OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Erika Roth

Carb face (detail), 2016. Mixed media; Food diaries, asorted ribbon. yarn, pipe cleaners, Christmas tinsel, silk cord, sequins, various hair accessories. brownie pan on plywood. 41'' x 36'' x 41'' dimensions variable

ERIKA ROTH's intimately personal work speaks to several interconnected and widespread experiences—food addiction, body image and celebrity worship. In collages and assemblage sculpture, she combines her daily food diaries and images from celebrity gossip magazines with “female vernacular” materials like hair accessories, braids and ribbons. Following in the lineage of the feminist artists of the 1970s, she calls attention to pervasive cultural attitudes, reminding us that "the personal is political." Erika received a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design and an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia. In 2016 she completed a year and a half long residency at Brooklyn Art Space. Her many group shows in New York include Trestle Project's recent A Symptom of the Universe, which highlighted artists as seers whose artworks "reflect shifts and departures in the collective unconscious." In December 2016, she was included in Project Gallery's exhibition at Aqua Art Miami, part of Art Basel Miami. In October 2016, Hyperallergic commented on “the popping textile assemblages of Erika Roth," shown at Gowanus Open Studios 2016. Erika lives and works in Brooklyn.

OtherPeoplesPixels: How do you think about excess, in your life, in contemporary culture and in your art practice?

Erika Roth: I am always interested in exploration, process, investigation, and discovery when making my work. I always make sure I have plenty of my supplies around me to make my work. I love to get my materials from the 99 cent store, where I can buy as much as I need. It takes a lot of material to make my work. I love craft materials because there is no scarcity—I can have as much as I want. The accumulation of materials gives my work a richness, a feeling that the work is alive, that it has vitality.

In my life there is no such thing as excess! I stockpile food, toiletries, gym clothes, even studio space and counter space in my kitchen. I always make sure I have enough of these things or spaces in my day to day life, which offers a kind of safety and security.

Anxiety, 2014. Mixed media; Food diaries, crimped curling ribbon, organza ribbon, sequins, small jewels, picture from magazine, gloss medium, pen, on canvas. 36" x 36"

OPP: What led you to shift away from rectangular, (more or less) two-dimensional work towards sculpture? It seems like Devoted to Suffering might have been the turning point.

ER: Yes, Devoted to Suffering was a kind of transition in my work. With most of my 2D work, I was trying to depict remnants or fragments that make up a landscape of thoughts from a woman who is obsessed with body image and food. The rectangle was a kind of snapshot into this world, for just a moment.

Then the 3D works became more of an evoking of an experience, really dramatizing the story of a woman who is obsessed with food and body image. The sculptural works let me invite the viewer in to experience her world.

There was also a practical part of my evolution from 2D to 3D work.  Before I got a studio I had very limited space to work in. When I found studio space I started thinking differently about the work, imagining it in a gallery setting. So I started to have the mental and physical space for the work to grow.

Sheet Cake, 2010. Mixed media; Food diaries, crimped curling ribbon, holographic curling ribbon, cut out picture from magazine, gloss medium, pen on canvas. 30" x 30"

OPP: Can you talk about the legibility (or illegibility) of the text in pieces like Skinny (2011), Creamsicle (2010) and Pink Frosting (2009) from the series food diaries? How important is it that viewers read this early work?

ER: When making my early work it was not that important to me that the text was legible. I was satisfied if a viewer could read or recognize a few words here and there. I was mainly interested in using and making my own materials at that time to depict some feelings and thoughts I had about food addiction. My own food diaries, where I write down what I eat each day, became the ground color for these works. I incorporated into my art a very personal part of my own story.

bonesunderneath, 2015. Mixed media; Magazine pictures, notebook paper, sticker, fake nails, googly eyes on baking sheet. 18.5" x 15"

OPP: Tell us about your recurring materials: curling ribbon, pipe cleaners, beads, hair accessories. What attracts you?

ER: I love my spools of ribbon for their colors and surfaces, and I use them as paint. I can do volumes of exploration with ribbon, as opposed to paint, which is more precious and costly. These materials are readily available and inexpensive, so that I can transform them into my own art materials without even going to an art supply store. Like the pages from one of my spiral bound food diaries, these are ordinary things that I mold into something more precious.

My materials are domestic. I use them to create the fabric of an ordinary woman's life. I use hair accessories partly because they hold things together. But these items also evoke gender and are very recognizable. I juxtapose the hand-made braids and the drugstore bought hair accessories to create a context where people can connect to my work, and they can find their own meaning.

Never ending Narrative, 2016. Mixed media; Food diaries, polyppylene film, ribbon, pipe cleaners, beads, glitter, rhinestones, pony tail holders scrunchy, barrettes, silk cord, sequins, journal, on canvas. 36'' x 84'' dimensions variable.

OPP: How do these materials relate to “the psychological landscape of food addiction, that gorgeous nightmare of attraction and resistance?”

ER: My work is autobiographical. It is my own story in my own voice regarding my relationship with food. In some of my work I have created cakes and brownies that I cannot eat. I make them beautiful and appealing but at the same time they are inedible. They evoke the nightmare of attraction and resistance.

OPP: Do you ever receive the critique that your work is “art therapy” because of its psychological and emotional content? How do you respond?

ER: I have never received that critique, but trust me. . . I am working out something, consciously or unconsciously, in my studio.

I cherish all my misery, 2016. From A Symptom of The Universe, Trestle Projects, Brooklyn, NY.

OPP: You employ chains, braids, twisted cord and yarn in your recent sculptures and installations. How does this visual motif—the form as opposed to the material—underscore the content of your work?

ER: The visual motifs in my work come from my love of glamorous fashion accessories, female memories, and domestic rituals. The chains are inspired by my love for Chanel handbags and accessories from the 80s and 90s. They also speak about being held down, in bondage to something that is outside of you. Braids are one of the first hairstyles we may learn for ourselves in early adolescence. We may have memories of a mother braiding our hair. The hair accessories are nostalgic to me and are part of a female vernacular. The twisted cords and yarns remind me of childhood art projects in school or at summer camp.

People have told me that my work looks alive, that my sculptures come across as creatures, that they have a kind of vitality. I think the visual motifs contribute to this feeling.

Surrendered, 2016. Mixed Media. 7' x 5.5' x 3.5' variable

OPP: Since food addiction is a common and often misunderstood issue, what do you want your viewers to understand about it? Do you feel a sense of responsibility that viewers learn something?

ER: For viewers who can identify personally, I want them to realize that they are not alone, that their struggles with food addiction are real, and that there is help and support out there, that they need to reach out and ask for it. 

But my work also appeals to people who don't have a personal connection to this theme.  They respond to my aesthetic, or love the materials I use, or just think the works are beautiful or interesting. I welcome these viewers too. 

To see more of Erika's work, please visit erikajroth.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include 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, in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia created site-responsive installations for two-person show Form Unbound (2015) at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL) and SENTIENCE (2016) at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Her work was recently included in SHOWROOM, curated by Edra Soto, at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition. Stacia is currently preparing for a two-person show titled Resist the Urge to Press Forward with Brent Fogt at Riverside Art Center (Riverside, Illinois) and Sacred Secular, a solo show at Indianapolis Arts Center in Indiana.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Lara Odell

Illustration for a story in the New York Times Sunday Review about having to say goodbye to something you love, even when it's a very old Saturn. Gouache and cut paper. 2016.

Painter, illustrator and graphic artist LARA ODELL uses gouache and cut paper to create emotionally-evocative works, whose power extends beyond their commercial origins. She enlists the challenges of cut-paper—the difficulty of precision and the moveability of the parts—to underscore the alienation, anxiety and loss represented in the images. Lara has art degrees from UC Irvine, SUNY Buffalo and Alfred University. Her illustration credits include The New York Times Magazine and The Rumpus. In summer 2016, her drawings were included in a Perimeter, an online journal published annually. Her work was recently included in the group exhibition UNPACKED at the PACKARD in Long Beach, California. The show will run until December 3rd, 2016. You can follow Lara's cartoons at laraodell.blogspot.com. Lara lives and works in Long Beach, California.

OtherPeoplesPixels: When did you first start working with paper cut-outs? What does this medium offer that drawing and painting alone do not? 

Lara Odell: I started working with paper cut-outs about four years ago. A cut-out has an unanticipated element that the immediacy of painting or drawing doesn’t. Since I’m working on all the elements separately, I won’t really know what they look like together until I compose them into a singular image, set it on the copy-stand, light it, and view it through the lens of my camera and then on my computer. On the other hand, my process involves a lot of drawing and painting, so it is difficult, finally, to separate what one offers that another does not. I’d say that the cut-outs are both drawings and paintings as well as expansions upon those practices: instead of drawing a line, I’m cutting a line with scissors, delineating and altering shapes as I go. Also, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the cut-outs are sculptural, but they are works in relief, so there is another level of illusion or artifice going on – are the shadows real or painted? And because all of the component pieces exist independently of each other, there is an active improvisation when creating the compositions of moving and removing, placing and replacing, and so concepts of impermanence (or at least a defiance of certainty or finality) come to mind. It is important to me that the execution and materials reflect the content.

One of two illustrations for The New York Times Magazine, about the increasing loss of government jobs and how it's affecting mainly African-Americans. Gouache and cut paper, 2016.

