OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Erika Roth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia created site-responsive installations for two-person show Form Unbound (2015) at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL) and SENTIENCE (2016) at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Her work was recently included in SHOWROOM, curated by Edra Soto, at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition. Stacia is currently preparing for a two-person show titled Resist the Urge to Press Forward with Brent Fogt at Riverside Art Center (Riverside, Illinois) and Sacred Secular, a solo show at Indianapolis Arts Center in Indiana.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews 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 Carrie Dickason

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shifting Focus
Installation
2015

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

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

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

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

Shifting Focus
2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Kirsten Furlong

Promise and purpose, the Ancestors' dream
Collage, ink, graphite, and colored pencil on paper
60"x 60"
2014

KIRSTEN FURLONG explores the interplay between culture and nature and the multifaceted relationships between humans and animals in her drawings, prints and fiber-based installations. In her project Unchopping a Tree, based on the eponymous W.S. Merwin prose poem, she laments the lost lives of trees and the impossibility of reviving what has already died. Kirsten earned her BFA (1995) from the University of Nebraska in Omaha and her MFA (2000) from Boise State University in Idaho. Recent solo exhibitions include Kirsten Furlong: Repeat and Shift (2014) at Enso Arts in Boise, Idaho and Standing Still and Moving Through The Wilderness at Coconino Center for the Arts in Flagstaff, Arizona. Her work is included in Dog Head Stew | The Second Course, which just opened this week on October 19, 2015 at Gallery 239, Chadron State College in Nebraska. Another group show, Paper West, opens on November 5, 2015 at Gittins Gallery in Salt Lake City, Utah. In September 2015, she was the Artist-in-Residence at Crooked Tree Art Center in Traverse City, Michigan. She is the Gallery Director and Curator for the Visual Arts Center and a Lecturer at Boise State University. Kirsten lives in Boise, Idaho.

OtherPeoplesPixels: In your artist statement, you say, "animals serve as emblems of nature and as metaphors for human desires." It seems to me that human desires aren't that different from animal desires. What does it mean for our relationship to animals that we turn them into metaphors for our own experiences rather than imagining their experiences?
 
Kirsten Furlong: Animals, in many cases, carry the weight of our cultural baggage which can make it very unclear what anyone’s actual desires may be, animal or human. The most basic and necessary human desires may be for water and air, and yet we engage in activities that foul these resources and deny both humans and animals access to them.

However, a species becoming emblematic has occasionally been useful if they get our attention due to a larger narrative or problem. For example, the near destruction of bald eagles from DDT and the subsequent ban and recovery. There is such an incredible complexity of animal identities, politics and cultural identities tied to the land and species that reside therein. This dynamic takes on particular qualities here in the Western U.S. Thoughtful consideration of the experiences of animals such as wolves, sage grouse, or the giant Palouse earthworm would certainly steer our treatment of their lives in a different directions than they seem to be currently heading.

Investigations in experimental garments for animals
Inkjet print
24"x 30"
2013

OPP: Could you tell us about your experimental garments for animals? Why do these birds need hats?
 
KF: The “garments” started as three-dimensional studio sketches created from hand-made and hand-stitched wool felt. The initial forms were created as protective outer-wear with architectural qualities designed for a few particular birds, insects and small mammals. These forms were intended for a project in which they would be placed in environments to be discovered by these species. The subsequent interactions, collaborations—or lack there of—would generate ideas for the future completed designs. While impatiently awaiting these collaborations and sometimes storing the forms on the head of a taxidermied chuckar partridge in my studio, their unintended, uncanny resemblance to various hats or historic head gear became apparent: dunce caps, papal mitre, bonnets, chaperons, hoods, and military gear. So, while there is no need on the bird's part for a hat, providing one points out, in an ironic way, the uniquely human need for adornments and accoutrements.

standing still - tree circle (detail)
Ink drawing on paper
30"h x 22"w
2012

OPP: How does your use of repetitive mark-making—in the forms of drawing, cutting and sewing—in pieces like Standing Still - Tree Circle (2012), Twice: Migration (2009) and Wolf Mouth (2013) support the content of your work?
 
KF: My process is to mimic forms and patterns made by plants and animals: tree rings, concentric lines on seashells, woven grass in a bird nest, fractal patterns on ferns and corals, spider webs, or the meandering line of a snake. This is a way of understanding natural processes via imitation and representation using the tools of the artist —the pen, the blade, the needle. 


OPP: I like imagining Nature making marks in the same way an artist does, as if it is cognizant and self aware. Perhaps we should go back to the tradition of anthropomorphizing Nature itself, as used to occur in ancient myths . . . might we treat it better if we thought of Nature as a creative being deserving empathy?

KF: This is not just a belief of the past but a way of thinking that is embraced in a number of cultures, and it can have a profound impact on how one exists as a part of Nature. Many dismiss systems of thought like anthropomorphism and animism or consider them only as cultural constructs, but I think a more nuanced approach that crosses the boundaries of natural sciences and arts/humanities is where the most interesting discussions are taking place.

Unchopping a Tree #8
String and poplar tree
2015

OPP: You just returned from a residency at Crooked Tree Arts Center in Northern Michigan. What drew you to this residency and what did you work on while you were there?
 
KF: I have never visited the area, and I like to invigorate my studio practice by situating it now and then in unfamiliar places. Also, I had the opportunity to teach a workshop called Image Layering with Printmaking, Painting and Drawing. I introduced a variety of techniques for mark making including frottage, chine colle' and image transfers. For the frottage process, I demonstrated how to use found textures of wood grain, stones and plants with printmaking inks and graphite on thin papers. Then I showed the process of cutting and adhering these images /patterns to thicker papers and adding additional images with transfers /drawing/painting.

