OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Leah Bailis

Untitled Mask, Leah Bowery Mask, Untitled Mask, all 2017. 11" x 8" each.

LEAH BAILIS' work creates meaning through an intersection of materiality, humor and textual reference. She alludes to fictional characters and famous creatives in sculptures and fiber-based works that explore the human impulse to adorn oneself. Masks, embellished clothing, accessories and wigs, all of which can transform and empower the wearer. Leah earned her BFA in Film at Bard College in 1998 and her MFA in Studio Art at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill in 2005. She has exhibited at MASS Gallery (2013), Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts (2012), Hopkins Hall Gallery, Ohio State University (2010), Lump Gallery (2010) and the Philadelphia International Airport (2008), to name a few. Her numerous solo shows at Vox Populi Gallery (Philadelphia) include Hold Me (2012), Magical Thinking (2010) and Demo (2009). Her focus of late hasn't been exhibiting work. Her two daughters, born 2016 and 2018, are her recent successes. Leah lives and works in the Philadelphia area.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Let’s talk first about the recurring subject of the house/home in your early work made with cardboard. How did your favored material relate to the content of these sculptures?

Leah Bailis: When I first started making the houses I was using photos of houses in North Carolina—where I was living at the time—as my source and wood as my material. I liked the warmth of the wood against the cool white exteriors and the tension that created. I started using cardboard for a few reasons.  It felt like a good way to show the disposable nature of the new construction I was starting to reference. It helped convey a certain fragility. . . that the walls that I built could be easily torn down, that an imposing presence was actually the thinnest of facades. The chainlink fence cage I made could have easily been torn apart. I also thought it was funny, in a pretty formal way, that something so heavy could been made of something so light.

Fence (detail), 2007. Cardboard, paint. 39" x 36" x 30"

OPP: You’ve used your links page to offer us clips for the cinematic references in many of your works from around 2010-2013. I’m thinking of works like The Resurrection of Inger (From Carl Theodor Dreyer's Ordet)Self Portrait as Dirk Bogarde as Gustav von Aschenbach (From Luchino Visconti's Death in Venice) and BEFORE WE LEFT (BADLANDS).

LB: I added these links to film clips because they were specific sources of inspiration for pieces I have made. I studied and made film in undergraduate school. When I finished school I left with a strong love for the medium as a viewer and an understanding that I wasn't cut out to make films of my own. There are certain cinematic moments that have stuck with me over many years and I decided to try to visually interpret my experience of watching these scenes. I titled all of the pieces to clearly connect them to the moments I was describing. I didn't want to be obscure. I also wanted to lead the viewer to the films that are so important to me. 

Self Portrait as Dirk Bogarde as Gustav von Aschenbach (From Luchino Visconti's Death in Venice), 2010. Digital prints. Each 16 3/4" x 12 1/2"

OPP: What gets you about these films in particular?

LB: The resurrection scene in Dreyer's Ordet made me weep audibly the first time I saw it. It also reminded me of a zombie movie. It was beautiful, strange, austere, and magical. The final scenes of Visconti's Death in Venice are so moving. The protagonist gets a make-over to try to make himself appear younger for the beautiful boy Tadzio, the object of his desire. The results are clownish, and as he follows Tadzio around the hot, Plague-infested city, his new black hair dye mixes with sweat and drips down his face. The film images are filled with death, failure, and longing for youth and beauty. A friend of mine drew my attention to the scene in Malick's Badlands where Kit shoots a football.  The football doesn't deflate, so he kicks it flat. It was a funny moment that reveals a fragility of the persona Kit has created for himself. He is acting out being a man. 

Magic Mountain, 2010. Sequins on felt. 27" x 18 1/2"

OPP: How do you think about the film-related sculptures as a group? Is it important that we think of them in relation to one another or only to their sources?

LB: There are certain groupings that are important. Magic MountainOrdet, and Death in Venice pieces were shown together and relate closely. Magic Mountain is a reference to an excerpt from Thomas Mann's book. He used the phrase Field of Dreams to describe the magic of the projected film image. I sewed the phrase with sequins in order to make a tangible representation of the grainy, flickering, projected film frame. The themes of death and longing in the other two pieces and my attempts to make concrete these fleeting filmic moments, relate back to the sequin piece. 

Another grouping that is important to me is My Kuchar, Starring and EphemeraMy Kuchar is a bath mat monument to the (now) late, great filmmaker George Kuchar. There is a moment in his film Hold Me While I'm Naked—a film in which he plays a filmmaker trying to make a film, but all of his actors abandon him—where he comes out of the shower wrapped in a bathrobe, towel turban on head. He is part aging starlet, part Rodin's Balzac, part misunderstood auteur, part overgrown child. The other pieces are imagined detritus of the life that I imagine for Kuchar's character. Ephemera is a flowered long underwear top that I've worn since I was a kid. I embellished it with gold sequins, studs and other shiny things. I imagined his character wearing this shirt under his clothes or alone in his room in his mother's apartment.  Starring  is a scrap of paper I imagined the character carrying in his pocket, repeatedly opening it to read its inspirational message, then returning it to his pocket.

My Kuchar, 201. Bath mats, plaster, styrofoam.

OPP: Would it be going too far to talk about these sculptures as fan art? I should make clear that fan art is not a denigrating term for me, although I acknowledge that many people might sneer at it. I’m very interested in fan art as a creative, engaged way of comprehending the texts we love. It emphasizes the ways that viewers of film and television are not simply passive observers.

LB: It's totally fair to be talking about my work as fan art! And not just of films.  Blue Angel and Ain't Got No/I Got are portraits of Roy Orbison and Nina Simone, respectively. They are attempts to show how much, and specifically how I love both of them as musicians and people. Re-Buiding and Corner are fan art for Gordon Matta Clark. In the end, the work is as much about the sources of inspiration as my own experience being inspired.

AIN'T GOT NO/I GOT (NINA), 2012.

OPP: Since 2015, you’ve been making masks. Before we talk about the specifics, what does the form of the mask mean to you generally? What led you to start making this series?

LB: The masks function in different ways for me. Some are protective, offering a way to watch the world without being seen. Some are transformative, an empowering way to create one's own image. Some of the masks I imagine as a destruction of the wearer’s face. I have been working with these ideas long before I started making literal masks. I even think of the small houses I made as mask-like, deadpan with with window eyes, belying the domestic drama of the house. The series of denim masks I made came out of an invitation to be part of a project for which I would have to make 50 objects. I decided instead of making literal multiples, I would give myself the framework of the denim mask to play with. I had to produce them quickly, which freed me up to improvise. It was a new way of working for me, and I really enjoyed the process.  While some of the masks came from specific sources or ideas, others are intuitive.

Untitled mask, 2017. denim, pyramid studs. 11" x 8"

OPP: Can you talk about the relationship between the simple, almost crude fabric bases and your very labored embellishment with beads, stitch or sequins?

