OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Anne Yafi

Plush Grid, 2018. Pipe cleaners, mixed media. 144" x 96" x 20"

Bright color and texture are the purveyors of mindful pleasure in ANNE YAFI's conceptually-driven painting practice. She uses mass-produced materials that reference consumerism and hobby craft to subvert the values of Minimalism. Her pipe cleaner grids, whether hovering in space or popping off the wall, are malleable, resilient, and defiantAnne earned her BFA at Northern Illinois University (Dekalb, IL) and her MFA at The School of the Art Institute Chicago. Her solo shows include Anne Yafi, Fresh Work (2016) at Free Range (Chicago) and Does It Feel Delicious (2017) at Kruger Gallery (Chicago). In 2018, she collaborated with Christalena Hughmanick to create a site-specific installation called There's Nothing Natural About This at Wedge Projects (Chicago). Her most recent solo show is currently on view at 65GRAND (Chicago). Dip In My Daydream runs through February 23, 2019. Anne lives and works in Chicago. 

OtherPeoplesPixels: American culture sends mixed messages about the value of play. We are constantly being sold entertainment and pleasure, but there’s also a underlying, dominant idea that it isn’t productive or useful. How do you think about play and playfulness? 

Anne Yafi: Pleasure gets a bad rap, and rightly so when it doesn’t empower one’s life experience. It’s really a matter of perception and attitude, I’m solidly pro-pleasure! I think the critique regarding play in our culture when associated with pleasure is largely addressing passive and escapist consumer behavior versus one of active participation that I engage for my purposes as an artist. I’m well aware of the judgement and my continued interest feels defiant which makes it even more compelling to me. I think my embrace of play really took hold after creating my first pipe cleaner grid and closely observing visitors enter my studio.

Sex Karma (detail), 2014. Pipe cleaners, plastic beads.

OPP: How did they respond?

AY: Some of the most stoic, hard-core academics would break into a smile; others stood mesmerized, their eyes traveling about the grid. Several looked for ways to climb into the grid, while a few have absentmindedly reached for the pipe cleaners, stroking them like a pet while talking to me. Seriously fascinating. What does this mean in the context of art? I think the more interesting question is, how does an artwork shape the experience of viewing? 

Snuggle Wall (Make Love Not Walls), 2017. (detail)

OPP: What led you to work with mass-produced materials, including pipe cleaners, Perler beads and Ikea straws?

AY: My response to a newly found material or object is always highly visceral as I immediately fall in love with its materiality and the possibilities for abstracting it away from its intended function. I began grad school as a painter and had to reinvent my work because of a 60-mile commute into Chicago. I live in a rural community where every big box home improvement and craft store is within three miles of my home studio. IKEA is a store I frequent because I grew up with it as a child visiting Sweden decades before it entered the US.

2013-2017, Limited Edition, 2017. Ikea drinking straws. 50" x 40"

OPP: And you work with these materials as “painting?”

AY: These materials are a conceptual approach to drawing and painting. The IKEA straw works reference hard edge abstraction as well as contemporary issues on consumerism. They question value judgements around pleasure and on non-art versus art. The pipe cleaners are a linear medium that I alter through a painting process or punctuate with alternating color and texture with the beads.

Good Intentions, 2018. Pipe cleaners, mixed media, ceramics. 33" x 60"

OPP: How are the dimensional grids different from the wall works?

AY: After making a few two-dimensional “drawings” with the pipe cleaners in 2014, the three-dimensional grid was a natural progression in keeping with my subversion of Minimalism. The fantastic thing with pipe cleaners is they have a strong wire interior buried inside all that soft, disarming fuzz, and I employ these contradictions in the work. The grids begin as an invitation to an exhibition space. On my first visit, I’ll read the light, interior architecture and converse with the director about their mission for exhibitions and community. For this reason, I define the grid installations as site-relational rather than site-specific.

During the installation of Dip In My Daydream at 65Grand, Chicago

OPP: Tell us about Dip In My Daydream, which opened last week at 65Grand in Chicago.

AY: For this work, I wanted to reference process as it applies to pre-install preparations and to my imaginative experience while making. I began by creating the color palette in a multistage process of spraying and dipping over 9000 white pipe cleaners—approximately 300 at a time—with my paint mixture. Once install began I continued to dye pipe cleaners in new color combinations as the “palette" needed adjusting. I worked unassisted to build a 11’ x 9’ x 17’ hanging grid in eight days. There was no plan other than the grid’s systematic structure which functions as an allegory for how painters negotiate the pictorial frame or canvas. It’s an intuitive process that involves the selection and consideration of color and value relationships as I “paint” in the third dimension. The title also implies an invitation for the viewer to enter into this fantasy space that I’ve created. However, like its grid predecessors, the installation is built with only the illusion of entry as I’m drawing comparisons to the immersive experience one has when viewing two-dimensional paintings. 

Untitled, from the series Does It Feel Delicious, 2017.16" x 16"

OPP: The series Does It Feel Delicious? evokes decorated donuts and bagels with beautiful schmears. This work and its title seem to be a direct response to the term “eye candy,” which is often used in the art world in a dismissive way. Why are so many people so skeptical of visual pleasure?

AY: For the title, I chose a tactile descriptor in place of the visual for a twist on how paintings (again) are perceptually viewed and experienced. The heavily gessoed panels were created as topographical “meringues” to challenge my artist’s hand in painting a straight line repeatedly, the process thereby creating the resulting image. I found a pathos and humor in navigating that self-created obstruction. 

To answer your question, I think those who are skeptical of visual pleasure find it to be the antitheses of the intellect. This is a story old as time—body versus mind—and projections abound. I’m more interested in having them coexist within a contemporary female narrative because desire is not going anywhere. 

