OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Gina Hunt

It's Curtains for You (close-up view of inside), 2016. Hand dyed transnet, steel, aluminum. 96" x 96" x 48."

GINA HUNT explores the permeable and reflective qualities of screens in her paintings, sculptures and site-specific installations. She draws attention to the subjectivity of visual perception in painted surfaces, including the plain weave of canvas, window screens, scenery netting and scrim. Most recently, she has moved her work out of the gallery and into the outdoors, where her multicolored screens are both discrete objects within the landscape and mediators for viewing it. Gina earned a BFA in Painting, Printmaking, and Art History (2009) and an MA in Painting (2012) from Minnesota State University. In 2015, she completed her MFA in Painting at Illinois State University. Gina completed a  2015-2016 fellowship with Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar. In 2016, she was Artist-in-Residence at Badlands National Park and at Hinge Arts in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. Beginning February 1, 2017, you can view her work in a two-person, online exhibition titled In This Place at Pleat Gallery. Weight of Light, a group exhibition curated by Melissa Oresky, will open at DEMO Project in Springfield, Illinois on March 10, 2017. There will be a gallery talk on April 6, 2017. Gina currently lives in Bloomington, Illinois and teaches Drawing at Illinois State University.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Screens are prominent in your work, both as a material and as a metaphor. Could you talk about the difference between looking through screens and looking at screens?

Gina Hunt: Fascinating question! I immediately think of how vision works and the similarities between our eyes and cameras when it comes to depth of field and the ability to focus. I am always getting pleasurably distracted by looking through window screens, fencing, and mesh barriers because of the ‘flit’ that happens between focusing on the screen and then focusing on what is beyond and behind the screen. I’ve been doing this since I was a kid, and I think this experience is really common. Looking at the same physical objects with and without a screen is a completely different visual experience. That difference, or subjectivity, between these two visual experiences blows my mind.

Chromascope (RO), 2016. Acrylic on hand-dyed cut canvas. 24" x 24."

OPP: Please talk about your repeated strategy of slashing and twisting canvas in Feedback (2015), Colorblinds (2014) and Chromoscopes (2015).

GH: I can credit the development of that specific process to two people: my grandmother and Lucio Fontana! Fontana helped me realize that a painting is a very physical object. No aspect or component of a painting is a given; every physical bit of a painting is a material choice. Fontana cut his canvases in the most elegant of ways and showed us that paintings can depict space with actual space, not just implied illusive space.

A few years ago, I was suddenly having a battle with my paintings. It was a complicated mess that dealt with illusion—but instead of going into that whole story, I will explain how I got out of it, which lead to several subsequent bodies of work. I took a few weeks away from the studio and spent full days making a quilt with my grandmother. It was a highly complicated one that we designed. While working on this, we talked about history, politics, gender, modernist painting, and physical labor. This physical engagement with the materials—the measuring, pressing, folding, cutting, stitching, and piecing was so satisfying.

When I returned to the studio, I began cutting up piles of un-stretched, painted canvas. I developed a process of making pattern-based paintings that are incredibly physical and sculptural while also presenting optical experiences based in color. Around that point, it seemed to me that Fontana was taking apart paintings. I felt like I was putting paintings back together.

Flit, 2015. Acrylic on cut canvas over canvas. 47" x 61."

OPP: Any chance the quilt as a unique form will ever enter your practice?

GH: Yes, I am certain that it will.

OPP: Are all paintings screens? Why or why not?

GH: I love this question! Screen is such a complex word with multiple definitions. As a verb, a screen can divide, separate, and conceal.  A screening is an assessment or filtering of information. As a noun, a screen can be a flat panel displaying images and data, a thin object or material which separates spaces, and a surface which allows images and ideas to be projected onto it. Thinking through all of this—Yes. I am rather certain that all paintings are screens.

Window Screen (GR), 2016. Acrylic on cut window screen mesh over painted wooden frame. 16 inches x 20 inches.

OPP: What does site-specificity mean to you?

GH: My work is dependent on where I am in the world. It is site-specific in every sense of the term.

In 2015-2016, I lived in the Middle East as a Practicing Artist Fellow. I believe that the decisions we make are dependent on context and circumstance, and this opportunity made it so clear to me. The research and work I was producing quickly became reactive to the specific place I was a part of. Unfamiliarity can be a great asset—one is able to notice details and characteristics of situations which can become worn and unnoticeable with time and exposure. 

Through that experience, in addition to following residencies I’ve been to, I have prioritized an engagement with locality and hope for my work to be responsive to where I am. My work is site-specific because I am cultivating knowledge of place (local culture, history, visual culture, aesthetics, and identity) through context-based research. I don’t want to just insert myself and my ideas; I want to collaborate with the place where I am making work. 

It's Curtains for You v2, 2016. Hand dyed transient installed in the windows of an abandoned gazebo outside of the Kirkbride buildings (formerly the Fergus Falls State Hospital) in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. Approximately 60 inches x 144 inches

OPP: You were the 2016 Artist-in-Residence at Badlands National Park in South Dakota. Please tell us about this unique residency.

GH: Yes, I just finished that residency and am still reflecting on it. I was completely surprised and thrilled to get it, as I have not seen artists physically place work within the landscape of the Badlands like I wanted to.

The Artist in Residence program at the Badlands National Park supports two artists each year, one in the spring and one in the fall. And so, I wasn't working alongside other creative practitioners, I was working alongside paleontologists, archivists, park rangers, etc. I learned a lot about the landscape and its history from each person I met. The park staff was wonderful support when I needed them but also didn't encroach on me in any way or question my concepts. Their support really impressed me. Since the projects were going to live outdoors, I decided to set up a simple shop outside of my apartment, in the park, and that is where I built most of the work.

I spent a lot of my time exploring the landscape and problem-solving how to install projects without physically interrupting the landscape in any way. Everything was paired down in terms of process, materials, and installation. I worked within limited means. I thrive when thrown into a challenge like that. The weather is entirely unpredictable there, too, which had to be factored into my material and installation decisions. I asked myself, With the materials I have available, how do I make a large-scale installation outdoors that could withstand high winds, rain, and snow, but cannot be staked into the ground or attached with most things one would typically use?

Suncatcher for the Badlands, 2016. Nylon, window screen mesh, and theater scrim stretched on four painted wooden frames, attached with metal hinges. Installed at Badlands National Park. 48” (h) x 36” (w) x 36” (d).

OPP: Aside from having to navigate the physical conditions of the landscape, how was your work there informed by your research into the region?

GH: I spent time researching the visual aesthetic traditions of Lakota culture. The challenge was then creating a bridge between this “field study” research and the physical work I created. Color and geometry were the major aspects of my research. Specifically, I was reading about Lakota star knowledge/astronomy/stellar theology and its interdependence with the landscape. There is a beautifully poetic yet literal concept called mirroring. The earth and the stars “are the same, because what is on the earth is in the stars, and what is in the stars is on the earth” (quoted from Mr. Stanley Looking Horse, father of the Keeper of the original Sacred Pipe, in Lakota Star Knowledge). One example of this is how the earth map and star map are interdependent on one another; this is described in an abstract, geometric drawing. The visual description, which has been recorded in star maps, has an inverted triangle above a reflected triangle, and these triangles meet at their apexes. They are mirrored. The inverted triangle on top symbolizes the sky, or a star, and the drawings of it look like a pointed cone that channels light.  The mirrored triangular cone on the bottom is the same but inverted. This component symbolizes the tipi (which is loaded with geometric symbolism) and earth sites. Thus, the combination of the two triangle cones is called Kapemni in Lakota, or twisting

One of the sculptural works I created drew from this knowledge and employment of geometry to channel light from the sky.  I created a triangular, three-sided form as a conduit for the sunlight and a place for the light from the sky to integrate with the ground and rocks and landscape.

