OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Laura Mongiov

From Schoolhouse To White House (2019) Wood, tassels, flocking, yarn. 58” x 76” x 12." 
Title from Alice Allison Dunnigan’s autobiography, A Black Woman’s Experience: From Schoolhouse to White House. Kentucky History: Honors Alice Allison Dunnigan, first African-American female correspondent in the White House and member of the Senate and House of Representative press galleries.

LAURA MONGIOVI’s sculptures are material-driven contemplations of the past, both sociopolitical and geologic. She uses the repetition of stitching, braiding, and knitting to physically process local history. The resulting abstractions crafted from tactile materials, are paired with informational text, drawing attention to lesser-known people and events. Laura has an MFA from University of Colorado Boulder and a BFA from Florida State University. In 2019, she initiated and co-organized the Deeper Than Indigo: Southeast Textile Symposium at Flagler College (St. Augustine, FL). Recent solo exhibitions include The Grass is Blue (2019) at Georgetown College in Kentucky and Northward (2018) at Arts on Douglas in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Laura is a recipient of the Northeast Florida Individual Artist Grant (2018) and the Arrowmont Pentaculum Residency (2020). She lives and works in St. Augustine, Florida.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us about the relationship between material and geographic location in your work? 

Laura Mongiovi: I often research a particular time and place. I am interested in exposing origins; I consider the past a vital component in understanding the present and navigating the future. I am most interested in sensual experiences and utilize associated materials. Our relationship with distinct materials taps into our senses, powerful conduits for reflection and emotional response. 

Upon researching Northeast Florida, where I currently reside, I discovered the history of indigo plantations. I began experimenting with indigo dye and ink to visually communicate stories about a color that led to enslaved labor. Such stories bring awareness to the humanitarian histories, as well as current textile practices, associated with the production of indigo. Another example, I collected water from the Atlantic ocean and boiled to produce salt. The salt was incorporated into a piece about Kentucky geographic history for a solo exhibition The Grass Is Blue at Georgetown College. Kentucky was once underwater, covered by the Atlantic Ocean and present day salt licks are residue of receded ocean water. The memory of salt and taste allows the viewer to connect with this information beyond the visual experience.  

Tracks (2019) Felt, faux fur, yarn, thread. 14" x 17"
The demand for fur in Europe was great. Indigenous peoples hunted beyond their own needs so they could trade fur for tailored shirts, guns and gunpowder.

OPP: You’ve stitched thread into felt for years. What keeps you coming back to these materials? 

LM: Tufts and elevated marks echo topography. As I work, I trace my hands over the surface, aware of valleys and mountains. I am mapping, connecting with space and time.  

OPP: Tell us a bit about your process? How do you start a new piece, generally speaking? 

LM: My process is deeply rooted in research. My research includes tangible experiences as well as gathering resources about a particular time, place or subject. I carefully consider how materials and processes can visually communicate content and meaning. If I don’t have the materials or process knowledge, I will embark on a search for materials and learn a new process. I then begin exploring materials and/or process. Sometimes my first attempt is successful. The majority of time, I am reworking ideas, learning about materials and process for future pieces.  

Claimed Union With The Earth (2019) Yarn. 45” x 56” x 5." 
Title from bell hooks poem #5. Kentucky History: The significance of hair and sweet grass among Indigenous Peoples. 

OPP: Many of your works might be viewed solely as material abstraction if the viewer didn’t read the title card. In two recent series, The Grass is Blue and This Land is My Land, the long-ignored histories of Indigenous peoples and enslaved Africans are highlighted via titles and supporting text. Do you consider this language part of the work or the context for the work? Is this distinction important to you?  

LM: This is a good question – led me to reflect on how I arrived at decisions to use language. I was a gallery monitor during my undergraduate years. I noticed the majority of visitors read the title card before viewing visual work. I came to the conclusion that people wanted to “know” what they were looking at, an explanation, and relied on the title card to guide perception. This observation led me to eliminate titles from my work for many years. I wanted the work to speak for itself, the visual experience to dominate and the viewer to arrive at their own interpretation. As I matured in my studio practice and expanded my research practices, I realized language providing historical reference can serve as context and not necessarily guide the viewer toward a particular conclusion. I also see this information as an additional honor toward the visual stories I am telling. Perhaps similar to a plaque that accompanies a visual commemorating a person or event. So, yes this distinction is important to me as my intent is to create visual work that provides moments for investigation and contemplation while acknowledging the past.  

This Land Is My Land (2019) Felt, metallic thread, air dry clay, wood, steel, paint. Detail. 
Shell middens, left behind by indigenous peoples, buried under colonialism. 

