OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Kaitlynn Redell

not her(e) (couch), 2016. Digital c-print.

KAITLYNN REDELL's work often begins with photographs, both found and made. Photography's history is steeped in the myth of pure and accurate representation of reality, making it a perfect medium to explore the errors we make when define humans only by their bodies. By cutting into, drawing on and collaging photographic imagery, she explores the relationship between the identities we choose and the ones forced upon us by others. Kaitlynn received her BFA from Otis College of Art and Design in 2009 and her MFA from Parsons the New School for Design in 2013. She has participated in numerous exhibitions nationally and internationally. Her work has been seen most recently in Labors: An Exhibition Exploring the Complexities of Motherhood at Pearl Conard Gallery, Ohio State University in Mansfield, Ohio and the 32nd Biennial of Graphic Arts: Birth as Criterion in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Kaitlynn has been an Parent Artist Resident with her daughter at Popps PackingIn addition to her solo work, she is one half of Redell & Jimenez, an ongoing collaboration with artist Sara Jimenez. They have been Artists-in-Residence at the Wassaic Project and Yaddo. Kaitlynn lives and works in Los Angeles.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your work addresses “inbetweeness and how ‘unidentifiable’ bodies—that do not identify with standard categories—negotiate identity.” Generally speaking, how do you think about the relationship between identity and the body?

Kaitlynn Redell: This is such a complex question.  I think what is most important to distinguish is the difference between the identities we choose for ourselves versus the identities that are placed upon us by others. I think we are lucky to live in a moment when that distinction is becoming more widely acknowledged. Unfortunately, however, I think the identities that are most commonly placed upon us are directly tied to the body and unfortunately are often used as a way to categorize and control.

Alternate (1), 2011. Cut laser print. 11" x 17."

OPP: Do you always, sometimes or never use your own body/image in the work to address your conceptual concerns? Why or why not?

KR: My work always comes from the personal, so it often makes sense to use my body/image as a direct medium. Sometimes it is more obscured than other times. I am very conscious of the generalized connotations the image of my body has on the work, so how and when I use my body directly correlates to how aware I want the viewer to be to their own assumptions of my identity.

Supporting as Herself (Civic Duty), 2013. Graphite on Duralar.

OPP: Can you talk about the role of hair in Supporting As Herself? I see figures obscured—almost mummified—by their own hair.

KR: Supporting As Herself explores how film stills of Anna May Wong, the 1920s Chinese American actress, carry a sense of historical weight and serve as a contested foundation for my own understanding of identity. The manipulated representation of her public image, the stereotypical roles she played and my proximity to her birthplace—Chinatown, Los Angeles—have created an aura that haunts me to the core. I see Wong as a lynch pin for what it means to be both simultaneously American and foreign. . . to be “othered.”

In my series Supporting as Herself, I use photographs of Wong as a starting point. Through performative mimicking, photography, collage and drawing I explore the ways in which Wong presented/performed race and gender. I created a series of figurative collages and drawings using publicity stills of Wong and images of myself mimicking her poses as reference material. I am interested in how my figurative collages/drawings reference Wong’s image as a starting point, but become amorphous bodies engaged in their own language. The drawing sections done in graphite reference hair, fabric, muscle or some sort of tightly bound covering.  This rendering is meticulous and realistic, but unclear as to if it is hair, muscle or some other sort of fiber. Ultimately, I am interested in how these shape-shifting figures begin to create their own histories, of their own accord.

not her(e) (table), 2017. Digital c-print.

OPP: Your most recent series Not Her(e) gets at the complicated emotions involved in motherhood. These photographs point to the loss of identity and the subsuming of self into the role of mother. Can you talk about the process of making these photographs?

KR: When my daughter was first born, I had a really hard time transitioning my studio practice. My time was so fragmented and when I did get in the studio (aka my dining room table at the time), I felt like I was totally lost and didn’t know what to make. I thought about Mierle Laderman Ukeles’ Maintenance Manifesto every, single day. 

So, I began to change my ways of working to fit my new routine, both conceptually and materially. I was looking at a lot of Victorian Hidden Mother portraiture and thinking about how much of becoming a parent is about being loving and supportive and well as being invisible. And not only how emotional, but physical it was to become this support. I started thinking about and making drawings for this body of work when my daughter was a month old. We shot our first image when she was three months and the last when she was almost two years old. I started making “furniture costumes” for every piece of furniture I used to take care of my kid. And then I would inhabit these costumes and become a part of the support.

Counterbalance, 2012. Collaboration with Sara Jimenez. Single channel video. 0:54 min, loop.

OPP: What does it mean to have a “bi-coastal” collaborative practice with artist Sara Jimenez?

KR: Sara and I started collaborating in 2012 in graduate school at Parsons in New York. She still lives there, but I moved back to LA the summer after graduation. Our collaboration has always been project-based, and we have continued to work in this manner even though we are not in the same city. We apply collaboratively to residencies as well as spend short, intense periods of time together starting and completing projects. We also spend a lot of time planning over video chat. Most recently we attended the Yaddo residency in upstate New York together and will be curating an exhibition here in LA in 2019. The exhibition will include works by artists who explore poetic gestures of the body as an evolving site of communication, language, history and myth, via collaborative based projects. Specifically we are interested in how the process of collaboration activates a space for collective negotiation of our physical and psychic embodiment of identity.

OPP: How has this collaboration influenced or affected your solo practice?

KR: Collaborating with Sara has always been a part of my “mature” art career, so it absolutely affects my solo practice. When you collaborate, you constantly have to discuss every detail with another person and can't just get lost in your own head. So it has really helped me to verbalize my process both physically and conceptually. Before we started collaborating, our solo practices came from very similar conceptual places—which is a big reason why our collaboration has always felt so natural—but were somewhat different in terms of discipline. I come from a drawing, papercutting, painting, textiles/fashion background and Sara from a performance, video and sculpture background. We both had this history of body movement (Sara with dance and me with gymnastics) and I think performing collaboratively with her really allowed me to access that physical space again.

Domestic Air, Space, 2017. Cut digital c-print and balsa wood. 19 x 19 x 5 inches.

OPP: What are you working on right now?

KR: Aside from the curatorial project with Sara, I’m also working on a series of drawings, collages and paper-cut photographs about my great Auntie Hilda Yen. She’s actually my mother’s Aunt, but in Chinese culture the term “Auntie” is kind of all-encompassing for female relatives and close family friends that aren’t your mother or grandmother. I never had the opportunity to meet Hilda, but I am interested in the fluidity of memory and the influx nature of personal and collective histories, which has brought me to researching her. Hilda was one of the first female, Chinese aviators (beginning in the 1930s) and was a member of the League of Nations and the World Women’s Party for Equal Rights. 

I’m interested in the sort of historical and personal mythology that has been built around her and how women like her are so often left out of “commonly known” history. As I’ve gotten deeper into the research she’s become more and more fascinating to me in terms of how she’s been represented (or not) as a historical figure. Equally there is this whole other side in relation to my family’s personal memories of her. I’m interested in the kind of dovetailing between my mother and uncle’s fragmented memories of her and the glimpses of her “historical” representation in newspaper articles and League of Nations documents. A lot of the documentation is so representative of the racial and gender biases of the time period; I’m interested in how that narrative frames the information provided and only tells a fragment of the story. I think that one—unnervingly contemporary—quote from Hilda’s 1935 address to the League of Nations sums up how I interpret her mythology: “Give your women legal equality willingly and in good spirit, or have it taken from you.”

To see more of Kaitlynn's work, please visit kaitlynnredell.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. Where Do We Go From Here? just closed at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction with this improvised installation, Stacia invited eight OPP artists—Kathryn Trumbull Fimreite, Brent Fogt, Melinda Thorpe Gordon, Jaclyn Jacunski, Jenny Kendler, Meg Leary,  Geoffry Smalley and Erin Washington—to respond to the text "Where Do We Go From Here?" Each artist approached the question from a different angle, emphasizing that both the We and the Here are not the same for each of us. For Chicago Artist Coalition's annual benefit Work in Progress, Stacia will create a one-night installation that solicits the help of benefit attendees.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Hoesy Corona

Alien Nation, 2017. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

HOESY CORONA takes a multimedia approach to art-making. His complex performance works, which involve movement, costume, light and sound, balance alienation with celebration. His sculptural works explore the role of scapegoating in maintaining cultural dominance. Concerned with a queerness, immigration and climate change, he explores the many forms of marginalization in North American society. Hoesy earned his BFA at The Maryland Institute College of Art in 2009 and is currently a MAT candiate. He has exhibited at The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, The Baltimore Museum of Art, The Walters Art Museum and The Peale Museum, among numerous others. In 2017, he received an Andy Warhol Foundation Grit Fund Grant and, in 2016, a Ruby’s Project Grant in Visual Arts. He is a 2017-2018 Halcyon Arts Lab Fellow, as well as an Artist-in Residence at the Fillmore School Studio in Washington, D.C. Hoesy lives and works in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Costumes that obscure the identity of the wearer feature prominently in your performance work, especially The Nobodies (2009-present). Who are The Nobodies?