Mirroring, 2016. Theater scrim, PVC mesh, and window screen mesh over (3) wooden frames, attached with metal hinges. Installed at Badlands National Park. 48 inches x 36 inches x 36 inches.

OPP: And your piece Suncatcher for the Badlands was based on research into the Medicine Wheel?

GH: Abstraction is everywhere in Lakota visual culture and is very symbolic. Another important symbol is the Medicine Wheel, which is a complete circle divided into four quadrants. Each quadrant is assigned a color (white, yellow, red, and black). All knowledge is embedded within the Medicine Wheel and the four colors are the symbolic primaries. I used the colors of the medicine wheel in the Suncatcher for the Badlands because they are the primary colors of Lakota knowledge of the universe. Color is always embedded as a conceptual component in my work. I have been working with various systems of primary colors for several years and working in the Badlands allowed me to learn more about color through a very specific cultural and regional context.

OPP: How did being immersed in this natural environment for an extended period of time affect your work?

GH: The work I created was a documentation of a sensitive awareness of and engagement with locality and landscape. I created site-specific installations during the residency, which I photographed throughout the day and in varying weather conditions. During the five week residency, I experienced nearly every possible weather scenario! The installations lived in the bright sun, dense fog, two snowfalls, and a blizzard. The projects were akin to a scientific experiment—the installations were the stable “control variable” and the weather was the “independent variable.”The prehistoric landscape was an ideal setting for light and color experiments. The landscape served as a laboratory. I was able to spend time exploring and hiking nearly every day. This led to a familiarity with the land and the light and allowed me to develop a sensitivity to the elements. I was truly collaborating with the sky, the rocks, and the sun.

To see more of Gina's work, please visit gina-hunt.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014) and the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014). She created site-responsive installations for Form Unbound (2015) at Dominican University and SENTIENCE (2016) at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Resist the Urge to Press Forward, a two-person show with Brent Fogt, is on view at Riverside Art Center (Riverside, Illinois) until April 15th, when there will be a closing reception and artist talk. Throughout March 2017, Stacia is working on an evolving, duration installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago). You can watch Witness change via live feed.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews R. Mertens

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

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

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

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

Schematic Tapestry, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monument to Repetition, 2015

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

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

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

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

Paradoxical Acousmetres, 2016. Installation.

OPP: Tell us about your recent show Paradoxical Acousmetre.

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

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

To see more work, please visit robertmertensartist.com.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jack O'Hearn

The Health Club, 2016. Multi-Media Installation. Approximately 1400 Sq. Ft.

JACK O'HEARN seeks to amplify the social aspects of art viewing and art-making in site-specific, interactive installations. He reinvigorates abandoned spaces through nostalgia, carpentry, make-shift decoration and social exchange. With the aid of The Birdsell Project, Jack completed The Office (2014) in an abandoned mansion and The Camper (2015), a mobile installation which has been exhibited at Art Beat (South Bend, Indiana)_, The Fuller Projects at Indiana University (Bloomington) and ArtPrize 7 (Grand Rapids, Michigan). Most recently he built The Health Club (2016), an abandoned health club turned community center. The closing reception is planned for October 15, 2016, and an additional concert is booked for November 6, 2016. Learn about upcoming events by following the The Health Club on Facebook. Jack earned his BFA (2005) from Lesley University (Cambridge, Massachusetts) and an MA (2012) and an MFA (2013) from University of Wisconsin, Madison. Jack lives and works in South Bend, Indiana.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What role does nostalgia play in your work?

Jack O’Hearn: Nostalgia has this universal quality that can work really well at breaking down social barriers because the history of interior and product design are fairly consistent across a broad demographic, at least within a given country or region. My objects and materials are chosen based on personal nostalgic experiences, and I use them to create environments that I have a longing for and that I thoroughly enjoy spending time in. At first it might seem like a longing for the past, but it actually comes from of desire for a better present. I want to create unique experiences that connect people socially, and nostalgia proves very useful for this. People relate to each other immediately upon entering a nostalgic space. I enjoy spending a lot of time at my installations, meeting people and hearing their stories.

The Office, 2014. Multi-Media Installation. 10' x 10' x 16'

OPP: There is a glaring absence of the digital in each of your installations. When technology is present, it is in the form of analog television sets of an earlier era. There are no computers and no hand-held devices. Are these installations memorials to the pre-internet era?

JO: The lack of computers or hand held devices in my work is mostly due to the era of my childhood. I’ve used televisions, VHS players, portable radios and old video games, but I’ve also used hidden mp3 & dvd players that have remained invisible and unknown to visitors. I like to see visitors using their phones to text or snap photos and consider those actions a part of the piece. I think hand-held devices are part of the social fabric of our society at this point. My newest work has an mp3 hook up so visitors can share their music on the stereo to listen or dance to.

The Camper, 2015. Multi-Media Installation.

OPP: I’m thinking about the words “salvage” and “scavenge” in relation to your practice, both as processes and as subject matter. How and where do you source the objects and materials for your installations?

JO: Home improvement stores are the most frequented. It was a good day when I discovered that most of these stores carry the same wood paneling that was so popular in the 70s and 80s. That stuff really brings me back and I’ve used it a lot. I feel very comfortable with most construction materials because I was trained as a third generation tile setter. I always enjoyed the work, but hated doing it everyday without much creativity involved. I appreciated the craft, but would often be thinking about decorating or redesigning the bathrooms and kitchens I was working in.

If I’m looking for something specific I’ll shop online. For instance, for The Office I knew I wanted the Bob James album Touchdown, which featured the theme song to the 70s sitcom Taxi. That album, which was on frequent rotation as part of the installation, really captured the mood and feeling of a home office set in the late 70s or early 80s. I also frequent estate sales. Walking into a random person’s house and seeing a piece of their life left behind is fairly similar to my experience with a work of art. It really excites my imagination, and there’s also the fun of treasure hunting that goes with it.

Contact, 2013. Mixed Media Installation. Dimensions Variable.

OPP: Looking back to earlier work, New Town and Contact were distinct spaces built within traditional galleries. Even while empty, they implied human habitation. Could people enter these installations or were they unoccupied tableaux?

JO: Yes to both. Viewers could enter but weren’t encouraged to touch anything. Contact was my first installation and my graduate thesis exhibit. It was included in a thematic show alongside a group of paintings, but it actually marked my departure from paint. That installation was still very two-dimensional and was meant to be viewed like a painting, just eliminating the window effect. A friend of mine at the time commented that I was approaching installation art as a painter because I was more focused with arranging color on the walls. I was fine with that, but was intrigued to venture into space a little more.

New Town was a four-walled enclosure with a small entrance. Visitors could enter into it, but it wasn’t interactive in any way. Everything had it’s place and I wasn’t ready to allow visitors to disrupt that. As I moved on, I became more interested in visitor interaction and letting go of the idea that a work of art needed to be precious or unalterable.

Salvage Design, 2012. Wood, Screws, and Various Objects. 60" x 72" x 36."

OPP: Can you say more about the social aspects, which seem to be growing more significant in recent installations, of the temporary spaces you make?

JO: I’m really interested in finding ways to break down barriers between the viewer/visitor and the work of art. I try to design environments that generate social interaction on their own so there isn’t a very directed course of action for visitors other than to relax and enjoy one’s self. It can be a challenge just to get visitors to accept this and feel at home in a work of art. Children do it naturally because they want to touch things and are always looking for something to play with. They’re less conscious that they’re in a work of art. If I notice an adult stopping a child from touching things, I’ll tell them that everything is meant to be used or touched. This eases a lot of the tension involved in approaching a work of art and also makes for a more communal experience, and connecting people is my main goal. There can also be more solitary experiences within a social environment, like when I’m working on a laptop with my headphones at a bar or cafe. I’m trying to create spaces where people can feel comfortable in the presence of others and I keep discovering new aspects to that. Social interaction has become just as important to me as any visual aspect. With my new work, I don’t really see its completion until the social aspects take shape.

