OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Lauren Carter

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

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

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

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

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

OPP: Was Flux the transition?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OPP: What was the process like?

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

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

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

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

To see more of Lauren's work, please visit laurencarterart.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indiana 2017). In March 2018, her solo installation Where Do We Go From Here? will open at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction, the atrium will exhibit two-dimensional artwork by artists who were invited by Stacia to make new work also titled  Where Do We Go From Here?

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Shanti Grumbine

Permeable (Broken Clover), 2017. Cast FGR 95. 5 x 10 feet.

SHANTI GRUMBINE transforms everyday objects including broken castoffs found on the side of the road and the New York Times, which is both revered and thrown away daily. Through the slow, repetitive actions of cutting, gluing, screen-printing and casting, she leaves the impression of her hand to be the lens through which the viewer can reconsider systems of value and knowledge dissemination. Shanti earned her BFA in 2000 at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and her MFA in 2005 at Penn Design, University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia). She has attended numerous artist residencies, including those at the Saltonstall Foundation (Ithaca, New York), Bemis Center for Contemporary Art (Omaha, Nebraska) and Vermont Studio Center (Johnson, Vermont) with a full fellowship. Most recently she was a 2016-2017 RAIR Fellow in Roswell, New Mexico. In 2017, she presented two solo exhibitions: Zeroing at Smack Mellon (Brooklyn) and pilgrim, approaching wordlessness at Roswell Museum and Art Center in New Mexico. Her work will be included in Summer Reading, an upcoming group show at The Woskob Family Gallery at Penn State. Shanti lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You’ve worked with The New York Times as material for years. Where did you start and how has the work changed over the years?

Shanti Grumbine: I started using the New York Times newspaper as source material in 2011. In 2009, I was diagnosed with late stage neurological Lyme Disease and I spent much of the following two years in bed, isolated and not capable of continuing the sculpture practice I’d finally found my footing in. My world slowed down, and due to cognitive difficulties, so did my reading. I wasn’t able to hold onto information, my word recall was impaired, and my focus was shot. My experience of reading had shifted into something so slow and non-linear that it no longer resembled reading. I wondered how to recreate this experience visually. At the same time I was really trying to get out of my own head and connect with the world at large. Newspapers create a simplified/organized microcosm of the world. Computer screens hurt my eyes, so I had to stick with reading the paper version. I wondered what it would be like if each word disappeared after being read. Would I, the reader, hold onto the words more dearly out of desperation? Would my comprehension increase? Would the authors approach to narrative or information sharing shift? Would language become more meaningful? At first I wanted to create a stop motion animation of a newspaper article disappearing word by word. But the pain I dealt with in my joints made the action of erasure difficult. So I started to excise each line with an X-Acto knife. Because what we read inevitably affects what we see, I started to cut away at the images as well. What started as a personal gesture grew into a much larger exploration of censorship, marketing and the historical precedents for western journalism. 

Surplus, 2017. De-acidified New York Times newspaper, matte medium, UV spray coat, newspaper stick, spray paint.

OPP: Transformation is important in your work. And there are many different kinds of transformation—redaction of text, material and scale shifts, recreating two-dimensional images as three-dimensional objects. Is transformation content or process? 

SG: I think it’s both, a process that leads to content. I believe strongly in the way that the body can think—I discover the world around me with my hands. My mind is curious, and my hands investigate. It’s no different from when I was a kid taking things apart to see what they were made of. So to redact text is also a way of trying to understand how the page functions. Through that type of removal, the margins become more visible and so does the structure of the page. This redaction of the newspaper page led me to a project called Score, where I translated redacted newspaper pages into a musical score. When I redacted the individual lines of text, the words and shapes of the pull quotes became more prevalent. When I screen-printed the redacted page – I saw the pull quotes as medieval square notes asking to be translated into a melody. By turning the pages into a score and performing them, I was able to experience the flow of information more clearly from when a story breaks to when it disappears from the public eye. I could hear how journalism functioned. This type of transformation is a very slow, very elemental way of knowing that isn’t appreciated in today’s digital, fast paced information age. By allowing for slow repetitive processes, I tapped into the systems of western information dissemination that preceded journalism including illuminated holy books and oral traditions of information dissemination such as Gregorian chant. 

In my newer project, I focus on the act of walking and the collection and recreation of broken things. When I am drawn to a random object on the side of the road, I have a choice. The moment of finding can remain my own personal discovery, a fleeting momentary but unconscious encounter, or through its recreation and enlargement, it can become something permanent, and more monumentally visible. Through the transformative act of recreation, I commit to a bent piece of metal, privileging the margins of culture and the throw away. 

Melt, 2015. screen print. 22 x 30 inches.

OPP: In Zeroing (2017), your solo show at Smack Mellon, what’s the relationship between the fashion accessories rendered in print and sculpture—watches, jewelry and shoes—and the news images that point to serious problems in our world—guns, melting glaciers and refugees seeking asylum

SG: In Zeroing, I wanted to focus on the ways we establish and maintain value through advertising and how those techniques affect our ability to seek, communicate and understand “truth.” I’m interested in the black and white advertisements for luxury items that congregate in the margins of news journals providing a peripheral narrative. Even in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Mrs. Maisel, an upper class 1960s house-wife turned comedienne has the epiphany that the shoe ads are strategically placed to distract women from the content of the articles. The New York Times is a truth seeking institution and it’s also a commercial product, funded by advertisers and aimed toward a specific class, which is made more obvious by its advertisements. The pieces of jewelry, watches and vases are intended to be passed down from generation to generation, reinforcing the relationship between profit, media and legacy. 

Throughout the show I created relationships between the news images and the luxury items in the advertisements. For instance, in front of a screen print of a melting iceberg in Antarctica, I placed a Baccarat crystal vase as if to ask, “Which crystalline structure will last longer?” And I paired a Chanel pump with an image of women and children escaping from Syria in Turkey, pointing out the blatant irony of functionality as well as gesturing toward the mythic quality of alienation and longing in Dorothy’s ruby slippers and Cinderella’s glass slippers. I was interested in desire in general, how it functions and what types of insidious forces shape that personal landscape of longing. I wanted to understand these luxury items at a more formal level. By enlarging, inverting the values and screen-printing them to look like X-Rays or ghosts, I was able to uncouple them from branding. By recreating them by hand as white objects and presenting them in a non-profit gallery space, I shifted their materiality, context and value. 

Asemic Prayer #2, 2015. New York Time plastic delivery wrapping

OPP: You call Brooklyn home, but you spent 2017 in Roswell, New Mexico as a RAIR Fellow. What was surprising, difficult or thrilling about New Mexico? How did the environment affect your work?

SG: I’ve loved New Mexico since I first went hiking and camping there in my 20s. I love the vast, dry expanse of high plains and desert that surrounds Roswell. When the land is endless and quiet, your mind attunes to that. Roswell is equidistant from the Southern parts like Carlsbad and White Sands and northern towns like Santa Fe, Taos, Abiquiu and Ojo Caliente, so I got to explore many different aspects of the New Mexican landscape and culture. But mainly I was in Roswell, working, reading, writing and learning my own internal rhythms. In Roswell, there was time for everything. Time for stretches of disciplined studio time, time for feeling totally lost, time to be supported by friends, time to start over and lots of time to see things through. 

Since I was diagnosed with Lyme, my main source of exercise, well-being and pain management has been walking. Every residency I do, I establish my 2-3 mile daily walk. It’s my top priority, and everything else—food, studio, socializing—organizes itself around that. In Roswell, I started to think and read more about pilgrimage and the history of walking. Though I spent my first four months focusing on Zeroing and some other group shows in New York, my next project was forming itself in my daily walks and reflexive collection of detritus from the side of the road. That winter, I found out about an annual holy pilgrimage to El Santuario de Chimayo, a small adobe Church in Chimayo, that occurs on Good Friday and was grateful to incorporate that experience into my research. Rebecca Solnit described pilgrimage in her book Wanderlust as a “liminal state – a state of being between one’s past and future identities and thus outside the established order, in a state of possibility.” Despite moments of hopelessness, this is often how I felt when I first got sick, and it is also how I felt in Roswell. Witnessing that pilgrimage affected the content and format of my work for the rest of the residency.  

Liminal, 2017. Gel pen on black paper. 20 x 28 inches.

OPP: Tell us about your most recent solo show at the Roswell Museum and Art Center, pilgrim approaching wordlessness (2017).

SG: pilgrim, approaching wordlessness was comprised of two distinct but related parts dealing with aspects of liminality. One part consisted of drawings and wall sculptures based on the ubiquitous and overlooked decorative architectural features such as breeze blocks that can be found in almost any rural or urban community regardless of class. With Trump commissioning border wall prototypes, I couldn’t help but start thinking about borders and boundaries, who and what we let in, how and why and who gets to decide. I started thinking about permeability and rigidity, the power of empire and the incredible risks people take to create sanctuaries. And the visible role that architecture plays in creating these various value systems. These layered thoughts are bound up in my material explorations of breeze block patterns, an affordable and aesthetically pleasing decorative concrete block, originally designed to keep out the sun and let in the breeze. The other part of the show consisted of drawings and sculptures based on the broken, rusted things I found on the side of the road. A collection turned collective as friends and neighbors began dropping off bits and pieces of broken things found from their own walks.

C, 2017. Foam core, fiberglass veil, FGR 95, taxidermy clay, iron B metal coating, patina, found object.

OPP: In what way are those objects “souvenirs [that] point forward toward something still becoming?” 

SG: While I was working toward this show, I re-read parts of Susan Stewart's book, On Longing where she talks about the souvenir. I was trying to understand what these broken rusted objects were to me, why I felt drawn to picking them up and why I wanted to trace them as drawings and remake them as larger sculptures. Souvenirs are a reminder of something. They are “by definition always incomplete” because they are a trace of the original event and are therefore inherently nostalgic. The objects that I find are similarly incomplete, and hold a trace of what they used to be. But they aren’t a part of a whole, the way a bit of hair or cloth reminds us of the person or dress. And they are not the replica of anything such as the Eiffel Tower, nor do they feel nostalgic, not even for the particular walk or place in which I found them or the person who gave them to me. In their rusted brokenness, there is the sense of something new, something caught in the act of becoming. They become signifiers of transition, idols of possibility. According to Bill Brown, an object becomes a thing when it breaks, no longer neatly fitting into a category of functionality. We only see the window when it becomes dirty. In my act of collection, I came to understand my own objectness and as a result my own transformation into thingness. When the body is sick or broken, it no longer disappears into its functionality. We are all at one time or another, a thing among things, a liminal vessel straddling where we were and what we will become. 

