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.


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Christopher Lin

What do you call the world? 2019. Installation.

CHRISTOPHER LIN combines organic materials—plantssoilteethhair—with synthetic and technological materials like polystyreneelectrical cords and LED lights. His sculptures and installations are thoughtful arrangements of found objects that make the familiar just unfamiliar enough to elicit contemplation. . . of climate change, of the impermanence of the body and self, and of the contemporary human condition. Christopher earned his BA at Yale University and his MFA at Hunter College. In addition to numerous group shows throughout the five boroughs, he has had solo shows at Art Bash and Ray Gallery, both in Brooklyn, as well as Thomas Hunter Project Space at Hunter College. He received the C12 Emerging Artist Fellowship in 2016 and is currently an Artist-in-Residence at the Hercules Art Studio Program. His work will be included in The Lovely Wild, curated by Jenn Cacciola and Frank Sabatté. The show opens on Sept 12, 2019 at Church of St. Paul the Apostle through Openings Collective. Christopher lives and works in lives and works in New York. 

OtherPeoplesPixels: I see an underlying buddhist perspective in your work. There are also overt references to the dharma, Zen koans, the breath and the mandala. How does Buddhist practice and/or philosophy inform your work?

Christopher Lin: Yes, there is absolutely a Buddhist influence within my work. Part of this comes from an indirect, cultural relationship. I grew up in a home with underlying Buddhist influences and observances (i.e. maintaining an altar to ancestors and burning incense), though my family never dictated my experience with religion. The other part comes from a personal desire to understand and address spirituality in my own experience. I am lucky to have been able to search for my own understanding of spirituality free from strict direction which led me to explore and define my own system of belief throughout my childhood. I identify more now as a student of Buddhism as a means to better understand abstract ideas such as the human condition. What is it that we are doing here and why? How do we make sense of this world filled with chaos, suffering, and violence? How do we find balance and equilibrium within ourselves and our environment? These are common questions amongst all people, but something that I've found is investigated more directly through Buddhist teachings.

Modern Dharma, 2016. Pencil on index cards (full transcription of Thich Nhat Hanh's "Peace in Every Step"), Buddha's Hand citrons, and lap desk. 24 x 14 x 12 inches.

OPP: There are repeated references to the body through its material castoffs, like hair and skin, and the marks it makes. In recent years, there’s been a trend in work that explores identity through the vehicle of the body, but I don’t think that’s the case here. I think your work is more about the experience of having a body, rather than the interpretations we add to those bodies. What are your thoughts on this? What keeps you returning to the body as a subject?

CL: I think this is a particularly keen reading of my use of body! I’m interested in investigating the human condition. The realization of the dissolution of selfhood and identity is a recurring theme in my works involving the body and perhaps stems from explorations of Buddhist understandings of the ego. I am more interested in how the idea of identity falls apart once we start to inspect it a little further. The molecules that make up our bodies—what we define as us—are constantly changing as we maintain our life processes through consumption and excretion, through breath and contact. What is at one instance us—our hair, our skin—suddenly becomes no longer ourselves through natural processes. And what was once another being—a plant, a cow, the minerals in the water we drink—is incorporated into our cells through consumption and integration. Furthermore we ourselves are ecosystems containing more cells of independent microorganisms numerically than our own human cells! 

Excoriate, 2015. Glue, skin, hair, and gut sutures. 1 x 48 x 36 inches.

Works like Excoriation (2015) present the self through the form of a molting, making evident the exchange of cells that were previously me but upon shedding become a spectral representation of the past. The sloughing of hair and skin cells is one reference to the nature of our temporality. Effigy (2013) is a meditation on my inevitable end. It was a way for me to contemplate the passing of time and dissolution of my own image through the slow burn of sandalwood incense. The collapse of the physical form through the burning gives way to another manifestation of scent and smoke which are briefly captured by the bell jar hung above, making evident a kind of phase change. 

Effigy (performance), 2013. Sandalwood incense, glass bell jar, rope, and pedestal.

OPP: How does “environmental anxiety” show up in your work?

CL: I try to address the current condition of environmental anxiety on a primary level through my material choices. I use found polystyrene ironically. This ubiquitous “archival material" is essentially throw-away packaging. Many works contrast organic and synthetic materials. This can be seen in 1up (2017): a dead and decayed tree on a piece of AstroTurf which appears to be resurrected by the balloon tied to it. Calcification (2018) is more direct: bleached brain coral and sand dollars are organized on a banker’s table like stacks of coins. This tableau links economy and capitalism to the destruction of organisms and habitats, pointing to the failure of our purely rational economic systems. The work poses the question: What is the value of a life, of a habitat, of an interdependent system?

Untitled (Deep Clean), 2016. Graphite on nautilus shell, cotton swabs, ear wax, and polystyrene.10 x 7 x 3.5 inches

OPP: Can you talk us through some works that address complicity and climate change?

CL: Conceptually some of my works attempt to understand levels of complicity with regards to climate change. What role do you or I play in the slow inevitable lurch towards global warming and carbon imbalance? Loaded objects like the air conditioner in Monolith (2015) point a finger at modern habituations and what we have created as our new “normal” living conditions. The ink-loaded bubble solution in Rupture (2015) and Where we begin and end (2015) draws a line between pleasure and beauty and its consequences, likening the blackness of ink to the blackness of oil. These two works depend on conscious and unconscious participation to generate this sense of complicity. Viewers actively blow bubbles to create the mural in Where we begin and end and unintentionally activate the motion sensor which controls the bubble machine in Rupture

Terra nullius, 2016. Globe, belt sander, sanding sponge, grooming table, and extension cord.

OPP: What sensation were you most hoping to evoke for viewers in your recent solo exhibition What do you call the world? (2018)? Can you talk about the symbolism in the objects included in the room?

CL: I conceived of this installation as an exploration of aspects of relativity. On the surface, it was a relative shift of gravity through the flipping of objects from the floor to the ceiling. The room was bathed in the magenta light of the grow lamps, which allowed the peace lilies to grow in an isolated, windowless environment. Viewers experienced a relative color shift after spending just 10-15 seconds in the installation. The eyes would accommodate the intense color, and the brain would adjust the sensation of color to appear normal even within the intensely pink light. One would begin to see greens in the leaves of the plants even though no green light was present in the room! When leaving the room, the color generated from regular light would appear intensely green until the eyes and brain could reacclimatize to neutral lighting. 

Conceptually I was interested in layers of artifice that allow us to perceive reality and how that relates to our contemporary experience of the world. Our brains are powerful intermediaries and interpreters of reality. What we initially find jarring in its unfamiliarity quickly becomes natural and a new normal. A grow room—one of the few ways to sustain plants in the darkness of the urban New York environment—is a strangely synthetic but natural space. I wanted to point a finger at the sci-fi artifice of the modern urban condition. The objects within the room highlight these ideas. A clock with a reversed dial runs counterclockwise such that the time is still accurately reflected. A torn quotation from a Calvin and Hobbes strip about personal gravity appears both right-side-up, yet upside-down. 

