OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Caroline Carlsmith

Pyritization II (In Praise of Limestone)
2014
Poem, pyrite (FeS2)
Detail

CAROLINE CARLSMITH's interdisciplinary work is a rhizome of meaning, material and language. The impenetrable walls and poetic byproducts of translation are subjects in works that range from vinyl lettering on walls, poems written in minerals and prints of word clouds made from digitally generated lorem ipsum (a meaningless filler text used by typesetters since the 1500s). In 2009, Caroline completed a double degree in Studio Art (BFA) and Visual and Critical Studies (BA) from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and went on to earn an MFA in Art Theory and Practice from Northwestern University in 2014. She has attended residencies at SÍM Residency (Reykjavic, Iceland), ACRE (Stuben, Wisconsin) and Vermont Studio Center (Johnson, Vermont). Recent exhibitions include to be looked at and read at BKBX Gallery in Brooklyn, Archipelago (2014) at the Block Museum in Evanston, Illinois and Reading Room at Julius Caesar in Chicago. Caroline lives and works in Brooklyn.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Could you talk about text as image and image as text in your work? I'm also curious if you experience textual thinking as different than or similar to visual thinking. 



Caroline Carlsmith: Though there may well be a difference for some people between textual and visual thinking, I am not sure whether I experience it. In some ways all of my works are written, but sometimes literal writing is visible in the finished product and sometimes it isn’t. My artworks are most often the result of a constellation of ideas that are associated as I might want to associate them in a poem. If I want the impact to be simultaneous or sensory, then I make them objects.

While there may not be, for me, a difference between visual and textual creating, there is certainly a difference between the experience of the reader of a text and the viewer of a non-text-based work of art. My desire to invoke one kind of experience or another dictates whether the final product is text or text+. I tend to use images and words similarly, trying to play with their multiple meanings, placing them in congress with each other to facilitate controlled collisions.

Lorem Ipsum Dolor Sit Amet
2012
45 inkjet prints on paper
Prints are 8.5" x 11" each
Installed at Northwestern University, October, 2012

OPP: Whether you are rendering poetry as small nuggets of pyrite as in Pyritization II (In Praise of Limestone) (2014) or Walt Whitman's Calamus as word clouds in Nobody Loves Pain Itself For Itself (2012), translation is both a strategy and a subject in your work. How do you think about issues of legibility, believability and accuracy in relation to translation?



CC: I believe there is no such thing as accuracy in translation. Every translation—be it from language to language, image to text, material to material, body to fossil, artist to avatar—presents both loss and gain. It is this transformation, or transubstantiation, that allows an idea, a thought or a figure to be carried beyond the boundaries of the original in time and space. But inevitably what is translated is not the thing itself. The “true” original is never accessible. It is what we touch when we reach for what lies beyond it. It is the thin shell of space between skin and skin when we believe we are in contact with each other. This is the space I am seeking to make visible.

I Am Now With You
2013
Die-cut vinyl lettering

OPP: You've done numerous projects that take Walt Whitman's work as a subject or a jumping-off point. Why Walt Whitman, as opposed to any other writer? What does he mean to you as a human, as an artist? What does he mean to your work?

CC: Walt Whitman is a key figure to me in many ways. Most important is a move he makes throughout his work, in which he asks to be understood as present with the reader after his death, without his body, through the text. Whitman was an artist who wrote “himself” into his poetry, creating a fictional persona that overlapped with but did not replicate the author. When the poem claims “I am now with you,” the reader is faced with an incantation, a performative utterance, which enacts its own truth through its declaration. This form of immortality, the conjuration of one’s figure through the medium of text, which is not dependent on the living body and moves through time differently, was the one Whitman proclaimed for himself when he made statements like,

                                                   Remember my words - I may again return, 
                                                   I love you - I depart from materials;
                                                   I am as one disembodied, triumphant, dead.

For him, to escape the body and the material world was to live on, but, perversely, that living can only be enacted within a new body. And what is conjured is not a man, but something both larger and smaller: a figure.

Importantly, for Whitman this strategy is dependent on love and enacted by the reader’s succumbing to desire for his “presence.” It’s a form of seduction that results, for Whitman, in alternating forms of procreation and resurrection, or, better yet, new poems, or new works of art, that carry forward that figure and allow it to grow and change—in other words, to live.

2013
Wax cylinder record, marble dust (CaCO3)
2 1/2" diameter x 4"

OPP: Could you talk about the significance of Calcium Carbonate (CaCO3) in its many forms?

CC: I initially became interested in calcium carbonate in its crystal form of optical calcite, which is a birefringent material that splits a ray of light into two beams. I was fascinated to encounter a naturally occurring material that had the capacity to split an image or a word viewed through it in two. It produces a doubling effect in which the “real” and “virtual” are separated but indistinguishable.

As I began to research further, however, I found multiple ways in which calcium carbonate shaped the history of the visual itself. For example, according to the fossil record, trilobites living in the prehistoric oceans saturated with calcium carbonate developed the first eyes, which were compound lenses of calcite. Later, when the oceans acidified, the bodies of the animals living in that environment and deposits from that water became chalk and limestone, or metamorphosed into marble. In forms like these, as well as gesso and lime plaster, calcium carbonate has been an integral part of human art-making as far back as we can trace it. The study of calcite also gave rise, in the 17th century, to the understanding of both the polarization of light and the polymorphism of crystals. Calcite remains the purest polarizing material in use in optical instruments today. Even now, it is still present at the expanding boundary of the visible. It is ultimately that polymorphism that attracts me to calcite. It is part of why I use chemical formulas to indicate motifs and produce associations between seemingly disparate materials in my work. I like that a material can be so many different things and somehow still be the same, remain connected or cohesive.

However, like most materials, CaCO3 is most dynamic when set against something with which it is in tension. When working on Phaedra/Phaedrus/Phèdre, for example, I was using calcium carbonate in the forms of marble powder, chalk, pearl and calcite crystal. That installation also made use of multiple meanings of the word basic, which is a characteristic of the alkaline calcium carbonate, but also a way to think about language, about the foundations of education and thought and about foundations themselves.

Installation view of Phaedra/Phaedrus/Phèdre
foreground: Phèdre, left: Basic Phaedrus, right: Citation Pearl: General Index, background: Solution
2013

OPP: What about your use of blackboards as substrates in Phaedra/Phaedrus/Phèdre (2013)?



CC: Blackboards, in that context, were not only the typical substrate for chalk marks, but also a pedagogical tool, as well as associated with the work of Cy Twombly, whose triptych Phaedrus was recreated in chalk and marble dust on the reverse of the three blackboards in the installation. (The original paintings had been famously kissed by the performance artist Rindy Sam, who claimed she’d been so overwhelmed with love for the work that she had to physically consummate it.) Blackboards, along with champagne and the lipstick Sam had worn to kiss the Twombly, interacted with calcium carbonate as substrates, solvents, and additives. By paring down the materials involved in an installation to just a few elements, I hoped the complex relationships between them would have a greater impact.

II (Inside of a Needle Inside of an Egg Inside of a Duck Inside of a Rabbit Inside of a Chest Buried Under an Oak Tree on an Island)
2014
Carbon ink drawing (C) on paper

OPP: What are you working on right now?

CC: I’m working on a new series of drawings right now based on a Rose of Jericho, which is a resurrection plant native to the desert of Mexico and the southwestern USA. When it’s dry it looks like a little tumbleweed and quite dead, but when you expose it to water it uncurls and grows green and is suddenly alive. The ancient city of Jericho is associated in illuminated manuscripts with a certain type of labyrinth which has seven cycles, related to its apocryphal seven walls. In these drawings, I use the Rose of Jericho, as it opens and closes, to trace paths that lead out of seven-cycled labyrinths. I'm also working on a written piece—or perhaps seven written pieces—that I hope will accompany the drawings when the series is finished.

To see more of Caroline's work, please visit carolinecarlsmith.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, opens today at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL) and runs through December 19, 2015.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Kirsten Furlong

Promise and purpose, the Ancestors' dream
Collage, ink, graphite, and colored pencil on paper
60"x 60"
2014

KIRSTEN FURLONG explores the interplay between culture and nature and the multifaceted relationships between humans and animals in her drawings, prints and fiber-based installations. In her project Unchopping a Tree, based on the eponymous W.S. Merwin prose poem, she laments the lost lives of trees and the impossibility of reviving what has already died. Kirsten earned her BFA (1995) from the University of Nebraska in Omaha and her MFA (2000) from Boise State University in Idaho. Recent solo exhibitions include Kirsten Furlong: Repeat and Shift (2014) at Enso Arts in Boise, Idaho and Standing Still and Moving Through The Wilderness at Coconino Center for the Arts in Flagstaff, Arizona. Her work is included in Dog Head Stew | The Second Course, which just opened this week on October 19, 2015 at Gallery 239, Chadron State College in Nebraska. Another group show, Paper West, opens on November 5, 2015 at Gittins Gallery in Salt Lake City, Utah. In September 2015, she was the Artist-in-Residence at Crooked Tree Art Center in Traverse City, Michigan. She is the Gallery Director and Curator for the Visual Arts Center and a Lecturer at Boise State University. Kirsten lives in Boise, Idaho.

OtherPeoplesPixels: In your artist statement, you say, "animals serve as emblems of nature and as metaphors for human desires." It seems to me that human desires aren't that different from animal desires. What does it mean for our relationship to animals that we turn them into metaphors for our own experiences rather than imagining their experiences?
 
Kirsten Furlong: Animals, in many cases, carry the weight of our cultural baggage which can make it very unclear what anyone’s actual desires may be, animal or human. The most basic and necessary human desires may be for water and air, and yet we engage in activities that foul these resources and deny both humans and animals access to them.

However, a species becoming emblematic has occasionally been useful if they get our attention due to a larger narrative or problem. For example, the near destruction of bald eagles from DDT and the subsequent ban and recovery. There is such an incredible complexity of animal identities, politics and cultural identities tied to the land and species that reside therein. This dynamic takes on particular qualities here in the Western U.S. Thoughtful consideration of the experiences of animals such as wolves, sage grouse, or the giant Palouse earthworm would certainly steer our treatment of their lives in a different directions than they seem to be currently heading.

Investigations in experimental garments for animals
Inkjet print
24"x 30"
2013

OPP: Could you tell us about your experimental garments for animals? Why do these birds need hats?
 
