OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Judith Brotman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OPP: Have your material choices changed over the years?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slow Time (2016). Mixed Media. Dimensions variable

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

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

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

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

Instagram post, 2019

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

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

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

Life In Progress (2019). Napkin, sequins

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

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

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

Instagram post, 2019

OPP: Do you create work just for Instagram?

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

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

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

Instagram feed, 2019.

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

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

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

Instagram post, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist  Stacia Yeapanis.  When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations.  She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018) and Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019). Her work was recently included in the three-person show Manifestations at One After 909 (Chicago). Stacia's solo exhibition The Thin Line Between One Thing and Another opens on January 16, 2020.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Michael Zachary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Detail

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

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

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

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

OPP: What are the sources for your landscape drawings?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist  Stacia Yeapanis.  When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations.  She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018) and Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019). Her work was recently included in the three-person show Manifestations at One After 909 (Chicago).

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Leah Bailis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OPP: What gets you about these films in particular?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist  Stacia Yeapanis.  When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations.  She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018) and Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019). Her work was recently included in the three-person show Manifestations at One After 909 (Chicago).

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Keisha Scarville

KEISHA SCARVILLE's photographs are lush—sometimes with the deep, dense blacks of night and other times with the colliding patterns of her deceased mother's clothing. Driven by an interest in the relationship between the body and the landscape, she uses the camera to capture transformation, absence and the unknown. Keisha studied at the Rochester Institute of Technology and Parsons/The New School. Recent solo exhibitions include Placelessness of Echoes (and kinship of shadows) (2018) at Baxter Street Camera Club of New York and Elegy: Selections from Mama’s Clothes (2018) at Lesley Heller Gallery, where she will have another solo show in 2020. Her work has also been been exhibited at The Studio Museum in Harlem, The Institute of Contemporary Art Philadelphia, The Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute, Museum of Contemporary Diasporan Arts, and The Brooklyn Museum of Art. She is a 2019 BRIC Media Arts Fellow. Keisha lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Have you always been a photographer? Tell us briefly about your artistic trajectory.

Keisha Scarville: Photography has been my passion for a very long time. At this point in my life, it's hard to imagine a moment when photography wasn't at the forefront of my artistic practice. I grew up wanting to become a writer. I was a voracious reader and always fascinated by the expressive power of the written word. However, things changed when I took a darkroom photography elective in high school. My whole view of life changed the moment I developed my first roll of film. It was a wonderfully magical moment for me. Over the years, I have engaged with sculpture and installations but photography remains my primary mode of visual expression.

OPP: Let’s start with older work first. Who is the young man in Passports? Your repeated manipulation of this photograph seems to fluctuate between revealing hidden aspects of the psyche, playing dress up and hiding one’s identity. How do you think about your action of creating variations of the same image through embellishment, drawing and collage?

KS: The series Passports is an ongoing project where I repeatedly reinterpret my father's earliest passport photo. My father migrated to the United States in the late 1960s from Guyana, South America. I am interested in the aesthetics of a passport photo as a signifier of subjecthood and citizenship, but also the guidelines that inform how one positions and presents oneself within the frame. I employ various mediums—including collage, paint, drawing, glitter—to reveal unseen narratives, latent histories and future aspirations embedded within the archival image. In each piece, I respond to the transformative effects of immigration and my own personal history.

OPP: I get the impression the scale might be a big player in The Placelessness of Echoes (and kinship of shadows) (2016-2018).  How large are these works? What are we missing if we only see this work online?

KS: The prints vary in scale. The largest prints are about 50” x 36.” I think what often is overlooked when viewing the images online is the subtly of dark tones within the prints.

Placelessness of Echoes (and kinship of shadows) is a series that locates itself within the spatial, temporal, and visual ambiguity of night. I draw inspiration from the densely metaphorical writings of the late Guyanese author Wilson Harris, whose first novel, Palace of the Peacock, informed my approach to the images and imagining of new spaces. I mine his philosophies on the “possessed, living landscapes” to contextualize the metaphysics of becoming and variable existences. I am seeking to construct a new topographic understanding of the landscape, which blurs the specificity between the body and the terrain.

OPP: Can you talk about your choice to obscure the identity of the individual with the clothing in your series Mama’s Clothes? What is the role of the figure in relation to the garments?

KS: Mama’s Clothes is a visual and conceptual exploration of the materiality of absence. I began the project after my mother passed away in 2015 after a yearlong battle with cancer. I was inundated with remnants of her presence, specifically her clothing. I became interested in photography’s role—as memorial and as evidence—in the preservation and representation of the body in death. Drawing inspiration from various sources that include spirit photography and the figure of the Egungun, I use my late mother’s clothes and fabrics to visually reconstitute her presence within the pictorial space. The clothing is transformed into a residual surrogate skin and an abstraction of the body. In the series, my hope is to create a visual space where I can conjure her presence while using my body as a medium. 

OPP: When I first looked at these photographs, I was thinking about the very direct effect of grief on the individual and about how people sometimes cling to the clothing of their loved ones after death because they still have their scent. I also thought about how our parents' legacies can be an emotional burden, or maybe that grief is a physical burden. What are your thoughts on my interpretation?

KS: These were all things that I processed while doing the project. While it is an utterly overwhelming experience to lose a parent (particularly when you're very close), the project wasn't born of grief or a sense of burden. Primarily, I was interested in thinking of ways to allow my mother's presence to persist, or even rethinking how I live with the presence of my mother in a different form.

OPP: I especially love the photographs of patterned fabric, both the still lives and the images of fabric in the landscape. Why did you choose to photograph in black & white instead of color?

KS: I enjoy the way in which black & white distills an image. I was looking to visually blend the patterns together, and in some cases, collapse a sense of depth in the images. I loved the way in which these aspects began to percolate in the black & white rendering.

OPP: This reminds me of what you said about the blurring of the "specificity between the body and the terrain." Does your interest in the relationship between the body and the landscape bridge these two bodies of work?

KS: I am constantly reflecting on the interconnectivity of body and landscape in my work. How do various environmental forces shape our sense of self, security and address questions of belonging? How do we engage the body and place as sites to unearth latent narratives? There's a focus on spatiality and materiality in a lot of my work, and I believe that has become my primary avenue to explore these ideas. 

To see more of Keisha's work, please visit keishascarville.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist  Stacia Yeapanis.  When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations.  She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018) and Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019). Her work was recently included in the three-person show Manifestations at One After 909 (Chicago).


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Annette Isham

Woman and Landscape Still 2, 2014. Video still.

Performance, persona and endurance are driving forces in the videos and photography of ANNETTE ISHAM. With a penchant for the absurd, she explores a range of subjects, from "middle school sociology" to competitiveness to a near mystical relationship between various female protagonists and their surrounding landscapes. Annette earned her BA in Studio Art at University of Richmond (Virginia) and her MFA at The American University (Washington, D.C.). During her time as a 2012-2014 Hamiltonian Fellow, she had two solo exhibitions at Hamiltonian Gallery in Washington, DC. Her video Among the Multitudes was part of the 2019 CURRENTS New Media Festival in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Clone Corrupt, an upcoming show with artist Marie-Lou Desmeules, will open September 28, 2019 at the Anderson Ranch Gallery in Snowmass, Colorado. Annette lives and works in Denver, Colorado. 

