OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Sarah K. Williams

Mid-Sized Creatures: a 3-act sculptural performance for 3 performers and cello. 2017. 
Performers: Annelyse Gelman, Thalia Beaty, Ashley Williams, and Sarah Williams. Cello: Clare Monfredo. Text: Ashley Williams 

SARAH K. WILLIAMS' background is in painting and sculpture, but "perfectly still objects make [her] restless." She creates scores for sculptural performances, both performing herself and directing others. These hard-to-classify works linger in between theater, performance art and sculpture. Sarah earned her BA in Fine Arts / Art History at The College of William and Mary and her MFA in Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She was a 2017 Fulbright Fellow at Universität der Künste, Institute for New Music in Berlin. She is the founder of the Sprechgesang Institute, a "research-based platform for artists working in an in-between language of two or more disciplines." She is a 2019 Target Margin Theater Institute Fellow and has been an Artist-in-Residence at Vermont studio Center, Studios at MASS MoCA, Theater Magdeburg and Oxbow. Sarah lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: As you say in your artists statement, you “made still objects once: out of clay and plaster, wire and wood.” Let’s talk about those sculptures first. Works like Sugar Temple (2013), Act I, Scene I (2015) and Over Saturated (2015) have a sense of action in them even though they are static. It’s not they that seem like they would move, but rather that they are sites where some human ritual might be performed. How do you think about ritual, in the world and in your practice? 

Sarah K. Williams: Yes, ritual is an interesting word and not one I often use with my current work, but I can certainly see the relationship with the works you’ve mentioned. I gravitate towards symmetry, repetition, precision, memorized gestures—which I guess are all present within ritualistic activity. But ritual connotes a sense of spirituality, which I have trouble relating to. Certainly I was thinking of sites for human activity—that the piece could potentially be moved or interacted with, though I hadn’t given myself permission to work that way yet. A bit related maybe, “otherworldly” was a word that was tossed around a lot with these works, which bothered me. I’ve become much more interested in the mundane, and finding absurdity within banal activities. 

Error Fishing, 2014. Plaster, polystyrene, expandable foam, clay, tinted water, wire, hook, acrylic and watercolor paint, powdered graphite. 60" x 48" x 36"

OPP: It sounds like stillness of those sculptures was a problem?

SKW: Those pieces are on the cusp of movement. I was feeling very restless with their stillness, even though, as you mention, there is a suggestion of activity. I think we sometimes restrict ourselves too much with titles, too aware of our chosen medium or discipline. At the time, I was too aware of being a Sculptor and frustrated that sculptors make things which sit in space and should be walked around and looked at. Obviously this isn’t helpful, and it meant I was irritated the minute I walked into the studio with all these unmoving things. There was a huge disconnect because my main source of inspiration was music and theater, yet I was trying to squish it into a very small box, under the umbrella of sculpture.

Sample Objects (and their potential movements), 2018

OPP: What is a “sculptural performance?” Is this a term you coined or are you part of a lineage of other artists? 

SKW: I started using the term ‘sculptural performance’ only because it seemed like the most logical and straight-forward way to describe my work. I would describe it as performative work involving a set of invented objects within a specific aesthetic framework. Within this work, I’ve started referring to my sculptures as objects. To me, an object has a functionality to it which a sculpture doesn’t have. I want these objects to exist with a purpose, to be assigned specific characteristics and abilities. 

I wasn’t so aware of this combination of composed sound and movement with strong visual elements until spending time in Berlin. The work which I found the strongest connection to there was in the genre of MusiktheaterI didn’t even know this was a genre! Very different from what we know as Musical Theater in the U.S., these pieces weren’t compelled to follow a narrative, were often very short, experimental, abstract, absurd. To generalize, most pieces seemed to enter a visual world through music composition, while I was the other way around. Exposure to artists like Heiner GoebblesDieter Schnebel, and Mauricio Kagel made a huge impression on me. 

Absorbent Objects: for one performer and 3 objects, 2017.

OPP: You often use the language of music and theater to talk about interacting with the objects you make. There’s the Orchestra of Obsessions and Dissatisfactions (2018) and The Found Sound Research Orchestra (2017). You also create “scores” for objects. Many performances are divided into Acts. Can you talk about this merging of the performing arts with the visual arts? Does this hybridity change the venues where you share your work?

SKW: When I first moved to NYC after grad school, I was completely uninterested in looking at sculpture or painting. I knew I should be going to galleries, openings, things we’re told are necessary as emerging artists, but all I wanted to do was go to the opera. I never had a relationship with opera until my last semester in grad school when I heard Wozzek for the first time and became completely obsessed. I basically spend two solid years learning everything I could about opera. I started working for a couple of small opera companies in NY, and spent hours in the performing arts library looking at scores as drawings, as recipes, as instructions for something that could be tangible. 

There is so much great overlapping vocabulary with sound and visual: vocal color, textures in music, light and dark, hard and soft, etc. I started writing ‘scores’ for sculptures as accompanying documents which might describe how an object moves through the world. In Berlin, I began really leaning into this overlap, which is where the orchestra pieces came from. I became interested in borrowing structural frameworks from other disciplines, approaching them with my own skill sets. How can I work within the conventions of classical music, but through the lens of what I know: material, process, color, form? As I’ve been working this way, I have become less interested in traditional gallery spaces, and more attracted to hybrid spaces, collaborative venues, non-art spaces, offices perhaps. . . 

Orchestra of Obsessions and Dissatisfactions, 2018. 8 minute performance for 9 performers and 11 objects.Ffilmed at The Studios Residency at MASS MoCA. 
Performed by: Kesso Saulnier, Max Colby, Hui-Ying Tsai, David Greenwood, Hyun Jung Ahn, Paolo Arao, Jon Verney, Ashley Strazzinski, and Ashley Williams

OPP: Can you talk about the difference between performing your own work and being a director? 

SKW: I’m much more interested in directing/conducting/writing than performing. I only end up performing by default, and it’s not a comfortable role for me. However, I have to learn about a piece by doing it myself, and then sometimes it’s easier just to execute it without needing to articulate it to someone else. When I do have the opportunity to work with “performers.” I put this is quotes, because I typically work with artists who have a relationship to the types of activities the piece focuses on rather than someone with a performance background and preconceptions about what it means to perform. I often make a track with audio commands as a sort of script. Practically, this is useful because the actions don’t have to be memorized, but I’ve also been playing around with letting the audio track become a more present component to the pieces. I’ve been going to a lot of plays recently which has brought up a lot of opinions about performing versus acting. As I’ve only performed with non-performers, it makes me wonder what would happen if I immersed myself more into a theater environment. 

Fried Book of Conjugated Concerns with Sprig of Thyme: for one muttering performer with multiple concerns. 2017.

OPP: You are the founder and director of Sprechgesang Institute. Tell us about the formation of the Institute.

SKW: The first iteration of Sprechgesang Institute began in Berlin when I was doing a Fulbright there in 2016/17. As I mentioned, I was studying the overlap of opera and sculpture. I enrolled in an experimental music composition department. Between being surrounded almost exclusively by musicians/ composers at the university and my fellow Berlin Fulbrighters in Germany—very few of whom where artists—it became clear to me how refreshing and enormously valuable it was to be outside of a strict Fine Arts community. The foundation of S.I. is made up of people I met while in Germany, paired with people I know here in New York, and a few artists working long-distance. Currently we are a mixture of sculptors, painters, musicians, writers, composers, scientists, journalists, cooks—all interested in finding overlaps within our lines of work. We meet once a month over an elaborate dinner, mostly constructed of tiny sculptural snacks, we staple a lot of things, file things, take roll—it’s all very institutional. 

OPP: What’s the latest project? 

SKW: Our current project is an experimental dining event. Each Artist of the Institute is making a dish—some edible, some not—to be choreographed into a 10-course progression for two performances in mid July. We’re also putting together an accompanying cookbook full of overly-complicated recipes. 

S.I. dinner #1, 2017.

OPP: Aside from Sprechgesang Institute, what’s next for you? Any new projects in the works? 

SKW: I am still digesting a few projects I started while at Vermont Studio Center last month. I’m working on a series of short performances with objects under the theme Critical Response, structured a bit like a concept album. I collaborated with some artists there on a couple of these pieces and they continue to evolve. I’d like to get them to a point where they can be performed back-to-back in quick succession. 

I’m also a fellow at Target Margin Theater this year, which has been a great outlet for exploring the more performative side of my practice. For this, I have an ongoing investigation of gesture and other alternative methods of communication not reliant on text or object. It’s so hard for me to ignore the visual side of things, but such a worthwhile challenge! 

I also have an ongoing project called Aesthetically Complex Pies. It’s exactly what it sounds like. 

To see more of Sarah's work, please visit sarahkwilliams.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 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), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis 2017) and Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018). During summer 2018, Stacia created  Renunciation Reliquary as a one-night installation for Chicago Artist Coalition's annual benefit Work in Progress and was an Artist-in-Residence at Facebook. Her solo show Practice is on view at Kent State Stark through May 4, 2019.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Sarah Beth Woods

Esther and Anonymous, 2015. Hair weave, shoe laces, aluminum. 64" x 30" x 7."

SARAH BETH WOODS employs a range of artistic methods, including sculpture, film and relational aesthetics in her research-based practice. Her sculptural objects and events celebrate the material aspects of feminine adornment—hair braiding, nails and jewelry—and their corollary social spaces. Her formative years on the Southwest side of Chicago influence her ongoing engagement with black, female aesthetics in particular. Sarah earned a BFA at Northern Illinois University and an MFA at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Her solo exhibitions include Braid & Nails (2015) at Wheaton College and Bricoleur at Azimuth Projects (Chicago, 2014). Sarah collaborated with hair braider Fatima Traore for BRAID/WORK, and they were the recipients of the 2015/2016 Crossing Boundaries PrizeEsther and Anonymous is currently on view in Focus: Fiber 2019 at Kent State University Museum in Ohio through July 28, 2019. BRAID/WORK will be part of a symposium and solo show at Bethel College (Mishawaka, Indiana) in November of 2019. The conceptual girl group The Rhinettes will perform at Experience Threewalls at 15 on June 5th, 2019. Sarah lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Can you talk about the relationship between objects and events in your practice? How do you balance these modes of making?

Sarah Beth Woods: The majority of my training is as a studio artist. In terms of my process, that always comes first and starts with a specific material. I think of my public events as collective performances. They are an important part of the evolution of the work rather than a means to an end. Recently, events have taken the form of musical performances and collective braiding sessions.  I’m interested in the act of braiding and the labor associated with the hand work as a common denominator or language shared by different communities. These events provide pragmatic ways to engage a specific audience while collectively thinking through materials. During Shared Language, curated by Tempestt Hazel at the Arts Incubator, Fatima Traore and I were able to braid and exchange stories with women from the Academy of Beauty and Culture, a beauty school on the West side of Chicago.

What does it feel like for a girl?, 2012. Bath poufs, hair weave, ribbon, felt, clamp lights, lightbulbs, steel. 14" x 10" x 58."

