OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Montana Torrey

Bagnasciuga, 2017. Folded collagraph. 28.5" x 6" x 10.5" total piece is 29 feet.

During the midnight sun months in Iceland, MONTANA TORREY painted the sunset daily on her window. She hung gauzy ghosts of American Private Property signs In a Finland forest, where Everyman's Law rules. In Venice, she looked to the horizontal line of algae growth along the sides of the canals as a document of the difference between wet and dry. In each case, landscape is a lens that magnify the dualities inherent in particular sites. Montana earned a BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a MFA from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has been an Artist-in-Residence at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Headlands Center for the Arts, Vermont Studio Center, Catwalk Institute, and the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, among others. Recent Exhibitions include shows at Hotel Art Fair (Bangkok, Thailand), the Subhashok Arts Centre (Bangkok, Thailand) and SAC Gallery and Lab (Chiang Mai, Thailand). Montana currently lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where she is a Visiting Lecturer at Chiang Mai University.

OtherPeoplesPixels: According to your website, your work “employs the landscape as a metaphorical tool to investigate sites of opposition.” What kinds of oppositions? Can you give us some examples?

Montana Torrey: My work is a response to particular sites, either through direct physical engagement with the landscape or by using metaphorical elements of the landscape contained within architecture. The sites of oppositions are an arrangement that I create as a way of recontextualizing and understanding place. I do this by structuring a dialogue between the site, material, and an idea.

I approach the site by questioning its dualities: public/private; absence/presence; tangible/intangible; fear/comfort; freedom/containment; heaviness/ weightlessness, etc. My most recent work, Floodplain (126), re-imagines an ancient flooded ruin in Chiang Mai, Thailand through the dualities of absence/presence, past/presence, heaviness/weightlessness. This work embodied the temporal past and present of the ruin, suggested the flood waters through the piece’s movement, and transformed the seemingly inherent weight of brick by making them from paper and creating the illusion of weightlessness.

I have used oppositional structures to create and form a new experience of place and understanding of the site in its relation to the present.

Division of Labor, 2015. Hand-sewn silk organza. 30 feet.

OPP: Can you talk about the various barriers—both literal and metaphoric—in your work?

MT: The use of barriers, borders and fences started when I was in graduate school. Much of my work then was about public and private space and the psychological factors that determine what we deem as protective/protected space within the American psychic landscape. This was the beginning of my interest in literal divisions of the landscape and how we divide, manipulate and control space to further convey these ideas. At that time, I was looking at a lot of historical American landscape paintings—such as those of the Hudson River School—that were celebrating the vastness of the landscape as a form of propaganda to promote westward expansion and Manifest Destiny, which in turn resulted in the exploitation and further division of the landscape into private property.

Morning Light Barrier, 2016. Hand-painted silk organza. Variable dimensions.

OPP: What about the light barriers?

MT: I created the sewn “light barriers” for several exhibitions at the Catwalk Institute in Catskill, NY as a response to the work of Frederic Church. With these pieces, I was re-inserting elements of Church’s skies back into the landscape, inverting the horizon and imprisoning shafts of light. So, my first sewn light barriers were a reference to Church and others’ use of the horizon as a representation of the future, a collective future of the land beyond. However, when my pieces were inserted into the landscape they functioned as barriers, by creating physically blocks and restricting the suggestion of the infinite.

From there I began using the horizon more and more, working with the horizontal and vertical elements of dusk and dawn and experimenting with these pieces in relation to architecture.

We Buy Gold, 2011. Tarpaulin.

OPP: You’ve been to numerous residencies in European countries—Iceland, Finland and Italy, to name a few. It seems that many of your projects in these countries refer back to the American landscape by inserting what is missing. Is this a planned agenda or an intuitive response?

MT: Each site is tangible, present. One of the ways I approach my practice is by searching for an absence or ways of evoking absence through presence. I am interested in the formation of spatial perception and how spatial perception can be culturally defined. So, when I am working in a new country, I seek to insert my own spatial understanding of the landscape into that place. It is a form of place-making, rooted in memory, and cultural conditioning about the landscape. I try to collapse the distance of my own past and my immediate present in space.