Hoesy Corona: The Nobodies are no one and everyone at once. In this series I consider what it means to be a disenfranchised member of society in North America by embodying the abstract concept of nobody, nothing all of a sudden becomes individualized, becomes body and eyes, becomes no one. I started this series after reading The Labyrinth of Solitude by Octavio Paz in which he describes the fraught psyches in the relationship between Mexico and The United States in detail. As a Mexican immigrant artist living in the U.S. for most of my life, I consider the paradox of the simultaneous visibility and invisibility of the immigrant in the U.S. In this series I invite audience members to participate in the act of nobodying, an operation that consists of making somebody into nobody. 

Nobodies Gala, 2016.

OPP: Can you talk about the materials you use to construct the wearable sculptures?

HC: I use a variety of familiar everyday materials to construct these wearable sculptures. When I started the series in 2009, I was working as a florist and was drawn to discarded floral packaging materials—cellophane, ribbons, mylar, silk florals, and mesh nettings—and collected them obsessively. Once I had amassed a substantial amount of stuff, I then transformed the materials into other-worldly colorful wearable sculptures that accompanied a live performance. I no longer work as a florist, but I am still interested in using different types of plastics as well as wigs, silk flowers, lights, clear film, and adhesive vinyls to construct new Nobodies

OPP: What kinds of movements do the Nobodies perform in public spaces?

HC: The movements in the Nobodies are very subtle and sculptural. Oftentimes, viewers don’t realize that the  sculptures are being animated by real people. The slow movements invite the audience members to pause as they consider the situation before them. In public spaces these performances are particularly poignant as the unsuspecting viewers encounter the Nobodies in their natural setting. 

Scapegoat Monument, 2014.

OPP: The Scapegoats show up both as static sculptures—some life sized and some tiny—and performance characters. Do you see one iteration as more successful than the other? How do they work differently on the audience?

HC: I often intertwine the archetype of the scapegoat as a way to have us visualize the strategic selection of somebody, made into nobody, for the supposed wellbeing of the group. The sculptural forms don’t always involve a live performance, but are still performative in their context. In Scapegoat Thrones, for instance, I use found chair structures as the base of each sculpture and ask audience members to consider the cost of the comfort that is afforded to them in the world. So while there is no live performance involved, the audience can still imagine themselves in relation to the chair forms. Most recently during a residency at Ox-Bow School of Art, I worked in the ceramic studio to construct miniature Scapegoat Idols that can be handled by audience members. My hope is that one day each person in the US will have their own Scapegoat Idol that they can use to liberate themselves from negative feelings of blame and shame.

Scapegoat Idol, 2016

OPP: Tell us about Alien Nation (2017) at the Hirschhorn Museum in Washington D.C. 

HC: Alien Nation, curated by Victoria Reis at The Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, was my most ambitious site specific performance to date. It included with 24 performers and two musicians. This mysterious and surprising shadow casting performance originated in response to the unique circular architecture of the museum. I knew I wanted to do something of a global scale that implicated a broad audience and included as many people as possible, so I conceived the idea of climate induced migration as a very real issue of our time that needs to be voiced. 

OPP: The piece was viewable from the inside and from the outside. . . how were the viewing experiences different?

HC: Although the museum was open late and visitors had the opportunity to sneak a peek of the performers on the second floor rotunda, most of the 1,200 audience members were patiently waiting outside around the fountain for the performance to begin as intended. Once outside, audience members saw 24 climate-immigrants backlit with purple light creating mysterious and surprising shadows in each of the 24 windows on the second floor rotunda. The 24 performers wore what I call “climate ponchos,” which included head gear that obscured the performers faces, an approach I chose because of the mystery and anonymity it afforded. Always silent these figures created subtle, sculptural movements in various locations that were complemented by live drumming juxtaposed with natural foley sounds that included ice-cracking, loons, and running water.  Slowly over the course of the performance the Climate-Immigrants started to descend downstairs and continued on their journey through the sea of bodies.

The clear wearable climate ponchos were adorned with images that depicted the archetype of the Traveler, with the people depicted wearing backpacks, carrying suitcases, wearing hats and some holding children. They were all on their way somewhere, in one direction a lot of the times. This simple showing of people in movement, in transition, resonates with a world-wide issue and echoed the reality of the viewers as they themselves traversed space to witness the performance. 

Alien Nation, 2017. Video documentation of performance.

OPP: In the Fall of 2017, you began a Fellowship at the Halcyon Arts Lab. Tell us bit about the program and your experience. How did it change your work?

HC: Halcyon Arts Lab is a fully funded, nine-month, international incubator that nurtures socially engaged artists in Washington D.C. I was lucky enough to be selected as one of 8 fellows for the inaugural cohort 2017-2018 to continue my work on Alien Nation. The program includes a range of professional development opportunities as well as tons of studio visits from renowned arts professionals. In addition, I am being mentored by Alberto Fierro Garza, Director of The Mexican Cultural Institute of Washington D.C. and mentoring a young artist myself. In the short seven months that I’ve been here, my practice has strengthen by leaps and bounds, I suspect this has everything to do with the nurturing environment the fellowship provides. I encourage all socially engaged artists to keep an eye on this fellowship and consider applying in the years to come! 

To see more of Hoesy's work, please visit hoesycorona.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. Where Do We Go From Here? just closed at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction with this improvised installation, Stacia invited eight OPP artists—Kathryn Trumbull Fimreite, Brent Fogt, Melinda Thorpe Gordon, Jaclyn Jacunski, Jenny Kendler, Meg Leary,  Geoffry Smalley and Erin Washington—to respond to the text "Where Do We Go From Here?" Each artist approached the question from a different angle, emphasizing that both the We and the Here are not the same for each of us. For Chicago Artist Coalition's annual benefit Work in Progress, Stacia will create a one-night installation that solicits the help of benefit attendees.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Mikey Kelly

Be Love Now v1.0 17.084. Acrylic on linen. 60" diameter x 1-1/2" depth. 2017.

MIKEY KELLY (@mikeykellystudio) explores the spiritual undertones of abstract painting. Line is his primary mark, and his meticulous methods yield surprising, vibrating networks of color. Mikey earned his BFA at University of Oregon and his MFA at Cranbrook Academy of Art. His work is included in the permanent collections at the Cranbrook Museum of Art, the Frankl Foundation for Art and the Neiman Marcus Corporate Collection, and he has been an Artist-in-Residence at Kala Art Institute (Berkeley) and at Lucid Art Foundation (Inverness, CA). He's represented by Chandra Cerrito Contemporary(Oakland), where he has had two solo shows. His work is on view until May 20, 2018 in the Lucid Art Foundation Annual Artist Show at GRO in Point Reyes, California and in Proto_Pop at Dab Art in Ventura, California. Mikey lives and works in Napa, California, where he recently completed the Painted Poem Mural

OtherPeoplesPixels: In your statement, you say, “The paintings truly need to be seen in person to fully experience them.” What am I missing as a viewer who’s only seen your work online?

Mikey Kelly: Changing tonalities and perspectives can’t be caught by the single image capture of a camera and need an advanced brain and the higher resolution of the human eye to truly experience these effects. When one gets closer to the paintings colors begin to separate and what you may have thought was a blue was actuality your eye mixing two or even three different colors to make that blue. There are also times when the canvases seem to bow or stretch visually as one moves around the pieces. These paintings test the viewer’s visual, neural and perceptual plasticity.

Embattlements 13.218.1. Mild steel, powder coat. 26"H x 21"W x 4"D. 2013

OPP: You used to work in powder-coated steel (2011-2014). I see a formal connection between your current systems-based paintings and the line variations in the steel sculpture. Are the processes at all similar despite the difference in media?

MK: All my work starts with a line. Formally they begin at the same place, but the sculpture work is much older than the drawings and paintings. The sculptures did dramatically inform the drawing and painting from their beginning, as I was familiar with playing with lines and the patterns that overlaying subsequent lines create. The process of making work changed dramatically a few years ago when I moved from the sculptural realm to the two-dimensional.

Mantra (Om Namah Shivaya) 17.016. Acrylic on linen. 24"H x 24"W x 1-1/2"D. 2017.

OPP: Can you describe your algorithmic process for making paintings? 

MK: My process starts with an analog program using encryption methods developed for secretly passing information that can convert language into numbers. This is a generative way of designing paintings that leaves the outcome unknown. I start with a base 26 variation of a Vigenere cipher that allows me to convert language into numbers. The result is a string of numbers that I then use to calculate the angle of each series of lines. I end up with an algorithm that directs the line spacing, angle, line width and color in a predetermined sequence before I ever start painting. This means that I work with no preconceived idea of what the final piece will look like. Each series of lines results in color shifting and new interference patterns each step of the way.

Buddha 16.264. Acrylic on Linen. 11"H x 11"W x 1-1/2"D. 2016

OPP: How do you get such straight lines?

MK: The painting process starts with the construction of a scale outside the boundaries of the canvas. This allows me to use a straight edge to maintain the same angle across the canvas as each line is painted. I use a pin striping tool that was developed in the early 1900s—it is essentially a syringe with a wheel at the end. This tool allows me to paint consistent straight lines of the same width without variation.

OPP: What can the paintings do that the sculptures could not? And vice versa? 

MK: While both are quite formal, the paintings feel more like true expression of myself. Sculptures on the one hand allow space, distance, volume, light and shadow into play. This creates a lot of variables that a two-dimensional painting can never encompass. But the paintings have allowed me to incorporate outside interests into the design and underlying structure of the work. This is why I have been exploring ways of combining the two so I can incorporate what I love in both into one piece.

