OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Colin O'Con

Untitled (Black Mountain)
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)
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)
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
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)
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

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

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
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
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
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
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

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. 

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. 

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
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
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)
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.

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.

Installation detail
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.

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.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Sabina Ott

here and there pink melon joy (purgatory)
Installation view
Styrofoam, spray foam, astroturf, artificial and real plants, mirror, canvas, water, pump, plastic, clocks

Vulgarity, beauty and contemplation meet in the materially-driven practice of artist and educator SABINA OTT. Hanging, body-sized sculptures sport light fixtures, clocks and mirrors. Carved slabs of styrofoam, embellished with faux house plants, rest on flat, astroturf rugs/pedestals. The bizarre scene creates a compelling hybrid: part home decor, part monument. Sabina earned both her BFA and MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute. Having exhibited extensively since 1985, her most recent solo shows include to perceive the invisible in you (2012) at St. Xavier University (Chicago), Ornament (2013) at Riverside Art Center (Riverside, Illinois) and here and there pink melon joy, which is currently on view at the Chicago Cultural Center until January 4, 2015. In 2011, Sabina founded Terrain Exhibitions, which converted her suburban front yard into a home a site-specific project space for emerging as well as established artists. In 2014, she was awarded a Propeller Fund grant to produce the 2nd Terrain Biennial and to create Virtual Terrain, an web project that facilitates public arts in residential neighborhoods internationally. Sabina lives and works in Oak Park, Illinois.

OtherPeoplesPixels: I relish the texture and materiality of your work. Even videos like hope is the thing with feathers (2011) and the animated text in installations like to perceive the invisible in you (2012) appear tactile rather than digital. Could you talk generally about texture and your chosen materials—styrofoam, glitter, spray paint and paper mache, expandable spray foam, to name a few?

Sabina Ott: I have always worked with heavily textured materials, be it oil paint (sometimes directly out of the can) or encaustic or plaster or polystyrene. Highly textured surfaces demand the eye to slow down and travel into nooks and crannies. Texture offers the possibility of touch as well as the experience of haptic space. In Throwing Like a Girl and Other Essays (1990), Iris Marion Young states: “Touch immerses the subject in fluid continuity with the object, and for the touching subject the object reciprocates the touching, blurring the border between self and other.” But these are artworks and cannot be touched by the viewer, and so desire is stimulated and frustrated. But experiencing frustration brings desire (to touch) to the fore, and the experience of the border between self and other becomes a subject of the work.

believing that something is something
Styrofoam, clocks, spray foam and enamel, plaster, mirror
144" x 15" x 12"

OPP: Over the last few years, you've introduced more domestic objects as material in your sculptures and installations. Clocks, lamps and light bulbs, house plants and AstroTurf seem to be the contained or tamed, home-decor versions of Time and Light and Nature, complex entities which are simultaneously constructs, loaded symbols and actual, tangible experiences. How do you think about these materials?

SO: I use those materials—easily-purchased, ready made clocks, lamps and carpets—because they are all the things you describe in your question. Simultaneously, I choose to use the Home Depot variety of those objects because, in their vulgarity, they offer a critique of good taste and “pertain to the ordinary people in a society” as stated in the definition of the word. The alterations I make to the objects unleash them, un-tame them, make them an impossible fit into home décor. So they hover between being useful and useless—a lamp or a sculpture, homey or sublime—and therefore bring a lofty contemplation of “Time and Light and Nature” down to earth, making it more experiential.

Rainbow Eye
Mixed media collage
15" x 17"

OPP: What about the repeated visual motif of the eye? When and why did you first use this image? Has the way you think about its meaning shifted over time?

SO: I had a period in which I found it really difficult to make artwork. I had gone through two near-death experiences which resulted in two complicated surgeries. My desire to play with the image of eyes is simple. I wanted to go back to my very first influence—surrealism—while somehow referencing the physical extremes I had just experienced. The eye is a complex, loaded symbol. One thinks of surveillance, portraiture, the desiring gaze or the omnipotent eye. I began making collages and then animations that I then projected onto sculptures in site-specific installations.

here and there pink melon joy (paradise)
4 channel video, sound, subwoofer, drums, cymbal and bench
Variable installation

OPP: You currently have a fantastic show titled here and there pink melon joy on view at the Chicago Cultural Center until January 4, 2015. I rarely get to physically experience the work I'm looking at online for this blog, so it was a treat to experience the darkened room where the four-channel video animation to perceive the invisible in you (2012) was accompanied by a soundtrack by Joe Jeffers. As I sat on the bench encircling a tower of drums, I was immersed in an environment of text and sound. I started off trying to read the text, discern its meaning and identify its source. But I quickly surrendered to a less intellectual, more sensual experience of the rhythm and motion. My mind kept trying to latch onto the words, but whatever they said was never as interesting as that feeling of surrender. It sort of embodied the experience of meditation when it is most enjoyable. I assume, as the artist, you must have a very different relationship to the text itself. Could you talk about that?

SO: The text is comprised of snippets from various poets on ecstasy, love, God and death. I could not find the perfect poem to use. None of the poems I studied quite got at what I wanted, so I embraced that fact and just took sections from many different poems. Again, experiencing thwarted desire (to read the text), similar to the desire stimulated by wanting to touch all the sculptures and paintings, is essential to surrender, and surrender is necessary to the experience of paradise. The rhythmic sound element in the piece takes over, changes over time from agitated to soothing as one transitions from wanting to make sense of the text to experiencing the vibration, sound, moving light and reflections.

OPP: I see the intellect and the senses as complimentary, but distinct modes of gathering knowledge. What are your thoughts on how these modes interact when making art?

SO: The moment that intellect and the senses meet could be called intuition. Intuition comes into play when what you know matches what you are experiencing. Intuition comes with training, study and practice.

beautiful beautiful beautiful beautiful
Polystyrene, ink jet print on paper mounted on sintra, spray enamel, flashe, mirror and spider plant
49"H x 48" W x 14" D

OPP: Aside from your thriving art practice—not to mention running the exhibition space Terrain out of your Oak Park home—you've been an educator for more than 20 years, including stints as the Director of Graduate Studies at Washington University and San Francisco Art Institute and the Chair of the Department of Art and Design at Columbia College in Chicago. How have you balanced teaching and your studio practice throughout your career?

SO: I love teaching, and I have been teaching as long as I have been working professionally as an artist. But I never intended to become a professor of art. A friend asked me to teach a class of hers because she was too busy. I did and began my teaching career at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. I have taught in many places, but at Art Center I had the best of both worlds. I only taught one day a week and spent all my other time in the studio while teaching alongside extraordinary artists. It was ideal.

My interaction with students stimulates my studio work, and I learn from them and from my colleagues. Teaching brings out the best in me and in my studio practice, and the two have always been interdependent.