For my latest installation, I solicited help from several community volunteers. They took part physically and creatively, learning design principles and how to safely use power tools. I hope to build on this and create more opportunities for creativity in the communities I’m working in.

The Camper, 2015. Multi-Media Installation.

OPP: What keeps you working with the Birdsell Project, a unique residency in South Bend, Indiana? Has this particular opportunity changed the direction of your practice?

JO: I first got to know the cofounders, Myles Robertson and Nalani Stolz during their first exhibition at The Birdsell Mansion. When they opened the long-abandoned mansion to the public, word spread quickly. It caught the attention of local media outlets and experienced an incredible turn out from the community. That’s when the Birdsell Project was born, with the mission of opening underutilized property to the public by hosting cultural events. I created The Office for that show, which was my fourth installation and my first time allowing unrestricted visitor interaction. Towards the end of the exhibition, Myles approached me about creating a site-specific installation with an old motorhome, which would travel to various locations. It seemed like a natural next step, and The Camper generated a lot of memorable experiences. I was able to meet and talk with such a large and diverse range of people through that project.

The three of us share fairly similar ideas about art and community, which has led to a great professional relationship as well as a close friendship. The Birdsell Project was exactly what I was looking for after graduate school, even though I was not fully aware of it. I feel very fortunate that our paths have met.

The Health Club, 2016. Multi-Media Installation. Approximately 1400 Sq. Ft.

OPP: Tell us about The Health Club, which opened in August 2016. What was your vision? And how have viewers/participants been responding?

JO: The Health Club is both an art installation and multi-purpose venue that was created for The Birdsell Project’s Summer Residency. It utilizes the men’s locker room of an abandoned health and fitness facility, which is located in the basement of an historic building in downtown South Bend. I wanted to transform the space into something functional that would be a lasting contributor to the city’s cultural activity. The vision was to create an inclusive and positive environment that promotes well being through acts of generosity, creativity and play. When visitors step inside The Health Club they’re presented with an atmosphere very similar to a children’s fort or clubhouse, although some visitors have mentioned that it brings back memories of their grandparent’s basement or attic. The point is that the nostalgia of a child’s clubhouse is much more universal than recreating a specific time period such as with my previous work. It’s something that transcends age, class and gender.

The space features a performance stage as well as an art room that’s stocked with art supplies and whose walls are painted entirely with chalkboard paint. Visitors are welcome to use the stage or make art to take home or leave behind. There is also a stockpile of board games throughout the space that visitors can play. Another feature, which has been very successful, is the donation collection bin. Visitors are encouraged to bring non-perishable food items, which are eventually transported to a local collection center.
   
The Birdsell Project will be able to use The Health Club indefinitely as a venue for concerts and events to help raise funds for future endeavors. I’m currently applying for grants to help expand the space to include extra rooms, a full working restroom as well as house instruments and visual/audio equipment, all of which will allow for greater capacity and versatility. As of now, it has hosted the opening reception for the Birdsell Project Residency Exhibition, weekend open hours and several community meetings.

To see more of Jack's work, please visit jackohearn.com.

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


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 Snow Yunxue Fu

Still
2016
Video Installation, Ammerman Center for Arts and Technology

SNOW YUNXUE FU’s experimental animation and installations explore the digital Sublime, liminality and multidimensionality. She moves her viewers through virtual space, which has the capacity to be both gargantuan or minuscule in size, complicating our perception of physical space. She simultaneously grounds them in the tangible world by combining animation and architectural interventions in the gallery. Snow holds two BFAs, one from Southeast Missouri State University, Cape Girardeau, Missouri (2009) and the other from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2011). She also earned a BA from Sichuan Normal University, Chengdu, China and went on to earn her MFA in Film, Video, New Media and Animation from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2014), where she is currently a lecturer. Her solo exhibitions include Tunnel at Mana Contemporary (Chicago, 2015) and Still at Yellow Peril Gallery (Providence, Rhode Island, 2015). Most recently, her work was included in Abstract Mind: the International Exhibition on Abstract Art (CICA Museum, South Korea, 2016) and Group Format at Logan Square Arts Festival (Chicago, 2016). Through September 30, 2016, her work is on view in Vision and Perspective: Chinese-American Art Faculty Exhibition at Hongli Cheng Art Museum in Guizhou, Guiyang, China. Snow lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us about your background in Painting.

Snow Yunxue Fu: I grew up with two art educators as parents and a grandfather who was a well-known Chinese traditional painter and sculptor. I was painting as long as I can remember. I worked with Chinese ink painting, acrylic and oil pastel throughout my childhood, painting anything from abstraction to figurative. As a child, that was very much part of my life. Art is how I reflected what I saw during the day and processed things I experienced.

However, there was a break from art in my teenage years, mostly because of the heavy load of Chinese academic work from school. Plus, I had a bit of a rebellious period where, due to family pressure to continue the trade and become an art star, I resented the idea and focused on English. This actually paid off, since I came full circle in the States. It was not until I came to America for college that I started to paint again (on my own terms) and finally majored in oil painting. In my many undergraduate years, I was mainly a painter, but also had a multidisciplinary background in sculpture and photography before making the leap into Experimental 3D and installation.

Ray 1
April 2016

OPP: What led to that leap?

SYF: On a whim, I took this intro to Experimental 3D course at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. It was very different from my normal practice, but I found myself relating to it. What I had been hoping to express and explore in painting seemed to suddenly be freed and made possible through the limitlessness of virtual reality. It was like a light coming on or a door opening, and I never looked back. However, I brought with me a painter’s sensibility and process. I quickly replaced my canvas and paintbrushes with software like Maya and Realflow, and moved more and more into intentional abstraction. 

The main conversations in the painting world were not so connected to what I was trying to explore conceptually. Painting seemed burdened by always carrying around centuries of conversation and baggage. One would almost have to choose to fully carry that baggage or find a way to creatively dismiss it all to explore what one wished. Yet, when I came to 3D experimental animation, it was like a sudden discovery of a better language.

It was definitely a younger medium and virtual reality had yet to be explored in the art world. The conversation was more energetic. I think the painter in me will never die, but, as in my real life, one language may work better than another to express myself. With each language you learn, new perspectives are available to you to explore. Some languages seem naturally related to one another, and the language of installation was a natural progression from 3D work, as it is often projected into architectural space.

Figment
Experimental 3D Animation
July 2016

OPP: When looking at your work, I definitely bring the associations of non-art uses of 3D animation that I’ve encountered: scientific illustrations of the Big Bang and planetary movement, representations of the microscopic goings-on in our bodies, video games, CGI in Sci-fi movies. Do these references support or distract from your “Kantian quest to capture the experience of the sublime through the limited means of human consciousness especially within the contexts of the multi-faceted contemporary technological society”?

SYF: That is a really good question, and one that I have wrestled with. If I am talking to someone even slightly out of contemporary art circles, when I say I work with 3D animation, nine times out of ten, their response is, “Oh yah! Like Pixar and Toy Story, right?”  In contemporary art making, one has to take into consideration the commercial context of the medium they work with, especially with a medium so widely used in mainstream culture. By selecting 3D animation as an artistic tool, mainstream’s perception of it is unavoidable, but I actually do welcome that, especially as a starting point for conversation.

Some of the earliest comments of my work were, “It looks sci-fi,” and that the color choices were commercial – bright and beautiful. I like the notion that aspects of what is familiar in the mainstream become abstracted aspects in my work. I like John Chamberlain and the Pop artists, who used relatable images or objects in an abstracted way to draw viewers into greater perceptions and awareness beyond their mainstream selves.

