OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Mary Grisey

Just When I Unearthed the Instinct to Soften, 2016

Transformation, both planned and accidental, is central to MARY GRISEY's installations. Working with rust as a dye, hand-woven sisal, linen and raffia and collapsed ceramic vessels, she embraces the unexpectedness of loss and decay. Informed by a metaphysical approach to materials and process, she "reveals the ruin and beauty of both the body and the psyche." Mary earned her BA in Painting and Drawing at Marist College (Poughkeepsie, NY), her BFA in Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and her MFA at York University (Toronto, Canada). Recent solo exhibitions include Cloth Dripping (2016) at Xpace Gallery in Toronto and Sung From the Mouth of Cumae (2015) at Art Gallery of Mississauga, both in Ontario, Canada. She's been an Artist-in-Residence at Artcroft (Carlisle, Kentucky), The Drake Lab: Akin Collective Studio Residency (Toronto) and Vermont Studio Center (Johnson, Vermont). Mary is based in Los Angeles, California.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What is the relationship of construction and deconstruction in your work? Are these simply processes or also content?

Mary Grisey: The relationship between construction and deconstruction comes from my interest in ruination, ephemerality and how my materials shift and change through destructive and manipulative processes. Through the cycle of loss and decay, something becomes new, and I believe there is true beauty in that.

The process of making my art becomes the content. Creating informs the work, and the meaning and content of what I’m doing develops as I make. Because of this, I never really know the title of my exhibitions until the work is 80% finished. Sometimes I never know how to fully talk about a show, until a few years later will it make sense. Working in an intuitive way has always been my strength, as if channeling some higher source, and then funneling it into the work.

For Leth, 2014. Hand-dyed sisal, rusted steel and sound. 8' x 8' x 4.' Photo credit: Thomas Blanchard

OPP: You have a pretty consistent neutral color palette of browns, blacks and reds. What influences your palette? What do you seek to evoke with it?

MG: The colors I am drawn to are informed by my interest in our natural world. Lately I have been very interested in the alchemy of rust as a dye and the exploration of ideas like weathering and time by experimenting with transformative dyes. Specifically I am fascinated with simulating water lines and traces of sediment that have been left behind. I search for abandoned rusted metal objects outside and apply them to my handwoven surfaces, creating imprints from the rust. I love experimentation-driven processes that allow contingency and accidents into the work, and I am discovering the limitations of my work by learning how to transgress these boundaries.

The use of black in my work represents weight and heaviness. It’s a mood or emotion I want to convey when I am feeling intense. Red shows up in my work from my interest with the “insides” of a body and the fragility of what makes us human. Red can represent blood or flesh, the inner-workings of the body, which we all share, and what makes us vulnerable. My color palette always returns to the confrontation with our mortality.

Cloth Dripping, 2016. Handwoven & hand-dyed linen, rope, cheesecloth, rust, acid dye, black tea, black walnut, terra cotta and sound. Photo credit: Yuula Benivolski

OPP: Tell us about the ceramic forms—which I read as some kind of holy water fonts—the sound that emerges from them in both Sung from the Mouth of Cumae (2015) and Cloth Dripping (2016).

MG: The ceramic forms emerged in my work as a way to both house the sound I am creating and to represent a feeling of sanctuary, shrine and holiness. I wanted the sounds to emerge from an unseen place as if coming up from the depth of a well, like haunted echoes.

The contrast and duality between hard and soft surfaces of the fired clay and the malleable woven fibers fascinate me. When clay is soft, you can mold it into whatever mass or form you desire, very similar to fiber. But when the clay is fired or when the fiber is woven, it is fixed in its permanent state. I love the potential of the materials before they become permanent in their set form.

The ceramic sculptures themselves are geological in form, evoking the mouth of the cave of Cumae or the Leucadian Cliffs. My way of arriving at their end form came as a sort of happy accident in the studio. Before one of the stacked pieces was fired in the kiln, it collapsed. I totally misjudged that it was fully dry—I can be quite impatient sometimes!—and attempted to move it. When it collapsed, it fell into this super beautiful, ruinous shape. So I decided that was going to be my clay-building process moving forward, which is interesting because I am following the habitual process of construction and deconstruction that I use in my textile work.