OPP: What does performance mean to you—both as an art form and in terms of our various identities?

SBW: For me, performance has everything to do with process and improvisation. We all perform specific parts of our identities on a daily basis. It’s a performance because it’s not innate; it’s learned and then acted out. During the research phase of my recent 16mm reversal film Hear the Glow of Electric Lights, I became really interested in female body comportment, specifically Maxine Powell’s finishing school at Motown and the methods she employed to train the Supremes to be “lady-like.” Powell spent a lot of time training the women how to get in and out of a car gracefully, with poise and posture. This was a strategic marketing ploy that has everything to do with class and respectability politics. I’m interested in the ways these ideas are inscribed on to the body through repetition and performance. Similar to content in BRAID/WORK, there was a lot of behind-the-scenes labor that went into this process.

Kayla, 2015. acrylic nails, pom-poms, googley eyes, glitter, confetti.

OPP: Tell us about your work with Fatima Traore. How did you two first meet and start working together?

SBW: Fatima Traore and I met when she was braiding hair during the Mappy Hair Project at the Gray Center for the Arts in 2013. We started braiding together informally. On some occasions, I would paint nails while she braided. We did pop-up salons for Prime Time at the MCA, the South Side Community Art Center and the 75th Anniversary Block Party at Hyde Park Art Center. We also did work together with Tracer’s Book Club, a group of international, intersectional feminist artists founded by Chicago-based filmmaker Jennifer Reeder.

BRAID/WORK, 2016. In collaboration with Fatima Traore.

OPP: Together, you were the recipients of the 2015/2016 Crossing Boundaries Prize awarded by Arts+Public Life & the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture at the University of Chicago. What did this prize fund? 

SBW: The Crossing Boundaries Prize allowed Fatima Traore and I to complete BRAID/WORK, a collaboration that investigates the history and aesthetics of African hair braiding through a material and performative lens. We braided hair at Art on Sedgwick, a community art center located in the Marshall Fields garden apartments in Chicago's Old Town neighborhood and The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. There was a culminating reception and catalogue release at the Arts Incubator. The material components of this project—my hair sculptures and staged photographs of a fictional work space featuring Fatima braiding—were included in a show under the same name at Rootwork Gallery in 2016. The photographs were taken by Cecil McDonald, Jr.

DBL RAINBOW SWEET TWIST, 2016. Hair weave, foam, photo collage, comb, door knocker earrings, chain. 10" x 50" x 9."

OPP: What effect did this collaboration have on the work you make alone?

SBW: The experience taught me a lot about the ins and outs of collaborative risk taking, as well as potential ways to utilize institutional critique to investigate cultural paradigms embedded in the ways we look, think and critique. I’m currently reading Reversed Gaze: An African Ethnography of American Anthropology by Mwenda Ntarangwi, who examines his own lived experience as an African scholar studying anthropology in America with a focus on representation and self-reflexivity. I’m at a pivotal point with my sculptural work where I’m asking and requiring more from objects beyond their immediate purpose, especially the potential for characters or activations within narrative film.

OPP: In 2016, Mailee Hung wrote for Daily Serving about BRAID/WORK :“Woods is a white woman who spent her formative years in a primarily Black, middle-class neighborhood of Chicago, and she is highly cognizant of the dangers of appropriation her privilege affords.” How do you handle these dangers while working with “black material culture” as a white woman?

SBW: Fashion and hair style have never been static or fixed things. Style is always in the act of being appropriated, modified, or morphing into something else. Artifice brings these ideas to the surface, because it pronounces itself as artifice. It probes at the boundaries that spring up around markers of identity. I’m much more interested in creolization which actively moves against fixed identities and towards cross cultural, transcultural and hybrid forms.

The Rhinettes

OPP: Most recently, you’ve been investigating the aesthetics of the performances of 1960s girl groups. Who are The Rhinettes and how are they a “conceptual girl group,” as opposed to a girl group?

SBW: My interest in artifice and the performing body, as well as black and white cross-over appeal led me to the Supremes’ first performance of “Come See About Me” choreographed by Cholly Atkins on the Shindig television show in 1964. I’m really interested in early girl groups and their first televised appearances, as well as the technological spaces that they occupy. Politically, sonically and visually, it was an important and complex moment in American history. In 2017, I formed what I refer to as a “conceptual girl group” with Anya Jenkins, Alexis Strowder, and Yahkirah Beard, who is a professional dancer. She’s appeared on the television show Empire several times; her energy is incredible! We’re like a conceptual cover band—we don’t record or play instruments, and we only cover one Supremes' song. 

Hear the Glow of Electric Lights.16mm reversal film. 2017

OPP: How do viewers/listeners encounter The Rhinettes?

SBW: We’ve performed at Silent Funny, a mixed-use arts space on the far West side and the Jane Addams Hull House Museum during a series called Making the West Side, which aired on Can TV. The material component of the project is Hear the Glow of Electric Lights, a research-based, 16mm reversal film that I've been working on for several years. The content of the work is revealed through concealment, codes and learned body language, drawing attention to what we’ve been taught cannot simultaneously exist: beauty, power and the political. Pop culture scholar Jaap Kooijman articulated it well: “the power of the image, and in extension the Diana Ross star image, lies in its embodiment of the contradiction between fashion and politics, and its refusal to accept that those two cannot go together.” The remainder of the project is being shot and edited through 2019.

To see more of Sarah Beth's work, please visit sarahbethwoods.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 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), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis 2017) and Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018). During summer 2018, Stacia created  Renunciation Reliquary as a one-night installation for Chicago Artist Coalition's annual benefit Work in Progress and was an Artist-in-Residence at Facebook. She is currently preparing for a solo show titled Practice, which will open in April 2019 at Kent State Stark.


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Hoesy Corona

Alien Nation, 2017. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

HOESY CORONA takes a multimedia approach to art-making. His complex performance works, which involve movement, costume, light and sound, balance alienation with celebration. His sculptural works explore the role of scapegoating in maintaining cultural dominance. Concerned with a queerness, immigration and climate change, he explores the many forms of marginalization in North American society. Hoesy earned his BFA at The Maryland Institute College of Art in 2009 and is currently a MAT candiate. He has exhibited at The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, The Baltimore Museum of Art, The Walters Art Museum and The Peale Museum, among numerous others. In 2017, he received an Andy Warhol Foundation Grit Fund Grant and, in 2016, a Ruby’s Project Grant in Visual Arts. He is a 2017-2018 Halcyon Arts Lab Fellow, as well as an Artist-in Residence at the Fillmore School Studio in Washington, D.C. Hoesy lives and works in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Costumes that obscure the identity of the wearer feature prominently in your performance work, especially The Nobodies (2009-present). Who are The Nobodies?

Hoesy Corona: The Nobodies are no one and everyone at once. In this series I consider what it means to be a disenfranchised member of society in North America by embodying the abstract concept of nobody, nothing all of a sudden becomes individualized, becomes body and eyes, becomes no one. I started this series after reading The Labyrinth of Solitude by Octavio Paz in which he describes the fraught psyches in the relationship between Mexico and The United States in detail. As a Mexican immigrant artist living in the U.S. for most of my life, I consider the paradox of the simultaneous visibility and invisibility of the immigrant in the U.S. In this series I invite audience members to participate in the act of nobodying, an operation that consists of making somebody into nobody. 

Nobodies Gala, 2016.

OPP: Can you talk about the materials you use to construct the wearable sculptures?

HC: I use a variety of familiar everyday materials to construct these wearable sculptures. When I started the series in 2009, I was working as a florist and was drawn to discarded floral packaging materials—cellophane, ribbons, mylar, silk florals, and mesh nettings—and collected them obsessively. Once I had amassed a substantial amount of stuff, I then transformed the materials into other-worldly colorful wearable sculptures that accompanied a live performance. I no longer work as a florist, but I am still interested in using different types of plastics as well as wigs, silk flowers, lights, clear film, and adhesive vinyls to construct new Nobodies

OPP: What kinds of movements do the Nobodies perform in public spaces?

HC: The movements in the Nobodies are very subtle and sculptural. Oftentimes, viewers don’t realize that the  sculptures are being animated by real people. The slow movements invite the audience members to pause as they consider the situation before them. In public spaces these performances are particularly poignant as the unsuspecting viewers encounter the Nobodies in their natural setting. 

Scapegoat Monument, 2014.

OPP: The Scapegoats show up both as static sculptures—some life sized and some tiny—and performance characters. Do you see one iteration as more successful than the other? How do they work differently on the audience?

HC: I often intertwine the archetype of the scapegoat as a way to have us visualize the strategic selection of somebody, made into nobody, for the supposed wellbeing of the group. The sculptural forms don’t always involve a live performance, but are still performative in their context. In Scapegoat Thrones, for instance, I use found chair structures as the base of each sculpture and ask audience members to consider the cost of the comfort that is afforded to them in the world. So while there is no live performance involved, the audience can still imagine themselves in relation to the chair forms. Most recently during a residency at Ox-Bow School of Art, I worked in the ceramic studio to construct miniature Scapegoat Idols that can be handled by audience members. My hope is that one day each person in the US will have their own Scapegoat Idol that they can use to liberate themselves from negative feelings of blame and shame.

Scapegoat Idol, 2016

OPP: Tell us about Alien Nation (2017) at the Hirschhorn Museum in Washington D.C. 

HC: Alien Nation, curated by Victoria Reis at The Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, was my most ambitious site specific performance to date. It included with 24 performers and two musicians. This mysterious and surprising shadow casting performance originated in response to the unique circular architecture of the museum. I knew I wanted to do something of a global scale that implicated a broad audience and included as many people as possible, so I conceived the idea of climate induced migration as a very real issue of our time that needs to be voiced. 

OPP: The piece was viewable from the inside and from the outside. . . how were the viewing experiences different?

HC: Although the museum was open late and visitors had the opportunity to sneak a peek of the performers on the second floor rotunda, most of the 1,200 audience members were patiently waiting outside around the fountain for the performance to begin as intended. Once outside, audience members saw 24 climate-immigrants backlit with purple light creating mysterious and surprising shadows in each of the 24 windows on the second floor rotunda. The 24 performers wore what I call “climate ponchos,” which included head gear that obscured the performers faces, an approach I chose because of the mystery and anonymity it afforded. Always silent these figures created subtle, sculptural movements in various locations that were complemented by live drumming juxtaposed with natural foley sounds that included ice-cracking, loons, and running water.  Slowly over the course of the performance the Climate-Immigrants started to descend downstairs and continued on their journey through the sea of bodies.

The clear wearable climate ponchos were adorned with images that depicted the archetype of the Traveler, with the people depicted wearing backpacks, carrying suitcases, wearing hats and some holding children. They were all on their way somewhere, in one direction a lot of the times. This simple showing of people in movement, in transition, resonates with a world-wide issue and echoed the reality of the viewers as they themselves traversed space to witness the performance. 

Alien Nation, 2017. Video documentation of performance.

