OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Stoney Sasser

Habit(at): Garden Variety (detail)
Fabric, Hex Netting, acrylic, latex, glitter, great stuff, foam, yarn, polystyrene fill, cotton batting, chalk markers
Dimensions Variable

STONEY SASSER investigates the interconnectedness of humans, plants, animals and the surrounding material culture in sprawling installations that climb the walls and creep along the floors. These otherworldly landscapes, featuring patterned fabric, glitter and fringe, are campy, playful prosthetics for nature's creatures and plants. Stoney has a BA in Psychology and a BFA in Painting from the University of Montana in Missoula. In 2015, she earned her MFA in Painting and Sculpture from Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois and was recently included in Fresh: New Master Artists, a survey of recent MFA grads across the country, at Contemporary Art Gallery, Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana. Stoney lives in Missoula, Montana.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You have a background in science and experience with organic farming. How does that feed into the work that you make as an artist?

Stoney Sasser: I consider my practice to be holistic in nature, where facets of my life feed my “art.” So my education, time on the farm, hours in meditation and days traveling and exploring all certainly inform my practice of making. I like to consider an idea that Gregory Bateson addresses in his book Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity. He searches to find the pattern which connects and asks, What pattern connects the crab to the lobster and the orchid to the primrose and all the four of them to me? And me to you?

In a very physical way, I am asking this same question, using the body as a locus for a broader conversation. For me, the question is extended beyond how biological organisms are connected to include how we are all connected to material culture, artifice and waste. If the biological and non-biological are all made from stardust, is it sacred or profane? My activities in the world help inform these concerns and investigations both visually and conceptually.

First Piggy
Plaster, fabric, foam, welding rods
approx 3.5'x 1.5'x 8'

OPP: Can you talk about the materials you choose for your installations and your process? It seems that First Piggy, Second Piggy (on the mountain) and Third Piggy (at the roast) from 2014 are reorganizations of the same material? If so, is that a recurring installation strategy?

SS: YES! My fascination with materials drives much of my installation practice. This enthusiasm is blundered by a relentless question: When we replace our natural world with man-made artifice, what do we do with all of this stuff?! In the pursuit of re-wilding, I see my installations as proposals for biological prosthetics.

I commonly salvage materials from thrift-stores or the side of the road. I am drawn to fabrics, glitter, craft-kitsch supplies. I love them for their enthusiasm, flat-footedness and ability to relate to ‘everyday people’ (specialization in art-jargon not required in the experience). I also use industrial supplies: hex netting, Great Stuff, caulk, paint. These materials are a language of construction and transformation. In my studio, I play, experiment and make mistakes in an attempt to learn their capacity for transformation and to become some cousin of the biological.

All of the Piggys are reiterations of each other. I used the constituent pieces to negotiate gesture, composition and space. I commonly will reuse many of the same elements and physical pieces in my installations. With each installation, however, I typically incorporate at least one new element. This process is useful for me because it is additive, and as I establish this often bizarre and jubilant lexicon, I can rearrange the syllables to create new meanings. So instead of creating new work with each show or opportunity, my work rather calls and responds to itself over time. 

Soothsayer (detail)
Fabric, Chicken Wire, Video Cameras, Projector
Dimensions Variable (approx 15' x12' x15')

OPP: Could you say more about biological prosethetics?

SS: Somewhere in the back of my mind is a constant tickle of concern, what are the ramifications of humans living outside the parameters of ecological equilibrium? My "proposals for biological prosthetics" are perhaps a tongue-in-cheek solution to waning ecological diversity and the increasing homogeneity of bio-forms.

The attempt to "rewild" with the debris of humans is both useless and fascinating. On one hand, an amalgamation of human debris will never contain the anima of the bio-spectrum - it won't eat, love, reproduce or die. It is still subject to entropy, but not in the same capacity as a vehicle-of-vita. I was reminded of this limitation when visiting Biosphere 2 this summer. In the 1980s, scientists ran a social and ecological experiment to see if humans could sustain themselves within an artificially constructed biosphere. Ultimately the original goal failed when they had to break the seal to let in more oxygen, but although a lot of interesting, important research has come from Biosphere 2. While visiting I was struck by how, despite the brilliance and creativity of humans, the intelligence and interdependence of our biosphere is paramount. If there wasn't a complex network of trees, plants and animals and wind to keep them healthy and water to keep them nourished, none of us would have a chance at existence. It's humbling. 

In saying that, the proposal for biological prosthetics is a playful way to create, honor and evoke the wild, the exotic and the intersection between the biosphere and humans.

Antumbra V
Collage, Print, Mixed Media

OPP: Your prints and collages are much more abstract than your installations, which seem to be otherworldly landscapes. What are the connections between the two- and three-dimensional work? From a process point of view, do you prefer one way of working over the other?

SS: My two-D and three-D practices compliment each other. I enjoy both for the functions they serve. My installation work is complex, often tedious. It can take months of work to develop the constituent pieces. Due to the nature of installations, I am unable to see the end result until the last piece goes into place. Somewhere in the middle of construction I generally find myself yearning for the simple days of using paper and charcoal. Thus my two-D practice allows me access to a more simple way of working. I like to assign myself constrained variables to explore as a means to simplify, parse out and clarify qualities I might be looking for in my other work.  

OPP: I want to know more about the videos represented by stills. . . are these in-process pieces? Winner Winner Chicken Finger Master With Sound, which I found on Vimeo, is strange and funny and I want to see more! It looks like this video may be part of a triptych… what can you tell us about your video work?

SS: My video stills are indeed in-process iterations of a time-based investigation. I explore various lines of study through video—wind studies, light-based movement and my own movement studies, for example. In each of these I explore gesture and transformation. I commonly use video as a means to see if I can turn my body into something else, often creatura in nature. Winner Winner is an example of this, where I am flushing out my bug-like nature and exploring perversion in consumption. Much of this work is absurd and reveals the works’ kinship to the carnivalesque. 

Fresh (detail)

OPP: Your work was included in Fresh: New Master Artists, a survey of recent MFA grads across the country, at Contemporary Art Gallery, Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana. The show closed in mid November. Tell us about what you showed and how you see it now that a month has passed.

SS: My install for Fresh was an opportunity to negotiate the challenges of being a material-heavy, installation artist while on the road. I approached activating the space using paint and some materials gathered while in Louisiana. But I also incorporated scents and sounds into the installation. I had about three days for installation, much of which were negotiating the floors which were noisy and distracting to the work. In hindsight, I was most excited by the relationship of lines between the wall, my urchins and the lined structure on which they were suspended as I was considering ideas of drawing in space. In the future I would like to take the elements of the paint and the urchin-like forms and multiply them in density to further complicate the space and the viewer's experience. I also was excited to test scent as a fourth-dimension of experience in my work. I am looking forward to working with different scent pairings and am currently searching for more bizarre options from which to choose.

To see more of Stoney's work, please visit stoneysasser.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Her most recent show was Form Unbound (2015), a two-person exhibition at Dominican University's (River Forest, IL) and she'll be exhibiting at the Ukranian Institute of Modern Art (Chicago) in February 2016.