OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews R. Mertens

Set it up and load it and you can walk away, 2015

R. MERTENS investigates the rising and passing away of technology and the human relationship to obsolescence. His installations combine the materials of recent predigital technologies—VHS tape, electrical cords, old TVs and computers—with the much older technologies of weaving and crochet, evoking monuments, shrines and ritual sites. Rob earned his BFA in Sound Art from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and his MFA in Fiber Art from The University of Oregon. In 2016, his work was included in the group exhibitions CARPA at the Museum of Contemporary Craft (Portland, Oregon), Extreme Fibers at the Dennos Museum Center (Traverse City, Michigan) and New Waves at the Museum of Contemporary Art (Virginia Beach, Virginia). His exhibition Paradoxical Acousmetres opened as part of Spring Solos 2016 at Arlington Arts Center in Virginia. Rob is currently an Assistant Professor at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where he lives.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What are the conceptual connections between the pre-digital technologies you use as materials and the fiber techniques of weaving and crochet?

R. Mertens: My initial interest in fibers came from my experience in Sound Art actually. In Chicago I worked as an intern for the Experimental Sound Studio during a period of transition for the studio. They were moving to a custom facility and I helped move equipment. Along with this I was backing up old cassette tapes to computer hard drives, this was in 2006, and home pc recording was really about to take off. ESS has an amazing collection of audio called the Creative Audio Archive which includes home recordings of Sun Ra, anyway it was this time period in which I was starting to think about how technology changes and how fibers/spun-string is often considered one of the earliest forms of technology. Thus, I’m interested in the evolution and progression of technology and record keeping.

Schematic Tapestry, 2013

OPP: It’s pretty common nowadays to think of all of our online, digital activities as being in opposition to our pre-digital lives. It often gets casually referred to as a distinct break, i.e. before and after the World Wide Web, but there are a lot of early technological precursors, as you acknowledge. Can you say more about the evolution and progression of technology?

RM: Part of my interest in technology is the moment when society shifts away from a progression, i.e. when laser disc was abandoned and VHS became the medium of choice. Those dead ends have a parallel in the natural world; species die out and leave fractions of biodiversity behind. Specifically, I find the long-coming extinction of VHS tape, 9-track tape, and the true hold out—cassette tape—to be fascinated and connected to larger notions of loss in culture.

While I was living out on the West Coast I became interested in two distinct but similar things. I learned about The Museum of Jurassic Technology in California and about Pre-Columbian Andean Khipu. The Museum of Jurassic Technology is an experimental archive founded by David Hildebrand Wilson and Diana Drake Wilson "The museum's collection includes a mixture of artistic, scientific, ethnographic, and historic, as well as some unclassifiable exhibits" (Wikipedia). It approaches those subjects from a more flexible understanding of historicity and creativity with the understanding that narratives grow and change through time. Khipu is Quechua for "knot" and is/was a record-keeping, tied cord. It’s a system of knots used to represent language and numeric values. Both the museum and Khipu influence my work in how I think about lost or eschewed narratives found in works of art. Khipu were largely destroyed by the Spanish during invasion of South America. Roughly 600 hundred from 1500 and before still exist today, and though there has been a great deal of scholarship focused on deciphering the cords, the idea that these objects carry lost meaning is potent and meaningful in itself. This connected with the construction of "true" and "flourished" archives led me to the construction of my past work.

Angelas, 2014. VHS tape, cotton, plastic, large Transducers. 15 x 9 x 1'

OPP: What does obsolescence mean to you and how do you employ it (or ignore it) in your work?

RM: The idea of obsolescence is at the core of much of my work. Working in Fibers, which is typically characterized as a craft medium, I am often confronted with the roll of function in my art, and the idea of obsolescence in regards to function seems very direct. What happens when things lose function or are made disregarding function? Does it expedite the process of becoming obsolete? Can new functions emerge out of obsolescence?

OPP: I’m gonna turn that one around on you because I think, in your practice, the answer is clearly yes. What new functions can emerge out of obsolescence? Both in general in our contemporary world and specifically in your practice?

RM: In my practice specifically I think the new function is related to identifying cultural belief structures and developing a visual understanding of why our contemporary culture is obsessed with Apocalyptic or Post-Apocalyptic narratives. The work is a sign post for discovering what we already know but aren't critical of, i.e. our impending endings. So the work is symbolic in function.

I see more specific functions emerging out of technological obsolescence in up-cycling, recycling, and a focus on sustainable systems. This is generally the conversation most people want to have around my work, taking broken and old things and recycling them as art.

Untitled Mask, 2013. Electronic components, VHS tapes, ethernet cable, electrical wire, 4-harness twill weave, crochet, macramé, needle weaving; 8’ x 8’ x 5’

OPP: Many works reference shrines, rituals and monuments. In your project statement for More Something from Nothing (2014), you state: "The line between art and spirituality in contemporary art is an often tenuous one. Spiritual Art or art about religion is generally characterized as either polemic or naive. In other words, it is didactically critical or unabashedly uncritical. I often wonder if art and spirituality can be sincerely and critically united." Have you discovered any answers since then?

RM: I’ve read some of James Elkins’ writing on this topic and that statement is speaking directly to what you’ve said. My interest stems from a Psychology of Death class I took at SAIC taught by Tim O’Donnell. In that class we discussed the ways in which humans have coped with the idea of their demise. There are common strategies people use: believing in life after death, i.e. religion; returning to nature; living on and transcending through Art; and living to create a legacy for the next generation. This has affected the way I approach my art making.

I’m an atheist making work about spirituality that is neither uncritical nor critical of religion. I am simply looking at the creative capacity of humans to develop belief structures and noticing the similarities of modernism and religion. Minimalism is often seen as the purest form of modernist principles, and I think there are some very clear parallels between Greenbergian theory and religious Fundamentalism.

Monument to Repetition, 2015

OPP: I 100% agree. I’m curious and interested in how Greenberg experiences midcentury abstraction and minimalism. I appreciate his first-person experience. It even fits with some of my own art-viewing experiences. The problem enters when he turns that personal experience of art into Dogma, i.e. defining “good” art as only the kind that fits his experience and his unexamined bias. So why do you think the opinion of this one man held so much weight and had such a deep and long-lasting effect on how we evaluate “good” art?

RM: Timing mostly, his philosophy was coming in at the end of modernism in a way- as art was boiling down further and further to be about itself and reduced to its essential elements, it’s no surprise that postmodernism emerged. Thus the generations of people who had devoted a life time of practice and study to modernism held on for dear life to the hard-edged box of Greenberg's ideas. Also the visual language had a lineage of 30+ years, so the historian could confidently talk about it, and humans, being the way they are, are happy if they can assuredly have something concrete to say and feel "right" about it.

OPP: Tell us about Nothing from Something, your new series “influenced by minimal and post-minimal art from the 60s-70s.” How is this influence showing up in your formal decisions?

RM: In moving to Virginia, I wanted to develop a series of pieces I could send to exhibits across the country. My starting point was looking to my art heroes: Robert Morris, Claire Zeisler, Sheila Hicks, Marina Abakanowicz and Eva Hesse. I was hoping there is an understood reference to “Making Something from Nothing” by Lucy Lippard. The sound components to these pieces reference the condition of feminism in our current culture and the confusion around what feminism means, noting the continued importance of the original text and relevance to Fiber Art education.

Paradoxical Acousmetres, 2016. Installation.

OPP: Tell us about your recent show Paradoxical Acousmetre.

