OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Aisha Tandiwe Bell

#decrown (in Bone)

Interdisciplinary artist AISHA TANDIWE BELL explores the shifting fragmentation of our multiple identities. In performance, ceramics, video, painting and spoken word, she embodies the role of the Trickster, laying metaphoric traps in order to reveal the ones we don't know we are stuck in. Aisha earned her BFA in Painting (1998) and her MS in Art and Design Education (1999) from Pratt. She was a 2006 Skowhegan Fellow and earned her MFA in Ceramics from Hunter College in 2008. Aisha has exhibited extensively throughout New York, as well as internationally in Guadaloupe, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.  Her work is currently on view until January 17, 2016 in Dis place at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts in Brooklyn. She was chosen by curator and art historian Sarah E. Lewis to be included in Rush20: 1995-2015, a limited edition print portfolio marking the 20th Anniversary of Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation. The portfolio is on view at Corridor Gallery (Brooklyn) through Dec 20, 2015 and also traveled to Scope Miami in early December. In 2016, her work will be included in one for Mama one for eye at Gallery One (Jackson State University) in Jackson, Mississippi and in one two three fifths at Space One Eleven in Birmingham, Alabama. Aisha lives and works in Brooklyn.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You write and perform spoken word poetry and combine this text-based work with images of your sculptures and drawings. Which came first in your history as an artist: text or image? Does one or the other dominate the way you think?

Aisha Tandiwe Bell: There has always been a codependent relationship between text, narrative and the visual manifestation of my subconscious. Often, the visuals come first and l have to find the language to ground the form. Sometimes the language comes first or alone. During undergrad at Pratt, I was invited to join the spoken word group "Second 2 Last.” Throughout the group's 10 year run, I experimented with attaching narrative to my art. I'm not sure if either form dominates the way I think. I am more familiar and experienced with words, but I am better at telling multiple stories simultaneously with my visual language. For that reason, my most recent work uses narratives that do not explain the image. Instead, they run parallel and tangential, asking the viewer to fill in the spaces with their own interpretations.

Tangents and Segues
Documentations of performance at Mocada October 2015
Photo credit: Dyani Douze

OPP: Could you talk about the recurring metaphor of the trap? It shows up in sculptural works like Trap Couplet (2012) and Trap Unadorned (2012), as well as drawings like Dream Catcher 2 (2012) and in performances like Tangents and Segues (2015).

ATB: I made my first traps in 2006. I found that the figure distracted many viewers from the conceptual focus of my work. I went through a distilling process, isolating the core concept that underlined all of my work—everything I'd made since 1998. . . I came up with the word trap. My figures are trapped in the walls. They are trapped  in the boxes/bodies of race, sex, class. . . In these series of non-figurative traps, I explored the formal possibilities: golden holes and ditches, nets in trees, heavy clay boxes that fell from the ceiling. I've settled, for now, on these tricked out traps. These people-sized cardboard boxes take on personas. They are seductive bait. They simultaneously reference stereotype, consumerism, hyphenated identities, shelter, class, displacement, homelessness and childhood. I also refer to them as dream catchers, the title brings to mind indigenous American spiritual objects, I want the viewer to think about what that is in the context of these cardboard cloth works that represent traps that catch and hold your dreams, hopes, and potential.

clay and tempura

OPP: Identity is such a complex concept and experience. It includes both how we see ourselves and others see us. It can offer a sense of belonging and be the source of othering, depending on point of view. It can be a heavy burden and other times a source of pride. How do your headshells, in all their various iterations, speak to this issue?

ATB: It would require several dissertations to effectively answer this question, which is why I feel like visual language allows us to metaphorically fold time and space and cover huge and heavy subjects simultaneously. That being said, these heads/shells/masks/hats/faces deal specifically with my ideas as related to code switching, hyphenated identities, multiple consciousness and shapeshifting. They are armor, burdens, crowns, building blocks, balancing acts. They are tools some of us use to navigate varied spaces, negotiate uneven relationships and possibly get ahead (bootstrapping). I juggle many identities. I am African American Caribbean woman, middle/working class, interdisciplinary artist, mother, wife, educator and more. In our overstimulated present, shifting identities are also fragmented/incomplete, no one specialized in a single channel identity. Often, once buried under multiple identities, assumptions and stereotypes, the individual becomes invisible or at most, a two dimensional outline.

chameleon (detail)

OPP: Your recent work from 2015 is a series of figurative wall works that combine ceramics and drawing. Could you talk about how the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional meet in this series and what it means for the figure to be breaking out of the wall?

ATB: I started as a painter. Painting the figure too large for and trapped within the two-dimensional space of the canvas, boxed in. I focused on the gaze, imagining the subject as aware of the viewer and looking back, conscious of the relationship between the entertainer and the entertained. These paintings were for me a metaphor for the state of Black people in America and questioned the degree to which we shape American culture, verses the degree of material power we hold in said culture. The first step is to be conscious of these realities. So the heads push through the two-dimensional space and invade the space of the view. I liken the two-dimensional to stagnation. The relief is the moment of realization, a pushing through liminal or peripheral space. Realization becomes the catalyst for change, and then the faces come off of the wall and move into the fourth dimension as performance. In 2004 I started to paint the two-dimensional figure directly to the wall. Referencing graffiti, Ndebele house painting  and indigenous forms of two-dimensional art-making. I liked the idea of defacing the white wall, the history of European painting as well as well as leaving my mark in a manner that makes it less of a direct commodity.

Photo credit: Selina Roman

OPP: Your 2013 project Susu is definitely not an art commodity. Tell us about the site, process and resulting sculptural form in this project.

ATB: Susu was a commissioned by The Laundromat Project, which invites artists to make art at local laundromats as a way to engage the surrounding community and an audience that may not make it to traditional art spaces. In ancient Akan, SUSU means little little (bit by bit). It is a form of micro economics. I proposed a project that involved collecting clothes in front of my local laundromat. As people left clothing I asked them to also leave words— one word, a paragraph or poem, I gave no limitations. The collected clothing was bleached and dyed one of the primary colors. The work was line dried outside the laundromat and the dripping dyes were caught on heavy watercolor paper. The clothing and the clothing line became a giant skirt that I wore in a performance in which I recited the words that had be contributed by the community. Prints made on the watered color paper covered in the drips from the drying clothes were given away to the audience. These same clothes then became two large cocoon-like sculptures. One that lived in a local community garden for eight months and another that permanently resides in the laundromat. The leftover clothing was donated to a shelter. I would like to do more community-based projects as well as explore the possibilities of transforming  soft, old clothes into hard, fragile sculpture.

Video documentation of interdisciplinary installation

OPP: SuSu metaphorically compliments your ideas about multiple identities. The project is a process performance and a spoken-word performance. It’s social practice. It’s the dyed drip drawings. It’s public sculpture. It’s the generous and sustainable gesture of donating the leftovers. If any one person only witnessed one aspect of the project, they would not have an accurate understanding of the whole, and yet their experience of the part is valuable. It reminds me of the parable of the blind men and the elephant. They fought because they had each touched a different part of the elephant, and so they couldn’t agree on the nature of the elephant. That brings me back to all the identities we have. It seems to me that problems only emerge when we get attached to a single identity, both in viewing ourselves and in viewing others. Could Susu be a model for how to have a holistic relationship with our identities and the identities of others?

ATB: This is a good question; I have to really think on it. The simple answer is just yes. Because there is no waste in Susu, it is sort of like the golden rule, like the most idealized utopian construct. In many ways it is an ideal that charts the layering of identity metaphorically with simple yet connected actions. But on the other hand, identity is not fixed in the same way an elephant or an ideal is. Just when we think we see the entire elephant, it's shape shifts. I think that we have to accept and understand the moments as individual statements. Each element stands on its own, in its own space, with its own allegory and with its own potential to shift and become, altering the mechanisms and overall shape of the whole. Identity is as mutable as language and, as Lacan says, language is shaped like the subconscious. Susu becomes a stepping stone, a way to begin to see how complex and multidimensional identity is, but it does not take into consideration or perform the fluidity of each element.

To see more of Aisha's work, please visit superhueman.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary 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 instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien,just opened at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL) and runs through December 19, 2015.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Javier Carmona

Tavola Dialogue, Understudy from In the Arena

JAVIER CARMONA’s photographs read like stills from motion pictures, hinting at the process of their own production. He directs and performs with actors in scripted scenes in rented apartments in far-away countries. In recent projects, he performs the character of Xavier, whose navigation of romantic relationships is an exploration of language, gesture and intimacy, both between humans and in relation to the cultural specificity of geographic locations. Javier earned his BFA from The School of The Art Institute of Chicago in 1994 and his MFA in Photography from The University of New Mexico in 1997. He has exhibited extensively throughout the United States, Mexico and Italy, and his work was most recently seen in Front and Center, the culminating show for the Center Program Residency at Hyde Park Art Center. In 2016, Javier will have solo exhibitions at Galería de Arte Contemporáneo, Secretaría de la Economía in Mexico City and The Photo-Four Gallery at South Suburban College in South Holland, Illinois. In March 2016, he will present Making a Scene: Towards an Actor’s Method for Still Photography at the National Conference of the Society for Photographic Education. Javier teaches at Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois and lives in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Could you expand on your notion of an "epic picture?"

Javier Carmona: It’s my reaction to the limitations placed on photographs by defining them as categories. There’s a part of me that loathes talking about pictures in terms of portrait, still life, landscape. Curators seem insistent on cataloging an image as a way of assigning its meaning. I don’t know how to answer the question, “Are these portraits?” I can’t bring myself to teach that way. I don’t get it.

I’d rather address the picture as a temporal phenomenon; an epic picture negotiates a narrative not bound by time. The still photograph is decontextualized time, even though we think of it as originating from a linear sensation of it. I anchor the still picture in a dialogue with the moving image. In cinema, the methodology of fusing the external world with the rehearsed intentions of a performed action is so much more of an accepted circumstance. My work brings that audience expectation of cinema to the still photograph.

