OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Joseph G. Cruz

not a fact, still extremely real
2012
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
2010
Title card

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

JGC:
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
2012
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.

everafter
2010
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.
2010
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
2010
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
2012
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
2012
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
2010
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
2011
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)
2012
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)
2010
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
2011
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
2006
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
2012
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
2011
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
2007
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.
Mound
2010
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!
Parterre
2008
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).

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Amy Honchell

2011
Detail
Cloth, thread, scale lumber, acrylic paint, ultrafine glitter
26 x 52 x 6"

AMY HONCHELL's soft sculptures, drawings and installations explore the relationship between the body, the landscape and architecture, with attention to the histories embedded in her donated and selected materials. Her work makes use of the tension between soft and hard structures, both literal and metaphoric, evoking the themes of flexibility and stability, support and collapse. Her work has recently been seen at SOFA Chicago, Glitz at the Annmarie Sculpture Garden & Arts Center and Objects at Jean Albano Gallery, where she is represented. Amy lives in Chicago, IL.

OtherPeoplesPixels: The aesthetic of the early work is more pop-y, possibly more graphic than your current work: bright colors, manufactured objects like marbles and balls and stockings. Did you make an intentional shift away from this aesthetic? 

Amy Honchell: This makes me think of a quote from David Brett’s book, Rethinking Decoration: Pleasure and Ideology in the Visual Arts. He writes, “I am just as likely to be interested in the cheap and cheerful as with the profound and sublime.” I think this is similar to the things I am attracted to—both as a maker and a consumer.

The shift in my practice that you are asking about really had its roots in 2004, and it was more like a series of growing pains than a planned out strategy. Up to that point in time, a lot of my material inspiration came from objects that I found at places like K-mart or dollar stores. I was attracted to things I considered to be part of our cultural vernacular: toys, women’s undergarments, even things from the hardware store. The items I was most drawn to suggested pleasure, play, or even something a bit more titillating. The color palette was definitely bright and pop culture inspired.

My work was investigating the relationship between bodies and architecture, the ways both things had internal systems that kept them functioning. I was very interested in skin—as a pliable surface that existed in liminal or interstitial space (both a part of the inside and outside of things)—and this was true whether you were talking about the skin of a living organism or the skinning of a building. I was stretching, piercing, inflating, and dissecting materials to make site-specific installations.

Then, in 2004, I had the opportunity to travel to Tokyo for a month-long residency and exhibition through Tokyo Gei Dai University. While in Japan, I found that I was struggling with my practice, and it took me by surprise. Here I was, in a city awash in pop-y cultural icons, colors and images, and I felt I needed to make something more restrained (both in its color palette and its materials). The piece, Many Different Sensations are Possible, marked the beginning of a shift for me. It was somehow less about surface, and more about place.

Detail
2004
Fishnet stockings, rubber balls and toys, tinsel

OPP: How did you end up working more with masses of fabric than found/purchased objects?

AH: Fast forward to 2008, my practice took a more pronounced step in a new direction, one which provided the underpinnings of my current investigations. I received a large donation of fabric and clothing from an anonymous donor (all I knew was that he was the son of a woman who had been an avid sewer). I felt that I had inherited the history of another maker, and it gave new life to my work. At the time I thought of the donation as an organ donation for my practice. With the new surplus of material, I began to experiment with a new way of sewing and constructing the sculptural elements. The resulting piece, Purl, is comprised of modular components which, in turn, are made of layers of cloth built-up under a stitched/drawn surface. While the top fabric is new, the under layers revealed through the translucent surface reflect a longer historyone that was not of my choosing.

While I was developing this piece, I kept making drawings of the components that looked more and more like landscape. I felt that I was building a terrain of sorts out of layers (strata?) of cloth. I knew that the work needed to be pushed farther if a viewer was going to read it in the same way that I was imagining.

Drawing (with ink on paper and more dimensionally with thread and wire) became more and more a part of my practice, and it really allowed me to see things in a variety of ways, leading me to actually build/construct the structures that now inhabit the landscapes I sew.

Convenient Passage
2011
Cloth, thread, wood, acrylic paint
72 x 72 x 24"

OPP: "Invisible patterns—topography, weather patterns, bodily systems—are the basis for my site-specific installations and drawings." Could you expand on the connection between the body and the landscape in your work?

AH: When I first wrote that artist statement, I was thinking somewhat visually/formally about how the body and the land can both be framed in ways that appear to be the same—the slope of a body in repose can be like the slope of a mountain (just look at a Edward Westin’s photographs of nudes and sand dunes, and you’ll know what I am talking about).

As I have gone further into making and thinking about the work, I think there are other kinds of connections. Both the body and the landscapeand architecture, for that matterare spaces that are inhabited. I grew up in northeastern Pennsylvania in the heart of the Endless Mountains. I have lived in the Midwest for more than a decade now, but I still think of the landscape of my childhood as my point of reference. I think about traveling along the two lane highways that have been cut out of the side of the mountains to go see my grandmother. Some things are embedded in me: the regular curves in the road, the particular shade of reddish-purple earth that was visible on the wall of rock we drove along, the river far down below in the ravine, the lushness of the foliage at certain times of the year. I consider it a sort of muscle memory, the way we can navigate through a place just because we have done it so many times before. I think there is a deeper connection to place that many of us have that is not about nostalgia but rather something more basic. Heidegger says that dwelling precedes building, and this is sort of the angle I am taking.

I became interested in Guy Debord and the Situationists’ notion of dérive—walking without intention, unplanned journeys and discovery through getting lost, or maybe finding what you didn’t know you were looking for by responding to the landscape/cityscape around you. How we go about locating is of interest to me. Rebecca Solnit’s book A Field Guide to Getting Lost introduced me to Gary Paul Nabhan’s idea of traveling by abstraction: as adults we translate our experiences (locations, movements, etc.) through other media. Maps are translations of physical spaces. Children, on the other hand, experience things in a much more immediate way. They see where they are, unmediated. All of this comes back to the body, back to knowing, responding, feeling something about the places we are, were or want to be. I think there is a different kind of manifest destiny at play—not a politicized one, but the drive and desire to keep exploring, the promise of potential that can be embodied by both people and place.

7 Billion Short Tons: Greater Hardness, High Luster
2011
Detail
Cloth, thread, wood, acrylic paint, ultrafine glitter
96 x 30 x 27"

OPP: I love the 2011 drawings from the exhibition Fictional Landscapes of precarious structures in undulating landscapes. It seems that the ladders and bridges will all collapse, and some of them don't even seem to go anywhere. In contrast, there is so much density in the fabric landscape sculptures. They feel so heavy and sturdy. I read this as about the fragility of our man-made structures, especially in relation to nature.