This temporary move from the late summer high desert to the leafy landscape of Northern Michigan's forest preserves and great lakes provided much to investigate. The most fascinating discoveries on the shore of Lake Michigan were the unique geological features - the fossil patterns of Petoskey stones and chain coral influenced some of the drawings I worked on during the stay. The Crooked Tree program is unique in that the artist stays in a private studio and apartment adjacent to the residency hosts' home. The hosts are very knowledgeable about the area and the local flora and fauna and shared a lot of useful information about the region. I also created some site specific works related to my Unchopping a Tree series in a grove of poplars a short walking distance from the studio. I had the opportunity to visit Headlands, one of few designated International Dark Sky Parks, which has me thinking a lot about darkness and nocturnal environments as threatened natural resources.

Rings - September 2013
Tree branches
15' diameter

OPP: Do you see Unchopping a Tree (2013) as part of the trajectory of the earthworks of the 1970s?
 
KF: It's interesting to consider. Unchopping a Tree was inspired by a W.S. Merwin prose poem of the same name that was originally published in 1970. It’s publication and the earthworks are contemporaneous with the 1970s environmental movement and federal legislation for water, air and wilderness. They also coincide with my youth. Although I lived in cities and had no connection to wilderness or National Parks, I was still influenced by the cultural milieu of Woodsy the Owl, Smokey the Bear and collected what I could find from my backyard for “nature crafts.”
 
As an adult, I have visited many of the major earthwork sites of the West. If we can consider the trajectory and its many branches to include the influence of artists like Joseph Beuys and Richard Long, than perhaps what I’m doing is an offshoot from that. The major difference is the scale. Monumental alterations of the landscape like Double Negative, Spiral Jetty and Roden Crater are gigantic gestures. I tend to focus on smaller, and in some cases, nearly invisible patterns and processes. I concentrate on the details, which is what really struck me about the Merwin work. This written work essentially instructs the reader how to put back together a tree that has been cut down and all of the directives are, of course, impossible. The passages about sawdust and spider webs and nests are what really got me thinking about intricacy and what one likely wouldn’t see at all. That is the larger metaphor that moves me. When it come to the environment, we’ve gone so far down the path of destruction and removal, it seems unlikely that the damage can be undone or even sufficiently repaired.

To see more of Kirsten's work, please visit kirstenfurlong.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 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 Daniel Kornrumpf

Coy Gu
Oil on canvas
42" x 48"
2015

DANIEL KORNRUMPF's oil paintings of close friends and family members and embroideries of strangers found on social media remind us to consider the intimacy and agency of looking and being looked at. While the paintings harken back to the tradition of sitting for a portrait, in which there is a tangible interaction between the artist and the subjects, the embroideries hint at the disembodied way his subjects present themselves online: they know they're being seen, but never experience the Gaze directly. Daniel earned his BFA in 2005 from Kutztown University in Pennsylvania and MFA in 2007 from Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. His solo exhibition Observing Energies opened at Emmanuel College in Boston in January 2015. Daniel is represented by Blank Space Gallery in New York. He lives in Berkley, Massachusetts.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Portraiture is one of the very oldest genres of art. Why is it still relevant today?

Daniel Kornrumpf: Portraiture remains relevant for so many reasons. The human figure is a recognizable, universally relatable subject, no matter how realistic or minimally abstract the person is depicted. Through fashion and through the application of material, portraits can speak to the zeitgeist of a certain era. Portraits will continue to be relevant as long as they offer some record or document that speaks to the time period in which they were created. The most interesting portraits tell more about the artists who created them and their way of seeing than about the personality or likeness of the individual they’re depicting.

Austin Texas
Hand embroidered on canvas (detail)
42" x 36"
2009

OPP: You paint portraits and embroider them. What's the distinction for you in terms of subject? Who becomes an embroidered portrait versus a painted one?

DK: I was trained as an observational painter, and I would ask friends of mine to come and sit in my studio to pose for a painting. As I eventually started to run out of friends, thoughts about other ways to represent the figure entered into my work. In my down time between models, I began drawing people’s portraits from their social media profile photos. I started to think about the ways in which people are connected online and felt that embroidery thread could be a powerful metaphor for this idea of connectedness. The thread of the portrait is the same as the thread of the linen that it is woven in to.

The portraits that I choose to embroider are from images that I have found through countless hours of viewing online profiles, saving photos of people I find attractive, humorous, overly vain or compelling to me in some subjective way. I have never met any of the people I have embroidered. They are all strangers. My desire to connect with these virtual people compels the act of making something physical, an object, developed over time where a different, internal connection has been formed from something intangible.

The people I choose to paint, however, are my close, personal friends and family members. The act of sitting in a room with someone, having conversations that take place over multiple sessions, all while building a painting, is an experience that forces me to slow down and be present, creating a state of awareness that I don’t reach in any other of my other daily experiences.

no mold gold teeth
Hand embroidered on linen (with detail)
42" x 36"
2013

OPP: This brings up issues of intimacy and agency. When you ask your friends and family to sit for a portrait, they can say no. Do you ask permission to use the likeness of the compelling strangers you find online?

DK: No, I don't ask for permission beforehand. But I have, once the embroidery is finished, sent the person an image of the work. I expect them to be slightly creeped out or confused, but they've always been impressed and grateful, asking me to let them know when or where it will be exhibited.

OPP: Could you talk about the ratio of image scale to canvas scale in the embroidered portraits?

DK: The choice to create small portraits floating in the centers of large stretched canvases was to give the viewer a bit of context as to where the images came from; that it was not only a photographic reference, but one that was appropriated from online. The heads float like computer icons in a non-space similar to that of the computer screen. I also wanted to call attention to the linen as a material, not simply as an armature but as a woven surface, made up of individual threads, similar to the portrait. In addition, the space around the heads help to pull the viewer in to the work, allowing a closer inspection of the more intimate details without the distractions of the edge or supporting wall. 



Dena with her purse (in process)
Oil on canvas
2010

OPP: Empty space also shows up in your painted works. In pieces like Mr. David Lasley (2012), Tom (2007) and Dena with Arms Crossed (2007), the figures are not completely painted in. On the one hand, I think about your conscious decision as the painter to "not finish." But it also reads like the color has been drained from the person or that the figure is disappearing in some places. How do you think about the transparency in these pieces?