Years ago, in my dissertation, I paraphrased Brecht’s idea of the Epic Theatre and began using the phrase Epic Photography; the epic picture is one which looks for a renewed, human expression of the actual and resistant world. In this sense, our phones take pictures, but they’re often obstacles to our tangible surroundings. I’ll take the sensual and the social over the virtual.

But let me be clear: it is possible to make an epic picture with a cell phone. Epic is not about scale or file size. I'm for any device that engenders contact with the external place. I'm more critical of our self-hypnosis with gadgets; our debilitated social behavior because of them. My principle camera these days is my Samsung Galaxy Note. It's the biggest cell phone they make, but still discreet. It makes the initial mark, like location scouting."

Love Streams - an Italian play > Sequence one: The Sea

OPP: Are your characters archetypes or individuals?

JC: The key word is character. Even when I perform in front of the camera, I play someone named Xavier. That simple letter change—from Xavier to Javier—allows me a conceptual distance. I can embrace an affectation other than my own.

So many of the recent projects, like In the Arena, have started with scripts in which the actors play characters. I’ve noticed my impulse to give them X names: Xoraida, Xenobia, Ximena, Xan, Xochitl. The X finds variable pronunciation; perhaps an extension of a mutable identity. It’s the mathematical unknown. It serves to exoticize these characters for an audience. Perhaps the characters approach the archetypes of audience expectation—an ethnically ambiguous visage we could call Latin.

Love Streams-an Italian Play > Sequence three: Inland

OPP: As the viewer, I feel a sense of longing that I also read in the characters. I'm longing for the rest of the story—all the parts between the captured moments. . . the moments I don't get to see—and they seem to be longing for connection or belonging. I am drawn in by the intimacy and vulnerability in the images themselves. What roles do intimacy and vulnerability play in the process of making the images?

JC: I tell myself to make straight forward pictures about what I don’t understand. That requires risk and yes, I hope, emotional vulnerability. I want the characters to examine what they don’t know about each other and the circumstances of their surroundings. The scenarios are largely written that way. It’s important the characters suddenly realize they are not where they once were, that they’re on an indifferent street in Mexico City or an arresting intersection in Rome.

I had a long habit of going to Mexico to photograph, but a handful of years ago, I began renting furnished apartments to extend my stay there as long as it was sustainable. I wanted to have a resident’s intimate knowledge of the place I had been born, but only knew in brief, albeit regular intervals throughout my life. Even before I knew to articulate it, I longed to create a cinematic illusion of what that other reality might be. So the Xavier character emerged as one negotiating a romantic relationship. The series, Mexican Cinema evolved into something I called The Enamorates / Los Enamorados. I thought of Xavier’s female foils as extensions of this intimate knowledge. To know Ximena, was to broach the immediate circumstance. Do the female characters become embodiments of ideals? Maybe initially, but only as a starting point.

Love Streams-an Italian Play, my ongoing work in Italy, initially came from an opportunity to teach in Florence during the summer. There emerged a parallel search for this intimacy you’re perceiving. In this case, it was a culture that resembled my own, but different enough to pose the obstacle of language toward understanding. I liked the prospect of being a chameleon there, of being mistaken for an Italian. On the streets, I would be asked for directions as if I were a resident; inevitably this informed the Xavier character. In Italian there is no letter J. So it was easier to be Xavier.

In Italy, I really began to think mostly in gestures and physical actions. I am still hoping to get that idea right: how two people might learn to negotiate emotion, despite communication.

The in-between moments you describe are the ones in which I think photography works best—when it resists explanation and revels in ambiguity. There’s more to be learned by ambiguity than a straightforward recitation. While I have been shooting these scripted scenarios to eventually also be a proper short film, I fear the ambiguity of the still may be lost once the image begins to move and explain itself.

Bucareli Trailer, Pt. IV from Mexican Cinema
OPP: I'd like to see the film because I’m ultimately curious about these characters for whom I've created my own stories. I’ve filled in the blanks, and a part of me wants to know if I’m right. On the other hand, my own longing to know and the way your still photographs resist my REALLY knowing seems to be the point. Is this related to what you meant by the “resistant world?”

JC: I'm often told, "These photographs should be films," implying this narrative speculation is not the purview of the still. I disagree. That longing you're describing, is much more indelible in a still that isn't replaced by the next moving frame. Photographs resist explanation as much as the external world resists providing the answers.

But ultimately the "resistant world" deposits the rehearsed gesture "on location," inviting an interaction with elements out of one's control, making credible what is enacted in the process. It's what I see in Cassavetes or French New Wave films made on streets, without permission and probably why they were my central influences.

Sub from In the Arena

OPP:  You occasionally use subtitles, sometimes in English and sometimes in Spanish. Where does the text come from? Do you think about audience when deciding which language to use?

JC: The text is pulled directly from the scripted scenes. The sequence of stills which make up In the Arena, highlights the physical gestures being performed. In the film version I’m editing, I’ll likely have the entire narrative subtitled regardless. Very likely the text will fluctuate in language and waiver in the accuracy of its translation. It would become a second dialogue over the spoken one.

I don’t mind that the subtitles or even the titles for the images go untranslated for what is initially an English-speaking audience. If they’re interested, they’ll use the universal translator on their phones. Otherwise, it’s another layer of ambiguity. Is it mischievous to give untranslated Spanish or Italian titles to works seen mostly by an American audience? Hopefully it makes them self-conscious of their role as an audience. To me it broadens the definition of what should be a mainstream experience of art viewing. It’s asking the audience to consider more information as part of who they are.

Still from Los Enamorados

OPP: Language and translation is just one part of comprehending work that bridges multiple cultures. You've exhibited throughout the United States and extensively in Mexico City. Is your work understood differently in Mexico versus the U.S.?

JC: Is the work understood differently in Mexico? Oh gods, yes! And that’s so refreshing. Having those actual conversations with different audiences is the heart of the dialogue the work is looking to engage. As if the work itself provides the pretext to interact socially with people I’d like to know further. Despite my Mexican birth or fluency in Spanish, Mexicans regard me as an American artist, with the accompanying exoticism. I’m intrigued by how I’m perceived in these different places. It feeds the character. When I started going there as a young artist, gaining social acceptance in my country of origin was an unspoken motivation; exhibiting work was a way to do that. Now I go find a community I miss enormously.

In the States, many art people go straight to gender in this work and are often unwilling to allow me the conceit of playing a fictional character. I showed Mexican Cinema to a book publisher, who felt the work was mostly about surrounding myself with beautiful women and dismissed it outright. I’m still baffled by that. I couldn’t get her to engage with the importance of location in the evolving narrative. Was she culturally intolerant or offended by a perceived sexism?

I tend to not have the work explain all these references, for fear of becoming didactic. Ambiguity is king. But it comes at a cost when the audience isn’t aware of the cultural baggage you’ve arrived with.

I exhibited a few stills from In the Arena in Mexico City recently. They got it. They were eager to have a conversation about the telenovela and how it affects the Mexican expression of emotion. There’s an acting school in Mexico City that teaches a melodrama class called Bofetada y Lagrima, which focuses on the slap and crying for the camera. I think a discussion of that in an American context would be extraordinary. 

The Reforma Rehearsals, Part I
13:08 minutes

OPP: What about specific geographical references that American audiences might not get, such as the Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City? How does this location add another layer of meaning in The Reforma Rehearsals, Part I and II (2013)?

JC: The Paseo de la Reforma is Mexico City’s principle artery. It’s one of the busiest—maybe ten lanes in some stretches—stitching together the many monuments of the city’s identity. To have a film, where an actor, walks as slowly as possible in real time against the current of the fastest traffic, is akin to reclaiming an individual presence in this vast city. It takes her nearly 15 minutes to cross 50 feet in the volatile context of chance occurrence. That’s epic, as I’d like to think of it; the gesture is not bound by time.

Declination Movement, 09 from Casuals of the Sea

OPP: I initially read your work more literally as about intimacy and vulnerability, gender roles and possibly archetypes from the telenovela, which I had an inkling about, but didn’t feel well-versed enough to comment on. I was particularly curious about the vulnerability of the Masculine. But now, I see the romance as an allegory for cultural and geographic belonging. What I initially thought of as a longing for human connection, I now see as a more general longing for belonging. Thoughts?

JC: Belonging? That works. . . You know, you're reminding me that I've rarely felt comfortable in a room full of people where everybody looks and sounds the same. I've always felt more at ease in heterogeneous surroundings. And that alien feeling happens in Mexico, too.

At the same time, I've had an instinct to understand by infiltration. My interest in language and gesture allows me to be a chameleon. Making pictures and now studying acting exists in this context. I loved that I've been confused for an Italian or someone of Middle Eastern descent. It sets up the challenge to find a way to belong. To learn how they greet or love.

To see more of Javier's work, please visit javiercarmona.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary 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 instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, runs through December 19, 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL).

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Roxana Halls

Beauty Queen
Oil on Linen
90cm x 90cm

ROXANA HALLS' mostly female subjects negotiate the at-best-awkward, at-worst-strangling internalized cultural constructions/constrictions of femininity. In her representational oil paintings, they balance precariously on the edges of chairs and nervously/ecstatically laugh while consuming salad. Some sit statically with unconsumed popcorn, berries or sushi in their open mouths, while others pose demurely behind luscious heads of hair which threaten to envelop them. Roxana has been the recipient of the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Award (2001), the Villiers David Prize (2004) and the Founder's Purchase Prize (The Discerning Eye) (2010). Her numerous solo exhibitions include Appetite (2014) and Unknown Women (2015) at Hayhill Gallery in London. She is currently working towards her next solo show in 2016, and will be exhibiting in upcoming group shows and at art fairs. Roxana lives in London.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Beauty Queen (2014) and Laughing While Eating Salad (2013), which is directly connected to an internet meme, both take representations of femininity and make them slightly grotesque. I see these paintings as challenging cultural constructions of the Feminine, as perpetuated by mass media. Thoughts?