A shelf of books suspends source material and relevant readings: a NASA study analyzing and ranking various plants as air filters for space travel, The Biosphereby Vladimir Vernadsky, Vibrant Matter by Jane Bennett, The Interaction of Color by Josef Albers, and Chromophobia by David Batchelor, amongst others.

Wishing Well, 2014. Inflatable swimming pool, water, and ink. 66 inch diameter.

OPP: Your work is both poignant and clever—that’s a hard balance to maintain. Too much cleverness can tip into insincerity; too much poignancy can turn to sentimentality. I think you are able to strike the perfect balance. What do you think of this assessment of your work?

CL: Wow thanks! This is a very generous assessment of my work, and I’m really glad that you read it this way. The intention in all my work is to strike a balance between the known and the unknown. In the spirit of empathy and shared experience, I offer some familiar object or idea as an entry point, then make that starting point unfamiliar through recontextualization. I think at its core this is kind of a Surrealist move. I think the goal of artwork is to allow people a way to approach what they think they know a little differently. But it is important to start somewhere authentic, a real feeling that is deep and generative. As you said, the cleverness of an idea can often deaden a work and make it feel contrived or distant. I think this relates to the push and pull between irony and sincerity in art. An extreme on either side comes off disingenuous or disaffected. I think ultimately the goal of my work is not to find a clear or concrete answer to any of the questions I'm investigating, but to open up a topic or an idea for further personal examination. 

Too see more of Christopher's work, please visit christopherlinstudio.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.


OPP Featured Artists at Facebook

Steven Vasquez Lopez
Written on the Wall, 2018. Facebook Menlo Park, San Francisco.

Last summer I was invited to be an Artist-in-Residence at Facebook Chicago. I was already familiar with the program because I'd noticed a few OPP artists posting on Instagram about it. Then I started to see OPP Featured Artists all over the Facebook AIR Instagram. Today, I'd like to highlight some of those artists and the mission of Facebook AIR. I reached out to Jessica Shaefer, Head of Public Programming & Partnerships at Facebook, to ask about the program. 

OtherPeoplesPixels: What is the curatorial mission of the Facebook Air program? Is it different from location to location?

Jessica Shaefer: Facebook's Artist in Residence program (FB AIR) encourages creativity, innovation, openness, and connectivity by inviting artists to create site-specific art installations and projects around the world at Facebook offices in their neighboring communities and, increasingly, in the public realm. The FB AIR program's primary goals are to foster connections between cultural producers and diverse audiences in experiential, educational and transformative ways. FB AIR is committed to working with artists at all career stages, including both those who have received global recognition for their work and with those who identify as members of under-represented communities. The FB AIR team consists of makers, curators, and producers who strongly believe in the value and power of art in society. We are committed to providing the space and resources to diverse artists to create original projects that push the boundaries of their respective practices and allow for exploration of new materials and ideas.

Yvette Kaiser-Smith 
Pascal's Bridges, 2018. Crocheted fiberglass with polyester resin, nylon spacers. 96" x 747" x 2"
Facebook Chicago


OPP: Are the invited artists always local? 

JS: The core of our mission is to support artists who are based in neighboring communities of Facebook offices around the world. We have curators based on four continents who focus on sourcing and commissioning artists in each region where Facebook opens an office. An exception is a Frank Gehry-designed building at headquarters in Menlo Park, California, which features projects by an international roster of artists. 

Andrea Myers 
Rainbowedbend, 2018. Site specific machine sewn textile collage. 
Facebook Chicago

Adam Friedman
2018. Facebook Seattle

OPP: How do you go about finding artists? 

JS: The FB AIR curatorial team regularly goes to art exhibitions, conducts studio visits, does online research, and considers recommendations from the Facebook community and past FB AIRs, among other methods. Instagram is a great digital tool for discovering new artists!

Tracey Snelling
A City Connected, 2018.
Facebook Menlo Park

OPP: I agree. And there are so many strategies for finding them. Do you have any strategies for discovering artists on Instagram? 

JS: Besides our FB AIR program official account, our global team of curators each have individual Instagram accounts where we often search for and follow artists that interest us, particularly in our respective regions. Sometimes we find new artists through the accounts of artists that we’ve worked with in the past; sometimes we learn about artists through nonprofit organizations, galleries, and other cultural institutions that we follow; sometimes we learn about artists and projects through the various publications we follow; and of course we are all part of a large global network of cultural producers who often post information and images that can lead us to all kinds of new discoveries.

Libby Barbee
Shapeshifters, 2018. 22'w x 12'h.
Facebook Denver

Stacia Yeapanis (me!)
This isn’t a problem to be solved; it’s an experience to be had. 2018. Dog waste bags, Sharpie ultra-fine pens on photocopies, hand-spun wool, cardstock. 40 feet long.
Facebook Chicago

Read the interviews with these Featured Artists:

Steven Vasquez Lopez
Yvette Kaiser-Smith (interview coming soon)
Andrea Myers
Adam Friedman
Tracey Snelling
Libby Barbee

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Alexis Beucler

Woman in Stripes at the Beach, 2019. Oil, dye, canvas. 67 x 81"

ALEXIS BEUCLER (@liquidlandscape) investigates the landscape-figure relationship in paintings, soft sculpture and printmaking. The humans that populate her colorful, patterned landscapes float on inner tubes, frolic, fuck and lay about, seemingly carefree. But underneath the water, alligators lurk and decapitated heads decay. Alexis earned her BFA in Painting and Printmaking with a Minor in Art History at Florida State University. She has had two solo shows at Gallery E260 at the University of Iowa (Iowa City): Beyond the Mangroves (2019) and Razzle Dazzle Landscapes (2018). In 2019, she is an Artist-in-Residence for public art at the Grant Wood Art Colony in Iowa City. Alexis is currently pursuing her MFA in Painting and Drawing at University of Iowa, expected to graduate in 2020.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You’ve said in your artist statement that you “investigate a landscape-figure relationship.” How does the history of landscape painting inform your work?

Alexis Beucler: I’m drawn to the presence and absence of human figures within the history of landscape paintings. I am enamored by David Hockney’s patterned forestsEdvard Munch’s beachesJohn Dilg’s quiet trees, Mark Messermith’s bright, urgent, anxious landscapes. These spaces make me wonder, when can a campfire speak as loudly as a group gathering? When can a mark of paint emphasize collective feelings? How can animals and plants be placeholders for figures?

Swampland Bacchanal, 2018. Oil on canvas

OPP: What other visuals influence your work?

AB: Over the past year I’ve been reflecting on my time in the Floridian landscape—a landscape I’ve taken for granted for the past two decades—the native plants, swamps, waterways, festivals, island gatherings, quiet explorations.

Seeking to expand the lands in my painted world and in search of specificity of a space, I’ve started traveling to landscapes such as the New Mexico with sprinkled green plants dotting the desert land, blooming midwestern prairies, and I’m hoping to travel to Hawaii soon.