OtherPeoplesPixels: Recent work deals heavily with the human relationship to landscape. Do you think of your current work in relation to the sublime?

Annette Isham: Yes, my work does deal heavily with the human relationship to landscape and it has connections to the sublime on many levels. Throughout my work, the functions of landscape and my body change depending on the project. In my most recent series, Among the Multitudes, I want to simulate the duality of something real and something made both in the environment and in the individual depicted, provoking thoughts of metaphysics. I am interested in the idea of dimensions congruently existing and want to suggest a world where doorways exist within the landscape, where one could be in between two places. I also want the landscape to be the habitat for an unearthly feminine form and represent a place where she visits often, coming and going whenever she wishes.

 

Among the Multitudes, 2018. Video. 5:42 minutes.

OPP: Can you talk about the costume in Among the Multitudes (2018) and Such Swiftly Subside (2018), among others? Sometimes the figure evokes a sumo wrestler, sometimes a whirling dervish.

AI: I just looked up whirling dervishes, and I love that reference. The costume in the series Among the Multitudes was very exciting for me because it is my most ambitious costume to date. It was designed with the movement of my drone in mind. What I find so beautiful about drone footage is that it can change perspectives at a whim and I wanted to design a costume that could respond, multiplying and dividing just as easily. I also wanted the costume to be big and bubbly and flowing and move with the environment. These shoots are done in the middle of the wilderness, so making the suit light, flexible and functional was important. As for the look, I wanted the suit to have an overwhelming femininity to it, so I used lots of flaps, pink and flesh colored tones, curves and hair. 

 

Such Swiftly Subside, 2018. Video. 5:11 minutes.

OPP: Are the movements choreographed or improvised?

AI: My movements in the performance were more or less improvised. I knew I wanted to divide and multiply so I did a lot of bending, jumping, and spinning. Sometimes I felt like I was dancing and working with the drone and sometimes I felt the need to evade the drone. I am an athlete, so having a physical relationship to all these ideas is natural and significant for me. In the performance, it important for me to exhaust my body in the moment.  And to work with the wind, the moving camera, and react to elements as they arise.

Into Another 2, 2018. Video. 1:18 minutes.

OPP: Who is the Venus of White River National Forest (2018)? What do you want viewers to understand about her? 

AI: The narrative of Venus of White River National Forest was developed right after I moved back to Colorado after spending over a decade on the East Coast. Being back out West—Colorado as the “West” is debatable to some—I started to seriously think about my relationship to the mountains, the Rockies in particular, and my relationship with pioneer history as a bi-racial woman born in the Dominican Republic. I considered romantic notions of the West and how they are currently appropriated. I began working through these thoughts by deconstructing imagery of western landscapes, after which I developed a Venus narrative that disrupted those initial notions. The Venus of White River National Forest is a blob of brown woman. She is agile, eats well and knows the land. Sometimes she is tracked and hunted. Most importantly, she can teleport to another dimension whenever she wants and has many homes.

Jane, 2017. Video Still 1

OPP: How is she different than the woman of Woman and Landscape (2013) or Jane (2013)?

AI: Jane was one of the first times I’ve dealt with landscape. Up to that point I was doing a lot of performance videos in which I would investigate every day tropes and how the façade of those tropes would work their way into our identities. I am very interested in romance, and I had just read the novel Jane Eyre and subsequently watched the movie. In my video, Jane, I wanted to create an extremely vulnerable and desperate situation for a young lady who obviously just got her heart ripped out. I thought the vastness of the Alaskan landscape would add to her desperation and foolishness. 

The series Woman in Landscape began with me taking a lot of road trips across North America. On the open road, looking out the window, I began to envision a being that could traverse the entire country in just a few steps. Stilts were made so that I would be hovering in the shot. This piece turned out different than what I initially sketched out and the series was much more about the performance than the narrative. It was about pushing my body physically, balancing on stilts on the uneven terrain of various American deserts. 

Venus of White River National Forest is different than the other characters because the narrative is a more personal interpretation of my relationship with the Western Landscape. I was also trying to offer a more magical being that is more comfortable in her surroundings.

You Can't Tell Anyone, Ever, 2013. Video still.

OPP: Some works are comedic while others are contemplative. How does ☮2U4URAQTπ (2013) relate to the recent landscape video work?

AI: ☮2U4URAQTπ seems to be the outlier, but for me it always seems to cover the basics of what I am trying to get at in my work: searching for what informs my identity while being sarcastic. I think the series ☮2U4URAQTπ relates to my most recent work because middle school individuality is just as absurd as twirling around in a forest in a suit made with dozens of breasts. I love the absurd and enjoy making absurd work because it can often reveal the most truth.

PLAY, 2015. Installation view of exhibition with Zac Willis.

OPP: Tell us about your ongoing collaboration with artist Zac Willis. I’m specifically interested in the Competition series. You are seriously funny in the various Challenge Videos!

AI: Ha! Yes, I love my collaboration pieces with Zac. We began making collaborative work in 2013 and since then have made many exhibitions, curated shows and recorded a yearlong podcast. Zac is one of my best friends, and he’s also a great artist who has many contrasting approaches to making work. He is an obsessive documentarian and an unbelievable craftsman.The inspiration for the Competition Series came from the fact that we are both very competitive in nature. What we found interesting was how familiar the rhetoric about winning, losing, giving it your all, and of course, the fans felt when comparing it to our art practices. Natural correlations were made between the competitive nature of art world communities and our performance of these various obnoxious physical feats. For us, the work really came together when we put the Competition Series in an art gallery setting. We transformed the gallery into our own personal trophy room. We filled space with promotional posters, prized competition relics and video of each competition. Zac and I are currently planning another series. I will most likely win. 

PLAY, 2015. Installation view of exhibition with Zac Willis.

OPP: You have a two-person with Marie Lou Desmeules opening on September 30, 2019 at Anderson Ranch Gallery. What can viewers expect to see in Clone Corrupt

AI: Marie Lou is a French-Canadian artist living and working in Barcelona, Spain. We met a few years ago when were both resident artists at Anderson Ranch in Colorado. Marie Lou’s process is unique in that she uses people as a medium, along with paints, wigs and other materials, to appropriate well know iconic figures. The results from this process are eerie and it brings up many questions around of the performative nature of the human condition and the role icons play in our daily lives. She has been making crazy new videos and this work will be shown alongside my new installation work in an exhibition we titled Clone Corrupt. For my portion of the exhibit, I will be combining my new video work with overlapping altered projections of the same footage. The installation Among the Multitudes will be repeating, growing and shrinking suggesting congruent doorways and replicating dimensions. 

To see more of Annette's work, please visit annettewashburneisham.com

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist  Stacia Yeapanis.  When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations.  She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018) and Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019). Her work was recently included in the three-person show Manifestations at One After 909 (Chicago).

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Erik Geschke

Parts and Accessories, 2019. Installation view. Carnation Contemporary.