In the beginning, like many young artists, I lived cheaply enough to be able to support myself on adjunct positions, something that is, admittedly, a lot more difficult now. Plus, I was selling a lot of artwork. I understood that if I wanted a full time position, I might have to move away from Los Angeles, my hometown, and I decided to pursue a role in academia. I had built my resume up so that I was competitive and took a tenured position in St. Louis. It was difficult, not because of the university. I had plenty of time to work, but I was away from a coast and felt like a cultural alien. But that was the price I had to pay to have that kind of position. I ended up working in administration for 10 years in the positions you describe. Schools are often looking for faculty who can also be administrators. I don’t recommend doing that if you don’t love spread sheets and long meetings. And I didn’t love spreadsheets and long meetings. I am very grateful to be back in the classroom.

OPP: What’s the most common mistake you see young artists making in how they approach art-making while in school? Can you offer any advice about how to get the most out of art school?

SO: Students often think that they have to make a "master work" in school, but it's most productive to develop one's capacity to embrace and learn from failure. Be a proactive student. Seek extra advice from your faculty, organize events with your fellow students, do extra research and reach out to faculty and students from other disciplines. I recently heard someone say this: it's easy to be a young artist, but the trick is becoming an old artist. I wish that for all my students. . . become an old artist!

To see more of Sabina's work, please visit sabinaott.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 Bianca Kolonusz-Partee

Staten Island Ferry (Detail)
6” x 76”
Product packaging, colored pencils adhesives, map tacks

BIANCA KOLONUSZ-PARTEE’s colorful, constructed drawings of industrial shipping ports are crafted from repurposed product packaging, directing the viewer’s attention to the tons of commercial goods for individual consumption that move through these oft-ignored, interstertial spaces everyday. Bianca received her MFA from Claremont Graduate University (Claremont, California) in 2007. She has exhibited widely throughout California, including solo exhibitions at Offramp Gallery (Pasadena) in 2012, and Byatt Claeyssens Gallery at the Sonoma Academy (Santa Rosa) in 2010. Having investigated major U.S. ports in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco,  Bianca now plans to visit various Asian ports to better understand issues surrounding global shipping. Her first stop will be the port of Colombo in Sri Lanka. She is currently raising funds for her trip with her project Sri Lanka or Bust. Bianca lives and works in Guerneville, California.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What fascinates you about ports and industrial landscapes?

Bianca Kolonusz-Partee: I grew up in northern California, and I learned to understand the landscape by traveling through it on the roads that intersected it. That we learn about something by basically breaking it apart is at the heart of my work. When I lived in San Francisco, I became intrigued by the container shipping port in Oakland and how ports are minimally-regulated global freeways that link us to the rest of the world. Later, as an MFA candidate at Claremont Graduate University, I experienced first hand the mega-port of Los Angeles. I began considering the effects of the pollution on the local population and the impact of this space on the global economy and environment. Our collective obsession with stuff became more serious for me.

Project: Outward Inward 2
40” x 180"
Colored pencils, product packaging, adhesives, map tacks

OPP: When and why did you first start using repurposed product packaging as your dominant medium?

BKP: When I left graduate school in 2007, I was using fine Asian and architectural papers. It just didn't feel right. I began using product packaging because it is the debris of the goods that travel through these ports. I never include logos or names, but I love the connection that people have to the highly designed product packaging of our contemporary world. Bottom line: I feel most comfortable with fewer fine tools. I appreciate both high-end and low-end packaging and enjoy pulling the colors, patterns, textures I need out of the material. Nothing is left as is.

OPP: What's your collection/accumulation process like?

BKP: I initially thought it was very environmentally-friendly of me to reuse discarded packaging, but I don't actually accumulate a lot in my own life. I asked friends and family to collect it and send it my way. I quickly realized that I was unfortunately spending resources that negate the "greenness" of my efforts. Also, I’ve been inspired to try specific products out because my friends liked them. I’ve realized that I am just as tied into our consumer culture as anyone else.

Keelung, Taiwan
21"x 53"
Recycled product packaging, colored pencils, adhesives and map tacks

OPP: Your work exists somewhere in the gray space between drawing and collage. Do you consider it more one or the other?

BKP: I love this question because it is a real struggle for me. I don't think of myself as a collage artist AT ALL. Collage talks about creating an image out of found images in a historically surrealist way. I think of my work as constructed drawings. I work with the materials in the same way that I would draw or paint. I began in these media. I still think of myself as a two-dimensional artist, but possibly I am a hybrid. The fact that my constructed drawings are created directly on gallery walls brings up the notion of installation. My favorite contemporary work is installation art: Ernesto Neto, Christo & Jeanne-Claude, Ann Hamilton, Richard Serra. Erwin Redl does these amazing installations with LED lights that make you feel like you are inside of Tron. I went to see his piece at LAMoCA’s Ecstasy: In and About Altered States (2005) several times and walked through the grid that he created in the room. It was truly amazing.

But I have been most influenced by the great masters like Paul Cézanne. When I was an art student, his two-dimensional work absolutely had a physical impact on me. In my drawing class, we learned about figuring out a landscape by the connection points where elements intersected, and we looked at Cézanne. I drew like that for years: first landscapes, then roads cutting through landscapes and then shipping ports. I eventually discovered others like Turner, who documented the industrial seaport of his time. I often think of myself as a new version of an old master using today's technology to observe and document where we are right now.

12” x 40”
Recyclable materials, colored pencils, adhesives, map tacks

OPP: Can you walk us through the process of drawing with these materials?

BKP: I work from a video of the port. I choose materials from three boxes of collected packaging organized into color groups: cool, warm, black/white/neutrals. My process is just like drawing a line or painting a section of color except that I am cutting out these shapes. I sketch a shape/area onto the packaging with colored pencils while looking at the video. Then I put double stick tape on the shape, cut it out with the yellow scissors—so as not to goo up my nice scissors—and place it on the piece. I am one of those people that has trouble drawing a straight line freehand. I allow my process to mimic my drawing ability by cutting out the straight lines and shaving it off piece by piece until I get it right. It is always about figuring out the space. As I revise, one area often becomes very built up with material. Sometimes I cut sections away with an even stronger pair of scissors. I might cover up an area if the color or pattern doesn't feel right or work to recreate the space. The dense sections of my work result more from my process than my subject matter.

OPP: One of the most significant aspects of your work is the use of the map pins. Was your decision to use them conceptual, formal or practical?

BKP: The pins began as a practical way to hold the work together. When I began working this way, each piece would be partially built and pinned together. Then I would finish building it into the space where I was exhibiting. Eventually, I decided that the pieces typically ended up being a set chunk on the wall, so I started to make sure the pieces were entirely connected before I installed. My largest piece Outward Inward 2, which is 15 feet long, is in three sections. I like the added random mark, which is why the tacks are multicolored, but they do hold the work to the wall. I use the tacks to make some structural pieces appear stronger and more stable on the wall. For example, if there is a big, heavy crane next to a tree, I don’t want the crane to be slipping around on the wall at all. But it’s okay if the tree moves a little.