Afternoon Swim, 2018. Gouache on Paper. 20" x 28"

OPP: Do you think of the figures in your landscapes as in sync with their environments or oblivious to them?

AB: The landscape and environments subconsciously affect their motivations and actions. Likewise, the landscape absorbs the energy from actions the figures present, so the figure-landscape relationship is more symbiotic than anything.

In nighttime environments, there’s an increasing sense of urgency: people gather around fires, parties go too far. During the day, I think about the aftermath or residue of what occurred in the darkness, and wonder, do the figures exploring the day world know what happened the previous night? Are they floating down the river on an inner tube of bliss? How long have the mysterious heads at the bottom of the swamp been there, and does anyone other than the landscape remember them? As I explore this painted world, questions such as these are my guide.

Submerged Secrets, 2018. Gouache on Paper. 20" x 28"

OPP: Many paintings—Submerged Secrets (2018), Swamplandia: Journey With the Birdman (2018), and  Pink Alligator Roaming the Lands (2019), to name a few—reveal what is hidden beneath the surface of the water. Talk about your intent with this recurring compositional strategy.

AB: I’m interested in the above and below, how landscape shifts and becomes more fluid beneath the water’s surface, and how the underwater landscape is relatively untouched.

I grew up in Florida, where I visited the Weeki Wachee underwater theater quite often. We’d watch “mermaids” perform underwater dance routines and dramas. I remember when the water level was low, you could see hints of landscape above the water and the depths of the spring below, separated by the wavy line. I knew the mermaids were figures slipped into costumes, but I let my mind explore the fantastic possibility of seeing them and believing in them. Above the surface they are like me; below, they can be anything! That was my first real taste of magical realism. 

Beyond the Mangroves, 2019. Installation view. 

OPP: In your most recent exhibition, Beyond the Mangroves, you’ve now introduced references to home decor through the inclusion of a painted “blanket,” stuffed frames and a string of painted pennants. How do these additions change the context of the paintings?

AB: I’m increasingly intrigued by magical realism in fiction. For example, in Murakami’s IQ84, everything is seemingly mundane until a character looks up and realizes two moons occupy the sky. It’s so real, they wonder if the moons have always been there, if others notice them, or if they have transcended into a new space? This moment—one that identifies a subtle shift within our reality—is reflected within the physical objects from Beyond the Mangroves.

The red and white striped blanket and colorful pennants are recurring images within my paintings. Bringing them into the viewer’s physical space takes the viewer one step closer to the painted world. The blanket becomes an area the viewer needs to walk around, see through, and is invited to sit on and gaze at the paintings. 

Frames take on soft undulating forms that are repeated within the paintings— they reference fingers, arms, leaves, clouds, bottles. Soft and moldable. Gradients of color. They hug the picture and seep into our space.

Luncheon, 2018. Gouache on Paper. 20" x 28"

OPP: You are halfway through your graduate studies in Painting & Drawing at the University of Iowa. I know grad school is a whirlwind, so I wanted to give you an opportunity to reflect. How’s it going so far? How has your work changed in the first year of pursuing your MFA?

AB: It has been quite the whirlwind. Since I’ve been at UIowa I’ve started focusing more on landscape, patterns, personal mythology and magical realism. There’s an increasing nuance in color play and physical connection between figures and landscape.

Rocky Shore, 2018. Lithography Bleed Print. 15" x 22"

OPP: Before grad school, you made soft sculpture and also worked in printmaking. The lithographs on your website are just as detailed as your paintings, but eschew color in favor of pattern. But it seems that painting is your primary focus. How do you choose which medium to work in on a given day? 

AB: With painting, I’m able to delve deep into the world. Figures emerge, I trek into new lands, and through color everything flows together. With lithography, I generally already have an idea of what the image will be and use drawing as a tool to find ways of maximizing space with dense patterns. Recently I’ve been using this process to approach painting with fresh eyes and apply the detailed patterns from my print world into the painted one.

I can’t make soft sculptures until I have a clear grasp on where the paintings are taking me. I’ve spent the past two years reevaluating the landscape and figures through painting and have recently felt like I can once again pull some recurring elements out into our physical space through soft sculpture.

To see more of Alexis' work, please visit alexisbeucler.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, which opens on June 14, 2019 at One After 909 (Chicago).


Going Strong for 7 Years: Libby Barbee

Did you know the OPP blog has been featuring exceptional, living artists since 2011? We are committed to looking at the full trajectory of each Featured Artist's work, as represented on their websites. As an artist myself, I don't think of individual artworks or projects in a vacuum. I'm more interested in how one work leads to another and what drives artists to keep making. So it's exciting to revisit artists interviewed in the first few years of the blog and find out what's changed and what's stayed the same in their practices. Today's artist is Libby Barbee (@libby.barbee).

The Commutation of Distances, 2018. Print on panel. 24" w x 66"-72" h

OtherPeoplesPixels: What's new in your studio, practice or work since you were interviewed back in 2012?

Libby Barbee: Wow! So much is new—and yet, nothing at all. I am still creating work that is broadly centered around the relationship between nature and culture, and often specifically focused on American frontier myth. However, though the themes I’m investigating have stayed the same, my approach to making artwork has changed a lot. Back in 2012, I was doing studio work full-time and most of what I was making was very time intensive. A large part of my practice was focused on intricate collages that took me months in the studio to complete.

The World Finally Gives Way, 2016. Cut paper and collage. 36"h x 48"w

Since then, I have had two babies and a very full second career. Making art is non-negotiable, so my practice has had to adapt and become more flexible. These days, I work a lot faster and in a much more focused manner. I do a lot of work from my computer, which frees me to work a little more nomadically. I have been working with digital prints that I can compose wherever I am, whether that is at the kitchen table while my children are napping or between classes at the University where I am teaching.

Astral America, 2016. Installation (digital prints mounted on plywood, sand, cacti, backpacking gear)

I have been surprised to find that though I have a lot less time to spend in the studio, I have been much more productive and have had a ton of cool opportunities come my way. The last year especially was a whirlwind of art-making. I collaborated with fellow Denver artist Bill Nelson to complete a participatory art piece titled The Sound Mirror Project. The project was really different than anything that I had done before and has left me wanting to do more participatory work.

MLRA 69: Upper Arkansas Valley Rolling Plains, 2018. Cut paper and ink.120"h x 36" w

Over the spring and summer, I worked on a piece commissioned by the Gates Family Foundation that used cut paper and prints to visualize data about the effects of agriculture and grazing on soil ecology. In the process, I was able to spend time working with a USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service Rangeland Specialist, from whom I learned so much about sustainable grazing and agriculture. I am convinced that the sciences urgently need artists to make environmental knowledge understandable and compelling, and to help propel movement towards sustainability. I hope to have more opportunities to work with scientists and ecologists in the near future.

Shapeshifters, 2018. Installation. 22'w x 12'h

I also had the opportunity in the fall to do a large installation at Facebook’s corporate offices in downtown Denver as part of the FB AIR (Facebook Artist in Residence) Program. The piece was installed the same week that my son was born, so things got a little nutty, but it was a really cool project and resulted in work that I am very proud of.

