30 inches x 40 inches
Crimson and Clover Interior, detail
Untitled Floor Piece, detail
Cut collaged photocopies
Kate, Back in Black, #4
30 inches x 40 inches
Crimson and Clover Interior, detail
Untitled Floor Piece, detail
Cut collaged photocopies
Kate, Back in Black, #4
OtherPeoplesPixels: Your work feels both man-made and organic at the same time. The craft materials and discarded domestic elements remind us that we are dealing with manufactured goods, while the forms those materials take suggest that these sculptures have grown organically. This paradox leads me to wonder about your process. Do you have plan or is the process more instinctual?
Montgomery Perry Smith: Most of my pieces have been planned out and sketched several times before they are finished. I’ll collect many objects that interest me and arrange them in my studio, then sketch and arrange and sketch. It is a nice way for me to work, because some of my pieces take forever to complete. Along the way I will find new things that interest me, or months later I’ll look at sketches and want to expand on something that I initially wasn’t interested in.
OPP: Your material lists are comprehensive. Do audience members care about the materials and their meanings the way you do?
MPS: I like rewarding the few who choose to learn more about a piece. My work has many layers, details, and holes that require the viewer to spend more time exploring than they are probably used to. And my materials are another one of those layers. I can’t expect everyone to dedicate the time to really inspect a piece, but the ones who do are usually pleased. Being in the Fiber and Material Studies Department at School of the Art Institute of Chicago made me pay close attention to the objects I chose. I think it is important to know when you use a certain material or object it can bring very specific meanings along with it. I’m personally interested in playing with found domestic objects and materials that would traditionally be used for craft or decorations.
OPP: What is it about domestic objects and craft materials that is so appealing to you?
MPS: I like how domestic objects hint at a specific way of life or use. When incorporating these objects it gives my pieces a sense of nostalgia. I think of craft materials the same way. They imply the pieces had a purpose other than being decorative. Each piece has this absence of a body or a living being to activate it.
I personally connect with these objects because they remind me of childhood. The ceramic dishes and light fixtures bring up memories of my grandmother’s house and the hours of craft projects I would work on while visiting her. I was always fascinated by the dollhouse she had made from scratch, and I wanted to make my own. I remember secretly constructing little rooms out of cigar boxes, and hiding them, because I was convinced that little boys were not allowed to show interest in dollhouses.
OPP: The formal language in the work (repetition of concentric circles, cascades, gaping holes, concave and convex domes, fringe, symmetry) is quite engaging, if I think of your sculptures in purely abstract terms. But there is also a sense that your sculptures are representational, but of things I’ve never seen before. Some pieces, such as Bottom Feeder (2009) and Just Like You Should (2008), remind me of Muppets. They are aliens or animals we haven’t discovered yet. Many, like Gasper, (2009), Pit Worship (2010), and Hardcore (2010), evoke Victorian memorial art. Do you think of your sculptures as abstract or as representational? What, if anything, are you memorializing?
MPS: I think of my sculptures as representational. I like creating these objects that are pulling from various sources and playing with them until they become disturbing and familiar at the same time. I’m very interested in the uncanny and the emotions it brings out in people.
I’m memorializing moments, ideas, and people of interest. Some pieces seem more like mounted trophies on a hunter’s wall, while other objects appear to have a specific purpose or ceremonial use. I try not to be too specific with the subject that is being referenced; I’m drawn to the more open and accessible pieces. But there are definitely pieces, like Gasper, that are memorializing something specific (David Carradine).
OPP: Many of your titles, like Pearl Necklace (2008), Creamy (2009), and Daisy Chain (2009) evoke sexual themes. How do your sculptures talk about sexuality without any images of bodies? Are the titles jumping off points for creating a piece, or do they come after?
MPS: The titles usually come after the piece is complete. The ideas are there throughout the whole making of the piece, but I tend to wait till the end to name them. I wouldn’t say that I don’t use images of the body. There is a definite orifice throughout my work, and it is often a representation of just that. But I like abstracting it and playing with it and bringing a new visual vocabulary to it.
OPP: I can see what you mean about the orifice, and you are definitely abstracting it in a very compelling way. Are you trying to say something specific about sexuality?
MPS: I’m interested in societies’ views on sexuality. It is a very uniting and polarizing subject, and it is something that everyone shares, in one way or another. I’m fascinated by its ability to cause euphoria and anxiety, life and death, love and hate.
OPP: Loads and Tools (2011) from your recent threewalls show Milking (2011) includes a contextualizing narrative in the promotional materials: “two new sculptures that focus on an otherworldly relic and the tools used to milk it.” Was this the first time you offered an explanation as to the nature of your sculptures as part of the exhibition support materials? Does this represent a new direction for your work in general?
MPS: Milking was the first time I had used text along with my work, I’m still not totally sure how I feel about it. I wanted to add another level to the narrative, but in the end it seems too specific for me. I think it is more of a test than a new direction, my next show I’m letting the pieces speak for themselves.
OPP: What are you working on in your studio right now?MPS: I'm continuing to work on a new series of pieces that should show up on my website within the next couple months. I will also have my work in Flowers, the upcoming issue of Monsters and Dust. They recently won the Propeller Fund Grant to create a print edition in addition to their web release.
To view more of Montgomery Perry Smith’s work, visit montgomeryperrysmith.com.
Orange Horizon (Detail)
Machine sewn fabric collage
20 x 120 inches
OtherPeoplesPixels: You identify yourself as a painter who works in sculpture and your BFA was in printmaking, so I imagine a time when you worked primarily in 2D. Was this ever true?
Andrea Myers: Yes. I began my pursuits as an artist, taking classes in mainly painting and printmaking and finishing my BFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I found myself more engaged in the processes I was learning in my printmaking classes than with the actual resulting prints I was making. I was never really good about being precious or careful with prints I made, inevitably getting stray marks or “happy accidents” all over my paper. At some point, I started cutting my prints up, maybe out of frustration and maybe out of rebellion against two-dimensional expectations. I think that’s when I started activating a part of me that was interested in the materials and processes of printmaking and painting, such as paper, fabric, paint and color, and taking those elements and making them more malleable and tactile.
OPP: What prompted the change in your practice that led to "exploring the space between the two-dimensional and three-dimensional, hybridizing painting, printmaking and sculpture," as you say in your statement?