Roxana Halls: Well, firstly, you are right in your analysis and in connecting these images. They do indeed have a direct relationship although clearly the nature of it may not initially seem explicit. In essence you could see these pieces as representing the polar reaches of a preoccupation with the depiction of women's internalized rules of conduct and a conflicted, ever-fluctuating response to external expectations. They could be read as different stages in a life's cyclical return to phases of stasis and engagement, that while some of my figures suggest an escalating desire for abandonment, others are palpably constrained.

In my ongoing body of work Appetite, I'm posing questions about the ways in which women are appraised, influenced and policed within contemporary culture and how this 'self- surveillance' circumscribes the repertoire of legitimate actions available to women. The paintings themselves offer a riposte to any such self consciousness. The subjects instead indulge in 'catastrophic' behaviour; they are inappropriate and immune to self-censure. In many of these paintings the consumption of food seems to be the focus, but eating is so much more than a biological process. It is fraught with tension and expectation. In Beauty Queen, I wanted to extend the metaphor into the realm of female ambition, also seen to be indecorous in its pursuit of attention and fulfillment. The piece Oranges was directly inspired by Carolee Schneemann's 1968 performance at the ICA London, when the artist threw oranges at the audience while simultaneously delivering a lecture about Cezanne. She kept dressing and undressing, naked under her overalls.

Laughing While Eating Salad was directly inspired by the trend I tuned into in advertising & the media of women laughing alone while eating salad. I found these images captivating: this stereotypically feminine and inoffensive foodstuff being enjoyed with such over-articulated ecstasy! It's interesting that you see these images as slightly grotesque, I personally don't think of them in that way exactly, more unbounded and at risk of hysteria, but I'm aware of how uncommon it is that such expressions are depicted and this fascinates me and continues to inspire me.

Nest II
Oil on Linen
65cm x 60cm

OPP: Nest I and Nest II are related. They also call into question external expectations about the Feminine by covering the faces of what look to be supermodels—their postures evoke fashion photography—with their own hair.

RH: In the Nest paintings I wanted take a more mysterious, disconcerting approach. They hint at detachment and disengagement while simultaneously seeking to entice with the evident seductiveness of their bodies, clothing and hair. These women in contrast to those in the Appetite seem lost in a troubling borderline state. Possibly they are undergoing an evolution, or perhaps are smothered by self censorship? It won't surprise you to hear I'm very interested in the writing of Julia Kristeva and her discussion of abjection.

Equally the exploration I undertook in making such imagery calls to mind sources such as Baudelaire’s poem La Chevelure (c1857), and the Nick Cave song Black Hair. In both cases, there is something about the investment and singular focus upon one part of the female body which transmutes into something strange and peculiar. The more you get intensely involved with one part of the body, the more it starts to move into the abject and it becomes a substance which is both of itself and yet separate from itself.

Oil on Linen
75cm x 75cm

OPP: I've noticed a lot of precariousness in your work. A Little Light Reading (2012) and A Startler for the Careful Housekeeper (2011) are a few examples. These works and others from Shadow Play and Suspended Women read as allegorical to me. What's being balanced, on the verge of falling, in these series?

RH: These earlier pictures have very similar concerns to the other later pictures we've discussed. This apparent precariousness is a primary underlying theme in most of my work. I see it in the image of a teetering pile of crockery in danger of toppling, a laugh which seems to be just to one side of the boundary of hysteria or even the discomfiting ambivalence of a female performer. In Shadow Play, I wanted to reference the then-prevalent taste for vintage objets and the way this seemed to hint at a desire to posses the symbols of a certain kind of idealized polite culture and, as I saw it, the secure and 'lady-like' life they seemed to represent. I wanted to subvert such domesticated aspirations, and in some of the paintings I felt the barely glimpsed female protagonists were themselves seeking to sabotage the props of their lives.

Girl Table
Oil on Linen
105cm x 105cm

OPP: Your studio is in the saloon bar of a defunct 1930s London theatre, now a Bingo Hall. Aside from the influence of this physical space, what captivates you about Cabaret?

RH: Yes, I am extravagantly fortunate in having such a wonderful space to work in, and it clearly has exerted a powerful influence over my work. But in the best traditions of serendipity it has always felt oddly inevitable that I would make theatrical paintings. As a child I only wanted to be an actor, and until my very first, life-changing attempt at oil painting I had very little interest in any other direction.

In 2004 I was the recipient of the Villiers David Prize, an award intended to provide funds to enable an artist to travel and undertake research in order to embark on a creative project. My early fascination with theatre was clearly a component in my choice of subject, and at that time I was beginning to notice an emergent cabaret and burlesque scene in London, which exploded by the time I'd finished and exhibited the paintings. Also I've long been fascinated by the whole Weimar milieu, as much as a more home-grown Music Hall & Variety tradition. Mainly I saw within the theme an opportunity to explore the possibilities of artistry and autonomy and reflect on notions of gender, sexuality, identity and spectatorship. And of course it also unleashed a desire to engage in a project of ambitious and spectacular proportions! I've never entirely felt that the series was finished, and am still harbouring a smouldering wish to revisit the theme.

The Girlie Hurdy Gurdy
Oil on Linen
72 x 72 in

OPP: Could you talk about the relationship between the paintings in Tingle-Tangle, made between 2005 and 2009, and CURTAIN FALL - The Tingle Tangle Photographs, created in collaboration with photographer Matthew Tugwell in 2009? None of the photographs are direct re-stagings of the paintings, but they seem to have the same models. What led to the creation of the photographs?

RH: The creation of the Tingle-Tangle paintings was a complex and involved process which required a lot of commitment from my models. Many of them were actors and performers and genuinely brought something of their professional understanding to the characters I asked them to inhabit. I constructed sets in order to depict each separate performance. I made, sourced and found costumes and props. My practice of essentially building my own cabaret show out of cardboard and charity shop discoveries linked with the improvisational spirit of third rate variety! While I'm wary of ever explicitly revealing how a picture has been made because of the way this can affect the reading of a piece, I wanted to somehow offer a glimpse into the process of transforming these mundane elements into the spectacle you see in the paintings. I wanted to show the 'performers' themselves and give a glimpse of the glorious theatre in which I have my studio which partially inspired them. Once I was offered a show at the National Theatre, the possibilities of the exhibition space itself gave me the scope to explore this in collaboration with Matthew Tugwell.

Babette the Baloonette
Roxana Halls/Matthew Tugwell

OPP: In 2013, you completed a bespoke commissioned project, The Alice Staircase, an eight-interlinking-canvas interpretation of Lewis Carroll's famous work and, according to your website, you are currently creating a new major commissioned artwork, a seven-interlinking-canvas interpretation of The Wizard Of Oz. How do you balance commissions with your own projects? Have you ever turned a commission down? Do the commissions ever end up influencing your own work?
RH: Balancing commissioned work with my own projects is unsurprisingly a little tricky at times, as an interesting job may of course be offered just as you're fully engaged with your own momentum. But I've always seen the right commissioned work as not only financially rewarding but also a real opportunity for development. I say the right commissioned work because, yes, I have turned down work along the way when I felt the project wasn't best suited to my abilities or I've been too busy with preexisting commitments. The Alice and Wizard projects have given me really quite extraordinary opportunities to develop narrative structure and complexity, and to produce work based upon preexisting source material has been immensely challenging, freeing and rewarding. The development of these projects has undoubtedly had a powerful affect on my work which is affecting the direction I'm taking in my practice subsequently, even though my underlying themes remain a constant.

As I've described with the making of the Tingle-Tangle paintings, I've employed a somewhat extensive and complicated process of creation. When I came to conceive of the Alice Staircase, I knew right away that I couldn't build Wonderland in my studio! So while I again made my own costumes and asked friends to 'perform' the characters—I used this familiar approach partly to circumvent the inevitable difficulty in attempting to sidestep the dominance of John Tenniel's wonderful illustrations—I also decided to use photography, a source material I had rarely used up until this point. I've been using the same method in my ongoing Wizard of Oz series.
I've long held the view that the image I make and that which I hope to explore and convey within this image should be the guiding principle of my work and that the image should be brought into existence by whatever means necessary. Partly through the making of Alice and Wizard I feel I'm beginning to sense what further possibilities might be unfolding.

To see more of Roxana's work, please visit roxanahalls.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary 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 instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien,just opened at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL) and runs through December 19, 2015.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Art Vidrine

Sub ads (found intervention), 2015

Interdisciplinary artist ART VIDRINE is concerned with how we perceive the surrounding world and how our literal and metaphoric lenses affect the meanings we make. In photography, collage, sculpture and video, he modifies and destabilizes our existing cultural frameworks, calling into question individual agency through abstraction. Art earned his BA in Comparative Literature from the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) in 2002, and went on to earn his MFA in Fine Art from the School of Visual Arts (New York) in 2014. He was curated into Miami Projects in 2014. In 2015, his work has been included in Battle of the Masters at Open Gallery Space in New York and Plus One at Sideshow Gallery in Brooklyn, and in January 2016, will be included in Abstract Preferences at NIAD Art Center in Richmond, California. He is a participating panelist on an upcoming episode for TransBorder Art titled Discomfort, which will appear on public television (tentatively in December). Art is a contributing writer for ArtSlant and lives in Brooklyn.

OtherPeoplesPixels: How did your undergraduate degree in Comparative Literature set the stage for your photography, sculpture and video work? 