AH: Thanks! This entire body of work grew out of the idea that soft and hard could be inverted. I love the notion that a (soft) landscape could actually provide the structure to a (hard) architecture—that the malleability of the ground would be the only thing supporting the built environment. I was very excited when I discovered that hard and soft are two terms used to describe different types of infrastructure, too! I definitely wanted to play with that a bit.

I built and drew the ricketiest structures I could think of. The sculptures don’t stand on their own; they only work in the landscapes I create. This imagined world has its own logic in that way—the physics are just off enough. The structures I built and drew were informed by imagined and real structures, including those featured in Bernd and Hilla Bechers’ Typologies. I was drawn, in particular, to the wooden winding towers (old mining structures from Pennsylvania). Although I had not been to these sites before, they felt familiar, and it was as if I knew them. They were made utilizing the materials that were at hand. The construction seemed to have been developed as the structures were being built instead of based off of a real plan.

The structures I imagine (on paper and in wood) are cobbled together, fragmented. They are examples of modern ruins. The types of structures (to date) have ranged from hunting blinds to communication towers to bridges to mining apparatuses.

I wanted to think about creating structures that had a simultaneous sense of failure, desperation and improbability. They are tenuous remnants in this fictional landscape, representing a trace of previous inhabitants, but the context is ambiguous, suggesting a different kind of vanitas theme, perhaps. I think of them as somewhat akin to American painter Thomas Cole’s suite of paintings, The Course of Empire, where the rise and fall of a civilization is situated in a landscape that remains fairly constant. Although, I have to say that I think the work I am making is a bit more ambivalent than the didactic message of this historical example.

I have come to realize that this body of work is informed by the place where I grew up, in the heart of coal mining country in Pennsylvania. The relationship that people have to the land and its resources is complex there. I think it is hard for many people to know what holds value and what is lasting right now. This interests me on lots of levels. Something about being in the Midwest this long has made me really think about the mountains a lot more than I ever did when I lived on the east coast!

Yellow Ladder, Vertical Inclination
2011
Ink on bristol
11 x 14"

OPP: Could you describe the process of making the fabric landscapes? How do you pick the textiles you use?

AH: These pieces have two components—the under layers and the top cloth. The bulk of the textiles I work with are acquired by chance and are, therefore, somewhat random. The materials that I use to build up the under layers of the sculptural landscapes often come from donations I receive from other people or organizations. I cut the donated cloth into strips and sort them on shelves in my studio by color and value (light to dark). The only limitation I put on this is that I prefer to use woven cloth rather than knits because the structure of woven fabrics gives me a sturdier foundation.

The top fabrics, however, are always new, and I select them based on a certain color story I am interested in for each piece. This material is always the same kind: a sheer, four-way stretchy knit synthetic fabric that I have been using for years. I know how to manipulate it to make the things I am interested in. The irony is that if you ever want to sew with it the right way, it can be very tricky stuff to work with. I just muscle it into compliance, but I would be hard-pressed to turn it into something functional like a garment.

I have been asked if it is conceptually important that the under cloth is found or not of my own selection. I think that it is because I end up with all kinds of things that I would never (in a million years!) select or purchase on my own. The fact that I use this for the strata of each piece means that the variety makes things more complex. It also feels akin to how history and geology work. Sediment and layers are built up over time and different types of rock end up next to one another, sometimes due to a cataclysmic event, a rupture of sorts. I still control the materials, but it is far more interesting to work within the breadth and limitations that come my way for this particular work. I am able to excavate as I construct. Cloth is able to reflect history differently than earth, but it still has that ability.

I develop little fractured narratives in my mind while I am working on each new piece, and these help guide my choices. I think that the intimacy we all have with textiles is an underlying part of the story. I am constantly discovering new things in the cloth that drives the work forward.

Untitled (Squall)
2006
Installation view
Nylon fabric, various fabric strips, netting, tulle, sound element
Dimensions variable

OPP: Much of your work is site-specific installation. Do you tend to plan out ahead of time exactly what will happen in a given space? Or do surprises happen during installation? 

AH: For the large-scale pieces, I definitely prefer to plan as much as I can in advance. I make drawings to scale and sometimes build models so I can really think about how best to engage and occupy the site. My father is an architect, and I grew up drafting existing floor plans for him and thinking a lot about how space translates from 3D to 2D and back again. It is easier for me to work this way, so that I can concentrate when I arrive on site to install.

That said, this does not mean that I always know how everything will fit or go once I am face-to-face with the site. I often arrive with more of a game plan than an idea that is set in stone. Many sites require me to make adjustments that could not be anticipated ahead of time in order for the piece or show to really work. It is always a little exciting and a little nerve-wracking. I like to be as organized and prepared as I can be, so I always have plans B, C, etc. in my back pocket just in case. It usually means that I end up bringing more than I need with me. Sometimes I will end up taking a lot of it with me when I am done, and sometimes it all ends up getting used.

Outposts
2011
Ultrafine glitter, velvet glitter, acid free glues on watercolor paper
9 x 12"

OPP: What new work or idea are you most excited about?

AH: "The grey film of dust covering things has become their best part."(Walter Benjamin, "Dream Kitsch")

My recent body of work continues to invert notions of soft and hard, fixed and malleable, structure and collapse—and I am using glitter! The sculptural pieces and drawings explore value, memory and landscape. I believe that drawing is an extension of touch, of the hand. Whether I'm drawing with a pen, thread or glitter, I think about the haptic gestures made and recorded on, in and through a surface.

I am creating smaller fragments of imaginary landscapes made from recycled cloth and clothing. They support the ruins of a miniature civilization’s infrastructure. The architectural fragments on the surface of the soft terrain may hint at a lost population’s industry, power, wealth and failure. The failed structures I build often have the residue of glitter. The glitter is like dust, which serves as as a reminder of past wealth. Drawings made of glitter capture the geographic evolution of this fictional land.

As I said before, I grew up in the heart of Pennsylvania coal mining country, where everything of value is hidden beneath the earth, covered in black dust. Returning to Benjamin's quote, I wonder what it would mean if dust were glitter, if all the residue of history were reduced to sparkling, iridescent flakes. 

Glitter is little more than dust. It was created around the time of the Second World War from scraps in a machinist's shop. The machinist, Henry Ruschman, was determined to find/create something of value out of discarded material. This is an impulse that is echoed by my current studio practice.

Glitter, as a fine art material, is often seen as a kitschy elementa material better relegated to grade school art classrooms, gaudy gifts and holiday decorations. Sometimes the value of a material lies beneath the surface and must be unearthed, like mining for minerals or precious metals. I want to imbue glitter with value, to transform it into something spectacular that is not so easily dismissed. 