OPP: In the Fall of 2017, you began a Fellowship at the Halcyon Arts Lab. Tell us bit about the program and your experience. How did it change your work?

HC: Halcyon Arts Lab is a fully funded, nine-month, international incubator that nurtures socially engaged artists in Washington D.C. I was lucky enough to be selected as one of 8 fellows for the inaugural cohort 2017-2018 to continue my work on Alien Nation. The program includes a range of professional development opportunities as well as tons of studio visits from renowned arts professionals. In addition, I am being mentored by Alberto Fierro Garza, Director of The Mexican Cultural Institute of Washington D.C. and mentoring a young artist myself. In the short seven months that I’ve been here, my practice has strengthen by leaps and bounds, I suspect this has everything to do with the nurturing environment the fellowship provides. I encourage all socially engaged artists to keep an eye on this fellowship and consider applying in the years to come! 

To see more of Hoesy's work, please visit hoesycorona.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 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), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center. Where Do We Go From Here? just closed at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction with this improvised installation, Stacia invited eight OPP artists—Kathryn Trumbull Fimreite, Brent Fogt, Melinda Thorpe Gordon, Jaclyn Jacunski, Jenny Kendler, Meg Leary,  Geoffry Smalley and Erin Washington—to respond to the text "Where Do We Go From Here?" Each artist approached the question from a different angle, emphasizing that both the We and the Here are not the same for each of us. For Chicago Artist Coalition's annual benefit Work in Progress, Stacia will create a one-night installation that solicits the help of benefit attendees.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Anna Martine Whitehead

Treasure, 2016. Performance at Fresh Festival 2016. Joe Goode Annex in San Francisco, California. Image courtesy of Robbie Sweeney.

Energetic, empowered joy and overwrought exhaustion permeate ANNA MARTINE WHITEHEAD's performances and choreography. Their interdisciplinary practice—which includes writing, dance, choreography, video and collaboration— investigates Black queer experience through deeply embodied movement. Martine earned a BA in Fine Art, with a concentration Black Women’s Studies, at University of Maryland (2006), followed by an ​MFA in Social Practice at California College of the Arts (2010). She is a 2014 Critical Fierceness Grantee, a 2015 Sponsored Artist at High Concept Labs, a 2017 LinkUP Artist-in-Residence at Links Hall and will be a 2018 Difficult Dances Resident Artist at University of Michigan. In 2017, they performed selections at the Elevate Chicago Dance Festival, Ragdale, and JACK, as well as S P R E A D at Chicago's Links Hall and FRESH Festival in San Francisco. Her book TREASURE: My Black Rupture is available through Thread Makes Blanket Press. In 2018, they will present Notes on Territory at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. Martine lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Have you always been so interdisciplinary? Do you see any one of these creative forms as most to your work?

Anna Martine Whitehead: When I was in college, I majored in Fine Art (there was no medium specification for the BA at the University of Maryland). I was painting and beginning to explore performance. But I did my minor in Black Women's Studies, which was a new program at the school then. So I was always thinking visually, textually, engaged in scholarly research but also material research. My thesis year, I ended up doing this series of large-scale acrylic paintings on wood panels that were all about the female body and sugar cane, which was directly related to what I was learning and thinking about around Black feminist geographies. That got me to start performing with sugar cane. All these things were always already integrated for me. I see this, also, as a reflection of my life, where teaching, moving, writing, making, being queer, being black and mixed race, etc, have always been all part of the same project. That project is me. When people find out I have a book called TREASURE, which is the same name as a piece I did at High Concept Labs in 2016 with Mlondi Zondi and Marie Alarcón, they are surprised. But this is how I've always operated: When I'm making, I'm writing, and writing makes me want to make.


A further exploration of 'Cake Legs,' presented at Chrysalis, one of the exhibitions associated with PLATFORMS: 10 Years of Chances Dances in Chicago, 2015.

OPP: What does the word embodiment mean to you, in your creative practice and in your everyday life?

AMW: This is such a great question! I try to teach this to my students, and it's an extremely difficult concept! For me, embodiment has become totally about an awareness of one's physical reality that also allows for an awareness of the metaphysical. It is the opposite of self-denial. It's not necessarily hedonism. It’s not, my body wants to lay here and binge watch instead of working in my studio—although that is an extremely easy place to slip into. Rather it’s an awareness and an acknowledgment of the body. I’m in the studio, I have some movement I need to work out, and I'm exhausted, so this movement is going to look like a tired person moving.


S P R E A D, 2017. Performed at Links Hall for the Link Up Artist Showcase. Video by Curtis Matzke.

OPP: Is exhaustion a theme in your work?

AMW: The piece I have been engaged with for the last two years (S P R E A D) comes directly out of being exhausted and needing nourishment. I think some people in this political climate get really energized. I have moments of that, but mostly it's like this constant struggle to not just feel totally run down, and I know that my people and my community are with me in that struggle. So a large part of the piece is me lying on the ground while Black people, especially Black women, share food together. It just so happens that lying down could also look like being dead, and I don't think that's just a metaphor. For me, embodiment is about holding both those things. It's like saying, I don't have to resist this reality. I can make my work about resting. And it also then becomes about death and the giving into death, which could be a type of relief.

The kind of funny thing about that is that after lying on the floor for 30 or 40 minutes, I actually have to get up... it starts to hurt my back. So then it becomes this dialectical thing between giving into the death/exhaustion and resisting it. That's what my body feels, and that's what the work is conceptually, too.

S P R E A D, 2017. Performance still.

OPP: S P R E A D (2017) was recently performed at Links Hall in Chicago. Tell us about its development.

AMW: S P R E A D was being developed at the same time that I was in this intensive devising process with Rebecca Mwase, Ron Ragin, and an ensemble of Black women dancers, singers, comedians, and spiritual workers in New Orleans. We were making a piece about Black women's experience through the Middle Passage. I also was teaching dance at Stateville Prison, a maximum security men's facility in Joliette. So the sense of being haunted, blackness, survival, long term struggle, unending struggle, a struggle that only exists by the grace of whatever gods and spirits and things hang around you... this was like ever-present. S P R E A D was a way for me to syncretize all this highly-collaborative work with my own perspective and experiences.

S P R E A D, 2017. Performance still.

OPP: Do you also create the sound pieces that you dance and choreograph to?

AMW: Sometimes. Sound in my video work is usually me. S P R E A D was the first time I worked so closely with a sound artist. Damon Locks joined the project early on and really changed the shape of it, actually gave it shape and form and a container through sound. Damon is live in S P R E A D, and that whole piece is primarily improvisation.

It was also the first time I made work that felt so explicitly about Black woman-ness and sisterhood. It wasn't only about that, but all the performers are cis and trans Black women and one of the opening scenes is Trinity Bobo (a dancer in New York who is such a joy to work with) lying on a table draped in whites and decorated lovingly with delicious food prepared by a local chef (Chef Fresh, who has been making food for the queer and trans Black community in Chicago for a minute). I was really on some BLM stuff as I was making this—and I mean that exactly as it was first coined, as a Black Feminist project.

Falling Queens, Image: Marie Alarcon

OPP: I often ask about intended audience, even when interviewing sculptors and painters. But with performance, you can see your audience. How do you think about audience?

AMW: S P R E A D helped me change my relationship to my audience, which is almost always at least 50% white. When I first started performing, I was usually angry at them, and then at some point I became more disinterested—like, this is for me and fuck all ya’ll—but S P R E A D was a way to be in dialogue and community with the audience. With the Black people and the POC, we were breaking bread together, dueting at some moments, and generally being with one another. With the white folks, it was an offering: Can you allow us to be together and feel okay? Can you even feel joy that we feel joy, even though our joy has nothing to do with you—may even be in spite of you? Can you be that detached from your own whiteness? And the fact that the whole show is set up in one row in a circle means everyone sees each other at all times. It's really a piece about Yo, here we all are! For better or worse! I guess it's kind of utopic?

Since the Links Hall show, I continue to collab with Damon and Trinity, and we're looking forward to several residencies in 2018 to continue developing what this work is.


Notes on Territory, in-progress.

OPP: What are you working on right now?

AMW: Notes on Territory! I'm so excited about this project, which is a solo project. It’s essentially a movement-based PowerPoint presentation about the architectural and affective links between gothic cathedrals, colonial forts, prisons and public housing. It's definitely a PowerPoint presentation—there’s a lectern.

I'll be spending the next few months at the Herskovits Library of African Studies at Northwestern University to do some archival research. It's also a lot of language-play; it's a poem. And it's a sort of game between technology and me because there's all this video and audio stuff. It’s a solo, so there's a lot of logistics to figure out there. And of course, it has all these auxiliary elements. Territory has gotten me back to painting. As I've been doing the archive and movement research, I've also been working with these gouache pieces exploring architectures, military maps, color, shape, etc. I'll be showing works in progress of Territory throughout the spring of 2018, and then hope to really solidify the work at a residency in the summer and hopefully premiere in the fall. We'll see about this timeline, though....

To see more of Martine's work, please visit annamartine.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 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), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indiana 2017). In March 2018, her solo installation Where Do We Go From Here? will open at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction, the atrium will exhibit two-dimensional artwork by artists who were invited by Stacia to make new work also titled  Where Do We Go From Here?

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Zehra Khan

Smoking Cat, 2016. acrylic on paper. 10 x 9 x 8"

ZEHRA KHAN's costumes, sets and performances for video have a childlike style that is self-consciously and intentionally unsophisticated, referencing construction paper sets for grade school plays and homemade Halloween costumes. Her double-sided, paper "quilts" are made from her own "canabalized" paintings and drawings as well as other accumulated paper ephemera. Play, risk-taking and making-do with what's on hand are all defining factors in her practice. Zehra received her MFA from Massachussetts College of Art & Design and is a current participant in the Drawing Center Viewing Program and the deCordova Museum Corporate Lending Program. She has attended numerous art residencies including Yaddo, the Vermont Studio Center, the Contemporary Artists Center, and I-Park. Her work is on view through July 15, 2017 in the group show Relationships at the Riley Strauss Gallery (Wellfleet, Massachussetts). Zehra lives and works in Provincetown, Massachussetts.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What role does play serve in your practice?
 
Zehra Khan: I love play. I try to never feel like I’m working when I’m making art. If the process gets boring, it’s time to make a more risky move. I’ve always found magic in homemade Halloween costumes, theatrical props and mistakes.
 
I like to use materials available on hand: found materials, trash around my studio, and used paper and cardboard. If I work with expensive materials I find myself getting stingy, not wanting to squander a good canvas or expensive photographic print on an idea that’s not perfectly developed.
 
I favor low-tech materials and practices. I love a little surrealism, which leads me to play with scale, proportion and the viewers’ expectations of the space.

Oh Shit Quilt, 2016. acrylic and staples on paper collage, double-sided. 54 x 96." See the other side.

OPP: Tell us about paper textiles like Oh Shit Quilt (2016), Dirty Rotten Teeth (2015) and Charm Quilt (2014). How are these paper works in conversation with the history of handmade textiles?