Taming This Most Unruly Nature, 2018. Print on panel. 2' x 2', 3' x 3', and 4' x 4' panels.

In addition to my studio practice, I have the amazing fortune to be able to work with artists in other aspects of my work life. In one corner of my life, I manage grant programs for artists at RedLine Contemporary Art Center in Denver. The Arts in Society program that I run provides $500,000 per year to support cross-sector work in the arts in CO. I have been endlessly inspired by artists who are using their art to make impacts in areas such as health, science and community welfare. In another corner of my life, I teach studio classes at local universities. I love working with young artists, and students are constantly giving me new ideas and fueling my curiosity. 

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Kate Sweeney

Trans Loose Cyphers: Welcome to My Worlds, 2018. Detail of installation for Facebook Seattle. Photo credit: Candace Fields

KATE SWEENEY's installations, paintings and prints are static works inspired by the motion of the physical universe. Her colorful, layered works visualize wave forms at microscopic, human and cosmic scales. Fittingly, she avoids the restrictive edge of the rectangle whenever possible in favor of irregular, organic edges that meet the surrounding space with openness. Kate earned a BFA in Fine Arts & Medical Sciences and a MFA in Medical and Biological Illustration, both from the University of Michigan. She has completed numerous public art commissions, including installations at Facebook Seattle (2018), Redmond Technology Center Transit Station (2017), Overlake Hospital Cancer Care Center (2017) and Harborview Medical Center (2015).Recently, her work was included in Digital Maneuvers (2018) at the Seattle Art Museum and Playlist! (2019) at Museo Gallery in Langley, Washington. Kate lives and works in Seattle, Washington.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us how your background in medical illustration informs the work you make now.

Kate Seeney: My artwork has always been fueled by my love of the natural world, and by extension, science. Both my interest in medical scientific illustration work and my painting practice spring from that love.

For the past several years I have been designing illustrations for complex environmental disaster remediation projects as a part of my scientific illustration career, and I’ve grown increasingly sad about what we have done to the planet. In my fine art practice my focus has now shifted to the macro natural world, as I have been thinking about the possible death of Nature. 

Meadow, 2019. cut paper. 42" by 76"

OPP: Tell us about The Meadow.

KS: The Meadow is an elegy. It reimagines the delicate beauty of the deep structure of Nature. The large collages in this project reflect my awe of Nature and my fond but fading hopes that She will recover after humans have either disappeared or revolutionized our relationship to energy consumption. 

I’ve designed the shapes used in The Meadow to fit together in a rough approximation of Penrose tiles, which are mathematically derived patterns using a limited vocabulary of interlocking shapes to cover a plane in a self-similar but non-repeating way. I created a set of loose-edged tiling shapes and then rearranged them into unique forms. This process happens in the real world, where a starting fractal equation/engine unwinds amid specific and singular conditions on the ground, which influences the expression of the underlying structural order. I consider this an excellent analogy to the natural world and the forms of life, both familiar and yet unique. 

Drops, 2019. cut paper. 24" x 30"

OPP: You’ve said “I don’t think in rectangles, but shapes.” Can you talk about the excitement of the edge?

KS: I just have never been content jamming my ideas inside a rectangle. I think form and flow are more naturally explored using a free edge. More sculptural I guess. But coming at my work from a 2D approach has challenged me to find a way to create outside that box, and while still addressing the practical aspects of presentation and display. 

I also think a lot about the scale of my work, and that too is a sculptural consideration in a way. How a piece relates to the size of the human body is very important. Ideally, I want my work to be a thing itself, not a depiction of something.

Clear Sailing, 2015. mixed on panel. 5' x 3'

OPP: Many of your works look abstract, but are inspired by “scientific theories of energy, waves, strings, and quanta,” etc. Do you think of your work in terms of abstraction or representation?

KS: I think my work is highly representational! I realize the viewer will see the patterns and colors as abstract, but I hope the structure speaks to a deep, unconscious, human appreciation of order, and reflects the mathematically derived forms that I believe underlie the creation of everything we can see. It’s all ratios and waves out there people!!!

I have, in the past, used the foundational concepts of quantum physics and theoretical physics as a jumping-off point for my seemingly abstract images. Spooky Action at Distance, particle wave duality, The Big Bang, multiverses and gravity waves are theories I have used to create color pattern fields that express my thoughts about what the world looks like at the smallest and largest scales.

Most recently, I’ve been using wave forms in a series of panels to explore water motion as a reflection of the fundamental oscillating forms of reality, a longstanding theme for me.

Gravity Waves: the unseen dark matter mass of systems can pull them apart and impact the entire universe. 2016. Acrylic on paper collage, with digital print, monoprint, braille print and transfer print. 44" x 80"

OPP: You’ve done numerous installations for offices and medical centers. First off, the practical. . . how do you go about getting commissions?

KS: My website and social media have been powerful avenues to commissions. I also pay attention to the calls for art proposals put out by various funding agencies, most notably in Seattle where we have numerous ‘1% for art’ programs.

Current/ Potential, 2012. Installation for Seattle City Light's North Service Center. 35' x 8.' Photo credit: Spike Mafford

OPP: Tell us about making art for a specific site? Do you think more about audience or space?

KS: When commissioned to do an installation in a space, one thinks about both the audience and the space itself. I typically start with thinking about the audience and the compelling core narrative I want to offer them. Then I look at the location and see how I can use it to deliver on my idea. The space becomes a powerful shaper of the narrative at that point.  

For my Harborview Medical Center commission, I thought about the journey that the patient and the families would be making though their hospital stay, a very challenging time in their lives. I imagined the hallway  where my piece would reside as a journey for them, a place of refuge, and also a transitional zone between treatment and recovery. I created an abstract forest transforming through the seasons, a narrative path that could bring serenity, like a walk through the woods. 

Willows over Water, 2017. Installation for reception area room, Cancer Care Center, Overlake Hospital. Paint and paper collage on wood elements. 3' x 9'

OPP: It looks like you are in the middle of creating a new installation from aluminum pipe for the Redmond Technology Center Transit Station in Washington. Tell us about your design and how the process is going.

KS: Yes, I am in the midst of a project for the transit center concourse ceiling out in Redmond, the technology capitol of the world--- well almost…

My premise for the piece is ‘Journey’, which speaks to the immigrant experience of many of the commuters who will be transiting through this station, and also to the self-similar but non-identical nature of commutes. ‘Same train, different day’ equals a brand new experience. To reflect this, I am using a simple form of a fractal, the Apollonian Gasket generator, which is one that utilizes perfect circles to create a nesting pattern that is unique each time, based on the starting input numbers and the constraints of the system that powers it. 

I worked up the design on the computer using 2D and 3D software, with the help of my 3D designer Ben Henry, who also was able to bring the design into a full scale architectural model of the station. This allowed me to see it in a VR walk-through, which is just so powerful for making design decisions and getting a great feel for what a massive structure looks like, full scale.

