OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Gwyneth Anderson

Some Sensations Felt at Various Locations
Video stills from drawn animation & performance
Top (left to right): peeling off a scab; restless legs; anxiety felt when interacting with quiet, intelligent, perceptive women. Bottom (left to right): listening to music through headphones; receiving a compliment that makes me uneasy; rising up from toilet seat after having sat for five minutes.

GWYNETH ANDERSON explores empathy and subjectivity in her sparse, hand-drawn animations of physical sensations. In video installations which turn the site into the audience, she takes a phenomenological approach in trying to understand what plants or the moon might want and how a room or exhibition space might feel. Gwyneth earned her BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2009. She has been an artist-in-residence at Arteles Creative Center in Finland, Harold Arts (2011 and 2012), 8550 Ohio (2013) and Experimental Sound Studio (2013-2014) and will soon travel to Geneva, Switzerland for a residency at Utopiana (2014-2015). Notable exhibitions and screenings include the group exhibition Mind the Gap at Hyde Park Art Center (2014), Detent & Stow & Some Sensations Felt at Various Locations at Adult Contemporary (2013), and Laughing Video as part of The Happiness Project at 6018 NORTH (2011). She has also exhibited several times at Roman Susan Gallery, where her solo project Qualiascope is now on view. The show will close with a screening at 6pm on December 6, 2014. Gwyneth lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Pieces like A Microscopic View of Invisible Things (2011), Sensation Animation (2009), Some Sensations Felt at Various Locations (2012) and Aeriameter (2014) all offer animated visualizations of experiences that are not visual: sounds, smells, emotions, physical sensations. I read these works as explorations and aids in mindfulness of the present moment. These animations aren't illustrations, but opportunities to investigate my own experiences of sensations. Even if your representation of your experience of a  particular sensation doesn't match mine, your animation allows me to be really aware of what that sensation is like for me. Thoughts?

Gwyneth Anderson: I like how you think. I particularly like that what a viewer can gain from my work isn’t necessarily a matched experience, but rather an opportunity to be aware. Usually audiences react with “Oh wow! You’re right, that’s what needing to pee feels like!” or “I disagree about what itches look like.” People have reactions that inject right and wrong. Which is great! I love that people can relate so much with what I’m documenting solely from myself.

Mindfulness is at the core of making those pieces. It gives me great satisfaction for a viewer to react by observing their own perceptions with heightened awareness.

I cherish the truth of physical sensation. There is agency in simply having a body with perceptions which no one can contradict. But communication tools for those experiences are limited; that’s why I made those drawn animations. Having your own body also raises a lot of questions about objectivity and subjectivity. If our own perceptions are inherently subjective, are they not factual? The fact that someone else can’t fully see or understand how you feel doesn’t lessen the realness of your experience.

Sensation Animation
Drawn animation: visual representations of physical sensations while sitting at my desk in my bedroom

OPP: Do you have a meditation practice? Is animation a type of meditation?

GA: I do meditate, though it predominately takes place in moments sprinkled throughout the day. I’m prone to anxiety, so meditation—in the sense of focused breathing and visualization —is a necessity for me. I visualize during meditation, and those visualizations often are animated, in motion. For instance, I’ll see a certain path that my breath makes while inhaling and exhaling, involving repetitive loops and turns. Maybe, for me, meditation is a type of animation.

But I wouldn’t say that animation is a type of meditation, although it can certainly be meditative. Both practices are defined by increments that build to a larger whole. In meditation, it’s breath; in animation, it’s a single line or single frame. But meditation is more observational than creative. Creativity is actually a burden when meditating, because I want to focus on just breath or just light. That’s less of the case with my artwork. I do maintain simplicity and directness in my projects, but creativity is necessary for it. And the knowledge of an end product and the desire to achieve certain results can be barriers for trying to only perceive the present moment.

I do try to slow down my perceptions though. I make animations that play back at 12 frames per second. Five minutes of my existence might become 1/12 of a second. Sometimes when I’m doing this, I feel like my eyes are twice as big or I’m glowing. . . Ha! It’s vaguely transcendental.

Virtual Reality for a Horizon

OPP: Your series of video installations Sykliä imagines mossy rocks, dead trees, the moon and the horizon line as an ideal audience. Could you talk about making art for nature—rather than about nature?

GA: I think a lot about audience and context. Popular art, music, games, movies ignore and condescend to so many demographics of people. Especially movies. There’s a hyper-awareness about audience in mainstream Hollywood, and it encompasses all sorts of bigotry. Regardless, the act of writing a movie script aimed at wealthy, white thirtysomethings, who are successful in their careers but still trying to find love, isn’t so different from installing a site-specific sculpture in the Chicago Cultural Center. The producers and the artist are both fiercely focused on the context.