Rambler Channel, Hong Kong B
20" x 30" framed
Recyclable materials, colored pencils, adhesives, map tacks

OPP: Could you talk about the difference between the larger landscapes pinned directly to the gallery wall and the smaller pieces pinned inside frames?

BKP: The framed pieces are the same as those that are pinned directly to the walls. I frame them on white backgrounds in white frames in order to evoke the white cube gallery wall. When I sell them framed, I do provide instructions and a container of map tacks to those who plan to install them on their walls. I prefer hanging the work out of the square and transforming the gallery space into a mock landscape where the walls become water and sky.

To The Ocean (Installation view at Project_210)
12” x 112"
Product packaging, colored pencils adhesives, map tacks

You've visited ports in Manhattan, New Jersey, San Francisco and Los Angeles. In 2011, you shifted focus to Asian ports in your series Countries of Origins (2011). Could you talk about this shift? Have you visited any Asian ports in person?

BKP: Most of the goods that move through the US ports are made in and come from Asia. To see the full picture of consumerism and its global impact, I needed to shift my gaze to those countries providing inexpensive goods to the rest of the world. Countries of Origin, based on images from online videos, explores ports in Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

I haven't been able to afford to travel to Asia yet, but I have been able to piece these places together remotely. However, visiting the ports in person is a big part of my work. I have decided to kick off that effort by traveling to Sri Lanka to visit the port in Colombo. I am raising funds for my current project, Sri Lanka or Bust, using my website and a Facebook page. I will sell the work that I make before the trip from a series of images that I found on the internet to pay for the trip. I am currently making drawings with elements of the paper work in them. I have a dear friend from Sri Lanka who lives there and will be able to introduce me to her home, which will make the trip even more rich. Good or bad, we all make assumptions about foreign places. I look forward to replacing those assumptions with a real experience and to taking a look at shipping from a Sri Lankan perspective. I'll use my own video, photographs and experience to make work about the port in Colombo, Sri Lanka upon my return.

To view more of Bianca's work, please visit bkolonuszpartee.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 her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage 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 solo exhibitions include 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.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Joseph G. Cruz

not a fact, still extremely real
Photography stands/lights, saw horses, crate, mdf, stainless steal, insulation foam, plexiglass

JOSEPH G. CRUZ investigates the methods by which culturally and historically significant sites and events accumulate meaning through their varied representations. These subjects, such as the Matterhorn and the first walk on the moon, are starting points in his research-based art practice. The resulting installations include found objects, sound, text and sculpture and exploit the vernaculars of set design and museum display. In Fall 2013, Joseph will be an MFA candidate in Sculpture with a minor in the History and Philosophy of Science at Notre Dame. He recently completed the year-long BOLT Residency at the Chicago Artists' Coalition; his solo show in the BOLT Project Space opens on September 6, 2013. He will also be representing BOLT at EXPO Chicago in a booth that was juried and curated by Dieter Roelstraete. Joseph currently lives in Michigan City with his wife and their dog; at the time of this interview, they have a daughter on the way.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Research plays a big role in your art practice. To what degree are your research and the creation of objects intertwined or separate and distinct modes of thinking?

Joseph G. Cruz: My work is fueled by a love for the research, but I don’t make a distinction between research and creation in my practice. I see both as modes of exploration. There is a phase of research that is exclusively reading and field research. Then there is a phase of object-making that is like thinking with my hands. Sometimes I create a system by which the physical objects do the research by transcribing subjective, historical texts into “objective” data and translating them back into other subjective formats like sound. 12 transcribed notions (2012) and my Alfred Hitchcock’s "The Birds" piece (2010) are specific examples of how the work translates historical texts into subjective formats.

My enchantment with research isn’t just a love of discovery. It's also a love of the inventiveness of creating seemingly random contextual connections: historical, technological, cultural, scientific, pop, whatever. I tend to limit the object making to processes and materials defined through the research. Then I mix and match methodologies from the connecting topics I discover to create conceptually driven work.

Each body of work examines a particular cultural, historical or scientific subject, as if it were a leitmotif in a larger story. I work on different pieces within a body of work simultaneously and always think of them in relation to each other. The individual pieces can exist as autonomous objects, but they can’t come to full fruition unless they are viewed in context with one another.

A taxonomic split often occurs when scientists discover - through the prosthetics of DNA testing and computer analysis of song - that what appeared to be a single species, is actually two separate species which look identical
Title card

OPP: What kinds of creative endeavors were you engaged in when you were younger?

My junior high and high school years were all about skateboarding, surfing and DIY music culture. I started off playing bass and drums in a number of different bands, playing everything from hardcore to instrumental scores. The board sports are all about original interventions. Skateboarding revolves around how you use the skateboard in relation to architecture. And surfing is much more creative and expressive than most people realize. It's all about creative adaptation. You have to anticipate the way the wave bends and flows and find a way to perpetually keep sliding down the face.

Those years were about creating new forms of agency and identity, although how successful or aware of that fact we were is another story. Now that I think about it, that time was probably the most important formative aspect of my artistic personality. The practice just evolved into a more abstract, social architecture.

differentially similar
Wall paper, laminated flooring, 1959 postcard, ebay-claimed “victorian print”, insulation foam, dyed sand, plaster, debris from not a fact, still extremely real

OPP: In 2012, your solo show not a fact, still extremely real at Comfort Station in Chicago revolved around various representations of the Matterhorn, employing and commenting on romantic, historical and scientific narratives. The Matterhorn is the subject of all the work, and yet it isn't. What's the real subject?

JGC: First off, thank you for asking that question. It’s true that my interest is not in the Matterhorn, per se, but rather in its agency and how it presents itself to us over time and how that has changed. I’m not pretending we live in some sort of Tom Robbins-style existence in which objects think and feel like humans. I’m thinking more of observing an object—in this case, the Matterhorn— over a larger span of time, to the degree that we, as individuals, have less control over it. The historical object gains its own agency. To paraphrase Werner Heisenberg, it's important to remember that what we observe is not nature herself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.

The subject of this body of work is more of a verb than a noun for me. I’m trying to understand it through a trans-contextual investigation. That's the reason all of the works in that show reference different modes of knowledge production.

It starts with Edward Whymper, who triggered the golden age of alpinism with his worldwide tour of lantern lecturers about his first ascent of the Matterhorn. Four people died on that climb, and that’s where the proclivity toward spectacle emerges. I made a few pieces that mapped the romantic language from these lectures and translated it into a player piano piece. Kant’s writings about the sublime point outward via the Swiss Alps, and we see the techno-contemporary sublime via the Large Hadron Collider, which sits under the same ranges. Many years later, Disney created a famous roller coaster, and the Matterhorn now exists in many of our computers as a generic default screen saver. How do we understand the Matterhorn today? Why do we understand it that way? What are the implications or symptoms involved with that understanding? I guess it is more about mediation in scale. The Matterhorn is basically a soap box, and its repetition in the show hopes to dissolve itself. Think Marcel Broodthaer’s Department of Eagles.