Sung From the Mouth of Cumae, 2015. Handwoven & hand-dyed linen and raffia, earthenware, sound. Dye is made from bleach and found rusty objects. Sound credit: In collaboration with Brooke Manning. Photo credit: Toni Hafkenscheid

OPP: Aside from making large-scale sculptural installation, you also have a line of jewelry called Meta. In conventional thinking, jewelry and sculpture are very different—one is art and one is craft. But both have a distinct relationship to the body. How is the body present in each of these practices?

MG: The exploration of the body is a continual force in my art practice. I think the reason why I stepped away from painting (when I first started making art years ago), was because the viewer couldn’t engage with it like installation or sculptural work. My most recent installation consisted of a series of handwoven panels hung from the ceiling in a semicircle. By suspending the work from the ceiling, it delineates space—from inside to outside—creating boundaries that define the environment, allowing the viewer to experience the work by walking inside and around it. I wanted to create architectural yet bodily pieces, in which the monumental size of this work demands one’s attention so you are confronted with it.

Right now I am thinking about the vulnerable body, as my materials—rope, dyes and rubber latex—ooze down my woven structures like intestines and skin. There is an emotional link to the liminality of inside and outside, connecting our underlying humanity and showing the sheer vulnerability of a body turned inside out for the viewer to see.

I have always been interested in body adornment and the idea of wearing an object or talisman that holds power. Creating wearable objects shifts my process into a much more limited approach because I have to consider the exact size, shape, and way the piece will lay on the body and how it will feel. Jewelry-making is more technical, whereas my art practice is much more unconscious and free.

Remains of the Ephemeral II, 2014. 30" x 5." Horsehair, hand-dyed cheesecloth and rubber latex. Photo credit: Thomas Blanchard

OPP: Do you see jewelry making as part of your art practice or as a way to earn money by selling accessible/affordable objects?

MG: Jewelry is definitely a more accessible way to make income and for people to enjoy my work, as it is affordable for most. Whether or not to separate the two practices has been a big, burning question of mine for years. I am still slightly unsure. My interest in jewelry-making and art have always ran parallel with one another. I go through stretches of focusing on them separately, but never really together. During one of my critiques in graduate school, I was asked how my art straddles craft and that question really bothered me because I don’t consider my art “craft.” Instead of letting that critique insult me, I really considered it and decided to embrace craft within my practice. My weaves are becoming much tighter, my dye process is more complex, and I am looking into technique and structure a little closer than before. Lately I have been thinking of combining the two modalities (art and jewelry) as adorning the body with my work during live performance.

Cradling: In Ruins, 2014. Found barn wood, hand-dyed and burned sisal. 6' x 5' x 4.' Photo credit: Thomas Blanchard

OPP: You were featured last year on canadianart.ca, and in a short video in your studio, you mentioned that the best advice you’ve received is that “the work needs to be coming from a place of urgency, and that without urgency, the work is meaningless.” Can you talk more in depth about this urgency?

MG: The whole topic of urgency came to me during a studio visit with a well-known artist in Toronto. I was struggling with a few different concepts in grad school and felt unsure as to which direction to pursue. I was making these really awful plaster casts of my body that were really dark, disembodied and visceral. I was working through various ideas and concepts in the studio that I felt I needed to purge, which brings me back to this concept of urgency—an important and persistent need to release without overanalyzing. Even though I didn’t end up exhibiting these plaster casts, it was important to process these ideas of urgency, otherwise I wouldn’t have arrived to the work I am creating now. Urgency is about honesty and intuition—to trust that the work is unfolding in a way that will communicate the inner workings of an artist’s unconscious. When an artist is making work strictly to sell or copy, it becomes painfully obvious that the work is coming from a dishonest place and not from deep within. It takes so much courage to make work from a place of urgency.

OPP: What’s urgent for you in your work at this moment?

MG: Right now I am working through some personal demons within my work. Every time I release a new body of work, it becomes more vulnerable. My recent foray into adding sound to my installations has given the work another sensorial element that draws the viewer further into the experience. These sounds are coming from my voice, which is quite vulnerable in itself to “expose” a part of me. In addition to the sound, one can smell the dyes from my textiles, the earth that it was buried under, and maybe the char that it was burned by. The urgency to facilitate in the experience of the viewer’s senses is important to me, so that to engage with my installations is to become a part of it, to get inside it.