OPP: 2020 has been a challenging year—that’s putting it mildly—for most of us. How have the events of the past six months affected your studio practice?  

LM: With projects and exhibitions postponed, I have time to explore ideas that have been kicking around and finish pieces that have been patiently waiting for me in the studio. Some of these ideas and pieces may not work out and that is okay. Time spent investigating will lead me to new ideas. So, I would have to say the unusual circumstances of 2020 have afforded me time to reflect and catch up. 

To see more of Laura's work, please visit www.lauramongiovi.com and follow her @lmongiovi.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist  Stacia Yeapanis.  When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020).

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Russell Prigodich

Brace (2019) Soap, aluminium. 8" x 20" x 12."

RUSSELL PRIGODICH's minimal color palette allows his materials—soap and metal—to take center stage. He juxtaposes rigidity and flexibility, durability and impermanence, hard and soft in elegant sculptures that sometimes only last days. In recent works, physics and chemistry are at play as the weight of steel pulls and presses on the shrinking, drying soap. Other works employ common domestic objects—matchbook, radiator, drawer—as "proxies for the people who live among them." Russell earned his BA in Studio Art at Saint Michael’s College (Colchester, VT) and his MFA in Sculpture at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. In 2019, His work was included in exhibitions at Conroe Art League (Conroe, TX) and Five Points Gallery (Torrington, CT). Other notable shows include a two-person exhibition  Site: Brooklyn Gallery (Brooklyn, NY). He has been an Artist-in-Residence at UMass Dartmouth (2015-16) and The Studios at Billings Forge (2009) in Hartford, CT. Russell lives and works in Maryland.

OtherPeoplesPixels: How long have you been working with soap as a primary material? What do you love about it? What is challenging about this material when it comes to process?

Russell Prigodich: I have been using soap on and off for about 12 years now. It can be a tricky material. I love the soft folds and wrinkles that soap holds and its relation to the body, but it can be a mess to work with. Anything it touches gets soapy, hands tools, finished metal, so I have a set of tools and supplies I use only for soap. There can be a lot of setup time and energy just to have 1 fold go wrong on a big sheet and then that piece is shot and has be reprocessed. But despite these challenges, I love the material. 

Humans use soap every day, now more than ever, and it is a material with which people have developed a relationship. This daily use and the sensual and visceral nature of it, bring the viewer in. It intrigues them and helps them to relate to the work physically, emotionally and conceptually.

Radiator (2017) Soap and lead.

OPP: What are the similarities and differences in the process of manipulating metal and soap? I imagine they aren’t as different as their final forms imply.

RP: Until recently I was using sheets of metal and sheets of soap, trying to build a relationship between the two materials with process. Both are cut, bent and folded into forms, the steel obviously rigidly holds its form while the soap shifts with time and age. Both require planning because once the fold is 

made it cannot be undone. The metal really has to be forced into shape while I often let the soap and gravity dictate the final form. I think of the process as a means of engaging with the viewer, emphasizing the act of folding.

Matches (2017) Soap and lead.

OPP: In your artist statement, you write: “These sculptures recast seemingly mundane objects of daily domestic life as proxies for the people who live among them. […] Their monochromatic clarity and minimalism invite the viewer to psychologically inhabit them.”  Can you say more about the minimal aesthetic as a vehicle for conveying psychological experience?

RP: I want to try and leave room for the viewer to bring their own experience to the work, and I think that the minimalist aesthetic leaves a space for that. The objects evoke ideas/places such as containment, room, love and loss. By outlining the concept I hope to leave room for the viewer to fill in their own narrative. More recently I have been building tension into the work, forcing the metal and soap together. Some recent soap and aluminum pieces only lasted a couple of days before the soap broke. The simplicity of their forms and surfaces allow the actions and results to be the main focus.

Box of Nails (2017) Soap and lead.

OPP: In Fold, soap mimics fabric, often draped over a radiator or folded neatly in a drawer. So the metal either supports or contains the soap. How do you think about the relationship between the two materials in this body of work? Are these physical or metaphoric relationships?

RP: I think they are both. The physical relationship is evident in their stark structural difference. When I think about soap as a skin both representing and standing in for the human body, the steel sometimes becomes the skeleton, holding and supporting it. This is most evident in Radiator, where I bent the square tubing on a diagonal so as the soap slumped and aged, the metal structure underneath became more and more prominent. In some works, the soap stands in for the body, a piece representing the whole. It’s folded into the steel structure, protected, stored, or contained, locked away; it can go a lot of ways depending on the work. Even though the soap is impermanent and the steel is enduring, the soap takes center stage, it’s about us and the steel works are the spaces we have lived.