Art Vidrine: Before the degree, there was a love of literature, which was rooted in early childhood, much earlier than any affinity for visual art. From adolescence, I was attracted to what creative intelligence has to offer in making sense of the world: empathy, reflection and imagination. I mention this because no matter how driven by abstract ideas my art may be at times or how rationally I discuss it afterwards, my work still draws heavily from those human qualities I find in literature. Comparative Literature allowed me to explore multiple languages (and consequently multiple perspectives) and lots of theory. Undoubtedly, my obsession with certain themes was formalized in college, especially with that hobbyhorse of reader-response theories: audience agency.

Just for You, 2014
Wood, resin, paint, hot glue, spray foam, detergent, hardware, carpet, headphones, sound, black lights, Arduino
box - 48" x 48" x 48", carpet - 72" x 96"

OPP: Do you think there is a difference between textual thinking and visual thinking, from a process point of view?

AV: Yes and no. At their best, both textual and visual thinking defy conventional thought and form. The origin of that creative impetus is the same (an attitude), and the process is similar (channel that attitude into a communicable form). That being said, there is definitely a difference between the two, which manifests itself most acutely when talking about work with other artists. Some can ascend the heavens with a brushstroke or click of the shutter, and yet their tongues can barely get them off the ground. Textual and visual thinking are somewhat different skill sets with different vocabularies and differing dependencies on concepts. Both can be strengthened, but only up to a certain point. After that, talent and desire take over.

Parenthetically, I do think some artists read and relate to work differently than others. Some of my friends are painters for whom the brushiest brushstroke or the richest hue is like a conversation with God. They are transported in ways that I will never be in relationship to painting. They look for different things in those works than I do. Conversely, the cleverest conceptual project can send chills down my spine and leave them feeling cheated of a meaningful experience. If the difference is just a matter of picking up on nuances in the work (i.e. references, interesting decisions made when making the work, etc), then that is something that can be rectified over time with more exposure to art.

Durational, 2015

OPP: Could you talk about the categories— Agency, Perception, Abstraction and Surroundings—you use to organize the work on your website?
AV: These days, the art world prefers artists to have a “thing” – an identifiable, readily digestible and marketable focus, a singular purpose that can fit nicely into an elevator pitch embodied in press releases and talking points with board members and collectors. There is certainly value in sustaining a tunnel vision commitment to one thing in depth, whether it be a process or topic. But my interests do not coalesce so easily. In fact, the topics themselves that interest me do not play well with reductive boundaries, opting instead for cross-pollination. Abstraction, perception, and agency are interdependent. I elaborated on this in my graduate thesis, which anyone can read from my CV & Writings section if they need something to help them fall asleep at night.
Honestly, the categories on my website are really meant to make the constant themes that I return to more apparent for those who do not know me or my work. I see the thread, the relationships amongst the different media, forms, and subjects. That thread consists of three intertwined topics: Abstraction, Perception, and Agency. Work in one category could also exist comfortably in another. The choice of which work belonged where had a lot to do with what I saw as the predominate concern of each work.  Surroundings exists as a category for sharing my love for landscape and cityscape photography, which often have a hard time fitting into one of the other three categories. One’s environment unequivocally shapes how he or she experiences the three topics mentioned above. Sometimes, it’s hard to classify how.
OPP: What role do lenses, filters and screens play in your practice, literally and/or figuratively?

AV: The lens (mental and physical) with which we view the world is directly related to the three main themes my work addresses. I do not set out to emphasize lenses, filters, and screens as a material. That happens naturally as a result of my chosen themes.  They are merely the metaphorical conduit for a reflection on perception, and consequently perception’s influence on agency.

Intermediate, 2015

OPP: What was your process for creating Performative Utterances: A Symphony (2015), in which you translate political rhetoric into music? Why did you choose the particular speech that you chose? 

AV: I transformed Netanyahu’s voice into MIDI notes, multiplied those notes into different layers, and then assigned each layer a software instrument. I tweaked some notes—shifting octaves, changing a couple to a different note and extending the duration for some—but mostly kept them untouched. I adjusted the parameters for the instruments to achieve the sounds I wanted and gradually added in or removed instruments as the performance progresses. Who knew Netanyahu was so musically talented?
I chose this speech because of the theatrical nature of the spectacle. This is not to say that Netanyahu’s speech was not good or relevant. He has some legitimate concerns.  It’s just that the whole event felt like a night at the symphony or a rock concert, with adulating fans roaring, sea swells of standing ovations, a maestro’s swagger. There is even the analogous handshake with the first chair, the singer’s wipe of the mouth between songs. It made me wonder how much of the speech’s political content could be conveyed even without words, which then made me think about the long history of the relationship between music (the most abstract art form) and politics. This was as much about abstracting political content from speech to sound as it was about discovering a new way to build a symphony. I’m sure classically trained musicians will disagree with the distinction of this work as “a symphony,” “classical,” or even “music.” But I think it functions quite well as a kind of avant-garde symphony. Netanyahu was trumpeting an aggressive, antagonistic position, so I gave him (literally) the brass his speech (figuratively) conveyed.

Performative Utterances: A Symphony

OPP: In your artist statement you say, "The cultural framework we inherit prescribes meaning and intelligibility to things." Then you ask, "But how does our relationship to the world alter as our conceptual frameworks are challenged? As our lives are increasingly mediated through technology, simulacra, and mass media, how does our physical, experiential grounding within the world evolve?" These seem to be the long-term questions of your practice. I'm wondering if you have any answers, or at least theories, yet?

AV: Hmmm. . . If I did, I don’t think I would need to make art anymore.

To see more of Art's work, please visit artvidrine.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary 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 instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien,just opened at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL) and runs through December 19, 2015.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Pei-Hsuan Wang

Over and Over Again
Ceramic, glaze, paint
Photo credit: I-Hsuen Chen

PEI-HSUAN WANG combines ceramics with found materials, both domestic and industrial,  in poetic arrangements that evoke the home. Abstract references to picture frames, house plants, curtains and ottomans hint at intimate, stable spaces, which seem to be the antidote to the disruption of international migration—from Taiwan to America and back again—that informs her practice. Pei-Hsuan received her BA from Macalester College in Minnesota and her MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. In 2014, she had two solo exhibitions in Taipei, Taiwan: Mobile Scapehood at FreeS Art Space and Formation No.1: On Levitation at Bamboo Curtain Studio. In 2015, she has been an artist-in-residence at 1a Space in Hong Kong and European Ceramic Workcentre in the Netherlands. She lives and works in Taipei, Taiwan.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You were born and raised in Taiwan, earned your BFA and MFA in the U.S. and then returned to Taiwan in 2013. How has your personal experience of international migration affected the work you make?

Pei-Hsuan Wang: Taiwan is a country in constant struggle with its own identity. This has affected the mentality of many Taiwanese people: we are forever locating/relocating ourselves in this ever changing world with fluctuating powers. I left Taiwan unaware that a big part of what motivated my departure was the unfulfilled hole of not knowing who I was and where I came from in a "worldly" context. I had attempted to pass as someone "legitimate" by migrating West-ward. I did not see this until years later, of course. Being in the U.S. allowed me to reflect on my experiences occupying multiple spaces. I began to see Taiwan in a different light, and at the same time, view America from a critical perspective. All of these become things I think about in my work.

All They See is the Horizon Line
13 x 8 x 6" each
Photo credit: James Carrillo

OPP: Earlier projects, Chinked-Out Factory and Asian Persuasion (both 2011), make overtly political statements about identity, the commodification of stereotypes and globalization? These projects are such a contrast to your recent installations, which I would describe as poetic and meandering as opposed to pointed and critical. What led to this shift?

PW: I often have ideas that I don't have time to follow through with yet. This is kind of what happened to Chinked-Out Factory and Asian Persuasion. They were meant to be long term endeavors. I was struggling to execute these projects in final forms, however, despite the fact that there existed already a variety of pieces in thought or sketch forms that could be made whenever I felt like it. I believe this has a lot to do with fear of perpetuating stereotypes and disseminating easily misinterpreted messages. I wonder if the satirical content is clear in the racially charged comments and caricatures I create, and if the work only appeals to those already aware of the things I want to talk about and therefore, remains a witty one-liner. I am still thinking about this.

The more poetic works are ways for me to ask questions rather than give answers or demand attention in approval. More thoughts are able to generate that way, for me and for the viewers. I am able to play more freely with ideas, materials and forms and to think as I make. Sometimes I come to no solid conclusion and I’m totally okay with that. Every piece becomes an experiment.

Closer to Home
Bamboo, ceramic, cushion
Dimension variable
Photo credit: Thomas Cheong

OPP: Throughout your sculptural oeuvre, I notice a lot of visual references to home decor. In some cases, you've used actual found furniture, as in In Transit (2011), but there are also more abstracted, poetic indications of picture frames, house plants, ottomans, carpets and curtains in Portal (2012) and Closer to Home (2013). Could you talk about the significance of these references?

PW: I like taking things that are dear and familiar to my experiences and turning them into something vaguely associative. These things become starting points to wonder. They can act as anchors to relate, in visual form or other forms. The fact that they are often home decor did not occur to me until you mentioned it in this question. I suppose I am interested in observing spaces and things in those spaces, however fitting or out of place.

Closer to Home
Ceramic, tarp
each object approx. 13 x 10 x 55"
Photo credit: Thomas Cheong

OPP: I love the images of Formation No.1: On Levitation (2014), your most recent exhibition, which show viewers/participants interacting with your sculptures. The Throne, for example, seemed so precarious until I saw the images with children climbing the wooden stairs. Does this audience participation relate to the sense of detachment you write about in your statement?

PW: Thank you. As a whole, the piece is a version of the more or less structured manifestation of my messy and multilayered thoughts at the time. I wanted the audience to experience the space and become a part of my thought form in visual realization. They were encouraged to participate and activate the installation, but were not imagined or anticipated in any way to "mean" something or relate to something to my work when I made the piece. I wanted to allow whatever happened to happen, and allow the piece to create its own extended stories, through whichever ways possible.