OPP: Many of your cut-outs are illustrations for articles. For example, one illustration for The New York Times Magazine supported an article about how the increasing loss of government jobs is affecting mainly African-Americans. Another, for the Dove Self-Esteem Project, illustrated how a girl's first love influences her self-esteem. Many others are illustrations of stories and essays for The Rumpus. But viewed on your website, they are coherent as a body of work exploring a sense of emotional precariousness. I see loneliness, anxiety, and alienation. Are you intentionally picking illustration gigs that feed your own interests?

LO: Thank you for noticing that. I think that, yes, those themes tend to be a driving force and are central to all of my work, no matter the assignment. I’m not sure if this is an asset or not. I’m a relative newcomer to the illustration world, and I am not at the point where I have the privilege of selecting illustration jobs that align with my own interests. I typically say yes to what is offered. However, I think that to be a skilled and sensitive art director is to intentionally seek out an artist who is likely to sympathize and engage with the content on a familiar, intimate level. Maybe I’ve been fortunate in that many of the assignments I’ve received have resonated with particular preferences I have, but maybe that is true for most illustrators, in that they’ll be selected for certain jobs because they may already seem to have a sympathy for the content in mind.

Based on the essay "I Did Not Vanish: On Writing" about finding a way to speak through writing. 2013. Gouache and cut paper. 9" x 13"

OPP: Do you ever exhibit these works in galleries outside of their original context?

LO: Yes, I like showing the work because of the opportunity to see how the pieces relate as a cohesive body of work. Its also important to me to show them in a real-life setting in order to expose the hand-made features: the tactility, imperfections, detail, and nuance of color that gets lost on a computer screen or printed page. I've recently participated in three shows in Long Beach, California, where I live. Last fall, I exhibited the original cut-outs at the Long Beach Library, and this summer I exhibited prints of the cut-outs at a local diner. The cut-outs are currently part of a group exhibition organized by the Arts Council for Long Beach of this year’s Professional Artist Fellows at the old Packard Building in downtown Long Beach.

Cartoon, 2016.

OPP: A practical question for aspiring illustrators out there: how do you get clients?

LO: Here are a three things that may have helped me find clients: 1) Directly emailing art directors of publications I’d like to work for; 2) Submitting my portfolio to art / design / illustration blogs that attract a large number of viewers, like It’s Nice That; 3) Submitting work to competitive illustration annuals like American Illustration (these cost money which is depressing). Honestly, I am still wondering myself. It seems to take a relentless perseverance of continually reaching out and introducing yourself and then constantly reminding people you exist.

Broken Hearse and Tree, 2016. Gouache and cut paper

OPP: Tell us about all the mechanical vehicles—hearses, police cars, airplanes—that fall apart in your hands.

LO: I try to be aware of objects or situations that I think would lend themselves to the process and effects of a cut-out. The airplane was one of the first cut-outs I made. The shape of the airplane is also cut out of the sky (background), as if the sky was not atmospheric, but a flat plane (ha) with maybe nothing behind it. For me, that registered a feeling of existential terror. The windows of the plane are not windows, but flat elliptical shapes that for me double as passengers, floating off into space.
 
With the vintage police car, I was attracted to the simplicity of form and color. The cut-out version almost resembles a toy car or a still from a children’s animation. The piece made me a little sad . . . like when you think something is real, and then it is not. If the police car represents a kind of authority, to have it break apart calls to mind the fragility of authority, the tenuous (in)ability to trust authority, and the failures of authority . . . and with these apprehensions come fear, disillusionment, uncertainty.
 
Whereas both the airplane and the police car were based on found photographs, the hearse was modeled on a photograph I took. It wasn’t obvious to me at the time, but I began working on the hearse when my mom was in the process of dying. I know that sounds literal, but at the time, I had almost continuous thoughts of death and dying so I guess it makes sense. The breaking-apart hearse / the destruction of the hearse / the exploding hearse: it felt like an angry, violent act. It was a gesture of defiance, which is ironic and misguided, but there nonetheless.
 
I could say that the vehicles are stand-ins for things and people from our everyday lives that transport us—sometimes as reluctant passengers.

To see more of Lara's work, please visit laraodell.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include 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, in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia created site-responsive installations for two-person show Form Unbound (2015) at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL) and SENTIENCE (2016) at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Her work was recently included in SHOWROOM, curated by Edra Soto, at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition. Stacia is currently preparing for a two-person show titled Resist the Urge to Press Forward with Brent Fogt at Riverside Art Center (Riverside, Illinois) and Sacred Secular, a solo show at Indianapolis Arts Center in Indiana.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Nash Bellows

Untitled, 2015. Acrylic, spray paint, collage on canvas

NASH BELLOWS' paintings, digital drawings and collages are saturated with color, texture and pattern. Within the frame of the page, canvas or screen, she expertly flattens numerous layers into one dimension without sacrificing visual complexity. Nash earned her BFA in 2012 from Sonoma State University and recently completed her MFA at San Francisco State University. She was a recipient of the Murphy & Cadogan Contemporary Art Award and the Martin Wong Painting Scholarship. Her work has been included in exhibitions throughout California, including shows at SOMArts (San Francisco), Arc Gallery & Studios (San Francisco), Berkeley Art Center, Sanchez Art Center (Pacifica), Huntington Beach Art Center and Martin Wong Gallery at San Francisco State University, where she now teaches drawing. Nash lives in San Francisco.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What came first for you as an artist: collage, painting or digital drawing? How did one lead to another?

Nash Bellows: I actually started off as a printmaker, but usually used collage to create my imagery prior to etching it. I was always translating collages into drawings, so transitioning between mediums has always felt natural. I like to have a loose plan in place.

Untitled, 2015. Digital

OPP: When did digital drawing enter your practice?

NB: This is kind of embarrassing actually. About two years ago, my cat broke his hip. I couldn't leave him alone unless he was in a cage, and I felt really badly about that, so I spent about two months on the couch with him and an iPad.

I had always made goofy sketches on my iPad but at that point I had to find another way to make work, so I developed a system for making the digital drawings. When only certain sections of the drawings were successful, I cropped and merged pieces together with one of those photo collage apps until I came up with a composition that I was happy with. Afterwards I would draw on top of it again.

Untitled, 2015. Digital

OPP: You’ve said, “My process-based paintings are formed by set parameters and various instructions I have created for myself.” What parameters do you set? What kinds of instructions? Does this also apply to digital drawing?

NB: The parameters are usually theme or process-oriented. For instance, some of my collages are created with found imagery of fabric being draped over an object. The digital drawings have a different approach. They're a combination of two drawings combined together nine different times.

OPP: Would you say your process is more systematic than intuitive? Does surprise or discovery play any role in this process?

NB: I try to make my process as balanced as I possibly can. I like an element of control, but I also love happy accidents. Sometimes parts just don't work the way I want them to and the paint takes over from there.  Sometimes inspiration pops up and I ignore most of my systems. It really depends on my mood and the best choices aesthetically. But I am a planner and prefer to start each piece with at least a loose sketch!

Shirley Kaneda, 2015. Spray paint and acrylic on canvas

OPP: Could you talk generally about your relationship to color in life and how you use it in your work. How does having a digital palette, as opposed to one you have to mix, affect the work?

NB: I've always been crazy for color in all aspects of my life; there's always a veritable rainbow that extends from my closet to the decor in my apartment to my art.

Using a digital palette is easier for me than mixing paint actually! You can adjust colors faster and with more ease. Since I'm drawn to colors from 1990s cartoons, I think that the illumination from the computers' color palette is actually closer to the color I'm thinking of than those I can mix with paint.

OPP: I’m curious about the final form for the digital drawings. When I encounter them online, they are exactly as you made them. I don’t worry that I’m missing something in terms of texture, as I do viewing photographs of paintings online. But scale is flexible for every viewer based on the screens we have. You can’t control that as one can control the scale of a painting. Are they intended to only be viewed online? Do they ever take tangible form?

NB: I've had my digital drawings printed, but they are missing the glowing screen, which I think is essential to interacting with them. . .  Ideally, I'd like to show the digital drawings digitally on large flat screen televisions someday.

Girl Power, 2014. Digital. 2014

OPP: Collage is a fundamentally different process than painting, in that collage reorganizes existing forms and images that are tangible and visually available. Painting may also be a rearrangement of existing forms, but those forms are mediated through the conceptual space of the mind. Thoughts?

NB: When I make a painting, it usually comes from a collage or collage of my drawings. So in essence, I'm always using and re-using existing imagery and forms. Even in paintings where I've experimented tabula rasa, I am re-using imagery that I've been saturated with all my life: design elements, fabric patterns, etc. etc. Intuition comes from experience, and my more intuitive paintings are just collages of my visual experience.

Untitled, 2014. Acrylic, spray paint, thread on canvas. 30" x 48"

OPP: I want to distinguish the physical process of collage from the concept of collage. I was thinking about the experience (and then resulting work) of having a table full of cut-out pieces of paper, touching them, riffling through them, turning them in your hands, placing them down and moving them around in a very physical way. There’s immediacy in the process that doesn’t exist in painting. Digital collage, on the other hand, has the immediacy and the additional benefit of copying and pasting, but it does not have the same physical experience.