DK: The unpainted areas in the paintings do a few different things for me. For one, there is a “matter-of-factness” to some of the outcomes. For instance, in the painting Tom (2007), he could only pose for two hours, so what is shown is all I was able to get on the canvas in that window of time. I enjoy that element of urgency and spontaneity, and it showcases what I find to be priority in a portrait.

I also value artists that let you see their process in their paintings like Paul Cezanne, Alice Neel, or George Baselitz. The unpainted areas in my work allows the viewer to see the tricks or steps that go into creating an image: the evidence of drawing, the correcting or restating of a pose or gesture. They also create moments for visual rest or places to “breathe” in the painting. I find that when I make paintings that cover the entire surface, it not only hides my process but removes some of the life in the painting, zapping some of that spontaneous energy that I’m trying to preserve.

Ben Bois
Oil on canvas
2010

OPP: What's going on in your studio right now? Any new work in progress?

DK: I just completed an eight month fellowship at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts that ended in June. It was a very productive year and I was able to make new paintings and reconnect with friends that I haven’t seen in awhile. I have a few exhibitions in the works this winter, one at Simmons College in Boston and one in Cambridge, Massachusetts, both of which will be exhibiting some new embroideries that I have recently started. My work is represented through Blank Space Gallery in New York so if you are interested in owning one of my pieces please contact them and please check back soon for some new work on my website. And thank you to OPP for creating an easy to use, professional looking platform to showcase what I make!

To see more of Daniel's work, please visit danielkornrumpf.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 Diana Gabriel

Projections
2014
String and wood

DIANA GABRIEL’s expansive, angular string installations are conversations between her, the material and the exhibition space. Her enduring exploration of the line is born of her training in painting and drawing, and the architectural space of the gallery is simply a new blank surface on which to make marks. Diana earned her BFA from Northern Illinois University in 2004 and her MFA from Illinois State University in 2007. She currently teaches at Harper College in Palatine and College of Lake County in Grayslake, Illinois. She is the co-founder of TheCGProject, a creative platform for artists and audiences with a shared vision of increasing appreciation and accessibility of art in our culture. Recent exhibitions include All In (2015), curated by Karen Azarnia for the Riverside Arts Center (Riverside, Illinois) and Transcending Boundaries (2014) at the Bridgeport Art Center (Chicago). Most recently, she collaborated with Rita Grendze on an installation inspired by the bobbins donated from an American textile company that closed its doors in 2009. American Spinner (1903-2009) is on view at Water Street Studios in Batavia, Illinois until August 22, 2015. Diana lives and works in Elgin, Illinois.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What does linearity mean to you? What's appealing about a straight line?

Diana Gabriel: A line is more than just the distance between point A and point B. It's one of the most basic and versatile of the art elements. We use line to communicate by changing its direction and length to create shapes in the written language. We’ve empowered it to create and negate, divide and connect, to add (+), subtract (-), and bring equality (=). Even within the context of our messages, we use line metaphorically. It’s cross-culturally embedded into our vulgar verbal and physical expressions. 


Ciclos
2014
String and wood

OPP: Your large-scale string installations respond to the architecture of the exhibition space and capitalize on tautness and tension to create straight lines in pieces like Trifecta (2014). But string also has the capacity to curve, and you make use of that in drooping pieces like Tracing Time (2012) and Under the Table (2013). What led you to include the curved line?

DG: In my practice, the straight line provides an underlying structure and sense of control. I’ve made it a rule to use straight lines as my starting guide to set the parameters of what I will and won't allow. However, another one of my rules is to keep my process organic and change those parameters as I go. In other words, I always bend the rules I set for myself. The straight line and its rigidity, visually and metaphorically, are the starting and finish line. The curved line, on the other hand, is the precarious improviser. It provides my process with a healthy balance. Maybe it’s my Libra nature, but I always find myself in the pursuit of balance. The straight, the curved, the taut and loose, the thick and thin are all ways of finding the perfect amount of balance within the work.

Reach Across
2013
Acrylic
12" x 12"

OPP:
Thinking about your string installations, your acrylic paintings of lined pattern and some early pieces using marking tape, I imagine a similar process of unrolling, unspooling and squeezing straight from the paint tube. How do these processes relate to drawing?

DG: I’ve always loved drawing. Its immediacy and spontaneity are playful traits I find important in art making. Most people have a studio in art school, but when you graduate you're faced with the fact you might have to use a corner of your room or a dinner tray as your studio. That was the moment when I began to think about making work out of existing spaces. It’s very liberating to have a different “surface” every time I make a piece. It also feels very natural to start a piece without the “blank canvas jitters” because the conversation has already started before I even get there. In my installations, I’m just responding to a space by drawing lines there-dimensionally from one edge of the room to another.

Under the Table
2013
Wood and mason line
10' x 13' x 13'

OPP: Is your response to those spaces improvisational or planned? Tell us a little about your process of installation.

DG: I normally study the space and do a few sketches that help me figure out color, mark and a general idea of the structure for each piece. I really enjoy making meticulous perspective drawings of the space. It helps me understand the height, width and distance between the multiple planes with which I’ll be working. Then I think about the type of marks I want to incorporate and how they’ll interact with the space.

I do, however, need to keep my process organic. Once in the space, I modify the piece as it develops. I see it as a conversation, not a lecture. It’s a two-way street, a give and take relationship. Sometimes I want the string to do a certain thing, like go in a specific direction or be tight in a certain spot, but the light won’t be right or the logistics of the space simply won’t permit me to do it. So improvisation becomes a large part of it. Those situations are nerve-racking but exceedingly exciting. That is when the magic happens because I have to put my plans and rules aside and work "with it.” It starts to feel like a collaboration of sorts.

Looping System (detail)
2011
String, nails and gaffers tape

OPP: What about the experience of deinstallation? Do you reuse the string?