It is important to me that the materials for the sculptures I make are primarily found, donated and repurposed from other sources. To give the cloth and clothing I collect from other people—often complete strangers—a second life is part of my ongoing investigation of where value resides in the material world.

The landscape of my childhood has also experienced a repurposing in recent years and is a large influence in this current body of work. The Endless Mountains populated by turn of the 20th century coal mines and parcels of farm land where people struggled to get by year to year have recently undergone a dramatic shift in their value. With the hydraulic fracking techniques used to release natural gas from Marcellus shale, previously poor communities are experiencing a boom of wealth as the gas companies move in, buy mineral rights to land and fill the country roads with trucks and men from across the country. This economic boon is complicated by social and ecological factors that many people failed to anticipate or were simply willing to live with if it meant that money could be made in a difficult economy.

Memory—although not nostalgia—also plays a role in this body of work. I am interested in the way memory shifts and is malleable, yet stands as a landmark of sorts. Collective, as opposed to individual memories interest me: the way it was, the way we were.

To view more of Amy's work, please visit www.amyhonchell.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Tracey Snelling

2010
Mixed media installation
El Diablo Inn

TRACEY SNELLING creates hybrid spaces—between cultures, between locations, between media—in her multimedia installations and sculptures. Often referencing fictional representations of space in film and literature, she asks the viewer to step into the role of voyeur. Her miniature sculptures of motels, store fronts, and urban environments incite curiosity about what exists behind the facades, while her lifesize recreations of interiors allow the viewer to consider the facades of our cultural identities, which are even more difficult to penetrate. Tracey exhibits internationally and her work is on view this fall in Virginia, California, Utah, France, Denmark, Belgium and Norway. Tracey lives in Oakland, CA.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your installations usually involve miniature versions of buildings like gas stations, motels, and gift shops. Did you grow up with an interest in dollhouses or train sets, before you started making miniatures in the context of art?

Tracey Snelling: When I was young, both my sister and I each had German manufactured Lundby Dollhouses: modern 1970's multi-storied ranch houses with orange carpets, lights and a fish tank that lit up. We played with those nonstop, acting out all sorts of crazy scenarios, such as the house burglar who breaks in and kidnaps the whole family. I also had little adventure figures and a speedboat, and I constructed an island setting in our garden, complete with a lake made by digging a hole, lining it with a black plastic trash bag, and filling it with water. 

OPP: Tell me about the first miniature you made as part of your art practice?

TS: The first small scale sculpture that I made as an artist was a craggy mountain that turned into a lit castle at the top of the rocks, based on a Dorothy Parker poem. I made it during a sculpture class at the University of New Mexico, but destroyed it when I left school. The first surviving small scale sculpture is called Untiltled 1. Inspired by a two dimensional collage I made of a brownstone apartment building missing its front wall, with all the rooms exposed, I constructed a small scale house. Both the inside and outside walls were covered with black and white collage from 1940's Life magazines, and small lights iilluminated each room. I went on to make ten untitled sculptures. These led to my more realistic sculptures--the first one being Motel (2002).

LA Swimming Pool
2011
Wood, metal, plastic, paint, lights, transformer, lcd screens
14 x 18 x 17 inches

OPP: The buildings in your miniatures are so detailed and also feature LCD screens playing appropriated clips from movies and found videos in the windows. The process of designing, building and detailing must be complex and intricate. Tell us about what goes into the process of creating sculptures like LA Swimming Pool (2011), Stripmall (Los Angeles) (2007) or Mexicalichina (2011). Do you have assistants?

TS: Often, I start with an idea either from my travels, photos I have taken or images I have gathered from the internet. I will make a very rough sketch, then start building. When I build, it's very intuitive, so it's difficult to use assistants until I have the main structures cut out and at least initially staged, waiting for assembly. Once the structures are somewhat determined, I sometimes work with assistants to get the work close to the finishing stages. Still, the works constantly change and evolve as I build them. It often feels like a puzzle that I need to solve, and once it's solved, the work is finished. Working on the small scale sculptures is quite a contrast to constructing or installing my installation work, where I often manage a dozen assemblers, professional builders and/or artists.

OPP: How has the process changed the longer you do it?

TS: Now I know certain building issues to avoid, ways to build the sculptures better and how to make the electronics more easily accessible. Recently, in LA Swimming Pool and Mexicalichina, the sculptures are starting to either grow vertically or break through the structure of the base. I'm excited about this development and look forward to more experimentation with this.

Pass Off a Fisheye For a Pearl Trading Post (detail)
2010
Lifesize store installation with motion sensor, lights, sound, gifts
9 x 12 x 9 feet

OPP: A piece like Pass Off a Fisheye For a Pearl Trading Post (2010) features the juxtaposition of the commodified versions—the souvenirs and the signage—of Native American and Chinese cultures. It not only reveals a space where the commercial versions of these cultures meet, but hints at the border between the surface and the depth of any culture. There's also an exploration of the border between literal facades and interiors. The miniature sculptures only show the outsides of buildings and give the viewer a hint of what is going on inside, but the life-sized room installations allow the viewer to step inside. Why is it important to explore borders and liminal spaces?

TS: After traveling through China and visiting Chinatowns in different cities in the West, I had been wanting to make a life-size Chinese gift shop (with motion censored lights, sounds, and moving toys). When Rena Bransten Gallery  offered to give me a ten year survey exhibition, I decided it was time to construct it. One of the challenges of a ten year survey was how to lay out the show so that it acted as an encompassing, overall environment, rather than as a show of individual works. I decided to have the exhibit flow from different locations and cultures, which then altered my plans for the gift shop. Instead of being a store with one entrance and solely Chinese gifts, it became a Native American trading post/Chinese gift shop with two entrances. It also acts as a passageway to the last area of the exhibition—China. The combination of these two very different cultures was fascinating to me. When combined in a gift shop, one gets the sense of how these inexpensive gifts and souvenirs from different countries are all probably made in the same factory. It also looks at how we travel as tourists and try to capture the layered, wonderful experiences by buying cheap, little trinkets and how these objects carry much more value than they would initially seem to.

For a while now, I have explored combining larger or life-size scale structures with smaller ones. The first instance of this was in my exhibition Dulces at Wedel Fine Art in London. Big El Mirador (2007) was a seven-foot tall hotel with six synced videos in the hotel windows. At times, the action would move from one window to the other. There were two sets of videos--one set from black and white Spanish Buñuel films, and the other looking at love and drama in present-day American West. I also had a life-size rundown motel room called Room at El Mirador (2007) in the exhibit, which is now part of the David Roberts Art Foundation collection. Since then, I have worked with larger and life-size scale quite a bit. I find that, by having both the small scale and a version of the life-size scale together in one space, the experience of interacting with the subject expands exponentially.

