OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Bayeté Ross Smith

Taking AIM Installation at Kala Art Institute
2009
Mixed Media
 
BAYETE´ ROSS SMITH uses photography, video and public installation to investigate the ways we perform our racial, gender and cultural identities through clothing, music and the communities of affinity we choose. He reveals both the pleasure of performing our chosen personas, as well as the dangers of perceiving these personas in others. Bayeté has exhibited at such notable venues as the San Francisco Arts Commission, the Brooklyn Museum, the Oakland Museum of California and MoMA P.S.1. In 2011, he was the recipient of the Franconia Sculpture Park/Jerome Fellowship. He is currently the Associate Program Director for KAVI (Kings against Violence Initiative), a non-profit organization, as well as an educator. Bayeté lives in Harlem, NY.

OtherPeoplesPixels: In one sense, you are a documentarian of identity and how our identities are connected to the communities and sub-cultures to which we belong, whether those are subcultures of affinity, as with Gatling (America) and Lady Like, or communities that evolve out of geography, as you examine in West Baltimore Lives. But I wouldn't call you a documentary photographer. How do you identify as an artist?

Bayeté Ross Smith: I would describe myself as a photo-based multimedia and mixed media artist. It is important to me that my work be relevant to everyday life and resonate with people from a broad range of backgrounds, from those in the arts, to those in athletics, business, and politics, to kids in elementary school. I like for my work to build off of every day themes and issues we all face. It is also important that my work be relevant internationally. So I do my best to create work that is activated by the audience in some way, either directly or indirectly. I want the viewers' imaginations to activate the work. Beyond the basic story line I create for them, I want the viewers to have an experience that expands their thinking about specific groups of people, social issues or social interactions. But I don’t just want to be didactic. Ha! Art school word. Seriously though, being didactic is not necessarily wrong, but I want to go beyond that. I want their imaginations to complete the story and complete the experience. That also makes it important for me to base my work in some form of fact or reality. I like to think my work contains elements of truth. I think that gives it a solid foundation that is relevant to people other than just myself.

OPP: What is your relationship to documentary photography?

BRS: I began my career as a photojournalist working for the Knight Ridder Newspaper Corporation. So journalism and documentary photography are at the foundation of how I work artistically. I began my approach to art making by telling stories. These stories always had factual elements to them. I use that perspective as an entry point for most of my work. If I am telling relevant stories, I must think like a journalist. It’s not all about my vision or perspective, though that is definitely part of it. Any journalist that tells you otherwise isn’t being honest. But as journalists, we do try to remove our perspective as much as possible. I am no longer a photojournalist, so I incorporate more of my perspective into my work. I still leave the narrative open, so that the viewers can apply their own personal experience to the experience of the artwork. I also want to make my work an easy “read," but allow for there to be several layers to it as well. So while there are elements on the surface that people can easily recognize and relate to, there are also a variety of issues and questions raised upon further reflection. As I mentioned, I like for there to be significant factual elements in my artwork. I think that makes the work more relevant and more engaging. However, I believe it is important use one's imagination to build on the elements of life we experience on a daily basis.

A Match Made in Nikes
Digital C-Print
30" x 40"
 
OPP: Your ongoing photographic series Pomp and Circumstance: First Time To Be Adults began in 2005. This is series of portraits taken at proms, which you say are one of the last American rites of passage. When you make these photographs, are you the official prom photographer?

BRS: In most cases I am not the official prom photographer. Generally, I am there to shoot 50-100 fine art portraits as an extra feature for the individual school’s senior prom. I don’t want the hassle of managing photo orders. Each participant gets a free 5”x 7” photograph though.

OPP: How many proms have you been to over the years?

BRS: I have photographed proms in New York, New Jersey and California. It has been a challenging project to continue because I can only shoot it during a few weeks in the spring. It can also be challenging to develop connections with people at the various schools. A lot of times the faculty and administrators don’t take the time to understand what I am doing and how it is a benefit to their students, but also that it doesn’t require any real extra work on their part. Over the years I have shot over a dozen proms, and I am planning to do some shooting in the south and midwest over the next several years to finish up the project. I think it becomes more interesting when you look at images from proms over a period of 10 years.

OPP: Although I don't think I took an official prom picture, I fondly remember the the classic laser background from the 1980s. Are you using the contemporary equivalent in your portraits?

BRS: I create all the backgrounds based on conversations with each school’s student government. So the background represents that school and their students. The students are encouraged to express themselves in a commemorative fashion. These are not typical prom photos in the sense that the youngsters are allowed to pose however they would like. I encourage them to be creative, but also to be thoughtful because these pictures will represent them for years to come. I am very interested in how identity is formulated, expressed and perceived at the start of adulthood. The prom is still the first official adult night out for many young people in America.

Lo Relle Two
2010
Digital C-Print
30" x 40"

OPP: What I love about this series is the way it reveals that a large part of identity is performance. These teenagers may or may not understand that, and I may or may not have understood it when I was that age. But we've all been teenagers, and as a viewer of the work, I can recall that how I presented myself to the world was immensely important to me. But these pictures don't seem critical of the subjects. Instead, they reveal the pleasure of the performance, and that's what makes them so compelling. Could you talk about the idea of performing identity in your work?

BRS: Performance is a very interesting aspect of identity. We all have a way of wanting to be perceived by others. We perform these aspects of identity on a daily basis. We perform a different identity for our parents, than for our children, than for our business associates, than for our significant others. This becomes more clear when you think of celebrities who have a “public” persona versus a “private” persona, but we all perform identity for the different communities we are a part of and in different situations. This aspect of identity is amazing to me. I think you can see it very clearly when you examine young people performing their adult identity for the first official time and in a commemorative fashion.

However, the performance of identity can also be very subtle. I like examining identity and how it is performed by looking at explicit and implicit forms of this performance. Someone recounting their personal history for example, like in West Baltimore Lives, is more explicit. Recording someone’s favorite song and a memory they want to share, like in my boombox project Got The Power, is a bit more implicit. The way identity is performed is also interesting when you examine people’s preconceived notions about specific performances. A classic example would be racial profiling like in the Trayvon Martin case. You not only have George Zimmerman racially profiling Trayvon and it resulting in Trayvon’s death, but the police department participating in a similar form of profiling, where they didn’t think it was important to conduct a proper investigation, because Zimmerman’s “story checked out." Both the performance of identity and the perception of that performance can be extraordinarily informative. 

OPP: You make a good point about the continuum of the perceptions of identity: on the one end, are the ways we perceive ourselves and choose to participate in performing our racial, cultural and gender identities and, on the other end, is the space of stereotype and prejudice, in which others are perceiving us and making judgements about our performances. In general, I would say your work focuses on the first end of the spectrum. Do you agree? Is that a conscious choice on your part?

BRS: To some degree, yes. I believe it fosters more critical thought and self reflection to allow people to realize their preconceptions on their own. It tends to resonate more when they discover it themselves as opposed to being told by an exterior force. That is why a lot of my work is designed so that it is activated by the viewers' personal experiences. When someone looks at an image from Our Kind of People and realizes they feel similarly about the white guy in the suit as they do about the black guy in the hoody, that means something to them. That is not something I can tell them, or even show them; it's something that they must come to on their own. Similarly, if someone hears a story in one of the Got The Power mix tapes that is similar to a memory they have, or they hear a song in the mix tape that is meaningful to them, they feel a certain connection or kinship with the community that created that mixtape. Somewhere in their mind they feel as if "they are like me." This feeling can't be evoked by showing them facts or statistics.

My work focuses more on the 1st part of the spectrum you describe than on the 2nd for this reason. But I also feel this is the more interesting aspect of the spectrum. It's at the core of individual identity, and, as Americans, we emphasize the individual so much. The other end of the spectrum is interesting as well, because it does not always manifest itself in overtly negative ways. Preconceptions aren't as simple as being good or bad. We need to understand them, why they exist and where they come from. We perform identity based on our roles in various communities. At the core of my work,  I am fascinated by how people interact, both in the socializing we do on a personal level and in the social systems we create. Ultimately the way we envision ourselves dictates how we create and participate in these social systems and personal interactions. I think it is something that is at the core of how we evolve as humans.

 

More Than Three
2007
Giclee Print
6' x 8'

 OPP: You mentioned Got the Power, which is a public installation, sculpture, oral history, mix tape and a tumblir blog, all rolled into one. It's my favorite piece, by the way. There have been several incarnations of the piece in different locations, each one documenting the people of that community through their stories and the songs they contribute to the mix tape. Could you talk about why you chose the form of the boombox tower?

BRS: The boombox is an iconic object. So even younger people who never actually used cassette tapes recognize the boombox as an icon of traveling music. Personally, I believe there is also recognition of the boombox as an icon of community music. Remember, the proverbial B-Boy or B-Girl with the boombox was not only playing music for himself or herself. They were really playing music for everyone else in the vicinity, even though that wasn’t always by request. So taking this iconic item and using it as a vehicle for creating portraits of different communities through audio just seemed perfect to me.