KF: The “garments” started as three-dimensional studio sketches created from hand-made and hand-stitched wool felt. The initial forms were created as protective outer-wear with architectural qualities designed for a few particular birds, insects and small mammals. These forms were intended for a project in which they would be placed in environments to be discovered by these species. The subsequent interactions, collaborations—or lack there of—would generate ideas for the future completed designs. While impatiently awaiting these collaborations and sometimes storing the forms on the head of a taxidermied chuckar partridge in my studio, their unintended, uncanny resemblance to various hats or historic head gear became apparent: dunce caps, papal mitre, bonnets, chaperons, hoods, and military gear. So, while there is no need on the bird's part for a hat, providing one points out, in an ironic way, the uniquely human need for adornments and accoutrements.

standing still - tree circle (detail)
Ink drawing on paper
30"h x 22"w
2012

OPP: How does your use of repetitive mark-making—in the forms of drawing, cutting and sewing—in pieces like Standing Still - Tree Circle (2012), Twice: Migration (2009) and Wolf Mouth (2013) support the content of your work?
 
KF: My process is to mimic forms and patterns made by plants and animals: tree rings, concentric lines on seashells, woven grass in a bird nest, fractal patterns on ferns and corals, spider webs, or the meandering line of a snake. This is a way of understanding natural processes via imitation and representation using the tools of the artist —the pen, the blade, the needle. 


OPP: I like imagining Nature making marks in the same way an artist does, as if it is cognizant and self aware. Perhaps we should go back to the tradition of anthropomorphizing Nature itself, as used to occur in ancient myths . . . might we treat it better if we thought of Nature as a creative being deserving empathy?

KF: This is not just a belief of the past but a way of thinking that is embraced in a number of cultures, and it can have a profound impact on how one exists as a part of Nature. Many dismiss systems of thought like anthropomorphism and animism or consider them only as cultural constructs, but I think a more nuanced approach that crosses the boundaries of natural sciences and arts/humanities is where the most interesting discussions are taking place.

Unchopping a Tree #8
String and poplar tree
2015

OPP: You just returned from a residency at Crooked Tree Arts Center in Northern Michigan. What drew you to this residency and what did you work on while you were there?
 
KF: I have never visited the area, and I like to invigorate my studio practice by situating it now and then in unfamiliar places. Also, I had the opportunity to teach a workshop called Image Layering with Printmaking, Painting and Drawing. I introduced a variety of techniques for mark making including frottage, chine colle' and image transfers. For the frottage process, I demonstrated how to use found textures of wood grain, stones and plants with printmaking inks and graphite on thin papers. Then I showed the process of cutting and adhering these images /patterns to thicker papers and adding additional images with transfers /drawing/painting.

This temporary move from the late summer high desert to the leafy landscape of Northern Michigan's forest preserves and great lakes provided much to investigate. The most fascinating discoveries on the shore of Lake Michigan were the unique geological features - the fossil patterns of Petoskey stones and chain coral influenced some of the drawings I worked on during the stay. The Crooked Tree program is unique in that the artist stays in a private studio and apartment adjacent to the residency hosts' home. The hosts are very knowledgeable about the area and the local flora and fauna and shared a lot of useful information about the region. I also created some site specific works related to my Unchopping a Tree series in a grove of poplars a short walking distance from the studio. I had the opportunity to visit Headlands, one of few designated International Dark Sky Parks, which has me thinking a lot about darkness and nocturnal environments as threatened natural resources.

Rings - September 2013
Tree branches
15' diameter

OPP: Do you see Unchopping a Tree (2013) as part of the trajectory of the earthworks of the 1970s?
 
KF: It's interesting to consider. Unchopping a Tree was inspired by a W.S. Merwin prose poem of the same name that was originally published in 1970. It’s publication and the earthworks are contemporaneous with the 1970s environmental movement and federal legislation for water, air and wilderness. They also coincide with my youth. Although I lived in cities and had no connection to wilderness or National Parks, I was still influenced by the cultural milieu of Woodsy the Owl, Smokey the Bear and collected what I could find from my backyard for “nature crafts.”
 
As an adult, I have visited many of the major earthwork sites of the West. If we can consider the trajectory and its many branches to include the influence of artists like Joseph Beuys and Richard Long, than perhaps what I’m doing is an offshoot from that. The major difference is the scale. Monumental alterations of the landscape like Double Negative, Spiral Jetty and Roden Crater are gigantic gestures. I tend to focus on smaller, and in some cases, nearly invisible patterns and processes. I concentrate on the details, which is what really struck me about the Merwin work. This written work essentially instructs the reader how to put back together a tree that has been cut down and all of the directives are, of course, impossible. The passages about sawdust and spider webs and nests are what really got me thinking about intricacy and what one likely wouldn’t see at all. That is the larger metaphor that moves me. When it come to the environment, we’ve gone so far down the path of destruction and removal, it seems unlikely that the damage can be undone or even sufficiently repaired.

To see more of Kirsten's work, please visit kirstenfurlong.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia recently completed an installation for Chicago Artists' Coalition's 2015 Starving Artist Benefit and is currently working towards a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, for O’Connor Art Gallery at Dominican University (River Forest, IL). The show will open on November 5, 2015.


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Diana Gabriel

Projections
2014
String and wood

DIANA GABRIEL’s expansive, angular string installations are conversations between her, the material and the exhibition space. Her enduring exploration of the line is born of her training in painting and drawing, and the architectural space of the gallery is simply a new blank surface on which to make marks. Diana earned her BFA from Northern Illinois University in 2004 and her MFA from Illinois State University in 2007. She currently teaches at Harper College in Palatine and College of Lake County in Grayslake, Illinois. She is the co-founder of TheCGProject, a creative platform for artists and audiences with a shared vision of increasing appreciation and accessibility of art in our culture. Recent exhibitions include All In (2015), curated by Karen Azarnia for the Riverside Arts Center (Riverside, Illinois) and Transcending Boundaries (2014) at the Bridgeport Art Center (Chicago). Most recently, she collaborated with Rita Grendze on an installation inspired by the bobbins donated from an American textile company that closed its doors in 2009. American Spinner (1903-2009) is on view at Water Street Studios in Batavia, Illinois until August 22, 2015. Diana lives and works in Elgin, Illinois.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What does linearity mean to you? What's appealing about a straight line?

Diana Gabriel: A line is more than just the distance between point A and point B. It's one of the most basic and versatile of the art elements. We use line to communicate by changing its direction and length to create shapes in the written language. We’ve empowered it to create and negate, divide and connect, to add (+), subtract (-), and bring equality (=). Even within the context of our messages, we use line metaphorically. It’s cross-culturally embedded into our vulgar verbal and physical expressions. 


Ciclos
2014
String and wood

OPP: Your large-scale string installations respond to the architecture of the exhibition space and capitalize on tautness and tension to create straight lines in pieces like Trifecta (2014). But string also has the capacity to curve, and you make use of that in drooping pieces like Tracing Time (2012) and Under the Table (2013). What led you to include the curved line?

DG: In my practice, the straight line provides an underlying structure and sense of control. I’ve made it a rule to use straight lines as my starting guide to set the parameters of what I will and won't allow. However, another one of my rules is to keep my process organic and change those parameters as I go. In other words, I always bend the rules I set for myself. The straight line and its rigidity, visually and metaphorically, are the starting and finish line. The curved line, on the other hand, is the precarious improviser. It provides my process with a healthy balance. Maybe it’s my Libra nature, but I always find myself in the pursuit of balance. The straight, the curved, the taut and loose, the thick and thin are all ways of finding the perfect amount of balance within the work.

Reach Across
2013
Acrylic
12" x 12"

OPP:
Thinking about your string installations, your acrylic paintings of lined pattern and some early pieces using marking tape, I imagine a similar process of unrolling, unspooling and squeezing straight from the paint tube. How do these processes relate to drawing?

DG: I’ve always loved drawing. Its immediacy and spontaneity are playful traits I find important in art making. Most people have a studio in art school, but when you graduate you're faced with the fact you might have to use a corner of your room or a dinner tray as your studio. That was the moment when I began to think about making work out of existing spaces. It’s very liberating to have a different “surface” every time I make a piece. It also feels very natural to start a piece without the “blank canvas jitters” because the conversation has already started before I even get there. In my installations, I’m just responding to a space by drawing lines there-dimensionally from one edge of the room to another.

Under the Table
2013
Wood and mason line
10' x 13' x 13'

OPP: Is your response to those spaces improvisational or planned? Tell us a little about your process of installation.

DG: I normally study the space and do a few sketches that help me figure out color, mark and a general idea of the structure for each piece. I really enjoy making meticulous perspective drawings of the space. It helps me understand the height, width and distance between the multiple planes with which I’ll be working. Then I think about the type of marks I want to incorporate and how they’ll interact with the space.

I do, however, need to keep my process organic. Once in the space, I modify the piece as it develops. I see it as a conversation, not a lecture. It’s a two-way street, a give and take relationship. Sometimes I want the string to do a certain thing, like go in a specific direction or be tight in a certain spot, but the light won’t be right or the logistics of the space simply won’t permit me to do it. So improvisation becomes a large part of it. Those situations are nerve-racking but exceedingly exciting. That is when the magic happens because I have to put my plans and rules aside and work "with it.” It starts to feel like a collaboration of sorts.

Looping System (detail)
2011
String, nails and gaffers tape

OPP: What about the experience of deinstallation? Do you reuse the string?

DG: I get a lot of my drawing/ mark-making ideas for installations when I deinstall. I usually take many photos during this process. The breakdown is in some instances more enriching than the build up of the work. I’ve made it a habit of creating new “pieces” as I take others down. It's very exciting to cut the edges off of one plane and see the limpness versus the tautness of the string. I fall in love with those moments and try to incorporate them in creating new pieces. It’s pretty evident in a piece from 2012 called 342, which is when I first started incorporating this practice. The whole right side is one of my favorite parts of the piece.

Perhaps it’s because I see these new ideas under certain light and and with a specific material that I do tend to reuse my string. I also hate how wasteful art can be, so I work extra hard to save most of my materials. I have bins of string I hope to use one day. Art is the only aspect of my life where I allow myself to do a little hoarding. That and scarves.