Overflowing Yummy, 2018. 24" x 24" x 6"

OPP: Well said! Can you talk about the recent addition of ceramics to your toolkit? I’ve seen images of works in progress on Instagram

AY: I was drawn towards ceramics because I could create exactly what I imagined. I entered this medium and its history with little experience which suits my preference for a direct and if you will, faux-naïve engagement with form. Plus, the glorious glaze colors, a candy store of options! The stripes on the “beaded” ceramic elements are painted by brush, a progression from painting on the gessoed reliefs to a fully three-dimensional object. Additionally, I’m currently in the process of making a variety of wall anchoring devices for the pipe cleaner works. There’s an inherent fragility in ceramics. That possibility of cracking or breaking regardless of its earthy density is compelling to me and in stark contrast to the pipe cleaner’s weightless strength. I’m always searching for materials where opportunities for humor and contradictions coexist.  

To see more of Anne's work, please visit anneyafi.com.

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


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Aaron McIntosh

The Bear
2013

Through the lens of his “own complicated narrative as a nerdy Appalachian queer guy,” artist AARON MCINTOSH examines desire and the role mass-media images and text play in influencing our sexual identities. Combining sculpture, drawing, text and textiles, he references the historically gendered connotations of quilting and employs piecework as a metaphor to address identity construction. Aaron received his MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University and teaches at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. His numerous solo exhibitions include shows at Quirk Gallery Vault (2011) and Russell/Projects Gallery (2010) in Richmond, Virginia. Most recently, Aaron’s work was included in Queer Threads: Crafting Identity and Community (2014) at the Leslie-Lohman Museum in New York. His essay "Parallel Closets,” published in the April 2014 edition of The Brooklyn Rail, addresses the twin pursuits of queering craft and crafting queerness. Aaron lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

OtherPeoplesPixels: I've read in another interview that your grandmothers were both skilled quilters. Did they teach you when you were a child?

Aaron McIntosh: My grandmothers actually didn’t teach me to quilt or sew. But they were always piecing, making quilts for family members, dragging out their scraps and in-process quilts and showing these things to us grandkids. I begged my mom to teach me to sew when I was nine, and she finally relented and showed me how to hand stitch. When I was 12, I taught myself to use the sewing machine, and off I went. I made lots of little quilts, clothes for dolls and for myself. I would show these things to my grandmothers. They were impressed and offered me sewing tips sometimes. Mostly though, I think they and everyone else expected me to grow out of this “phase.”

from Fragments
2013

OPP: Why is quilting as a medium so well-suited for exploring "how stereotypes of sexual emotions, experiences, and identities are propagated in mass-produced images and print material, and in turn, how these images and text shape our own identities (from artist's statement)? Could you talk about the historical quilt patterns you reference in Big Little Men (2010), Bedroom Buddies (2010) and your 2013 solo exhibition Patterns?

AM: The quilt is an excellent platform for my content precisely because of the family connection and because it is a medium with multivalent trajectories. Whether personal or communal, minimal or maximal, staid or kitschy, high or low, quilts are flexible, open objects that are full of possibility. Piecework itself can be traditional, rigid or structured, but it can also be loose, intuitive, unhinged. Identity is analogous to crafting: it’s something we work on, obsess over, tend to with care. So I’ve chosen this patchwork medium to unload a lot of disparate thoughts about my identities: queer, Appalachian, textile nerd, academic, hopeless romantic, stray son, feminist, artist.

I am simultaneously deconstructing the quilt and my identity. On one hand, I am stripping away the quaint, Americana charm-factory status from the quilt, peeling back its cultural layers and infusing the medium with the realities of what happens beneath quilts: desire, sex, death and birth. On the other hand, I am enshrining that domestic decorative affinity as another burdened facet of gay male identity, a psychological sub-bottom to hyper-masculinity’s top. I use traditional quilt patterns such as Double Wedding Ring, Chain Links and an obscure one named Daddy Hex to further blur and complicate this relationship of parallel concerns.

In a recent series titled Fragments, I address this disjointed, scrappy, unfinished nature of identity. One work, Fragment #3: Roses are Red, is made by piecing a traditional quilt pattern called Roses are Red into an image of a heaving jock stud from a gay erotica magazine. The patchwork fabrics belonged to my grandmother, and the digital textile print is an enlarged, scanned copy of a cover of FirstHand magazine from the 1990s. Initially, I picked this blocky quilt pattern from my grandmother's collection because it could partially mask the cover model’s face—a direct nod to online cruising culture in which some men blur out their faces, focusing instead on their bodies. Deliberately using feminized quilt squares to dominate the figure reveals my hesitancy around body image, appropriate sexiness and gay male objectification. In the same way that this gay, masculine body is out of reach for a fag like me, so too is a fulfilling relationship with my family and their traditions. Both are just tantalizingly out of reach. So in this very literal way, I am forcing my queer desire to intersect my craft heritage and creating a space for what is in between.

Captive Heart Boyfriend
2009

OPP: You've used gay and straight romance novels as a material in numerous ways since you were an undergrad. What first drew you to this material?

AM: Reading has always informed who I am, shaped my desire and sense of self, so it’s no wonder that I turn to printed text as a material. When I first turned my eye to the thrift store heaps of discarded romance novels, I was searching for a more evocative material than the masculinized plaids and men’s pants I had been using in quilts. I initially chose this material for aesthetic reasons—the pattern of text and yellowed pages—and because the novels were feminized objects that represent heterosexuality.

But after receiving several gay erotic novels as gifts, my relationship to the romance novel began to shift. Romance novels intended for straight women and those for gay men are radically different. Romance novels written for women tend to be drawn-out narratives with more focus on all the details leading up to the sexual act; entire pages may describe a mere glance. Gay novels, on the other hand, are typically printed in large type and double-spaced for quick reading. They have horribly loose narratives and a sex scene every couple of pages. I was fascinated by the simultaneous material resemblance and subject opposition. I played with juxtaposing the straight and gay romance novels to highlight their differences and their commonalities.

