
Ink and acrylic on vintage gloves, steel and wood frame
12.5" x 17"

AE: Your work is very visually engaging, conjuring notions of tattoo and biker cultures, while also crossing into the world of womens’ fashion and feminism. How do images of your gloves tend to work on social media sites like Facebook? What is your sharing strategy, if you have one?

EG: I feel like people are discovering this work and its context. How it works in social media is still unfolding. I am still learning how to share it! It falls into many different categories, and that's what makes it spread easily through the different niches that you describe. Tattoo people, feminists, burlesque and sideshow people and fashion people all like the gloves. Social media allows people to see something and re-broadcast it to people in their niches. In doing so, they frame it into a context that means the most to them. I can’t say I have a strategy other than keeping the information output steady, making sure that my website is up-to-date, and continuing to show and make work.

Girls, Girls, Girls
Hand sewn by glovemaker Daniel Storto, painted by Ellen Greene

AE: You have a great Facebook following, both on your personal page and your artist page. How did you cultivate this audience? What do they add to your practice? How do you tend to and engage with that community?

EG: Thank you! I have two pages—a personal Facebook page and a professional Facebook artist page. My artist page has only one identity—me as an artist. No pictures of random family events or what I ate for dinner will appear there like they do on my Facebook personal page. I set up my artist page with the knowledge that I would want a space that would be very professional, could link to my OPP website, and grow past my personal page's capacity. It allows people outside of my personal life to comment, share or interact with me but it keeps me, as a person, at a distance. 

My personal page is where real life and my art interface more. I find a personal page very useful as a way to interact with people who may not see the posts on the artist page, which has limited interaction abilities. I find the personal page useful for talking to people I know in real life, liking posts and just being more casual. I think I engage the community by just sharing about my passion for art. That's what people connect with. I have made many new connections that allow for collaboration and support. Some online connections have become collectors and friends. I feel pretty positive about my connections on Facebook. They lead to some really interesting real life events and opportunities. You just have to interact with Facebook and think of it as a tool you can use well or not.  

Acrylic and wax on paper

AE: I noticed that you use Twitter and Tumblr as well. How useful are they? How do those function in the confines of your overall art practice?  Twitter seems to be most useful for net-artists of some kind, and I know there’s a big Tumblr community of queer artists. How do your images perform on those sites? Please provide your Twitter and Tumblr names here, too.

EG: I have my Twitter linked to my artist Facebook page. So, it tweets out my Facebook posts at the same time. That way I don’t have to actually go to Twitter. I haven’t warmed up to Twitter as I have to Facebook. I try to look at it, interact with it, but I don’t feel like I have personal connections with people there. That being said, I don’t hate it. I just don’t speak its language! It feels very coded with hash tags and @ symbols—it’s not picture-based, unless you click the links. It also feels very huge; it is corporate and celebrity-based. and very fast-paced. It is fleeting and not personal at all, for me. Twitter is all public all the time! I’m sure if I gave a better effort at it, I would get it. It’s a matter of time and energy that I have for social media and, well, Twitter just doesn’t get that much attention from me. 

Overall I feel very positive about social media. I can’t say I hate any of it. I think some people live in these spaces and that is dangerous, but for me they add a sense of interaction that I wouldn’t otherwise have. Tumblr is nice, but it has a very young identity. There are lots of interesting images but the narratives that people put together on there are very much to do with younger people concerns—music quotes, young love and crushes, product obsessions like makeup and clothes and online celebrity. There is a part of me that remembers what it was like to be a teenager and 20-something, so I understand what that expression is and how it forms an identity for a certain time. It's like when you lived and died by your favorite band quotes. But when I was that age there was no Tumblr or Twitter or online identities. So our teen/twenties aesthetic angst was expressed in mix tapes and paper ‘zines. It was still a very intimate act to share that expression between people. I don’t really relate to putting your heart online. Tumblr feels like a format my oldest daughter would be into. She is just getting into anime online culture and making art and drawings that she posts. I have to tell her to be careful about the energy and identity that she puts out there, but I know that she has an artistic spirit and for her generation growing up online is part of how they frame their youth. She doesn’t feel so alone when she can feel like part of an online community.

I do feel that it is important to be present and interactive with different social media formats, especially for artists. I’m sure I could be doing more to maximize my outreach and exposure on Twitter and Tumblr. But for now, its about the work—not the hype—and I just hope people can see it in real life because the gloves are so sensual in a way digital representation cannot capture.

