OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Laura Mongiov

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Luis Romero

Untitled, 2015. Acrylic on paper. 20.5" x 25.5"

LUIS ROMERO's dimensional, layered works confuse and capture the eye with overlapping, repeated marks. Somewhere between sculpture and collage, these accumulations of hand-drawn, layered canvas, paper and cardboard are often held together by staples, merging pure abstraction with mundane materials that keep the viewer grounded in the real world. Luis earned his Post Baccalaureate Certificate and MFA at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Recent exhibitions include solo show Who Says Words with My Mouth? Who Looks Out with My Eyes? (2018) at Adams and Ollman Gallery (Portland, OR) and Between Land and Sky (2019), curated by Nazafarin Lotfi, at Everybody Gallery (Chicago). In March, Luis's solo show at Museo de las Américas (San Juan, Puerto Rico) was put on hold due to the pandemic. Echolalia is now open and on view through January 23, 2021. Luis lives and works in Chicago, IL.

OtherPeoplesPixels: How do found materials show up in your work. In other words, tell us about the surfaces you are drawn to make marks on and the materials you use to make marks.

Luis Romero: In grad school I began covering found objects with marks all over. The idea was to envelop the object. I was using mostly pens and sharpies on things like brown paper bags and organic objects like leaves, branches, stones. In Home/Hypnosis (1999), I first started exploring a sort of camouflage effect on found objects within a limited palette of whites and grays. At a period when I felt the need to open up what I was doing, I started working with materials found in the street. This time it was the material rather than the object that interested me. I started constructing little fetish-like objects made of materials found around my neighborhood and downtown. I wanted the raw textures and the colors. (No organic materials this time.) It was easier for me to experiment with colors if I found them already existing in objects. Some have pen, others acrylic marks, but I used marks sparingly. The result, or one of the results of that period was the work Selected Fetish Drawings which I exhibited at the Drawing Center. Somebody asked me around that time if I was thinking of Schwitters when I did this, but actually it had more to do with the exercises that Josef Albers made Rauschenberg do when he was his teacher. (Off The Wall by Calvin Tomkins was very important for me. I think I did my first experiments with found objects around the time I read that work in Puerto Rico well before going to grad school.) Since then I’ve used found materials sparingly. Mutant Map of the United States for example, has some found trash from the street. I wanted it to have echoes from that fetish period. 

Untitled, 2010. Acrylic and pen on cardboard. 8.25" x 17.25"

OPP: What about cardboard specifically? Why is this a surface you return to again and again?

LR: The cardboard that I use nowadays is mostly found but that’s not what attracts me. I mean, I could very well work with cardboard that I’ve bought. What attracts me to cardboard is the warmth and the roughness, and that, like paper, the material also exists outside of the realm of art. The fact that the material is colloquial, is connected to everyday life, is more important to me. It is in fact very important for all I do. 

I'm Not That Innocent. 2015. Acrylic on paper and canvas. 17" x 27.25"

OPP:You were a 2010 3Arts Award recipient. In your intro video, you said, “My drawings are a surface, but they also want to suggest something that you cannot see.” What is the something we cannot see, for you?

LR: I should explain first that after college I began constructing drawings with layers of paper. I should explain first that after college I began constructing drawings with layers of paper. In some cases the layers suggest something very organic and in others something very architectural. They always reminded me of books too. All these constructions were very enveloping. Working with layers gives volume to the work and creates a relation between surfaces. In any case, my statement just means that works in that period were very interested in suggesting a space behind the surface, or between the surfaces, as something that was evidently there but that you could not see. Something unknowable and seductive. When things are not explicit, the mind of the viewer becomes more active. I wanted to activate a sense of wonder. The marks seem to begin from the invisible space, from the shadows. That’s why people often examine my work from different angles trying to see between the layers of paper. My works are constructed somewhat differently these days but I still try to suggest an area that is not seen. 

Home/ Hypnosis. 1999. Pen on found materials, plastic. 6.25" x 20" x 18"

OPP: What role does optical illusion play in our work?

LR: It’s a very useful tool. I’m referring specifically to the illusion or the visual confusion created by camouflage. When the mark is not contained within margins of a page but goes around it and seems to exist beyond the material, the objects with the same patterns blend. They loose individuality. They become less substantial. The mark is overpowers the object. The insight really goes back to that Home/Hypnosis work. But I do it now in different ways. Different surfaces can blend if they have similar patterns. In my studio I move things around just to make more space to work and often find random connections. Many pieces have started that way. Surfaces with similar patterns find each other by chance. They attach themselves visually. It's very weird. Very organic. 

Green Rectangle, Absolutely Baroque. 2017. Acrylic on paper and canvas. 20" x 16"

OPP: Do you think about abstraction as pure color, form, line and material? Or are these and the processes you use metaphors?