Blue Window
2011
Acrylic, nails, and string on panel
8"x 8"

OPP: Your background is painting and drawing, but I see such an affinity for Fiber and Material Studies (my own background). Both weaving or crochet use the line in different ways. Weaving is a system of interconnected lines on a grid, while crochet is more akin to drawing in space with one looping line. Do you have any experience with these textile techniques?

DG: I never knew what drove me to the linear until I visited my childhood home in Colombia. I noticed all the baskets, plate settings, tablecloths, even the “carpetas” under the flower vases were woven, made through macrame or crocheted. I’ve always enjoyed lines and patterns because they felt familiar, but my connection to them has been solely through drawing. Being around all these hand-made things made me realize my linear bias made sense; it all suddenly clicked. I recognized that I come, not only from a long line of artisan women in my family, well versed in the “handy crafts”, but from a culture of talented people who resourcefully use these skills to survive.

Oscillating Reciprocity
2011
Cotton Yarn
Detail

OPP:
What can you tell us about what it's like to walk around in the string installations, since our readers can only experience your work online. I'd like to hear about your own experience and how they relate to your body, as well as any interesting comments you've received from viewers.

DG: I like to hang around the space while others experience my work. I enjoy when they find their favorite ”moment” and nook within the work. I especially like to hear them question and make assumptions about the process. I feel most connected with the viewer when the work triggers motor memory. We all know the motions of tying and pulling, or bunching and stretching. I use that as a way to connect the viewer with the process of making. With so much technology nowadays, we are losing touch with the instinct to pull and push, tie and unravel. . . to physically build and create. The idea of manual labor is somewhat repulsive to some and seen as unnecessary to most, but it’s extremely important to me. It’s honest, primal, human; a connection to our natural state.

To see more of Diana's work, please visit dianapgabriel.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia recently completed an installation for Chicago Artists' Coalition's 2015 Starving Artist Benefit and is currently working towards a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, for O’Connor Art Gallery at Dominican University (River Forest, IL). The show will open on November 5, 2015.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Matthew Schlagbaum

If I could have feelings at all, I'd have feelings for you
Inkjet print, hammertone acrylic, artist frame
2015

MATTHEW SCHLAGBAUM's sculptures, installations and photography explore the muting effect of romanticism and expectation on our lived experience. Various visual filters like frosted plexiglass, colored mylar, screens obscure clichéd imagery of natural phenomena including sunsets, rainbows, lightning bolts. The viewer is repeatedly viewing one thing through another, which creates a frustrated desire to experience the imagery directly, and this perceptual frustration is echoed in titles that add interpersonal, emotional narratives. Matthew earned his BFA in 2009 from University of South Florida and his MFA in 2011 from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His solo exhibitions include Don’t Stop Now, I’m Almost There (2012) at Vitrine in Chicago, It’s What’s On The Outside That Counts (2013) at Contemporary Art Center in Las Vegas and Wearing Myself Out Trying to Get There (2015) at Bert Green Fine Arts in Chicago. He is currently an artist-in-residence at the Arquetopia Foundation in Puebla, Mexico. Past residencies include Vermont Studio Center (2013), Hatch Projects (2013) at Chicago Artists’ Coalition and ACRE (2011). Opening on September 11, 2015, his work will be included in the upcoming exhibition Making Chances at Gallery 400, which is part of the citywide program Platforms: 10 Years of Chances/Dances. Matthew lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What role does longing play in your practice? 

Matthew Schlagbaum: Longing is a major aspect of my work, but I am no longer very interested the longing related to nostalgia or a yearning for the past. I am interested in representing the desires of the present.

I often feel persuaded into believing that Love and Happiness are obtainable, permanent states of being. In reality, happiness is experienced intermittently, dispersed throughout a gradient of other feelings, most of which are probably pretty neutral. But I often feel the expectation to constantly exist in a high-key. There is a pervasive, erroneous notion that equates not feeling strongly with not feeling at all. Like, if I do not love you so much it makes me sick, then I don’t really love you. 

These unrealistic expectations result in a constant state of longing for something more. Some promised state that is recognizable in others on the streets and in the movies, but that I find difficult to experience. Perhaps Marina and the Diamonds described this more succinctly than I can with their line “TV taught me how to feel, now real life has no appeal.

And all those in love and for those who can remember it
Inkjet print
2014

OPP: I relate to this so much! And, as much as I believe that TV has many positive emotional benefits, unrealistic expectations about the experience of love is a negative side effect. Pop songs certainly play into this, too. Rarely do they capture love, but I do think they are very accurate at capturing infatuation and calling it love. Could the longing to feel more just be a symptom of semantics? Does fine art play into this collective misunderstanding?

MS: I don’t want to give the impression that I am anti-television or popular culture. On the contrary, I’m actually quite fond of them. I do believe that this might be an issue of semantics, in the sense that I often feel disconnect between an emotional reaction and its cultural signifiers. This is a situation that seems pervasive in pop culture, but the Art World is not immune to this either. There is so much work I cannot fully relate to because it’s either assaulting me with its saccharine idealism or smothering me with the horrors of the world. It seems rare to encounter work that addresses the notion of emotional neutrality or explores an ambivalent viewpoint. In response to this, my work is about the person who feels guilty for not crying at a funeral or struggles to muster the level of excitement required to ensure others of their appreciation of a gift—in other words, the person who feels like they are not feeling enough.

The aspirations of the yearning individual in a valueless world
Galvanized steel mounted onto corrugated plastic, refrigerator magnets and imitation gold leaf
2013

OPP: Gold is a recurring color and symbol in your sculptural work. In 2013, you used imitation gold leaf in installations like Treasured, Everything and The Aspirations of the Yearning Individual in a Valueless World. You've also used gold spray paint, gold scrapbook paper and found trophies. What are your thoughts about the color gold and it's conceptual content in your sculpture?


MS: My initial interest in gold came from my inability to convincingly mimic it for a project that I did not have the funds to create out of the real thing. It quickly dawned on me that I had never owned anything made out of gold and didn’t really even know what it was I was trying to replicate. After that I became interested in the value and superiority placed upon the material, its art historical references and the myriad of colors that attempted to imitate it. The imitative materials sort of had this drag quality that I found appealing. They are not convincingly mimicking the original, but that isn’t the point. The act of imitation becomes an exaggeration, and that exaggeration results in something altogether new.  

Now you change. Please. Don’t make me change you. Must I? All right I will. You’re changed now. You are. You did it too. I did it to you but you did it. Yes you did.
Window, wood, paint, Venetian blinds and color changing LED light bulb
2012

OPP: Your titles often contain emotional content that is integral to the work. In some cases—Now You Change. Please. Don’t Make Me Change You. Must I? All Right I Will. You’re Changed Now. You Are. You Did It Too. I Did It To You But You Did It. Yes You Did. (2012), for example—I would consider language a material on par with physical materials. When in your process do you decide on titles? Does thinking about titles shape the evolution of the piece?



MS: Titles are incredibly important to me. They are a way to add an additional reference, layer of content, or entry point into the work. With that being said, titling usually happens after the work has been completed. Like my imagery and materials, I appropriate many of my titles from other sources. I keep a running list of things that I read or hear that resonate with me. When I read, I do a lot of underlining.

Once a work is finished, I comb through all my notes and books and sometimes search for quotes online using keywords or phrases that are related to the conceptual aspect of the work. I like mixing the sources of my titles, and have previously taken titles from movies, television shows, musicians, novels, critical theory, overheard conversations and self-help books.

The title you referenced in your question was taken from the Ernest Hemingway novel The Garden of Eden. The female protagonist convinces her new husband that they should have the same hair, clothes and tanned skin in order to be like androgynous twins. She is constantly altering both of their appearances to suit her desires. In the section this title is taken from, she is trying to convince him that they can switch back and forth between genders, and in that moment she wants him to be the woman and her to be the man. He doesn’t really understand why she wants this or how it would even work, but allows her to assert that this change has taken place anyway. 

Much better
Inkjet print on backlit film and lightbox
2013

OPP: Please talk about the various obstructions/filters that you use to block out or mediate some romantic, natural phenomena like lightening bolts, rainbows or the sunset.



MS: The imagery I choose to work with is meant to represent an extreme emotional state that I often struggle to relate to. Landscapes and natural phenomena work well for this because they tend to be overly romanticized— perhaps a little threatening, but also enticing. I want the images I use to be so familiar that they are simultaneously potent and lacking content. Stock photography has this unique quality of being specific and generic at the same time.  A stock image has to be specific enough to anchor it into a perceived reality, but generic enough that lots of different realities can be projected onto it. 

The plexi, window screen, blinds, etc. that I use to obfuscate imagery are meant to create that sense of longing you mentioned earlier. It allows the viewer to know exactly what it is they are looking at while denying them that full sense of visual satisfaction. I want to manifest a sensation of desiring something that is always just beyond reach.

To see more of Matthew's work, please visit matthewschlagbaum.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent exhibitions include solo shows I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago, as well as Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, at Design Cloud in Chicago (2014). Most recently, Stacia created  When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center. Closing reception guests were invited to help break down the piece by pulling pins out of the wall.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Heather Brammeier

Inside Outside
2014
Oil on canvas
36"x 54"

HEATHER BRAMMEIER’s flowing, curling lines—rendered two-dimensionally in paint and three-dimensionally in PEX piping—evoke vines, waves, hair, intestines, smoke and even cursive writing. Her paintings and installations are unified by the balance abstraction and representation, or expressions of the internal and the external. Heather earned her BFA from Bradley University in 2000 and her MFA from University of Pennsylvania in 2002. Her representational works will be exhibited alongside abstract reinterpretations in She Defines Herself, a solo exhibition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison that opens on June 26, 2015. A rooftop installation at the South Bend Museum of Art in Indiana will be on display from June, 2015–May 2017. Adorn, another rooftop installation, will be on view for the month of September 2015 at Lillstreet Art Center in Chicago.  Most recently, she was chosen to take part in the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art's SENSE exhibition, as part of ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Heather is an Associate Professor of Art at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, where she lives.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us a little about your process in general. Are you a sketcher/planner or an intuitive maker?

