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.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Colin O'Con

Untitled (Black Mountain)
2014
Acrylic and Oil on Canvas
53" x 78"

COLIN O'CON presents viewers with the mystery of nature in paintings and immersive installations. His fluorescent palette appears at times otherworldly or manufactured because we sometimes forget that nature itself creates such intense colors. Colin graduated Cum Laude with a BFA in Painting and Drawing from the University of North Texas in 2000. In 2004, he earned his MFA from Hunter College in New York (2004) and won the Tony Smith Sculpture Award. His work has been included in exhibitions at Fresh Window (Brooklyn), Rawson Gallery (Brooklyn), Lesley Heller Workspace (New York), The Alexandria Museum of Art (Louisiana), Boston Center for the Arts, Artspace (San Antonio), and CSAW (Houston). Alongside his visual art practice, he plays in the bands Dark Carpet and Sportsman's Paradise. Colin lives and works in Brooklyn.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your color-saturated landscapes appear otherworldly, like they might exist on a planet with a different atmosphere. Are you painting our world or another?

Colin O’Con: All of my experiences come from this world, so I'm definitely painting our world. It's more a questioning of what our "world" is and how we perceive and create that idea. The palette is a conceptual choice. I use fluorescents for their visceral punch, their popular culture implications and the otherworldliness that they evoke.

But it's an interesting question. . . what other worlds are beyond our planet? I am certainly fascinated by pictures of space but mostly because of how fictitious they are. I'm interested in that illusion. And it’s not only the images. Take the recent satellite comet landing and the so called "song" it was emitting. Listen to the "song." Someone made that song. It is made from a frequency that is sped up so we can hear it and whoever "produced" it put a bunch of reverb on it and panned it back and forth to make it sound "spacey,” I guess. It’s a complete fabrication!

Untitled (Earth Like Planet)
2014
Acrylic on Canvas
40" x 41"

OPP: Does that fabrication relate to art-making?

CO: Yes, both involve illusion masquerading as fact. It is this illusion of nature or representations of that I'm most interested in.

OPP: What does the Sublime mean to you?

CO: It is the awe that ensues when you see something horrible but have that safety net of distance or reproduction. I often paint images of the sun, which is the most constant thing in our lives. It literally gives us life. We gaze upon it in awe and bask under it. . . yet it's a giant explosion in the sky. That is the sublime.

Untitled (Big Sun)
2008
Acrylic and Oil on Canvas
60" x 60"

OPP: What is your most memorable experience in nature?

CO: This one is very hard for me. I grew up near the Kisatchie National Forest in Louisiana, and the swampy bayou landscape seeps through in most of my work. I've spent an enormous amount of time hiking and camping. I’ve had so many great experiences, but two memories come to mind. One is the swirling toxic colors in the hot springs at Yellowstone. I was in the third grade, and I couldn't quit looking at those colors. More recently, I hiked to the base of a glacier in the North Cascades in Washington with my wife and some friends. It was incredible, like being on the surface of the moon. We hit the summit right at dusk. Then a full moon rose and spot lit all of the mountains and glaciers around us. Amazing. The next morning we saw an avalanche. It was very far away, but the sound and the sight was an insane experience.

OPP: Tell us about commissioned installation for Immersive Space (2013) at the Alexandria Museum of Art. Is this your only installation to date?

CO: Actually, it is not. I came to painting through the back door. I was making installations and conceptual work most of my academic career. For example, I made large, walk-in gardens with trails that viewers could stroll through, composed mostly of objects bought at dollar stores. My first painted floor piece, composed of hundreds of two inch flowers, included a viewing platform and every wall was painted and collaged with trees.

My work has always been based in nature, and I wanted to translate those ideas into paintings. An installation physically solves or completes everything for the viewer. With painting, the viewer has to complete the experience in their minds. But even while primarily painting on canvas for several years, I continued to make sculpture, particularly the arch sculptures.