LR: I rarely know what the project is going to be about. I always think of my task as finding the organizing principle for each piece, the “as if.” Finding it is something that happens while working; in the act, not a priori. Often the processes I use carry echoes of other activities.

Some works have begun just because I want to see two particular colors together, or because a particular shape is interesting, without considering what it could mean or what it suggests. There have been cases where I use the same color scheme of a previous work because I’m trying to explore the way the work is constructed and don’t want to be too concerned with harmonizing colors. Sometimes I just happen to have left over pieces from a previous work. But all those elements (color, form, line and material) do carry associations that I eventually use in creating a work. I don’t think they could be “purified” from these associations. They are multiple, and fluid but they are central to the work. Using those associations is part of the fun. 

Space Fortress During Facial Devastation Stage. 2020. Acrylic on paper. 27.5" x 36.5"

OPP: Talk about your recent painted paper constructions. 

LR: Those works are very recent, and I speak somewhat tentatively because I’m still trying to understand them and what they can do. I guess I’d say that for a few years now I have been trying to create a kind of visual ambivalence in my drawings using layers and mark repetition. I use layers and camouflage to create confusion between the foreground and background. 

In-progress work in the studio

OPP: How are they both drawing and sculpture?

LR: With these new paper constructions I’m trying to use that visual ambivalence in space, not just on the wall. As with my 2D work, the eye blends the repetitive patterns, but they occur in separate pieces that stand separately and that occupy a space. In some of my experiments the constructions expand, in others they are closer. These days I’m figuring out how to use density. I am also trying to see how to use color. Some of the results have been very site specific. Artists like Jesus Rafael Soto and other Latin American Op Artists have been on my mind. Also Helio Oiticica and even Paul Klee and  Mondrian, who if I recall correctly was doing installations in his studio late in his career. 

It’s amusing because I arrived to these works in a way that was somewhat different for me. Kind of hard to explain but there was a little bit more deliberation than usual. I tried these constructions for all sorts of reasons that were not related to what I was doing at the moment. The change felt a bit abrupt in relation to the piece I was working on. As I have been writing this response I am realizing how related in fact these pieces are to my previous works. My paintings have been slowing becoming installations over the last year. With a piece like Landscape Showing Butt, I started to place small sections that were detached from the main area. My Own Private Summer Something is really something like an installation. There was a progression that I hadn’t noticed. In terms of my deliberations, well it turns out I wasn’t doing what I thought I was doing. That’s why a couple of years ago I titled a show “Who Says Words with My Mouth? Who Looks Out with My Eyes?” Art making sometimes feels that way. 

To see more of Luis' work, please visit www.romeroluis.com and check out his Instagram @total_romero.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Russell Prigodich

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

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

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

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

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

Radiator (2017) Soap and lead.

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

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

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

Matches (2017) Soap and lead.

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

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

Box of Nails (2017) Soap and lead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Sara Allen Prigodich

Tyvek, 2018. Porcelain, oxides, wood, concrete. 14" x 11" x 9."

SARA ALLEN PRIGODICH (@s_prig) makes "physical representations of our psychological incongruities," utilizing material as emotional metaphor. In recent sculptures, the domestic interior meets the structural bones of a building in works where porcelain mimics folded fabric held up by plywood scaffolding or trapped in blocks of concrete. Sara earned her BFA from the University of Hartford and her MFA from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Her work was most recently included in group shows at Edward J. & Helen Jane Morrison Gallery at University of Minnesota Morris (2020), CADE Gallery at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, MD (2019), Automat Collective (2019) and Spillway Collective (2019) (both Philadelphia). In 2021, she will a solo show at Five Points Gallery (Torrington CT) and two-persons shows at Harford Community College (Hartford, MD) and Millersville University (Millersville, PA). Her work is included in the permanent collections at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and University of Hartford. Sara lives and works in Annapolis, MD.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Porcelain seems to be your ceramic of choice. What is it about this material that makes it a staple in your studio?

Sara Allen Prigodich: I use porcelain clay because of its smooth surface texture, strength when fired, and its malleability when constructing. My favorite stage within my process is the initial clay manipulation. I enjoy pushing the limits of the soft, thin, delicate porcelain slabs to see how far they can go in regard to stretching, inflating, pulling or slumping. 

I want my works to be honest. I embrace all the histories my forms—cracks, tears and holes—take as they are made; these elements that would have once been a sure sign of failure in my process have now come to emphasize the exposed state of the sculpture. It is my intention that my sculptures embody the moments of truth and honesty between people and spaces, without edits and corrections.  

The white color of porcelain is also comparable to a blank canvas; allowing me to apply whatever oxide or glaze color I’d like to the surface. Even the most subtle colors on my work are often the result of building multiple layers of sprayed materials, and at times multiple firings as well. 