On one hand, it is a calculated way of working, but within this, I allow for the experiential. I like to remain open to how my ideas will evolve and be informed by new places and cultures that help to shape the development of my work.

Permanent Sunset, 2012. Paint on window. Skagaströnd, Iceland.

OPP: What does your practice look like when you aren’t at residencies?

MT: Because I create installations about place, my work is always in flux and requires the continual investigation of materials and research, through both conceptual and academic development. Much of my work is informed by architecture and nature, so this is an endless and peripatetic investigation. Moving through space and observing the ways in which we understand the landscape through movement is very much a part of my research: when I live in the U.S., I am constantly driving and searching for architectural forms or sites to use within my work, but also making note of time and distance. I am seeking to create more of a phenomenological experience within my current installations, so finding ways of understanding a more embodied experience is critical.

Much of my practice takes place outside of the studio, in the field or in the library, and my studio is much more of a laboratory for the testing of materials, but the work all comes together in the installation.

Floodplain (126), 2018. 126 folded collagraphs. 3.5 x 3.5 meters.

OPP: What’s a collagraph? How does this process support your conceptual concerns in Bagnasciuga (2017) and Floodplain (126) (2018)?

MT: A collagraph is a basic printmaking technique in which the plate can be created with very inexpensive materials such as cardboard, glue, gesso. I started using this technique last year (2017) when I was a fellow at the Scuola Internazionale di Grafica in Venice, Italy. I found that collagraphs gave me the ability to create a wide variety of textures and to mimic the water line on the Istrian stone for my piece, Bagnasciuga. I began to make installations out of 3-dimensional collagraphs.

Both Bagnasciuga and Floodplain (126) explore the intersection between water, the built environment and the physical vulnerabilities of these structures through climate change. I intentionally used paper for these works because it helped to convey vulnerability via a shift in materiality from stone or brick to a fragile material. The paper also created another conceptual dichotomy; the illusion of weightlessness. Both of these installations move with the gentle swaying of water. Bagnasciuga moves back and forth like the rocking of the vaporetto or a dock as you move throughout the city, and Floodplain (126) moves like debris floating on the surface of water. Again, the experience of movement through space is critical to the function of both of these pieces, as I tried to evoke the feelings of floating, shifting, swaying, gliding, drowning and rising to the surface of water as the viewer moves around and through these works.

Portable Widow's Walk, Bird Island Lookout, 2008. Handcut canvas/ acrylic paint.

OPP: Where to next? 

MT: I am currently living and working in Chiang Mai, Thailand as a Visiting Lecturer in the Painting Department at Chiang Mai University. I’ve been in Thailand for the past eight months, having originally come here as an artist-in-residence with the Subhashok Arts Centre in Bangkok, but subsequently secured a position as a guest lecturer. For now, I plan to stay here for the foreseeable future, possibly with an intermittent break pursue a Ph.D. 

It is important to me to find alternative and affordable ways of creating an art-practice and to seek teaching experiences outside of the U.S., given the current political and financial climate for the arts. While I believe in art as an essential element of resistance, the responsibility of maintaining an arts practice in my home country, where funding for the arts is being slashed and the cost of living continues to rise, was becoming unsustainable for me. Furthermore, being in Southeast Asia has given me a deeper understanding of how dynamic and ever-changing the global art world is. My work will always reflect my experience growing up in the U.S., but I want to find more and more ways of connecting that experience to the rest of the world. 

To see more of Montana's work, please visit montanatorrey.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist  Stacia Yeapanis.  When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations.  She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago.  Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis 2017) and Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018).  Most recently, Stacia created  Renunciation Reliquary as a one-night installation for Chicago Artist Coalition's annual benefit  Work in Progress and was an Artist-in-Residence at Facebook. 

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Amanda Burnham

Neighborhood Watch (installation detail), 2016. Acrylic, flashe, paper, cardboard, and LEDs. 5 vignettes, each approx. 10 x 10 x 5.'