Notes for Future Romance(s) (detail)
2009
168" x 94"
Straight romance novels fused to cotton and coded with highlighters, markers, pencil, pen & ink; drawings in watercolor, color pencil, stickers, enamel paint pen, acrylic medium, hair

OPP:
How has your use of these cultural artifacts changed over time?

AM: I was entirely critical of them as reading material for the first several years. But then I decided to seriously read a few and give myself over to the possibility of a romance novel fantasy. I read five novels and was surprised to find my own stories in these novels. I became really intrigued by the small markings, repetitive cursive name writings and underlining by previous readers. I was inspired to start notating the novels, recording my own experiences. I changed (i.e. queered) the text by eliminating female pronouns and devised a coding system for repetitive motifs. I pieced these coded pages together with glue and they became the substrates for many works, including the large Notes for Future Romance(s), Boyfriends Series and Island.

I was drawn more and more to the materiality of sexual identity and began to use printed erotica and eventually porn. This widening spectrum of desire-bound material had one unifying quality: the intended reading space is a domestic setting. The home is the most private space to escape from workaday drudgery into romantic dreaminess or sexual fantasy. These fantasies take flight from the couch or bed. I wanted to make a functional object about reading and taking in desire. The Couch is a very grandmotherly couch covered in hundreds of racy pages. The original novel pages were scanned and digitally printed on fabric, so the couch is wholly functional. When a viewer steps closer, the homey look of patchwork shifts into a barrage of homoerotic titles, colorful straight novel couples, illustrated gay men en flagrante and text from both straight and gay sources. While some images and titles might be aggressive or oversexualized on their own, they are dulled by the conflation of so many disparate desire-driven images and text. As a visitor to my studio pointed out: “There’s something for everyone here!” The Couch has no hierarchy or dominant sexuality. It charts the known and unknown territories of my personal desire, which has been informed by a variety of gendered and sexual experiences.

Chronicles of Cruising (detail)
2010

OPP: Could you talk specifically about the notion of erasure and absence as it is used in many of your works, including Romance Series (2006), Boyfriends Series (2009-2010), Chronicles of Cruising and NSA Boyfriends (both 2010)?

AM: Absence in my works speaks to both the voyeurism and loneliness that can accompany desire. Responding to loneliness and the lack of stable romantic relationships in my personal life, I created a series of larger-than-life boyfriends appropriated from romance novels. The flimsy, cut-paper men in Boyfriends Series are attempts to fill the voids of unattainable love; they are the stand-ins for boyfriends I cannot attain in real life. These boyfriends are “stolen” from their female counterparts in the romance novel covers, but the work is not a statement about removing women. I’m simply calling into question the heteronormativity of these couples and pointing out that straight men are just as desirable to queer men as they are to women. The removed men are made vulnerable and their sexual identity suspect. In eliminating one partner from these cover relationships, I am choosing to highlight what is absent rather than present.

Chronicles of Cruising is a collection of 365—I made one everyday in 2011—paper cut-outs of attractive guys from desire-based, print sources. Each guy is carefully removed from his respective partner, isolated on card stock, and then cataloged by month. Each man carries the traces of his fractured story in his clothing, accoutrement and posture, as well as the absent partner’s removed body silhouette. Such removal creates an overriding sense of loneliness in this set of new bachelors. The act of cruising—taking in quick, furtive glances of other bodies with no specific intention—is echoed in this queer reversal of the male gaze. Men become the objects of scrutiny, and the obsessive nature of desire itself is splayed open, rendered cold, mundane and creepy in the archival act of clipping.

Forest Frolic is my most recent work to take on absence. Two cavorting male figures have been removed entirely from an erotic illustration, The remaining scene is enlarged, printed on cotton and then quilted. This is the first work to completely remove all figures. Suggestive of the dangers of being sexually overt as a queer person in rural spaces, this quilt contains as much personal fantasy as anonymous, pervasive fear.

Weeds: Dandelion
2013

OPP: Untended (2013) was a two-person exhibition with Jesse Harrod. Could you talk about the introduction of nature metaphors into this new work?

AM: The nature-based themes are an entirely new move in my practice, but they have been rising to the top for some time. The exhibition was the impetus for new ideas of embedding queerness into representations of nature. The title of the show is a reference to unmanaged gardens and the surprising, perhaps unwanted, growth that occurs when nature is allowed to freely form itself.

The Bear is a very family-personal work. Like The Couch, this work attempts to reach across generational divides through a language of form, but difference and unease are manifest in the materiality. In my remake of this taxidermy heirloom, the bear has been "freed" from his constraint as a legendary, family hunting trophy. Covered in shredded, gay pornographic "fur," he is the subaltern of my own romantic forays, sexual legends and hunted desire.

The Bear is surrounded by Weeds in an installation mocking "natural habitat.” The weeds—Briars, Pigweed, Broadleaf Plantain—are scourges to the home gardener. I draw a covert connection between these pernicious, unwanted plants and my own anxious efflorescence as a queer person in a tradition-steeped culture. My copies of disregarded, local plants are made strange by their patchwork skins of vintage fabrics and printed, gay erotica. In contrast to most of my other work, the text and images are embedded into the form so tightly that only fragments can be read, favoring subtle meaning over easy decoding.