AM: The transition in my work from exclusively two-dimensional to predominantly three-dimensional happened very slowly and incrementally. In stages, I found myself stepping off of the flatness of the wall and growing my work out into dimensional space. I began layering materials that I felt comfortable with, mainly paper. I experimented using the materials in multiple, rather than using paper solely as a means to make repetitions of imagery. The paper and then fabric became the subject matter, like painting in dimensional space, creating sculptural objects that relate to the color and forms found in painting.
Layered fabric, foam, glue, thread
65 x 50 x 20 inches
OPP: Could you talk more about how your overall process relates to painting?
AM: I really struggled with my first painting class. I was horrible at oil painting, probably too impatient, which is funny to say, because you could look at my current work and assume I am a very patient person to sit and layer small shapes of fabric and glue them together one by one.
In graduate school, I was in the Fiber and Material Studies department at SAIC, and our studios were mixed with the Painting and Drawing department. I found myself in a love hate relationship with painting, enamored by the possibilities of color and form but questioning the traditional format of painting. I began making what I now consider “exercises.” I would make a quick, gestural fabric collage and then make a seemingly exact replica out of painted wood. The pairs would be positioned together, testing the perception of the viewer. The Duplicate Series, as I called them, was a major epiphany in my work. In hindsight, I feel like I was breaking down my practice to the base level of what I was interested in, almost like finding my work’s DNA structure, so that I could then build it back up.
When I talk about my work now, I like to consider myself a “maker.” Each project or form I create leads me to my next work. It might involve sewing, drawing, printing on fabric, or cutting forms out of wood. I try to keep my practice fluid and take elements and processes from mediums that seem appropriate to my concepts for the pieces.
Pretty much every piece I make starts as a black and white contour line drawing in my sketchbook. Over time, the idea grows into a dimensional form, occupying physical space. But what is interesting to me is that the piece inevitably returns to its flat origins when I photograph the piece (usually for documentation for my website). In a way, every piece, no matter how dimensional it becomes, will spend most of its existence, its representation in the world, as a flat two-dimensional image. So perhaps every sculpture I make could really be seen as an idea for a painting of sorts.
Layered fabric, glue, acrylic, wood
20 x 32 x 144 inches
OPP: Your work relies heavily on accumulation, which speaks both to the organic and the manufactured. Your titles often evoke naturally occurring processes and formations (i.e. melting, thawing, drifting, fissures, webs, avalanches, plateaus), while your color palette and chosen materials (felt, commercially-produced fabric, paper) conversely evoke the manufactured. Can you talk about this apparent disjuncture?
AM: I have always been interested in presenting contrasts or tensions in my work. The starting point would be exploring the space between two- and three-dimensionality or what constitutes a two-dimensional piece versus a threedimensional piece. My approach to sculpture is to take flat materials and stack, layering and amassing the material so that it loses its initial flatness and starts to become a whole made up of many layered increments.
Inevitably, the central focus in my work tends to be abstractions of nature or perceived nature, and I am interested in how historically human kind has tried to harness and control nature only for nature to become more uncontrollable. My pieces function as a mediated version of nature. I attempt to illustrate the behavior of nature through bold, saturated color in contrast to how we generally perceive nature. I juxtapose natural forms with typically unnatural, intensified colors such as florescent orange or Technicolor striations. I look to color’s intensity as a means to visually illustrate the uncontrollability of nature while also working against the typical white wall format of a gallery space, creating forms that disrupt the linear, clean and neutral setting of the traditional exhibition space. Consistently in my work, there is also a contrast between the presence of my hand and the use of a tool. I go back and forth between cutting layers of fabric individually by hand, implementing a sewing machine to create line work, and using a jig-saw or band saw to cut forms from wood. Even with manufactured materials and machines, the individual artist uses each machine so differently. I see all of my materials like tubes of paint, in line with Duchamp’s notion that tubes of paint are ready-made and so every painting in the world is a readymade object; every artist in the postmodern world is dealing with “readymades,” but each artist’s hand and idea is what makes original works of art.
Fabric, polystyrene, plaster, latex paint
50 x 55 x 30 inches
OPP: I personally find your work unbelievably beautiful. There's something profound to me about forms that immediately reveal their processes and labor, as if the beauty lies as much in the process as in the resulting form. Does this resonate with your interests as an artist? Does beauty play a role in your work?
AM: I love that you mention beauty. Doesn’t it seem like we aren’t allowed to discuss such a thing in contemporary art sometimes? I feel like often times, we can lose sight of the fact that at the core of art making, there is an individual making the work, a person who has feelings and imperfections and is human. My work is a reflection of my personal observations and, for better or worse, is an extension of myself. I have always loved to be in nature and experience the fundamental forms and behaviors of nature that I find fascinating and compelling. The processes I utilize in constructing work emulate events found in nature: slow erosions or accruals that shape and shift land over time, sometimes rapidly, sometimes subtly. I find beauty in the cyclical behavior of nature, in the growth and in the decay and in all of the moments in between.
Ink on fabric, glue, foam
15 x 17 x 19 inches
OPP: What's an average day in your studio like?
AM: Ahhh, I wish I could have a whole “studio day,” but usually my practice comes in fits and starts, typically a couple hours at a time or less. Now that I have an almost two-year old daughter, her naptime and bedtime dictate when I can concentrate on my work. I have maintained a home studio ever since I was the artist-in-residence at Central Michigan University in 2007, where I was given a house in the woods with a studio to live and work in during the school year. I sometimes miss having a studio outside of my house, but ultimately it is so convenient and nice to be able to go look at something I am working on, even if it is just for a moment. It seems like I try to do a lot of mental pre-planning and drawing in my sketchbooks, so that when I do have the time to work, I am focused and decisive. Some days, I will just sit down and try things, making little collages or work on developing new processes. It also depends on deadlines, if I have a commission deadline or a show deadline. I am more likely to be very strategic when I go to my studio. When I am working in my studio, it feels very much like a meditative process. The repetition of accumulating layers or stitches from the sewing machine over and over allows my mind to rest or wander, and I get absorbed into the present moment of making.
To view more of Andrea Myers’ work visit andreamyersartist.com.
Pussy Fart, detail
Printed canvas, 14k necklace
20" by 30"
OtherPeoplesPixels: Interdisciplinarity is a staple in your work, from photography to painting to sculpture to installation to collage. Many of your wall-hung works, such as Crush, Dead Clay, and Pussy Fart, are hybrids: part photograph/part sculpture. Could you talk a bit about working in so many different media?