DG: I get a lot of my drawing/ mark-making ideas for installations when I deinstall. I usually take many photos during this process. The breakdown is in some instances more enriching than the build up of the work. I’ve made it a habit of creating new “pieces” as I take others down. It's very exciting to cut the edges off of one plane and see the limpness versus the tautness of the string. I fall in love with those moments and try to incorporate them in creating new pieces. It’s pretty evident in a piece from 2012 called 342, which is when I first started incorporating this practice. The whole right side is one of my favorite parts of the piece.

Perhaps it’s because I see these new ideas under certain light and and with a specific material that I do tend to reuse my string. I also hate how wasteful art can be, so I work extra hard to save most of my materials. I have bins of string I hope to use one day. Art is the only aspect of my life where I allow myself to do a little hoarding. That and scarves.

Blue Window
2011
Acrylic, nails, and string on panel
8"x 8"

OPP: Your background is painting and drawing, but I see such an affinity for Fiber and Material Studies (my own background). Both weaving or crochet use the line in different ways. Weaving is a system of interconnected lines on a grid, while crochet is more akin to drawing in space with one looping line. Do you have any experience with these textile techniques?

DG: I never knew what drove me to the linear until I visited my childhood home in Colombia. I noticed all the baskets, plate settings, tablecloths, even the “carpetas” under the flower vases were woven, made through macrame or crocheted. I’ve always enjoyed lines and patterns because they felt familiar, but my connection to them has been solely through drawing. Being around all these hand-made things made me realize my linear bias made sense; it all suddenly clicked. I recognized that I come, not only from a long line of artisan women in my family, well versed in the “handy crafts”, but from a culture of talented people who resourcefully use these skills to survive.

Oscillating Reciprocity
2011
Cotton Yarn
Detail

OPP:
What can you tell us about what it's like to walk around in the string installations, since our readers can only experience your work online. I'd like to hear about your own experience and how they relate to your body, as well as any interesting comments you've received from viewers.

DG: I like to hang around the space while others experience my work. I enjoy when they find their favorite ”moment” and nook within the work. I especially like to hear them question and make assumptions about the process. I feel most connected with the viewer when the work triggers motor memory. We all know the motions of tying and pulling, or bunching and stretching. I use that as a way to connect the viewer with the process of making. With so much technology nowadays, we are losing touch with the instinct to pull and push, tie and unravel. . . to physically build and create. The idea of manual labor is somewhat repulsive to some and seen as unnecessary to most, but it’s extremely important to me. It’s honest, primal, human; a connection to our natural state.

To see more of Diana's work, please visit dianapgabriel.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 Melissa Leandro

Fracturada, Monument
2015
Woven fabric, plastic, vinyl, electrical tape on linen. Heat fused
82” x 100”

MELISSA LEANDRO creates complex, sumptuous surfaces using traditional textile techniques in unconventional ways. Her diverse repertoire includes drawing, hand embroidery, machine sewing, paper-making, felting, heat-fusing and weaving, and she ultimately balances all these in a symbolic exploration of her cultural identities as both Latina and North American. Melissa lives and works in Chicago. She is currently pursuing her graduate studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, while maintaining an active exhibition record. After winning the Juror’s Award at the 57th Annual Beloit and Vicinity exhibition in 2014, her solo exhibition Recuerdos de Un Paseo is on view at the Wright Museum of Art in Beloit, Wisconsin until August 2, 2015. Her work is included in the group exhibition, Mom & Pop: Family Business in Art and Life, curated by Anthony Stepter. It opened last week at Arts Incubator at the University of Chicago and will be on view until September 11, 2015.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us a little about your history with the various techniques you use in your practice. How does each feed into the others?

Melissa Leandro: I originally began with traditional floor loom weaving and then quickly moved to weaving with the aid of a digital Jacquard loom. I also have an obsession with learning and inventing new techniques while using my hands for repetitive and methodical systems of making.

Weaving and stitching follow a particular pattern—over under, up and down—but intentionally causing inconsistencies in that pattern to achieve an unconventional outcome is extremely satisfying. I’d like my work to constantly generate or branch off into new ideas. My process of making and thinking through ideas never completely ends. I often go back and fourth with imagery and process by using reoccurring marks and patterns from finished or in-progress works.

At the root of my practice is a perpetual interest in considering how to create harmonious combinations of process, material and pattern within a given object or textile. Over time, I’ve developed a working method that often calls for the fusion of materials into new textiles and surfaces through processes like heat-fusing, weaving, felting and paper-making. For example, I often build up multiple layers of plastic, paper, felt, yarn and fuse them together to create a new substrate. The materials are often cheap, cast-away domestic objects, like upholstery, tablecloths and polyester fabric. Through the process of weaving, elements of the original materials are hidden, exposed and thus fragmented. I use embellishment techniques like embroidery and stitching to further build up, expose or hide pattern and color.

Recuerdo, this and that
2015
Woven cotton, electrical tape on linen. Heat fused.
44” x 64”

OPP: What role does translation—in terms of materials, media, and language—play in your practice?

ML: I’m interested in moving sourced pattern and drawn lines through multiple processes of translation. I often begin with a base process—small-scale line drawings, two-dimensional collages or cyanotype prints, for example—that is consistent and has limited freedom in its output. I create these intimate, abstract works during moments of transit, extended travel or moments of boredom, usually in a sketchbook. Then I translate them through embroidery, machine sewing, paper-making, felting, heat-fusing and weaving. I enjoy the idea that my paper pieces can move through multiple iterations until they are drastically different from their original form, both in scale and texture.

Lately, this has been through the use of cyanotype or “sun prints.” Cyanotype, a photographic printing process that uses the sun for exposure, leaves only an impression of the original object. I imprint family trinkets and mementos, fabric, lace, leaves, rocks and small sculptures, but their nuanced textures and colors are stripped away. What remains is a distorted—translated—image of shapes and lines.

