Just When I Unearthed the Instinct to Soften, 2016
Transformation, both planned and accidental, is central to MARY GRISEY's installations. Working with rust as a dye, hand-woven sisal, linen and raffia and collapsed ceramic vessels, she embraces the unexpectedness of loss and decay. Informed by a metaphysical approach to materials and process, she "reveals the ruin and beauty of both the body and the psyche." Mary earned her BA in Painting and Drawing at Marist College (Poughkeepsie, NY), her BFA in Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and her MFA at York University (Toronto, Canada). Recent solo exhibitions include Cloth Dripping (2016) at Xpace Gallery in Toronto and Sung From the Mouth of Cumae (2015) at Art Gallery of Mississauga, both in Ontario, Canada. She's been an Artist-in-Residence at Artcroft (Carlisle, Kentucky), The Drake Lab: Akin Collective Studio Residency (Toronto) and Vermont Studio Center (Johnson, Vermont). Mary is based in Los Angeles, California.
OtherPeoplesPixels: What is the relationship of construction and deconstruction in your work? Are these simply processes or also content?
Mary Grisey: The relationship between construction and deconstruction comes from my interest in ruination, ephemerality and how my materials shift and change through destructive and manipulative processes. Through the cycle of loss and decay, something becomes new, and I believe there is true beauty in that.
The process of making my art becomes the content. Creating informs the work, and the meaning and content of what I’m doing develops as I make. Because of this, I never really know the title of my exhibitions until the work is 80% finished. Sometimes I never know how to fully talk about a show, until a few years later will it make sense. Working in an intuitive way has always been my strength, as if channeling some higher source, and then funneling it into the work.
For Leth, 2014. Hand-dyed sisal, rusted steel and sound. 8' x 8' x 4.' Photo credit: Thomas Blanchard
OPP: You have a pretty consistent neutral color palette of
browns, blacks and reds. What influences your palette? What do you seek
to evoke with it?
MG: The colors I am drawn to are informed by my interest in our natural world. Lately I have been very interested in the alchemy of rust as a dye and the exploration of ideas like weathering and time by experimenting with transformative dyes. Specifically I am fascinated with simulating water lines and traces of sediment that have been left behind. I search for abandoned rusted metal objects outside and apply them to my handwoven surfaces, creating imprints from the rust. I love experimentation-driven processes that allow contingency and accidents into the work, and I am discovering the limitations of my work by learning how to transgress these boundaries.
The use of black in my work represents weight and heaviness. It’s a mood or emotion I want to convey when I am feeling intense. Red shows up in my work from my interest with the “insides” of a body and the fragility of what makes us human. Red can represent blood or flesh, the inner-workings of the body, which we all share, and what makes us vulnerable. My color palette always returns to the confrontation with our mortality.
Cloth Dripping, 2016. Handwoven & hand-dyed linen, rope,
cheesecloth, rust, acid dye, black tea, black walnut, terra cotta and
sound. Photo credit: Yuula Benivolski
OPP: Tell us about the ceramic forms—which I read as some kind of holy water fonts—the sound that emerges from them in both Sung from the Mouth of Cumae (2015) and Cloth Dripping (2016).
MG: The ceramic forms emerged in my work as a way to both house the sound I am creating and to represent a feeling of sanctuary, shrine and holiness. I wanted the sounds to emerge from an unseen place as if coming up from the depth of a well, like haunted echoes.
The contrast and duality between hard and soft surfaces of the fired clay and the malleable woven fibers fascinate me. When clay is soft, you can mold it into whatever mass or form you desire, very similar to fiber. But when the clay is fired or when the fiber is woven, it is fixed in its permanent state. I love the potential of the materials before they become permanent in their set form.
The ceramic sculptures themselves are geological in form, evoking the mouth of the cave of Cumae or the Leucadian Cliffs. My way of arriving at their end form came as a sort of happy accident in the studio. Before one of the stacked pieces was fired in the kiln, it collapsed. I totally misjudged that it was fully dry—I can be quite impatient sometimes!—and attempted to move it. When it collapsed, it fell into this super beautiful, ruinous shape. So I decided that was going to be my clay-building process moving forward, which is interesting because I am following the habitual process of construction and deconstruction that I use in my textile work.