RM: Paradoxical Acousmetres, as defined by Michel Chion, signifies “those deprived of some powers that are usually accorded to the acousmetre.” The Acousmetre is “the very voice of what is called the primary identification with the camera.” In cinema it is the omnipresent acousmatic voice of the narrator. Therefore, the Paradoxical Acousmetre is a narrator-creator identity, which is uninformed of the divergent path the “visual narrative” has taken from their “spoken narrative.”

In a sense it’s a continued investigation into failure and was part of the Spring Solo Series at the Arlington Art Center. I was interested in finding areas around the Center to do street performance/installations, which are linked to various laser cut Felt pieces housed in the gallery with an immersive sound installation. 

To see more work, please visit robertmertensartist.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 Brent Fogt

Last Leg (2015), Would It Be Nice? (2015) and Edge of One (2015)

BRENT FOGT courts the unknown in an intuitive exploration of materiality, accumulation and, more recently, the tension between organic and designed form. The foundational gesture in his practice is the slow build-up and evolution of marks, evident in tiny, drawn circles, crochet stitches, cut up bits of paper or unique prints of twigs and leaves. In recent sculptures, he adds the marks of urban life (found furniture fragments) and of nature (fallen branches). Brent earned his BFA in Studio Art with Highest Honors from University of Texas at Austin and his MFA from the University of Michigan. His work has been featured in New American Paintings and Art in America and in solo shows at Terrain Exhibitions (Chicago, 2014), Austin College (Sherman, Texas, 2012), Emory University (Atlanta, 2009) and the Lawndale Art Center (Houston, 2009). He has been an Artist-in-Residence at the I-Park Foundation (2015), the Djerassi Resident Artists Program (2014), Yaddo (2013) and the Vermont Studio Center (2009). Brent has recently reviewed Chicago-based exhibitions for New City and Bad at Sports. He lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Is there a difference between the marks you make and the ones you allow to accumulate?

Brent Fogt: In all of my work, I am driven by the question: what would happen if…? I love to experiment with new processes and techniques, and when I think I’ve been repeating myself, I try to complicate the process or come up with a new one.

There is an organic quality to almost all of the work I create, whether I am making the marks or I am using a process that removes my hand from the equation. When I started making rain drawings, I was amazed at how much they looked like my Circle Drawings. By drawing circles over and over I was imitating natural processes.

What I like about work where my hand is more present—whether it is my collages, drawings or sculptures—is the presence of imperfections. A close inspection of my Circle Drawings, for instance, reveals oblong circles, overlapping lines and ink smears. The rectangular pieces of paper I cut for collages are always slightly askew, and my crochet stitches range from too tight to too loose.

Ink on paper
60 in x 96 in
2006

OPP: What’s more important in your practice: yielding to your materials or controlling them?

BF: I probably yield to my materials more than I try to control them. When I begin working, I don’t know how a final piece is going to look. Rather, I take cues from my materials. With my most recent sculptures, for instance, I think a lot about how pieces fit together. I try many combinations until it becomes obvious that, say, the V shape of this branch perfectly complements the curve of another branch.

With many of my rain drawings, I yield completely to them, not adding any extra marks. With others, I am interested in seeing what would happen if I add my own marks or transform them into collages.

The 4th & 5th Great Awakenings, detail (from inside)
Crocheted cotton
2014

OPP: Can you explain the process for your Rain Drawings and how they feed into your shingled collages?

BF: I actually wrote out the instructions for making rain drawings for some friends who were interested in making them.

a) Place some sturdy paper  in the rain (you’ll be handling it when it’s wet so the paper needs some heft).
b) While the paper gets wet, go foraging for leaves, twigs, pine needles (these work really well), grass, bark, anything organic really.
c) spread the organic materials all over the paper.
d) sprinkle ink over the organic materials and the paper. I like to start with diluted ink (the ink doesn’t have to be black; can be any color) in a 10-to-1 water-to-ink ratio.
e)Sprinkle darker ink, a 4-to-1 water-to-ink ratio.
f) Let the paper dry. If you’re outside, leaving the paper in the grass is a good idea, because air will reach the bottom of the paper and aid in drying.
g) Once the paper is completely dry, brush off all the organic materials, and you’re done!

The process is pure joy, because you never know how they are going to turn out. After a while, however, I started wondering how I could combine this process with a secondary process that was more rooted in geometry. I experimented with cutting up the rain drawings into squares and collaging them, but these first efforts seemed to reference pixels and computer screens, which I did not intend. The best solution I found was to cut the rain drawings into rectangular pieces and arrange them according to value, going from darkest in the middle to lightest on the periphery. This strategy maintained a strict geometry, but visually has more in common with weavings than computer screens. And since I placed each rectangle based strictly on value, it took color decisions out of the equation.

Grove
Ink and other liquid media, paper, gel medium
64 in x 36 in
2013

OPP: Speaking of color, it is generally—with a few exceptions—very sparse in your work. How do you make decisions about color in other projects?

BF: Color is tricky for me because I was diagnosed pretty early on in my life with mild color blindness. As a result, I don’t trust that what I see is what others will see. At times, I avoid color altogether. In my early circle drawings, I used black pens on white paper and nothing else. After a couple of years, however, when I was looking to add another variable into the work, I took tentative steps into color, using blue and green pens and some graphite.

One strategy I have is to use “found color.” With my very latest sculptures, for instance, I photographed the floors of the space where I eventually will be showing them, opened up the photos in Photoshop and used the eyedropper tool to figure out how I could mix them. It turned out that I could make one of the colors with four parts yellow, two parts light blue and one part magenta. I made that color and then mixed it with white gesso. A long time ago, I made paintings in a similar way, finding color combinations in magazines that I liked, then figuring out how to mix them. My assumption is that someone with a better color sense than I have made them, so why not try them.

Installation, Emory University, detail
Crocheted candle wicking
2009

OPP: You’ve been using crochet in your practice since 2008. Earlier installations—at Chicago Artist Coalition, at Dominican University and at Terrain—evoke other-worldly hanging plants or hives. They emphasize the capacity of crochet to grow organically as stitches accumulate. More recently in discrete sculptures like Last Leg or SonRisa, the crochet becomes a skin, bandage or clothing, stretched taut to hold found fragments of discarded furniture and fallen branches together. Can you the discuss this shift and the introduction of hard lines and angles into your visual vocabulary, which used to be dominated by circles and organic lines?

BF: The hanging pieces got bigger and bigger over the years  until I started thinking about them less as otherworldly objects and more as potential containers for people. At an exhibition at the A&D Gallery at Columbia College, in fact, I invited people to get inside of them, and many did. My own experience getting inside the pieces was really interesting. I felt a real sense of calm and felt totally safe and protected.

The next step might have been to make the crocheted sculptures even larger so that multiple people could have gotten inside them. I made lots of sketches and thought I was going to move in this direction, but when I started thinking about how to create more sophisticated substructures to support the larger pieces, I changed my mind. The substructures themselves— the bones of the piece— became more intriguing.

Right around that time, I also started collecting discarded furniture. I began cutting up the furniture and combining it with fallen branches to create armatures for sculptures, playing up the tension between the mass-produced, hard-edged pieces that I was finding and the more organic shapes of the branches. The pieces you mentioned, Last Leg and SonRisa, are two of about five works in this category. As with the earlier, more organic work, I still relied on crochet as a skin to cover the bones or substructure.

The work I have underway in my studio right now represents another shift. I am leaving much more of the bones uncovered, but I am strategically crocheting or wrapping the places where the bones connect as if I were symbolically healing or repairing the sculptures.

The pieces are becoming increasingly vulnerable. They began as fully formed hives, homes, nests and have evolved into sculptures that are increasingly fragmentary, tenuous and fragile.