P.O.S., Acrylic on goatskin, wood and deer lacing, 62”H x 42”W x 1-1/2D.” 2018.

OPP: Recently, you’ve shifted away from the conventional rectangle to the circle and even stretched goat skin. What’s led you to this format change? Are these anomalies or an entirely new direction?

MK: This is definitely a new direction that the work is heading in. Working the way I do, I find that using a shape other than a square or rectangle allows for more freedom and a less confined feeling to the painting. This came about from working on a few murals and installations that I completed in the past year.

I have been working towards the goal of making more dimensional paintings that incorporate many different techniques and materials. I plan on incorporating more leather, steel and neon into my work in the near future. I find the flat surface of a painting to be confining and would like to see how warping or stretching the canvas or leather over other shapes will influence the viewing of the work.

The Happiness Project, 2018. StARTup Art Fair LA, Acrylic on Cardboard, 96”H x 192”W x 192”D.

OPP: Tell us about the Happiness Project.

MK: The idea was to make an installation that felt like the positive energy that was in the paintings. The Happiness Project started while I was preparing for StARTup Art Fair LA and was trying to figure out how I could transform a hotel room into a full immersive experience. I decided the way to accomplish this would be to fill the entire room by lining every square inch of the walls with painted cardboard panels. I began by taking two word positive affirmations, running them through my analog program and then painting the resulting angles on cardboard shipping pads. Over 30 panels were cut and fit around all the furniture, light switches and outlets.

After the initial installation, I had the opportunity to install the panels again this time at Chandra Cerrito Contemporary. For this iteration I decided to further cut the panels down and to also rotate them creating more complexity to the installation as the lines now ran both vertically and horizontally and the joints became more complex and varied.

The third iteration was as a Special Project Artist at StARTup Art Fair SF.  This installation became the backdrop for their panel discussion series and broadcast on Facebook live. This most recent version included much smaller pieces while still playing with the complexity of the previous version.

16.058. Acrylic on Paper. 40"H x 26"W. 2016

OPP: What does the phrase “spirituality hacking” mean to you?

MK: I started looking at different forms of religion and certain religious movements during a time I attended a series of events at the Rubin Museum in New York City. Most religious belief systems seem to have a short cut to attaining enlightenment or a closeness with God. Saying a certain prayer, doing a certain form of meditation or the spinning of a prayer wheel are all ways to cheating the system in a sense.

So this Idea of “spirituality hacking” became an element that I started incorporating in my work. I began by using the analog program I developed, which enabled me to take a prayer or mantra and to use it as the input. This then gave me a series of numbers that I could use as direction to paint from. This also led to incorporating rotations of the canvas during the painting process to create a painting as a representation of a spinning prayer wheel.

Mantra (Om Ami Dewa Hrih) 17.040. Acrylic on linen. 12"H x 12"W x 1-1/2"D. 2017.

OPP: But it sounds like the precise complexity of your process isn’t really a short cut at all. Perhaps the focus and flow of the studio is the direct path to enlightenment. . .

MK:  Although there are elements of my work that have a very spiritual jump off point, I feel like the work truly needs to be viewed as an abstract piece of art first and foremost. Throughout art history spirituality has played a very specific role. When abstraction began in painting, that role did not diminish; it just went unspoken. I have chosen to be vocal about the influences of spirituality in my practice. But if I am not there or if the wall label doesn’t tell you, then the work simply becomes a painting to be judged on its formal qualities.

Many people think that making this work must be meditational. Making these paintings means making the same type of mark thousands and thousands of times. Muscle memory aside, if I just leave the present for a moment while painting, I will make a mistake. It can be very stressful and physical. I endure the struggle because the end result contains such an amazing vibratory power. I hope the work brings joy and physical beauty into the lives of others and maybe helps them find a direct path to enlightenment.

See more of Mikey's work at mikeykelly.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. Where Do We Go From Here? just closed at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction with this improvised installation, Stacia invited eight OPP artists—Kathryn Trumbull Fimreite, Brent Fogt, Melinda Thorpe Gordon, Jaclyn Jacunski, Jenny Kendler, Meg Leary,  Geoffry Smalley and Erin Washington—to respond to the text "Where Do We Go From Here?" Each artist approached the question from a different angle, emphasizing that both the We and the Here are not the same for each of us. For Chicago Artist Coalition's annual benefit Work in Progress, Stacia will create a one-night installation that solicits the help of benefit attendees.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Nahúm Flores

Double Vision, 2011. Mixed media on canvas.

NAHUM FLORES (@nahum_a_flores) explores human emotion in drawing, painting and ceramics. His human figures and faces, often rendered in simple black lines, are profoundly expressive of the emotions associated with despair, loss, paranoia, dislocation and alienation, but they are not devoid of hope. The barren landscapes from which the characters emerge reflect Nahúm's personal experiences growing up in Honduras, surrounded by social upheaval and war, as well as his emigration from Honduras at the age of 14. Nahúm earned his BFA in Drawing and Painting at Ontario College of Art & Design in Toronto. He exhibits internationally with group shows in Canada, Honduras, United States, El Salvador, Mexico, Croatia, Guatemala and Costa Rica. His solo exhibitions include Los Herederos at Museum of National Identity (Honduras, 2016) and Inheritors at Articsók Gallery (Toronto, 2014). Nahúm has been the recipient of a Pollock–Krasner Foundation Grant (2012), a Toronto Arts Council Mid-career Project Grant (2014) and a Sustainable Arts Foundation Grant (2016). He is one-third of Z’Otz Collective, a collaboration with artists Ilyana Martinez and Erik Jerezano. Together they created Greeting Silence (2017) at Two Rivers Gallery in Prince George British Columbia. Nahúm lives and works in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

OtherPeoplesPixels: The figures in your work are simply drawn, but evoke complicated human emotions. How does your drawing style contribute to the emotional intensity? 

Nahúm Flores: Over a long time, I have been making ink drawings in small sketchbooks in a diary-like manner and in mixed media on canvas and wood panels where I fuse drawing and matter. In my drawings, I work quickly from one to the next, spontaneously filling sketchbooks with minute line depictions that are simple or naïve in nature, but evoke issues from a subconscious level. Little figures or characters appear on the surfaces animated by their surrounding environments. Some of them are in dialogue with one another. Some seduce me to respond viscerally to them with phrases that I write. Others mock the viewer and blur out words.

I find great freedom and comfort working in this impromptu fashion because I feel I establish a genuine communication with myself. It is like a mirror reflecting images of memory, which surfaces as a poetic language of drawing and matter. The merging characters are sometimes funny and other times somber, showing both a dark and soft side of humanity. The landscapes they inhabit are barren and reference my personal history growing up in Honduras.

Untitled drawing

OPP: The figures are often really elongated or crouched down. Can you talk about these exaggerations?

NF: The process in which I work gives birth to characters in sequences. These characters dialogue with each other and linger in undefined spaces. They are characters of shifting identities that lure my imagination with ideas, interpretations and questions. Honduras is a country with both Indigenous and Catholic beliefs, and a lot of hybrid customs make their way into my work. The myth of the Cadejo is one I remember hearing the most when I was a kid. The Cadejo is a spirit that resembles a dog. There is a good one that is white and an evil one that is black. The Cadejo would appear to people at night, and it would transform from small to a big animal according to the curiosity of the viewer. They would visit houses in search of charcoal to eat in the bonfires. They loathed piloncillo (powdered brown sugar). The evil one would get you lost and make you crazy. This duality of good and bad is a theme that continually surfaces in my work. I see it as a metaphor of life. The dichotomy in my work is rooted in my beliefs, upbringing, and life experience.

from series Shaped by the Journey, 2013. Mixed media on flattened pop-cans.

OPP: Tell us about the drawings on found garbage like sardine cans and crushed soda cans.

NF: My ongoing series Dwellings (sardine cans) and Shaped by the Journey (soda cans) consists of drawings on objects I picked up from the streets. These discarded cans contain environments and history; they are symbols of waste. The drawings comment on some of the conditions of im/migration: disorientation, alienation, displacement, dehumanization, hope and adaptation. 

As a child in Honduras, I was influenced by, the social, economic, historical and environmental issues that shaped Central America in the 70s and 80s during the Cold War. Our everyday lives were affected by fear, paranoia, violence, poverty and war propaganda. I left my country of origin on my own at the age of 14, determined to find a better life, and experienced a challenging and incredible odyssey. I spent some years in Mexico and in the USA undocumented. This experience as a migrant drives me to reflect it through my work. 

A dwelling or home is associated with permanence, stability and a sense of place, often lacking in many migrants’ lives. In these drawings set within the objects, characters or dwellers peek out of their homes wearing mask-like faces. They appear to conceal their true nature.

In the series, Shaped by the Journey I use beverage cans that have endured hardship (e.g. being squashed by cars). I animate their beat-up discarded forms with characters that reveal multiple emotions. With tender irony and humor, my goal is to communicate a sense of containment and intimacy with these objects.

Clouds in the House, mixed media on canvas, 2017

OPP: The large paintings seem more about place and artifact than about the figure or human emotion. I’m thinking about Stones of LightPuddlesWindows of Wonder (all 2011), as well as In the Distance (2013). Can you talk about these works?