Untitled (Installation), Alexandria Museum of Art Commission for Immersive Space
2013
Plywood, acyrlic/latex paint, styrofoam
21' x 26'
Photo credit: Jeff Stephens

OPP: What inspired the arch sculptures?

CO: They were inspired by the mountain forms I was painting. Several years before, I had seen the Delicate Arch in Utah. That area of the country had a big impact on me. The forms are so surreal that they almost seem fabricated. You see the arch form as well as the rainbow form over and over in contemporary signage, and I was interested in exploiting that idea.

And then, the arch sculptures led me back to creating installations mostly because they needed a place to live and the painted floors were the perfect environment. In turn, the sculptures influenced the paintings, resulting in the more abstracted Rainbow Paintings. It's an exciting conversation between the paintings, the sculptures and the installations. The viewer can have the visceral experience of the installations or the intimate experience of the paintings.

Untitled (Rainbow #2)
2014
Acrylic on Canvas
9" x 12"

OPP: Dark Carpet, also featuring the work of Jeff Byrd and Tracy Grayson, at Fresh Window in Brooklyn just closed on December 13, 2014. What was the organizing principle of the show?

CO: The show was named after our band Dark Carpet, which played a few shows in conjunction with the exhibition, including the closing on December 12th. Our music started out as improvised noise but quickly became more straight-up rock n roll diverging into noise freak outs. Jeff Byrd comes from an improvisation background. I've done a lot of that as well, but have also played in several traditional bands. However, in Dark Carpet I moved from drums, my main instrument, to guitar and vocals. That was a big change for me. Our third member, Tracy Grayson, had never played an instrument before, and we convinced him to try it. We are all pretty limited musicians, but we use that to our advantage by crafting simple songs and creating interesting sonic textures.

The three of us are all visual artists and musicians. Dark Carpet is our collective music project, but we each maintain separate studio practices. It was interesting to see our visual work together in the show. We spend an enormous amount of time together. We all share a common sense of humor and a love for the history of music and art. We are constantly introducing one another to new music, artists, books and movies. There is a shared aesthetic that is flowing between us.

OPP: How is creating music different than making visual art, aside from the obvious?

CO: They are very different mostly because music is collaborative and art making is usually a solitary endeavor. However, I feel that they have a lot more in common than most people think. Mike Kelly said that even though he didn't know how to play an instrument he realized that he didn't have to know, and that noise and sound could be his instrument. I realized that early on as well. I knew that I wasn't a virtuosos. Virtuosity rarely leads to anything good. It's the approach that matters.

To see more of Colin's work, please visit colinocon.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 Ya-chu Kang

Reservation
2013
Bamboo, recycle chairs, sisal rope, oyster shells, natural cotton fabric, Cyanotype made with discarded cooking pots, kitchen tools, found objects collected at the seashore and shapes from the children

YA-CHU KANG's interdisciplinary practice includes a wide range of processes and media, including plaster casts, photography, sculpture, video, sewing, basket-weaving and performance. She seeks to raise awareness about the economic, environmental and emotional effects of globalism through installation, collaboration an object-making. Ya-chu earned her MFA from Tainan National University of the Arts in 2005 and her BFA in Sculpture from National Taiwan University of the Arts in 2002. She is currently participating in a cultural exchange project between Taipei Artist Village (Taiwan) and the Silpakorn University (Nakhon Pathom, Thailand), which will result in a two-person show in April 2015. With collaborator Christian Nicolay, she will create a floating sculpture called Inverted Smoke for the 2015 Yuejin Lantern Festival in Tainan, Taiwan. She has received a Culture Research Travel Grant from Lung Yingtai Cultural Foundation to travel to Peru in January 2015 to study traditional textiles and sustainability. In February 2015, Garden City Publisher will release her book Textile Map: An Artist’s Trips of Weaving and Dyeing. Ya-chu lives in Taipei, Taiwan.