LB: A number of years ago, I had the opportunity to see an exhibition of the Gee's Bend quilts. I was really moved by the way well-worn clothing was used in the quilts. The wear on the fabric made the the pieces so personal, connecting back to the physical life of the wearer. The Quilt Mask I made was inspired by the Gee's Bend quilters. I made it out of faded black t-shirts, mostly my own. Hand-sewing the pieces of t-shirt together, was a way to honor the well-worn t-shirt. 

Embellishment was a strategy I used with earlier clothing pieces. With Ephemera, the piece about George Kuchar, and Failure, I was thinking about motorcycle jackets—more specifically the jacket from Kenneth Anger's Scorpio Rising—and how wearers decorate them to make themselves look and feel more interesting or important. I like the idea of actively failing to appear interesting or important. I am drawn to things that are shiny. I am drawn to things that are simultaneously funny and sad. I think failure can be heroic. In a more practical way, embellishing with beads or studs or stitches, allows me to be fast and slow at the same time, gestural and labored. I like the idea of taking a long time to fail.

To see more of Leah's work, please visit leahbailis.com

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist  Stacia Yeapanis.  When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations.  She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018) and Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019). Her work was recently included in the three-person show Manifestations at One After 909 (Chicago).

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Erik Geschke

Parts and Accessories, 2019. Installation view. Carnation Contemporary.

ERIK GESCHKE's sculptures are well-crafted, clean reproductions of symbolic objects that have a relationship to Western Modernity. He deftly uses dry humor, scale and material shifts and the language of museum display to entice the viewer into seeing familiar objects in a new light. Erik earned his BFA at Cornish College of the Arts (Seattle) and his MFA at Maryland Institute College of Art (Baltimore). He attended Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 1996 and Pilchuck Glass School in 1999 and has been an Artist-in-Residence at Vermont Studio Center (2001), Sculpture Space Inc. (2002), and Djerassi Resident Artist Program (2013). Erik's numerous exhibitions include solo shows at Cornish College of the Arts, ZieherSmith GalleryPacific Northwest College of Art, Pratt Fine Arts Center, Seattle Art Museum's SAM Gallery, and Vox Populi Gallery. Most recently, Parts and Accessories was exhibited at Northeastern Illinois University (Chicago) in 2018 and Carnation Contemporary (Portland, OR) in 2019. Erik lives and works in Portland, Oregon, where he is an Associate Professor of Art at Portland State University.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What role does artifice play in your work?

Erik Geschke: Artifice plays a central role in my work. The words art and artifice share the same Latin root, ars, which means both “skill/craft” and “trick/wile.” This connection influences how I think about the nature of art and what I do as an artist. When anything is represented or recreated, the artist asks the viewer for their willing suspension of disbelief, which allows the viewer to experience something unexpected. 

The use of this strategy to lure and entice the viewer into this suspension is very fascinating to me. I make work that can be deceptive or confuse the viewer. I want them to question what they’re looking at and what exactly “art” is and what it can be. I also want the viewer to consider the relationship of the art object to the abundance of human-made and naturally occurring objects that inhabit our world.  I do this by creating copies, surrogates and simulations of these identifiable forms with shifts in scale and material transformations. I use artifice as a means for the viewer to question both their perceptions and their understanding of the physical world.

Cracks in the Stable, 2015. Aqua Resin, fiberglass, pigment, and acrylic polymer.16” x 96” x 72”

OPP: Your work is definitely in conversation with Minimalist sculpture, while eschewing the non-contingency of Modernism. How informed are you by these art-historical precedents?

EG: My work is very informed by these art-historical precedents. When I was an undergraduate student the late 80s and early 90s, it had still been a relatively short period of time since Modernist thinking had fallen out of favor. It was often viewed with skepticism or derided. My references to Modernism and Minimalist sculpture, in particular, contain equal parts reverence and irreverence. Minimalism’s paring down of elements and elimination of non-essential forms and features aligns with with both my thinking and aesthetics. But I believe its attempt at an extreme form of abstraction that’s completely objective and non-referential is impossible and therefore a bit comical. There’s something so hopelessly idealistic about it, and I like to play off that in my references to minimalism. 

Accretion, 2013. Wood, aluminum, Aqua Resin, polyester resin, fiberglass, epoxy, hardware, and acrylic. 36" x 43" x 65."

OPP: What else informs your work?

EG: My work is also informed by human-made objects and structures of utility and their inherent symbolism and history. For this, I turn to the disciplines of industrial design and architecture. The work is informed by the ways we represent both ourselves and the natural world, so forms of simulation found in both cinema special effects and museum dioramas have been influential. Humor and satire are also present in my work and I attribute this to an early interest in cartooning and underground comics. Early on, I used humor as a way to discuss darker themes. The influence of cartooning can be seen in the way I render things, the odd shifts in scale and my simplified color palette. 

Arena, 2015. Wood, alkyd enamel, flock, felt, and vinyl. 3” x 64” x 64” (Detail)

OPP: Untitled (Social Engineering) (2011) and Untitled (Invidious Consumption) (2014) are connected through the form of the geodesic dome. What does this form mean to you?

EG: Growing up on the West Coast in the 70s and 80s, I encountered geodesic domes in a variety of contexts, from countercultural music events to a futuristic architectural experiments or school playgrounds. Later I came to understand its connection to Modernist architecture through the work of architect, designer and futurist R. Buckminster Fuller. While he didn’t invent the geodesic dome, he certainly popularized it. I consider this iconic structure to be a symbol, synonymous with Modernist concepts of progress, societal ideals and utopian aspirations. 

Untitled (Invidious Consumption), 2014. Hemlock, brass, and shellac. 36” x 72” x 72”

OPP: How do the materials in each of these works change the form?

EG: Untitled (Social Engineering) (2011) directly explores the structure’s connection with the utopian aspirations of Modernism coupled with the carnage of the 20th century, the same time period in which Modernism came to prominence. It’s made of 65 cast plastic human femur bones, both left and right, creating a macabre cautionary tale, calling attention to the irony that many of these utopian aspirations led to the dystopias of war and genocide, of which the 20th Century saw many. While the theme is dark, I rendered it at the scale of a child’s jungle gym and the bones are a pale white plastic, giving the structure an unthreatening toy-like quality.

The other geodesic dome piece I’ve made is Untitled (Invidious Consumption) (2014). I knew that I wanted to create a work that dealt specifically with the Modernist rejection of ornamentation in design. The inspiration for this concept came from reading the essay Ornament and Crime by Modernist architect Adolf Loos. In his essay, Loos criticizes the use of ornamentation in useful objects. Loos went as far as describing the presence of ornamentation as immoral and degenerate; a crime. To counter this, I made the iconic modernist structure out 65 lathe turned ornamental neoclassical architectural balusters made of Hemlock and connected with brass fittings. An odd dissonance was created by making the structure out of materials with a design that alludes to time prior to the Modernist era. 

Veneer, 2018, Wood, PVC, steel, hardware, and acrylic enamel. 96” x 96” x 72”

OPP: Another recurring element is the metal structure that for me evokes a billboard in Device (2015) and Veneer (2018). How is this “support” structure key to understanding whatever element it is holding up?

