Bright color and texture are the purveyors of mindful pleasure in ANNE YAFI's conceptually-driven painting practice. She uses mass-produced materials that reference consumerism and hobby craft to subvert the values of Minimalism. Her pipe cleaner grids, whether hovering in space or popping off the wall, are malleable, resilient, and defiant. Anne earned her BFA at Northern Illinois University (Dekalb, IL) and her MFA at The School of the Art Institute Chicago. Her solo shows include Anne Yafi, Fresh Work (2016) at Free Range (Chicago) and Does It Feel Delicious (2017) at Kruger Gallery (Chicago). In 2018, she collaborated with Christalena Hughmanick to create a site-specific installation called There's Nothing Natural About This at Wedge Projects (Chicago). Her most recent solo show is currently on view at 65GRAND (Chicago). Dip In My Daydream runs through February 23, 2019. Anne lives and works in Chicago.
Plush Grid, 2018. Pipe cleaners, mixed media. 144" x 96" x 20"
OtherPeoplesPixels: American culture sends mixed messages about the value of play. We are constantly being sold entertainment and pleasure, but there’s also a underlying, dominant idea that it isn’t productive or useful. How do you think about play and playfulness?
Anne Yafi: Pleasure gets a bad rap, and rightly so when it doesn’t empower one’s life experience. It’s really a matter of perception and attitude, I’m solidly pro-pleasure! I think the critique regarding play in our culture when associated with pleasure is largely addressing passive and escapist consumer behavior versus one of active participation that I engage for my purposes as an artist. I’m well aware of the judgement and my continued interest feels defiant which makes it even more compelling to me. I think my embrace of play really took hold after creating my first pipe cleaner grid and closely observing visitors enter my studio.
Sex Karma (detail), 2014. Pipe cleaners, plastic beads.
OPP: How did they respond?
AY: Some of the most stoic, hard-core academics would break into a smile; others stood mesmerized, their eyes traveling about the grid. Several looked for ways to climb into the grid, while a few have absentmindedly reached for the pipe cleaners, stroking them like a pet while talking to me. Seriously fascinating. What does this mean in the context of art? I think the more interesting question is, how does an artwork shape the experience of viewing?
Snuggle Wall (Make Love Not Walls), 2017. (detail)
OPP: What led you to work with mass-produced materials, including pipe cleaners, Perler beads and Ikea straws?
AY: My response to a newly found material or object is always highly visceral as I immediately fall in love with its materiality and the possibilities for abstracting it away from its intended function. I began grad school as a painter and had to reinvent my work because of a 60-mile commute into Chicago. I live in a rural community where every big box home improvement and craft store is within three miles of my home studio. IKEA is a store I frequent because I grew up with it as a child visiting Sweden decades before it entered the US.
2013-2017, Limited Edition, 2017. Ikea drinking straws. 50" x 40"
OPP: And you work with these materials as “painting?”
AY: These materials are a conceptual approach to drawing and painting. The IKEA straw works reference hard edge abstraction as well as contemporary issues on consumerism. They question value judgements around pleasure and on non-art versus art. The pipe cleaners are a linear medium that I alter through a painting process or punctuate with alternating color and texture with the beads.
Good Intentions, 2018. Pipe cleaners, mixed media, ceramics. 33" x 60"
OPP: How are the dimensional grids different from the wall works?
AY: After making a few two-dimensional “drawings” with the pipe cleaners in 2014, the three-dimensional grid was a natural progression in keeping with my subversion of Minimalism. The fantastic thing with pipe cleaners is they have a strong wire interior buried inside all that soft, disarming fuzz, and I employ these contradictions in the work. The grids begin as an invitation to an exhibition space. On my first visit, I’ll read the light, interior architecture and converse with the director about their mission for exhibitions and community. For this reason, I define the grid installations as site-relational rather than site-specific.
During the installation of Dip In My Daydream at 65Grand, Chicago
OPP: Tell us about Dip In My Daydream, which opened last week at 65Grand in Chicago.
AY: For this work, I wanted to reference process as it applies to pre-install preparations and to my imaginative experience while making. I began by creating the color palette in a multistage process of spraying and dipping over 9000 white pipe cleaners—approximately 300 at a time—with my paint mixture. Once install began I continued to dye pipe cleaners in new color combinations as the “palette" needed adjusting. I worked unassisted to build a 11’ x 9’ x 17’ hanging grid in eight days. There was no plan other than the grid’s systematic structure which functions as an allegory for how painters negotiate the pictorial frame or canvas. It’s an intuitive process that involves the selection and consideration of color and value relationships as I “paint” in the third dimension. The title also implies an invitation for the viewer to enter into this fantasy space that I’ve created. However, like its grid predecessors, the installation is built with only the illusion of entry as I’m drawing comparisons to the immersive experience one has when viewing two-dimensional paintings.
Untitled, from the series Does It Feel Delicious, 2017.16" x 16"
OPP: The series Does It Feel Delicious? evokes decorated donuts and bagels with beautiful schmears. This work and its title seem to be a direct response to the term “eye candy,” which is often used in the art world in a dismissive way. Why are so many people so skeptical of visual pleasure?
AY: For the title, I chose a tactile descriptor in place of the visual for a twist on how paintings (again) are perceptually viewed and experienced. The heavily gessoed panels were created as topographical “meringues” to challenge my artist’s hand in painting a straight line repeatedly, the process thereby creating the resulting image. I found a pathos and humor in navigating that self-created obstruction.
To answer your question, I think those who are skeptical of visual pleasure find it to be the antitheses of the intellect. This is a story old as time—body versus mind—and projections abound. I’m more interested in having them coexist within a contemporary female narrative because desire is not going anywhere.
Overflowing Yummy, 2018. 24" x 24" x 6"
OPP: Well said! Can you talk about the recent addition of ceramics to your toolkit? I’ve seen images of works in progress on Instagram.
AY: I was drawn towards ceramics because I could create exactly what I imagined. I entered this medium and its history with little experience which suits my preference for a direct and if you will, faux-naïve engagement with form. Plus, the glorious glaze colors, a candy store of options! The stripes on the “beaded” ceramic elements are painted by brush, a progression from painting on the gessoed reliefs to a fully three-dimensional object. Additionally, I’m currently in the process of making a variety of wall anchoring devices for the pipe cleaner works. There’s an inherent fragility in ceramics. That possibility of cracking or breaking regardless of its earthy density is compelling to me and in stark contrast to the pipe cleaner’s weightless strength. I’m always searching for materials where opportunities for humor and contradictions coexist.