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.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Tory Wright

Obsession, detail
2009
Cut plastic
30 inches x 40 inches

Other Peoples Pixels: Your most prevalent media is “cut duratrans” or “cut poster on paper.” Can you tell us more about your source material and about the process of cutting such detailed pieces? It appears to be precision work. Is there a lot of planning before you make the first cut?

Tory Wright: My day job is in retail as a visual merchandiser. So whenever a light box Duratrans or a fragrance poster was slated for the trash shoot, I would roll it up, tuck it under my arm, and take it on home to my studio instead. These posters and Duratrans prints were large versions of the magazine adds I had been altering before I had this job. The funny thing is the scale shifted to a larger format while the detail of the cuts became more intricate. I just dive in and start making cuts free hand with a standard X-Acto® blade. I usually start at a point of interest like the eyes of the model.

OPP: I’m interested in the recurring shape of the loop. What does the shape mean to you and how did it emerge in your work?

TW: The shapes in my work are based on the body. When I made paintings I would look at high fashion magazines and then translate those forms (the models themselves and the cuts of the clothing) into flat, biomorphic forms that had a distance from the source. In graduate school at MICA I had a shift in the relationship between the source material and the final work. Why not cut my forms and patterns directly into the source material? It was about surface beauty and alienation, so why not change the surface of the source material itself? The most obvious step is often  the hardest one to make.

Crimson and Clover Interior, detail
2011

OPP: Crimson and Clover (2011) seems to represent a shift in your practice from delicate and intimate gallery pieces to larger public art works. The piece is both a billboard and has an interior life in a gallery space. Can you tell me about how it was developed?

TW: Good Citizen in St. Louis is a great space. They have a billboard on top of the gallery and have programmed the use of it as well as the gallery space. I was so excited to have a solo show there. On top of that, to be able to have a billboard for two months was beyond what I could have hoped for. The billboard was where I started the work for the show. So in a way I worked from the roof down. The work is about transformation of a single image and a single face (Kate Moss). As I continued to work with the transformative qualities of this cut and copy methodology, I was able to see the possibility of where this new work could go.

Untitled Floor Piece, detail
2010
Cut collaged photocopies

OPP: Untitled Floor Piece (2010), an abstracted collage using repeating imagery of the Venus of Willendorf  is distinct from most of your work. Its source material is from Art History instead of advertising, and it uses a process of accumulation instead of a process of deletion, as most of your cut pieces do. Can you talk about these differences?

TW: Untitled Floor Piece-Venus was the second cut, copy, and accumulate piece that I was able to do in a gallery. The first was at The Front in New Orleans in 2010. For this project at Lump gallery in NC, I was encourage to take advantage of the freedom of treating the space as an extension of the studio. Being able to glue the work to the floor opened up new avenues that wouldn't have been possible in a more formalized gallery setting. There was both humor and social commentary in drawing a face on the art historical Venus and then setting up the installation for interaction with the audience. Well, the interaction was more like watching people stand on top of the cluster of Venuses regardless of how many people were at the show. It was definitely a good time with a healthy sense of humor about some important topics.

OPP: What kind of important topics?

TW: The use of the Venus was my way of working through the position of feminism in my work. Giving her a sort of blank face seemed to sum up a internal commentary I have with a feminist history. I wrestle with where I might fit in. I just took my thinking out of my studio and into the gallery, thanks to Lump Gallery and the encouragement of Bill Thelen. The majority of my work is I engaged with the altering of the female form. I edit images constructed by fashion photography into a new form of beauty: just as alluring, but now more powerful with the absence of the cliche.

Kate, Back in Black, #4
2011

OPP: What’s changed in the way you work over time?

TW: The work I make has gotten more labor intensive as I have challenged myself on how much information from the original image could be striped away without losing the sensuality of the original image. However, now the cut and copy work is about the  accumulation of all those choices made in my past work. Now I just need another opportunity to push the installation of the work into a total environment.

OPP: What project are you most excited about right now?