NF: A lot of my work is about memory and history. Memory of places, journeys, time, music, foods, books and people. When I work in large formats, I employ layers over layer of water-based and organic materials. The juxtaposition of these layers of materials mirrors terrains that denote history and buried pasts that yields to new realities and way of interpretation. The works you mention remind me of travels in Mesoamerica and Mexico to pre-Columbian archeological sites, such as Copan, Teotihuacan, Xochicalco. I am mesmerized by ancient Mesoamerican mythologies. When I travel to this region I feel their powerful presence. 

Stones of Light, 2011. Mixed media on canvas. 24" × 30."

OPP: I love the terracotta sculptures that are conglomerations of animals and humans all mashed together. The rendering of the animals and faces is certainly reminicent of Mesoamerican art. When did you first start working in ceramics? What does this new avenue add to your work that wasn't there before?

NF: I started working in ceramics in 2007. I find the material flexible and it allows me to explore with different visual elements. It also connects me to memories of childhood. When I was a child, I played with clay with my cousins in my village. We created characters from our imagination. Those characters would form part of our game worlds. 

Terracotta

OPP: Is working in 3D changing the way you make drawings?

NF: One of the amazing things with clay is that it allows you to draw, to play with volume, to add and subtract, to play with different spaces. Working in 3D teaches me different alternatives to do drawings, using different tools, but it also connects me to pre-Hispanic people, to the animistic elements of their culture.

Greeting Silence, work in-situ by Z'otz* Collective at Two Rivers Gallery, Prince George B.C.

OPP: Tell us about Z’Otz Collective.

NF: Z’otz* Collective is group of artists formed in 2004 by Ilyana MartinezErik Jerezano and me. We all have Latin American backgrounds. I first met Ilyana in 1999 at Ontario College of Art and Design University, and I met Erik in 2001 in Toronto. We use to belong to other collectives but for the purpose of exhibiting together. We meet weekly to collaborate on multi-media works, which include drawing, painting, collage, sculpture and site-specific drawing installations. 

Z’otz* is characterized by a collaborative spirit and the playfulness of our subject matter. Our quirky and often outrageous images use humor to explore ideas of transition, displacement, containment and evolution. We use multiple media to create works that denote a variety of visual elements. We implement a system of rotation, where everyone works at the same time but on different pieces. Our drawings are reigned by an intuitive drive as we spontaneously respond to each other’s marks. This allows us to exchange ideas and to observe the transformation of the work. We are interested in chance as a starting point, to establish a link between our individual subconscious. We play a game of riddles and improvisation where the only rule is that there are no rules. We have always been enamoured by characters of fables and popular tales from our heritage, that have the possibility of becoming something else and transforming into another body. Our fascination with these beings is multilayered; we often reflect upon the wonder of these transitional states. Mutation and transformation are key subject. . . a line can be a road to a fantastic universe where a snake becomes a monkey and a box a vehicle to catch dreams. Our work connotes the dynamism of the natural world and a close spiritual link to animals associated with many Indigenous Mesoamerican cultures. 

To see more of Nahúm's work, please visit nahumflores.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 (Indiana 2017). Her most recent installation Where Do We Go From Here? just closed at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction with this improvised installation, Stacia invited eight OPP artists—Kathryn Trumbull Fimreite, Brent Fogt, Melinda Thorpe Gordon, Jaclyn Jacunski, Jenny Kendler, Meg Leary,  Geoffry Smalley and Erin Washington—to respond to the text "Where Do We Go From Here?" Each artist approached the question from a different angle, emphasizing that both the We and the Here are not the same for each of us. For Chicago Artist Coalition's annual benefit Work in Progress, Stacia will create a one-night installation that solicits the help of benefit attendees.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Amy Babinec

Golden Rule Mine (Glass), 2016. Acrylic on panel. 12 x 16 in.

AMY BABINEC's (@amybabinecdrawings, paintings and plaster casts are driven by the recovery of memory. Informed by her educational background in Archeology, she emphasizes the fragment and the excavated object as poetic stand-ins for all that is lost. Amy earned her BFA in Painting and Drawing at School of the Art Institute of Chicago and her MFA in Visual Art from University of Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include Remnants (2015) at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills, Illinois and Underlayer (2012) at Morton College Gallery in Cicero, Illinois. Amy's upcoming solo show Golden Rule opens at Riverside Arts Center’s FlexSpace (Riverside, Illinois) on June 2, 2018 and runs through July 7, 2018. The opening reception is on Sunday, June 3 from 3-6 pm. Amy lives and works in Evanston, Illinois.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Generally speaking, how do fragments relate to the whole in your work?

Amy Babinec: My work uses fragmentation as a metaphor for memory and the failure of memory. So many of my memories are fragmentary, particularly of my childhood. Images such as a wallpaper pattern, a book cover, and the smooth texture of a rock, conjure up a host of memories of my family, and a reminder of their loss over the years. Objects isolated from their environments can become artifacts, evidence and mementos. Subtracting context leaves the object open to fantasy and speculation. These fragments embody the nostalgia and longing I have for family relationships for those who have passed on. The objects become substitutes for keepsakes and stories from my own family. 

Reenactment 14, 2009. Oil on canvas. 24 x 18 inches.

OPP: In your 2017 artist statement, you say,"By combining elements of archaeology, personal history, and fiction, I set up an opposition between abstraction and figuration, past and present.” And I see this very much in the series Reenactment (2009-2010). Can you talk about this body of work in relation to this statement?

AB: I created the Reenactment paintings in graduate school at the University of Chicago. As an instructor of a beginning painting class, I found stacks of paintings that college students had discarded after the class ended. Many of the paintings were abstract, thus presenting an opportunity to use them as a free-association prompt. I selected and cropped the abandoned student paintings that had compositions, spatial relationships, or colors that reminded me of a place, person, or situation from my early life in Belleville, Illinois, the town in southern Illinois where I grew up. For example, a vivid orange geometric abstractioncould be turned into the orange brick cul-de-sac behind my elementary school. I intervened in the paintings with the minimum I needed to do in order to visualize that memory. The resulting paintings remain abstractions, but with my memories (the figuration) embedded within it.

Wildwood Mine, 2015. Plaster, 4 15/16 x 4 5/16 x 3/4 inches.

OPP: When did you first start making work based on artifacts found in abandoned coal mines?

AB: I started my research into this topic in 2009 when my parents discovered cracks in their basement foundation in their house in southern Illinois. The cracks were caused by subsidence, or the collapse of coal mines under the surface. Unfortunately, the area under their house, and most of the town, was undercut by underground coal mines which had been operated by individual owners or small companies from the late 1800s to the 1950s. Buildings and roads on the surface could prove unstable because of hidden processes under the earth and could cave in at any time. I was struck by the metaphorical possibilities of that phenomenon, that events in the past could affect the present, sometimes suddenly and drastically.

I used Illinois State Geological Survey maps, Google Earth maps and historical records, and triangulated the location of mines, then drove out to find them. These sites were largely on private land. Many had been completely erased from the surface, but some had pits, coal and slag piles, railroad tracks, and other evidence of the coal industry. I discovered that many of the abandoned mines had been used as a trash dump for domestic items such as plates and cups from the 1880s to the 1960s. As part of my studio practice, I visit the abandoned mine sites throughout the year, conduct surveys and digs and bring artifacts and documentation back to my studio in Evanston, Illinois.

Hill Mine Grid 3, 2013. Acrylic. 30 x 30 inches.

OPP: You work in a variety of drawing and painting media, as well as cast plaster. How do you make choices about which fragments should be painted in watercolor or oil versus cast in plaster? Does the object dictate this?

AB: I am a materials and techniques nerd. I enjoy the process of experimentation (most of the time!) to find the technique that fits the idea. In the Subsidence project, I have used a variety of materials to interpret the data I have found. I document the mine sites through drawings, video, and photography, and collect personally resonant objects to bring back to my studio. My focus on particular facets of this process leads to the media that will reflect my investigation.

Abandoned, Golden Rule Mine, Lenzburg, Illinois, 2017. Watercolor, colored pencil, and charcoal on paper. 11 1/4 x 15 inches. 

OPP: In both Golden Rule and Remnants, the found objects are isolated from their original context in backgrounds of (almost) black or white. Is this an erasure of the sites that inspire your work? Why or why not?

AB: My background includes a masters degree in Art History and Archaeology at the University of Maryland and twenty years’ experience as a museum professional. I use archaeology as a touchstone throughout much of my work. The white background evokes the practice of archaeological illustration of objects uncovered at a dig, and the photographic documentation of objects in a museum. I also use the square format as a reference to an archeologist’s grid. I often show objects in a meditative, quiet manner echoing the precision of archaeological drawings. I repeat certain objects, such as a spoon, to provide a sense of scale, following the archaeological practice of including a ruler or penny in photographs of finds.

Unlike an archaeologist, I am selective about what I collect at a site and represent in my work. Recently I have been most drawn to domestic artifacts dating from my grandparents’ generation in the early to mid-twentieth century. For example, a small triangle of colorful glazed ceramic, which had been broken off from a figurine of a house, takes on further resonance for me. I feel the pathos of this object, once highly valued by someone, but now abandoned by its owner to be buried in the dirt and be subjected to the elements. 