ZH: I draw on bed sheets and blankets and make paper quilts to further the connection between my art and the corporeal, domestic, and intimate. Working on both sides of a quilt moves the piece from two-dimensional to three-dimensional, from collage to malleable sculpture.
 
My process is heavily inspired by the materials available, repurposing and recycling. I love the ways quilters use fabric scraps from worn-out clothing and trade swatches with friends. I create my paper quilts with a similar process of reusing: by cannibalizing my old paintings, drawings, photographs, elementary school homework, college notes and exhibition postcards.
 
Charm Quilt was inspired by a quilt my great-great-grandmother made; I used the same dimensions and hexagonal pattern she did. While I want to pay homage to the tradition of quilting, I also use techniques which contradict the craft, such as stapling or hot-gluing pieces together. Dirty Rotten Teeth began as a translation of a more traditional braided circle rug into paper; as I glued the pieces together, however, I felt the pattern needed interruption, hence the black “teeth.” I enjoy using rough ‘unladylike’ language and style. Not only does this reflect my personality, but it also breaks from traditional craft making.

Hello Stranger, 2013. mixed-media installation and performance, in collaboration with Tim Winn

OPP: You have a long-term collaboration with artist Tim Winn. Tell us about your work together. What drove your collaboration more, process or content?
 
ZK: I met Tim while completing my MFA from the Mass College of Art & Design low-residency program, which met at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Tim was interested in paper architecture and was building rooms and shacks out of paper. We realized my animal characters could populate and animate the spaces he created.

Our collaboration enabled the creation of larger projects in size and scope. But it was really process that lead us to work together… We were always excited about whatever project the other one was pitching, and working together meant allowing more spontaneity and a loosening up of control over the final piece.

I Only Have Eyes For You, 2010. installation: acrylic on sandpaper, bed sheet, pillow case, and friends. 72 x 324 x 110.”

OPP: Body painting has played a big role in your practice. What is compelling about the body as a canvas?
 
ZK: Painting on friends creates a social and collaborative side to making art. I wanted to break out of my solitary painting practice and engage with people differently in my studio. I always doodled and drew on myself and friends as a way to play and be informal and as an act of trust and affection.

OPP: How has painting on the body affected the drawings and paintings you make on paper and textiles?
 
ZK: Body painting puts immediate constraints on the painting session: work fast, react to the needs of the painted person or environment and embrace the spontaneous. These are reminders to trust my gut, and the process informs my work in every medium.

The Past Comes in Many Forms (backside), 2014. acrylic on comforter, double-sided. 86 x 93." See the other side.


OPP: I’ve noticed a lot of the recurring animals in your work—rats, foxes, weasels and bunnies—are considered vermin. You represent these creatures with dry humor and empathy. Like, vermin. . . they’re just like us! Are these animals allegories for human othering?
 
ZK: Animals evoke fairytales, fables, religious deities and ceremonies. Using animals as protagonists allows for the viewer to distance themselves. My creatures act like humans, with the same habits and foibles. Rats became a particular favorite subject because of the strong reaction they cause in the viewer. I represent them as individuals as opposed to a swarm.

Mr. H, wood and rebar, 9 x 7 x 7', Scotland, April 2017

OPP: What are you working on right now?

ZK: I was recently in Scotland making a 9-foot-tall hare head sculpture out of branches. It was my first time working in wood or on a semi-permanent outdoor sculpture, so I researched weaving techniques and basketry. This inspired a series of bowls and baskets “woven” (glued) out of paper. The largest piece is a 3-foot basket made from a drawing of an elk from 2008. It’s an elk remix. More weaving and mistakes to come.

To see more artwork, check out www.zehrakhan.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 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, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Miatta Kawinzi

Yield, 2016. Digital Photograph. Dimensions Variable

Interdisciplinary artist MIATTA KAWINZI gives thoughtful attention to rhythm, cadence and metaphor, delving into human malleability and responsiveness to time, language, physical space and sociopolitical context. She isolates, repeats and remixes sounds, words, hand gestures and whole body movements. In video, performance and photography, she reveals a universal human condition—that we all must interface with the surrounding world through our bodies—while also hinting that every-body does not have the same experience in this world. Miatta earned her BA in Interdisciplinary Art & Cultural Theory from Hampshire in 2010, and went on to earn her MFA in Studio Art at Hunter College of the City University of New York. She has been an Artist-in-Residence at Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts (Omaha, NE), Beta-Local (San Juan, Puerto Rico), Greatmore Studios (Cape Town, South Africa) and International Exchange & Studio Program (Basel, Switzerland). This summer, Miatta will debut a new sound/text/video installation in Of Soil and Tongues, a group show at the Hampshire College Art Gallery (Amherst, Massachusetts). The show runs from June 1 – October 1, 2017. Miatta is based in Brooklyn, NY, where she also works as a community teaching artist and museum educator.

OtherPeoplesPixels: In looking at your work in a variety of media—video, performance, sculpture, installation, text and photography—all together, I would describe it as poetic because of its attention to rhythm, cadence, repetition and metaphor. What does that word mean to you? Is that how you think about your own practice?

Miatta Kawinzi: I am definitely working within a framework of poetics. I am interested in poetics in terms of language, structure and conceptualization, which I think you’re picking up on. Words are line, language is a dwelling place, a phrase can be a journey with starts and stops. In my work, I play with spatially orienting thought in new ways. Poet Nathaniel Mackey wrote, "I tend to pursue resonance rather than resolution.” I have always felt affinity with this idea: to not be naively in search of easy answers to deal with the magnitude of the upside-down world, but to instead be willing to follow various strains of thought and feeling down different paths to perhaps uncover alternate ways of seeing and being. I also think about Audre Lorde stating that “poetry is not a luxury," and the ways in which, throughout my experience, words have consistently been a balm and salve for me in the face of sometimes harsh socioeconomic realities. The poetic becomes the through-line, the way to string things together and highlight points of connection.

In my work, I think about the rhythms of life, the repetition of history, how one thing can become something else. All of these notions for me are related to poetic impulses and poetry's ability to allow us to re-imagine our selves and our situations.


Star Spangz, 2013. HD Color Video, Sound.16:9, 04:12 min.

OPP: I was really struck by the visual imagery of language in Clay (2014), especially the (raffia?—not sure exactly what that is) dyed the same color as your lipstick. The chewing of it, the casual tossing away, the stuffing of it back into the mouth and then the spreading out and offering of it toward the camera. And then of course the connection—and disconnection—between language that comes directly from the mouth and language that comes from the fingers. Can you talk about language as it relates to sound and written text, both of which you use in your work?

MK: The blue material is indeed raffia! One thing I am invested in is tracing the way in which language can manifest in both verbal and non-verbal forms. How can language be embedded into other kinds of materiality, and how does communication take place through means other than verbal speech? In Clay, I was really interested in putting these different forms of communication alongside one another, all on the same plane. The kalimba as a musical instrument references a musical way of communicating, with roots in a certain African diasporic tradition. The fingers texting on an iPhone represent this other kind of digital communication, a way in which many people around the globe keep in touch in the contemporary moment. And there is spoken text in the video that is semi-audible and semi-obscured. Then the raffia references this physical manifestation of verbal language, making it tangible, able to be extended, able to become involved in a kind of dance with the body emanating from the mouth. Here and elsewhere I am constantly engaged in a dance between different forms of language as they originate from the body, from words, from place, from material.


Clay, 2014. HD Color Video, Sound. 16:9, 03:25 min.

OPP: You made this video while in residence at Greatmore Studios in Capetown, South Africa. How did the location, so far from home, feed into this piece?

MK: There are eleven official languages of South Africa, and many people are multilingual, so the location sparked new angles of consideration for ideas I explored in this piece. Cape Town is a very beautiful, dynamic and vibrant city, yet there are also these ongoing inequalities, and I am thinking about that tension in placing myself in front of the barbed wire in the video.

Regarding the audio, one of the ways through which I use sound in my work—my own vocalization, improvisation, analog/digital instrumentation, and remixing—has to do with my interest in the potency of wordlessness that nonetheless carries an emotional import. Often my work in sound goes in and out of legibility which relates to my interest in illuminating different kinds of knowledge, some of which can be mysterious or even unconscious, yet still resonant. I am also invested in exploring the act of remixing as a way of enacting alternative temporalities. . . to move beyond linear time, to stretch time, to hold time in different ways. It’s a way of working with the materiality of time.


But I Dreamt We Was All Beautiful&Strong, 2015. Color Video Projection & Sound on Loop in Corner. Dimensions Variable.

OPP: Last year, at another residency at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, you created Push & Pull, a “performative photography series.” Tell us what inspired this work and how it directly responded to the space.

MK: I was very excited to be granted a residency at Bemis. I went there from Brooklyn at a moment in which I had no physical studio space and very little space otherwise to make or think in. Upon arrival there, I immediately felt a sense of bodily unfolding through my access to a sizable private studio and large shared spaces, which directly inspired that photography series. I was thinking also about how there is a politic to all of this, to something as basic as having enough space to stretch in, and I wanted to utilize this access—while I had it—to explore the geometry of my body in relation to this open space. I was reading a book by Michio Kaku called Physics of the Impossible, and in the book Kaku was highlighting the ways in which things like teleportation could become possible under the right conditions. From there I began thinking about these ideas of possibility/impossibility not only in relation to the laws of science and theoretical physics, but also in terms of how they may relate conceptually to pushing against sociopolitical limits. The performative actions in the series are meant to embody this through bodily metaphor. 


Rhombus, 2016. Digital Photograph. Dimensions Variable

OPP: Can you address the fact that this is a series of photographs, not a live performance and not a performative video?

MK: I actually also created a live performance that explored these same ideas and created the series afterwards based on that performance. For me, it is quite difficult to capture the energy of live performance through documentation, so the photographs were a way through which that work could take on another life to be shared in a different way beyond the initial audience.


OPP: I’ve been thinking about the creation of these frozen movements as dance. . . but are they frozen moments from a fluid action or poses? What’s your relationship to dance, both in your art practice and in your life outside art?

MK: They are a mixture of both. I don’t necessarily consider myself to be a dancer because I never studied dance, but I do use terms like ‘embodiment’ and ‘movement’ to describe my approach to such work. I am very conscious of how much can be expressed through the body both in my art practice and daily life.


gatherin’ space, 2016. Color Video Projection & Sound on Loop, Aluminum Foil; Acrylic Paint & Oil Pastel on Wood Panel. 128 x 163 x 249 in.

OPP: Could you talk about the variety of hand gestures—reaching, drumming, climbing, worship and hands up, don’t shoot, to name just a few—in gatherin’ space (2016)?

MK: gatherin’ space is a meditation on ideas of containment and expansion as expressed through the language of hand gesture. I am thinking about the hands as bodily extensions through which we shape, make, feel, sense, probe, praise, labor, surrender, assert, resist. I wanted to bring all of these different connotations together on the same plane because they all exist together in the lexicon of the body. So much of how I experience the world emanates from the hands—to touch, to write, to grasp, to lift. It’s also a way of abstracting the body, of resting in that place of multiplicity. The hands have the potential to shape space and reality, too.