Still
2016
Video Installation, Ammerman Center for Arts and Technology

OPP: In your recent installation Still (2016) at the Ammerman Center for Arts and Technology at Connecticut College, viewers were confronted by a floor-to-ceiling rift in the gallery wall, through which they could watch an animated video. Viewers could both peer directly into this rift or step back to experience how light and color from the video affected the atmosphere in the gallery. A rift can be dangerous, but it can also provide a new point of view. Could you talk about how you think about the rift?

SYF: A rift or gap to me is a starting point. It indicates new possibilities.

Still, as an architectural video installation project, finds Edwin Abbott’s novel, Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, as a primary inspiration. The story centers on a 2D geometric character, Mr. Square, who lives in a land of flatness. Through a series of encounters with a three-dimensional being, known as Sphere, he discovers a greater reality outside of his own 2D perception. Through some considerable yet considerate prodding from Sphere, Mr. Square begins to explore 3D space, and learns to adjust his perspective of himself.

In my installations, as for Mr. Square, the seemingly infinite world within virtual reality has to be made into something we can relate to in our world. I found the relationship between the infinite virtual world and the need for scale to be ripe with symbolism for our physical selves in relation to new perspectives, the infinite, and the sublime. To bring moving images into space, where the physicality of the images (size, ratio, brightness, and depth) have a relationship with the viewer’s body. The size of the viewer’s body becomes their basis for relating to the infinite virtual world, where the limitation of their height and the distance of their vantage point become rulers, which they measure the infinite realm suggested in the projections or screens.

Rift
April 2016
Experimental 3D animation for single-channel projection

OPP: Is it a metaphor?

SYF: My work offers a metaphor for the human being’s existential relationship to the larger world. Extending out from the pictorial and expanding into the land of virtual reality. The projections and installations become metaphors for the human physical perception, by which the quality of the sublime is framed, inviting the viewer to physically and mentally enter into a liminal Gordon Matta Clark-like interior within a digitally constructed space.

In the same way abstract work can at times appear cosmic yet microscopic, the experience of the viewer encountering the liminal space can be a metaphor for our perceptions related to our practical relationships with each other, not just our cosmic existential relationship to all of reality. Like Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, we have to choose to accept our limitations to grasp realities beyond them. This, to me, is something very relevant today. For example, with the racial strife happening in the U.S. right now, both sides have to strive and choose to move beyond perceptions they were born into and arrive at a greater understanding, one that celebrates their uniqueness, but moves into a new and greater realization of what they need to do to end the problem. Approaching and exploring such rifts can be dangerous, but it is necessary. To acknowledge the rift, and to begin exploring its untold wonder, is to acknowledge we are on the other side. Like in the cave, people can resist this vehemently, but for those who reach, they begin a process of discovery that we need in contemporary global culture.

Access
Experimental 3D Animation
September 2012

OPP: How do you approach sound in your work? Some animations have it and others don’t.

SYF: As a former painter, sound was not an immediate concern going into 3D. Now it is quite obvious. Sound continues to be an area of exploration for me. My process is quite intuitive, so there are times sound seems to be a natural extension of the work and other times not. Like with mainstream viewers’ perception of 3D animation, media natives that have experienced digital media and sound from near birth, tend to expect sound when they see a moving image. Whether sound is or is not used, its presence or absence can help viewers arrive at a particular awareness of themselves in relation to the work.

When I do use sound, I usually start with recording environmental sound or I use recordings from various sources and then edit them on software like Logic. I find there is a draw for my work to combine sounds at opposite ends of the spectrum – sound based in the environment and sound that is fully synthetic. And that relates somehow to the experience I want my viewers to have: either fully immersed in the visual and audible elements of my work, or stopping to explore why there is not sound and how it relates.

Solid 4
Experimental 3D animation still
January 2015

OPP: Does your exploration of an abstracted “digital realm” have implications for the way digital technologies are embedded in our everyday lives?

SYF: Definitely. The majority of digital technology has practical uses in our daily routines. How can I do this efficiently? How can I get this information the fastest? How can I connect with this group of people? These questions are often answered by “looking down”, focused on a specific place in time, a screen, an app, a watch. It very much reflects a western capitalist consumerism, though, in my work, I am more fascinated with the idea of conjuring an experience of the infinite in nature – like what happened when you saw the ocean for the first time or climbed to the top of a peak. These experiences reflect the questions we face when our finite selves meet the infinite. The digital virtual world parallels this stage. Everything in the virtual world is made up of singular finite 0’s and 1’s, yet they grant the virtual world infiniteness, as in Maya where the X, Y, and Z axes extend forever. The digital realm, therefore, is an excellent platform to hold conversations about the significance of our personal/interpersonal and existential/everyday selves.

To see more of Snow's work, please visit snowyunxuefu.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). In March 2016, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Her work will be included in SHOWROOM, curated by Edra Soto, at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition as part of the ANNUAL, on view from September 16 - 29, 2016.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Elisabeth Piccard

Pulsus, 2016
Attache à tête d'équerre (Ty-Rap), Pelxiglass, canevas enduit de vinyle, D.E.L., microcontrôleur, MDF peint
18'' x 60'' x 30''
Programmation : Ghislain Brodeur
Crédit photo: Jean-Michael Seminaro et SODEC

ELISABETH PICARD expertly manipulates a variety of materials into unexpected forms, while maintaining their material identities. For the last five years, she has transformed manufactured, plastic zip-ties into organisms, land forms and architectural curtains, emphasizing accumulation, texture and transparency. Elisabeth earned her BFA in 2004 from University of Quebec and her MFA in 2011 from Concordia University, both in Montréal, Quebec. She has exhibited widely throughout Quebec, including solo exhibitions at Materia (2012) in Quebec City and the Centre d’Exposition de Mont-Laurier (2012). In 2016, she created two new pieces at the Centre d’exposition Raymond-Lasnier for the Biennale Nationale de Sculpture Contemporaine, which are on view until September 9, 2016. Elisabeth is represented by Lonsdale Gallery in Toronto. She lives in Montréal, Quebec.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Could you talk about the relationship of the single unit to the whole in your work and in nature?

Elisabeth Picard: I often use single zip-tie units in repetition to create a massive texture. I also assemble a few single units to create hand-sized pieces that may be seen as miniature sculptures or sculptural sketches for a gigantic construction. Single units can also be attached together to create bigger pieces. I often think of my pieces as similar to permeable cellular forms that are bound together because both configurations would let water and light pass through.

It is the architectural potential of the material—to be cut, bent and torn— and its translucency that stimulates me to create organic and abstract shapes. My relationship with nature surfaces by itself, even when the plastic material is far from nature. The forces of nature create growth, movement and transformation in animals, plants, cells and landscapes. My sculptures could be associated with some static stage within those realms. 

Défragmentation, 2014
Detail
Dyed zip-ties, LED light, enamel painted aluminum and steel
Dye Sébastien Jutras
Photo credit: Ghislain Brodeur

OPP: When did you first begin to work with zip-ties?

EP: One of my major interests lies in the possibilities of the material and the pure pleasure of exploring many ways of manipulating it, following my intuition and gestures. I distinguish my production and creativity from that of other artists because my intention is to develop ingenious applications of different materials. Before using zip-ties, I worked with rattan, wood, metal, resin, beeswax, plywood and single face cardboard.

While studying for my Master’s Degree in Fibre Arts at Concordia University, Montreal, I discovered how important and creative contemporary basketry is in the U.S. In 2010, when I was about to start new work for my thesis, I went to the library at my favourite museum, the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA). There I opened a magazine and saw a 3D representation of a translucent wave of spikes. I had a flash of working with zip-ties. I created my first significant piece Flot and then 18 small sculptures known as Constructions in 2011. As I was developing this new body of work, I went online to see how this material was being used and I realized that there was great potential for me to manipulate it in a personal way, because I consider it like some sort of Meccano. Since then, I have been continually evolving with this material, integrating dyes and programmed LED lights. With some hindsight, I realize that my use of zip-ties is a continuation of early works with rattan but with the intriguing properties of resin.