AMANDA BURNHAM's immersive, collage installations are dense with vernacular signage, brick walls and and trash cans. She pieces hundreds of gestural drawings of the surrounding city together, deliberately confusing three-dimensional space.  Instead of a realistic rendering of what a city looks like, she captures the frenetic energy of city architecture. Amanda earned her BA in Visual and Environmental Studies, at  Harvard University and her MFA in Painting and Printmaking at Yale University. Her long and varied exhibition record includes recent solo shows at University of Baltimore (2017), Elon University in North Carolina (2017), Arlington Art Center in Virginia (2016) and Dittmar Gallery at Northwestern University in Chicago (2014). Her work is included in the permanent collections of National Museum of Women in the Arts (Washington, DC) and the New York Public Library, as well as various private collections. Amanda just completed the Antenna Projects Artist Book Residency in New Orleans, and her solo show Amanda Burnham: In Situ will open at Gershman Gallery in Philadelphia on September 6. Amanda lives and works in Baltimore.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your drawings and installations are all about cities. What’s your favorite city in the world?

Amanda Burnham: There are many cities that I love, but I'm going to go with Baltimore—not only because I live here, but because of its rich, diverse architectural vernacular, history, neighborhoods, and challenges. It inspired the direction of the installation work I have been making for the last decade.

Better Waverly, 2014. Paint and paper. 

OPP: Tell us about the first installation?

AB: The first installation I made was for a show at the Julio Gallery at Loyola University in Baltimore in 2008. I'd been asked by the curator to show a group of the plein air cityscape drawings I'd been consumed with making at that point. I'd made hundreds of these small observational drawings of different sites during my first full year in the city. It started as a way of getting to know my new surroundings. I'd begun to feel the limitations of working at a small scale, from a fixed perspective. I increasingly felt that it wasn't the best way to capture the energy and activity of the city as I came to know it while sitting for many hours drawing it. I asked the curator if she would be open to me creating an installation for the show to accompany my drawings, and, thankfully she was. Looking at back at the resulting work (which, at the time I was very proud of, and which was very freeing for me), I'm struck by how minimal and reserved it is. But it changed the direction of my practice entirely.

Edmondson Avenue, 2009. Ink on paper. 9 x 12."

OPP: Earlier drawings are more realistic renderings of city landscapes, but it seems like you have been drawing in a more illustrative, comic style lately, especially in the installations. What led to this shift?

AB: Lately I've been interested in broadening the parameters of my work, so that it is less defined by a visual shorthand that references the built environments of urban spaces. I want it to be more inclusive of imagery that also suggests all the activity that occurs within those spaces. What really draws me to cities, anyway, is the events that happen when our living circumstances are not isolated and homogenous and the way they enable people to collect/collide/interact. 

The somewhat comic stylistic approach of my drawings allows me to incorporate ideas which are less literal and strictly visually descriptive. I like that a comic style, given its bold, graphic qualities, allows me to formally weave together imagery from a lot of really different places—objective, inventive or visionary, metaphoric, etc.

In the Weeds (detail), 2016. Acrylic, flashe, and paper. 10 x 72.'

OPP: Tell us about the process of creating these drawing installations? Are they site-specific? What determines the imagery?

AB: They are always site-specific in the sense that they are constructed almost entirely within the space they will be shown, and are therefore sensitive to the physical peculiarities of whatever that space is. They are often site-specific in the sense that I choose to enfold imagery discovered in the surrounding area to some degree. I've done this in very subtle ways, and I've also built entire pieces that were meant to evoke a specific city (as with RFP in Baltimore). 

I start by looking at the space and by collecting imagery from which to make drawings. I walk around the neighborhood, take pictures and make sketches. Using my sketchbook, I establish parameters for the piece, ideas I want to address or imagery I want to incorporate and roughly how I will engage the space. I sketch out broad compositional outlines for shape on the wall, where I want collage layers to be massed, palette, whether there will be sculptural components or embedded lighting. 