To see more of Brent's work, please visit brentfogt.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 Antonia A. Perez

Estas En Tu Casa
Crocheted plastic bags
64" x .75" x 108"
2015

ANTONIA  A. PEREZ repurposes post-consumer detritus, most notably plastic bags, in vibrantly colorful, meticulously crocheted sculptures and textiles. She highlights the functional role of decorative forms like the doily, originally developed to hide flaws or stains on household surfaces, and ironically evokes the notion of the family heirloom to underscore the excess of the manufactured waste we can't get rid of. Antonia earned her BA in 2006 from State University of New York, Empire State College, an her MFA in 2010 from City University of New York, Queens College. She was the recipient of a 2011 Marie Walsh Sharpe Space Program Award. She was selected as a 2013 Smack Mellon Hot Pick and was a Back in Five Minutes Artist-in-Residence at El Museo del Barrio in 2014. In 2015, she was a nominee for the Rema Hort Mann Foundation Emerging Artist Grant. You can see her work in Txt: art, language, media, curated by Lauren Kelly and Rosio Aranda-Alvarado, at the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling in Harlem through June 2016. You can also see her piece Market Bag (2014) and catch Antonia performing an on-going action (crocheting) at Cuchifritos Gallery in New York until March 27, 2016 in Lettuce, Artichokes, Red Beets, Mango, Broccoli, Honey and Nutmeg: The Essex Street Market as Collaborator, curated by Nicolás Dumit Estévez Raful. (Bring your unwanted plastic bags to the gallery and exchange them for a tote bag to shop at the Market. Offer valid while supplies last.) Antonia lives and works in Long Island City, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: When did you first learn to crochet? What drove you to learn this skill?

Antonia Perez: My Hungarian-American maternal grandmother taught me the rudiments of crochet when I was about 15 years old. She had already taught me how to knit. I could make a scarf or shawl at that point, but I wasn’t deeply interested in pursuing knitting. In Mexico, I had seen many beautiful examples of crocheted tablecloths, doilies, dresses and other household items in the homes of my aunts and cousins. Women on both sides of my family were tremendously skilled needle workers. This was something that was just taken for granted. They weren’t considered artists, but they were artists. I admired them all and wanted to emulate them, but I have never approached the level of their mastery.

Once I learned the basic stitches, I began crocheting handbags and scarves, designing them by trial and error. I did this to relax and to make beautiful wearable things, never connecting it to art. I was already studying art in high school, and for many years I made paintings and thought of myself as a painter.

Donald Judd's Grandmother
Crocheted plastic bags, steel rod
36" x 36" x 36"
2010

OPP: When did plastic bags enter the scene?

AP: One day in 2004 I had an epiphany in my kitchen. The mound of plastic bags that I saved under the sink had gotten so big that the cabinet door no longer closed. I took out all the bags and automatically sorted them by color, suddenly seeing that they created a full spectrum. I realized that they could be an art material (since I had no intention of throwing them away). My first pieces made with plastic bags were sewn by hand into what I thought of as plastic bag paintings. I did this for about four years while I also made paintings on canvas and paper. I was also sewing into the paper and crocheting small doily shapes with yarn and affixing them to the canvases. The plastic bag paintings didn’t satisfy me though. In 2008, I decided to attempt crocheting the bags; I was really excited about their potential.

Tissue Box Tower
Empty tissue boxes
69.5” x 51” x 10.25”
2012

OPP: Color is a significant aspect of your work, both in your Tissue Box sculptures and in pieces like Estas En Tu Casa (2015). The color is tantalizing, comforting and thrilling for me. It creates desire, wonder and pleasure. But I’m also aware that the color comes directly out of an underlying marketing strategy to sell the objects that you repurpose in your work. Is this a contradiction or is this apparent conflict actually a significant part of your intention in using these throwaway materials?

AP: Color has always fascinated me. It is so seductive, and it definitely has an emotional hold over me. It is what led me to transforming the bags and the boxes into art objects. The paradox of the unexpected beauty of the plastic bags and their undeniable role as a marketing tool as well as an environmental hazard has intrigued me from the beginning. At times I am so deeply engaged with the pigmentation of the bags that I forget about the fact that it is plastic. It becomes just the color I am using to make an image. I use their aesthetic appeal to draw you in—as I am drawn in—and they become part of my own strategy to signal their role in our contemporary consumerist culture of buying and discarding. At the same time, every plastic bag I use is one that doesn’t go to the landfill.

Red Doily
Crocheted plastic bags
Diameter 63"
2011

OPP: What does the form of the doily mean to you?

AP: The doily is a primary form, particularly for crochet. I have a personal connection to this form through familial associations; I think of the generations of women who designed and made doilies. I use scale to elevate their status from their humble origins to the stature they deserve. I find the geometric nature of doilies very appealing, whether concentric circles or eight pointed stars. The mathematics of making doilies forces me to focus on the structure of the form more than the color and takes my mind in different directions. Seeking to lift the doily from obscurity, I have also used it as a bold sign, employing its form in a repetitive wall pattern.

The original intent of doilies—to cover up something unsightly with something pretty—remains in the context in which I am using them as well. You might say that I am disguising the ugly side of the plastic bags through their transformation into a doily. I used the doily form to construct Black Lace, which was made for an exhibition at the Northern Manhattan Artists Alliance, part of El Museo del Barrio’s “S Files” Biennial. I had been thinking about the handmade lace of the black mantilla traditionally used in Spain in the 17th and 18th centuries because I had seen Goya’s The Duchess of Alba hanging for many years in The Hispanic Society of America Museum in Northern Manhattan. Using black bodega bags to create this lace, my intention was to play with the religious aura of the black mantilla through a work that has seductive implications.

Black Lace
Crocheted plastic bags
Dimensions variable, L 204"
2011

OPP: Could you talk about the concept of the heirloom and the irony in your body of work Heirloom Collection?

AP: An heirloom represents a legacy to ones descendants. Plastic bags are perhaps one of the unintended heirlooms that will remain on earth for generations to come.

The idea for the Heirloom Collection came about as I began thinking of the kinds of things women once made by hand for their homes: exquisitely embroidered linens, finely crocheted curtains, handmade lace and garments, quilts. These items were treasured by families, especially the female members, and passed down through generations as family heirlooms. Crocheting curtains, doilies, towels and potholders out of plastic bags pretty much guarantees that they’ll be around for generations. The things I have made with irony are not the fine and delicate linens, but they do reference the labor of fine needlework. I have intended them as an inheritance for my son.

Drape
Crocheted plastic bags
Dimensions variable, H 48"
2009

OPP: Do artists have an ethical responsibility not to create more waste in the world?

AP: I think as humans, given the situation we are in now, we all have an ethical responsibility not to create more waste, to reduce our carbon footprints and to make a strong effort to conserve the resources of the earth and not pollute it. This sense of responsibility certainly forms a significant part of the motivation for using my chosen materials and often is key to understanding the intention of individual pieces. However, my work is also driven by my desire to elevate the status of handmade objects, my interest in textiles, textile design and their position in historical and contemporary culture.