Pass Off a Fisheye For a Pearl Trading Post, as well as many of my other works, are good examples of my exploration and interpretation of culture. I translate culture into visuals that other cultures can understand. In my sculpture Mexicalichina, I have combined Hispanic, Chinese and Californian culture into one work that speaks to people from these cultures as well as from others. Though I enjoy traveling and looking at many different locations and cultures, the intersection of these cultures is even more fascinating to me. At the borders, unusual and interesting mixes start to happen. Unfortunately, clashes between different cultures happen here too. But that's also an important issue to observe.

Wang's House
2009
Mixed media installation
House: 197 x 203 x 203 cm, Telephone pole: 344 x 80 x 50 cm

OPP: What is the role of cacophony in your installations?

TS: When placing my sculptures and works in an installation, I am aware of the soundtracks of the different works and how they will combine. I spend quite a bit of time adjusting each sculpture's volume after placement. When the sounds mix, the feeling of the place that the works represent is captured further. For my exhibit Where Mr. Wong Sent Me at Galerie Urs Meile in Beijing, the theme of my work was my exploration of the places I visited in China. The sounds of local markets, busy streets, a traditional singer and a more modern song, firecrackers and kids yelling and playing combine to capture the feeling of walking down a bustling street in Chongqing or Beijing. At other times, it's necessary for the sounds to be quiet and distinct. I recently installed five new sculptures at an exhibition The Storytellers at the Stenersen Museum in Oslo. Each of my sculptures was based on a different literary work of Latin authors. The works were very individual and the sounds were more important as individual pieces than as a group, so it was necessary to adjust the balance so that one did not affect the others.

OPP: My favorite part of an installation like Woman on the Run (2008) is the layering that creates a sense of seeing a single idea from multiple angels, all at once. What I mean is that it's hard to figure out what came first, because everything feeds into everything else. The video footage acts as backdrop for the life-sized motel rooms and miniature sculptures. The comic book features stills from the video. The miniature sculptures feature portions of the videos in their windows. The sculptures also act as backdrops for images in the comic. Could you talk about this layering?

TS: This layering is an extension of all of my artwork, in one way or another. A photo I take of a motel might evolve into a small sculpture, which I then film and incorporate into an installation that might have several other aspects of that theme or even that particular motel. This layering in my work speaks to the idea of reality and how everything is subjective. There are so many nuances to each and every thing and experience in life. By adding layer upon layer to my works, I'm able to add different meanings and create a fuller, more engaging experience.

Woman on the Run
2008
Mutli media installation

OPP: How does the installation of Woman on the Run change every time you install it?

TS: The idea initially came when I was making a series of photographs to accompany my installation Another Shocking Psychological Thriller to be shown at Lokaal 01 in the Netherlands. I titled the photo series Woman on the Run and these fed my ideas when I was invited to write a proposal for Selfridges in London.

After the Selfridges exhibition, a friend and collaborator Idan Levin stepped in to act as producer and help me travel the installation in the U.S. We decided that it would be much more  interesting if the installation kept changing and evolving as we showed it. Since it's made of many components, we've been able to set the installation up differently in each location. Woman on the Run has traveled to Smack Mellon in Brooklyn, 21c Museum in Louisville, the Frist in Nashville, the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art in Winston-Salem, and is now showing at the Virginia MOCA. We have added the comic book in Louisville, a 16 foot billboard with projection in Nashville, a new projection and video in Winston-Salem, and our newest creation is a life-size fortune teller's storefront added in Virginia Beach. The Mystic Eye, as it is called, has a crystal ball that plays video related to the character's past or future. Old gypsy music plays in the background. If one calls the phone number on the front of the building, they are met with a special message.

We also added a performance element during the opening. A young woman playing the character "Veronica" sat forlornly on the bed in the motel room, occasionally taking a swig of whiskey from the bottle in her hand. She also roamed over to the Mystic Eye, sitting and gazing into the crystal ball. In addition, we had a "detective" character who lurked behind the buildings and flipped a coin. Considered more as live sculptures than actors, the performers added a whole new dimension to the experience of the installation. We are now in the final stages of completing a new extension of Woman on the Run called Woman on the Run Redux. It's a site-conforming mystery treasure hunt that can be installed in various places, such as hotels and museums, with props as clues and tags that one can scan with their iPhone to see related videos. It can be shown independently of the original installation, or in conjunction with it.
 
Flaghouse, Bedroom
2011
Lifesize room installation with video and sound

OPP: Your most recent film, Nothing, premiered at the San Francisco International Film Festival this year. Was this your first foray into making a film which screens in a more traditional way, as opposed to a film or video for part of an installation?

TS: This was my first endeavor into more traditional film, although Nothing would still be considered an art film or somewhat avant-gard by the general film viewer. While I writing it, I wanted to capture the quiet, long, slow, burning hot days in the desert combined with the drudgery of being stuck in one's life. There is no dialogue, and most of the sounds are ambient. The pacing of the film is deliberately slow, with the exception of one small part.

OPP: What was different about working that way?

TS: It was quite a different experience making this film, as opposed to building sculptures or an installation. Working as the director with a crew of seven is much more of a collaborative effort, even though we were all working to achieve my vision. By having professionals do what they do best, I was very happy with how the film turned out and how quickly we were able to achieve this. I definitely look forward to making more films, though the next one will most likely be feature length.

When I initially came up with the idea for Nothing I envisioned it showing in a museum space, along with sculptures, installation, and a photo series that relates to the movie. The film festivals have been a good experience. Besides the San Francisco International Film Festival, it has also shown at several other festivals, and will be included in the Thessaloniki International Film Festival in November. I plan to develop the exhibition and its components, and to travel the show to museums in the next few years.

To view more of Tracey's work, please visit traceysnelling.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Dan Solberg

REMEMBER
2012
Air mattresses, spray paint
6' x 12'

DAN SOLBERG's interdisciplinary practice "often documents or extracts portions of a natural occurrence, and through careful selection and alteration, leaves the viewer unsure of where the pure artifact ends and where [he has] intervened" (Dan Solberg, Artist Statement 2012). Most recently, his work has been exhibited at ROYGBIV in Columbus, OH. Dan has recently relocated from Washington, DC to Brooklyn, NY and is in the process of setting up a new studio.

OtherPeoplesPixels: In most of your work, you use found objects, images and footage. Tell us about your collecting process.

