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.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Carolyn Salas

Rug Project
2009
Cut and glued carpet foam padding
10ft x 8ft

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.  

Stack of Quilts
2011
ceramic, found objects
8.5 x 24 x 20” / 21.6 x 61 x 50.8cm

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.

Earring on a Mountain
2010
cement, abalone shell
80" x 64" x 2.5"

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.  

To view more of Carolyn Salas’ work, visit carolynsalas.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Andrew Scott Ross

My century Zoo (Detail)
2011
Mud, Paper, Wood
18 x 10 x 12 feet

OtherPeoplesPixels: You have partitioned your practice into two ongoing series, Rocks and Rocks and Rocks which is is a mix of drawings and ephemeral sculptures and Bones and Bones and Bones which is a mix of short narrative videos, wildlife photography, and sculptural objects. Which themes that you address in your work are distinct to each series? How do the two series differ from one another aside from the media distinction you make and what do they have in common that may speak to overarching themes in your practice?
 
Andrew Scott Ross: The defining work for the Rocks and Rocks and Rocks series is Paper Caves and Habits is the primary piece for the Bones and Bones and Bones series. These two series originated with these works. The video Habits which depicts a bunch of scattered living earthworms slowly forming a perfect circle came from my interest in the incredible habits of blind animals and how they can be an interesting metaphor for the power of nature. While Paper Caves, the group of works where I make early human dioramas out of office paper, is about how human imagination was utilized in the formations of early cultures.

Somehow, everything I have made since these two works are built on these two pieces in a somewhat chronological fashion. For instance in Rocks and Rocks and Rocks I started with the Stone Age, then did some pieces about the Neolithic Era and just finished My Century Zoo which touched on themes of Archaic Greek culture. It has been a slow process and I am looking forward to make it to the French Revolution sometime in the next decade!
Stones and Rocks and Stones and Bones (Detail)
2009
Office Paper
Detail of installation at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD)

OPP: Can you speak about your titling process for the pieces included in each series?

ASR: My titling process is really different for the two series. The titles for Rocks and Rocks and Rocks are deliberately vague, picked at random, or generic. I feel there is already plenty of information packed in these piecesso I make the titles more atmospheric. In contrast the titles for Bones and Bones and Bones are more descriptive, as I want to steer the viewers attention to certain aspect of an animals behaviour or physical traits.

OPP: Your solo exhibition My Century Zoo, now on view at John Michael Kohler Arts Center, lists mud, paper, and wood as the materials used. You’ve used mud in your work before, but using it in My Century Zoo seems to lend to a slightly different look from your past installation work. How does My Century Zoo differ for your previous installations?

ASR: Yes, I keep coming back to mud! At first I just dipped things into it to give a uniform primordial aesthetic. Now, in my newest series, My Century Zoo mud is used as a glue for the paper, drawing material, and for its sculptural qualities. It has become both a central material and metaphor in my work. We walk on mud, make cities out of it, and can get buried in it. What I find the most interesting, is that as an art material, mud comes across as immensely fragile.

OPP: You often cut and crumble paper into small and incredibly delicate silhouettes of human and animal figures as well as into trees and other landscape elements. What's the hardest and easiest part of the process of making your sculptural paper work?

ASR: People often ask me why I do not use a laser cutter. They look as the process and all they see is tedious labor. Not only would using a laser effect the work aesthetically and conceptually, but it would take away a lot of pleasure. I really enjoy most of the detailed cutting and modeling processactually I find it incredibly relaxing. In contrast, the hardest and most frustrating part of the process is having to start over again when messing up on a complex figure—and the easiest part would be the deinstallation. It is amazing how six months of work can be put in a box in 2 hours.
Stones and Rocks and Stones and Bones
2009
office paper
Installation at Museum of Arts and Design (MAD)

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.
To view more of Andrew Scott Ross’ work visit andrewscottross.com

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Molly Schafer

Specters / Bloodwrath; At my end I will take you with me
2008
Graphite, acrylic, colored pencil on paper
60" x 48"

OtherPeoplesPixels: How do you think the concept of “going feral” shapes your work? It seems to factor into a number of your works dating back to your 2006 video Centaurides, in which a computer modified child—like voice shares her fantastical observations and dreams; most of which involve a desire to break—free from the mundane, civilized, or unjust.

Molly Schafer: Yes exactly!  “Going feral” is my out to the mundane daily human life.  As I see it back in the day we had it all—tons of time outside, traveling around with the seasons, NOT MULTITASKING, self-reliance, physical strength and endurance, being in the moment and more connected to nature/each other/other animals/Earth/the universe… and then we decided to live in dark, dirty cities buy stuff from stores and sit in offices all day. Blah who wants that? Well it turns out lots of people do. And the idea of “going feral” becomes threatening to society. Perhaps it partially represents everyone’s underlying longing for freedom and/or fear of that desire.

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.

Clan of the Cave Girl (We went feral y'all)
2009
Graphite & watercolor on paper
20" x 20"

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.

Ha ha.

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.

Still From Barrier Island
2007
digital video

OPP: Your arctic-looking house cat plays a prominent role in your video from your Barrier Island series. In reviewing images from your subsequent solo show, Dawn Horse, at Lump Gallery in Raleigh, NC, I noticed at least three other pieces that include visual references to your cat; one that even lists “my cat's fur” in the material list. Can you speak about the role your cat plays in your artmaking? Where does your house cat fit in your work’s relationship to real and imagined animals like centaurs what you describe as “similar hybrids”?

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.

Endangered Species Print Project

OPP: Your own art practice is hybrid in nature. You maintain an individual art practice exhibiting your work widely but also operate outside of the gallery system using your artistic talents to directly support conservation efforts and biodiversity as the co-founder of The Endangered Species Print Project (ESPP). Let’s talk about what ESPP is, how it got started, and how it relates to your work as an individual artist.

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.

To view more of Molly Schafer’s work visit mollyschafer.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Sara Schnadt

Drafting Universes
2010

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.

Connectivity (Condensed)
2011

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.

Connectivity
2008, 2007

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.

To view more of Sara Schnadt’s work visit saraschnadt.com.

Image Credits: John Sisson and Courtesy of the Artist