NB: Yes, it really isn't physically the same as collage! I love the physical aspect of cutting, pasting and re-arranging; it really forces you to make choices that you wouldn't ordinarily make and use imagery that you wouldn't typically use. My strongest work comes from collage, even though I love working in a variety of media. Viewers respond most strongly to my collages because they are familiar with the imagery but can't quite place it. They are forced to look in a different way, just as collage forces the artist look at imagery in another way. It puts viewers in the same place.

Seastripe, 2015. Digital Repeat Pattern

OPP: As you mentioned, your collages of draped and folded textiles are the origin/inspiration for some of the abstract shapes in your paintings. Are textile processes an influence for you? What about your digital repeat patterns. . . are these intended to become textile patterns?

NB: I've always loved textiles, especially quilts because they are essentially collages. My great-grandmother was an excellent sewer and taught my mother her talents, so I grew up with lots of vintage fabric and quilts around the house.  

The repeat patterns aren't fully resolved yet, but I couldn't resist posting them because I love them so much! In the future I'd like to make blanket forts printed with my patterns. People always tell me that my personality is very similar to my work in that it is very playful, but most of my work is not something you're supposed to touch or be too close to. I want to start pushing playfulness in my work and stretch the boundaries beyond the canvas. Making blanket forts with my patterns would disrupt the seriousness of the "white cube.” It would be sort of a three-dimensional incarnation of my draped fabric collages and paintings, but more interactive and relatable.

To see more of Nash's work, please visit nashbellows.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include 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, in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia created site-responsive installations for two-person show Form Unbound (2015) at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL) and SENTIENCE (2016) at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Her work was recently included in SHOWROOM, curated by Edra Soto, at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition. Stacia is currently preparing for a two-person show with Brent Fogt at Riverside Art Center (Riverside, Illinois) and a solo show at Indianapolis Arts Center in Indiana.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Carrie Dickason

Untitled (Grid)
Ink, acrylic, gouache, tape on paper
30" x 22"
2016

CARRIE DICKASON investigates the accumulated, repetitive mark. Through material and technique, she draws a parallel between a constructive accumulation of individual units—blades of grass in a lawn, threads in a woven carpet, knots in a net—and destructive accumulations of post-consumer plastic packaging and unwanted junk mail. Furthering this paradox, the subtractive mark and additive mark are equalized in her recent work with stencils and spray paint. Carrie earned her BFA from Indiana University and her MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art. She has been an Artist-in-Residence at the Corporation of Yaddo (2009) in Saratoga Springs, New York, Santa Fe Art Institute (2010) and has received two full fellowships at Vermont Studio Center (2009 and 2016). Recent solo exhibitions include Industry Practice (2016) at Burlington City Arts Metro Gallery in Burlington, Vermont and Nothing Ever Goes Away... (2016) at Vermont Studio Center, Gallery 2 in Johnson, Vermont. Her work is currently on view in the group show Garden Week until June 4, 2016 at 1708 Gallery in Richmond, Virginia. Carrie is currently living and working as a staff-artist at the Vermont Studio Center, in Johnson, Vermont.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Is there a connotative difference between scavenging, collecting, gathering and accumulating for you? Which process is most important in your practice?

Carrie Dickason: I liken scavenging to hunting, or searching for something specific, which I sometimes do. But collecting, gathering and accumulating, which have similar connotations, are more important processes in my practice. I’m inclined to use materials that pass through my hands on a daily basis. The black foam rubber, for example, comes from an automotive factory where my father works. The vacuum formed plastic packaging used in Family Tree were gathered through the collective efforts of family and friends. Usually I collect the materials myself, accumulating them over time, from places where I’ve worked, including restaurants, an Armenian carpet store and in a small automotive trim shop in Detroit.

I collect, investigate and experiment with the materials until I have enough information to move forward. In all of my work I think about the idea of cultivation, and think of the work as growing and developing into whatever it will become. I’m not always sure where this process will lead. I cut, crumple, stack, fold, and layer materials to explore their physical properties. I liken the process to a kind of gardening or meditative exploration.

Drift 1998-2014
Discarded plastic packaging
10' x 12'
2014

OPP: Have the jobs themselves influenced your art practice beyond the accumulation of materials?

CD: Each job has informed and influenced the development of my artwork, from material palette to the way in which I actually construct the work. Sometimes my studio practice leads me to work a job that then informs my artwork further. For example, I’d been working on the suspended webs for well over a year before I began working in the repair department of an Armenian carpet store, where I collected much of the material in Drift, which came from the plastic packaging protecting rugs during shipping. The processes involved in the repair and reconstruction of the hand-woven carpets translated physically into the development of the suspended webs. Carscape, a tape and paper casting of the interior of my Subaru Legacy Wagon, was made while in residency at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts. Little did I know that I’d find myself working professionally on the interiors of Porsches a few years later. I’d like to return to that project to do a new iteration from discarded leather, vinyl and carpet collected from that job, applying the skills acquired during those five years.

Sprawl 1998-ongoing
Discarded plastic packaging
9' x 10' x 11'
2015

OPP: Tell us about Sprawl (1998-ongoing), a textile web of accumulating discarded plastic packaging, and its variable installation. Why are other pieces—Drift 1998-2014 and Allure 1998-2014—made of the same material and begun at the same time not ongoing?

CD: In 1996 I moved to Florida with work that was made from a combination of paper, marbles, fabric and food packaging that I had gathered from my studio and also while walking to the studio. This work quickly deteriorated in the humid climate of Florida and had to be discarded. I was really disturbed that I’d taken materials that could have been recycled and that I’d basically turned them into trash by combining all of these things together. So I began imposing rules onto my work. The first was to use materials that were not recyclable, and the next was to make the work from only one material, with very few tools. I only needed scissors to cut the plastic, after it was washed.

Sprawl developed as I explored the use of plastic packaging being thrown away in restaurants where I worked in Florida. Packaging is designed to protect and attract, but then it is discarded. I was interested in extending the potential, using the material instead of traditional fiber, as it still maintained its physical integrity, came in a colorful palette and contained a material history. Sprawl was part of the initial experiment of learning what to do with the plastic. I now recognize that evolved as an intuitive response to the Spanish moss hanging on the trees outside my porch. I’ve always been influenced by observations of systems found in nature, particularly plants and minerals. The network of plastic packaging in Sprawl links together remnants of disparate moments ranging from day to day life, family gatherings, birthday parties and materials gleaned from the carpet and automotive industries. Sprawl has continued to shift and change for each exhibition, when I’ve expanded or contracted the form to suit the space, each time adding new materials. 

Drift, Allure and what used to be called Deposition—which has recently been divided into Nothing Ever Goes Away, and A Good Deal More—each had their own rules, mostly specific material constraints. Allure is all food wrappers. Drift is mostly shipping plastic, and Sprawl is a combination of everything. I worked on all of them simultaneously until I began exhibiting them in Columbus, OH in 2002.

Shifting Focus
Installation
2015

OPP: Can you describe your process of stenciling and spray painting in Shifting Focus (2015) and how you arrived at this new way of working?

CD: I began Shifting Focus in June 2015 when I started working at the Vermont Studio Center (VSC). I’d been using mostly post-consumer materials as the primary media in my work for over 15 years and was feeling very stuck in my practice. That mode of working was no longer serving the same purpose that it once did.

At VSC I had a studio visit with Sheila Pepe, who recognized the struggle and basically challenged me to approach my practice from a completely opposite perspective. She suggested I work with materials that were new, rather than discarded, and that I work in a subtractive manner, rather than constructing something large from small parts. I didn’t know what the materials would be, except that they should be large. At the time I was preparing for an upcoming solo show inside Tyree Guyton’s Heidelberg Project in Detroit, and the material change was scary, but became an incredibly insightful challenge, at the perfect moment.

I developed a process of working that alternated between cutting, then spraying through the stencil/drawing, collecting the over-spray on new pieces of paper. I think of it as a generative practice, whereby the steps included in the making of one piece, lead to the creation of the future pieces. I’ve been incorporating the small cuttings from the larger pieces into a series of collages. There are four “parent” pieces that supplied the patterns for the rest of the pieces. Each one of the individuals contains information from at least one of the “parent” pieces.

Shifting Focus
2015

OPP: When I first looked at images of Shifting Focus (2015) online, I thought there were mirrored tiles pasted on the surfaces of huge, hanging pieces of paper or fabric. But in looking closer, I see now that this mirror effect is light shining through cuts in the paper. Does it have this same effect in person? How does this shift in perception relate to the title and the shift in your practice?

CD: I hope that Shifting Focus has a similar effect in person. The openings allow light to pass through the pieces while also revealing the surrounding physical space through the other side of the paper. The pieces are double sided, with a different color scheme and pattern on each side. In some places, the pattern on the opposite side shows through, revealing both sides simultaneously.

The idea of Shifting Focus stems from the term cognitive shifting, used in psychology and meditation as a tool to express the act of choosing what to pay attention to, in order to positively affect emotions and well-being. I think of my older work as a meditation on consumer culture, desire and excess. This new work shares those concerns, despite the change of materials.

When I began working this way, I felt like things moved forward almost immediately. Since most of my work has been repetitive and labor intensive, developing slowly, over long periods of time – literally years—the speed of this process is liberating. It was very interesting to arrive at what felt like a very familiar place so quickly. The combination of spray paint and the cut paper creates a web similar to the discarded plastic material tied together. I was worried that I would lose the meaning of my work, as I shifted materials, but instead I am revisiting what seems familiar and reworking how I’m thinking about it all.