To see more of Antonia's work, please visit antoniaaperezstudio.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 on view at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art until March 27, 2016.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Caitlin T. McCormack

Night Glaive
2015
Photo credit: Jason Chen

CAITLIN T. McCORMACK draws connections between discarded and inherited lace remnants and the remains of baby birds, lizards and small rodents in her stiffened cotton, crochet skeletons. Her textile bones read as Wunderkammer relics thanks to the black shadow boxes and antique museum vitrines in which they are displayed. Caitlin earned her BFA in Illustration, with honors from University of the Arts, Philadelphia in 2010. In 2015, Caitlin's 2015 exhibitions included three-person show Exquisite Echoes at Gray Gallery, collaborative installation Ex Silentio at The Art Department and solo show Mnemosyne at Paradigm Gallery + Studio. She has an upcoming show with bone-carver Jason Borders at Antler Gallery (Portland, OR) in March 2016, a solo exhibit at La Luz de Jesus (Los Angeles) in June 2016 and a two-person show with Philadelphia artist Sabrina Small at The Mütter Museum's Thomson Hall Gallery (Philadelphia) in January 2017. Caitlin lives and works in Philadelphia.

OtherPeoplesPixels: When did you first learn to crochet? When did it first enter your art practice?

Caitlin T. McCormack: My grandmother was a very talented crocheter; she taught me the basics of the craft. She was actually a bit of a hard-ass, for which I'm grateful. Both of my grandparents passed away very close to one another right after I graduated from college. I inherited a large quantity of cotton thread that my grandmother and her sisters had once used to crochet all sorts of things. Crocheting initially proved to be a mindless, repetitive method of dealing with grief. I eventually found that producing excessively knot-addled, over-stitched bits and pieces allowed me to generate material with more volume than, say, a doily. My grandfather was also a skilled bird-carver, so in an attempt to create a tribute to and a synthesis of my grandparents' very separate creations, I tried to construct what evolved into the brittle, fibrous innards of a wooden bird.

Inevitable Canyon
2015

OPP: Many of your stiffened crochet skeletons are recognizable as baby birds, lizards and small rodents, but some are less mundane and more monstrous, like Night Glaive (2015) or Ianuaria (2013). Are these imagined creatures or based on actual skeletons?

CTM: I tend to base my skeletons off of animals that are indigenous to the East Coast, where I'm from—squirrels, deer, foxes, finches, and a variety of domestic animals. My memories tend to center around specific animals that were present during an incident, i.e. the cat that was at the party when this happened, or the squirrel that was sitting on the windowsill when that happened. I grew up in the woods, so animals have always been very important to me and carry kind of a totemic significance. My process involves deviating from a skeleton's authentic form, though, so once I've begun working off of a sketch that has been totally warped by my visual biases, it's hard to say what's going to happen. Sometimes what I produce is so distant from my initial intention that it feels right to incorporate additional, grotesque elements into the structure.

Slicer
2015

OPP: Lacewilds (2014) and Bound as it Were (2015) combine found textiles with your crocheted cotton string. How do you think about the connection between antique textiles and skeletons?

CTM: When I'm working on pieces in that vein, I like to imagine that a garment has disintegrated and reformed itself in the image of a tenacious animal's remains. It has a lot to do with the persistence and transmutation of memory and how innate the significance of cloth and thread can be in a person's life. I began hunting for found remnants from garage sales and flea markets in an attempt to introduce imagined histories into my work. I enjoy speculating about the possible origins of the scraps, how their undisclosed narratives might compliment or even conflict with my own experiences, and the various ancestral bonds that might still linger in the material.

The Mesmerist's Daughters
Mixed media
2013

OPP: Tell us about the work in your website section Illustration. Why do you refer to this work as 3D illustration instead of photography? Are these commissioned works?

CTM: I began working on those images during my time at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, where I majored in Illustration, and used that method to produce my thesis. I think I latched onto the term "3-D Illustration" because it allowed me to indulge in my desire to convey narratives and accompany text with tangible, hand-constructed elements. Using imagery from dreams as inspiration, the works are usually created just for fun. They are occasionally displayed as prints alongside their sculptural subjects. I'm also in the process of creating illustrations for a narrative written by Philadelphia poet, Chris McCreary.

Widdendream
2015

OPP: Could you talk about display in your recent solo show Mnemosyne at Paradigm Gallery in Philadelphia?

CTM: Mnemosyne was comprised of pieces evocative of taxonomical specimens, in addition to works involving found textiles, antique frames and pieces of furniture with sculptures hidden in drawers. With this body of work, I tried to provide a sense of unraveling domesticity, a familiar space that has grown foreign with the passing of time. I intended for this show to be the second installment in a cycle of three exhibits, tracing the way a memory can become warped as it deviates from its authentic, incidental roots and becomes an unrecognizable artifact of a nearly forgotten experience.

To see more of Caitlin's work, please visit caitlintmccormack.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).

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Ramekon O-Arwisters

With the Wind
2011–13
Fabric
52"H x 86"W x 9"D

Crochet Jam invites participants to communally crochet Spirit Tapestries from shredded rags, harkening back to traditional craft practices of reusing and transforming textiles. In these free, public events, artist RAMEKON O'ARWISTERS offers a public space for nourishing a sense of belonging and connection between strangers, as well as the possibility of liberation through creativity. Ramekon earned a Masters of Divinity from Duke University and is currently a curator of exhibitions at the SFO Museum and a guest lecturer at various Bay Area colleges. He was 2002 Artadia Awardee and a 2014 Eureka Fellow. If you live in the Bay Area, you can be part of Crochet Jam this fall at the following venues: Root Division (September 26, 2015) and Light Up Central Market, sponsored by the Luggage Store Gallery (Sept 30 2015). Crochet Jam will also be at the NIAD Art Center in Richmond, California on November 14, 2015. Ramekon lives in San Francisco.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You have a Masters of Divinity from Duke University. How does this background influence the work you make? Tell us a little about your path as an artist.

Ramekon O’Arwisters: Yes, I was in divinity school in my mid-twenties. Fortunately for me, and I believe for all of those around me, divinity students at that time were taught to be critical of the sources and not to rely on blind faith. We were taught biblical Hebrew and Greek, so we could translate from the original text and not rely on standard translations. We were taught to trust our own translations of the text, and to analyze the scriptures with regard to the historical context in which they were written. We asked questions like Who was the audience? and What was the social and political framework during that time? It was a powerful way to teach young people to be independent and self-reliant. Until this time, no one in my family had even read the bible; we had relied on the local preachers within our community to interpret for us. They authoritatively told us what to think and feel and how to act from the advantage point of the pulpit.

While I was in divinity school, I was also a practicing artist and had local-gallery representation for my abstract works on paper. As an artist, I was liberated to paint and draw whatever I had the courage to envision. And I did. I painted with the homemade grape wine. I dipped rocks and sticks into paint to make marks. Much later, I drew portraits of nude models using charred Brazil nuts.

Early in my professional ministerial training, I realized that my real job—outside of the sacred walls of academia and from the pulpit of the church—was to maintain the status quo and encourage conformity. In that role, I felt I was not meant to be an instrument of liberation but to continue to incarcerate the minds of others into an unsophisticated and dangerous, narrow-mindedness about religion. What frightened me more than the fact that I was not aiding in the liberation of others was the fact that others were hesitant to embrace a different way of understanding the bible. People outside of the university didn't want to think differently about how interpretations of the bible can cause spiritual, political, psychological and economic hardship.

It dawned on me at the age of twenty-five, that if the church was not willing to embrace new ways of viewing scripture, then it would certainly not embrace a queer lifestyle. Overwhelmed by the striking contradictions between the revolutionary and transformative teachings of Christ—love, acceptance, tolerance and forgiveness—and the present reality of the church, I decided to finish my degree and move to Tokyo to embrace spirituality through my creativity and paint and draw there. I lived in Tokyo from 1986 until 1991, when I moved to San Francisco.