Out of Breath No. 1
2013

OtherPeoplesPixels: How do you choose what process to use for a given project? Do you have a favorite?

Ya-chu Kang: Usually, I will imagine an installation view in my mind. After that, I start thinking about what kinds of materials and techniques will be perfect for the idea. I am most interested in the meanings and histories of the materials and techniques I choose. A work which combines different processes and media has more potential to elicit dialogue.

I love sculpture and sewing. For me, sculpture is a form and sewing is the method. If I really need to choose a favorite, I will say sewing. Sewing has a lot of possibility. I enjoy the sound of the sewing machine—it is like the sound of train. Therefore, my mood is like traveling while I am in studio working instead.

Transparent Border
2012
Light boxes, acrylic board, tracing paper
Photo location: Chateau de Chine Hotel, Kaohsiung, Taiwan

OPP: Many works over the past decade—Bag Shelter (2008), A Carrying Pole (2008), Transparent Border (2012), and the Bag-Self Portrait Series (ongoing), to name a few—relate to traveling or being nomadic. How do these works relate to globalization and your interest in "the relationships between environment and human bodies?"



YK: The world is shifting all the time. The cultures in different countries could be very different and still have some similarities. I am very interested in traveling and the cultural difference around the world. We can’t ignore the relationship between environment and the human body when talking about culture. Human bodies are the container of our souls, and the surrounding environment is full human bodies. We must care for our bodies, and environment is the main factor that influences our physical condition through diet and clothing. Bags, luggage, baskets and clothes are the carriers of the culture around the world. Thus, our immediate environment is changing all the time, and it presents the effects of globalization everywhere. Different containers have different meanings in my work, but I am most interested in the visible-invisible things carried inside those bags, baskets, suitcases and outfits.

Boom and Bust
2013
2:00 minutes

OPP: Tell us about 4Hands, your ongoing collaboration with Christian Nicolay. I'm particularly interested in your 2013 exhibition Boom and Bust, which contains both solo and collaborative work by the two of you. Could you discuss the metaphor of the balloon as it is used in this show?



YK: We were invited to do an exhibition by Art Experience Gallery in Hong Kong after our video Recoil screened in ART TAIPEI 2012. Recoil represents the human body’s reflex and reaction to external energy by expanding and blowing up balloons. The tension created between the balloon and the human body reveals the different responses from man and woman, western and eastern.

The main theme of Boom and Bust is the ups and downs of the global economic cycle. We now live in a highly globalized era. The politics and economics of countries are inter-dependent. Financial crisis cannot be contained; rather, it will certainly spread around the world. We kept the concept of the balloon as a metaphor for the global economic bubble; popping the balloon is like bursting the bubble. Boom and Bust attempts to mirror the vulnerability in such economic entwinement. We adopted a simple and humorous approach to this serious topic. In between absurdity and reality, we live in a world where the rational and irrational interact, fragile but unbreakable. We filmed participants from Canada, Taiwan and Hong Kong popping the balloons in front of their faces and edited their reactions, one after the other into a mélange of explosions. The repeated popping of balloons reflects the economic bubbles in the stock market that lead to a period of accelerated investment and over-borrowing and then an inevitable crash. The balance of opposing forces can be found everywhere in nature just as market systems accelerate and then slow down, constantly fluctuating like a heartbeat, expanding and contracting. Using the material of balloons and people’s reactions to popping them represents these forces and reflects their unpredictable and fragile natures.

Reservation-Part 2
Working process
2013
Collaboration with the students from ChengLong Elementary School (Yulin, Taiwan)

OPP: Could you talk about the large-scale cyanotypes you made with students from ChengLong Elementary School in Yulin, Taiwan? How did this collaboration work?