La Tercera Raíz, 2015. HD Color Video, Sound. 16:9, 9:22 min.

OPP: “the strength in yielding, in taking on the shape of that which sits stoically, to then regain one’s form.” This text, which comes from your video La Tercera Raíz (2015), is a beautiful articulation of a range of themes that run through your work: the power of fluidity, responsiveness, malleability, shape-shifting. How do these themes and the metaphor of water relate to how you think about the diasporic condition and cultural identity? 


MK: I think about diaspora as an active process of exchange, as a gesture, as a reaching towards. My mom is Liberian and my father is Kenyan, and I grew up in the U.S. South navigating multiple cultural and linguistic worlds, which informs my work. I have found power in being adaptable. I am also interested in how cultural identification is an ongoing, shifting context-based negotiation. This is part of why travel is important to me; it is a form of drawing in space, a mode through which to find and explore connections between place and culture, and to try to stretch the arms to skillfully balance both the similar and the disparate.

La Tercera Raíz arose out of my research into the history and presence of the African diaspora in Mexico during my participation in the 2015 SOMA Summer program in Mexico City. Research often goes into my work, and then there is a process of abstraction through which I generate writing that becomes another way of considering an idea, of opening it up through poetics and finding a more personal relationship to the topic at hand.

Toni Morrison wrote about how water has a memory and I am interested in this idea of material memory, in the sea as a bridge between worlds. I think we have so much to learn from the elements and how they exist in and interact with the world. Water bears so much, has such a consistent and deep presence, yet the sea also teaches me that weight is conditional. I can float in it and be suspended, held, weightless. Something becomes something else.

To see more of Miatta's work, please visit mkawstudio.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 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, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include
shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Michael Barrett

Memories for the Future, 2014. A 320 hour performance.

MICHAEL BARRETT explores the construct of American Masculinity in performances informed by his personal experiences as an athlete, Marine and cancer survivor. Early comically poignant videos highlight both a cultural obsession with protecting male genitalia and his own lost testical. His live performances range from rowdy training exercises simultaneously filmed with a Go-Pro camera to thoughtful, repetitive actions that memorialize the loss of both civilians and soldiers to war. Michael exhibits and performs internationally. He has had solo shows at the former Trifecta Gallery (Las Vegas, Nevada) and Perfex Gallery (Poznan, Poland) and his recent group exhibitions include shows at Hole of Fame Gallery (Dresden, Germany), Galerie Michaela Stock (Vienna, Austria) and Berkeley Art Center (California). Michael will perform at Grace Exhibition Space in Brooklyn on May 19th as part of Itinerant 2017. In 2017, he will attend the Performance-Kunst Workshop at Kunstpavillon Burgrohl and WORK.ACT.PERFORM, a performance art symposium in Dresden, Germany. He will be an Artist-in-Residence at Galeria Racjez (Poznan, Poland) for six weeks, followed by a Performance Art Studies workshop in the Czech Republic. Michael is based in Las Vegas, Nevada.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What does the endurance mean to you, both in your work and in your life?


Michael Barrett: During the first years of elementary school, it was suggested that I attend speech therapy twice a week. Exactly, who made the suggestion is beyond me and I carry no recollection of discussing the matter with my parents. It occurred so early in my life, I only recall bits and pieces, such as leaving the classroom during ‘art time’ to practice the letter ‘s’ within the small, closet-like office, of the speech therapist, with a boy named, Skip.

Up until this time, I didn’t realize people could suffer from a speech impediment. To learn that there might be something ‘wrong’ with the way in which I communicated, had a negative affect on my identity and the fear of language and sharing thoughts out loud, drastically altered my behavior as a young person.

Rather than relying on the spoken word, I navigated toward gesture, action, and the body as alternative methods of meaning making, challenging learning environments, and understanding multiple entry and exit points of interpretation. From an early age, endurance has meant sustaining an ability to communicate within a world that demand one to be present, to show up, to produce, and to speak your mind.

Once upon a time, I believed endurance made up a large part of who I was and where I had been as a person and artist, but as I mature and grow, I am constantly reminded that endurance is so much larger than just myself. Endurance transcends borders and extends beyond my fingertips, bridging gaps capable of connecting others to new points of discovery.

Rubber Room: Push and Pull. Go-pro video still from endurance performance.

OPP: I’ve been thinking about your performances, which deconstruct western masculinity and its connection to violence and athleticism, as growing from the lineage of avant-garde Feminist art. In the same way, women’s studies requires an exploration of individual women’s experience of their conditioned gender, we need to hear about actual men’s experience of conditioned masculinity. Do you see your work in relation to Feminist art?

MB: Much of what I do challenges American Masculinity as a historical construct that greatly influences many aspects of life. After a battle with testicular cancer, in 2001, I began to specifically focus on Masculinity through a feminist lens. Slowly and carefully, developing a masculine narrative to challenge and question five key areas of masculinity with the hope of urging a discussion on how masculinity empowers and disempowers.

Writers and artists such as Susan Sontag (feminine as masculine/masculine as feminine), Stephanie Springgay (the skin and cloth), and Donna Harraway (The Cyborg Manifesto) have certainly played a part in directing my concepts and methodologies as an artist, researcher, and teacher. I have identified five areas of exploration—physical force and control, work and occupational achievement, patriarchy, outdoorsman, heterosexuality—based on scholars who offer new perspectives on how we can broaden what it means to be masculine and what function masculinity serves.

Incentive Training: Session Three. Performance still.

OPP: I’m very interested in Dear Dresden (2016), Memories for the Future (2014) and 723 (2014). In both of these performances, you perform repentant gestures, memorializing victims of war with the numbers of actions mirroring the numbers of victims of the violence of war. Can you talk about the relationship of endurance, repetition and healing in these works? 



MB: History tells a story about the spiraling struggle over masculine representations. One might interpret these narratives as an enduring battle, not as an objective reality, but a construct that inadequately bridges issues concerning leadership, ethics, knowledge and power. Stories of these bridges offer numerous examples of how inadequate power structures are utilized to decide what wars are fought, how votes are cast, who does and doesn’t receive.

As the U.S. enters into the longest war of its brief history, Germany enters into its 72nd year since the end of World War II. Both events offer opportunities to reflect upon and question how history repeats itself. I refer to our past and current situations as “spiraling out of control while building tension as we rotate through time.”

I am always questioning and analyzing how we as citizens, or better yet, generations of war, carry on? How will the human spirit endure such tragedy again and again? In what ways will following generations repeat the same horrific cycles we currently inhabit? What happens when the tension bursts?

In time, we may find ourselves in a predicament beyond our imagination. With time, we could possibly discover/know harmony, mutualism and level means of communication. Through time, we might find ourselves as humans and social-beings, capable of cooperating and moving forward together and with one another.

For this to occur, we must endure time. As physical forms, as mental thought processors, as emotional nests, we must endure through and beyond our current time and the habits of previous generations.

723, 2014. Go-pro video still from live performance.

OPP: For me, your identity as an ex-Marine is key to the poignancy of these performances. Dear Dresden and Memories for the Future made me think about the veterans who apologized to the Sioux Elders in a ceremony at Standing Rock in December 2016 for the U.S. treatment of Native Americans. How important are the various aspects of your identity—as artist, as white male, as ex-Marine, as cancer survivor—to understanding your body of performances? Is this less or more important when watching individual performances?

MB: Years ago, I considered it important for the audience to know I was a cancer survivor and to know the work commented on my experience with cancer. I used to believe my background information added a certain element of validity or better yet, it offered a slice of life for the audience. Now, I am not so sure. I can laugh about it now, but roughly 10 years ago, a mentor abruptly made the comment during critique: “nobody gives a fuck about Michael Barrett.” Yes, a little harsh, and it did sting. Yet as I've had some time to lick my wounds and ponder the critique, I’ve found there's something to be had in the statement. Something that might be holding back, preventing and disrupting access to my work. While, I do believe there might have been a more tactful way of stating that I was getting in the way, it motivated me to research aspects of cancer, military and athletics that were of interest to me, yet less about ‘me’ specifically. This helped with building bridges for others to access my work. Reinterpreting the five elements of masculinity are examples of common links between the three areas.

Rather than specifically commenting on my personal experiences, I attempt to remain mindful of a more humanistic approach and focus on creating keyholes for the audience to access, comment and question their own perspectives. I am aware my background will always be present. I cannot remove myself from the history. As an artist, I aim to use my background as platform for communicating and challenging topics of importance rather than the background serving as the topic itself.

Incentive Training: Session Four, 2010. Still of live performance.

OPP: Can you talk about your recurring costumes—the jock strap and the hood—in performances like Lombard Street Hustle (2011), Incentive Training: Session Four (2010) and Standing Room Only: Episode One (2012)?

MB: I’m aware there is space for interpreting my work during this period as bondage, S&M, or the underground dungeon scene, but I hope I have left adequate space for elements of loss, recovery, and function, when viewed through a humanistic and/or medical lens. I refer to this ’lens’ as delving deeper and beyond the medical gaze—a single, all knowing perspective which only scans the surface for immediate information. The idea of medical lens penetrates the surface/skin in multiple areas in search of unexplored spaces, concepts and access points, therefore rupturing previous power structures while simultaneously gathering, analyzing and presenting qualitative information regarding lived experience, personal narrative and autoethnography.

The intention of the work is not necessarily presenting a didactic tracing of lived experiences, yet I carefully select, and most of the time, make each piece of attire by hand, so that it references a certain event, space, time, etc. For example, a black jockstrap was part of my attire while recovering from a battle with testicular cancer. The hood is a way of separating Michael Barrett from Artist Michael Barrett. It’s a psychological tool that helps remind both me and the audience that the performer and the person under the mask are two separate beings.

Performing is really really difficult for me. I don’t perform for fun, nor do I spend much time thinking about what to perform. The concepts/issues/problems usually reveal themselves and won’t leave me alone until I tend to them in some manner. Once in a while, my responses resemble art. Other times, they resemble everyday life. Regardless, when performing I find the need to separate myself from the performer. The transcendence that occurs is very similar to experiences I had as a Marine and athlete and require separation through subtle mental shifts. The hood helps.

Corporal Punishment, 2011. Performance still.

OPP: You are currently pursuing your PhD. in Art and Visual Culture Education at University of Arizona. Will you tell us about this program and why you chose to pursue another degree beyond your MFA?

MB: Applying to the Art and Visual Culture Education doctoral program at the University of Arizona has been extremely beneficial to my practice as a performance artist and has opened up a plethora of new opportunities as a researcher and teacher. Since enrolling, I have had the pleasure of teaching and performing in Germany, Poland, Austria, Italy and the Czech Republic. The experience has instilled an awareness that my identity, is in constant flux, rather than situated in a singular fixed position. One constantly meshing, bridging, overlapping, and sharing, attributes of art, research, and teaching (A/R/Tography).