Dan Solberg: About half the time, the objects I use are ones that find me. In those cases, the object is something that I stumble across or come in contact with as part of an ordinary day. Those kinds of objects usually spark new ideas instead of completing existing ones. The other half of the objects I use are those "completion" ones, where I'm working on an idea already and know the sort of piece I'm looking for, but it needs something that's not quite there yet. To be honest, my process is not glamorous or thrilling. I usually search for things online or hunt around at standard retail outlets. I generally prefer to use consumer-grade materials.

9th Floor Sonata (still)
2010
Video projection
Variable dimensions
60 minutes

OPP: Videos like 9th Floor Sonata (2010), Contra Reset (2009), Glowers (2008), and Side Scroller (2008) all involve still shots with a very slight amount of motion and change over a long period of time. I see this same quality in installation pieces like Out the Window, Above the Trees (2006). For me, they are about patience, the need for stillness, the difficulty of endurance, and how anything can be an opportunity for meditation. Does that resonate with your interests? 

DS: Yes, definitely. A word I often come back to is "mesmerization." I make pieces that acknowledge the act of looking or watching needed to take them in. We're still at a point where using a sense other than sight to take in an artwork is pretty novel. Sure, there's sound that accompanies video, but I think film has pushed that forward more than art itself. As such, I make pieces that reward the act of looking (and sometimes listening) as opposed to using that action solely to push the viewer to think about a particular idea. I provide a space for that deeper consideration by the viewer, but I think it's necessary to lay ideas out on a reflective surface.

OPP: Sandstorm (2009) is a sculptural sound installation that, of course, requires listening, but it's intensely aggressive because the volume is at maximum. That's part of the piece. So, I'm not sure if listening is "rewarded." Will you talk about this piece and how viewers respond to it?

DS: If Sandstorm were a purely audio piece, I'd agree that it would come off as aggressive, but since the audio is coming out a tiny speaker, played from an even smaller mp3 player, and part of this whole sculptural space, it has other context to balance out the aggressiveness of the volume and repetition. That said, Sandstorm does reward an astute listener with its unique audio distortions (a result only achieved at maximum volume), and subtle differences, depending on where the viewer stands in proximity to its front. Many viewers name the song right away when they hear it, while others recognize it but don't know from where; this was the level of mainstreamness I was hoping for. The suspended mp3 player also gets a lot of attention since it's being held up by taut tension and I think people anthropomorphize it since it sort of looks like the cords coming out of each side could be outstretched arms.

OPP: Ah! This is definitely an example of a piece that is a lot harder to understand online. I haven't seen it in person, so I made assumptions as to what the experience of encountering it would be like. Even with your video documentation, I imagined the sound to be louder and more aggressive than it probably is in a gallery space.

DS: Yeah, I've never been totally satisfied with the documentation of that piece. Maybe a walk-around video would serve it better.

Sandstorm
2009
Wood, speaker, mp3 player, cords
3.5ʼ x 9ʼ 
Darude's song “Sandstorm” plays through the speaker on repeat at maximum volume.

OPP: Many works make use of digital noise to create abstractions, as in Night Sky: Santa Barbara 2008-01-31 04:06:50 AM – 04:22:39 AM (2008), 25% of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit 2007 720p HDTV by Cybermaxx.avi (2009) and of_other_spaces.pdf (2010). Are these works representations of the literal breakdown of information or metaphors for something else? 

DS: Even more so than representations, all of the pieces you mentioned are physical evidence of actual glitches and distortions that occurred without prompt. I know there is a way to alter the compression of a video file to make it look like my Sports Illustrated video, and other artists like Takeshi Murata have done fantastic work using those tools, but I was more interested in the way the systems broke themselves down. They are artworks almost entirely born out of the machine, making them the most found-object-like of all my artworks. I think this is a palette rich with metaphor, especially considering the lack of artist's hand at play.

OPP: Will you draw the metaphor or metaphors out for the readers?

DS: I'd prefer to leave concrete metaphors for viewers to determine for themselves; that's why I picked loaded topics for the subject matter of the videos. At least as far as the pieces featuring glitch aesthetics go, I'm most interested in viewers interpreting metaphor and then assigning that viewpoint to who or what made the artistic decisions that lead to that interpretation. The majority of the "artistic" process in those pieces was conducted by a machine with minimal to no human instruction. Perhaps that's a metaphor for the futility of art interpretation though.

of_other_spaces.pdf (detail)
2010
Digital inkjet prints, clip frames
11" x 14" each
Series of 18 pages spanning two Foucault essays, containing sporadic
instances of digital interference as a result of a faulty download

OPP: In 2010, you opened an art space called Craig Elmer Modern in St. Louis, MI, and had a 2-person exhibition there with Jake Cruzan. Does the gallery still exist?  

DS:  Sadly, the gallery only ended up existing for our show. We did originally have plans to host more exhibitions in the space, but I ended up moving out of town, and we were just borrowing it for free until someone came around who actually wanted to pay money to rent the space.

OPP: What did you learn about being an artist by running the space?

DS: Running the gallery was a lot of additional work, but it was great to have total control over the space and how we wanted the show to look. Before the opportunity for the gallery space came up, we were considering building walls in a storage unit we rented so we could at least get some nice install shots, but the gallery forced us out into the public a bit more, and made me step a little outside of my comfort zone.

OPP: Any plans to try your hand at being a gallerist again in the future?

DS: It's not something I'm seeking out. I'd love to do more curation, but I don't think gallery ownership is in the cards.

No Title (Middlegrounds)
2010
Digital photographic prints
30" x 20"
Part of the Middlegrounds photo series

OPP: In 2012, you've been doing more installation with found objects, like Remember, Clubs and Megaplates. What has led to this shift? 

 DS: I'd say I've been working with more "fabricated" objects than "found" ones. In contrast to my digital work, I've been intentionally buying things and manipulating them by hand. The simple answer is that I like to cycle through a variety of processes to keep any one from feeling too rote or typecasting me in a particular medium. The materials selected for an artwork are extremely important, but I don't have loyalties or allegiances to one medium over another.

OPP: Are you working on anything brand new in your studio right now?

DS: I'm working on iterating Remember and modifying Clubs, but I'd also like to put myself in another video (probably shoot it with my non-HD Handycam), and do another piece with music. I've got some awesome-looking old, blocky computer speakers that I'd like to use, but to what end, I've yet to figure out.

To see more of Dan's work, please visit dansolberg.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Isidro Blasco

TILTED
2011
C-Print, Wood, Slide Projectors
30x25x12 feet

ISIDRO BLASCO combines photography and sculpture in his indoor and outdoor installations which use common building materials like plywood to question our perceptions of space and perspective. He studied at the Architectural School of Madrid before becomming a visual artist. He exhibits internationally and has received several prestegious grants, including two Pollock Krasner grants in 1997 and 2010 and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2000. Isidro lives in Queens, NY.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You are originally from Madrid, Spain, where you received your formal training in art and architecture, and you currently live in New York. You exhibit internationally, and have done residencies all over the world. Has any one place has influenced your work more than another?