Untitled (2019) Soap, aluminium. 10" x 24" x 12."

OPP: Your 2019 works that combine soap with aluminum are more abstract than the soap and lead works. How has your approach shifted in pieces like Brace and Rotor?

RP: In these works, I really wanted to dramatize time. The soap has always had a lifespan lasting months and years, slowly shrinking, cracking and aging. But, as I said,  some newer pieces only last days. There is suspense in an aluminum disc being held by a soap rod. We don’t think it will last and we wonder when it will finally break. I wanted to focus on that anticipation. I also was intentionally trying to make more abstract work. I liked the domestic reference of Fold and I think it helped build the dialogue between the soap, metal and viewer, but I was feeling confined by it. Also, I had access to a machine shop and that process lent itself to abstraction. I really believe in the meaning of material, listening to it and allowing it to speak. 

To see more of Russell's work, please visit www.russellprigodich.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist  Stacia Yeapanis.  When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020). 


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Judith Brotman

Because the Object Was of an Amicable Nature (Unless and Until Backed Into a Corner) (left) and Because the Object Spoke Both Harshly and Adoringly of You (But Never in Your Presence or Above a Whisper) (right) (2019). Mixed media.

JUDITH BROTMAN's interdisciplinary practice revolves around text, material and process. All of these are employed in the act of inquiry into the complex nature of a human life. In awkwardly elegant installations and precarious sculptures, she cultivates an aura of uncertainty and a poignant combination of anxiety and confusion with touches of resilient optimism. Her text pieces, most recently created for the context of Instagram, and audio works that address the viewer in the second-person balance the fantastical with the mundane, encouraging the viewer to think more deeply about their own, often conflicting, motivationsJudith earned both her BFA and MFA from School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her work is included in the public collections of the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), Illinois State Museum (Chicago) and the Joan Flasch Artists' Book Collection (Chicago). In 2019, Judith's work was included in A Creep that Snakes: A Tic of Words and Symbolsa two-person show with Dutes Miller and curated by Scott Hunter (Tiger Strikes Asteroid, Chicago) and Breach of Contractcurated by Paul Hopkins (Heaven Gallery, Chicago). In May 2020, her work will be included in a group show at Heaven Gallery, curated by Lauren Ike. Judith lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You gravitate towards recognizable objects one might buy at a hardware or drug store—bungee cords, wire, napkins, plastic tubing—as well as objects that look like they were once part of some functioning system. What draws you to these materials?

Judith Brotman: The work I have on my OPP website goes back about 15 years. Throughout this time, I have gravitated toward humble and/or useful materials. A very incomplete list includes such things as dead leavesbook pages, thread, wire, paper, napkins, tissues, and—as you mentioned—hardware store objects.    

As I am inordinately unhandy, I rarely know the actual functions of the hardware store objects when I purchase them. I simply gravitate to shapes, textures, colors that interest me and whose uses might be loosely implied. I believe there is a unique, visceral response to seeing something even vaguely familiar: objects that refer in some way to a lived life. Everyone recognizes a napkin and its function; I’m interested both in working with AND subverting the original function. 

I frequently combine like and unlike materials. In some of my sculpture pieces, I hope to convince the audience, even for a moment, that the transition from one material to the next is a natural one—especially when it is not! The possibility of a transformative experience is part of the content of my work, and I use material shifts/transformations as a metaphor for that.

Because Just East of Heaven is Somewhere Else (2019). Mixed media. Dimensions variable.

OPP: Have your material choices changed over the years?

JB: In more recent work (the past 3 to 5 years), my material choices have become increasingly specific. I’ve been working a lot with tissues—unused! The first two pieces that incorporated them were titled Kleenex (highly embellished) From My Mother's Funeral and Strange Object Purchased on My Last Day in Vienna and Kleenex (embellished) From My Therapist's Office. The tissues were embellished with sequins and beads and combined with other objects. Since then, I’ve been asking certain people, usually close friends, if they will give me tissues to be used in my work. I think of these tissues as carriers of the giver’s emotions; that aspect is very important to me. 

Embellishment is meant to decorate and add weight/meaning to what is considered to be a highly disposable object. On the other hand, I also consider it to be a rather absurd and compulsive gesture to heavily embellish something as fragile and disposable as a tissue; they are among my most labored pieces, although I am aware they won’t last very long. Often the tissues begin to shred even as I am working on them. Much of my work doesn’t survive more than one or two showings. I am very interested in the ephemeral and this, too, impacts my material choices.