OPP: I like the idea of the Matterhorn having agency and asserting itself over time through these various representations. But each of the instances you mention can also be viewed as a kind of violence to the mountain or toward nature in general. They are attempts to dominate the site of the sublime experience, to beat it into submission, to tame the shrew, if you will. So, does the Matterhorn gain its agency through the accretion of representations, in spite of them or through your side-by-side presentation of these representations?

JGC: Well, we’re not talking about actual mass, but the more abstract materiality that both stems from and is the representations of it. According to material culture studies, an object gains agency when used by humans for specific means. Things do far more than simply effect what humans do; things transform and impact the specific way in which human beings perceive and understand our situatedness. Mediating representations act as surrogates in that they not only stand in for the thing, but also create a new psychological space for the thing. The simulacrum doesn't give us the real thing, but what it gives us is still real. Not many of us have been to the moon, but we have a general agreement on what the moon is. This is more real than the physical experience of the moon. So there are shifts in the historical understanding of the Matterhorn as these representations accumulate, although I wouldn't say those shifts are necessarily linear.

Installation view

OPP: Several earlier pieces—10 milliseconds of Utopia (political illustration?) (2009), re-entry shock (2008) and everafter (2010)—employ the visual motif of suspended taxidermy animals. They are suspended literally and transparently on strings in the air, indicating a suspended moment in time. The fact that we can see the strings relates to something you say in your statement: "The work seems to be telling a story while talking about how the story is being told." In what other ways do you talk about the story being told while telling a story?

JGC: I try to operate in a similar way to The Colbert Report or The Daily Show. The humor and umph in these shows doesn’t lie in the specific news story. It is in how they float around the periphery of the implied rhetoric and in the semantics of the stories being told. It’s that periphery which most interests me. I try to create an “and/or” situation when deciphering information.

Most of the pieces you cite were made during undergrad and were seeds for my current practice. I worked at the Field Museum, doing soft-sample taxidermy in the Ornithology Department. I was thinking about how visual rhetoric functions in dioramas, both from the audience’s point of view and from backstage.

My installations are like dioramas or movie sets that the viewer can walk around. I present a well-crafted front view, and then I exaggerate physical set-building methods “backstage.” I place spotlights on the extension cords and unpainted stage supports, exposing the hardware which supports the façade. All this is only available once you walk around the “set.” 

The installation If one looks down at the earth from the moon, there is no virtual distance between the Louvre and the Zoo includes a sculpture that references a landscape or a meteorite of sorts and looks like a scale model. From one side, it looks like a big rock on a pedestal. But when you walk around it, the pink insulation foam out of which it is carved is exposed. The illusion is revealed. A piece of glass cuts through the two sides, so that you can see a reflection (the façade) while simultaneously peering through the transparent glass to see the foam.

With those taxidermy birds in mid-flight, I aestheticized the strings that support the frozen moment in order to shift the viewers’ attention from the spectacle to the geometric structures and shadows of the strings which metaphorically and literally hold them up.  

If one looks down at the earth from the moon, there is no virtual distance between the louvre and the zoo.
Pedestal, stage, recycled taxidermy, shadow, glass, foam, acrylic, and misc. scale model material.

OPP: You were a 2012-2013 BOLT resident at the Chicago Artists' Coalition in Chicago. You have a solo show coming up in the BOLT Project Space and you'll be representing the residency with a project at EXPO Chicago in September. Will you give us a sneak peak of the work you'll be debuting at one or both of these venues?
JGC: I am really excited and honored to be doing these shows and a little intimidated about representing BOLT at EXPO. It’s a young program that is really special and has some wonderful people behind it. It’s amazing how much momentum it has gained in only two years, but it still needs to be recognized and understood for how amazing it is outside of Chicago.

Assembling Vestiges, my solo show in the BOLT Project Space, loosely borrows its name and strategies from Deleuze’s assemblage theory. The jumping off points for this show are representations of late 19th century polar expeditions, space exploration and satellite imagery. It takes on a lot of curatorial strategies influenced by Thomas Demand’s La Carte D’Apres Nature at Matthew Marks Gallery and Mark Dion’s OCEANOMANIA at the Oceanographic Museum in Monaco, in that it involves time travel, actual artifacts like crystals from Antarctica and lunar meteorites, a couple of works from other artists (like a commissioned Turner reproduction). All of the pieces are vestiges of the research and some are vestiges of actual sculptures. For example, there is a series of broken silica molds and bronze slag. These are byproducts of sculpture, but the sculpture isn’t present. In this new work, I’m employing a more complicated notion of how the story is being told by presenting the agency of the environment (i.e. polar weather) via the color shifts that result from the extreme cold in Herbert Ponting’s first film of the Antarctic. It’s a very different show for me and a big experiment in moving my practice forward.

The EXPO booth is a satellite installation (forgive the pun) called Assembling the Lunar. It includes a sound installation which translates a recent topographical mapping of the far side of the moon into sound frequencies, a microscopic illustration of the night sky on the night of the first moon walk, a generic collectors’ edition lunar meteorite, and miscellaneous formal moves that reference horizon lines.

To view more of Joseph's work, please visit josephgcruz.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and spiritual significance of repetition in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her work is on view through September 2013 in Abstracting the Seam (Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago), and she has two upcoming solo exhibitions: I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (Klemm Gallery, Adrian, Michigan) in November 2013 and Right Here, Right Now (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Valerie Hegarty

Break-Through Miami
Paper, Tyvek, paint, glue, palm fronds, tin foil, wire, wood, feathers
12’ x 40’ x 30’

VALERIE HEGARTY’s painting, sculpture and installation simulate a collision between nature and culture. Crows attack three-dimensional recreations of still life paintings, and grasses take root and flourish in an Aubusson rug. Rosebushes grow through gallery walls. The damage sustained by these cultural objects and spaces is an incidental, insistent reminder of the ongoing cycle of death and rebirth that exists at every moment, even when we try to hide from it in the notion of the supremacy of civilization and culture. Valerie’s work is included in the permanent collections of The Brooklyn Museum, New Britain Museum of American Art and the 21c Museums. Valerie Hegarty: Alternative Histories, a site-specific installation that activates the Brooklyn Museum’s Period Rooms, is currently on view until December 1, 2013. Her numerous solo shows include exhibitions at Marlborough (2012), Guild & Greyshkul, (2005 and 2006), the John Michael Kohler Arts Center (2008), and most recently Nichelle Beauchene Gallery (2010 and 2013). Valerie lives and works in New York City.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Throughout your practice as an artist, you've explored decay, damage and impermanence. You make regular reference to vanitas painting, scavenger birds and shipwrecks, all implying a bittersweet reckoning with mortality. Were you initially more attracted to the aesthetics of decay, or the concept of it?