Heather Brammeier: I love planning and sketching, but I always know the finished works will be very different from the plans. At the beginning of a studio day, I allow myself to follow any line of thought and imagine ambitious new directions. I mentally undertake any project and see where it goes, forgetting about physical limitations, even discounting the effects of gravity. It’s just like when I was a little girl, trying to balance huge Lego houses on a tiny base. This over-reaching is part of my process, because it gives me interesting problems to work on. I often find myself looking at a sketch and asking myself how I can achieve similar results with simpler, more direct means. This is how I devise new ways of working, or new ways of addressing current work.

Painting in Space 5
2015
Repurposed paintings, fabric, play balls, suitcase, chair, and other mixed media

OPP: I'm utterly enamored with the installations that you refer to as Painting in Space. Personally, I think of these more as sculptural quilts than paintings because of your decision to include found objects like chairs, suitcases, and balls as well as repurposed art work. Why do you think of these works as paintings instead of installations?

HB: I tend to see visual characteristics—shape, color, space—before naming objects or identifying things. This makes me very aware of the way our brain flattens visual input into an image. When I started assembling objects to make the paintings in space, I imagined myself “fattening” my paintings by giving them dimension and then “flattening” them again through photography. During construction, I definitely anticipate how the photograph will flatten out all dimension (as the brain does). The paintings in space still hold up as installation in an exhibition setting, but my primary focus is the image created, rather than an environment. Your term “sculptural quilts” is apt, as it describes both the dimensional and flattened qualities. I have an interest in the area between two and three dimensions, and I have explored sewing to work in that realm.

Ribbed Cave (With Uccello)
2014
Oil on canvas
45"x 30"

OPP: You return again and again to loopy mass of curls and coils in your Invented Landscapes and PEX sculptures. At times, these organic lines evoke vines, waves, hair, intestines, smoke and even cursive writing. Could you talk about your attraction to this form, as well as its counterpart, the triangle, that shows up in many of your installations?

HB: Loops and biomorphic forms have the potential to refer to interior and exterior simultaneously. I welcome all the associations you identified. I tell people I am “aggressively introspective.” I’m being a little self-deprecating, but also completely honest. My introspection over the years has led me to view experience of the mind, body and physical world as very fluid and continuous.  My imagery can easily shift from being read as interior to exterior space and from mental struggle to physical struggle. 

I use circles and triangles to evoke strength and stability. Just as the stability in our lives can turn quickly into chaos, carefully measured structures can transform into masses of lines that spin out of control. My return again and again to biomorphic tangles creates a physical manifestation of the constant search for meaning that we all experience.

She Defines Herself (Bordone's Princess, Jess)
2015
Conte on Rives BFK
30"x 22" each

OPP: Your Masterworks Interpretations began are based on famous paintings of the St. George and the Dragon story. In paintings like Waterfall (With Moreau's St. George) and Ribbed Cave (With Uccello), you  reinterpret isolated parts of the original paintings and place them inside your characteristic coils. But in 2015, you've made a major stylistic shift with drawing diptychs like She Defines Herself
(Uccello's Princess, Tura's Princess) and She Defines Herself (Bordone's Princess, Jess). What led to this shift?

HB: The masterwork reinterpretations began a few years ago when I used the language of biomorphic abstraction to reinterpret a master’s composition. I recently started allowing myself to start copying portions of the masterworks. I began to see that representational imagery can provide metaphor for internal struggles, just as abstraction does. This gave me permission to mine personal experience—through snapshots—and combine it with the masterwork imagery I was studying. These drawings were my way of breaking through the barrier I had set between abstraction and representation, but they do not represent an abandonment of abstraction. My plan is that the portraits will lead to paintings that combine abstraction with representation.

Incorporating the study of masterworks into my studio practice has taught me things I didn’t anticipate. While I am nothing like an art historian, I think I may understand now how connected an art historian feels to artwork. I also feel like I understand portraiture in a way that I never had before. A similar sense of longing arises in working from either a snapshot or a reproduction of a painting, as both have limited visual information. When drawing from a snapshot, I have to strain to find detail in the image, but I am compelled by my interest in the woman pictured. When I draw a woman from a reproduction of a painting, I am also constantly straining to see more in the image, but I begin without knowing the woman. The process of visual searching leads me to feel more connection with the woman in the painting. The gap separating real women I know and fictional women I can never meet is closed by visual study and interpretation. 

No matter the medium or approach, I tend to take disparate elements and put them on equal footing. In the paintings in space, objects stored in my basement are considered raw material on footing with oil paintings. In the masterwork interpretations, my approach to abstraction and the representational approach of the master artist are both on the table for me to use. The women in the conte portraits are considered equally, whether they are toddlers, young women or princesses. I put aside the distinctions that most people would consider first in order to present more universal qualities. Each woman’s expression suggests complicated thoughts and even inner conflict. I like to pair these portraits as diptychs, but I also like grouping them in different ways. Exhibited in one long line, the women seem almost to talk to one another, and the cropped horses and dragons from masterworks create a sense of absurdity.

Seeing Through (wall installation)
2013
PEX plumbing pipe, zip ties
20'x 15'x 4'

OPP: You have two upcoming rooftop installations, one at the South Bend Museum of Art and one at the Lilllstreet Art Center in Chicago. What are you planning? What's exciting about a rooftop space and what's difficult?

HB: I actually have three rooftop projects coming up! I was just chosen to do a piece at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I will be working in their Terrace exhibition space on the roof of the building. My outdoor installations utilize PEX (cross-linked polyethylene) because it is very resistant to the elements. PEX is more flexible and light than PVC and more rigid than most hosing, so it holds curves very well.  The cross-linked fibers allow me to drill holes through the PEX; red and blue zip ties are threaded through to hold curves in place. I make large, elegant tangles that can drape across walls and tumble over edges. 

Each space holds its own challenge. The piece I am making for the South Bend Museum of Art will tumble over the edge of a twenty-two foot high wall. Creating a piece that has a substantial visual presence viewed from the sidewalk as well as from the various tall buildings surrounding the Century Center will be a challenge. I am using some wooden structures with arcs and triangles to help establish a strong visual profile and to physically anchor the piece. The Lillstreet Art Center in Chicago has four flagpoles on the edge of its rooftop, and I’ll be draping PEX loops from one to the next like a necklace or adornment for the building and the sky. At the UICA in Grand Rapids, I have a much larger space than I ever have before.  Some of my plans for this space are still in the works, as I have a lot of research and testing to do. I can tell you I will be building more structures for the PEX to climb on, and I’ll be making striped walls with red and blue tape.  The optical effects of red and blue PEX in front of red and blue stripes will be exhilarating for some, and disorienting for others because of the strong color vibration. The red and blue lines invite associations with arteries and veins, which can lead to contemplations of the visceral experience of artwork.  I also embrace associations with toys and hula-hoops. As in much of my other work, I am addressing the fact that apparent opposites often exist together and that ambiguity reigns over clarity.

To see more of Heather's work, please visit heatherbrammeier.com
.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent exhibitions include solo shows I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago, as well as Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, at Design Cloud in Chicago (2014). Most recently, Stacia created  When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center. Closing reception guests were invited to help break down the piece by pulling pins out of the wall.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Travis Townsend

Another Tankard
Wood and mixed media
100 x 100 x 100 inches

TRAVIS TOWNSEND’s large sculptural vessels appear to be part boat, part RV, part space ship, part ark. Tiny chairs and ladders occupy these vehicles, hinting at vague narratives of human cultures—past, present and future—in transition or possibly on the brink of extinction. Travis earned his BS from Kutztown University in Pennsylvania and his MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University. He received the Virginia A. Groot Foundation Sculpture Award in 2006, 2008 and 2009. His numerous solo exhibitions include shows at Southwest School of Art in San Antonio, Texas (2008), Manifest Gallery in Cincinnati (2012) and Washington State University (2014). As part of SmithTownsendCollaborative, he recently created a new installation with Brandon C. Smith titled view of the big nothing from an abandoned perch atop pink meat pod island (with Godbird watching) for the Lexington Art League’s Loudoun House. Travis teaches at Eastern Kentucky University and is represented by Ann Tower Gallery. An exhibition of Travis’ paintings will take place in Fall 2015 at the Living Arts and Science Center in Lexington, Kentucky, where he lives.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What came first for you: painting or sculpture?

Travis Townsend: I thought of myself predominately as a painter in high school and early college, but I’ve always made three-dimensional stuff. Looking back, the objects were always more interesting than the paintings. Throughout my first few years at Kutztown University, I thought sculpture was either boring, old statues or rusty chunks of big Modernist metal. It took me a while to realize that my woodworking/sculpture could be as weird and fun to make as the tree forts and skateboard ramps I built as a kid. I spent my last two years planted in the wood shop, making oddball furniture objects with heavily painted surfaces that I believed a wide range of viewers could understand, appreciate and live with. I sold a bunch right as I was graduating, so I thought I had it all figured out. Of course, then my work changed.

The paintings that came next had a strong resemblance to the surfaces of the furniture. Since graduate school at Virginia Commonwealth University, the creative process has become more evident in the finished paintings and sculptures. The more recent paintings are, to me, more interesting hung in clusters near the sculptures. I often think of them as some sort of information tablet that presents a layered history without ever really explaining it.

Since my first serious work began as furniture—albeit not in a traditional sense—the vessel has always been an appealing starting point for me in terms of form and potential meaning. Early on, the sculptures were more about what it meant to craft, and then re-create, objects that nostalgically relate to furniture objects, tools and toys that we live with. This series was called Rebuilt Domestic Devices. As the work shifted into a larger scale and began to look a bit like sad, homemade machines that were insufficient to do their tasks, the series became Renovated Flightless Devices.

Renovated Newky Toy
Wood and mixed media

OPP: Could you talk about the relationship between the sculptures and the wall drawings in your solo show Anxious Accumulations (2008) at Southwest School of Art in San Antonio, Texas?

TT: That show was very important to me. It was a big space that needed some fairly sizable objects. I had previously made a contraption-like sculpture connected to a wall drawing, but this was the first time I changed wall colors and pedestal colors and drew on the walls. The pronounced use of string as a three-dimensional line was new, too.

The act of drawing is very important to the creation of my sculptures, which evolve from continually-accumulating small doodles. When complete, the sculptures are a bit "sketchy" in the sense that they might seem unfinished or in-progress. From the beginning, I drew and painted on the sculptures, but it took a while for me to feel confident putting images on the walls. Most of my three-dimensional work has a strong linear gesture. So, building on this already present "drawing" sensibility with string and charcoal on walls has been a good fit. My vocabulary of simple symbolic images became more distilled with this show. The image of the dead bird could stand in for innocence and the cartoony army tank could be brutish, clumsy violence. These images are usually secondary and play a supporting role to the sculptures, but that may change in the future.