Coccolithophoridés, 2013
Dyed zip-ties, with plexi light box
17.25 x 17.25 x 6 inches
Photo credit: Michel Dubreuil


OPP: Your titles often refer to single-celled organisms—Nuées : Ceratium, Phacus, Closterium (2014), Asterionellopsis glacialis (2013) and Diatomée 5 (2013) are just a few examples. What role does scientific research play in your practice?

EP: Science and nature are my major sources of inspiration: I have studied the work of D’Arcy Thompson, Peter S. Stevens and Buckminster Fuller. Looking at their work, I encountered beautiful antique illustrations of radolaires and other sorts of cells, seaweeds and invertebrates. I have become very interested in the relationship of growth and transformation in evolution. These features inspire my work without leading me to represent them. It is more of a parallel universe that I study for its formal constructions.

I find it very difficult to give a title to a body of work and not have it suggest a single reading for the viewer. Because few people know Latin, I use these terms to give more of a clue that can be researched later. Furthermore, specific cellular and phytoplankton names are a source of inspiration for titles of new shapes that I have just created because they happen to look similar.

Strongylocentrotus, 2013
Dyed zip-ties, with plexi light box
15 x 15.75 x 8 inches
Photo credit: Michel Dubreuil

OPP: In your earlier work (early 2000s), there are a lot of recurring forms: voids, circles, tubes, and mazes, all of which also had the quality of cumulative, organic growth that is still present in your more recent installations that now make more direct references to natural forms and organisms. Was this a conscious shift? Or something that grew out of material changes?

EP: My earlier work referred to a spiritual state that is the result of observing sacred architecture. I was interested in the personal or grounded self-connection that develops during the state of contemplation and elevation of the spirit without the religious content. I discovered that this interest was linked to the thought of Indigenous peoples: for them the spirit is grounded within nature. My work kept the same approach but took another form: a reading that relates to the basic architecture already present in nature’s shapes and force. Karl Blossfeldt’s black-and-white photographs of specimens show this.

Rainbow mountains, 2015
60,000 dyed zip-ties
6 x 5 x 7 feet
Detail
Dye: Sébastien Jutras
Photo Credit: Michel Dubreuil

OPP: Setting content and imagery aside, describe your experience in the studio making work built from repetitive processes. What do mean by the phrase “meditative approach?” Do you think of your studio practice as a meditation practice?

EP: I do not consider my art practice as meditative. However, creating work stimulated by the material’s potential is a form of focused involvement. Also the fact that I produce a massive construction through repetitive action requires a capacity of endurance. While making a large body of work, I may let my mind become centred in another state, or maybe I am being simply obsessive compulsive.

When I am creating work, I like to think about the boundaries of scale. I imagine that my miniature work could be gigantic for a firefly. At the opposite end of the scale, some of the larger installations could be seen as Nano texture, a piece of material bigger than the building that hosts my work. Also, I like to look at textures and patterns that attract and excite me. I have a tendency to create dense work that demands a lot of visual attention, and I play visually with depth and surface to make the viewers lose their points of reference, if they so wish.

I use a ‘’meditative approach’’ more with the idea of producing an awareness of nature, of showing its power and capacity for change, thus showing respect for our interconnection with nature and understanding of what we do to it. However, I am not an ecological artist, and no art works are truly green or have zero impact. I am trying to be better in my everyday life and to compensate in other ways, but I feel torn because I love both nature and plastic.

Waitomo cave, 2016
Plexiglass, canevas enduit de vinyle, D.E.L., attache à tête d'équerre (Ty-Rap), microcontrôleur et détecteur de mouvement
2' x 10' x 15' (variable)
Crédit photo: Jean-Michael Seminaro et SODEC

OPP: What's next for you? Where do you see your work going in the near future?


EP: As I begin work on a commissions, I explore various ways of using the zip-ties and I discover unfamiliar readings for them. For example, the mineral world is full of colours and unusual shapes. So my abstract constructions and textures take on exciting new readings. These new opportunities push me to be creative and technically adept. This also requires me to continue developing my drawing skills on the computer because laser cutting is so practical for making a structure that can receive zip-ties. In parallel to the permanent works, one of my future goals is to introduce movement, using electronic components in some pieces to create work that flows into space.

To see more of Elisabeth's work, please visit elisabethpicard.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). In March 2016, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Her work will be included in SHOWROOM, curated by Edra Soto, at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition as part of the ANNUAL, on view 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 Edra Soto

Graft, 2013 - ongoing
Architectural intervention at Cuchifritos Gallery + Project Space
Wood or adhesive

Influenced by her upbringing in Puerto Rico, EDRA SOTO explores the cultural, symbolic and historical meanings of vernacular patterns and objects. Her projects often have multiple iterations and require audience-participation to be truly activated; participants read the newspapers at the rejas-adorned "bus stops" in GRAFT, play dominoes in Dominodomino (2015) or consume pineapple upside-down cake in The Wedding Cake Project (2009-ongoing). By merging research with autobiography and audience-participation, she reveals the intersection of the individual with the collective. Edra earned her MFA at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2000. She's also an alum of Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Beta-Local in Puerto Rico, and most recently the Robert Rauschenberg Residency. Her numerous 2016 exhibitions include There was no joy in the brilliance of sunshine at Efrain Lopez Gallery (Chicago), Relocating Techniques at Corner (Chicago) and the Elmhurst Art Museum Biennial: Chicago Statement (Elmhurst, Illinois). In August 2016, her work will be included in Poor and Needy: The Great Poor Farm Experiment IIX, curated by Lise Haller Baggesen and Yvette Brackmanin. Along with her husband Dan Sullivan, Edra runs The Franklin, an outdoor project space in Chicago. Her GRAFT project will be featured at the Western Avenue stop on the train line to O’Hare Airport in Chicago, where she lives and works.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Pattern and ornamentation are major players in your practice. How do you think about them, how do you use them and what would you like to add to the conversation around them?

Edra Soto: I think about patterns as markers of specific cultures. Nowadays, I cannot look at a pattern without wondering about its place of origin, and if appropriated, how it has been appropriated. Perhaps these are the most frustrating times, were there are no boundaries for what it’s being consumed. Going to retail establishments and seeing patterns used indiscriminately is somewhat disconcerting. Like any other mark or gestural representation, patterns have owners and places of origin.

My architectural intervention GRAFT presents representations of rejas (fence in Spanish) patterns that come from Puerto Rican domestic architecture. I create architectural interventions rather than turning them into sculptural objects in order to preserve the integrity of those patters. This way, I avoid turning them into some kind of merchandise with a commercial destination or retail value. In my pretend gesture, I symbolically transplant a portion of the Puerto Rican visual landscape into American territory, as if I was playing the role of the settler. Puerto Rican middle class cement houses and rejas pattern designers were presumed to be the creation of slaves brought to Puerto Rico by the Spanish conquistadors in the 1500s. An essay titled Comparative + Studies based on hypothesis, The African influence in the built-up Environment of Puerto Rico, author Jorge Ortiz Colom, attributes authorship of the fractal patterns to African slaves from the the republic of Ghana that were brought to Puerto Rico for free labor. The patterns are associated with the Adinkras visual symbols created by the Ashanty region in West Africa.

The rampant inner racism in the Caribbean makes me think that it is possible that there’s no populous knowledge of the origins the rejas because of racial discrimination. Spanish architecture is something that people can talk about and that is studied in high school; the rejas on the other hand are not a part of that roster of things we get to learn in high school. You have to be an artist or a scholar, go into research to learn about the African influence in domestic architecture. To me, this is a true motivator that gives value to these important piece of domestic architecture that defines Puerto Rican’s visual landscape.