YK: This is the ChengLong Wetlands International Environmental Art Project, organized by Kuan-Shu Educational Foundation to raise awareness of environmental issues for the community at ChengLong village. The theme in 2013 was “On the Table,” which encouraged students to think about the ecological link between humans, food and the environment. I invited them to play with me and learn some new techniques for making art. We first played some games with discarded cooking pots, kitchen tools and objects before we made the Cyanotype. Then the students knew how they should position themselves when they laid down on top of the fabric. The Cyanotype photographic chemicals were applied to that fabric and allowed to dry. I helped the students find better positions on top of the fabric like dining around a round table together and was the last to lay down. We were still for about 25 minutes, exposing ourselves and the objects under the sun. Then we rinsed the exposed fabric with water, fixing the image permanently. The students were all very exciting to see their own bodies captured on the fabric and had so much fun, even though it was pretty hot. 

The Loop
2014
Sculpture installation: ready-made daily baskets, bamboo, coconut leaves, wire, dirt

OPP: Recent projects The Loop (2014), Faces to Faces (2013) and Cradle Umbilical (2013) draw on the tradition of basketry, one of the earliest-known crafts of human civilization. What do these vessels, created from organic materials like straw, bamboo, coconut leaves, branches and reeds say about our contemporary world?

YK: The contemporary world now is very far away from a natural life system. Humans think we are the best creatures and that advanced technology can replace everything. New construction and policy decisions often destroy traditional cultures and the natural environment. However, we should not ignore the natural cycles and what the ancient, traditional culture taught us. Every one of us is part of this universe. There are so many plastic and synthetic materials replacing natural materials in production nowadays. Meanwhile, plants continue to grow depending on the weather and location, which can present the effects of culture around the world. Using the traditional wisdom and knowledge from weaving with organic materials is a way of raising consciousness about how contemporary life is changing us. It is a way of inviting people to think about our contemporary world, bringing the mentality of Cradle to Cradle design into our daily lives.

To see more work by Ya-chu, please visit yachukang.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 AC Wilson

2013
Photograph, chair with permanent impression

AC WILSON’s arrangements of found objects—clippings from newspapers, beds, taxidermy animals, magician's tools—evoke absence, tragedy and loss. He uses these objects as props, barely manipulating them, except through their placement, allowing ambiguous narratives to emerge. AC received his BFA in sculpture from the University of Tennessee in 2012 and attended the Summer Studio Program at Virginia Commonwealth University in 2013. He has exhibited at University of Tennessee Downtown Gallery, Flourescent Gallery, Knoxville Museum of Art and Virginia Commonwealth University. In December 2014, he exhibited in the group show Fresh Punch at the artist-run Era VI VII VI in Queens, New York. AC lives and works in Richmond, Virginia.

OtherPeoplesPixels: In your artist statement, you say, ""My work deals with tragedy, failure, and fate. The work speaks softly, under the guise of familiar objects and simple or clichéd symbolism. Under that surface lies a violent undercurrent of doubt, regret, and confusion." Could you talk generally about cliché and how you use it to address these themes?

AC Wilson: A majority of my work is influenced by my mother’s death from leukemia in 2010. At the time, I had two more years at the University of Tennessee and decided it would be healthy to make work about what I was going through. Tragedy is closely tied to failure—the failure to prevent it or the idea that life has failed or cheated you in some way. My personal tragedy was difficult in that there was no one I could blame. Fate had prescribed this tragedy on a genetic level I cannot understand, and I have nothing but gratitude for the incredible medical care that attempted to stop it. This left me with some anger and nowhere to direct it. The whole ordeal was and still is confusing to me.

There is a danger of alienating the audience in making work that is too specifically personal. I want my audience to be able to relate to the work whether or not they have experienced something similar. In order to bridge this gap, I use familiar objects and simple metaphors in my arrangements. It allows the work to be more approachable and less daunting to investigate. This is where cliché becomes a tool. It allows me to use a vocabulary of metaphor and meaning in objects that has already been well established. For instance, in Rut (2012), I am working off of the cliché of ducklings following their mother in a line. I’m able to subvert this however by removing the maternal figure and looping the line into a circle. Then, the work can have a more complicated discussion about personal loss and loss in direction without my having to explain what the objects mean. 