Vehicle of Strange Conception
Wood and mixed media

OPP: The lo-tech, DIY quality of your large sculptural vessels leads me to imagine large groups of people being forcefully exiled from their homelands. I think of diasporas in fictional outer space (the humans of Battlestar Galactica) and in history (the transatlantic slave trade). I also imagine the intentional exploration of new frontiers in history (colonial explorers) and in our contemporary world (Cuban immigrants crossing the Gulf Stream by boat). In all cases, these works evoke thoughts of the major upheaval of confronting the unknown. What narratives do you imagine for these vessels?



TT: Yes! Thanks for that. I appreciate hearing your ideas about what my work suggests. It is all of those things, without being any of those things specifically. I always hope that the layered possibilities become a jumping off point for viewers to fill in the narrative for themselves. There is more than one answer to the question of, So what does this mean?

The use of small boats, chairs, ladders, mini dwellings and the image of the dead bird is the most pronounced attempt at a narrative, however. I like the way these indicators of previous habitation change the associations of the larger vessel-like objects. From across the room, a viewer sees something that is human scale, but upon closer examination of the small built structures, docks, and flotilla of boats, one might start to think of the sculptures as massive arks for a possibly-extinct group of small people. What do the symbols suggest about the people who once inhabited the now-empty chairs? Did they build the boat-like contraptions? Did they abandon these vessels or did they die out? I keep thinking of those colossal heads on Easter Island and the abandoned cliff dwelling culture in the American Southwest. Also running through my mind are ideas about building machines we don't need, fouling up ourselves and others, then fleeing to start the whole process over again. Lately, some titles suggest this by using words like infected, abandoned and evacuation. Raft for __________  (with Infected Systems Drawing) does this most emphatically.

Randy Shull, one of my teachers at Penland, has made many works with a simple iconic chair-shape, and I've always loved Charles Simond's tiny, clay dwelling pieces. I probably wouldn't be creating the chairs and little clay bricks if had I never seen their work. Certain images stick with me for years before I see traces of their influence in what I'm making.

Ladder and Three Chairs
Wood, graphite

OPP: I'm curious about your choice of the word "renovated" to describe many of the pieces, as in Renovated Quarry Pot, Renovated TLC or the Renovated Flightless Devices. In what way are they renovated? What was their former state?

TT: The titles are mini artist statements that suggest the process and the type of object: toy, ark, tank, device, pot. The word renovated hints at a positive-sounding narrative of handmade improvements. I really do make and remake some of these things over and over again. But I also hope the viewer will wonder, why would someone keep "fixing" such useless-looking, slightly pathetic objects? A dominant theme in my work is the creative act of building itself. My studio practice is not unlike the tinkering of other middle-aged guys in their garages after their kids have gone to bed. Although, I was working this way long before I had a house with a garage. . . or three kids.

Raft for____________
Wood and mixed media

OPP: How has having kids changed your art practice or your art career?

TT: Time in the studio is much more precious. I don't waste as much time as I used to! My wife, Felicia Szorad, would probably say the same about her own studio activity. Our twin daughters are three, and our son is six. We recently purchased a home that needed renovations, so we've been extra busy these last few years. Gradually we’ll be able to get more studio time as they get a little older. Professional decisions are different now, since certain opportunities for exhibitions, residencies or teaching could disrupt the entire family. I concentrate on what I really want/need to do, rather than applying for or agreeing to whatever sounds interesting.  

Building an O gauge train layout bookshelf for my kids has been a surprisingly arty experience, so the line between it and my sculptures could get pretty vague. Would it be too dopey—or awesome—if model trains started popping up in my sculptures?

To see more of Travis's work, please visit travistownsendart.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent exhibitions include solo shows I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago, as well as Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, at Design Cloud in Chicago (2014). Most recently, Stacia created  When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center. Closing reception guests were invited to help break down the piece by pulling pins out of the wall.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Leslie Bell

Cosmic Wall-Les Territoires (installation view)
2009
Water-based paint, chalk and pen on Mylar, paper and wood cut-outs
8' x 40'

LESLIE BELL's immersive, colorful collage installations hover in the threshold between abstraction and representation. The organic, rhizomatic lines evoke explosions, sea life and planetary movement, but formal decisions are often influenced more by materiality than imagery. Leslie received her BFA from Alberta College of Art & Design in 2002 and completed her MFA in Painting and Drawing at Concordia University, Montreal in 2009. In 2008, she attended the Cosmic Ray Research residency at The Banff Centre, and has been the recipient of numerous project grants from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts (2008, 2010 and 2011). Leslie's stop-motion animations of water-based paint over back-lit glass have been screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival (2013) in Australia and the Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival (2014) in Toronto, among others. She has exhibited widely throughout Canada, including solo shows at Skew Gallery (2011) and SQ Commons (2013), both in Calgary, where Leslie lives and works.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Are your collage installations pure abstractions? What visually influences you in the creation of these works?

Leslie Bell: These collages, composed of over a hundred paper and paint-on-Mylar cutouts, were developed from two different directions. The paper shapes are made by tracing projected photographs of trees, plants and fireworks explosions as contour line drawings and then cutting them out by hand with an X-acto knife. This process is a holdover from older works. In undergrad, I was primarily a landscape painter who worked from image references that I projected and traced. When I switched to abstraction, I incorporated these contour drawings into the layering of the paintings and later into stand-alone drawings on paper. Over the years I have shot hundreds of photographs on hiking excursions in British Columbia, on holidays in Europe and of my own houseplants. These photos are now my source materials for the white paper collage pieces that are a direct development from this early abstract work.

The paint-on-Mylar shapes fall under the category of pure abstraction. The material conditions, rather than any outside images, dictate the formal language, but those abstractions sometimes lead me to think about sea-life, mucous and cellular organisms, which in turn influences the work. I work on the floor, pouring out puddles of FW ink and acrylic paint and allowing them to blend and mix as they dry. Saturated puddles of ink on Mylar dry in a particularly interesting incremental way, leaving thick lines and edges and creating smaller shapes within the form. I started out making jellyfish-like shapes, and I embraced the way folds in the plastic or uneven floors would allow "tumors" or new "limbs" to sprout overnight. With jellyfish in mind, I considered giving the shapes "tentacles" and then began to incorporate gestural lines of paint, mirroring the action of a swinging wrist and arm into the shapes as outcroppings. From there, the shapes made me think of the mind maps I draw in my sketchbook composed of circled text and lines, as well as strings of sap or snot, so I began adding intricacy to the forms by making multiple puddles of paint or "nebulae" connected by swooping and drooping swaths of lines made with large flat brushes. The frosted Mylar I use comes on four-feet wide rolls, so I would make larger shapes by stretching the "snot strings" lengthwise. At a certain point I became fascinated by the texture that can be created by splashing and dripping concentrated ink into the puddles with an eyedropper—it looked like leopard spots to me—and I went through a whole period of making "leopard amoebas."

Cosmic Wall-Banff (detail)
2008
Water-based paint, chalk and pen on Mylar, paper and wood cut-outs
8' x 20'

OPP: What first led to the shift from painting to installation?

LB: I first started the Cosmic Collage in 2008; my goal was to solve a problem in my painting practice. At the time, I was really into the work of Julie Mehrutu, Matthew Ritchie, Dil Hildbrand and Melanie Authier, and I was struggling to emulate their work. I sought a level of layered complexity that just wasn't happening in my paintings. It occurred to me that pre-planning the compositions through collage might achieve the level of intricacy and layering I was looking for.

My work took on an unpredicted trajectory. The collage itself became a satisfying, exciting, fully-realized body of work. New material explorations changed the aesthetic, and I began to consider installation and space. But I always kept my original goal in mind. Over the next year or two, I poked away at some paintings, working from the photo documentation I took of the first collage-installations at The Banff Centre and Galleries Les-Territoires. Thinking of my favourite painters, I switched to oil paint for these studies and began from some simple questions: canvas or birch panel? Paint loosely or photo-realistically? Masking tape hard-edges: yes or no? I considered these initial studies to be failures up until SIM 1 when something "clicked" aesthetically.

Pith 4
2013
Oil on birch panel
48" x 60"

OPP: Could you talk about the intersection of dimensionality and flatness in Simulation Series (2014)?

LB: The paintings from Simulation Series are essentially photo-representational paintings of abstract source material. I place two-dimensional forms into three-dimensional systems, photograph them and then paint the resulting abstraction with the same representational techniques that I developed when I painted from life and landscape. I love the idea that the viewer can recognize and appreciate the tropes of traditional, representational painting, including cast light and shadow, colour value and focal depth, while the subject is unrecognizable: I’m literally simulating abstraction.

With my earlier abstract paintings, any sense of flatness or space was an unintentional byproduct of trying to develop an abstract aesthetic through a combination painting and drawing while being unsure of my direction. I was trying to achieve a virtual space through a mental process without any real reference points. But with the Simulation Series, which references Baudrillard's notions of hyperreality, I embraced the ambiguity between abstraction and representation, between the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional.

The initial source materials are flat shapes that occupy real space, casting interesting shadows that I exaggerate in the paintings. The bends in the paper in the collage and the source lighting create highlights and shadows that add value and ambient light to the original local colours. The photos I take of the three-dimensional installations distort the forms through cropping and a combination of sharp focus and blur that can be emphasized through a combination of hard-edge and gestural blending techniques.

Cosmic Wall-Skew
2011
Wall collage, water-based paint, chalk and pen on Mylar, paper and wood cut-outs
15' x 40'

OPP: Are your Cosmic Wall installations planned or improvised? What are some of the practical logistics of hanging your installations?

LB: The installations are loosely planned. I reuse the shapes with each new installation. After finding out where the work will be shown next, I get a general idea of what kind of superstructure I'm going to go for based on the conditions of the space (on the wall or hanging from the roof, horizontal swoop or water-fall, one main shape or small clusters, etc.) With this in mind, I make as many new shapes as time allows with the specific space in mind. I always start out with a general idea of the composition, but the installation grows incrementally and decisions are made organically in the process. I'm never very picky about exact placement of every piece. It is an abstract collage after all, and I personally enjoy accidental formations and surprises that happen through the process.