ERIK GESCHKE's sculptures are well-crafted, clean reproductions of symbolic objects that have a relationship to Western Modernity. He deftly uses dry humor, scale and material shifts and the language of museum display to entice the viewer into seeing familiar objects in a new light. Erik earned his BFA at Cornish College of the Arts (Seattle) and his MFA at Maryland Institute College of Art (Baltimore). He attended Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 1996 and Pilchuck Glass School in 1999 and has been an Artist-in-Residence at Vermont Studio Center (2001), Sculpture Space Inc. (2002), and Djerassi Resident Artist Program (2013). Erik's numerous exhibitions include solo shows at Cornish College of the Arts, ZieherSmith GalleryPacific Northwest College of Art, Pratt Fine Arts Center, Seattle Art Museum's SAM Gallery, and Vox Populi Gallery. Most recently, Parts and Accessories was exhibited at Northeastern Illinois University (Chicago) in 2018 and Carnation Contemporary (Portland, OR) in 2019. Erik lives and works in Portland, Oregon, where he is an Associate Professor of Art at Portland State University.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What role does artifice play in your work?

Erik Geschke: Artifice plays a central role in my work. The words art and artifice share the same Latin root, ars, which means both “skill/craft” and “trick/wile.” This connection influences how I think about the nature of art and what I do as an artist. When anything is represented or recreated, the artist asks the viewer for their willing suspension of disbelief, which allows the viewer to experience something unexpected. 

The use of this strategy to lure and entice the viewer into this suspension is very fascinating to me. I make work that can be deceptive or confuse the viewer. I want them to question what they’re looking at and what exactly “art” is and what it can be. I also want the viewer to consider the relationship of the art object to the abundance of human-made and naturally occurring objects that inhabit our world.  I do this by creating copies, surrogates and simulations of these identifiable forms with shifts in scale and material transformations. I use artifice as a means for the viewer to question both their perceptions and their understanding of the physical world.

Cracks in the Stable, 2015. Aqua Resin, fiberglass, pigment, and acrylic polymer.16” x 96” x 72”

OPP: Your work is definitely in conversation with Minimalist sculpture, while eschewing the non-contingency of Modernism. How informed are you by these art-historical precedents?

EG: My work is very informed by these art-historical precedents. When I was an undergraduate student the late 80s and early 90s, it had still been a relatively short period of time since Modernist thinking had fallen out of favor. It was often viewed with skepticism or derided. My references to Modernism and Minimalist sculpture, in particular, contain equal parts reverence and irreverence. Minimalism’s paring down of elements and elimination of non-essential forms and features aligns with with both my thinking and aesthetics. But I believe its attempt at an extreme form of abstraction that’s completely objective and non-referential is impossible and therefore a bit comical. There’s something so hopelessly idealistic about it, and I like to play off that in my references to minimalism. 

Accretion, 2013. Wood, aluminum, Aqua Resin, polyester resin, fiberglass, epoxy, hardware, and acrylic. 36" x 43" x 65."

OPP: What else informs your work?

EG: My work is also informed by human-made objects and structures of utility and their inherent symbolism and history. For this, I turn to the disciplines of industrial design and architecture. The work is informed by the ways we represent both ourselves and the natural world, so forms of simulation found in both cinema special effects and museum dioramas have been influential. Humor and satire are also present in my work and I attribute this to an early interest in cartooning and underground comics. Early on, I used humor as a way to discuss darker themes. The influence of cartooning can be seen in the way I render things, the odd shifts in scale and my simplified color palette. 

Arena, 2015. Wood, alkyd enamel, flock, felt, and vinyl. 3” x 64” x 64” (Detail)

OPP: Untitled (Social Engineering) (2011) and Untitled (Invidious Consumption) (2014) are connected through the form of the geodesic dome. What does this form mean to you?

EG: Growing up on the West Coast in the 70s and 80s, I encountered geodesic domes in a variety of contexts, from countercultural music events to a futuristic architectural experiments or school playgrounds. Later I came to understand its connection to Modernist architecture through the work of architect, designer and futurist R. Buckminster Fuller. While he didn’t invent the geodesic dome, he certainly popularized it. I consider this iconic structure to be a symbol, synonymous with Modernist concepts of progress, societal ideals and utopian aspirations. 

Untitled (Invidious Consumption), 2014. Hemlock, brass, and shellac. 36” x 72” x 72”

OPP: How do the materials in each of these works change the form?

EG: Untitled (Social Engineering) (2011) directly explores the structure’s connection with the utopian aspirations of Modernism coupled with the carnage of the 20th century, the same time period in which Modernism came to prominence. It’s made of 65 cast plastic human femur bones, both left and right, creating a macabre cautionary tale, calling attention to the irony that many of these utopian aspirations led to the dystopias of war and genocide, of which the 20th Century saw many. While the theme is dark, I rendered it at the scale of a child’s jungle gym and the bones are a pale white plastic, giving the structure an unthreatening toy-like quality.

The other geodesic dome piece I’ve made is Untitled (Invidious Consumption) (2014). I knew that I wanted to create a work that dealt specifically with the Modernist rejection of ornamentation in design. The inspiration for this concept came from reading the essay Ornament and Crime by Modernist architect Adolf Loos. In his essay, Loos criticizes the use of ornamentation in useful objects. Loos went as far as describing the presence of ornamentation as immoral and degenerate; a crime. To counter this, I made the iconic modernist structure out 65 lathe turned ornamental neoclassical architectural balusters made of Hemlock and connected with brass fittings. An odd dissonance was created by making the structure out of materials with a design that alludes to time prior to the Modernist era. 

Veneer, 2018, Wood, PVC, steel, hardware, and acrylic enamel. 96” x 96” x 72”

OPP: Another recurring element is the metal structure that for me evokes a billboard in Device (2015) and Veneer (2018). How is this “support” structure key to understanding whatever element it is holding up?

EG: These pieces explore the power dynamics of architecture. I’ve made a number of pieces over the years that utilize the billboard scaffold structure. Initially, I was drawn to the aesthetics of the structure and  the literal connection between its form and function. Prior to Device and Veneer, I had placed silhouette cutouts and text on the structures.I wanted to draw a parallel between the supported fragment of architecture and a billboard advertisement. Architectural structures can imply wealth, exclusivity and dominance. Having them also operate as a façade indicates how often times these displays of power and authority are in fact thinly disguised vulnerabilities.

I developed the concept for Device (2015) during the run-up to the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, when the xenophobic rhetoric of “The Wall” first entered the public consciousness. The scaffold supports a fragment of a cinderblock wall. It calls attention to the symbolism of a wall as something that can be used to play upon the public’s primitive instincts and fear of the other. Placing it on a façade calls attention to the structure’s inherent weakness and limitation and exposes it as a mere rhetorical device. 

Veneer (2018), on the other hand, explores interior projections of wealth, power and authority through decoration with nods to Neoclassicism and its tradition. The piece symbolically represents the aristocracy. Mounted on the scaffold is a fragment of whitewashed, wainscoted, decorative wall. Its ostentatious design implies the ability to afford finery. The title alludes to the thin veneer upon which displays of wealth are often dependent. 

Parts and Accessories, Installation View, 2019, Carnation Contemporary.

OPP: Tell us about your most recent solo exhibition Parts and Accessories (Chicago 2018 and Portland 2019), which explored “issues surrounding class, dystopia, and modernity.” 