To see more of Shanti's work, please visit shantigrumbine.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indiana 2017). In March 2018, her solo installation Where Do We Go From Here? will open at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction, the atrium will exhibit two-dimensional artwork by artists who were invited by Stacia to make new work also titled  Where Do We Go From Here?

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Nathan Skiles

Am I Born to Die: Hadrian #7 (pink), 2016. Acrylic & Cloth on Paper. 15.75 x 13.75 inches, framed.

NATHAN SKILES' constructions—both sculptural and two-dimensional—are simutaneously silly and dead serious. In acrylic diptyches that reference target practice and the game of darts, he highlights duality. In foam rubber cuckoo clocks and reconstructions made from chopped-up foam rubber cuckoo clocks, he emphasizes synthesis. In collages that mash up familiar textile patterns like camoflage and plaid with the folk art form of the Pennsylvania Dutch hex sign, he traffics in the abstract languages embedded in material culture. Nathan earned his BFA (2002) at Ringling School of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida and his MFA (2006) at Montclair State University in New Jersey. He has had solo exhibitions at Green Contemporary (New York, NY), Hunterdon Art Museum (Clinton, NJ) and the Center for Arts and Culture at University of Notre Dame (South Bend, IN). In 2017, his work was included in group shows at Tampa Museum of Art, Centre Gallery at University of South Florida and Highlands Museum of the Arts (Sebring, Florida). He is an is an instructor at the Ringling College of and Design. Nathan lives and works in Sarasota, Florida.

OPP: Can you talk generally about how think about and work with collage? This process also seems to be a metaphor in your work.

NS: There’s a lot to disentangle in this question. Growing up in a German Baptist home in rural Indiana, making was an integral part of my early experience. A connection was born out of a dichotomy of a pride found in self-sufficiency and the embarrassment of standing apart from culture at large, in ill-fitting handmade and secondhand clothes.

As an object, nothing quite exemplifies this like a patchwork quilt made of recycled scraps. These specific quilts, like Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, are a strange, imperfect hybrid born from the remnants of whole beings. Previously intact, leftovers now lashed together to find a new life.

Seamless integration is often a noble idea fraught with rough edges and pushback. As artists, I think we need to embrace that collage might not improve upon the original, that corruption and contamination might be collage’s most effective and evocative qualities.

“Siphoning Sinew and Slippage” cuckoo clock, construction fence, dreamcatcher, spider’s web, and Dutch hex sign, 2010. Corrugated plastic and foam rubber. 38" x 21" x 19"

OPP: Up until recently, your dominant material was foam rubber. You used it in various early sculptures, in the Birdhouses, in the Cuckoo Clocks, and in The Clockmaker’s Apprentice (2011). What drew you to this material?

NS: I gravitate towards wry and knowing gestures. The earliest sculptural work started out as rather unconvincing ersatz replicas of overly aggressive props; swords, arrows, traps. As I became more familiar with the materials I began to drop the more problematic and fugitive elements and eventually landed on foam as a ubiquitous, malleable and convincing material. 

Golem #5; cuckoo clock with tools, 2011. Foam rubber. 16 x 12 x 12 inches.

OPP:  The Clockmaker's Apprentice (2011) included 68 Golems, 5 Shoggoths and 25 Frankenstein’s monsters. All of these creations combine cuckoo clocks with building tools—scissors, protractors, levels, painter’s tape and other measuring devices. What’s different about the golems, the shoggoths and the monsters?

NS: As the work became more refined, I began to feel it lose its contrarian edge. Instead of exploring materiality I chose to focus on developing the imagery. I decided to make images of objects aware of their lowly position, made of generic and common stuff and stuck in whatever idiotic gesture I, as a capricious creator, willed them in to.

(As a side note, I realize now that I find the weeping tragedy mask the more honest and acceptable of the twined comedy/tragedy images. The comedy version, stuck forever with its painful, gaping smile is an unnerving reflection on contradiction.) 

I separated the series in to three groups to delineate the structural differences of how the parts came together. First, the golems were created as one-off experiences. Simple, crude faces created as caricatures of facial gestures. Frankenstein’s Monsters were the golems taken one step further; each one is made from the pieces of former golems, cut up and recombined to create a three-dimensional version of a Surrealist’s exquisite corpse drawing. Like the eponymous coagulate in an H.P. Lovecraft story, the shoggoths were the mishmash of several sculptures fused together with little regard for structure or appearance.

Frankenstein's Monster #12; cuckoo clocks and birdhouse with tools, 2011. Foam rubber. 31 x 12 x 11 inches

OPP: How does this series speak to the relationship between the creation and the creator?

NS: I know a number of artists who are terrible stewards of their own work, and at that time I might have been the worst. As a pragmatist storage is always an issue; it didn’t hurt that the objects were lightweight and flexible. As an indifferent parent to the completed objects I have to contend with both the physical mountain of objects I create and the complex nature of mass proliferation. As much as I feel compelled to make, I also think it’s equally important to question the hubris of creating permanent gestures.

Eye of Providence cw, 2013. Acrylic on paper, with bullet holes. 33.5” x 25.5” each, framed diptych.

OPP: Will the Circle Be Unbroken is a series of collages made with acrylic, paper and fabric that refer to Pennsylvania Dutch hex signs. What do the hex signs mean to you and why do you render them as fabric and paint collages?

NS: The Pennsylvania Dutch hex sign, a form of folk art and magic, are emblems and motifs painted on barns and homes to promote fertility and prosperity. I think of them as a container for intentionality.

I combined the standard motifs with patterns of pride— tartans, plaids, familial patterns—and protection—fencing and camouflage. As I continued to work on these pieces, it struck me how significant images of power are, not to the weak, but to those who are insecure.

Will the Circle Be Unbroken #22, 2014. Acrylic Collage on Paper and Cloth. 24" x 24", framed.

OPP: Were you thinking more about the possibility of secret symbols or pure abstraction in referencing the hex signs?

NS: Not to be too evasive, but I’m not sure I make much of a difference between pure abstraction and secret symbolism. Both are imbued with a creator’s will and, regardless of how succinct they are, it can be damn difficult to decode them without pre-knowledge.

Am I Born to Die Trammel #1 (violet), 2017. Acrylic & Cloth on Paper. 23 x 20.5 inches, framed.

OPP: Your newest series Am I Born to Die initially brought to mind the divided lunch trays I used to eat from at public schools. Is this an intentional reference?

NS: Not an intended reference, but I think the logic is sound and gets to the secret heart of the work—the maturity of a holistic meal shouted down by an impetuous child demanding to keep the peas out of their mashed potatoes.

OPP: What does this series do with pattern and its pride and protection connotations that the hex signs didn’t? 

NS: I have a strong belief that effective works of art avoid the need to decipher what the artist intends for it to be about and instead tend to wear their tone of voice on their sleeve.

Forcing myself to continue to cultivate the metaphor of the hex sign began to feel insincere, the constraints of the metaphor were overbearing, and in my mind its symbolic power had started to wane. 

It’s my hope that the new works, in their state of tenuous integration, more openly complicate the relationship between individuality and collectivism, pride and prejudice, protection and insecurity. Unmoored from the restraints of the hex signs, the new work can evoke a broader range of contradictions of compartmentalization inherent in rubble masonry, stained glass, malignant cell walls, and even lunch trays.   

To see more of Nathan's work, please visit nathanskiles.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indiana 2017). In March 2018, her solo installation Where Do We Go From Here? will open at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction, the atrium will exhibit two-dimensional artwork by artists who were invited by Stacia to make new work also titled  Where Do We Go From Here?

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Joshua West Smith

(walnut) screen. 2016. walnut, clay. 49" x 49" x 13"

Sculptor JOSHUA WEST SMITH makes to understand what he doesn't know. His objects are part of an ongoing investigation into the ever-shifting nature of time. To this end, he makes fixed sculptures that seem barely balanced, implying a next moment that never comes, one in which they tip or move or crumble. Joshua completed his BFA at Oregon College of Art and Craft in Portland in 2008. He went on to earn his MFA at University of California Riverside in 2016. Joshua is currently preparing for two upcoming solo exhibitions in 2018, one at Northview Gallery (Portland, OR) and the other at Elephant (Los Angeles, CA). His work will also be part of From the Guts of Stars, a two-person exhibition with Jenene Nagy—another OPP Featured Artist! The show will open in February 2018 at Whitter College in California. He is one half of the curatorial team Tilt Export:. Joshua lives and works in the Inland Empire of Southern California.

OtherPeoplesPixels: When I look at your work—and I sadly feel like my experience viewing them online is incomplete—I think about the poetry of physics. Your sculptures remind me of the beauty and the challenges of the physical world. How much are you consciously thinking about the laws of physics while creating your work?

Joshua West Smith: I think a way for me to start talking about physics and poetry is to point to my interest in the separation of our bodies and our consciousness. The body—to me—is a tool developed in the physical world, and that body is constantly struggling or working within the constraints of a specific environment, which according to popular belief and observation is ruled by the laws of physics. This fundamental experience which our bodies share with so many other bodies allows for us to have an empathetic response to physical gestures and materials. I think in some ways those responses are intuitive responses which may slightly precede language/consciousness.

This moment before we cloak something we perceive in language is of the utmost importance to me. I would say that my practice is immersed in the poetically observed reality of physics. It is a flow—at times smooth and at others irregular—where my focus shifts within the spectrums of time and scale.

side pony, 2015. paint, wood, wire, cardboard. 38" x 36" x 38"

OPP: When you talk about shifting focus, are you speaking about the moment to moment experience of making a single piece or across your practice?

JWS: At this point I'm trying for all of those things. . . I want to shift my focus within every discrete sculpture or temporary body I create, and I want to be consistently doing the same across my practice and in my efforts outside the studio. I'm trying to figure out how to stay open. A big part of that is not becoming engrossed with one thing or way. An analogy I have been using to describe my work has been to compare the pieces to musical compositions with materials and forms as notes. I want to create compositions that are at times pleasing, always texturally rich, and flirt with moments of discordance. As an artist I want to play with our focus while being sensitive to the empty spaces within each piece and between moments of making. These spaces are not empty but full of the world.