Adam Parker Smith: I like the idea of mutual dependency between materials and idea. In my recent work concept seems to always dictate the materials used; however concept is normally reliant on the materials. I like to think of these “hybrid” works as combinations of inert materials that, when combined, have a catalytic reaction. This forms concept that is far removed or contrary to the original materials that make up the work. I spend time mining for ingredients that will lend themselves to this type of conceptual transformation and that blend or polarize ideas.
OPP: Has your practice always been this way or did you ever have an emphasis in one specific medium?
APS: I have my MFA in painting and originally confined myself to painting on canvas with oil or acrylic, but moved quickly away from this my first year of grad school.
OPP: What kinds of subject matter did you paint back then? Anything that is a clear precursor to the work you make now?
APS: Actually, my paintings morphed directly into my sculptures. In grad school I was working figuratively, setting up scenarios that were essentially snapshots from the everyday, transformed and glorified. What began to happen was that I was having a hard time finding models to do the things I wanted to paint. I decided to make my own figures and paint from these, at which point I had full control and no restrictions. The figures were constructed from nylon and cotton filling and were sewn together in a rudimentary way. At a certain point I looked around the studio and realized that the sewn figures were much more interesting than the paintings that were being created from them, and so I abandoned painting and focused on developing my sculptures. So initially my sculptures were informed by my paintings. It took me a while to return to painting. In the last couple years I have started painting again, and now my paintings are informed by my sculptures.
OPP: What role does humor play in your work?
APS: Humor in my work is closely related to a more academic definition of comedy with origins in the theater of Ancient Greece: dramatic performances pit two societies against each other in an amusing conflict. I see this agon of comedy as a struggle between the powerless youth and societal conventions. The youth is left with few options other than to take dramatic, unconventional action.
OPP: Is youth in this metaphor the figure of the artist in general? Or is this more a representation of your personal experience? Is the “unconventional action” all art or is it specifically the kinds of unexpected juxtapositions you make it your work?
APS: I like to think that artists, musicians, actors, activists, and writers are a voice for their generation. So when I speak of the youth, I am speaking of a group that includes not only myself and artists in general but also a larger group of individuals who face similar struggles but who may not have a conventional venue to voice their views. With this in mind, "unconventional action" can range from irreverence toward medium specificity in a painting to violent revolution.
Plexiglas, paper, matte board
24" by 12"
OPP: Many of your pieces depend on convincing illusions. Burn Out (2010) and Burn Out (2011) list a smoke machine as one of the materials, leading me to believe that the Lamborghini isn’t even turned on. Disco Ball (2009) turns out to be impressively handmade with small squares of colored matte board instead of mirrors. Is illusion the point or a means to convey something else?
APS: Luckily vision often dominates the other senses, which makes visual illusion a great tool to exploit the audience's assumptions about the physical world. For me these illusions are not the point, but a way for me to skirt the normal restriction of the physical world in an attempt to convey an idea or concept that otherwise may not be possible. These illusions are not meant to be permanently deceptive, only to suspend conventional notions of time and space long enough for viewers to be intellectually transported before they have the chance to peer behind the curtain. I like to think about illusion as something that is not true or false but as an alternative experience that supplements meaning.
Fall Into The Void
Photo collage on paper
126" by 126"
OPP: In Super Fight (2010), Superman, the paragon of wholesome American masculinity, fights only himself. He is frozen in constant battle, becoming both the perpetrator and victim of violent conflict. In Fall into the Void (2011), male heads are placed on female bodies and vice versa. No one looks at all comfortable. It appears that this gender-bending is not a welcome change, but a destabilizing force that leaves all the figures struggling to find any ground to stand on. Is talking about a contemporary experiences of gender your intention with these new collage pieces?
APS: While the complex social spectrum through which sexuality is now viewed is something that I am interested in, I would like to attribute the destabilizing force in both of these works to the mounting uncertainty of our times. Both works deal with ideas of negation and arbitrariness, which can of course be applied to ideas of gender or the absence thereof. But I would like conversation to extend beyond ideas of sexual identity and gender identification to more universal concerns of disorder, entropy and cultural disarray. Fall into the Void runs visually parallel to Rodin’s Gates of Hell, which depicts the falling of the damned into an eternity of brimstone and fire. It also evokes contemporary images of well-documented, man-made catastrophes. Super Fight lends itself to notions of the utter futility of man’s endless courtship with war and conflict and our societies celebration of sensationalized violence.
Installation at Times Museum, Guangzhou, China
Preggers, Fox in Box, Crush, and Cage
OPP: Could you talk a bit about the issue of how individual pieces relate to your body of work as a whole?
APS: Because of my background in painting, I often think about these issues in a more formal sense. One of my teachers once stressed that a work (she was speaking about painting) must operate from three distances and be interesting from each perspective. These distances were from twenty feet away, from six feet away and from inches away. So from across the room a work must have something that draws you near, that compels you to look longer. Its overall composition must be stimulating in some fashion. As you draw closer to the work, details become clear. The work grows and begins to operate on another level; concept and form begin to merge. Directly in front of the painting you should become engaged with the nuances of the work that are only apparent from that perspective. These, too, add depth and understanding to the work so that, through a combination of different perspectives, a very rich appreciation can be drawn from the work. I like to think about my entire body of work in this way: from across the room (my work all together), from a few feet away (my work paired with another work or in a specific location), and from a few inches away (my work standing as an individual piece). For me each one of these hypothetical perspectives is important. If one is lacking, then the overall experience that the viewer has with my work is less rich.
OPP: What are you working on right now in your studio?
APS: Sewing together thousands of colored friendship bracelets from Guatemala. I am working on a series of tapestries. Some of the tapestries are image based while others have text formed from different organizations of colors from the bracelets. One of these texts reads, “will you marry me?”
To view more of Adam Parker Smith’s work visit adamparkersmith.com.
12" X 12" X 20" (approx.)
OtherPeoplesPixels: As an interdisciplinary artist working in sculpture, installation, and painting, with an emphasis on color, form, and materiality, your body of work is varied and mostly abstract. What are some common themes that come up again and again for you?