I'll spend the weeks leading up to making a piece preparing raw materials for collage. I roll out drawing paper in my studio, prepare it with color (watered down acrylic, usually), and make hundreds of quick gestural drawings with black acrylic. When I put the piece together in the space, I take anywhere from a day or two to several weeks. Everything is orchestrated very extemporaneously within the parameters I've set. I use different widths of black or colored masking tape and light duty staples to attach pieces to the wall, and sometimes paint directly on the wall, as well.  The final pieces are the result of many layers of collage build up. 

High Winds, 2011. mixed media

OPP: You mentioned RFP, which was a unique installation in that it involved audience participation. What does RFP stand for?

AB: RFP stands for Request for Proposals. Its a term commonly used in city planning for the development of a parcel of land. I wanted to evoke this common usage because Baltimore—like most older, formerly industrial cities—has a fraught and lengthy history with issues surrounding planning. There are neighborhoods with legacies of exclusion borne by restrictive covenants and red-lining, division and isolation of formerly thriving neighborhoods via poorly considered large scale building projects (like highways), disinvestment and civic neglect of neighborhoods (frequently along racial lines), gentrification that prices long term residents out of their homes and established communities. A commonality to all these dynamics is how bound up they are in bureaucratic and political structures that can seem far from the reach or control of the individual citizens that they impact. 

RFP was motivated by an idealistic desire to propose a city democratically shaped in every way by the people who actually live there; it was a request for proposals from the residents of Baltimore.

RFP, 2015. Paper, paint, cardboard, tape, lumber, lights. 2015

OPP: How did the installation evolve?

AB: The piece as it opened on day one was like my other work in its use of paper and collage installation. All of the drawings were recognizably Baltimore; different neighborhoods were woven together throughout the space, commingled without reference to literal geography.

I wanted the piece to feel very welcoming. The piece was orchestrated in a large ground floor former department store space with huge, plate glass windows in front. It was located on West Baltimore Street, an area of the city which a lot of different people traverse for a lot of different reasons every day. In addition to having numerous hand drawn OPEN signs (like the neon ones you see in bodegas) and a sandwich board inviting people in from the sidewalk, I designed the piece so that it would be maximally visible from outside. It stretched all the way to the front so there wasn't any apparent barrier to entry (like the imposing desks that sit at the front of most galleries). All of this was meant to be a reflective backdrop, and the centerpiece of the installation was a big table full of drawing supplies and some loose prompts inviting thought about Baltimore: "I feel the most like I belong here when...", "This city needs...", "My neighborhood is..." etc. 

Visitors were invited to add their writings and drawings to the existing backdrop. During the time the piece was up, more and more of these amassed, so that by the time it came down it was covered with hundreds of contributions, ranging from reminisces, to suggestions, to manifestos, to actual images altering the preexisting ones. 

RFP, 2015. Paper, paint, cardboard, tape, lumber, lights. 

OPP: Was there anything frustrating about depending on the public to complete the work? What was satisfying about it?

AB: Not in this case. We had a large volume of visitors due to the visibility from the sidewalk and the high traffic in the area. The piece was set up so that it would be clear to someone that contributing was the idea without having to ask. The paper on the table was color keyed to the backdrop, in addition to the rolls of tape and drawing supplies were visual cues, and this seemed to work (though I was on hand every day to greet people and answer questions if they had them, too.) There was some initial anxiety that it wouldn't work, or that I'd have to edit contributions (i.e. if someone posted something abusive or hateful), but wonderfully, there was no need. 

Since I was there everyday, I met a lot of people over the course of the piece's life. As satisfying as it was to see (and be surprised by!) the range of physical additions to the piece, the most satisfying was that the piece became a way for me and other visitors to talk to people we might never have met otherwise.  

To see more of Amanda's work, please visit amandaburnham.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis 2017) and Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018). Most recently, Stacia created Renunciation Reliquary as a one-night installation for Chicago Artist Coalition's annual benefit Work in Progress.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Samantha Sethi

Object Impermanence, 2016. 12 drawings on plexiglass, gouache, ice, camcorder, MDF, led lights, HD Monitor with live feed. Dimensions variable.