EG: These pieces explore the power dynamics of architecture. I’ve made a number of pieces over the years that utilize the billboard scaffold structure. Initially, I was drawn to the aesthetics of the structure and  the literal connection between its form and function. Prior to Device and Veneer, I had placed silhouette cutouts and text on the structures.I wanted to draw a parallel between the supported fragment of architecture and a billboard advertisement. Architectural structures can imply wealth, exclusivity and dominance. Having them also operate as a façade indicates how often times these displays of power and authority are in fact thinly disguised vulnerabilities.

I developed the concept for Device (2015) during the run-up to the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, when the xenophobic rhetoric of “The Wall” first entered the public consciousness. The scaffold supports a fragment of a cinderblock wall. It calls attention to the symbolism of a wall as something that can be used to play upon the public’s primitive instincts and fear of the other. Placing it on a façade calls attention to the structure’s inherent weakness and limitation and exposes it as a mere rhetorical device. 

Veneer (2018), on the other hand, explores interior projections of wealth, power and authority through decoration with nods to Neoclassicism and its tradition. The piece symbolically represents the aristocracy. Mounted on the scaffold is a fragment of whitewashed, wainscoted, decorative wall. Its ostentatious design implies the ability to afford finery. The title alludes to the thin veneer upon which displays of wealth are often dependent. 

Parts and Accessories, Installation View, 2019, Carnation Contemporary.

OPP: Tell us about your most recent solo exhibition Parts and Accessories (Chicago 2018 and Portland 2019), which explored “issues surrounding class, dystopia, and modernity.” 

EG: When I started this body of work, I knew that I wanted to explore issues of class. Wealth inequality has reached levels that have not been seen since just prior to the start of the Great Depression. It’s reminiscent of a new Gilded Age. We are similarly seeing vast creations of wealth through rapid technological advancement in a system geared towards the consolidation of wealth into fewer and fewer hands. 

My work often employs the remaking of the recognizable and familiar. I specifically selected objects that symbolized either a sense of wealth and pedigree—an ornately wainscoted wall, a top hat, a gavel—or its opposite—workers’ hardhats, a humble throw rug or a bare suspended light bulb. I purposefully make things in an exacting way with refined surfaces that are largely devoid of expression. I do this as a way for the object to have a sense of anonymity, similar to mass-produced objects. 

Parts and Accessories, Installation View, 2019, Carnation Contemporary

OPP: Tell us about the arrangement of the objects in the exhibition space.

EG: I wanted them to confront the viewer upon entering the space. They are predominately displayed facing the entrance. With these symbolic objects representing different levels of class and authority, there is purposeful hierarchy to the arrangement. Objects in front were presented low to the ground with an increase in size and scale moving towards the back of the arrangement. With the exception of one piece—a solitary disposable coffee cup—all the objects are displayed on a pedestal or platform, isolating each object and calling attention to its cultural value or commodity. This orderly arrangement references both methods of museum and retail display. 

As with any issue I choose to explore in my work, I want to avoid being overly didactic and sanctimonious. I’m not looking to provide answers for the viewer, but rather to offer them something to ponder and consider.

Plot, 2018, Aqua Resin, fiberglass, and acrylic, 4” x 50” x 72” 

OPP: What’s your experience in the studio right after completing a solo show?

EG: I’m usually focused on cleaning up the aftermath. There’s always a push to meet an exhibition deadline and especially so when it’s a solo show. No matter the level of planning, discipline and time spent in creating a new body of work, art making is an inexact science. There’s usually a rush at the end when cleaning and organization fall by the wayside. As a result, the time immediately afterwards is spent literally picking up the pieces. Having done this for a while now, there’s a bit of a ritual to the process. After months of focusing on one end goal and activity, there’s an odd sense of quietness in the studio. This quietness coupled with cleanup and organization provides a good time to think and reflect. 

Creating my work is very time intensive and involves a great deal of physical and mental energy. I always need a period of recharge afterwards. I require time away from the studio, so I prioritize self-care and rest. I’m a full-time academic with an active professional career; work/life balance is often difficult to achieve. After finishing a big show, I need to spend time catching up with friends and exploring environs outside the studio. It’s vital. 

There’s also a period of time after being in production mode where there is a shift in focus from making to promoting what has been made. My work is primarily funded through both professional and academic grants and fellowships, so I have a cycle of production followed by exhibition, promotion, and securing the necessary funds for the next body of work. I’ve been fortunate in that new opportunities always arise, new ideas always present themselves, and the cycle begins again.  

In memory of Gerald Gilbert Geschke, 1931-2019

To see more of Erik's work, please visit www.erikgeschke.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist  Stacia Yeapanis.  When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations.  She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018) and Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019). Her work was recently included in the three-person show Manifestations at One After 909 (Chicago).


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Christopher Lin

What do you call the world? 2019. Installation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist  Stacia Yeapanis.  When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations.  She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018) and Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019). Her work is included in the three-person show Manifestations, on view at One After 909 (Chicago) through July 13, 2019.


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Sarah K. Williams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sample Objects (and their potential movements), 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OPP: What’s the latest project? 

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

S.I. dinner #1, 2017.

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

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

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

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

To see more of Sarah's work, please visit sarahkwilliams.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist  Stacia Yeapanis.  When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations.  She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago.  Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis 2017) and Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018). During summer 2018, Stacia created  Renunciation Reliquary as a one-night installation for Chicago Artist Coalition's annual benefit Work in Progress and was an Artist-in-Residence at Facebook. Her solo show Practice is on view at Kent State Stark through May 4, 2019.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Sarah Beth Woods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rhinettes

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

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

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

OPP: How do viewers/listeners encounter The Rhinettes?

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

To see more of Sarah Beth's work, please visit sarahbethwoods.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist  Stacia Yeapanis.  When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations.  She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago.  Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis 2017) and Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018). During summer 2018, Stacia created  Renunciation Reliquary as a one-night installation for Chicago Artist Coalition's annual benefit Work in Progress and was an Artist-in-Residence at Facebook. She is currently preparing for a solo show titled Practice, which will open in April 2019 at Kent State Stark.


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Emi Ozawa

This is Granny Smith, 2018. Acrylic on poplar. 52" x 52" x 13." Photo credit: Margot Geist

EMI OZAWA's skillfully crafted sculptures show thoughtful attention to line, form and color. The simplicity of her geometry—repeating circles, lines and squares—belies the complexity of her thematic concerns. In kinetic sculptures and wall-hung sculptures that change dramatically as the viewer walks past, she explores of the relationship between looking, touching and moving. Emi studied at Joshibi University of Art and Design and Tokyo School of Art. She earned her BFA in Craft/Wood at The University of the Arts (Philadelphia) and her MFA in Furniture Design at Rhode Island School of Design. She has exhibited widely throughout the U.S, in London and in Tokyo. In January 2018, Emi's solo show Follow The Line opened at Richard Levy Gallery. The gallery will also take her work to Art Miami in December 2018. Her work was included in the group show Parallax : A RAiR Connection Exhibition (2018) at the Roswell Museum and Art Center, alongside Featured Artist Justin Richel. In 2019, Emi will be an artist-in-residence at Tamarind Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she lives and works.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You studied graphic design and furniture design. How did that inform the work you make now? 