Terra Charta
Handmade paper from junkmail; soil; grass seed; ink; paint; duct tape; astro-turf
22" x 30"
2014

OPP: I recently asked this question to another Featured Artist Antonia A. Perez, and I want to ask it again: Do you think artists have an ethical responsibility not to contribute more waste to the world?

CD: Wow, I just looked at her site and love her work! It’s beautiful and poetic—thanks for referencing it.

Artists do generate a lot of trash. We use materials that require natural resources, in order to exist. We use water. We throw things away. I don’t think that artists have different ethical responsibilities than other humans, unless the work is explicitly about not making waste. I’m most interested in making work that can open a dialog and possibly change the way someone perceives the world. I try to make conscientious decisions with how I work and what I make, but I’m currently using spray paint, which is environmentally and physically disgusting. . . and beautiful.

I used to be more worried about creating waste. I was specifically concerned with wasting water in the process of dyeing fabric and yarn, which is partly why I chose to work with materials that had already served a previous purpose. But now I feel it is unavoidable in this consumerist society to not contribute to waste. We humans have decided to process and develop materials that make our lives easier in some ways, but more complicated in others.

So many people are alive today because of technology, which invariably generates waste. I wear glasses that are made from plastic. I have a silicon patch on my heart. It’s very likely that if I’d been born at another time, or in another place, I wouldn’t have had the privileges that have enabled me to live this comfortably. The process of developing those materials relied on thousands of years of technological development, which has altered our planet and created a lot of waste.

In some ways, this waste is evidence of human development. Packaging is specifically designed to attract a purchase and to protect the contents within. On the other hand, plastic is filling our oceans and beaches and tricking birds and fish into starving to death as they fill their bellies with these tiny floating particles.

While I don’t promote belligerent consumption and waste, I also recognize that waste is unavoidable. But I do think that if everyone, especially Americans, became more conscientious consumers of natural resources, life could be a lot better for more people.

Between Zizek and the Lorax
Junk mail, personal papers,cardboard tubes
variable
2013

OPP: This seems to echo the imagined conflict in Between Zizek and the Lorax (2013), an installation made from accumulated junk mail, personal papers and cardboard tubes. What inspired the title?

CD: Until very recently, most of my titles have emerged after the long process of cultivating a piece. It’s usually quite a struggle for me to commit to a title because it’s really important to me that the work is accessible to a wide audience, and I don’t want to impose a narrative. I’d rather someone connect in their own way, if they are so moved.

However, in the case of Between Zizek and the Lorax, I had recently watched the film An Examined Life (2008), in which there is a provocative segment with Slavoj Zizek. He walks around a garbage transfer station discussing some of the complexities of nature, ecology, ideology and love.

There was one moment in particular when he speaks about how true love includes all of the flaws, imperfections and annoying details that one might not necessarily desire, but accepts. While standing in a giant room full of garbage, he proposes: “And that’s how we should learn to love the world. True ecologists love all of this.”

While researching ideas for titles, I revisited a childhood favorite, Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax. I feel like this imaginary discussion is actually a discussion between my younger self and my getting-older self. Zizek proposes an abstract, nature-less, mathematical universe. At this point, I’m much more excited and inspired by his criticism of the new age ecology movement as ideological, than the ranting, but adorable Lorax. However, I do love nature and stand somewhere in between the two.

To see more of Carrie's work, please visit carriedickason.com.


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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Mira Burack

from the bed to the mountain
installation variable
2015

MIRA BURACK depicts an intimacy with direct experience. Through photo-collage and installation, she heightens our awareness of the overlooked objects, environments and sensual experiences that we sometimes forget to notice. Images of rumpled comforters, repeated, become mountain ranges, while plants gathered from the land surrounding her home are paired with their own portraits, collapsing the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional. Mira earned a BA in Studio Art and Psychology from Pepperdine University and an MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Muskegon Art Museum, Cranbrook Art Museum, Media Knox Gallery in Slovenia, Art Gallery of Windsor in Canada, and Kunstverin Wolfsburg in Germany. Her most recent solo exhibition was from the bed to the mountain (2015) at CUE Art Foundation in New York. Mira is working on an upcoming collaborative exhibition with Kate Daughdrill titled Earth Sky Bed Table (fall 2016) at Center Galleries, College for Creative Studies (Detroit). Mira lives and works in foothills of the Ortiz Mountains of New Mexico.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Collage has been a foundational process in your work for years. Could you talk generally about what you love about collage, both as a process and conceptually?  

Mira Burack: I am excited by layering, connecting and resuscitating the material, the content of the photographs. Collage is an alive space that moves between two and three dimensions; the more pieces and the more layers, the more depth. It's an interwoven construction, like a textile.

Sleep Position "Spoon"
Photography Collage
76" x 57"

OPP: Your work also depends on the process of collecting, whether that is gathering natural objects from the landscape or photographing laundry and sheets in your home. What’s your methodology of collecting both objects and images?

MB: Hunting and gathering is an old thing. It is a part my daily life, survival, learning, adapting. The matter I live with and encounter is like a gathering of experience. Collecting is a phenomenology for me. The ability to study our conscious life and the objects we engage with couldn’t be more satisfying. It is an investigation of our intentions and the many aspects of our direct experience of things: from perception, thoughts, memories, imagination, emotions and desire to awareness of our body, social engagement and language.

OPP: Does organization of your collected objects and images play a role in creating your work?

MB: Yes! Organizing the objects and photographs is key to activating the material and creating a space. Repetition, layering, positioning and the building of a “landscape” or space is a process that allows me to spend more time getting to know the material, perceiving it it from many angles and hopefully getting closer to its essence.


from the bed to the mountain
detail
2015

OPP: In your recent show, from the bed to the mountain (2015), at CUE Art Foundation, photographs of found mushrooms, plants, pine cones, wood and feathers interact with those original objects. How do you think about this synthesis of tangible object with its own representation?

MB: It's about consciousness, mirroring and our ability to sense and perceive what's around us in new ways.

OPP: I’m so curious about your talk "Self-Care as Activism," which accompanied from the bed to the mountain at CUE. Would you give us a summarized version?

MB: This workshop was the true “opening” of the exhibition. It was incredible to collaborate and learn from my friend, Dr. Florian Birkmayer, psychiatrist and aromatherapist. We led a group of 30-40 people through an experience of the senses.

Since many of the objects in the exhibition included the plants and trees that I live around in the high desert mountains of New Mexico, participants had the experience of smelling, tasting and feeling—through spraying directly on the face—plant hydrosols made from broom snakeweed, chamisa, sage, cottonwood and others. We sat in a circle around a long table of botanicals/collages, and for each hydrosol encounter, we’d experience the plant for five minutes in silence and then participants shared any responses that came to mind from that plant, from memories to physical descriptions. They actually didn’t know what plant it was until after the sharing.

The responses were phenomenal! New Yorkers were connecting to their animal instincts and baring themselves with many strangers in such a quiet, intimate way. Through the plants, we were all connecting with ourselves and each other in a caring, safe environment. It seemed like a deep, meaningful exchange—as far as public city experiences go—and the smell in the room afterwards was intoxicating! The title “Self-Care as Activism” came to me because I feel like we live in a time where we are truly in need of remembering how to really care for ourselves and each other. I feel so strongly about us not losing touch with this instinctual, pre-language knowledge/way of being that it seemed necessary to call it “activism.” I am learning this from where I live. The workshop was a call to action.

Moon (mother)
from installation from the bed to the mountain
2015

OPP: The void is a repeated visual motif that shows up in the Houseplants, the Beds and from the bed to the mountain. In all cases, the voids are framed by collaged imagery that turns them into potential portals. What do these voids mean to you?

MB: The void represents a resting place, a place of entry for the mind and contemplation.


Sleeping is like Flying (detail)
Photography collage
Dimensions variable

OPP: You’ve done several collaborative projects over the years: Edible Hut (2013), a collaboration with Kate Daughdrill and the Osborn community in Detroit, and The Economist (2007-2012), a series of collage drawings with Narine Kchikian. What’s the underlying thread that connects these collaborations to your solo projects?

MB: Relationships are very important to me. They are some of the most precious things in life. Whether the relationship is with a person, a living plant or the bed I sleep in, it's about connection with and learning from what and who is around me.

Collaborating—especially with a community or group—amplifies an experience. It can be rich and exhilarating and yet incredibly hard work too. It's a balance. I really like moving between meaningful shared experiences and solitary experiences. I want both in my life/work. Working collaboratively is an experience of deepening—deepening my understanding of others, myself and my making.

To see more of Mira's work, please visit matterology.com.