The Throne
Wood, found school chair, found fragments of brick houses, cement
Photo credit: I-Hsuen Chen

OPP: In asking that question, I was thinking that inviting participation with the work is a way to create a connection between you and your viewers that is beyond the visual. With the growth in Social Practice work over the last decade and a wider acceptance of materiality as on par with composition and form, the functions of fine art are in the process of being reconsidered and the boundaries are shifting—as they always do. It’s actually quite difficult to simply talk about “visual” art anymore, because so many artists are working in ways that engage other senses and the body and mind as a whole. Sometimes the word “viewer” is no longer accurate. I’m curious what you think about fine art’s history of privileging the eyes over other modes of perception. Is it changing?

PW: I do believe it is important that the participation of the "viewers" not be limited to the visual, but also other modes of perception—spacial, audio and corporeal—that are present in my work. We all have certain senses that we rely on over the others; this opens up more opportunities to explore ways of production and also ways of understanding. And I do think the experience and the awareness of the experience have become a big part of art practices in all disciplines. I believe it is going to be even more so in the future, with newer attempts to bridge peoples with ideas, which are never quite visual in the first place, in whatever ways we can.

Salvaged wood, old pallets for concrete pours, resin, concrete, bulb, seat cushion
Dimension variable
Photo credit: I-Hsuen Chen

OPP: What's being worshiped in Altar, a piece in your most recent exhibition, Mobile Scapehood?

PW: The title Altar mainly referred to the feeling that the piece gave me personally. It was tucked in a quiet corner in an existing space and created a small space of its own, even though the structure seems semi-open to the eye. The niche space allowed one to kneel in cozily and study the textured details of the resin, which was in fact a messed-up cast with the wrong ratio of A-B parts, as well as the hole within the concrete shape, which was originally a custom-made piece for an industrial ventilation system in some factory in the city. The whole thing can be like a hollow mind space waiting to be filled with people's private thoughts. In that sense, the thing to be worshiped was absent.

To see more of Pei-Hsuan's work, please visit pei-hsuanwang.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary 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 instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, just opened at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL) and runs through December 19, 2015.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Caroline Carlsmith

Pyritization II (In Praise of Limestone)
Poem, pyrite (FeS2)

CAROLINE CARLSMITH's interdisciplinary work is a rhizome of meaning, material and language. The impenetrable walls and poetic byproducts of translation are subjects in works that range from vinyl lettering on walls, poems written in minerals and prints of word clouds made from digitally generated lorem ipsum (a meaningless filler text used by typesetters since the 1500s). In 2009, Caroline completed a double degree in Studio Art (BFA) and Visual and Critical Studies (BA) from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and went on to earn an MFA in Art Theory and Practice from Northwestern University in 2014. She has attended residencies at SÍM Residency (Reykjavic, Iceland), ACRE (Stuben, Wisconsin) and Vermont Studio Center (Johnson, Vermont). Recent exhibitions include to be looked at and read at BKBX Gallery in Brooklyn, Archipelago (2014) at the Block Museum in Evanston, Illinois and Reading Room at Julius Caesar in Chicago. Caroline lives and works in Brooklyn.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Could you talk about text as image and image as text in your work? I'm also curious if you experience textual thinking as different than or similar to visual thinking. 

Caroline Carlsmith: Though there may well be a difference for some people between textual and visual thinking, I am not sure whether I experience it. In some ways all of my works are written, but sometimes literal writing is visible in the finished product and sometimes it isn’t. My artworks are most often the result of a constellation of ideas that are associated as I might want to associate them in a poem. If I want the impact to be simultaneous or sensory, then I make them objects.

While there may not be, for me, a difference between visual and textual creating, there is certainly a difference between the experience of the reader of a text and the viewer of a non-text-based work of art. My desire to invoke one kind of experience or another dictates whether the final product is text or text+. I tend to use images and words similarly, trying to play with their multiple meanings, placing them in congress with each other to facilitate controlled collisions.

Lorem Ipsum Dolor Sit Amet
45 inkjet prints on paper
Prints are 8.5" x 11" each
Installed at Northwestern University, October, 2012

OPP: Whether you are rendering poetry as small nuggets of pyrite as in Pyritization II (In Praise of Limestone) (2014) or Walt Whitman's Calamus as word clouds in Nobody Loves Pain Itself For Itself (2012), translation is both a strategy and a subject in your work. How do you think about issues of legibility, believability and accuracy in relation to translation?

CC: I believe there is no such thing as accuracy in translation. Every translation—be it from language to language, image to text, material to material, body to fossil, artist to avatar—presents both loss and gain. It is this transformation, or transubstantiation, that allows an idea, a thought or a figure to be carried beyond the boundaries of the original in time and space. But inevitably what is translated is not the thing itself. The “true” original is never accessible. It is what we touch when we reach for what lies beyond it. It is the thin shell of space between skin and skin when we believe we are in contact with each other. This is the space I am seeking to make visible.

I Am Now With You
Die-cut vinyl lettering

OPP: You've done numerous projects that take Walt Whitman's work as a subject or a jumping-off point. Why Walt Whitman, as opposed to any other writer? What does he mean to you as a human, as an artist? What does he mean to your work?

CC: Walt Whitman is a key figure to me in many ways. Most important is a move he makes throughout his work, in which he asks to be understood as present with the reader after his death, without his body, through the text. Whitman was an artist who wrote “himself” into his poetry, creating a fictional persona that overlapped with but did not replicate the author. When the poem claims “I am now with you,” the reader is faced with an incantation, a performative utterance, which enacts its own truth through its declaration. This form of immortality, the conjuration of one’s figure through the medium of text, which is not dependent on the living body and moves through time differently, was the one Whitman proclaimed for himself when he made statements like,

                                                   Remember my words - I may again return, 
                                                   I love you - I depart from materials;
                                                   I am as one disembodied, triumphant, dead.

For him, to escape the body and the material world was to live on, but, perversely, that living can only be enacted within a new body. And what is conjured is not a man, but something both larger and smaller: a figure.

Importantly, for Whitman this strategy is dependent on love and enacted by the reader’s succumbing to desire for his “presence.” It’s a form of seduction that results, for Whitman, in alternating forms of procreation and resurrection, or, better yet, new poems, or new works of art, that carry forward that figure and allow it to grow and change—in other words, to live.

Wax cylinder record, marble dust (CaCO3)
2 1/2" diameter x 4"

OPP: Could you talk about the significance of Calcium Carbonate (CaCO3) in its many forms?

CC: I initially became interested in calcium carbonate in its crystal form of optical calcite, which is a birefringent material that splits a ray of light into two beams. I was fascinated to encounter a naturally occurring material that had the capacity to split an image or a word viewed through it in two. It produces a doubling effect in which the “real” and “virtual” are separated but indistinguishable.

As I began to research further, however, I found multiple ways in which calcium carbonate shaped the history of the visual itself. For example, according to the fossil record, trilobites living in the prehistoric oceans saturated with calcium carbonate developed the first eyes, which were compound lenses of calcite. Later, when the oceans acidified, the bodies of the animals living in that environment and deposits from that water became chalk and limestone, or metamorphosed into marble. In forms like these, as well as gesso and lime plaster, calcium carbonate has been an integral part of human art-making as far back as we can trace it. The study of calcite also gave rise, in the 17th century, to the understanding of both the polarization of light and the polymorphism of crystals. Calcite remains the purest polarizing material in use in optical instruments today. Even now, it is still present at the expanding boundary of the visible. It is ultimately that polymorphism that attracts me to calcite. It is part of why I use chemical formulas to indicate motifs and produce associations between seemingly disparate materials in my work. I like that a material can be so many different things and somehow still be the same, remain connected or cohesive.

However, like most materials, CaCO3 is most dynamic when set against something with which it is in tension. When working on Phaedra/Phaedrus/Phèdre, for example, I was using calcium carbonate in the forms of marble powder, chalk, pearl and calcite crystal. That installation also made use of multiple meanings of the word basic, which is a characteristic of the alkaline calcium carbonate, but also a way to think about language, about the foundations of education and thought and about foundations themselves.

Installation view of Phaedra/Phaedrus/Phèdre
foreground: Phèdre, left: Basic Phaedrus, right: Citation Pearl: General Index, background: Solution

OPP: What about your use of blackboards as substrates in Phaedra/Phaedrus/Phèdre (2013)?

CC: Blackboards, in that context, were not only the typical substrate for chalk marks, but also a pedagogical tool, as well as associated with the work of Cy Twombly, whose triptych Phaedrus was recreated in chalk and marble dust on the reverse of the three blackboards in the installation. (The original paintings had been famously kissed by the performance artist Rindy Sam, who claimed she’d been so overwhelmed with love for the work that she had to physically consummate it.) Blackboards, along with champagne and the lipstick Sam had worn to kiss the Twombly, interacted with calcium carbonate as substrates, solvents, and additives. By paring down the materials involved in an installation to just a few elements, I hoped the complex relationships between them would have a greater impact.

II (Inside of a Needle Inside of an Egg Inside of a Duck Inside of a Rabbit Inside of a Chest Buried Under an Oak Tree on an Island)
Carbon ink drawing (C) on paper

OPP: What are you working on right now?

CC: I’m working on a new series of drawings right now based on a Rose of Jericho, which is a resurrection plant native to the desert of Mexico and the southwestern USA. When it’s dry it looks like a little tumbleweed and quite dead, but when you expose it to water it uncurls and grows green and is suddenly alive. The ancient city of Jericho is associated in illuminated manuscripts with a certain type of labyrinth which has seven cycles, related to its apocryphal seven walls. In these drawings, I use the Rose of Jericho, as it opens and closes, to trace paths that lead out of seven-cycled labyrinths. I'm also working on a written piece—or perhaps seven written pieces—that I hope will accompany the drawings when the series is finished.