Twitter: @ellengreeneart


AE: What role does Pinterest play in your practice? The demographic on that site encompasses mostly women, and the niches that get the most traction are fashion and home design. 

EG: I like Pinterest for organizing images and for marking sites that I’d like to visit later. When I was looking for pillows for the living room, I pinned many a pretty pillow and then was able look at them all and decide which one I liked best. It is the most consumer-focused of all my media sites! I am very visual so I like the way it allows me to easily categorize images. In contrast to Facebook, I don’t make Pinterst focused on just my artwork. But I do  have my personal page linked to Tumblr and Pinterest so that when I interact with either of those places, it posts it back to my personal Facebook page and adds to that narrative. That way, it comes full circle and feels cohesive as an online identity.

As far as the niche demographic of it being for lady scrapbookers originally—I love that! Scrapbooking, doll collecting, crafting those are all modes of making that actually interest me. They are all obsessive, ladylike, housewife-type modes of making. I can pin a million different gloves that I don't actually own but that I want to have some visual reference for.

In Memory of My Dear Mother
Acrylic and wax on paper
5" x 7"

AE: Does social media take away from your actual studio practice? 

EG: Only when I let it be a time suck. When I was first starting out I could easily get very obsessive about what everyone else was doing. I participated in their narratives, and realized that I had to pull back and keep it about what I was doing. I don’t have a lot of available time to waste on social media. It actually can be difficult just to find the time to do what I should be doing on there—posting, keeping people engaged and starting conversations. I try to spend much less time posting about non-artwork related information. I also keep out of politics and religion. 

When I use social media as part of my studio practice, it includes networking, collaborating and sharing. I try to post something once a week but I look at and talk about things on a daily basis. Facebook probably takes away more from time I could be reading a book than my studio time. I am very protective of that space and time so I can easily turn off Facebook when I am in my studio. When I am at home relaxing, that’s when I can be on it for too long—it's like watching TV or eating too much candy. You just gotta cut yourself off and know when enough is enough. 

Ellen Greene's Artst Studio 

AE: What are five tips you can offer to artists who are looking to build up a strong audience on social media?


  1. Make strong work
  2. Don’t live your life online—unless it is part of the work. If it is, then great—go for it and make it work for you, but know it is only a small part of reality. 
  3. Say please and thank you to people who support you and say nice things about the work. A like can be similar to  a nice smile or nod of the head IRL acknowledgment. But taking the time to type ”Thank you that means a lot,” or to write a personal message after you see someone in real life can build a nice friendship both online and in real life.
  4. Do reach out and interact with people, but be sure to respect peoples' Timeline space. Don’t junk up your feed or other peoples sites with too much chatter/spammer. 
  5. When posting artwork, share all pertinent information about the piece, including size, medium, where people can buy it, and what you were thinking about when you are made it. Present it in a professional way; add links, and tag people respectively etc.

AE: What’s next for you? Where can we see your work?

EG: My show “Invisible Mother’s Milk” opened on November 2 and is up at Packer Schopf Gallery through December 29th. I am part of a group show at Parlor Gallery in New Jersey that will be opening in 2013. I have lots of projects coming up next Spring. Like my artist page on FB! You will know what I am up to because I keep up with my social media sites. 

Ellen Greene Artist FB Page:

Ellen Greene's OPP Website:

Packer Schopf Gallery:

ALICIA ELER contributes art writing and criticism to, Hyperallergic, Art Papers and Newcity Newspaper. Her writing has been published in Time Out Chicago, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Gallery News, Kansas City Review and Flavorpill, and she blogged independently about BRAVO's reality TV series Work of Art: The Next Great Artist, Season 1. Alicia writes catalogue exhibition essays, curates work by emerging contemporary artists, and lectures on art and writing. She is the owner of Queen Bee Creative, a boutique communications firm specializing in creative individuals and small businesses, and is currently the Visual Arts Researcher for the Chicago Artists' Resource. Visit for more information. 

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Amy Honchell

Cloth, thread, scale lumber, acrylic paint, ultrafine glitter
26 x 52 x 6"

AMY HONCHELL's soft sculptures, drawings and installations explore the relationship between the body, the landscape and architecture, with attention to the histories embedded in her donated and selected materials. Her work makes use of the tension between soft and hard structures, both literal and metaphoric, evoking the themes of flexibility and stability, support and collapse. Her work has recently been seen at SOFA Chicago, Glitz at the Annmarie Sculpture Garden & Arts Center and Objects at Jean Albano Gallery, where she is represented. Amy lives in Chicago, IL.