Right now we have entered the fabrication stage, which is being executed by the talented people at Fabrication Specialties here in Seattle. The structure will be made of painted aluminum rings and discs, and suspended over the busway for about 300 linear feet, the length of the transit area. I am excited to see this huge project come to life, and I look forward to having it installed by the end of this year. 

To see more of Kate's work, please visit katesweeneyfineart.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), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis 2017) and Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018). During summer 2018, Stacia created  Renunciation Reliquary as a one-night installation for Chicago Artist Coalition's annual benefit Work in Progress and was an Artist-in-Residence at Facebook. Her solo show Practice is on view at Kent State Stark through May 4, 2019.


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Sarah K. Williams

Mid-Sized Creatures: a 3-act sculptural performance for 3 performers and cello. 2017. 
Performers: Annelyse Gelman, Thalia Beaty, Ashley Williams, and Sarah Williams. Cello: Clare Monfredo. Text: Ashley Williams 

SARAH K. WILLIAMS' background is in painting and sculpture, but "perfectly still objects make [her] restless." She creates scores for sculptural performances, both performing herself and directing others. These hard-to-classify works linger in between theater, performance art and sculpture. Sarah earned her BA in Fine Arts / Art History at The College of William and Mary and her MFA in Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She was a 2017 Fulbright Fellow at Universität der Künste, Institute for New Music in Berlin. She is the founder of the Sprechgesang Institute, a "research-based platform for artists working in an in-between language of two or more disciplines." She is a 2019 Target Margin Theater Institute Fellow and has been an Artist-in-Residence at Vermont studio Center, Studios at MASS MoCA, Theater Magdeburg and Oxbow. Sarah lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: As you say in your artists statement, you “made still objects once: out of clay and plaster, wire and wood.” Let’s talk about those sculptures first. Works like Sugar Temple (2013), Act I, Scene I (2015) and Over Saturated (2015) have a sense of action in them even though they are static. It’s not they that seem like they would move, but rather that they are sites where some human ritual might be performed. How do you think about ritual, in the world and in your practice? 

Sarah K. Williams: Yes, ritual is an interesting word and not one I often use with my current work, but I can certainly see the relationship with the works you’ve mentioned. I gravitate towards symmetry, repetition, precision, memorized gestures—which I guess are all present within ritualistic activity. But ritual connotes a sense of spirituality, which I have trouble relating to. Certainly I was thinking of sites for human activity—that the piece could potentially be moved or interacted with, though I hadn’t given myself permission to work that way yet. A bit related maybe, “otherworldly” was a word that was tossed around a lot with these works, which bothered me. I’ve become much more interested in the mundane, and finding absurdity within banal activities. 

Error Fishing, 2014. Plaster, polystyrene, expandable foam, clay, tinted water, wire, hook, acrylic and watercolor paint, powdered graphite. 60" x 48" x 36"

OPP: It sounds like stillness of those sculptures was a problem?

SKW: Those pieces are on the cusp of movement. I was feeling very restless with their stillness, even though, as you mention, there is a suggestion of activity. I think we sometimes restrict ourselves too much with titles, too aware of our chosen medium or discipline. At the time, I was too aware of being a Sculptor and frustrated that sculptors make things which sit in space and should be walked around and looked at. Obviously this isn’t helpful, and it meant I was irritated the minute I walked into the studio with all these unmoving things. There was a huge disconnect because my main source of inspiration was music and theater, yet I was trying to squish it into a very small box, under the umbrella of sculpture.

Sample Objects (and their potential movements), 2018

OPP: What is a “sculptural performance?” Is this a term you coined or are you part of a lineage of other artists? 

SKW: I started using the term ‘sculptural performance’ only because it seemed like the most logical and straight-forward way to describe my work. I would describe it as performative work involving a set of invented objects within a specific aesthetic framework. Within this work, I’ve started referring to my sculptures as objects. To me, an object has a functionality to it which a sculpture doesn’t have. I want these objects to exist with a purpose, to be assigned specific characteristics and abilities. 

I wasn’t so aware of this combination of composed sound and movement with strong visual elements until spending time in Berlin. The work which I found the strongest connection to there was in the genre of MusiktheaterI didn’t even know this was a genre! Very different from what we know as Musical Theater in the U.S., these pieces weren’t compelled to follow a narrative, were often very short, experimental, abstract, absurd. To generalize, most pieces seemed to enter a visual world through music composition, while I was the other way around. Exposure to artists like Heiner GoebblesDieter Schnebel, and Mauricio Kagel made a huge impression on me. 

Absorbent Objects: for one performer and 3 objects, 2017.

OPP: You often use the language of music and theater to talk about interacting with the objects you make. There’s the Orchestra of Obsessions and Dissatisfactions (2018) and The Found Sound Research Orchestra (2017). You also create “scores” for objects. Many performances are divided into Acts. Can you talk about this merging of the performing arts with the visual arts? Does this hybridity change the venues where you share your work?

SKW: When I first moved to NYC after grad school, I was completely uninterested in looking at sculpture or painting. I knew I should be going to galleries, openings, things we’re told are necessary as emerging artists, but all I wanted to do was go to the opera. I never had a relationship with opera until my last semester in grad school when I heard Wozzek for the first time and became completely obsessed. I basically spend two solid years learning everything I could about opera. I started working for a couple of small opera companies in NY, and spent hours in the performing arts library looking at scores as drawings, as recipes, as instructions for something that could be tangible. 

There is so much great overlapping vocabulary with sound and visual: vocal color, textures in music, light and dark, hard and soft, etc. I started writing ‘scores’ for sculptures as accompanying documents which might describe how an object moves through the world. In Berlin, I began really leaning into this overlap, which is where the orchestra pieces came from. I became interested in borrowing structural frameworks from other disciplines, approaching them with my own skill sets. How can I work within the conventions of classical music, but through the lens of what I know: material, process, color, form? As I’ve been working this way, I have become less interested in traditional gallery spaces, and more attracted to hybrid spaces, collaborative venues, non-art spaces, offices perhaps. . . 

Orchestra of Obsessions and Dissatisfactions, 2018. 8 minute performance for 9 performers and 11 objects.Ffilmed at The Studios Residency at MASS MoCA. 
Performed by: Kesso Saulnier, Max Colby, Hui-Ying Tsai, David Greenwood, Hyun Jung Ahn, Paolo Arao, Jon Verney, Ashley Strazzinski, and Ashley Williams

OPP: Can you talk about the difference between performing your own work and being a director? 

SKW: I’m much more interested in directing/conducting/writing than performing. I only end up performing by default, and it’s not a comfortable role for me. However, I have to learn about a piece by doing it myself, and then sometimes it’s easier just to execute it without needing to articulate it to someone else. When I do have the opportunity to work with “performers.” I put this is quotes, because I typically work with artists who have a relationship to the types of activities the piece focuses on rather than someone with a performance background and preconceptions about what it means to perform. I often make a track with audio commands as a sort of script. Practically, this is useful because the actions don’t have to be memorized, but I’ve also been playing around with letting the audio track become a more present component to the pieces. I’ve been going to a lot of plays recently which has brought up a lot of opinions about performing versus acting. As I’ve only performed with non-performers, it makes me wonder what would happen if I immersed myself more into a theater environment. 