To see more of Caroline's work, please visit carolinecarlsmith.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary 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 instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, opens today at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL) and runs through December 19, 2015.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Joshua Parker Coombs

Steel, paint, surface bonding cement, rust
53" x 52" x 27"

JOSHUA PARKER COOMBS' steel and cement sculptures reference living organisms and their basic drives. The forms are simple pods, blobs and larvae, but the scale mimics the human body, making these unsophisticated "beings" into metaphors for the human experience. Energetic steel lines surround the rusted, steel bodies, growing like vines or crackling like electricity. They simultaneously appear to be expressions exuding from the bodies and cages that trap them. Joshua earned his BFA in 2002 from Maryland Institute, College of Art in Baltimore and his MFA in 2009 from East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina. In 2014, his numerous Philadelphia exhibitions include group shows Un/Natural at the Sculpture Gallery, University of the Arts and Presence at Indy Hall, as well as his first solo exhibition From Within at PSG Gallery. Joshua is currently a member at the Philadelphia Sculpture Gym in Philadelphia, where he lives.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Do you think of your work as representational or abstract?
Joshua Parker Coombs: I think of it as both. I definitely use certain abstracted larva-like forms to reference human gestures. I also use the annular cell form to represent a rudimentary form of life to convey certain feelings or human experiences. In Shroud (2009), the larva-like form appears to be taken over by the brown cement texture. It’s accepting being overcome by this entity. The slumped gesture is meant to signify this surrender. In Conflict (2008) the cement texture is encroaching from one side and a linear steel element is attacking from the other side. It’s a take on the devil and angel on one’s shoulders and the tension two opposing feelings can create within a person.

These forms of basic life are the subjects of the sculptures. I for one often feel like a fledgling version of myself.  At times it seems that all of the life experiences I’ve had are never enough, and I have yet to be formed completely. A stripped down representation seems fitting for the fundamental emotions I try to convey.


OPP: Tell us a little about the various processes you employ in your work and your history as an artist.

JPC: I was fortunate to have many 3-D and Ceramics classes early on in high school and was able to take similar summer classes at a community college. When I was an undergrad majoring in Sculpture, taking Fibers, Ceramics and Wood classes was encouraged. I was fortunate to be able to dabble in those areas. I fell back into Ceramics towards the end of undergrad because of both the medium and the department faculty.
In graduate school, I really fell in love with welding steel armatures and experimenting with different materials in conjunction with them. I saw that process as drawing three-dimensionally. The larger scale was both encouraged and more fun. The armatures were pretty quick to build and many Ideas came from using the different materials and seeing how they worked together. One piece would lead to another in terms of materials and concept.

Due to the layering process of using armatures, I developed a theme of conceptual layering. One element would appear to grow into another, and then another element would be growing from it or on the surface of it. This process also forced me to plan pieces out more due to the technical needs of the sculptures and how they would convey my ideas.
I enjoyed using fabric with steel and that lead me to try to create a similar feel with the surface bonding cement. I started with pillow forms filling the inside of steel forms. This lead me to create interior hollow cement forms that appear to grow inside a cage-like form. I also attended a leather working workshop, which lead to an interesting process of forming the leather over cement forms I created.
My artistic productivity in the last few years is made possible by the Philadelphia Sculpture Gym. This is a maker space which gives me access to welding facilities. This allows me to continue and expand on ideas and themes that I touched upon in my schooling.

Steel, fabric, thread, fiber fill, rust

OPP: In earlier work, there seems to have been more of an interaction between hard and soft, as in Protection/Constriction (2009) and Garden (2007). But in the last few years, you seem to working exclusively with steel, paint, bonding cement and rust. Was this a conscious shift away from soft materials?
JPC: The textile classes I took during grad school really influenced the hard and soft aspect. But I veered away from that to focus on more durable practices because the possibility of showing and storing work outdoors made more sense.
With cement, I was able to create different textures to represent different ideas. As in both Shroud (2009), Conflict (2008) and also Aura (2014) the blob-like texture acts like a slow-growing moss overtaking the body of the sculpture. I began exploring ideas which required erratic linear steel forms to emerge from other forms as I was able to weld over the cement forms. The energetic steel lines always read to me as a faster growing entity. This is evident in the latter two where the linear element is fighting against the other entity and also growing bigger from within, suggesting a greater achievement. In the piece Stabilitate (2014), I used a smoother, cement texture to simplify the surface, so that the linear element could be the focus. Structurally, the steel lines help the form stand upright, but this metaphorically represents the form finding it’s “footing” through an interior force.

Steel, surface bonding cement, rust
44" x 40" x 41"

OPP: What role does rust play in your practice, both formally and conceptually?
JPC: Rusting my work is a way to make an industrial material such as steel seem more natural and plant-like. It’s similar to creating pattern on fabric and works beautifully with distressed painted surfaces. It’s also just what happens to the material. It’s a natural occurrence. I do force it for deadlines but I like that it is continuing to change as works sit in the elements. Rust is literally a weathered condition and acts as a metaphor for showing age or experience as a being.  It also works well with the common themes of growth and change.

Kindred (detail)
Steel, paint, surface bonding cement, rust
65" x 46" x 27"

OPP: In images of your 2009 Thesis Exhibition, most of your sculptures are presented on classic sculpture pedestals, but in other images on your site, they sit directly on the ground. What's your preference and why?
JPC: For that particular show, I had many pedestals at my disposal. I also constructed some as a way to get larger heavier pieces into the gallery safely with a pallet jack.  It’s always nice to see your work on a “perfect” white box in a white room.

But I also like to see them just existing in a space or outside environment. A lot of my work is a combination of “animal, vegetable and mineral.” I use organic forms and gestures, and I often hope there is a suggestion that these things just happened into the setting. I suppose my preference would be—at least at first glance—for the viewer to not even think they were made by an artist, but that they just exist.  The “perfection” of a pedestal removes any chance of that happening.

To see more of Joshua's work, please visit joshuaparkercoombs.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary 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 instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, for O’Connor Art Gallery at Dominican University (River Forest, IL) opens next Thursday, November 5, 2015.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Kirsten Furlong

Promise and purpose, the Ancestors' dream
Collage, ink, graphite, and colored pencil on paper
60"x 60"

KIRSTEN FURLONG explores the interplay between culture and nature and the multifaceted relationships between humans and animals in her drawings, prints and fiber-based installations. In her project Unchopping a Tree, based on the eponymous W.S. Merwin prose poem, she laments the lost lives of trees and the impossibility of reviving what has already died. Kirsten earned her BFA (1995) from the University of Nebraska in Omaha and her MFA (2000) from Boise State University in Idaho. Recent solo exhibitions include Kirsten Furlong: Repeat and Shift (2014) at Enso Arts in Boise, Idaho and Standing Still and Moving Through The Wilderness at Coconino Center for the Arts in Flagstaff, Arizona. Her work is included in Dog Head Stew | The Second Course, which just opened this week on October 19, 2015 at Gallery 239, Chadron State College in Nebraska. Another group show, Paper West, opens on November 5, 2015 at Gittins Gallery in Salt Lake City, Utah. In September 2015, she was the Artist-in-Residence at Crooked Tree Art Center in Traverse City, Michigan. She is the Gallery Director and Curator for the Visual Arts Center and a Lecturer at Boise State University. Kirsten lives in Boise, Idaho.

OtherPeoplesPixels: In your artist statement, you say, "animals serve as emblems of nature and as metaphors for human desires." It seems to me that human desires aren't that different from animal desires. What does it mean for our relationship to animals that we turn them into metaphors for our own experiences rather than imagining their experiences?
Kirsten Furlong: Animals, in many cases, carry the weight of our cultural baggage which can make it very unclear what anyone’s actual desires may be, animal or human. The most basic and necessary human desires may be for water and air, and yet we engage in activities that foul these resources and deny both humans and animals access to them.

However, a species becoming emblematic has occasionally been useful if they get our attention due to a larger narrative or problem. For example, the near destruction of bald eagles from DDT and the subsequent ban and recovery. There is such an incredible complexity of animal identities, politics and cultural identities tied to the land and species that reside therein. This dynamic takes on particular qualities here in the Western U.S. Thoughtful consideration of the experiences of animals such as wolves, sage grouse, or the giant Palouse earthworm would certainly steer our treatment of their lives in a different directions than they seem to be currently heading.

Investigations in experimental garments for animals
Inkjet print
24"x 30"

OPP: Could you tell us about your experimental garments for animals? Why do these birds need hats?
KF: The “garments” started as three-dimensional studio sketches created from hand-made and hand-stitched wool felt. The initial forms were created as protective outer-wear with architectural qualities designed for a few particular birds, insects and small mammals. These forms were intended for a project in which they would be placed in environments to be discovered by these species. The subsequent interactions, collaborations—or lack there of—would generate ideas for the future completed designs. While impatiently awaiting these collaborations and sometimes storing the forms on the head of a taxidermied chuckar partridge in my studio, their unintended, uncanny resemblance to various hats or historic head gear became apparent: dunce caps, papal mitre, bonnets, chaperons, hoods, and military gear. So, while there is no need on the bird's part for a hat, providing one points out, in an ironic way, the uniquely human need for adornments and accoutrements.

standing still - tree circle (detail)
Ink drawing on paper
30"h x 22"w

OPP: How does your use of repetitive mark-making—in the forms of drawing, cutting and sewing—in pieces like Standing Still - Tree Circle (2012), Twice: Migration (2009) and Wolf Mouth (2013) support the content of your work?
KF: My process is to mimic forms and patterns made by plants and animals: tree rings, concentric lines on seashells, woven grass in a bird nest, fractal patterns on ferns and corals, spider webs, or the meandering line of a snake. This is a way of understanding natural processes via imitation and representation using the tools of the artist —the pen, the blade, the needle. 

OPP: I like imagining Nature making marks in the same way an artist does, as if it is cognizant and self aware. Perhaps we should go back to the tradition of anthropomorphizing Nature itself, as used to occur in ancient myths . . . might we treat it better if we thought of Nature as a creative being deserving empathy?