Rut
2012
Taxidermy ducklings

OPP: The dominant characteristic in your work is evocative simplicity in the arrangement of found objects. What's your process like? Do pieces come to you like fully-formed visions or do you move things around until they make sense?

ACW: Early on in school, I was drawn to the clean aesthetic of artists like Tom Friedman, Damien Hirst and Jason Dodge. There was something about their tone that seemed unattainable and supernatural to me.

With a clear standard in mind, I began working methodically to bring these elements into my own work. I wanted to use a light touch and to do the most with the least. Using objects that already exist affords me that ability. I simply compose objects and allow the relationships between them to be the basis of the expression. The nature of our everyday material surroundings allows one to understand and relate better to the physical presence of an object rather than a drawing or other iteration of the same object. Titling a work is also an important opportunity to influence the relationship between object and idea.

I began to put other limitations—to only use objects a child could understand or to use no more than two or three basic components—on myself, which propelled my work to a new level. At the time, I would spend a considerable amount of time with an idea, generally only working through sketches. When I thought it was ready, I would execute it, knowing how I wanted it to look.

While this may have created more succinct, confident work, I realized the potential for missed opportunities with this approach. These limitations began to inhibit my possibilities at a certain point. More and more, I’m allowing accidents and experimentation to happen, sketching with physical objects and materials. I’m surrounding myself with things I want to work with and getting out of my comfort zone, allowing uncertainty to be involved. 

2014
Newspaper clippings of Carina Dolcino, senior class president at Concord High School, before and after the Challenger space shuttle explosion; display case

OPP: You've made several recent pieces using clips from the 1986 Challenger Space Shuttle explosion, including Aftermath (2013). It's been almost 20 years. Do you remember the day the shuttle exploded? Why use such a distant tragedy, when there are so many recent tragedies—I'm thinking of all the school shootings in recent years?

ACW: The Challenger Space Shuttle explosion occurred three years before I was born. There are multiple reasons I use this event as a vehicle to talk about tragedy. First, it is difficult to find a tragedy on such a grand scale that doesn't involve a clear villain or carry other baggage. A tragedy such as a school shooting prompts conversations about gun control, the state of mental health care and the media’s coverage of the shooters. The Challenger Space Shuttle explosion is unique in that is boils down to an accident. While NASA is to blame for their incompetence regarding the faulty design of the O-Rings, they were under an immense amount of pressure to expedite an already delayed launch. In addition to that, flawed judgement doesn’t not come from a place of malice. It really was just a terrible accident.

What compounds this tragedy is the involvement of Christa McAuliffe, an American school teacher who was the first to be selected as a part of the NASA Teacher in Space program. Due to her involvement, the shuttle launch was broadcast in classrooms all over America. For many young people, this was an introduction to tragedy and loss, a loss of innocence.

What happens when you die
2011
Taxidermy fawn, bed, cremation tag

OPP: I'm curious about your series Impossible Objects (2010)—are these photographs or installations?

ACW: The Impossible Objects are actual physical installations inspired by a few sources. Most notably, they are tied to the concept of an impossible bottle. These can range from the classic ship in a bottle to more complex feats, such as the work of Harry Eng. What fascinates me about these bottles is their ability to maintain a real sense of curiosity without relying on any movement whatsoever.

I come from a background in illusionary magic, which relates to the idea of a puzzle, but is not the same. While a puzzle requires a solution to a problem, the strength of magic relies more on wondering, “How is it done?” Knowing how a trick is performed removes all of its power. In this series, I mainly focused on the illusion of penetration or “solid-through-solid.” Tire on Pole, for example, is basically a variation on the linking ring illusion.  