Graft, 2013 - ongoing 
Architectural intervention at Terrain exhibitions
Wood or adhesive

OPP: Does recontextualizing the rejas from Puerto Rico in mainland U.S. cities ever run the risk of misrepresenting? Do you ever fear the contemporary cultural default to see the patterns as a surface instead of a language?

ES: Yes, it does run that risk. It is up to me to inform through my work the best way I can. I believe in these patterns because they provide an easy entrance to deeper issues of race and class. The hybridization that the patterns have already gone through makes them more relevant in relation to popular visual language (or visual access). They are already inserted in the commercial market. It is up to me to inform viewers about their origin through critical thinking and conceptual analysis. To this point, the extension of GRAFT invites writers from various disciplines (architecture, history, sociology, politics, poetry) to explore the rejas through their respective fields. Other extensions of GRAFT are in the works. This project becomes more and more fascinating to me as time goes by. It takes me time to learn about the projects I undertake. Through lots of reflection, research and conversations I have found motivation and inspiration to continue the course of GRAFT.

Say Everything
Installation view
2014

OPP: Can you talk about your use of fans in the Tropicalamerican installations and Say Everything? Besides their practical function of moving air in the space to activate the hanging flags, what other symbolic, conceptual or formal functions do they serve?

ES: Say Everything responds to a personal experience in an outdoor setting. I was fortunate to attend the Robert Rauschenberg residency earlier that year and develop most of the work of Say Everything there. I tried to recreate my outdoor experience in the domestic gallery space. I took in consideration the interior architecture and decorative elements of the domestic space and assign roles to the various objects / elements that I included in my installation. A series of flags titled Tropicalamerican, embody the natural environment. In the middle of the room, in portrait position, they try to resemble trees; a series of chairs upholstered with beach towels resembles four legged animals; the fans represented the wind and animated the space with movement. It was a colorful and playful reverse role play: artificial versus natural environment.

from Tropicalamerican III

OPP: The clay spirals from Figures (2013-ongoing) have been exhibited on shelves with fluorescent light, on a circular slab of concrete, underneath a staircase, and on what looks to be a domestic tchotchke shelf. Can you talk about the flexibility of installation in this project?

ES: Perhaps opposite in its intention, I think of Figures as my response to the commercial market. What triggered my interest in Figures was the idea of making an object that comes out of a single coil. The coil is the most basic shape in building a ceramic form. The coil is the starter of something that possibly will be functional. I was teaching high school art at that time, and teaching a skill always opened up an opportunity to create something. This was one of those opportunities. I had never worked with air dry clay before. It’s a technological miracle: truly easy to work with, very clean and possible indestructible. My focus was to create an object that resembles a shell. Shells are protectors of organisms. Closer to home, they are popularly seen as Caribbean souvenirs. Displays are interesting because they can alter the connotation of the object, changing it from mass-produced to an artifact, from an archival object to one of spiritual connotations. I think about display forms as the providers of the environment we want to create for the work we make.

Figures
2013 - ongoing
Air dry clay

OPP: You recently co-curated—with Josue PellotPresent Standard for the Chicago Cultural Center. The show featured 25 contemporary, US-based Latinx artists. It was fantastic and received a lot of press. And The Franklin is now a staple Chicago venue. Tell us about your first experiences as a curator.

ES: When I was a student in Puerto Rico, I was obsessed with the idea of bringing different disciplines together into my work. I was studying at a conservative college where painting and sculpture were the validated forms of art. Performance and installation were too advanced at that time. After my first year at SAIC in Chicago, I developed the confidence to explore various disciplines in a single project. The I Love Chicago Project was my first multidisciplinary installation project. I invited friends who were musicians and  performance and sound artists to perform in my SAIC studio. I was also very curious about what other artists were making. While walking around SAIC artists’ studios, I started putting together ideas and associating their respective projects, to the point of feeling convinced that they will speak to a greater audience if they were together in one single space. This led me to my first curatorial project titled Glam Salon at the Student Union Gallery (SUG), a somewhat neglected space in a very desirable spot on campus, right in between the School and the Museum of the Art Institute. The SUG was not popular at the time (not sure why), and I saw that as an opportunity to remind other students of what is available to them. Michael X Ryan was the professor at that time in charge of this space, and I will always be grateful for his support and excitement for my project. He was very serious and intimidating to me, but very supportive to students.

The Franklin consolidates many attempts, many sculptural and performance projects that intended to bring different disciplines and audiences to a singular space or situation. The Franklin also allows me to give visibility and space to the communities of artists that need it, and it's an opportunity for me to showcase work by artists or curators that I have met throughout the years. One great thing about The Franklin is that it is at my home, a place I truly love. It makes things easier.

It's Been A Very Good Year, 2016
Installation
Painted fragments on paper

OPP: What’s challenging about balancing the roles of curator and artist? What’s beneficial?

ES: The greatest challenge of curating while maintaining your career is time. Managing how much time things take in the making, the networking, the organizing departments. . . it is difficult to balance. As long as it feels that it comes from a real place to me, I will pursue it. Being organized doesn’t come naturally to me. At some point I realized that I will be my own administrator and that in order to make things work I need to be organized. Providing artists opportunities for exposure allows me to balance my career, which at many times feels so self-centered.

To see more of Edra's work, please visit edrasoto.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 Justin Morgan Kennedy

Swine is Divine
2016

Artist and educator JUSTIN MORGAN KENNEDY examines overlooked and dismissed places, resources and objects collected from both urban and rural environments. Whether in a concrete cast of a a rural Shenandoah deer path or an irregular, grid of found upholstery and imported mums, he hopes to draw our attention to what we do and don't value about our human habitats. Morgan earned his BA in Studio Art from George Mason University in 1997 and his MFA in Sculpture from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2000. He has had solo exhibitions at Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, where he was an Artist-in-Residence, in 2003 (Omaha, Nebraska) and the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts in 2008 (Wilmington, Delaware). In 2010, he was also an Artist-in-Residence at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center Arts Industry Residency. Most recently, he finished a collaborative piece called World Table with Workingman Collective at the Bascom Center for Visual Arts in Highlands, North Carolina. Morgan is an Assistant Professor of Sculpture Western Carolina University at and has relocated to Asheville, North Carolina.

OtherPeoplesPixels: “I am continually discovering the connections between ego, form and context.” Can you expand on this quote from your statement: what kinds of connections have you discovered?

Justin Morgan Kennedy: I have always been interested in the effects objects have in our understanding of place, time, memory and our consciousness as living entities. I have often questioned the potential influence of dreams on our waking lives and vice versa. What roles do memories and dreams play, and how do they contribute to a relationship between humans and their environs?

In some West African cultures, if one dreams of a memorable encounter with a stranger or lover, the dreamer will wake and render a carving of the person as a wood statue. By doing this, the dreamer hopes the new sculpture will act as a signifier and produce more dream encounters. Seeing a real world representation should incite further lucid dream encounters with this person. I personally connect with this philosophy, and it poses further questions about the role tangible form plays in our understanding of the seen and unseen world. To me tangible form and concept are linked. They inform one another. The African dream doll rite for me solidifies that objects or forms in our real waking life can inform the ethereal distant world we go during our sleep cycle—signifier and signified.  Objects and the physical dance to render or act as a bridge between the subconscious world and our waking life. I myself have had several dreams where I realized I was dreaming, woke up and drew the objects from my dreams. . . then made them.

Movement
Steel banding riveted together, wire
7 x 6 x 30ft

OPP: I’m curious about your choice of the word habitat that is in some titles and in your statement. What connotations does habitat have for you, as opposed to space, place or environment?

JMK: Websters defines habitat as:
1a :  the place or environment where a plant or animal naturally or normally lives and grows
b :  the typical place of residence of a person or a group
c :  a housing for a controlled physical environment in which people can live under surrounding, inhospitable conditions (as under the sea)
 2:  the place where something is commonly found

I like to explore the definitions of words, but at the same time see beyond their assigned meanings, especially since words are living and often take on new meanings. Habitat is about one’s experience in a particle place or environ for temporary or set periods of time. No single environ is permanent for any one culture, people or person. Time or a particular point in time (memory) should always be considered. Space, place, environ, and habitat all talk of context, but like a layer cake, they do so with greater degrees of complexity. 


Swine is Divine
2016
Wall compilation
20ft X 35ft

OPP: Could you talk about your use of live plants and upholstery in installations like Swine is Divine and Fleur #3-Delmarva and Fleur #2 Columbian Gold-Kieffer?

JMK: I am interested in the language of materials and their link to social stratification or hierarchy. Objects and materials have meaning and multiple associations. They tell stories and refer to certain human social systems. All the materials in these pieces come from specific urban contexts: Baltimore, DC or Milwaukee. I wanted to create a different take on how landscape is portrayed in art, and I aim to get the viewer to re-question their set value system.

Swine is Divine is a reflection of Milwaukee’s social diversity and social problems. Posh folks live on the northside; poor and working class people live on the south. There are industrial areas, forests popping up from the decay and segregated communities. I include paintings of pines trees not painted by me, but rather bought from ebay. I like the statement it presents: we live in a world where artifice rules, so we should use the system and make it part of the content. Also the pine trees represent fast growth, since old growth hardwoods were cut down in order to grow conifers to meet our nation’s paper demand. I also include weeds grown in a custom Victorian bowl and another with big box shop perennials. We value these purchased, mass grown flowering plants and have disdain for weeds like dandelion or clovers. Yet the weeds, which we often pay to remove, have much more uses outside the aesthetic role of their box shop competitors: as food, dye and medicine. They also attract wildlife and are often drought resistant.

Columbian Gold-Keifer grew out of my interest in adding color to my work. I thought to use something living instead of paint. Flowers have color, presence, and often require attentiveness to thrive; paint falls short in this respect. I thought of my youth working for my dad in Washington DC, selling flowers on the street corners. All the flowers we sold came from Columbia. I always thought flowers were so beautiful, but a luxury. People buy them for this reason, but behind the beauty lies hard work and a system of indentured servitude—sweat shops to a degree. I sought to explore this, so I put $500 worth of chrysanthemums in soda bottles collected from the trash cans at a local college campus. The bottles get reused but also revalued. Questions of value and perception are a constant theme in what I do.

Fleur #3-Delmarva
2007
Upholstery, period textiles, acquired paintings, steel, light, lino floor tiles, 500 imported Columbian Fiji Mums.
15ft x 20ft


OPP: Tell us about your experience of La Guerra de Acqua (2011/12), in which you carried 80 lbs of water for 12 kilometers through the Italian countryside. What was the impetus for this project?

JMK: In 2011, I was teaching sculpture in Italy. I had been there before as a young traveler and had many strong memories of a place where good food and lifestyle were highly valued. On my 2011 visit, I noticed one particular change. People no longer used glass bottles for water or beverages. Italy was one of the last holdouts of tradition in my eyes , but like America, they had made the switch to easy and disposable plastic. At the same time, it was summer in Tuscany and hot. I had made several local inquiries about swimming in one of the nearby lakes as I did in my native Virginia. I was told that locals don’t swim in lakes; that only the barbarians—like the Germani—do. Being of barbarian, Scottish decent, I relished in being a part of this lower social stratification. I realized that between these two observations a project was present and needed to be explored.

For me, being in tune or in balance with my surroundings is the utmost pursuit. The use of plastic beverage containers has greatly increased in my lifetime and as a result, our waterways have been polluted with plastic BPA polymers. So much so that plastic polymers are now classified as natural because they are found in nearly all our natural bodies of water. So the switch to cheap and easy has had a heavy price. Water is key to all life and should be used and treated with respect. Glass is heavy. It breaks, but it has nearly no negative effect on water’s make up, and the bottles can be reused time and time again if treated with care. Swimming or interfacing physically with nature helps to reinforce our relationship with it. Allowing an outdated, Roman-like mindset of judging outside cultures is ridiculous. Crotona, where I was living, is a mountain top walled Etruscan city 1000 feet above the shores of Lago Trasimeno where the barbarian Hannibal destroyed a Roman army of 80,000 men with 30,000 men and a handful of elephants.

La Guerra de Acqua
2011

OPP: Did you encounter people along the way? What happened when you reached your destination?

JMK: My idea was to go to the lake with 30 reclaimed, plastic water bottles (collected daily from a local restaurant) and a homemade backpack. I filled them with lake water to bring to the residents of Cortona. Since they would not go to the lake themselves, I would bring the lake to them. The 80 pounds of water was attached to a backpack and wired to my body. The goal was to place all the water in a large bowl in the main plaza for locals to dip their feet in. I began a day-long, 12 kilometer journey up a mountain to the town’s main plaza. People who saw me leave earlier that morning and return in the evening asked what I was doing. I responded “I am bringing the lake to the people.” 

It was so physically challenging—I really damaged my body—that just getting back to town with the water was a goal in itself. I believe the use of absurd amounts of labor can create a powerful, statement—romantic, but also sincere. In the end, I liked the fact that the water remained in the reused, 1-liter plastic water bottles that I collected. I displayed them in the local gallery along with a wall of images documenting the journey. I wanted to give value to the lake’s water, the discarded plastic water bottles and the romantic yet defeatist expenditure of labor that linked everything together. I hoped the viewers would come to question the reason for such a journey and see an absurd commitment to nature through sweat and physicality. The whole performance was  gesture to ignite a dialogue or conversation about that which we should regard highly.


Milwaukee Brown
2014

OPP: You’ve done several projects in which you cast outdoor spaces—Milwaukee Brown and Fascimile— to be brought into the gallery. Can you talk about the particular spaces you chose to highlight and recontextualize in the gallery?

JMK: Both projects parallel one another in terms of meaning. I am interested in reality versus illusion and how we as humans often fall back on assumptions for guidance. We grow up in particular habitats. We understand these landscapes through a combination of individual experience and teachings from stories. Most of us have never been down a manhole cover into the sewers that lie beneath, but based off movies, media and books we expect to find a series of concrete tunnels, with a stream of water, trash and the occasional rodent passing through. What if I could play with this presumption or expectation and put another particular landscape where it should not be, using the materials, process and languages associated with this new context?

Facsimile sought to reconstruct within a gallery context a rural Shenandoah deer path using typical construction materials found in interiour architecture like concrete or tiles. But instead of being flat flooring, it undulates in elevation and is a cast deer path from the Virginia countryside where I am from. So it’s half country, half urban (or human). It highlights one distant location—not important to most—by being isolated within the white cube gallery, which has great power in providing an intimate relationship with all that is placed within it.

Milwaukee Brown, still in-progress, attempts to make visible that which is hardly ever noticed, almost completely ignored. The Brownfield—representing urban blight and the causality of industry—is plot of land where no one can build because of industrial hazards once produced there. How can I take that which we do not want to see and make it not only visible, but also beautiful? This questioning of value lies at the heart of my work.