To view more of Aaron's work, please visit aaronmcintosh.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 (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Lauren Fensterstock

Mirror Displacement #2
2011
paper, plexi, charcoal
9 x 20 x 5 ft
Installation at Austin Museum of Art-Arthouse

LAUREN FENSTERSTOCK combines art historical references to Modernism with Victorian craft traditions in her dense installations of handmade paper flowers, charcoal and mirrors. Her meticulaously built monochromatic gardens appear minimal from afar, but a closer look reveals an indulgent attention to detail. Recent exhibitions include Two Takes on One Space: Lauren Fensterstock and Steve Wiman at The Austin Museum of Art (TX), Incidents of Garden Displacement at The Ogunquit Museum of American Art (ME) and Dubh: Dialogues in Black at Oliver Sears Gallery (Ireland). Her upcoming solo exhibition Lauren Fensterstock: The Celebration of Formal Effects, Whether Natural or Artificial opens on March 3, 2012, at the John Michael Kohler Art Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Lauren is also a writer, curator and educator living in Portland, Maine.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your recent work makes marvelous use of quilling, a paper craft that is most associated—despite its long history— with the leisurely labor of upper class women during the Victorian era. Can you explain what quilling is for our readers? When and why did you first learn the technique?

Lauren Fensterstock: Quilling is the art of curling strips of paper by wrapping them around a pin or dowel—artisans used pen quills for this task, hence the name quilling. It has also been called paper lace or paper filigree and was sometimes used to decorate reliquaries when precious metals were not available. Quilling was included in a group of crafts thought of as accomplishments for young ladies including painting tables, embroidery and piano. My work is inspired by quilling, but most of the forms and techniques that I use veer away from tradition. Quilling designs tended to be very flat and symmetrical, whereas I prefer to get a little messy.
A Third Nature no 7
2007
paper and charcoal under glass
10 x 10 in

OPP: Looking at the shadow box pieces of Third Nature (2007), it appears you first started quilling in a contained way that is much closer to the historical tradition, which tends to revolve around the creation of heirlooms and mementos. But in the last few years, those framed pieces have grown into site-specific installations which combine the quilled paper flowers with charcoal and mirrors. What initially led to the shift into installation?

LF: One of my original inspirations was an object called a Claude glass. Allegedly developed by painter Claude Loraine, this small black mirror was used to capture scenes for landscape painting. Tourists also took these mirrors into the picturesque landscape to find “scenery.” With my first quilling pieces, I was attempting to make something that approximated the size of one of these looking glasses. Those boxes were partly filled with loose charcoal which alternately obscured and revealed the ornamental designs inside. This was a way to allow real characteristics of nature to speak to the reductions of nature symbolized by the Claude glass.

The glass made these pieces highly reflective. Standing in front of one of these pieces, you would first see yourself, then see inside and finally, perhaps, catch a glimpse of the fictitious illusion of yourself inside the scene. But I truly wanted to be inside the landscapes, hence the installations. Gardens are experienced temporally. They change and reveal themselves through different vantage points. I wanted my work to do that. More recently, the shadowboxes have also gotten bigger—up to 12 feet wide—so these have also taken on a more landscape-like presence.

OPP: Do you create all the parts for the installations by yourself or with the assistance of others?

LF: I have a studio assistant 10 hours a week, but otherwise I make everything. As you can imagine, it is very slow going. I love to get lost in the labor, just like the ladies of the parlor. I listen to a lot of books on tape and a lot of NPR. I love the satisfaction of completing each tiny part. The work involves a lot of repetition, so each part is like an atom in a complex whole.
Mound
2010
paper, charcoal, plexi
14 x 12 x 5 ft
Installation at Sienna Gallery, Lenox, MA

OPP: In works like Parterre (2008), Mound (2010) and Incidents of Garden Displacement (2011), your lush paper and charcoal "gardens" are entirely black. Was the choice to make these works monochromatic an aesthetic or conceptual decision?

LF: The black is partly an homage to my original source—the Claude glass. It also makes reference to other sources that I think about: Ad Reinhardt, Malevich, minimalist sculpture in general. I am interested in the way that people have actually reshaped nature through gardens to create a metaphoric image of the universal order. These images vary widely, from the Apollonian hierarchy of Versailles to the democratic nostalgia of the English landscape. My work draws from multiple sources, including garden theory, minimalism, metaphysics, ultimately mixing them together. The monochromatic tone provides a kind of equalizing effect.

The black also allows the work to appear totally minimal. At first you think you are looking at a black hole, a void, and then you realize that this is actually an insanely complicated object. Then it slips back to looking like the void again. The color black is magical. The potential for depth, shadow and confusion is immense—especially when it is paired with reflective surfaces.
 
OPP: I definitely see the explicit reference to Minimalism—and I like the word play!—in Colorless Field (2012). But as I looked through your website, I was thinking more about mourning than Minimalism. The quilling done all in black led me to think of another Victorian-era craft, hair art, which was often made with the hair of a deceased loved one as a memento. Is anything being mourned in your installations?

LF: I’m very interested in Victorian mourning culture and even own some hair jewelry. I love that stuff. Victorians used those mementos to bridge the gap of loss. The objects were like touchstones that allowed individuals to connect across the divide of life and death. For me, this is a gesture approaching the sublime—something I might associate more with Modernism. But the universal visual language of Modernist images often leaves me feeling cold. I’m interested in figuring out how to attain a kind of non-objective experience with objects. How can we reach the sublime through familiar materials and the natural world? In a way, I want to take the successes and failures of all of these various fields, blur them together and allow the best and the worst to have it out. It is interesting to see how something like 17th century French formal gardens and Victorian crafts can work together toward similar goals, but I also like the way they expose the other’s shortcomings.

But am I mourning something? Maybe. I was a major teen goth, and I’m a sucker for a good sweeping melodrama. I think, maybe, I just like getting lost in a drama, whether it’s rooted in something real or in a total fabrication. But then again,  I am also the kind of girl who cries during commercials!
Parterre
2008
paper, charcoal, plexi
5 x 10 x 20 ft
Installation commissioned by Bowdoin College Museum of Art

OPP: Do you consider your work to be part of a feminist art tradition or do you make work from a feminist perspective or position?

LF: As I suggest above, I am interested in blurring boundaries to create a sort of equaling effect. I like the idea of mashing together things that feel incongruous. The artist Robert Smithson has been a huge influence on my work, and I regularly appropriate forms and ideas directly from his projects. Pairing references to a macho earth artist with a ladies’ parlor art? It may seem strange, but that feels right to me.