From here the image is traced, photocopied, cut and collaged to create new drawings, weavings and sculptural objects that only slightly echo the original linear elements of the cyanotype. The sentimentality of these objects becomes blurred and sometimes totally lost. My titles connect the final work with its original inspiration. Spanish phrases, words and slang in my titles often refer to being on journeys, endless paths, lost in mazes. Alternatively, there are more specific cultural adjectives about character and class.

I am conflicted by being a part of two different cultures, identifying myself as both American and Latina. I struggle with bouncing back and forth between thinking and speaking in English and Spanish. I’m continually concerned that one culture is becoming more dominant than the other. My practice has become a means to seek out systems that highlight these stark differences while forcing them to coexist within the same plane.

I'll make my own
2012
Jacquard weaving
26.5" x 36"

OPP: I love your idea of language as the "warp and weft of a mixed culture." Can you expand on that as it relates to Spanglish?

ML: In Miami, it’s common for people to speak in English but regularly use Spanish words or phrases as a form of slang. Although, I don’t live in Miami any more, I still occasionally use Spanglish and process thoughts and memories in both languages. As time progresses, it becomes difficult to differentiate whether memories were in one language or another; things are lost in translation.

This mixing of languages has often lead to the creation of new slang words, which correlates to the mixing of material textures in my practice. I combine natural with synthetic, bright with muted, digital with analog, just in the same way Miami was a collision of cultures, music, food and so on. There is also a huge contrast between the rural landscapes of Costa Rica—my family’s home country—and the more urban, party town that is Miami and now my urban home of Chicago. I find comfort in merging the physical qualities of a very rural landscape with the rich, hyper extreme colors that surround me in the U.S. Through material investigation, I believe this play between local and foreign influences will impact my work for some time to come.

Waist Side
2014
Jacquard weaving, gradient stitching

OPP: What's a "gradient stitch?" Tell us how you use it in your work.

ML: A “gradient stitch” is a term I use to describe a very dense zig-zag machine stitch that requires gradated sewing thread. Every sewn inch, changes thread color, fluctuating between three-five colors in one given spool of thread. The thread has a smooth transition between each color, allowing for solid, colored lines to be “drawn” on fabric. I frequently choose colors that are vivid or neon because they give a desired effect of vibrating on the fabric’s surface. Similar to my pen drawings on paper, I use sewn stitches to draw repetitive lines, dashes and shapes. By making crucial decisions on thread color, the sewn plane is alive and in constant transition. The end results are illustrations that resemble warped and deconstructed topographical maps.

Paz
2013
Braided tapestry warp on jacquard weaving
28" x 26"

OPP: In works from 2011 like Mi Mama, Mi Papa and La Familia, there were more literal references to your family and heritage. But in recent years, you have shifted more towards symbolic abstraction. In your statement, you say, "I create an inventory of symbols connected to [childhood] memories based on abstract structures, systems of map making, topography, and landmark images." Could you highlight a favorite recurring symbol for us?

ML: One repeating symbol in my work is a cluster of linear, mountainous forms, forming landscapes. Specifically, they are hill-like shapes that stack on top of one another, often consuming the paper, woven cloth or stitched fabric I’m working on. This symbol represents my affinity for rural environments. Growing up, I spent many summers in Costa Rica. I later realized the rural, mountainous and lush landscape subconsciously influenced what I was doodling in my sketchbook. As the imagery became more pronounced, my doodling turned into a body of drawings that depicted mountains, valleys, dirt mounds, roads and river paths. Now I spend much of my time in urban cities, so my drawing practice reconnect me with surroundings that are currently quite foreign to me. My drawings shift between landscape and aerial views. The symbols have also begun to mesh urban and rural elements together. I associate squares and straight lines with urban environments, while circular shapes represent rural/natural environments.

Untitled
2015
Synthetic weaving, plastic, rubber, electrical tape. Heat fused

OPP: You've also been working with the doily as a material symbol. What does it mean to you?

ML: Doilies have recently become an incredibly prominent symbol. The doily has a rich connection with home decoration, dinning and social class. I’m interested in thinking about how the doily has moved through materials; first as silk ornaments made for furniture coverings, then cotton doily placemats, to recent uses as plastic coasters and tablecloths. There is a fascinating juxtaposition between a handmade cotton doily heirloom and a mass-produced plastic, disposal doily coaster, which hints at a huge shift in class status and value for the handmade. The disposability of this symbolic object make me want to invest in it as pattern.

I have begun to weave with plastic doily tablecloths. I cut the material into strips, weave them together using a tabby construction and then heat-fuse the whole piece; the heat melts the plastic strips to form a new substrate. The imagery of the doily is fragmented and obscured by other woven-in, synthetic materials like plastic rug liners, disposable tablecloths, fabric gimp, trim and sequins. These cheap, domestic materials were a huge part of my childhood home, which was decorated with plastic dishware, textiles and furniture. My work reincarnates these utilitarian and disposable textiles into something surreal, gaudy and precious.

To see more of Melissa's work, please visit melissaleandro.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 Fafnir Adamites

Felted burlap, paper, felt
11'x 8'x 6'

Using the traditional craft techniques of felt-making, paper-making and embroidery, FAFNIR ADAMITES  creates both intimate, personal memorials and large-scale, abstract monuments. Influenced by theories of inherited trauma from previous generations, she employs the forms of the hidden mass, the implied void and traced/retraced text to provide viewers an opportunity for ongoing contemplation because, as she writes, “the surest engagement with memory lies in it's perpetual irresolution.” Fafnir graduated Cum Laude from University of Massachusetts, Amherst with a BA in Women’s  Studies and Photography in 2001. In May 2015, she earned her MFA in Fiber and Material Studies from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in. Her work will be included in Materialities: Contemporary Textile Arts, juried by Namita Gupta Wiggers. The show opens on August 27, 2015 at Arrowmont School of Craft in Craft in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Fafnir lives and works in Turners Falls, Massachusetts.

