OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Kaitlynn Redell

not her(e) (couch), 2016. Digital c-print.

KAITLYNN REDELL's work often begins with photographs, both found and made. Photography's history is steeped in the myth of pure and accurate representation of reality, making it a perfect medium to explore the errors we make when define humans only by their bodies. By cutting into, drawing on and collaging photographic imagery, she explores the relationship between the identities we choose and the ones forced upon us by others. Kaitlynn received her BFA from Otis College of Art and Design in 2009 and her MFA from Parsons the New School for Design in 2013. She has participated in numerous exhibitions nationally and internationally. Her work has been seen most recently in Labors: An Exhibition Exploring the Complexities of Motherhood at Pearl Conard Gallery, Ohio State University in Mansfield, Ohio and the 32nd Biennial of Graphic Arts: Birth as Criterion in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Kaitlynn has been an Parent Artist Resident with her daughter at Popps PackingIn addition to her solo work, she is one half of Redell & Jimenez, an ongoing collaboration with artist Sara Jimenez. They have been Artists-in-Residence at the Wassaic Project and Yaddo. Kaitlynn lives and works in Los Angeles.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your work addresses “inbetweeness and how ‘unidentifiable’ bodies—that do not identify with standard categories—negotiate identity.” Generally speaking, how do you think about the relationship between identity and the body?

Kaitlynn Redell: This is such a complex question.  I think what is most important to distinguish is the difference between the identities we choose for ourselves versus the identities that are placed upon us by others. I think we are lucky to live in a moment when that distinction is becoming more widely acknowledged. Unfortunately, however, I think the identities that are most commonly placed upon us are directly tied to the body and unfortunately are often used as a way to categorize and control.

Alternate (1), 2011. Cut laser print. 11" x 17."

OPP: Do you always, sometimes or never use your own body/image in the work to address your conceptual concerns? Why or why not?

KR: My work always comes from the personal, so it often makes sense to use my body/image as a direct medium. Sometimes it is more obscured than other times. I am very conscious of the generalized connotations the image of my body has on the work, so how and when I use my body directly correlates to how aware I want the viewer to be to their own assumptions of my identity.

Supporting as Herself (Civic Duty), 2013. Graphite on Duralar.

OPP: Can you talk about the role of hair in Supporting As Herself? I see figures obscured—almost mummified—by their own hair.

KR: Supporting As Herself explores how film stills of Anna May Wong, the 1920s Chinese American actress, carry a sense of historical weight and serve as a contested foundation for my own understanding of identity. The manipulated representation of her public image, the stereotypical roles she played and my proximity to her birthplace—Chinatown, Los Angeles—have created an aura that haunts me to the core. I see Wong as a lynch pin for what it means to be both simultaneously American and foreign. . . to be “othered.”

In my series Supporting as Herself, I use photographs of Wong as a starting point. Through performative mimicking, photography, collage and drawing I explore the ways in which Wong presented/performed race and gender. I created a series of figurative collages and drawings using publicity stills of Wong and images of myself mimicking her poses as reference material. I am interested in how my figurative collages/drawings reference Wong’s image as a starting point, but become amorphous bodies engaged in their own language. The drawing sections done in graphite reference hair, fabric, muscle or some sort of tightly bound covering.  This rendering is meticulous and realistic, but unclear as to if it is hair, muscle or some other sort of fiber. Ultimately, I am interested in how these shape-shifting figures begin to create their own histories, of their own accord.

not her(e) (table), 2017. Digital c-print.

OPP: Your most recent series Not Her(e) gets at the complicated emotions involved in motherhood. These photographs point to the loss of identity and the subsuming of self into the role of mother. Can you talk about the process of making these photographs?

KR: When my daughter was first born, I had a really hard time transitioning my studio practice. My time was so fragmented and when I did get in the studio (aka my dining room table at the time), I felt like I was totally lost and didn’t know what to make. I thought about Mierle Laderman Ukeles’ Maintenance Manifesto every, single day. 

So, I began to change my ways of working to fit my new routine, both conceptually and materially. I was looking at a lot of Victorian Hidden Mother portraiture and thinking about how much of becoming a parent is about being loving and supportive and well as being invisible. And not only how emotional, but physical it was to become this support. I started thinking about and making drawings for this body of work when my daughter was a month old. We shot our first image when she was three months and the last when she was almost two years old. I started making “furniture costumes” for every piece of furniture I used to take care of my kid. And then I would inhabit these costumes and become a part of the support.

Counterbalance, 2012. Collaboration with Sara Jimenez. Single channel video. 0:54 min, loop.

OPP: What does it mean to have a “bi-coastal” collaborative practice with artist Sara Jimenez?

KR: Sara and I started collaborating in 2012 in graduate school at Parsons in New York. She still lives there, but I moved back to LA the summer after graduation. Our collaboration has always been project-based, and we have continued to work in this manner even though we are not in the same city. We apply collaboratively to residencies as well as spend short, intense periods of time together starting and completing projects. We also spend a lot of time planning over video chat. Most recently we attended the Yaddo residency in upstate New York together and will be curating an exhibition here in LA in 2019. The exhibition will include works by artists who explore poetic gestures of the body as an evolving site of communication, language, history and myth, via collaborative based projects. Specifically we are interested in how the process of collaboration activates a space for collective negotiation of our physical and psychic embodiment of identity.

OPP: How has this collaboration influenced or affected your solo practice?

KR: Collaborating with Sara has always been a part of my “mature” art career, so it absolutely affects my solo practice. When you collaborate, you constantly have to discuss every detail with another person and can't just get lost in your own head. So it has really helped me to verbalize my process both physically and conceptually. Before we started collaborating, our solo practices came from very similar conceptual places—which is a big reason why our collaboration has always felt so natural—but were somewhat different in terms of discipline. I come from a drawing, papercutting, painting, textiles/fashion background and Sara from a performance, video and sculpture background. We both had this history of body movement (Sara with dance and me with gymnastics) and I think performing collaboratively with her really allowed me to access that physical space again.

Domestic Air, Space, 2017. Cut digital c-print and balsa wood. 19 x 19 x 5 inches.

OPP: What are you working on right now?

KR: Aside from the curatorial project with Sara, I’m also working on a series of drawings, collages and paper-cut photographs about my great Auntie Hilda Yen. She’s actually my mother’s Aunt, but in Chinese culture the term “Auntie” is kind of all-encompassing for female relatives and close family friends that aren’t your mother or grandmother. I never had the opportunity to meet Hilda, but I am interested in the fluidity of memory and the influx nature of personal and collective histories, which has brought me to researching her. Hilda was one of the first female, Chinese aviators (beginning in the 1930s) and was a member of the League of Nations and the World Women’s Party for Equal Rights. 

I’m interested in the sort of historical and personal mythology that has been built around her and how women like her are so often left out of “commonly known” history. As I’ve gotten deeper into the research she’s become more and more fascinating to me in terms of how she’s been represented (or not) as a historical figure. Equally there is this whole other side in relation to my family’s personal memories of her. I’m interested in the kind of dovetailing between my mother and uncle’s fragmented memories of her and the glimpses of her “historical” representation in newspaper articles and League of Nations documents. A lot of the documentation is so representative of the racial and gender biases of the time period; I’m interested in how that narrative frames the information provided and only tells a fragment of the story. I think that one—unnervingly contemporary—quote from Hilda’s 1935 address to the League of Nations sums up how I interpret her mythology: “Give your women legal equality willingly and in good spirit, or have it taken from you.”

To see more of Kaitlynn's work, please visit kaitlynnredell.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center. Where Do We Go From Here? just closed at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction with this improvised installation, Stacia invited eight OPP artists—Kathryn Trumbull Fimreite, Brent Fogt, Melinda Thorpe Gordon, Jaclyn Jacunski, Jenny Kendler, Meg Leary,  Geoffry Smalley and Erin Washington—to respond to the text "Where Do We Go From Here?" Each artist approached the question from a different angle, emphasizing that both the We and the Here are not the same for each of us. For Chicago Artist Coalition's annual benefit Work in Progress, Stacia will create a one-night installation that solicits the help of benefit attendees.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Antoine Williams

Because They Believe in Unicorns
Surplus WW II military tents, wood, thread, marker, collage and acrylic on Sheetrock
120"x 48"x120"
2016

Both the vulnerability and the strength of the Black body are highlighted in ANTOINE WILLIAMS' ink drawings on velum, collages, paintings and black and white wheat-paste installations on white walls. Inspired by personal experiences of a rural, working-class upbringing in the South and by themes of Otherness in sci-fi literature, he presents a catalogue of nameless, faceless beings. Part human/part animal/part stereotype/part racial trope, each is a conglomeration of signifiers of race, class and masculinity. Antoine earned his BFA in Art with a concentration in illustration from UNC-Charlotte in 2003 and his MFA in Studio Art from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2014. In 2015 he was a recipient of the Ella Fountain Pratt Emerging Artist Grant, and in 2016 he was a Southern Constellations Fellow at Elsewhere in Greensboro, North Carolina. His recent solo exhibitions include The Wound and the Knife (2015) at Sumter County Gallery of Art (Sumter, South Carolina) and Something in the Way of Things (2014) at the John and June Alcott Gallery in Chapel Hill. His work is on view in Dress Up, Speak Up: Costume and Confrontation at the 21c Museum Hotel in Durham through July 2017. Antoine is an Assistant Professor at Guilford College in Greensboro and lives in Chapel Hill.