Valerie Hegarty: I was initially interested in the idea of deconstruction with decay and damage as a means to an end. It’s a representational device to deconstruct a painting, and the aesthetics of decay become a formal way to abstract a representational painting. I like the layering of meaning and the multiple narratives that occur. I’m not really interested in the fetishization of decay. Decay in my work is a way to talk about the breakdown of ideas that are no longer working.

Figure, Flowers, Fruit
Installation shot

OPP: In your 2012 solo Figure, Flowers, Fruit at Nicelle Beauchene Gallery in New York, you referenced the history of portraiture and still life painting. But the works featured were more sculptures than paintings. The peaches in one still life explode out of the frame onto the wall. In a portrait titled Woman in White, flowers appear to be growing from the sitter's face and the bottom edge of the frame dissolves into a system of roots. Could you talk about the idea of nature overtaking culture?

VH: I think of my work as painting more than sculpture, but there is a transition in most pieces where a painting on the wall appears to explode or grow into three dimensions. I often cite Thomas Cole’s series of five paintings The Course of Empire as a reference for my work. In Cole’s series, civilization and the landscape are depicted in five stages with the pastoral being the most harmonious. As the series continues, civilization grows, leading to greed, decadence and war. Civilization destroys itself and collapses into ruin. The final stage of the series is Desolation: all evidence of man is erased, and buildings are eroded and reclaimed by nature. There is the implication that the cycle will start all over again with rebuilding and repopulation. I see my work as the desolation phase, where culture has broken down. Nature is taking over, laying a fertile ground for something new to grow.

OPP: In 2011, you repeatedly "melted" George Washington's face in watercolor and acrylic paint. Although this decay or destruction of the human face and of the painting evokes all the same ideas as other vanitas work you've done, these read differently to me. Because the figure of George Washington is so loaded, I read this work as about the erosion of faith and pride in our historical American icons, and possibly about the erosion of their actual value as heroes. Yes, George Washington was the idealized father of the United States, but he was also a human being and a slave owner. When did you first decide to melt his face and what does this action mean to you?

VH: I first started to recreate paintings of George Washington in 2007 and have done a number of works over the years where his face and/or body are altered. On one level, I’m interested in a comic reference to the death of painting by creating a painting that appears to be self-destructing or vandalized. In the series of melted faces, I am also interested in the transition from what appears believable to the impossible, much like magical realism in fiction. There is a surrealist transition; the face is melting in a way that would not actually happen in reality. I also like the reference to the Gothic fiction story The Picture of Dorian Gray. The main character realizes that one day his beauty will fade, so he expresses a desire to sell his soul to ensure a painted portrait of himself would age rather than he. His wish is granted, and when he subsequently pursues a life of debauchery, the portrait serves as a reminder of the effect each act has upon his soul. With each sin, the painting becomes more grotesque. Using the iconic portrait of George Washington creates a commentary on the formation of American identity with the disfigured portrait revealing the return of repressed and darker elements of American history.

George Washington Seated Melted
140 lb Arches Watercolor paper, watercolor, acrylic
12" x 16"

OPP: George Washington's portrait is not the only famous painting you've "destroyed" in your work. Niagara Falls, Fallen Bierstadt and Among the Sierras with Woodpecker all reference so-called masterworks by Albert Bierstadt, who was part of the Hudson River School. Why so many Bierstadts?
VH: I choose paintings that are considered “masterpieces” of American art and that I consider to be iconic images of the American landscape. For whatever reason, many of Bierstadt’s images of the American West rang familiar to me even though I wouldn’t necessarily have been able to identify the artist prior to doing research for my work.  It’s not important to me that there are a number of Bierstadts referenced in my work. I’m not really concerned with the artist, but the image.

OPP: Are these reproductions or recreations of Bierstadt's landscapes that you are "destroying"

VH: They are created reproductions that appear to be destroyed. As the decay is very carefully crafted and sculpted, the worked is actually constructed rather than deconstructed, although the illusion is the opposite.

There are definitely social and political messages in the decay that address American identity and the damage created through its formation—war damage, the oppression of peoples, damage to the environment through global warming and deforestation. 

My altering of these iconic images can also be a metaphor for how memory processes imagery. It’s a collage-like process: we have familiar images in our heads that we are constantly altering, editing and updating to reflect our current reality.

Fog Warning with Barnacles
Foam, Winslow Homer poster, foamcoat, paper, paint, glue, Magic-sculpt, plexi, molding
28" x 32" x 3"

OPP: In your 2010 installation at Locust Projects in Miami, you combined anamorphic painting techniques, paper-mache and photography to create  "the impression that the gallery walls have been stripped back to reveal an old Miami building interior." But you've been creating architectural illusions in your installations since grad school. Some early examples in include Renovation (2002) in your grad school studio, Green Bathroom (2003) at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and Childhood Bedroom (2004) at the Drawing Center in New York. Why does creating three-dimensional illusions continue to captivate you? Could you also talk generally about illusion and its value?

VH: I think of the projects you mentioned as drawings, collages or paintings. In essence I was creating the illusion that a section of the gallery wall was peeling away to reveal an older interior. To create this effect I glued painted layers of paper to the gallery walls and floors. These layers were often cut to the exact size of different architectural materials like floorboards, wallpaper and tile. Afterwards, I would peel and scrape the paper. Although the piece looked subtractive, it was actually additive. I called this work “reverse archeology,” and for me it was an investigation of memory. It was similar to making a drawing on paper, and then erasing it partially.

I think of the space created in this work as similar to the illusionistic space that is created in a painting. Except, in my work, the painting is extended out to the walls and the floor. I consider it a three-dimensional painting and that is how I consider most of my other work as well. The illusionism is a means to an end and not an end in itself. I’m interested in drawing the viewer in by creating uncanny scenarios that create surprise and curiosity in the viewer. Only when drawn in closer, can the viewer begin to ponder the line between fact and fiction and, I hope, delight in the discoveries.   

Pears and Oranges in a Bowl with Crows
Wire, foil, epoxy, tape, paper, paint, glue, gel mediums
Dimensions variable (life size)

OPP: You have a very impressive exhibition record, including 13 solo exhibitions since you got your MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2002. That’s almost one a year and sometimes two in a single year! Did you approach any of the curators or exhibition directors of the galleries and museums where you’ve had solo shows, or did they approach you? Can you offer any advice to emerging artists about lining up solo exhibitions and studio visits?