SAMANTHA SETHI is a multi-media artist working primarily in drawing, installation, sculpture, and video. Freezing and melting both play a significant role in her practice, which explores deterioration, entropy and emphemerality. Her process-based sculptures investigate both the human impact on the environment and nature's impact on cultural sites. Samantha earned her BFA at The School of Visual Arts (New York) in 2006 and just completed her MFA at American University (Washington D.C.) in 2016. In 2017, she attended a residency at the Torpedo Factory (Alexandria, Virginia) was a Fellow at Baltimore’s Coldstream Homestead Montebello Sculpture Park and just began a residency at Creative Alliance, also in Baltimore. Samantha moved there a few weeks ago and is happy to call the city her home.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What interests you about the processes of freezing and melting, generally speaking?

Samantha Sethi: My work comes from an interest in the interplay and reciprocal effects between the natural and built environments. Freezing and melting is a way for me to think about the myriad ways in which the world as we know it was formed and how it continues to change, at rates both perceivable and unimaginable to us. Depending on scale, ice melts very slowly and is barely visible, though we are able to perceive the action of melting in a way that we are unable to observe many larger changes occurring in our environment.

Meltscape, 2015. Frozen and melted pigment and mixed media on handmade paper. 22" x 30"

OPP: When did you first engage them as tools for art-making?

SS: Prior to graduate school, my work was mostly painting. I worked often with media like gouache and watercolor, which both involve actively manipulating how liquids and solids interact. What I love most about watercolor is how the pigment and water move over the surface of the page. Sometimes the end result is not as interesting to me after the work has dried.

Early in grad school, I had the opportunity to do a collaborative performance for a project investigating the idea of “water treatment” in various ways. I resisted the performance aspect initially because I have terrible stage fright but ended up making a piece that changed my practice completely.

OPP: Can you describe the action of the performance?

SS: I stood in a very dark room, holding a ball of ice in one hand while using my other to strike and light a match that illuminates the ice and warms it. As the ice melts, water drips onto the match and extinguishes the fire. I continuously repeated this action for the duration of the opening. This live performance has now been reproduced as a video called Fire and Ice, which is meant to be played on repeat indefinitely.

Landscape Formation, 2015. Water, sand, pigment, garbage. Dimensions variable.

OPP: You mentioned that this changed your practice completely. How so?

SS: I began working in way that attended more to process than final product. Monitoring the melting ice was a slow and meditative experience for me. I couldn’t rush the process, and it gave me time to think and focus on what was happening. I also couldn’t control what happened with the melting ice in the way I previously controlled paint with my own hand. I began melting ice on various surfaces: paper, mylar, the floor. The works on paper, Sedimentation Drawings I, II, and III,  are really documentation of an event or a residue. Landscape Formation in a Room was my first installation. I staged an event in which I allowed pigmented ice to melt on the studio floor to find and mark the topography of the space; the water would pool at lower elevations and avoid otherwise invisible raised points. I then built around the these forms with sand. The work exists now as documentation that plays with landscape photography and models and shifts our understanding of what is real.

Entropic Irrigation System II, 2015. Latex, wood, plastic tubing, ice, plant.

OPP: Melting ice plays a key role in Object Impermanence (2016) and Entropic Irrigation System (2015). But the ice plays a destructive role—erasing the paintings—in one and a constructive role—watering the plant—in the other. Can you talk about this distinction?

SS: Something was missing for the viewer in Landscape Formation—the visible action of the ice melting. I experienced it in making my work, but it was only visible to the audience as a remnant. So I began developing systems to manage the melting ice and to create a stage for the process to be observed. In the first of these systems, Entropic Irrigation System, I cast ice in the forms of the Parthenon, a pyramid, an Aztec temple, the Taj Mahal, and the Colosseum. As the forms melt off the table, a gutter system catches the runoff and channels it into a potted plant. The melting ice is an active process that functions as a stand-in for irrigation, deterioration and other slower forms of change. This piece was exhibited for three weeks, during which I replaced the ice at the start of each day, which became a kind of performance in itself.

Entropic Irrigation System II (detail), 2015

OPP: And Object Impermanence?