Fried Book of Conjugated Concerns with Sprig of Thyme: for one muttering performer with multiple concerns. 2017.

OPP: You are the founder and director of Sprechgesang Institute. Tell us about the formation of the Institute.

SKW: The first iteration of Sprechgesang Institute began in Berlin when I was doing a Fulbright there in 2016/17. As I mentioned, I was studying the overlap of opera and sculpture. I enrolled in an experimental music composition department. Between being surrounded almost exclusively by musicians/ composers at the university and my fellow Berlin Fulbrighters in Germany—very few of whom where artists—it became clear to me how refreshing and enormously valuable it was to be outside of a strict Fine Arts community. The foundation of S.I. is made up of people I met while in Germany, paired with people I know here in New York, and a few artists working long-distance. Currently we are a mixture of sculptors, painters, musicians, writers, composers, scientists, journalists, cooks—all interested in finding overlaps within our lines of work. We meet once a month over an elaborate dinner, mostly constructed of tiny sculptural snacks, we staple a lot of things, file things, take roll—it’s all very institutional. 

OPP: What’s the latest project? 

SKW: Our current project is an experimental dining event. Each Artist of the Institute is making a dish—some edible, some not—to be choreographed into a 10-course progression for two performances in mid July. We’re also putting together an accompanying cookbook full of overly-complicated recipes. 

S.I. dinner #1, 2017.

OPP: Aside from Sprechgesang Institute, what’s next for you? Any new projects in the works? 

SKW: I am still digesting a few projects I started while at Vermont Studio Center last month. I’m working on a series of short performances with objects under the theme Critical Response, structured a bit like a concept album. I collaborated with some artists there on a couple of these pieces and they continue to evolve. I’d like to get them to a point where they can be performed back-to-back in quick succession. 

I’m also a fellow at Target Margin Theater this year, which has been a great outlet for exploring the more performative side of my practice. For this, I have an ongoing investigation of gesture and other alternative methods of communication not reliant on text or object. It’s so hard for me to ignore the visual side of things, but such a worthwhile challenge! 

I also have an ongoing project called Aesthetically Complex Pies. It’s exactly what it sounds like. 

To see more of Sarah's work, please visit sarahkwilliams.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), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis 2017) and Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018). During summer 2018, Stacia created  Renunciation Reliquary as a one-night installation for Chicago Artist Coalition's annual benefit Work in Progress and was an Artist-in-Residence at Facebook. Her solo show Practice is on view at Kent State Stark through May 4, 2019.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Sarah Beth Woods

Esther and Anonymous, 2015. Hair weave, shoe laces, aluminum. 64" x 30" x 7."

SARAH BETH WOODS employs a range of artistic methods, including sculpture, film and relational aesthetics in her research-based practice. Her sculptural objects and events celebrate the material aspects of feminine adornment—hair braiding, nails and jewelry—and their corollary social spaces. Her formative years on the Southwest side of Chicago influence her ongoing engagement with black, female aesthetics in particular. Sarah earned a BFA at Northern Illinois University and an MFA at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Her solo exhibitions include Braid & Nails (2015) at Wheaton College and Bricoleur at Azimuth Projects (Chicago, 2014). Sarah collaborated with hair braider Fatima Traore for BRAID/WORK, and they were the recipients of the 2015/2016 Crossing Boundaries PrizeEsther and Anonymous is currently on view in Focus: Fiber 2019 at Kent State University Museum in Ohio through July 28, 2019. BRAID/WORK will be part of a symposium and solo show at Bethel College (Mishawaka, Indiana) in November of 2019. The conceptual girl group The Rhinettes will perform at Experience Threewalls at 15 on June 5th, 2019. Sarah lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Can you talk about the relationship between objects and events in your practice? How do you balance these modes of making?

Sarah Beth Woods: The majority of my training is as a studio artist. In terms of my process, that always comes first and starts with a specific material. I think of my public events as collective performances. They are an important part of the evolution of the work rather than a means to an end. Recently, events have taken the form of musical performances and collective braiding sessions.  I’m interested in the act of braiding and the labor associated with the hand work as a common denominator or language shared by different communities. These events provide pragmatic ways to engage a specific audience while collectively thinking through materials. During Shared Language, curated by Tempestt Hazel at the Arts Incubator, Fatima Traore and I were able to braid and exchange stories with women from the Academy of Beauty and Culture, a beauty school on the West side of Chicago.

What does it feel like for a girl?, 2012. Bath poufs, hair weave, ribbon, felt, clamp lights, lightbulbs, steel. 14" x 10" x 58."

OPP: What does performance mean to you—both as an art form and in terms of our various identities?

SBW: For me, performance has everything to do with process and improvisation. We all perform specific parts of our identities on a daily basis. It’s a performance because it’s not innate; it’s learned and then acted out. During the research phase of my recent 16mm reversal film Hear the Glow of Electric Lights, I became really interested in female body comportment, specifically Maxine Powell’s finishing school at Motown and the methods she employed to train the Supremes to be “lady-like.” Powell spent a lot of time training the women how to get in and out of a car gracefully, with poise and posture. This was a strategic marketing ploy that has everything to do with class and respectability politics. I’m interested in the ways these ideas are inscribed on to the body through repetition and performance. Similar to content in BRAID/WORK, there was a lot of behind-the-scenes labor that went into this process.

Kayla, 2015. acrylic nails, pom-poms, googley eyes, glitter, confetti.

OPP: Tell us about your work with Fatima Traore. How did you two first meet and start working together?

SBW: Fatima Traore and I met when she was braiding hair during the Mappy Hair Project at the Gray Center for the Arts in 2013. We started braiding together informally. On some occasions, I would paint nails while she braided. We did pop-up salons for Prime Time at the MCA, the South Side Community Art Center and the 75th Anniversary Block Party at Hyde Park Art Center. We also did work together with Tracer’s Book Club, a group of international, intersectional feminist artists founded by Chicago-based filmmaker Jennifer Reeder.

BRAID/WORK, 2016. In collaboration with Fatima Traore.

OPP: Together, you were the recipients of the 2015/2016 Crossing Boundaries Prize awarded by Arts+Public Life & the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture at the University of Chicago. What did this prize fund? 

SBW: The Crossing Boundaries Prize allowed Fatima Traore and I to complete BRAID/WORK, a collaboration that investigates the history and aesthetics of African hair braiding through a material and performative lens. We braided hair at Art on Sedgwick, a community art center located in the Marshall Fields garden apartments in Chicago's Old Town neighborhood and The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. There was a culminating reception and catalogue release at the Arts Incubator. The material components of this project—my hair sculptures and staged photographs of a fictional work space featuring Fatima braiding—were included in a show under the same name at Rootwork Gallery in 2016. The photographs were taken by Cecil McDonald, Jr.