OtherPeoplesPixels: The aesthetic of the early work is more pop-y, possibly more graphic than your current work: bright colors, manufactured objects like marbles and balls and stockings. Did you make an intentional shift away from this aesthetic? 

Amy Honchell: This makes me think of a quote from David Brett’s book, Rethinking Decoration: Pleasure and Ideology in the Visual Arts. He writes, “I am just as likely to be interested in the cheap and cheerful as with the profound and sublime.” I think this is similar to the things I am attracted to—both as a maker and a consumer.

The shift in my practice that you are asking about really had its roots in 2004, and it was more like a series of growing pains than a planned out strategy. Up to that point in time, a lot of my material inspiration came from objects that I found at places like K-mart or dollar stores. I was attracted to things I considered to be part of our cultural vernacular: toys, women’s undergarments, even things from the hardware store. The items I was most drawn to suggested pleasure, play, or even something a bit more titillating. The color palette was definitely bright and pop culture inspired.

My work was investigating the relationship between bodies and architecture, the ways both things had internal systems that kept them functioning. I was very interested in skin—as a pliable surface that existed in liminal or interstitial space (both a part of the inside and outside of things)—and this was true whether you were talking about the skin of a living organism or the skinning of a building. I was stretching, piercing, inflating, and dissecting materials to make site-specific installations.

Then, in 2004, I had the opportunity to travel to Tokyo for a month-long residency and exhibition through Tokyo Gei Dai University. While in Japan, I found that I was struggling with my practice, and it took me by surprise. Here I was, in a city awash in pop-y cultural icons, colors and images, and I felt I needed to make something more restrained (both in its color palette and its materials). The piece, Many Different Sensations are Possible, marked the beginning of a shift for me. It was somehow less about surface, and more about place.

Fishnet stockings, rubber balls and toys, tinsel

OPP: How did you end up working more with masses of fabric than found/purchased objects?

AH: Fast forward to 2008, my practice took a more pronounced step in a new direction, one which provided the underpinnings of my current investigations. I received a large donation of fabric and clothing from an anonymous donor (all I knew was that he was the son of a woman who had been an avid sewer). I felt that I had inherited the history of another maker, and it gave new life to my work. At the time I thought of the donation as an organ donation for my practice. With the new surplus of material, I began to experiment with a new way of sewing and constructing the sculptural elements. The resulting piece, Purl, is comprised of modular components which, in turn, are made of layers of cloth built-up under a stitched/drawn surface. While the top fabric is new, the under layers revealed through the translucent surface reflect a longer historyone that was not of my choosing.

While I was developing this piece, I kept making drawings of the components that looked more and more like landscape. I felt that I was building a terrain of sorts out of layers (strata?) of cloth. I knew that the work needed to be pushed farther if a viewer was going to read it in the same way that I was imagining.

Drawing (with ink on paper and more dimensionally with thread and wire) became more and more a part of my practice, and it really allowed me to see things in a variety of ways, leading me to actually build/construct the structures that now inhabit the landscapes I sew.

Convenient Passage
Cloth, thread, wood, acrylic paint
72 x 72 x 24"

OPP: "Invisible patterns—topography, weather patterns, bodily systems—are the basis for my site-specific installations and drawings." Could you expand on the connection between the body and the landscape in your work?

AH: When I first wrote that artist statement, I was thinking somewhat visually/formally about how the body and the land can both be framed in ways that appear to be the same—the slope of a body in repose can be like the slope of a mountain (just look at a Edward Westin’s photographs of nudes and sand dunes, and you’ll know what I am talking about).

As I have gone further into making and thinking about the work, I think there are other kinds of connections. Both the body and the landscapeand architecture, for that matterare spaces that are inhabited. I grew up in northeastern Pennsylvania in the heart of the Endless Mountains. I have lived in the Midwest for more than a decade now, but I still think of the landscape of my childhood as my point of reference. I think about traveling along the two lane highways that have been cut out of the side of the mountains to go see my grandmother. Some things are embedded in me: the regular curves in the road, the particular shade of reddish-purple earth that was visible on the wall of rock we drove along, the river far down below in the ravine, the lushness of the foliage at certain times of the year. I consider it a sort of muscle memory, the way we can navigate through a place just because we have done it so many times before. I think there is a deeper connection to place that many of us have that is not about nostalgia but rather something more basic. Heidegger says that dwelling precedes building, and this is sort of the angle I am taking.