While teaching with Performance Art Studies at the Michaela Stock Galleria in Vienna, Austria, I was first introduced to the Performance Art Context diagram, created by Boris Nieslony and Gerhard Dirmoser. Using the lens of an A/R/Tographer, I narrowed my focus down to understanding the Performance Art Context diagram in a framework that employs Deleuze and Guattari’s theories of the rhizome and Nomadology: The War Machine, as well as Donna Haraway's The Cyborg Manifesto.

I place this inquiry in context of contemporary trends in performance art pedagogy and political climates in higher education. I suggest that research on understanding performance art education practices in emerging technologies be conducted with a view to gain a cohesive social understanding, rather that isolated views on curriculum and pedagogy, with pre-determined understandings of what art education is and what it could be.

By problematizing current access to the diagram as an educational tool, I argue for a contemporary post-classroom interpretation of the information within a virtual reality platform, which could potentially benefit/better serve educators while simultaneously increasing access to knowledge and meaning-making within the field of Performance Art.

I am currently entertaining questions like How does re-interpreting the Performance Art Context diagram redefine the body as a educational tool for meaning making and acquiring knowledge? How might the acquired information function in virtual reality as a way for resisting hierarchies, challenging oppressive methods and past institutional stereotypes regarding how, when, and where learning takes place? How might the application and utilization of a critical lens encourage a post-humanistic approach that helps us uncover marginalized bodies and silenced voices?

To see more of Michael's work, please visit artistmichaelbarrett.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 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, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Bobby English Jr.

I Am Mountain, 2015. Performance Still.

In performance, installation, drawing and welded steel sculpture, BOBBY ENGLISH, JR. explores the immediate and inherited trauma of racism, as well as the capacity for catharsis and forgiveness. His numerous performances include elements that are also part of religious services—symbolic objects and garments; music; language in the form of chanting, singing and the rhetoric of preachers and an audience/congregation. Using his own body, handmade artifacts and repetitive, ritual gestures, Bobby offers viewers a spiritual lens through which to look at the personal experience of social and political injustice. Bobby holds a BFA in Drawing with a concentration in Sculpture from The Maryland Institute College of Art. His solo exhibitions include I AM YOU ARE (2016) at Gallery CA in Baltimore, Presence, Soul, Existence (2016) at the Ward Center for Contemporary Art in Petersburg, Virginia and History, Experience, Revelation (2015) at Terrault Contemporary in Baltimore. He has performed at School 33 (Baltimore, 2016) and the Queens Museum (New York, 2015 and 2016), as well as at numerous performance festivals. Bobby is based in Oakland, California.

OtherPeoplesPixels:  When and why did performance first enter your art practice?

Bobby English Jr: My father was also a Broadway performer and Italian Opera singer, so it had to come out eventually. Not to mention I have performed for my mother hundreds, maybe thousands of times to this day. Performing has always been natural for me, but it entered my art practice as soon as I began creating metal sculpture. It was an instant marriage; not really inspired by anything except my desire to push the idea of sculpture and installation into theatre and film. I’m striving for the truth and emotion that can’t simply come from object; the kind of connection that comes from human to human energetic dialogue.

Entropy II, 2015. Fabricated Steel. Variable Dimensions

OPP: Do you conceive of the welded steel works as sculptures first that are then activated by performance? Or are they props created specifically for use in the performances? Does the distinction matter?

BEJ: The distinction doesn’t matter at all, actually. Sometimes I am simply intrigued by a geometric shape or symbol; sometimes even an idea that I then transcribe into shape. Often times I create the sculptures and simply live with them in my everyday space until their meaning becomes clear. Other times I add the sculptures to my performances without knowing what they mean at all; but then their relationships to the many other sculptures I’ve created within the space informs the piece in question. It’s a very organic process, almost like a constant improv dialogue between myself and my creations; sometimes risky in some aspects.

The Eye and I, 2016. Performance still.

OPP: Please tell us about how you employ costume and ritual in your performance series Blossoming Black Power, which includes individual works titled Message I and Message II, Madness, , Property, and Fear and Control (Brothers! Sisters! Where are you?).

BEJ: Costume allows me to step fully into different “beings,” roles or characters, and the costumes themselves sometimes represent time. For example, in Message I, a performance centered in ritual and history; I felt more like a shaman while in that costume. Then in Becoming, the costumes are both representations of time, feeling, passage and signal my stepping into different archetypes; the hero, the stranger, the villain, the leader, the meek, the wise one, etc. So much of my performance is acting, and the costumes certainly allow me to step deeper into feeling a role. My nudity allows me to both feel more meek and more powerful. My staff makes me feel more wise; the spears and shields make me feel more aggressive, like a warrior. I draw whichever energy I need from the costumes and props.

OPP: And sometimes those change over the course of a single performance...

BEJ: I just recently became comfortable with more than one costume change in my performances. In doing so, I realized how much deeper narratives become when I both step into a character psychologically AND physically. In Becoming, I knew that each cage represented a different point in time in my life, and in planning the performance I knew that I would enter and/or use certain sculptures to enable myself to dive deeper into emotion and break more psychological and physical barriers.


Becoming, 2016. Performance, Installation.

OPP: You mentioned Becoming, which is simultaneously performance, installation and healing ritual. Your relationship to the “cage” changes over the course of the performance. How does that particular prop/costume speak to catharsis?

BEJ: I’m happy you picked up on all three of those! The healing aspect of my art is very important to me right now. One can almost see the trauma healing through the sequence of performances. As I’ve stepped into new healing on my journey, I want others to come along as well, welcoming them into my world as I always have.

The cage has been a piece I’ve been growing with since the very first performance with it a year and a half ago. In Becoming, the cage begins as a safe place; a womb; a place of birth, rest, comfort, the mother in its highest form. Mid-way through the performance, the cage becomes the enemy, representing a body, the oppressor. I both harm and then come to love the “body.” At the end of the performance I re-enter the cage; as it becomes my place of death, eternal rest, transformation, and total healing after a life journey that is performed throughout Becoming.

Blossoming Black Power: Message I (Video), September 05, 2015. 2 Hour Performance.

OPP: I have to ask about the little girl in the red dress, who followed you for a while during your outdoor performance Blossoming Black Power: Message I, which had a background audio track composed of numerous speeches from Civil Rights activists through the years. She was both just herself, a human audience member of live performance, experiencing it in an idiosyncratic way. But in watching her follow you, I thought about the uncontrollable parts of live performance, the introduction of joy and levity into a narrative of struggle and how one generation communicates with the next about the racist history of America. Did you know she was following you and did it change your performance in the moment? What do you think of how she reacted to and interacted with your performance?

BEJ: I did know that she was following, and I didn’t let it change anything about my performance in that. I often do react to the happenings around me while performing; comments from the audience, a sculpture being knocked over, my invading the space of the audience and vice-versa, etc etc. I enjoy these moments of complete improvisation because I feel they are the most real. Honestly, I haven’t really felt any way about it until this moment. Right now I feel a great sense of disappointment that she was oblivious to the weight of what was happening around her. On the other hand, part of me wonders that maybe ignorance truly is bliss and the way forward.

Contemplation #39, 2016

OPP: What does it mean to conflate spiritual or religious practice with performance art? Can artists be spiritual leaders?

BEJ: For me, conflating spiritual and/or religious practice with performance art is simply creating my own personal mythology that steps away from the patriarchal interpretation of spiritual texts that has and is still occurring worldwide. It’s simply another way of me reclaiming myself from internal and external colonization. It’s also a way to show worldwide similarities in myth and culture. My hope is that audience members make connections between their ancestry and the ancestry of others around them. Ultimately creating solidarity, respect, and love. I believe anyone has the capacity to become a spiritual leader. However, artists certainly have an edge on interpreting and being drawn to symbols and turning them into forms that can be more easily understood.

To see more of Bobby's work, please visit subverse-vision.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 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, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014) and the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014). She created site-responsive installations for Form Unbound (2015) at Dominican University and SENTIENCE (2016) at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Stacia is currently preparing for a two-person show titled Resist the Urge to Press Forward with Brent Fogt at Riverside Art Center (Riverside, Illinois) and Sacred Secular, a solo show at Indianapolis Arts Center in Indiana.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Johnathan Payne

Bound #1
Ballpoint pen and ink pen on paper
6 3/4 in. x 5 1/2 in.
2015

The racialized and gendered body—his body—is the jumping off point for JOHNATHAN PAYNE's performance, sculpture and installation. His performances include rituals that embody endurance, self-investigation, self-care and preparation for facing the world as a human in a particular body. Coming at the same content from another direction, his Constructions—beautiful, airy, fragile curtains, meticulously assembled from shredded, colored printer paper and comic books—and ballpoint pen drawings of dense, wavy lines that evoke human hair explore the body through abstraction and materiality. Johnathan earned his BA in Art in 2012 from Rhodes College, where he was the recipient of the Sally Becker Grinspan Award for Artistic Achievement. His solo exhibitions include New Drawings (2014) at Beige, Accumulations (2013) at InsideOut Gym and DHOOOOOOM! (2011) at Jack Robinson Gallery, all in Memphis. In 2015, he collaborated with photographer D'Angelo Williams on Room to Let, created and exhibited at First Congregational Church in Memphis. He will exhibit new Constructions and collage work at 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair courtesy of Jenkins Johnson Gallery. The fair will take place at Somerset House in London on October 6-9, 2016. Johnathan currently lives in Memphis, Tennessee but will be heading to Yale this fall to pursue his MFA in Painting/Printmaking.

OtherPeoplesPixels: “Intense preoccupations with self-concept, desire, and tribalism [were] the points of departure for” Meet Me Where I’m At (2015), a solo show that included sculpture and performance. The title reads to me as a call away from tribalism, a call to see humans as individuals, not others. Can you say more about how you think about tribalism?

Johnathan Payne: I define tribalism as the organization of individuals who have a deep kinship over a shared culture or commonality. A fraternity, an ethnic or racial group, and a church congregation are examples of tribes to me, and such tribes were catalysts for the conceptualization of the show. I also think about tribalism in relation to time and space, and how people can go in and out of particular tribes depending on those two variables. The show was the outcome of a lot of personal existential questioning. I was beginning to question my positioning in the tribes that I deemed myself a part of but felt somewhat distant to: past and (then) present relationships, the Black/Queer community, and my then live/work space at a church, to name a few. I wanted to examine the isolation I felt as an individual in relation to certain tribes and the difference between identifying as a tribe member and actively participating as one. So, your interpretation of seeing humans as individuals and not (or, interrelation to) others is very spot on.

Partial Self-Portrait
Graphite, ink pen and India ink on paper
12 in. x 12 1/2 in.
2012

OPP: How do self-concept and desire play into, ignite or counteract tribalism?