EG: When I started this body of work, I knew that I wanted to explore issues of class. Wealth inequality has reached levels that have not been seen since just prior to the start of the Great Depression. It’s reminiscent of a new Gilded Age. We are similarly seeing vast creations of wealth through rapid technological advancement in a system geared towards the consolidation of wealth into fewer and fewer hands. 

My work often employs the remaking of the recognizable and familiar. I specifically selected objects that symbolized either a sense of wealth and pedigree—an ornately wainscoted wall, a top hat, a gavel—or its opposite—workers’ hardhats, a humble throw rug or a bare suspended light bulb. I purposefully make things in an exacting way with refined surfaces that are largely devoid of expression. I do this as a way for the object to have a sense of anonymity, similar to mass-produced objects. 

Parts and Accessories, Installation View, 2019, Carnation Contemporary

OPP: Tell us about the arrangement of the objects in the exhibition space.

EG: I wanted them to confront the viewer upon entering the space. They are predominately displayed facing the entrance. With these symbolic objects representing different levels of class and authority, there is purposeful hierarchy to the arrangement. Objects in front were presented low to the ground with an increase in size and scale moving towards the back of the arrangement. With the exception of one piece—a solitary disposable coffee cup—all the objects are displayed on a pedestal or platform, isolating each object and calling attention to its cultural value or commodity. This orderly arrangement references both methods of museum and retail display. 

As with any issue I choose to explore in my work, I want to avoid being overly didactic and sanctimonious. I’m not looking to provide answers for the viewer, but rather to offer them something to ponder and consider.

Plot, 2018, Aqua Resin, fiberglass, and acrylic, 4” x 50” x 72” 

OPP: What’s your experience in the studio right after completing a solo show?

EG: I’m usually focused on cleaning up the aftermath. There’s always a push to meet an exhibition deadline and especially so when it’s a solo show. No matter the level of planning, discipline and time spent in creating a new body of work, art making is an inexact science. There’s usually a rush at the end when cleaning and organization fall by the wayside. As a result, the time immediately afterwards is spent literally picking up the pieces. Having done this for a while now, there’s a bit of a ritual to the process. After months of focusing on one end goal and activity, there’s an odd sense of quietness in the studio. This quietness coupled with cleanup and organization provides a good time to think and reflect. 

Creating my work is very time intensive and involves a great deal of physical and mental energy. I always need a period of recharge afterwards. I require time away from the studio, so I prioritize self-care and rest. I’m a full-time academic with an active professional career; work/life balance is often difficult to achieve. After finishing a big show, I need to spend time catching up with friends and exploring environs outside the studio. It’s vital. 

There’s also a period of time after being in production mode where there is a shift in focus from making to promoting what has been made. My work is primarily funded through both professional and academic grants and fellowships, so I have a cycle of production followed by exhibition, promotion, and securing the necessary funds for the next body of work. I’ve been fortunate in that new opportunities always arise, new ideas always present themselves, and the cycle begins again.  

In memory of Gerald Gilbert Geschke, 1931-2019

To see more of Erik's work, please visit www.erikgeschke.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist  Stacia Yeapanis.  When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations.  She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018) and Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019). Her work was recently included in the three-person show Manifestations at One After 909 (Chicago).


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Krista LaBella

Venus Altarpiece, 2014. Inkjet print. Triptych (outer panels 24 x 36," center panel 26 x 38”)

KRISTA LABELLA is a "multi-media artist who embraces the voluptuous, fat, female body." The photographic works from I Am Venus (2014-2018) make references to early 20th century pinup girls, as well as art historical works like Ingres’ La Grande Odalisque (1814), Manet’s Olympia (1863) and Venus of Willendorf (estimated 30,000 BCE). She combines a feminist defiance with the objectification of the female body in order to destabilize Western, white beauty standards. Krista received her BFA from Hartford Art School and her MFA from Pratt Institute. In 2018, Krista had her first solo show Fleshy Fruitat Random Access Gallery at Syracuse University. In August 2019, she was an Artist-in-Residence at 77Artin Rutland, Vermont, and her work was included in a digital gallery in the exhibition Be Seen: Portrait Photography Since Stonewall at The Wadsworth in Hartford, Connecticut. She has been featured on the Headlining Humans YouTube Channel for #whyicreate series. Krista lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. 

OtherPeoplesPixels: Do you have a specific audience in mind? Do you think more about thin people, fat women or heterosexual men with porn-influenced expectations of women’s bodies?

Krista LaBella: When I began creating the photographs in I am Venus I didn’t have a specific audience in mind other than myself. I wanted to make something that was deeply personal to me but that I felt could speak to a broader female experience. It was less about targeting a specific audience and more about just disrupting the expected images of contemporary nude women that you normally see in advertisements, magazines, tv, porn and other media. At first, I started making photographs with props that were funny, trashy, bawdy, but these images never really came together. So I began dialing it back, creating simple compositions in my home, utilizing very few props and very little furniture. The only thing that really stuck were my stilettos. The use of the stilettos exuded femininity, power, sexuality and even violence. By keeping the sets simple and focusing on the colors and shapes of my body and the light, it made the work more about my body as a sculpture and about my gaze. 

Judgement Venus (Green Couch Selfie), 2014. Inkjet print. 22 x 30”

OPP: Talk about the Venus as inspiration for these images.

KL: When I was making these photos, I saw them as a performance of the Venus. They embody the female nude over the course of human history. I see my body at a contemporary manifestation of the Venus of Willendorf which, arguably (or maybe not) is the first piece of art ever created by humans. And looking at pastel nudes by Degas, the Grand Odalisque by Ingres, Rubens’ nudes, modern Pin-Up models, and all the countless nude female figures in the history of art, influenced my work significantly. I felt like I often channeled these other paintings into my work. For example, after I did a shoot in my bedroom I realized that I made a photo that felt very much like Manet’s Olympia—so I embraced the photo as the contemporary Olympia. 

It was only after  I did my first shoot for I am Venus that I realized that the intended audience for the work is the straight male and the purpose of the work is to deflect the male gaze. I always describe the phenomenon of my gaze in these works as: “I both invite and reject the viewer’s gaze: I gaze back knowingly, self-assured. I am both the see-er and the seen.”

Venus Window Selfies. 2014. Inkjet prints. Diptych, 20 x 30” each panel.

OPP: I’m curious about your use of the term “selfie” as opposed to “self-portrait.” I see these as very different—but obviously connected—genres of photography. The “selfie” denotes an amateur endeavor that wouldn’t exist without smartphones, while the “self-portrait” has a much longer artistic lineage. Does this distinction matter to you?

KL: The distinction between the traditional “self-portrait” and the “selfie” is not important to me. I realize that the “I am Venus” self-portraits are not true to the idea of a selfie. However, I do take all of the images alone, of myself, with a shutter-release remote with the intent to share with an audience so it felt appropriate for the work as the contemporary self-portrait. I was already aligning my body within the art historical lineage of the nude and I needed to break away from that a bit- I needed to remind people that this is relevant to today, that this is a quick snapshot in a broader context and a small flash in a series of hundreds of digital images. Using the term “selfie” doesn’t diminish the work or make it amateur because the content is still there. But it does recognize that this was created in a time where self-portraiture has taken a leap into the hands of the masses. 