Sam Jaffe: First of all, I'm probably a hoarder. Luckily, I'm also obsessively organized. I think, as with many artists, my upbringing, early experiences, and passions really do seem to be relevant here. Within my work, I have owned much of the physical material from which I draw inspiration since childhood. I started many of my collections (bits of lace, seashells, kitschy figurines, beads, stickers, miniatures, handmade potholders and blankets, vintage clothing, sea glass, Lisa Frank everything, foreign coins, holograms, colored light bulbs, fake eyelashes, children's books, yarn, plastic flowers to name a few) before I can remember how or why they started. Many of my works begin with a certain personal visual delight in these collections. My art is all about combinations and amalgamations of details; it could be seen as an over-romanticizing of the commonplace.
OtherPeoplesPixels: Could you talk a bit more in depth about the materials you use?
Sam Jaffe: Most of the materials that I end up using for the work are from popular culture and are mass-produced. I'm searching out this latent possibility in things that are part of the everyday. I create by taking these items and placing them next to things that have been painstakingly handmade. I hope to question what is craft and what is commodity. I want there to be prickly situations where nature and culture come to some sort of outlandish understanding. That which was thought to be animal, or human, in some way morphs into something horribly artificial. There are also a lot of accumulations of parts—a kind of overgrowth or bad, mutated evolution, and I think that may suggest some contemporary cultural parallels that are very problematic.
Materials for me are not just formal elements, nor are they ever neutral. They stand for a vast array of personal and cultural frameworks. They shape our senses of self. Above all, the work is about surrendering to materials and the fetishistic nature of material culture. In many ways, I like to think that this IS the primary content of my recent work. It's all about strange ways of using materials and allowing the form to be a demonstration, extension, and exploitation of the possibilities of the materials.
OtherPeoplesPixels: You have chosen to include documentation of your sketchbook on your website. Many sketchbooks compliment finished pieces by showing the working process of an artist with notes and ideas for further development, but yours seems denser and closer to a work in and of itself than others I have seen. What is the role of the sketchbook in your practice?
Sam Jaffe: I rarely sketch, unless there is a concrete logistical task like taking measurements or a mathematical problem raised by a work. Sketching for me is almost pointless, because I start with a vague idea and end up with something completely different nearly every time. I just start working without much of a plan and the pieces evolve. I spend a lot of time looking at what's there, be it a pile of fabric or a nearly completed installation, and then I make my next move... one step at a time. The sketchbooks really function more like portable studios: just something to work on while traveling or at home watching TV.
Yarn on Masonite Panel
OtherPeoplesPixels: Many pieces, such as Physical World (2009), Painting Sweater (2009) and Agnes (2011), reference painting visually without being painting. How does the history of painting as a discipline relate to your work in other media?
Sam Jaffe: Well, I'm from Wisconsin. I was exposed to some contemporary art as a kid, and certainly came from a family dedicated to cultivating my artistic interests. But, up until I was well into my BFA, art meant modern, Western painting. Sculpture would have definitely involved a hammer and chisel, or worse, power-tools...scary! I didn't go to Chelsea until I was in my early 20s and I doubt I could have named a single, contemporary, female artist at that time. Looking back, I think this painting baggage thing has been hard for me to shake, so I embrace it. As you point out, even as I have moved away from the medium, painting, painting rhetoric, painters, and painting history have really still remained salient concerns of mine.
OtherPeoplesPixels: Are there any contemporary painters that influence your work now? If not painters, what artists do influence how you think about sculpture?
Sam Jaffe: I'm really interested in all kinds of art and also design and fashion. I don't tend to spend too much time categorizing or discriminating based on media. I am particularly drawn to artists that activate and take advantage of spaces in unique ways like Olafur Eliasson, Gordon Matta Clark, and Dan Flavin. I had the opportunity to see Flavin's rooms of light at The Villa Panza in Italy several years ago, and I think that it is one of the main reasons I became excited about installation in the first place. I also tend to look at artists with similar material and aesthetic interests to mine like David Altmejd, Mike Kelly, Folkert De-Jong, Yayoi Kusama, Jim Drain, Nick Cave, and Louise Bourgeois.
OtherPeoplesPixels: What role does humor play in your work?
Sam Jaffe: Humor is often characterized by some kind of sudden shift in perspective, a convergence of two conflicting frames of reference. It is something we might use as a coping mechanism when we are experiencing painful, stressful, embarrassing, or awkward emotions. My goal in using humor is to energize the viewer with the playful formality in my work. But when s/he gets up close, I want there to be an insecurity as to what s/he is seeing. Do the exaggeratedly bright colors and overstuffed, spongy forms begin to turn toxic and sinister when one turns away? Carnivals, cartoons, parades, and fairy tales can be confusingly humorous and scary settings. Tough messages can be buried in softness.
Construction Gloves, Chicken Wire, Poly-fill
OtherPeoplesPixels: Some Pig (2009), Nobody Puts Baby In A Corner (2009), and Blue Meanie (2009) are just a few titles that make reference to popular movies, books and music. What is the role of these cultural references in the meaning of your work?
Sam Jaffe: The cultural references serve mainly as complicating agents and informers that push up against a prudish aspect of formalism that seems to interest me. I visualize the concept of "pop culture" as an expansive sea of data that can be grabbed at in the same way one would make up a mix tape. I pose the question, how can we make narratives out of our contemporary, American culture, which is already such an irreverent crossbreed? I am hugely influenced by both popular and avant-garde film, literature, and fashion. So, yes there are references to films like Dirty Dancing, but I also reference films by Kenneth Anger and Alejandro Jodorowski, both of whom make work that would be categorized as somewhat experimental or underground. My work is particularly American and Post-Modern in that I sometimes brazenly de-contextualize and take possession of whatever forms seem to create something interesting. I think artists have to be opportunistic yet selective when it comes to cultural input.
OtherPeoplesPixels: Your sculptures and installations range from clean and uniform, as in Some Pig (2009), to chaotic and filthy, as in Warm and Scuzzy (2009) or the untitled sculptures from 2009, which use insulating foam. Could you talk a little about these qualities in your work?