Emi Ozawa: while I was working as a graphic designer, the feeling of wanting to create 3D objects by my hand grew. I had the idea that objects could be kinetic and interactive. The reason why I started learning woodworking was to make my sculpture steady for touching and moving. I was interested in furniture as objects that have a built-in invitation to touch and move. I also wanted to learn about wood. I love the feel and the texture of this material.

Square on Square, 2010. Acrylic on apple plywood with brass. 19.75" x 20" x 3". Photo credit : Margot Geist.

OPP: What led you away from functional objects toward visual art?

EO: From the start, I was combining my sculptural ideas into furniture. I wanted my work to be inviting. You can sit, you can open a door. Its function was secondary for me. For instance, Bird tables surface is very limited. My ‘box form’ sculptures—like Wound Up(2001) and bOX (2001)—have very small inside spaces. Each piece has very unique way of opening and closing. They needed to be explained by someone present, sometimes a piece would be displayed in a case, all of this intruded on the viewer’s full experience. Gradually I felt that I wanted my work to be independent like a painting on a wall. Viewers are invited to look and have an experience of interaction without touching. Further more, I wanted to focus on surface painting more than spending too much energy with building mechanical parts and joints.

Red Bridge, 2004. Acrylic on apple plywood with brass. 15" x 15" x 2.5". Photo credit : Mark Johnston.

OPP: In your statement, you mentioned that play is a central concern of your work. Early kinetic works like Triangle Train (2009) or See Saw 2 (2002) could be touched. What makes an interactive work a sculpture versus a toy? Does that distinction matter to you at all?

EO: Yes. This distinction matters to me, but I can’t help it if others blur the line between the two experiences. Making art which applies itself to our instinct to play is the connection I am seeking. I think a toy is for the users—user-centered. That’s why a lot of toys are made safe for certain ages, for certain development, or there is a room for how to approach the toy.

Speaking about my interactive sculpture, there is a very specific way that a viewer can interact with the piece. When it’s activated, it shows a movement or a surprise which I created to share. So it is artist-centered.

Rain on Rain, 2016. (front, left and right side views). Acrylic on poplar. 48" x 28.5" x 2." Photo credit: Margot Geist.

OPP: Your wall sculptures are very much about visual perspective. They change if you look at them from different points of view. Is this pure abstraction? Or do you think of these abstractions as metaphors?

EO: I think a lot of them are pure abstraction using color and geometry, but some are developed from my response to nature. For example, I considered rain drops falling in Rain on Rain (2016), the moon in a night sky in Once in A Blue Moon (2014) and the vivid colors I see during Summer season in One Summer Day Takes a Walk (2013). I like working with squares and circles because they are my favorite language. They tend to relate, and I use them towards what you are talking about in terms of visual perspective. 

Drifting Mist (two views), 2015. Acrylic on poplar. 15" x 15' x 1.875". Photo credit : Margot Geist.

OPP: When I first looked at works like Kaki to Yuzu (2018) and Blue Line (2017), I thought of variations on the Modernist grid and the textile grid of weaving, as well as an accumulations of ladders against the wall. Then I googled Amidakuji (2016) and had a whole new perspective. Can you explain for non-Japanese speakers? 

EO: Amidakuji is a common game of chance in Japan. You just need a pen and a paper. You draw vertical lines of participants number which could be two to however many. Then add horizontal lines in between the vertical lines, write prizes or numbers at the bottom end of the line and hide that detail. Each player can add more horizontal lines. Now the game begins. Each participant picks a line. You track the path downwards from the top. Following the line, it crosses sometime with other path but never overlap. When you reach the bottom, you find the prize. When I started drawing this idea, I thought everybody knew about it. Then soon I found out it is not common in USA. As far as the purpose of the game goes, picking the shortest straw might do something similar.

Amidakuji, 2016. Acrylic on mahogany. 54" x 46.5" x 1.25." Photo credit : Jeff Krueger

OPP: How important is it that viewers understand this reference when looking at the work?

EO: I structured these three pieces based on this game and applied this rule to color these lines. I wouldn’t be making these works without knowing Amidakuji. But it can be looked at as a sculpture without its references. Though it is not a must, I mention its inspiration because it is part of it for me, as is this work’s relation to the Modernist grid you mention. It is interesting to see similarities in Mondrian’s structure and this game.    

Five Blue Circles, 2018. Paper on board. 10" x 15" x 2.5" frame.

OPP: Many recent wall sculptures are made of paper instead of wood. Is this a new material in your practice? 

EO: I have been making paper models for 30 years. It was for my furniture, as it is now for my sculpture. From drawing to paper model to wood sculpture. . . this has been my process. Paper model-making is an important step for me to see and understand three dimensional aspects before working on a piece in actual size and material. I always enjoy working with paper just like I do with wood.

I have an upcoming residency  in 2019 at Tamarind Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where there will be an opportunity for me to do some 3D lithography. Because this work will be on paper, I was looking at my paper models and drawings and started experimenting with paper towards the work as a finished art object. 

Sugar Plum, 2018. Paper, tape on board. 13" x 13" x 1.5" framed.

OPP: Can you talk about the material differences between wood and paper?

EO: Paper doesn’t have thickness like wood. Paper is foldable and flexible unlike wood. Paper is more fragile than wood. There are many differences between the two, with what you can and cannot do, yet my paper and wood pieces are alike though in different scales.

Some ideas echo in-between wood pieces and paper pieces. My newest paper pieces are inspired by my wall wood sculpture that changes its look from the different perspectives. I found it is interesting that the reverse process is happening. Adding paper to my materials, my play ground of ideas is expanding. 

To see more of Emi's work, please visit emiozawa.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist  Stacia Yeapanis.  When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations.  She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago.  Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis 2017) and Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018). During summer 2018, Stacia created  Renunciation Reliquary as a one-night installation for Chicago Artist Coalition's annual benefit Work in Progress and was an Artist-in-Residence at Facebook. She is currently preparing for a solo show titled Practice, which will open in April 2019 at Kent State Stark.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Alicia King

Machinations, 2018. Neon (mercury), graphite on paper. 122cm x 111cm.

Interdisciplinary artist ALICIA KING explores the relationship between the human body, technology and the always-imminent Future. Some sculptural works combine the visual language of the religious reliquary with living human cells. Other text-based works, rendered both in neon and in balsa wood that mimics the form of neon, highlights the false dichotomy of nature and technology. Alicia earned her BFA in 2005, followed by her PhD in Fine Arts in 2009 at the University of Tasmania, Hobart Art School. She exhibits internationally and has been included in group shows in Germany, the United States, Japan, Vietnam and Australia. Her work is included in the Fehily Contemporary Collection and the permanent collection at The Museum of Old and New Art (Hobart, Tasmania). Alicia is preparing for two solo exhibitions in 2019 in Melbourne: Our Long Conversation with the Sun at Linden New Art and Alien Nature at C3 Contemporary Art Space. Alicia lives and works in Melbourne, Australia.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What’s the relationship between biology, technology and spirituality, as you see it?