VH: Yes, I have been extremely busy the past 10 years! I landed my first solo at Gallery 400 in Chicago by responding to an open call for proposals. Someone at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago saw that show and invited me to make a proposal for their emerging artist space. In NYC, I was approached by Guild & Greyshkul, my first gallery, after they had seen my work in a group show at The Drawing Center and had heard that I had been selected for a Rema Hort Foundation grant. I was approached by Museum52 in London to do a solo show after they saw a large piece of mine in the NADA art fair in Miami. So yes, every time I was approached by the gallery directly, but only because they had seen my work elsewhere in a group show.

My advice for emerging artists is to apply to all open calls at legitimate spaces because even if you are not selected, it still means a group of curators will see your work when when the proposals were reviewed. Keep close to your artist peers and be generous with sharing information. Often I am selected to be in group shows because a curator is familiar with my work or an artist friend recommended me. In NYC, it's very hard to approach galleries directly, or get an "in" simply because you know someone at the gallery. Gallerists generally want to discover their own artists. They are bombarded with people trying to get them to look at their work. Apply for anything that involves an application: grants, slide files, group shows, residencies, studio space programs. Do studio visits with your friends so they are familiar with your work and will think of you if they are asked to recommend other artists for shows. I applied for every single emerging artist opportunity in NYC and started getting chosen for things. That lead to group shows and then eventually being noticed. Most likely you will need another job to pay your bills. That is the norm for most artists, so prepare for that reality. It's not easy. But if it's what you want to do, don't give up.

To see more of Valerie's work, please visit valeriehegarty.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and spiritual significance of repetition in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her work is on view through September 2013 in Abstracting the Seam (Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago), and she has two upcoming solo exhibitions: I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (Klemm Gallery, Adrian, Michigan) in November 2013 and Right Here, Right Now (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Michael Arcega

Piñata Mobile (installation view)
Paper materials, wheat paste, dum-dums, mylar, string, cables, steel, and mixed media.

MICHAEL ARCEGA's research-based, interdisciplinary art practice is informed by historic events, political sociology and linguistics. Working primarily in sculpture and installation, he uses wordplay, material significance and joke formats to explore how unbalanced power dynamics affect the development of cultures. Michael is a 2012 Guggenheim Fellow in Fine Art and a 1999 Artadia Award recipient. He has been an artist-in-residence at Headlands Center for the Arts, Fountainhead Residency and Beamis Center for Contemporary Art. His work has been exhibited at such notable venues as the deYoung Museum, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, the Orange County Museum of Art, The Contemporary Museum in Honolulu, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Cue Arts Foundation, and the Asia Society in New York. Michael received his MFA from Stanford University, and he currently lives in San Francisco, California.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You've dealt with the themes of conquest and colonialism throughout your practice. Earlier work such as Conquistadorkes (2004), War Clubs (2008) and SPAM/MAPS: World (2001) addressed the conquest of people and land through force. But more recent work—which we'll turn to in a moment—addresses lexical borrowing and cross-cultural exchange. Even though the subject matter is serious in all your work, the tone is humorous and playful. How does linguistic humor and wordplay serve your conceptual goals in dealing with this subject matter?

Micheal Arcega: Great question. I’ve always been interested in language and its sociopolitical contexts. Humor comes naturally to me, and it’s a great way to cloak a topic that is often dense or problematic. Both language and humor are subjects and strategies I use in order to address serious topics.

Jokes have formats that I like to use, and embedded in those are a formal rhythm and pace. For instance, simple jokes start with a call and response. Then, there’s an inversion—a kind of magic or alchemical transformation happens—and, finally, laughter or a moment of revelation for the audience. I aim to include these stages in my work.

Language has become more of a subject than a strategic element in my recent work. I’ve been exploring a more complex linguistic model—Contact Language Generation. Pidgin and Creole languages often develop between two or more cultural groups when power is unbalanced. Plantations, for instance, are places where many people from varying ethnic groups are controlled by a powerful state or group. I'm thinking about Hawaiian Creole English from Hawaiian plantations and Gullah in the plantations in the Southern U.S. The existence of these languages are a testament to peoples’ amazing ability to adapt, challenge and subvert an oppressive system. I’ve been interested in finding a visual equivalence for this kind of subtle protest—the kind that happens under the radar. So, I hope my work doesn’t overtly exclaim, but rather calmly questions.

O.M.G. (installation view)
Poly-tarp, tent poles, mosquito netting, rescue & utility ropes, carabiners, and mixed media
Size varies per installation

OPP: You’ve written that your series In Tents: Visualizing Language Generation and Sociopolitics “explores Pidgin and Creole languages through the visual language of temporary architecture.” Can you explain how the tent sculptures do that?

MA: The parallel I’m making has to do with the stability of language against the permanence of architecture. For instance, if a Neoclassical building is like formal, spoken English, then an unsecured lean-to is like pantomime with some words thrown in. Pidgin languages are fairly unstable and are under negotiation with their speakers. These would be like architectural forms that can change at any time. Temporary tent encampments, which spring up in response to natural and/or economic disaster, are contemporary examples that can be conflated with historical slave plantations where many ethnic groups were forced to co-exist. Creole languages are developed on the site and are usually stabilized by a new generation. These languages are native and unique to the cultures, landscape and the sociopolitical context involved. So, the tents that I made—including a lamp post, toilet, mailbox and fire hydrant—represent the moment in language generation that is unstable but deeply informed by the dominant architecture of the urban landscape.

OPP: In 2011, you made two pieces about the transformation of one thing into another. In Loping Honoring (a translation/ a correction), the national anthem of the Philippines was “corrected” in Microsoft Word and sung as an opera. Here the transformation is instantaneous and occurs through technology. The "correction" can easily be understood as an error. In Lexical Borrowing: Saw Horse by the Sea Shore—Understanding Manifest Destiny, you transformed an American kayak into a Pacific outrigger canoe as "a material analog of how linguistic shifts occur." This is a representation of a much slower transformation over time. Tell us about the process of transforming one vessel into the other. Is there a moral implication in this kind of transformation as it relates to linguistic shift?

MA: Both works are commentaries on oppression and imperialism. Firstly, Lupang Hinirang, the national anthem of the Philippines was a colonial construct. In the transformation from Lupang Hinirang to Loping Honoring, technology has been misused, causing the national anthem to become illegible. Language collapses into a series of markers of “high” culture (e.g. opera), and becomes a mere echo of the solidarity in the national anthem. My intent here was to expose the entropy caused by empire.

In Lexical Borrowing: Saw Horse by the Sea Shore—Understanding Manifest Destiny, I present a case or proposition that could be understood as reverse colonization. The American kayak begat a new model that leads to a Pacific outrigger canoe named Baby. The object on the bottom of the sawhorses is a makeshift outrigger that was added to the American canoe that needed to be stabilized during a tidal shift on the James River. The makeshift outrigger, fashioned from branches and empty plastic soda bottles, is proof that influence from the Pacific is affecting the continent. In essence, the piece signifies the decline of empire through challenges to its technologies and the replacements of its markers of power. This work is motivated by the possibility of change for the future rather than the lament of the past.