OtherPeoplesPixels: I want to be transparent that I’m a White artist interviewing a Black artist who explores the image and experience of the Black body in his work. I ask questions based on what I see, but what I see is through the sometimes-unconscious lens of Whiteness. Is there anything that non-Black viewers repeatedly misinterpret about your work? In your experience, do Black viewers see different things than non-Black viewers?

Antoine Williams: I believe that everyone brings something different when viewing the work. However due to the shared experience of most Black people there does seem to be some overlap in the response to the work. When it comes to non-Black viewers, I’m less concerned if the work is being misinterpreted but more concerned with the thought process that leads to one’s conclusion. I make the work somewhat vague and open-ended to invite a more honest response because I want to embrace the various interpretations of signifiers. It’s less about what I’m trying to tell you about my experience and more about exploring how this imagery makes you feel.

5
Ink on vellum
14"x18"
2016

OPP: I feel empathetic, sad, angry and uncomfortable. I think about the way Black people have been victimized in America and how they stand up for themselves. I think about how monstrousness (i.e. otherness) is projected onto Black people by mainstream media and law enforcement and about how constantly being on the defensive affects a human. The figures are often hunched, as if in pain or preparing to fight. They have grown horns and sharp teeth with which to protect themselves. Are these figures metaphors for an embodied, emotional experience or renderings of a potential evolution?

AW: The more humanistic figures—the ones usually draped in clothing—reflect the day-to-day burdens with respect the race and class, which have become normalized. The horn protrusions can be viewed as either a weapon for either aggression or a means of protection. However, the use doesn’t matter because the horns exist as result of an environment and system that has produced them.

Some of the more animalistic figures are creatures born out of attitudes and actions around race and class. They’re a part of a contemporary mythos of the Black experience. Indifference and fear lead to policies and public sentiment that negatively affect Black people and communities of color. Policies that promote housing discrimination, mass incarceration and decades of over-policing to keep the fear of the other at bay, I believe, have lead to the high profile shootings of Tamir Rice in Ohio or just recently the deaths of Terence Crutcher in Tulsa and Keith Lamont Scott right here in my home state of North Carolina. Like the protest in Charlotte, these creatures are born out of years of animus and neglect for entire communities.

Collage series
Ink and found paper on wood
8"x10"
2015

OPP: You talk about the figures in your work as “creatures, hybrid-like human-animal deities.” I’m struck by the fact that these figures never have human faces or heads, unless those heads are bound or covered—sometimes by choice and sometimes by force, as in The Ain't Gots no. II (For Freddie Gray) (2016). Why no faces?

AW: There are no faces because I’m speaking about systems, not individuals. We are witnessing how the Black bodies are reacting to these systems.

OPP: In what way are they deities?

AW: These are not deities in that they are worshiped in the traditional sense, but they rule in a transitional space that exists between race and class. I do view them as gods but as god of the gaps. They are created from attitudes towards race, and class. Indifference and apathy are attributed to them.

Originally Filipino mythology got me interested in this current body of work. More recently, the H.P. Lovecraft mythos has been greatly influential to my work. Lovecraft, most well know for his Cthulhu series, is a writer of sci-fi or cosmic horror. He has created this complex mythos of gods, creatures and cultures. His work is beautifully written, yet very problematic in that Lovecraft was a racist whose views seeped into his work. He had this disdain and fear of the other. His works in a sense are a metaphor for white supremacy.

Knife and the Wound
Acrylic, collage, ink, graphite on canvas
84"x 60"
2015

OPP: In installations, you merge three-dimensional materials—Seatbelt straps, wooden stakes, plastic sheeting, fake flowers, extension cords, beer cans and Sheetrock—with your drawings. Can you talk about what pops off the wall versus what stays flat?

AW: I merge the three-dimensional object with flat imagery to emphasize that it is, in reality, a drawing—an illusion of Black bodies. These flat representations of Black people are often how we are perceived in society. However, the three-dimensional objects invade the viewer’s space and draw them in. The actual experiences of Black people and the culture we create are often separate. Think about hip-hop and the inequities within the communities where this culture originated.

OPP: What about your placement of the wheat paste drawings hovering in the empty, white field of the gallery wall, as in Future Perfect (2015) and The Ain’t Gots (2016)?

AW: When I first started drawing these figures, they were often on a very busy and colorful surface where they could easily get lost so you would have to really work to see them as whole. In a gallery, the contrasting white surface or void is disrupted, forcing one to focus on this Black body. Plus these creatures exist in an in-between space, so the white wall supports that. Also, aesthetically I like working with the negative space created by shapes of the bodies.

The Ain't Gots no. II (installation shot)
Wheat-paste, wood, seat belt straps, plastic, And1 shorts on Sheetrock
36 'x 12'
2016

OPP: Tell us about your most recent installation Because They Believe in Unicorns (2016). We’ve seen the form in the center of the room in other installations and drawings, but it is always attached to the head and shoulders of a human body. The representational body has disappeared, but of course it is still there in the bound, hanging form made from Surplus WW II military tents, wood and thread.

AW: The piece is installed at the Elsewhere Museum in Greensboro, NC where I did a residency this past summer. I had just finished reading The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander and wanted to look at this ideal of racial indifference, which is spoken about at length in the book. This piece was also started the week after the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. The War on Drugs and over policing which has led to mass incarceration which has created a new underclass of citizens consisting of most Black and Brown men are allow to exist not because of racial aggression but rather racial indifference or color blindness. The ideal of not seeing color or color not mattering in a nation with America’s past is a myth, like a unicorn. Belief in this myth allows for white supremacy and other racial inequities to persist.

The piece itself is an entire body. Therefore I didn’t believe having a representation body was necessary. I wanted the form and shape of the figure to reference something that was alive.The figure is my version of a unicorn; a Black person who’s blackness is not relevant. The figure is constructed of WWII tents, a reference to America romanticizing war. In this case the War on Drugs. I wanted to play with the perception of whether the figure is being elevated or hung.

To see more of Antoine's work, please visit rawgoods.org.

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 is on view in SHOWROOM, curated by Edra Soto, at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition from September 16 - 29, 2016.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Johnathan Payne

Bound #1
Ballpoint pen and ink pen on paper
6 3/4 in. x 5 1/2 in.
2015

The racialized and gendered body—his body—is the jumping off point for JOHNATHAN PAYNE's performance, sculpture and installation. His performances include rituals that embody endurance, self-investigation, self-care and preparation for facing the world as a human in a particular body. Coming at the same content from another direction, his Constructions—beautiful, airy, fragile curtains, meticulously assembled from shredded, colored printer paper and comic books—and ballpoint pen drawings of dense, wavy lines that evoke human hair explore the body through abstraction and materiality. Johnathan earned his BA in Art in 2012 from Rhodes College, where he was the recipient of the Sally Becker Grinspan Award for Artistic Achievement. His solo exhibitions include New Drawings (2014) at Beige, Accumulations (2013) at InsideOut Gym and DHOOOOOOM! (2011) at Jack Robinson Gallery, all in Memphis. In 2015, he collaborated with photographer D'Angelo Williams on Room to Let, created and exhibited at First Congregational Church in Memphis. He will exhibit new Constructions and collage work at 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair courtesy of Jenkins Johnson Gallery. The fair will take place at Somerset House in London on October 6-9, 2016. Johnathan currently lives in Memphis, Tennessee but will be heading to Yale this fall to pursue his MFA in Painting/Printmaking.

OtherPeoplesPixels: “Intense preoccupations with self-concept, desire, and tribalism [were] the points of departure for” Meet Me Where I’m At (2015), a solo show that included sculpture and performance. The title reads to me as a call away from tribalism, a call to see humans as individuals, not others. Can you say more about how you think about tribalism?

Johnathan Payne: I define tribalism as the organization of individuals who have a deep kinship over a shared culture or commonality. A fraternity, an ethnic or racial group, and a church congregation are examples of tribes to me, and such tribes were catalysts for the conceptualization of the show. I also think about tribalism in relation to time and space, and how people can go in and out of particular tribes depending on those two variables. The show was the outcome of a lot of personal existential questioning. I was beginning to question my positioning in the tribes that I deemed myself a part of but felt somewhat distant to: past and (then) present relationships, the Black/Queer community, and my then live/work space at a church, to name a few. I wanted to examine the isolation I felt as an individual in relation to certain tribes and the difference between identifying as a tribe member and actively participating as one. So, your interpretation of seeing humans as individuals and not (or, interrelation to) others is very spot on.