OtherPeoplesPixels: One of your staple processes is felt-making. Can you briefly describe this process for those who have never thought about felt before. Why do you choose this process? What's compelling about it conceptually and/or viscerally?

Fafnir Adamites: Felt is the oldest form of fabric, pre-dating knitting and weaving. It is the process of transforming loose, unspun wool into a tight, non-woven fabric. By adding hot, soapy water to the wool and agitating it—my particular process involves rolling and hand-manipulation—the wool fibers shrink and form a dense mass. I’ve always been drawn to intensive processes in the studio. I was a black and white darkroom nerd in undergrad. There’s something about the sharp grain of a perfectly developed photograph that relates to the fine surface of a well-felted object. Processes like these suit perfectionists. They can be unforgiving to the cocky and ultimately rewarding to the person who can slow down and collaborate with the materials and tools.

Predecessors
2014
Handmade felt, muslin, image transfer
Series of 6, each piece approximately 7"x 7"

OPP: What's compelling about felt-making conceptually and/or viscerally?

FA: The repetition of felt-making is part of the appeal for me. The time that’s required allows for meditation and demands physical stamina to see the process through to the end. The transformative quality of felt also intrigues me. Through the shrinking of the wool, I transcribe my actions and embed meaning into the surface of the material.

Felt is a chaos structure that is not constructed in a rigid, striated method like weaving. Felt, like paper, is a mass of unruly fibers. Deleuze and Guattari wrote about the smooth and the striated in A Thousand Plateaus. They make an interesting distinction between the infinite and open nature of felt-making and the spatially limited nature of a process like weaving which always consists of mobile and passive parts. These two distinct forms are inherently different yet wholly inseparable. The felted burlap technique that I have used in a number of recent sculptures is a combination of the smooth and the striated. The smooth, chaotic structure of the felt disrupts the rigid, striated formation of the woven burlap, creating a new beast all together. Chaos overtakes the ruthless grid.

Monument for the Irresolvable
2014
Felted burlap, paper, plastic, air
Approximately 16' x 10' x 4'

OPP: What Conceals and Monument for the Irresolvable, both 2014, formally represent unseen masses. The viewer only has access to the shell or shroud. Both pieces make me think of the idiomatic elephant in the room. What's the elephant in the room in these works?

FA: There is no discrete thing/trauma/experience that I am shrouding or covering up. So maybe the elephant in the room is in fact the elephant in the room. My intent was to designate space for contemplation on absence. The purpose is to shift the authority or the prescription of what is to be mourned and what is worthy of our grief and attention. Pursuing a void form was one method to fill the space and avoid a reference to any particular moment in time or any kind of conclusion.

My research on the counter-monument movement in Germany helped bring me to these void forms. I am particularly interested in how the counter-monument artists approached the conundrum of representing an absence. They were not moved to find closure or seek an end point to the traumas they were memorializing. Instead, they worked with the notion that the surest engagement with memory lies in its perpetual irresolution.

These pieces are less about what is being remembered, suppressed or hidden, and more about leaving space for whatever that phantom is that haunts us. Whether you do anything about it or not, I think it’s incredibly important to acknowledge that it is indeed there.

What Conceals
Felted burlap, debris
7'x 7'x 4'

OPP: Please talk about your text-based, textile works Writing Adamites (2014) and He Was a Worker (2014), in which you use embroidery to trace written language that relates to your ancestors. How do these pieces relate to your interest in patterns, both personal and collective?

FA: This work began with my research on Transgenerational Epigenetic Inheritance. This is the theory that environmental events, traumas and anxieties can be imprinted on a person’s DNA and passed down to future generations. I’m fascinated and frankly horrified by the idea that I may be trapped within the events and emotional fallout of generations before me, that I may be pre-programmed to react and exist based not on the current positive or negative forces in my life, but by the forces that were in place decades before me.

In trying to shed some light on my own family’s history, the act of retracing became a potent symbol and method of research, meditation and intimacy. I used the writing of a family friend, poet Robert Francis, to enter their lives and search for a likeness or some shred of familiarity. Physically tracing the words that described my grandfather, his parents and siblings was an act of reverence and a way to slow down and choose to exist within a storyline that I originally saw as a hereditary trap. Retracing someone else’s words, footprints or habits by choice rather than by force can lead to a power shift.

Writing Adamites
2014
Muslin, cotton batting, cotton thread, graphite
7'x 5'

OPP: Highlighting and obscuring are conceptual and formal strategies that overlap with one another in your work. Are these sometimes the same thing? Are they always the same thing?

FA: These strategies are definitely not static, which is part of what draws me to them. Sometimes I think I’m visually highlighting something when actually what I’m doing is obscuring it. As the maker, I can’t always pinpoint which is happening until after the fact. There’s a fluidity that exists in the searching. I’m intrigued by the way that the actions of underlining and redacting can contradict their own intended purposes. Frustratingly, clarity often eludes you when you search too forcefully. Obscuring, or allowing something to be opaque, can make it more approachable. Mucking around in the grey area ultimately dislodges something that is fundamental to a final exposure. Sometimes a guide is revealed in the process. This occurs in my work through the dislocation of meaning when words are redacted or highlighted within a text or when an image is physically altered during the felt-making process. Similarly, the visual signs of concealment are the best way to draw attention to it. 

Husk
Paper
56"x 32"x 32"

OPP: You literally finished graduate school a month and half ago. It's an experience that many artists have had, and we all know how intense, rewarding and difficult it can be. What was your experience like?

FA: Going back to school for my MFA degree at SAIC after over a decade of being out of school was a jarring experience for me. It forced me to examine a lot of my habits: as a student, an artist and a slightly misanthropic human. The advising sessions, critiques and constant examination of the minutiae of my thinking and my work was a lot like therapy. And it was just the kind of intensity that I needed. I entered knowing that I had to shed some old tendencies and blockages to be able to get deeper into the conceptual intentions of my work and to re-commit myself to my studio practice.

OPP: How does it feel to be entering the next phase of your artistic life? Are you on to new projects yet?