Sam Jaffe: Rather than using the terms "clean" and "dirty," I would describe the dichotomy in my work as modern/synthetic vs. natural/biological. Modernity represents a utopian epoch of efficient, triumphant, and evangelical conquest over those elements of culture that are not consistent with the logic of a particular, shrewd, and masculine world order: a system set up to control the primal, erotic, and, of course, feminine impulses that stand in the way of "true progress." In some of my work, I hope to complicate and undermine this order by creating works that mimic a modernist style or trope, but then at the same time are visually or sensually rich and tactile or ornamented. Nobody Puts Baby In A Corner, for example, is essentially a monochrome, but it's made from neon pink, knit pieces; knitting being a tradition that communicates with the human body in feminine, emotional and interactive ways. In a piece like Warm and Scuzzy, the form is meant to refer to the body, but it is made from mass produced, industrially available goods like felt, insulation foam and pieces of PVC piping.
OtherPeoplesPixels: Ah! Would you say that underlying your formal explorations of material is a primarily feminist approach to the art history associated with Modernism? Is this connected to why the painting concerns you mentioned before continue to come up, but in other media?
Sam Jaffe: Yes, I think so...if not a feminist approach, at least a feminine one. It comes down to the idea that a modernist vision tends to deny certain valuable qualities inherent in handmade objects like their ability to be intimate with the body or the fact that they carry with them the complex histories of their makers. I think that in our culture these may be feminine modes of experience. Paintings, historically speaking, may have more to do with a different and more traditional type of object-experience since they usually hang on walls and are observed from a distance. So, I suppose the painting references in my work could be seen as a nod to this latter type of object-experience, which I then hope to completely complicate and undermine.
To view more of Sam Jaffe’s work visit samjaffe.org.
OtherPeoplesPixels: On your website, you mention the “friendly and peaceful view of rural life as portrayed by the crafts and folk art of New England.” Could you expand on this for viewers of your work who are unfamiliar with the New England folk art tradition? Are there certain visual tropes from this tradition that you are responding to in your own work?
Andy Rosen: I’ve been focusing mostly on local art traditions like chainsaw carving, whittling, wooden toys, yard art, etc. But, really I’m looking at everything art-related that is (or was) created by folks in this area. Many of the works tend to have a roughness and imprecision (non-manufactured look) that conjures for me an attitude of the wilderness.
I’m particularly fascinated by a portrayal of nature where the wildlife is shown as majestic, portraying animals that never eat (each other) and are never affected by our presence. And when we do exist together, it’s as though they’re happy to see us. In short, a land at peace, untouched and pristine.
I find the lack of conflict and struggle intriguing, especially, in light of increasing pressure by us on their habitats and food sources. While such scenes surely do exist still, I can rarely see such things without wondering what’s really going on here?
I think it may be easy to dismiss such works as escapist, idealistic or merely decorative, but for me they have a kind of revelatory power. These works are more mirrors than lenses. Reflected on the faces and gestures of the animals in these works, are our desires, beliefs and fantasies about this area.
In this context, what I make becomes my way to better understand the extent to which these fantasies shape and influence my conception of nature, my biases and beliefs. For instance, why do I focus my attention on particular elements within a landscape or why do I choose certain animals and pretty much ignore others?OPP: Woodcarving is your most prevalent media. How did you learn it? AR: I’m more or less self-taught. My training at school was as a painter and glassblower. So for needed techniques and tricks I study what I need to learn and ask furniture maker friends for tips or just bungle my way through.
I’m quite taken by the evocative power wood holds as a material representative of the wilderness. I love the smell and the feel of it, as well as the surfaces I can achieve with it. Also, nearly all the wood I carve comes from the dump. I like the idea that I’m reconstituting a material that comes directly from my local landscape.
Wood and Epoxy
Detail of an installation
OPP: In many of your pieces, evidence of the man-made world is built upon a single animal’s back. In pieces such as I Can Only Take You So Far, Barnacle and the installation Loaded (2010), the animals’ faces express weariness and excruciating pain. In other work, such as Trick (2010) and Chip (2010), the animals seem at peace, almost joyful. Can you talk about this difference?AR: My interest in understanding what is happening to the environment changed. I began to question why I was depicting animals as pawns or helpless creatures in our game. This kind of thinking seemed umm... rather self-centered. Though we are certainly in an era where our actions are affecting every habitat on Earth, I’ve become increasingly interested in a more ambiguous portrayal of animals affected by human activity. It also corresponds roughly with the birth of my son. It’s pretty hard to not see one’s offspring as an investment in the future. So many questions and concerns I had regarding the big ol’ problems of US and the environment were now being asked in the context of bringing a child into this world. How should I respond to what is undeniably a major issue that my son and his generation will face? My artwork seemed like the best place to start this dialogue. But, should my language be dire? Why? Was there a way to talk about this worry without directly stating it? I also became increasingly surrounded by his toys. These toys invariably depicted an animal smiling or joyfully doing something laborious—moving dirt, carrying people, etc. What are they all so happy about? Don’t they know what’s happening to them? I like how a smile can express joy and a grimace at the same time.
Wood and Epoxy
Wood and paint
60 x 75 x 48 inches
OPP: In the most recent pieces, animals are engaged in unnatural states of transportation. The fox in Psst (2010) has become cunning beyond what is natural. He must think like a human. He appears to be avoiding some danger on the ground. I imagine toxic sludge or some kind of acid, something that is the result of industry. The hare in Duster (2010) has become part machine. Its characteristic speed is no longer enough. It needs wheels in order to escape some unspecific danger. I can’t decide if these pieces have a positive or negative outlook about the animals’ chances for survival. I can’t decide if they have evolved or if they are doomed. What do you think about the presence of optimism and/or pessimism in your work?
AR: A couple years ago I asked some friends who are prominent in the fields of botany and biology, whether they we’re optimistic about the state of the environment. Essentially I was wondering if there was a lot of irrational fear going on or if our fears were warranted. They were both certain, given their research and the research of their peers, that we are in a period of massive species collapse of both flora and fauna (and likely us, as well).
Knowing that we are witnessing huge changes every day, what’s there to be optimistic about? I’m not sure.
However, I’ve started to address depictions of majestic or happy animals, head on. It’s an attempt to see if I can really feel it or find it, despite the facts.
To view more of Andy Rosenʼs work visit andy-rosen.com.
OtherPeoplesPixels: You discuss addressing hierarchical powers of societal success in your artist statement. Your pieces The Awarded (2010), Trophy (2009), and Rug Project (2009), do so directly and with a subtle humor. Please tell me more about your ideas surrounding societal success as it relates to these pieces.