Partial Self-Portrait
Graphite, ink pen and India ink on paper
12 in. x 12 1/2 in.
2012

OPP: How do self-concept and desire play into, ignite or counteract tribalism?

JP: The past, current, and future self—elements that make up a self-concept—are occasionally at odds with one another. I think this oddity with one’s self is experienced by everyone at some point or another. Usually, I process some of these inner emotions/self schemas by asking myself, “What the fuck are you doing?” or “What were you thinking?” or “Where are you going?” These questions may sound ruminative and self-shaming, but they help me be real with myself and get to the meat of my personal goals and desires. Desire is a double-edged sword for me. I’ve felt the desire to be someone I inherently am not, to be among people whose tribe I don’t have immediate access to or would have to mute or sacrifice an aspect of myself to gain access to. These inner conflicts with certain desires have negatively informed my self-concept, and have brought certain insecurities to the surface in distressful ways. Meet Me Where I’m At ultimately became an attempt to reconcile my relationship with myself, and to see myself unique to the tribes I occupy and the ones I desired to be in.
   
It was important for me to work across disciplines and engage in time-intensive processes to create the work. I was thinking about the body a lot, specifically a racialized and gendered body, my body. I was questioning my relationship to my body and how my body existed in space and how it was being perceived by others. Poly-consciousness is very central to my lived experience, and the show became an opportunity to explore a personal multidimensionality across materials and forms. Mental endurance, positive self-talk and perseverance are all tools I use in my daily life to push through internal drama induced by the external world. Physical fitness seemed like an appropriate vehicle to examine this self-preservation. The home workout excited me because it is rooted in self-care, but also in solitude. There’s comfort in not being seen working out, in not being susceptible to the perceptions of other gym-goers. I wanted to turn all that on its head by doing Tae Bo in a gallery, to conflate the concepts of isolation, self-improvement and the external gaze.

Meet Me Where I'm At
Live performance/installation exhibition at Crosstown Arts (Memphis, TN)
May 8, 2015.

OPP: You did a performance for the same show, in which you performed a series of secular rituals—shaving your beard and hair, doing a Tae Bo video in a gym-mat-shaped ring of tea lights, bathing, and reading floating fortune cookies followed by beer-bonging your own bath water. In the documentation, we can’t see everything that the live viewers saw. What else can you tell us that we may have missed by not seeing this live?

JP: The live performance spanned roughly one and a half hours, start-to-finish. The audience and I were both entrapped in a lot of time together. There were many sounds of feet shuffling, people conversing, and beer and soda cans popping open by mid-performance. With the exception of shaving my head, bathing, and beer-bonging bath water, most of the performance was spent with my back facing the audience. It was a very personal experience for me, and the audience’s experience was secondary to my own. Occasionally, during the duration of the Tae Bo workout, I would stop to drink water from a bottle I placed outside the tea lights. There was a bit of comicality visible to a live audience, specifically when I responded with disbelief to particularly intense exercises. Audience members cheered me on when I got tired, or when I looked like I was really struggling to perform the moves. Eventually, some of the tea lights burned out entirely.

The Tae Bo workout was projected directly onto the wall, so the scale of the video was large. It consumed me, and in a way I had to compete for the audience’s attention, because the Tae Bo video is rather dynamic to watch on its own. In the video, you see Billy Blanks in the foreground a majority of the time. The fitness studio where the video was filmed has a padded red floor, with various signs on the walls. There is a large, diverse group of people participating in the video. Many racial groups, ages, and genders are represented. There are also a variety of fitness levels represented too. But, collectively, everyone looks confident and has a strong physique. The front row contains people who are incredibly fit, and they maintain the pace of Blanks’ commands. The video was produced and distributed in the year 2000, and it definitely feels stylistically and aesthetically dated in that sense. Billy is a very lively figure throughout the video. He is encouraging, uplifting, militant and authoritative, all in one. My body language throughout the performance shifts, particularly during and after the bathing sequence. At that point, I am directly facing the audience and actively engaging with them. It was certainly me at my most vulnerable moment, but also my most powerful moment.

Meet Me Where I'm At
Performance still
2015

OPP: A year later, what do you think about your own performance?

JP: This performance continues to be a lot for me to unpack. I think about my relationship to Billy Blanks and how his projection of Black masculinity is very divergent from my own. My attempt to mirror his appearance and keep pace with him is difficult, unsuccessful and ultimately unnecessary. I find comfort in that “failure,” in that ability to affirm Blackness across a spectrum, detached from competition and a monolithic representation. I still contemplate the line between self-care and self-medication, and my relationships to my past and current self. I continue to ask myself a lot of questions surrounding who I am and how I exist in the world. Ultimately, I think the performance challenged me to relinquish some of the internalizations that impeded me from being able to be my authentic self.

Constructions
Installation view
2015

OPP: In your Constructions (2015-present), made from both shredded comic books and colored printer paper, I’m most interested in the idea of transforming a narrative form into abstraction, even if it is an abstraction that hints at a functional object (a curtain). Can you discuss the two different papers in relation to the forms?

JP: My Constructions series developed from an ongoing interest to appropriate comic books in my work. Since 2011, I have explored the comic image and consider Ray Yoshida and his retrospective at the Sullivan Galleries at SAIC to be one of the most significant moments for me as a visual artist. Seeing the way Yoshida extracted and arranged forms from various comic books into specimen-like formations against spacious white grounds really stuck with me. In my Constructions, I make tapestry-like collages that attempt to evoke the vulnerability, complexity and tactility intrinsic to particular embodied identities. These evocations are manifested through color, pattern, and material. I play with color and pattern in different ways depending on the paper I choose.

When I shred comic book paper, the compositional and formal elements become colorful strips of pixelated, whimsical information. I then play around with these strips, creating patterned designs until I discover one that is compelling enough for me to explore further. Then, I set out to make a large scale artwork. From a distance, there is a formal uniformity to the Constructions made out of comic book paper. Yet, when viewed at an intimate distance, the comic Constructions offer a lot of complexity and detail in relation to color, line, and subject matter. I deconstruct depictions of whiteness, “justice,” heteronormativity, and patriarchy embedded in many comic books. The resulting form is not intended to be a reimagining or response to the original comic narrative. Though a familiarity exists, my goal is to transform the material into something rather unconventional.

I developed a stronger interest to play with color in my work after exploring the art of Black Abstractionists. The work of Alma Thomas, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Odili Donald Odita, Howardina Pindell and Stanley Whitney really resonates with me. So, I began to experiment with colored printer paper. I enjoyed that, similar to comic books, there was already visual information to respond to, though in this instance, it’s just flat, predetermined color. I began to use this paper as a tool to build pattern, tamper with light and shadow, and reference color field paintings and geometric abstractions. I layer warm and cool colors atop one another in an attempt to blend colors and create a visual vibrancy where the two shift rather seamlessly. I consider these particular constructions to be more broadly derivative of paintings. Also, the colored printer paper is usually stronger than the comic book paper, because of its ream weight and it being newer paper most times. So, I find that there’s a greater ability to experiment with surface texture. The surfaces of the colored paper constructions tend to buckle and bend, which reiterates the idea of vulnerable, yet resilient bodies and identities within society. I’m excited to explore both materials more in graduate school, as well as other printed material/archived publications.

Munch (detail)
shredded comic books and adhesive
96 in. x 83 in.
2016

OPP: Tell us about your recent collaboration Room to Let (2015) with photographer D'Angelo Williams. What did you each bring to the project?

JP: D’Angelo’s MFA thesis work titled Beauty Kings stages various black men adorned with a deep burgundy turban standing in isolation within urban and rural landscapes. I was deeply inspired by this work and had the pleasure in participating as a model for him. His thesis work and my studio projects at the time were the catalysts for the show. Following Meet Me Where I’m At, I began working on a series of gestures and drawings that were intended to be somewhat dark in tonality and thematic content, so I wanted to balance that out with a project that was more participatory, colorful and playful. We decided to further investigate portraiture photography and abstract drawing together.

D’Angelo specifically brought a strong background in shooting and editing photographs to the project, and I brought a collaborative painting and drawing background. We both desired to explore color, identity and abstraction using space, material, fabrics and textiles and willing participants. We shot the photographs at First Congregational Church in Memphis, where I lived and worked as an events coordinator and a hostel resident assistant—the church runs an international traveler’s hostel called Pilgrim House. We borrowed linens and blankets from the hostel and asked guests if they wanted to pose for us. Initially, I was hesitant to ask strangers to participate. We would both approach someone, explain the themes and ideas surrounding the photos, and ask if they were interested. To my surprise, a lot of people expressed interest, and for some, it was a significant highlight of their time in Memphis. 