KF: This is not just a belief of the past but a way of thinking that is embraced in a number of cultures, and it can have a profound impact on how one exists as a part of Nature. Many dismiss systems of thought like anthropomorphism and animism or consider them only as cultural constructs, but I think a more nuanced approach that crosses the boundaries of natural sciences and arts/humanities is where the most interesting discussions are taking place.

Unchopping a Tree #8
String and poplar tree

OPP: You just returned from a residency at Crooked Tree Arts Center in Northern Michigan. What drew you to this residency and what did you work on while you were there?
KF: I have never visited the area, and I like to invigorate my studio practice by situating it now and then in unfamiliar places. Also, I had the opportunity to teach a workshop called Image Layering with Printmaking, Painting and Drawing. I introduced a variety of techniques for mark making including frottage, chine colle' and image transfers. For the frottage process, I demonstrated how to use found textures of wood grain, stones and plants with printmaking inks and graphite on thin papers. Then I showed the process of cutting and adhering these images /patterns to thicker papers and adding additional images with transfers /drawing/painting.

This temporary move from the late summer high desert to the leafy landscape of Northern Michigan's forest preserves and great lakes provided much to investigate. The most fascinating discoveries on the shore of Lake Michigan were the unique geological features - the fossil patterns of Petoskey stones and chain coral influenced some of the drawings I worked on during the stay. The Crooked Tree program is unique in that the artist stays in a private studio and apartment adjacent to the residency hosts' home. The hosts are very knowledgeable about the area and the local flora and fauna and shared a lot of useful information about the region. I also created some site specific works related to my Unchopping a Tree series in a grove of poplars a short walking distance from the studio. I had the opportunity to visit Headlands, one of few designated International Dark Sky Parks, which has me thinking a lot about darkness and nocturnal environments as threatened natural resources.

Rings - September 2013
Tree branches
15' diameter

OPP: Do you see Unchopping a Tree (2013) as part of the trajectory of the earthworks of the 1970s?
KF: It's interesting to consider. Unchopping a Tree was inspired by a W.S. Merwin prose poem of the same name that was originally published in 1970. It’s publication and the earthworks are contemporaneous with the 1970s environmental movement and federal legislation for water, air and wilderness. They also coincide with my youth. Although I lived in cities and had no connection to wilderness or National Parks, I was still influenced by the cultural milieu of Woodsy the Owl, Smokey the Bear and collected what I could find from my backyard for “nature crafts.”
As an adult, I have visited many of the major earthwork sites of the West. If we can consider the trajectory and its many branches to include the influence of artists like Joseph Beuys and Richard Long, than perhaps what I’m doing is an offshoot from that. The major difference is the scale. Monumental alterations of the landscape like Double Negative, Spiral Jetty and Roden Crater are gigantic gestures. I tend to focus on smaller, and in some cases, nearly invisible patterns and processes. I concentrate on the details, which is what really struck me about the Merwin work. This written work essentially instructs the reader how to put back together a tree that has been cut down and all of the directives are, of course, impossible. The passages about sawdust and spider webs and nests are what really got me thinking about intricacy and what one likely wouldn’t see at all. That is the larger metaphor that moves me. When it come to the environment, we’ve gone so far down the path of destruction and removal, it seems unlikely that the damage can be undone or even sufficiently repaired.

To see more of Kirsten's work, please visit kirstenfurlong.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary 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 instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia recently completed an installation for Chicago Artists' Coalition's 2015 Starving Artist Benefit and is currently working towards a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, for O’Connor Art Gallery at Dominican University (River Forest, IL). The show will open on November 5, 2015.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jeroen Witvliet

Wayfarer - Hounds
Oil on canvas
190 x 260 cm

The moody, nearly monotone world of JEROEN WITVLIET's paintings appears to be one on the brink of destruction or already just past it. It seems like tremendous clouds of dust from a recent disaster have settled over the surface of everything. Regardless, Jeroen seeks to reveal the presence of the "Poetic" amidst the aggressive stadium crowds, the beached and overturned boats and the endless piles of broken boards and branches. Jeroen earned his BFA from Willem De Kooning Academy in Rotterdam, Netherlands and his MFA from the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada. He has had solo exhibitions at Slide Room Gallery (Victoria, BC), Zerp Gallery (Rotterdam) and Elissa Cristall Gallery (Vancouver). His current solo show, Wayfarer, at Kelona Art Gallery in British Columbia will close on October 18, 2015, so there's still time to see it. Born in the Netherlands, Jeroen now lives in Victoria, British Columbia.

OtherPeoplesPixels: The definition of wayfarer is "a person who travels on foot." In the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, many words with vastly different connotations are cited as synonyms: drifter, gadabout, gypsy, knockabout, maunderer, rambler, roamer, rover, stroller, vagabond, wanderer, nomad. Who is the wayfarer in your current show at Kelowna Art Gallery in British Columbia, Canada? Do any of these connotations apply?

Jeroen Witvliet: The Wayfarer is, to me, an abstraction, a situation one might find oneself in, a place where we wonder, where decisions need to be made or  a place in which we feel utterly lost. Lost by accident or by choice. A wayfarer is also a person who travels between communities without being part of either one, a person who brings tidings from one place to another. A messenger without roots. The wayfarer in this show is everyone and no one at the same time.

Part I
Oil on canvas
180x200 cm

OPP: I see both narratives and symbols of violence, aggression and the aftermath of destruction. It's in the dead bodies of Part I and Part II (2014), the recurring beached and overturned boats, the drones and the fighting figures of Feral, as well as the chaotic landscapes of Wayfarer. Are you an optimist or a pessimist about the contemporary world we live in?

JW: The work comes into being while being surrounded by media and news images, reading newspapers and listening to radio. Violence and aggression finds a way into the work, but I am not making any direct references to specific events. I can't say that I am neutral, but I try not to have an overtly pessimistic world view get in the way of creating images. I need them to carry a sense of the Poetic. Something you can't put your finger on, a sense of wonder and beauty even though that might not be the first association made by the viewer. If the work escapes definition they become like the the world I find myself in, nothing is either this or that.

Man in front of Crowd
Oil on Canvas
30 x 24 cm

OPP: Could you talk about when you choose not to exhibit your paintings on the wall? I'm thinking about the moveable display structures in Wayfarer and the unprimed, unstretched canvases of Feral. What makes one painting right for the wall and another beg to become more sculptural?

JW: The choice to take paintings of the wall and exhibit them as movable displays took some time. I have experimented with mounting work on different structures or as loose canvas hanging off the wall for some years and have, for now settled on showing work that is placed on custom-built wooden structures. This way I can vary the space in between the works and give the space in which the work is displayed a new feel. I can move works closer, opposite of each other or angle them and so create charged, in-between spaces. It is important to me to show that the work is two-dimensional and contains some sort of lie. The suggestion that we look into a space, a painted space, is being addressed by showing the backside and the structure that is used to stretch the canvas.

The works in Feral, on the other hand, are based on banners that are carried in protests. Instead of text, I use images that relate to protests on the banners. They are carried around by whoever wants to during exhibitions, constantly changing the way the work looks. When the works get dirty or damaged a sense of the passing of time is present. This adds to the work. The idea of time also plays a role in the structures with mounted work on them. While observing the work the viewer is asked to move around more, discovering relationships between the various works, linking or creating different narratives. Awareness of space and the passing of time become more present.

Acrylic on unprimed canvas on found wooden support bars
Variable installation

OPP: You are predominantly a painter, but have also studied film at Emily Carr University in Vancouver. Some paintings—Stadium, empty field (2013) and Lights (2013), for example—are based on stills from videos you made, but you don't include the videos themselves on your site. Is video and film just a tool for painting in your practice? How has thinking about the moving image affected your work in painting?

JW: Video and film can give us a a different sense and sensation of the passing of time. To me they can investigate and address issues surrounding spatial experience, narrative, angles of viewing and memory. How images in film are sequential has influenced my way of thinking about repetition, rhythm and how to deal with the possibility of narrative in the paintings. Editing in video has taught me how to edit my work when hanging a show. The work is made with the presentation in mind, the relationship between the works are of great importance to the overall experience of the work.

My video/film work stands by itself even though there are very distinct similarities. The video work has become very simplified over time, a single point of view recording the passage of a vessel or stadium lights turning on. These recordings do influence the way I paint. I might ask what changes take place over time when observing something for 30 minutes or more. Does our sensation of time apply to painting where we assume the image is static. To me there is no static image in painting: you look, turn around, come back to the same painting and a shift has taken place. Your memory and consequently the associations are triggering the possibility for different perspectives.

Day to Night to Day, Hands II

OPP: I see a connection between the grasping hands and packed stadiums. While the hands are about the relationships between a few people and the stadiums are about the crowd, both have implicit elements of connection, disconnection and desperation. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the relationship between these repeated motifs.

JW: The paintings of hands and the stadium pieces are both investigating the ongoing relationship of an individual to a group and the shifting mentality of society to idea, belief systems and radical thought. How does the mentality of a group relate to the feelings and emotions of the individual? How does one become part of a group and act accordingly or how does one become outcast/separated from a group?  With the hands, I am looking for intimacy of one person to another, realizing that in a group a different intimacy might exist. The fragile bond between individuals extends itself to the bonds between the group and the individual and between groups that define themselves as being different from the other group. The hands might hold something close to desire, longing, desperation or eroticism. They are human. This humanity can be easily lost in the group. I’m interested in questioning how we maintain our sense of self when confronted with chaos and change or the radical outburst of groups—whether small or stadium-sized. Are we spectators or participants or is that line too blurred to even distinguish?