Isidro Blasco: Definitively the American culture has had more influence on my ideas and my work than any othermore even than the Spanish culture where I am from originally. Growing up in Madrid, I always had everything American as my model, and when I finally came here, it was like I belonged here. It was a very familiar place for me. I had a lot to learn, of course, but everything had a place in me. I totally embraced this culture.

OPP: Have you noticed any glaring differences in the way viewers and other artists discuss and interact with art in the various places you've been?

IB: Yes, people have different reactions to my work in different places. When I show in China, for example, I get a lot of comments about the craftiness of my pieces. They love that I find pleasure making the structural supports of my installations, and they admire the elaborate craft of it. I have also noticed that in Europe, they generallyalthough I hate generalizationsget tired of my "one line" kind of work ("same line" some will say). I guess they need more conceptual ideas behind a piece. But the best feedback I've received has always been in Australia. There I find harmony. My work is understood exactly the way I want it to be understood, the way I have intended. It has some conceptual ideas behind it, but not too heavy. And it has a pleasure in fabrication without being only aesthetics.

WHEN THE TIME COMES
2010
C-Print,Plywood, Structural Wood, Paint, Slide Projectors
18x30x9 feet

OPP: Most of your work explores shifts in perspective. Many of your constructions, such as Seeing Without Seeing (2000) or the recent Deconstructed Laneways (2011-2012), blend into their environments if viewed from a specific spot, but are revealed to be constructions if the viewer moves just slightly. Other pieces, such as Tilted (2011) and The Middle of the End (2006), bring the outside inside or bring one location to another. How can this use of space talk about bigger picture kinds of issues?

IB: I believe that the question is not what we see but how we see it. And yes, that is a fundamental question. The how we see it will tell us something about ourselves and the time we are in, the context.

Throughout history, we have developed many tools and many different ways of representing reality. In my work, I try to use the tools that we use in our daily lives. I take the elements of the built environment that are available to me and use them. There is not a stage set up or anything like that. I am only interested in how I perceive reality and how I can share that perception with others.

OPP: Last year you went to Sydney, Australia where you created Deconstructed Laneways as part of a public art project called the Laneways Project. Tell us about this project.

IB: This was an amazing experience, and also Sydney is an amazing city. I love it there!
The city of Sydney does these non-permanent public art projects every year, and I was invited to do one. The idea is to revitalize downtown and to bring attention to out-of-the-way sites.

I decided to take several pictures from one specific place in the intersection of this given street and make a mirror-like construction that reassembles the same street. This large construction was placed just to the left of the street in question, and from some areas of the intersection you got the sense that you were looking at a mirror. But only for a few seconds. If you were just walking around there, you could see the overlapping of the different images and the distortion in general.

I got a lot of great feed-back: people wrote great comments on the back of the piece. It was pretty cool. I think most people liked it.

DECONSTRUCTED LANEWAYS
2011
C-Print, playwood, structural wood, hardware.
16x25x4 feet

OPP: What's challenging about making art for public space as opposed to the gallery?

IB: I've always had my doubts about public art. I just don't think it is fair to impose something, anything, on the people that are walking by those public spaces everyday. I am sure a lot of them don't like it or don't understand it, but they have to live with it.

That is why non-permanent public art is much better. You don't like it? Don't worry, it will be gone soon. We should be very careful with permanent public art. We may think that looks amazing, and most people may agree with us, but I am not so sure that will be the case in a few years. And also, most public art is made with the money from the taxes paid by those people that will suffer the art work...and nobody asked them!

But of course, I don't even want to imagine what kind of art we would see out in the streets if we asked everybody their opinions...most likely we will not see art at all in the streets.

OPP: I agree that there is some very bad public art out there that I don't enjoy looking at, but that work is always a challenge to me. I wonder, who likes this? Who picked it? Why don't I like it? I think it's good for people to be forced to deal with some things they don't like, because that's life anyway. Besides, isn't the architecture itself and the way the city grows and develops something we as citizens generally don't have any choice in?

IB: Sure, the architecture is there. Nobody is going to ask you if you like it or not. It is just there, and it can be very ugly sometimes. But at least it has a utilitarian use, therefore that is enough for most people. Also buildings have the advantage of becoming historical entities over time. This has happened over and over again. Remember the twin towers: nobody liked them before September 11th. On the other hand, public art, in most cases, will not became part of the historical background of the city. It will just become obsolete.

2004
Construction material
25x35x12 feet

OPP: When did photography first enter into your constructions? How has your use of it changed over time?

IB: I have always used photography in my work. At the beginning, it was not there in the final product but only in the process. And I still don't use photography in the conventional way. I take the photos, but at the end, I may only use whatever the camera had framed of the space that I am interested in. I go back and forth. Sometimes I use hundreds of images, like right now for the installation that I am working on for Wave Hill in the Bronx. But some other times, I prefer to leave the space almost empty, only building the surfaces that make up the space, and only framing them somehow.

OPP: Can you tell us more about what you are planning for Wave Hill?

IB: The theme of the show is "The Palisades" across the river, on the other side of the Hudson. I am building a large installation made with hundreds of photographs of the rock formations and of the bare trees. It will look like a wave that comes into the room from the wall and it goes back to the wall in a different part of the space. There is going to be a lot of overlapping, mostly in black and white with touches of bright colors here and there. My idea is to give the spectator the sense of flying above the Palisades Park. Everything (rocks, trees, paths) will be cut and made into three dimensional objects; some sections will be larger than others. A dream-like flyby. 

ELUSIVE HERE
2010
Blue Ray HD
Edition of 6

OPP: Your 2010 video Elusive Here, which grew out of writing you did for your doctoral thesis, adds psychological and emotional dimensions to the sculptures you are known for. It appears to be autobiographical, because I can imagine how the sculptures you make would grow out of some of these experiences. Is this the case? Any plans to continue making video?

IB: I made that video, or short movie (it's 19 minutes long), because I got a lot of money to make it. Comunidad de Madrid, a state organization from my hometown, gave me the money when I was putting together the show at one of their galleries. It is very unusual to get money in that way.

I keep writing. I write everyday about my perceptions, and, yes, they are autobiographical. Hopefully I will get another opportunity soon to produce another video/film like that one. It was a lot of fun to make it, an amazing experience.

Very different from my other kind of work. But in a way, it is the same. I am always talking about the same things: how is it that we interpret the space the way we do and how is it possible that we share that same way of perceiving with almost everybody?