FA: It will take some time for me to fully process my MFA experience and reacclimate to my normal life. While I’m doing that, I have a day job at a special collections archive at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and will begin teaching felt-making and other fiber processes at Snow Farm in Williamsburg, Massachusetts. I’ve been researching for and designing a college level class which combines an intellectual investigation into the history of making and integrating traditional craft processes into fine art studio practice. I’ve also been writing an article on the marginalization of fiber art in the contemporary art world.

To see more of Fafnir's work, please visit fafniradamites.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 exhibitions include solo shows 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, as well as Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, at Design Cloud in Chicago (2014). Most recently, Stacia created  When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center. Closing reception guests were invited to help break down the piece by pulling pins out of the wall.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Erin Minckley Chlaghmo

2012
Found textiles, acrylic paint, gouache, PVA
52" x 34"

Drawing on personal experiences of alienation, assimilation and identity construction, artist and educator ERIN MINCKLEY CHLAGHMO explores the shifting line between experiences of belonging and not belonging in her textile-based work. Her large-scale sculptures are amalgamations of found and printed fabrics, combining patterns which carry seemingly disparate cultural, racial and religious associations. Her use of textiles highlights the similarity between animal (scales and plumage) and human (armor and clothing) means of camouflage and protection. Erin received her MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2012. Recent exhibitions include the first Interfaith Biennial at Dominican University (River Forest, Illinois), Fiber Options: Material Explorations at the Maryland Federation of Art (Annapolis, Maryland and Chroma at the Urban Institute of Contemporary Arts (Grand Rapids, Michigan). Flags Mistaken for Stars, Erin's collaborative project with artist Eric Wall, is on view on the roof of Lillstreet Art Center throughout October 2013, and there is a closing reception for the group show Fiber Optics on October 11, 2013 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Erin spends half the year in Chicago and the other half in Morocco, where she and her husband run an educational tourism company.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Could you talk generally about the interaction between the decorative and the protective in nature and in culture?

Erin M. Chlaghmo: I began to research camouflage a few years ago. I was interested in armor structures found in nature, such as fish scales, feathers, etc. There was this interesting moment where I realized that manmade armors are replicating those found on animals, and patterns that hide military vehicles, aircraft and soldiers are mimicking the landscape of a given region. Decoration is actually a survival technique. Without it, the form would be revealed as it moves or in contrast to the scenery. So, this is an integral part of how I build a motif or pattern structure. The individual unit or figure is disguised by the background or final form through the use of repetition and accumulation. The correlation to culture is that an individual can attempt to stand out or blend in depending on who they surround themselves with. Notions of belonging and un-belonging are themes that drive the work I make.

Manifest Destiny
2012
Fabric, felt, Moroccan textile, canvas, Heat 'n' Bond, hot glue, thread
12' x 14' x 3'

OPP: Why are textiles the perfect vehicle to explore belonging and barriers to belonging?

EMC: Fabric has a historical relationship to the body through garments, adornment, rights of passage and nomadic dwellings. Fabrics shape our lives. We feel at once welcome and familiar with certain cloths. We make associations to our personal experiences when we see materials like acrylic felt or wool or any material. Much of the work I make aims to start a conversation. An enormous textile like Phobia creates a relationship to the viewer's body and the architectural space, alluding to the infinite. It is bigger than me and you, and it is out of control. It is both scary and seductive.

OPP: You use both found textiles and print your own fabrics for use in your sculptures. Do you tend to print in response to what you find? Or do you seek out the textiles you need in order to execute your vision?

EMC: Pattern has the ability to signify culture. A textile's motif is a signifier of origin or utility: like a cross, an American flag or a Southwestern diamond shape. People have an immediate reaction to imagery on fabric and make assumptions about the content when it is recognizable. This is a complicated language to speak because I'm working with a plethora of borrowed and imagined patterns. It's sometimes very difficult to speak about personal experience through images that are collectively already familiar. I'm trying to mine imagery that is not familiar so that a viewer has to make a choice about their own relationship to the meaning of the work. I'm trying to ask the question: Can images belong to a certain culture? Can I borrow and alter them? What does it mean if I do this?

Many years ago, I went to JoAnn's Fabric looking for recognizable patterns. I found so many prints that shocked me: Confederate flags, cowboys and Indians, Kwanza, Virgin Mary, etc. I was disappointed that the only imagery of people was so cliché and politically incorrect. I wondered, "What in the world would you make out of this fabric? Why do people buy this? Do they buy this?" I couldn't imagine a pair of curtains or a quilt or a child's dress made from these prints! I couldn't see any imagery that I related to, even though it was familiar. I had hoped to make cloth that told a story about my life. I bought them all and decided to make an artwork that expressed my frustration. I wanted to comment on the images by painting and inserting imagery into the pre-existing patterns. I painted the Mormon temple into one fabric with an idyllic scene of churches because I felt right at home in a sea of steeples. I painted a small silhouetted teepee into the distant background of a pattern with silhouettes of cowboys on horses to represent the lack of historical accuracy when depicting the Wild West. I more or less left my paintbrush behind when I finished that body of work. I began to manipulate the fabric itself instead of adding pictures on top.

American History Caught with Its Pants Down
2010
Found textiles, acrylic paint, PVA, thread, zipper, ribbon
40" x 32"

OPP: In particular, you use a lot of Moroccan textiles. Could you tell us about your personal relationship to Morocco? Did your interest in Morocco stem from your work or did the work grow out of personal experience there?

EMC: I lead a sort of double life. My husband is a Moroccan immigrant, whose family members all still live in Morocco. We travel back and forth to visit them, and we also run a summer tourism company there. I am a cultural translator of sorts. When I'm in Morocco, my family there calls me Hayat. I don't even go by my own name. My habits are extremely different, and I speak Arabic fluently. So, I have assimilated, I guess, into this other society, but only for part of the year. This truly has deepened my art practice because it is the research I need to enrich the work I make. Living somewhere where I am between belonging and being foreign, understanding and rejecting cultural norms, being understood and feeling helpless. . . these experiences repeat themselves in other facets of my life—and likely most people have felt this way at some juncture. Adapting and assimilating takes us back to the beginning of this conversation, where I talked about camouflage. I can't change my race, but everything else can change. I feel like a chameleon, aiming to adapt to every new experience in life as if I was meant to be there. As if I belong.