The Oracle. 2016. wood, vinyl pigment print, hydrocal, aqua resin, cast concrete. 104" x 58" x 18"

OPP: In your statement, you say “I strive to make shaky ambiguous things, whose imbalance and openness exemplify my belief in an unstable world.” But I would argue that your sculptures are very much balanced, just precariously so. They, however, don’t seem entirely stable. Are balance and stability the same thing?  

JWS: Words like balance and stability exist as fixed signifiers but truly represent concepts that are mobile or transitory. They function to indicate a temporary state. A stable geological formation erodes and becomes balanced before it crumbles, becomes sand, and is washed to the sea. I think my use of the words shaky and imbalance is an attempt to physicalize—through language—material differences in the works which become symbols for different states of time and my own understanding of it. Material operates in my work as a metaphor for our malleable perception of time. We live out time as one moment after another, but I want to prompt the viewer to cognize the uncanny ability to imagine time outside of the present and to think of nanoseconds alongside things like geologic and cosmic time. Balance and stability are transitory and dependent on the viewer's focus and their variable investment in a thing which is observed.

screen. 2016. cnc cut pvc, wood, steel, clay, gold leaf. 85" x 60" x 65"

OPP: Tell us about the repeated circles in nomad (2015), dummy (2015), (walnut) screen (2016) and screen (2016). At first I thought this was based on construction fencing (usually orange), but then I realized that these are perfect circles. Is this motif based on something found? Why do you return to it repeatedly?

JWS: I started this inquiry after a conversation with artist Hannah Karsen. We were discussing pattern, its history in textiles and its evolution in current fashion trends. I was struggling with color and mark making on a new body of work, Hannah suggested I look to other patterns for inspiration to avoid some of the pitfalls of the subjective mark and color choices that I was trying to avoid. I was trying to make things that were fixed but becoming. In essence what I was looking for was pattern that would in someways disguise the form and in other ways highlight it. nomad (2015) was an early piece that really relied on the viewer moving around it to resolve or dissolve the image and object. As I progressed, I realized I was more interested in pattern as a consistent system that could create a memory of something it had interacted with and communicate that thing’s essence with a minimum of information. dummy (2015) became a piece but also a model for photographs which became (walnut) screen (2016). For me, this use of pattern becomes an analog for language.

end of running line. 2013. constructed plywood tubing, wood, cardboard, plaster, acrylic paint. 60” x 64” x 66”

OPP: You work with a wide range of materials: wood, steel, concrete, resin, hydrocal, clay, cardboard. Do you have a favorite material?

JWS: I really do love working with wood. It is beautiful and surprising and a little unforgiving if you have the wrong goals. At this point in my history of making, I enjoy working intuitively and avoid measuring as much as I can. I think it brings out some of my favorite aspects of living—being sensitive and perceptive while ready to improvise, being excited to be surprised and challenged.

Hand shaped white lacquered custom shelving uni, 2009. enduro lacquer, wood. 80" x 98" x 14"

OPP: Aside from your sculpture, you also design and build custom shelving, benches, tables, etc. Is the creation of functional furnishings just a way to support your sculpture practice? Or can you accomplish something in this work that the sculpture cannot do?

JWS: In the past I did support myself and my sculpture habit by making furniture, but that was hard living. Now I only do about three or four commission pieces a year and view it as a way to remember what it is to be humble. Every time I make a piece of furniture it feels like I’m doing it for the first time. It’s different clients different locations, different objects and different materials. It’s always fresh and stressful but invigorating and inspirational. Furniture making is a hard reality of form and function with the added stress of my desire to create long lasting, good objects that are truly in service to their users.

I guess what keeps me engaged with furniture is my love of material and my desire to have another way to share that with people. If I make a sculpture I am usually one of the few people to touch it, but when I put a furniture piece into someones home it lives a life with them that is intimate in a way that an art object rarely is. Furniture is touched and known. I like having a dual practice which comes from the same hands and experiences but works in different ways.

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

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indiana 2017). In March 2018, her solo installation Where Do We Go From Here? will open at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction, the atrium will exhibit two-dimensional artwork by artists who were invited by Stacia to make new work also titled  Where Do We Go From Here?

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Samantha Sethi

Object Impermanence, 2016. 12 drawings on plexiglass, gouache, ice, camcorder, MDF, led lights, HD Monitor with live feed. Dimensions variable.

SAMANTHA SETHI is a multi-media artist working primarily in drawing, installation, sculpture, and video. Freezing and melting both play a significant role in her practice, which explores deterioration, entropy and emphemerality. Her process-based sculptures investigate both the human impact on the environment and nature's impact on cultural sites. Samantha earned her BFA at The School of Visual Arts (New York) in 2006 and just completed her MFA at American University (Washington D.C.) in 2016. In 2017, she attended a residency at the Torpedo Factory (Alexandria, Virginia) was a Fellow at Baltimore’s Coldstream Homestead Montebello Sculpture Park and just began a residency at Creative Alliance, also in Baltimore. Samantha moved there a few weeks ago and is happy to call the city her home.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What interests you about the processes of freezing and melting, generally speaking?

Samantha Sethi: My work comes from an interest in the interplay and reciprocal effects between the natural and built environments. Freezing and melting is a way for me to think about the myriad ways in which the world as we know it was formed and how it continues to change, at rates both perceivable and unimaginable to us. Depending on scale, ice melts very slowly and is barely visible, though we are able to perceive the action of melting in a way that we are unable to observe many larger changes occurring in our environment.

Meltscape, 2015. Frozen and melted pigment and mixed media on handmade paper. 22" x 30"

OPP: When did you first engage them as tools for art-making?

SS: Prior to graduate school, my work was mostly painting. I worked often with media like gouache and watercolor, which both involve actively manipulating how liquids and solids interact. What I love most about watercolor is how the pigment and water move over the surface of the page. Sometimes the end result is not as interesting to me after the work has dried.

Early in grad school, I had the opportunity to do a collaborative performance for a project investigating the idea of “water treatment” in various ways. I resisted the performance aspect initially because I have terrible stage fright but ended up making a piece that changed my practice completely.

OPP: Can you describe the action of the performance?

SS: I stood in a very dark room, holding a ball of ice in one hand while using my other to strike and light a match that illuminates the ice and warms it. As the ice melts, water drips onto the match and extinguishes the fire. I continuously repeated this action for the duration of the opening. This live performance has now been reproduced as a video called Fire and Ice, which is meant to be played on repeat indefinitely.

Landscape Formation, 2015. Water, sand, pigment, garbage. Dimensions variable.

OPP: You mentioned that this changed your practice completely. How so?

SS: I began working in way that attended more to process than final product. Monitoring the melting ice was a slow and meditative experience for me. I couldn’t rush the process, and it gave me time to think and focus on what was happening. I also couldn’t control what happened with the melting ice in the way I previously controlled paint with my own hand. I began melting ice on various surfaces: paper, mylar, the floor. The works on paper, Sedimentation Drawings I, II, and III,  are really documentation of an event or a residue. Landscape Formation in a Room was my first installation. I staged an event in which I allowed pigmented ice to melt on the studio floor to find and mark the topography of the space; the water would pool at lower elevations and avoid otherwise invisible raised points. I then built around the these forms with sand. The work exists now as documentation that plays with landscape photography and models and shifts our understanding of what is real.

Entropic Irrigation System II, 2015. Latex, wood, plastic tubing, ice, plant.

OPP: Melting ice plays a key role in Object Impermanence (2016) and Entropic Irrigation System (2015). But the ice plays a destructive role—erasing the paintings—in one and a constructive role—watering the plant—in the other. Can you talk about this distinction?

SS: Something was missing for the viewer in Landscape Formation—the visible action of the ice melting. I experienced it in making my work, but it was only visible to the audience as a remnant. So I began developing systems to manage the melting ice and to create a stage for the process to be observed. In the first of these systems, Entropic Irrigation System, I cast ice in the forms of the Parthenon, a pyramid, an Aztec temple, the Taj Mahal, and the Colosseum. As the forms melt off the table, a gutter system catches the runoff and channels it into a potted plant. The melting ice is an active process that functions as a stand-in for irrigation, deterioration and other slower forms of change. This piece was exhibited for three weeks, during which I replaced the ice at the start of each day, which became a kind of performance in itself.

Entropic Irrigation System II (detail), 2015

OPP: And Object Impermanence?

SS: That work explores the more destructive nature of melting ice, as well as the ways in which we experience both direct and mediated events. In the first iteration, I placed a new painting on a stand every other day for the duration of the exhibition (twelve paintings total) with a piece of ice melting on top of the image that eroded or washed away part of each painting. A larger tray below collects the runoff from the deteriorating paintings. In this version, the paintings directly reference the floor tiles of the San Marco Basilica in Venice, which is where I first began to form ideas for the piece as I considered the constant struggle against nature and time embodied by that location. A video camera installed above the stand simultaneously records and displays a live feed of the melting ice and its effect on the painting on a large monitor in a separate room. After each painting goes through this process, it is displayed with it predecessors as remnants on a large pedestal.

Object Impermanence, 2016. 12 drawings on plexiglass, gouache, ice, camcorder, MDF, led lights, HD Monitor with live feed. Dimensions variable.

OPP: We've discussed works in which melting is an active process. But in Paver I and Paver II (2016),  the charcoal and resin works and Everywhere is Nowhere (2016), the process of melting is “frozen” as a form. Tell us about these works.

SS: The active-melting pieces are real-time events—performances even—and function as models and metaphors for larger, slower, less visible forms of change. The static pieces are also ways of rendering the natural and built environment that are both empirical and analytical.

Pavers I and II miniaturize a glacial world within a block of faux landscaping material, attempting to be reasonable objects both in their own scale and in the one they model. Both Pavers are primarily made of blue polystyrene insulation foam, which is revealed in the glacial lake carved into the center of each artificial stone. The polystyrene mimics frozen forms of ice, but it’s original function is an insulating material that takes hundreds of years to break down. The charcoal and resin works bring to mind erosion and dissolution at their literal scale, while also referencing diminutive topographies, even galaxies.

Everywhere is Nowhere also captures a sense of place and manipulates scale, though with an approach that is more cartographic than visually representational. The individual topographical forms in the piece each have their source in objects whose change is evident at radically different scales, from clouds to glaciers to continents. The forms appear interchangeable and are produced by layering delicate sheets of hand cut silicone. Each one rests on its own glowing blue shelf installed at various heights. 