I draw freely from a variety of sources, both high and low, natural and manmade, male and female. I suppose attempting to escape the prescriptive confines of language in that way could definitely be considered a feminist directive.

OPP: I think that synthesizing the binaries that exist in our language is absolutely a feminist directive because binaries pit the culturally-defined masculine and feminine against each other. Blurring the boundaries between those things is a significant act, in my opinion. We’ve already talked about quilling, but I’d love to hear more about your interest in Robert Smithson. How has his work influenced yours?

LF: I find him fascinating. He had a vast knowledge base and applied it in so many media—writing, drawing, earthworks, sculpture. His essays are fantastic. I particularly love his writing on Frederick Law Olmstead and his photo essay Incidents of Mirror Travel in the Yucatan. Mirror Travels was inspired by a Victorian travelogue Incidents of Travel in Yucatan by John Lloyd Stevens. I’m interested in the way he draws from history and slyly recontexualizes our understanding of the past. His notion of time is also unique. For Smithson, history is a specific period, and we have the potential to move into an era after the end history, where time is no longer understood as a progression.
 
OPP: What new direction in your studio or upcoming opportunity are you most excited about?

LF: My show at Kohler marks the culmination of a body of work that has spanned the last five years. After this, I have some time to experiment, to read and research. Currently, I'm working on a public art commission for Maine General, a new hospital opening in September in my home state of Maine. Then have a solo show at Sienna Gallery in Lenox, Massachusetts coming up in August 2013. I’m excited to work toward that show without a sense of predetermination. I want to find something new. I’m just starting to do some research into the history of Romanticism and thinking a lot about escaping rationalism. I’m not exactly sure what’s coming next, which is a bit scary and also thrilling. I have been thinking about color. I keep looking at Anish Kapoor’s use of red. He talks about red being even darker than black. I want to find out if that is true…

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

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and existential significance of participating in mediated culture in her embroidery, video, sculpture and collage works. She received her MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2006), where she will begin teaching in Spring 2013, and is currently a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT Residency in Chicago. Notable exhibitions include Losing Yourself in the 21st Century (Maryland Art Place, Baltimore), MP3 (The Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago), Please Stand By: Stacia Yeapanis + Readymade (Baang & Burne Contemporary, New York), Over and Over Again (BOLT Project Space, Chicago).

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Montgomery Perry Smith

Oh Mother, 2009. Detail. Chair frame, fake flowers, plastic dome, glass, paint, mirror.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your work feels both man-made and organic at the same time. The craft materials and discarded domestic elements remind us that we are dealing with manufactured goods, while the forms those materials take suggest that these sculptures have grown organically. This paradox leads me to wonder about your process. Do you have plan or is the process more instinctual?

Montgomery Perry Smith: Most of my pieces have been planned out and sketched several times before they are finished. I’ll collect many objects that interest me and arrange them in my studio, then sketch and arrange and sketch.  It is a nice way for me to work, because some of my pieces take forever to complete. Along the way I will find new things that interest me, or months later I’ll look at sketches and want to expand on something that I initially wasn’t interested in.

OPP: Your material lists are comprehensive. Do audience members care about the materials and their meanings the way you do? 

MPS: I like rewarding the few who choose to learn more about a piece. My work has many layers, details, and holes that require the viewer to spend more time exploring than they are probably used to. And my materials are another one of those layers. I can’t expect everyone to dedicate the time to really inspect a piece, but the ones who do are usually pleased. Being in the Fiber and Material Studies Department at School of the Art Institute of Chicago made me pay close attention to the objects I chose. I think it is important to know when you use a certain material or object it can bring very specific meanings along with it. I’m personally interested in playing with found domestic objects and materials that would traditionally be used for craft or decorations.

Baby Blue, 2010. Paper, pen, paint, lace, fake flower. 14 inches.

OPP:  What is it about domestic objects and craft materials that is so appealing to you?

MPS: I like how domestic objects hint at a specific way of life or use. When incorporating these objects it gives my pieces a sense of nostalgia. I think of craft materials the same way. They imply the pieces had a purpose other than being decorative. Each piece has this absence of a body or a living being to activate it. 

I personally connect with these objects because they remind me of childhood.  The ceramic dishes and light fixtures bring up memories of my grandmother’s house and the hours of craft projects I would work on while visiting her. I was always fascinated by the dollhouse she had made from scratch, and I wanted to make my own. I remember secretly constructing little rooms out of cigar boxes, and hiding them, because I was convinced that little boys were not allowed to show interest in dollhouses.

Bottom Feeder, 2009. Starfish, lace, paper, pen, paint, fleece, plastic dome, fake flowers, the cone, google eyes. 40 inches.

OPP: The formal language in the work (repetition of concentric circles, cascades, gaping holes, concave and convex domes, fringe, symmetry) is quite engaging, if I think of your sculptures in purely abstract terms. But there is also a sense that your sculptures are representational, but of things I’ve never seen before. Some pieces, such as Bottom Feeder (2009) and Just Like You Should (2008), remind me of Muppets. They are aliens or animals we haven’t discovered yet. Many, like Gasper, (2009), Pit Worship (2010), and Hardcore (2010), evoke Victorian memorial art. Do you think of your sculptures as abstract or as representational? What, if anything, are you memorializing?

MPS: I think of my sculptures as representational. I like creating these objects that are pulling from various sources and playing with them until they become disturbing and familiar at the same time. I’m very interested in the uncanny and the emotions it brings out in people.

I’m memorializing moments, ideas, and people of interest. Some pieces seem more like mounted trophies on a hunter’s wall, while other objects appear to have a specific purpose or ceremonial use. I try not to be too specific with the subject that is being referenced; I’m drawn to the more open and accessible pieces. But there are definitely pieces, like Gasper, that are memorializing something specific (David Carradine).