Centerfold, 2012. mixed/ collage. 10.5 x 8 in (opens to 10.5 x 16 and 10.5 x 24)

OPP: What role does humor play in your work?

KL: I get this question a lot! I always speak about my work in a very serious way because it touches on a lot of current issues about body image, self acceptance, the expectations of the fat female body, and how we fit in society. But there is definitely humor in my work. Sometimes there’s an aloofness in my stare, sometimes I crush creamy doughnuts with my tits, sometimes I drape pearls all over my chest and title the photograph Pearl Necklace. There is need for some comic relief. These images are a representation of me, not only as the subject but also a reflection of my personality. I am serious and passionate about my work and the issues I make art about, but I like to laugh and I won’t apologize for my body. I like pushing people’s buttons and seeing how far I can take a tasteless sex joke in my work. It’s the layers of content, the seriousness and the jokes, and the art historical references that make the work interesting and not just another nude falling into the art timeline. 

Pearl Necklace and Peach, 2018. Instant photography. 9 photos 3.5 x 4.25” each, mounted to 16 x 20."

OPP: How did I am Venus (2017) transition into Pearl Necklaces & Other Objects (2018)?

KL: Pearl Necklace and Other Objects started as a joke. I was at an artist residency in the summer of 2018 and started making more Venus images, but they weren’t interesting anymore. I had carried pounds and pounds of glitter—leftover from a project that never came to be—with me to this residency, so I dumped it all over my chest and took about 20 images of my glittery chest with my Lomo’Instant Wide camera. I started taking hundreds of photos every day during the residency after lunch when the light was the best in my studio. The Lomo’Instant is great because it’s like a Polaroid camera, and the images just shoot out instantly. It was exciting, fast-paced, performative and almost sculptural. I would find things to crush with my bulbous breasts—they are huge! I would use  fruits with sexual meanings, like the peach, and cream-filled doughnuts. I would crush vaginal flowers, anything that had a sexual connotation was crushed or overtaken by my tits and photographed. I also would use items that represented femininity like pearl necklaces, vintage tea cups, lipstick, etc. It felt like the messier and weirder it was, the better the images came out. I had other artists in my studio constantly and whenever they asked me about these images, I would just tell them I was recreating traditional still-life paintings as sex scenes on my tits.

Cream Doughnut, 2018. Instant photography. 12 photos 3.5 x 4.25” each, mounted to 16 x 20."

OPP: Can you talk about the relationship of food and sex in this series? What does this work say about sexual objectification?

KL: Regarding the food specifically, I wanted to add food to my work for a long time. As a fat person, other people are obsessed with your eating habits and assume you must just eat trash constantly. Bringing food into the performance and the images made sense. It just took awhile to get there and make something interesting with it. I titled my first solo show Fleshy Fruit after I began this body of work. I see these images as a spiritual experience of excess, and of our insatiable appetite for food and sex. They reference food fetishism, porn, and cam culture. The viewer visually consumes, admires, and even worships the fleshy fruit that is Venus—me.

Untitled Venus (Red Couch Selfie), 2014. Digital photograph. Censored for Instagram 2018.

OPP: When I first saw your work on Instagram, I thought the cartoon “stickers” of cherries and peaches were part of the work, and I read it as a clever rebuke of censorship. Only later did I realize the fruits were an attempt to avoid being censored on Instagram. Can you talk about your experiences with censorship and sharing nude imagery on Instagram?

KL: Yes! The cherries and stickers on my work are my way of making the work “appropriate” for Instagram. This is an interesting question though because over time they do become part of the work. I choose the censor stickers  to be funny and/ or reference the body part they are covering up. Once the images exists in the world as a censored image in this way, it begins to take on a new life as a new work (and comments on society’s idea of modesty and outdated views of the body and feminine values). I am not thrilled that I have to censor the work, but in order to use the platforms, I do it. I find that even in my text and hashtags to go along with my images, I am “too explicit” by Instagram standards. I am often shadow-banned (taken out of public search results) as punishment for using hashtags that are not approved (#pussy is not well-liked by Instagram). 

Sliced Peach with Pearl Necklace (on a Silver Platter on a Rose Gold Sequined Wall), 2019.

OPP: What's going on in your studio right now? Are you pursuing any new directions at the moment?

KL: Right now I am really excited about what is happening in my studio! Pearl Necklace and Other Objects is evolving. I am introducing more materials and experimenting with the way these instant photographs are displayed. I have been collecting glittery and sequined fabrics in flesh tones and rose gold that I am beginning to cover the walls of my studio with. I have yards and yards of faux fur in shades of white, pink and black that I am excited to use in an installation in some way. I also have been collecting silver platters and placing sexy images of my tits on these platters instead of framing them. I am interested in pushing the tackiness and trashiness of the work to the max to see where it takes me.

To see more of Krista's work, please visit kristalabella.com

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist  Stacia Yeapanis.  When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations.  She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018) and Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019). Her work was recently included in the three-person show Manifestations at One After 909 (Chicago).


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Michelle Murillo

Destinations (detail). Screen print on glass. 50 glass post cards. 3.5" x 5.5" each.

In MICHELLE MURILLO's work, water is a recurring metaphor for migration, and her ancestors' identification cards and passports are a poignant visualization of her own DNA test results. She combines the repetition inherent in printmaking with the spirit of archiving and mapping to explore the relationship between ancestry and identity. Michelle holds a BFA from Boston University and a MFA from the University of Alberta, Canada. She exhibits internationally, including shows in China, Argentina, Ireland and Canada. In 2018, her solo exhibition Adrift was on view at Museo de Prehistoria y Arqueologia de Cantabria (Santander, Spain), and she was an Artist-in-Residence at Edition Basel at Kaskadenkondensator Gallery (Basel, Switzerland). In 2019 her work was included in Aperturas, a satellite group show of the Havana Biennial (Cuba). She was a 2018-19 Affiliate Artist at Headlands Center for the Arts (Sausalito, California). Michelle lives and works in Oakland, California.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What do you love about printmaking? Is there anything you hate about it?

Michelle Murillo: I am drawn to print because it is a versatile set of media that can be combined with other forms such as drawing, photography, textiles and glass to create hybrid works or prints alone. I enjoy every aspect of it. The process inherent in print lends itself to a methodical way of making that allows an image to develop over time. While some people may find these aspects constraining, I also welcome the possibility that missteps or failures in the technique can present unexpected outcomes that I would not have envisioned if it were not for the transformation that an image undergoes through printing. 

Plotting Transience, 2015. Kilnformed glass, vellum, chalk, map pins. 13' x 10' wall, 13' x 10' floor.

OPP: In your solo show A Measure of Time (2015), you use various methods and media to visually represent your “conservative, standard and speculative” DNA test results. How do the works in the show reveal your understanding of identity?

MM: As an American of Irish and Colombian descent, I have always been interested in how one defines and creates their identity through place, culture and politics. Broadly, the show presented what I discovered from the DNA test, and it attempted to acknowledge the intersections between ancestry and identify. I translated this into visual form by using the DNA data along with documents from my family archive to create metaphorical maps that tell a story about my ancestor's origins. 