Untitled, 2016. Charcoal and resin. Approximately 4" x 6"

OPP: In 2012, your series of gouache paintings called Syncretism looks very different from your current work. Does your recent work grow out of these paintings?

SS: This series—as well as most work I produced prior to graduate school—was drawing and painting. The Syncretism paintings were an early exploration of shifting space and scale, scientific and cultural research, the perception of artificial versus natural, as well as examination of my own identity. I grew up in the U.S. like my mother, but my father and his family are from India. After I completed my BFA, I began studying miniature painting and eastern mythology as both personal and artistic research. 

The behavior of water also is an important theme in this series that continues to influence my present work. Our relationship to water is complicated. We need water to survive, but water can destroy us and everything we have.

Dancers, 2012. Gouache on paper. 16" x 20."

OPP: White tigers show up repeatedly. What's significant about this animal?

SS: White tigers are culturally significant throughout the world and are referenced in several myths. We perceive them as natural and commonly see them on display in zoos and at the circus, but white tigers don’t actually exist in the wild. They are bred and inbred for the recessive gene that produces their stunning black and white markings, however this type of breeding often leads to health problems for the animals. In hindsight, the white tiger paintings were probably the earliest representations of “artificial perceived as natural” in my work. This was also my first use of patterning to reference a culture or a place, which I revisited later in the paintings produced for the Object Impermanence installation.

OPP: You are just about to start a residency at Creative Alliance in Baltimore. How long will you be there? Any plans on what you’ll be working on?

SS: The residency includes a one to three year-long live/work space and a solo exhibition in Creative Alliance’s beautiful gallery. I will be working to produce new work for the show that continues to explore our perception of permanence and change. I am currently in the early stages of a new project that involves physical recording of places and objects in a book of rubbings as well as time-based recording of these same places and objects in the form of video. I began the project while in Berlin this summer and plan to continue here in Baltimore and other places I travel to this year. This is my first proper studio and live/work space since I graduated, and I am excited to have access to this resource and time to continue to develop my practice.

To See more of Samantha's work, please visit samanthasethi.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her solo show Sacred Secular is on view through October 4, 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Mary Grisey

Just When I Unearthed the Instinct to Soften, 2016

Transformation, both planned and accidental, is central to MARY GRISEY's installations. Working with rust as a dye, hand-woven sisal, linen and raffia and collapsed ceramic vessels, she embraces the unexpectedness of loss and decay. Informed by a metaphysical approach to materials and process, she "reveals the ruin and beauty of both the body and the psyche." Mary earned her BA in Painting and Drawing at Marist College (Poughkeepsie, NY), her BFA in Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and her MFA at York University (Toronto, Canada). Recent solo exhibitions include Cloth Dripping (2016) at Xpace Gallery in Toronto and Sung From the Mouth of Cumae (2015) at Art Gallery of Mississauga, both in Ontario, Canada. She's been an Artist-in-Residence at Artcroft (Carlisle, Kentucky), The Drake Lab: Akin Collective Studio Residency (Toronto) and Vermont Studio Center (Johnson, Vermont). Mary is based in Los Angeles, California.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What is the relationship of construction and deconstruction in your work? Are these simply processes or also content?

Mary Grisey: The relationship between construction and deconstruction comes from my interest in ruination, ephemerality and how my materials shift and change through destructive and manipulative processes. Through the cycle of loss and decay, something becomes new, and I believe there is true beauty in that.

The process of making my art becomes the content. Creating informs the work, and the meaning and content of what I’m doing develops as I make. Because of this, I never really know the title of my exhibitions until the work is 80% finished. Sometimes I never know how to fully talk about a show, until a few years later will it make sense. Working in an intuitive way has always been my strength, as if channeling some higher source, and then funneling it into the work.

For Leth, 2014. Hand-dyed sisal, rusted steel and sound. 8' x 8' x 4.' Photo credit: Thomas Blanchard

OPP: You have a pretty consistent neutral color palette of browns, blacks and reds. What influences your palette? What do you seek to evoke with it?

MG: The colors I am drawn to are informed by my interest in our natural world. Lately I have been very interested in the alchemy of rust as a dye and the exploration of ideas like weathering and time by experimenting with transformative dyes. Specifically I am fascinated with simulating water lines and traces of sediment that have been left behind. I search for abandoned rusted metal objects outside and apply them to my handwoven surfaces, creating imprints from the rust. I love experimentation-driven processes that allow contingency and accidents into the work, and I am discovering the limitations of my work by learning how to transgress these boundaries.

The use of black in my work represents weight and heaviness. It’s a mood or emotion I want to convey when I am feeling intense. Red shows up in my work from my interest with the “insides” of a body and the fragility of what makes us human. Red can represent blood or flesh, the inner-workings of the body, which we all share, and what makes us vulnerable. My color palette always returns to the confrontation with our mortality.

Cloth Dripping, 2016. Handwoven & hand-dyed linen, rope, cheesecloth, rust, acid dye, black tea, black walnut, terra cotta and sound. Photo credit: Yuula Benivolski

OPP: Tell us about the ceramic forms—which I read as some kind of holy water fonts—the sound that emerges from them in both Sung from the Mouth of Cumae (2015) and Cloth Dripping (2016).

MG: The ceramic forms emerged in my work as a way to both house the sound I am creating and to represent a feeling of sanctuary, shrine and holiness. I wanted the sounds to emerge from an unseen place as if coming up from the depth of a well, like haunted echoes.

The contrast and duality between hard and soft surfaces of the fired clay and the malleable woven fibers fascinate me. When clay is soft, you can mold it into whatever mass or form you desire, very similar to fiber. But when the clay is fired or when the fiber is woven, it is fixed in its permanent state. I love the potential of the materials before they become permanent in their set form.

The ceramic sculptures themselves are geological in form, evoking the mouth of the cave of Cumae or the Leucadian Cliffs. My way of arriving at their end form came as a sort of happy accident in the studio. Before one of the stacked pieces was fired in the kiln, it collapsed. I totally misjudged that it was fully dry—I can be quite impatient sometimes!—and attempted to move it. When it collapsed, it fell into this super beautiful, ruinous shape. So I decided that was going to be my clay-building process moving forward, which is interesting because I am following the habitual process of construction and deconstruction that I use in my textile work.

Sung From the Mouth of Cumae, 2015. Handwoven & hand-dyed linen and raffia, earthenware, sound. Dye is made from bleach and found rusty objects. Sound credit: In collaboration with Brooke Manning. Photo credit: Toni Hafkenscheid

OPP: Aside from making large-scale sculptural installation, you also have a line of jewelry called Meta. In conventional thinking, jewelry and sculpture are very different—one is art and one is craft. But both have a distinct relationship to the body. How is the body present in each of these practices?

MG: The exploration of the body is a continual force in my art practice. I think the reason why I stepped away from painting (when I first started making art years ago), was because the viewer couldn’t engage with it like installation or sculptural work. My most recent installation consisted of a series of handwoven panels hung from the ceiling in a semicircle. By suspending the work from the ceiling, it delineates space—from inside to outside—creating boundaries that define the environment, allowing the viewer to experience the work by walking inside and around it. I wanted to create architectural yet bodily pieces, in which the monumental size of this work demands one’s attention so you are confronted with it.

Right now I am thinking about the vulnerable body, as my materials—rope, dyes and rubber latex—ooze down my woven structures like intestines and skin. There is an emotional link to the liminality of inside and outside, connecting our underlying humanity and showing the sheer vulnerability of a body turned inside out for the viewer to see.

I have always been interested in body adornment and the idea of wearing an object or talisman that holds power. Creating wearable objects shifts my process into a much more limited approach because I have to consider the exact size, shape, and way the piece will lay on the body and how it will feel. Jewelry-making is more technical, whereas my art practice is much more unconscious and free.

Remains of the Ephemeral II, 2014. 30" x 5." Horsehair, hand-dyed cheesecloth and rubber latex. Photo credit: Thomas Blanchard

OPP: Do you see jewelry making as part of your art practice or as a way to earn money by selling accessible/affordable objects?

MG: Jewelry is definitely a more accessible way to make income and for people to enjoy my work, as it is affordable for most. Whether or not to separate the two practices has been a big, burning question of mine for years. I am still slightly unsure. My interest in jewelry-making and art have always ran parallel with one another. I go through stretches of focusing on them separately, but never really together. During one of my critiques in graduate school, I was asked how my art straddles craft and that question really bothered me because I don’t consider my art “craft.” Instead of letting that critique insult me, I really considered it and decided to embrace craft within my practice. My weaves are becoming much tighter, my dye process is more complex, and I am looking into technique and structure a little closer than before. Lately I have been thinking of combining the two modalities (art and jewelry) as adorning the body with my work during live performance.

Cradling: In Ruins, 2014. Found barn wood, hand-dyed and burned sisal. 6' x 5' x 4.' Photo credit: Thomas Blanchard

OPP: You were featured last year on canadianart.ca, and in a short video in your studio, you mentioned that the best advice you’ve received is that “the work needs to be coming from a place of urgency, and that without urgency, the work is meaningless.” Can you talk more in depth about this urgency?

MG: The whole topic of urgency came to me during a studio visit with a well-known artist in Toronto. I was struggling with a few different concepts in grad school and felt unsure as to which direction to pursue. I was making these really awful plaster casts of my body that were really dark, disembodied and visceral. I was working through various ideas and concepts in the studio that I felt I needed to purge, which brings me back to this concept of urgency—an important and persistent need to release without overanalyzing. Even though I didn’t end up exhibiting these plaster casts, it was important to process these ideas of urgency, otherwise I wouldn’t have arrived to the work I am creating now. Urgency is about honesty and intuition—to trust that the work is unfolding in a way that will communicate the inner workings of an artist’s unconscious. When an artist is making work strictly to sell or copy, it becomes painfully obvious that the work is coming from a dishonest place and not from deep within. It takes so much courage to make work from a place of urgency.

OPP: What’s urgent for you in your work at this moment?

MG: Right now I am working through some personal demons within my work. Every time I release a new body of work, it becomes more vulnerable. My recent foray into adding sound to my installations has given the work another sensorial element that draws the viewer further into the experience. These sounds are coming from my voice, which is quite vulnerable in itself to “expose” a part of me. In addition to the sound, one can smell the dyes from my textiles, the earth that it was buried under, and maybe the char that it was burned by. The urgency to facilitate in the experience of the viewer’s senses is important to me, so that to engage with my installations is to become a part of it, to get inside it.