To see more of Amy's work, please visit amybabinec.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 (Indiana 2017). Her most recent installation Where Do We Go From Here? just closed at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction with this improvised installation, Stacia invited eight OPP artists—Kathryn Trumbull Fimreite, Brent Fogt, Melinda Thorpe Gordon, Jaclyn Jacunski, Jenny Kendler, Meg Leary,  Geoffry Smalley and Erin Washington—to respond to the text "Where Do We Go From Here?" Each artist approached the question from a different angle, emphasizing that both the We and the Here are not the same for each of us. For Chicago Artist Coalition's annual benefit Work in Progress, Stacia will create a one-night installation that solicits the help of benefit attendees.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Hector Arce-Espasas

Dancers (Metallic), 2015. Fruits, Flowers and Porcelain. Dimensions Variable.

HECTOR ARCE-ESPASAS explores the relationship between desire and exploitation by employing the loaded symbols of tropical paradise in paintings, ceramics, and screenprints. Hector earned his BFA at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and his MFA at Hunter College in New York. He has had solo exhibitions at Taymour Grahne (2016) in New York, Evelyn Yard (2015) in London, and Luce Gallery (2014) in Turin, Italy. In 2016, he was named one of 10 Exceptional Milennials to Watch by artnet.com. Hector lives and works in New York. 

OtherPeoplesPixels: Can you talk about the myth of the Tropical Paradise and how you use it/subvert it in your work?

Hector Arce-Espasas: Throughout the history of mankind, different cultures, in their pursuit of the ideal, have invested symbolic meaning into objects and elements of their environment. In the process of exteriorizing inner quests, these objects have become sensuous representations, i.e. symbols that express intangible truths or states. A symbol corresponds to a precise time in history and it transcends history to become universal in its function as an image. Universality of the symbolic image enables the transformation and adaptation of the symbol by different cultures, but this process also carries numerous misconceptions, misappropriations and colonial fantasies.

The idea of the Tropical Paradise is the present day transmutation of the ancient historical myth of the Garden of Paradise. The concept of Paradise as a garden is found in most eastern cultures: a secure, everlasting place in which Man can transcend his frail human condition. In biblical terms the notion of Paradise became associated with the Garden of Eden. Its earthly representation became a walled garden with dominant water features and planted with date palm trees. In western societies, this idyllic garden idea was often associated with the Latin term Locus Amoenus, a pleasant place which in time became a poetic convention for a description of an idyllic setting where a romantic encounter could occur or which belies an impending threat. 

The transformation of the eastern idea of the Garden of Paradise into the western version of Eden as Paradise combined with the notion of the Locus Amoenus became the seeds for the creation of the new Tropical Paradise: an exotic, idyllic place with palm trees by the sea. Unlike its theological version, this Paradise is within easy reach, ready to be appropriated, consumed exploited and spoiled. In present times, commercial media and the advertisement industry have successfully reconfigured some of the Paradise images, within different contexts, transforming their traditional meanings, adapting them and making them trans-cultural, with far more reaching and readily consumable results.

Untitled (red) Clay Paintings, 2014. Stoneware and Acrylic on Linen. 60" x 72"

OPP: Palm trees and pineapples are recurring images in your work. Are these symbols stand ins for Tropical Paradise?

HAE: All the compositional elements from this garden are transfigured and transubstantiated to recreate the new Paradise. The river becomes the sea. The coconut palm tree, brought from the Pacific Islands by the Europeans to the coasts of West Africa and the islands of the Caribbean, replaces the date palm tree as the official iconic image for this new exotic landscape. The insertion of the pineapple as the attainable, sensuous new fruit of this Tropical Paradise emerges. My images visually demonstrate how easy the association and transition from the date palm tree to the pineapple might have occurred; thus becoming the fruit associated with the coconut palm tree. 

No, these are not paintings they are Pineapple Decor, 2015. Acrylic on Canvas. 60" x 79"

OPP: Can you talk about the abstract screen print works? I have a sense that this is representational imagery, but blown up so large that its referent disappears?

HAE: Some of the work deals with the deconstruction and recombination of images of the pineapple, in order to demystify its meaning as a fruit representative of the Tropics. The images lure and repel while playing with the idea of the pineapple as the easily attainable commercial fruit of the Tropical Paradise. This idea is extended metaphorically in regard to having viewers question their expectations of a Tropical Paradise in itself: at what cost, to their own reality or to that of the place to stand for their fantasies.

Still of Paradise (Purple Shade of Light), 2017. Acrylic on Canvas. 24" x 29"

OPP: You’ve recently shifted into more painterly representations, whereas in the past, the palm tress have been more graphic and reproduced through printmaking processes, which connects them to mass produced media. What led to this shift?

HAE: After a few years of working with printmaking, I wanted to take a shift from the mechanical to the hand-made process without loosing the elements that I was working from. The paintings that I did in the past are created by photographing palm tree leaves then zooming in to create an abstraction. Then the images were made into transparency that get exposed into a screen. The end result is painting with acrylic and the use of large format screen-printing. I use a similar process with the derriere paintings. First a model derriere wearing jeans gets directly painted, later she makes a mono print using her derriere in the canvas leaving the in prints by her moves (similar to Yves Klein). Later these are photographed and altered using the same method as the palm tree paintings.

Dancers (White), 2016. Fruits, Flowers and Porcelain. Dimensions Variable.

OPP: It’s really jarring to see the body—well, the hips and ass, in particular—as a vessel for serving fruit. How does this work speak to exploitation of the Caribbean world?

HAE: My intention is to leave interpretation open to the viewer. Sometimes I like to ignite dislike, discomfort, disagreements with the elements I choose. A good example is the derriere sculptures. Its an image we constantly see exploited, usually direct in the Latin culture. As once the pineapple or this idea of the tropical paradise was a coveted and luring concept, in today’s culture it is the derriere. My last installation of the sculptures, named Ode to Paradise was made into a pyramid like stage/shape with a lot of tropical foliage on the top with the idea of empowering the figure, which I feel is what our culture has greatly done.

To see more of Hector's work, please visit hectorarceespasas.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 (Indiana 2017). Her solo installation Where Do We Go From Here? is on view at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois) through April 20, 2018. In conjunction with this improvised installation, Stacia invited eight OPP artists—Kathryn Trumbull Fimreite, Brent Fogt, Melinda Thorpe Gordon, Jaclyn Jacunski, Jenny Kendler, Meg Leary,  Geoffry Smalley and Erin Washington—to respond to the text Where Do We Go From Here? Each artist approached the question from a different angle, emphasizing that both the We and the Here are not the same for each of us. 

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Zoe Hawk

Dreaming As The Summers Die, 2017. Oil on aluminum.

ZOE HAWK's allegorical paintings and drawings are populated by adolescent girls in knee-socks and and Peter Pan collared dresses. Matronly women in veiled funeral garb sometimes stand guard, representing an oppressive and depressing future. These paintings point to a dominant narrative of idealized American girlhood and the nuances of  navigating inherited gender expectations. In these paintings, growing up female is an unfolding process of resisting and participating, subverting and submitting. Zoe earned her BFA in Studio Art from Missouri State University and her MFA in Painting from the University of Iowa. Her work has been included in exhibitions both in the United States and abroad, and reproduced in publications such as New American PaintingsThe Oxford American, and ArtMaze Mag (London). She has attended artist residencies in Belgium, Norway, and the United States. Her latest residency experience was at the Doha Fire Station in Qatar, which culminated in group exhibitions both in Doha and Berlin. Her work was recently included in the current issue of Create! Magazine. Zoe lives and works in Doha, Qatar.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Do you think of your paintings as allegories? If so, for what?

Zoe Hawk: I do see them as allegorical. Ultimately my work is about the experience of girlhood, the transition to womanhood, and ways we learn our roles in society. The paintings are like stage sets, or dollhouses—little social microcosms where various stories can play out. All of the poses, facial expressions, colors and scenes are carefully chosen to represent different aspects of the girlhood experience. Many of the decisions are made to function as metaphors, and I often include references to classic stories, films, games, folk songs, etc. I want the narratives to seem sweet and familiar, like a story in a children’s book, but at the same time cause a bit of unease in the viewer, as if something is not quite right. 

In Her Willows, 2017. Oil on aluminum. 17.5" x 23"

OPP: Can you talk about the difference between girls and women in your work?

ZH: Most of the girls in my paintings are at the transitional age of adolescence, when the realization hits that womanhood won’t be all excitement and romance, but that there will be violence, fear and unrealistic expectations to bear. This is where my depiction of the veiled women in black funeral dresses comes from. They are mourning the death of their childhood freedom and innocence. But from the point of view of the young girls, the women are something mysterious and unknown, both alluring and foreboding. Often the women are confining the girls, trying to rein in their wild energy, or looming over them with a watchful eye. Other times they are leading them by the hand towards the inevitable.

Aqua Culture, 2016. 11 x 16.5"

OPP: Very few of your paintings feature girls alone. This Way Over Obstacle (2016), Aqua Culture (2016) and Dream Home (2014) really stand out. In each case, the solitary girl is totally focused on something that has nothing to do with the group. How are these girls different from the rest? 

ZH: The girls in groups are learning how to navigate their social environments. They sometimes work in tandem, like a flock of birds, while other times there is frustration, rebellion and contention between them. The solitary girls are more about introspection and curiosity—showing that girls have scientific minds, deep inner lives, and a sense of self that maybe conflicts with social expectations. Aqua Culture is about an intense moment of awe, wonder and a dark realization about the future. The girl in Dream Home is engaged in an act of curiosity, peeling back the artifice of her environment, exposing darkness, while symbols of domestic perfection are looming over her. I think the isolation of the figures feels much more stark and dramatic when seen in contrast to the group images. It becomes less about interactions and more about the potency of one singular action, and about the impact of the surrounding environment. 