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


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jennifer Williams

Ladders
Robert Mann Gallery NYC
2014

JENNIFER WILLIAMS' large-scale, digital photographic collages are printed on flexible, repositionable Photo-tex paper. These two-dimensional, site-responsive works become three-dimensional by bending around corners and stretching from wall to floor and to ceiling. They are architectural adornments, temporary tattoos for buildings and rooms, which highlight overlooked and unused parts of both interior and exterior space, while also investigating the slow, consistent changes of neighborhoods over time. Jennifer earned her BFA from Cooper Union School of Art in New York and her MFA from Goldsmiths College in London. Her numerous solo exhibitions include shows at Robert Mann Gallery (New York, 2013), The Center for Emerging Visual Artists (Philadelphia, 2012), Pittsburgh Center for the Arts (Pittsburgh, 2012) and La Mama Gallery (New York, 2011). In June 2016, Jennifer will have work in the group show Seeing is Believing at Mount Airy Contemporary in Philadelphia and is working on a site-responsive project for the Center for the Arts at Virginia Tech (Blacksburg, Virginia), which will open in early 2017 as part of a group show. Her most recent installation New York: City of Tomorrow is supported by a Queens Council on the Arts New Works Grant and is on view until July 31, 2016 at the at the Queens Museum in New York. Jennifer lives in Queens, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: In your photographic work from the 1990s to the early 2000s, you pieced together the “truth” of various interior spaces by layering c-prints. When did you first begin to cut out the objects themselves to create collages that broke out of the rectangular frame of the photograph and disrupted the spaces they were installed in?

Jennifer Williams: The rectangular frame has always proved something of a conundrum for me; it feels constricting, and I’m nervous about what information gets left out of that frame. To me, a single shot never accurately represents what I'm experiencing or what I want the viewer to see. That’s where the earlier layered c-prints came into play. But c-prints were hard to produce and limited in texture and surface, meaning they could only be printed on plastic-based materials with a narrow selection of finishes. By the mid-2000s, Photoshop and digital printing technologies had reached a point where things I’d previously dreamed of being able to do photographically were possible without a darkroom. The time it took to print photographs shrank, allowing work to be produced in a shorter period of time. It was incredibly liberating to be able to mask portions of an image—essentially cutting them out—then layer them and resizing on the fly, working with color and composition in the computer first. But once printed and cut out in real time, the rectangle was entirely eliminated. Other quandaries arose regarding how and where the work would be displayed. At first, wheat pasting directly onto the walls seemed the only option to create a conversation between the work and the exhibition space, but then I found Photo-tex.

Portals
Collaged prints: pigment ink on Phototex paper
Installation at The Hunterdon Art Museum
2012

OPP: How did Photo-tex paper change your practice?

JW: Photo-tex is a re-positional peel & stick paper that has a woven texture, like wallpaper. It comes in a roll, is inkjet printable and is really amazing stuff! Discovering PhotoTex in 2009 completely changed my practice. I found the tool of expression I’d been looking for all along! Here was a thing that could be printed on in the studio, cut out, stuck on the wall, repositioned, wrapped around corners, then removed without damaging the installation surface (and reusable, too.) Physical barriers were broken down. Suddenly I could position photographs anywhere I wanted in a space and print them as large or small as I liked. Also, the surface is matte, and the material is very thin, so the images feel at one with the surface they’re stuck on. People are surprised when I tell them the work is printed photographs and not painted, like a mural.

OPP: Do you think about the future collages or their destinations when taking photographs? Or are these two parts of your process distinct from one another?

JW: I’ll occasionally think about future collages when shooting, but compositions usually happen after destinations have been decided upon. The architecturally-related works are project specific. Someone will approach me about doing a piece for their space, and I’ll do research into the surrounding neighborhood's history, then walk its streets while shooting. The size and shape of the exhibition space influence the composition, so getting a feel for it first is ideal. I’ll often build a model from floor plans and photographs then make mock-ups of installations and photograph them, which gives me an eerily accurate idea of what the finished product will look like. But in general, I’d say I use photography as a gathering process. I generate a million compositional ideas, of which only a few come to fruition. So photographs happen regardless of where they end up going, but I do like having a goal when shooting.

Episodic Drift #2
Installation at the University City Arts League in Philadelphia, PA
Pigment ink on phototex paper, foamcore, acrylic paint
2012

OPP: The ladders in the various Episodic Drift installations are disorienting and directionless. Since I’m only seeing the work online in a 2D format, I sometimes can’t tell what is 2D and what is 3D. Can you talk about how you use this repeated motif to disrupt the architecture of the exhibition space and its symbolic implications?

JW: I studied both film and sculpture along with photography as an undergraduate, and I believe the work I make now reflects the values and sensitivities of these disciplines in regards to time and space. In a general sense, I like using spaces that are not functional in the same way the middle of a wall is in a gallery setting. Installing work that engages ceilings and floors transports the viewer, challenging them to notice odd corners or architectural oddities, turning the exhibition space itself into a kind of spectacle and subverting the usual anonymous behavior gallery walls are meant to project.

We see the world in three dimensions because of the way light functions; if something is lit in a very flat manner we perceive it as flat or shallow, although we inherently understand that the objects in front of us have volume. The 2D/3D ladders play with that concept in multiple ways. Upon first viewing, we believe they are real because they are photographed in a spatial way. Bringing them out into the space as cut outs accentuates the effect, but of course, it’s a trick.

Episodic Drift asks the viewer to equate the subject matter with the journeys we take in life that push us beyond our habitual perception of the world. Ladders are tools which allow us passage to spaces above or below our everyday experience, creating just enough of a shift that we see our world from a new perspective. The experience is equally disorienting and exhilarating bringing into question everything around you and your relationship to it, even if it’s in a room you use every day.

Flux Density:Detroit
Installed at Whitdel Arts
2014

OPP: What remains the same throughout your work is the investigation of how spaces don’t remain the same. In recent years, you’ve shifted away from the interior spaces of apartments and refrigerators toward the exterior spaces of urban neighborhoods in installations like Flux Density: Detroit (2014) and Sea Change (2013). What led to this shift?

JW: I moved to New York in 1990 from a small, dying steel town and lived on the Lower East Side until very recently. It was always a home base, and as I grew older and more settled, a shift happened regarding the way I related to the neighborhood itself. As I watched it morph from a bombed out wasteland into the shiny, gentrified playground it is today, I keyed into the factors behind that change, and became less interested in change that was happening in my own life. My commute to work for many years was walking or biking to the same location, and I rarely took public transport for anything so I had an intimate relationship with the streets I was traversing day in, day out. As an “architectural tourist”—to quote Dan Graham—I have done a lot of reading about gentrification and urban change to understand the world around me and my place in it. I think the work I’m making now is an attempt at discussing neighborhood change on a visceral, visual and often indexical level while addressing its existence as a universal truth that spans cities across the nation.

Manhattan: Billionaire's Row
Collaged prints: pigment ink on Photo-Tex paper
20' x 15'
2016

OPP: Tell us about the installation you just completed at Queens Museum. How long is it on view?

JW: It’s called New York: City of Tomorrow and up until July 31, 2016. It’s installed in one of the most unique spaces I’ve ever been asked to interact with: the 10,000 square foot model of the five boroughs titled The Panorama of the City of New York, housed at the Queens Museum. The installation addresses the rising skyline of the urban landscape from a pedestrian viewpoint through juxtaposition of photographs of the miniature architectural models with street views of newly constructed buildings occupying the same locations today. While entire neighborhoods have been reinvented due to ambitious renewal and development projects, the Panorama offers a miniature, three-dimensional opportunity to travel back in time to an earlier version of the five boroughs. It was originally constructed as a descriptive tool for the 1964 World’s Fair, and new construction has been added sparsely since its last restoration in 1992. In the future, I’m hoping to add a few more neighborhoods to the roster and in conjunction with some writing, turn the whole project into an artist book.

To see more of Jennifer's work, please visit jennifer-williams.com.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Yikui Gu

Tip Toeing in My Jordans
Oil and acrylic on canvas
36 x 26 inches
2015

YIKUI GU wants his work to be "horrifying and hilarious." His colorful, chaotic paintings, drawings and collages have the feeling of an overwhelming parade that started out fun. But now everyone's a little too drunk, desperate and on the verge of violence. Desire and longing are intensely present, and so is the anxiety the follows wanting. All this becomes a hilariously horrifying critique of capitalism, commodification and the inherent violence that accompanies the striving to always be on top. Yikui earned his BFA from Long Island University in 2005 and his MFA from Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, MFA in 2008. He has exhibited internationally, including shows at G.A.S. Station (2015, 2010, 2009) in Berlin, Ground Floor Gallery (2015) in Brooklyn, the Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art (2013), the Siena Art Institute (2011) in Siena, Italy and the Delaware Art Museum (2012) in Wilmington, Delaware. During the summer of 2015, he was an Artist-in-Residence at the School of Visual Arts in New York. His recent solo show Chance Encounters just closed at Hungerford Gallery at the College of Southern Maryland, where Yikui is an Associate Professor. Yikui lives in Philadelphia.

OtherPeoplesPixels: I won't ask you to be a poet, but I will ask you to expand on your artist statement. To you, what's horrifying and what's hilarious? Why is it important to combine these qualities?

Yikui Gu: I see horror and humor everywhere in life. It’s in almost everything we do, although we may disagree on which is which. I think those two qualities are often linked together, so it’s not that I find it important to combine them, rather I see them as already combined, pre­packaged in a way. The famous Buddhist expression “life is suffering” nicely sums up the horror, while all the petty things we do in spite of that are what is hilarious. We all age. Knowledge of our mortality can be horrifying, and when someone buys a sports car or a pair of breasts to combat that, it’s hilarious. We are all born into a world where we’re conditioned to be good worker bees, to take our place faithfully in the assembly line, and look forward to  the promise of a wonderful retirement. That’s horrifying and hilarious. Look at the art market, that place is full of horror and hilarity.