SS: That work explores the more destructive nature of melting ice, as well as the ways in which we experience both direct and mediated events. In the first iteration, I placed a new painting on a stand every other day for the duration of the exhibition (twelve paintings total) with a piece of ice melting on top of the image that eroded or washed away part of each painting. A larger tray below collects the runoff from the deteriorating paintings. In this version, the paintings directly reference the floor tiles of the San Marco Basilica in Venice, which is where I first began to form ideas for the piece as I considered the constant struggle against nature and time embodied by that location. A video camera installed above the stand simultaneously records and displays a live feed of the melting ice and its effect on the painting on a large monitor in a separate room. After each painting goes through this process, it is displayed with it predecessors as remnants on a large pedestal.

Object Impermanence, 2016. 12 drawings on plexiglass, gouache, ice, camcorder, MDF, led lights, HD Monitor with live feed. Dimensions variable.

OPP: We've discussed works in which melting is an active process. But in Paver I and Paver II (2016),  the charcoal and resin works and Everywhere is Nowhere (2016), the process of melting is “frozen” as a form. Tell us about these works.

SS: The active-melting pieces are real-time events—performances even—and function as models and metaphors for larger, slower, less visible forms of change. The static pieces are also ways of rendering the natural and built environment that are both empirical and analytical.

Pavers I and II miniaturize a glacial world within a block of faux landscaping material, attempting to be reasonable objects both in their own scale and in the one they model. Both Pavers are primarily made of blue polystyrene insulation foam, which is revealed in the glacial lake carved into the center of each artificial stone. The polystyrene mimics frozen forms of ice, but it’s original function is an insulating material that takes hundreds of years to break down. The charcoal and resin works bring to mind erosion and dissolution at their literal scale, while also referencing diminutive topographies, even galaxies.

Everywhere is Nowhere also captures a sense of place and manipulates scale, though with an approach that is more cartographic than visually representational. The individual topographical forms in the piece each have their source in objects whose change is evident at radically different scales, from clouds to glaciers to continents. The forms appear interchangeable and are produced by layering delicate sheets of hand cut silicone. Each one rests on its own glowing blue shelf installed at various heights. 

Untitled, 2016. Charcoal and resin. Approximately 4" x 6"

OPP: In 2012, your series of gouache paintings called Syncretism looks very different from your current work. Does your recent work grow out of these paintings?

SS: This series—as well as most work I produced prior to graduate school—was drawing and painting. The Syncretism paintings were an early exploration of shifting space and scale, scientific and cultural research, the perception of artificial versus natural, as well as examination of my own identity. I grew up in the U.S. like my mother, but my father and his family are from India. After I completed my BFA, I began studying miniature painting and eastern mythology as both personal and artistic research. 

The behavior of water also is an important theme in this series that continues to influence my present work. Our relationship to water is complicated. We need water to survive, but water can destroy us and everything we have.

Dancers, 2012. Gouache on paper. 16" x 20."

OPP: White tigers show up repeatedly. What's significant about this animal?

SS: White tigers are culturally significant throughout the world and are referenced in several myths. We perceive them as natural and commonly see them on display in zoos and at the circus, but white tigers don’t actually exist in the wild. They are bred and inbred for the recessive gene that produces their stunning black and white markings, however this type of breeding often leads to health problems for the animals. In hindsight, the white tiger paintings were probably the earliest representations of “artificial perceived as natural” in my work. This was also my first use of patterning to reference a culture or a place, which I revisited later in the paintings produced for the Object Impermanence installation.

OPP: You are just about to start a residency at Creative Alliance in Baltimore. How long will you be there? Any plans on what you’ll be working on?

SS: The residency includes a one to three year-long live/work space and a solo exhibition in Creative Alliance’s beautiful gallery. I will be working to produce new work for the show that continues to explore our perception of permanence and change. I am currently in the early stages of a new project that involves physical recording of places and objects in a book of rubbings as well as time-based recording of these same places and objects in the form of video. I began the project while in Berlin this summer and plan to continue here in Baltimore and other places I travel to this year. This is my first proper studio and live/work space since I graduated, and I am excited to have access to this resource and time to continue to develop my practice.