Cry, Sally, Cry, 2014. Oil on aluminum. 15 x 17"

OPP: Tell us about the clothing in your paintings. Lots of white knee socks, white collars, skirts and dresses. I don’t think a single pair of pants. They seem like school girls, but not contemporary teenagers.

ZH: The clothing the girls wear represents different modes of feminine identity: the uniforms are a metaphor for socialization, institutional power and conformity, while the floral patterned dresses and white bridal/baptismal dresses represent femininity, purity and innocence. I like to reference clothing from the 1930s through the 1960s—like the white collars and pastel dresses—because to me it is the epitome of American idealized girlhood, and represents the gender ideals that are still woven into the fabric of contemporary culture. I think imagery from the past functions well as a stand-in for the current social climate, because it allows distance from our daily lived experience. And as much as the paintings are a critique of these gendered constructions, I acknowledge my own pleasure that I take in these things—the childhood joy I felt as a girl in a puffy, pink dress—and the internal conflict I feel as a result. 

Waterway, 2015. Oil on aluminum. 16.75 x 18.5"

OPP: I think about these paintings as about the conflict between wanting to belong and wanting to assert individuality. Sometimes the girls fall in line and sometimes they rebel. To what degree do these characters have choice in the matter?

ZH: I think adolescence is so interesting because of this conflict between the desire to fit in and a need to rebel. I want that tension to add to the overall sense of uneasiness in the paintings. I often like to paint the girls’ faces and actions in a way that expresses their curiosity, sadness, fear and frustration, in spite of the rigid idealism of their clothing. The question of choice is interesting, because I think we are all a product of environment, upbringing and circumstances. But I love the idea that some of these girls can break free. 

Rite of Passage, 2014. Oil on aluminum. 16.5 x 19"

OPP: I agree about each of us being a product of our environments, upbringing and circumstances. So how does that fact relate to the dominant cultural narrative of “idealized American girlhood,” which seems to be predominantly white, middle class and suburban? How do we deal today with this inherited—and limiting—storyline about how girls should be?

ZH: Yes, I definitely see that idealized narrative as a misrepresentation of the broader girlhood experience, and something that has been an oppressive force for many. It certainly differs from my own experience growing up, but it is a narrative that I consumed along with most other girls because it was the only one offered by the mainstream. For me, the discovery of alternative female voices in books, music, comics and art was essential. I think diverse options are more accessible to girls now, thanks to the Internet and social media, but we still have far to go. Representation is important, so I think we need to amplify the creative voices of women—especially women of color, trans women, immigrant women, and others who have traditionally been denied a place at the table—in order to culturally redefine what it means to be a girl. 

To see more of Zoe's work, please visit zoehawk.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 (Indiana 2017). In March 2018, her solo installation Where Do We Go From Here? will open at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction, the atrium will exhibit two-dimensional artwork by artists who were invited by Stacia to make new work also titled  Where Do We Go From Here?

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Andy Mauery

patriarchal orifice #2: Boloria frigga (Frigga Fritillary), 2016. Thread stitched on human hair, insect pin, styling products. 18”h x 16”w x 1”d

ANDY MAUERY constructs delicate crownscurtains and clouds from human, acrylic and horse hair. Shed regularly and replenished anew by the body, hair highlights the impermanence of life. In her recent work, human hair is just barely held together by thread drawings of extinct and endangered species. These fragile objects point to our interconnectedness and remind us that we, too, are not immune to extinction. Andy earned her BFA from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and her MFA from West Virginia University. She has been at artist-in-residence at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, Vermont Studio Center and Tesuque Glassworks. In 2017, she won an Artist’s Resource Trust Fund Individual Award from the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, which funded the work in her upcoming solo exhibition devolve. The show opens in the summer of 2018 at the Lord Hall Galleries at The University of Maine. Currently she is an Associate Professor of Art and the Foundations Coordinator at The University of Maine. Andy lives in Veazie, Maine with her husband, son and two nocturnal kittens.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You’ve worked with hair for many years. When did you first use it in your practice?

Andy Mauery: I think the first fully realized works that used hair came near the end of grad school, although it had been part of my sketching practice longer. I’ve always had braids lurking around—in hair, different fibers and drawings. One series of pieces was based on fishing lures, but spoke more to luring human attention, looking at some cisgender society roles and mating rituals with a bit of skepticism/cynicism, and some humor. So I made people-sized lures of steel and fibers and turned the hair/fur—pretty common on fly fishing lures—into human hairdos. 

With the more recent rapunzelsI went back and indulged myself in making bigger versions of works that I have been repeatedly remaking for years in smaller, varied formats.  

little red rapunzel, 2013. Acrylic fiber, scissors

OPP: How do you think about the hair materially?

AM: As a material, hair is simultaneously an extremely personal part of each of us and a widely shared mammalian feature. There’s my hair, which I groom in a manner that culturally address a sense of self in many ways. And then there are more than 5,000 species of mammals that, yeah, all have the same stuff, yet it’s considered so completely, utterly foreign and “animal.”  Many artists have tapped into the politics of hair. It’s complex and very real. I have frizzy auburn hair, and it has garnered a surprising amount of attention, both positive and negative, from the time I was very young. My paternal grandmother had a beauty shop, too, and I loved it when she let me style this one ratty, mod auburn wig. 

patriarchal orifice #1: Vertigo morsei, 2016. Thread stitched on human hair, insect pin, styling products. 16”h x 19”w x 1”d

OPP: The most recent hair work is crowning glories. Can you talk about the juxtaposition of human hair with the stitched outlines of extinct butterflies, snails and mussels?

AM: The crowning glories, an ongoing project, took shape when I was trying to clarify the relationship I have with these species works and simplify my approach. I wanted the works to resonate personally with each viewer, without presupposing an existing empathy with the critters being pictured. I started with really direct representations of or symbols for the central subjects or ideas: power, you/your human body, the species we humans are harming. I worked with this straightforward equation; the human is [combined with] the other species. I was drawing from photos and graphics of various endangered species, including some plants, and started creating tracery layouts and patterns. 

I experimented with different techniques to hold the works together, including hand and machine stitching, knotting, wrapping, some felting. The first of the series that survived my experiments was an actual crown made of human hair, whose form is created entirely of simple silhouette drawings of protected and endangered (and some extinct) species stitched in thread, on/through/around the hair. 

The hair is this actual DNA record of a person, a wearable memento mori and a self-portrait, all those things and more made into this delicately drawn version of an object representing power. I’ve actually under-engineered the pieces a bit, too, to make sure that they aren’t permanent: they are meant to come apart eventually. I liked the crown works when they were flattened out as patterns, prior to being shaped, so I’ve moved some of the later versions of the series into wreath-like wall pieces, where the repeated butterflies and snails can be more clearly seen. So they are also these contemporary versions of the Victorian mourning jewelry, lamenting the mussels, plants, moths that we are wiping from the earth.  

A Species of Special Concern: Northern Leopard Frog (Rana pipiens), 2017. Human hair, mirror vinyl, petri dish, water, watercolor pencil, soluble starch. Frog is life size.

OPP: What role does fragility play in your practice? 

AM: Plural roles, definitely, as it is entwined in so many aspects of my practice. Addressing the physicality first, at times I am so intent on working right up to the edge, as if I have to find out first just how far a material can be pushed before it fails. I have so many examples of objects that didn’t survive their own making, when I pushed just a bit too hard. Or sneezed on them. It turns out that a frog made of starch does, indeed, dissolve in those circumstances. 

The crowning glories are the husky, strong works in my oeuvre, comparatively. I was talking with an artist friend about having a hair work badly damaged in a shipping accident, and when she suggested some tougher materials, I said, “oh yes, on it already. I’m doing a collaboration in glass.” Then I heard the sentence outside of my head, through her laughter: when glass is your “tougher” material. 

I’m drawn to materials and structures that are vulnerable, and delicate, and ephemeral. Of course it’s lovely when they are paradoxically strong and fragile, too. Horsehair is a great example. That seeming contradiction is what I keep poking at with each sculpture, drawing, installation. I want materials that degrade and age, that have a life span, that need to be cared for to survive, that are analogous to the subject matter or theme of the work. Fragility and mortality are really driving the train, so to speak. 

Years ago I worked with these same ideas through the lens of boundaries, how we imagine, create, enforce boundaries out of ignorance/unknowing/fear, instead of trying out new ways of experiencing where we as individuals start/stop within our world. Now I continue working on those same concepts but with a shift in perception, still acknowledging my impulses toward the phenomenological and ontological, but now stepping more firmly into what a friend identified as, “good, old-fashioned ethics.” I sometimes wonder if my approach has led me to materially working my way through my own clumsy understanding of Philosophy 101 coursework, manifested through studio practice. If so, I embrace it, with general apologies to philosophers everywhere.

crowning glory 2 (hopping mouse), 2013. human hair, thread. 7"h x 7.5"w x 8" d

OPP: Human mortality and animal extinction are themes in your work. Does one concern you more than the other?