Crochet Jam, Second Annual Family Art Day at the Shipyard
San Francisco. Presented by ArtSpan
2013

OPP: Tell us about the history of Crochet Jam.

RO: When I was growing up in North Carolina, I helped my paternal grandmother, Celia Jones Taylor (1896–1982) make quilts. Quilt-making with her is one of my fondest childhood memories. I was embraced, important and special. I felt like a little black boy hiding my queer self from my family during the harsh reality of state-sanctioned Jim Crow oppression of black people in the U.S. and before the turbulent years of the Civil Rights Movement that spread throughout the country. My grandmother let me add any color or pattern I wanted to her quilt. It didn't matter if the strip of fabric that I selected did not fit the color scheme or any particular standard quilt-making pattern, that wasn't important. Togetherness and sharing stories and feelings while calmly quilting was important. There wasn’t any judgment. Our quilting bees were calm, relaxing and peaceful, just the type of atmosphere a confused, little black queer boy needed when the world outside of my grandmother’s house was often negative, hostile and unforgiving.

My social practice project Crochet Jam embodies this tenderness, compassion and warmth. I decided to start a community-art project that enabled groups of people to collectively work on a piece of art in public with strangers. The focus is on relaxation and human connection. I want participants to be in a creative mindset without anyone dictating the creative process, nor worrying about the finished product. Crochet Jam is how I make liberation a form of art.

The project originally began in 2011 with small sewing events with friends that I called Stitch. I was awarded a second Individual Artist Commission Grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission Cultural Equity Grant Program in 2011 for Sugar In Our Blood, an exhibition in 2013 that was an autobiographical approach to explore society's sexual stereotyping of the LGBTIQA and the African-American communities. The community joined me weekly at my home to cut and hand sew rag rugs. Stitch transformed into Crochet Jam with my artist residency at the de Young. The museum's leadership supported my community-based project but did not want to include using needles to sew the fabric. I agreed, but I needed to figure out a way to attach the fabric without needle and thread. A breakthrough occurred when a friend mentioned to me that I was making rag rugs—you can also crochet rag rugs! Crochet Jam was born.

Crochet Jam
African American Art and Culture Complex, San Francisco
2013

OPP: How has the project evolved over the years?

RO: For almost five years, I have presented Crochet Jam events at galleries, museums, San Francisco International Airport, a community shelter, schools, and a hospice and in cities around the country—San Francisco, Oakland, Chico, New York City, Miami Beach, and Greensboro, North Carolina. Including Stitch and Crochet Jam, I believe that I have facilitated nearly a hundred events. What has changed is that I am not as concerned any more about only hosting Crochet Jams at museums and art centers. I plan to take Crochet Jam to communities within the industrial-prison system, including youth within our government's juvenile-detention centers, foster-care facilities, domestic-violence shelters, homeless shelters, hospitals, and hospice-care centers. But I believe that I am the one most positively impacted by Crochet Jam. We all want to be liberated and not judged. I am liberated by the gift of Crochet Jam and I'm pleased to share it with others.

Crochet Jam, Radical Craft Night,
Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, Santa Cruz, California
2014

OPP: While crocheting can be wonderfully relaxing, teaching crochet to beginners is exhausting! Do you experience social practice fatigue?

RO: Well. Let me think. I only know one type of stitch in crochet: single-stitch crochet. So I can't really say that I am a crochet artist or really a crochet teacher. I am a social-practice artist. What I do is provide an opportunity for participants to experience liberation, creativity and social interaction using the folk-art tradition of crocheting rag rugs—organic, free-form, rag-rug tapestries. Crochet Jam is very symbolic in that I provide an opportunity for acceptance and non-judgment through public, community-based events with strangers using a folk-art tradition in a non-traditional manner for a non-traditional purpose.

Crochet Jam is liberating because no one is dictating the creative process, nor judging the finished product. Once I show participants—even five-year-olds!—how to single-stitch crochet and how to attach strips of fabric, then they can add any pattern or color they want to the tapestries. They are free to be as creative as one can be using a large wooden rag-rug crochet hook and strips of fabric. I keep telling the participants, add any pattern or color you want. But they still feel the need to consult with me, seeking my approval or feedback, and I gently repeat: Please add any color you want. Some even ask, Does this look good? Is it right? My reply is, How does it feel?

I give up my perceived authority and ask the participants to trust their creativity, their vision, and trust the material to reveal what it will. We are hardwired to please others and to be judged by what we create and produce. I am very happy that Crochet Jam has come to me; it is a gift that I freely share with others. I am extremely fulfilled and grateful that I am the conduit for Crochet Jam. I can only be liberated by liberating others. For me, that is the supreme power of art—to liberate.

The Trinity
2011-13
Fabric, ceramic, glass, metal
100"H x 95"W x 36"D

OPP: Two of your solo exhibitions—Sugar In Our Blood: The Spirit of Black and Queer Identity (2013) at the African American Art & Culture Complex and Communing With the Unseen: African Spiritual in Contemporary Art (2012) at the de Young Museum, both in San Francisco—address the intersection of identity and spirituality. How do you define spirituality?

RO: For me spirituality has nothing to do with religion. Given my training, religion was about following rules, respecting authority, dogma, ritual and the mistreatment others who believed differently. Religion is antithetical to the spiritual well being of the population. Spirituality, on the other hand, is about the degree to which one is conscious, grounded, open and connected to the universal forces that create all things.

It has taken some time for me to embrace who I am spiritually, racially, sexually, politically and artistically. Family, friends, communities, societies and governments force conformity. We learn to deny who we are for the pleasure of others, ultimately for the pleasure of the state. What I feel I have had to deny the most over and above my sexuality is my spirituality. I am spirit. This statement offends the powerful because they cannot control it. Within the mega structure of the church system, the masses are controlled through dogma, ritual and conformity. Spirituality in all of its many glorious forms is a powerful thorn in the body politic.

Where We Are
2013
Fabric, photos, wood, paper
48"H x 84" W x 12"D

OPP:  How does your solo work and your social practice work address spirituality in different ways?

RO: In my solo work, I define what's important. I accept and take my clues from my creative vision. At one of my recent group exhibitions, the curator informed me that a friend's five-year-old daughter said that "putting a rag rug on the wall is silly." Brilliant. What makes it silly? Well, rag rugs belong on the floor, not in a place of reverence like on the wall. This concept of keeping things and, by extension, people in their places is the backbone of conformity. I accept my creativity, my vision, as a spiritual act. Similarly, my social practice allows others to be themselves, to connect with others and to be liberated in a non-judgmental environment. It takes a great deal of courage to be liberated. For me, it starts with accepting and embracing spirituality through creativity.

To learn more about Ramekon and Crochet Jam, please visit crochetjam.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 Emily Biondo

Touch Me
2014
A collaboration with Bradford Barr
LEDs, custom electronic boards, 2 gloves, plastic sheeting, bamboo

EMILY BIONDO explores "the awkward interstices of language, presence and human relationships." Her interactive installations, which employ light, sound and touch, often require more than one viewer to activate them, while her audio sculptures crocheted from speaker wire allow the viewer to listen in on intimate, private conversations. Emily received her MFA from American University (2011), where she received the Mellon Grant and the Catharina Baart Biddle Art Award. She has exhibited widely in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, including exhibitions at the Arlington Arts Center, Smith Center for Healing and the Arts, Blackrock Center for the Arts and The Athenaeum. Most recently, she exhibited in Gawker, a three-person show of interactive media at Harford Community College in Bel Air, Maryland, and Touch Me, a collaborative installation with Bradford Barr at Flashpoint Gallery, which included an artist talk at the Luce Foundation Center in the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Emily lives and works in Washington, DC.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your interactive installations and sculptures use sight, sound and touch to explore connection and clashes in human communication. Do taste and smell relate to communication as well? Might these senses ever make it into your work?