Carolyn Salas: With pieces like The Awarded I look to question the systems for which we recognize success; awards for the unknown seek to glorify the mundane while directly addressing the absurd. Similarly, Trophy (a collaboration with Adam Parker Smith) directly addresses the unattainable. As status and material obsession become an ever growing and ingrained part of today’s society we mock the ridiculousness of it, “showing off”, in this case has reached a laughable point. Rug Project, reassesses the value of common objects and questions conventional concepts of beauty, flipping the role of carpet from floor covering to fine art, playing with ideas of construction and the historical role of the rug as design, display of wealth, and warmth. All three of the works ultimately explore themes of disillusionment and power while the material choice shows evidence of the erosion of time, breaking down and demystifying the power that they once held.
OPP: How does humor factor in your body of work as a whole?
CS: I don’t consciously make the effort for the works to be humorous instead I think they reflect my personality. I am very rooted in the harsh realities of life but love to fantasize; I question my own insecurities, dissect my own inner struggles and rely on humor when I can. My material choice is driven by concept, I choose materials scaffolded with meaning which can be pleasantly interrupted or interpreted many ways, pushing the boundaries of material and concept to a place often times uncomfortable. I like how the awkwardness of a piece or the manipulation of a material very familiar to you can be jarring at the same time. For instance in the piece Stacked, I was thinking about the idea of mummifying a keepsake, questioning what happens as the object is repeated and how the meaning changes through that repetition. I’m interested in how the object loses its initial sentimental quality and becomes essentially a “kitsch” object. The objects both personal and found, placed on top of the ceramic cast quilts than provide another layer; a surrealist effect yet still tactile.OPP: What did a day in the studio look like for you as you were creating Constructions and Tangible Losses (2010)? Do you “sketch” by drawing or does your process perhaps emphasize writing or pursuing the materials you ultimately incorporate?
CS: Initially I start by doing a lot of sketching, usually in response to a reading, thought strain or continuation of a prior body of work. During the making of this particular piece I was spending a lot of time at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the Greek and Roman Art wing. I was drawn to the marble figures, their missing limbs or what was left of a crumbled piece of architecture, for me their dismemberment was incredibly poetic, I like the idea of questioning what isn’t there. In attempts to recontextualize this in the work Constructions and Tangible Losses each pedestal piece displays a loss; the dowsing rod in need of land, the netted chain without a catch, the pedestal without an object, the leg and horseshow crab without its body, by simplifying the objects the tension created lies within the absence they each represent. Their displacement and dismemberment act in dialogue with each other as if characters in a play.
OPP: What comes first in your artmaking process in a piece like Earring on a Mountain (2010)—a conceptual or formal concern, an interest in a material, or do both occur to you simultaneously?
CS: It can vary radically from piece to piece, with the series of cement works, Earring on a Mountain, Untitled and New Order though I was inspired first by a reading. Mount Analogue, a book written by Rene Daumal, was floating around the studio; I picked it up and was immediately attracted to the voyeurism he speaks of, charting unknown territories. Inspired to create a sculpture that reflected this idea I started thinking about language and symbols. The two came together for me in the form of cement architectural structures. I was interested in using a material that could both be permanent while also seeming airy and light. I started playing with ways I could manipulate the forms and the scale in relationship to the body while also addressing the connection between the wall and the floor.OPP: You had a busy summer. What were you working on?
CS: This past summer I spent time at Franconia Sculpture Park, MN, on a Jerome Foundation grant. While in residence I created a 50 foot long handmade chain link fence. With this work I was investigating ideas surrounding territories, boundaries, borders and class issues. I am interested in the “in-between” stages; the tension that lies both within the physical space and the psychological space. For me the absurdity of hand making a fence and its displacement of location is an important factor. The fencing posts and chain are platted in a gold colored metal, in attempts to objectify and beautify the mundane, whilst the object itself fails to gain the authority it desires. For me the piece leaves a certain dissonance and residue that’s uneasy and off mark, I am hoping the viewer’s interaction with the work will question the same ideas. The piece titled Chain Link will be on view at the park through the summer of 2012.
OPP: What is next for you?
CS: I just moved into a new studio at the Abrons Art Center in the Lower East Side (NYC). I will be an AIRspace Artist-in-Residence for the next eleven months. I am excited about the other resident artists I am with and the facilities I am hoping to get a chance to use the ceramic kilns. I am also preparing for a show at the Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum in February 2012. There, I will be working onsite at the museum, using the piece Changing Sides as a platform for a much larger installation.
Mud, Paper, Wood
18 x 10 x 12 feet
OPP: Do you listen to anything while you work on the delicate elements or does your process require silence?ASR: I am always listing to music when working on my paper cutting, often film scores—they help me focus for long periods of time. OPP: What does a day in the studio look like for you? Do you “sketch” by drawing or does your process include other initial steps?ASR: Lately my studio is overwhelmingly messy! It usually involves laying down tarps, filling cement mixing troughs with stained mud, putting on a Tyvek suit, and throwing mud at large sheets of paper. There are cleaner days, where I cut and manipulate the dried mud caked paper, or apply charcoal. I have not been sketching with my new work, I have been working directly on the final surface. OPP: What is next for you? ASR: I have been working on some stand alone sculpture pieces made from mud and paper, and experimenting on video work with artist Vanessa Mayoraz. In the next few months I will be moving to a larger studio space in Tennessee. The space is an old Eastman Co. research site and warehouse recently donated to East Tennessee State University (where I will be teaching this Fall). I am very excited about making some large scale pieces there.
Specters / Bloodwrath; At my end I will take you with me
Graphite, acrylic, colored pencil on paper
60" x 48"
Feral is a term referring to a domesticated creature that has returned to a semi-wild state. In a way, a hybrid state of being—not truly wild, no longer domesticated. I related that to the work I was doing with lady centaurs, themselves a hybrid of woman and horse.
While in graduate school I received feedback that people had trouble relating to the centaurs since they didn’t reflect their own human bodies (unimaginative, no?) so I decided to take that wildness and hybridity I depicted through the physical body of the centaur into a fully human body having gone feral. A major influence on this work is my first entry point into this theme: young adult novels featuring a girl who has isolated herself from society, lives in the wild with an animal companion.
I have had a life-long desire to live in one of those narratives, and I do realize it is slightly silly but I am sincere in that longing. My journey to and stay on Asseateague Island with my cat was my attempt to access a bit of that world. The trip resulted in a body of work Dawn Horse. The drawings in that work reflect the iconic images on the cover of such novels, often the only image in the whole book, their function is to only tell part of the story.