AM: Is it too irreverent to say my level of worry between the two is comparing apples and oranges? Human mortality became more of a concern when I became a parent and as I lose a continually and irreversibly larger number of friends and family to human mortality. We get such a short time on earth, even the most long-lived of us; it’s healthy to use that time well. At this point, I don’t worry about it every day, but it certainly shapes my actions. The human condition, you know…we work our way outward from our biological and self-concerns to eventually—in theory—worrying about how our societies work and how they impact the environment. 

OPP: Are you concerned with human extinction?

AM: I do have real, daily concern with animal and human extinction, and those two are inextricably linked. After an incalculable number of animal species die, we humans die. I believe that they have a right to live whether their deaths impact our future survival or not. But for those who don’t think that bats, for example, deserve that consideration, perhaps you could get behind supporting them as a part of the biodiversity that sustains all life? 

Science has made a very strong case that humans are primarily responsible for the current extinction crisis, this “sixth wave” being unlike the naturally occurring mass extinctions in the sheer numbers of species lost to avoidable conditions like the introduction of invasive/exotic species, habit loss due to a wide variety of land practices that result in pollution and destruction. And of course there is global warming. Our ability to address those big questions involved in the human condition—are we made to be selfish, can we be altruistic, should we live in hierarchical societies, how do we treat the environment—affect our chances of making it as a species. We can’t really survive as humans without non-human species. There is no realistic scenario that supports that; we are part of a vastly complex system of living things.

extinction as parlor game, 2017. Wallpaper, endangered Maine butterfly stitched in thread on human hair, insect pin, styling products. paper is 11' high.

OPP: How do viewers respond to your work?

AM: Some people are really drawn to them and find them beautiful and strange. Others get very angry with these works in gallery shows. They say things like, You’re allegedly so upset about this, but you’re showing bats made of hair in a gallery. This is terribly—choose one—entitled, mercenary, elitist, timid, limited, inefficient, preaching to the choir, naïve … Social and political activism takes place in many venues. It must. It has a lot of different forms; it must. These works are not my only actions towards halting species extinction, habitat degradation, but they are a portion of it. 

OPP: Do you have a favorite piece by another artist?

AM: So many favorites. . . there’s an ever-changing list of faves for different reasons, I will give you  some currents. An artist and scientist who works with the threat of extinction, Brando Ballengée’s Collapse is so beautiful and threatening and sad. It’s thousands of preserved species in gallon jars stacked in a pyramid, in response to the damage to the Gulf of Mexico following the Deep Horizon spill. Leonor Antunes' I stand like a mirror before you (2015) for her her brilliant riff on Modernist forms and her deep forays into structure, I love grids, nets, knotted strings and often use them as well. Her work is often so clean and restrained, and politically on point about women artists’ roles to be both practical in effect and socially/politically radical. Speaking of socially active artists, I am really looking forward to showing this summer with elin o’Hara slavick, she does stunning work including a series of cyanotypes done in Hiroshima with objects that were left after the A-bombing in 1945. They are like exquisite, blue x-rays of loss.

Artificial Simplicity 2, 2009. acrylic fiber, steel, plastic. fiber 12' length

OPP: What's your favorite piece of your own work? Consider the difference between most successful in terms of audience response versus your personal experience making the piece.

AM: The crowning glories are ok with me right now. I’m pretty invested in them, and audiences are responding in varied but strong ways, which is pleasing. But I feel some of my curtains have been the most successful in terms of audience response, such as the two installations in the Atmospheric Conditions exhibit. They are large, visually transparent screens that sway with air currents, can be touched, they reference the body in somewhat odd but still accessible ways. My personal experience making them has, well, pros and cons. For example the materials are very tactile and pleasing to handle, which is great because they take some time to construct so there is plenty of handling opportunity. They are also quite frustrating to make because in most of the studios I’ve worked in, and certainly in my current studio, the ceiling is not high enough to build one vertically, or hang it after initial construction to work on; so the logistics are somewhat involved, and I don’t get to see if it’s really worked until it’s installed into the taller gallery space. I’m currently making a crowning glories version of a curtain, may as well go all in and try to merge the two.  

To see more of Andy's work, please visit andymauery.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 (Indiana 2017). In March 2018, her solo installation Where Do We Go From Here? will open at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction, the atrium will exhibit two-dimensional artwork by artists who were invited by Stacia to make new work also titled  Where Do We Go From Here?

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jenn Smith

Untitled (Flashlight), 2017. Acrylic and oil on panel. 22" x 20"

JENN SMITH's paintings and drawings feature Adam and Eve, a very chill Jesus Christ and a silly serpentagainst a rural Midwest background. Corntractors and signs of worship also populate her oeuvre. Her style is simple, evocative of a child's Sunday school drawings. But her exploration of evangelical belief and her own upbringing as an evangelical Christian is anything but simplistic. Humor and sincerity are both present, proving that you can take something seriously without believing in it. Jenn earned her BS in Studio Art at Illinois State University and her MFA in Painting from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She has exhibited at Carrie Secrist Gallery (Chicago), the Back Room at Kim’s Corner Food (Chicago) and Julius Caesar (Chicago). Her work was most recently on view in Winter Romance at Andrew Rafacz Gallery (Chicago). Jenn lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What’s your relationship to Christianity?

Jenn Smith: I was raised evangelical Christian in the rural midwest. We attended the kind of church where people would spontaneously begin speaking in tongues or fall down in a trance-like state. They call it being “slain in the spirit.” We thought we were living in the end times and the Rapture would happen at any moment, so there was a lot of excitement and fear. I’m no longer a believer, but many of the ideas and images from that time in my life continue to fascinate me.

Book of Acts, 2017. Acrylic and oil on panel. 20" x 26"

OPP: Your painting style is silly, cartoonish, and evocative of a child’s drawings. Have you always painted this way? Or is it a style that is particularly suited to the content of your recent work?

JS: I learned how to draw and paint representationally as an undergraduate, but pretty soon after that I started making abstract paintings, drawings, and collages. I continued to make abstract works off and on for about ten years. Then, in grad school, I decided I needed to paint figuratively. It was a big jump. I was pretty sure I’d forgotten everything I learned as an undergrad, but I knew it was the only way I could wrestle with more personal content in my work. So, I started to paint figures, animals, cars, cornfields, angels and snakes from my imagination, very simplified and without too much fuss. I’m not very interested in realistic representations of things. I like diagrams, game boards and flat, matte shapes and symbols. I look at a lot of medieval paintings. I like how they’re so often flat with a confusing sense of space. A too-short arm, an awkward gesture, or foreshortening gone wrong keeps things interesting. 

OPP: More than just being visually interesting, it seems to suggest that the reality you think you know is a lie. . . which brings me to the recent snake drawings, like Soon and Very Soon (Snakes #16) and Soon and Very Soon (Snakes #3). How do your goofy snakes relate to Eden’s snake?

Soon and Very Soon (Snakes #7), 2017. Colored pencil on paper. 11" x 8.5"

JS: I found the inspiration for the snakes in a deck of Bible character memorization cards a friend gave me as a gift. The cartoon serpent was depicted on the Adam and Eve card, slithering in and out of oval-shaped holes in a flat green cartoon tree. The cards were meant to be straightforward educational materials, but I felt there was some level of (unintentional?) sexual innuendo. . . I mean, snakes going in and out of holes and so on. . . It was kind of funny, but it also hit on my interest in the complexities of what is hidden and what is visible in a painting or drawing. My snake drawing series has allowed me to explore these ideas within a very limited framework, in almost a diagrammatic way, using a set of symbols including snakes, boxes, holes, lines, dotted lines. 

OPP: And what about your version of Jesus? Does he have a different backstory than what the bible taught?

JS: Well, he retains his biblical backstory—there’s no way to separate him from that, even if I wanted to. But it’s interesting to put him in other contexts to see what happens. There’s so much emphasis in evangelical culture that we should strive for a personal, intimate relationship with Jesus. So for believers, they don’t think about him as a historical figure or a far-away savior; they think of him as their best friend who they talk to every day. So I feel like I got know him pretty well when I was growing up. When I first started to include a Jesus-looking figure in the work I wasn’t exactly sure why I was doing it. But now I’m starting to wonder if the Jesus in the paintings is actually a version of me, in the same way the Jesus a Christian talks to every day is actually just a part of their own mind. 

Untitled (figure and Jesus), 2016. Oil on canvas. 22" x 20"

OPP: What does the word irreverent mean to you and do you consider your work to be irreverent?

JS: I think irreverence and a sense of humor have served me well in my life, but I’m still getting used to the fact that they’ve made their way into my work. As I said, I was making abstract paintings, which were pretty safe (also sort of boring) before grad school. I know that people find my recent work irreverent, and I think it probably is. But I also try to make it complex and layered and to allow a lot of space for the unknown.

OPP: Tell us about the Demons. They are the most abstract works. I interpret the titles as referring to dates, so I imagine that these works represent some kind of event or “dangerous influence.

JS: That’s a good guess! I usually don’t say much about the demon paintings because I think part of what makes them interesting is their ambiguity.

Demon '87, 2016. Acrylic and oil on canvas. 22" x 20"

OPP: You’ve been out of grad school for a little over a year. I remember my own first year out as particularly difficult. How’s it been? Has anything changed in your practice?