To view more of Isidro's work, please visit isidroblasco.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Hope Hilton

The Recognitions: Slave Sights
the main house, Tulip Grove
Tulip Grove, Tennessee
C-print, 30 x 40 inches
2010

HOPE HILTON weaves together stories and journeys in her multimedia events and installations, revealing the spaces where the collective and the personal overlap in relation to history and geography. Hilton curates, collaborates, designs, publishes, writes, and walks. She received her MFA from Hunter College in 2008 and is a co-founder of the artist collective Dos Pestañeos (Atlanta/NYC). Hope Hilton lives and works in Winterville, Georgia.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Could you tell us a little about your development as an artist?

Hope Hilton: I’ve always worn many hats as an artist. That’s one reason I call myself an artist – I can do anything. I write, publish, curate, teach, walk, design, and collaborate, among many other things. In art school I spent a lot of time in printmaking and photography and was seduced by the democratic nature of making multiples. I think it was a natural transition to create experiences, social architecture, websites, and projects that were trying to be open in what they would become. I’ve always believed that art is something we can all enjoy, and the experience should not only be limited to important and expensive works of art. I definitely try and share work that is accessible in a sense, within and outside of institutions.

OPP: What do think of the term relational aesthetics? Do you consider yourself part of this movement or responding to it?

HH: I like the collectivity and connectivity that is implied by relational aesthetics. It is a movement that fulfills a certain postmodern disconnect that many of us feel culture-wise. I do, in fact, want to create experiences to be shared and experiences that bring people together. Because of this, it’s not possible to say I’m not a part of it. I feel, though, that I’m more influenced by it and less a subscriber to it, because I believe my work is driven less by experimenting with people and more by collecting stories and shared experiences that are specific to a place, a history, or, more specifically, the local.

The Recognitions (detail of porch)
2008

OPP: Your ongoing project The Recognitions is an example of this. It explores your personal connection to your family's history of slave owning and takes many forms: photographs, a journey, a series of drawings, an installation and, most recently, the reproduction of a famous quilt. Could you talk a bit about the impetus for this project and how it has evolved?

HH: During graduate school in NYC I received a compilation of my family history from my grandmother for Christmas. In it were pages and pages of wills, letters, and legal documents. What struck me most was that my family had owned slaves. Not all white families in the South owned slaves, and I never had any reason to believe we had, having grown up in a lower-middle-class family. What came as a shock to me soon became my life’s work. I was drawn to a particular story about the birth of my great-great grandmother and a slave named Henry who walked 60 miles, from Alabama to Tennessee, to announce her birth.

The stories about my family have led to other stories, including an interest in the plants that slaves in my county used as medicine. It seems like a natural evolution.
Queensy's Light Root
2011

OPP: Art historically, appropriation as a strategy has served to critique consumer culture as well as the notion of originality. In the DIY world of the internet (via memes and remix video and tumbler blogs), appropriation serves to reveal the complicated ways we make meaning out of cultural material. But your piece The Recognitions: Mrs. Harriet Powers, Bible Quilt appropriates in a very different way. It is a re-creation in paper of a quilt made by a freed slave. Could you describe your intent with this appropriation?

HH: Wow, I haven’t even thought about this project as appropriation. Thanks for making me even think about that. It’s so new, really, that I’m still learning about what I did. To me, it’s more of a reenactment or a re-creation. I was enchanted with her story and her life, and in a way she haunted me. She crept into my dreams and became ever-present in my life. I had to do something about it. I wanted to participate in her labor, to make something that was about her work and stories and her intuition. To be honest, another part of the impetus of re-making the quilt that I kept reading and hearing about was a desire to see it to scale.

OPP: I definitely see your re-creation as a way to honor the original source, rather than to critique it. Can you tell us a little more about the status of the piece?

Working on The Recognitions: Harriet Powers Bible Quilt

HH: It's just finished and is on exhibit for the first time at the Athens Institute of Contemporary Art until April 1st! I worked on it for two months after the idea came to me in response to an invitation to create a new piece of work for the exhibition Southern, curated by Judith McWillie. More often than not, my work is project-based and created for particular exhibitions or projects, so I felt really honored to be included and trusted.

OPP: You’ve also done quite a few events with children as part of this project, right? Could you tell us about some of them?

HH: I teach art to kids every week here in Athens and am particularly in love with their point of view. I've had many silent walks with children present and have made projects (Walk with me) that are accessible to kids, but programming events for kids is new to my practice. I've taught lots of art classes throughout the world to kids, so the experience is not new to me, but curating an event for kids based on my own work has been really delightful and intimidating. Currently I've created events with an art educator named Sage Rogers, and together we made a project for the Athens Institute of Contemporary Art. This week, in fact, I read a story about Harriet Powers (the original quilt-maker), and together we looked at her quilt to see what was there. We then did a tour of the exhibition, talking about each of the works. Lastly, we created our own quilt squares from paper and Mrs. Powers' imagery. It was profound and wonderful.

Walk with me : Georgia (installation)
2008

OPP: Your piece Walk with Me has been performed many times in different locations. You've led participants on silent walks in Georgia, San Francisco, and Boston. How do participants respond to the silence? Are their experiences on the walk documented? How do you determine if a walk is successful?

HH: Not everyone loves silence like I do, so I’ve definitely taken walks with participants that had to really put in a huge effort (thanks, Dad) and participants who put forth no effort. The walks are not documented as it’s very important to me that attention is paid. It’s impossible to determine or have a scale of success. Every walk I make is a success just because it happens. Ha!

OPP: What's an average day in your studio like? What part of your practice do you enjoy the most?

HH: I consider my practice post-studio, though I do have a wonderful studio to work in once a project is born. My front porch is the best place to have ideas. When I’m in my studio without a particular project, I spend a lot of time staring out the window and thinking or just watching the horses in the field across the holler. I'm more inspired by communing with what's around me, with my dreams, and with the idea of slowing down. If "slow art" were a term like "slow food,” that would be me. While I embrace technology I'm always wanting to slow down, to appreciate and learn from history, and to spend time with nature. I call myself a New-transcendentalist, which may sound old-fashioned but seems to be happening more and more, at least in the South. A return to our roots, our land, our independence, and our happiness. I'm always seeking the beautiful, and believe that hard work is just as important as a walk in the fields. That dedication to the invisible is just as important as the here and now. In this regard my studio is everywhere.

Georgia Tattoo
2007
tattoo

OPP: It sounds like where you live is truly integral to the work you make.