Through the different installations, the individual pieces have suffered some wear and tear, and I often need to patch some chipped bits up with paint or retire them altogether. All the individual bits have a maximum size of 4 x 8 feet because everything is stored in flat, cardboard portfolio packs—with the exception of some 20 foot ribbons that get rolled up for storage in a box. I've learned through experience that the paint shapes need at least a week of drying time before being packed away, and I need to separate them with newspaper or they will stick together.

SIM5
2011
Oil on birch panel
60" x 60"

OPP: Do you use assistants?

LB: At first, I did all the work from creation to installation myself, but as early as the Les-Territoires installation I began to delegate tasks and rely on installation assistants. I invited my friends to help me X-acto knife out my paper shapes to save time. The more complicated wood shapes were made by a professional printing company using computer laser cutting. My husband would hang my wood bits for me because I'm not strong enough to lift them. He's a commercial electrician and figured out the framework for hanging the heavier wood pieces, which are anchored to walls with metal rods painted white or hung from the roof with aircraft cable, using supplies he pilfered from construction sites. The collage itself is hung with clear push pins and fishing wire.

With the Glenbow Museum and Art Gallery of Calgary installations, I had a team of professional installation technicians helping me. I spread out all the shapes on the floor and handed them pieces one at a time while they were up on ladders. I told them where and how high to hang things, and they problem-solved to make it happen. The installation process is generally a fun and stress-free collaboration with the installation technicians, and I'm open to their suggestions in terms of installation and lighting.

Cosmic Wall-Glenbow
2013
Wall collage, water-based paint, chalk and pen on Mylar, paper and MDF cut-outs
12' x 20' x 5'

OPP: In general, are your animations pure stop-motion or do you ever employ digital editing techniques?

LB: I try to achieve as much as possible in-camera with the hand-painted stop-motion techniques, but there are some digital effects added in post-production using AfterEffects. But with every digital effect added, the original source material becomes slightly degraded. I am compulsively obsessed with maintaining as much high-definition detail as possible. (I abhor seeing these films projected in SD!) So I make sure the lighting is perfect before filming and for the most part, I use the original paint colours and light levels. I crop and blur with the camera set-up instead of using computer scale change and blur filters.

When I first started Chromafilm, I was still learning animation, and I had some strategic struggles trying to achieve pre-set goals based on combining existing aesthetics of paint animation with my own pure abstract painting technique. I was thinking about animation as a way to create a living painting, emulating the experience of painting as the mind works through the possibilities and permutations of abstract composition. But I mostly wanted to make moving versions of the paint-on-Mylar shapes from the Cosmic Collage.

Chromafilm
2011
Stop-motion animation, water-based paint over back-lit glass
3:38 minutes

OPP: What about speed and mirroring in Chromafilm (2011)?

LB: I was never really satisfied with the level of frenetic activity of Chromafilm. Throughout the process, I did as much as possible to slow the paint down, but paint dropped into water moves at a certain speed and the camera takes a certain amount of time to capture each individual picture. The paint-on-glass painting technique is achieved with Golden fluid acrylics mixed with water and some glycerin (which never dries) poured over a glass window on a light table that is tipped slightly by a margin of millimeters. I wanted the final film to be HD, so I needed to capture the largest possible image files. Each individual frame took about two seconds to capture. Those two seconds felt so long as I watched the colour explode on the table into the water.

I learned a lot while tinkering with AfterEffects. I discovered the mirroring effect, which anchors the movement centrally and alleviates a previous sea sickness that came from watching the fast-paced movement flow rapidly from side to side. I learned to colour reverse by switching the curves, which turned the white background to black and altered the original stained glass-like color palate to an ultraviolet one. This aesthetic turned the recognizable paint on a light table into a cosmic and psychedelic field. 


Apollo
2011
Stop-motion animation, water-based paint over back-lit glass
16 minute loop

OPP: Your animation Apollo (2011) pulses back and forth in imagined scale. One second I see outer space; the next I'm looking at carbonation bubbles rising in a glass. As I watched the 16-minute loop, I fluctuated back and forth between wondering how certain effects were achieved and surrendering to the visual pleasure. What’s different in the process of this piece?

LB: One day while shooting Chromafilm, I took a break to go for a walk and when I came back, the paint had dried somewhat and mixed into a thick gooey puddle with some air-bubbles in it. On the computer screen, this shot looked like a starry sky. This moment was the impetus for Random Peter, Aquarius and Apollo. I shot Random Peter that same day. I used a brush to scrape away paint, and then shot image sequences as the paint slowly spilled in and filled the mark. In real time, the paint was moving at a slug’s pace because the paint mixture had less water in it than what I used for Chromafilm (speed problem solved).

The sequences I used for both Aquarius and Apollo were made by using a sponge off frame to soak up paint from under the bottom of the frame and squeeze it out over the top. When you see an explosion of dots in the frame, that was achieved by whipping a goop of paint from a paintbrush from out of frame. This process took more than half a year, and I ended up with 48 minutes of raw footage.

There is a particular effect that is more predominant in Apollo where the bubbles seem to streak in chains or lines. I copied the clip multiple times and repeatedly offset it by a single frame. When it looks like molecules slowly popping in and out, that’s actually a set of clips multiplied and offset about 40 times. I personally consider it both the success and bane of Aquarius and Apollo that the animation is so seamless that it is not readily apparent that it’s origin is hand-painted. Typically stop-motion animation is appreciated largely for the amount of work that goes into it. Because these films seem to be digitally created, that aspect goes unnoticed.

COSM10
2008
Acrylic and pen on masonite panel
4' x 6'

OPP:
From a purely process point of view, do you prefer painting, installation or animation more?

LB: Overall, my practice is a combination of intuitive and analytical approaches. These varied processes fall somewhere along a spectrum between active/reflective spontaneity and compulsive methodology.

Painting is challenging and makes me think at every step. It is an energetic process where I am reflecting and responding to each and every brush stoke. Discoveries are made, boundaries pushed and surprises happen. When I feel like I've mastered a particular technique and I'm sure of how a painting will turn out, I move on to a new series of paintings. I don't like going through the motion of painting when I feel I already have the answers. To me, painting is a thought process as opposed to a technical one. Installing my collage work is downright fun. All the production work is already done. I literally wave my hands around, and, like magic—the magic is that other people do all the labour—a massive art piece comes to fruition.

I like animation because, I get so involved in the rhythmic methodical making and the rabbit-hole of editing that I can spend hours at it without stopping. By the time I was working on "Aquarius", capturing the stop-motion paint reached a point where I repeat the same action hundreds of times without the need for much reflective thinking or interpretation. The same could be said for hand-drawn cel-animation; although it leads to new forms, it involves an iterative process where I am basically tracing the same shape over and over again with only a small set of slight changes. These methodical actions put me in a meditative state where all thought or stress leaves my head. Video editing also satisfies my masochistic need to focus on very small details and set-up overly complicated processes where I create an unnecessarily labour-intensive procedure that could not be explained in simple terms.

I feel like you just asked me to pick my favourite child!

To see more of Leslie's work, please visit lesliebell.ca.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent exhibitions include solo shows I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago, as well as Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, at Design Cloud in Chicago (2014). Most recently, Stacia created  When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center. Closing reception guests were invited to help break down the piece by pulling pins out of the wall.

OtherPeoplePixels Interviews John Early

Semicolons and salt shakers
2014
Installation View

An existential thread runs through the work of interdisciplinary artist JOHN EARLY. His rearrangements of discarded car parts encountered in his everyday life, a video of his son painting the sidewalk with water and room-sized sheets of paper covered in shoe prints, scuff marks and stains from his studio floor: these all are records of ephemeral marks made by human beings. John received his BA from University of Virginia (2000) and his MFA from Washington University (2010). He has exhibited extensively in group exhibitions including shows at Center of Creative Art (2011 and 2012) and White Flags Projects (2009) in St. Louis and Whitdel Arts in Detroit (2013 and 2014). Recent solo exhibitions include Objects in mirror (2014) at The Garage in Charlottesville, Virginia and Semicolons and salt shakers (2014) at beverly in St. Louis, where John lives and works.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Could you talk about your interest in mark-making?


John Early: My interest in mark-making is a conceptual extension of drawing, which at its core is the record of a gesture. There’s something very primal and human about the act of making a mark. In reference to why he makes art, Felix Gonzalez-Torres said, “Above all else, it’s about leaving a mark that I existed.” I find that both beautiful and profound. I’m very much interested in this view of mark-making—one that frames the mark in terms of evidencing presence. Looking back, this interest has been with me for at least the past fifteen years. One piece that immediately comes to mind is from a fellowship exhibition in 2001. It consisted of scuffs and smudges made by a basketball on the gallery walls as visitors shot at a hoop I installed at the far end of the space. I think a couple of people were annoyed with this ball ricocheting everywhere, but it was a lot of fun. 



Swivel swing
2010
Graphite and stool

OPP: Swivel swing and Standing snow angel, both 2010, invite viewers to become aware of their own arm span through mark-making. Your static-shot video Star gazing (2011) reminded me that if we are receptive to the information our senses offer, so much is going on all the time, even when it seems like nothing is happening. To what extent is your work about embodied mindfulness or noticing?

JE: My work definitely touches on those themes quite a bit, though they aren’t the impetus for pieces like those you mentioned, which often begin with simple questions. What might it look like to measure the wingspan of everyone in the world? What would it be like to watch a single ray of sunlight travel from the sun to the earth? (The duration of Star gazing—8 minutes and 20 seconds—approximates the time this would take.) Of course, such inquiries could be pursued or “answered” in any number of ways ranging from the scientific to the poetic. My approach to such wondering focuses on experiential knowledge, human scale and the element of time, which, taken together, invite new experiences of familiar things. 

Star gazing
2011
Digital video
8:20 minutes

OPP: I've been thinking about the title of your recent exhibition Semicolons and salt shakers (2014) at beverly in St Louis. The function of semicolons and saltshakers is to bring out the existing flavor of a sentence or a dish. This is a really exciting framework for your dry-wall sculptures that emphasize the boundary between the floor and the wall. That space is always there, but somewhat overlooked unless one is painting the molding. Does my read jive with how you think about the work in that show? 