To See more of Samantha's work, please visit samanthasethi.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 solo show Sacred Secular is on view through October 4, 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Christos Pantieras

Am I Worth It?, 2017. Detail of installation.

CHRISTOS PANTIERAS transforms digital communication—emails, text messages, and chat conversations from gay hook-up apps—into tangible sculpture through the very slow processes of casting, carving and embossing. He gives weight  to these words, often typed casually and quickly, and forces the viewer to slow down in considering the lasting effects of all communication on the receiver. Christos earned his BFA at University of Ottawa in 1996 and went on to earn his MFA at York University, Toronto in 2015. Christos has exhibited widely throughout Quebec and Ontario and recently received a Municipal Grant from the City of Ottawa. His solo show Am I Worth It? is on view at Circa-Art Actuel in Montreal through September 9, 2017 and will be shown again at the Ottawa School of Art in January 2018. He has upcoming solo exhibitions in October 2017 at Art-Cite in Windsor, Ontario and at La Madison de la Culture, Gatineau, Quebec in Summer 2018. Christos lives and works in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

OtherPeoplesPixels: How do your material and process choices—cast concrete letters, carved wax and embossed text on various surfaces—support your conceptual interests?

Chris Pantieras: Each choice enhances what I'm communicating in my work. For example, the carved wax bricks of I miss talking to you feature a letter of regret that I received six months after a former partner of mine took off. I used wax recycled from candles people lit in my local church and that are never left to fully burn. I melt down these candle fragments and cure them into new forms, in this case the cast bricks. These bricks, if not physically heavy, doubtless carry the psychic weight of their earlier life as containers of hopes, dreams and contemplation. The final installation took the form of a wall which represents the barrier that was built between myself and my former partner.

Concrete, on the other hand, is bland and references the city. How often does one stop to admire a concrete building? We're surrounded by it, and it is just part of the every day. This plays into how language used on gay hook-up apps has become a non-event. The coded words, abbreviations and statements are a very normal and familiar method of communicating with each other. Additionally, bringing online text offline and making it tangible addresses the materiality of words. To make my letters, I need an aggregate—silica sand in this instance—to to bind the cement together. As a parallel, the individual cast letters represent the aggregate. When they're placed next to each other, they bind together and form a word.

I miss talking to you, 2012-2013. 1024 bricks cast in wax procured from a local church, carved text sourced from an email. 533cm x 3 cm x 243 cm

OPP: What about the processes?

CP: My processes are slow and time consuming on purpose, and I thoroughly enjoy the physicality involved in creating most of my work. For me, it's very important to record my presence, and I do this through repetitive acts and accumulation. The text is sourced from a screen; it lacks warmth. Through my methods, I add the human presence. A great example of this is the embossed text in the work Impress Me. Each piece of paper features one email that has been hammered into the surface using old fashioned, metal printing rods. As the viewer reads the papers from left to right, the text becomes more and more illegible as the embossing rips the paper. The viewer focuses less on what is written and more on the transformed material

Impress Me (Detail) 2005-2009. Email text hammered on to paper, six custom reading tables. 11 x 15 in (each paper)

OPP: Most of the text you render through these slow processes relates to dating and lost relationships. Is this work more about the value of slowing down the process of communicating or about the slowness of processing what’s been said after it’s been said?

CP: This is a great question. Firstly, it's important to know a little about the source of the various narratives and where the digital communication comes from. The text I use is either from emails, text messages or interactions on dating/hook-up apps. It is taken directly from my own experiences, encounters and lost/potential relationships. I'm also old enough to remember a time when online dating was very new, perceived as very risky, but was also extremely exciting. Going home to log-in, get online, and check my email was a rush. What people wrote had weight since communicating wasn't as fast and immediate as it is today. Now there's no offline; we're always online. Connecting and interacting with new people is extremely easy, and perhaps that interaction holds less value than it used to.