To see more of Jeroen's work, please visit jeroenwitvliet.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary 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 instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia recently completed an installation for Chicago Artists' Coalition's 2015 Starving Artist Benefit and is currently working towards a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, for O’Connor Art Gallery at Dominican University (River Forest, IL). The show will open on November 5, 2015.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Ramekon O-Arwisters

With the Wind
52"H x 86"W x 9"D

Crochet Jam invites participants to communally crochet Spirit Tapestries from shredded rags, harkening back to traditional craft practices of reusing and transforming textiles. In these free, public events, artist RAMEKON O'ARWISTERS offers a public space for nourishing a sense of belonging and connection between strangers, as well as the possibility of liberation through creativity. Ramekon earned a Masters of Divinity from Duke University and is currently a curator of exhibitions at the SFO Museum and a guest lecturer at various Bay Area colleges. He was 2002 Artadia Awardee and a 2014 Eureka Fellow. If you live in the Bay Area, you can be part of Crochet Jam this fall at the following venues: Root Division (September 26, 2015) and Light Up Central Market, sponsored by the Luggage Store Gallery (Sept 30 2015). Crochet Jam will also be at the NIAD Art Center in Richmond, California on November 14, 2015. Ramekon lives in San Francisco.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You have a Masters of Divinity from Duke University. How does this background influence the work you make? Tell us a little about your path as an artist.

Ramekon O’Arwisters: Yes, I was in divinity school in my mid-twenties. Fortunately for me, and I believe for all of those around me, divinity students at that time were taught to be critical of the sources and not to rely on blind faith. We were taught biblical Hebrew and Greek, so we could translate from the original text and not rely on standard translations. We were taught to trust our own translations of the text, and to analyze the scriptures with regard to the historical context in which they were written. We asked questions like Who was the audience? and What was the social and political framework during that time? It was a powerful way to teach young people to be independent and self-reliant. Until this time, no one in my family had even read the bible; we had relied on the local preachers within our community to interpret for us. They authoritatively told us what to think and feel and how to act from the advantage point of the pulpit.

While I was in divinity school, I was also a practicing artist and had local-gallery representation for my abstract works on paper. As an artist, I was liberated to paint and draw whatever I had the courage to envision. And I did. I painted with the homemade grape wine. I dipped rocks and sticks into paint to make marks. Much later, I drew portraits of nude models using charred Brazil nuts.

Early in my professional ministerial training, I realized that my real job—outside of the sacred walls of academia and from the pulpit of the church—was to maintain the status quo and encourage conformity. In that role, I felt I was not meant to be an instrument of liberation but to continue to incarcerate the minds of others into an unsophisticated and dangerous, narrow-mindedness about religion. What frightened me more than the fact that I was not aiding in the liberation of others was the fact that others were hesitant to embrace a different way of understanding the bible. People outside of the university didn't want to think differently about how interpretations of the bible can cause spiritual, political, psychological and economic hardship.

It dawned on me at the age of twenty-five, that if the church was not willing to embrace new ways of viewing scripture, then it would certainly not embrace a queer lifestyle. Overwhelmed by the striking contradictions between the revolutionary and transformative teachings of Christ—love, acceptance, tolerance and forgiveness—and the present reality of the church, I decided to finish my degree and move to Tokyo to embrace spirituality through my creativity and paint and draw there. I lived in Tokyo from 1986 until 1991, when I moved to San Francisco.

Crochet Jam, Second Annual Family Art Day at the Shipyard
San Francisco. Presented by ArtSpan

OPP: Tell us about the history of Crochet Jam.

RO: When I was growing up in North Carolina, I helped my paternal grandmother, Celia Jones Taylor (1896–1982) make quilts. Quilt-making with her is one of my fondest childhood memories. I was embraced, important and special. I felt like a little black boy hiding my queer self from my family during the harsh reality of state-sanctioned Jim Crow oppression of black people in the U.S. and before the turbulent years of the Civil Rights Movement that spread throughout the country. My grandmother let me add any color or pattern I wanted to her quilt. It didn't matter if the strip of fabric that I selected did not fit the color scheme or any particular standard quilt-making pattern, that wasn't important. Togetherness and sharing stories and feelings while calmly quilting was important. There wasn’t any judgment. Our quilting bees were calm, relaxing and peaceful, just the type of atmosphere a confused, little black queer boy needed when the world outside of my grandmother’s house was often negative, hostile and unforgiving.

My social practice project Crochet Jam embodies this tenderness, compassion and warmth. I decided to start a community-art project that enabled groups of people to collectively work on a piece of art in public with strangers. The focus is on relaxation and human connection. I want participants to be in a creative mindset without anyone dictating the creative process, nor worrying about the finished product. Crochet Jam is how I make liberation a form of art.

The project originally began in 2011 with small sewing events with friends that I called Stitch. I was awarded a second Individual Artist Commission Grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission Cultural Equity Grant Program in 2011 for Sugar In Our Blood, an exhibition in 2013 that was an autobiographical approach to explore society's sexual stereotyping of the LGBTIQA and the African-American communities. The community joined me weekly at my home to cut and hand sew rag rugs. Stitch transformed into Crochet Jam with my artist residency at the de Young. The museum's leadership supported my community-based project but did not want to include using needles to sew the fabric. I agreed, but I needed to figure out a way to attach the fabric without needle and thread. A breakthrough occurred when a friend mentioned to me that I was making rag rugs—you can also crochet rag rugs! Crochet Jam was born.

Crochet Jam
African American Art and Culture Complex, San Francisco

OPP: How has the project evolved over the years?

RO: For almost five years, I have presented Crochet Jam events at galleries, museums, San Francisco International Airport, a community shelter, schools, and a hospice and in cities around the country—San Francisco, Oakland, Chico, New York City, Miami Beach, and Greensboro, North Carolina. Including Stitch and Crochet Jam, I believe that I have facilitated nearly a hundred events. What has changed is that I am not as concerned any more about only hosting Crochet Jams at museums and art centers. I plan to take Crochet Jam to communities within the industrial-prison system, including youth within our government's juvenile-detention centers, foster-care facilities, domestic-violence shelters, homeless shelters, hospitals, and hospice-care centers. But I believe that I am the one most positively impacted by Crochet Jam. We all want to be liberated and not judged. I am liberated by the gift of Crochet Jam and I'm pleased to share it with others.

Crochet Jam, Radical Craft Night,
Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, Santa Cruz, California

OPP: While crocheting can be wonderfully relaxing, teaching crochet to beginners is exhausting! Do you experience social practice fatigue?

RO: Well. Let me think. I only know one type of stitch in crochet: single-stitch crochet. So I can't really say that I am a crochet artist or really a crochet teacher. I am a social-practice artist. What I do is provide an opportunity for participants to experience liberation, creativity and social interaction using the folk-art tradition of crocheting rag rugs—organic, free-form, rag-rug tapestries. Crochet Jam is very symbolic in that I provide an opportunity for acceptance and non-judgment through public, community-based events with strangers using a folk-art tradition in a non-traditional manner for a non-traditional purpose.

Crochet Jam is liberating because no one is dictating the creative process, nor judging the finished product. Once I show participants—even five-year-olds!—how to single-stitch crochet and how to attach strips of fabric, then they can add any pattern or color they want to the tapestries. They are free to be as creative as one can be using a large wooden rag-rug crochet hook and strips of fabric. I keep telling the participants, add any pattern or color you want. But they still feel the need to consult with me, seeking my approval or feedback, and I gently repeat: Please add any color you want. Some even ask, Does this look good? Is it right? My reply is, How does it feel?

I give up my perceived authority and ask the participants to trust their creativity, their vision, and trust the material to reveal what it will. We are hardwired to please others and to be judged by what we create and produce. I am very happy that Crochet Jam has come to me; it is a gift that I freely share with others. I am extremely fulfilled and grateful that I am the conduit for Crochet Jam. I can only be liberated by liberating others. For me, that is the supreme power of art—to liberate.

The Trinity
Fabric, ceramic, glass, metal
100"H x 95"W x 36"D

OPP: Two of your solo exhibitions—Sugar In Our Blood: The Spirit of Black and Queer Identity (2013) at the African American Art & Culture Complex and Communing With the Unseen: African Spiritual in Contemporary Art (2012) at the de Young Museum, both in San Francisco—address the intersection of identity and spirituality. How do you define spirituality?

RO: For me spirituality has nothing to do with religion. Given my training, religion was about following rules, respecting authority, dogma, ritual and the mistreatment others who believed differently. Religion is antithetical to the spiritual well being of the population. Spirituality, on the other hand, is about the degree to which one is conscious, grounded, open and connected to the universal forces that create all things.

It has taken some time for me to embrace who I am spiritually, racially, sexually, politically and artistically. Family, friends, communities, societies and governments force conformity. We learn to deny who we are for the pleasure of others, ultimately for the pleasure of the state. What I feel I have had to deny the most over and above my sexuality is my spirituality. I am spirit. This statement offends the powerful because they cannot control it. Within the mega structure of the church system, the masses are controlled through dogma, ritual and conformity. Spirituality in all of its many glorious forms is a powerful thorn in the body politic.

Where We Are
Fabric, photos, wood, paper
48"H x 84" W x 12"D

OPP:  How does your solo work and your social practice work address spirituality in different ways?

RO: In my solo work, I define what's important. I accept and take my clues from my creative vision. At one of my recent group exhibitions, the curator informed me that a friend's five-year-old daughter said that "putting a rag rug on the wall is silly." Brilliant. What makes it silly? Well, rag rugs belong on the floor, not in a place of reverence like on the wall. This concept of keeping things and, by extension, people in their places is the backbone of conformity. I accept my creativity, my vision, as a spiritual act. Similarly, my social practice allows others to be themselves, to connect with others and to be liberated in a non-judgmental environment. It takes a great deal of courage to be liberated. For me, it starts with accepting and embracing spirituality through creativity.

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Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary 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 instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia recently completed an installation for Chicago Artists' Coalition's 2015 Starving Artist Benefit and is currently working towards a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, for O’Connor Art Gallery at Dominican University (River Forest, IL). The show will open on November 5, 2015.