Sung From the Mouth of Cumae, 2015. Handwoven & hand-dyed
linen and raffia, earthenware, sound. Dye is made from bleach and found
rusty objects. Sound credit: In collaboration with Brooke Manning. Photo
credit: Toni Hafkenscheid
OPP: Aside from making large-scale sculptural installation, you also have a line of jewelry called Meta.
In conventional thinking, jewelry and sculpture are very different—one
is art and one is craft. But both have a distinct relationship to the
body. How is the body present in each of these practices?
MG: The exploration of the body is a continual force in my art practice. I think the reason why I stepped away from painting (when I first started making art years ago), was because the viewer couldn’t engage with it like installation or sculptural work. My most recent installation consisted of a series of handwoven panels hung from the ceiling in a semicircle. By suspending the work from the ceiling, it delineates space—from inside to outside—creating boundaries that define the environment, allowing the viewer to experience the work by walking inside and around it. I wanted to create architectural yet bodily pieces, in which the monumental size of this work demands one’s attention so you are confronted with it.
Right now I am thinking about the vulnerable body, as my materials—rope, dyes and rubber latex—ooze down my woven structures like intestines and skin. There is an emotional link to the liminality of inside and outside, connecting our underlying humanity and showing the sheer vulnerability of a body turned inside out for the viewer to see.
I have always been interested in body adornment and the idea of wearing an object or talisman that holds power. Creating wearable objects shifts my process into a much more limited approach because I have to consider the exact size, shape, and way the piece will lay on the body and how it will feel. Jewelry-making is more technical, whereas my art practice is much more unconscious and free.
Remains of the Ephemeral II, 2014. 30" x 5." Horsehair, hand-dyed cheesecloth and rubber latex. Photo credit: Thomas Blanchard
OPP: Do you see jewelry making as part of your art practice or as a way to earn money by selling accessible/affordable objects?
MG: Jewelry is definitely a more accessible way to make income and for people to enjoy my work, as it is affordable for most. Whether or not to separate the two practices has been a big, burning question of mine for years. I am still slightly unsure. My interest in jewelry-making and art have always ran parallel with one another. I go through stretches of focusing on them separately, but never really together. During one of my critiques in graduate school, I was asked how my art straddles craft and that question really bothered me because I don’t consider my art “craft.” Instead of letting that critique insult me, I really considered it and decided to embrace craft within my practice. My weaves are becoming much tighter, my dye process is more complex, and I am looking into technique and structure a little closer than before. Lately I have been thinking of combining the two modalities (art and jewelry) as adorning the body with my work during live performance.
Cradling: In Ruins, 2014. Found barn wood, hand-dyed and burned sisal. 6' x 5' x 4.' Photo credit: Thomas Blanchard
OPP: You were featured last year on canadianart.ca, and in a short video in your studio,
you mentioned that the best advice you’ve received is that “the work
needs to be coming from a place of urgency, and that without urgency,
the work is meaningless.” Can you talk more in depth about this urgency?
MG: The whole topic of urgency came to me during a studio visit with a well-known artist in Toronto. I was struggling with a few different concepts in grad school and felt unsure as to which direction to pursue. I was making these really awful plaster casts of my body that were really dark, disembodied and visceral. I was working through various ideas and concepts in the studio that I felt I needed to purge, which brings me back to this concept of urgency—an important and persistent need to release without overanalyzing. Even though I didn’t end up exhibiting these plaster casts, it was important to process these ideas of urgency, otherwise I wouldn’t have arrived to the work I am creating now. Urgency is about honesty and intuition—to trust that the work is unfolding in a way that will communicate the inner workings of an artist’s unconscious. When an artist is making work strictly to sell or copy, it becomes painfully obvious that the work is coming from a dishonest place and not from deep within. It takes so much courage to make work from a place of urgency.
OPP: What’s urgent for you in your work at this moment?
MG: Right now I am working through some personal demons within my work. Every time I release a new body of work, it becomes more vulnerable. My recent foray into adding sound to my installations has given the work another sensorial element that draws the viewer further into the experience. These sounds are coming from my voice, which is quite vulnerable in itself to “expose” a part of me. In addition to the sound, one can smell the dyes from my textiles, the earth that it was buried under, and maybe the char that it was burned by. The urgency to facilitate in the experience of the viewer’s senses is important to me, so that to engage with my installations is to become a part of it, to get inside it.
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 shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.