JP: The past, current, and future self—elements that make up a self-concept—are occasionally at odds with one another. I think this oddity with one’s self is experienced by everyone at some point or another. Usually, I process some of these inner emotions/self schemas by asking myself, “What the fuck are you doing?” or “What were you thinking?” or “Where are you going?” These questions may sound ruminative and self-shaming, but they help me be real with myself and get to the meat of my personal goals and desires. Desire is a double-edged sword for me. I’ve felt the desire to be someone I inherently am not, to be among people whose tribe I don’t have immediate access to or would have to mute or sacrifice an aspect of myself to gain access to. These inner conflicts with certain desires have negatively informed my self-concept, and have brought certain insecurities to the surface in distressful ways. Meet Me Where I’m At ultimately became an attempt to reconcile my relationship with myself, and to see myself unique to the tribes I occupy and the ones I desired to be in.
   
It was important for me to work across disciplines and engage in time-intensive processes to create the work. I was thinking about the body a lot, specifically a racialized and gendered body, my body. I was questioning my relationship to my body and how my body existed in space and how it was being perceived by others. Poly-consciousness is very central to my lived experience, and the show became an opportunity to explore a personal multidimensionality across materials and forms. Mental endurance, positive self-talk and perseverance are all tools I use in my daily life to push through internal drama induced by the external world. Physical fitness seemed like an appropriate vehicle to examine this self-preservation. The home workout excited me because it is rooted in self-care, but also in solitude. There’s comfort in not being seen working out, in not being susceptible to the perceptions of other gym-goers. I wanted to turn all that on its head by doing Tae Bo in a gallery, to conflate the concepts of isolation, self-improvement and the external gaze.

Meet Me Where I'm At
Live performance/installation exhibition at Crosstown Arts (Memphis, TN)
May 8, 2015.

OPP: You did a performance for the same show, in which you performed a series of secular rituals—shaving your beard and hair, doing a Tae Bo video in a gym-mat-shaped ring of tea lights, bathing, and reading floating fortune cookies followed by beer-bonging your own bath water. In the documentation, we can’t see everything that the live viewers saw. What else can you tell us that we may have missed by not seeing this live?

JP: The live performance spanned roughly one and a half hours, start-to-finish. The audience and I were both entrapped in a lot of time together. There were many sounds of feet shuffling, people conversing, and beer and soda cans popping open by mid-performance. With the exception of shaving my head, bathing, and beer-bonging bath water, most of the performance was spent with my back facing the audience. It was a very personal experience for me, and the audience’s experience was secondary to my own. Occasionally, during the duration of the Tae Bo workout, I would stop to drink water from a bottle I placed outside the tea lights. There was a bit of comicality visible to a live audience, specifically when I responded with disbelief to particularly intense exercises. Audience members cheered me on when I got tired, or when I looked like I was really struggling to perform the moves. Eventually, some of the tea lights burned out entirely.

The Tae Bo workout was projected directly onto the wall, so the scale of the video was large. It consumed me, and in a way I had to compete for the audience’s attention, because the Tae Bo video is rather dynamic to watch on its own. In the video, you see Billy Blanks in the foreground a majority of the time. The fitness studio where the video was filmed has a padded red floor, with various signs on the walls. There is a large, diverse group of people participating in the video. Many racial groups, ages, and genders are represented. There are also a variety of fitness levels represented too. But, collectively, everyone looks confident and has a strong physique. The front row contains people who are incredibly fit, and they maintain the pace of Blanks’ commands. The video was produced and distributed in the year 2000, and it definitely feels stylistically and aesthetically dated in that sense. Billy is a very lively figure throughout the video. He is encouraging, uplifting, militant and authoritative, all in one. My body language throughout the performance shifts, particularly during and after the bathing sequence. At that point, I am directly facing the audience and actively engaging with them. It was certainly me at my most vulnerable moment, but also my most powerful moment.

Meet Me Where I'm At
Performance still
2015

OPP: A year later, what do you think about your own performance?

JP: This performance continues to be a lot for me to unpack. I think about my relationship to Billy Blanks and how his projection of Black masculinity is very divergent from my own. My attempt to mirror his appearance and keep pace with him is difficult, unsuccessful and ultimately unnecessary. I find comfort in that “failure,” in that ability to affirm Blackness across a spectrum, detached from competition and a monolithic representation. I still contemplate the line between self-care and self-medication, and my relationships to my past and current self. I continue to ask myself a lot of questions surrounding who I am and how I exist in the world. Ultimately, I think the performance challenged me to relinquish some of the internalizations that impeded me from being able to be my authentic self.

Constructions
Installation view
2015

OPP: In your Constructions (2015-present), made from both shredded comic books and colored printer paper, I’m most interested in the idea of transforming a narrative form into abstraction, even if it is an abstraction that hints at a functional object (a curtain). Can you discuss the two different papers in relation to the forms?

JP: My Constructions series developed from an ongoing interest to appropriate comic books in my work. Since 2011, I have explored the comic image and consider Ray Yoshida and his retrospective at the Sullivan Galleries at SAIC to be one of the most significant moments for me as a visual artist. Seeing the way Yoshida extracted and arranged forms from various comic books into specimen-like formations against spacious white grounds really stuck with me. In my Constructions, I make tapestry-like collages that attempt to evoke the vulnerability, complexity and tactility intrinsic to particular embodied identities. These evocations are manifested through color, pattern, and material. I play with color and pattern in different ways depending on the paper I choose.

When I shred comic book paper, the compositional and formal elements become colorful strips of pixelated, whimsical information. I then play around with these strips, creating patterned designs until I discover one that is compelling enough for me to explore further. Then, I set out to make a large scale artwork. From a distance, there is a formal uniformity to the Constructions made out of comic book paper. Yet, when viewed at an intimate distance, the comic Constructions offer a lot of complexity and detail in relation to color, line, and subject matter. I deconstruct depictions of whiteness, “justice,” heteronormativity, and patriarchy embedded in many comic books. The resulting form is not intended to be a reimagining or response to the original comic narrative. Though a familiarity exists, my goal is to transform the material into something rather unconventional.

I developed a stronger interest to play with color in my work after exploring the art of Black Abstractionists. The work of Alma Thomas, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Odili Donald Odita, Howardina Pindell and Stanley Whitney really resonates with me. So, I began to experiment with colored printer paper. I enjoyed that, similar to comic books, there was already visual information to respond to, though in this instance, it’s just flat, predetermined color. I began to use this paper as a tool to build pattern, tamper with light and shadow, and reference color field paintings and geometric abstractions. I layer warm and cool colors atop one another in an attempt to blend colors and create a visual vibrancy where the two shift rather seamlessly. I consider these particular constructions to be more broadly derivative of paintings. Also, the colored printer paper is usually stronger than the comic book paper, because of its ream weight and it being newer paper most times. So, I find that there’s a greater ability to experiment with surface texture. The surfaces of the colored paper constructions tend to buckle and bend, which reiterates the idea of vulnerable, yet resilient bodies and identities within society. I’m excited to explore both materials more in graduate school, as well as other printed material/archived publications.

Munch (detail)
shredded comic books and adhesive
96 in. x 83 in.
2016

OPP: Tell us about your recent collaboration Room to Let (2015) with photographer D'Angelo Williams. What did you each bring to the project?

JP: D’Angelo’s MFA thesis work titled Beauty Kings stages various black men adorned with a deep burgundy turban standing in isolation within urban and rural landscapes. I was deeply inspired by this work and had the pleasure in participating as a model for him. His thesis work and my studio projects at the time were the catalysts for the show. Following Meet Me Where I’m At, I began working on a series of gestures and drawings that were intended to be somewhat dark in tonality and thematic content, so I wanted to balance that out with a project that was more participatory, colorful and playful. We decided to further investigate portraiture photography and abstract drawing together.

D’Angelo specifically brought a strong background in shooting and editing photographs to the project, and I brought a collaborative painting and drawing background. We both desired to explore color, identity and abstraction using space, material, fabrics and textiles and willing participants. We shot the photographs at First Congregational Church in Memphis, where I lived and worked as an events coordinator and a hostel resident assistant—the church runs an international traveler’s hostel called Pilgrim House. We borrowed linens and blankets from the hostel and asked guests if they wanted to pose for us. Initially, I was hesitant to ask strangers to participate. We would both approach someone, explain the themes and ideas surrounding the photos, and ask if they were interested. To my surprise, a lot of people expressed interest, and for some, it was a significant highlight of their time in Memphis. 

Rochelle on Southside Roof
Digital print
22 in. x 17 in.
2015

OPP: What surprises emerged during the process?

JP: We worked together to drape the fabrics over the guests, making formal decisions based on the specific locations in the building and the personalities of each model. What struck me early in our project was how beautiful these fabrics looked adorned on the models. These were sheets and blankets that I’d spent a year interacting with as a staff member—washing, folding, cleaning—and I’d given them no particular mind and ascribed absolutely zero value to them. But, in reality, there was a lot of power inherent in them. That power was invisible to me, and the project really encouraged me to search for meaning where it’s (perceivably) least expected. We shot the photographs in various spaces within the church and made collaborative drawings and one shaped painting in my studio, which was also located inside the church. We exhibited the work in one of the rooms we photographed in, and opened the exhibition to churchgoers, hostel guests  and friends. It was wonderful to witness so many different people engaging with the art.

Room to Let really informed my interest to explore color, tactility, materiality and abstraction, and how all those elements can represent embodied identities. Working with D’Angelo was incredibly affirming, and I found comfort where we overlapped as artists and individuals.

Untitled (Jungle)
Acrylic paint, India ink, ballpoint pen, and permanent marker on paper
2015

OPP: In your most recent video performance Training Session (2015), you do forward rolls on a small gym mat over and over again, wearing a T-shirt that says Up Against the Wall Mother Fucker. What are you training for?

JP: I am training for sustained self-preservation against the systems within society that wish to destroy me. In Training Session, I wanted to portray a pro-Black political sentiment through embodiment, text and the urban environment. I had finished reading Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and was thinking a lot about the vulnerability inherently attached to the Black body. How, at any point, it can be extinguished and how that threat of extinction can induce an internalized violence that is both protective and self-destructive. Coates writes, “. . . this is your country. . . this is your world. . . this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.” That line really resonated with me as I strove to determine what being free in my own Black body looked like. I wanted to show myself struggling in a repetitive act, that danced the line between external and internal influencers. That in-between is a rich space to me.

I also wanted to connect this performance with a Black Power narrative. The line on the shirt is a quote from Amiri Baraka’s poem Black People. In the poem, Baraka affirms the need for Black people to make their own world by any means necessary, including violence onto white people. The poem goes:

You can't steal nothing from a white man, he's already stole it he owes you everything you want, even his life. All the stores will open if you say the magic words. The magic words are: Up against the wall motherfucker! this is a stick up... We must make our own world, man, our own world, and we can not do this unless the white man is dead. Let's get together and kill him my man.

Though I’m not a violent person, I wanted to incorporate the theme of a racial-political uprising, but on the individual level. I wore the shirt in the performance to evoke the aggressive, combative tone in the poem. I paired this loaded text with a repetitive action—the somersault, a rudimental gymnastics technique—that hinted at notions of personal development, amateurism and innocence. I also wore a wrestling ear-guard to reinforce the idea of combat sport, but also to hint to a potential opponent. Though in reality they are many in number, two “opponents” depicted in the video include the hard, overgrown externalized world around me, as well as the internalized shackles that impede me from nurturing a radically Black identity.