To see more of Mary's work, please visit marygrisey.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Scott Hazard

Drop, Stone, Trace. Sculpture/Maple, Paper, Text. 15" X 15" x 8"

Informed by garden design and Zen Buddhism, SCOTT HAZARD's layered, paper sculptures and installations offer both mental and physical space for the viewer to find respite or refuge. He carefully tears crisp, white sheets of paper, then spreads them out, expanding two-dimensional space into three-dimensional space. These staggered papers evoke drifts of snow and rolling hills, punctuated by cultivated paths of rubber-stamped text meandering through empty space. Scott studied Landscape Architecture (1996) at California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo and earned a MFA (2005) at the University of Florida. His most recent solo show was Memory Gardens (2015) at Adah Rose Gallery (Washington DC), where he is represented. His work is also available from Simon Breitbard Fine Arts in the San Francisco Bay Area and has been featured in a number of magazines and online publications, including The WILD Magazine, Glamcult, BOOOOOOOM, Juxtapoz, Hi-Fructose, and Colossal. In 2012, he was awarded an Artist Fellowship in Visual Arts from the North Carolina Arts Council. Scott is  and  Scott lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You studied Landscape Architecture before earning your MFA. How does this background inform your scuptures?

Scott Hazard:
Most of the pieces I create serve as vessels for gardens or garden-like spaces. They are places intended to be inhabited or explored, and they are intentionally carved out and/or constructed out of a larger environment or context, yet incorporate and reveal aspects of that context. The origin of the English word garden refers to a sense of enclosure; the oldest use of the word indicated the fending off of wilderness to cultivate a more or less safe haven. My work references some European notions of garden design from the 1700s and 1800s where shaping a space was often about composing and framing a view of an idealized landscape from a particular point in space. There are also important links to Chinese and Japanese traditions in garden design in that the experience of moving through the space is critical to the viewer's perceptions of the garden, and the gardens were often thought of as microcosms of the world.

Sovereign Cloud, Tree and Opening Sky. Sculpture/Photography, 23" X 23" x 8"

OPP: What does the void mean to you? Are the voids in your work more spatial or metaphorical?

SH: I think of the 'void' as the space or context in which every ‘thing’ exists more so than an absence of something. It is a place where experiences can be detached from ideas and assumptions. My thinking about the ‘void’ is rooted largely in Buddhist notions of emptiness. With that, I am focused on creating and articulating intimate spaces which encourage people to delve in and explore.
The voids or openings in my sculptures do work metaphorically in a couple of ways. We use language and images most often to bear down on definitions and concisely articulate what we are trying to convey. A void introduced into this landscape of information works to create a spatial and perceptual opening to allow for a moment of respite from specificity and ideally lead towards a more complete and poetic understanding. Gaston Bachelard touches on this idea in his essay Dialectics of Outside and Inside when he wrote, “language through meaning encloses while poetic expression opens it up.” This respite translates to moments of quiet in a seemingly endless amount of stimulus and information. John Cage and his writings and works on silence are integral to my thinking regarding the void also. He considered silences to be “sacred spaces resonant with creation.” Similarly my work seeks to create a brief break in the din of noise we exist in and allow for a more focused mode of being, if only for a moment.

The reductive perceptual experiences I work to create are also metaphors for the notion that the mind functions in part as a reducer (see Henri Bergson as mentioned by Aldous Huxley in his essay The Doors of Perception, and The Organized Mind, a fantastic book about thinking in an environment of information overload by Daniel J. Levitin.) In this mode the mind is blocking out multitudes of information at any given moment in order to focus on what is at hand or apparently most important/needing attention. I am working to facilitate a diffused space, one that is both inviting and enveloping but using the same information one might be seeking a departure from.

Landscape: Threshole. Sculpture/Photography. 6" X 8.75", 12.5" X 16.25" X 3.75" w/ Frame

OPP: In your series Photo Constructs, you turn photographs into sculptures by adding depth. I think about worm holes and portals to other dimensions when looking at works like Sovereign Cloud, Tree and Opening Sky and Landscape: Threshole. Do you think of them that way? If so, where do they lead?

SH: To some extent, I do want to convey the idea of the spaces in the work as portals to another unknown place. Many of the photo pieces have no terminus within sight to heighten this sensation. There is also the idea that there are many ways a thing can be understood coursing through my work. The spaces or voids in the objects I create are influenced by Zen Buddhist notions of focused attention achieved through meditation and idealized states of mind. By setting up the layers of paper or photographs at intervals in a physical space, I work to create a sensation of simultaneously looking at and through. Each layer in the work is a slightly different iteration of the layers that are immediately adjacent. In this way, each work is composed of many versions of the same thing. A hole is torn in one reality only to reveal another slightly different reality behind the first one. Some pieces, like those you mention above lead to an unknown destination, others are more concerned with creating a space that focuses attention on one portion or aspect of the photo.

These portals also reference the bellows of an early camera, or the space within some optical instruments from the 1700s and 1800s, such as the stereoscope. These spaces within cameras and optical instruments, in addition to their role in making an image, focus the user’s attention by blocking off outside influences to the image being viewed. In this sense the photo pieces function as both image and instrument. Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels and similar pieces are never too far from my mind when thinking through this work.

One Square Foot of a Place to Focus/An Excuse for Staring at the Wall. Sculpture (Maple, paper, text). 11.75" X 11.75"

OPP: Tell us about the introduction of text and the shift away from photographic surfaces in Text Constructs.

SH: Both the image and text based work originated around the same time, but I have concentrated more on the text based work for the past few years. The focused use of text can minimize the visual information in each piece and keep the initial visual reading of the work more concise. The text also allows for a metaphorical and literal reading of the spaces or voids that are formed within each work. The words stamped on the layers of paper encourage a non-linear and haptic reading of the space and text by pulling them in layer by layer, word by word. I love working through the ways the text can engage with the space and enhance a sense of movement, and how that sense of movement can in turn influence the reading of the text. I appreciate a lot of Visual and Concrete Poetry, especially early works from Vito Acconci. The masses of text in my work are often written in second person to speak directly to the viewer. Lately, I have also been working towards incorporating text from used books, mainly books about how humans have engaged (whether through exploration, documentation, utilization or exploitation) with the landscape.

Detail of Endless Sea. Sculpture (Ash wood, paper, text). 10" X 18" X 23"

OPP: Obviously repetition—of language and in the process of tearing—is a big part of your process. Is repetition tedious or relaxing for you? Does meditation play a role in your practice?

SH: Absolutely, repetition is an important part of my process for creating the work. It helps provide the level of detail necessary to pull the viewer into the work and the repeated layering of the paper helps the viewer visually track through and into the work. I don't formally meditate, but the production process for the greatest part is meditative. Each word in the text pieces is typically applied manually with rubber stamps, so the repetitive actions help eliminate outside thoughts and bring about a more mindful, focused mode of attention. I typically work in two to four hour periods due to my schedule, so it’s not too hard to maintain the attention required to consistently apply the text and carefully tear the paper. The repeated text becomes a texture that when read helps purge outside ideas and focus on what is at hand when viewing the work. Ultimately, creating an inviting and meditative space is an important aspect of each piece.

Silent Geography, 2014. Sculpture/Installation. 18 x 24 x 30

OPP: In Silent Geography (2014), you shifted scale tremendously. Your page-sized torn papers became a landscape of snow drifts that are waist-high. I interpret the text as spaces that humans trod. Can you talk about the relationship of the scale of the text versus the paper?

SH: This project was a fantastic opportunity to work with the awesome people from Projective City and the former Mixed Greens gallery as part of their ParisScope collaboration. This site-specific installation consumed the entirety of the floor of the gallery to create an immersive psychosomatic garden. Similar to my wall mounted and smaller sculptures, the format of the project mandated that viewers may not physically enter the space, but can only experience the work from just outside the gallery through a peep-hole. It was very exciting to work at this scale and translate forms, paper and text in a way that could literally envelop a person exploring the space.  The size of the text was large enough so that each person moving through the space could easily see and track the text without needing to significantly disrupt their movement, and small enough to beckon a closer look and resemble a lot of the physical printed matter we interact with. As you note the masses of text could resemble evidence of human impacts caused by people passing through or inhabiting the spare landscape—they also allude to water in terms of how it flows to and collects in low spots, eventually seeping in to the landscape or evaporating.

To see more of Scott's work, please visit scotthazard.net.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include
shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Sam Pasapane

Savagings, 2017. Concrete, roller chain, steel, dye. 26" x 36" x 36"

SAM PASAPANE's concrete and steel sculptures range from dense, heavy masses to meandering, curvy networks. Visual references to both urban infrastructure and nature sit comfortably next to one another in her process and material-driven practice. Sam earned her BFA at Maryland Institute College of Art. She earned her MFA at Rhode Island School of Design, where she is now an Adjunct Professor. She was an Artist-in-Residence at Vermont Studio Center (2013) and Franconia Sculpture Park (2010-2011). She has exhibited in To the Moon (2016) at The WURKS (Providence, Rhode Island) and as part of the City @ Casket program, established as an urban extension of Franconia Sculpture park at Casket Arts Community Complex (Minneapolis). Sam lives in North Adams, Massachusetts.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You mention in your statement that your grandfather was a steel worker. How does personal history and history in general inform the work you make in steel?

Sam Pasapane: People usually call me Sam, not Samantha. The reason is because my grandfather also went by Sam Pasapane. We were very close, he taught me how to throw a ball and would play catch with me and shoot hoops. Never once did he tell me that I couldn’t play baseball or basketball because I was a girl. I was a catcher just like him, played basketball just like him and was a swimmer just like him. Then I went to an art college—not like him.

I felt some loss of connection; but one day I walked into the metal shop and finally found my place and my people. When I told my grandfather that I was learning to weld and using steel as a material, I found out that he worked at U.S. Steel, which I never knew. He was the type of person that loved to tell stories about his family growing up, not work and not the war. I was amazed and it felt right. In my second year of grad school my grandfather passed away, which was really hard. My use of steel had been receiving a lot of push back in grad school. But at that time, my need to stay connected to him and my love for the material kept me working with this material.

Unfolding, 2013. fabricated steel. 37”x 29 ½” x 38½”

OPP: What kind of push back?