Brothers in Arms #2
Charcoal & acrylic collaged on bristol board
11 x 14 inches
2015

OPP: Tell us about your series Lovers Melt. I get the impression that the faces are sourced from found images and then you dress them up in military garb, camouflage and, in one case matching hijabs. I mostly get that impression from God Hates Fags, which appears to have been painted and collaged on top of an image of some anti­-gay protest. In some cases, the people seem to be coming and, in others, they appear to be screaming in anger, even rage.

YG: Lovers Melt is a recent series that I began this summer. I was at a residency at the School of Visual Arts in New York for the month of June, and that’s where all those pieces were produced. I’d been wanting to combine drawing, painting and collage, and the residency was a perfect opportunity. For the series, I wanted to use images of facial expressions from staunchly patriarchal groups, be it the military, religious fanatics or cultural conservatives. The idea was to take these charged expressions of anger and misconstrue them into something sexual, something homoerotic. So the face of a screaming soldier can become the face of someone enjoying orgasm. Interestingly enough, I didn’t need to change the expressions at all, once they were positioned too close to one another, they re­contextualized themselves. It was the perfect way to mock these institutions.

Also, an aside about God Hates Fags. I think that piece perfectly sums up my thoughts to your first question. It’s both horrifying and hilarious that there are people out there who believe the omnipotent creator of the universe would experience a petty human emotion such as hate. And that’s coming from an atheist.

The Debaucherous
Oil, acrylic, and marker on canvas
42 x 42 inches
2014

OPP: There are a lot of partial bodies that fade into the background and disembodied pairs of legs, especially in Sneakerheads. Could you talk about this treatment of the figure?

YG: I was academically trained, and my work used to reflect that more. I used to paint lots of portraits, and I was happy to show the world that I was a well trained monkey. Today its very hard for me to make a portrait or a figure in a “traditional” sense, so the disembodied quality is a reflection of that. It’s also how we all experience the world and the other people in it. On a crowded subway I may only catch a fleeting glimpse of an arm or leg, the same can be said of most of our daily experiences whether we’re shopping, dining, fucking, or at an opening. Who says a figure must be complete? And what is complete anyways?

The Game is Rigged
Oil and acrylic on canvas
36 x 34 inches
2015

OPP: Could you talk about the recurring motifs of semi­automatic weapons and bombs? Is your work a response to violence in general, or specifically the violence of war?

YG: The imagery of weapons, bombs, soldiers, and warplanes are a response to the general violence in the world, a reflection of the world’s power dynamics, the horror part of human experience. While these images speak most directly to the violence of war, they’re also meant to suggest the ever present threat of violence in daily life. That threat permeates everything, it exists in the sexual, economic, political and social realms. It’s the source of most of the world’s power, and by extension, its problems. Additionally, most of my depictions of weapons and such are generally done in an unrealistic, almost cartoony way. This is to neuter that threat of violence, and my attempt at injecting a bit of levity into the situation, the humor if you will. Even when weapons are painted realistically, such as the bomb in I Bomb Atomically, it’s a realistic depiction of a cartoon bomb, a bomb that couldn’t ever exist (I hope).

Don't be a Dick
In-progress painting

OPP: What are you working on in your studio right now?

YG: Since returning from my residency at the School of Visual Arts, I’ve been combining drawing and collage into my paintings, which has been very exciting. While I'd always thought about doing that, the limited time in NYC gave me the perfect opportunity to try it. I’m curious to see where it goes. I’m still interested in using political, cultural and domestic imagery to explore the horrible and hilarious things that human beings do. Specifically, I'm working on an in-progress painting called Don't be a Dick. A charcoal portrait of Dick Cheney will be pasted onto the spot where the current painted version is taped. The legs with the Jordan Bred 4s are done with ink and colored pencils and also will be pasted on.

Conceptually, I'm thinking about ideas I've always thought about, especially in the series Sneakerheads. The commodification of sneakers, with blue chip brands and highly sought after releases, mirrors the art market perfectly. There are re-sellers, counterfeits and buying frenzies. This is contrasted with the pile of garbage—collaged from magazines—the legs are sticking out of. Over-packaging, waste and planned obsolescence have been on my mind. Even the readily available images I used from Ikea catalogs—a different type of detritus—further drive home the point that we produce too much crap, shitty art included. Dick Cheney is there because he's an asshole, and I'd like to mount his head and hang it in my house. He's the perfect symbol of White Privilege and pure greed, which are connected to the commodification and waste I mentioned earlier. Because of that, it won't matter if he's not recognized in the future.

To see more of Yikui's work, please visit yikuigu.com.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Ian Monroe

Installation view of Currents 105
Saint Louis Art Museum.
2011

IAN MONROE is drawn to edges, literally and figuratively. Influenced by both architectural and virtual space, he explores the illusion of perspective and our related "complicity and a potential sense of disembodiment" in large-scale, two-dimensional collages, predominantly made from adhesive vinyl. Ian received his BA from Washington University in Saint Louis (1995) and his MA from Goldsmiths College in the United Kingdom. Since 2003, he has had solo exhibitions in five countries: England, Spain, Switzerland, Germany and the United States, not to mention group shows in at least five more. He is currently working on a major public commission for a new building in Leicester Square in London. His upcoming solo exhibition (title TBA) at Horatio Junior (London) will open in November 2015. He is represented by Galeria Casado Santapau (Madrid), where he will have a solo exhibition in 2016. Ian lives and works in London.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Talk about the wonders (and the challenges) of your staple material, adhesive vinyl.
       
Ian Monroe: Vinyl allows me to paint without using paint. I am able to build the image, layer by layer. All of my early work was sculptural and I still primarily gravitate to the three-dimensional, hence the perspectival nature of the images. This is also reflected in my tendency to consider them as built rather than painted images. It's a subtle distinction, but it allowed me to use carpet, linoleum flooring, Formica and paper in two-dimensional works. Had I used paint, I may not have not considered these alternative materials. There are, of course, frustrations with vinyl. The biggest is the industrially-limited colour palate of the material. I can't just mix a new colour! On the other hand, limitations sometimes force creative solutions, and I find the process of squeezing the most out of a constrained palate an interesting challenge.

Ideal Pursuits
Vinyl on Aluminum
176cm x 331cm
2005

OPP: Formally, your older work is all hard lines, angles and edges. Did this formal quality grow out of the material itself or is it more about source imagery? What influences you visually?
         
IM: Conceptually, architectural space certainly is an influence, but so is the notion of a virtual or invisible-yet-collectively-agreed-upon-space like the internet. Like the perspectival image, which is simply an agreed upon illusion, many of the spaces—airports or modern banking systems, for example—we deal with today rely on us all behaving according to an unspoken, but very constrained set of rules. The work is therefore meant to play both with our complicity and a potential sense of disembodiment that these spaces create.

Materially, the hard edges and angles were initially driven by the slice-and-cut nature of collaging the material. When you collage one material to another, it very rarely has any blending (except perceptually or metaphorically in the way two things may be visually or conceptually conjoined). I started making very thin lines with the vinyl and filling in geometric forms with the basic shading of a light, medium and dark colour. In the process, the schematic—as opposed to the rendered—possibilities of the images really excited me. I started to see all kinds of possibilities for images freed from the constraints of virtuosity that paint usually requires; I could deploy the language of diagrams or technical drawings for potential spaces or structures. In this way, they operate like huge architectural-conceptual proposals. I also enjoy that they run counter to a kind of expressionist language often found in painting, and so I embraced the razor sharp and unequivocal edge of the collaged material. 

The Registered Movements of a Thing
Vinyl on Aluminum
176cm x 301cm
2006

OPP: Could you talk about how "collage can be seen as a function of 'edges," an idea that you first explored in an essay titled "Where Does One Thing End And The Next Begin?"
        
IM: I hinted at this in the questions above, but the essay essentially develops a set of tools to understand how various collaged images seem to function and how they can be read. There was an open call for an essay in the catalog entitled Collage: Assembling Contemporary Art, put out by Black Dog Publishing in 2008, and I had been thinking about the idea for some time. I was musing about how a collage by John Stezaker operates totally differently from one by Ellen Gallagher or one of mine. That led me to see that the one unifying element across all collage, regardless of the imagery or conceptual drive of the work, is the cut or torn edge. Unlike a painted or a drawn image, in which there is (usually) no absolutely clear edge between various images or materials, collage is a collection of things colliding and interacting at their edges. I thought that this may be the key to understanding how collage actually functions, so I used the essay to explore how various types of edges interact and form meaning. Some types of edges I delineate include 'the corrosive edge', 'the municipal edge' and 'the chimeric edge.’ The entire idea is fully developed in the essay, so I’ll refer anyone interested to have a read. 

The Instantaneous Everything
Installation view
2008

OPP: Your two-dimensional collages have always manifested a dynamic sense of space and depth. But you also make three-dimensional sculpture, which compliments the wall-based work. How did these works interact and inform one another in your 2008 show The Instantaneous Everything?
     