Rochelle on Southside Roof
Digital print
22 in. x 17 in.
2015

OPP: What surprises emerged during the process?

JP: We worked together to drape the fabrics over the guests, making formal decisions based on the specific locations in the building and the personalities of each model. What struck me early in our project was how beautiful these fabrics looked adorned on the models. These were sheets and blankets that I’d spent a year interacting with as a staff member—washing, folding, cleaning—and I’d given them no particular mind and ascribed absolutely zero value to them. But, in reality, there was a lot of power inherent in them. That power was invisible to me, and the project really encouraged me to search for meaning where it’s (perceivably) least expected. We shot the photographs in various spaces within the church and made collaborative drawings and one shaped painting in my studio, which was also located inside the church. We exhibited the work in one of the rooms we photographed in, and opened the exhibition to churchgoers, hostel guests  and friends. It was wonderful to witness so many different people engaging with the art.

Room to Let really informed my interest to explore color, tactility, materiality and abstraction, and how all those elements can represent embodied identities. Working with D’Angelo was incredibly affirming, and I found comfort where we overlapped as artists and individuals.

Untitled (Jungle)
Acrylic paint, India ink, ballpoint pen, and permanent marker on paper
2015

OPP: In your most recent video performance Training Session (2015), you do forward rolls on a small gym mat over and over again, wearing a T-shirt that says Up Against the Wall Mother Fucker. What are you training for?

JP: I am training for sustained self-preservation against the systems within society that wish to destroy me. In Training Session, I wanted to portray a pro-Black political sentiment through embodiment, text and the urban environment. I had finished reading Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and was thinking a lot about the vulnerability inherently attached to the Black body. How, at any point, it can be extinguished and how that threat of extinction can induce an internalized violence that is both protective and self-destructive. Coates writes, “. . . this is your country. . . this is your world. . . this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.” That line really resonated with me as I strove to determine what being free in my own Black body looked like. I wanted to show myself struggling in a repetitive act, that danced the line between external and internal influencers. That in-between is a rich space to me.

I also wanted to connect this performance with a Black Power narrative. The line on the shirt is a quote from Amiri Baraka’s poem Black People. In the poem, Baraka affirms the need for Black people to make their own world by any means necessary, including violence onto white people. The poem goes:

You can't steal nothing from a white man, he's already stole it he owes you everything you want, even his life. All the stores will open if you say the magic words. The magic words are: Up against the wall motherfucker! this is a stick up... We must make our own world, man, our own world, and we can not do this unless the white man is dead. Let's get together and kill him my man.

Though I’m not a violent person, I wanted to incorporate the theme of a racial-political uprising, but on the individual level. I wore the shirt in the performance to evoke the aggressive, combative tone in the poem. I paired this loaded text with a repetitive action—the somersault, a rudimental gymnastics technique—that hinted at notions of personal development, amateurism and innocence. I also wore a wrestling ear-guard to reinforce the idea of combat sport, but also to hint to a potential opponent. Though in reality they are many in number, two “opponents” depicted in the video include the hard, overgrown externalized world around me, as well as the internalized shackles that impede me from nurturing a radically Black identity.

Training Session
Filmed October 11, 2015 in Memphis, TN.
Documentation courtesy of David Bergen.

OPP: Training Session, which was made last October, took on renewed relevance two weeks ago, with the police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. . .

JP: The recent police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and the shooting of Dallas and Baton Rouge police officers are tragic and continuous reminders of the difficult reality that is existing in a Black body in America. It’s horrible to think that images of Black people have been constructed in ways beyond our own imagining or control and that these constructions ignite such brutality and violence onto us. In her book Citizen, Claudia Rankine speaks to a particular anger: “the anger built up through experience and quotidian struggles against dehumanization every brown or black person lives simply because of skin color.” I’ve heard this anger be referred to as Black Rage, and I see a connection between it and the internalized fear I mentioned earlier. I empathize entirely with these emotions and understand the root causes behind their extreme, outward manifestations. I also am able to confront my particular vantage point, which is from a place of privilege. I understand that the way I maintain and/or channel my emotions is unique to my experience. I haven't always been the most comfortable affirming my Blackness or confronting racism in the past, but I'm unpacking that suppression in my life right now. I think all of this is visible in Training Session.

To see more of Johnathan's work, please visit johnathanpayne.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 Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz

GuerilleReina #1
2013
Giclee print
64"x 44"

WANDA RAIMUNDI-ORTIZ explores the interplay between vulnerability and empowerment in the space where stereotypes, archetypes and lived experience of cultural and racial Otherness overlap. Since 2006, her persona Chuleta has unpretentiously educated YouTube viewers about the Art World. Her Wepa Woman murals tell the story of a NuyoRican superhero, who is charged with representing all her people and preserving their culture on top of having the deal with the regular stresses that all humans have. Most recently, in a suite of performances and photographs called Reinas, she holds court in a costumed manifestation of personal and universal anxieties. Wanda earned her AAS from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York in 1995, was a 2002 Skowhegan Fellow and earned her MFA from Rutgers University in Brunswick, New Jersey in 2008. She has been awarded the Bronx Recognizes Its Own Award (2002 and 2006) and a Cultural Preservation Award from the Bronx River Alliance (2009). In 2011, she was named Keeper of the Creed by University of Central Florida, where she has been an Assistant Professor since 2010. She has exhibited nationally and internationally, including exhibitions at Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, Institute of Contemporary Art at University of Pennsylvania, Centro Cultural de España in El Salvador. Wanda lives and works in Orlando, Florida.

OtherPeoplesPixels: For years, you've performed the persona of Chuleta on YouTube and live at events like Art In Odd Places 2012, New York City. When was Chuleta's first video posted and what's her origin story?

Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz: Chuleta first came on the scene end of 2006 as an examination of my own presence as a Latina artist visiting Art Basel. It was strange to be at these events, being examined as I walked with my fellow Latino artist friends and feeling like we maybe had infiltrated a world that we were actively engaged in. It was a surreal experience. I became very aware of my otherness in this space and wondered. . . how could I explain this career choice that seemed so. . . pretentious and elitist. . . to my ultra urban nieces and nephews? Somewhere between making fun of the gallerists, collectors and ourselves over drinks, Chuleta was born.

YouTube was still in its infancy—a sort of Wild West with nebulous borders. It seemed like a perfect place to create virtual presence, especially with art studio space at a premium. The earlier works were pretty rough and a bit long. But again. . . that was all pre-YouTube etiquette. I had no idea it (and she) would grow the way it did. It became a direct line to the public and a perfect vehicle to challenge expectations of both the art world and viewers.

Ask Chuleta #6: Identity Art
2010
Video Performance

OPP: Has her agenda (or your agenda for her) changed over time?

WRO: Chuleta and I have enjoyed a great run, but she has taken a break so that I can work on the Reinas, which are closer to my heart these days. Chuleta was a direct response to my life in New York and transitioning into academia. Five years after arriving in Florida, my interests, focus and inspirations are more internal and reflexive. She isn't gone, just dormant. I have been thinking of new iterations for her, now that I am changing, too. I’m older, chubbier. . . achier. . . and certainly wiser.

OPP: How has the space of YouTube affected the public's understanding of the videos? Do you ever get grossly misinterpreted? Do you ever get any flack for contributing to a stereotype about Puerto Rican women? How do you use the stereotype for your own purposes?

WRO: HA! I have certainly had my share of criticism and flat out insults like "You need an education" and "Who is this stupid b*tch?" Classier insults reminded me that Sonia Sotomayor was a supreme court judge and reprimanded me for what I was doing to the community. I recognize these self conscious voices. This is what happens to underrepresented people. We become very self conscious about how the (white) masses view and perceive us. It is like having a run in your stocking. Embarrassing. When one of us does something unpleasant, it is assumed that other people will think that the entire community is going to get taken down as a result. And they aren't wrong. Peggy McIntosh describes it perfectly in her article White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. It is that charge, that responsibility to your entire community to represent yourself positively that I was grappling with, on both sides. In my real life, as a Bronx-bred, urban Other with a masters degree from Rutgers in the hood, I was challenged by my own as being a Wanna-Be-White girl or praised for being so "well spoken/articulate" by academics, collectors, etc. This was my way of fighting back.

Wepa Woman: Acts Like a Child, Punish like a Child
Bronx NY
2013
OPP: You've also created comic-style murals and works on paper about "the NuyoRican super hero character Wepa Woman, who is charged with cultural preservation among her beloved NuyoRicans." Will you summarize her story for us?