SP: Some people don’t consider steel a contemporary material. I have been told that Richard Serra ruined the use of steel for artists, and that no one but him can use it anymore. So, the critique I have received is how can my art be contemporary, if my material is not? The word Postmodern got thrown around a lot. This criticism was both frustrating and helpful. It forced me to question and then to justify my material choice, while recognizing that some people will always have criticism, and I have to make art that is true to me.

The history of steel is important as well. The advent of affordable production of steel marks the rise of society as we know it today. It made the railroad possible, which pushed the expansion of this country. It enabled the construction of the major cities; skyscrapers could not stand without it. The rise of production of steel marks the beginning of the rise of American economy and America as a powerhouse. The end of steel production marks a time of transition, and economic instability. I don’t hold steel production on up a pedestal; the production process is dirty and America’s expansion was genocide on the native people. But it is deeply connected to us; it is both a literal and metaphorical foundation of our society.

Inflations Inflamed, 2014. Forged steel, silicon rubber. 90" x 50" x 56"

OPP: Can you talk about rendering soft-seeming organic forms in hard materials like steel and concrete? Have you ever been inclined to work with a soft material?

SP: I actually do work with silicone, which is a newer venture for me. I take molds off of my manipulated steel forms and then cast them in silicone rubber, coloring them to look like steel. I’ll insert these sections back into the steel structure. With my sculpture Inflations Inflamed, there is an air compressor in the base of the sculpture, so parts of the sculpture slowly inflate and deflate on a timer. This is new, I’m still working out how I feel about it.

Other than silicone, I have made attempts to use soft materials… a result from being in grad school. To a person who doesn’t have the experience working with steel it would seem that I could create sculptures faster using softer materials. But I am able to work intuitively with steel. It is very direct: you heat it, squish it, weld it, done. Concrete is similar, you can cast it or build with it like clay, but instead of having to fire it you just let it cure. When I have tried using softer materials, I hit a wall. It was more tedious to get materials to behave the way I wanted, and attaching them together is frustrating. I do like to create artwork that is durable. I have been given the suggestion to just “dip tube socks in resin,” and if I wanted to make artwork involving socks maybe I would… who knows I might one day.

My reasoning for pushing these rigid materials into soft-seeming forms is that these materials have the physical capability to do so, which usually goes unseen. Most people observe these materials when they are in their solid state. I manipulate them when they are in-between being a liquid and a solid, and capture that physical state. I’m interested how much I can exert myself onto these materials to bring them back to a “natural” form. Steel and concrete both derive from nature and have been manipulated by man to be rigid, industrial materials.

I Squish ‘em, and Stack ‘em, and Squish ‘em (detail), 2014. Forged mild steel. 66-1/2" x 20- 3/4" x 20 3/4"

OPP: I see images that evoke nature—tree stumps in some early work and, of course, the pothole pieces—as well as references to urban infrastructure, as in Inflations Inflamed (2014). Are your abstracted forms more inspired by things in the physical world or by the processes you use to manipulate your materials?

SP: My entry into sculpture was definitely influenced by nature. I remember looking at natural formations and thinking, “man, art can never capture that beauty.” It literally took tens of thousands of years for some of these landscapes to look how they do. But I tried anyways, creating objects from man made materials that were originally from the earth. I was interested in how we interact with them, walk around them, touch them and feel overwhelmed by them.

But over time, I have definitely become more influenced by the processes used to manipulate materials, which is a result of becoming more skilled at my craft. Conceptually, I’m still influenced by organic forms that exist, but I have been thinking more about urban infrastructure. My hometown is a small city in New Jersey, outside of New York City. When I was growing up, the town was depressed; stores were moving out to the malls and most restaurants were leaving. We were left with banks and some restaurants. When I was in college, bars and stores started popping up. And then the construction began, and it has not stopped. At first this was uplifting because more people were coming to town, and it was coming back to life. Every time I go back to visit my parents something has been torn down, and something new has been put up. Buildings are getting taller—the town is literally getting darker from the buildings casting shadows. There is something alluring about a town that is full of life: people walking everywhere, eating outside, enjoying the town. But when will it end? What if the economy of the town tanks again? What happens when the new apartment buildings become dated? Will they be allowed to become run down? The best part of my town growing up was the cultural diversity in the town, I know that will be pushed out if this need for expansion doesn’t stop. So, this is something that I’ve been thinking about for awhile now.

Into the Pothole, 2011. Fabricated Steel. 54 1/2" x 24 1/2" x 40"

OPP: A practical question: how do you store your large, heavy works?

SP: Hah, yeah that is a good question. I have learned to make my sculpture so that they come apart and can be stored in sections; with the intention that I can manage to carry a section by myself. My studio is big enough that I store my work there.

This did not happen with Savagings; it does come apart into two sections, but it’s like 300 pounds. So even in two sections I need help moving it. In my brilliance, I made the perfect form that is a pain in the ass to grab. Your hands just slide; there’s no where to get a hand hold on it. . . ugh! I do this to myself.

I live in a postindustrial town in northwestern Massachusetts because it allows me to be able to afford a big enough studio to make my work. So I don’t live in New York City because I can’t afford it. There’s no way I could get a space large enough to make what I want to make. I do feel isolated sometimes, but luckily I teach sculpture at a couple different colleges out of the area, so I get to leave. . . and interact with artists

Bridging the Gap, 2011. Fabricated Steel. 7'-5" x 16'-8" x 9'-4"

OPP: Does the size or weight ever inhibit what you make or where you exhibit?

SP: As far as showing work, I entered the world of sculpture via public sculpture, and I managed to get a couple of them to be permanent, thankfully. My work has downsized since I make work to be shown indoors now, so that is part of it. The other part of it is practicality, I will make big work again if I get paid to do so and if the sculpture stays at the intended location. I am more restricted in terms of the location because shipping is so expensive. But I do have a truck, so if I can drive it then I can show there.. But generally, I don’t feel too limited for where I can show because my sculptures do come apart in sections. However with the new series I’m working on, if the gallery space is not on the first floor and there’s no elevator, I would be hesitant to exhibit there. Like I said, Savagings is a heavy one.

Extinguished, 2013. Concrete, steel rod, steel washers graphite. Variable dimensions.

OPP: Savagings (2017) is my favorite piece. I love the combination of roller chain with dyed concrete, and I’m a sucker for a good representation of a void. How do you think about the void in this piece?

SP: Thanks. It’s my first sculpture in awhile that I’ve been happy with. The idea of the void was the impetus for this sculpture. I love voids as well; I am continuing to use the void for the current series I’m working on. I was making more linear work before, and I wanted to break that structure. I started thinking about this sculpture with my hometown in mind. When does the construction and development stop? For an outsider driving through, it reads as a really nice urban town, full of businesses and happy people. There is a macro and micro view of the situation, both sexy and disturbing.

I was thinking of machinery, the caterpillars ripping up the earth, razing buildings. At first I wanted the void to be made with caterpillar treads, which led me to using roller chain because the treads run on top of roller chain. I will also admit that I was creating this sculpture during the presidential election. So at the same time that I am thinking about the gentrification of my home, I was drawing mouths and sculpting them out of clay. These two ideas fused in the creation of this sculpture. I’ve been told that it reads as being of the body, and we are living in the age of the sphincter, so that’s appropriate. I feel that we are standing on the edge of a precipice and we don’t know where we will end up when we get to the other side.

To see more of Samantha's work, please visit samanthapasapane.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interview T.C. Moore

Quagga Mare, 2014. horse hair. 56" x 60"

T.C. MOORE's poetic, sculptural eulogies for deceased and endangered animals shift us out of our human-centric mode into the quiet contemplation of the lives of other beings. She creates knotted, sewn and etched works with shed horse hair, hoof clippings, found bones and scraps from the fur industry, often mending or embellishing the found materials in the spirit of healing and honoring. After completing degrees in Interior Design (1980), Architecture (1984) and Landscape Architecture (1986), T.C. went on to earn her MFA in 2012 from JFK University, Berkeley. She has exhibited widely throughout California, with solo shows at Garage Gallery in Berkeley and Gallery Route One in Point Reyes Station. In 2016, her solo show Interconnected at the Compound Gallery in Oakland featured her horse hair sculptures. Two works were featured in the 2016 West Marin Review, which was awarded the “most visually stunning book” by the New York Book Industry Guild. T.C. lives in
Santa Rosa, California.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Horse hair is a dominate material in your sculptural, fiber-based practice. What is your personal history with horses?

T.C. Moore: I was one of those annoying little girls in class that was always daydreaming and doodling in the margins of her rulers, far more interested in living in the confines of my imagined world then being present in the one where everyone else seemed to exist. My earliest fantastical recollections included people replaced by animals; animals seemed safer, kinder and cuter. My parents’ marriage was difficult, and my mother often sent me off to her mother’s farm in order to relieve herself of parental duties. It was on this farm where I recall my first aesthetic experience.

My grandparents did not have horses, but I remember the day two young women rode up onto my grandparents’ property. The horses were enormous, frightening and the most beautiful animals I had ever seen. I became obsessed with horses from that day forward. When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said a horse. It took me some time to understand that you do not grow up into another species. I painted, drew and pretended horsies until middle school, when it was no longer cool to do so. My bedroom however, remained my private horse cave, with walls plastered with horse posters, drawings and pictures of horses cut out of newspapers and magazines. I always wanted a pony for Christmas, but my parents could not afford one. The desire for anything and everything horse persisted into adulthood. When my mother died I inherited enough money to finally purchase the pony I never got for Christmas. I now own two ponies, a mare named Tinka and a gelding named Arlo.

...in a smooth and flowing manner #6, 2012. horse hair & canvas. 20" x 20"

OPP: When did horse hair first enter your art practice?

TCM: In grad school I was struggling with my paintings; I felt all I was doing was illustrating. One spring day in 2010, I was with my horse shedding out her winter coat. This is a yearly occurrence. Most horse owners throw this unwanted undercoat in the garbage. I was using a rubber curry-comb, and it became clogged with hair, so I dumped it upside down onto the stall floor. I had done this many times before, but somehow this time I saw the hair in a different light. A shock of excitement ran through me, and I started collecting my horses shed winter coat. Horse hair as a medium felt so authentic and true to my being. I loved the color, the smell and the feel of it. The idea to use it came about from this one simple, pure and intimate act of grooming. The hair has a spiritual quality, like the horse is always present with me, even when I am not actually with a horse. The hair becomes a surrogate, not just for horses, but all animal essences.