IM: I was very loosely playing with a concept in physics that entire universes arise with their own unique rules and structures, seemingly instantly and as complete structures. The big bang is the theorized, instantaneous genesis of our universe. The strange conundrum here is that we as humans are simultaneously the creators of this theoretical structure and the actual product of it! So which came first? I saw some parallels to my art practice where the ‘rules’ for making work—perspective, diagrammatic and hard-edged shapes, encoded language—all seem to arise with their own theoretical structure and yet at the same time I am the supposed author and am in control. Visually, I sought to highlight this sense of a complete but co-mingled universe in which the distinction between the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional was unimportant. Sculptures appeared to fall out of the images and images flowed out of sculptures and onto the floors and walls. I think it was a first step, and like all shows one does, you realize that the ideas can be pushed and developed. So I am working on a follow-up show.

'. . . many long hours'
Vinyl on Perspex
50 cm x 35 cm
2011

OPP: Recent work from Currents 105: Ian Monroe, your 2011 solo show at Saint Louis Art Museum, had numerous references to in-transit spaces like airplanes and airports, as well as hotels, pay phones and swimming pools. There's way more empty space than in earlier work and the figure is present. How did this apparent shift in focus grow out of older work?

IM: As I mentioned in one of the answers above, airports and other ‘non-places,’ to use a term coined by Marc Augé, have held a long-standing interest for me. For the show in Saint Louis, I decided to make a new body of work that reacted to and reflected a specific local architecture, but not in a site-specific way. Saint Louis has a long history of architecture and flight and has many mid-century buildings of note. Lambert Airport has a particularly interesting story. Completed in 1956, the building was the first major commission by a young architect named Minoru Yamasaki and was an icon of mid-century modernism and optimism in a newly global world. In a strange and ominous coincidence, I discovered one of his last major commissions was the World Trade Center complex in Manhattan. This trajectory, embodied so succinctly in these two places and spaces and in his buildings, was one that transitioned from a glamorous new optimism of the jet-setting global population to that of an increasing anxious, overcrowded and weaponized society.
   
I did a lot of research on Yamasaki, the airport, Saint Louis and also worked with the Saint Louis Art Museum collections. The artwork all grew out of that material. The figures entered perhaps because there is a very specific story to tell. I found images of the architects working late into the night, of women on holiday in advertising campaigns about destinations reachable from Saint Louis, and the telephone booths that have now been removed because we all have mobile phones. I didn't want to directly reference the towers and all that they now embody. It was a way to sit on the edge of a changing world that is both in love with its systems and one that is deeply threatened by them.

To see more of Ian's work, please visit ianmonroe.net.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Geoffry Smalley

Paper Tiger
2013
Graphite on Paper, Cut Paper Overlay

According to GEOFFRY SMALLEY, "to understand the history of American team sports is to understand our national development." To this end, he thoughtfully and humorously examines the "Big Three" (baseball, football and basketball) in painting, drawing, collage and sculpture. Painting on top of existing reproductions, he injects sports arenas into famous Hudson River School landscapes and mashes up team uniforms and mascots with the animals that inspired them. Geoffry earned his BFA from the University of Illinois, Chicago and his MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He has exhibited extensively in and around Chicago. Most recent was his solo exhibition Past Time at Packer Schopf Gallery in the summer of 2014. When he isn't making art, Geoffry works as an art conservator at Joel Oppenheimer, Inc. in Chicago, where he lives.

OtherPeoples Pixels: Tell us about the work in Past Time, your most recent solo show at Packer-Schopf Gallery in Chicago.

Geoffry Smalley: For several years I've been exploring social and political issues related to American sports, and Past Time is the latest body of work. In my daily dealings as an art conservator, I think about the works I treat, their place in American art history and the nature of authenticity. I have to hide my hand when treating an art work, and because of that I began to think of ways I could use historical images for my own purposes. At the time, I was also reading about the rise of sports during the Industrial Revolution, which reflected America's progression into the modern age.

Catskill Creek, Citi Field
2012
Acrylic on Ink Jet Print

OPP: I'm especially interested in the sports vistas, in which you insert contemporary arenas and stadiums into romantic landscape paintings. 

GS: The vistas are reproductions of Hudson River School paintings onto which I have painted images of various sports arenas. Painters like Thomas Cole and Asher Durand held cautiously optimistic views of society's progress. They believed in the sublime, the closer-to-God power of untamed nature. They captured these unspoiled vistas at the very moment our country steamrolled west and grew into the industrial superpower it is now. Sports flourished in the same way. At a time when workers first began to have leisure time, baseball emerged from rural America. It was played at what was then considered a rapid pace, under the sun, during the growing season, affected by the elements. Football is industrial manufacturing plus military readiness: taking land by force, specialized individual moving parts choreographed to achieve a singular, larger goal. Basketball picked up football’s individualized machinations but added a more free-form individualism to the mix. As Americans left the rural landscape to congregate in cities, immigrants, settlers and native-born people tried to assimilate their variegated histories into an homogenous American identity. Sport offered a common site and a common language where that diversity could be bridged.

OPP: Team names and mascots are a jumping off point in many of your drawings on found images, as in Chief and Cowboy from 2014, as well as Seahawks, Orioles and Eagles from 2011. It seems like most professional sports team names are either history or animal references. Is this the case? Why do you think that is? Can you think of any exceptions?

GS: I believe team names are derived from the tradition of using animal totems as a way to harness the mythic powers, internalize the traits and externalize the characteristics of certain creatures. In football you have the Eagles, Lions, Panthers, Bears—all predatory, strong animals. Baseball gives you Cubs, Orioles, Cardinals and Blue Jays—not really striking fear into an opponent with those names. But there are also historical and social references—49ers, Cowboys, Brewers and Steelers—which reflect each team’s hometown industry/identity and blue collar fans. Of course you have the tradition of “honoring” Native Americans by making them mascots. From Chief Wahoo to Chief Noc-A-Homa to the tomahawk chop, there are racist slurs appropriated with great popularity across all sports. The traditional Thanksgiving NFL matchup of the Cowboys vs. Redskins is also indicative of historically entrenched nationalism and racism that still bubbles beneath the surface. Team names are meant to carry with them meaning and identity, and do so quite powerfully, sometimes with unintended consequences. There just a couple exceptions to the animal/historical references, where a team name actually invokes either more etherial or benign powers. The Heat, the Thunder, The Sox from Chicago and Boston. . . hard to take umbrage with the fact that Miami is hot or that Chicagoans wear socks.

Bears
2011
Acrylic on Book Page

OPP: Could you talk generally about the strategy of the cut-out in your work? You've used it in collage, drawing and sculpture, and it appears to be both a aesthetic and conceptual strategy.

GS: I have used the cut-out for about 15 years, originally as a way to isolate all or part of a specific image from the collage-like paintings I used to make. It began as an attempt to understand why I used a particular image, how re-contextualizing an image changed or added to its meaning. That isolation evolved to be more of a strategy of simultaneously concealing and revealing, taking images past straight representation and into a more mysterious place. The cut-out also acts as an interruption, a pause or glitch in the image a viewer is trying to decipher. Not being given the whole story at once allows for a slower absorption of information and keeps the question alive longer. It's always more interesting when you don't know the answer. On a base level, cutting and collaging is an extension of my drawing practice, a way to regroup and quickly realize thoughts.

Ring Stock Ballyhoo - Swarm
2010
Collage
Variable (16x19)

OPP: I'm seeing a lot of forms that evoke the Fleur-de-lis and other coat-of-arms designs. Some examples include the graphite helmet designs in Starbury (2011), the decorative flourishes in Antique Sorrow (2008) and the cut-out gold foil in Dale Earnhardt Portrait Cartouche (2007). What do these flourishes mean to you? How has your use of them changed over time?

GS: Those forms mostly come from the Rococo. I was picking on NASCAR, talking about the spectacular, florid, over-the-top displays of eye candy that NASCAR embodies. The Rococo is often discounted as a movement entrenched in frivolity and poor taste, one of shallow and selfishly playful intent. Just beauty. I used the forms to create what I called “portrait cartouches” of NASCAR drivers, comprised of all the sponsors’ logos on their fire suits. As with the cut-out, decorative forms serve dual purposes. As aesthetic forms, they bring shape and content to an image. In Starbury and similar images from Past Time, I conflated athletic and military display, imagining athletes “in the trenches” or as modern-day gladiators and warriors. I began to think about contemporary athletes’ tattoos as parade armor worn by Medieval and Renaissance kings. That armor was never worn in battle. It was a narrative display of power.

Kaplooie
2008
1:24 Scale Hobby Model, Cut-out and Bent Sintra, Enamel, Decals
16" x 22" x 15"

OPP: How do you decompress after a solo show or the completion of a big project? Do you need a break before returning to the studio?


GS: I definitely need to take a break. I usually spend a little time away from the studio after a show, until my feet get too itchy to keep me away. I see an exhibition as an opportunity to get some perspective on where I am with my work in general. It’s good to see all the pieces out of the studio, having a dialogue together. I take that back to the studio with me. After cleaning and rearranging, I research, make drawings and listen to a lot of baseball on the radio to prepare for the next thing. 

OPP: And what's your next thing?