Pit Worship, 2010. Pleather, felt, faux fur, fake flowers, satin, fleece, leather. 50 inches.

OPP: Many of your titles, like Pearl Necklace (2008), Creamy (2009), and Daisy Chain (2009) evoke sexual themes. How do your sculptures talk about sexuality without any images of bodies? Are the titles jumping off points for creating a piece, or do they come after?

MPS: The titles usually come after the piece is complete. The ideas are there throughout the whole making of the piece, but I tend to wait till the end to name them. I wouldn’t say that I don’t use images of the body. There is a definite orifice throughout my work, and it is often a representation of just that. But I like abstracting it and playing with it and bringing a new visual vocabulary to it.

OPP: I can see what you mean about the orifice, and you are definitely abstracting it in a very compelling way. Are you trying to say something specific about sexuality?

MPS: I’m interested in societies’ views on sexuality. It is a very uniting and polarizing subject, and it is something that everyone shares, in one way or another. I’m fascinated by its ability to cause euphoria and anxiety, life and death, love and hate.

Loads and Tools, 2011. Glass, foam, beeswax, fake flowers, paint

OPP: Loads and Tools (2011) from your recent threewalls show Milking (2011) includes a contextualizing narrative in the promotional materials: “two new sculptures that focus on an otherworldly relic and the tools used to milk it.” Was this the first time you offered an explanation as to the nature of your sculptures as part of the exhibition support materials? Does this represent a new direction for your work in general?

MPS: Milking was the first time I had used text along with my work, I’m still not totally sure how I feel about it. I wanted to add another level to the narrative, but in the end it seems too specific for me. I think it is more of a test than a new direction, my next show I’m letting the pieces speak for themselves.

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

MPS: I'm continuing to work on a new series of pieces that should show up on my website within the next couple months. I will also have my work in Flowers, the upcoming issue of Monsters and Dust. They recently won the Propeller Fund Grant to create a print edition in addition to their web release.

To view more of Montgomery Perry Smith’s work, visit montgomeryperrysmith.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Sam Jaffe

Blue Meanie
2009
Mixed Media
12" X 12" X 20" (approx.)

OtherPeoplesPixels: As an interdisciplinary artist working in sculpture, installation, and painting, with an emphasis on color, form, and materiality, your body of work is varied and mostly abstract. What are some common themes that come up again and again for you?

Sam Jaffe: First of all, I'm probably a hoarder. Luckily, I'm also obsessively organized. I think, as with many artists, my upbringing, early experiences, and passions really do seem to be relevant here. Within my work, I have owned much of the physical material from which I draw inspiration since childhood. I started many of my collections (bits of lace, seashells, kitschy figurines, beads, stickers, miniatures, handmade potholders and blankets, vintage clothing, sea glass, Lisa Frank everything, foreign coins, holograms, colored light bulbs, fake eyelashes, children's books, yarn, plastic flowers to name a few) before I can remember how or why they started. Many of my works begin with a certain personal visual delight in these collections. My art is all about combinations and amalgamations of details; it could be seen as an over-romanticizing of the commonplace.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Could you talk a bit more in depth about the materials you use?

Sam Jaffe: Most of the materials that I end up using for the work are from popular culture and are mass-produced. I'm searching out this latent possibility in things that are part of the everyday. I create by taking these items and placing them next to things that have been painstakingly handmade. I hope to question what is craft and what is commodity. I want there to be prickly situations where nature and culture come to some sort of outlandish understanding. That which was thought to be animal, or human, in some way morphs into something horribly artificial. There are also a lot of accumulations of partsa kind of overgrowth or bad, mutated evolution, and I think that may suggest some contemporary cultural parallels that are very problematic.

Materials for me are not just formal elements, nor are they ever neutral. They stand for a vast array of personal and cultural frameworks. They shape our senses of self. Above all, the work is about surrendering to materials and the fetishistic nature of material culture. In many ways, I like to think that this IS the primary content of my recent work. It's all about strange ways of using materials and allowing the form to be a demonstration, extension, and exploitation of the possibilities of the materials.

Untitled (from Sketchbook)

OtherPeoplesPixels: You have chosen to include documentation of your sketchbook on your website. Many sketchbooks compliment finished pieces by showing the working process of an artist with notes and ideas for further development, but yours seems denser and closer to a work in and of itself than others I have seen. What is the role of the sketchbook in your practice?

Sam Jaffe: I rarely sketch, unless there is a concrete logistical task like taking measurements or a mathematical problem raised by a work. Sketching for me is almost pointless, because I start with a vague idea and end up with something completely different nearly every time. I just start working without much of a plan and the pieces evolve. I spend a lot of time looking at what's there, be it a pile of fabric or a nearly completed installation, and then I make my next move... one step at a time. The sketchbooks really function more like portable studios: just something to work on while traveling or at home watching TV.

Painting Sweater
2009
Yarn on Masonite Panel

OtherPeoplesPixels: Many pieces, such as Physical World (2009), Painting Sweater (2009) and Agnes (2011), reference painting visually without being painting. How does the history of painting as a discipline relate to your work in other media?

Sam Jaffe: Well, I'm from Wisconsin. I was exposed to some contemporary art as a kid, and certainly came from a family dedicated to cultivating my artistic interests. But, up until I was well into my BFA, art meant modern, Western painting. Sculpture would have definitely involved a hammer and chisel, or worse, power-tools...scary! I didn't go to Chelsea until I was in my early 20s and I doubt I could have named a single, contemporary, female artist at that time. Looking back, I think this painting baggage thing has been hard for me to shake, so I embrace it. As you point out, even as I have moved away from the medium, painting, painting rhetoric, painters, and painting history have really still remained salient concerns of mine.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Are there any contemporary painters that influence your work now? If not painters, what artists do influence how you think about sculpture?