Alicia King: The spiritual link is interesting, and it can be culturally specific. For example, Japanese culture has a history of animism that influences their approach to robotics, but I’m not sure Western culture really makes that connection. I think the technological can seem in opposition to the spiritual because we generally equate the spiritual with nature, and tech is often seen as the opposite of nature. I wouldn’t say I’m overtly interested in spirituality, but I guess I allude to those ideas through exploring subjectivity and embodiment in biological materials, the sublime and phenomenological in nature and technology. 

In a way, the reliquary pieces play upon fake miracles of technology and the idea of science as fulfilling the mythology of the future.

Slip me some skin, 2012. Glass, human tissue (donated by anonymous donor), fibroblast cells (HaCaT cell line) agar, resin, flock. Detail.

OPP: Yes, I was specifically thinking about the reliquaries like Slip Me Some Skin (2009) and Delicacies of the Dead (2009). Works like these refer to the Medieval Christian practice of memorializing dead saints by their body parts, which were intended as devotional objects that link human and God. What does it mean to create reliquaries for human cells from anonymous donors? 

AK: How we deal with bodily materials once they are outside of their host body is really varied and fascinating. When used by industry, tissue is generally anonymous, objectified and considered to be a waste product, though it has incredible financial value. The individual origins of the tissue are removed and it is used like any other raw material commodity. 

In the case of cells from anonymous sources, the use of the relic applies a sense of subjectivity to bodily material, and places focus upon the identity of the tissue through the limited information available about its origins. It’s also used to make viewers aware of how tissue is used and the ethical issues involved. There are online tissue banks where researchers purchase cells and tissue, and that tissue is sourced from individuals—it’s a pretty wild concept.

The Absence of the Void. 2009. Human tissue (the artist's cultured skin cells from tissue taken via biopsy), polyurethane, flock, acrylic. Detail.

OPP: Is it a different experience when you use tissue from your own biopsies?

AK: With my own tissue, I was exploring an experience of self and whether working with my own tissue would effect my sense of embodiment. When was a teenager I had facial surgery that changed my face significantly and ruptured my sense of feeling in sync with my body. It also got me thinking about the psychological effects of adding and subtracting from the body with the living materials of other humans and animals, and really started me on this body of research. 

The Vision Splendid, 2010. Portable bioreactor housing living human tissue (the artist's own skin cells and tissue, taken via biopsy). Installation view. 3m x 2m x 2m.

OPP: In works like The Ephemeral Flesh Project (2010) or The Vision Splendid (2010), what are the practical logistics of working with bio matter as an art material?

AK: Working with living systems (human cells and tissue) is challenging and hard to describe. It’s a really layered and subjective experience—you can’t help being aware that the material you’re working with is alive, and that it comes from a human/s body. It’s also really temperamental, you can’t control the physical or aesthetic outcome like you can with non-living materials, you have to let the material guide you, and it’s prone to illness, infection and death. It’s a very strange process. 

Psychic Nature. 2017. Cast pigmented polyurethane, airbrushed metal sheet, magnetic material. 40cm x 40cm x 30cm.

OPP: In 2009 you earned a PhD for “Transformations of the Flesh; Rupturing Embodiment through Biotechnology, an artistic exploration of relationships between biotech practices and the physical, ethical and ritual body.” Tell us about this thesis project. Was it written? What do you mean by “the physical, ethical and ritual body?”

AK: My PhD explored how artists contribute to dialogue around the influence of biotech developments on our sense of humanness. The thesis comprised a body of artwork and a 40,000 word exegesis. 

I was looking at different relationships that we have with the body in society.  Firstly, the way that bodily material is physically used in science and medicine, i.e. how it is physically processed and/or manipulated; how it’s regulated in an ethical and legal context, in relation to commodification of bodily materials, i.e. who has rights over our bodily materials, and what can be done with them. And lastly the history of ritual attitudes to the body, in the sense of the emotive and subjective relationship we have to our bodies, living and dead, through reference to the historic bodily relics. We conceptualize and deal with the body with such conflicting and irrational perspectives. And I’m continually surprised by how disinterested people seem to be about what is happening to our bodies in science and legislation. 

Natural Phenomena. 2015. Detail. Biological amulet levitating above a cast of the artist's bust. The amulet rotates as it levitates, seemingly propelled by telekinesis.

OPP: Tell us why you chose to get a PhD and how it’s affected the visual art you now make?

AK: It’s more common in Australia for artists to have PhDs. Depending on your arts practice, it can help your work to be taken more seriously. My work has always been a fairly even mix of practice and research, but it helped me access University facilities and personnel in other faculty areas for research projects that I’m not sure would’ve happened if I’d been a random artist. Australia is pretty antiquated in its attitude towards artists, so it helps to level the playing field between artists and researchers/academics.

Clone the Future. 2015. Hand-carved balsa wood. Detail.

OPP: You’ve recently been making text-based works in balsa wood —Why Die and Clone the Futureboth from 2015—and neon? What’s the relationship between the two materials and the text? Does one address your conceptual interests more effectively?

AK: I find neon really interesting as a pop-cultural signifier of hi-tech and the ‘future.’ Neon is also biological, made from glass and natural gases. It can be seen as an atmospheric microcosm, much like the Aurora Borealis gases in the atmosphere, condensed in a glass tube and activated by electricity. So for me, it really embodies the relationship between nature and tech.

Hand-carving neon text in a natural material like balsa wood adds a layer of ambiguity to it, yet at the same same time directly relates the natural with the technological. 

Language also plays an important role in cultural hierarchies. The text alludes to pop culture and biotech in order to play with some of the iconic mythologies about science and the future.


To see more of Alicia's work, please visit aliciaking.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 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago.  Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis 2017) and Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018). During summer 2018, Stacia created  Renunciation Reliquary as a one-night installation for Chicago Artist Coalition's annual benefit Work in Progress and was an Artist-in-Residence at Facebook. She is currently preparing for a solo show titled Practice, which will open in April 2019 at Kent State Stark.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jeff Krueger

Failure is an Option, 2017. Installation view.

In a nod to the legacy of Modernism, JEFF KRUEGER (@kruegerstudio) uses recurring, abstract forms. But his ceramic works and drawings do not maintain the primacy of the non-contingent art object. Whether in sculptures glazed with his own blood or objects that evoke both physics and philosophy—his works refer to real objects and issues in our very messy lives. Jeff earned his BFA, in Ceramics at the California College of Arts and Crafts, followed by his MFA in Sculpture at the University of New Mexico. His residency at Roswell Artist-in-Residence in New Mexico culminated in the solo exhibition Failure is an Option: My life with Abstractions at the Roswell Museum and Art Center. Jeff's work is represented by Gallery Fritz (Santa Fe, NM), where he will have a two-person show in April 2019. In the meantime, his work is included in the group show The Audacity of Art, opening on October 26, 2018 at Gallery Fritz. Jeff lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. 

OtherPeoplesPixels: You identify yourself as an “abstract social realist.” What does that mean to you?