I became interested in Guy Debord and the Situationists’ notion of dérive—walking without intention, unplanned journeys and discovery through getting lost, or maybe finding what you didn’t know you were looking for by responding to the landscape/cityscape around you. How we go about locating is of interest to me. Rebecca Solnit’s book A Field Guide to Getting Lost introduced me to Gary Paul Nabhan’s idea of traveling by abstraction: as adults we translate our experiences (locations, movements, etc.) through other media. Maps are translations of physical spaces. Children, on the other hand, experience things in a much more immediate way. They see where they are, unmediated. All of this comes back to the body, back to knowing, responding, feeling something about the places we are, were or want to be. I think there is a different kind of manifest destiny at play—not a politicized one, but the drive and desire to keep exploring, the promise of potential that can be embodied by both people and place.

7 Billion Short Tons: Greater Hardness, High Luster
Cloth, thread, wood, acrylic paint, ultrafine glitter
96 x 30 x 27"

OPP: I love the 2011 drawings from the exhibition Fictional Landscapes of precarious structures in undulating landscapes. It seems that the ladders and bridges will all collapse, and some of them don't even seem to go anywhere. In contrast, there is so much density in the fabric landscape sculptures. They feel so heavy and sturdy. I read this as about the fragility of our man-made structures, especially in relation to nature.

AH: Thanks! This entire body of work grew out of the idea that soft and hard could be inverted. I love the notion that a (soft) landscape could actually provide the structure to a (hard) architecture—that the malleability of the ground would be the only thing supporting the built environment. I was very excited when I discovered that hard and soft are two terms used to describe different types of infrastructure, too! I definitely wanted to play with that a bit.

I built and drew the ricketiest structures I could think of. The sculptures don’t stand on their own; they only work in the landscapes I create. This imagined world has its own logic in that way—the physics are just off enough. The structures I built and drew were informed by imagined and real structures, including those featured in Bernd and Hilla Bechers’ Typologies. I was drawn, in particular, to the wooden winding towers (old mining structures from Pennsylvania). Although I had not been to these sites before, they felt familiar, and it was as if I knew them. They were made utilizing the materials that were at hand. The construction seemed to have been developed as the structures were being built instead of based off of a real plan.

The structures I imagine (on paper and in wood) are cobbled together, fragmented. They are examples of modern ruins. The types of structures (to date) have ranged from hunting blinds to communication towers to bridges to mining apparatuses.

I wanted to think about creating structures that had a simultaneous sense of failure, desperation and improbability. They are tenuous remnants in this fictional landscape, representing a trace of previous inhabitants, but the context is ambiguous, suggesting a different kind of vanitas theme, perhaps. I think of them as somewhat akin to American painter Thomas Cole’s suite of paintings, The Course of Empire, where the rise and fall of a civilization is situated in a landscape that remains fairly constant. Although, I have to say that I think the work I am making is a bit more ambivalent than the didactic message of this historical example.

I have come to realize that this body of work is informed by the place where I grew up, in the heart of coal mining country in Pennsylvania. The relationship that people have to the land and its resources is complex there. I think it is hard for many people to know what holds value and what is lasting right now. This interests me on lots of levels. Something about being in the Midwest this long has made me really think about the mountains a lot more than I ever did when I lived on the east coast!

Yellow Ladder, Vertical Inclination
Ink on bristol
11 x 14"

OPP: Could you describe the process of making the fabric landscapes? How do you pick the textiles you use?

AH: These pieces have two components—the under layers and the top cloth. The bulk of the textiles I work with are acquired by chance and are, therefore, somewhat random. The materials that I use to build up the under layers of the sculptural landscapes often come from donations I receive from other people or organizations. I cut the donated cloth into strips and sort them on shelves in my studio by color and value (light to dark). The only limitation I put on this is that I prefer to use woven cloth rather than knits because the structure of woven fabrics gives me a sturdier foundation.

The top fabrics, however, are always new, and I select them based on a certain color story I am interested in for each piece. This material is always the same kind: a sheer, four-way stretchy knit synthetic fabric that I have been using for years. I know how to manipulate it to make the things I am interested in. The irony is that if you ever want to sew with it the right way, it can be very tricky stuff to work with. I just muscle it into compliance, but I would be hard-pressed to turn it into something functional like a garment.