OPP: Hearing a child-like voice narrate Centaurides makes me curious about what you liked to draw as a child. What were your early sketchbooks like?
MS: Ha. Yes they weren’t too different from now. Animals, girls/women. More penguins (I was into penguins way before it was cool). My brother and I grew up drawing while we watched TV. Our parents were/are artists.
My junior high sketchbooks featured pencil drawings of awesome punk girls playing guitar. Lots of piercings, Mohawk hairdos, Tribe 8 shirts, L7 tattoos. The boys I knew were into drawing dragons, wizards and punk dudes. They always had trouble getting that we were into the same things. The gender difference or concept/awareness of gender (dragons vs unicorns) was so huge they couldn’t see past it. Not to mention they were intimidated by my skills. Lame.
I dunno I’ve always liked drawing mice. I guess I’ve always fell somewhere between Beatrix Potter and fantasy novel art. Which may explain my limited successes.
MS: Well I’m glad someone is reading my detailed descriptions of media. Yes that is my boo. His name is Sid and he has been my dawg for 18 years now. I’ve always tried to let him be a cat and as wild as he wants to be.
Once I took Sid to hang out in a park in Pennsylvania (where we both were born and raised) after an hour or so of us just chillin in some woods he started loosing control. He ran around, ate some rabbit poop and got this crazy look in his eye—shiny and wild, like he didn’t recognize me. There are moments—the realization there is no leash and he can run far, when he is at the top of the tree and is considering leaving me—when I dare say he is hearing the call of the wild. Those moments were fascinating and frightening. I related to them and was inspired by that to make this work.
As I mentioned earlier I wanted to live like the characters in my favorite novels—Reindeer Moon, Julie of the Wolves, Island of the Blue Dolphins. These characters all had a faithful friend/sidekick who was a non—human animal. I had Sid. And I wanted to see how feral he would go. So we went to Assateague Island to get weird.
Also I mainly make my objects out of whatever I have around with a nod to the materials used by and usefulness of the characters in those novels. Often they validate the killing of animals by using all of it’s parts. I don’t really kill anything for parts but do want animal parts in my work. Sid has plenty of fur to spare. And he and I are linked in a way that it adds meaning and magic to work parts of us into objects.
OPP: Your drawings of animals, centaurs and similar hybrids are often incredibly detailed. What kind of research goes into creating each piece?
MS: Hmm looking at books— field guides, pony guides, Equus Magazine. Reading about how their parts work. I also spent time with and photographed my aunt’s horses. Observing creatures in the wild or growing up around them helps. Just getting to know them. Repeatedly sketching. Honestly I have one trick that I think works best but I consider it a trade secret. Let’s just call it “becoming animal” because I like phrases that sound like the cover of hilarious fantasy novels.
MS: Sure. The Endangered Species Print Project, according my collaborator Jenny Kendler, is our brain-love child. We both have strong feelings about conserving biodiversity on this planet. We had been fumbling around looking for a way to use our artistic talents and skills to benefit a cause we cared about and to make an impact. ESPP is our best version of those efforts. ESPP sells limited-edition prints of critically endangered species. Prints are editioned to reflect the remaining population count of the species depicted. For example, there are only 37 Seychelles sheath-tailed bats remaining in the wild. So only 37 prints of my drawing of this bat will ever be made. Currently 100% of the proceeds from print sales are donated to a conservation organization working to conserve the species on the front lines.
When we started it was only Jenny and me. We have grown to include many guest artists, a blog, and an ESPP extended family which includes artist Christopher Reiger, OtherPeople’sPixels, who sponsors the project, Michael Czerepak of the School of the Art Institute (SAIC) Service Bureau who masterfully prints our work (and who asked me to marry him), and P.O.V. Evolving in Los Angeles, who handle our large print orders. Our work would not be possible without the help of the conservationists and organizations that we partner with nor without the many people who buy ESPP prints!
How it relates to my work as an individual artist? Well, for awhile it has taken over most of my studio time! Jenny and I do ESPP in our spare time. It quiets questions that may interrupt my concentration while drawing like “Why didn’t I go back to school for mammology instead of studio arts?” and “Shouldn’t I be doing something less selfish than this?”
OPP: What are you working on now?
MS: I’m in one of those stages were I am doing lots of little stuff, working up to the next big thing. So I’m slowly working on some books, maybe they fall into the graphic novel category with the chimp hybrid women I was drawing a few years back, I still have a few paintings to make to round out the Dawn Horse work. I’m also working on a collaborative project with artist and pal Tory Wright. I’ve collected a bunch of video and text to make a new narrated video, but at the moment I’m planning the piece to incorporate a good amount of hand drawn animation so I predict this will be a years long project. I’m fascinated/jealous of large predators so I collect pics of them on my blog Megafauna .
I’m moving into a new studio soon so I’m looking forward to that! Honestly, I’m designing my wedding invitation. Is that lame? So far it features an eagle, a hawk, a peacock, a fox, a bear, a badger and a hare. I think someone else but I’m not sure. Oh! That’s right a slow loris.
OtherPeoplesPixels: You describe exploring technology in your work both as subject and media. In doing so your primary media are installation and performance. Let’s talk about the relationship the performances and installations have to one another in your artmaking process and how the combination of disciplines plays into how viewers perceive your work in varying locations.
Sara Schnadt: I am trained as a performance/installation artist so I naturally think about ideas as live gestures and environments at the same time. Space, architecture and gesture are fundamental to how I think. In the past four years the installation component of my work has developed to the point where the intention holds up without the live presence. This has opened up the possibilities for my work in terms of where and for how long I can show a work (a month with regular performances versus an evening) which has been exciting. Most of the time a live activity is integral to my work, though. It's at the heart of the work's concept, like building the internet in Connectivity or creating versions of the universe in Drafting Universes. I also sometimes use found movement in a similar way to how I consider found objects. I see them as materials with a previous life and history. For example my piece Reading Gestures uses found pedestrian movement—body language that people use to create a private space in a public library in order to get lost in what they are reading. It was created for a space that was the Chicago Public Library's reading room from the 1880, through the 1980' and drew from images of readers spanning this time period for movement material.