JE: I really love that read. I’d never given much thought to any associative or symbolic link between the two words. I liked the idea that a semicolon signifies a pause—which points back to the idea of noticing you mentioned earlier—and a salt shaker is a nice alliterative complement that also doubled as an allusion to the everyday. This is a prominent theme running through all the work included in the exhibition: photographs, sculptures and a video of my son painting the sidewalk with water.

The drywall pieces were scale models of the walls of my home studio. This conflation of space in which I both live and work is integral to my recent work, so I felt it was important to transpose elements of that space into the gallery. In planning out and envisioning the exhibition, none of the pieces made sense apart from the context in which they were made and currently lived. Traditional modes of display—white pedestals and wedges; wall works centered at 60 inches or whatever—often don’t work for my pieces. Even with pieces I’ve shown in multiple venues, I tend to install them differently each time they’re exhibited. Context just has such an enormous impact on how we experience any artwork. Anyway, I suppose I view all of my work as installation-based to some degree.

Objects in mirror
2014
Found car parts

OPP: Could you talk about the difference between object arrangements like Untitled (Twain) (2013) or the various works made from found car parts from Objects in mirror (2012) and your photographs of found object arrangements like Salad Spinner (2014) or Cairns (2013)? When do you choose to exhibit a photograph of an arrangement instead of the arrangement itself?


JE: The sculptural pieces you reference are projects in which objects are gathered over time and organized in response to a particular space or context. Untitled (Twain) was part of a pop-up project I did with the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis where several of us drove around town one morning collecting interesting debris—literally anything one of us saw that piqued our interest—and created a temporary sculpture that we juxtaposed with Richard Serra’s Twain (1982). A conversation between eight huge sheets of Cor-ten steel and an arrangement of colorful refuse seemed like a nice one to have. Similarly, Objects in mirror—an ongoing project with multiple iterations—consists of collecting automobile parts I see throughout the course of my day and arranging them in the form of a midsize sedan.

The photographs are part of a series extending these interests in modest materials and ephemerality, with each image acting as a “certificate of presence” (to borrow a phrase from Roland Barthes) that bears witness to the commonplace stuff of the world by calling attention to a particular encounter with it. Because the nature of these photographed “arrangements” is typically very temporary—my son dumped out the wooden blocks and bike helmet from the salad spinner (after all, it was his creation to begin with)—I haven’t often faced the question of whether to exhibit an arrangement or a photograph of it. For the beverly exhibition, however, I did include several individual objects that were also present in photographs I showed. 

Salad spinner
2014
Digital image

OPP: As a contributor to Temporary Art Review, you interviewed your neighbor, fellow artist Tuan Nguyen, in March 2014. You asked a really great question about how being a father has impacted his art practice. Now I want to ask you to please answer your own question.

JE: Thanks, that was such an enjoyable conversation. In the nearly five years since becoming a father, I’ve definitely experienced greater freedom in my art making. I mean, sure, part of this is due to the general posture of wonder that children have toward the world. And I don’t mean to downplay that, but I think an even larger reason for my work changing in this way is more of a practical one: I simply don’t have as much time to work in the studio as I did previously. Some of my earlier work could become a bit belabored on occasion, but I feel more freshness in my work now. I’ve been forced to be more decisive, which has been great. Giving up some of those old habits of over-thinking took some getting used to, but it’s been nice to shed that skin and transition into a new phase of making. 

First "a"
2014
Embroidery, peach crate, roll of tape, books, and a jar of dust
Dimensions variable

OPP: What about your most recent forays into embroidery? My assumption about Maroon Alex (2014) and First “a” (2014) is that you are documenting/memorializing/making more permanent your son’s first marks, like the embroidery is a “certificate of presence.” What led you to embroider instead of photograph these?

JE: I’m not sure how this series might evolve, but the impetus to use embroidery stemmed from the practice of sewing cross-stitch patterns to celebrate and remember significant events in the life of a family, such as the birth of a child. I grew up in a home with embroidery, mainly cross-stitch, on our walls—some patterns were quite ornate and included plants, animals, the alphabet and a short sequence of numbers—so I felt a connection to the visual language of the cross-stitch. I thought it would be a fitting vehicle through which to explore commemoration and remembrance, albeit of less momentous "events" in the life of my family today. This required learning the basics of embroidery, as I had no previous experience with it at all. I liked that it made me slow down. In a world where we continuously record anything and everything, to practice a relatively slower, more limited mode of "capturing" was a nice change of pace and perspective. There are several complex early scribble drawings done by my first son that I have visions of translating into cross-stitch form, which really I'm looking forward to. But I’ve been excited about them for about a year already, so we’ll see if they materialize!


To see more of John's work, please visit john-early.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent exhibitions include solo shows I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago, as well as Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, at Design Cloud in Chicago (2014). Most recently, Stacia created  When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center. Closing reception guests were invited to help break down the piece by pulling pins out of the wall.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Selina Trepp

Dismount after the Win
2013
Archival pigment print
40 x 29 inches

Interdisciplinary artist SELINA TREPP creates illusions of physical and conceptual space, conflating a variety of distinct artistic disciplines. She makes videos of herself painting her own portrait on a two-way mirror and creates immersive environments in which life-sized projections interact with tangible objects and sound. Most recently, she's been creating photographs of constructions in her studio which include paintings, her body, mirrors and sculpture. Ultimately, she expertly synthesizes each of these disciplines, highlighting the natural and imagined boundaries between them. Selina earned her BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1998 and her MFA from the University of Illinois, Chicago in 2007. She has exhibited extensively in Chicago and Zurich,  Switzerland, including shows at Glass Curtain Gallery (2014), The Franklin (2014), the Museum of Contemporary Art (2013), the DePaul Museum of Art (2012), message salon (2012) and Christinger de Mayo (2010).  In 2014, she mounted two solo exhibitions—Val Verità at Document Gallery and Waiting for the Train at Comfort Station—in Chicago, where she lives and works.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Surface, reflection and transparency are all present in your work in a variety of concrete ways. Could you talk about your recurring use of mirrors, see-through surfaces and video projection? Do you view these materials and media as symbolic? 



Selina Trepp: In my work these materials and media are not intended to be symbolic. I use them for what they do, not what they imply. Mirrors, in particular, have always been present in my work. I am intrigued by their ability to create simple magic, analogue trickery, and I am challenged by the heavy-handed symbolism that comes with the use of a mirror. Mirrors let me manipulate space, multiply objects, combine images, insert myself and move light and projection.

Video projection similarly can be used to create an illusionistic space or scenario affecting an actual space. Working with projection is as much about the space I am projecting into and onto, as it is about the video that is being projected.


No one is an Island
2007
Mixed media installation
Variable dimensions

OPP: Can you offer an example from your work with projection and talk about how the space it was displayed in was affected?

ST: In No one is an Island (2007), the relationship between projection and space is most obvious. For this piece, four simultaneous projections activate the installation space. The gallery itself becomes the location of the action. The projections inject narrative performance and a sense of passing of time into the space.

Rather than projecting a cinematic landscape rectangle, my projections are matted and upended. They have an amorphous outline and soft edges; they blend with the surface they are projected onto. My goal for this work is for the projections to function as actors in the space, rather than as short films that are projected onto a screen.

Marvin and Ruby, an adult and a child who are completing each other’s reality in this piece, were filmed on a black background. They appear to float, hovering in space, like ghosts. On the floor sits a sculpture made of large pieces of mirror stacked and angled precariously on top of one another. Two projections bounce off the mirrored surfaces of the sculpture onto the architecture, covering the space with abstract shapes slowly fading from cold white to warm white to black.

Space Oddity
2005
Inkjet print on self-adhesive vinyl, lcd monitor-dvd player, 5-minute video loop
150cm x 165cm

OPP: I'm particularly interested in Sherlokitty Surveillance Systems 2003 (2003), Space Oddity (2005) and The Baron in the Trees (2006). These pieces mix life-sized vinyl stickers of various screens with actual screens. Because I'm viewing it online and not in person, there is extreme spatial confusion and an added layer of screen-ness. It's hard to tell what is two-dimensional and what is three-dimensional. I assume that it was less disorienting when you first showed these pieces because the moving video revealed the real screen. As a viewer, did I lose or gain something by only seeing the virtual documentation?



ST: You lost a lot by not being able to experience that work in space. This body of work is disorienting in real life, but in a different way than in the documentation. The works have a distinct trompe-l’oeil effect. Initially they seem to have mass; they look “real.”As you move in closer, they flatten out and focus.

Thinking About Inheritance
Still
11.3.10_3

OPP: Could you talk about flattening space and condensing time in Thinking About Inheritance?

ST: Thinking About Inheritance consists of a series of 12-minute videos and video stills, in which I trace and paint over my reflection on a two-way mirror. The camera is placed on one side of the mirror, recording the process, while I sit on the other side, painting over my reflection directly onto the mirror. The painted portrait obfuscates the photographic portrait over time. I paint myself away.

Looking at my history as an artist, I noticed that I had consistently avoided painting. Actually it was completely out of the question for me to paint; the form itself felt conservative and affirming of an antiquated understanding of what art is and should do. And a more profound reason I didn’t want to paint was because my mother and grandmother are/were both painters. The space of painting was taken by them, and for a long time it was important for me to work within my own territory.

Given my history, deciding to paint was a transgressive move for me. The issue of time is located in that part of the piece: in examining the progression of means of representation historically and personally through my own progression as an artist and as human. On a more pragmatic level, time is actually not condensed at all. The videos are shown in real time with no edits. They show me painting for as long as it takes to complete the painting.

The flattening of space in the videos as well as in the stills functions on multiple levels. Primarily the space of the photographic image and of the painted image become one through the analogue device of painting onto the mirror and the digital device of capturing this action with a camera. The surface of the mirror, where I paint, is what the camera focuses on. That image is captured by the lens of the camera. It’s a flat surface. There is not much depth of field, or else I can’t focus the lens. On another level I am reversing the historical progression of portraiture, in this case going from photography to painting, from objective to subjective.

The Painter
2011
C-print
20 x 30 inches

OPP: The figure has often been present in your work, but usually in performance and video, as in No One is an Island (2007), When I hear Thunder, I take a Bow (2008) and Appear to Disappear (2009). Your newer work feels distinctly lo-fi—although conceptually more sophisticated—when compared to your early work with projection. Could you talk about your turn to figurative painting and its unconventional intersection with video, photography and sculpture?