I have been asked if it is conceptually important that the under cloth is found or not of my own selection. I think that it is because I end up with all kinds of things that I would never (in a million years!) select or purchase on my own. The fact that I use this for the strata of each piece means that the variety makes things more complex. It also feels akin to how history and geology work. Sediment and layers are built up over time and different types of rock end up next to one another, sometimes due to a cataclysmic event, a rupture of sorts. I still control the materials, but it is far more interesting to work within the breadth and limitations that come my way for this particular work. I am able to excavate as I construct. Cloth is able to reflect history differently than earth, but it still has that ability.

I develop little fractured narratives in my mind while I am working on each new piece, and these help guide my choices. I think that the intimacy we all have with textiles is an underlying part of the story. I am constantly discovering new things in the cloth that drives the work forward.

Untitled (Squall)
Installation view
Nylon fabric, various fabric strips, netting, tulle, sound element
Dimensions variable

OPP: Much of your work is site-specific installation. Do you tend to plan out ahead of time exactly what will happen in a given space? Or do surprises happen during installation? 

AH: For the large-scale pieces, I definitely prefer to plan as much as I can in advance. I make drawings to scale and sometimes build models so I can really think about how best to engage and occupy the site. My father is an architect, and I grew up drafting existing floor plans for him and thinking a lot about how space translates from 3D to 2D and back again. It is easier for me to work this way, so that I can concentrate when I arrive on site to install.

That said, this does not mean that I always know how everything will fit or go once I am face-to-face with the site. I often arrive with more of a game plan than an idea that is set in stone. Many sites require me to make adjustments that could not be anticipated ahead of time in order for the piece or show to really work. It is always a little exciting and a little nerve-wracking. I like to be as organized and prepared as I can be, so I always have plans B, C, etc. in my back pocket just in case. It usually means that I end up bringing more than I need with me. Sometimes I will end up taking a lot of it with me when I am done, and sometimes it all ends up getting used.

Ultrafine glitter, velvet glitter, acid free glues on watercolor paper
9 x 12"

OPP: What new work or idea are you most excited about?

AH: "The grey film of dust covering things has become their best part."(Walter Benjamin, "Dream Kitsch")

My recent body of work continues to invert notions of soft and hard, fixed and malleable, structure and collapse—and I am using glitter! The sculptural pieces and drawings explore value, memory and landscape. I believe that drawing is an extension of touch, of the hand. Whether I'm drawing with a pen, thread or glitter, I think about the haptic gestures made and recorded on, in and through a surface.

I am creating smaller fragments of imaginary landscapes made from recycled cloth and clothing. They support the ruins of a miniature civilization’s infrastructure. The architectural fragments on the surface of the soft terrain may hint at a lost population’s industry, power, wealth and failure. The failed structures I build often have the residue of glitter. The glitter is like dust, which serves as as a reminder of past wealth. Drawings made of glitter capture the geographic evolution of this fictional land.

As I said before, I grew up in the heart of Pennsylvania coal mining country, where everything of value is hidden beneath the earth, covered in black dust. Returning to Benjamin's quote, I wonder what it would mean if dust were glitter, if all the residue of history were reduced to sparkling, iridescent flakes. 

Glitter is little more than dust. It was created around the time of the Second World War from scraps in a machinist's shop. The machinist, Henry Ruschman, was determined to find/create something of value out of discarded material. This is an impulse that is echoed by my current studio practice.

Glitter, as a fine art material, is often seen as a kitschy elementa material better relegated to grade school art classrooms, gaudy gifts and holiday decorations. Sometimes the value of a material lies beneath the surface and must be unearthed, like mining for minerals or precious metals. I want to imbue glitter with value, to transform it into something spectacular that is not so easily dismissed. 

It is important to me that the materials for the sculptures I make are primarily found, donated and repurposed from other sources. To give the cloth and clothing I collect from other people—often complete strangers—a second life is part of my ongoing investigation of where value resides in the material world.

The landscape of my childhood has also experienced a repurposing in recent years and is a large influence in this current body of work. The Endless Mountains populated by turn of the 20th century coal mines and parcels of farm land where people struggled to get by year to year have recently undergone a dramatic shift in their value. With the hydraulic fracking techniques used to release natural gas from Marcellus shale, previously poor communities are experiencing a boom of wealth as the gas companies move in, buy mineral rights to land and fill the country roads with trucks and men from across the country. This economic boon is complicated by social and ecological factors that many people failed to anticipate or were simply willing to live with if it meant that money could be made in a difficult economy.

Memory—although not nostalgia—also plays a role in this body of work. I am interested in the way memory shifts and is malleable, yet stands as a landmark of sorts. Collective, as opposed to individual memories interest me: the way it was, the way we were.

To view more of Amy's work, please visit