Jeff Krueger: This is a catch all terms I use. In many instances, the work is a form of cultural study, which re-renders forms in the world, be it items designed for the body, the home, small public arenas or corporate identification. They are things as diverse as cervical caps, water pitchers, oddly curious parking lot dividers. There can be a flat footedness to the enterprise, like reading the My McDonalds ad campaign and deciding to make my own arch. The Social Realism aspect of this is the turning of the arch upside down with bottles of bleach holding up the sign, which is a reference to the city of Chicago pouring bleach into street food vendors food as a means of discouraging the practice.

Ghosts, 2017.

OPP: Talk about the abstract visual language you work with.

JK: I generate a constant stream of abstract forms, be it works which evolved out of Dadaist, Surrealist, non-objective art and other 20th Century traditions. This language is our artistic inheritance. My work involves infusing these forms with direct contact with the real, whether that is coating the objects with red blood cells, using them to present things like my DNA, store used condoms, or simply juxtaposing the forms with materials that have generally understood cultural meaning. In the newer works, it can be as simple as glazing them in such a way that the color gives the work meanings. I hope the works achieve some quality that there is an active social realist consciousness to the object. Group identity or cultural identity is for me a form of abstraction, and I am looking to render these abstractions as a vehicle for understanding the world. 

My Brother Michael Drinks from the Evangelical Water Bottle, 2017. Ink on Paper. 19"x 13"

OPP: Can you give us a specific example of that?

JK: I made a drawing of a my brother being waterboarded by what I called the Evangelical Water Bottle. It was a thought about how he had become such a devout Evangelical Christian and how our country has used waterboarding as a method of torture. I decided to make the water bottle into an object. I wanted to use the work to reconsider imagery which might reflect upon the central Christian rite of Baptism, one of these major cultural abstractions. Once you are washed, you are forever washed. Water is present, even though it is gone. The photograph with the bottle in front of a handicap parking space was a way of taking the object back to my brother, as he was one of the people that spoke before Congress in advance of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This parking spot at Bitter Lake was a direct result of Michael’s work. 

It is a poetic loop I suppose, but one I hope considers a wide scope of related subjects.  

Untitled Body with Red Interior, 2017. Ceramic with Poplar and Brass. 16" x 44" x 14"

OPP: Have you always worked with ceramics? Tell us a little about your artistic trajectory.

JK: I started working with clay in high school. I studied at 3-4 different schools as an undergraduate, and at each step I was given the direction to aim high. Viola Frey, at the California College of Arts and Crafts, was among those voices. She was pretty amazing and directly introduced the idea that art could be a form of cultural study. I have been a restless artist since then, exploring a number of media and forms, but often return to ceramic work due to its unique properties and my interest in design. I was schooled in the 80s, which can be seen as both the peek and collapse of Modernism. Minimalism and all that gospel still has meaning to me, as I think a ‘thing’ unto itself can be far more commanding than something which is primarily referencing something outside itself. Ceramics does the former very well. 

Infinity is King, 2017.

OPP: You use a lot of repeated ceramic forms that are recontextualized by color and titles. An example is Infinity is King, in which the form is a figure wearing a crown, and Infinity Tastes Like Candy, where the same form evokes cotton candy. Talk about this recontextualization.

JK: It is an outcome of thinking about the same thing in different ways. I would not say I work in series, but I do think about the same topic from different perspectives, variations on a given form allow for distinctly different ways to frame the ideas in the work. 

One of the concepts that has played out in the work through the years is that of fecundity. What is human fecundity? It is sort of a pompous question, but not really. . . and I think it is an important one to ask these days. Somehow I think our faith and inquiries about the infinite are linked to our fecundity. These works came out of an interest in defining the infinite within a single object. What would that look like? I don’t know if this form is satisfying enough, but I like it. Infinity is King juxtaposes that form with a crown dotted with flesh tone blobs. I guess that is a thought about the human obsession with race which seems a rather petty obsession in the context of the genuinely infinite. Infinity Tastes like Candy is an ode to my childhood. When I was kid I was told everything that I would not eat tasted like candy. It was somewhat funny because, with exception of chocolate, I don’t recall ever liking candy.

She Will Gives Waves of Warning, 2004. Ceramic and Epoxy. 6 1/2" x 32" x 12 1/2"

OPP: And what about the repeated form used in Untitled in GrapeShe Will Give Waves of Warning (2004) and The Settlement (2000)?Does it have a real world reference?

JK: These sculptures are part of the long line of abstract forms I mentioned. I make a lot of work in both drawing and sculptural form, which does not start from knowing what or why I am making it. Generally there is no thesis I am trying to defend. Rather, I make work intuitively and then try to see what is generated in terms of emotion or language. Then I see if I can say something or ask a question via that generated language. 

After I made these, I saw the form as an abstract uterus. I wonder what this projection of a uterine form means. There is a quality to it of deriving language out of a human body part. I don’t have one of those parts but I came from one. Is that even valid to say any longer? I am not entirely sure why I feel invested, but they are beautiful. I’m aware of the pathologically patriarchal in our culture—I saw that in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings which pitted all those male characters against a flaming vulva—and I wonder if I am not doing something similar. But I don’t know if it is patriarchal to wonder about where you came from or consider the world outside oneself. There is an aspect of it which is clearly an unconscious activity, as it is most of the time when I render parts of male body in works like Doubles or Fattening Frogs for Snakes.

Juggling Our Inequity, 2017. Ceramic and Water Color. 60" x 146" x 3"

OPP: Can you talk about the relationship between ceramics and drawing in your recent show, Failure is An Option (2017)?

JK: Back in the 1980s, I worked in a preverbal, rather awkward manner. One of the more influential drawing projects that I saw back then was a collaborative book of the poet Micheal McClure, with whom I studied, and his friend Bruce Connor. At the time I was essential making blobs in both ceramics and ink drawings. In the Connor pen drawings, I saw this road to radically slowing my mark making down. There was a union of the subject and the field, meaning and content. I’ve done similar work since. I make the drawings as a matter of daily practice. Sometimes it is the bulk of my production; other times it falls to the side. Often I see forms within the drawings that I feel would be interesting objects, and so I try to render them as such. The drawing It and  ceramic wall sculpture Its Black Facsimile would be one of those attempts. Each of these an attempt to render some notion of the fecund.  

The exhibition also includes watercolors, renderings of photographs and plein air paintings I’ve done over the last few years. I take a lot of photographs as a manner of looking at the world. Many seem like they would be interesting paintings. I also am confounded by Facebook and the news, so I use these sources for imagery which make it into the watercolors. A suite such as Juggling Our Inequity combines all of this work. In that group, there is a small painting of a river in Russia that was reported to be poisoned. It was bright red due to copper, chrome and other contaminates. Then I did a small watercolor of the field behind my house in Roswell, which edges fields devoted to alfalfa production. The pairing of this bucolic scene with one of an industrial disaster seems honest, as both happened simultaneously. I surrounded the pair with a field of ceramic dollops. The chemicals in these glazes are about the same as those in the poisoned river and probably some of those in the alkaline water used to irrigate Roswell. All of it seems tied together, mutually dependent, the inequity that between the earth and how we use it.    