The process of collecting the boomboxes was just as interesting as collecting the songs and stories. Next time I do this project I will document that process, too. Collecting the boomboxes can be rather expensive, so I always had to be very creative in order to stay on budget. The cost of boomboxes is actually the most significant obstacle to doing this project in more locations. However, I do have plans to expand this project to more locations in the coming year. Anyway, when collecting boomboxes, I find myself researching online and traveling to a bunch of different thrift stores, places that have old electronics, meeting boombox collectors, etc. I come across all types of people in search of them. The aesthetic works the best when the boomboxes are the classic ‘80s-looking boomboxes, but it also interesting to include a wide variety of them. I have seen people stare at the sculptures and count how many different models of boombox in the sculpture they actually owned.

Got The Power: Minnesota
2011
Mixed Media and Sound
6ft x 2ft x 15ft

OPP: I particularly love the idea of defining the diversity of a community through the musical tastes of its members. It's really interesting to think about the idea of how race, class, and gender affect our musical tastes, but because there are no images of the people, we have to wonder about our assumptions. I'd love to hear more about the process of collecting the contributions from the members of the communities. What are some of the challenges of making community-based work like this?

BRS: The biggest challenge is getting people to take the time to talk to me about their favorite song(s) and to take the time to share a memory with me. The average person doesn’t always understand that contemporary art can exist within their daily life, so explaining that you are doing an art project doesn’t always register, especially when it's a community-based, public art project. People tend to think art exists in a museum or a gallery, and often they don’t feel like they understand contemporary art. 

The first time I did this project is was a commission for the Laundromat Project in Washington Heights. The sculpture was in a laundromat, so I would talk to people while they did their laundry. Even with that type of “captive" audience, it was challenging. I actually didn’t get anyone to share memories with me. I did get songs though. Interestingly enough, I originally had planned on this project being directly interactive, where people could actually walk up to the sculpture and play whatever they wanted. I soon realized that, even with the proper signage, people weren’t likely to do it. So I decided to take a more archival approach where I had people write their favorite songs on a list, and then I went out and got those songs for the “mixtape."

2011
Photograph on vinyl
48"x36"

OPP: Was it easier to get people to participate in any of the other locations?

BRS: In Baltimore, collecting the stories was much easier. I worked with a colleague of mine, Raquel DeAnda, and we combined Got The Power with the West Baltimore Lives project. We used the music part of this one a little differently and had local musicians score the people’s stories about their memories. Collecting boomboxes in Baltimore was much easier than in New York. In Minnesota, it was the first time I created the boombox sculpture outside. So there were significantly different issues related to construction and weatherproofing. However it was great to be able to build on such a large scale! The Minnesota version was created for Franconia Sculpture Park and is still currently installed. So yay! It made it through a Minnesota winter. Since this version was in a sculpture park, I simply would talk to a variety of visitors and collect their favorite songs. This was probably the easiest place to collect songs. You know Minnesota people have that “Minnesota Nice” thing going. Collecting the stories was a little more difficult but not as challenging as in Washington Heights. I used an iPhone app to record all the stories and made sure I mixed them creatively and tried to make there be a correlation between the music and what specific memory was being shared. The other thing about Minnesota that worked to my advantage was that I was in a place, Franconia Sculpture Park, where people came to in order to experience art outside of a gallery. The park has a pretty good reputation in the Twin cities area, so most people I approached were pretty receptive. Therefore, the Minnesota Mixtape was the longest and most extensive. When I did the installation at the New Museum at the Festival of New Ideas, we basically moved the installation from the Laundromat Uptown to the New Museum. This was another casemaybe it’s New York—when I couldn’t get people to record memories. But people were very willing to share songs. Another aspect of this project that is very time consuming is tracking down the different songs people request. Though it is also kind of fun. The mixing is somewhat time consuming, too.

All in all, Got the Power is a very fun project to work on. I think people will find it interesting to listen to the various mixtapes and compare and contrast the musical tastes of people from different regions. Some of what people hear may be surprising.

Elizabeth: Marlin Hunting Rifle Cal 7mm-08

OPP: What new idea or project are you excited about right now?

BRS: I am very excited about I project I am working on with my cousin Will Sylvester. I can’t go into all the details just yet, but it involves Hip Hop album skits. I think it will be really interesting. And of course I am very excited about my current collaborative project, Question Bridge: Black Males. I am very pleased with how this project has been received at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, as well as at the Brooklyn Museum, Oakland Museum, the Utah MOCA and in Atlanta. We are currently making plans to tour the installation and film version of this project this fall through 2014. So far, it's scheduled to exhibit at the Schomburg Library for research in Black Culture in Harlem, the Contemporary Art Musem of St. Louis, the Birmingham Museum of Art, the Harvey B. Gantt Center in Charlotte, NC, as well as a variety of other locations in 2013. 

I am also very excited about some upcoming photographing I am doing for my Gatling (America) project. I really like where this project is going and feel it can start some very needed discussions about guns and the role violence plays in humanity. These last two projects are not brand new, but there is still much work to be done one them.

To view more of Bayeté's work, please visit bayeterosssmith.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Isidro Blasco

TILTED
2011
C-Print, Wood, Slide Projectors
30x25x12 feet

ISIDRO BLASCO combines photography and sculpture in his indoor and outdoor installations which use common building materials like plywood to question our perceptions of space and perspective. He studied at the Architectural School of Madrid before becomming a visual artist. He exhibits internationally and has received several prestegious grants, including two Pollock Krasner grants in 1997 and 2010 and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2000. Isidro lives in Queens, NY.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You are originally from Madrid, Spain, where you received your formal training in art and architecture, and you currently live in New York. You exhibit internationally, and have done residencies all over the world. Has any one place has influenced your work more than another?

Isidro Blasco: Definitively the American culture has had more influence on my ideas and my work than any othermore even than the Spanish culture where I am from originally. Growing up in Madrid, I always had everything American as my model, and when I finally came here, it was like I belonged here. It was a very familiar place for me. I had a lot to learn, of course, but everything had a place in me. I totally embraced this culture.

OPP: Have you noticed any glaring differences in the way viewers and other artists discuss and interact with art in the various places you've been?

IB: Yes, people have different reactions to my work in different places. When I show in China, for example, I get a lot of comments about the craftiness of my pieces. They love that I find pleasure making the structural supports of my installations, and they admire the elaborate craft of it. I have also noticed that in Europe, they generallyalthough I hate generalizationsget tired of my "one line" kind of work ("same line" some will say). I guess they need more conceptual ideas behind a piece. But the best feedback I've received has always been in Australia. There I find harmony. My work is understood exactly the way I want it to be understood, the way I have intended. It has some conceptual ideas behind it, but not too heavy. And it has a pleasure in fabrication without being only aesthetics.

WHEN THE TIME COMES
2010
C-Print,Plywood, Structural Wood, Paint, Slide Projectors
18x30x9 feet

OPP: Most of your work explores shifts in perspective. Many of your constructions, such as Seeing Without Seeing (2000) or the recent Deconstructed Laneways (2011-2012), blend into their environments if viewed from a specific spot, but are revealed to be constructions if the viewer moves just slightly. Other pieces, such as Tilted (2011) and The Middle of the End (2006), bring the outside inside or bring one location to another. How can this use of space talk about bigger picture kinds of issues?

IB: I believe that the question is not what we see but how we see it. And yes, that is a fundamental question. The how we see it will tell us something about ourselves and the time we are in, the context.

Throughout history, we have developed many tools and many different ways of representing reality. In my work, I try to use the tools that we use in our daily lives. I take the elements of the built environment that are available to me and use them. There is not a stage set up or anything like that. I am only interested in how I perceive reality and how I can share that perception with others.

OPP: Last year you went to Sydney, Australia where you created Deconstructed Laneways as part of a public art project called the Laneways Project. Tell us about this project.

IB: This was an amazing experience, and also Sydney is an amazing city. I love it there!
The city of Sydney does these non-permanent public art projects every year, and I was invited to do one. The idea is to revitalize downtown and to bring attention to out-of-the-way sites.

I decided to take several pictures from one specific place in the intersection of this given street and make a mirror-like construction that reassembles the same street. This large construction was placed just to the left of the street in question, and from some areas of the intersection you got the sense that you were looking at a mirror. But only for a few seconds. If you were just walking around there, you could see the overlapping of the different images and the distortion in general.

I got a lot of great feed-back: people wrote great comments on the back of the piece. It was pretty cool. I think most people liked it.

DECONSTRUCTED LANEWAYS
2011
C-Print, playwood, structural wood, hardware.
16x25x4 feet

OPP: What's challenging about making art for public space as opposed to the gallery?

IB: I've always had my doubts about public art. I just don't think it is fair to impose something, anything, on the people that are walking by those public spaces everyday. I am sure a lot of them don't like it or don't understand it, but they have to live with it.

That is why non-permanent public art is much better. You don't like it? Don't worry, it will be gone soon. We should be very careful with permanent public art. We may think that looks amazing, and most people may agree with us, but I am not so sure that will be the case in a few years. And also, most public art is made with the money from the taxes paid by those people that will suffer the art work...and nobody asked them!

But of course, I don't even want to imagine what kind of art we would see out in the streets if we asked everybody their opinions...most likely we will not see art at all in the streets.

OPP: I agree that there is some very bad public art out there that I don't enjoy looking at, but that work is always a challenge to me. I wonder, who likes this? Who picked it? Why don't I like it? I think it's good for people to be forced to deal with some things they don't like, because that's life anyway. Besides, isn't the architecture itself and the way the city grows and develops something we as citizens generally don't have any choice in?

IB: Sure, the architecture is there. Nobody is going to ask you if you like it or not. It is just there, and it can be very ugly sometimes. But at least it has a utilitarian use, therefore that is enough for most people. Also buildings have the advantage of becoming historical entities over time. This has happened over and over again. Remember the twin towers: nobody liked them before September 11th. On the other hand, public art, in most cases, will not became part of the historical background of the city. It will just become obsolete.

2004
Construction material
25x35x12 feet

OPP: When did photography first enter into your constructions? How has your use of it changed over time?

IB: I have always used photography in my work. At the beginning, it was not there in the final product but only in the process. And I still don't use photography in the conventional way. I take the photos, but at the end, I may only use whatever the camera had framed of the space that I am interested in. I go back and forth. Sometimes I use hundreds of images, like right now for the installation that I am working on for Wave Hill in the Bronx. But some other times, I prefer to leave the space almost empty, only building the surfaces that make up the space, and only framing them somehow.

OPP: Can you tell us more about what you are planning for Wave Hill?

IB: The theme of the show is "The Palisades" across the river, on the other side of the Hudson. I am building a large installation made with hundreds of photographs of the rock formations and of the bare trees. It will look like a wave that comes into the room from the wall and it goes back to the wall in a different part of the space. There is going to be a lot of overlapping, mostly in black and white with touches of bright colors here and there. My idea is to give the spectator the sense of flying above the Palisades Park. Everything (rocks, trees, paths) will be cut and made into three dimensional objects; some sections will be larger than others. A dream-like flyby. 

ELUSIVE HERE
2010
Blue Ray HD
Edition of 6

OPP: Your 2010 video Elusive Here, which grew out of writing you did for your doctoral thesis, adds psychological and emotional dimensions to the sculptures you are known for. It appears to be autobiographical, because I can imagine how the sculptures you make would grow out of some of these experiences. Is this the case? Any plans to continue making video?

IB: I made that video, or short movie (it's 19 minutes long), because I got a lot of money to make it. Comunidad de Madrid, a state organization from my hometown, gave me the money when I was putting together the show at one of their galleries. It is very unusual to get money in that way.

I keep writing. I write everyday about my perceptions, and, yes, they are autobiographical. Hopefully I will get another opportunity soon to produce another video/film like that one. It was a lot of fun to make it, an amazing experience.

Very different from my other kind of work. But in a way, it is the same. I am always talking about the same things: how is it that we interpret the space the way we do and how is it possible that we share that same way of perceiving with almost everybody?

To view more of Isidro's work, please visit isidroblasco.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Regina Mamou

Chartres Cathedral
2012
Digital C-Print
55 x 70 in.

REGINA MAMOU's large format photography explores collective and personal memory in relation to geography and space. Her conceptual practice revolves around extended research and time spent at her chosen shooting sites. Regina is currently an adjunct lecturer in the Art Institute of Chicago's Department of Museum Education and has recently been a study leader on AIC travel programs to Cuba. She lives in Chicago, IL.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your work seems to teeter on the edge between conceptual and documentary photography. How do you identify as a photographer?

Regina Mamou: I identify as a conceptual artist working in photography with a practice that embodies the interests of a researcher and documentarian. I rarely photograph a location that I have not traveled to or spent an extended period of time investigating. I differentiate my work from travel or tourist photography in that I am cautious about taking photographs. My process is slow and methodical, as I am shooting in large format, using a Calumet 4x5 monorail view camera, and this technical process actually slows me down considerably. I appreciate the delay, however, and use it to my advantage.

For example, when I was in Amman, Jordan, completing the project Mapping Collected Memory (2009–10) on a 15-month Fulbright Fellowship, I was studying Arabic intensively for the first 7 months. I used my off-hours to conduct preliminary research. During this time, I mentally plotted my shooting locations while driving and walking around the city, memorizing different points of interest. Much of the work occurred as an attempt to visualize these key locations before they ever became still images. As a foreigner in the Middle East, I felt nervous about depicting and representing a place, without having a personal relationship to it first.

Most recently, I finished the project Pictures for Conceptual Living (2012), based on the utopian community of New Harmony, Indiana. I visited the town prior to creating the images, and I spent several months ruminating on the set-up of the images, as well as the area’s history, before returning to the location. 
Richard Meier's Vision for Athene, Night (Center Panel, Triptych)
2012
Digital C-Print
70 x 55 in.

OPP: What was your first experience as a photographer? 

RM: My first experience as a photographer occurred as a teenager. I would often photograph a subject just to see how it would turn out as a still image. I really did not have a particular style at this point. I was simply curious about the technical processes of the camera. I made many errors with the equipment, but I was often more interested in my outtakes than my composed shots. Over time, my practice has sort of flip-flopped, so that my images have become meditative and composed.

OPP: You have dealt with the themes of memory and trauma in relation to geography and the body. It seems like your earlier work was more personal, in that you used yourself more often as a subject, and now you are working with more collective memories. I'm wondering if the video Trying to Remember (2007) was a transitional piece for you? In terms of timing and because it links trauma to location, it seems that it might have been a turning point.

RM: Trying to Remember was definitely a turning point in my work. It was one of the last pieces that I made as an MFA student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Prior to this, I had spent most of my time producing still images and videos in domestic settings, e.g. my apartment or interior spaces, including underground pedestrian tunnels and warehouses. These enclosed spaces felt comfortable to me for a variety of reasons. There, I could take my time and configure the camera without being on public display. I could explore intimate and vulnerable subject matter in a private setting.

My earlier work deals with illness, specifically an experience that I went through when I was in my early twenties. As I became distanced from this period in my life, the experience drifted to the background in my work. I think of Trying to Remember as my debutante piece in a way. I literally stepped out in a public space, and produced my first video in an outdoor setting. It was incredibly challenging, both mentally and physically, because I was self-conscious in my new surroundings, and it was brutally cold. Even though the piece only lasts about 5 minutes, it took me over an hour to create the work. So, it was an endurance piece in the sense that I was determined to produce this out of doors; I would not leave until I was satisfied, even though I was positioned by a major road, and anybody driving by could watch me. The concept for the video was completely improvised, and when I arrived on location, I realized that the discomfort and dislocation that I felt in a new environment, and a sense of confusion, could be played up for the camera. This sense of trying to reclaim familiarity in an unfamiliar situation aptly described my desire to seek out a new shooting style in my subsequent projects, and led me to completely shift my interests. 

Trying to Remember
2007
Still from Digital Video, Single-Channel
5 min 17 sec (looped)

OPP: Could you talk a bit about the differences involved in shooting on site, responding to a location, and shooting inside with yourself as a subject? Do you prefer one way of working?

RM: Working inside with myself as a subject served me for a period of time: it was a necessary working process. But eventually, to put it plainly, I became bored with using myself as a subject. I felt that I had exhausted all of the angles, there was no nuance left in the process. I did not want to make self-portraiture my artistic oeuvre; it can be incredibly limiting and confining. Learning how to research a particular environment and planning an excursion to document a location excites me. There is more chance and spontaneity involved in the process. I cannot control an external environment in the same way that I can with my domestic setting, but this has been a positive outcome for me. All of these elements also fit with my current position as an adjunct lecturer at the Art Institute of Chicago’s Department of Museum Education, and as a study leader on international travel programs. I research and plan lectures for a wide range of adult audiences. I am constantly learning and expanding my knowledge about particular periods of art and making new connections with the museum’s collection. I enjoy connecting the dots between my work as a lecturer and as an artist, as there are many overlapping elements and threads here. Incorporating extended research into my artistic practice is a fertile source. 

From top to bottom: 78 rpm (1s) (4s), 78 rpm (2s) (2s), 78 rpm (4s) (1s)
2011
Digital C-Print
28 x 66 in.; each image 20 x 24 in.

OPP: You've mentioned your 2009-2010 Fulbright Fellowship to Amman, Jordan. Why did you choose this site?

RM: I was born in the Detroit area to an Iraqi father and American mother. This experience has shaped my interest in learning the Arabic language and traveling to the Middle East. My extended family immigrated to the United States during the First Gulf War from 1990 to 1991. They had temporarily lived in Amman after leaving Iraq. I have childhood memories of my father watching CNN’s coverage of the war and calling his family in Amman after they had just left Baghdad. I grew up hearing stories about and seeing media coverage of the Middle East. I listened to the language between members of my extended family. But, I had never visited this place. I didn't have my own perspective and memories about it. After graduate school, I decided that it would be important to visit Amman and to live there. I wanted to have an extended experience with Jordan, not just as a tourist.
Circles 1–8
2010
Digital C-Print
40 x 50 in.

OPP: Tell us about the project you completed there called Mapping Collected Memory.

RM: I became drawn to the concept of forming my own perspective and memories in the Middle East. As I began studying the Arabic language and researching my proposal for the Fulbright, I came across “Urban Crossroads,” a regular column written by Mohammad al-Asad, the founding director of the Center for the Study of the Built Environment (CSBE) in Amman. In one particular article by al-Asad, “Amman Street Maps: A New Frontier,” he details the process of navigating the city using visual aids, as opposed to formal house numbers and street addresses, which were only recently implemented in the city in 2007.

Through my Fulbright project I developed Mapping Collected Memory (2009–10), a project based on navigating Amman using verbal directions and visual aids. When I arrived in the city, I sent out a call for participation through various art organizations for informally guided tours of the city, where I could learn about popular and unusual landmarks and points of interest in Amman. I would document this process through video, and later, I would return to the locations to document the landmarks, and to make portraits of my guides. So, you see, the project was conceptual in nature, it was an ephemeral experience of navigating the city, a process that could only be traced through documentation: the product of these guided tours became the photographs and videos. The conundrum of this action is that the imagery explicitly speaks to my experience of the city, not necessarily of my guide’s actions, as I am deciding what to photograph, how to compose the images, etc.

OPP:  Did the resulting project end up in line with what you proposed? What kind of unexpected things changed the project as you went along?

RM: In some ways my final work lined up with what I had proposed, but in other ways it did not. Mainly, I had not considered that Amman is more of a driving city than a pedestrian city. I had conceived of the project around walking tours, and I realized that most people did not walk from their starting to ending points; they drove or took a taxi. So I had to fit vehicular transportation into the project. I shot a lot of video footage out of taxis, in addition to walking around. Also, I shot most of my work starting at 4:00 a.m. on Friday mornings, which is the start of the weekend in Jordan. The reason being that I was incredibly self-aware when I was using a large format camera and wanted to be able to take 20–30 minutes to compose an image. As a result, the light usually indicates that the images have been taken at sunrise, and the spaces are very still and unpopulated. I think this is an interesting contrast to the city, which is normally bustling and full of traffic during the day. It imbues the images with a sense of calmness that I didn’t necessarily experience on a daily basis.

When I Arrived I Came Here First
2008
Digital C-Print
64 x 48 in.

OPP: You've also done some curatorial projects. Was this something you set out to do or something you were invited to do? How does curation fit into your art practice as a whole?

RM: The curatorial projects that I have participated in, both in physical space and cyberspace, were invitational opportunities. I have really appreciated these experiences to curate, which leaves me with a newfound appreciation for the amount of work that goes into producing an exhibition. For example, I co-curated with Scott Patrick Wiener, Remember Then: An Exhibition on the Photography of Memory at Harvard University. This was an incredible learning experience, and a challenging one. For Remember Then, Scott and I were both abroad at this point; he was in Germany and I was in Jordan. The exhibition coordination was complicated, as we were working with 20 artists based in the U.S. and abroad, and we worked out most of the details via Skype. But I learned a lot about the process, many dos and don’ts. I have found that being an artist has its major advantages as a curator, since I think about how I would want my work to be treated or handled in many situations; I am able to put myself in the artist’s position. I have been wearing a lot of hats over the past two years – curator, artist, writer, lecturer – and all of these roles have contributed to developing a wider, more diverse and informed practice as a visual artist; one always informs the other.

To view more of Regina's work, please visit reginamamou.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Andy Diaz Hope

the Void (interior)
2010
Wood, mirror, 2-way mirror, novelty light bulbs, lead
38 x 24 x 36 inches

ANDY DIAZ HOPE’s background in physics and engineering informs his work as an interdisciplinary artist. Scientific investigation and philosophical contemplation are equally present in his sculpture, photography, and installation. He is a frequent collaborator with next week’s Featured Artist Laurel Roth. He exhibits internationally and lives in San Francisco, CA.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You have an interesting background. You entered Stanford as a PhD candidate in physics, but ended up with an MS in a collaborative program between the engineering and art departments. How did you end up switching? How does this start in science influence the work you make nowadays as an artist?

Andy Diaz Hope: I was raised by artist scientists and scientist artists. When I was 5, my dad left. My mom, who is a painter, my brother, and I moved in with my grandparents. My grandfather had his PhD in applied physics, and my grandmother had a chemistry degree, though she preferred painting and working in the garden. We had a really nice balance of scientific inquisitiveness and artistic creativity at home, but the general wisdom of the family was that art doesn’t pay, so go into the sciences. I chose applied physics, because it was the foundation of all the different types of engineering, so I reasoned that, if I had a good grasp of that, I could keep my options open.

Once I was in school and immersed in science and math, I realized that I needed more. I took a course in Visual Thinking that was a requirement for most engineering programs as well as the gateway to the Joint Program in Design and felt an overwhelming sense of relief. A program that focused on science and art? and I’d get an engineering degree? Awesome! I think I might have pursued the sciences had I been born during the Age of Enlightenment, but having missed that window, product design seemed more satisfying. Bill Moggridge and David Kelly were both fully involved at the time, and, while pragmatic on some levels, the program was steeped in the idealism that enlightened designers and engineers could really solve the world’s problems. In practice, product design didn’t satisfy me. I found that I wasn’t a believer of wanton progress and technology. From there, it was a gradual acceptance that I should commit to making art. Along the way I designed and built furniture, consulted on new technologies development, designed interactive spaces, and made large expensive interactive art works until I finally accepted my fate.

I think I approach art as a scientist might. Each body of work begins with a question that I begin to explore conceptually and test with various theories before giving it a tangible form.

the Light (detail)
2010
Mirror, lead, wood, video of tunnels and lights
12.5 x 14 x 74 inch

OPP: Morning After Portraits and Better Living are two bodies of mosaics made from gelatin pill capsules filled with pieces of deconstructed photographs. Illuminated Being is similar but with glass vials. 
How did you first start displaying your photographs in this way?

ADH: I have always been interested in photography and video and have incorporated them into my work. I feel that the power of a photographic image has been devalued by the explosion in the number of photographs taken as a result of the digital revolution. There is no cost to taking a photo anymore and very little cost to printing one even at a very large scale. I still believe that there are amazing photographs that stand on their own, but I think the viewers who appreciate and really take the time to contemplate the image have been desensitized.

I began working with capsules and breaking down and reassembling an image as a metaphor for how we are modifying our biology with recreational and pharmaceutical drugs, often with very little thought about the consequences. We are no longer just the whole of our heredity, but a sum of our heredity and whatever drugs we are taking to augment or ignore our heredity.

Monkey's Reentry
2005
C-prints, U.V. treated gel capsules, artist frame
15 x 18 inches

OPP: Do you experience the process of cutting up the photographs and inserting them into the capsules and vials as tedious or meditative or something else?

ADH: The process of creating the pieces is very time intensive but gives me a space of time to really think about the work I am doing. It also gives me a job to do when the act of making art as my primary activity is overwhelming. I can sit in my studio and put in 8–12 hour days while seeing tangible progress.

I think of the work I do as creating artifacts that will color the interpretation of our current times when future archeologists discover them. It’s a subversive act, and I’ll never know if I was successful. In order to create an artifact capable of surviving until its rediscovery, the object needs to show the time and effort invested in it so that it won’t be flippantly discarded. I think that this also works for the art viewing audience. People are attracted to the pieces because the process is mysterious and because they look difficult to create. The hope is that they will then further engage with the piece and try to understand why it was made.

Centering Device #1
2010
Mirror, lead

OPP: Over the last few years, you have been working with mirrors and kaleidoscopes in a series of "mirrored sculptures based on geological formations, reflecting fractions of their surroundings—some with infinite loops of light and video." I've read that these sculptures are intended to provide the viewer with an opportunity for contemplation, and there seems to be a shift from focusing on social issues (like drug culture or the contemporary impulse to label others as terrorists) to focusing on philosophical or mystical concerns. What precipitated this new work? How does it grow out of the older work?

ADH: All of my work stems from a desire for people to think more critically, to understand that the information we are getting is not unbiased or infallible and that the only way to be sure you lead a well examined life is to ask a lot of questions and figure things out for yourself. In this way, the mirrored pieces evolve directly from the older work. In the clamor of our capitalist-driven world, very few people are asking you the truly important questions. It’s not whether your deodorant will keep you drier or your phone is smarter, but are you leading a life that will live up to the scrutiny of your final hours. Maybe all you ever wanted was dry armpits. I sometimes wish I did.

All of my work is a reaction to my surroundings. I began the terrorist series in the early 2000s when the fear of terrorism was being used as a bludgeon to silence all sorts of people. I began the series dealing with drugs at a time when the pharmaceutical industry was beginning to directly market to consumers and many friends were teetering on the edge of turning their recreation into a lifestyle.

OPP: Can you talk about how the mirrors act as metaphors in the new sculptures? I’m seeing a connection between the form itself and the idea of the “well examined life” you speak of.

ADH: The mirror plays different roles in different pieces. In the Centering Devices, the pieces are created to negate the viewer from the reflection they see when they stand in front of the piece. People expect to see themselves when they stand in front of a mirror, and the hope is that the cognitive disconnect of seeing one's surrounding without oneself in the mirrors surface might lead to a moment of contemplation. What does it mean? I am nothing? I am everything? I am my stuff? I am a vampire? In other pieces, the mirror acts to camouflage the piece and make it blend into or disrupt the environment it is in. Some of the forms are abstracted representations of crystal structures or geologic formations. Other pieces feel like portals to me, creating a ripple in the geometry of our living space. The original installation of the work at Catharine Clark Gallery in 2010 sought to create a version of the Philosopher's Cave that Plato referenced in his Allegory of the Cave. I think of caves as cathedrals of time and geology—representative of both science and spirituality.

Reflection Engine
2011
Hand-carved walnut, mirror, candle light bulbs, brass, gold leaf
36 x 61 x 92 inches

OPP: You've worked collaboratively for a long time with Laurel Roth on several tapestries woven with a Jacquard loom as well as a series of chandeliers made from hypodermic needles, U.V. coated gel capsules, and Swarovski crystal, and most recently, Reflection Engine. How did this collaboration begin and how has it evolved through the years?

ADH: We’ve always discussed our work with each other and helped each other on pieces, but our real trial by fire was when, early in our relationship and art careers, we both quit our jobs and moved to India to collaborate on designing India’s first wine tasting room. Living in Mumbai, trying to get things done in a country with very different business practices, and being in over our heads was a great way to knock all the rough edges off our collaborative process. Our first collaborative art piece was the first installation of Pharmacopeia at the Headlands Center for the Arts. It gave us an opportunity to play with materials we had been using without the pressure and weight of an art show. My work tends to deal with humanity’s impact on ourselves, while Laurel’s work often deals with humanity’s impact on our surroundings. Our collaborative work allows us to bring both of these foci together and explore ideas in a way neither of us would on our own.

OPP: Has the work you make collaboratively with Laurel changed the work you make in your individual practice?

ADH: One of the benefits of our collaboration is that it forces us both to adhere to a higher standard of intellectual rigor. You really have to be able to understand and communicate the concepts you are working on or the other person will call you on it. I think this intellectual rigor carries to my personal work and helps me get through moments of weakness when I get lazy with my concepts.

Trinity (detail of Grandma's mandala)
2007
Custom chromed chandeliers, hypodermic needles, gel capsules, Swarovski crystals
96 x 96 x 72 inches
Collaboration with Laurel Roth

OPP: What are you working on in your studio right now?

ADH: Collaboratively, Laurel and I are working on the 3rd and final tapestry of the series as part of our fellowship at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. The tapestries are very involved both visually and in terms of research, and I’m really excited about the ideas we’re coming up with.

We are also working on an artist residency program we are creating at Double Down Studios in Sonoma county which involves first building the living space and the studio.

In my solo practice, I am working on some new mirrored video pieces similar to the Light, and Geode, and, when inspiration fails me, producing new editions of sold work from Better Living for a show we will have in Rotterdam later this year.

OPP: The fellowship program at the de Young is in its second year, right? Tell us a little about the program and the experience of being part of it.

ADH: We're just getting started with our fellowship and are excited to take full advantage of the opportunities it offers. So far, the experience has been great. The staff is incredibly supportive and helpful. On top of having access to the collections at the de Young and the Palace of the Legion of Honor, which have an amazing depth and breadth, the fellowship comes with a stipend that has really given us the peace of mind to be able to focus on our work and not struggle with the economics of trying to be artists for a little while. We're also very excited to be able to discuss the themes of the new work with the curators in the various departments within the Museums and bring their expertise into the work.

To view more of Andy’s work, please visit andydiazhope.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Keary Rosen

Simulacrum Series
Family Portrait
18" x 24"
photograph

KEARY ROSEN is an interdisciplinary artist working in drawing, photography, video, performance and kinetic sculpture. He often references science fiction narratives and imagined technologies from the past, exploring language and its associative meanings, as well as how our relationship to technology reveals our emotional experiences as human beings. Keary Rosen received his MFA from Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts in 2000. He currently lives in Raritan, NJ.

OtherPeoplesPixels: In your statement, you acknowledge the influence of sci-fi on your work. Tell me about your personal history in relation to sci-fi. What's your favorite sci-fi text of all time?

Keary Rosen: I naturally gravitated to science fiction writing because I appreciate the sometimes fantastic and covert ways the genre attempts to grapple with certain philosophical quandaries that I am interested in (issues of racial equality, issues of quality of life, issues of power, issues of surveillance, artificial life vs. organic life).

There are a number of novels and short stories that I’ve read many times. I don’t have a single favorite… I’ll give you a list of works that never fail to inspire me: 2001 A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke, I, Robot by Isaac Asimov, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne, The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, R.U.R. by Karel Capek and the whole Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams. 

In addition to written works, I’ll geek-out even more by divulging that I’m also a huge fan of sci-fi television and cinema. 

I’ve begun paying homage to my favorite sci-fi works in the drawing series M-Class Planet. In these drawings, I’ve inserted myself into imagery I’ve either appropriated directly from a visual source or gleaned from specific narrative descriptions. (I am a droid. I am Dave Bowman piloting the space pod. I am Powell on the back of the of the robot chasing Speedy. The robots rebelling against humankind are modeled in my image.)

Droids
25" x 31"
Graphite on 4 ply Bristol Paper

OPP: One of the interesting aspects of sci-fi movies and TV in particular is the way the visual representation of the future is quickly dated. Like, in 80s movies, the things the computers could do were amazing and fast, but they still had an MS-DOS interface, which is laughable now. It seems that your work is exploring specifically these outdated projections of future technology in your life-size sculpture 1.530R The Robot. That's no Cylon! It's more like Rosie from the Jetsons. I'd love to hear more about this piece. What was the video projected on the belly of 1.530R The Robot?

KR: 1.530R The Robot is an amalgamation of many atomic age tin toy robot designs from the 1940s -1960s. I’ve always been interested in automata, and tin toys are a modernist/contemporary continuation of that tradition. I like the idea that a simple or low-tech device can generate movement. 

It’s true, 1.530R is no Cylon. I chose to create a form that looked dated because I wanted to reference a time period that began using media and commerce to popularize this kind of image as a symbol to represent a preoccupation with the technological advancements that were taking place and how they might impact the future.

1.530R The Robot is a seminal work for me. Within this work was the genesis of a lot of the conceptual ideas and working methodologies I’ve explored. It was the first time I used the robot as a form, and it was the first time I worked collaboratively on a film.

The 16mm black and white film that is projected onto the belly of 1.530R The Robot was conceived as a B-Movie style horror story/critique of our current mental healthcare system. 1.530R The Robot was an actor in the film. In the installation, 1.530R The Robot doubles as a film artifact and projection screen.

The Atomic Treatment Installation
Installation includes: an antique iron and marble theater table, two antique theater chairs, a 1950’s 16mm film projector, a 1960’s reel-to-reel tape player and 1.530R The Robot

OPP: The Barker is a kinetic sculpture with sound. It appears to be an alien life form, either kept alive or imprisoned in a glass vitrine with a speaker. The viewer is able to hear its booming voice spout "excerpts taken from an early 19th century American Dictionary."  It's gross, in an awesome way, to watch this creature speak, and the timbre of its voice creates the sense that what it is saying is very important, despite the fact that it doesn't seem to be. Why did you choose the dictionary as a source, and how did you decide what it would say?

KR: The Barker was a real breakthrough, in terms of technology and studio process. Up until this piece, the kinetic devices in my work were mechanical in nature (gears, motors and belts) and the forms were generally composed of rigid materials such as ceramic and steel. I would spend a great deal of time tracking down parts or fabricating custom gadgets. In The Barker, I began working with cast silicone and, most importantly, digital technology. 

I was invited to participate in the testing/evaluation of a new user-friendly and multi-functional robotic motherboard through an outreach collaboration between The Pittsburgh Art and Technology Council and Carnegie Mellon’s CREATE Laboratory. The robotic motherboard made function control and response a simple matter of programming. I had gone from analog to digital! The motion range inherent in the robotic motor and motherboard naturally suggested speech patterns and I went from there.  

There is an inherent absurdity of this grotesque form doing anything, much less giving advice or information. I culled its script from a 19th century American dictionary, because I wanted to work with codified, authoritative, precise, and potentially dated definitions of words. The words I chose to look up included: origin, creation, death, reason, aggression, animal and breed. I selected excerpts from those word definitions and their lists of examples for The Barker to blurt out. The statements ultimately become disjointed tidbits or morsels of much larger abstract concepts we have attempted to explain.

The Barker put me on a path that ultimately led to the work I am currently creating. It is an installation that consists of a landscape environment inhabited by three Komodo Dragons that have the ability to sense and speak to viewers (I am utilizing the same digital technology used in The Barker). Each creature will have a unique voice and perspective, both literally and philosophically. They will be on top of and surrounded by rocks of various sizes and shapes. These rocks are cast out of urethane resins.


The Barker
28” x 38” x 63”
Birch Plywood, Oak, Poplar, MDF, Naugahyde, Acrylic, Silicone, Qwerk Robotic Unit, Motion Sensors, Speaker, Light Unit.

OPP: You've done several collaborative videos with Kelly Oliver, in which you write and perform the text and she films and edits the visuals. How did this collaboration evolve? Is there any back and forth, or do you each stay in the roles you've chosen?

KR: Kelly and I met in art school. At the time, she was studying painting before gravitating toward film. We’ve been married for 10 years. Her method of making video is very poetic and indirect, based on edits of disjointed and mysterious images. The pacing and narratives emerge and submerge. My text pieces work within these same parameters. An important part of my process is to establish a rhythm and character that feels appropriate in regard to the content. It seemed like a natural progression to collaborate on work together, and the results have shown around the world at film festivals, galleries and museums.


Second Firing
Running time: 2 min 30 sec

OPP: Writing and language is a recurring part of your work, whether it is the monologue of The After-Dinner Speech, the appropriated statements of The Barker, or the non-sensical poetry of First Firing or the Lincoln Library of Essential Information Volume I and Second Firing, in which the audio is a running list of words that are linked more by sound than meaning. (My favorite phrase is "placenta polenta placebo gazebo.") Has language always been a part of your art practice? Could you talk about how you approach writing?

KR: I created my first pieces built around words and the spoken language as an undergraduate. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in oral and written communication.

I don’t think there’s anything particularly unique about my writing process. Whether I start with research, accumulated stream of consciousness writings or wordplay, it always eventually transitions to a process of editing and composing. 

When I complete a written work that I know I will read for a recording, I begin to experiment with voices. The voice I choose determines the speed, emotional responses and mood.

OPP: Tell me about a piece from your past that you think was a failure, but taught you a lot about your work.

KR: Why? What did you hear? Were you at that opening where the Mars Rover’s battery died?! Seriously though, I’m that person who likes to work through the burn. If something isn’t working, I have to keep at it until I am satisfied.

To view more of Keary Rosen’s work, please visit kearyrosen.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Lindsay Page

Untitled, from the series Spawn
2007
Colour photograph
24 x 32

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your Spawn series spans three years from 2007-10 and depicts both a pregnancy and the subsequent infant and toddler in striking domestic settings and landscapes. I assume the subjects of each photograph to be you and your own child—how much of this work is performative and how much of this work incorporates restaged moments of your own motherhood?

Lindsay Page: Spawn was an examination of the contradictions I felt transitioning into motherhood. There was simultaneous exhilaration and intense anxiety, gain interlaced with an overwhelming sense of loss. It was a messy time that seemed continuously at odds with the societal narrative of birth and motherhood as exclusively celebratory. In addition to being beautiful and transformative, to me there was something somewhat monstrous about pregnancy, where the body acts with a will of it’s own creating this unknown presence. When my daughter was born I felt overwhelmed by a sense of disappearance, that my self identity (and my identity as an artist) was being eclipsed by this generic label of “Mother." So I started to create these images as sort of a defense against invisibility. There is this inescapable proximity that accompanies early motherhood so it seemed essential that she be included in many of the images, though doing so felt somewhat exploitative. This is probably the series I am most conflicted about making. Motherhood is a difficult terrain to navigate in art, as there are so many clichés and stereotypes that one can fall into while making, or that viewers can’t escape when looking. It is difficult for me to know how the images read, but for me both the making of and the resulting images are problematic, awkward and discomfiting, which seems appropriate to the discussion. 

Old lady
2010
Color Photograph
30 inches x 40 inches

OPP: Tell me about your recent photograph Old lady.

LP: My mother is sick and I guess in response to that I have started to project images of mortality and aging onto myself and those around me. As I get older I see glimpses of myself as an elderly woman, see how my physical self will shift in the years ahead.  I think anyone with kids is acutely aware of their physical vulnerability, as soon as they are born you start to worry about them dying. I began to think about my kids gradually growing old and the impossibility of my witnessing them in the last stages of life. 

LP: I am also interested in the complexities of play, how children’s games can seem simultaneously innocuous and sophisticated depending on the viewer’s perspective.  

OPP: Adult human forms wrapped in white fabric appear in your photographic series Basement Performances. Your recent photograph, Octopus features another human form entirely encased in white. In this image, the form is that of a child and the white fabric appears to be a hooded sweatshirt worn backward, a pair of tights worn on the legs, and two more pair of tights tucked into the sweatshirt and held by the hands to give the playful yet eerie appearance of the figure having eight appendages. Tell me about the connection between the two photographs. What served as your inspiration for Octopus?

LP: There is not much of a connection conceptually between the two images. Basement Performances were much more about the ways in which we reinvent ourselves in our private spaces, often as a more empowered figure than we actually are. I was also interested in picturing longing and in engaging a discussion about substitution. Octopus is more ambiguous and somewhat exploratory. Again I am thinking about the complexities and contradictions embedded in childrens’ play and the ways in which an image can unnerve a viewer without it being clear exactly why. Photographs of children pose questions about power relationships (photographer/subject, adult/child), as well as exploitation and I am interested in building on the tension that this creates both for maker and viewer.

Octopus
2011

Color Photograph
30 inches x 40 inches

OPP: In your three channel video installation, I'm building you an army anonymous hands create twelve paper soldiers who, as completed, salute to the camera and join each other in a large grid. Who is the “you” in the title for whom the army is built? Can you speak about the conceptual concerns for this video installation?

LP: There is a specific “you” the piece refers to, but it is never revealed. The piece is about power and powerlessness and the interplay between aggression and passivity.  It stems from a desire to transform the individual into a group, to multiply the self in order to enact change that the individual alone cannot. The impossibility and futility of this act of sharing the self becomes more and more evident as the group accumulates and begins to dissemble and fall apart. It is the repeated gesture of the attempt at this, despite the impossibility of it, that most interests me. There is this repetition of and insistence upon an action that can never extend beyond itself. The effort far outweighs the result, and the piece sort of sits as this doomed heroic gesture.

OPP: A life-sized form resembling the paper soldiers in I'm building you an army appears in your photographic series Basement Performances. Tell me about the Basement series and the significance of both the paper soldier and human forms cut from paper more generally, in your body of work as a whole.

LP: I have always been interested in the ways in which objects can be activated through art. Puppetry and animation transform objects into something beyond their materials and there is then this potential for a viewer to be affected in an unexpected way.  No matter which media I am working in, I need to include this kind of tactile building element. I am interested in apparatuses / constructions that are obvious and flawed as a way to insert my presence into the work and connect myself as a maker with the audience.

Untitled, from the series Basement Performances
2005
Color photograph
30 inches x 40 inches

OPP: What are you working on now? What is next for you?

LP: I am currently working on a large installation piece called, Erasing Machine. The piece, employs kinetic sculpture to facilitate the erasure of knitted photographic portraits. The public is asked to submit photographic images of individuals they desire erased from their memory. They are not asked to identify themselves or disclose their reasons for the desired erasure. These photographic images, once converted into “photo blankets” are slowly and publicly erased throughout the duration of an exhibition. I hope with this piece to engage discussion about the relationship between photography and memory and raise questions about ownership of images, representation as well as power and violence. 

To view more of Lindsay Pageʼs work visit lindsaypage.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Elizabeth Axtman (The Love Renegade)

The Love Renegade # 4: If I Said It
2010
archival ink jet print

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell me about The Love Renegade and what inspired the shift in the perspective from which you are working.
 
Elizabeth Axtman: The Love Renegade came to be while sitting in a restaurant. I was trying to understand my own heartache, heartbreak. I was reeling from being betrayed by the person I was closest to (and please believe it was on some Dynasty, Melrose Place, Gossip Girl level of betrayal… I have regretfully discovered the shit they write on these shows really happens to people in real life) and I was trying to figure out how was I going to get past it. I was surprised that within the pain I was feeling I could also reach feelings of compassion for this person. I was beginning to understand that people who harm others are in far deeper pain than the people they offend. This gave me mild comfort and any amount of comfort then was worth investigating.  I wanted to know everything about love, forgiveness and compassion; how people were able to find it and how people were able to implement it. I started reading and watching everything on the subject. It began invading me from every angle, so much so it was finding its way into my work. Suddenly, I wanted the art I made to be more than calling racist assholes, racist assholes. There are enough artists of color doing that shit already (I wouldn’t be missed) with plenty of rich white art collectors/curators financing it (a very dysfunctional cycle). So The Love Renegade came from where so many other art works come from: heartbreak and the journey out of it. The difference now is that the journey is one of love, forgiveness and compassion.

OPP: Humor is still present in your Love Renegade work but is differently approached. Your video Dark Meat from “before” is disturbingly funny; splicing a Stone Phillips interview with famed serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer (Phillips asking Dahmer “Did race matter?” in regard to his victims and Dahmer answering it did not by citing the various races of three of the men and boys he killed) intercut with the man-eating plant, Audrey II, from the cult-film The Little Shop of Horrors asking to be fed (“Feed me... must be fresh... must be black”).

The Love Renegade #2: Forgive Me (series)
2010
archival ink jet print
20" x 24"
text: You didn't deserve that, your were so good to me. I am so Sorry.

Your piece, The Love Renegade #2: Forgive Me which features a newspaper headline and picture of actress Sandra Bullock’s ex-husband Jesse James after news of his infidelity was publicized. The headline quoting James reads ‘I am the most hated man in the world.’ In a thought bubble pointing to James’s head drawn on top of the clipping, you (as The Love Renegade) have written, “You didn't deserve that, your were so good to me. I am so Sorry.” Part of the humor in the Jesse James forgiveness piece functions with our knowledge that collective forgiveness is unusual in our society. Can you speak about how humor plays out in these two pieces and more generally in your work “before” and “now,” as The Love Renegade.
 
EA: Regardless of the shift in my art practice… humor remains a constant because it’s such a big part of who I am (but I’m learning not everything I make has to involve a joke). I worship comedy and everything about it. My interest (obsession) with comedy has always made me feel like a bit of an outsider in the art world, because so many of my artist friends worship everything about art: theory, history, current events aka art gossip…. and I don’t. I mean seriously, the only time you might catch an art theory book in my hand is if my friend asked me to hold it for them while they tied their shoe. Nothing about MAKING art bores mein fact it thrills me but getting trapped in a conversation about art theory makes me wanna blow my fucking brains out.
 
In the piece Dark Meat the humor I used is a way of softening my screams of “ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?” I was pissed at how little Jeffrey Dahmer was taken to task on the subject of race as well as by how little a black man’s life is worth in our country. Had the roles been such that it was a black man killing, raping, dismembering and eating blond haired white women……this country would go buckyballzbananas and reinstate lynching. In the video I used an interview with Stone Phillips and Dahmer because it was the first time I actually saw anyone ask him about race. In the interview he lists the race of all of his victims except for the black men (which were the majority of all of his victims).  His inability to mention them spoke volumes to me.  I mix in the man eating plant, Audrey II from the Little Shop of Horrors to fill in the gaps of Dahmer’s lapse in memory of the 11 black men he assailed. To me the man-eating plant is what lurked behind Dahmer’s blond hair and blue eyes, which helped him stay out of jail 18 victims too long. Dahmer’s desire and repulsion in regards to race and sexuality were off the fucking charts. I’m not done with him yet.

I like that you mentioned “collective forgiveness is unusual in our society,” in regards to my Jesse James piece. I’ve had a few people tell me how soft my work is now that it’s focused on love and forgiveness. I never get my back all up about it but I laugh to myself and think “this muthafucka has no idea how hard it is to be loving to someone who acts so ugly and hateful.”  I still have those knee-jerk ego reactions where I want to tell people about themselves (harshly) but I check myself, because now I’m more interested in starting conversations then ending them. I am all too aware that we live in revenge culture and how that is far too often people’s line of defense. The entire series is about getting people to hopefully see that they too have been untoward to someone at some point or another and have desired to be forgiven and loved anyway. It’s about how often we forget those times and withhold the very thing we desire when the roles are reversed. It’s about squandering an amazing opportunity to be compassionate just to appease our egos.The unconscious hypocrisy is rife with humor to me  Every person in The Love Renegade series are just stand-in’s for us. Ha! and Got Ya!

The Love Renegade #6-307:Love Letters (Make It Rain)
2011

Mixed Media

OPP: You recently exhibited Love Letters (Make it Rain) at The Kitchen in NYC. Viewers had the choice of sending a letter to Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter, Westboro Baptist Church, and Glenn Beck. How did you select each public figure?

EA: I chose them because I think they have on several occasions acted a hot ugly mess in front of a camera that broadcasts to millions of homes all over the world. They have encouraged and condoned: greed, racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and revenge... your basic asshole behavior. We are all guilty of these things in our lives (varying degrees of course) and if you say you aren’t, you’re a liar and not ready for this work or conversation. I’m just posing the question: what can change in your life if you show love to someone who is acting in its opposition?
 
OPP: As I understand, a great number of letters were mailed over the course of the exhibition—have you received feedback on the project from participants or other viewers? Have the letters worked?

EA: I was thrilled when The Kitchen told me that over three hundred letters had been sent during the course of the exhibition. I received beautiful letters sent to me by people telling me how my work has touched them. The response was really great from participants and folks who just happened on to my website. I’ve had an art space in New Zealand show interest in having the Love Letters come all the way across the world. Folks have been in to it. Have the letters worked? I know Glenn Beck is no longer on the air and Fox News has been trying to tone it down. I also heard some state was trying to ban Westboro Baptist Church from attending funerals… it was kind of eerie how it was happening all around the same time. It isn’t so much what I want to see happen in these figures’ lives as what I want to see happen in everyone’s life. I desire to see people take responsibility for the energy they bring into the world and make far less decisions on behalf of their egos. Take my word for it: I am a recovering egomaniac and as such I know I’m responsible for the emotions I choose to experience and the behavior I choose to express… I no longer put the blame for these things in another’s hands.

OPP: You exhibit widely, how does working toward a deadline for a show influence your process? In fact, your first solo exhibition with the San Francisco Arts Commission is currently up—what are you working on for the show?

EA: Well I like to call “deadlines”, “time frames” it has a better ring to it. They definitely influence me to throw things across the room, bang my fist on the table, hurl expletives at my computer that would make a Boston Bruins fan blush, then apologize to my computer with the following: Mommy didn’t mean it, I’m just under a lot of pressure with these “time frames,” and no sleep. Time frames motivate me to get the shit done, it’s a part of the creative birthing process. There will be pain and there will be joy.

Yes, I’m working on a year-long (hopefully just a year) project entitled The Love Renegade #308: I Love You Keith Bardwell (Phase I & II). Keith Bardwell is the latest person to catch the attention of The Love Renegade, because he refused to marry an interracial couple in 2009… you heard that right, 2009. Bardwell (an elected official) explained his refusal to marry the couple was, because he “had seen countless interracial couples where the children were rejected by family members, and he didn’t want to see that happen again.” The piece consists of interviews of biracial people from adulthood to infancy, kindly letting Bardwell know that they are doing well and his concern for them isn’t necessary. Alongside, interviews of interracial married couples telling the viewer why they wanted to marry their partner. In this lens love (not race) can become the forefront of how these partnerships began and biracial people are given back their voice in order to speak on their own behalf. Upon, hearing from the source any viewer who has shared in these sentiments will be left to address what’s truly resting behind their concern for the children. It’s a long work in progress.

The Love Renegade #308: I Love You Keith Bardwell (Phase I)

OPP: Does The Love Renegade have advice for emerging artists?

EA: Yes I do.
1.    Don’t listen to anyone who encourages you to live Plan B.
2.    Tell your ego to fuck off on a regular basis.
3.    Know your self worth as person and an artist.
4.    Be kind.
5.    Be relentless.
6.    Don’t be afraid to go by yourself.
7.    Tell your ego to fuck off on a regular basis.

To view more of Elizabeth Axtman (The Love Renegade’s work, visit elizabethaxtman.com.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Lilly McElroy

2010 Was A Rough Year
Installation Image, Thomas Robertello Gallery (Chicago)
Stained glass window and video documentation of stand-up comedy performances

OtherPeoplesPixels: In your artist statement you discuss your attempt to give the cliché new and personal meaning. Those ideas apply especially to your series I Throw Myself At Men, as well as your projects, Lilly invites you to come watch the sunset with her, and 2009 was a rough year. Let’s talk about how your shifting media throughout and within each these three projects effects your viewers’ interpretation of the clichés you’ve addressed. Do you yourself gain further insight from exploring the clichés from the multiple “angles” of photography, participatory websites, performances, labor-intensive constructions, and installations?

LillyMcElroy: One of the main reasons that I make art is that I want to be able to communicate ideas. The advantage of having a multi-disciplinary practice is that I try and figure out what kind of media best conveys the concepts that I am interested in.  Also, no singular project has really provided me with complete answers or explanations to the things that I am curious about. Using a combination of media allows me to keep hacking away at an idea.

OPP: What comes first in your art making process—an idea about a cliché or an idea for installation or performance, or do they occur to you simultaneously?

LM: I would say that my ideas mostly come in the form of whims; a moment when I want to see what will happen if I perform an action or ask a question. My projects all begin very simply and I wind up using a lot of cliché’s because they are an effective way to communicate ideas or maybe that is just the way by brain works. I think very literally and a lot of those thoughts are clichéd. However, that thought process allows me to introduce a lot of humor to the projects. Ideas generally come first, cliché’s are just another interesting tool to work with.
Truck Stop
2004
C-Print

OPP: How do you negotiate trust and vulnerability in your work—or do you think about the interactions involved in your performances as vulnerable or requiring trust?  Are you nervous about potential outcomes before lying down in a nightgown in public as you did in Locations, leaping at strangers in bars as you did in I Throw Myself At Men, or performing other people’s jokes on stage as you did in 2009 was a rough year—or are you generally faithful in your attempts at connecting?

LM: For my projects, I often approach strangers or am in situations where I do not have complete control. I make myself, at some level, vulnerable to other people’s responses, but I suppose that may be one of the reasons that they choose to participate in my projects.  The fact that I am vulnerable or at least making an earnest request makes it possible for them to trust me enough to participate. Hugging a stranger on the street or allowing some woman you just met at a bar to leap at you takes a little bit of bravery or trust. To be honest, I am often surprised that people are willing to participate.

Ideas about vulnerability are most interesting, for me, in the Locations series. By lying down in public spaces, I was making myself physically vulnerable, but that action became aggressive simply because it was an interruption. I am interested in actions that can signify more than one thing, behaviors that are simultaneously loving and cruel.

However, I am always nervous during my performances. That is part of the reason they are interesting to me and possibly part of the reason that they are successful. I am genuinely trying to connect with people and therefore the possibility of failure exists. I know to stop working on a project or performing an action when I am no longer nervous.

Doing stand-up was a whole other type of experience, though. There was a lot of adrenaline and the moments when I actually got people to laugh at the jokes were intoxicating.
I throw myself at men - #12
2008
Digital Print
30 by 40

OPP: Did any of the men in your series I Throw Myself At Men not attempt catch you?

LM: Yes and I just bounced off of their chests.

OPP: Were there any contributed jokes that you were uncomfortable performing at comedy clubs in 2009 was a rough year?

LM: I didn’t tell any of the racist jokes and I partially feel like that was a cop-out.  I was supposed to be telling all the jokes that people sent in, but I couldn’t.  

OPP: How does the idea of failure factor in your bodywork as a whole?

LM: Failure is key or at least the possibility of failure is key. Without that possibility there would be nothing to root for. It would be like watching a sports movie without the underdogs.

OPP: You’ve written about the gestures that you enact in your performances as simultaneously loving and cruel. Can you give me an example of how that duality plays out in a particular piece?

LM: Hugs is the first piece that comes to mind. For this video I hugged strangers without asking their permission.  A hug, a loving and tender gesture, became aggressive and selfish. My behavior was a demand that people engage with me and there is something very mean about that. That said, there were a few moments of legitimate tenderness in the video, moments when my gesture actually felt wanted. That is what I mean by loving and cruel.

OPP: Your drawing and paper mache installation, I kicked a dog implicates you as either having kicked what appears to be a friendly non-threatening dog, or wanting to. How does your Dog series factor into a body of work concerned with implicating yourself and others? Was this an attempt at making it clear that you are aware of your complicated position in your work—or did you just want to be sure and eliminate the possibility of ever being able to adopt a pet?

LM: That project had a lot to do with frustration, with wanting to destroy or reject something lovely because of desperation.
  
OPP: What are you working on now?

LM: A bullmastiff named Buttons saved my dad when he was 11. Right now I am working on a sculpture of that dog.
To view more of Lilly McElroy’s work work visit lillymcelroy.com

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Adam Ekberg

Cocktail umbrella and bic lighter
2009

OtherPeoplesPixels: Many of your incredible range of photographs from the past five years have everything to do with presence and absence—and perhaps more accurately with the presence within absence. What inspires your investigations surrounding these ideas?

Adam Ekberg: This working methodology comes, pretty specifically, out of my failure to represent ideas with “straight photography.” Prior to graduate school I was a caretaker at a six-bed facility for people living with HIV and AIDS. I was really interested in the disparity between the systems surrounding death and the organic death. I was with people when they died and in awe of how amazing and unique each patient was. Comparatively, after these patients died, they got pushed through this final bureaucracy. As a direct result, I made formal pictures of funeral homes that, while formally beautiful, represented a way of making that fundamentally did not work for me.

These failed pictures led me to turn my way of making photographs inside out so that instead of concentrating on systems that the individual occupies, I make unique actions in empty spaces–apartments and landscapes. This transition from the universal to the personal helped to define what I do now. I have realized that the simple things done to amuse myself are worth capturing with my camera. I remember an amazing afternoon in the late 1990’s when several friends and I raced an empty Kool Whip container against an orange Tupperware container down a New Mexico stream. We came increasingly invested in the outcome of these races and watching the colorful containers race through the desert was absolutely hilarious and beautiful.

These days, I think more and more that a good photograph is the result of a memory coming out sideways. My best example is my first memory: watching the barn next to my childhood home burn down after being set on fire by an arsonist. I recall being held by neighbors while my father sprayed down our house with a garden hose to prevent it from burning. I was wearing spaceship pajamas and holding a glow-stick that a neighbor of my parents had given me. At its peak, people could feel the heat and see the fire from miles away. Holding that small glow-stick while watching the giant flames take over the barn and rise into the sky was a pretty good introduction to one person’s smallness within the universe.

From the inside looking out
2010

OPP: I love From the inside looking out—your photograph of ovals drawn into the steam on a windowpane. The ovals outline light sources as seen (as the title implies) from the inside looking out, but there is something intimate about your ovals beyond their obvious hand-drawn quality. I know you create all of the constructions that appear in your photographs to exist in the world (as opposed to digitally manipulating them). I’m curious if you create each with someone in particular in mind? There is something romantic about many.

AE: That picture was made while boiling water for pasta on a winter night in Chicago. A friend was over for dinner and drew circles on the condensation in the window. If you looked through one eye from this specific place in my kitchen, the circles lined up with the lights in the parking lot. I thought that was really wonderful because it made me think about the space in between yourself and the world around you, as if the windows functioned as eyes. I attempted to take a picture of it but my camera’s lens kept fogging up so I recreated the situation on the following evening. Looking back on it, I am struck by how wonderful it is, not just as an image but also as a gesture.

OPP: Can you speak about how lighting and illumination play into your body of work as a whole?

AE:
Even though it is obviously one of the elements of any photograph, I don’t think about lighting that much on a conscious level. When I use light as an overt ingredient—such as refracting a shaft of light with the camera lens or capturing the physicality of light in a smoked out room—I am interested first and foremost in making its presence known. I think a good metaphor would be having a neighbor over for dinner that you have lived next-door to for years, but never spoken to.


Untitled (levitating pink umbrella)
2010

OPP: You’ve written about repositioning celebratory iconography to create minor spectacles: balloons, cocktail umbrellas, disco balls, soap bubbles, and lens-based refractions. The result is always magical and usually surprisingly so. Over time, has it become more difficult for you to maintain a sense of magic in what you do?

AE: In many ways, I am the luckiest artist in the world, because my work investigates the commonplace. There seems to be no end to human beings’ ability to generate the mundane. I marvel at these moments of toenail cutting, tax doing, shoelace tying, and paperwork filing. It is of course a completely different exercise in taking these things and making art from them.

I feel best about my practice when I am simultaneously creating pictures that seem like what I am known for doing and starting to make images that deviate from that. I recently made a picture of a shadow falling on a wall. There is a knothole in the wall and a human eye exists in the place of where the shadow’s eye would be (if shadows had eyes). So the resulting photograph is a kind of visual pun. This image is both grounded in what I have done and provides fertile ground in which to grow.

Shadow and eye
2010

OPP: What does a day in the studio look like for you? Do you “sketch” with your camera or does your process perhaps include writing, drawing, or pursuing the materials you ultimately photograph?

AE: I have a notebook and I make a lot of sketches of my ideas. I should “sketch” with my camera a lot more than I do, but I mostly make drawings. I like to sit and let my mind wander. I like to ride my bike because it gives my body something to do to keep it busy—my conscious mind pays attention to not running into trees but my unconscious is allowed to drift. Since a lot of my photographs come out of experiences—or an effort to reconstruct an experience or a memory or perhaps to mythologize a previous experience—I tinker a lot while I am thinking about things.

The photograph Cocktail umbrella and Bic lighter is a good example of that. I was sitting in my apartment waiting for someone. Bored, I wedged a cocktail umbrella in the lighter making the gas stay on. When I later restaged that moment to photograph the lighter on my coffee table, the light from the flame was refracted by the lens making a warm circle of light in the picture. I love this picture because its origin is firmly grounded in playing with commonplace objects, but at the same time the result is this mundane sculpture with a halo around it that is reminiscent of painted depictions of Christ and Saints.

OPP: You are an Assistant Professor of Photography and Digital Media, School of Art and Art History at University of South Florida, Tampa, FL. How does teaching influence your art practice?

AE: I love teaching and am really lucky to have joined an amazing faculty at University of South Florida. I teach two classes and work with five graduate students each semester. A day of doing studio visits is my favorite—when I get to walk into grad studios and spend an hour talking to people about their work. Being surrounded by people who are working through ideas and constantly improving their ability to articulate these ideas is truly inspiring and motivating for me to do the same.

OPP: What is next for you? Tell me about your upcoming solo show at Thomas Robertello Gallery.

AE: Having just had solo-exhibitions at Platform Gallery in Seattle and Fotografiska in Stockholm last spring, I am now preparing for an exhibition at Thomas Robertello Gallery this October. I have a good part of the late summer free to make images and am looking forward to driving to New England to do so. Several friends of mine live on large, beautiful pieces of land in the Northeast Kingdom in Vermont, so they give me pseudo-residencies. My notebook is full of sketches for photographs I want to create. I can’t wait to wake up in the woods where the only thing on my ‘to do list' is to make pictures.

To view more of Adam Ekberg’s work visit adamekberg.com