Lexical Borrowing: Saw Horse by the Sea Shore—Understanding Manifest Destiny
Mat board, wood, found plastic bottles, river water, and mixed media
4' x 7' x 3'

OPP: Since your sculptural and installation practice is very research based, you must spend as much time reading as creating objects. What's the ratio of time spent "in the studio" versus researching? Do you prefer one part of your practice more? 

MA: I’m not sure if I can quantify the percentages of my practice because it changes all the time. But there is definitely more academic research and administrative work than there is actual production. This is fine with me. I am invested in making, but my practice is grounded in conceptual art.

I try to make my work pleasurable. I allow my research to be guided by things that I’m curious about. Sometimes there are difficult tasks, but it is always rewarding. This pleasure keeps me engaged in my work and helps make it sustainable for the long haul.

Eternal Salivation
Plants and animals
7.5’ x 15’ x 10’

OPP: Your most recent exhibition Baby and the Nacirema (2012) at The Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco was an art exhibit that took on the guise of an anthropology exhibit. After Baby—the Pacific outrigger canoe you mentioned before—was created, she went on a journey. Could you tell us about Baby's expedition and about the Nacirema and the collection of their cultural artifacts?

MA: The departure point for this fictional work is the conflation of two narratives: the Lewis and Clark expedition—representing all westward expansion in America—and Horace Miner’s Nacirema. Both cases describe a people inhabiting North America. Lewis and Clark surveyed the continent for the coming colonists. They described the topography, indigenous peoples, flora and fauna through the text and objects they sent back to Thomas Jefferson. Many decades later, anthropologist Horace Miner described the colonizer’s neurosis about their overly complex lives after decimating the native population. My exhibition, Baby and the Nacirema continues this inquiry, but it takes on the point of view of the colonized, indigenous North Americans, observing the Nacirema culture through the lens of the Pacific, rather than the Atlantic. Nacirema is "americaN" spelled backwards.

The premise of the exhibition was that Baby and crew went on an expedition across North America to describe this invasive culture of the Nacirema. They collected cultural artifacts and used them to unlock the meaning of a significant Nacireman text (The New Colossus), cataloged objects and inventions (Cultural Phonemes) and described important symbols and icons (Piñata Mobile). They also displayed Baby (Medium for Intercultural Navigation), the symbolic, yet seaworthy vehicle that was used for the expedition as well as photo documentation of its creation.

The visual language of museums informed the overall tone of the project. Wunderkammern and early collections are extensions of an empire just like cartography. Also, patents and land grants established “legal” ownership of land, but these were alien concepts to indigenous North Americans. Historically, some collecting institutions have functioned as a repository for colonial war booty. For instance, a lot of specimens from the Lewis & Clark expedition ended up in Charles Willson Peale’s Philadelphia Museum. As much as I love them, museums, maps and collections are the residual marks of imperialism.

Nacireman Inventions: Cultural Phonemes
Polymer clay and wire
Size varies per installation

OPP: Why is it important that, as Americans, we "other" ourselves?

MA: “Othering” ourselves allows for empathy and sympathy. As members of the most powerful nation, we need to be even more empathetic. Otherwise, we can become more self-centered and psychotic as a nation. I believe individual citizens from the United States and other developed nations have greater responsibility because these nations have greater influence due to their global/social position. For students of anthropology, linguistics, sociology or any other social science, the interpretation of the cultures they study will inevitably have a bias. "Othering" ourselves allows us to develop more neutrality and objectivity, which can yield a more accurate picture of the subject at hand.

OPP: Is it useful to do this type of exploration through visual art?

MA: I’m not sure if visual art is the best place to look for lessons, although it’s definitely capable. Those in the arts don't have a responsibility to educate viewers about morality or facts. I believe that art—in the broadest sense of the word—is one of the many places where we can articulate truths that aren’t necessarily facts. It is one of the best places to ask questions, leaving the viewer/participant to seek the answers.

OPP: Are you working on any new projects?

MA: Right now, I'm in residency at Al Riwak Art Space in Bahrain, which will culminate in a solo show that opens on May 28, 2013.  The work focuses on translations and mistranslations, and the form of the show is developing onsite, determined by the circumstances in Bahrain. I’m interested in the loss that occurs during translation and how we try to fill in the gaps. There might be issues with legibility, but there will always be that situation when two or more cultures try to communicate with one another.

To see more of Michael's work, please visit arcega.us.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and existential significance of participating in mediated culture in her embroidery, video, sculpture and collage works. She received her MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2006), where she will begin teaching in Spring 2013, and is currently a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT Residency in Chicago. Notable exhibitions include 
Losing Yourself in the 21st Century (Maryland Art Place, Baltimore), MP3 (The Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago), Please Stand By: Stacia Yeapanis + Readymade (Baang & Burne Contemporary, New York), Over and Over Again (BOLT Project Space, Chicago)

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Lauren Fensterstock

Mirror Displacement #2
paper, plexi, charcoal
9 x 20 x 5 ft
Installation at Austin Museum of Art-Arthouse

LAUREN FENSTERSTOCK combines art historical references to Modernism with Victorian craft traditions in her dense installations of handmade paper flowers, charcoal and mirrors. Her meticulaously built monochromatic gardens appear minimal from afar, but a closer look reveals an indulgent attention to detail. Recent exhibitions include Two Takes on One Space: Lauren Fensterstock and Steve Wiman at The Austin Museum of Art (TX), Incidents of Garden Displacement at The Ogunquit Museum of American Art (ME) and Dubh: Dialogues in Black at Oliver Sears Gallery (Ireland). Her upcoming solo exhibition Lauren Fensterstock: The Celebration of Formal Effects, Whether Natural or Artificial opens on March 3, 2012, at the John Michael Kohler Art Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Lauren is also a writer, curator and educator living in Portland, Maine.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your recent work makes marvelous use of quilling, a paper craft that is most associated—despite its long history— with the leisurely labor of upper class women during the Victorian era. Can you explain what quilling is for our readers? When and why did you first learn the technique?

Lauren Fensterstock: Quilling is the art of curling strips of paper by wrapping them around a pin or dowel—artisans used pen quills for this task, hence the name quilling. It has also been called paper lace or paper filigree and was sometimes used to decorate reliquaries when precious metals were not available. Quilling was included in a group of crafts thought of as accomplishments for young ladies including painting tables, embroidery and piano. My work is inspired by quilling, but most of the forms and techniques that I use veer away from tradition. Quilling designs tended to be very flat and symmetrical, whereas I prefer to get a little messy.
A Third Nature no 7
paper and charcoal under glass
10 x 10 in

OPP: Looking at the shadow box pieces of Third Nature (2007), it appears you first started quilling in a contained way that is much closer to the historical tradition, which tends to revolve around the creation of heirlooms and mementos. But in the last few years, those framed pieces have grown into site-specific installations which combine the quilled paper flowers with charcoal and mirrors. What initially led to the shift into installation?