Emily Biondo: Taste and smell certainly communicate, but they have more to do with memory than dialogue. When I constructed Proustian Fortunate Moment, I was obsessed with Proust's famous account of eating a madeleine and being immediately transported back to a vivid memory of his childhood. But that piece was more a visualization of his experience than a utilization of its sensory ideas. I'd LOVE to use taste and smell. I have always admired how Ernesto Neto uses fragrances to great effect in creating an experience, but I haven't yet exhausted the other senses in my work. When I do reach that point, however, smell will be the next sense I use.



Proustian Fortunate Moment
2010
Crocheted monofilament, high-intensity lightbulb

OPP: When did you first learn to crochet and what associations did you bring to it?


EB: I associate it with my family, particularly the female members on my maternal side. I also think of the intersection of craft and comfort in the sense of doing something over and over again so familiarly that it is effortless. I learned to crochet from my great-grandmother when I was about nine. My very first crocheted piece was supposed to be a red square, and because of the erratic stitch length, ended up looking like a tiny mutilated bonnet. I learned that you could add to a crocheted piece anywhere and with any stitch, so I'd end up with elaborate free form pieces based upon my own whims. I'd end up with blankets, bikinis, cuffs, hats, etc. all without a pattern because it was easy to guess how a stitch would form a shape and layer stitches to create those forms. Years later in grad school, I'd practice layering by making complex shapes like coral, a wedding dress or a penis. Until my speaker wire pieces, the layering was used in a more utilitarian way than a visual metaphor. It helped sculpt the structure of the work.

Two Young Modern Women on a Car Trip (detail)
Audio sculpture with crocheted speaker wire
2010

OPP: When did you first begin to crochet with speaker wire? What are the practical challenges of this material?

EB: During grad school, I had a dream that I was back in undergrad and panicking at the end of the semester. I needed one more work to complete my portfolio. After much thought, I decided to make a large, crocheted wall hanging out of speaker wire AND a cyclone out of marbles. It was such a vivid dream and I was so confident in my ideas that when I woke up, I immediately got materials to make both pieces. The marble cyclone was a (slightly messy) disaster, but the speaker wire was a raging success.

Speaker wire is a great faux-yarn because plastic is not so different from certain polyester/acrylic blends. I use a wire gauge (thickness) that is similar in weight to a strand of thick yarn and usually crochet with a whole roll of wire at hand. Downsides include the exorbitant cost of my favorite clear-coated copper, the smell, the sometimes waxy coating used to keep the wire from sticking, the heavy weight of some pieces and the logistics of wiring 100-1000 feet of speaker wire to circuits.



Two Middle Aged Sisters with Children
2010
1800 ft of speaker wire, audio
22 x 9 x 9 in

OPP: How does crochet inform the audio components in sculptures like Bridal Shower (2010), Shrouded (Prayer Shawl) (2011) and Two Young Modern Women on a Car Trip (2010)?



EB: So for me, crochet was always an intricately layered web. As I got to college, I realized that my conception of communication had always been a palimpsest of words layered in one's mind. Crochet visually completes this metaphor. It is an actual example of the layering of words and phrases that travel in a circuitous strand to complete a monologue/dialogue, which ultimately completes the artwork.

My original plan was to simply crochet with nontraditional materials. But then I realized how speaker wire relates to text and communication, and I had to add audio into the works. Monologues/dialogues are not only metaphorically formed by the wire but electronically passed through the layered crocheted web.



2011
Prison visitation booth, two telephones, viewing window, stools
6 x 3 x 5 ft

OPP: Painful narratives are shared through interactive installations in What I Never Said (2011), Pick Up the Phone (2011) and Lift the Seat (2011). The video Wind up (2012) also gets at one-sidedness in relationships. For me, these pieces are about how technology sometimes aids and sometimes obstructs communication and connection between human beings. What are your thoughts on technology and communication?

EB: I believe that technology IS communication. Historically, humans have always used innovations to augment communication: horn blasts, carrier pigeons, mail systems, morse code, telephones, etc. These inventions and improvements shaped the way we see, talk to and understand one another. Technology shapes our culture and defines certain generational properties of dialogue (colloquialisms, length/number of pauses, touching/no touching, eye contact, MIScommunication). Those properties have always existed in communication—it just depends on the time period and technologies present to define exactly what they are. Because of this, I find technology and communication inextricably linked and will not produce artwork about communication without using and commenting on technology as well.



Headspace
2014
Millennial translation of the following text from Russian Poetry:
"Beautiful boy, like a faun here in loneliness roaming, who art thou?
Surely no child of the woods: thine is too prideful a face.
Music that moves in thy gait, the wrought grace of thy sumptuous sandal
Tell thou art son to the gods, or high offspring of kings."

OPP: It's easy to blame new trends in communication technology—for example, texting, twitter and Facebook—for all that's wrong in the world: "kids today!" Your recent installation Headspace (2014) reveals both the disconnect and the continuity between the past and the present. Can you explain the piece to our readers?

EB: Headspace is one of my favorites. Like any creative work, books are a huge indicator of language and communication in any time period and culture. I like the idea that the millennial slang used today would be considered similar to the language used in classic literature at their respective time.

In Headspace, there is a glove attached to a pair of headphones. Each glove contains  an RFID reader and microcontroller used to “read” the book electronically. When participants swipe their hands across the classic literature installed on the wall, the headset reads an audio translation of a highlighted phrase into current 'millennial' language, including electronic slang, pop culture references and common phrases. Juxtaposing the two languages through technology relates even more how innovations can act as a bridge in communication.

I originally created this work for a show at a college campus because I wanted the audience to really understand and appreciate the translated language, particularly how it compares to works of literature that they probably are or have studied in school.

Headspace
2014
Millennial translation of the following text from English Literature
"Ion. I thank you for your greetings—shout no more,
But in deep silence raise your hearts to heaven,
That it may strengthen one so young and frail
As I am for the business of this hour.—
Must I sit here?"

OPP: How did they college students respond? What about professors?

EB: The students loved it, and I loved watching them. They'd timidly try on the equipment, look around shyly, then swipe the first book. The look of surprise, dawning comprehension, laughter, then eager anticipation for the next all in a period of 30 seconds was a common and fantastic thing to witness. I liked seeing them finish the installation then grab one of their friends and make them experience it while they watched their expression. There's always a personal and a voyeuristic aspect to my work that I highly appreciate as artist and viewer.

As for the professors, they thought it was clever, but didn't really enjoy it as much as the students. I make works first for the experience, then for the analysis, so I assumed (rightly) that the students would glean the most from it.

To view more of Emily's work, please visit emilybiondo.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. 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. Beginning on November 7, 2014, Stacia will improvise When Things Fall Apart, an ongoing, collage installation in the Lillstreet Annex Gallery. Closing reception guests will be invited to help break down the piece by pulling pins out of the wall on December 5, 2014.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Nathan Vincent

Locker Room (detail)
2011
Installation
12' x 19'

NATHAN VINCENT's mother taught him to crochet at the age of 10. As an adult, he has employed the historically feminized handicraft of crochet to examine cultural signifiers and accoutrements of American masculinity—tools, cigars, a lazy boy, a lawn mower, a briefcase—playfully calling into question culturally constructed notions of gender. In his newest work, Nathan explores power dynamics, surveillance and aggression, rendering tools of brute force, including dynamite and language, soft and yielding in his chosen medium of yarn. Nathan earned his BFA from Purchase College, State University of New York. He was a finalist for the West Prize in 2008 and was an artist-in-residence at Museum of Arts and Design (New York) in 2012. His upcoming solo show at Muriel Guepin Gallery in New York opens December 13, 2013, and his installation Locker Room will be on view at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art from January 17 to March 16, 2014. Nathan lives and works in New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Have you been crocheting ever since you were a kid?