WRO: I originally created Wepa Woman when I was about 19 years old in an effort to critique stereotypes because I felt like I was an oddity in the hood. I didn't look or act "Latina" enough because I was an artist into New Wave. I hung out with my fellow urban, artist oddball friends that made comics and created Wepa Woman. I was thinking of Wonder Woman, but her origins were ordinary. The real strength that she held was her conviction. The first appearance of Chuleta in my work was through the comic drawings. She was the antagonist, an amalgam of all the things I abhorred about the hood at the time. It, and she felt inescapable, and I wanted to badly to break out of that place and away from that stereotype and the long shadow it casts over us Latinas.

OPP: Is there an actual comic or just the murals? What does it mean for viewers to only encounter one panel of Wepa Woman's story?

WRO: There was no published comic, but the murals came from feeling confined to the page in my original drawings. I think I have a problem with enclosed spaces and ideologies (lol). The murals, also inspired by the hood, offered a different kind of accessibility. I wanted the murals to be accessible whether you knew her story or not. I wanted to insert intrigue into more of my practice. It worked!

PorcelaReina #2
2014
Performance
PorcelaReina #2 is the third movement in a suite of performances and photographs from my most recent series REINAS (Queens). Made to emulate a porcelain doll, this queen's regalia is made nearly entirely from packing materials, in an effort to protect me during my most delicate time- pregnancy, and to explore my own discomfort and isolation with my own frailty.

OPP: Your most recent suite of performances is called Las Reinas, in which you hold court in some art space, often a museum. You performed Bargain Basement Sovereign (2012), for example, at the Atlantic Center for the Arts and PorcelaReina #2 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami, Florida in 2014. Which is you favorite Reina? Tell us about her costume, performance and viewers' responses?

WRO: My favorite Reina so far is GuerrilleReina, the warrior queen. The photos from that suite are really exquisite. I am thankful for my photographer, Jay Flynn, for being able to harness the warrior I was trying to create. This queen comes from many failed relationships; I found myself hardened, ready to defend myself, sometimes before anything had ever happened. The queen persona in me was protecting me—too well. The costume is designed with materials that are used to protect. But there is no one else in the battle. Just me.

The response is always great. I feel that people see themselves in these works. Chuleta puts people on the defensive. The queens are more. . . I don't want to say inviting. . . but they certainly aren't antagonizing. (Except for the warrior queen—lol)

All of the concepts hold clues to the individual queen. If you spend enough time investigating the wardrobe, you will gain more insight into her. I also like working with unusual materials. I don't want to lead readers too much. It spoils the fun.

HUSH
2013
Installation view
For four hours I laid in bed in the gallery and welcomed visitors to lay with me, share secrets, joke or share stillness. Much like a confessional, the space becomes incredibly intimate in even the most public setting. Participants were then instructed to write their thoughts on a white wall in white chalk.

OPP: How do the various iterations of Hush, which is about intimacy, vulnerability and public space, inform your performances of Las Reinas and Chuleta? Are you yourself or another persona when lying in a bed in a gallery space?

WRO: I am myself in Hush. The concept for Hush predates the Reinas, and comes from a moment when I was craving intimacy in a very profound way. I knew that I wouldn't be alone in this. Being open and vulnerable in this way was the first time I saw the clear distinction between power and strength. Through the performances, I was able to completely subdue my urge to control or manipulate, antagonize or challenge. After each performance I would emerge covered in hives and almost no recollection of what occurred, other than a sense of being overwhelmed with other people's angst. I wouldn't be able to talk for a long while after. Only wanted to be alone in a quiet space and purge and cry. It is because of Hush that I know my other works as well as I do. I can't wait to do it again someday.

To see more of Wanda's work, please visit wandaraimundi-ortiz.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). Stacia will create a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show opening at The Ukrainian Museum of Modern Art on February 5, 2016.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Aisha Tandiwe Bell

#decrown (in Bone)
2015

Interdisciplinary artist AISHA TANDIWE BELL explores the shifting fragmentation of our multiple identities. In performance, ceramics, video, painting and spoken word, she embodies the role of the Trickster, laying metaphoric traps in order to reveal the ones we don't know we are stuck in. Aisha earned her BFA in Painting (1998) and her MS in Art and Design Education (1999) from Pratt. She was a 2006 Skowhegan Fellow and earned her MFA in Ceramics from Hunter College in 2008. Aisha has exhibited extensively throughout New York, as well as internationally in Guadaloupe, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.  Her work is currently on view until January 17, 2016 in Dis place at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts in Brooklyn. She was chosen by curator and art historian Sarah E. Lewis to be included in Rush20: 1995-2015, a limited edition print portfolio marking the 20th Anniversary of Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation. The portfolio is on view at Corridor Gallery (Brooklyn) through Dec 20, 2015 and also traveled to Scope Miami in early December. In 2016, her work will be included in one for Mama one for eye at Gallery One (Jackson State University) in Jackson, Mississippi and in one two three fifths at Space One Eleven in Birmingham, Alabama. Aisha lives and works in Brooklyn.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You write and perform spoken word poetry and combine this text-based work with images of your sculptures and drawings. Which came first in your history as an artist: text or image? Does one or the other dominate the way you think?

Aisha Tandiwe Bell: There has always been a codependent relationship between text, narrative and the visual manifestation of my subconscious. Often, the visuals come first and l have to find the language to ground the form. Sometimes the language comes first or alone. During undergrad at Pratt, I was invited to join the spoken word group "Second 2 Last.” Throughout the group's 10 year run, I experimented with attaching narrative to my art. I'm not sure if either form dominates the way I think. I am more familiar and experienced with words, but I am better at telling multiple stories simultaneously with my visual language. For that reason, my most recent work uses narratives that do not explain the image. Instead, they run parallel and tangential, asking the viewer to fill in the spaces with their own interpretations.

Tangents and Segues
2015
Documentations of performance at Mocada October 2015
Photo credit: Dyani Douze

OPP: Could you talk about the recurring metaphor of the trap? It shows up in sculptural works like Trap Couplet (2012) and Trap Unadorned (2012), as well as drawings like Dream Catcher 2 (2012) and in performances like Tangents and Segues (2015).

ATB: I made my first traps in 2006. I found that the figure distracted many viewers from the conceptual focus of my work. I went through a distilling process, isolating the core concept that underlined all of my work—everything I'd made since 1998. . . I came up with the word trap. My figures are trapped in the walls. They are trapped  in the boxes/bodies of race, sex, class. . . In these series of non-figurative traps, I explored the formal possibilities: golden holes and ditches, nets in trees, heavy clay boxes that fell from the ceiling. I've settled, for now, on these tricked out traps. These people-sized cardboard boxes take on personas. They are seductive bait. They simultaneously reference stereotype, consumerism, hyphenated identities, shelter, class, displacement, homelessness and childhood. I also refer to them as dream catchers, the title brings to mind indigenous American spiritual objects, I want the viewer to think about what that is in the context of these cardboard cloth works that represent traps that catch and hold your dreams, hopes, and potential.

headshells
2009
clay and tempura

OPP: Identity is such a complex concept and experience. It includes both how we see ourselves and others see us. It can offer a sense of belonging and be the source of othering, depending on point of view. It can be a heavy burden and other times a source of pride. How do your headshells, in all their various iterations, speak to this issue?

ATB: It would require several dissertations to effectively answer this question, which is why I feel like visual language allows us to metaphorically fold time and space and cover huge and heavy subjects simultaneously. That being said, these heads/shells/masks/hats/faces deal specifically with my ideas as related to code switching, hyphenated identities, multiple consciousness and shapeshifting. They are armor, burdens, crowns, building blocks, balancing acts. They are tools some of us use to navigate varied spaces, negotiate uneven relationships and possibly get ahead (bootstrapping). I juggle many identities. I am African American Caribbean woman, middle/working class, interdisciplinary artist, mother, wife, educator and more. In our overstimulated present, shifting identities are also fragmented/incomplete, no one specialized in a single channel identity. Often, once buried under multiple identities, assumptions and stereotypes, the individual becomes invisible or at most, a two dimensional outline.

chameleon (detail)
2009

OPP: Your recent work from 2015 is a series of figurative wall works that combine ceramics and drawing. Could you talk about how the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional meet in this series and what it means for the figure to be breaking out of the wall?

ATB: I started as a painter. Painting the figure too large for and trapped within the two-dimensional space of the canvas, boxed in. I focused on the gaze, imagining the subject as aware of the viewer and looking back, conscious of the relationship between the entertainer and the entertained. These paintings were for me a metaphor for the state of Black people in America and questioned the degree to which we shape American culture, verses the degree of material power we hold in said culture. The first step is to be conscious of these realities. So the heads push through the two-dimensional space and invade the space of the view. I liken the two-dimensional to stagnation. The relief is the moment of realization, a pushing through liminal or peripheral space. Realization becomes the catalyst for change, and then the faces come off of the wall and move into the fourth dimension as performance. In 2004 I started to paint the two-dimensional figure directly to the wall. Referencing graffiti, Ndebele house painting  and indigenous forms of two-dimensional art-making. I liked the idea of defacing the white wall, the history of European painting as well as well as leaving my mark in a manner that makes it less of a direct commodity.