Feed Bags, 2012. horse hair, canvas, acrylic + horse teeth. 12' X 8" x 14'-0"

OPP: How do you have so much of it? Is it just from Tinka and Arlo?

TCM: Collecting, organizing and storing the hair has become another side of my artistic practice. I started by asking other horse owners if I could have their horse’s shed winter coats. I also advertise on a local community web-site for horse owners and ask people to save the hair—it doesn’t have to be clean. I pay for pick up or postage. It was easy from there to start also working with mane and tail hair. I also purchase this hair on-line, so I can get the lengths and quantities that I need.

OPP: What are your art historical inspirations? 49 Days of Mourning (2013) references both a quilt and the Modernist grid. The series of horse hair “drawings” on canvas …in a smooth and flowing manner (2012) make me think of a less rectilinear Agnes Martin, while the Feed Bags (2012), on the other hand, recalls the off loom woven structures of Claire Zeisler and Leonore Tawney.

TCM: Art Historical inspirations are many and if the work is minimal, abstract, primitive or has anything to do with line or natural materials you can almost guarantee I will love it. Artists, like Chris Drury, Ernst Haeckel, Ann Hamilton, Agnes Martin, Kate MccGwire, Wenda Gu, Eva Hesse, Louise Bourgeois, Joseph Cornell, Mark Bradford, Paul Klee, Leonardo Drew, Deborah Butterfield, Julie Mehretu, Darren Waterston……

COW, 2016. dyed horse hair, cow skull, acrylic + wood. 37" x 21" x 11"

OPP: Tell us about your newest body of work Sporting Life. For the first time, you’ve dyed the horse hair in vibrant colors. . . not unnatural colors, but certainly unnatural to the animals being eulogized.

TCM: The latest body of work came about after finding bones from animals on my hikes. The bones, like the horse hair, have spiritual essences. I became obsessed with collecting them. A colleague of mine found a deer skull that I coveted, and she was generous enough to give it to me. This is the red white-tailed deer skull. I wanted to bring the two mediums together, but I wasn’t sure why or how. In the process of making my work I discover its context.

It is a journey I start without a preconceived idea about its end. I started to drill 3/16” homes into the antlers and inserting the horse hair, but once I was finished it felt rather gratuitous. Somehow they just keep reminding me of something until it finally hit me. I was doing something familiar, I was doing my own version of my my deceased father’s taxidermy hobby.

When I was young I saw my father as all powerful, like Dick Tracy. His power and presence was expressed even when he wasn’t around in our home through his taxidermy displays on our walls, shelves and coffee tables. Growing up I had a strange ambivalence with his trophy mounts in that they displayed the beauty of animals which I love, but at the same time the horror that they were killed at my fathers hands. When I realized I was partaking in this reverse taxidermy, I started putting the skulls on traditional mount forms. I was initially hesitant, even a little frightened about using such vibrant colors because it didn’t seem natural. Then I realized it expressed the unnaturalness of trophy mounts. It is pretty strange that humans as species have developed a display system that prepares animals to lifelike effect, but only after we have taken their lives away.

Ivory Billed Woodpeckers - Extinct, 2015. mirror + metal. 13" x 9"

OPP: Reflections is a series of etched mirrors, featuring various endangered species. First off how, how the hell did you photograph those mirrors so well?

TCM: Photographing the mirrors, initially was a challenge. Fortunately, Don from Almac Camera in San Francisco figured this one out for me. I told him I needed the mirrors to be on a black background, this wasn’t a problem. However, the images obviously showed the camera in the shot and the animals, that I wanted to appear ghost like basically disappeared with studio lighting. So we experimented until Don came up with the idea of putting black velvet facing the mirrors and cutting a hole just large enough for his camera lens to peak through. He also shots the work off-centre, so even the lens isn’t visible in the final shot. What else can I say except I recommend Don at Almac Camera, great pricing as well.

Pangolin, 2016. etched mirror + wood. 11"x9"x1/2"

OPP: More importantly, do you identify as an animal activist/artist? How do you balance the practical concerns of animal activism and environmentalism with the aesthetic concerns of art-making? Are those concerns ever in conflict with one another?

TCM: Yes, I am an animal activist/ artist, a card carrying PETA member for years, not to mention a vegetarian. This is a tough question and one that I have given a lot of thought. Sometimes I ask myself, wouldn’t my time be better spent doing something directly beneficial, like working for the Sierra Club or Greenpeace or the National Resources Defense Council? I am not under any illusions that one person can change the world. But everyday I make small, informed choices and decisions based on the underlying ethical premise of animal/environmental concerns. I have also learned that you have to be true to yourself and have faith in the power of art. I believe we are all blessed or cursed with who we are intrinsically and with that comes a responsibility. I believe art-making allows me to evolve, share, explore, express and record in a way that traditional activism does not. My concerns, thoughts, dreams and fears are personified in an artifact that can be shared as a aesthetic experience which is different from other activist experiences.

Bunny Slippers, 2015. fur, feet, wool, snare, wood + plastic. 8" x 20" x 8"

OPP: You’ve written that your work “is inspired by the Biophilia hypothesis, a term coined by E.O. Wilson which states that humans as a species have a universal love for the natural world.” If that’s true, why do you think it is so easy for 21st century humans to trash the planet and ignore the effects of their behavior on the surrounding world?

TCM: As a species, we have a tendency to be chauvinistic, narcissistic and dogmatic. We also do whatever comes easiest. I am not saying all humans are like this, but we do have a tendency to see the world only through our eyes and only with our own personal gains at the forefront of our reality. However, humans as a species also possess the capacity to change their behavior in drastic ways, more so than any other species on the planet. So, there is always hope.

To see more work by T.C., please visit topazemoore.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014) and the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interview Tom Pazderka

Heaven Abyss, 2016. Oil, ashes and charcoal on burned panel. 43"x 57"

Informed both by "Czech fatalism and American optimism," TOM PAZDERKA's interdisciplinary practice is loaded with symbols of conflicting ideologies: burned books, raw two-by-fours, buildings crashing down, remote rustic cabins and the famous, solitary individuals who retreated there. In Freedom Club, he highlights underlying connections between notorious (Ted Kaczynski) and beloved (Henry David Thoreau) cabin dwellers. In Twenty Years of Progress, he explores a never-ending cycle of creation and destruction in drawings on charred book pages. Tom earned his BFA at Western Carolina University in 2012 and his MFA from University of California, Santa Barbara in 2016. He just closed a solo exhibition called Into Nothing: New Paintings in Ash and Oil at the Architectural Foundation of Santa Barbara, that was accompanied by a public discussion with artist Maiza Hixson titled Art(ists) of Survival. Since June 2016, Tom has been an Artist-in-Residence at Red Barn Project Space, UC Santa Barbara, where he curated the group show Somewhere or Nowhere At All. In June 2017, his solo exhibition American Gothic will bring the Residency to a close. Tom lives and works in Santa Barbara, California.

OtherPeoplesPixels: In your artist statement, you say “Often I combine a particular Czech fatalism with an American optimism to strange effect.” Can you say more about how you bring this fatalism and this optimism together in your choice of materials, images and subject matter?

Tom Pazderka: Yes, great question right from the start. Czech culture is by nature fatalistic and pessimistic about the future. It comes from centuries of struggle for its own voice and freedom from the rule of neighboring nations and empires. For the past one to two hundred years, there has been an unofficial national discussion about the ‘lot of the small nation’ and what this really means. History is offered as a solution and as an obstacle to national progress and interests. Throughout history, Czechs have struggled for freedom from oppressive forms of religion, then feudalism, the aristocracy and monarchy, the empire, then communism. Finally, with today’s freedom comes another kind of servitude in the form of consumerism and political and cultural deferral to the West. It’s only taken 25 years for pessimism and fatalism to rear its ugly head again.

America and Americans do not have this issue. The world to them is open and wide. Perhaps an entire century of victories and becoming one of the world’s superpowers is a way to achieve cultural hegemony and solidify positive feelings of optimism for the future, regardless of the true nature of these victories. Even the smallest of American grassroots movements—no matter how big or terrible the opposition is—always maintains optimism and hope for change. American nature seems to be one of persistent triumphalism that seems to go back centuries to the Protestant work ethic. This is unheard of in Central Europe. If I was to boil it down I would say that America seeks to constantly renew itself at the expense of the old, while Europe and Czech in particular, seek to solidify and reconcile its present with a chaotic and problematic past at the expense of its future.

Outpost, 2016. Burned image and woodcut on recycled pallets. 72" x 72"

OPP: So how does this affect you personally?

TP: I was born in the Czech Republic, while it was still Czechoslovakia, but moved to the U.S. when I was 12. I have been in the country long enough to be considered half Czech and half American. But I often feel like I am neither Czech nor American. The particularities of the two cultures at play here are sometimes in opposition. I, myself, have become infected by the optimist bug. This is why I am drawn to dark and beautiful imagery and the grit of raw materials. I am attracted by things that are terrifying but also aesthetic. And I use a lot of wood because it’s a humble material, readily available everywhere, but at the same time it is what the U.S. is built upon.

Falling Twilight, 2014. Charcoal on burned book paper. 120" x 48"

OPP: A recurring strategy in your work is burning images onto tiled two-by-fours and book pages. How do construction and destruction meet, physically and conceptually, in your series Twenty Years of Progress (2014).  

TP: In Twenty Years of Progress I chose several significant events that took place between the years 1994—the year I emigrated to the U.S—and 2014, when returned to the Czech Republic for an artist residency. All of the events have negotiated destruction in some way. Some were quite notorious, such as the burning of churches in Norway or the demolition of the Murrah building in Oklahoma City. But one of them went completely unnoticed and that was the demolition of the building of the former Czech Communist Party newspaper Rude Pravo (Red Law). It was as if the shame of those years had to be erased without fanfare and masked by a new type of ideology; what replaced the building were offices and a shopping center.

The physical destruction came through actually burning books in a pit—a symbolic act for the willful destruction of knowledge. The charred remains of the books were then used to make works like those in Twenty Years of Progress. Years earlier, I had used torches to ‘draw’ into wood. The resulting images were quite strong because they became part of the substrate instead of sitting on top of it. They were burned into the wood like memory is burned into one’s mind. Then there was the smell. During my grad years, the joke was that everyone knew when I was around because there was a strong smell of a burning fire inside the studios. Conceptually, destruction seems to always precede a new beginning.