The textiles brought home from Morocco are an incontrovertible match to ideas already present in my work. Repetition, infinity, accumulation and ascending shapes are present in zillij, Moroccan tile patterns, and other architectural designs. The fabric there is rich with color and texture and is inexpensive. So, I line plain fabrics with it to give them added detail.

Adhan (Call to Prayer)
2013
13' x 40'
Digitally printed polyester, thread

OPP: Assimilation is often used as a bad word here in the United States where our nation was built by immigrants and where we value personal identity so strongly. There are negative associations when immigrants feel compelled or are forced to assimilate to a dominant culture, and there’s a sense that we all lose something if they lose their culture. Besides we are all immigrants, too. . . except for the indigenous Native Americans. But choosing to be a chameleon is different; there’s less fear that something important will be lost forever. Thinking about adaptability through a biological lens makes it seems less urgent that we hold so tightly to our identities. Is identity itself just a protective armor, a temporary condition? Would it be as easy to assimilate if you moved to Morocco forever and never came back to the United States?

EMC: Identity is so much more malleable than one thinks. There are grandmas who used to be punk rockers. There are Muslims who used to be Mormons. The assumption that once you change significant identifier that you can't go back is not true. You may never practice the old religion, just like grandma is no longer going to see the Ramones in concert. But, she still retains that part of her (even if in secret). Identity is like collage. You keep adding and adding; layers are covered up and perhaps "lost forever." But they're still there underneath.

Also, people don't chose their family of origin or their race, but everything else can be changed. I grew up in a semi-Catholic, middle-class American family in Utah, and I converted to Islam and speak Arabic. Does the changed identity imply that I am less authentic? I propose that I am my best self, the person I was meant to be, when speaking in Arabic and fasting during Ramadan. I am a very flexible and adaptable person at my core. I like to accommodate others and see from their point of view. I am empathetic. I can blend in and communicate better in a foreign environment if I "do as the Romans do." That applies to every situation in life, not just living abroad. There's a fine line here between impostor and chameleon. I'm not pretending I'm Moroccan. I am fully aware of my whiteness and my origin, and so is everyone else. But, I am just trying to survive. The real me is inside. She is constantly donning different "armor,” not readying for battle, but adapting to my environment.

Many people live their life refusing to adapt. They never enter situations or environments that make them uncomfortable. They never associate with people that are not like them. This is the scary dilemma because, the longer you live your life afraid to adapt or refusing to relate to another who is physically or culturally unlike you, the more likely you are to build fear or hatred for the other. The "other" becomes a mystified person, assumptions are made, stereotypes are cast and barriers are built between you, but this border line is not real or tangible. This is the purpose of my life's work, both as an artist and as an educator. How do we break down these borders?

I also want to respond to the point you made about the word assimilation having a negative connotation. In the late 1800s, the first "Indian" boarding schools in America forced Native students to shave their heads, change their names, speak English and practice Catholicism. There is a heavy feeling when considering that assimilation could be forced upon a set of people towards a second group's aims. And although terribly atrocities were suffered by these children, they surely retained their identities. Their children are the ones who suffered loss of "authentic culture" and tradition. By the 1970s, 60,000 students attended these schools. The societies were considered "civilized," and the government abandoned the effort to educate Native Americans separately. Generations later, there is a huge push to educate youth about the Native languages and art forms. Now, many are uninterested and would rather play video games or get lunch with their friends at McDonald's. So. . . I'll need to ponder for a while about assimilation's reverse effects along a timeline of a few generations. I doubt that my children's children will regret not growing up the way I did. I'm hoping they appreciate living a life straddling two extremely different cultures.

Samurai
2012
Hand dyed and screen printed fabric, foil, discharge print, Heat 'n' Bond, thread, hot glue, felt
24" x 48" x 6"

OPP: You mentioned scales, which are are evoked in abstract pieces like Phobia (2013) and Exterior Perceptions (2013). They are used as armor in pieces like Choose the Right (CTR) (2012). They are decorative in your painted scale studies and mesmerizing in your latex wall painting Infinite Repetition (2012). Could you talk about this recurring visual motif in your work?

EMC: From small to large, overlapping and infinite, the scale or shingle pattern first appeared in a painting I made of a peacock. It was a labored process to create that artwork, and ultimately it didn't work to have spent so much time on the details of each feather. The thing I found that I liked the most about the bird was the layer pattern in her feather structure. This has been present in almost every work I've made since. The felt layers overlap (which hides the origin of each loop from sight) and get larger towards the bottom, and my paintings start at a central flower shape or tear drop and emanate outwards. The suits of armor all have this structure, too. Scales have for some reason kept my interest and flawlessly connect many bodies of work that are disparate in medium. Ultimately, it is a form that is abstract enough to be many things and nothing at once.

It is also a perfect way to illustrate the unit—the individual or unique original—repeated into an implied infinity. It becomes less about the singular and more about the plural or the gestalt. The human mind has the tendency to see the forest and not the tree. Another reference to camouflage and assimilation, the theories of gestalt name our brain's need to group things together by likeness, proximity, continuity and common fate and perhaps the human desire to belong. I guess, it's another metaphor for society. One worshipper is lost amongst a church full or worshippers; one prayer is lost amongst a lifetime of prayers. The scale is a physical representation of homogeneity and diversity amongst the whole.

To see more of Erin's work, please visit erinchlaghmo.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 work is on view through September 2013 in Abstracting the Seam (Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago), and she has two upcoming solo exhibitions: I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (Klemm Gallery, Adrian, Michigan) in November 2013 and Everything You Need Is Already Here (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.