Baptismal for the Death Star, 2017. Ceramic. 40" x 30" x 25." Photo credit: Margot Geist

OPP: What are you working on right now? Any new directions in the studio?

JK: At the end of my Roswell residency, I finished some pieces I call sequences. These are works which again relate to the ink drawings. They are ceramic forms thrown and then assembled and hand built.  I am doing these at the same time as making more watercolors. Some of these will possibly go into a long term project that I am working on which relates to living on the Death Star. 

To see more of Jeff's work, please visit jeffskrueger.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist  Stacia Yeapanis.  When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations.  She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago.  Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis 2017) and Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018). During summer 2018, Stacia created  Renunciation Reliquary as a one-night installation for Chicago Artist Coalition's annual benefit Work in Progress and was an Artist-in-Residence at Facebook. She is currently preparing for a solo show titled Practice, which will open in April 2019 at Kent State Stark.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Tamara Bagnell

tiny sculpture series 1, 2017. wood, fabric, rope, felt, polyfil, acrylic paint,. 5.75"h x 4"w x 4"d

TAMARA BAGNELL's soft sculptures are playful systems made of fabric, felt, wood, rope and polyfil. They teeter between abstraction and representation, and the meaning of her recurring forms—drops, vines, concentric arches, stuffed tubes—shifts as her palette does. Tamara earned her BFA in Interrelated Media from Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 2001. She ran a textile design and screenprinting business until 2016, when she turned to art-making full time. Her artwork has most recently been exhibited at the Durham Arts Council, in soft goods (2018) at VAE Raleigh, and The Art of a Scientist (2018) at The Rubenstein Art Center at Duke University. Tamara lives and works in Durham, North Carolina.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What does soft mean to you?

Tamara Bagnell: Soft is approachable, playful, familiar, empathetic. Soft is both malleable and resilient. Softness has an open quality, an ability to draw the viewer in. It also creates a lightness to elements of my work that if made from other materials might read as more serious, sinister, or aggressive than I intend.  

system 1, 2018. fabric, polyfil, bamboo, rope

OPP: Have you always worked in soft sculpture?

TB: My background is predominantly in screenprinting and textile print design, although I find my soft sculptures incorporate a lot of the aesthetics that drew me to screenprinting: bold blocks of color, repetition, abstraction. I also occasionally use screen and block printing to embellish the fabric I use in my pieces.  

My path as an artist is maybe a bit different than others. After receiving my BFA in 2001, I turned my focus away from making fine art and ran a more design-oriented business. During that time, I still worked with fabric and occasionally experimented with soft sculpture, but I was never happy enough with the result to exhibit my work.  It is only over the past few years that my approach to art making has really come together for me, and soft sculpture has begun to permeate my work.  

irregular animals series, 2016. wood, fabric, yarn. 12"h x 12"d x 8"w

OPP: When and why did you learn to sew?

TB: Sewing is a tradition in my family. Growing up, there was a sewing machine that lived in the dining room of my home. My mom learned how to sew from her mom, and I would watch her make me tops and dresses when I was elementary school age. I’d also tag along on trips to the fabric store and pass the time exploring all the colors and textures. I began nagging her to teach me how to use her machine when I was maybe in fifth or sixth grade. My motivation was to be able to design my own clothes, which not surprisingly turned out to be a lot harder than I anticipated. I stuck with it though and gained a modest level of expertise through decades of practice. While my interest in making clothing ultimately waned, the skills I gained through learning those techniques are something I’ve continually found new ways to tap into. People often comment when seeing my work in person about how meticulous my construction is, and I think that has a lot to do with all that experience making clothes and accessories.  

escapism, 2017. fabric, polyfil, wood, acrylic paint, pvc

OPP: Your color palette is pretty consistently neutral with accents of pink and yellow hues. What draws you to these colors?

TB: I am completely obsessed with color, and it is one of the most important parts of my process. I have a strong emotional connection to certain colors that I find difficult to describe in words. Yellow is one of those colors. Since my work is mostly abstract, I often use color as a way to nudge the viewer to interpret important elements of a piece in a particular way. A drop-like shape in beige or peach is more likely to read as flesh. Whereas if I make it blue, it becomes water, or green a leaf, red might be blood or a fruit. For me, the pinks and neutrals have a flesh-like, organic quality, representing the elemental parts of living beings. I see these elements as embodying both the physical as well as the emotional, the parts of us that are affected when we feel. 

Lately my I’ve been focused on the interconnection between humans and systems, whether natural or human-created, so there has been a lot of pink, beige, and brown. It can be a struggle though, at times, finding harmony between using color in a representational way and also making sure the color works for the piece overall. It is very important to me that each piece I make can also be appreciated on a purely aesthetic level, and color is a key component in that.

natural order, 2017. fabric, polyfil, yarn, rope, matteboard, felt, acrylic ink. 26" w x 42" l

OPP: The obvious exception is natural order (2017). That blue background changes some neutral colored forms that show up into other works by introducing the context of the sky, which makes weather systems. What led you to make that change? Is it an anomaly or a new direction?

TB: At the time I finished that piece it was an anomaly, but later on it became a point of departure. It was both an early attempt at making a wall piece and an experiment with color. In the end I wasn’t entirely happy with the result, but that piece and wide open became the inspiration for a series of more free form wall sculptures that I am working on now. system 1 and system 2 are part of that series, and I have four more that are at various stages of completion. As I progress through those pieces I have found my palette shifting, adding more blues and greens, playing with the symbolism of color and how I can utilize that to expand my language of shapes.

system 4,  2018. fabric, polyfil, cotton batting, jute. 

OPP: Do you reuse parts of your sculptures or make the same form over and over again? That pink string of “sausage links,” for example shows up in hidden (2018), system 2 (2018) and dark machines (2018).

TB: I almost always make new forms for each sculpture. Occasionally I will disassemble a less successful piece and harvest it for parts. I also have a huge bin full of cast-offs that I can pull from when working on a composition. Since it’s rare that I start out with a sculpture fully laid out in my head, I manufacture each of the elements as I’m composing, with the hope they will look the way I envision when I incorporate them into the sculpture. If not, they go in the bin and often end up in a future piece.  

collage series 1 (group arrangement), 2016. fabric, polyfil, wood, jute, plastic, acrylic paint

OPP: Can you talk about what some of the recurring forms mean to you?

TB: A lot of the reason I make and repeat certain shapes again and again is because they simply appeal to me on some intuitive level, but over time they have sorted themselves into a kind of personal language with meanings that shift depending on color or context. I see most of the recurring elements in my current work as either organic forms—existing in some vague place between internal body parts, plants, seeds, and other objects in nature—or rigid, inorganic, machine-like forms.  

Some sculptures are cryptic systems comprised of mostly organic elements. In others, organic elements are being confinedgenerated or processed by human-made objects or machines. Some of these systems appear harmonious, while others seem sinister, chaotic or adversary. This stems from my larger fascination with interconnectivity, whether it’s contemplating the incredibly complex web of the natural world or questioning the systems we create and the corresponding rules we subscribe to as a society. Exploring these ideas in soft sculpture allows me overlay those thoughts and emotions with a certain playful quirkiness that I really enjoy. That said, I’m not overly concerned that people viewing my work infer any of these things or feel any pressure to “get it.” Ultimately I want my art to feel open and approachable, something to enjoy and explore, and take as much or as little as you want from it.  