A fascinating aspect of the DNA testing is that the results continue to shift over time as the database and technology evolves. A few years ago the percentages were different, some information fell away while new details emerged. With this realization I wanted to visually record the shifting information. The piece DNA Map for a Shifting identity is comprised of shapes that represent the geographic regions of my lineage. Each region is represented by a unique color that corresponds to a map key. The transparent regions on the wall represent the increments and geographic regions that have fluctuated in the results. 

Michelle Murillo, 2011. Glass Driver's License (screen printed and fused powdered glass). 2" x 3.5"

OPP: Can you talk about your use of multiples in Waypoints? What role does variation play in this work?

MM: The use of multiples and repetition of the identity cards is used to map the "conservative" version of my DNA test results. I chose family identification cards to represent specific lineages- British/Irish, African and Native American. The sum of the known percentages totals 86%, leaving 14% unaccounted for. Therefore the piece is comprised of 86 prints and 14 empty standoffs. Variation is visible in the unique and slightly different impressions made by the process of screen printing with powdered glass. This variability suggests that identity is mutable and in flux just as the DNA test shows.

Waypoints, 2015. Powdered glass screen prints. 2x3.5," 3x4.5," 4x6.5" each.

OPP: I’m interested in how artists—myself included—often get something out of a project that is different than what is in the artist statement. In archiving your family’s passports, ID cards and other documents in etched glass, are your personal motivations the same as your artistic motivations?

MM: My creative practice is grounded in research that drives both content and form, so in a sense the motivations are the same. This work is inspired by my curiosity to know more about my family history and it represents material investigations across print and glass that I explored during a residency at Bullseye Glass. By archiving my family documents in a fragile material like glass, there is tension created between preservation and loss, which is a recurring theme in my work. The translation of the documents into another form can take on new meaning and depth as interpreted by the viewer. 

Adrift: 1979, Rosalba Llanos de Muñoz. Digital decal print, sandblasted glass. 36 x 21"

OPP: You've just spent a year as an Affiliate Artist at Headlands Center for the Arts. Tell us about your cyanotypes of the San Francisco Bay. How does the medium of cyanotype support your conceptual concerns?

MM: The work created at the Headlands continues to explore ancestry through the theme of migration, specifically the journeys of my great grandmothers. Map of Migrations is created from photographs of observations of the San Francisco Bay. Looking east into the bay, the images of water are the first impressions one has as they pass through the Golden Gate Bridge and arrive at the California shore. 

Historically the cyanotype was used in the 19th century to reproduce diagrams commonly known as blueprints. The Prussian blue of the photochemical process is befitting of the water vistas and like nautical navigation charts the cyanotypes become blueprints of passage through the Golden Gate. In this work, water is the liminal space, in between continental geography and a vehicle for travel, navigation and migration. 

Cyanotype, screen print. Site specific installation, Headlands Center for the Arts

OPP: Certainly the conclusions you draw about your own ancestry are both specific to your family and not unlike the stories of many Americans. Do you have any interest in exploring the DNA results or migratory histories of other people?

MM: The DNA test revealed that I am more of a global citizen than I could have ever imagined, and I still feel that I only know what is at the surface. Diving deeper into my ancestry takes me to Ireland, Great Britain, Spain, Colombia and West Africa, among other places. I think there are global through lines and connections to be found that will lead me to other people's histories. As I research I realize there is more to learn about migration and the circumstances that led people to uproot their lives. We are interconnected as a global community, and I find our shared history intriguing. 

100 Sons and Daughters. Screen prints. 6' x 25'

OPP: You've mentioned that you are in the early stages of putting together a solo show and residency in Cork, Ireland, where some of your ancestors lived. Tell us about this upcoming project and what you are planning. 

MM:  I plan to embark on a project that follows the traditions of craft from my ancestors to the present. My ancestors from Cork, Ireland were blacksmiths, shoemakers and cooks. I am in the early stages of piecing together all of the parts, and perhaps the show will include an oral history and work I make on site to create a portrait of the place that my ancestors once called home.


To see more of Michelle's work, please visit michellemurillo.net.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist  Stacia Yeapanis.  When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations.  She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018) and Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019). Her work was most recently included in the three-person show Manifestations at One After 909 (Chicago).

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Donté K. Hayes

Motherboard, 2018. Ceramic, Underglaze, Glaze.13" x 8" x 5"

Influenced by science fiction, history and hip-hop, DONTÉ K. HAYES works in the spirit of Afrofuturism. His hand-built ceramics allude to the black body through texture and color, while his titles refer to both the imagined possibilities and the historical truth of the African Diaspora. Donté earned his BFA in Ceramics and Printmaking at Kennesaw State University in Georgia and is currently an MFA candidate at The University of Iowa. In July 2019, he was an Artaxis Fellow at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts and he received a Zenobia Award to attend Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts, where he is currently in residence. Funkadelic Awakening: A Futuristic Resistance, a three-person show with Featured Artist Jennifer Ling Datchuck and Salvador Jiménez-Flores, just closed at The Clay Studio in Philadelphia. Donté has three works on view in the DUMA Biennial—juried by Sarah Humphreville, Senior Curatorial Assistant at the Whitney Museum—at the Dubuque Museum of Art through September 8, 2019, and he will have solo exhibitions at Garner Narrative (Louisville, Kentucky) and Iowa Ceramics Center and Glass Studio (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) in 2020. Donté lives and works in Iowa City, Iowa.

OtherPeoplesPixels: When did you first begin working in ceramics?

Donté K. Hayes: In 2015, I went back to college in my late 30s to study Drawing, Painting and Printmaking at Kennesaw State University in suburban Atlanta. I needed a three-dimensional art class to meet the requirements for a BFA in Printmaking, so I decided to take Ceramics 1. 

Empire Juice, 2018. Ceramic, Underglaze, Glaze, Gold Luster, Colored Rubber. 11" x 12" x 6"

OPP: What do you love about clay? 

DKH: My love of clay came immediately because the material forces you to remember that you are not in control, especially on the potter’s wheel. I’m definitely not a potter. Creating in clay is hard and challenging and registers the history of my hands throughout the working process. I enjoy the ritual of my hands and clay becoming one through the process of repetition, texture and pattern when making a ceramic object. Clay takes me places in the past, brings clarity to the present and takes my thoughts and desires to the future.  

True Kingz Series: Original King, 2019. Ceramic, Underglaze, Glaze. 11" x 13" x 10"

OPP: What are your favorite sci-fi texts?

DKH: Growing up, I was a big comic book and sci-fi nerd. My favorite comic books were from the Marvel Universe. I collected all the Spider-Man books, AvengersX-MenX-Factor, and my favorite being Black Panther. I’ve been a Black Panther fan way before the movie. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby nurtured my love for art and storytelling. Black Panther showed that a black man can be a strong leader, intelligent, and a hero for his people and all of humanity. Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 continues to resonate with me and how I perceive the future and present day. For example, the “parlor wall” is eerily similar to the flat screen television or cell phone which promotes the propaganda and news of the day. The movies that have influenced my concepts of the future are the Star Wars saga, the German dystopian movie Metropolis and Gattaca. My favorite television shows are the Star Trek universe, specifically Star Trek: Next Generation, and Dr. Who.

OPP: And your Afrofuturist influences?