Chimera
2015
Photo credit: Selina Roman

OPP: Your 2013 project Susu is definitely not an art commodity. Tell us about the site, process and resulting sculptural form in this project.

ATB: Susu was a commissioned by The Laundromat Project, which invites artists to make art at local laundromats as a way to engage the surrounding community and an audience that may not make it to traditional art spaces. In ancient Akan, SUSU means little little (bit by bit). It is a form of micro economics. I proposed a project that involved collecting clothes in front of my local laundromat. As people left clothing I asked them to also leave words— one word, a paragraph or poem, I gave no limitations. The collected clothing was bleached and dyed one of the primary colors. The work was line dried outside the laundromat and the dripping dyes were caught on heavy watercolor paper. The clothing and the clothing line became a giant skirt that I wore in a performance in which I recited the words that had be contributed by the community. Prints made on the watered color paper covered in the drips from the drying clothes were given away to the audience. These same clothes then became two large cocoon-like sculptures. One that lived in a local community garden for eight months and another that permanently resides in the laundromat. The leftover clothing was donated to a shelter. I would like to do more community-based projects as well as explore the possibilities of transforming  soft, old clothes into hard, fragile sculpture.

Susu
Video documentation of interdisciplinary installation
2013

OPP: SuSu metaphorically compliments your ideas about multiple identities. The project is a process performance and a spoken-word performance. It’s social practice. It’s the dyed drip drawings. It’s public sculpture. It’s the generous and sustainable gesture of donating the leftovers. If any one person only witnessed one aspect of the project, they would not have an accurate understanding of the whole, and yet their experience of the part is valuable. It reminds me of the parable of the blind men and the elephant. They fought because they had each touched a different part of the elephant, and so they couldn’t agree on the nature of the elephant. That brings me back to all the identities we have. It seems to me that problems only emerge when we get attached to a single identity, both in viewing ourselves and in viewing others. Could Susu be a model for how to have a holistic relationship with our identities and the identities of others?

ATB: This is a good question; I have to really think on it. The simple answer is just yes. Because there is no waste in Susu, it is sort of like the golden rule, like the most idealized utopian construct. In many ways it is an ideal that charts the layering of identity metaphorically with simple yet connected actions. But on the other hand, identity is not fixed in the same way an elephant or an ideal is. Just when we think we see the entire elephant, it's shape shifts. I think that we have to accept and understand the moments as individual statements. Each element stands on its own, in its own space, with its own allegory and with its own potential to shift and become, altering the mechanisms and overall shape of the whole. Identity is as mutable as language and, as Lacan says, language is shaped like the subconscious. Susu becomes a stepping stone, a way to begin to see how complex and multidimensional identity is, but it does not take into consideration or perform the fluidity of each element.

To see more of Aisha's work, please visit superhueman.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,just opened at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL) and runs through December 19, 2015.



OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Aaron McIntosh

The Bear
2013

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

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

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

from Fragments
2013

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

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

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

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

Captive Heart Boyfriend
2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chronicles of Cruising (detail)
2010

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

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

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

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

Weeds: Dandelion
2013

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

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

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

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

To view more of Aaron's work, please visit aaronmcintosh.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Erin Minckley Chlaghmo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To see more of Erin's work, please visit erinchlaghmo.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and spiritual significance of repetition in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her work is on view through September 2013 in Abstracting the Seam (Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago), and she has two upcoming solo exhibitions: I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (Klemm Gallery, Adrian, Michigan) in November 2013 and Everything You Need Is Already Here (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Abdul Abdullah

Adik Lelaki (little brother)
2012
oil on canvas
40" x 40"

ABDUL ABDULLAH explores themes of belonging and alienation in the context of a Muslim-Australian identity, using his own background as a touch point. His paintings, photographs, video and performative public collaborations operate from a spirit of generosity, while they simultaneously reveal cultural misperceptions about the Muslim-Australian experience. In 2009, he received the Highly Commended in the NYSPP at the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra and was named a Perth Rising Star by Insite Magazine. In 2010, he was included in the inaugural Triple J list of 25 Under 25 + Smashin' It. Abdul lives in Perth, Australia.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your background is in painting, but lately you're taking more of an interdisciplinary approach. Tell me about your interest in portraiture. How did it begin?

Abdul Abdullah: Before I studied art, I studied journalism. I am a curious person, and I am particularly curious about people. Art school for me better satisfied my curiosities and was a more immediate way to address the questions I had. I like people, and I want to understand them. Portraiture seemed like a rational method to pursue. To the chagrin of my lecturers, I painted throughout art school and resisted other mediums. At the time, I wanted to graduate from art school with a practical skill. While painting is still the backbone of my practice, I now see the medium as second to the idea and look to find what processes best suit what I am trying to communicate visually.

Celebration 8
2011
oil and enamel on canvas
48" x 48"

OPP: One thing that really stands out for me about your portraits is the consistency with which the context is stripped away from the figures you paint. Mostly they float in blank fields of color, as in King Keanu (2011), although sometimes the light from some unknown source remains on their faces, as in Serani (2012). How does this formal choice reveal your conceptual concerns?

AA: What I am looking to do is find an efficient mode for the consumption of an idea. It is a reductive method that seeks to put across a simple idea quickly. Often the canvas serves the purpose a plinth can serve in a sculpture. I want to direct the audience to what I find important in an idea.

OPP: I find your body of work Celebrations and Gold refreshing in its emphasis on joy and the notion of honoring the individual. Can you talk about this work and how it developed? Is it a reaction to something in the art world?

AA: Celebrations and Gold was my return show to my hometown Perth after almost two years away in Melbourne and Europe. Melbourne was an amazing city with a lot going on, and I found myself only trying to replace the friends I already had in Perth. I began to feel that cities were much more the same than different, and what really matters is the people you love who live in them. This particular body of work was a way of celebrating the friendships I had in my hometown. I painted the people around me who I loved and in the way that I liked to think of them. I put them in crowns and showered them in confetti. In essence, I celebrated what they meant to me. It wasn't consciously a reaction to anything in the art world, but in hindsight, I can see how this was a way of differentiating myself from a lot of the clinical, academic art I was surrounded by in Melbourne and positioning myself unapologetically as the emotional and reactionary artist I am.

Abdul-Hamid Ibrahim Percival Charles Charles Charles Charles 2
2012
C-type print

OPP:  Your most recent photographs were shown at the Melbourne Art Fair in August. They feature you and an older man, and the titles refer to your paternal lineage. Could you talk about this theme in your work?

AA: The photographs featured my father, or likenesses of my father. Lineage is a subject that has become very important to me. I am a seventh generation Australian with a direct paternal link to a convict who arrived here in 1815, after stealing two stamps and a watch chain in London. My paternal line is exclusively of British origin. On my mother’s side, it is Malay. My father converted to Islam in 1972 and took the Arabic name Ibrahim Abdullah. He married my already Muslim mother, and they raised their children as Muslims.

While my roots run deep in this country, I have found myself continuously having to justify my position as both an Australian and as a Muslim. My skin is brown, and I have an Arabic name so people think I must be from somewhere else with values that don’t correspond with Australian values, or they say that I have assimilated well. Both statements are incorrect. My family has been in Australia for 200 years. I haven’t changed to assimilate into Australian society; I have always been the way I am. Even the cable guy that came to fix my internet the other day said, “I saw your name and thought I’d have trouble with you, but you speak English well." This is symptomatic of the broader Australian attitude. We might have opened our borders, but the White Australia Policy, which restricted non-white immigration to Australia, was only abolished 40 years ago. The personal revolution my father underwent when he became a Muslim that same year defined who I am and how I identify myself today. I am an Australian, I love my country, and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, but I certainly don’t fit the Aussie stereotype.

OPP: As an American, I'm not sure I know exactly what the Aussie stereotype is. Could you explain what you mean?

AA: The Aussie stereotype, as I understand it, is the white, sun-bleached by-product of British colonization. At best it's the laid-back, rough-around-the-edges Crocodile Dundee type. At worst, it's nationalist, xenophobic and white-supremacist. Australia did not suffer apartheid, but our historical experience is not dissimilar. Indigenous people were not classed as human beings until the 1970s, and the term asylum-seeker has somehow become synonymous with illegal immigrant. The Cronulla riots in 2005 were perpetrated by flag-bearing people fitting this stereotype who claimed ownership of the term Aussie. Placards on the day denounced Wogs, referring intially to Lebanese-Australians. But as the day went on, the term seemed to refer to anyone who wasn't white. Broadly speaking, I wouldn't call those who fit the young Aussie stereotype consciously racist, but rather they are South Park Conservatives, and by that I mean, well-meaning idealists with oversimplified, right-leaning politics. They have an egocentric view of the world that reveals a limited understanding of domestic and international history. They wear Rusty brand shorts and flipflops no what the weather is, and they look like Chris Hemsworth or Kylie Minogue.