I wanted to be like a Hollywood screenwriter and make movies that would attempt to entertain audiences that I am not part of: rocks, trees, the moon. After all, most screenwriters are writing for audiences that they themselves do not belong to. But instead of being primarily driven by profits, I was driven by empathy. I tried to understand what rocks, trees, the moon might want to watch. I wanted the site to be the audience. Humans unnecessary.

But, of course. . . Humans are audience members for these videos. There have been times when these works were played outside when no humans—even myself—were present, but by and large, people were watching. And that’s what I want. By approaching an artwork, knowing it’s intended for the horizon or dead conifer tree, the human must interpret what it could mean for that place or thing to perceive it. That, to me, is total empathy: attempting to perceive as though you had a completely different shape or nervous system, or no nervous system at all.

Performative video, attempted synchronicity

OPP: Pastoral Anxiety (2009) and My Bucolic State (2010) both suggest a disconnection from nature and it's accompanying longing to reconnect. Emulation (2011) also takes on this theme, but I actually feel the longing and the belonging in this piece. There's a real sense that the human figure in the video is truly empathizing with the plants by mimicking their motion. By putting herself in the "shoes" of the plants, she can finally feel the connection. Is this in line with your personal experience of making the piece (I am assuming that's your arm)?

GA: Yes, it’s me in all those videos. Pastoral Anxiety and My Bucolic State are much more about trying to approach the forest as a social space, where as Emulation goes the opposite direction of human trying to be arboreal. Or leafy. And instead of dressing up in moss as I did in Pastoral Anxiety, it’s about the movements involved. As if the movements determine their plantness. I was also thinking more formally, like a series of paintings with arms for tree limbs, rather than a character, as in Pastoral Anxiety. I think the lack of a face and language helps with this.

You’re absolutely right. I did feel more belonging while making Emulation. Those videos tackle strong emotions I have about being separate from landscapes, and Emulation responds with acceptance of the differences between my body and various plants. It doesn’t fight it or lament it.

That said, the video footage in My Bucolic State was shot around the area I grew up, so I feel a deep connection to it. It’s layered and complicated. Emulation was shot in Costa Rica, outside of Ciudad Colón. I was speaking beginner-level Spanish everyday there, perpetually trying to understand and conjure the right words. Making the video was an offshoot of that intensely focused listening, with little ability for initiating my own thoughts or movements.

Aural Thermometer
Sound sculpture

OPP: You just opened a solo show called Qualiascope at Roman Susan Gallery in Chicago. Tell us about the show.

GA: Qualiascope invites visitors to attempt to empathize with a room. The word "qualia" refers to subjective experiences such as pain from a stubbed toe or the taste of food. There are no tools for systematically measuring qualia; there are, however, many ways for measuring the phenomena of a room, including distance and temperature. It's easy to see the objectivity of what yardsticks and thermometers do because of their quantifiability, but there's a lack of sensation to them. So I approached the measurable phenomena as if they were subjective experiences. For example, Aural Thermometer is a sound sculpture. I installed head phone jacks in the wall next to a thermometer at corresponding 20 degree increments. While Aural Thermometer wouldn't be obviously considered an animation, I approached it like one, recording sounds of various clicks and thuds, which incrementally gain momentum in relation to the corresponding temperature. I thought of the space between each sound as being like the distance traversed by a single animated dot.

For a long time I've wanted to create video installations without actually using any video or film technology. Video installation exists in a world where viewers assume that the big letters on the bottom of a screen spelling out SONY have nothing to do conceptually with the piece. They are asked to just look at the illuminated image and not consider the other parts and certainly not touch the other parts. It's distancing. But each element in sculpture—including the pedestal—is relevant.

In Qualiascope, I wanted to allow visitors to control their own rate of playback. There are no videos installed, but most of the works involve moving imagery. The visitor provides the movement, as one does with a flip book. The incrementality of animation is more apparent when you see the individual frames. I think of those increments as if they are the inches on a yardstick or degrees on a thermometer.

On the last night of the show (December 6, 2014 at 6pm), I will screen an animation compiled from all the frames in the exhibition. Each piece will be translated into a section of the animation, including the works that are sound-based. The result will attempt to communicate the room's sense of time in relation to its qualia.
To see more of Gwyneth's work, please visit gwynethvzanderson.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. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, is on view at Design Cloud in Chicago from July 25 - October, 24, 2014. Beginning on November 7, 2014, Stacia will improvise When Things Fall Apart, an ongoing, collage installation in the Lillstreet Annex Gallery. Closing reception guests will be invited to help break down the piece by pulling pins out of the wall on December 5, 2014.