DKH: My Afrofuturist influences come from Sun RaGeorge Clinton and ParliamentOutkastWu-Tang ClanA Tribe Called QuestThe Roots. Also the British-Ghanaian writer Kodwo EshunW.E.B Du Bois, and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man

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

OPP: Your all-black, textured ceramics are really exciting because they resist being static objects. Some have clear cultural references, for example, Dalek. Others, like Baby Boom and Seed, feel like abstractions. Are all of these based on the symbol of the pineapple? What's compelling about this symbol for you?

DKH: Yes, they are first based on the pineapple and then connected to my own influences and thoughts. The use of the pineapple is very important to the work. I’m from Atlanta, Georgia, and the pineapple is a prominent symbol in the south. I have always been fascinated about its origin as an icon for welcoming and hospitality. 

Currently, I am a third-year graduate student at the University of Iowa. Moving from Atlanta to Iowa City has been a hard adjustment. As an African-American and a person of color in a non-diverse city, I’m confronted with the rituals of creating a hospitable environment in my everyday routine. The pop cultural references bring the pineapple symbolism to the present day. For example, Dr. Who’s Daleks are a fictional, extraterrestrial race whose purpose is to “exterminate” all life in the galaxy they deem inferior. Works like Baby Boom and Seedexplore the narrative of how the cultivation of the pineapple created a boom of wealth and power from the blood and backs of enslaved people, while also speaking to the continued contribution of black people and people of color to growth and change in society. The human desire to find a place to belong and call home is universal.

Welcome, 2018. Ceramic. 18" x 16" x 13"

OPP: In looking at works like ArrivalWelcomeNo Welcome and Dalek, I’m thinking a lot about what could have happened, had European explorers had the Star Fleet’s Prime Directive, and what did happen—i.e. the violent conquest of non-Europeans, the theft of territory, the pillaging of natural resources and the enslavement of Africans in the Americas. How do these works speak to the historical truth and the speculative possibilities of first contact?

DKH: The sculptures you mentioned are about people of African descent during the Middle Passage. The Middle Passage was the forced voyage of enslaved Africans to the New World as part of the Atlantic slave trade. Through my research, I have learned that the origin of the pineapple as an symbol of welcoming and hospitality is rooted in slavery and agricultural colonization of the Caribbean, South America, and the Southern United States, in particular, South Carolina and my home state of Georgia. When a new slave ship bringing enslaved Africans docked at the port, the dock foremen would place a pineapple at the front of the dock to announce that a new shipment of enslaved Africans had arrived. Thus creating the pineapple as a symbol for welcoming. 

To further the concept of welcoming, I wanted to create a texture that reinforces the tactile feeling of being warmly embraced. Each sculpture is inspired by the textures in raffia, hair, fabric, carpets and tapestry. These ceramic objects are vessels, each making symbolic allusions to the black body. So through this work, I’m reinterpreting past history to critique the present and give hope to the future. 

True Kingz Series: Wise King, 2018. Ceramic, Underglaze, Glaze. 13" x 9" x 6"

OPP: How do the True Kingz connect the West African tradition of Benin Heads to American Hip-Hop?

DKH: The Benin Heads are Oba, which means ruler or king. Each Benin head was a portrait of how that king wanted to be represented to the masses. The strength of a king is how they can inspire or be the voice of a nation. In the history of hip-hop, the M.C. or master of ceremony has become a cultural king who speaks to this generation’s pain, joy, desires and interests. Hip-hop has become the voice of the people who listen and are inspired by its music. However, not all kings are wise, thoughtful and benevolent to their constituents. Likewise, there are criticisms that can be made about some of the misogyny, violence and glorification of money and materialism in Hip-Hop culture. The True Kingz series is a nuanced physical legacy of the good and the bad in empire worship. 

Afrodisiac, 2018. Ceramic, mason stain, acrylic. 20" x 13" x 15"

OPP: Afrodisiac (2018) stands out visually from all the other sculptures. Is this a one-off or a new direction?

DKH: Afrodisiac is a transitional piece that bridges the True Kingz series and my abstract pineapple sculptural forms. I was at the early stage of my research, so the work is made in a very literal manner. The work is informed by the art historical painting by French Canadian artist François Malépart de Beaucourt, titled, Portrait of a Haitian Woman (1786). This painting is believed to be created in the French colony of Saint-Domingue—now Haiti—before the revolution. The painting depicts an enslaved African woman holding a bowl with pineapple and other fruit while one breast is exposed and hanging out of her dress. The work speaks on multiple levels to past and present depictions of black women in art history. Both the pineapple and the black woman have been used to portray the exotic, status, wealth, power, and abundance. I wanted to create a sculpture which elevates the black woman’s importance as the origin of life and symbol of unconditional love and strength. 

To see more of Donté's work, please visit www.dontekhayes.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist  Stacia Yeapanis.  When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations.  She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018) and Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019). Her work is included in the three-person show Manifestations, on view at One After 909 (Chicago) through July 13, 2019.


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Yvette Kaiser-Smith

Wide Ruled: 72535. Two sheets of transparent light bronze and one sheet of matte citrus yellow laser-cut acrylic, nylon spacers, and capped hardware. 23" x 33.375" x 1.5." 2017.

The aesthetics in YVETTE KAISER-SMITH’s abstract work are driven by a deep love of mathematics. In crocheted fiberglass and layered, laser-cut acrylic, she often uses the famous irrational numbers Pi and e as guides to generate patterns, color and form, underlining the presence of math in our world. Yvette earned her BFA at Southern Methodist University (Dallas) and her MFA at the University of Chicago. She exhibits internationally, and her work is included in numerous public collections, including Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art (Chicago), Lubeznik Center for the Arts (Michigan City, IN) and the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria. Opening July 16, 2019, her work will be part of BRIDGES LINZ 2019 - Mathematics, Art, Music, Architecture, Education, Culture at the Johannes Kepler University Uni Center in Linz, Austria. Through Artist Residency Vishovgrad. International (ARV.I), Yvette will spend August 2019 in a small village in central Bulgaria, followed by solo exhibition of new work at Gallery Heerz Tooya (Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria). Yvette lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Talk to us about the famous irrational numbers Pi and e. Why do these numbers continue to show up in your work after all these years? 

Yvette Kaiser-Smith: My wall-based, crocheted fiberglass constructions were initially based on identity narratives. In 2001, while looking for a way to randomly punctuate a rhythm within a group of 80+ small units, my math-nerd husband pointed me towards pi. I realized then that numbers are in all aspects of identity and math structures became part of my conceptual toolbox. Since 2007, all my work has been number generated.

Both pi and e are numbers with infinite number of digits where the pattern never repeats.  So, as pi and e are my source material, these numbers that go on forever without repeating, present possibilities of creating an infinite number of new original patterns and spatial relationships. And, math is beautiful.

Identity Sequence e 4. Crocheted fiberglass with polyester resin. 121” x 117” x 8." 2007.

OPP: Is mathematics the content in your work or means to an end?

YKS: Both. I devise systems for visualizing digits of specified sequences. In the crocheted fiberglass works from 2007 and after, this is direct, thereby more obvious and readable. Always as means to an end. Numbers are the works’ referent, their source of abstraction. I use specified sequences as a boundary for experimentation with intent to create new and unpredictable forms and patterns within the scope of minimal, geometric language.