I do have two recent pieces that are installations without a live element. But one of these is an adaptation of a performance remnant—a mistake when the room-scale installation component of my Connectivity piece (a representation of the Internet in string and wire) was sent back from an international show as a compact three foot ball. The other, Network, is the idea of a gesture in string—a virtual network structure cutting across an ordinary space. But even this piece is going to become a performance in it's next iteration.
When I am there live inside of my work, the audience tends to take on an engaged spectator role or sometimes they respond like they are seeing the inside of my studio and are interested in getting close to the creative process. When I am not there live (either during the run of a piece with scheduled performances or with my pure installation pieces) I think that the audience experiences my work more actively and intimately because I am not there to serve as an intermediary. The experience of the work is much more charged when I am there live however, and there is a place for both kinds of engagement in most of my work.
OPP: In reviewing the performances you’ve created in the last decade I am especially interested in noting each work’s duration. Many range from one to three hours performed multiple times over the course of an exhibition while others occur once and last a few days. Could you speak about how you determine the duration of a performance?
SS: I consider the format of the presentation opportunity as part of the site or situation I am responding to. In most cases, the overall duration or run of a piece is a response to the opportunity (a one-night-only, site-specific performance festival versus a month-long run in an exhibition space). If I have the time to create a series of performances within a larger exhibit time-frame my preference is to perform for three hours at a time. This gives a focused enough time window that you can have a decent accumulation of audience (which really gives the work energy) but also is long enough to push me beyond my comfort level for stamina. Pushing past this point, which happens usually about an hour in for me, puts me in a heightened meditative space and makes the performance more transformative because I really become part of the work.
OPP: I am similarly interested in your costuming in the performances you’ve created in the last decade. In Drafting Universes and Continuity you are dressed in what could be interpreted as business attire, and in Network and Network Hub you are dressed in everyday attire, while in Connectivity you wear a custom-made orange jumpsuit that could be described as both futuristic and prison or inmate apparel-inspired. What factors go into your costuming choices?
SS: I think of the costume as part of the sculptural element of each piece. Some of my work is more abstract and some more pedestrian in it's vocabulary, and so the costumes vary accordingly. If there is a real type of person I am embodying for the piece, then I will put together a costume that suggests this person. For Continuity my intention was to be dresses in historically-ambiguous travel attire, since the piece included a large collage of travel images from a wide range of historical sources. I also chose the color palette of this costume to match the piece. For Drafting Universes I was a scientist or science worker, but I also wanted to keep the read very open so the audience could make a variety of references from my activity. I actually rotated through three costumes during this performance because it was a little tricky to get the balance just right. Also the installation element is very abstract visually, so a lab coat was just too literal. I will fine-tune the costume more for its next showing.
For the building of Network we are wearing street clothes because the installation process is not part of the work. With Network Hub, (a piece about airplane flight patterns) I am shooting for a balance between a pilot and a stewardess, since both those roles facilitate flight. Also, simple lines and a single color look good formally with the piece. I have worked with a fashion designer for one on my pieces, Chicago-based Agnieszka Colon. She lent me a gown that she made out of a woman pilot's flight suit, which I wore to be both an architect and municipal worker role as I 'built' the Internet in my piece Connectivity.
Chicago Artists Resource (CAR)
OPP: Connectivity celebrates Web 2.0, the collective activity of creating and sharing information online. Web 2.0 is integral to the website and online community you created as co-founder and technologist for Chicago Artists Resource at the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. Do you consider yourself a hybrid artist in that you work at the intersection of art and technology in both your work as an artist and your work with Chicago Artist Resource? How do the two inform one another?
SS: Yes, absolutely they do inform each other. And yes, I do consider myself a hybrid artist. Or just an artist with multiple intersecting interests. I got involved with arts administration early in my career. I wanted to understand the infrastructure around artists' practice in order to give my own work a context and to participate in activities that enrich this infrastructure and allow me to be part of something greater than myself.
My work with CAR has directly affected my art practice. It has expanded my art network both locally and nationally, inspired me to focus on technology innovation as a central theme in my art, and shown me that I can pull off large complex projects. The scale and ambitiousness of my art has grown as a direct result. My art practice also affects my work with CAR because I am much more effective as an advocate for artists' professional practice when I am actively practicing myself. In terms of working at the intersection of art and technology, this is just where I feel most engaged.
OPP: You keep a research blog that is accessible from your website. How do you approach researching some of the specific details and networks that appear in your work? How do your viewers tend to engage with the information you present to them both online and in exhibition spaces?
SS: I've realized over the past few years that the scale, complexity and processes in my art have been informed by my work with Chicago Artists Resource. Overseeing development of this large and comprehensive web site has involved a lot of research on professional practice content for artists. A taste for research-intensive creative process has since become part of my art. Sometimes this has meant researching global internet access, sometimes data visualization, sometimes found movement, and sometimes large quantities of images. Sharing interesting information that I come across on my blog is something I do for further background on projects, and because some of the stuff I've found is really fabulous. In addition, some of my finished projects include specific information that is relayed as part of the work's concept. When this happens I think of the art as a data visualization, and it has to be clear, direct and informative. I never want my work to be dependent on reading the label to get its ideas across. Other projects are supported by my research, but factual data is distilled and abstracted in the final piece and has become something else, more aesthetic.
OPP: What is next for you?
SS: What's next for me job-wise is finalizing plans for national syndication of CAR, which I've been working on for the past year. I'll also be overseeing the upgrade of the current CAR site so that the interface is more user-friendly and the large quantities of content on the site are more prioritized to artists' interests. And on September 29th, I’m moderating a panel on social media strategies for artists at Chicago Artists Coalition.
Art-wise, I have a solo show at Counterpath Gallery (Denver) which opens September 2nd. I'll be their inaugural show. And in October I'll be doing an 'Artists Connect' talk at the Art Institute of Chicago, discussing my work in relation to Agnes Martin, Sarah Sze, Olafur Elliasson and others. For the end of the year I’m learning to code and developing an interactive data visualization for the Apps for Metro Chicago Competition, based on data from the city’s new open data initiative. I am also beginning to develop a new movement/new media/installation work that involves performing a social network.
Longer term, sometime next year, I am doing a project at Minus Space (Brooklyn) in their new Dumbo space. I’m excited to work with Minus Space because their invitation to join their flat file has really influenced my work over the past two years. Applying the lens of minimalist reductive art to what I do has egged me on to try new directions and distill my ideas into simpler forms.
Image Credits: John Sisson and Courtesy of the Artist