So, to answer your question, it can be both. My use of analog tools and repetitive processes highlights the contrast between the lack of effort required in my online relationships with the huge amount of commitment and investment it requires of me to make the work. The more recent work uses the language of immediacy from gay hook-up apps, but most of the other pieces were created from emails or text messages that I catalogued and held on to for years. This is an example of how I am processing what's been said, however the way the text will be used manifests later. I kept one email almost ten years before it took physical form. I still have several samples of communication archived in my sketchbooks that may or may not become new work.

GLEN, 2009. Lightjet Print. 26 x 47 inches

OPP: Your work isn’t just about communication between romantically-engaged individuals. Who Sits Here? (2009) explores the way adolescents communicated via writing inside desk drawers before the ubiquity of handheld digital devices. What does this series reveal about communal communication spaces?

CP: It reveals that individuals can be as candid as they want to be without much concern for accountability. The school desk drawer of yesterday mirrors the forums of today. We contribute, we take it in, we respond. Except for the fact that an identity, whether fictional or real, is attached to the author in today's communication spaces, they are no different in terms of what we communicate and how we respond today. The language is still honest, bare and risky. I love the focus on human presence in the doodles, the various penmanship styles and the carved surfaces. The desk drawers are amazing objects.

Tread Lightly, 2015. Concrete, sourced text message. Dimensions variable.

OPP: The cast concrete letter works—HEY. HORNY. GRRRR. (2015), Tread Lightly (2015) and Say What You Mean (2014)—reference alphabet soup and colored alphabet fridge magnets. Each installation uses these letters in a different way, but in each the experience of reading is slowed down for the viewer. How does the viewer’s experience of the various installation of these letters relate to dating in the digital era?

CP: Although my work specifically references my own encounters, I want it to be accessible and relatable to everyone. Yes, they're about my experiences as a gay male, but there's something universal about online dating that goes beyond any limits of sexual preference and orientation. You'll interact with someone who will be kind, respectful and genuine just as easily as someone who is direct, dismissive and crass. I enjoy engaging with people about my work and taking the time to explain where it comes from because it's great to hear them make connections to their own lives and their own experiences. They begin to tell me their stories about dating in the digital era, and I value that vulnerability.

HEY. HORNY. GRRRR. was featured in the Installation Zone at the Artist Project in Toronto in 2015. There were thousands of people there on opening night. It was amazing to see who related to the piece right away and who needed some time. Any gay male that walked by knew exactly what this was and where the language came from. They were not fazed in the least and felt that they were reading their own messages. The complete opposite reaction came from everyone else. They had no idea what they were reading until I explained it to them. Reactions ranged from disbelief about the direct or rude language to, once again, making personal connections and having conversations with me about their own online interactions.

HEY. HORNY. GRRRR. 2015. Concrete, buckets, sourced text from hook-up apps. Detail.

OPP: Your most recent installation Am I Worth It? (2017) is currently on view through September 9, 2017 at Circa Art-Actuel in Montreal, Quebec. I believe this is the first installations in which visitors can walk on the letters. Is that correct?

CP: That is correct. I wanted visitors to have a more direct engagement with my work. By putting them in a position where they have to walk on the art in order to take it in, I get to offer a different experience for each visitor.

Am I Worth It? 2017. Sourced text message, letters cast in concrete, silica sand, subfloor. Dimensions Variable

OPP: How does the title relate to the raised text in this floor of letters?

CP: The title Am I Worth It? is answered by the raised text that spells out the statement: I'm not willing to make the effort. Like many of my pieces before, the text is sourced from a relationship that had a lot of potential. But he wasn't willing to invest in it since it was long-distance, and I was moving even further away to complete my MFA. The sentence plays off the fact that this installation took a lot of personal commitment to complete. The floor is tiled with thousands of cast-concrete letters laid out like a giant word search. I chose to reveal the statement intermittently, pushing up from the jumble of letters, almost like they're trying to make themselves be noticed, or conversely, about to be buried.

To see more of Christos' work, please visit christospantieras.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 solo show Sacred Secular is on view through October 4, 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

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. 

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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.