To see more of Tamara's work, please visit tamarabagnell.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist  Stacia Yeapanis.  When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations.  She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago.  Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis 2017) and Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018). During summer 2018, Stacia created  Renunciation Reliquary as a one-night installation for Chicago Artist Coalition's annual benefit Work in Progress and was an Artist-in-Residence at Facebook. She is currently preparing for a solo show titled Practice, which will open in April 2019 at Kent State Stark.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Rachelle Reichert

BackwardFuture, 2017. Installation shot, Black Crown Gallery. Photo credit: Phillip Maisel.

RACHELLE REICHERT's sculptural forms are minimal and her palette is monochromatic—almost exclusively black, white and grey. These formal decisions grow directly from her material choices—graphite and salt. Underlying the seemingly-simple, formal elegance is a committed interest in the social and ecological impact of technology. Rachelle earned her BFA at Boston University, following by her MFA at Mills College (Oakland, CA). In addition to numerous solo exhibitions, she has presented her work at the California Climate Change Symposium, the State of the San Francisco Estuary Conference, the American Geophysical Union Meeting. Her work will be on view from September 9 - October 21, 2018 in the group show Unwalking the West at the Center for Contemporary Art & Culture at Pacific Northwest College (Portland, Oregon). Rachelle is curatingTrace Evidence: A Cross-Cultural Dialogue on Climate Change in affiliation with Global Climate Action Summit in September 2018. The show opens at Minnesota Street Project (San Francisco) on September 5, 2018 and will be accompanied by a panel discussion sponsored by SFMOMA on September 11, 2018. Rachelle lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area, California.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Why are salt and graphite the dominant materials in your work? How do they drive your work?

Rachelle Reichert: I am interested in the familiar becoming unknown and in the complexity of seemingly ordinary things. My practice explores the connection between basic natural materials, their use by industry and technology and the resulting impact on the environment and culture. I have created work with metal, clay, natural pigments, charcoal and more. But graphite and salt have held my attention for over five years.

Graphite is a primary tool for drawing— a practice that helped develop human consciousness. Graphite was originally used by sheepherders to mark sheep. Since then, it has a history in industrialization as a lubricant to machinery and now in the lithium-ion battery found in cars and  smartphones. Graphene—graphite’s 2-D form—is enabling leaps in nanotechnology and biotech because it is an excellent superconductor. I research the life cycle of the material, from extraction to implementation and create artwork based on this research.

First Rains, 2016. Salt. 15 x 12 x 9 in each.

OPP: And salt?

RR: I started thinking about salt in 2013 in my first semester of grad school. I had an incredible professor, the late Anna Valentina Murch, who encouraged material experimentation in sculpture when I was making large graphite paintings. She helped to transform my thinking. Salt has been extracted industrially from the San Francisco Bay since the 1850s. It is an incredibly unstable mineral that is essential for human life. Like graphite, I’ve researched salt’s use in industry, such as local extraction and the repercussions shaping the San Francisco estuary. In addition I have studied salt’s role in culture, such as its use in woman-led pagan practices that were later adopted by Catholicism. My salt circles come directly from that.

Both graphite and salt are extracted all over the world. Presently, I am looking at graphite extraction in China and I recently returned from the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, the largest salt flat in the world with the largest reserves of lithium.

Exhibition at Monterey Peninsula College, 2017

OPP: How do you make formal choices to support your conceptual concerns?

RR: My forms and palettes are determined by the materials themselves. I am sensitive to the textures and forms of the materials. That is where the complexity lies. These works are demanding and require close looking. Unfortunately, photographs of the works don’t communicate this well. 

OPP: How do the forms grow out of the material? It’s clear in the saltworks, but what about the hexagons, for example?

RR: The hexagons reference the crystalline structure of graphite, an allotrope of carbon. It’s the hexagonal form that allows for the superconductivity of the material. A beautiful example of form follows function.

Untitled (Hexagons 3), 2018. Graphite on panel. 50 x 24 inches (variable).

OPP: Is the sourcing of your materials important?

RR: Yes, very important. It creates the content for some works. I often harvest my own materials or when I can’t do it myself, I work with companies who do and build relationships with these companies. I often watch sights for a very long time, years usually, before I start making work. Watching includes tracking locations via satelite images and reading news, geological reports, surveys or any information I can find and visiting the locations—if I can. 

Currently, I am working on a project where I’ve been visiting locations in California impacted by forest fires and making oil paint from the charred trees. I started this in 2014 but it is just now that I am making paintings. The fires have accelerated rapidly in the time I’ve been researching. I coincidentally started making this work during the largest recorded fire in California history, the Thomas Fire in December 2017. Since then, the Mendocino Complex Fire, burning as I write this, now holds the record as the largest fire. I am creating this work as it rains ash from the sky in San Francisco and grieving, like so many others, for a California past and for those who have suffered from these fires.

Blackdragon Mine #15, 2017.

OPP: What role does satellite imagery play in your drawing practice?

RR: I use private-sourced earth imaging satellites to track locations affected by global warming. I have access to these images from a research ambassadorship. I track graphite mines with these images and salt evaporation ponds, wildfires and new sites of extraction in the American West. These images come from technology that could not exist without the raw materials that are being photographed and so I want to highlight that connection with my drawings.

OPP: Are the Black Dragon drawings examples of this? Do viewers/critics ever miss the connection and want to talk abut these as pure abstraction?

RR: Yes. The name comes from the mining group that I have been following in China. These works can function as pure abstraction or as an investigation of the images I am exploring and creating the works from. The connection is often missed, but I think that adds an interesting layer, potentially revealing the reference images in unexpected ways. Most people don’t realize that satellite images are highly edited—color corrected, cropped, composited—to look like what one would expect from a satellite image: a clear view of the land below with no clouds or blurs or camera malfunctions (remember, these images are coming from space!). The drawings are layered and space is negotiated in strange ways intentionally to reveal this. 

Blackdragon Mine #16, 2017. Graphite on prepared paper. 12 x 16 inches.

OPP: You’ve presented your artwork at the California Climate Change Symposium, the San Francisco State of the Estuary Conference, and the American Geophysical Union Meeting. Can you talk about presenting art in a scientific context?

RR: My research requires a lot of understanding into the chemical composition of my materials and how their uses impact the planet. I track pollution from extraction and man-made marks on our planet. I feel that art is an essential tool to help understand science, especially climate science. There is an urgency there and I am always seeking opportunities to intersect ideas and collaborate. 


To see more of Rachelle's work, please visit rachellereichert.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist  Stacia Yeapanis.  When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations.  She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago.  Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis 2017) and Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018).  Most recently, Stacia created  Renunciation Reliquary as a one-night installation for Chicago Artist Coalition's annual benefit  Work in Progress and was an Artist-in-Residence at Facebook.