DBL RAINBOW SWEET TWIST, 2016. Hair weave, foam, photo collage, comb, door knocker earrings, chain. 10" x 50" x 9."

OPP: What effect did this collaboration have on the work you make alone?

SBW: The experience taught me a lot about the ins and outs of collaborative risk taking, as well as potential ways to utilize institutional critique to investigate cultural paradigms embedded in the ways we look, think and critique. I’m currently reading Reversed Gaze: An African Ethnography of American Anthropology by Mwenda Ntarangwi, who examines his own lived experience as an African scholar studying anthropology in America with a focus on representation and self-reflexivity. I’m at a pivotal point with my sculptural work where I’m asking and requiring more from objects beyond their immediate purpose, especially the potential for characters or activations within narrative film.

OPP: In 2016, Mailee Hung wrote for Daily Serving about BRAID/WORK :“Woods is a white woman who spent her formative years in a primarily Black, middle-class neighborhood of Chicago, and she is highly cognizant of the dangers of appropriation her privilege affords.” How do you handle these dangers while working with “black material culture” as a white woman?

SBW: Fashion and hair style have never been static or fixed things. Style is always in the act of being appropriated, modified, or morphing into something else. Artifice brings these ideas to the surface, because it pronounces itself as artifice. It probes at the boundaries that spring up around markers of identity. I’m much more interested in creolization which actively moves against fixed identities and towards cross cultural, transcultural and hybrid forms.

The Rhinettes

OPP: Most recently, you’ve been investigating the aesthetics of the performances of 1960s girl groups. Who are The Rhinettes and how are they a “conceptual girl group,” as opposed to a girl group?

SBW: My interest in artifice and the performing body, as well as black and white cross-over appeal led me to the Supremes’ first performance of “Come See About Me” choreographed by Cholly Atkins on the Shindig television show in 1964. I’m really interested in early girl groups and their first televised appearances, as well as the technological spaces that they occupy. Politically, sonically and visually, it was an important and complex moment in American history. In 2017, I formed what I refer to as a “conceptual girl group” with Anya Jenkins, Alexis Strowder, and Yahkirah Beard, who is a professional dancer. She’s appeared on the television show Empire several times; her energy is incredible! We’re like a conceptual cover band—we don’t record or play instruments, and we only cover one Supremes' song. 

Hear the Glow of Electric Lights.16mm reversal film. 2017

OPP: How do viewers/listeners encounter The Rhinettes?

SBW: We’ve performed at Silent Funny, a mixed-use arts space on the far West side and the Jane Addams Hull House Museum during a series called Making the West Side, which aired on Can TV. The material component of the project is Hear the Glow of Electric Lights, a research-based, 16mm reversal film that I've been working on for several years. The content of the work is revealed through concealment, codes and learned body language, drawing attention to what we’ve been taught cannot simultaneously exist: beauty, power and the political. Pop culture scholar Jaap Kooijman articulated it well: “the power of the image, and in extension the Diana Ross star image, lies in its embodiment of the contradiction between fashion and politics, and its refusal to accept that those two cannot go together.” The remainder of the project is being shot and edited through 2019.

To see more of Sarah Beth's work, please visit sarahbethwoods.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), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis 2017) and Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018). During summer 2018, Stacia created  Renunciation Reliquary as a one-night installation for Chicago Artist Coalition's annual benefit Work in Progress and was an Artist-in-Residence at Facebook. She is currently preparing for a solo show titled Practice, which will open in April 2019 at Kent State Stark.


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Laura Mosquera

Left to right: This Weight I Feel Is Yours; Grasp, Clench, Slip; To Begin With Control; The Sounds Between and Through.2018

LAURA MOSQUERA uses difficult human emotions as the impetus for her abstract paintings. The resulting works are collisions of color, shape and pattern. Her shaped canvases give the impression of patterns in motion. They are like bodies attempting to invade or escape one another. Laura received her BFA and her MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her most recent solo exhibition was Close to the Bone and Skin (2018) at Rosefsky Gallery (Binghamton University, New York). Eight billboards of her paintings are permanently exhibited at the Chicago Avenue Red Line station in Chicago. Recent group shows included  Onyx at Alfa gallery (Miami) and ESCAPE/ISM? at Atlantic gallery (New York). Her work is currently included in Ineffable Manifestations at the Institute of Sacred Music (Yale University) through June 18, 2019. Laura lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: It seems like you began as a figurative painter and shifted completely into geometric abstraction in the last few years. Is that true? Tell us a bit about your interests in the early figurative work?

Laura Mosquera: I began painting figuratively as it was the most identifiable and direct way to work out my ideas. At the time, it provided the most authentic process for me to capture fleeting moments of experience within a non-linear narrative. In these figurative pieces, I used abstracted environments to describe a shared psychological space to support the emotional content of the work. It has been nine years since the space itself became the sole focus. With figures removed, abstract forms and the space and shapes they create have become paramount in capturing the psychology of singular moments of fleeting emotion.

Somewhere In Between, 2010. Oil and acrylic on linen. 56" x 48"

OPP: Tell us about the shift away from representation into abstraction. Was there one body of work or painting that was the first completely abstract work? 

LM: During the years I worked figuratively, the process of making those paintings was always very clear to me. In time, I started to lose the clarity of my initial intent, and I began questioning why I was making the work. As seen in my earliest paintings, abstraction has always been a central element of my visual vocabulary. However, with getting older, the complexities of life are compounding and abstraction has become the most direct approach to speak to those unnameable concerns of daily life. It continues to be an evolving process.

Around the Edges, 2017. acrylic, flashe and gouache on panel. 18" x 24"

OPP: I think a lot about collage when looking at the work from InterplayEquations and Close to the Bone and Skin. Has collage ever been part of your process? What about sketching?

LM: Sketching has been part of my thought process since childhood, whereas I didn’t start utilizing collage until graduate school. I used both to construct the compositions of my earlier figurative paintings. 

When I moved to abstraction, the traditional method of using collage fell away and drawing and sketching became paramount. Still, my current works are constructed in stages, very much like a collage, except with paint. 

In this last year, traditional collage has been making its way back into the work. I’ve kept scraps of printed paper for years, some for almost twenty, and I am just now incorporating them into the paintings. 

The Space Between, 2019. Acrylic and gouache on panel. 10" x 8"

OPP: Pattern seems to be a metaphor. Can you talk about the relationship between conflict and harmony in Close to the Bone and Skin (2018)? 

LM: In my works, color, pattern and texture in addition to size and form all define shapes in relationship to each other. These relationships are what constitute the entire work. Every choice embodies emotion, ideas and memories. Sometimes these shapes work and flow together and sometimes they don’t. When a shape with saturated color and a tight pattern is placed next to another with a wash and a looser texture, it creates a relationship or narrative. I'm interested in those elements working together to become a cohesive whole, but not in an obvious way. I am most drawn to moments of visual tension or when things don't quite make sense, finding these complex relationships engaging as they parallel the real world.