Intimate Ambassador Ayres
2012
oil on canvas
16" x 16"

OPP: You did a collaborative project with two other emerging Australian artists, Nathan Beard and Casey Ayres, called The Greater Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. The project deals with cultural stereotypes and the experience of living in a multicultural society. Explain the historical reference of the project's title and describe the public performance project.

AA: The Greater Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere was a collaboration with fellow Eurasian artists Casey Ayres and Nathan Beard for the 2012 Next Wave festival in Melbourne. The title refers to Japan’s geo-political ambition in World War II, called the "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere." We dropped "East" from the title and made it more inclusive. The project consisted of an embassy for the fictional empire where we the artists acted as hosts or ambassadors. We transformed a space at the National Gallery of Victoria into an orientalized kitsch set that acted as the backdrop for a series of performances and workshops. These included dancers, musicians and performers, as well as experts in different Asian arts and cultures. We wanted to turn a mirror on the exotic and hold it up to the way Asia is consumed by the Australian public. The whole project was tongue-in-cheek, but we were able to reveal some uncomfortable stereotypes.

OPP: There seems to be a precarious balance between irony and a sincerity in the act of performing as ambassadors. This irony-sincerity hybridity underscores what you've said about your experience as a Muslim-Australian, in the sense that it is a synthesis of two things which people often think of as opposing. I'm wondering about the tone of the performances and workshops. Was it in contrast to the "orientalized kitsch set" or in line with it?

AA: It's important that The Greater Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere was a humorous engagement with these topics, it was also an earnest investigation that carefully handled different cultural discourses. Our workshops were authentic collaborations with Asian-Australian performers, artists and experts. The set and our costumes were exaggerated facsimiles of the real thing, but our engagement with the people we hosted was sincere and not supposed to be ironic.

The Greater Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere
Promotional image
2011

OPP: Those gold suits are amazing! Could you talk about the role of costuming and accessorizing in the project?

AA: The costumes we wore for the duration of festival were based on a Prada design and were made while on a research trip to Thailand in 2011. As the ambassadors we decided we were each going to identify with one of the three imagined pillars of our empire: passion, beauty and wisdom. The crowns we chose and our demeanors were designed to reflect these traits. The gold fabric was chosen, because we felt it reflected the kitsch themes of the space and idea.

OPP: What effect did your collaboration in The Greater Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere have on your own individual practice?

AA: While I have been consciously expanding my practice over the last three years, this collaboration took it to places I hadn’t ever imagined. It involved theatre, dance, performance and audience interactivity. We existed in the space as part of the artwork and interacted with our audience as performers. It really revealed to me what is possible when you are trying to communicate an idea and how, when making art, the idea absolutely must be privileged over the medium. At the same time this does not undermine the value of painting, but rather reinforces the reasons I paint when I do and when I use other means of communications as opposed to painting. 

OPP: What new idea or project are you excited about right now?

AA:  In 2013 I will be exhibiting and working on a body of work that explores the notion of "home." Australia, being a relatively new nation with colonial beginnings has an uncomfortable relationship with this idea. What does "home" mean in the contemporary multicultural Australian context? As a seventh generation Australian, who is also a Muslim and who isn't white, I have mixed feelings about identifying with my nationality. I am an Australian and I love my country, but there is a segment of society in which people claim the same thing but deny my right to do so. I don't have a "mother-country," and if this isn't my home, then where is? I think this question is relevant to an entire generation of Australians who don't identify with bushrangers.

To see more of Abdul's work, please visit abdulabdullah.com.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Bayeté Ross Smith

Taking AIM Installation at Kala Art Institute
2009
Mixed Media
 
BAYETE´ ROSS SMITH uses photography, video and public installation to investigate the ways we perform our racial, gender and cultural identities through clothing, music and the communities of affinity we choose. He reveals both the pleasure of performing our chosen personas, as well as the dangers of perceiving these personas in others. Bayeté has exhibited at such notable venues as the San Francisco Arts Commission, the Brooklyn Museum, the Oakland Museum of California and MoMA P.S.1. In 2011, he was the recipient of the Franconia Sculpture Park/Jerome Fellowship. He is currently the Associate Program Director for KAVI (Kings against Violence Initiative), a non-profit organization, as well as an educator. Bayeté lives in Harlem, NY.

OtherPeoplesPixels: In one sense, you are a documentarian of identity and how our identities are connected to the communities and sub-cultures to which we belong, whether those are subcultures of affinity, as with Gatling (America) and Lady Like, or communities that evolve out of geography, as you examine in West Baltimore Lives. But I wouldn't call you a documentary photographer. How do you identify as an artist?

Bayeté Ross Smith: I would describe myself as a photo-based multimedia and mixed media artist. It is important to me that my work be relevant to everyday life and resonate with people from a broad range of backgrounds, from those in the arts, to those in athletics, business, and politics, to kids in elementary school. I like for my work to build off of every day themes and issues we all face. It is also important that my work be relevant internationally. So I do my best to create work that is activated by the audience in some way, either directly or indirectly. I want the viewers' imaginations to activate the work. Beyond the basic story line I create for them, I want the viewers to have an experience that expands their thinking about specific groups of people, social issues or social interactions. But I don’t just want to be didactic. Ha! Art school word. Seriously though, being didactic is not necessarily wrong, but I want to go beyond that. I want their imaginations to complete the story and complete the experience. That also makes it important for me to base my work in some form of fact or reality. I like to think my work contains elements of truth. I think that gives it a solid foundation that is relevant to people other than just myself.

OPP: What is your relationship to documentary photography?

BRS: I began my career as a photojournalist working for the Knight Ridder Newspaper Corporation. So journalism and documentary photography are at the foundation of how I work artistically. I began my approach to art making by telling stories. These stories always had factual elements to them. I use that perspective as an entry point for most of my work. If I am telling relevant stories, I must think like a journalist. It’s not all about my vision or perspective, though that is definitely part of it. Any journalist that tells you otherwise isn’t being honest. But as journalists, we do try to remove our perspective as much as possible. I am no longer a photojournalist, so I incorporate more of my perspective into my work. I still leave the narrative open, so that the viewers can apply their own personal experience to the experience of the artwork. I also want to make my work an easy “read," but allow for there to be several layers to it as well. So while there are elements on the surface that people can easily recognize and relate to, there are also a variety of issues and questions raised upon further reflection. As I mentioned, I like for there to be significant factual elements in my artwork. I think that makes the work more relevant and more engaging. However, I believe it is important use one's imagination to build on the elements of life we experience on a daily basis.

A Match Made in Nikes
Digital C-Print
30" x 40"
 
OPP: Your ongoing photographic series Pomp and Circumstance: First Time To Be Adults began in 2005. This is series of portraits taken at proms, which you say are one of the last American rites of passage. When you make these photographs, are you the official prom photographer?

BRS: In most cases I am not the official prom photographer. Generally, I am there to shoot 50-100 fine art portraits as an extra feature for the individual school’s senior prom. I don’t want the hassle of managing photo orders. Each participant gets a free 5”x 7” photograph though.

OPP: How many proms have you been to over the years?

BRS: I have photographed proms in New York, New Jersey and California. It has been a challenging project to continue because I can only shoot it during a few weeks in the spring. It can also be challenging to develop connections with people at the various schools. A lot of times the faculty and administrators don’t take the time to understand what I am doing and how it is a benefit to their students, but also that it doesn’t require any real extra work on their part. Over the years I have shot over a dozen proms, and I am planning to do some shooting in the south and midwest over the next several years to finish up the project. I think it becomes more interesting when you look at images from proms over a period of 10 years.

OPP: Although I don't think I took an official prom picture, I fondly remember the the classic laser background from the 1980s. Are you using the contemporary equivalent in your portraits?

BRS: I create all the backgrounds based on conversations with each school’s student government. So the background represents that school and their students. The students are encouraged to express themselves in a commemorative fashion. These are not typical prom photos in the sense that the youngsters are allowed to pose however they would like. I encourage them to be creative, but also to be thoughtful because these pictures will represent them for years to come. I am very interested in how identity is formulated, expressed and perceived at the start of adulthood. The prom is still the first official adult night out for many young people in America.

Lo Relle Two
2010
Digital C-Print
30" x 40"

OPP: What I love about this series is the way it reveals that a large part of identity is performance. These teenagers may or may not understand that, and I may or may not have understood it when I was that age. But we've all been teenagers, and as a viewer of the work, I can recall that how I presented myself to the world was immensely important to me. But these pictures don't seem critical of the subjects. Instead, they reveal the pleasure of the performance, and that's what makes them so compelling. Could you talk about the idea of performing identity in your work?