Highly embellished Kleenex with just enough space left to absorb nine tears (2019).

OPP: I also notice a lot of wrapping, winding and twisting in wound strips of paperFrench knotstwisted wire and knotted thread. Why these actions over and over again? Do you see these actions as metaphors?

JB: I do see these actions as metaphors—even multiple metaphors. It’s important in my work to include these stitches, twists, etc., as evidence of the maker’s hand and the process of making. In past work—larger installations—the winding and twisting were often structural, used as a joining mechanism. Lately the repetitive marks have become increasingly decorative in the form of sequins, beads and stitches. I also use these repetitive gestures as a nod toward the passage of time.

Untitled (The Odyssey) (2016). All the pages of Homer's "The Odyssey"-stitched & altered. Dimensions variable.

OPP: In your statement, you speak of the “space of not knowing.” Your visual language “suggests the unfinished or incomplete, and might evoke the question, ‘What happens next?’”  How do viewers respond to “the resulting cliffhanger of uncertainty?”

JB: That’s a great question. I’m not sure that anyone, including me, loves uncertainty. Many of us try very hard to think and even construct ways to believe certainty exists. But as far as I know, it does not. I think one can develop a tolerance for not knowing or uncertainty, and I believe it makes for a richer, more complex life. 

My work has increasingly taken on a political stance. I’ve always considered my work a kind of meditation on who and what can be known, understood, undertaken and even accomplished in the context of a lifetime. In recent years, the distinction between the personal and political has blurred for me, and I see all of it as uncertain AND interrelated. 

Slow Time (2016). Mixed Media. Dimensions variable

OPP: I’m surprised to hear you use the word “political” in relation to your work, but I think I know what you mean. The inherent uncertainly of life has become more glaringly obvious in today’s political landscape. And, of course, the personal is political. Is self-reflection a political act?

JB: I'm not interested in telling people what to think as I don't believe that it serves much purpose in any real way. But I do feel that paying close attention to what/how one thinks has the capacity to impact all aspects of a lived life. . . personal & social/political. The fundamental question driving all my work is: How do you commit to the things that matter most (relationships, profession, social/political/ethical beliefs) in an uncertain world? I have more questions than answers, but a partial response is that ongoing self-reflection can be a way of better knowing ourselves and our very complicated and precarious motivations.  

The possibility, as opposed to the certainty, of transformation is also, as I mentioned, an important aspect of my work. Self-reflection, very careful listening to others, and an openness to uncertainty are pathways to transformation. 

I have been asked on occasion if I’m interested in resolving and/or concluding. I am not. My perspective is that as long as we’re breathing, we’re in flux. That is both the good and the bad news. It’s pretty great that we have the opportunity to revise and rethink over the course of an entire lifetime. But expecting our most tenaciously held beliefs will serve us well forever can be a dangerous game. 

Instagram post, 2019

OPP: You’ve worked with text for a long time in a variety of ways. For at least a year, if not more, I’ve been seeing your multiple-choice napkins in my Instagram feed, which is a refreshing pause in the stream of images. Can you talk about your choice to write in the second person?

JB: I write in the second person in most of my text-based work, including older audio pieces in which I narrate a series of mini-fictions about what will happen to “you.” I write this way as means of seeming to speak directly to each individual person in the audience.  

The multiple-choice format on the napkins implies that a response is called for with each post. I do think about the multiplicity of 'you's (friends, colleagues, students, strangers) as I write for Instagram, even though I have no idea who will be reading any particular post. I am aware of the fact that some of my close friends will read this work very differently than a total stranger might because the line is blurred between my life and a fictional persona I’ve created. 

Life In Progress (2019). Napkin, sequins

OPP: Has Instagram changed the way you think about text?

JB: Instagram has changed a lot of my thinking— period!  No one would ever recognize this from my many (many many) posts, but I have been ambivalent about it from the start. I am more interested in work that is processed slowly over time. And I have similar feelings about life; understanding is something that takes time and evolves slowly over the course of a lifetime, and only with a commitment to self-reflection. Instagram is, of course, largely the opposite: instantaneous, quickly digested and then forgotten. New and different tends to rule on social media.  

Initially, like many artists, I was posting images of my work and life. But about two years ago, I began posting the napkins. Many of the questions and answers are darkly funny and quite a few are also on the personal side. I truly had no expectations about whether or not people would respond. In fact, I most likely would have predicted they would not, perhaps because in similar circumstance, I probably would not respond. (The secret is out!) I have been amazed and actually quite moved at the number of people who have responded and consistently respond. Posting on Instagram continues to feel very experimental to me because I’m typically unable to predict what people will respond to most. I feel as if Instagram has made me braver and has encouraged me to dig deeper within THIS body of work, as the posts that are the most raw seem to get the best response. 