Lost Wisdom: a Secular Book Burning, 2012. Burned books

OPP: That makes me think of the Phoenix, rising from the ashes. Fire, in particular, is important in your work.

TP: Yes, fire is this basic element that gives warmth and comfort but can hurt or kill if one gets too close. I also think of fire in metaphysical terms, as the fire inside that burns with anxious desire for knowledge. Gaston Bachelard wrote a great, short book on this subject called Psychoanalysis of Fire. He identifies certain archetypes—from the arsonist to the Promethean figure— who are drawn to fire.

Despite what we know about the world through science and religion, we know very little about fire itself. Fire is not a just a simple consequence of heat. There must always be an excess to heat to create fire and an excess of something to fuel the fire. . . otherwise it disappears. As such, fire is simply a manifestation of some inward potential that moves outward. Enough heat and a spark create fire, but the physical manifestation itself is as elusive as electricity. One cannot touch it or feel it or grab it, but one can definitely be burned by it. The movement of fire creates powerful meditative states in its observers, and I know this because I’ve stared into fires since I’ve been a young kid.

Drawing for Genius and Madness, the Thoreau Kaczynski Tableau, 2012. Recycled wood and charcoal. 36" x 17" x 2"

OPP: You’ve been exploring the cabin as a form and a symbol for several years. When did the cabin first show up in your work?

TP: I can pinpoint this pretty precisely. In 2012, I made a drawing on on some scrap two-by-fours of two cabins: one was Henry David Thoreau’s Walden Pond cabin and the other was Ted Kaczynski’s Montana cabin. The scrap wood was made to look like it might have come out of each cabin as a sample of a floor. I called the work Drawing for Genius and Madness, the Thoreau Kaczynski Tableaux because I intended it to become a larger work, an installation perhaps. When I came across the images of the Kaczynski cabin and compared it to the images and floor plans of Thoreau’s cabin, I was immediately struck by the similarities. There were differences, of course. But on the whole, the size and layout of both cabins were eerily alike. This is when I got really interested in the writings of and about Thoreau and Kaczynski.  What were the circumstances that made these two who they were/are and how might this be significant to the American experience? I was then introduced to the work of filmmaker James Benning, who built replicas of both cabins in the mountains of California for very similar reasons. Benning’s work culminated in a very provocative book called Two Cabins with critical essays by Julie Ault and Dick Hebdige (with whom I studied at UC Santa Barbara). The essays describe Thoreau and Kaczynski’s relationship to the strange tapestry that is the American experience of wilderness and to one another. 

Freedom Club: Martin, 2016

OPP: How has your thinking about what the cabin symbolizes changed over the years? When did your interest in the cabin shift to an interest in the cabin dwellers?

TP: From early on the cabin seemed to me to be the symbol of freedom, a particular kind of American freedom, tinged with a rustic patina of traditionalism. The more I dove into research about Thoreau and Kaczynski, other patterns started to emerge and now I tend to think of the cabin more as a place fantasy, similar to ‘the room’ in Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker, where one’s innermost and deepest desires are supposed to come true. This is of course a trap, because nobody truly knows what one desires. By going to a place where desires become reality, one’s confronted with the very knowledge that desire is nothing more than desire for desire itself.

My entire graduate thesis, Psychoanalysis of the Cabin, was based on a reading of the cabin as a place of refuge not just for individuals but also for the entire nation that used the symbol of the cabin as a nostalgic vehicle for a collective national unconscious. Scenes of rustic Arcadia show up in post-apocalyptic sci-fi films like Oblivion, and since the filming of Birth of a Nation, where the last showdown scenes take place inside a log cabin, Hollywood’s been unable to extricate itself from the Romantic fantasy of a rustic nationalism.

Once I’d exhausted the material on Thoreau and Kaczynski, the figure of Martin Heidegger and his hut in the Black Forest of Germany emerged. It was an opening into the cabin life of Europeans, which is entirely different from the American experience. I partly grew up in a cabin in the mountains of Czech Republic and all of a sudden here was a method by which to understand that experience. I began to read studies done on what’s called the ‘cottaging’ culture in Czech Republic and what little there is known about the tiny house movement in the U.S. This is where some of the cabin dwellers first appear, but mainly as a result of their relationship to one another, either directly or indirectly through similarities in outlook or politics.

Freedom Club Cabinet of Ted and Henry, 2016. Photo credit: Tony Mastres

OPP: What strikes me about all the cabin dwellers you’ve chosen is that they are all men, except Leni Riefenstahl—but in this case, the exception might prove the rule. I don’t want to imply that the qualities of nationalism, individualism, madness and desire for dominance are only present in men. But I do see them as conditioned by Patriarchy and cultivated by looking at History through a patriarchal lens. What are your thoughts on how Patriarchy affected these Cabin Dwellers?

TP: I think that historically, our culture has focused mostly on the men that managed to be seduced by escape and solitude and then occasionally turned their otherwise non-participatory, non-social behavior into anti-social behavior. Ted Kaczynski is a case in point. The most obvious example here is Henry Thoreau, a philosopher, metaphysician, radical, curmudgeon and anti-social in one person. Our conditioning as a society comes at us from many directions, the strongest of which seems to be media. When the story broke on Kaczynski, it was hard to make out what was actually true about the person who was being portrayed. Thoreau was shunned during his lifetime, and nobody read Walden until well after his death. Why or how Thoreau’s work was appropriated as symbolic Americana is anybody’s guess. Rebecca Solnit identifies several counter-intuitive issues at play in the figure of Thoreau in her short essay The Thoreau Problem. Thoreau writes of country life, the cabin and solitude, but nothing about the fact that he frequently went to town to purchase items he needed or that his aunt did his laundry. I believe that the Patriarchal lens you mention is used to clean up the image of a man from a vaguely ambiguous idealist to one of a resolved activist for strong values. This lens narrows and simplifies what would otherwise be a much more interesting portrait, and this is the case of all of the individuals in this series.

I’ve opted for inclusion of a couple women, Leni Riefenstahl, who more or less went into hiding after the second World War and Judi Bari, a fairly notorious anti-logging activist involved with Earth First!  A third woman was going to be Hannah Arendt, whose work on culture and totalitarianism is exceptional, but her main and only tie to cabins was through Martin Heidegger.

I believe that culture, and Western culture in particular, conditions men to be escapist. This is where we get the idea of the man cave, a place within one’s home to which a man can momentarily escape from the pressures of the outside, including the family. Women are conditioned differently, I suppose to be more oriented toward social groups. This is why it is difficult to find women among the above mentioned Cabin Dwellers. That is not to say that women do not go to cabins, they just do not tend to go on their own, or at the very least they do not tend to plan various acts of domestic terrorism from a place of solitude.

I also have to point out that the cabin as escapist refuge seems to be more an American phenomenon.  Again, this is not an absolute, but in Czech culture, cabins and cottages were used primarily as second homes for entire families (similar to Scandinavia), not just for the sole purpose of an escape for the male head of the family. There are of course exceptions. In the U.S. however there seems to be a line of a kind of Eden associated with the cabin stretching back to early American history with the Homesteading Act, Thoreau and Emerson at the beginning and Edward Abbey and Ted Kaczynski at the end. Each instance is a type of exercise in existential freedom and self-exile. The flip side to the Kaczynski scenario could perhaps be the case of the Lykov family in Russia. They escaped persecution for their religious beliefs by hiding in the far eastern portion of Syberia, living virtually isolated for more than four decades until Soviet scientists rediscovered them when they flew overhead in a helicopter sometime in the 1970s.  Agafia, the last remaining Lykov, is still living in the same hut, living off the land, and practicing religion as her ancestors have always done.

Bringers of the New Dawn, 2017. Oil on burned wood panel with charcoal and ashes. 50 x 33

OPP: You’ve described American history and culture as “a history of space and stuff (objects, property, etc) which contains its absolute inverse, the unspoken history of lack and loss (spirituality, individual rights, etc). This opposition is itself driven by the strictly American concept of power, and the myth of growth at the expense of everything else.” This statement resonates with me so strongly right now in the third month of the Trump Administration. Has this current political moment spawned any new directions in your work?

TP: I have to say yes. While I wasn’t a close follower of the presidential campaign because deep inside I knew that Bernie did not stand a chance of winning, I was nonetheless keenly aware of the situation. Trump represented everything that is currently wrong with Western culture: vulgarity, baseness, an absorbing self-interest bordering on pathology and above all an insatiable drive toward power that means nothing beyond itself. The Ego’s desire to announce itself endlessly plays itself out in the figure of Trump first as a real estate mogul, then as a celebrity and finally as president of the United States. But this desire for endless adoration and validation creates an abyss in its wake. What this abyss is, is currently unclear.  I tend to personalize a lot of my work so that the abysses that I paint now are directly related to personal loss. It is then a bit easier to point outward, toward our culture and say, this is our collective loss that we try to cover over with a seemingly endless supply of stuff and entertainment so that we may not deal with our own responsibility and grief. As a result, my work has become much darker and brooding. I’ve eliminated all color and left only black and white. The paintings I make now are sooty black from the ash and charcoal I use to smear over the burned surface. Sometimes I think they should be uglier, but the small amount of optimism I still have keeps the images rather beautiful to look at. I make no reference to cabins, except for the fact that I paint on wood and leave some of it exposed. I think that this move leaves the cabin symbolically in place. The latest turn back toward painting is a direction I started to call the American Gothic, after the famous painting by Grant Wood.  Wood’s painting is an enigmatic piece. The only reason that it’s called American Gothic is because of the Neo-Gothic window at the top of the house. Everything else about the painting, including the architecture of the house and style of clothing, is rural American. The painting is for that reason not about the couple in the foreground, but entirely about the house in the back. I find this kind of ambiguity fascinating because it seems to me to be the opposite of today’s climate in which everything has to be spelled out.

To see more of Tom's work, please visit tompazderka.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include
shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014) and the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014). She created site-responsive installations for Form Unbound (2015) at Dominican University and SENTIENCE (2016) at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Resist the Urge to Press Forward, a two-person show with Brent Fogt, is on view at Riverside Art Center (Riverside, Illinois) until April 15th, when there will be a closing reception and artist talk. Stacia just completed Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago), which could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse.