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.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Ian Deleón

2015
Performance still

Prolific performance artist IAN DELEÓN is inspired by "the grotesque, transgression, mortification and ecstasy." Through a rich vocabulary of props and appropriated media imagery, he repeatedly places himself and his audience firmly inside the political and cultural context of Post-colonialism. Simultaneously he explores the more personal, universal human experiences of vulnerability, endurance and submission in collaborations with other performance artists and even his own father. Ian earned an AA in English Literature from the Miami Dade College Honors Program and a BFA from the Studio for Interrelated Media at the Massachusetts College of Art & Design in Boston. He has performed and been included in film festivals both nationally (Boston, New York, Detroit and Miami Beach) and internationally (Cuba, China, Vancouver, The Netherlands, Puerto Rico, Berlin). He is the recipient of a 2015 Art Writing Workshop slot, coordinated by the Creative Capital | Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant Program in partnership with the International Art Critics Association/USA Section. He is currently working towards a 2017 solo exhibition in Fort de France, Martinique at Tropiques Atrium. Ian just kicked off a monthly performance curatorial project with Tif Robinette. Look for the next event, I Had to Watch Them Bleed, on Saturday, March 19, 2016 at PULSAR in Brooklyn, where he lives and works.

OtherPeoplesPixels: How would you define performance art in general for Average Joe on the street?

Ian Deleon: I’m actually actively engaged in a profound investigation of this very question with many colleagues in New York. What performance art was and what it currently is are often vastly dissimilar. Also, how and why we should distinguish between performance and performing is a key question. Every conjugation of this word carries its own particular contexts; what institutions tout as the embodiment of one format may be precisely the opposite of what young artists in the underground scene would call it.

For someone who is completely new to performance art, perhaps the most productive explanation of the term can simply be: "the experience of watching visual art created live." Whether that's actually useful, I'm not sure. As with any other question dealing with an embodied identity, Average Joe should ultimately prepare themselves for a lengthy response—something that attempts to acknowledge and wade through all of the inherent contradictions of our language and our culture. So if Average Joe follows up by asking if it's anything like action painting or public tree carving, you can say “yes” with confidence. That's when you jump in and ask Average Joe to define painting or sculpture himself. If you have him up until this point, it's a good bet Average Joe will let you take him on a brief journey while you discuss the fluidity of these terms and introduce an example that challenges his preconceived notions of what visual art can be.

Child of the swollen sea
2015
Performance still

OPP: How would you describe your own work for that same person?

ID: I've explored many avenues in trying to explain my own work quickly and concisely to people. My favorite and probably still most confusing remarks tend to highlight the interconnectedness in my work between the body, poetics and architecture. People you are meeting for the first time rarely want to hear in-depth responses to a question so vague. So I try to say something a little intriguing. If they still want to know more, that's when I begin actually describing a piece to them and how it relates to other forms of expression they might be more familiar with. For OPP readers who are still with me, I will add that my work is currently greatly inspired by ideas concerning the grotesque, transgression, mortification and ecstasy.

2015
Performance still

OPP: You are a prolific writer in edition to your performances. You describe them well on your site for those of us who don’t have the opportunity to see them live. Is writing a tool for explaining performances, a tool for documentation?

ID: The writing as documentation definitely began as a way to solve a very real problem, which is that a lot of performance work goes unreported in terms of journalistic criticism. After university, I found myself craving that critical engagement with a work that I regularly received from my studio classes, but rarely found out in the art world. Performance has largely been relegated to spectacle in the media, which means a 'slow burn' of a work has little chance of receiving a thoughtful appraisal or any appraisal at all. Compared to the film industry, even the most banal of movies gets some kind of commentary in the press. The same publication will likely have someone who covers the visual arts as a whole, and 90% of the time you are going to see a review for a show of 2D and 3D work. In Boston, there was this almost laughable common knowledge that the most renowned arts writer in the city would refuse to go to art openings, thereby greatly reducing their chances of catching a live performance in a multidisciplinary group show. They certainly weren't coming to performance-only shows.

Thus, the writing became a way for me to assert a place for the work myself. It was an attempt to look at it objectively, to assess its strengths and weaknesses—so that I can grow as an artist—and to share these thoughts with others. It should appear curious that my resume reads the way it does while I have barely a press listing to my name. I firmly believe that this is due to the strength of the work, which has presented complex ideas that resist the simple and sentimental narratives, while also espousing an economy of images and spectacle. I myself find the most intriguing work to be the most difficult to write about.

In addition, finding photo/video documentation to be largely unsuccessful (although necessary for the grant-seeking game) at capturing the essences of performance, I relied on my skills with the written word to tell the story the images might have been unable to tell.

L’odeur du père
2014
Excerpt of a performance with my father, in my mother's backyard in South Florida following a week of intense and heated political discussions

OPP: Do you conceive of your performances as poetry?

ID: Before I came to performance—or fine art for that matter—I had writing. If there was one thing I excelled at throughout early schooling, it was creative composition. In that way, I feel myself aligned often with performers turned architects such as Vito Acconci, who considers himself, above all, a poet. For me the work absolutely begins with language––an interesting phrase or title of another work. I then embark on an exploration of how to visualize such poetics and in the end find that the writing about the performance is my favorite part of the process, where I can unravel all of the elaborate connections I was referencing in the piece. The performances almost resemble a draft for a literary work to come. The brief and never repeated performance 'tweets' and 'essays' I have been producing may thus one day lead me to develop a long-term project with novelistic ambitions.

2015
Performance still

OPP: In 2015, You’ve collaborated numerous times with AGROFEMME in performances like And our bed is verdant…Incorruptible Flesh, Night of Faith and Estas navidades van a ser candela. How did this collaboration start? What does each of you bring to the table? How would you describe the gender dynamics of your performances?

ID: AGROFEMME and I met at a performance event, and we immediately developed a connection that blossomed into many professional collaborations and an intimate relationship. This latter aspect is certainly present in the work, and I suppose we play with the gender dynamics through a commitment to mutual discomfort and trust. In our performances, you see two people who alternate between trusting one another with their safety, sometimes literally bearing the weight of the other person. Working this way came naturally to us. We're just both very interested in physicality, endurance and the ability to harness an intimate relationship into creating work that neither of us would feel comfortable partaking in with anyone else. In thinking about our process, you could say that AF has a natural ability with materials that surpasses mine. So AF chooses and elaborates a lot of the objects in our performances, while I tend to refine a shared interest into an overarching concept for us to explore.

2015
Performance Still

OPP: Many of your earlier performances are political allegories that comment on the long history of colonialism and American policies and invasions of Caribbean and Latin American countries during the 1980s (Panama, Grenada, Nicaragua, Cuba, etc). There are numerous recurring symbolic props, including bars of Hispano soap, Ronald Reagan masks, a necklace made of children’s shoes, Domino sugar and American flags. Could you talk about the language of props in your work?

ID: That body of work very much came out of the identity crisis I faced after moving away from my hometown of Miami Beach to attend college in the "godless and frozen North" (Massachusetts). I had an inner need for self-discovery and self-making, which started to become informed by the technical skills I was picking up at school. Having been trained in my undergraduate years in film editing, I soon grew acutely aware of how modern visual culture is heavily constructed [full stop] and bent towards the consolidation and normalization of power.

Hollywood tropes, consumer product packaging and travel advertisements became my source material, and I began exploring this language of propaganda media in relation to my own familial stories. I felt the need to cut, splice and re-edit my people's histories just as I had done on numerous film/video projects. It was a way of reasserting control over them. . . of ensuring a place for myself in those histories. This vivisection of imagery and text led me down a path, which has created a tangible bridge between myself, living in the Northern Americas and my kindred spirits to the South. I drew on the 'trop-iconic' materials in various marketable stages (like sugar cane stalks and processed table sugar) to talk about the very different, although interconnected ways in which these objects continued to affect those in the colonies and in the metropole—and yes, those terms and that relationship most certainly still applies to the Americas. I wanted to break the cycle of "diasporic amnesia" and evoke what the Caribbeanist Shalini Puri describes as a "volcanic memory"—something that would prompt a reconsideration of the authenticity and ethics operating within every spoonful of bleached sugar, every imported not-so-ripe pineapple, every cocopalm-laced travel postcard and every holiday cruise.

¡Te conozco bacalao aunque vengas disfrazao!
2013

OPP: It seems you've since moved away from this content in recent years. . .

ID: I've moved away from this type of work mostly because I have said all I can from my current point of reference, which is that of someone who has never actually lived in the Caribbean or South America. But I've also noticed a palpable attitude in the U.S., which for the moment is correctly lending primacy to the voices of the historically under(mis)represented. I believe this translates to the work I have been doing being largely overlooked in the U.S. because of the fact that I appear "white.” In the Caribbean, conversations around race and identity tend to be more fluid, so I have yet to feel my work invalidated there because of the privileges most societies accord my body. In the Caribbean, I am without a doubt Caribbean. In the U.S., most of what I am is doubt. Thus, in order to survive as an artist living in the U.S., I have begun taking more cues from the worlds of literature and cinema. The incorporation of narratives that deviate from the strictly autobiographical have lent my work a broader appeal that I believe has a better chance of being judged on its merits.

2014
Performance still

OPP: What role does discomfort play in your practice?

ID: For me discomfort is at the heart of performance and personal evolution. I impose discomfort on myself and the audience as a way of disrupting the quotidian flow of life. The Myth of Sisyphus has been a guiding inspiration for me for several years now, and Camus' interpretation of that myth asserts that struggle is the quintessential state of human existence. I don't see this as a resignation to a doomed fate, but rather a way to acknowledge the tribulations in life that propel us further as individuals. Inspired by this, a lot of my work has dealt with enacting an obviously contrived, though nonetheless real, experience of discomfort. My commitment to discomfort in the moment, whether I am carrying a 50 pound bag of sugar repeatedly up stairs, or chewing through sugarcane stalks for over two hours, is indicative of my eschewing of theatricality and sentimentality. I have no interest in alluding to a personal connection to sugarcane harvesting, for example. But I am passionate about the idea that someone like myself, who rarely encounters this pervasive substance in its raw state, would choose to experience this trial of endurance. It's a way for me to remind myself and the audience, that comfort never comes without a price.

To see more of Ian's work, please visit iandeleon.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.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz

GuerilleReina #1
2013
Giclee print
64"x 44"

WANDA RAIMUNDI-ORTIZ explores the interplay between vulnerability and empowerment in the space where stereotypes, archetypes and lived experience of cultural and racial Otherness overlap. Since 2006, her persona Chuleta has unpretentiously educated YouTube viewers about the Art World. Her Wepa Woman murals tell the story of a NuyoRican superhero, who is charged with representing all her people and preserving their culture on top of having the deal with the regular stresses that all humans have. Most recently, in a suite of performances and photographs called Reinas, she holds court in a costumed manifestation of personal and universal anxieties. Wanda earned her AAS from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York in 1995, was a 2002 Skowhegan Fellow and earned her MFA from Rutgers University in Brunswick, New Jersey in 2008. She has been awarded the Bronx Recognizes Its Own Award (2002 and 2006) and a Cultural Preservation Award from the Bronx River Alliance (2009). In 2011, she was named Keeper of the Creed by University of Central Florida, where she has been an Assistant Professor since 2010. She has exhibited nationally and internationally, including exhibitions at Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, Institute of Contemporary Art at University of Pennsylvania, Centro Cultural de España in El Salvador. Wanda lives and works in Orlando, Florida.

OtherPeoplesPixels: For years, you've performed the persona of Chuleta on YouTube and live at events like Art In Odd Places 2012, New York City. When was Chuleta's first video posted and what's her origin story?

Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz: Chuleta first came on the scene end of 2006 as an examination of my own presence as a Latina artist visiting Art Basel. It was strange to be at these events, being examined as I walked with my fellow Latino artist friends and feeling like we maybe had infiltrated a world that we were actively engaged in. It was a surreal experience. I became very aware of my otherness in this space and wondered. . . how could I explain this career choice that seemed so. . . pretentious and elitist. . . to my ultra urban nieces and nephews? Somewhere between making fun of the gallerists, collectors and ourselves over drinks, Chuleta was born.

YouTube was still in its infancy—a sort of Wild West with nebulous borders. It seemed like a perfect place to create virtual presence, especially with art studio space at a premium. The earlier works were pretty rough and a bit long. But again. . . that was all pre-YouTube etiquette. I had no idea it (and she) would grow the way it did. It became a direct line to the public and a perfect vehicle to challenge expectations of both the art world and viewers.

Ask Chuleta #6: Identity Art
2010
Video Performance

OPP: Has her agenda (or your agenda for her) changed over time?

WRO: Chuleta and I have enjoyed a great run, but she has taken a break so that I can work on the Reinas, which are closer to my heart these days. Chuleta was a direct response to my life in New York and transitioning into academia. Five years after arriving in Florida, my interests, focus and inspirations are more internal and reflexive. She isn't gone, just dormant. I have been thinking of new iterations for her, now that I am changing, too. I’m older, chubbier. . . achier. . . and certainly wiser.

OPP: How has the space of YouTube affected the public's understanding of the videos? Do you ever get grossly misinterpreted? Do you ever get any flack for contributing to a stereotype about Puerto Rican women? How do you use the stereotype for your own purposes?

WRO: HA! I have certainly had my share of criticism and flat out insults like "You need an education" and "Who is this stupid b*tch?" Classier insults reminded me that Sonia Sotomayor was a supreme court judge and reprimanded me for what I was doing to the community. I recognize these self conscious voices. This is what happens to underrepresented people. We become very self conscious about how the (white) masses view and perceive us. It is like having a run in your stocking. Embarrassing. When one of us does something unpleasant, it is assumed that other people will think that the entire community is going to get taken down as a result. And they aren't wrong. Peggy McIntosh describes it perfectly in her article White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. It is that charge, that responsibility to your entire community to represent yourself positively that I was grappling with, on both sides. In my real life, as a Bronx-bred, urban Other with a masters degree from Rutgers in the hood, I was challenged by my own as being a Wanna-Be-White girl or praised for being so "well spoken/articulate" by academics, collectors, etc. This was my way of fighting back.

Wepa Woman: Acts Like a Child, Punish like a Child
Bronx NY
2013
OPP: You've also created comic-style murals and works on paper about "the NuyoRican super hero character Wepa Woman, who is charged with cultural preservation among her beloved NuyoRicans." Will you summarize her story for us?

WRO: I originally created Wepa Woman when I was about 19 years old in an effort to critique stereotypes because I felt like I was an oddity in the hood. I didn't look or act "Latina" enough because I was an artist into New Wave. I hung out with my fellow urban, artist oddball friends that made comics and created Wepa Woman. I was thinking of Wonder Woman, but her origins were ordinary. The real strength that she held was her conviction. The first appearance of Chuleta in my work was through the comic drawings. She was the antagonist, an amalgam of all the things I abhorred about the hood at the time. It, and she felt inescapable, and I wanted to badly to break out of that place and away from that stereotype and the long shadow it casts over us Latinas.

OPP: Is there an actual comic or just the murals? What does it mean for viewers to only encounter one panel of Wepa Woman's story?

WRO: There was no published comic, but the murals came from feeling confined to the page in my original drawings. I think I have a problem with enclosed spaces and ideologies (lol). The murals, also inspired by the hood, offered a different kind of accessibility. I wanted the murals to be accessible whether you knew her story or not. I wanted to insert intrigue into more of my practice. It worked!

PorcelaReina #2
2014
Performance
PorcelaReina #2 is the third movement in a suite of performances and photographs from my most recent series REINAS (Queens). Made to emulate a porcelain doll, this queen's regalia is made nearly entirely from packing materials, in an effort to protect me during my most delicate time- pregnancy, and to explore my own discomfort and isolation with my own frailty.

OPP: Your most recent suite of performances is called Las Reinas, in which you hold court in some art space, often a museum. You performed Bargain Basement Sovereign (2012), for example, at the Atlantic Center for the Arts and PorcelaReina #2 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami, Florida in 2014. Which is you favorite Reina? Tell us about her costume, performance and viewers' responses?

WRO: My favorite Reina so far is GuerrilleReina, the warrior queen. The photos from that suite are really exquisite. I am thankful for my photographer, Jay Flynn, for being able to harness the warrior I was trying to create. This queen comes from many failed relationships; I found myself hardened, ready to defend myself, sometimes before anything had ever happened. The queen persona in me was protecting me—too well. The costume is designed with materials that are used to protect. But there is no one else in the battle. Just me.

The response is always great. I feel that people see themselves in these works. Chuleta puts people on the defensive. The queens are more. . . I don't want to say inviting. . . but they certainly aren't antagonizing. (Except for the warrior queen—lol)

All of the concepts hold clues to the individual queen. If you spend enough time investigating the wardrobe, you will gain more insight into her. I also like working with unusual materials. I don't want to lead readers too much. It spoils the fun.

HUSH
2013
Installation view
For four hours I laid in bed in the gallery and welcomed visitors to lay with me, share secrets, joke or share stillness. Much like a confessional, the space becomes incredibly intimate in even the most public setting. Participants were then instructed to write their thoughts on a white wall in white chalk.

OPP: How do the various iterations of Hush, which is about intimacy, vulnerability and public space, inform your performances of Las Reinas and Chuleta? Are you yourself or another persona when lying in a bed in a gallery space?

WRO: I am myself in Hush. The concept for Hush predates the Reinas, and comes from a moment when I was craving intimacy in a very profound way. I knew that I wouldn't be alone in this. Being open and vulnerable in this way was the first time I saw the clear distinction between power and strength. Through the performances, I was able to completely subdue my urge to control or manipulate, antagonize or challenge. After each performance I would emerge covered in hives and almost no recollection of what occurred, other than a sense of being overwhelmed with other people's angst. I wouldn't be able to talk for a long while after. Only wanted to be alone in a quiet space and purge and cry. It is because of Hush that I know my other works as well as I do. I can't wait to do it again someday.

To see more of Wanda's work, please visit wandaraimundi-ortiz.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). Stacia will create a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show opening at The Ukrainian Museum of Modern Art on February 5, 2016.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Aisha Tandiwe Bell

#decrown (in Bone)
2015

Interdisciplinary artist AISHA TANDIWE BELL explores the shifting fragmentation of our multiple identities. In performance, ceramics, video, painting and spoken word, she embodies the role of the Trickster, laying metaphoric traps in order to reveal the ones we don't know we are stuck in. Aisha earned her BFA in Painting (1998) and her MS in Art and Design Education (1999) from Pratt. She was a 2006 Skowhegan Fellow and earned her MFA in Ceramics from Hunter College in 2008. Aisha has exhibited extensively throughout New York, as well as internationally in Guadaloupe, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.  Her work is currently on view until January 17, 2016 in Dis place at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts in Brooklyn. She was chosen by curator and art historian Sarah E. Lewis to be included in Rush20: 1995-2015, a limited edition print portfolio marking the 20th Anniversary of Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation. The portfolio is on view at Corridor Gallery (Brooklyn) through Dec 20, 2015 and also traveled to Scope Miami in early December. In 2016, her work will be included in one for Mama one for eye at Gallery One (Jackson State University) in Jackson, Mississippi and in one two three fifths at Space One Eleven in Birmingham, Alabama. Aisha lives and works in Brooklyn.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You write and perform spoken word poetry and combine this text-based work with images of your sculptures and drawings. Which came first in your history as an artist: text or image? Does one or the other dominate the way you think?

Aisha Tandiwe Bell: There has always been a codependent relationship between text, narrative and the visual manifestation of my subconscious. Often, the visuals come first and l have to find the language to ground the form. Sometimes the language comes first or alone. During undergrad at Pratt, I was invited to join the spoken word group "Second 2 Last.” Throughout the group's 10 year run, I experimented with attaching narrative to my art. I'm not sure if either form dominates the way I think. I am more familiar and experienced with words, but I am better at telling multiple stories simultaneously with my visual language. For that reason, my most recent work uses narratives that do not explain the image. Instead, they run parallel and tangential, asking the viewer to fill in the spaces with their own interpretations.

Tangents and Segues
2015
Documentations of performance at Mocada October 2015
Photo credit: Dyani Douze

OPP: Could you talk about the recurring metaphor of the trap? It shows up in sculptural works like Trap Couplet (2012) and Trap Unadorned (2012), as well as drawings like Dream Catcher 2 (2012) and in performances like Tangents and Segues (2015).

ATB: I made my first traps in 2006. I found that the figure distracted many viewers from the conceptual focus of my work. I went through a distilling process, isolating the core concept that underlined all of my work—everything I'd made since 1998. . . I came up with the word trap. My figures are trapped in the walls. They are trapped  in the boxes/bodies of race, sex, class. . . In these series of non-figurative traps, I explored the formal possibilities: golden holes and ditches, nets in trees, heavy clay boxes that fell from the ceiling. I've settled, for now, on these tricked out traps. These people-sized cardboard boxes take on personas. They are seductive bait. They simultaneously reference stereotype, consumerism, hyphenated identities, shelter, class, displacement, homelessness and childhood. I also refer to them as dream catchers, the title brings to mind indigenous American spiritual objects, I want the viewer to think about what that is in the context of these cardboard cloth works that represent traps that catch and hold your dreams, hopes, and potential.

headshells
2009
clay and tempura

OPP: Identity is such a complex concept and experience. It includes both how we see ourselves and others see us. It can offer a sense of belonging and be the source of othering, depending on point of view. It can be a heavy burden and other times a source of pride. How do your headshells, in all their various iterations, speak to this issue?

ATB: It would require several dissertations to effectively answer this question, which is why I feel like visual language allows us to metaphorically fold time and space and cover huge and heavy subjects simultaneously. That being said, these heads/shells/masks/hats/faces deal specifically with my ideas as related to code switching, hyphenated identities, multiple consciousness and shapeshifting. They are armor, burdens, crowns, building blocks, balancing acts. They are tools some of us use to navigate varied spaces, negotiate uneven relationships and possibly get ahead (bootstrapping). I juggle many identities. I am African American Caribbean woman, middle/working class, interdisciplinary artist, mother, wife, educator and more. In our overstimulated present, shifting identities are also fragmented/incomplete, no one specialized in a single channel identity. Often, once buried under multiple identities, assumptions and stereotypes, the individual becomes invisible or at most, a two dimensional outline.

chameleon (detail)
2009

OPP: Your recent work from 2015 is a series of figurative wall works that combine ceramics and drawing. Could you talk about how the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional meet in this series and what it means for the figure to be breaking out of the wall?

ATB: I started as a painter. Painting the figure too large for and trapped within the two-dimensional space of the canvas, boxed in. I focused on the gaze, imagining the subject as aware of the viewer and looking back, conscious of the relationship between the entertainer and the entertained. These paintings were for me a metaphor for the state of Black people in America and questioned the degree to which we shape American culture, verses the degree of material power we hold in said culture. The first step is to be conscious of these realities. So the heads push through the two-dimensional space and invade the space of the view. I liken the two-dimensional to stagnation. The relief is the moment of realization, a pushing through liminal or peripheral space. Realization becomes the catalyst for change, and then the faces come off of the wall and move into the fourth dimension as performance. In 2004 I started to paint the two-dimensional figure directly to the wall. Referencing graffiti, Ndebele house painting  and indigenous forms of two-dimensional art-making. I liked the idea of defacing the white wall, the history of European painting as well as well as leaving my mark in a manner that makes it less of a direct commodity.

Chimera
2015
Photo credit: Selina Roman

OPP: Your 2013 project Susu is definitely not an art commodity. Tell us about the site, process and resulting sculptural form in this project.

ATB: Susu was a commissioned by The Laundromat Project, which invites artists to make art at local laundromats as a way to engage the surrounding community and an audience that may not make it to traditional art spaces. In ancient Akan, SUSU means little little (bit by bit). It is a form of micro economics. I proposed a project that involved collecting clothes in front of my local laundromat. As people left clothing I asked them to also leave words— one word, a paragraph or poem, I gave no limitations. The collected clothing was bleached and dyed one of the primary colors. The work was line dried outside the laundromat and the dripping dyes were caught on heavy watercolor paper. The clothing and the clothing line became a giant skirt that I wore in a performance in which I recited the words that had be contributed by the community. Prints made on the watered color paper covered in the drips from the drying clothes were given away to the audience. These same clothes then became two large cocoon-like sculptures. One that lived in a local community garden for eight months and another that permanently resides in the laundromat. The leftover clothing was donated to a shelter. I would like to do more community-based projects as well as explore the possibilities of transforming  soft, old clothes into hard, fragile sculpture.

Susu
Video documentation of interdisciplinary installation
2013

OPP: SuSu metaphorically compliments your ideas about multiple identities. The project is a process performance and a spoken-word performance. It’s social practice. It’s the dyed drip drawings. It’s public sculpture. It’s the generous and sustainable gesture of donating the leftovers. If any one person only witnessed one aspect of the project, they would not have an accurate understanding of the whole, and yet their experience of the part is valuable. It reminds me of the parable of the blind men and the elephant. They fought because they had each touched a different part of the elephant, and so they couldn’t agree on the nature of the elephant. That brings me back to all the identities we have. It seems to me that problems only emerge when we get attached to a single identity, both in viewing ourselves and in viewing others. Could Susu be a model for how to have a holistic relationship with our identities and the identities of others?

ATB: This is a good question; I have to really think on it. The simple answer is just yes. Because there is no waste in Susu, it is sort of like the golden rule, like the most idealized utopian construct. In many ways it is an ideal that charts the layering of identity metaphorically with simple yet connected actions. But on the other hand, identity is not fixed in the same way an elephant or an ideal is. Just when we think we see the entire elephant, it's shape shifts. I think that we have to accept and understand the moments as individual statements. Each element stands on its own, in its own space, with its own allegory and with its own potential to shift and become, altering the mechanisms and overall shape of the whole. Identity is as mutable as language and, as Lacan says, language is shaped like the subconscious. Susu becomes a stepping stone, a way to begin to see how complex and multidimensional identity is, but it does not take into consideration or perform the fluidity of each element.

To see more of Aisha's work, please visit superhueman.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,just opened at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL) and runs through December 19, 2015.



OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Javier Carmona

Tavola Dialogue, Understudy from In the Arena
2015

JAVIER CARMONA’s photographs read like stills from motion pictures, hinting at the process of their own production. He directs and performs with actors in scripted scenes in rented apartments in far-away countries. In recent projects, he performs the character of Xavier, whose navigation of romantic relationships is an exploration of language, gesture and intimacy, both between humans and in relation to the cultural specificity of geographic locations. Javier earned his BFA from The School of The Art Institute of Chicago in 1994 and his MFA in Photography from The University of New Mexico in 1997. He has exhibited extensively throughout the United States, Mexico and Italy, and his work was most recently seen in Front and Center, the culminating show for the Center Program Residency at Hyde Park Art Center. In 2016, Javier will have solo exhibitions at Galería de Arte Contemporáneo, Secretaría de la Economía in Mexico City and The Photo-Four Gallery at South Suburban College in South Holland, Illinois. In March 2016, he will present Making a Scene: Towards an Actor’s Method for Still Photography at the National Conference of the Society for Photographic Education. Javier teaches at Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois and lives in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Could you expand on your notion of an "epic picture?"

Javier Carmona: It’s my reaction to the limitations placed on photographs by defining them as categories. There’s a part of me that loathes talking about pictures in terms of portrait, still life, landscape. Curators seem insistent on cataloging an image as a way of assigning its meaning. I don’t know how to answer the question, “Are these portraits?” I can’t bring myself to teach that way. I don’t get it.

I’d rather address the picture as a temporal phenomenon; an epic picture negotiates a narrative not bound by time. The still photograph is decontextualized time, even though we think of it as originating from a linear sensation of it. I anchor the still picture in a dialogue with the moving image. In cinema, the methodology of fusing the external world with the rehearsed intentions of a performed action is so much more of an accepted circumstance. My work brings that audience expectation of cinema to the still photograph.

Years ago, in my dissertation, I paraphrased Brecht’s idea of the Epic Theatre and began using the phrase Epic Photography; the epic picture is one which looks for a renewed, human expression of the actual and resistant world. In this sense, our phones take pictures, but they’re often obstacles to our tangible surroundings. I’ll take the sensual and the social over the virtual.

But let me be clear: it is possible to make an epic picture with a cell phone. Epic is not about scale or file size. I'm for any device that engenders contact with the external place. I'm more critical of our self-hypnosis with gadgets; our debilitated social behavior because of them. My principle camera these days is my Samsung Galaxy Note. It's the biggest cell phone they make, but still discreet. It makes the initial mark, like location scouting."

Love Streams - an Italian play > Sequence one: The Sea

OPP: Are your characters archetypes or individuals?

JC: The key word is character. Even when I perform in front of the camera, I play someone named Xavier. That simple letter change—from Xavier to Javier—allows me a conceptual distance. I can embrace an affectation other than my own.

So many of the recent projects, like In the Arena, have started with scripts in which the actors play characters. I’ve noticed my impulse to give them X names: Xoraida, Xenobia, Ximena, Xan, Xochitl. The X finds variable pronunciation; perhaps an extension of a mutable identity. It’s the mathematical unknown. It serves to exoticize these characters for an audience. Perhaps the characters approach the archetypes of audience expectation—an ethnically ambiguous visage we could call Latin.

Love Streams-an Italian Play > Sequence three: Inland
2013

OPP: As the viewer, I feel a sense of longing that I also read in the characters. I'm longing for the rest of the story—all the parts between the captured moments. . . the moments I don't get to see—and they seem to be longing for connection or belonging. I am drawn in by the intimacy and vulnerability in the images themselves. What roles do intimacy and vulnerability play in the process of making the images?

JC: I tell myself to make straight forward pictures about what I don’t understand. That requires risk and yes, I hope, emotional vulnerability. I want the characters to examine what they don’t know about each other and the circumstances of their surroundings. The scenarios are largely written that way. It’s important the characters suddenly realize they are not where they once were, that they’re on an indifferent street in Mexico City or an arresting intersection in Rome.

I had a long habit of going to Mexico to photograph, but a handful of years ago, I began renting furnished apartments to extend my stay there as long as it was sustainable. I wanted to have a resident’s intimate knowledge of the place I had been born, but only knew in brief, albeit regular intervals throughout my life. Even before I knew to articulate it, I longed to create a cinematic illusion of what that other reality might be. So the Xavier character emerged as one negotiating a romantic relationship. The series, Mexican Cinema evolved into something I called The Enamorates / Los Enamorados. I thought of Xavier’s female foils as extensions of this intimate knowledge. To know Ximena, was to broach the immediate circumstance. Do the female characters become embodiments of ideals? Maybe initially, but only as a starting point.

Love Streams-an Italian Play, my ongoing work in Italy, initially came from an opportunity to teach in Florence during the summer. There emerged a parallel search for this intimacy you’re perceiving. In this case, it was a culture that resembled my own, but different enough to pose the obstacle of language toward understanding. I liked the prospect of being a chameleon there, of being mistaken for an Italian. On the streets, I would be asked for directions as if I were a resident; inevitably this informed the Xavier character. In Italian there is no letter J. So it was easier to be Xavier.

In Italy, I really began to think mostly in gestures and physical actions. I am still hoping to get that idea right: how two people might learn to negotiate emotion, despite communication.

The in-between moments you describe are the ones in which I think photography works best—when it resists explanation and revels in ambiguity. There’s more to be learned by ambiguity than a straightforward recitation. While I have been shooting these scripted scenarios to eventually also be a proper short film, I fear the ambiguity of the still may be lost once the image begins to move and explain itself.

Bucareli Trailer, Pt. IV from Mexican Cinema
2013
OPP: I'd like to see the film because I’m ultimately curious about these characters for whom I've created my own stories. I’ve filled in the blanks, and a part of me wants to know if I’m right. On the other hand, my own longing to know and the way your still photographs resist my REALLY knowing seems to be the point. Is this related to what you meant by the “resistant world?”

JC: I'm often told, "These photographs should be films," implying this narrative speculation is not the purview of the still. I disagree. That longing you're describing, is much more indelible in a still that isn't replaced by the next moving frame. Photographs resist explanation as much as the external world resists providing the answers.

But ultimately the "resistant world" deposits the rehearsed gesture "on location," inviting an interaction with elements out of one's control, making credible what is enacted in the process. It's what I see in Cassavetes or French New Wave films made on streets, without permission and probably why they were my central influences.

Sub from In the Arena
2015

OPP:  You occasionally use subtitles, sometimes in English and sometimes in Spanish. Where does the text come from? Do you think about audience when deciding which language to use?

JC: The text is pulled directly from the scripted scenes. The sequence of stills which make up In the Arena, highlights the physical gestures being performed. In the film version I’m editing, I’ll likely have the entire narrative subtitled regardless. Very likely the text will fluctuate in language and waiver in the accuracy of its translation. It would become a second dialogue over the spoken one.

I don’t mind that the subtitles or even the titles for the images go untranslated for what is initially an English-speaking audience. If they’re interested, they’ll use the universal translator on their phones. Otherwise, it’s another layer of ambiguity. Is it mischievous to give untranslated Spanish or Italian titles to works seen mostly by an American audience? Hopefully it makes them self-conscious of their role as an audience. To me it broadens the definition of what should be a mainstream experience of art viewing. It’s asking the audience to consider more information as part of who they are.

Still from Los Enamorados
2013

OPP: Language and translation is just one part of comprehending work that bridges multiple cultures. You've exhibited throughout the United States and extensively in Mexico City. Is your work understood differently in Mexico versus the U.S.?

JC: Is the work understood differently in Mexico? Oh gods, yes! And that’s so refreshing. Having those actual conversations with different audiences is the heart of the dialogue the work is looking to engage. As if the work itself provides the pretext to interact socially with people I’d like to know further. Despite my Mexican birth or fluency in Spanish, Mexicans regard me as an American artist, with the accompanying exoticism. I’m intrigued by how I’m perceived in these different places. It feeds the character. When I started going there as a young artist, gaining social acceptance in my country of origin was an unspoken motivation; exhibiting work was a way to do that. Now I go find a community I miss enormously.

In the States, many art people go straight to gender in this work and are often unwilling to allow me the conceit of playing a fictional character. I showed Mexican Cinema to a book publisher, who felt the work was mostly about surrounding myself with beautiful women and dismissed it outright. I’m still baffled by that. I couldn’t get her to engage with the importance of location in the evolving narrative. Was she culturally intolerant or offended by a perceived sexism?

I tend to not have the work explain all these references, for fear of becoming didactic. Ambiguity is king. But it comes at a cost when the audience isn’t aware of the cultural baggage you’ve arrived with.

I exhibited a few stills from In the Arena in Mexico City recently. They got it. They were eager to have a conversation about the telenovela and how it affects the Mexican expression of emotion. There’s an acting school in Mexico City that teaches a melodrama class called Bofetada y Lagrima, which focuses on the slap and crying for the camera. I think a discussion of that in an American context would be extraordinary. 

The Reforma Rehearsals, Part I
2013
Video
13:08 minutes

OPP: What about specific geographical references that American audiences might not get, such as the Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City? How does this location add another layer of meaning in The Reforma Rehearsals, Part I and II (2013)?

JC: The Paseo de la Reforma is Mexico City’s principle artery. It’s one of the busiest—maybe ten lanes in some stretches—stitching together the many monuments of the city’s identity. To have a film, where an actor, walks as slowly as possible in real time against the current of the fastest traffic, is akin to reclaiming an individual presence in this vast city. It takes her nearly 15 minutes to cross 50 feet in the volatile context of chance occurrence. That’s epic, as I’d like to think of it; the gesture is not bound by time.

Declination Movement, 09 from Casuals of the Sea
2015

OPP: I initially read your work more literally as about intimacy and vulnerability, gender roles and possibly archetypes from the telenovela, which I had an inkling about, but didn’t feel well-versed enough to comment on. I was particularly curious about the vulnerability of the Masculine. But now, I see the romance as an allegory for cultural and geographic belonging. What I initially thought of as a longing for human connection, I now see as a more general longing for belonging. Thoughts?

JC: Belonging? That works. . . You know, you're reminding me that I've rarely felt comfortable in a room full of people where everybody looks and sounds the same. I've always felt more at ease in heterogeneous surroundings. And that alien feeling happens in Mexico, too.

At the same time, I've had an instinct to understand by infiltration. My interest in language and gesture allows me to be a chameleon. Making pictures and now studying acting exists in this context. I loved that I've been confused for an Italian or someone of Middle Eastern descent. It sets up the challenge to find a way to belong. To learn how they greet or love.

To see more of Javier's work, please visit javiercarmona.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, runs through December 19, 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL).

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Natalie Loveless

22-minute video loop (documentation of seven-year performance)
Soundtrack by Derek Champion
2012

NATALIE LOVELESS is an artist, academic, writer and curator with a specialization in feminist and performance art history. For this interview, we’ll be focusing on her curatorial project New Maternalisms (2012), as her website for the exhibition first brought her to OPP’s attention. In 2004, she simultaneously earned an MA from Tufts University and an MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. She went on to earn her PhD at the University of California, Santa Cruz in 2010. Natalie has a chapter in the forthcoming Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Feminist Art Practice and Theory, co-edited by Hilary Robinson and Maria Elena Buszek. She will be a participating artist at the upcoming SLSA in Houston, Texas in November 2015 and will be presenting research at the Sea Change Colloquium in October 2015. Natalie is an Assistant Professor in History of Art, Design & Visual Culture at the University of Alberta in Canada.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us a bit about your history as a curator, an academic and an artist.

Natalie Loveless: I wrote an autoethnographic essay about this once!  The short version is: I came up in art school at a time when crit sessions were still dominated by the language of post-structuralism popularized by Art Forum and October in the 80s/90s. It was all "performativity" this and "deconstruction" that. I found myself curious about what Austin and Derrida were trying to build with these concepts. I wanted less to use these ideas in my artist statements than to figure out, social-sculpture-style, what these thinkers were doing with these ideas—the politics and passions behind them. So I talked to folks at the School of the Museum School of Fine Arts and our sister school, Tufts, and convinced all involved to let me do an MA in Contemporary Art History at the same time as my MFA. No one had done that there yet; they didn’t have a structure for supporting work that crossed practice-theory lines. But they supported it anyway. My experience of SMFA was that it was a very visionary place when it came to interdisciplinarity. Their approval was the gateway drug I needed to say to myself, as I was researching and developing my MFA show: “Uh, maybe I should stay in school and do a PhD next. . .”

At the time, in North America, the world of “practice-led” and “fine-arts” PhDs was really, really nascent. No one had ever mentioned it to me as a possibility. I was completely in the dark about the few programs that did exist in the U.S. and even about what had already been happening for quite a while in Europe. No one was talking about art practice at the doctoral level at the Museum School, or in Art Forum, or October, or at CAA. Times certainly have changed! Instead, I ended up attending a really visionary PhD program—colloquially referred to as “HistCon”—at UC Santa Cruz that let me pursue my work as an artist and curator alongside my academic work, in ways that ended up tangling the three together.

I want to give a really big shout out to the two people who were my primary supervisors at each institution. Their vision, passion, politics and pedagogy provided a model and road-map for me. Was it Korzybski who said “the map is not the territory?" They made the territory the map for me. They walked the walk. They not only taught me the stuff they knew in the areas that they were interested in, they modeled an affirmative, incisive, generous, unflinching approach to creating artistic-intellectual-political spaces without which I don’t even want to think about what my life would look like today! So here is the shout out:

Marilyn, Donna, I am forever, and gratefully, in your debt. I literally could not have done it without you. Thank you for everything.

Ok. Almost everything. There is someone else whose affirmative, incisive, generous, unflinching approach to life made it possible for me to gravitate towards the mentors that I did, because she modeled it for me from the get-go: my momma, Evelyne Lord. Thank you, mom. Your generosity and vision and bravery will never cease to inspire me and (my sister) Stephie.

Skype-based Durational Performance
2012

OPP: How was New Maternalisms (2012) first conceived?

NL: In 2010, I gave birth to a little human who was born eight weeks prematurely and totally topsy-turvied my life. I had been planning on giving birth in my mother’s house in Canada and submitting my PhD before D-day. So there I was working on the PhD, in the last two months of revisions, and suddenly found myself in the hospital with a baby in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Over the next few months, I just kinda held on, taking it one day (hour, minute, second) at a time, trying to survive and build a livable system to support this new, intensive, immersive, daily practice/labour. I began working on what became a three-year, daily-practice art piece called Maternal Ecologies. In effect, I took all the artistic and intellectual literacies that I had at hand and applied them to my lived situation out of desperation.

In art school, Mary Kelly was a huge (HUGE) influence on me, specifically in the way that she brought daily practice, feminist politics and psychoanalytic theory together. So, inspired by my memories of her work, I started looking around for models and support structures. I came across Andrea Liss’ 2008 book Feminist Art and the Maternal. I came across the UK-based research network MaMSIE and their journal Studies in the Maternal. Myrel Chernick and Jennie Klein’s edited volume The M Word came out in 2011, and I was introduced to both of the incredible exhibitions they had curated. Then Shannon Cochrane (Artistic & Administrative Director of FADO Performance Art) asked if I would be interested in curating something for their upcoming season. The rest, as they say, is herstory.

3 hour durational performance
2012

OPP: What was the curatorial premise of the show?

NL: I started by asking myself what was most interesting in the field of contemporary art and the maternal, and I decided to build an exhibition that focused on performance-based practices. Performance-based work (of all stripes) makes a lot of sense to me when looking critically at the early years of maternal labour. The ideological politics of visibility that inform and surround the maternal body are important, as is the historical censuring of the professional female body on the basis of its maternal status. Performance-based practices interest me for the many ways that they can comment on and intervene into these politics and histories to foreground the temporality and complex materiality of labouring bodies, making the texture of that labour central to the work itself.

OPP: New Maternalisms was first mounted in 2012. In 2014, you co-curated New Maternalisms-Chile with Soledad Novoa Donoso for the National Museum in Santiago, Chile. What was different in this second exhibition?

NL: Alejandra Herrera, one of the artists in the original show, suggested developing an iteration of the exhibition in Chile. She knew Soledad, a curator who has been committed to the discourse of feminist art in Chile for decades. I curated the non-Chilean (largely North American) artists, and Soledad curated the Chilean artists. The exhibition was an experiment in bringing two different national perspectives together for conversation and reflection.

What neither of us expected when we began organizing the exhibition, held concurrently at the National Museum of Fine Arts and the Santiago Museum of Contemporary Art, was that the president of Chile would, in the months leading up to our opening, announce that they would be re-evaluating Chile’s strict national laws forbidding abortion. We were interviewed non-stop by radio, television and newspapers and were sometimes quoted inaccurately in ways that tried to polarize the exhibition as “pro-natalist” in the context of these abortion debates. The positive side is that we had over 600 people at the opening.  

Jill Miller: The Milk Truck
Ongoing Social Practice Performance
2012

OPP: What changed in your understanding of the discourse of motherhood between the two exhibits?

NL: For one thing, I had two more years of research and thinking under my belt. Over the last five years, there has been a notable surge of exhibitions, books, journals, networks and conferences at the intersection of feminist art and the maternal. (Of course, the moment you start looking for something you tend to see it everywhere.) I just returned from two conferences on the topic, one in London and one in Rotterdam, and an edited volume is about to be published taking my first exhibition as the inspiration for its title! I have two hypotheses as to why this is happening right now.

Firstly, I see the maternal as a really interesting test case for feminists of my generation who were born in the seventies. At that time, Mary Kelly made Post-Partum Document, Miriam Shapiro and Judy Chicago founded on Womanhouse and Mierle Laderman Ukeles’ Manifesto for Maintenance Art was circulating. I, for one, was raised with the idea that my status as a middle-class, cis-gendered woman in North America translated into a future in which a choice between maternal and professional status did not have to be made. I could be a mother and an artist and an academic; this was the territory my mother’s generation fought for. The maternal didn’t occur to me as a political problem until it hit me in the face (uterus?). In gathering artist-mothers of my generation together around me, I discovered that this “rude awakening” was not unique to my experience. I consider the maternal to be a potent location from which feminists of my generation can ask questions about the status of feminist art and political practice today.

Performance action
30 minutes
2012

OPP: And the second hypothesis?

NL: There is another pressing social and political issue that I see as linked to the maternal: the current ecological crisis. To ask questions of the maternal as a structure of care, labour, pedagogy and sustainability—that is, to examine the maternal as an ecological matrix—is to ask questions relevant to global climate change. As dominant norms, the individualistic, nuclear-familial ideologies that structure much of contemporary North American family life are part of what is killing the planet. Phallogocentric, global capitalist social ideologies and kinship structures have given us anthropogenic climate change. To address the maternal in this day and age is to address the structures that have led to and support global ecological collapse. I have found myself in conversations over the past few years with colleagues who work politically in the university and who parent small children. We have to ask ourselves what our duties are in training our students and our children. It is they who will have to face the worst of it. What approaches to learning, living and critically creating in the world are relevant? How do these affect the art I make, the syllabi I construct, the articles I write and the conversations I have with my five-year-old son? This line of thinking has expanded my thinking on the maternal, and it structures the exhibition I am currently working on, New Maternalisms Redux (May 2016).

Performance action, 45 minutes
2012

OPP: What about fathers? Do you have any interest in male artists making work about fatherhood? Have you encountered any?

NL: In short: Great question. Yes. Few.

One of the glaring things I’ve had to contend with in this work is the overwhelming gender, sexuality, race and class biases that seep into it. When my child was born, I was a finishing PhD student, without a job or guarantee of one and in crazy debt (which I will likely carry for the rest of my life). But I was also incredibly privileged. I went to art school, earned a PhD and passed as white, hetero-normative, middle-class and cis-gendered (though I don’t identify with all of these). I have a biological and daily partner in parenthood (Sha LaBare) who is willing to parent with me. I have a mother whose house I stayed in while I recovered from my son’s premature birth and finished my PhD. I had folks that I could draw on as allies for emotional and intellectual support… all of these constitute incredible privilege. No matter how tough things have been at times, they have not been so tough that I couldn’t turn to art and theory and political action as part of my arsenal of survival techniques.

Mother and father are identities and roles that, like male and female, have difficult, enduring histories that have been used in service of a sexist worlding practice. These histories are thick and sticky, and there is a real need for more critical art practices dealing with fathering—fathering done by men, women or other-identified folk. I know few cis-men or trans-men (or trans-women for that matter) making performance-based art work from their experiences of early maternal labour, or folks of any identification dealing with early paternal labour through performance-based practices. I am currently writing on work that queers the maternal. For example, Sadie Lune's performance-based work not only deals with queer insemination but also queers insemination, and Lissette Olivares' work explores trans-species mothering or what she calls the post-humanist maternal. I know folks attempting to sidestep the gendered frameworks of mother and father entirely by working on the discourse of parentingEnemies of Good Art in the UK and Cultural ReProducers in the U.S. I ally myself strongly with these projects, but still find myself interested in the metaphorics of gendered performance and its genres. When it comes to the debates raised by this work I say: the more the merrier. It takes a village. To raise a child. To have a debate. To change the world. 

In the shout out above I named three "mommas"—one domestic, one artistic, one academic. But there have also been lots of sisters and aunties, brothers and uncles, critters and widgets, lovers and partners of all persuasions, and, of course, fathers. I love creative kinship maps. And I love the idea of aligning these functional roles, these kinship identities, with the language of “persuasion.” My parenting and life partner, Sha, performs both "mother" and “father” with care, compassion and attention that inspires me daily. He and I are co-writing a piece that takes a critique of hetero-and-mononormative, capitalist patriarchy as a basis for thinking about ecological and maternal ethics together. If he hadn’t chosen to stay home and mother our son while I started my tenure-track job at the University of Alberta, I never could have accepted the position and wouldn’t have the support to be doing what I am doing.

Video projection
60 minute loop
2012

OPP: Tell us about The VACCINES Project.

NL: While my academic and artistic work on the maternal is topically grounded, my methodology is indebted to what we call Research-Creation here in Canada. (I recently published something on this.)  The VACCINES Project (our working title) is a collaborative research-creation project initially proposed by Dr. Steven Hoffman, the director of Global Strategy Lab at University of Ottawa as part of a larger initiative funded by the Research Council of Norway. Steven asked my colleague Sean Caulfield and myself to join him in developing an international collaborative project bringing research-based artists together with health-policy academics and activists around the issue of vaccines and the public. We are starting off with a workshop in Ottawa this summer to begin work towards a research-based exhibition on vaccination in Geneva in 2017.

Some of our objectives for the first workshop are to (a) identify and examine challenging issues surrounding global vaccination from scientific, artistic and social perspectives; (b) foster mutual understanding and interdisciplinary dialogue from across the arts, academia and activism; and (c) problematize and deconstruct existing perceptions of the role that art, research and advocacy can and should play in informing and challenging global governance related to vaccines. These objectives will be guided by a set of questions such as: (a) what key issues around vaccination might benefit by being interrogated by artistic practice?; (b) how important is formative and impact evaluation in assessing the importance of research-based artistic and creative practice?; and (c) how important are different understandings of the “public” in public policy and the “public” in the context of socially engaged/research-based contemporary forms such as “art as social practice” and “new genre public art”?

One link between this and my maternal work, other than methodology, is that Jill Miller has joined the team and will be doing work on maternal anti-vaxers. The vaccination and autism scandal is a perfect example of a sophisticated misinformation campaign orchestrated to breed maternal and ecological anxiety. . . but that is a conversation for another day!

To learn more about New Maternalisms, please visit newmaternalisms.ca.
To learn more about Natalie's other projects and research, please visit loveless.ca.

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). Stacia recently completed an installation for Chicago Artists' Coalition's 2015 Starving Artist Benefit and is currently working towards a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, for O’Connor Art Gallery at Dominican University (River Forest, IL). The show will open on November 5, 2015.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Maria Gaspar

Making the Unknown, Known #1 (Site-Specific projects for Little Village, Chicago)
2013
Digital Rendering for sound installation proposal

MARIA GASPAR seeks to make "what is invisible more visible, what is unknown known." As a studio artist, facilitator, collaborator, performer and audio archivist, she explores power and the social and political meanings of geographic spaces, especially in Chicago’s West Side, where she grew up. In 2010, she collaborated with young residents (aged 14-21) of the North Lawndale and Little Village neighborhoods in Chicago to create a series of temporary public art projects known as City as Site. Her long-term project 96 Acres is a complex, collectively-produced portrait of the massive Cook County Jail and its effects on the surrounding neighborhood. Recently, Maria was awarded a prestigious Creative Capital Award for a set of public sound installations to further her work in Little Village. She received a Maker Grant in 2013 and was featured in the Chicago Tribune's Chicagoan of the Year in the Visual Arts in 2014. In 2015, she will be in residence at Project Row Houses in Houston. Maria is an Associate Professor at SAIC in Chicago, where she lives.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What early influences have impacted your community-engaged public art projects?

Maria Gaspar: I was greatly impacted by the work of local artists who engaged young people and residents in a creative process of art-making. In Chicago's mural movement, artists and community folks worked together to represent positive images of their neighborhoods. Spaces like bodega corner stores and community buildings became visual sites for dialogue and civil rights. I understand this work as not only having symbolic power, but also political, social and cultural reverberation. This approach continues to influence my way of translating issues around displacement, contested spaces and the politicized body. 

City As Site
(Viaduct study, Kostner Ave.)
2010

OPP: Tell us about the public interventions of City As Site.

MG: City As Site was very intentionally located on the West Side of Chicago, where I could examine the spatial subtleties around landscape and power with young people within the Lawndale communities. Young people are constantly negotiating their social behaviors within the often-authoritative and oppressive realities of so-called public space and a growing hyper-surveillance normalcy, especially towards brown and black communities. Through City As Site, we created performance interventions with our bodies; mediated vacant lots by way of temporary installations; invented new stories around an isolated viaduct, inserting performance art into the architecture of a bleak space; created drawings on sidewalks using found street detritus; and staged comedic tableaus at the local public park.The most compelling experiences occurred during our daily collective walks as we interacted with architecture through improvisation, where youth made beautiful, poetic, and powerful gestures. At the same time, we also faced misperceptions around our collective walking. What we considered to be a positive and imaginative set of dérives through the city was interpreted as threatening to some strangers. Walking with youth of color became a radical, political act. 

City As Site led to my thinking around specific contested spaces in the Little Village community. In my ongoing conversations with other artists and activists in the area, we speculated about potential art pieces on the jail wall. In 2012, that speculative conversation turned into meetings with community stakeholders, including the Sheriff's Department, and that led to 96 Acres.

OPP: What’s been most challenging about 96 Acres?

MG: The jail is the largest architecture of my community and grappling with what that means on the social and political level is difficult to say the least. The project begets questions around impacted communities of color, the prison industrial complex, mass incarceration, and works closely with transformative justice approaches. Its complexity is also in its diversity of voices, including an organized 96 Acres Steering Committee and 96 Acres Education Initiative, all facets of 96 Acres that grew out of an organic conversation around the needs of the project. It includes artistic contributions from many other artists and activists around the city and beyond that creatively intervene in the Cook County Jail site using art that engages its surrounding communities. 

Tangled Brown Cloud
2011
Cut paper
24" x 18" x 7"

OPP: How does your more traditional studio practice influence the community-based work?

MG: My collective projects are durational and community-specific, which entails a lot of time and sensitivity to the conversations that surface through a very thoughtful and open set of questions. This is very different from my individual work where the durational element is in a space of solitude. That space allows me to not only make installations or objects, but also reflect and identify new questions for my work and contend with them. As someone interested in community engagement, the process through which radical community ideas emerge is the most powerful element to this work. I’m influenced Augusto Boal's Games For Actors and Non-Actors and its improvisational methodologies—performance, the body and translation intricately negotiate the gesture, personal and political histories, collaboration and participation. To me, the power lies in the orchestration of situations that create a range of provocative images, interrogate language, and generate innovative ideas. And ultimately, that the spaces I create with others are also spaces for freedom—to be, or to become—fluid spaces of reimagining.

You Think You See Things (Detail I)
2010
Latex paint, plastic sheets, aluminum paper
Dimensions Variable
Installation at O' Conner Gallery, Dominican University, River Forest, IL

OPP: Tell us about your ongoing exploration of the color brown. What does brown mean to you, formally and symbolically, and how have your explorations of it changed over the last few years?

MG: The color brown is persistent in much of my work. Originally, I was interested in the way that Chicago's Graffiti Blaster program removed graffiti by covering it in brown paint. All along my neighborhood, I saw patches of small and large brown areas that obscured signs, words or images along viaducts or buildings. The color brown was meant to cover the signs and assimilate into the architectural landscape, but instead the brown color became more visible and the small patches turned into entire sides of buildings. Along with the color, the gesture of "blasting" brown was an interesting act to me. So, I decided to do the same action in an installation at 6018 North, where I spray gunned an entire room brown—ceiling to floor. This action was meant to amplify brownness as an act of power. It was about dislocation and belonging and asserting a brown space into what is traditionally a white gallery or exhibition space. In my series of "brown outs," I've completed a series of shadowy forms that conceal and reveal themselves within interiors of buildings. The forms demarcate space and territory and rouse issues of proximity and subjectivity.

Oblation For Another Parade
2009
Muslin, Latex, Wood, Streamers, Confetti and Other Found Objects
Dimensions Variable

OPP: I was particularly struck by the documentation of Oblation for Another Parade Performance (2009) at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. It was sad and powerful to watch how few people even noticed the slow-moving group of people of color. The symbolic social and political implications about visibility and space are clear, especially in the context of MCA's First Fridays. I also ended up thinking a lot about how human beings have different capacities for spatial awareness. In crowds, there are patterns of behavior for claiming and asserting space, which may be culturally conditioned. Some people weave in and out, predicting movements of other people, while others simply plant themselves or barrel ahead, oblivious to the bodies of other people. Was there anything really surprising to you about the crowd's response or lack of response to the performance while it was happening?

MG: So much of my artistic practice has used interventionist strategies within public or private spaces. I am often examining the ways that spaces elicit a certain kind of behavior, such as within the confines of a museum. My inclination is to subvert it. I wasn't completely surprised at some of the lack of acknowledgement at the MCA because it was during the First Friday's event, which is like a museum-turned-nightclub. Most people were interested in the socializing aspect of the event, which is exactly why I wanted to create a performance that punctured that environment. The performers made a kind of shape shifting architecture that necessitated an alternate pathway. I was more interested in the ways that people were redirected around the performers and the power that the performers attained as they moved through the first floor of the museum. In addition, the performers were a mix of people, such as modern dancers, a former student who performs in professional drag shows across the city, as well as my community of friends and colleagues who were not experienced performance artists, but enthusiastic and committed to exploring this idea with me. It was a great experience, overall.

Making the Unknown, Known #2 (Site-Specific projects for Little Village, Chicago)
2013
Digital Rendering for Sound Installation Proposal

OPP: In 2013, you produced a short, audio documentary called Cook County Jail: The Visible and the Invisible, which investigated what it means to live next to one of the largest pre-detention facilities in the country. On your website are images of proposals for a series of sound installations based on the proximity of a jail. Have these proposals become a reality yet? Will these sound installations make use of audio from The Visible and the Invisible or have you continued to interview Little Village residents about the jail?

MG: The proposals are meant to provoke a dialogue about who sees the jail and who doesn't and why/why not. The idea is to place three sound installations in three parts of a major street, 26th Street (same street as the Cook County Jail), and program them with interviews and personal stories about incarceration. A version of this proposal is currently in development. For now, the audio archive is growing. On the 96 Acres website, the public is invited to upload their personal stories. At an upcoming 96 Acres exhibition at the Hull House Museum (Fall 2015), we will set up a recording table for visitors interested in contributing a personal story. I recently began a residency at the Experimental Sound Studio where I am producing a new set of audio pieces that deal with the sonic landscape of the jail vicinity. I have been documenting the informal architectures of the jail periphery the past few years, which include photos and audio of cultural events located just outside the jail walls, including a recent carnival last week. Audio is a powerful medium that transcends boundaries and geographies and grants the listener the freedom to imagine a space, people and places.

Monument to 26th Street (Side)
2009
Paper, Rubber, Wood and Found objects
Dimensions Variable

OPP: In 2014 you won a Maker Grant, which is cosponsored by Chicago Artist Coalition and OtherPeoplesPixels, you were featured in the Chicago Tribune as Chicagoan of the Year in the Visual Arts in 2014, and you were just awarded a Creative Capital Award. How have these prestigious awards impacted both your practice and your career?

MG: Receiving these awards has been a tremendous honor, to say the least. Lori Waxman, who wrote about my work in the Tribune, is a person I greatly respect and admire. Her writing on my practice means a lot to me. The Maker Grant is special because it means that people in my own city have recognized my work as a Chicago artist. Whereas on a national level, Creative Capital has been supportive in funding my long-term art projects that are generally riskier and more challenging to fund. They are willing to take that long ride with me and are invested in all aspects of my creative life. This is an incredibly profound experience that is entirely new to me. I am very motivated by the opportunities and possibilities. I am also very grateful to my friends and, especially my family, that have been there for me every step of the way, and who have indeed been taking that life/art ride with me for a long time regardless of awards or recognition.

To see more of Maria's work, please visit mariagaspar.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. Recent exhibitions include solo shows I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago, as well as Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, at Design Cloud in Chicago (2014). Most recently, Stacia created  When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center. Closing reception guests were invited to help break down the piece by pulling pins out of the wall.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Johana Moscoso

Machera Series 1
Performance
2012

Colombian-born JOHANA MOSCOSO’s embroidery, performance and sculptures are a response to and an expression of her experience as a Latin American woman and a resident alien in the United States. She renders the migratory movements of generations of her family in dense embroideries that combine machine and hand stitching. The absence of a male dancer is conspicuous in Machera, her series of salsa performances, questioning traditional gender roles as they are manifested in Latin American culture. After earning her BVA at the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogota, Johana came to the United States in 2007 as an MFA student at the Savannah College of Art and Design, where she received an Artistic Honors Scholarship. Since then, she has exhibited extensively in both Columbia and the United States. She is represented by Otros 360 Grados Gallery in Bogota. Johana will attend ACRE Residency (Steuben, Wisconsin) in the summer of 2015 and is a 2015-2016 BOLT resident at Chicago Artists’ Coalition. In February 2016, she will mount a solo show at the Lakeside Legacy Foundation in Crystal Lake, Illinois. Johana lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You use an uniform color palate of red, black and white in your embroideries, performances and installations. Why do you choose this palate? Do you ever feel limited by it?

Johana Moscoso: These particular colors reinforce concepts that I explore in my work. Red allows me to address gender stereotypes relating to Latin women. For example, the red dress, red lipstick and red nails are clichés of attractiveness, especially in Latin American culture. On the other hand, the dancers in my performances uniforms wear black because it directs the viewer's attention to the performer’s movements. Ultimately, the color choice supports the work and unifies the performers as one.

Many of the threads in my embroideries appear to be black but are actually just very dark colors like blue and gray that have been built up through layers of stitches. The best way to appreciate all the colors in the embroideries is in person. I use white simply because it complements the whole of each piece and helps emphasize the content. In Machera Series 2, the white powder acted as a document of what happened on the platform, allowing the performers movements to be visually traced. Furthermore, white in my embroideries creates contrast and highlights the traces made by stitches. 

Ah-moor (detail)
2012
Embroidery
99 inch x 64 inch

OPP: What’s the relationship between the hand-stitched, red lips and the accumulated, machine stitched lines in your embroideries?

JM: My embroideries are abstract maps of my family’s migration, both my immediate family and over generations. They celebrate the places where my family has migrated, the languages and traditions related to these locations and the memories that have passed from generation to generation. The lips in my embroideries are personal; they are located at the longitude and latitude of actual locations where my family migrated. They are very static in comparison to the machine-made lines in the fabric that act as a trace for the time, labor and nostalgia of our journeys. The trace made between the first and the last stitch represents an intangible timeline. 

Ah-moor
2014
Embroidery
35 inch x 23 inch

OPP: The interactive sculptures from the Emotional Prostheses Series address themes of safety, comfort and adaptation in relation to emotional, physical and social needs. Each piece hints at an isolated individual in relation to a potentially threatening environment. Did these works grow more out of your experience growing up in Bogota, Colombia or moving to North America?

JM: This body of work was first conceived in Bogota, but it certainly evolved when I moved to the United States. The series examines situations and emotions that occur in everyday life through sculptures that affect the body. In Bogota, many of my Emotional Prostheses projects focused on relationships and the absence or presence of loved ones. When I moved to the United States, I became more interested in the idea of protection. As an immigrant this seemed to be a natural progression for the work.

Even though I have used public transportation all my life in Bogota and other cities, using the MARTA in Atlanta made me feel vulnerable. On many occasions I was the only person in the bus, train or station! This inspired the piece MARY KAY Protection Device, which attempted to protect my identity, in the sense of both preserving and hiding it. It is ironic to think about protecting your identity as an immigrant; your daily goal is to try to fit in! When I wore the piece and tried to enter the train station, a MARTA agent stopped me to ask many questions. It became uncomfortable, so I left the station before catching a train. When I toke the piece off at the entrance of MARTA, the same person came and asked me why I was wearing that piece and where I was from. She was worried because people were calling me a bomb girl and calling me different nationalities and ethnicities, even though they could only see my eyes. I was afraid of getting deported.

MARY KAY Protection Device
2007

OPP: You've danced Salsa on top of sticks, flour, in the back of a U-Haul-style truck as part of Trailer Park Projects, a space supported by the Institute of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture, and at various gallery spaces. Tell us about Machera, your series of salsa performances. Are any cultural nuances in these performances lost on United States audiences?

JM: Showing my performances in the States has been an important process for me. It has allowed me to analyze and explore my interests in “otherness.” What I have found is that there is a clear distance between the viewer and the performers, and sometimes it seems as though these performances reveal the divide between the two cultures. For example, in Machera Series 1 at Roots and Culture in Chicago, we danced behind a false wall. We were so curious about the viewer's perspective because everyone was so quiet as we performed. Many of my performers are Colombians, and we joked that if we did this performance in Colombia, people would climb under the wall and begin to dance with us, turning the show into one big party!

OPP: The absence of a male dancer, which is not common in Latin cultures, is significant in these performances, right?

JM: In some Latin dances such as Salsa and Merengue, the absence of the male partner is not common. I embrace that women stand up for themselves and celebrate sisterhood between girlfriends in my performances.

Machera Series 5
Performance, Woman Made Gallery in Chicago
2015

OPP:
You are represented by Otros 360 Grados in Bogota, Colombia, your home country, and have a show there in August 2015. Tell us about the show. What are the practical realities of exhibiting internationally? What’s different about exhibiting in Colombia, as opposed to the Unite States?

JM: One of the goals of the Otros 360 Grados gallery is to address an inequality in the number of women and men exhibiting in and represented by commercial galleries. The show (title to be announced) in August is a dialog between fiber, drawing and painting from a Latin American, feminine point of view. Aside from me, the show includes Gabriela Lascombes (Argentina), Maria Jose Mir (Chile), Maria Jose Concha (Chile), Nayibe Bechara (Colombia) and Carmenza Kafarela (Colombia).

Exhibiting in the United States has taught me to feel competent in terms of the logistics and research that goes into working towards an exhibition. This process has been made easier because my husband Scott A. Carter is also an artist. We help each other in our practices and even more so during the installation of each other’s exhibitions.

Exhibiting internationally requires substantially more logistical planning, research and culture awareness. For the show in Colombia, I adjusted to working in a way. It is also a great experience because my family and I are a team that works together towards the installation and exhibition. They help me choose the right materials, go to the right places to get what I need for the installation and support me by giving me their opinion on hanging the pieces. In addition, they help me pack and unpack the pieces. Ever since Otros 360 Grados began representing me, they have been attending the openings, artist lectures, and have a good relationship with the gallerists. Their support is vital for me.

It took me many years of being an artist in the US before I finally had a chance to have an exhibition in my home country of Colombia. This is a huge achievement for me. I am very excited and thankful for all the opportunities to show my work, however, showing in Bogota is very special to me as part of my heart lives in Colombia. 

To see more of Johana's work, please visit johanamoscoso.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. Recent exhibitions include solo shows I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago, as well as Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, at Design Cloud in Chicago (2014). Most recently, Stacia created  When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center. Closing reception guests were invited to help break down the piece by pulling pins out of the wall.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Kris Grey/Justin Credible

Homage
Performance Still (Clifford Owens Seminar at Pioneer Works, Brooklyn, NY)
2013
Performance and Concept by Kris Grey
Photograph by Kris Grey and Fivel Rothberg

Gender queer artist KRIS GREY/JUSTIN CREDIBLE’s interdisciplinary practice includes video and ceramics, as well as a variety of performance modes: storytelling, drag, educational lectures, social interaction in public space and endurance. They explore the intersection of gendered embodiment, authority, intimacy and social justice. Kris received their BFA in Ceramics from Maryland Institute College of Art (2003) and their MFA in Fine Arts from Ohio University (2012). They perform and lecture internationally, most recently at Performatorium: Making It, Difficult at Neutral Ground Contemporary Art Forum at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, Canada and Performing Franklin Furnace, curated by Clifford Owens at Participant Inc. in New York. Gender/Power, a collaboration with Maya Ciarrocchi, will begin a series of 2015 residencies at Baryshnikov Arts Center in March, Invisible Dog Art Center in Brooklyn in the summer and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Process Space in the fall. From March 25 - 28, 2015, you can see Gender/Power performances at Gibney Dance Center in New York City. Kris will be the 2015 Perry Lecturer at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. Kris’s home base is Brooklyn.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Both your BFA and MFA are in Ceramics, but it seems that you are now focused on performance, video and social activism. What led to the shift from object-making to performance? Do you still find time for the studio? Do you ever miss object-making as a practice?



Kris Grey: I’ve been making objects and performances in parallel for as long as I can remember. I developed a performance persona named Justin Credible as a parallel to my studio practice in the early 2000s. That character allowed me to perform an array of alternative masculinities through drag performance. As Justin, I organized and performed with the Charm City Kitty Club from 2005-2009. I also performed in bars and on stages all over Baltimore and the Washington DC metro area. It wasn’t until grad school that I started producing performance and live art under the banner of visual art—in essence combining my creative identities.

I come to my work through craft. The way I use my body is closely tied to the way I use clay or other sculptural materials. With clay I work through form and build objects that exhibit, subvert or superseded gendered expectations. Ceramics is magical alchemy! You combine materials, manipulate forms and then place them under extreme duress to produce beauty. The material qualities of the body are similar. Bodies are always marked by socialization. Much in the way that clay records its own history, the body reveals its own stories. Flesh is pliable and plastic. It can be formed and reformed just like clay. 

I have taken that methodology on as a life project. My body is my main raw material. I use hormones and surgeries as a way to craft a queer form outside the binary of male and female. The material may change, but the core interests are constant—namely gender, authority and social justice.

Bottoms Up
2009
Porcelain, glaze, decal
6"x 6"x 3"
Butt Plug service, microwave and dishwasher safe.

OPP:Ask A Tranny is an ongoing, interactive, public performance, social action and online project" which has been performed in Newark, London, Baltimore and Kuopio, Finland. How do you pick where to perform this piece? Has one place been more challenging than another? Where did you receive the most welcoming, enthusiastic response?



KG: The first time I performed Ask A Tranny (AAT) I was in London on a study abroad trip. I didn’t even have a passport before that summer. I was 30 years old, and travel was something I thought to be beyond my class status. Getting a passport probably seems simple to most people, although costly. However, for me there was a major consideration about what “sex” I should list myself as. I am gender-queer identified with a transgender history. I don’t self-identify as either male or female exclusively. When I applied for my passport, I had begun to take testosterone and my appearance was somewhere on the masculine spectrum though I didn’t have facial hair. I’ve never had the intention of changing my ID sex markers since I feel the M/F binary is arbitrary and insufficient. I am listed as “F” on all of my IDs including my license and my passport. I like to think of that F as standing for feminism. I saw my new passport as a conversation piece that made passing through security checkpoints particularly contentious. Whether I’m holding a passport or a sign, I’m enacting the same “performance”—performing myself as gender-queer for an audience of strangers and with differing stakes. At a border I risk detainment. In the public there are different risks. The passport and the cardboard sign both function as prompts for conversations around gender, embodiment and self-actualization. 

Since travel provoked this work, it seemed appropriate to perform it in many different geographical locations. I made a sign that fits into my suitcase and I take it along wherever I go. I usually perform in places of public gathering. Some sites have a particular resonance their history, for example Speakers Corner. I’ve run AAT in public parks, shopping centers and on college campuses. Sometimes there is resistance from police or authority figures who think, at first, that I am soliciting money. It helps to know and understand local laws for public use, which can vary greatly across cultures. In general, it is not illegal to hold a sign and conduct conversations in public spaces. That is what happens in AAT. The result, when I appear in public and make myself vulnerable, is that strangers meet me there with their own care and vulnerability. We exchange stories and create empathetic connections. Gender and my transness is the place we start but the conversations are as varied as the participants. Every single time I’ve performed AAT, I have had genuine, interesting and transcendent experiences with people I’ve never met before and will likely never see again.

How To Perform Trans Visibility in Three Easy Steps
2012
A quick "how to" for those interested in performing trans visibility in the public.

OPP: Correct me if I'm wrong, but it is my understanding that tranny is generally considered a derogatory term these days. I can definitely see that you are reclaiming the term and therefore controlling it's perception with your performance, but I wonder if you ever get push back within the trans community for using the term tranny?

KG: I use the term tranny to identify myself. It’s personal to me. You are correct. Tranny is a trigger word that makes some folks feel unsafe. Though I’m very intentional in my use, I know that this particular word can be difficult and potentially harmful for those people. I would never say I’m “reclaiming” the word tranny. As someone on the trans masculine spectrum, it is not mine to reclaim. There is a great wide debate about who may use the term and who should not. I am certainly not advocating any position by my use of the word to identify myself.

I make my work with sincerity and I am always open to being challenged or critiqued. When people attend the public performances or see video footage I think that sincerity is communicated.

(Sub)merge
Performance Still (The Ice Palace at Cherry Grove, NY)
2012
Performance and Concept by Kris Grey
Photograph by Kris Grey and Gordon Hall

OPP: While looking at all your work online, I was reminded of Bob Flanagan nailing his penis to a board, Stelarc's suspension and body modification and Marina Abramovic's 1974 performance Rhythm 0. Suspicious Packages (2010 and 2012) also reminds me at times of Martha Rossler's seminal feminist video Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975). How does your work relate to the art historical trajectory of endurance work?

KG: I’ve certainly been influenced by all the artists you list. I hope that my work continues in a legacy built of live art/body work, AIDS activism and feminism. I could make a list a mile long of writers, artists and activists I admire and seek to emulate. Trans* and gender queer artists like Kate Bornstein, Del LaGrace Volcano, Vaginal Davis, Leon Mostovoy, Heather Cassils and Tobaron Waxman come to mind. Body/live art artists including Linda Montano, Annie Sprinkle, Elizabeth Stephens, Barbara Hammer, Martha Wilson, Julie Tolentino, Rocio Boliver, Franko B, Dominic Johnson and Ron Athey, inspire me. I owe a great deal to the leadership and guidance of my teachers and mentors from high school to the present. While I look to other artists for inspiration, I am also indebted to the body workers and healers, trans* people, queers, crafters, sex workers and outcasts who have made their lives and work outside the frame of visual art.

Intergenerational dialog has been the key to my development in performance. I’ve had the great pleasure of performing for and working with amazing artists. Ron Athey’s work and writing have deeply influenced me and I’m so humbled to have built a relationship with him over the past two years. The first time I performed Homage, in 2013, Ron installed my chest piercings. In January 2015, we both performed in Regina, Saskatchewan, at Performatorium. We had the chance to participate in each other’s work again. This time, Ron worked together with another artist, Jon John, to help prepare my body for my performance. It’s an incredibly intimate thing to bring other people into your work through your body. And it’s such a gift when the people you admire invite you to perform in their work, as Ron did at Performatorium. That’s the best kind of mentorship for a live artist! 

Suspicious Packages (Finland)
Single Chanel Video
2012
10:07

OPP: Whether in casual conversations in public spaces, in videos like How To Perform Trans Visibility in Three Easy Steps (2012) or in storytelling performances like Body Dialectic (2012), you project a warm, down-to-earth presence. You put people at ease and make it comfortable for them to ask questions. Is this just your personality or something you to cultivate and maintain?

KG: It may just be my personality. I was always coming home with report cards from school with teacher comments that read “too social in class.” I’ve always been interested in people; I just want to tell stories and hear stories. In a way I’ve built my practice around that desire. But being welcoming is a practice I’ve cultivated over time. I grew up in hospitality. My parents owned a small, seasonal motel in Upstate New York. I worked there from the time that I was in diapers until I left for college in Baltimore. While other kids were on summer vacations with their family, I was working. The motel was very formative. It brought strangers from all over into my life. I learned how to entertain.

OPP: Do you generally feel drained or jazzed after a public performance?

KG: Some of the content of my work is challenging. The core of my identity is an agitation to the very structure of binary socialization. I work through the lens of gender, but I’m ultimately interested in disrupting systems of power and dominance. I find it most effective to lead with vulnerability. I get nervous before I perform, sometimes for weeks before I appear on stage or in public. I’m an extrovert and something of an exhibitionist, but when the content of the work is so raw and personal I find it necessary to recharge after. During and immediately following a performance I feel elated. Some works, like Homage and (sub)Merge, take me through my body and out. Homage is really a meditative transcendence. Afterwards, I feel very vulnerable and fragile. I try to treat myself tenderly and with extra care. Sometimes that means that I need to be alone in a space that feels safe.

Intimate Gestures
Performance Still (Athens, OH)
2011
Performance and Concept by Kris Grey
Photograph by Kris Grey and Paige Wright

OPP: I love what you say about leading with vulnerability. Personally, I believe that social and political change can be best brought about through activism based in storytelling, as opposed to protest, although they can certainly work in tandem. I’m thinking specifically about the changes in representations of LGBTQ characters in TV and movies over the last decade.

KG: I agree. Storytelling is an incredibly effective tool for social change. I cannot say if it's more or less effective than protest or if there is a clear delineation between the two. ACT UP and Gran Fury created an incredible amount of social change through protest. There is a vast difference between mainstream media storytelling and street-level activism, but it's hard to totally dismiss television programs because they have an incredibly wide reach. I think it's dangerous to judge work based on political efficacy alone.

We may also be thinking about storytelling in different ways. In my practice, direct community engagement through storytelling—and by storytelling, I mean people saying their truths of their lives in their words out loud to others for witness—can create revolution.

Body Dialectic
Performance Still (Athens, OH)
2012
Performance and Concept by Kris Grey
Photograph by Kris Grey and Louise O'Rourke

OPP: What are your thoughts on recent media representations of trans characters, specifically Sophia Burset from Orange is the New Black and Maura Pfefferman from Transparent?

KG: The radical potential of trans* narratives is that they could disrupt a central power structure which touches every part of our lives: binary gender. I will say that we’ve never had a champion like Lavern Cox. She is such an incredible force, and I’m proud of the conversations she’s creating off screen. I admire her tremendously.

I am wary of mainstream media. Some of my earliest memories of trans* people come from daytime talk shows I saw as a kid. Someone would come out and be introduced to the audience who would be waiting with placards to guess if the guest was a man or a woman. From that kind of sensationalism, which still happens today, we have newer exploitations where after a lengthy introduction, the trans* guests break down and thank the host for letting them tell their story. . . except they hadn't just told their story! The host had interpreted and mediated it for the audience.

Consistently, in movies, on television and in the news, trans* people are portrayed as pathological. The dominant narrative produced is of being trapped in the wrong body. The wrong body narrative, so closely tied to the definition of transexualism from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, centers heteronormativity and distracts from any variation on the male/female binary. This dominant narrative reaffirms trans* folks as a strange apparition in need of medical and psychological intervention rather than a part of human diversity and who need access to life chances in health, housing, education and employment. Further, it skirts the real societal ills— sexism, misogyny, patriarchy and racism—that produce violence.

I suppose what I want to say here is that it depends on who's doing the telling. Trans* characters are increasingly complex; this is a good thing. The media machines that produce them are starting to cast actual trans* people, though not all the time and certainly not enough. I think trans* roles can be played by trans* people but I also think trans* actors can play non-trans roles. We often hear backlash when a cisgender person gets cast as a trans* character, but I'd like to see more diverse casting across all media, on TV, on stage, in movies, etc. Instead of casting for the lead “female” role, why not just cast for the role? Don’t immediately limit the possibilities of who could play that person. I want to see new representations of gender-queer and non-binary folks. It’s totally fine for people to feel like they’ve been “trapped in the wrong body,” but I don’t feel that way. I’d like to see more visibility for other non-binary people who feel differently.

To see more of Kris's work, please visit kristingrey.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. Recent exhibitions include solo shows I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago, as well as Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, at Design Cloud in Chicago (2014). Most recently, Stacia created  When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center. Closing reception guests were invited to help break down the piece by pulling pins out of the wall.



OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Courtney Kessel

In Balance With
2014
Performance

Mother, artist and academic COURTNEY KESSEL collapses the divide between public and private by performing with her daughter Chloe and bringing the objects of her everyday life into the gallery. In performance, video and installation, she "strives to make visible the quiet, understated, and often unseen love and labor of motherhood." Courtney received her BFA in Sculpture from Tyler School of Art (1998) and completed an MFA in Sculpture & Expanded Practices and a certificate in Women’s & Gender Studies (2012) from Ohio University. In 2014, her solo exhibition Mother Lode opened at David Brooks Art Gallery, Fairmont State University in West Virginia, and she performed as part of New Maternalisms (2014) at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Santiago, Chile. Jennie Klein has covered her work in a chapter titled “Grains and Crumbs: Performing Maternity” in the hot-off-the-presses Performing Motherhood: Artistic, Activist, and Everyday Enactments. E.g. Courtney Kessel: You and Me is on view at Brigham Young University Art Museum (Provo, Utah) through May 2015, and her work is included in the upcoming group show Mother at University of Southern Queensland Arts Gallery (Toowoomba, Australia). Courtney is the Exhibitions & Events Coordinator for the non-profit arts organization, The Dairy Barn Arts Center and teaches in the School of Art at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your sculptural installations and performances mostly revolve around the themes of balance and space as they relate to motherhood. You've collaborated with your daughter in the creation of works like In Balance With, which has been performed a handful of times, the video Sharing Space (2012) and the cut plywood sculptures of Spaces in Between (2012). How did this collaboration begin and how has it evolved? Is your daughter a decision-maker in the work or a performer?

Courtney Kessel: In Balance With was first performed in 2010.  At the time, my daughter Chloé was 5 years old. She informed the work and was an active participant, but she was not so much a collaborator. During that first performance, which was for a small audience of maybe 20-30 invited guests, I didn’t know exactly how the piece was going to end. I had been communicating with Chloé throughout making sure she was comfortable and okay. After I reached a balance, I asked if she wanted to come down. She said no. It was then that I realized the performance is over when she is no longer interested and occupied. It is a metaphor for our lives together. I can only do my work so long as she is content.

Now that she is older and understands the work differently, she has had an influence on things. We were at a restaurant one day, and she was cold. I had on a cardigan. She sat on my lap and put her arms inside my sleeves. It was she who said that we should do this as a performance. That’s where the video sketches became Sharing Space.

Sharing Space
2012
Video
1:55

OPP: In your recent solo exhibition Mother Lode (2014), you created three sculptures made from "curated household items." For anyone who has ever been in a home with children, it is clear that all this stuff takes over. It is constantly being moved, cleaned up, reorganized. It encroaches on the environment. I love the way these "monuments" allow you, as the mother, to play and build like a child while simultaneously reclaiming the adult space of having a art practice and art career. Can you describe the process of curating the objects?

CK: I love how you understand these pieces! They are very much monuments that tower from floor to ceiling. Not that my house looks this way. . . but it feels like it! These sculptures derive from In Balance With: they include the household items that were on the seesaw. These things from home became like self-portraits that change each time. They are specific to us, though not so specific that others cannot relate.

The curated aspect of the selected objects truly holds the meaning; those proximities and juxtapositions make each work different. That was the fun part for me! Like you said, it allowed me to pretend and play the same as Chloé does at home, but in the gallery in a very formal way. I actually took a U-Haul trailer to my parents’ house to get some of the stuff. THEY had children (three of us and then grandkids) and still had mounds of toys, books and things lying around. They are preparing to retire soon and will downsize, so I just gave them a head start! The work really is to visibly demonstrate that children do take up space, both physically, but also mentally. Once they are in your life, they are always there. . . no matter how old they get. I call this the “eternal maternal.”

As I went through the objects at our house and my parents' house, I was looking for things that could create structure like furniture, drawers, a dollhouse built by my dad, a car seat, a TV. Then I looked for sheer quantity. I went through books, stuffed animals, small plastic toys, VHS tapes and more with the intention of these things telling a story. From Cabbage Patch Kids to Finding Nemo, there is a timeline of "stuff." But there was a limitation: I couldn't take things that my siblings would get mad at me for taking. . . :)

Mother Lode (installation view)
2014
David Brooks Art Gallery, Fairmont State University

OPP: Was there a construction plan before you began?

CK: Once the truck bed and U-Haul were unloaded into the gallery, I had absolutely NO idea how the towers would look.  Initially, I had planned to take rope, yarn, twine and bungee cords to attach everything together. But once I got started, it became a balancing act. Could I connect the ceiling to the floor in order to architecturally change the space? How did the individual objects change once they were turned on their side and stuffed with other objects? What kinds of meanings were formed by the side by side placements? It was very intuitive, but it was also very formal. Like the formal balance of a post-modern sculpture or putting a mark on a canvas, there were very specific decisions that weren't necessarily based on color per se, but rather based on aesthetic decisions. 

OPP: Was your house empty for the run of Mother Lode?

CK: I have an ongoing joke in our house that if I can’t find it, it’s probably in the gallery. . .  I really do the take things that we are currently using and put them in my work. One day, I was looking for a jar of dried beans that I knew I had just had in my hands. I wanted to make soup and was determined to find those beans. I eventually realized that they were in fact in the show.

Mother Lode
(detail)
2014

OPP: Will you ever recreate these sculptures as they were in this show?

CK: The sculptures from Mother Lode will never be recreated. Like a portrait, the work will always be different; evolving, changing, and growing. Each time these objects are restructured into a new work, they tell a different story and take on new meanings. In Symphony of the Domestic II, I added to the "stuff" from In Balance With, which represented my daughter and I. It grew to include people who formed my foundation. Like a pedestal holding something up, the base is comprised of items that represented my family, friends and mentors who continue to support me.

The pedestal holds up a 16mm projector which plays a stream of consciousness text: love every body as any body of water mater water under the bridge the gap gape gap her words her story write her story word for word for word for word forward. I used a script typewriter to stamp, print, embed the words onto the film. I am interested in the non-gendered, non-hierarchical aspect of printing or stenciling. Where a pen to paper or brush to canvas has the element of “acting” upon something, I am more engaged with leveling that or flattening the hierarchy. By stamping, printing, imprinting and stenciling, I am able to mechanize/mobilize language to becoming one with the substrate or at least to become equal to it. Each time the film passes through the projector and the other items for that matter, the words slowly degrade and will disappear eventually.

Symphony of the Domestic II (detail)
2014

OPP: Who influences you in thinking about the labor of motherhood?

CK: I think about the labor that Mierles Laderman Ukeles’ work was about. That was the labor of maintenance. It was gendered, but not specifically about mothering. It is important that she put that in the gallery. I reference her because of the politics of placing that gendered and private practice into the gallery. I think about the work that Mary Kelly made that was about her son through the lens of psychoanalysis. That was about mothering, but not so much about the subjectivity of maternity. By placing psychoanalysis in there, she was able to distance herself as a mother but still sneak it into the space of the gallery through the didactic referencing of the objects.

2012

OPP: Do you ever feel like your work is not taken seriously because it is about the labor of motherhood? Have you had any dismissive comments from viewers?

CK: So far, I have not received any dismissive sentiments from viewers or critics. I’m sure it exists, but I haven’t heard any yet. Many people have the ability to relate to my work. Whether they are mothers or children of mothers, viewers witness a little bit of their own experience or that of their mother’s.

I do this work in part as a protest. For all the amazing women artists who have gone before me, who had to hide their maternity for the sake of their careers and for so many who chose NOT to have children for their careers. . . that was one kind of “choice” from the second wave of Feminism. I always wondered why it was so frowned upon to be a mother and a professional. It’s the gendering of those stereotypes that I really can’t stand. Why do girls have to have pink things and boys blue? Why are women trying to hide wrinkles, fat and gray hair, but for men it is fine?

I am interested in putting the specific, subjective experience of the mother in the gallery whether you want to see it or not. It is not some idealized/generalization of the mother, but rather a specific, real experience.

To see more of Courtney's work, please visit courtneykessel.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. Recent exhibitions include solo shows I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago, as well as Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, at Design Cloud in Chicago (2014). Most recently, Stacia created  When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center. Closing reception guests were invited to help break down the piece by pulling pins out of the wall.