Instagram post, 2019

OPP: Do you create work just for Instagram?

JB: My current Instagram work (short texts written on my hands) is only meant for Instagram; I have no interest in showing it elsewhere. This is actually the first time I’ve felt that a body of work is ONLY meant for that format. Sometimes I try to push my own boundaries and post something I anticipate will not get a positive response.  My success rate of predicting is very low. 

When I talk about looking for responses to my text posts on Instagram, I’m not referring to a wish to be “liked.”  (Which, of course, we all do to some extent!)  But these posts, as opposed to most other work I do, have a performative or call/response aspect to them, and I’m very interested in seeing how far and where this interaction can go!   

My Instagram posts are, in many ways, a critique of social media even while being a part of it. I believe social media does indeed serve a useful function. But I am critical of how it overshadows real life interactions. I enjoy much that I see on Instagram and Facebook. I appreciate the opportunity to celebrate my friends’ good news and successes and to respond when something sad is posted. But I also grow weary of the posts that serve no function other than over-the-top narcissism, proclaiming a charmed existence that none of us actually inhabit. I question the “social” function of these posts. Admittedly, social media is addictive, and I spend much more time on it than I ever dreamed I would.  

Instagram feed, 2019.

OPP: I keep trying to come up with a phrase to describe the nature of the text: playful musing, philosophical inquiry, mindful observation, stream of consciousness, mindless chatter brought about by boredom.

JB: Terrific list! The only one that doesn’t personally resonate is mindless chatter brought about by boredom; I’m almost never bored. I do mean for my writing to have a humorous component, but I’m also extremely serious about the work. In that sense, philosophical inquiry is the closest to what I consider the heart of the work.  

The humor and play are ways to catch your interest. I often give away the napkins as gifts at exhibitions. I feel that if I’m really asking someone to consider and reconsider their thinking, then perhaps there should be something gifted to them in exchange. I’m not sure that any one or two napkins or texts give a strong sense of what the inquiry is or where it’s headed. That’s why the Instagram format is particularly useful for this body of work. Over time the dark humor becomes more pointed and so does the thrust toward self-scrutiny. It also becomes clearer over time and many napkins that no singular answer is ever sufficient. We are much too complex for that. 

Instagram post, 2019

OPP: In each of these, I imagine you simply jotting down your thoughts. Do you carefully craft the texts in your work or do you think them and record?  

JB: The extent of crafting depends upon which of my text-based works we’re discussing. I spend the longest time crafting and revising my audio pieces. In works like As the Story Opens and The 93 Days of Summer, I narrate how life will unfold for “you.” These are focused on uncertainty with mundane, spectacular and unsettling events transpiring over time. All the while, you are encouraged to pay careful attention despite the chaos and randomness. I have spent up to a year or more on these pieces, longer than almost any sculpture installation I’ve created. Certainly, the napkins and other Instagram pieces do not involve anywhere near this kind of revision. But I do spend more time with them than one might assume. They are meant to appear spontaneous and automatic, as if I couldn’t get my thoughts out quickly enough.  

I do, in fact, write a lot. Often my morning coffee is accompanied by jotting down whatever I’m thinking about. . . unedited. Some of this writing is kept and revised but much of it is thrown away at the end of the day. The reality is that there’s an enormous difference between my stream-of-consciousness writing and anything that’s shown or posted. Much more so than in my 3D work, I think about the reader quite a bit as I write.  

I see text having various and slightly different roles in each of my current bodies of work. Titles have become increasingly important to me, so much so that I consider them as important as the images/objects. Recent installation titles such as The Ghosts From Your Past Will Be Late For Dinner (but may be on time for other meals and activities) and Because Certainty (having no tongue) Couldn't (exactly) Say clearly give an enormous amount of direction for understanding the work. 

My Instagram post today was three words written on a napkin in cursive with a Sharpie: "Can you talk.” Yes, people seemed to like it. The question is: am I making inroads into real communication or going straight down the slippery slope I’m so adamantly against?  To be continued. . .

To see more of Judith's work, please visit www.judithbrotman.com and her Instagram @judithbrotman.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist  Stacia Yeapanis.  When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations.  She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018) and Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019). Her work was recently included in the three-person show Manifestations at One After 909 (Chicago). Stacia's solo exhibition The Thin Line Between One Thing and Another opens on January 16, 2020.