Lastly, the series references the absurd nature of pranks, namely, the Cornell University’s Pumpkin Prank of 1998, in which a pumpkin was inexplicable placed atop Cornell’s 173-foot McGraw tower. Like the Cornell pumpkin prank, the installations were easy to overlook, but hidden in plain sight. However, once noticed or pointed out, their nonsensical and sometimes daring execution elicits humor. A nice tension exists between a dismissive “Why would someone do that?” and an impressed “How did someone do that?”

Donut on pole
2010
Donut, from the series Impossible Objects

OPP: You earned your BFA in 2012 from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and went on to do the Summer Studio Program at Virginia Commonwealth University on 2013. Tell us a little bit about that program and why you decided to go. How has it affected your practice?

ACW: I had an incredible experience working toward my BFA at the University of Tennessee. After graduation, as many artists can attest, it can be  difficult to maintain momentum and balance a studio practice and real life responsibilities. School offers a real sounding board by way of critiques, visiting artists and faculty mentorship. Not having that can foster some insecurities about the direction of your work.

Having worked full-time during school and after, I needed some time to sort things out. As a part of the visiting artist program at UT, I had a studio visit with Michael Jones McKean, an Associate Professor at VCU. The visit was productive. When I heard about the VCU Summer Studio program, I was looking forward to working with him again. The VCU Summer Studio program offered a great opportunity to spend eight weeks focusing on my work, surrounded by a group of talented artists who were at similar points in their careers. It was an extremely motivating experience.

Being in a new environment, I felt permission to bend some of my own rules and make decisions I might not have otherwise. A good example of this is Mother and child. The piece involves two parts: an enlarged photograph of my mother nursing me right after my birth and a black folding chair with a permanent impression in the seat. Both of these parts are fabricated or modified. While the photograph wasn’t manipulated, it was enlarged for formal reasons. The chair was modified by soaking the seat cushion in plaster, re-upholstering it, and sitting on it until it hardened. While normally I try not to modify objects, my goals for this piece couldn't have been realized without doing so. That being said, I tried to involve my hand as little as possible, to retain a sense of honesty in material. This has led to more possibilities for me, including collage and other forms of fabrication. I have more creative freedom as a result of the program; now I just have to decide where to go with it.

To see more of AC's work, please visit ac-wilson.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 Carlie Leagjeld

Untitled (detail)
2010
Acrylic paint, stick on earrings, stickers, carved paper, and scratched paper on paper

CARLIE LEAGJELD's multimedia paintings and installations are formal abstractions that foreground texture and process. Her works contain a wide range of paint applications and styles of marks: tiny, meticulous dots; precise, meandering lines; paint drips; washes of color and paint blobs that seem to be squeezed directly from the tube. Carlie earned her BFA in Painting and Drawing from the University of Oregon (2007) and her MFA in Studio Art from American University (2010), were she was the recipient of several prestigious scholarships, including the Van Swearingen Graduate Scholarship and the Catharina Baart Biddle Art Award. Her work is included in the Watkins Collection at the Katzen Museum in Washington, D.C. Carlie lives and works in Portland, Oregon, where she continue to paint, draw and enjoy the outdoors.

OtherPeoplesPixels: In your statement, you say, "I work in a process of discovery. . .  making a mark, erasing, connecting one line to another, overlapping, seeing through, and editing out." Could you say more about why you choose these recurring strategies? Do you see these strategies as metaphors?

Carlie Leagjeld: I don’t start my work with a set plan or outcome in mind. For this reason, strategies, processes and materials become what the work is about. I see the processes I use, which are more or less about trial and error, as related to the experience of existential searching. We create our own realities through our habits, our thoughts and our decisions. The processes I repeatedly use are attempts to create or uncover another kind of reality or world. The work starts with one element and grows from there. Working on a piece is a process of discovery: I’m editing things out, cutting the piece up, reassembling it, turning it into another piece and so on.
Evolution, life cycles and decay are also metaphors in my work. I’ve always been interested in work that reveals the time spent, the process and how it’s built. I use patterning and repetition, which are linked to our habits, obsessions, jobs and routines, as well as to natural patterns such as leaves on a tree or cultural patterns like city grids.