GS: While making work for Past Time, I had thoughts and ideas bouncing around that didn't fit with that show, so they got put on the back burner. But as I stated above, feet get itchy. I have been thinking about how the landscape/stadium idea relates to religion. Certain stadia and arenas are considered pilgrimage sites for fans. Naturally, inside those sites are relics, items imbued with the history and iconography of the residents housed within the building. I’m working on ideas for sculptural forms that play with sports reliquaries and trophies. . . nothing fully-formed yet. But I’m excited to get back to work.

To see more of Geoffry's work, please visit geoffrysmalley.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Stacia recently created a site-responsive collage installation in her hometown. NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists runs until October 12, 2014 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA. Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, is on view at Design Cloud in Chicago from July 25 - October, 24, 2014.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Doug Beube

Max Weber Deconstructed (detail)
2009
Altered book
6 3/4" x 5 1/4" x 3/8"

A book is both an object and a transmitter of information. For the last 34 years, artist DOUG BEUBE has transformed this "seemingly antiquated technology" into sculpture and collage. He cuts, folds, gouges and rearranges the contents of each tome, stretching the limits of its form and calling attention to the incidental juxtapositions of text and image in various genres, including the novel, the art-historical text and the reference book. Doug lectures internationally and acted as curator and consultant for The Allan Chasanoff Bookwork Collection from 1993-2013. In 2011, he self-published a comprehensive monograph with numerous essays by critics and curators titled Doug Beube: Breaking the Codex. His two upcoming solo exhibitions open in October of 2014: Codex at BravinLee Programs and Emendations at Christopher Henry Gallery, both in New York. Doug lives and works in Brooklyn.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You received a BFA in Film and an MFA in Photography. Did your early interest in the moving image and the image frozen in time lead organically into your sculpture and collage made from altered books?

Doug Beube: My photography ranges from social documentary to a formal exploration of visual phenomenon, i.e. how recognizable objects are collapsed into a two-dimensional plane as light and dark forms. The transition to collage and bookwork was an organic move. When I look at how I composed my early photographs, I notice certain abiding preoccupations: the compression of foregrounds and backgrounds, the construction and deconstruction of sequences, the repetitive use of forms, images and actions. These repeated gestures show up across separate artifacts and formal systems but also from one medium to another, verging on an obsessive compulsion. For example, the composite photographs like AloeVera: Negative/Positive (1980/1993) were created just as I was turning to collage and bookwork. They emphasize the negative spaces connecting primary objects in the illusory flat plane. In later pieces like A Passion Play (1995) and Masters in Art (2009), I carve and deface that same two-dimensional plane, creating negative spaces through such erasures.

Masters In Art: Van Gogh
2009
Altered book
6 3/4" x 5 1/4" x 3/8"

OPP: You are certainly a biblioclast, in the literal sense of the word, but are you also a bibliophile?

DB: I have a love-hate relationship with the medium of my art. I love the collection of concrete words in a book and the rich history of global inventiveness in binding pages and ideas in fixed margins. I love the heft of a book’s pages, the exposition, the narrative, the linearity and curvature of a story, the unfolding of a point of view, the simplicity and even the assumed preciousness of this object. Yet, its technology is outmoded in this digital era. As a method for recording, preserving and transmitting culture and information, it’s frustrating. On my Mac, I can delve into ideas with a series of clicks. I can drill down through websites into an almost infinite library of human expression. I can reshape, rearrange, erase and restore, at will. All such acts, so intrinsic to digital technologies and so unnatural to books, are nevertheless what I am driven in my art to do.

The codex, with the span of its body and its spine, is a metaphor for the human form. With its story, it is a metaphor for human expression and an artifact of civilization. Like a physician or an archeologist, I am driven to examine it, to dissect it, to cut it open, to dig into it. I am compelled to unfix margins, make tomes weightless, empty volumes of their stories and twist a point of view into its opposite.

When I select books for particular pieces, I’m standing on the shoulders of giants.  I use the author’s work, held between the covers, to reveal my own story. Up-cycling and re-purposing the book pays tribute to the original author’s title, which can also be a critique of the content as well.

Life
2004
Altered book
13 1/2" x 22 1/2" x 11"

OPP: Are there books you would never alter?



DB: Books in our culture are presumed to be objects of affection, accorded a high status; their significant value may be due to the quality of materials, monetary expense of publication and the relevance of ideas. As one of the oldest technologies for disseminating information, all books, regardless of content, are made in the likeness of that familiar, black-clothed object: the "good book," the venerated Bible. Destroying a book is almost like destroying, not only the author’s soul, but God’s word immortalized in the wisdom of an ancient text block.

For centuries, responsible parents and repressed librarians have universally proclaimed, “Respect books, don’t touch them with sticky fingers!” If we even think about damaging a book, we scan the surroundings, waiting for an omniscient voice, “If your mucilaginous fingers blacken that book, if you have specious thoughts and you intend to sacrifice that volume, even for a righteous artistic cause, you will be punished, doomed to a life filled with eternal library fines and the worst, I will strike you down with guilt!” It’s as if an a priori code is imprinted within our cerebellum that inflicts pain if we clutch a tome with bad intentions or fingerprint it with filthy digits.

In my work, I primarily use discarded novels, atlases and art monographs. At one time, their spines stood upright on thousands of miles of dust-free shelves. As the information in the books became redundant, new volumes supplanted the well-read copies. They were tossed into a molding heap: vanquished titles stacked into smelly cardboard boxes and relegated to dank catacombs with cockroaches and rodents as their custodians. So, who will punish me if I revive a lost publication from the 42nd Street Public Library’s dumpster, a neighbor’s trash bin, the basement of Strand Books or a Judaica book shop in the East Village? I have actually saved numerous books from becoming landfill.  

But there are certain books I won’t re-purpose because they are rare, such as the Guttenberg Bible—it’s perfect as is. I also wouldn’t modify a book whose title does not resonate with my sensibilities or a religious text, where doing so might endanger my life.

Disaster series: Twisted Borough
2009
Altered phone book
14" x 15" x 5"

OPP: Gouge is a series of cut, drilled and pierced books. You describe the process as excavating, "as if it were a thrilling, previously undiscovered site in an archeological dig." While archeologists never know what they are going to find, they don't just start digging anywhere. There's a reason they pick the sites they pick. Once you make that informed choice as to where to dig, how often are you surprised by what you discover?

DB: There are two revelations that occur while working with power tools; one is immediate and the other delayed. I use a high-speed rotary drill to eliminate text from the front of the page, turning ink and paper to dust as the words disappear, as in the pieces Red Hat with Veil or Patterns of Abuse. Sometimes I work from the reverse side, and it’s not until turning it over that I see the effect of eliminating the inks, as in Erosion or Tessellation. Both are nontraditional drawing methods. Drawing with a pen or graphite is an additive process in which you see the results immediately. Instead, I use power tools as my stylus to create marks through a reductive process. There’s a third discovery made when I begin shuffling the gouged pages on top of each other and temporarily stacking them—sometimes five pages deep—and the excitement of a visually stimulating image emerges. On the website, it’s difficult to see the actual results in some series. In Frieze, Disorder and Erosion, I use quarter-inch spacers between each page. Not until the pages are finally glued in place does the excitement of what I’m seeing become real.

When doesn’t it work? When I think a found image is a good candidate, but the image doesn’t interact with the empty squiggles and hollow marks I grind into the paper. I’ve learned what works through trial and error. The buzz occurs when there’s a collaboration between the original image and my alterations; the two create a synergetic, revelatory spark that ignites an aha moment.

Modernism
2013
Altered book, collage
12" x 14 1/4"

OPP: My favorite series is Indicies (2002- ongoing). These abstractions evoke mountain ranges, ocean waves, EKG readings of the human heartbeat and EEG readings of brainwaves. I love that the process appears so cut—pardon my pun—and dry, but it produces such poetic results. Could you talk about the process of creating these pieces?



DB: Each piece in this series teaches me something new about how to put a line together and how to modulate the peaks and valleys. The book is sliced into strips, that are slightly fanned out on top of one another, creating a calligraphic gesture that appears to be a line doodle or scribble. After I configure the individual strips, I tape them together, creating a perpetual replay of the abstracted content and allowing the viewer to scan the entire book. For example, in Modernism and Pollock, the alternating currents reference both admiration for these artists and their falling out of favor at certain times then swinging back into adulation. Another reference is to the daily modulations of the stock market and precarious art investment in an unstable economy.

OPP: What are your thoughts on e-Readers?

DB: Fantastic! E-readers are convenient, hold a multitude of reading materials and are accessible with the click of a button. One day they may mostly supplant the paginated book—but not completely. There are too many readers who insist on physically turning the page. Who has heard of anyone passing on a dog-eared Kindle or reading the serendipitous hand-written notes in the margins? The choice to read using an electronic device or to turn the actual pages of a book are not mutually exclusive. Both technologies transmit an author’s words to an audience. We don’t have to choose between watching a film on a large screen in a movie theater and watching it on a TV or computer monitor. The experiences of viewing are different, but both are effective.

Right now I don’t use an e-reader, but their versatility excites me. Software programs allow the reader to interact with the published text or imagery, shrinking the gap between the reader and author. They become collaborators, whether the author likes it or not. I am working on a number of digital animations that will use a computer screen or iPad. But unless it’s a mixed media installation that requires that kind of technology, I’m sticking to the 'actual' book.

To view more of Doug's work, please visit dougbeube.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 her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University in Adrian, Michigan and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago.