OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Mark Dean Veca

Hatter 2 (detail), 2016. Acrylic on canvas. 72 x 72"

MARK DEAN VECA’s paintings and immersive, temporary installations are bold, biomorphic worlds. Carefully balancing the sacred and the profane, he renders mass media imagery in a drawing style that adds organic movement to the usually flat graphics of recognizable cartoon characters. The skin and clothes of Mickey Mouse, Uncle Pennybags and Tony the Tiger seem to writhe with maggots, billow like smoke and drip like slobber, semen or pus—not to mention random eyeballs. Yet, in spite of all this bodily grossness, the lines are sleek and elegant. Mark earned his BFA at Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles. He has received fellowships from New York Foundation for the Arts, Lower East Side Printshop and the Pollack Krasner Foundation. His long exhibition record includes solo shows at San Jose Museum of Art (2012), Site:Lab in Grand Rapids, Michigan (2015), Western Project in Los Angeles (2013 and 2014), and Azusa Pacific University in California (2016). Upcoming shows include the group exhibition LA Painting: Formalism to Street Art at Bruno David Gallery in St. Louis, which opens on September 2, 2018 and a solo exhibition of Mark’s prints and posters at Agent Ink Gallery in Santa Rosa, CA, which opens on September 16, 2017. Mark lives and works in Los Angeles.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You have a signature style, which I would describe as “intestinal line work or visceral chaos organized into contained, recognizable forms.”  Firstly, how do you respond to my description?

Mark Dean Veca: Yeah that's a pretty clinical and concise description of what I've been doing in my work for a while now. People do seem to latch on to the intestinal aspect, but there's a lot more going on. It’s a kind of biomorphic abstraction that references all of the biological systems, not just the digestive.

Mothers' Worries, 2016. Acrylic on canvas. 66 x 66"

OPP: Secondly, is it a style that you’ve consciously cultivated, part of an existing drawing lineage or simply the way you’ve drawn since you were a kid?

MDV: It's just something that developed and evolved over time. I don't think I ever necessarily tried to pursue it or reject the idea. One of the many ways I learned to draw as a kid was copying from comic books, and I was always attracted to the more organic forms rather than geometric. Later in my career I made a conscious decision to explore the visual vocabulary of cartoons and to speak in that vernacular.

Oh Yeah, 2011. India ink and acrylic on canvas. 48 x 48"

OPP: Tell us about the commercial logos and cartoon characters you choose to render this way. What do they have in common across your body of work? Are your choices driven by fandom and/or critique?

MDV: The found images in my work are always carefully chosen, never random. I use an idiosyncratic set of criteria to choose images that are personal as well as universal, and that serve the needs of the particular piece I'm working on. Very often they are simultaneously celebratory as well as critical. For example in Pony Show (2015) I painted a corrupted version the Ford Mustang logo on the exterior of a former auto repair shop in a work that celebrates and critiques American Car Culture. My first car was a 1965 Mustang which imbues the logo with sentimental value to me personally, but it's also universally recognized and has religious connotations via its cruciform shape. In other works, like Natch (2016), I've chosen an iconic image from popular culture (R. Crumb's Mr. Natural) and manipulated it into a baroque kaleidoscopic composition within which to improvise my particular brand of mark-making. I think of it as a celebratory mash-up of genres that also draws upon the psychedlic culture of my youth in the Bay Area of the 60s and 70s.

Pony Show, 2015

OPP: I’m really interested in the Toile de Jouy paintings like Klusterfuck (2002), West Coast Story (2006) and Toile de Boogey (2008). Tell us about these textile-influenced works. Do you have a favorite? What kinds of images of everyday life are buried in there?

MDV: I discovered Toile de Jouy in the wallpaper of my mother-in-law's bathroom in the late 90s. I became fascinated with this 18th century French style and with Rococo decorative arts in general. I love the draftsmanship and intricacy. In 2001, I started using it as a found composition within which to improvise, combining found imagery from popular culture and art history with the aforementioned biomorphic abstraction, among other things. Klusterfuck has to be an all time fave.

Klusterfuck, 2002. India ink on paper. 59.5 x 39.5"

OPP: Tell us about the various museum installations that include huge, encompassing wall drawings replete with bean bag chairs. Madder Hatter (2016), Virgil’s Vestibule (2016) Le Poppy Den (2014) and Son of Phantasmagoria (2012) are just a few. I’ve sadly only seen pictures online, but I imagine these spaces as energizing refuges from Museum Fatigue. What experience do you hope viewers will have in these spaces?

MDV: I like that idea of a refuge and always appreciate a good chair. My goal usually is to create a spectacle: something monumental and awe-inspiring, immersive, overwhelming and interactive. I often aim to alter the function of a sterile white-cube museum space into a trippy, psychedelic lounge. When I first visit a potential space, I try to let it dictate to me a course of action, to let it reveal to me what should be done. In this way the work is truly site-specific and made for the site in which it will exist—typically for a limited time before it's destroyed. The process therefore becomes temporary, ephemeral and performative. I'm usually working in public and claim the space as my own studio for a while.

OPP: Most recently, you created Madder Hatter, followed by Maddest Hatter, for Turn the Page: The First Ten Years of Hi-Fructose, a touring exhibition that has its final stop (and is on view through September 17, 2017) at Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento. What’s your connection to Hi-Fructose?

MDV: I randomly met Attaboy, cofounder of Hi-Fructose at a San Diego Comic Con afterparty, which led to a spread in the magazine a couple of years later. The curators of the show chose me and 50 or so other artists who had appeared in the magazine over its first 10 years.

Madder Hatter, 2016. Installation.

OPP: How is Maddest Hatter different from Madder Hatter?

MDV: I made Madder Hatter for Turn the Page at Virginia MOCA in 2016. This installation was derived from an earlier painting called Hatter (2015), that referenced the art from a tab of LSD depicting the Mad Hatter from Disney's Alice in Wonderland, which was, in turn, based on Lewis Carroll's book—there’s a rabbit hole for ya. For the show's final presentation at the Crocker Art Museum, I adapted the work to fit the scale and proportions of the room. I altered the colors and redesigned the floor graphics, but the concepts and general design principles remained the same. In both cases there's plenty of improvised, stream-of-consciousness wall-painting.

OPP: What’s the process of creating these temporary, improvised wall drawings like for you?

MDV: There's always an essential improvisational element to my installations, which is most often made possible by a lot of careful planning and design. A lot of prep work goes into them ahead of time regarding compostion, scale, color, allowing me the freedom to be spontaneous and direct in the execution. There's also a lot of adrenaline associated with the monumental projects as time is always of the essence. I've enjoyed traveling to places I'd never been like London, Tokyo, and Guadalajara and setting up shop, so to speak, living and working in a strange place and meeting the locals and exploring a little. I does take a lot out of me, so I try to limit these to a couple per year. It's nice to spend the rest of my time at home with my family and in the solitude of my studio.

That's All, 2010. India ink and acrylic on canvas. 66 x 99"

OPP: What keeps the process fresh?

MDV: Since I was a child, I've been drawn to the more intimate side of art—drawing in my room alone or with a friend. The combining of oppositional elements—micro vs. macro, elegant vs. vulgar, spontaneous vs. calculated, high culture vs. low—is a recurring theme in most of my work. That opposition is echoed in these alternating modes of working, which keeps things fresh and interesting, always giving me something to look forward to.

To see more of Mark's work, please visit markdeanveca.com.Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular open on August 11, 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jenene Nagy

scabland, 2017. latex, plaxiglas

JENENE NAGY's practice includes both architectural interventions built entirely onsite from mundane building materials and the creation of discreet objects and drawings in the studio. In both cases, the work is materially-driven with an emphasis on surface, endurance, labor and line. Jenene earned her BFA from University of Arizona (1998) and her MFA from University of Oregon (2004). She is a 2017 Artist-in-Residence at Pulp and Deckle Papermaking Studio in Portland. She is currently preparing for a solo show at Samuel Freeman Gallery (Los Angeles, fall 2017) and a two-person show with Joshua West Smith at Whitter College’s Greenleaf Galley (Los Angeles, spring 2018). Her work is represented by Samuel Freeman Gallery in Los Angeles, PDX CONTEMPORARY ART in Portland and Michael Warren Contemporary in Denver. Jenene lives and works in Riverside, California.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What materials are you repeatedly drawn to in your installations, sculptures and drawings?

Jenene Nagy: With all of the work I employ low tech materials. The drawings and the objects are mostly all paper and graphite, and the projects are all common building materials (drywall, 2x4s, house paint). I like working with my hands in a very direct way, and I also like to keep it simple. It is exciting to me to see what kind of results I can get with mundane elements. When I first began making the large projects, drywall was easy to work with and only required a box cutter and a drill. I don’t really have patience for a lot of tools and working in this way let the evidence of my hand remain.

Once the projects—Tidal, for example—became large enough to require more people to help me produce them, I became less interested in making them. So I introduced a new material in out/look and cover, which allowed me to still work large but independently. Tyvek is just a big gigantic sheet, so I could move it all around by myself. The projects have been built in venues in different parts of the country but working with common building materials I am able to order everything ahead from a Lowes or Home Depot and have everything delivered to the site as opposed to having to hunt down speciality items.

The Crystal Land, 2014. latex, Mylar, plexigalss, wood.

OPP: Symmetry is very present in installations like scabland (2017) and The Crystal Land (2014). The illusion of symmetry is present in disappear here (2016). But older installations like out/look (2010), Tidal (2010) and s/plit (2008) depend more on asymmetry. Was this a conscious shift or just a symptom of the spaces you were showing in?

JN: Around 2010 my studio practice shifted dramatically. Before that, I was making the onsite projects exclusively and the time in the studio was mostly experimenting with materials and testing colors. After a long residency in Los Angeles, I began using the studio to make discrete images and objects. Since that time the studio practice has become almost ritualized, I think as a result of making the drawings. The drawings are meditative and quite but intense. I think I can attribute the symmetry now present in the projects to the types of compositions I am working on with the drawings but also as a result of a more focused practice.

OPP: Could you talk about the relationship between labor and impermanence in your site-specific installations?

JN: I am interested creating a space for the viewer to have a true experience. I think the fact that the projects are in essence fleeting spaces there becomes a kind of urgency to the viewing. Labor is critical to setting up that urgency.

b1, 2014. graphite on folded paper. 14"x12.5"

OPP: The installations make consistent use of bold solid colors while the drawings traffic in the subtle grey tones of graphite. How does color or lack of color relate to scale in your work?

JN: In the onsite projects, color becomes content. I always think of the projects as landscape paintings. The color is always borrowing from the surrounding area—or in the case of the early work, a remembered space and time—and then hyper-realized, resulting in a punched-up pallet.

In the drawings I don’t think of color or lack of color, I think more about surface and material. With both the projects and the drawings, the viewer is asked to engage physically. They need to move through the installations to fully experience them. In the drawings they need to walk from left to right and close up and further away for the compositions to reveal themselves. I can’t say I am making intentional choices with regard to color pallette and scale but I am interested in seeing how the colors shift our perceptions of the space. In scabland, the brightness of the color really opened the space up, but in Destroyer the color shrank it.

p1, 2013. graphite on paper. 28"x 40"

OPP: Tell us briefly about your history as a curator.

JN: In 2006 I opened Tilt Gallery and Project Space in Portland, Oregon with artist Joshua West Smith. In that program, we exhibited site-responsive projects and works that were difficult to show in a commercial setting. After a two-and-a half-year run, we closed the brick and mortar space and shifted to working as an independent curatorial team under the moniker TILT Export:, which is ongoing. We wanted to give ourselves and the artists we work with more flexibility. As TILT Export: we produce shows in partnership with a variety of venues including commercial galleries, academic institutions and non-profits. We wanted to give Portland artists opportunities to show work in other cities and to bring work from other places back to Portland.

From 2011-12 I was the first Curator-in-Residence for Disjecta Contemporary Art Center and currently serve as Curator and Gallery Director at Los Angeles Valley College. At LAVC my role is different because the exhibition program is in support of our department curriculum. The exhibitions are intended to enhance students’ experience and understanding of contemporary art and to provide a space for critical thinking and the development of observational skills.

object 2, 2014. palladium gilded papier-mâché and concrete. 59" x 16 1/4" x 12 1/2"

OPP: What’s your curatorial process like? How is it different from the way you work as an artist?

JN: I don’t often think of myself as a curator in the traditional sense. I think more of what I do in this role is create opportunities and give artists the support to develop ideas. This in turn becomes a bit of a collaboration then, as opposed to the very solitary way I work in the studio.

OPP: Speaking of the solitary space of the studio, what’s happening in there right now that no one else has seen?

JN: My studio right now has lots and lots of tiny torn paper pieces that are being mounted on paper and then coated with a graphite paint I am making that then gets burnished. I am interested in continuing to push my materials and see what new things can be discovered. In the latest work, the paper becomes the mark as opposed to the mark being drawn.

To see more of Jenene's work, please visit jenenenagy.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open on August 11, 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Miatta Kawinzi

Yield, 2016. Digital Photograph. Dimensions Variable

Interdisciplinary artist MIATTA KAWINZI gives thoughtful attention to rhythm, cadence and metaphor, delving into human malleability and responsiveness to time, language, physical space and sociopolitical context. She isolates, repeats and remixes sounds, words, hand gestures and whole body movements. In video, performance and photography, she reveals a universal human condition—that we all must interface with the surrounding world through our bodies—while also hinting that every-body does not have the same experience in this world. Miatta earned her BA in Interdisciplinary Art & Cultural Theory from Hampshire in 2010, and went on to earn her MFA in Studio Art at Hunter College of the City University of New York. She has been an Artist-in-Residence at Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts (Omaha, NE), Beta-Local (San Juan, Puerto Rico), Greatmore Studios (Cape Town, South Africa) and International Exchange & Studio Program (Basel, Switzerland). This summer, Miatta will debut a new sound/text/video installation in Of Soil and Tongues, a group show at the Hampshire College Art Gallery (Amherst, Massachusetts). The show runs from June 1 – October 1, 2017. Miatta is based in Brooklyn, NY, where she also works as a community teaching artist and museum educator.

OtherPeoplesPixels: In looking at your work in a variety of media—video, performance, sculpture, installation, text and photography—all together, I would describe it as poetic because of its attention to rhythm, cadence, repetition and metaphor. What does that word mean to you? Is that how you think about your own practice?

Miatta Kawinzi: I am definitely working within a framework of poetics. I am interested in poetics in terms of language, structure and conceptualization, which I think you’re picking up on. Words are line, language is a dwelling place, a phrase can be a journey with starts and stops. In my work, I play with spatially orienting thought in new ways. Poet Nathaniel Mackey wrote, "I tend to pursue resonance rather than resolution.” I have always felt affinity with this idea: to not be naively in search of easy answers to deal with the magnitude of the upside-down world, but to instead be willing to follow various strains of thought and feeling down different paths to perhaps uncover alternate ways of seeing and being. I also think about Audre Lorde stating that “poetry is not a luxury," and the ways in which, throughout my experience, words have consistently been a balm and salve for me in the face of sometimes harsh socioeconomic realities. The poetic becomes the through-line, the way to string things together and highlight points of connection.

In my work, I think about the rhythms of life, the repetition of history, how one thing can become something else. All of these notions for me are related to poetic impulses and poetry's ability to allow us to re-imagine our selves and our situations.


Star Spangz, 2013. HD Color Video, Sound.16:9, 04:12 min.

OPP: I was really struck by the visual imagery of language in Clay (2014), especially the (raffia?—not sure exactly what that is) dyed the same color as your lipstick. The chewing of it, the casual tossing away, the stuffing of it back into the mouth and then the spreading out and offering of it toward the camera. And then of course the connection—and disconnection—between language that comes directly from the mouth and language that comes from the fingers. Can you talk about language as it relates to sound and written text, both of which you use in your work?

MK: The blue material is indeed raffia! One thing I am invested in is tracing the way in which language can manifest in both verbal and non-verbal forms. How can language be embedded into other kinds of materiality, and how does communication take place through means other than verbal speech? In Clay, I was really interested in putting these different forms of communication alongside one another, all on the same plane. The kalimba as a musical instrument references a musical way of communicating, with roots in a certain African diasporic tradition. The fingers texting on an iPhone represent this other kind of digital communication, a way in which many people around the globe keep in touch in the contemporary moment. And there is spoken text in the video that is semi-audible and semi-obscured. Then the raffia references this physical manifestation of verbal language, making it tangible, able to be extended, able to become involved in a kind of dance with the body emanating from the mouth. Here and elsewhere I am constantly engaged in a dance between different forms of language as they originate from the body, from words, from place, from material.


Clay, 2014. HD Color Video, Sound. 16:9, 03:25 min.

OPP: You made this video while in residence at Greatmore Studios in Capetown, South Africa. How did the location, so far from home, feed into this piece?

MK: There are eleven official languages of South Africa, and many people are multilingual, so the location sparked new angles of consideration for ideas I explored in this piece. Cape Town is a very beautiful, dynamic and vibrant city, yet there are also these ongoing inequalities, and I am thinking about that tension in placing myself in front of the barbed wire in the video.

Regarding the audio, one of the ways through which I use sound in my work—my own vocalization, improvisation, analog/digital instrumentation, and remixing—has to do with my interest in the potency of wordlessness that nonetheless carries an emotional import. Often my work in sound goes in and out of legibility which relates to my interest in illuminating different kinds of knowledge, some of which can be mysterious or even unconscious, yet still resonant. I am also invested in exploring the act of remixing as a way of enacting alternative temporalities. . . to move beyond linear time, to stretch time, to hold time in different ways. It’s a way of working with the materiality of time.


But I Dreamt We Was All Beautiful&Strong, 2015. Color Video Projection & Sound on Loop in Corner. Dimensions Variable.

OPP: Last year, at another residency at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, you created Push & Pull, a “performative photography series.” Tell us what inspired this work and how it directly responded to the space.

MK: I was very excited to be granted a residency at Bemis. I went there from Brooklyn at a moment in which I had no physical studio space and very little space otherwise to make or think in. Upon arrival there, I immediately felt a sense of bodily unfolding through my access to a sizable private studio and large shared spaces, which directly inspired that photography series. I was thinking also about how there is a politic to all of this, to something as basic as having enough space to stretch in, and I wanted to utilize this access—while I had it—to explore the geometry of my body in relation to this open space. I was reading a book by Michio Kaku called Physics of the Impossible, and in the book Kaku was highlighting the ways in which things like teleportation could become possible under the right conditions. From there I began thinking about these ideas of possibility/impossibility not only in relation to the laws of science and theoretical physics, but also in terms of how they may relate conceptually to pushing against sociopolitical limits. The performative actions in the series are meant to embody this through bodily metaphor. 


Rhombus, 2016. Digital Photograph. Dimensions Variable

OPP: Can you address the fact that this is a series of photographs, not a live performance and not a performative video?

MK: I actually also created a live performance that explored these same ideas and created the series afterwards based on that performance. For me, it is quite difficult to capture the energy of live performance through documentation, so the photographs were a way through which that work could take on another life to be shared in a different way beyond the initial audience.


OPP: I’ve been thinking about the creation of these frozen movements as dance. . . but are they frozen moments from a fluid action or poses? What’s your relationship to dance, both in your art practice and in your life outside art?

MK: They are a mixture of both. I don’t necessarily consider myself to be a dancer because I never studied dance, but I do use terms like ‘embodiment’ and ‘movement’ to describe my approach to such work. I am very conscious of how much can be expressed through the body both in my art practice and daily life.


gatherin’ space, 2016. Color Video Projection & Sound on Loop, Aluminum Foil; Acrylic Paint & Oil Pastel on Wood Panel. 128 x 163 x 249 in.

OPP: Could you talk about the variety of hand gestures—reaching, drumming, climbing, worship and hands up, don’t shoot, to name just a few—in gatherin’ space (2016)?

MK: gatherin’ space is a meditation on ideas of containment and expansion as expressed through the language of hand gesture. I am thinking about the hands as bodily extensions through which we shape, make, feel, sense, probe, praise, labor, surrender, assert, resist. I wanted to bring all of these different connotations together on the same plane because they all exist together in the lexicon of the body. So much of how I experience the world emanates from the hands—to touch, to write, to grasp, to lift. It’s also a way of abstracting the body, of resting in that place of multiplicity. The hands have the potential to shape space and reality, too.


La Tercera Raíz, 2015. HD Color Video, Sound. 16:9, 9:22 min.

OPP: “the strength in yielding, in taking on the shape of that which sits stoically, to then regain one’s form.” This text, which comes from your video La Tercera Raíz (2015), is a beautiful articulation of a range of themes that run through your work: the power of fluidity, responsiveness, malleability, shape-shifting. How do these themes and the metaphor of water relate to how you think about the diasporic condition and cultural identity? 


MK: I think about diaspora as an active process of exchange, as a gesture, as a reaching towards. My mom is Liberian and my father is Kenyan, and I grew up in the U.S. South navigating multiple cultural and linguistic worlds, which informs my work. I have found power in being adaptable. I am also interested in how cultural identification is an ongoing, shifting context-based negotiation. This is part of why travel is important to me; it is a form of drawing in space, a mode through which to find and explore connections between place and culture, and to try to stretch the arms to skillfully balance both the similar and the disparate.

La Tercera Raíz arose out of my research into the history and presence of the African diaspora in Mexico during my participation in the 2015 SOMA Summer program in Mexico City. Research often goes into my work, and then there is a process of abstraction through which I generate writing that becomes another way of considering an idea, of opening it up through poetics and finding a more personal relationship to the topic at hand.

Toni Morrison wrote about how water has a memory and I am interested in this idea of material memory, in the sea as a bridge between worlds. I think we have so much to learn from the elements and how they exist in and interact with the world. Water bears so much, has such a consistent and deep presence, yet the sea also teaches me that weight is conditional. I can float in it and be suspended, held, weightless. Something becomes something else.

To see more of Miatta's work, please visit mkawstudio.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include
shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Scott Hazard

Drop, Stone, Trace. Sculpture/Maple, Paper, Text. 15" X 15" x 8"

Informed by garden design and Zen Buddhism, SCOTT HAZARD's layered, paper sculptures and installations offer both mental and physical space for the viewer to find respite or refuge. He carefully tears crisp, white sheets of paper, then spreads them out, expanding two-dimensional space into three-dimensional space. These staggered papers evoke drifts of snow and rolling hills, punctuated by cultivated paths of rubber-stamped text meandering through empty space. Scott studied Landscape Architecture (1996) at California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo and earned a MFA (2005) at the University of Florida. His most recent solo show was Memory Gardens (2015) at Adah Rose Gallery (Washington DC), where he is represented. His work is also available from Simon Breitbard Fine Arts in the San Francisco Bay Area and has been featured in a number of magazines and online publications, including The WILD Magazine, Glamcult, BOOOOOOOM, Juxtapoz, Hi-Fructose, and Colossal. In 2012, he was awarded an Artist Fellowship in Visual Arts from the North Carolina Arts Council. Scott is  and  Scott lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You studied Landscape Architecture before earning your MFA. How does this background inform your scuptures?

Scott Hazard:
Most of the pieces I create serve as vessels for gardens or garden-like spaces. They are places intended to be inhabited or explored, and they are intentionally carved out and/or constructed out of a larger environment or context, yet incorporate and reveal aspects of that context. The origin of the English word garden refers to a sense of enclosure; the oldest use of the word indicated the fending off of wilderness to cultivate a more or less safe haven. My work references some European notions of garden design from the 1700s and 1800s where shaping a space was often about composing and framing a view of an idealized landscape from a particular point in space. There are also important links to Chinese and Japanese traditions in garden design in that the experience of moving through the space is critical to the viewer's perceptions of the garden, and the gardens were often thought of as microcosms of the world.


Sovereign Cloud, Tree and Opening Sky. Sculpture/Photography, 23" X 23" x 8"

OPP: What does the void mean to you? Are the voids in your work more spatial or metaphorical?

SH: I think of the 'void' as the space or context in which every ‘thing’ exists more so than an absence of something. It is a place where experiences can be detached from ideas and assumptions. My thinking about the ‘void’ is rooted largely in Buddhist notions of emptiness. With that, I am focused on creating and articulating intimate spaces which encourage people to delve in and explore.
 
The voids or openings in my sculptures do work metaphorically in a couple of ways. We use language and images most often to bear down on definitions and concisely articulate what we are trying to convey. A void introduced into this landscape of information works to create a spatial and perceptual opening to allow for a moment of respite from specificity and ideally lead towards a more complete and poetic understanding. Gaston Bachelard touches on this idea in his essay Dialectics of Outside and Inside when he wrote, “language through meaning encloses while poetic expression opens it up.” This respite translates to moments of quiet in a seemingly endless amount of stimulus and information. John Cage and his writings and works on silence are integral to my thinking regarding the void also. He considered silences to be “sacred spaces resonant with creation.” Similarly my work seeks to create a brief break in the din of noise we exist in and allow for a more focused mode of being, if only for a moment.

The reductive perceptual experiences I work to create are also metaphors for the notion that the mind functions in part as a reducer (see Henri Bergson as mentioned by Aldous Huxley in his essay The Doors of Perception, and The Organized Mind, a fantastic book about thinking in an environment of information overload by Daniel J. Levitin.) In this mode the mind is blocking out multitudes of information at any given moment in order to focus on what is at hand or apparently most important/needing attention. I am working to facilitate a diffused space, one that is both inviting and enveloping but using the same information one might be seeking a departure from.

Landscape: Threshole. Sculpture/Photography. 6" X 8.75", 12.5" X 16.25" X 3.75" w/ Frame

OPP: In your series Photo Constructs, you turn photographs into sculptures by adding depth. I think about worm holes and portals to other dimensions when looking at works like Sovereign Cloud, Tree and Opening Sky and Landscape: Threshole. Do you think of them that way? If so, where do they lead?

SH: To some extent, I do want to convey the idea of the spaces in the work as portals to another unknown place. Many of the photo pieces have no terminus within sight to heighten this sensation. There is also the idea that there are many ways a thing can be understood coursing through my work. The spaces or voids in the objects I create are influenced by Zen Buddhist notions of focused attention achieved through meditation and idealized states of mind. By setting up the layers of paper or photographs at intervals in a physical space, I work to create a sensation of simultaneously looking at and through. Each layer in the work is a slightly different iteration of the layers that are immediately adjacent. In this way, each work is composed of many versions of the same thing. A hole is torn in one reality only to reveal another slightly different reality behind the first one. Some pieces, like those you mention above lead to an unknown destination, others are more concerned with creating a space that focuses attention on one portion or aspect of the photo.