Identity Sequence e 4, which is a grid of 17 rows and 19 columns, is constructed from 323 small units to straightforwardly spell out the first 33 digits of the number e. Reading left to right and top to bottom, pale neutral tone units directly articulate each digit, and fully-saturated colors mark the space between them. 

In more active sculptural forms, a direct, topographic method maps numerical value relationships as spatial relationships. Etudes from Pi in 5 Squared is based on the first 25 digits of the number pi. Reading left to right and top to bottom, a grid organizes 25 units into 5 rows and 5 columns. Curved units alternate from convex to concave. Here, the value of the digit determines the depth of each individual unit’s curve.

Etudes from Pi in 5 Squared. Crocheted fiberglass with polyester resin. 72” x 191” x 33." 2011.

OPP: Can you give us an example of an even more complicated system.

YKS: Lifesaver Movement in e uses two systems that directly reveal numerical values and one to distribute color in a seemingly random pattern. In 30 squares, reading e from the beginning, each square spells out a digit in binary code via the crochet tradition of filet charts. Filet charting is based on patterns created on a grid, where squares are either filled or left open to create an image. The sequence continues to break the line of 30 into groups, floating or dropped. This short sequence is 266249, so you see 2 squares up; 6 squares down; 6 squares up; and so on. I continue to use the sequence to drop placement of color. White was color #1; sequence following 249 in eis 7757; count 7 spaces, white; count 7 spaces, red (color #2); keep running the sequence left to right until all blocks have color.

Lifesaver Movement in e. Crocheted fiberglass with polyester resin. 55 inches x 111 feet x 4 inches. 2014.

OPP: When I first encountered your crocheted fiberglass sculptures, a big part of my excitement was in the soft, flexible structure of the crochet made hard and unyielding. When did you first start using crochet in your work? Have you always preferred hard structures to soft ones?

YKS: During grad school, I constantly tried new materials—sheet metals, wood, wire, rawhide, beeswax—never committing to one. In 1994, I purchased a spool of continuous fiberglass roving, but my trials were unsuccessful, and the spool got shoved under a table. Late one night in 1996, about 1 am, as I hurried past the meat counter at Cub Foods, I saw tripe and stopped in my tracks. My mind flooded with ideas. I saw tripe, I saw fat and lace at the same time. I saw beauty and ugliness in the same form, and immediately I saw a use for that spool of fiberglass roving. I associated lace with crocheting and bought a basic instruction book on how to crochet baby booties and potholders and assorted crochet hooks. A crocheted fiberglass exploration began then and kept me fully engaged until end of 2015. So, how did crochet enter my work? Call it rigorous studio practice or better yet, serendipity.

Untitled. Screenprint. 2016.

OPP: Did you get tired of crochet?

YKS: The crocheted fiberglass material process is labor intensive and physically demanding. I was tired of working in chemicals, tired of sanding fiberglass, but I had no plans to abandon a process I developed over a span of 19 years. Again, serendipity directed the change. Or just call it life.

A wall in my studio was falling apart and had to be rebuilt. Multiple issues stretched what should have taken five-weeks into a two-year job, during which my workspace was a construction zone full of dust and a pile of bricks.  

In early 2016, I took advantage of this unexpected loss of studio by participating in Hyde Park Art Center’s Center Program. Center Program’s goal is to push artists outside of their comfort zones in creation of new works though mentorship, sharing, critiques, a free class and access to Polsky Center’s Fab Lab which is a small but awesome maker space that includes a laser cutter. I entered with intention to transition the math to drawings. Late in the program, while working on my first series of screen-prints, I also qualified on the laser-cutter. The math-mapping system I was using in the print lab was a natural to transition to laser-cut acrylic. And a new obsession began.

pi x 5s (50792). Matte Caribbean blue, transparent yellow, and matte white laser-cut acrylic, nylon spacers, capped hardware. 23" x 17" x 2.25." 2018

OPP: What does laser-cut acrylic allow you to do that crochet could not?

YKS: Every material has its own way of articulating specific things. Crocheted fiberglass and laser-cut acrylic lend themselves to different ways of visualizing digits in their own respective languages. The pi x 5s laser-cut acrylic series systematically maps 5 digits from pi. Here, the value of 4 digits determines diameter of half-circles cut from small panels and the 5th digit moves one by a specific increment. Because no sequence in pi repeats, as I expand this series by following the number in sequence, this system can create an infinite number of unique works.

So far, I’ve only tried three math-mapping systems. Each new one is a reaction to an aspect of its predecessor, and the work is now pushing me to make my hand more visible by adding a hand constructed, non-acrylic element to the acrylic geometric works. These future, still mysterious constructions will need to develop their own language of mapping math, leading to new challenges and new possibilities.

Lake Street 1467. Digital pigment print on transparency film, laser-cut acrylic, polycarbonate spacers, mixed hardware. 23.5" x 21.375" x 5." 2019.

OPP: Recently, you’ve shifted from geometric abstraction into photography. Geometry is still at play, but these are photographs of existing spaces—often under train tracks in Chicago. What led to this shift?

YKS: It’s not a switch but a sidebar. This project was meant to be a one-off adventure with maybe 12 works but finished with 32. Whether photographic or created with Adobe products, images printed on film or clear acrylic, will make their way into the math-based, laser-cut acrylic work, eventually.

The time-consuming nature of crocheted fiberglass work and the privilege of having studio 37 steps from my home, kept me property-bound for a large part of 20 years. In 2016, my city driving increased with weekly treks to Hyde Park for Center Program and later to Polsky Fab Lab. I also joined the 21st century with purchase of a smart phone.

Sitting in rush hour traffic, I began noticing Chicago’s geometry, and then framing geometric abstraction in square and rectangular formats from the driver’s seat of my truck. I developed an obsession with Lake Street and the extreme vanishing point anchored by the elevated Green Line tracks. I have hundreds of cellphone snapshots.  I started sharing a few on social media. A friend noticed and included the Lake Street images in a photography group show proposal conceptually based on borders. In addition to the physical and conceptual borders captured within the image itself, I approached the concept of borders from a place of memory. Probably because, as artist, I have collected hundreds if not thousands of 35mm slides, photographs as records of inventory, and that iPhone image files limit the print size, and that I am currently working with laser-cut acrylic, reference to film and slide mounts became the starting point of presentation for this project. 

From e . . .71456. Panel 3 detail. Crocheted fiberglass with polyester resin. 2011

OPP: And there is a material trajectory that connects this photographic work to all your work.

YKS: As a sculptor, I needed to push these photographs just over the line, into the realm of sculptural objects. I unwittingly gravitate towards transparency. I transitioned from translucent crocheted fiberglass to drawings on matte and clear Dura-Lar to laser-cut translucent or transparent acrylic sheet, so presenting photographic images printed on clear acrylic and transparency film was natural. As artists, no matter where we go (within our studio practice), there we are.

To see more of Yvette's work, please visit yvettekaisersmith.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist  Stacia Yeapanis.  When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations.  She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018) and Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019). Her work is included in the three-person show Manifestations, on view at One After 909 (Chicago) through July 13, 2019.