LF: One of my original inspirations was an object called a Claude glass. Allegedly developed by painter Claude Loraine, this small black mirror was used to capture scenes for landscape painting. Tourists also took these mirrors into the picturesque landscape to find “scenery.” With my first quilling pieces, I was attempting to make something that approximated the size of one of these looking glasses. Those boxes were partly filled with loose charcoal which alternately obscured and revealed the ornamental designs inside. This was a way to allow real characteristics of nature to speak to the reductions of nature symbolized by the Claude glass.

The glass made these pieces highly reflective. Standing in front of one of these pieces, you would first see yourself, then see inside and finally, perhaps, catch a glimpse of the fictitious illusion of yourself inside the scene. But I truly wanted to be inside the landscapes, hence the installations. Gardens are experienced temporally. They change and reveal themselves through different vantage points. I wanted my work to do that. More recently, the shadowboxes have also gotten bigger—up to 12 feet wide—so these have also taken on a more landscape-like presence.

OPP: Do you create all the parts for the installations by yourself or with the assistance of others?

LF: I have a studio assistant 10 hours a week, but otherwise I make everything. As you can imagine, it is very slow going. I love to get lost in the labor, just like the ladies of the parlor. I listen to a lot of books on tape and a lot of NPR. I love the satisfaction of completing each tiny part. The work involves a lot of repetition, so each part is like an atom in a complex whole.
paper, charcoal, plexi
14 x 12 x 5 ft
Installation at Sienna Gallery, Lenox, MA

OPP: In works like Parterre (2008), Mound (2010) and Incidents of Garden Displacement (2011), your lush paper and charcoal "gardens" are entirely black. Was the choice to make these works monochromatic an aesthetic or conceptual decision?

LF: The black is partly an homage to my original source—the Claude glass. It also makes reference to other sources that I think about: Ad Reinhardt, Malevich, minimalist sculpture in general. I am interested in the way that people have actually reshaped nature through gardens to create a metaphoric image of the universal order. These images vary widely, from the Apollonian hierarchy of Versailles to the democratic nostalgia of the English landscape. My work draws from multiple sources, including garden theory, minimalism, metaphysics, ultimately mixing them together. The monochromatic tone provides a kind of equalizing effect.

The black also allows the work to appear totally minimal. At first you think you are looking at a black hole, a void, and then you realize that this is actually an insanely complicated object. Then it slips back to looking like the void again. The color black is magical. The potential for depth, shadow and confusion is immense—especially when it is paired with reflective surfaces.
OPP: I definitely see the explicit reference to Minimalism—and I like the word play!—in Colorless Field (2012). But as I looked through your website, I was thinking more about mourning than Minimalism. The quilling done all in black led me to think of another Victorian-era craft, hair art, which was often made with the hair of a deceased loved one as a memento. Is anything being mourned in your installations?

LF: I’m very interested in Victorian mourning culture and even own some hair jewelry. I love that stuff. Victorians used those mementos to bridge the gap of loss. The objects were like touchstones that allowed individuals to connect across the divide of life and death. For me, this is a gesture approaching the sublime—something I might associate more with Modernism. But the universal visual language of Modernist images often leaves me feeling cold. I’m interested in figuring out how to attain a kind of non-objective experience with objects. How can we reach the sublime through familiar materials and the natural world? In a way, I want to take the successes and failures of all of these various fields, blur them together and allow the best and the worst to have it out. It is interesting to see how something like 17th century French formal gardens and Victorian crafts can work together toward similar goals, but I also like the way they expose the other’s shortcomings.

But am I mourning something? Maybe. I was a major teen goth, and I’m a sucker for a good sweeping melodrama. I think, maybe, I just like getting lost in a drama, whether it’s rooted in something real or in a total fabrication. But then again,  I am also the kind of girl who cries during commercials!
paper, charcoal, plexi
5 x 10 x 20 ft
Installation commissioned by Bowdoin College Museum of Art

OPP: Do you consider your work to be part of a feminist art tradition or do you make work from a feminist perspective or position?

LF: As I suggest above, I am interested in blurring boundaries to create a sort of equaling effect. I like the idea of mashing together things that feel incongruous. The artist Robert Smithson has been a huge influence on my work, and I regularly appropriate forms and ideas directly from his projects. Pairing references to a macho earth artist with a ladies’ parlor art? It may seem strange, but that feels right to me.

I draw freely from a variety of sources, both high and low, natural and manmade, male and female. I suppose attempting to escape the prescriptive confines of language in that way could definitely be considered a feminist directive.

OPP: I think that synthesizing the binaries that exist in our language is absolutely a feminist directive because binaries pit the culturally-defined masculine and feminine against each other. Blurring the boundaries between those things is a significant act, in my opinion. We’ve already talked about quilling, but I’d love to hear more about your interest in Robert Smithson. How has his work influenced yours?

LF: I find him fascinating. He had a vast knowledge base and applied it in so many media—writing, drawing, earthworks, sculpture. His essays are fantastic. I particularly love his writing on Frederick Law Olmstead and his photo essay Incidents of Mirror Travel in the Yucatan. Mirror Travels was inspired by a Victorian travelogue Incidents of Travel in Yucatan by John Lloyd Stevens. I’m interested in the way he draws from history and slyly recontexualizes our understanding of the past. His notion of time is also unique. For Smithson, history is a specific period, and we have the potential to move into an era after the end history, where time is no longer understood as a progression.
OPP: What new direction in your studio or upcoming opportunity are you most excited about?

LF: My show at Kohler marks the culmination of a body of work that has spanned the last five years. After this, I have some time to experiment, to read and research. Currently, I'm working on a public art commission for Maine General, a new hospital opening in September in my home state of Maine. Then have a solo show at Sienna Gallery in Lenox, Massachusetts coming up in August 2013. I’m excited to work toward that show without a sense of predetermination. I want to find something new. I’m just starting to do some research into the history of Romanticism and thinking a lot about escaping rationalism. I’m not exactly sure what’s coming next, which is a bit scary and also thrilling. I have been thinking about color. I keep looking at Anish Kapoor’s use of red. He talks about red being even darker than black. I want to find out if that is true…

To see more of Lauren's work, please visit laurenfensterstock.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and existential significance of participating in mediated culture in her embroidery, video, sculpture and collage works. She received her MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2006), where she will begin teaching in Spring 2013, and is currently a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT Residency in Chicago. Notable exhibitions include Losing Yourself in the 21st Century (Maryland Art Place, Baltimore), MP3 (The Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago), Please Stand By: Stacia Yeapanis + Readymade (Baang & Burne Contemporary, New York), Over and Over Again (BOLT Project Space, Chicago).