These portals also reference the bellows of an early camera, or the space within some optical instruments from the 1700s and 1800s, such as the stereoscope. These spaces within cameras and optical instruments, in addition to their role in making an image, focus the user’s attention by blocking off outside influences to the image being viewed. In this sense the photo pieces function as both image and instrument. Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels and similar pieces are never too far from my mind when thinking through this work.

One Square Foot of a Place to Focus/An Excuse for Staring at the Wall. Sculpture (Maple, paper, text). 11.75" X 11.75"


OPP: Tell us about the introduction of text and the shift away from photographic surfaces in Text Constructs.

SH: Both the image and text based work originated around the same time, but I have concentrated more on the text based work for the past few years. The focused use of text can minimize the visual information in each piece and keep the initial visual reading of the work more concise. The text also allows for a metaphorical and literal reading of the spaces or voids that are formed within each work. The words stamped on the layers of paper encourage a non-linear and haptic reading of the space and text by pulling them in layer by layer, word by word. I love working through the ways the text can engage with the space and enhance a sense of movement, and how that sense of movement can in turn influence the reading of the text. I appreciate a lot of Visual and Concrete Poetry, especially early works from Vito Acconci. The masses of text in my work are often written in second person to speak directly to the viewer. Lately, I have also been working towards incorporating text from used books, mainly books about how humans have engaged (whether through exploration, documentation, utilization or exploitation) with the landscape.



Detail of Endless Sea. Sculpture (Ash wood, paper, text). 10" X 18" X 23"

OPP: Obviously repetition—of language and in the process of tearing—is a big part of your process. Is repetition tedious or relaxing for you? Does meditation play a role in your practice?

SH: Absolutely, repetition is an important part of my process for creating the work. It helps provide the level of detail necessary to pull the viewer into the work and the repeated layering of the paper helps the viewer visually track through and into the work. I don't formally meditate, but the production process for the greatest part is meditative. Each word in the text pieces is typically applied manually with rubber stamps, so the repetitive actions help eliminate outside thoughts and bring about a more mindful, focused mode of attention. I typically work in two to four hour periods due to my schedule, so it’s not too hard to maintain the attention required to consistently apply the text and carefully tear the paper. The repeated text becomes a texture that when read helps purge outside ideas and focus on what is at hand when viewing the work. Ultimately, creating an inviting and meditative space is an important aspect of each piece.



Silent Geography, 2014. Sculpture/Installation. 18 x 24 x 30

OPP: In Silent Geography (2014), you shifted scale tremendously. Your page-sized torn papers became a landscape of snow drifts that are waist-high. I interpret the text as spaces that humans trod. Can you talk about the relationship of the scale of the text versus the paper?

SH: This project was a fantastic opportunity to work with the awesome people from Projective City and the former Mixed Greens gallery as part of their ParisScope collaboration. This site-specific installation consumed the entirety of the floor of the gallery to create an immersive psychosomatic garden. Similar to my wall mounted and smaller sculptures, the format of the project mandated that viewers may not physically enter the space, but can only experience the work from just outside the gallery through a peep-hole. It was very exciting to work at this scale and translate forms, paper and text in a way that could literally envelop a person exploring the space.  The size of the text was large enough so that each person moving through the space could easily see and track the text without needing to significantly disrupt their movement, and small enough to beckon a closer look and resemble a lot of the physical printed matter we interact with. As you note the masses of text could resemble evidence of human impacts caused by people passing through or inhabiting the spare landscape—they also allude to water in terms of how it flows to and collects in low spots, eventually seeping in to the landscape or evaporating.

To see more of Scott's work, please visit scotthazard.net.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include
shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels 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.