Not Enough To Stay, 2018. Acrylic, flashe and gouache on canvas. 48 1/2" x 60"

OPP: Curves are very rare in your paintings. Can you talk about the dominance of sharp, angular lines? 

LM: When I removed the figure from my paintings, I was living in Savannah, Georgia and curves remained very much part of my work. Sharp and angular lines became dominant after moving back to an urban environment, and they are indicative of the New York architecture I used as inspiration. In the current body of work, these elements are incorporated as metaphors for rigidity and obsessiveness.

Something More Than Free, 2016. acrylic, flashe and gouache on canvas. 79-1/4" x 88-3/4" x 22"

OPP: The shaped canvases are so good! What led you to break out of the rectangle? How is the process for creating works like Not Enough To Stay (2018), Something More Than Free (2016), and Grab and Hold (2017) different from painting a conventional rectangle?

LM: Thank you very much! Working with a rectangle the creative process starts for me once the canvas is properly stretched and gessoed. With the shaped canvases, the creativity starts at the moment of construction since the shape of the work is also a carrier of the content.

While I was making the rectangular paintings, I realized there was an opportunity to have the content of the work inform the shape of the frame, further describing the nature of each painting. 

In my current work, I use the physical shape of the canvas to depict a psychological state or emotional effect. The relationships of the shapes within the painting are dynamic and can push, pierce and rest against each other, defining themselves and how they relate to one another communicating experience.

To see more of Laura's work, please visit lauramosquera.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), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis 2017) and Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018). During summer 2018, Stacia created  Renunciation Reliquary as a one-night installation for Chicago Artist Coalition's annual benefit Work in Progress and was an Artist-in-Residence at Facebook. She is currently preparing for a solo show titled Practice, which will open in April 2019 at Kent State Stark.


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Corey Postiglione

Baroque Tango #3, 2018. Acrylic on canvas. 40 x 80 inches.

COREY POSTIGLIONE's paintings use the visual language of geometric abstraction in combination with the literary device of metaphor. In crisp, flat color, he returns again and again to the curved line, the oval and the interlocking chain, allowing the meaning of these recurring forms to shift from painting to painting. Corey received a BFA in Studio Arts at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a MA in Art History and Critical Theory from the School of The Art Institute of Chicago. He has exhibited widely since the 1970s with solo shows at Thomas Masters Gallery (Chicago), Westbrook Modern Gallery (Carmel, CA) and Jan Cicero Gallery (Chicago), among others. In addition to his career as a practicing artist, his critical writing has been published in Artforum, The New Art Examiner, Dialogue, and C-Magazine (Toronto). He was a founding member of the Chicago Art Critics Association. He is currently Professor Emeritus from Columbia College Chicago where he taught Art History and Critical Theory as well as studio arts for over 25 years. You can see his work through March 1, 2019 in Curators Create Second Biennial at the Bridgeport Art Center (Chicago). Corey lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: How do geometric abstraction and metaphor work together in your paintings? Are they balanced equally, or does one drive the work more?

Corey Postiglione: This question is essential to my entire artistic practice, which extends over many years. I have always been attracted to the possibilities of abstraction—especially the geometric style— for its formal innovation, its freedom for color, no longer restricted to nature, and its potential for ambiguity of content. This last is where I have used abstraction for its metaphorical possibilities referencing such things as population growth (the Exponential series) or the recent effects of globalization (the Tango series). Also in this regard, the concept of personal “life paths” began with the Labyrinth series in the early 90s. 

Vortex # 14, 2017. Acrylic on canvas. 16 x 16 inches.

OPP: Your titles are significant in terms of pointing to the metaphors, which are still quite open to interpretation. What do TangosVortexes and Lines of Flight have in common?

CP: All these series rely on certain themes mentioned above, a visual complexity or conundrum; the lines suggest flight or trajectories.  In fact I named one series of works Lines of Flight, for the possibility of escape. The Vortex series just increases the above concepts of visual complexity in the extreme as a metaphor for our current condition: where do we fit in this complex network of international globalization.

Dancer in the Dark #2, 2016. Acrylic on canvas. 30 x 30 inches.

OPP: You’ve been working with recurring visual motifs for at least 15 years (if not more). What keeps you excited about curved lines, ovals and interlocking chains? Are you ever tempted to paint something drastically different?

CP: Since the 2000s, I have mainly used curved forms, ovals, circles, to further my themes of complexity and interconnectedness.  Moreover, what I like about using these curved forms is that they can be both mathematically geometric but at the same time suggest organic images.

The artist Robert Mangold, one of my early heroes, has said that when you reach a certain point in a series and it no longer provides a new and exciting place to go. In other words, when you have exhausted the possibilities, then you need to move on. This is excellent advice and one I take very seriously. Cezanne’s’ doubt is always hovering over you in the studio. However, these forms continue to supply me with new and exciting ways to create fresh work. But when that time comes, when I feel these forms are no longer providing new and innovative visual possibilities, I will take Mangold’s advice and move on.

Tango Primary WBG, 2012. Acrylic on canvas. 40" x 40."

OPP: You’ve written that you are “inspired by the great utopian notions of late modernism (the cult of the right angle),” but it seems you haven’t painted a right angle lately. How would you describe your relationship to Modernism? 

CP: This is a very complex question but a good one. In the early 90s, I started to question the notion that Modernism—or maybe more precisely Modernity—could solve the world’s problems through technology, science, design and aesthetics. I specifically titled a piece Utopian Dreams, visually referencing these doubts. We also saw the rise of Postmodernism(s) that critiqued traditional modernism. I never rejected the right angle, and some of the early Labyrinth series incorporated a stricter geometry. The curved forms just provided me with a more complex lexicon of visual potential that would better serve my personal and political content.

Tango Eclipse Diptych, 2015. Acrylic on canvas. 40 x 60 inches.

OPP: What’s happening in your studio right now?

CP: I am continuing to explore new visual permutations with these curved forms. I am currently working on The Baroque Tango series. It follows the extravagant ideas imbedded in the concept of the Baroque: a rich and strong palette, emphasis on movement across the pictorial field and spatial complexity. It should be noted that as much as I strive to embody my abstraction with life-world content, I have always tried to make work that was visually generous in color and form. In other words, I want the work to seduce the viewer. I want the work to also be about the pleasure of the aesthetic experience, what Andrea K. Scott recently referred to as “retinal pleasure.” This is whether one gets what ideas are behind the making of the work. Otherwise I would just put up a didactic written statement. No, I am still an advocate of Visual Art with the emphasis on the visual.


To see more of Corey's work, please visit coreypostiglione.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), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis 2017) and Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018). During summer 2018, Stacia created  Renunciation Reliquary as a one-night installation for Chicago Artist Coalition's annual benefit Work in Progress and was an Artist-in-Residence at Facebook. She is currently preparing for a solo show titled Practice, which will open in April 2019 at Kent State Stark.