Nathan Vincent: After I initially nagged my mother enough to teach me to crochet, I went on to learn knitting. She didn't know how to do that, or wasn't interested in teaching me, so I purchased a knitting book for kids and taught myself. I made some granny squares, some socks, a scarf, and some mittens. After that I didn't really do anything with needlework again until I was in college. It must be like riding a bike though. I picked it up and remembered everything pretty easily. It was strange how it came about, too. My friend was crocheting herself a sweater, and I borrowed her hook for a couple hours and ended up with some random 3D shapes when I realized I could make sculptures out of this material!

Gazelle, Lion, Bushbuck
2009
Crocheted yarn, taxidermy inserts

OPP: What do you like about the process of crochet, as opposed to the result?

NV: The process of crochet is not only soothing but also rhythmic. Once you get going, it is very difficult to stop. Until your arm starts aching, and then it's easy to put it down. HA! I think I love its versatility best. There's something wonderfully flexible about deciding spontaneously that the piece you are working out needs to expand and all you have to do is add in a few stitches. Additionally, while I try to be very precise, crochet is wonderful at hiding mistakes, and I love that.

OPP: Because crochet is such a versatile medium with amazing formal capabilities and numerous cultural associations, there is some really fantastic, under-appreciated work out there. What other contemporary artists working in crochet are you interested in or looking at?

NV: Gil Yefman is working with some really interesting ideas, and I love his aesthetic. Sheila Pepe, of course, is doing great work with large scale installations. And, Jo Hamilton is amazing at portraiture!

Screw #6
2009
Crocheted yarn, metal hook
27" x 9" x 5"

OPP: Your crocheted screws (2004-2009) stand out to me. They speak vulnerably about masculinity and yet they remain playful like a lot of your other soft sculptures. They are reminiscent of flaccid male genitalia because you've embraced the natural sagging properties of the crochet instead of building an internal armature for the sculpture. What made you decide to make these sculptures different than the others? How do you think about those differences?

NV: You hit the nail on the head. *smirk* I chose to make the screws because I was looking to soften objects that stand out as rigid, strong, obvious symbols of masculinity. As I started the pieces I realized that since they were already out of scale, I might as well exaggerate everything in order to speak to the issues around masculinity and femininity that I was so interested in. The elongation and knotting of these pieces pushes their confusion and compounds the references to genitalia.  

I think part of what you are asking is, why haven't I let all of my pieces take on the loose, sagging, fabric like qualities of crochet? This is a conscious decision on my part. For some time, I've been making representational work, and I'm interested in that moment when you realize that the object in front of you is actually made of yarn. This recognition and the humor, discomfort or bewilderment it causes compel folks to consider the ideas I'm putting in front of them. If all of the work was limp, it wouldn't have the same effect.

Locker Room
2011
Installation
12' x 19'

OPP: Did you know before you started Locker Room (2011) that you would crochet the entire room or did it evolve after you made a single sculpture? Did you have assistants?

NV: I set out to make an entire locker room. Of course, the execution of this changed over time and was refined as I started to make the piece. But, there is quite a bit of pre-planning in an installation of this size. I did have some assistance on this piece. It took me over a year from start to finish, and I had one friend who spent a week with me knitting away. I couldn't have finished it without her. (Thanks Courtney!) In addition, the Bellevue Arts Museum gave me a sum of money to assist in getting the piece done, and Lion Brand yarn donated all the yarn! It takes a village sometimes.

OPP: How do you feel about using assistants in your work?

NV: My ideas about employing assistants have changed over the years. When I first started making art, I thought it was a huge sell-out to have any help. I wanted my own hands to make every inch of every sculpture. I still feel a connection to the art and want to be involved, however, I have come to realize that my dreams are often bigger than there is time in the day. At some point if you want to make large scale projects, you just have to have help. So, I have enlisted a few people for projects since Locker Room. I still do all the designing and make all the swatches, but I hand off very simple tasks to others when time requires. For instance, I made over 1,000 sticks of crocheted dynamite for a recent installation, DON'T MAKE ME count to three!, and I definitely had help making the tubes for the dynamite. Because I feel the need to be involved and actually touch the art, I made a ton as well and assembled everything myself. On the whole, I do my own work. But sometimes you just need that extra pair of hands!  

As a side note, I have met some of the most interesting people by hiring assistants. I prefer to use community-based services like Craigslist to seek them out, and I have a small group of people I am now friendly with because of my artwork!

Men's Room
2007
Crocheted cotton thread, framed
14" x 19"

OPP: In recent work, you appear to be shifting away into new territory. For example, Joystick and Play with Me (both 2011) seem more about nostalgia and the differences and similarities between playing video games and doing handicrafts. And then there are the crocheted gas masks. Are these about connections between gender, aggression and war? Or is this a break from previous subject matter?

NV: That's a very good question. It's funny how clearly one thing leads to another within an artist's mind, but from the outside it's a completely different story! When I started working with crochet, I was very interested in ideas surrounding gender and gender permissions. I found it interesting that men were allowed to do some things and women others. Where do these ideas come from? Who decides these things? How does it affect us as individuals? What objects or symbols speak of gender and why? This is where the boy toys came from. For me, these objects are clearly cemented in masculine culture, as if to say, "This is what it means to be a man."

I was on this kick of recreating objects that said "boy" or "man," when I realized that a lot of the work I was making dealt with aggression and violence. I began to think deeper about this and noted that strength is almost always connected with masculinity. And, what is the easiest way to express strength? Through weapons. By projecting a sense of power. This led to my interest in power relationships, and I started to use yarn as a metaphor for weakness against these strong and powerful weapons. I am still dealing with these ideas today and picking them apart.

Be Good for Goodness Sake
2012
Yarn, wood, bench, astroturf, cameras, iphone
8' x 8'
Project Venue: Fountain Art Fair in Collaboration with Alex Emmart of Mighty Tanaka

OPP: I actually see the crochet and the yarn as representing the strength in those pieces. Obviously, dynamite has more brute force, more physical strength than yarn, but I think of weapons as representing fear. Humans never would have developed weapons if we hadn’t feared that we weren’t naturally strong enough to defend ourselves. In life or death situations, violence and aggression are necessary to defend ourselves. But in contemporary life, most violence is a response to an imagined threat, not an actual one. That’s why the connectivity and flexibility represented by the web of the crochet—not to mention the therapeutic, meditative  benefits—seems to offer an alternative to the fight/flight response. Thoughts?

NV: I can see your point about weapons being borne out of fear. That is definitely the case. And, I agree that most threats these days are imagined. For me the dynamite made of yarn in DON'T MAKE ME count to three! is analogous to a world of empty threats. We are often in power relationships where we follow orders or instructions—first from our parents, then our teachers and bosses and governments—because we are told to, without thinking about whether it is in our best interests. Because these threats exist—you'll get a spanking, you'll go to hell, you won't make enough money—we stick with the program, often missing the fact that the consequences are insignificant or inconsequential.

OPP: What other pieces exploring power dynamics are you planning or working on?