JS: It has been a real rollercoaster, but I feel very lucky that I’ve been able to continue making my work and have had opportunities to show it. I draw a lot more now, as a way to develop ideas and plan paintings, but also as an end in itself. I have intensified my practice of collecting Christian ephemera, which I share on Instagram. Painting is still the center of my practice and I don’t think that will change. I’m still excited about it every day.

OPP: What are you excited about in the studio right now?

JS: I’m working on a series of paintings on the front sides of wooden boxes about the size and shape of cereal boxes. They are hollow inside and have coin slots on top. They resemble the collection boxes we used to have on the walls of our church. I’m interested in the idea of having these paintings/boxes on a gallery wall where anyone can drop a coin or a folded-up note or anything else into the slot, and whatever is dropped inside becomes a permanent part of the piece forever. 


To see more of Jenn's work, please visit thejennsmith.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 (Indiana 2017). In March 2018, her solo installation Where Do We Go From Here? will open at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction, the atrium will exhibit two-dimensional artwork by artists who were invited by Stacia to make new work also titled  Where Do We Go From Here?

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Lauren Carter

The One with the Rainbow, 2016. Ceramic rainbow, broken mug, peach pit, Shrinky-dinks, beads, toothpicks, foam tubing, hydrocal, expandable foam, acrylic paint, silicone, epoxy clay, glitter, pigment, steel rod. 26” x 16” x 14”

LAUREN CARTER transforms found objects and personal possessions into kitschy and profound assemblage sculptures. These memorials to sentimentality are both serious and silly. Her effort to preserve and honor discarded, once-loved objects shows up in the marks left by her hand in the hydrocal, silicone, expandable foam and epoxy claycast plaster that holds these works together. Lauren earned her BFA from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and her MFA with Distinction from the University of New Mexico. She has exhibited at Non-Fiction Gallery (Savannah, Georgia), Chicago Art Department, Hyde Park Art Center (Chicago) and Chicago Artists Coalition. She was a 2013-14 HATCH Projects Residentand a 2017 Center Program ArtistSurface vs. Sap, a two-person exhibition with Nico Gardner, opens March 31st at Comfort Station in Chicago. Lauren is a teaching artist at Marwen in Chicago, where she lives.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your most recent body of work, Offerings or Clusterfucks, seems to be more about material culture and its detritus than earlier bodies of work like Flux (2015) and Pre/proscribed (2012), which are more bodily and visceral. What changed?

Lauren Carter: A lot, actually. Pre/proscribed is a body of work from grad school that was mostly introspective. I was examining a subconscious desire to preserve a notion of myself while unpacking ideas of othering, unmaking, loss, vulnerability, and nostalgia. My mother has a chronic illness that was directly influencing my work and research at this particular time in my life. I spent a lot of time thinking about pain and identity, and the work was really personal and kind of tough to talk about. I was also spending a lot of money making these things that were process oriented and took a lot of time to complete. So when I moved to Chicago immediately after finishing my master’s program, I figured it was a good opportunity to change my practice a bit, and make objects that are more financially and emotionally sustainable for me.

Effigies, 2015. Beeswax, pigment, hair, satin, wood. Approximately 8'w x 11'h

OPP: Was Flux the transition?

LC: Yes. I was looking for a way to continue to communicate the corporeal experience, but by utilizing symbols I found outside of my personal realm and the body. For example, I think deflated balloons found tied to mailboxes and fence posts are super loaded metaphors for loss and nostalgia. They are a kind of memorial for whatever celebratory event has passed. They’re incredibly sweet and sad things to me. It’s most likely that the person who put them up just forgot to take them down after the party, but I tend to assign sentimental meaning to just about anything. So the installation Effigies is a funeral or sorts for what those balloons signify. 

From there I started looking at flower bouquets and roadside memorials, which leads to this new work. I’ve continued to explore vulnerability and nostalgia, but now through personal items and found objects that embody ambiguous narratives of commemoration.

The One on Astro-turf, 2016. Ceramic seashell, broken ceramic lady, amethysts ribbon, beads, plastic flowers, pantyhose, broken glass flower, metal brooch, old earrings, ceramic swan, parts of a stuffed animal, picture   frame, glitter paper, a cut up old exhibition card, acrylic paint, expandable foam, marbled shelf paper, hydrocal, epoxy clay, expandable foam, wreath stand, Astro Turf. 30" x 24" x 20"

OPP: What role does kitsch play in this newer work?

LC: Formally, I use kitsch as a medium, just like the other materials I use in my work.  But I’ve been a collector of kitschy things since I was a kid, which I’m sure is something I share with many people. It started with those stupid Precious Moments figurines that I’d receive every birthday from a member in my family. Then it was porcelain dolls and unicorns. Then Treasure Trolls. . .  and the list goes on. Keeping a gift from someone is a way to preserve a memory of a person or of a specific time. And I think that we end up collecting things because objects become symbolic. No matter how tacky or worthless they may be, sometimes they’re just too precious to throw away. Because the things we collect and keep carry a lot of weight, I think of the objects I use in my work as signifiers for a universal language of sentimentality that anyone can draw from or relate to.

OPP: I imagine you shop at thrift stores. Is that true? What’s your collection process like for the found objects?

LC: Yes, very true! I have a slight obsession with obtaining other people’s discarded possessions. I’m always drawn to objects that spark my own memories or remind me of someone from my past, but I have a couple rules that I’ve made for myself when gathering materials. I’ll choose an object that has a nice form, color, or texture; but it must be mass produced, and either be broken in some way, or have some kind of obvious history attached to it. If it doesn’t prompt me to ponder who owned it and how it ended up where it is, I put it back on the shelf.

The One with all the Pearls (If You Need It), 2018. Peach had cream container, ceramic jesus, fake roses, jewelry display, tape, pearls, expandable foam, epoxy clay, silicone, acrylic paint, plastic wrap, found table. 36” x 12” x 16”

OPP: Can you talk about your repeated use of furniture as pedestals?

LC: I think of collecting as a domestic ritual of the act of remembering. Using found furniture instead of traditional pedestals reiterates that idea. The cabinet or table that supports a sculpture has its own history and is a necessary component to the work. Also, finding a piece of furniture that’s perfect for a specific sculpture is way more fun than building pedestals.

I Sincerely Appreciate the Gesture, 2017. Paper pulp from greeting cards I received from loved ones over the years, found frame, gold gilding wax. 53" x 28" x 9"

OPP: I deeply LOVE I Sincerely Appreciate the Gesture (2017), which is made from all the greeting cards you’ve received from loved ones over the years. I’m interested in the excess of it, the weight of it, the desire to both honor the gesture and to get rid of the cards. Will you talk about how you conceived of this piece?

LC: Oh thank you! You definitely described exactly what I was trying to achieve with this piece. I think a lot about honoring the vulnerability in the act of giving. I think we are just as vulnerable when we give as we are when we grieve, it just looks much different. Maybe that’s another reason it’s so hard to purge our homes of the things we don’t want, but feel obligated to keep because they were given to us with love. Greeting cards are just that. They are so cliché, but yet filled with so much thought and sentiment and history. And they’re a tricky thing for me because, in theory, they don’t take up much space. Unless you never throw them out and you end up with this burden of lugging around a box containing every card anyone has sent you in the last decade, and that box just keeps getting bigger and heavier. Which is exactly what was happening. I’ve lived in four states over the last ten years, and I’ve taken some of these cards everywhere with me.

OPP: What was the process like?

LC: I took the box to my studio, sat on the floor, read each one and ripped it up, and of course cried the whole time. I found this process pretty cathartic, and it’s probably the most important part of this piece for me. Because the content is literally in the material, I decided to create a self-portrait of sorts that honors the material made by my loved ones’ vulnerability, while simultaneously conveying the burden of sentimentality that I often feel. 

The One with the Little Owl, 2018. Ceramic owl, alligator foot, part of a stuffed animal, vase, rubber grapes, beads, rubber ball, fuzzy ball, old jewelry, expandable foam, epoxy clay, brass rod, Plastidip, acrylic paint. 13” x 11” x 6” 

OPP: You have an imminent two-person show with Nico Gardner. What can you tell us about it?

LC: Surface vs. Sap is our first collaboration together. Nico and I continuously shift between the personal and the general, the specific and ambiguous, creating new work in conversation with one another. With a primary focus on desire, ritual, identity, and the expression of human need, Surface vs. Sap addresses the power and persuasive nature of mundane, domestic objects. Our use of found or purchased items is a starting point to explore themes that ultimately result in a collaboration of both material culture and making. The exhibition features wall mounted and freestanding mixed media sculptures that engage the floor, ceiling and walls. Independently created, the works echo each other's voices through the nature of consumer objecthood, both domestic and commercial. Household artifacts lost in the hurricane of one of my arrangements is excavated and embodied into one of Nico’s new works. Simultaneously, an object in its prime depiction in one of Nico’s reliefs finds itself mirrored and absorbed into one of my clusterfucks. It should go without saying, but Nico's the Surface, and I'm the Sap.  We are incredibly excited about this opportunity to work together, where we are continually throwing wrenches into each other's practices. And we get a chance to do it again in the fall! We'll have a second, larger, exhibition with additional works at Heaven Gallery in Chicago.  

To see more of Lauren's work, please visit laurencarterart.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 (Indiana 2017). In March 2018, her solo installation Where Do We Go From Here? will open at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction, the atrium will exhibit two-dimensional artwork by artists who were invited by Stacia to make new work also titled  Where Do We Go From Here?