TW:  I am really into a collaborative project I have with Lydia Moyer. Hateful is a zine and blog were we challenge each other by juxtaposing our separate aesthetics with images from artists we invite to participate. It has been a great avenue for approaching my work in new ways and pushing what I think my work is or should be.

To view more of Tory Wright’s work, visit torywright.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Montgomery Perry Smith

Oh Mother, 2009. Detail. Chair frame, fake flowers, plastic dome, glass, paint, mirror.

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.

Baby Blue, 2010. Paper, pen, paint, lace, fake flower. 14 inches.

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.

Bottom Feeder, 2009. Starfish, lace, paper, pen, paint, fleece, plastic dome, fake flowers, the cone, google eyes. 40 inches.

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).

Pit Worship, 2010. Pleather, felt, faux fur, fake flowers, satin, fleece, leather. 50 inches.

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.

Loads and Tools, 2011. Glass, foam, beeswax, fake flowers, paint

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.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Andrea Myers

Orange Horizon (Detail)
2008
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.

Plateau
2007
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.

Isthmus (Detail)
2006
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.

Everlasting
2010
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.

Spill Thaw
2011
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.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Adam Parker Smith

Pussy Fart, detail
2011
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.

Bad Dog
2011
printed canvas, porcupine quills
30" by 30"

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.

Disco Ball
2009
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
2011
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
2011

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.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Sam Jaffe

Blue Meanie
2009
Mixed Media
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 partsa 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.

Untitled (from Sketchbook)

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.

Painting Sweater
2009
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.

Some Pig
2009
Construction Gloves, Chicken Wire, Poly-fill
Variable Dimensions

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.

Warm And Scuzzy (Detail)
2009
Latex, Great Stuff, Felt, Thread, Polyfill, Glitter, Acrylic, Hair, PVC Piping
3' X 3' X 1.5'

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 Interviews Andy Rosen

Dear, Old Master 
2009
Installation

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.

Loaded
2010

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 laboriousmoving 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.

Pinocchio
Wood and Epoxy

OPP: Each of your sculptures and installations implies a narrative and many read like allegories. Some make references to known fairy tales including Pinocchio and Sleeping Beauty, while others evoke well-known fables in their use of specific animals like the hare and the fox. Do you generally have a specific narrative in mind before beginning a piece? Is there a prevailing allegory that runs through all of your work?

AR: It’s hard not to get caught up in the fantasy/idea I create. I even pat my sculptures on their heads, as if they’re real. On some level, I really feel for them. This kind of deceptive empathy is how I generate narrative. It definitely shapes what happens to the sculptures and the decisions I make regarding their plight. It seems weird then to treat this “being” as a symbol or stand-in for a larger theme. They probably still are allegorical but I think I’m most compelled by the irrepressible urge to treat my works like real animals. I know it’s a fantasy, but it’s also something that is for me impossible to ignore. In this way, play becomes both subject and tool.

As for the use of fables and fairytales, I can’t help but notice their influence, especially those that take place in rural settings. The notion of a fairy tale as a way to process something more abstractly or indirectly within the environment resonates with me.

I’ll borrow from these ideas, usually only in part. I’ll use them as a framework to build from. However, I don’t initially have a narrative that I set out to illustrate. I often have only a vague sense or image in mind for each piece, a kind of gut level pull (read, biases and beliefs). To make the rabbit (Duster) for instance, there was some sort of narrative bouncing around my brain, a picture or sense of this rabbit in a really specific location. It’s often as though I can’t really see it until I make it. There were a handful of iterations before I eventually decided upon making him into a motorcycle.  Sometimes a piece will languish in a pile in my studio, half-completed for really long time. And I also usually make several pieces at once. What I’ve found is that the story unfolds as a kind of interaction between the objects I’m making and have lying around. I ask myself, what if this thing and this other thing were put together?  Throughout the course of making it, the idea becomes clearer, almost as if I’m fleshing out the scene in a landscape painting.

Duster
2011
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.