To see more of Mary's work, please visit marygrisey.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 shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interview T.C. Moore

Quagga Mare, 2014. horse hair. 56" x 60"

T.C. MOORE's poetic, sculptural eulogies for deceased and endangered animals shift us out of our human-centric mode into the quiet contemplation of the lives of other beings. She creates knotted, sewn and etched works with shed horse hair, hoof clippings, found bones and scraps from the fur industry, often mending or embellishing the found materials in the spirit of healing and honoring. After completing degrees in Interior Design (1980), Architecture (1984) and Landscape Architecture (1986), T.C. went on to earn her MFA in 2012 from JFK University, Berkeley. She has exhibited widely throughout California, with solo shows at Garage Gallery in Berkeley and Gallery Route One in Point Reyes Station. In 2016, her solo show Interconnected at the Compound Gallery in Oakland featured her horse hair sculptures. Two works were featured in the 2016 West Marin Review, which was awarded the “most visually stunning book” by the New York Book Industry Guild. T.C. lives in
Santa Rosa, California.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Horse hair is a dominate material in your sculptural, fiber-based practice. What is your personal history with horses?

T.C. Moore: I was one of those annoying little girls in class that was always daydreaming and doodling in the margins of her rulers, far more interested in living in the confines of my imagined world then being present in the one where everyone else seemed to exist. My earliest fantastical recollections included people replaced by animals; animals seemed safer, kinder and cuter. My parents’ marriage was difficult, and my mother often sent me off to her mother’s farm in order to relieve herself of parental duties. It was on this farm where I recall my first aesthetic experience.

My grandparents did not have horses, but I remember the day two young women rode up onto my grandparents’ property. The horses were enormous, frightening and the most beautiful animals I had ever seen. I became obsessed with horses from that day forward. When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said a horse. It took me some time to understand that you do not grow up into another species. I painted, drew and pretended horsies until middle school, when it was no longer cool to do so. My bedroom however, remained my private horse cave, with walls plastered with horse posters, drawings and pictures of horses cut out of newspapers and magazines. I always wanted a pony for Christmas, but my parents could not afford one. The desire for anything and everything horse persisted into adulthood. When my mother died I inherited enough money to finally purchase the pony I never got for Christmas. I now own two ponies, a mare named Tinka and a gelding named Arlo.

...in a smooth and flowing manner #6, 2012. horse hair & canvas. 20" x 20"

OPP: When did horse hair first enter your art practice?

TCM: In grad school I was struggling with my paintings; I felt all I was doing was illustrating. One spring day in 2010, I was with my horse shedding out her winter coat. This is a yearly occurrence. Most horse owners throw this unwanted undercoat in the garbage. I was using a rubber curry-comb, and it became clogged with hair, so I dumped it upside down onto the stall floor. I had done this many times before, but somehow this time I saw the hair in a different light. A shock of excitement ran through me, and I started collecting my horses shed winter coat. Horse hair as a medium felt so authentic and true to my being. I loved the color, the smell and the feel of it. The idea to use it came about from this one simple, pure and intimate act of grooming. The hair has a spiritual quality, like the horse is always present with me, even when I am not actually with a horse. The hair becomes a surrogate, not just for horses, but all animal essences.

Feed Bags, 2012. horse hair, canvas, acrylic + horse teeth. 12' X 8" x 14'-0"

OPP: How do you have so much of it? Is it just from Tinka and Arlo?

TCM: Collecting, organizing and storing the hair has become another side of my artistic practice. I started by asking other horse owners if I could have their horse’s shed winter coats. I also advertise on a local community web-site for horse owners and ask people to save the hair—it doesn’t have to be clean. I pay for pick up or postage. It was easy from there to start also working with mane and tail hair. I also purchase this hair on-line, so I can get the lengths and quantities that I need.


OPP: What are your art historical inspirations? 49 Days of Mourning (2013) references both a quilt and the Modernist grid. The series of horse hair “drawings” on canvas …in a smooth and flowing manner (2012) make me think of a less rectilinear Agnes Martin, while the Feed Bags (2012), on the other hand, recalls the off loom woven structures of Claire Zeisler and Leonore Tawney.

TCM: Art Historical inspirations are many and if the work is minimal, abstract, primitive or has anything to do with line or natural materials you can almost guarantee I will love it. Artists, like Chris Drury, Ernst Haeckel, Ann Hamilton, Agnes Martin, Kate MccGwire, Wenda Gu, Eva Hesse, Louise Bourgeois, Joseph Cornell, Mark Bradford, Paul Klee, Leonardo Drew, Deborah Butterfield, Julie Mehretu, Darren Waterston……

COW, 2016. dyed horse hair, cow skull, acrylic + wood. 37" x 21" x 11"

OPP: Tell us about your newest body of work Sporting Life. For the first time, you’ve dyed the horse hair in vibrant colors. . . not unnatural colors, but certainly unnatural to the animals being eulogized.