Sam Jaffe: I'm really interested in all kinds of art and also design and fashion. I don't tend to spend too much time categorizing or discriminating based on media. I am particularly drawn to artists that activate and take advantage of spaces in unique ways like Olafur Eliasson, Gordon Matta Clark, and Dan Flavin. I had the opportunity to see Flavin's rooms of light at The Villa Panza in Italy several years ago, and I think that it is one of the main reasons I became excited about installation in the first place. I also tend to look at artists with similar material and aesthetic interests to mine like David Altmejd, Mike Kelly, Folkert De-Jong, Yayoi Kusama, Jim Drain, Nick Cave, and Louise Bourgeois.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What role does humor play in your work?

Sam Jaffe: Humor is often characterized by some kind of sudden shift in perspective, a convergence of two conflicting frames of reference. It is something we might use as a coping mechanism when we are experiencing painful, stressful, embarrassing, or awkward emotions. My goal in using humor is to energize the viewer with the playful formality in my work. But when s/he gets up close, I want there to be an insecurity as to what s/he is seeing. Do the exaggeratedly bright colors and overstuffed, spongy forms begin to turn toxic and sinister when one turns away? Carnivals, cartoons, parades, and fairy tales can be confusingly humorous and scary settings. Tough messages can be buried in softness.

Some Pig
2009
Construction Gloves, Chicken Wire, Poly-fill
Variable Dimensions

OtherPeoplesPixels: Some Pig (2009), Nobody Puts Baby In A Corner (2009), and Blue Meanie (2009) are just a few titles that make reference to popular movies, books and music. What is the role of these cultural references in the meaning of your work?

Sam Jaffe: The cultural references serve mainly as complicating agents and informers that push up against a prudish aspect of formalism that seems to interest me. I visualize the concept of "pop culture" as an expansive sea of data that can be grabbed at in the same way one would make up a mix tape. I pose the question, how can we make narratives out of our contemporary, American culture, which is already such an irreverent crossbreed? I am hugely influenced by both popular and avant-garde film, literature, and fashion. So, yes there are references to films like Dirty Dancing, but I also reference films by Kenneth Anger and Alejandro Jodorowski, both of whom make work that would be categorized as somewhat experimental or underground. My work is particularly American and Post-Modern in that I sometimes brazenly de-contextualize and take possession of whatever forms seem to create something interesting. I think artists have to be opportunistic yet selective when it comes to cultural input.

Warm And Scuzzy (Detail)
2009
Latex, Great Stuff, Felt, Thread, Polyfill, Glitter, Acrylic, Hair, PVC Piping
3' X 3' X 1.5'

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your sculptures and installations range from clean and uniform, as in Some Pig (2009), to chaotic and filthy, as in Warm and Scuzzy (2009) or the untitled sculptures from 2009, which use insulating foam. Could you talk a little about these qualities in your work?

Sam Jaffe: Rather than using the terms "clean" and "dirty," I would describe the dichotomy in my work as modern/synthetic vs. natural/biological. Modernity represents a utopian epoch of efficient, triumphant, and evangelical conquest over those elements of culture that are not consistent with the logic of a particular, shrewd, and masculine world order: a system set up to control the primal, erotic, and, of course, feminine impulses that stand in the way of "true progress." In some of my work, I hope to complicate and undermine this order by creating works that mimic a modernist style or trope, but then at the same time are visually or sensually rich and tactile or ornamented. Nobody Puts Baby In A Corner, for example, is essentially a monochrome, but it's made from neon pink, knit pieces; knitting being a tradition that communicates with the human body in feminine, emotional and interactive ways. In a piece like Warm and Scuzzy, the form is meant to refer to the body, but it is made from mass produced, industrially available goods like felt, insulation foam and pieces of PVC piping.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Ah! Would you say that underlying your formal explorations of material is a primarily feminist approach to the art history associated with Modernism? Is this connected to why the painting concerns you mentioned before continue to come up, but in other media?

Sam Jaffe: Yes, I think so...if not a feminist approach, at least a feminine one. It comes down to the idea that a modernist vision tends to deny certain valuable qualities inherent in handmade objects like their ability to be intimate with the body or the fact that they carry with them the complex histories of their makers. I think that in our culture these may be feminine modes of experience. Paintings, historically speaking, may have more to do with a different and more traditional type of object-experience since they usually hang on walls and are observed from a distance. So, I suppose the painting references in my work could be seen as a nod to this latter type of object-experience, which I then hope to completely complicate and undermine.

To view more of Sam Jaffe’s work visit samjaffe.org.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jennifer Ling Datchuk

Powder Puff Parents
2009

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your work is engaged not only with the Domestic, but specifically with the Feminine (as evidenced in the presence of embroidery hoops, powder puffs and floral decals), but this is the Feminine of a different era. Your objects remind me of things I saw in my grandmother's house growing up, but never in my own house. Are these visual references personal or intended to evoke a sense of cultural nostalgia?

Jennifer Ling Datchuk:
Nostalgia plays a huge role in my conceptual choices of objects to render in porcelain clay. I explore the emotive power of domestic objects that have the potential to fix, organize, and soothe our lives. These objects also have a sense of time and ritual attached to them.  For example, powder puffs were used to apply powdered make up, and you would sit in front of a mirror, dip the puff, tap off the excess, apply to face, and repeat till you reach your desired coverage.  It is a very gentle and slow process and I’d like to think that these moments provide some time for contemplation. I am also romanticizing an era in which consideration was instilled in every day actions, an era very different from our current fast paced, technologically driven, disposable culture.

First Frost, detail
2008

OPP:
And the decals you decorate the surfaces of your porcelain pieces: are these found imagery from an earlier era?