Untitled
2013
Acrylic on paper and mylar

OPP: Your combination of a variety of styles of marks and paint applications within a single piece keeps me looking. Have you always painted/drawn the way you do now? How/when did you develop this style of working?

CL: I’ve been painting since I was very young. Initially,  I painted and drew from life (still life, landscape and portraiture). But over time, I realized that I was more interested in the paint itself and getting caught up in the details. The actual image that I was painting became incidental.  I started working abstractly but was using botanical drawings as inspiration. I liked the scientific aspect of botanical drawings and how the detail in them showed a variety of marks to make the illustration more descriptive. Working abstractly gave me freedom and allowed me to focus on material. Working non-objectively made it hard to find a starting point for my pieces. Out of frustration, I began taking dried paint scraps from my palette and collaging with them. This is now one of the main starting points in my work and has become important because of the removal of my hand. I paint on a palette, let it dry, scrape the paint off and then collage it onto a surface. The dried paint pieces often look jagged, torn or wrinkly. From there I work back in with more traditional paint techniques to bring the pieces together and create a space.

Untitled
Installation detail
2010
Acrylic paint on mylar and string

OPP: Could you talk about your installations from 2009-2010?

CL: I did those installations during grad school. I was interested in the installations of Diana Cooper and Sarah Sze. Slowly my drawings and paintings started to meander off the page and onto my studio walls. I was using a lot of the same processes as the paintings and drawings. I pinned the dried paint pieces directly to the wall with map pins and then instead of painting a line or drawing a line, I used string. And instead of painting a shape, I cut it out of paper. So in some ways it felt easier than painting. It was much more direct.
 
Coming from a more traditional painting background made it hard for me to imagine working outside of the rectangle. But as I started to move more into abstraction, the edges of the paintings seemed to be an issue—too much or not enough space. One of the first pieces that I created directly on the wall was a drawing on paper that I cut up into six squares. I spaced them out into a grid and pinned them to the wall. Then with the space between I drew directly on the wall with a marker to connect the squares. It became a way of editing and expanding that was different than the way I was used to working. That’s when I really started to feel like there was less struggle in the process of creating. There was more of a flow and ease to working. I felt a freedom—the same freedom I felt when I stopped painting from life—working outside the rectangle, limited instead by physical space.



Untitled
2014
Acrylic, gouache, paper, mylar, gold leaf, woodblock print, plastic gems and string

OPP: Based on your website, it looks like you have turned exclusively to painting in the last few years. Have you given up installation for good?

CL: No I haven’t. I recently finished a small installation in my studio. The main drawback to installation is the space and the material needed. In some ways it seems wasteful because it’s temporary, but I like the relationship of the fleeting quality of life with the process of an installation. I’ve worked pretty exclusively on small paintings and drawings for the past few years, but in the process of making them, I’ve been collecting dried paint pieces. I'm constantly doing experiments with paint, from acrylic to gouache to oil to different ways of applying paint and pouring paint. I also cut up my works on paper as an editing process, and I’ve been saving all the leftover scraps. So this current installation in my studio was created mostly from an inventory of remnants from other artworks. I’ve also been carving woodblocks to use them like stamps to create patterns. So this installation uses elements of block prints and remnants from past pieces, which made creating this installation very quick because all the elements were on hand. I pin up one piece, and then from there it starts to grow organically.

OPP: If someone forced you to choose one or the other to work with for the rest of your life, would you choose color or texture?

CL: I would choose texture. I look at my paintings as very shallow, sculptural reliefs. The physicality of each gesture—even if it’s a blob of paint or a thick brush stroke—becomes important. I could never give up the tactile aspect of my work.

To see more of Carlie's work, please visit carlieleagjeld.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.