TCM: The latest body of work came about after finding bones from animals on my hikes. The bones, like the horse hair, have spiritual essences. I became obsessed with collecting them. A colleague of mine found a deer skull that I coveted, and she was generous enough to give it to me. This is the red white-tailed deer skull. I wanted to bring the two mediums together, but I wasn’t sure why or how. In the process of making my work I discover its context.

It is a journey I start without a preconceived idea about its end. I started to drill 3/16” homes into the antlers and inserting the horse hair, but once I was finished it felt rather gratuitous. Somehow they just keep reminding me of something until it finally hit me. I was doing something familiar, I was doing my own version of my my deceased father’s taxidermy hobby.

When I was young I saw my father as all powerful, like Dick Tracy. His power and presence was expressed even when he wasn’t around in our home through his taxidermy displays on our walls, shelves and coffee tables. Growing up I had a strange ambivalence with his trophy mounts in that they displayed the beauty of animals which I love, but at the same time the horror that they were killed at my fathers hands. When I realized I was partaking in this reverse taxidermy, I started putting the skulls on traditional mount forms. I was initially hesitant, even a little frightened about using such vibrant colors because it didn’t seem natural. Then I realized it expressed the unnaturalness of trophy mounts. It is pretty strange that humans as species have developed a display system that prepares animals to lifelike effect, but only after we have taken their lives away.

Ivory Billed Woodpeckers - Extinct, 2015. mirror + metal. 13" x 9"

OPP: Reflections is a series of etched mirrors, featuring various endangered species. First off how, how the hell did you photograph those mirrors so well?

TCM: Photographing the mirrors, initially was a challenge. Fortunately, Don from Almac Camera in San Francisco figured this one out for me. I told him I needed the mirrors to be on a black background, this wasn’t a problem. However, the images obviously showed the camera in the shot and the animals, that I wanted to appear ghost like basically disappeared with studio lighting. So we experimented until Don came up with the idea of putting black velvet facing the mirrors and cutting a hole just large enough for his camera lens to peak through. He also shots the work off-centre, so even the lens isn’t visible in the final shot. What else can I say except I recommend Don at Almac Camera, great pricing as well.

Pangolin, 2016. etched mirror + wood. 11"x9"x1/2"

OPP: More importantly, do you identify as an animal activist/artist? How do you balance the practical concerns of animal activism and environmentalism with the aesthetic concerns of art-making? Are those concerns ever in conflict with one another?

TCM: Yes, I am an animal activist/ artist, a card carrying PETA member for years, not to mention a vegetarian. This is a tough question and one that I have given a lot of thought. Sometimes I ask myself, wouldn’t my time be better spent doing something directly beneficial, like working for the Sierra Club or Greenpeace or the National Resources Defense Council? I am not under any illusions that one person can change the world. But everyday I make small, informed choices and decisions based on the underlying ethical premise of animal/environmental concerns. I have also learned that you have to be true to yourself and have faith in the power of art. I believe we are all blessed or cursed with who we are intrinsically and with that comes a responsibility. I believe art-making allows me to evolve, share, explore, express and record in a way that traditional activism does not. My concerns, thoughts, dreams and fears are personified in an artifact that can be shared as a aesthetic experience which is different from other activist experiences.

Bunny Slippers, 2015. fur, feet, wool, snare, wood + plastic. 8" x 20" x 8"

OPP: You’ve written that your work “is inspired by the Biophilia hypothesis, a term coined by E.O. Wilson which states that humans as a species have a universal love for the natural world.” If that’s true, why do you think it is so easy for 21st century humans to trash the planet and ignore the effects of their behavior on the surrounding world?


TCM: As a species, we have a tendency to be chauvinistic, narcissistic and dogmatic. We also do whatever comes easiest. I am not saying all humans are like this, but we do have a tendency to see the world only through our eyes and only with our own personal gains at the forefront of our reality. However, humans as a species also possess the capacity to change their behavior in drastic ways, more so than any other species on the planet. So, there is always hope.

To see more work by T.C., please visit topazemoore.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 shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014) and the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

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.