ST: My earlier work took place outside the studio and was often collaborative and social. In 2010 I decided to invert that mode of working and went from having a social-post-studio-practice to having an anti-social-studio-practice. Now working alone within the confines of my studio, I use all I have at my disposal in that space to make art. Economy (gestural and literal) and improvisation guide my process.

While I use painting, installation, performance and sculpture to create my images, it is the camera that allows me to pull those dimensions together. I use that mix of media because I like to do all those things. It makes making enjoyable.  

OPP: In October of 2012, you made a decision "that instead of buying any more materials for art making, [you] would only work with the material [you] already have in [your] studio." Was this decision practical, ethical or conceptual? Are you still working under that restriction? 



ST: I am still working under that restriction, although strictly speaking, it’s not true. The final product is a photographic print, usually mounted and framed, a new object, which I store in my studio. The decision was both conceptual and political, and the practical, economic and ethical implications of non-consumption are all part of it.

The Jockey and his Wife
2013
Archival pigment print
29 x40 inches

OPP: What surprises have emerged from working this way? What has been illuminating? What has been frustrating?

ST: The biggest surprise is how fruitful and fun it is for me to work under this constraint. My studio time is playful and engaged. I am intimately aware of the materials I have and adept at seeing all the potential ways to use and reuse them. As materials and colors run out my work changes. Things are in flux, always.

Since materials are finite, I overpaint a painting once it has played its part in a photo. The same goes for the sculptural elements: they are taken apart and reused as needed. The act of investing effort into making things and then letting go of them in itself has become a valuable part of my work and my general outlook.

So far nothing has been frustrating. When it gets frustrating, I will stop this project and go buy materials.


To see more of Selina's work, please visit selinatrepp.info.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent exhibitions include solo shows
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago, as well as Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, at Design Cloud in Chicago (2014). Most recently, Stacia created  When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center. Closing reception guests were invited to help break down the piece by pulling pins out of the wall.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Courtney Kessel

In Balance With
2014
Performance

Mother, artist and academic COURTNEY KESSEL collapses the divide between public and private by performing with her daughter Chloe and bringing the objects of her everyday life into the gallery. In performance, video and installation, she "strives to make visible the quiet, understated, and often unseen love and labor of motherhood." Courtney received her BFA in Sculpture from Tyler School of Art (1998) and completed an MFA in Sculpture & Expanded Practices and a certificate in Women’s & Gender Studies (2012) from Ohio University. In 2014, her solo exhibition Mother Lode opened at David Brooks Art Gallery, Fairmont State University in West Virginia, and she performed as part of New Maternalisms (2014) at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Santiago, Chile. Jennie Klein has covered her work in a chapter titled “Grains and Crumbs: Performing Maternity” in the hot-off-the-presses Performing Motherhood: Artistic, Activist, and Everyday Enactments. E.g. Courtney Kessel: You and Me is on view at Brigham Young University Art Museum (Provo, Utah) through May 2015, and her work is included in the upcoming group show Mother at University of Southern Queensland Arts Gallery (Toowoomba, Australia). Courtney is the Exhibitions & Events Coordinator for the non-profit arts organization, The Dairy Barn Arts Center and teaches in the School of Art at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your sculptural installations and performances mostly revolve around the themes of balance and space as they relate to motherhood. You've collaborated with your daughter in the creation of works like In Balance With, which has been performed a handful of times, the video Sharing Space (2012) and the cut plywood sculptures of Spaces in Between (2012). How did this collaboration begin and how has it evolved? Is your daughter a decision-maker in the work or a performer?

Courtney Kessel: In Balance With was first performed in 2010.  At the time, my daughter Chloé was 5 years old. She informed the work and was an active participant, but she was not so much a collaborator. During that first performance, which was for a small audience of maybe 20-30 invited guests, I didn’t know exactly how the piece was going to end. I had been communicating with Chloé throughout making sure she was comfortable and okay. After I reached a balance, I asked if she wanted to come down. She said no. It was then that I realized the performance is over when she is no longer interested and occupied. It is a metaphor for our lives together. I can only do my work so long as she is content.

Now that she is older and understands the work differently, she has had an influence on things. We were at a restaurant one day, and she was cold. I had on a cardigan. She sat on my lap and put her arms inside my sleeves. It was she who said that we should do this as a performance. That’s where the video sketches became Sharing Space.

Sharing Space
2012
Video
1:55

OPP: In your recent solo exhibition Mother Lode (2014), you created three sculptures made from "curated household items." For anyone who has ever been in a home with children, it is clear that all this stuff takes over. It is constantly being moved, cleaned up, reorganized. It encroaches on the environment. I love the way these "monuments" allow you, as the mother, to play and build like a child while simultaneously reclaiming the adult space of having a art practice and art career. Can you describe the process of curating the objects?

CK: I love how you understand these pieces! They are very much monuments that tower from floor to ceiling. Not that my house looks this way. . . but it feels like it! These sculptures derive from In Balance With: they include the household items that were on the seesaw. These things from home became like self-portraits that change each time. They are specific to us, though not so specific that others cannot relate.

The curated aspect of the selected objects truly holds the meaning; those proximities and juxtapositions make each work different. That was the fun part for me! Like you said, it allowed me to pretend and play the same as Chloé does at home, but in the gallery in a very formal way. I actually took a U-Haul trailer to my parents’ house to get some of the stuff. THEY had children (three of us and then grandkids) and still had mounds of toys, books and things lying around. They are preparing to retire soon and will downsize, so I just gave them a head start! The work really is to visibly demonstrate that children do take up space, both physically, but also mentally. Once they are in your life, they are always there. . . no matter how old they get. I call this the “eternal maternal.”

As I went through the objects at our house and my parents' house, I was looking for things that could create structure like furniture, drawers, a dollhouse built by my dad, a car seat, a TV. Then I looked for sheer quantity. I went through books, stuffed animals, small plastic toys, VHS tapes and more with the intention of these things telling a story. From Cabbage Patch Kids to Finding Nemo, there is a timeline of "stuff." But there was a limitation: I couldn't take things that my siblings would get mad at me for taking. . . :)

Mother Lode (installation view)
2014
David Brooks Art Gallery, Fairmont State University

OPP: Was there a construction plan before you began?

CK: Once the truck bed and U-Haul were unloaded into the gallery, I had absolutely NO idea how the towers would look.  Initially, I had planned to take rope, yarn, twine and bungee cords to attach everything together. But once I got started, it became a balancing act. Could I connect the ceiling to the floor in order to architecturally change the space? How did the individual objects change once they were turned on their side and stuffed with other objects? What kinds of meanings were formed by the side by side placements? It was very intuitive, but it was also very formal. Like the formal balance of a post-modern sculpture or putting a mark on a canvas, there were very specific decisions that weren't necessarily based on color per se, but rather based on aesthetic decisions. 

OPP: Was your house empty for the run of Mother Lode?

CK: I have an ongoing joke in our house that if I can’t find it, it’s probably in the gallery. . .  I really do the take things that we are currently using and put them in my work. One day, I was looking for a jar of dried beans that I knew I had just had in my hands. I wanted to make soup and was determined to find those beans. I eventually realized that they were in fact in the show.

Mother Lode
(detail)
2014

OPP: Will you ever recreate these sculptures as they were in this show?

CK: The sculptures from Mother Lode will never be recreated. Like a portrait, the work will always be different; evolving, changing, and growing. Each time these objects are restructured into a new work, they tell a different story and take on new meanings. In Symphony of the Domestic II, I added to the "stuff" from In Balance With, which represented my daughter and I. It grew to include people who formed my foundation. Like a pedestal holding something up, the base is comprised of items that represented my family, friends and mentors who continue to support me.

The pedestal holds up a 16mm projector which plays a stream of consciousness text: love every body as any body of water mater water under the bridge the gap gape gap her words her story write her story word for word for word for word forward. I used a script typewriter to stamp, print, embed the words onto the film. I am interested in the non-gendered, non-hierarchical aspect of printing or stenciling. Where a pen to paper or brush to canvas has the element of “acting” upon something, I am more engaged with leveling that or flattening the hierarchy. By stamping, printing, imprinting and stenciling, I am able to mechanize/mobilize language to becoming one with the substrate or at least to become equal to it. Each time the film passes through the projector and the other items for that matter, the words slowly degrade and will disappear eventually.

Symphony of the Domestic II (detail)
2014

OPP: Who influences you in thinking about the labor of motherhood?

CK: I think about the labor that Mierles Laderman Ukeles’ work was about. That was the labor of maintenance. It was gendered, but not specifically about mothering. It is important that she put that in the gallery. I reference her because of the politics of placing that gendered and private practice into the gallery. I think about the work that Mary Kelly made that was about her son through the lens of psychoanalysis. That was about mothering, but not so much about the subjectivity of maternity. By placing psychoanalysis in there, she was able to distance herself as a mother but still sneak it into the space of the gallery through the didactic referencing of the objects.

2012

OPP: Do you ever feel like your work is not taken seriously because it is about the labor of motherhood? Have you had any dismissive comments from viewers?

CK: So far, I have not received any dismissive sentiments from viewers or critics. I’m sure it exists, but I haven’t heard any yet. Many people have the ability to relate to my work. Whether they are mothers or children of mothers, viewers witness a little bit of their own experience or that of their mother’s.

I do this work in part as a protest. For all the amazing women artists who have gone before me, who had to hide their maternity for the sake of their careers and for so many who chose NOT to have children for their careers. . . that was one kind of “choice” from the second wave of Feminism. I always wondered why it was so frowned upon to be a mother and a professional. It’s the gendering of those stereotypes that I really can’t stand. Why do girls have to have pink things and boys blue? Why are women trying to hide wrinkles, fat and gray hair, but for men it is fine?

I am interested in putting the specific, subjective experience of the mother in the gallery whether you want to see it or not. It is not some idealized/generalization of the mother, but rather a specific, real experience.

To see more of Courtney's work, please visit courtneykessel.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent exhibitions include solo shows I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago, as well as Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, at Design Cloud in Chicago (2014). Most recently, Stacia created  When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center. Closing reception guests were invited to help break down the piece by pulling pins out of the wall.