BRS: Performance is a very interesting aspect of identity. We all have a way of wanting to be perceived by others. We perform these aspects of identity on a daily basis. We perform a different identity for our parents, than for our children, than for our business associates, than for our significant others. This becomes more clear when you think of celebrities who have a “public” persona versus a “private” persona, but we all perform identity for the different communities we are a part of and in different situations. This aspect of identity is amazing to me. I think you can see it very clearly when you examine young people performing their adult identity for the first official time and in a commemorative fashion.

However, the performance of identity can also be very subtle. I like examining identity and how it is performed by looking at explicit and implicit forms of this performance. Someone recounting their personal history for example, like in West Baltimore Lives, is more explicit. Recording someone’s favorite song and a memory they want to share, like in my boombox project Got The Power, is a bit more implicit. The way identity is performed is also interesting when you examine people’s preconceived notions about specific performances. A classic example would be racial profiling like in the Trayvon Martin case. You not only have George Zimmerman racially profiling Trayvon and it resulting in Trayvon’s death, but the police department participating in a similar form of profiling, where they didn’t think it was important to conduct a proper investigation, because Zimmerman’s “story checked out." Both the performance of identity and the perception of that performance can be extraordinarily informative. 

OPP: You make a good point about the continuum of the perceptions of identity: on the one end, are the ways we perceive ourselves and choose to participate in performing our racial, cultural and gender identities and, on the other end, is the space of stereotype and prejudice, in which others are perceiving us and making judgements about our performances. In general, I would say your work focuses on the first end of the spectrum. Do you agree? Is that a conscious choice on your part?

BRS: To some degree, yes. I believe it fosters more critical thought and self reflection to allow people to realize their preconceptions on their own. It tends to resonate more when they discover it themselves as opposed to being told by an exterior force. That is why a lot of my work is designed so that it is activated by the viewers' personal experiences. When someone looks at an image from Our Kind of People and realizes they feel similarly about the white guy in the suit as they do about the black guy in the hoody, that means something to them. That is not something I can tell them, or even show them; it's something that they must come to on their own. Similarly, if someone hears a story in one of the Got The Power mix tapes that is similar to a memory they have, or they hear a song in the mix tape that is meaningful to them, they feel a certain connection or kinship with the community that created that mixtape. Somewhere in their mind they feel as if "they are like me." This feeling can't be evoked by showing them facts or statistics.

My work focuses more on the 1st part of the spectrum you describe than on the 2nd for this reason. But I also feel this is the more interesting aspect of the spectrum. It's at the core of individual identity, and, as Americans, we emphasize the individual so much. The other end of the spectrum is interesting as well, because it does not always manifest itself in overtly negative ways. Preconceptions aren't as simple as being good or bad. We need to understand them, why they exist and where they come from. We perform identity based on our roles in various communities. At the core of my work,  I am fascinated by how people interact, both in the socializing we do on a personal level and in the social systems we create. Ultimately the way we envision ourselves dictates how we create and participate in these social systems and personal interactions. I think it is something that is at the core of how we evolve as humans.

 

More Than Three
2007
Giclee Print
6' x 8'

 OPP: You mentioned Got the Power, which is a public installation, sculpture, oral history, mix tape and a tumblir blog, all rolled into one. It's my favorite piece, by the way. There have been several incarnations of the piece in different locations, each one documenting the people of that community through their stories and the songs they contribute to the mix tape. Could you talk about why you chose the form of the boombox tower?

BRS: The boombox is an iconic object. So even younger people who never actually used cassette tapes recognize the boombox as an icon of traveling music. Personally, I believe there is also recognition of the boombox as an icon of community music. Remember, the proverbial B-Boy or B-Girl with the boombox was not only playing music for himself or herself. They were really playing music for everyone else in the vicinity, even though that wasn’t always by request. So taking this iconic item and using it as a vehicle for creating portraits of different communities through audio just seemed perfect to me.

The process of collecting the boomboxes was just as interesting as collecting the songs and stories. Next time I do this project I will document that process, too. Collecting the boomboxes can be rather expensive, so I always had to be very creative in order to stay on budget. The cost of boomboxes is actually the most significant obstacle to doing this project in more locations. However, I do have plans to expand this project to more locations in the coming year. Anyway, when collecting boomboxes, I find myself researching online and traveling to a bunch of different thrift stores, places that have old electronics, meeting boombox collectors, etc. I come across all types of people in search of them. The aesthetic works the best when the boomboxes are the classic ‘80s-looking boomboxes, but it also interesting to include a wide variety of them. I have seen people stare at the sculptures and count how many different models of boombox in the sculpture they actually owned.

Got The Power: Minnesota
2011
Mixed Media and Sound
6ft x 2ft x 15ft

OPP: I particularly love the idea of defining the diversity of a community through the musical tastes of its members. It's really interesting to think about the idea of how race, class, and gender affect our musical tastes, but because there are no images of the people, we have to wonder about our assumptions. I'd love to hear more about the process of collecting the contributions from the members of the communities. What are some of the challenges of making community-based work like this?

BRS: The biggest challenge is getting people to take the time to talk to me about their favorite song(s) and to take the time to share a memory with me. The average person doesn’t always understand that contemporary art can exist within their daily life, so explaining that you are doing an art project doesn’t always register, especially when it's a community-based, public art project. People tend to think art exists in a museum or a gallery, and often they don’t feel like they understand contemporary art. 

The first time I did this project is was a commission for the Laundromat Project in Washington Heights. The sculpture was in a laundromat, so I would talk to people while they did their laundry. Even with that type of “captive" audience, it was challenging. I actually didn’t get anyone to share memories with me. I did get songs though. Interestingly enough, I originally had planned on this project being directly interactive, where people could actually walk up to the sculpture and play whatever they wanted. I soon realized that, even with the proper signage, people weren’t likely to do it. So I decided to take a more archival approach where I had people write their favorite songs on a list, and then I went out and got those songs for the “mixtape."

2011
Photograph on vinyl
48"x36"

OPP: Was it easier to get people to participate in any of the other locations?

BRS: In Baltimore, collecting the stories was much easier. I worked with a colleague of mine, Raquel DeAnda, and we combined Got The Power with the West Baltimore Lives project. We used the music part of this one a little differently and had local musicians score the people’s stories about their memories. Collecting boomboxes in Baltimore was much easier than in New York. In Minnesota, it was the first time I created the boombox sculpture outside. So there were significantly different issues related to construction and weatherproofing. However it was great to be able to build on such a large scale! The Minnesota version was created for Franconia Sculpture Park and is still currently installed. So yay! It made it through a Minnesota winter. Since this version was in a sculpture park, I simply would talk to a variety of visitors and collect their favorite songs. This was probably the easiest place to collect songs. You know Minnesota people have that “Minnesota Nice” thing going. Collecting the stories was a little more difficult but not as challenging as in Washington Heights. I used an iPhone app to record all the stories and made sure I mixed them creatively and tried to make there be a correlation between the music and what specific memory was being shared. The other thing about Minnesota that worked to my advantage was that I was in a place, Franconia Sculpture Park, where people came to in order to experience art outside of a gallery. The park has a pretty good reputation in the Twin cities area, so most people I approached were pretty receptive. Therefore, the Minnesota Mixtape was the longest and most extensive. When I did the installation at the New Museum at the Festival of New Ideas, we basically moved the installation from the Laundromat Uptown to the New Museum. This was another casemaybe it’s New York—when I couldn’t get people to record memories. But people were very willing to share songs. Another aspect of this project that is very time consuming is tracking down the different songs people request. Though it is also kind of fun. The mixing is somewhat time consuming, too.

All in all, Got the Power is a very fun project to work on. I think people will find it interesting to listen to the various mixtapes and compare and contrast the musical tastes of people from different regions. Some of what people hear may be surprising.

Elizabeth: Marlin Hunting Rifle Cal 7mm-08

OPP: What new idea or project are you excited about right now?

BRS: I am very excited about I project I am working on with my cousin Will Sylvester. I can’t go into all the details just yet, but it involves Hip Hop album skits. I think it will be really interesting. And of course I am very excited about my current collaborative project, Question Bridge: Black Males. I am very pleased with how this project has been received at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, as well as at the Brooklyn Museum, Oakland Museum, the Utah MOCA and in Atlanta. We are currently making plans to tour the installation and film version of this project this fall through 2014. So far, it's scheduled to exhibit at the Schomburg Library for research in Black Culture in Harlem, the Contemporary Art Musem of St. Louis, the Birmingham Museum of Art, the Harvey B. Gantt Center in Charlotte, NC, as well as a variety of other locations in 2013. 

I am also very excited about some upcoming photographing I am doing for my Gatling (America) project. I really like where this project is going and feel it can start some very needed discussions about guns and the role violence plays in humanity. These last two projects are not brand new, but there is still much work to be done one them.

To view more of Bayeté's work, please visit bayeterosssmith.com.