HH: When I moved to NYC for graduate school, I had no intention of returning to Georgia, where I was born and raised. After a move to San Francisco to teach, I really felt that I was too far away from my investigations and inspirations. Inspired in part by Lucy Lippard's The Lure of the Local and by my work pulling me back, I returned to land of my roots. This quote often reminds me why:

"Travel is the only context in which some people ever look around. If we spent half the energy looking at our own neighborhoods, we’d probably learn twice as much." - Lucy R. Lippard (On the Beaten Track: Tourism, Art, and Place)

To view more of Hope Hilton’s work, please visit hopehilton.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Mara Baker

All that is not very much
2011
Blue painters tape and 6 years of studio residue.
Installation at Happy Collaborationist's, Chicago IL

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your work unites the concerns of formal abstraction in painting and sculpture with the conceptual concerns of fiber and material studies. Is one ever more important than the other? Can they be separated?

Mara Baker: I think, within individual works, one or the other may have a stronger voice, but both concerns are always present. When I am creating work I try not separate out the two. In fact I have found the work suffers when one voice takes over. The material or process is usually the conceptual engine in most of my work, but if the material’s voice is too strong than the work becomes didactic or narrative in a way I don’t like. I do like the idea of an abstract history embedded in any given material. When starting a project, I try not to think too hard. It is enough to use a material simply because I visually respond to it. For instance in a recent piece the whole jumping off point was the fact that I loved the found texture in an old landscape print next to the texture of grey packaging foam; that was enough. After I make some initial intuitive decisions the hard work happens. Most pieces in my studio see at least four or five different actual lives. I have to make and then unmake most of my pieces in order to build up sufficient relationship with a material or idea. There is no denying that my studio practice is process driven, but I strive for the work to operate on many levels that engage both formal and material concerns.

Untitled (Detail)
2011
Found print, photographs, acrylic and packaging foam

OPP: Your recent body of work Blue Glue and Other Explorations, which uses painter's tape and the residue from your studio, shows the way discarded remnants from the creative process feeds into the creation of new work. This really illustrates what you say in your statement: "Underpinning all of the work is a desire to explore the performative and conceptual role of deterioration and residue." Can you speak more broadly about this theme, either in this project or in your practice as a whole?

MB: I am interested in the history and relationship I can generate with any given material. I like to fondly, and somewhat facetiously, call my studio a factory for the generation of history. I tend to generate vast amounts of material leftovers that have been edited out of whatever I am working on at the time but that I am unable to throw away. Over the past six years I saved and cataloged, by color, size, and texture, all of these back end leftovers in plastic paint liners. Similar to a junkyard that is full of objects displaced from their former uses, the Blue Glue project used the junkyard of my studio practice as its primary material. As a rule I tend to stack and pile materials I like next to each other as the first step in making work. In a very democratic way I was determined to do this with all of the remnants I had saved. The installation played with how these fragments, embedded with all of my studio failures, could function together as one coherent thought. Blue tape served as a vehicle for both drawing as well as binding. I like that blue tape has a natural relationship to architecture. We use it to temporarily protect and block off spaces we intend to change. Perhaps one of my most literal pieces, the work was a reflection on failure and the process of making.

Internal Weather (construction cord orange)
2010
Found soap factory residues, Plexiglas, construction cords, poly-tubing, straws, vinyl, acrylic, rust, charcoal, and graphite.
Durational Installation at Soap Factory [link to: http://www.soapfactory.org/ ], Minneapolis MN

OPP: You use the term "durational installation" for several pieces. Can you define that more clearly for us? You've installed your "durational installation" Internal Weather at least four times, and each time it's a little different in form and color. Can you explain the piece in more detail?

MB: I used the term “durational” to define installations that changed and eventually broke down over a set duration of time. Specifically, the Internal Weather Project pieces were all comprised of hundreds to thousands of drinking straws (depending on the site) that were joined together with surgical tape. I created line drawings in space with the connected straws that were then hooked up to high-powered water pumps. Over time, the straws would develop kinks and cause pressure that would eventually break down the straws and the system. Leaks, breaks, popping sounds, and mini-geysers were all integral parts of the work. In making the installations, I was constantly striving to make the systems more ambitious while at the same time always balancing the fact that I was using flimsy plastic straws. The liquids I chose to run through the systems varied from acrylic paint to road salt. I was also interested in the residue that was created when the system failed. The work was constantly changing both internally and externally. The final form of each installation was determined by a response to the space, time constraints and genuine curiosity. The series ended when I could no longer take the stress of putting together mini-apocalyptic art scenarios. I came close to ruining a couple of gallery spaces. What I loved and still love about the work is that it was a very real and raw response to the strengths and limitations of materials over a duration of time.  Each installation played with the edge of failure and strove to put the proverbial “last straw” on the camels back.

Untitled,
Wood, Various Construction Materials, Tarping, Vinyl, Acrylic Found Residues and Tape.
Site-Specific Installation for Cara and Cabezas Contemporary

OPP: How did you begin your ongoing collaboration with Rafael E. Vera? What do you like more about collaborating? What do you like more about working alone in your studio?

MB: Rafael and I met working as adjuncts teaching at the College of Dupage. We both work in installation and drawing, and Rafael approached me about creating a body of work together. What was appealing about the collaboration was that we share a love of formal language and a similar approach to space both in drawing and installation; however our individual aesthetics are very different. His work is clean and minimal and mine tends towards the maximal. We were interested in playing our different approaches off of each other. The beginning collaborations were simple exchanges of drawings (Trading Paper series).  I would start a drawing, he would finish it, and vice versa. We did this for a year. It became increasingly apparent that the drawings were blueprints for installations, and we have since worked on three different site-specific installations together. What I love about working in a sustained collaboration is that we have developed a visual language that is neither his nor mine. During the installation of our last piece in Kansas City the curator of the gallery commented on how our conversations were nonsensical to the outside observer. We have developed a way of interacting, talking and making that is uniquely ours. In our collaborative work, I make different decisions than I would make in my own work , which is very freeing. Working alone in my studio is just different. I could never give up my own practice, but collaboration has enhanced my understanding of my own process.

OPP: What's going on in your studio right now?

MB: I recently finished creating three site-specific tactile paintings for a group show entitled Two Histories of the World. The project was inspired by William H. Cooper, an old manufacturing plant turned resale business that is in a state of great disrepair due to the hailstorms that occurred last spring. The curator, Karsten Lund, asked 4 artists (Sarah Black, Laura Davis, Mike Schuh and myself) to create works inspired by the site and the materials present within the site. The work will be dismantled and re-envisioned in a new show at the Hyde Park Art Center in 2012. Otherwise, I am looking forward to some time to make small drawings that are not for any particular purpose but thought and growth.

To view more of Mara Baker’s work, visit marabaker.com.