JLD:
The surface of my porcelain pieces represents memories of a shared history through the layering of hand drawn, found, and personal imagery. The ceramic decals I purchase in bulk lots from eBay auctions are vintage floral patterns ranging from roses to daisies. When layering decals, I pay careful attention to the color and shape of the flowers. I cut apart decals and arrange them to give the appearance of spreading growth. The surface appears to be lush and decorative but reveals itself to be heavily layered and bruised upon closer inspection. In the process of layering and multiple firings, the life of the work changes, creating a rich history, exposing qualities that are hidden and revealed through the layers, capturing the outside reaction to inside anguish.

OPP:
The word that most comes to mind when looking at your work is delicacy. I see it in your choice of porcelain, fabric, and wax paper as materials, as well as the line quality in the surface embellishments. How does the concept of delicacy relate to your interest in "revealing the beauty and dysfunction of domestic settings?"

JLD:
Domestic objects like teacups, handkerchiefs, and wax paper can be emotionally charged, since they have a familiar place in our homes. By distorting the objects through the manipulation of form, scale, and presentation, I am able to express potential failure in these objects and create a delicate narrative of situations. The subtle distances between forms, flowing edges, and layered surfaces allow me to heighten the elements of conflict within these relationships.What initially appears to be dainty, delicate, and fragile slowly reveals itself to be resilient but in a complicated place. Teacups are mended with “stitches” but still functional. Wax paper is punched with holes and almost destroyed but reveals familial images. Handkerchiefs are coated with porcelain that forms a hard, slightly impenetrable shell. Fired porcelain is amazingly strong, but, because it exhibits qualities of purity and preciousness, it is assumed to be dainty and weak. I use delicacy to highlight oppositions like fragility and destruction, beauty and anxiety, tenderness and harm. I am interested in how these once familiar objects have unequal but inescapable relationships.
Tie
2008

OPP: You've referred to the hanging and knotted handkerchiefs, which are dipped in porcelain, as metaphors for sadness. Could you tell me more about how this metaphor functions in such pieces as Tie (2008), Catch (2008) and Choke (2010)?  Are there other recurring metaphors in your work?

JLD: I use handkerchiefs as metaphors for sadness, because I see them being used to catch tears, soak up sadness, and provide some relief from grief. I coat the fabric handkerchiefs in porcelain slip to freeze a particular moment of this despair. Manipulation through tying, knotting, or hanging the coated pieces allows me to express anxiety and the weight of endless sadness. I am drawn to Tolstoy’s quote, “ Happy families are alike, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” and I see my handkerchief pieces relating to this.

Another recurring metaphor in my work is the use of chicken feet. In Chinese culture, chicken feet are an edible delicacy and are served often as a family style dish. Growing up in a half Caucasian, half Chinese household, I was often simultaneously repulsed and appreciative of this dish. I was intimidated by the gnarliness of the toes and nails and didn’t fully understand how this was a delectable dish. I use chicken feet as a metaphor for my cultural differences and displacement.

OPP:
I've noticed the pieces in your Etsy shop are distinctly different from the work in the portfolio section of your OPP site. The whimsical objects with kissing animals are identified as wedding cake toppers and can be customized. Your other sculptures repeatedly bring up the less happy parts of and even the dissolution of marriage. Is this an intentional difference? How does your Etsy shop relate to the rest of your work?

JLD: My work deals with some very tough familial issues and is sometimes drawn from personal experiences. I am extremely open about my choice of remaining distant from my divorced parents (they have also chosen not to contact me for many years) and have lived a seemingly well-adjusted life without them. Occasionally that past seeps back into present day and I need a break from it! So, to take my mind off things, I started unconsciously pinching little bowls out of porcelain clay and slip casting small little animals. These little bowls were just fun to make and gave me a much needed break from the complicated side of my work. Etsy was a way for me to share my love for sweet, simple and whimsical things and allow everyone the opportunity to own one of my pieces.


  Poodle and Chihuahua: Vintage-inspired Cake Topper

I started making wedding cake toppers after I became engaged to my very loving and supportive partner, Ryan Takaba, who is also a ceramic artist.  It is a very happy time for us but initially I was overwhelmed by the formal, traditional, and familial obligations surrounding marriage and the ceremony. I started reading every book and magazine I could find and talking to all my married friends to help me with answers to my questions. I am essentially family-less and entering into my future husband’s very large family was something I didn’t know how to accept right away. His family is very kind, generous, and understanding, and I couldn’t ask for a nicer family. We’ve talked about everything and anything and are finding ways to make our nontraditional wedding day comfortable for everyone.

In my research I kept finding wedding cake toppers where the bride, in a big white dress, sits beautifully atop a multi-tiered cake only to find the groom climbing down the side, trying to slip slyly away. In many ways I found no humor in this and thought it was offensive to the idea of what marriage should be. I wanted our cake topper to portray our ideas of marriage and togetherness and used sweet, little animals to represent nurturing and unconditional love. 
Making cake toppers was never an intentional departure from my other work, but I can see the connections. Everything I make, from little bunny bowls for storage and wedding cake toppers to my conceptual work, all ties into the range of themes associated with the domestic and home.

OPP: You will be traveling to China for 5 weeks for a residency at the Pottery Workshop. Congratulations. What do you plan to work on while there?

JLD: Grants from the Artist Foundation of San Antonio and Artpace are allowing me to travel to Jingdezhen, China to participate in a residency at the Pottery Workshop. Jingdezhen is the birthplace of porcelain clay over 2,000 years ago and it continued to be mined here. This residency will allow me to explore my interest in the cultural significance of porcelain and surface decoration in factory-produced Chinese ceramics. In porcelain factories, men traditionally do the making and women are segregated to the finishing and decorating roles. I want to use Jingdezhen porcelain, working within these cultural traditions, to design and manufacture objects that create identity and beautify, like hairpieces and wigs, mirrors and makeup.

To view more of Jennifer Ling Datchuck’s work, visit jenniferlingdatchuk.com