To see more of Morgan's work, please visit justinmorgankennedy.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 Marcelyn Bennett Carpenter

Turn
Elastic
2013

The stark, monochrome lines of MARCELYN BENNETT CARPENTER’s interactive, elastic installations are visually reminiscent of Minimalist sculpture. But these formal qualities belie the material qualities of flexibility and resilience. Her work entices viewers to become embodied participants, placing the sense of touch on par with the culturally-privileged sense of sight. Even her recent hand-woven drawings destabilize our habitual reliance on the visual by interrupting the image—a conceptual representation—with the tangible line of the warp. After earning a BA in Philosophy (Wheaton College, 1994) and a BFA in Drawing and Painting (University of Colorado at Denver, 1999),  Marcelyn went on to earn her MFA in Fiber from Cranbrook Academy of Art (Michigan, 2003). Recent exhibitions include Extreme Fibers (2016) at the Muskegon Museum of Art in Michigan and Touch, Touch, Touch (2015) at Arrowmont Gallery in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Her work has recently been featured in Essay’d, an online series of short essays that documents Detroit artists actively working around the city during this perplexing time of simultaneous ruin and generation. Her work is currently on view in Please Touch at the Target Gallery at the Torpedo Factory (Alexandria, Virgina) until July 7, 2016. Marcelyn lives and works in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Elastic plays a large role in your practice and shows up in so many different projects, including Snap, Tensions and various interactive installations. What was the first piece that used elastic?

Marcelyn Bennett Carpenter: During grad school at Cranbrook, I used elastic in an installation called Pinch Pots, in which I suspended little porcelain pots from elastic lines. I weighted the pots with sand and scented oil. People were encouraged to enter into the installation and play with the pots dangling on elastic. There were so many lines and pots that the pots jumped all over and would crash into the floor or into other pots. The sand sprayed out and the pots slowly were destroyed, but the elastic recovered. The sand and the broken pots were stepped on, creating sound and sensation on the feet. It was a really satisfying experience of destruction and discovery all at once. This interaction allowed for more of the senses to come into play, engaging the body more fully with the work.

Tensions: Yellow, Red, Blue
Elastic, Paper, Porcelain, felt, cotton, lead
60' x 20' x 20'
2016

OPP: What have you learned about this material over the years?

MBC: Elastic is the perfect material for creating physical art work that you can feel. . . art that you touch and play with. Its main function is to move with the body. It responds to your movements, your action, and then it recovers. It holds a variety of tensions until it is released and returns back to its original form. 

I love elastic. I love how, like many textiles, we are using it almost 24/7. Our underwear, our bra straps, our pajamas, our swimming suits, our exercise clothing, our pants, skirts, hair ties all stay with us because of elastic’s ability to respond and hold tight while our bodies are constantly moving through space throughout the day. It is really hard to break elastic.

fitting: Coral #2
Elastic
2009

OPP: Can you talk about interactivity versus performance with your elastic installations? You’ve allowed for both.

MBC: I am still learning and experimenting with interactivity, performance and even non-interaction. There are many possibilities for how the work can behave in the world. I knew the work could lend itself to rigorous interactions with dancers, so when opportunities arose to collaborate, I took them. The only way to find out was to research it  and try it.

I see interaction more as the audience playing with the work. This exists when viewers physically handle the work or when they simply move around it. When someone looks up, bends down, or cranes the neck for a different view, they are moving with the work. They are physically engaged. When they dare to touch the work and manipulate it with their hands or body, I have gotten to a whole other area of the brain for them. The more sensations the work gives them, the richer the aesthetic experience, and the more they will remember, think and feel about the work.  



Three Loves
Elastic
10' x 5' x 18'
2005

OPP: I assume Pick-ups are meant to picked up by the viewer. How difficult or easy is it to get viewers to overcome the convention of not touching art?

MBC: I have always thought of getting people to touch the work as a design problem. How can I get the object to inherently communicate to the viewer to touch it. Fiber and ceramics lend themselves to touch naturally, and those are the main materials I work in. Half the battle is won. But the socialization to not touch in a gallery or museum is pretty strong, so often I resort to giving permission to touch on the signage. 

Luckily, I have been involved in two shows lately where all the work in the show was intended to be touchable. The title of the exhibitions were Touch, Touch, Touch and Please Touch.  I also curated a show called Handle with Care. This was a great way to go about it, and the spirit in the gallery is just terrific when people are playing and exploring art in this way.

There are other design problems: How do I allow for touch to happen and protect the work from damage? Do I control the way a viewer touches the work? Or do I allow for the destruction of the work through the interaction like in the wear and tear in my Pinch Pot installation. I have had an installation totally destroyed by dancers who didn’t understand the work’s limitations. In retrospect, I would have insisted on more practice time with the work before the performance. But work does get damaged, and I often struggle with whether I should fix it or should I let its disintegration be a part of it.

Tablescape
Porcelain, Stretch netting, and glass
24" x 48" x 40"
2015

OPP: Is it harder with small objects than installations?

MBC: For me, the large scale installations are more satisfying because they are more open-ended and engage the whole body, but the smaller works like the Pick Ups and Snaps! are fun for the fingers and create a lot of visual pleasure too! I also don’t underestimate what the imagination can fill in. One reaction I often get from the Pick Ups is that people want to taste them! It is much better for them to imagine the taste than to actually taste stretch netting and porcelain!

Tamarack (detail)
Handwoven Drawing
4' x 6'
2015



OPP: I see a formal connection between the warp of your hand-woven drawings and the taut vertical lines in Tensions and various interactive elastic installations. But the weavings are so static and discreet compared to the other projects, at least for the viewer. Is there an underlying conceptual thread between these two seemingly disparate bodies of work?

MBC: I think you hit the nail on the head. It’s all about the warp! I came to weaving after I had been creating my interactive installations for many years. I teach weaving and fiber arts full time at the Kingswood Weaving Studio at Cranbrook Schools. The verticality of the warp and the tension held by the loom were visually the same as my elastic installations! I quickly became immersed in figuring out how weaving could be integrated into my own work. My BFA is in drawing and painting, so I have been playing with how can I bring a more spontaneous, quick way of drawing and almost graffiti effect into weaving. Nothing in weaving is quick, but I found the handwoven drawings to be quicker and super satisfying for me. I am coordinating all these elements: the drawing, the string, the colors, the density of the strings. Once it is off the loom, I work back into the surface of the handwoven drawing with paint, stickers, and even embroidery. 

These works are pretty new for me; it’s been just a year. I am really intrigued by how I can draw on the wood slats, then veil the drawing in the warp. It reminds me of how my installations optically transform and even veil space. The warp does the same to the drawings. The warp appears and disappears, adding incredible depth and texture. If you look at the handwoven drawings from the side, you only see the warp threads and not the drawing. I also suspend the weavings out from the wall and paint the backs in bright colors, so there is a glow that surrounds the piece from behind. Shadows of light through the handwoven drawings are pretty incredible too. Even though space is treated two-dimensionally in the handwoven drawings, it is still about space and maybe that space is more inward than outward.

Abandon: Kingswood Parking Lot
Pencil and ink
42" x 36"
2015

OPP: Please talk about the imagery in your most recent Abandon drawings. Will these become weavings?

MBC: The imagery in Abandon is very similar formally to the psychological Rorschach ink blot tests. I built upon these tests, though, by mirroring abandoned homes and locating the psychology in the home. One of the main indicators of abandonment is the foliage around the house, which takes over almost like a creature or unstoppable “destructive” force reclaiming the space back for nature. I also thought a lot about what it means to walk away from a home, to abandon it. So many memories, relationships, so much dysfunction, as well as familial, social and financial security are held in a house. So many of our psychological experiences occur in the space of a home. I flattened and ghosted out the houses and the surrounding foliage to abstract them and allow for a more imaginative interpretation. 

For the large weavings, I have used only the tree and foliage imagery so far. I really enjoy trying to give a tree personality and employing some of the textile design structures like repeating motifs and borders as in rugs, but these structures are not woven. They are drawn and then woven. Like I said, they are pretty new works, so I won’t eliminate the possibility of the houses working their way into them in the future. 

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.