Training Session
Filmed October 11, 2015 in Memphis, TN.
Documentation courtesy of David Bergen.

OPP: Training Session, which was made last October, took on renewed relevance two weeks ago, with the police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. . .

JP: The recent police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and the shooting of Dallas and Baton Rouge police officers are tragic and continuous reminders of the difficult reality that is existing in a Black body in America. It’s horrible to think that images of Black people have been constructed in ways beyond our own imagining or control and that these constructions ignite such brutality and violence onto us. In her book Citizen, Claudia Rankine speaks to a particular anger: “the anger built up through experience and quotidian struggles against dehumanization every brown or black person lives simply because of skin color.” I’ve heard this anger be referred to as Black Rage, and I see a connection between it and the internalized fear I mentioned earlier. I empathize entirely with these emotions and understand the root causes behind their extreme, outward manifestations. I also am able to confront my particular vantage point, which is from a place of privilege. I understand that the way I maintain and/or channel my emotions is unique to my experience. I haven't always been the most comfortable affirming my Blackness or confronting racism in the past, but I'm unpacking that suppression in my life right now. I think all of this is visible in Training Session.

To see more of Johnathan's work, please visit johnathanpayne.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary 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 instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). Most recently, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in March 2016.



OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Erin Gleason

#HomemadeLandscape No.32: The Edge
January 23, 2015
Instagram photo

Artist, curator and designer ERIN GLEASON explores physical, psychological, cultural and mathematical space in her multidisciplinary practice, which includes installation, drawing, printmaking and photography as well as curating, writing and public art commissions. Erin earned her BA in Fine Art and in Imaging Science at the University of Pennsylvania and her MFA from the Art, Space & Nature Programme at Edinburgh College of Art in Scotland. She is the Co-Founder and former Director/Curator of the Crown Heights Film Festival, the Co-Editor/Producer of the publication FIELDWORK and the Founder/Editor of Cultural Fluency, an online forum and interview series that examines the exchange between urbanism and creative practice across disciplines. She was a 2013 Lori Ledis Curatorial Fellow at BRIC, where she curated Cultural Fluency: Engagements with Contemporary Brooklyn. Erin is currently pursuing a PhD in Philosophy, Art Theory and Aesthetics at the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts. She calls Brooklyn home.

OtherPeoplesPixels: In your artist statement, you say: “I seek to reveal the frameworks that determine our perceptions of space—whether that space is physical, psychological, or mathematical—and how our relationship to space affects our behaviors, beliefs, and judgment of aesthetics.” The intersection of physical and the psychological—and I would add the cultural—are very present in projects like Plane (2008), My Very Own Private Garden (2009), Stoop Series (2013). Where does the mathematical show up in your work?

Erin Gleason: I’m defining mathematical spaces as those that are conceived purely through reason—spaces that are nearly impossible for us to experience first- hand, either through our external senses or internal perceptions. Outer space is one example; virtual space is another. What is it about these borderless, infinite spaces that compel us to explore them repeatedly and even try to conquer them? When we do find ways to explore these spaces using other methods besides mathematics, what is it we hope to discover?

My ongoing series #HomemadeLandscape, for example, examines the space of Instagram and our relationship to it. Instagram functions simultaneously as a gallery, a place for art-making and as a site for communities to develop. The abstract macro-photography images, which are not Photoshopped or predetermined, capture scenes I encounter in my everyday life, yet they create emotional ties to other places, many in outer space. The images often allude to a spatial vastness, tapping into innate desires for exploration and discovery. When I began the series, each image was geo-tagged with a place the image alludes to: Atlantis, Wildcat Ridge, The Event Horizon, Trollkirka, Leda, SDSS J120136.02+300305.5c, and Venus, to name a few. This continued until Instagram stopped allowing us to make up names for geotags. Now, the places alluded to are in the title for each piece.

#HomemadeLandscape No.37: Under the Clouds
February 04, 2015
Instagram photo

OPP: Can you say more about the nature of Instagram as a virtual space?

EG: Instagram can be seen as another infinite space that embraces an almost Deleuzian nomadic experience while exploring it. We create stopping points with our hashtags, geotags and Instagram groups. We embrace the rabbit hole of the browsing journey, its landscape constantly updating in real time. When we add images, we're populating what we perceive to be an empty, virtual space with everything and anything that suits our whims (as long as the image fits within the ethics of appropriateness defined by Instagram). We colonize virtual space with our fancies. Don’t we tend to colonize every type of space, ignoring what exists there by declaring it empty? Furthermore, Instagram is a contemporary form of The Society of the Spectacle, where our addiction to the image of life, of representation, is played out. That being said, it can be great fun.

2011
Installation and Participatory Performance Event, FiveMyles Gallery, Brooklyn, NY

OPP: Could you talk about the recurring motif of the stoop in your work? How’s planning going for your in-process Mobile Stoop Project?

EG: Stoops are one of several motifs that keep knocking on the door of my creative process, insisting on participating and showing up in my work. Writing, mapping, dialogue, physicality and platforms are a few others. Stoops in particular fascinate me because of how they have transcended the mere utilitarian to become iconic cultural spaces. A simple architectural feature has evolved— through its innate form—to become its own form of tactical urbanism.

To me, stoops feel alive. I believe the best art is able to spark a dialogic space, is able to hold multiplicity and, as Parker Palmer says, "hold challenging issues metaphorically where they can't devolve into the pro-or-con choices of conventional debate." Stoops, as objects and as spaces, do this naturally as communal thresholds between public and private space, between inner and outer life. Some of my works investigate what happens when trying to transport the essence of a space without the architecture that originally created it. Stoop Series, an art and performance series co-curated with poet Lynne Procope, was held on the sidewalk in front of FiveMyles Gallery in Brooklyn. We examined the cultural space and dynamics of the stoop without having the object itself present.


Mobile Stoop Project takes the question further, blurring the lines of performance, mobile architecture, space branding and objecthood in art with a site that is constantly shifting and undefinable. Currently, I’m at a bit of a production standstill while looking for venue, manufacturing and funding partners for Mobile Stoop Project. But, conceptually, the project continues to progress. I'm currently pursuing a PhD in Philosophy, Art Theory and Aesthetics at the Institute of Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts, and my research on urban place-making and aesthetics is influencing the direction of the project.

Stoop Series
2013
Summer art and performance series, co-curated with Lynne Procope
FiveMyles Gallery, Brooklyn NY

OPP: At the end of your essay Portfolio: Third Spaces, for a series hosted by Urban Omnibus, The Architectural League's online publication dedicated to defining and enriching the culture of citymaking, you ask a series of open-ended questions. I’m particularly interested in one: Can a virtual space become tangible? Do you have any examples of ways that the virtual has indeed become tangible?

EG: I believe virtual space is already tangible in the sense that it directly affects our actions and what we do with our time. Confronting virtual space restructures our self-representation and redefines our sense of “modern” by providing a new borderless space to explore and discover. The interrelationships between the physical, psychological and virtual (or mathematical) are always at play, transforming each other. I’m repeatedly reminded of these overlaps at Stephen Yablon Architecture, where I work. I watch concepts take form through discussion, drawings, virtual environments and finally, constructed buildings. The buildings themselves take on new lives in new spaces: the psychological space of the people who use them, the cultural space of the neighborhood and the virtual space of online representation. Spaces live and evolve just like we do, whether it’s a space we construct (in our minds or physically) or a space that we can’t even conceive.

Plane
2008
Installation: newspapers, microfilament
In collaboration with Melissa MacRobert and Christine Wylie.

OPP: You recently held an experimental, blindfolded Dark Salon at Open Source Gallery in order to explore how “we navigate space and conversation when our reference point shifts from one of light to one of darkness.” While watching the blindfolded participants talk on the Livestream feed, I thought a lot about the Enlightenment as a point in history when humans began to privilege the mind over the body. Over the course of the conversation, participants seemed to shift from a more conceptual space to a more phenomenological space. They went from saying what they thought about light and darkness to saying how they experienced them. What was the experience like for you?

EG: Copernican Views: Revelations Through Darkness was a grand experiment for me and also thoroughly enjoyable. The point of the Dark Salon was to try to understand what it’s like to navigate a space when our main point of reference is gone—in this instance, light—through a unique, polyphonic experience. As mediator and host, I had no visual cues to go by. I’d like to try this art activity again with more time dedicated to the discussion. It took a while for everyone to shift out of relating “darkness” to “blindness,” but once they did, we had fantastic conversations about what “darkness” means to us as individuals and as a culture. For me, this is when the salon really began. If we continued, I’m sure we would have discovered more how darkness could be an anchor point for navigation instead of light, and in a broader sense, how what we commonly perceive as emptiness can really be solid.

Immortality (work-in-progress)
Ink on paper
65 in x 80 in

OPP: What new projects are you working on?

EG: In addition to continuing work on Mobile Stoop Project and #HomemadeLandscape series, I’m working on three other series of artworks. Rise of the Greenlandic Metropolis is a series of artworks based on the premise that Greenland becomes the next world superpower because fresh water is the new global currency. The first phase was a survey of the landscape and potential sites for new development for exporting arctic water; the next phase of the series focuses on an international media campaign to recruit for the new Greenlandic Military. 

Immortality is a series of large scale drawings, approximately 65 in x 80 in, where I’m writing the entire English translation of Milan Kundera’s book of the same name, in cursive writing. As a nod to the lost art of handwriting and the large contribution scribes have made throughout history, the drawings question Plato’s categorizations of what is imitation and what is real in creation. Kundera’s novel, which is also one of my all-time favorites, likewise questions the role of—as well as who or what is—the creator. Like so many other works that weave together different spaces, the process for these drawings is both physically taxing and meditative. I’m emotionally and physically feeling the shape of each letter, each form, in the book’s re-creation.

I’m also currently working on a not-yet-titled series of artworks that feature hand drawn QR codes in an effort to further link mathematical, psychological and physical spaces. Each artwork/QR code reveals a second, unique artwork: a photograph of the artist as a female nude, shot in a way so the female body is reminiscent of a landscape. As Laura Mulvey pointed out in her text Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, men are (self) perceived as figures in the landscape, while women are often thought of as part of the landscape, to be gazed upon. In other words, men are makers of meaning while women are bearers of meaning. These artworks aim to reveal this cultural perception while turning it on its head. As the artist, the protagonist, the figure and the woman, I can track when, where and how often the QR code is scanned. I’m now looking at you, while you're looking at me. The landscape is now the figure. The object is now the subject. Some day, the technology for QR codes will be defunct, the second figurative artwork will be “lost” in virtual space and all that will be left is the drawing of a digital landscape.

To see more of Erin's work, please visit eringleason.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary 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 instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). Most recently, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show on view at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art until March 27, 2016.