NV: I will be showing Be Good for Goodness Sake, an installation I made in collaboration with Alex Emmart, along with several other pieces related to the installation in December at the Muriel Guepin Gallery in New York City. This piece speaks directly to the power dynamics that exist in a world of constant surveillance. We've been told through the years by religion that the gods are watching us. We better not screw up or we'll suffer eternal damnation. As technology has developed we've found ways to install actual physical presences to watch over us and keep us in line. These ideas are explored through a series of security cameras, doilies, as well as broadcast footage and encourage the viewer to contemplate such issues. Is this something we are comfortable with? Does our behavior change when we are on view? And, what role do we play in this relationship?

To see more of Nathan's work, please visit nathanvincent.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 spiritual significance of repetition 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. Her solo exhibition I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For is on view at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) until December 6, 2013, and she is currently preparing for another solo exhibition titled Everything You Need Is Already Here (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Emily Barletta

Untitled 40 (detail)
2013
Thread and paper
12.25 x 13.75 inches

EMILY BARLETTA’s accumulations of embroidery and crochet stitches mark the passage of time. Her recent embroideries on paper are formal abstractions that reveal a connection between organic growth and human mark-making, inviting the viewer to contemplate the relationship of the individual parts to the whole. Emily received her BFA from The Maryland Institute College of Art (2003). She is a Pollack-Krasner Foundation Grant recipient (2011) and a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellow in Crafts (2009). Recent exhibitions include Art/Sewn at the Ashville Art Museum and The Sum of the Parts at Maryland Art Place. Emily’s work is currently on view in Repetition & Ritual: New Sculpture in Fiber until May 25, 2013 at The Hudgens Center for the Arts (Deluth, Georgia). Emily lives in Brooklyn, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your recent embroideries on paper are compositionally simple and conceptually complex. They are formal abstractions made from one or two repeated gestures, but the accumulation of the stitched marks doesn’t only use repetition as a compositional element. It provides an opportunity to contemplate the nature of repetition. What does repetition mean to you?

Emily Barletta: In the recent works on paper, I have been thinking about building walls, piles and mountains. The repetitious stitch is a way for me to fill up a surface and create these imaginary structures, much in the same way they would be built in real space, by adding piece to piece. A stitch, whether it is embroidered or crocheted, equals a mark. If I accumulate enough marks of any kind I can grow a structure or build a pile. It takes time to physically pull a thread through paper or to do a crochet stitch, so this mark becomes the record of the space in time when this action occurred. With my early crochet work, the same piece by piece accumulation referenced cellular structures, molds and plants growing.

Untitled 31
2012
Thread and paper
18 x 24 inches

OPP: Why do you choose to embroider on paper instead of fabric?

EB: Over the last 10 years I’ve tried embroidering many times on fabric only to be frustrated with the result. I always wanted the fabric to be more solid and less flimsy. It was really difficult to have a thread tension I was happy with.

Sewing on paper changes the art from being an object to being a drawing or a painting. I went through a change in my thinking where I became concerned with how people display art in their homes. I looked at the art I own and display at home and thought about the sculptural and crocheted art I was making at the time. I had a hard time imagining it in someone’s home. I was also frustrated with how every single crocheted wall piece I made created it’s own dilemma of how to hang it. I wanted my work to be simpler and possibly more accessible. I wanted to be able to visualize my art on someone’s wall, but I also wanted to create something that a person would want to live with.

OPP: How does sewing on paper change the process? Is the composition preplanned or determined intuitively as you go?

EB:  I usually have a specific vision in mind when I start. Sometimes I lay a drawing on tracing paper over the real paper and poke holes through it, but the tracing paper is more of a guide than something I follow exactly. If there isn’t a drawing, then I usually fill out the paper with a base color as a guide and I pick out the colors before I start. I poke the holes as I go. I look and see where I want the stitch to be or the next several stitches and I poke the holes, sew through them and then repeat. When you sew on fabric you can just put the needle through, but if I did this with paper it would crinkle or bend, and the holes might tear. I have a strong need to keep the paper as pristine as possible.

Spill
2006
Crocheted yarn
33 x 50 x 2 inches

OPP: You mentioned your early crochet work, which is more sculptural and draws connections between our bodies and the environment. Pieces like Untitled (goiter) (2008) and Untitled (spleen) (2008) and Scabs (2008) reference the body, while other pieces reference organic forms like water, barnacles and moss. Why is crochet particularly suited to exploring organic forms? Any plans to go back to it?

EB: The form of crochet stitches is organic in nature. It makes soft curves and not hard lines. Again I had a problem with the softness of the material. Also, I was frustrated with the great amount of time it took to complete a crocheted work. For me, each piece of art leads to the next, but when I spent too much time on one, I would often lose the next idea before I would get to it. So there was a lack of flow and connectedness between my thinking and my studio practice. I have some ideas for large site-specific crocheted work I would like to make some day. If the opportunity presents itself, I may go back to it, but for now I am very satisfied with the speed and possibilities of sewing on paper.

OPP: How often is making your work grueling or monotonous? How often is it a delight?

EB: If the work feels grueling or monotonous, I give up and try something else. I am a firm believer that the act of making is supposed to be enjoyable. I think it is almost always a delight or, at the very least, relaxing.

OPP: I’ve heard a lot of viewers respond to embroidery work by commenting on the patience of the artist. Viewers who’ve never used these techniques can’t comprehend what the experience is like; they say they could never have done it. Do viewers comment on your patience? If so, is it a distraction from the content of your work or does it add to the content?

EB: I definitely get those comments about patience. I also get questions about how long it takes to make something. It can be distracting, but I think of the drawings as recordings of the passage of time, so it makes sense that other people would identify with that aspect of the work. However, the work doesn’t require patience because I love doing it.

Untitled 6
2011
Thread and paper
18 x 24 inches

OPP: There is an unfortunate but enduring cultural assumption that embroidery is women's work. This idea dates back to the Victorian era when a woman's value as a wife was symbolized by her embroidery skills, despite the fact that men and women actually embroidered alongside one another in guilds in earlier eras. Embroidery is increasingly more accepted as a significant form of art, but these gendered assumptions about materials and techniques still persist. I'm curious about your personal experience. Have you ever experienced this dismissive attitude about your chosen medium? Is it changing?

EB: The fact that I sew doesn’t come from any social, political or feminist agenda. It’s just what I enjoy doing. I have experienced this dismissive attitude. Usually it is not from inside the art world but rather from people who might not understand the art world. They relate what I’m doing to something they’ve seen in a craft context or they want to try to replicate my work as a craft project. I don’t know if there has been a shift, but I do hope to see more exhibits that hang paintings next to drawings next to something sewn. I already see that happening with several contemporary artists—Louise Bourgeois, Orly Genger, Ghada Amir, Ernesto Neto, and Sheila Hicks, to name a few—who have paved the way in the contemporary art world for fiber to be seen as an acceptable medium.

OPP: Last fall, you quit your day job to make art full-time, something most of us artists fantasize about. Congratulations! What’s hard about it that you didn’t expect? What's amazing about it? Any advice for artists who want to move in that direction?

EB: When I quit I knew it wasn’t going to be forever. I’m currently in the process of trying to find a job again. But it’s been the most positive art-making experience of my life. There honestly hasn’t been anything hard about it for me. I think it’s possible that some people could have trouble with the isolation of being alone all the time, but I really like being alone. It’s great to be able to finish work more quickly and really be present in the making process from one day to the next. My general advice is to be nice and take time to personally respond to any inquiry you get about your artwork. Networking, even if over the Internet, is really important. Also, apply for grants and shows. Do the research. You should spend as much time on the business end of running your studio as you do making art. 

To see more of Emily's work, please visit emilybarletta.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).