Fold, 2015. Porcelain, glaze, wooden structure. Each shelf unit 13" x 48."

OPP: Most of your sculptures include porcelain masquerading as folded fabric. Tell us about your use of this repeated visual motif.

SAP: It has been said that clay is the ultimate imposter, a material that lends itself to any surface, texture or volume, but at the end of the firing, it still becomes hard as stone. Like many ceramists, I find myself depending upon the structural integrity of ceramic, yet also fighting its dense, rock-hard finish. The clear intention and economy of touch is an important part of my handbuilding process. I attempt to conceal the hardness of the material by maintaining a visual softness. 

The softness of the forms closely resembles the body, its domestic environment and thus the human condition. The connection to domestic objects such as fabric and clothing relates the work to home, shelter, and structure. The purpose of using a dense, hardening material rather than fabric lies in its permanence. Ceramic both archives a moment of touch and records deterioration as a symbolic form of loss and change. It has the capability to freeze a moment in time, to hold a gesture and to preserve it. 

The flesh-like surface on a folded and draped form creates a strange and somewhat uncomfortable perspective on the human condition. I see these “skins” as husks or vacated selves. While the deflated quality of the forms appears to be a domestic material of sorts, it also has an emptiness that places it in the past. This emptiness reinforces the documentation of the event or action that has taken place and underscores the ambiguity of what remains left behind.

Gravity, 2020. Porcelain, oxides, concrete, steel. 13" x 9" x 9."

OPP: In your newest work, there are a lot of material references to construction: insulation foam, concrete and drywall, for example. Is this choice driven more by concept or by material? 

SAP: Each material I use serves as a different vocabulary within a visual language, taking each material’s inherent associations into consideration. For example, the stability and strength of concrete versus the fragility and weakness of splintered plywood. To see a fragment of rafters, or the layers within a wall removed from a domestic space, allows us to fill in the rest of the visual image and to recreate our own memory within. I use variations of these non-ceramic materials and found objects as a means to strengthen the presence of form as well as the presence of absence.

Logically Speaking (Front View), 2017. Porcelain, Wood. 16" x 8" x 10.5."

OPP: What role do the ceramic parts play?

SAP: I see the ceramic portions of my sculptures as referent to domestic objects that relate back to the body, while the exterior armatures that surround the ceramic serve as imagined structures or emotional props. A thematic reoccurrence within my work is the abstracted ideas surrounding domestic spaces, or the perceptions of house versus home. The concept of shelter is a global experience that can allow access to the work for all. By creating fragments of domestically referenced spaces, one can project their own past experiences or memories onto the object and complete the space.

Blocks, 2017. Watercolor and Ink. 14" x 20"

OPP: How do the drawings relate to the sculptures?

SAP: Drawing and sketching have always been integral parts of my practice. Almost all of my sculptures start with a sketch or two, but I also make small drawings independently from my three-dimensional work.  The imagery and subject matter between them is often similar, but with enough subtle differences to allow for a progression of ideas—almost a conversation—between the two- and three- dimensional pieces. 

I’ve always felt that my drawings allow me to defy gravity and entertain impossibilities in construction that I wouldn’t be able to physically build in my sculptures. Sometimes a drawing may morph into an idea for a sculpture, but often they are more freeing and not tied to the physics of reality.

Prop, 2017. Porcelain with oxides, poplar wood. 9.5" x 9" x 5.5."

OPP: How has your practice been impacted by Covid-19? 

SAP: Conceptually, my work has always carried themes of depicting a “presence of absence” and with Covid-19, I can’t think of a more apropos understanding of our current collective consciousness. As an entire species, we are communally experiencing what it means to be unable to be present with those we love and care about. We may be fortunate enough to have virtual communication, but when the screen turns off that physical absence becomes almost palpable. These thoughts continue to motivate my thinking within my work.

Nest, 2019. Porcelain, oxides, wood, hydrocal, insulation foams. 12" x 8" x 8."

OPP: Any new directions?

SAP: I now have extremely limited access to certain ceramics facilities that I use. While I still work from a home-studio space, I now have more limitations. As an educator, I’m always encouraging my students to push themselves out of their comfort zones within their artwork, so I’ve been looking at these limitations in a positive light; seeing them as new challenges that will present innovative solutions and explorations. Currently I’ve been experimenting with plaster and hyrdocal as alternative media to preserve forms in different compositions. It’s been fun to try different things, and I’m looking forward to seeing where this new direction takes me.  

To seed more of Sara's work, please visit www.sarallen.com.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Maya Mackrandilal

ANTI/body # 8, 2018. Mixed media on wood panel (found plaster object fragments, fabric flowers, beads, paper, prints, textiles, spray paint, gesso). 50 x 30 x 8 inches.

Transdisciplinary artist MAYA MACKRANDILAL employs collaboration, performance, social media, object-making and writing to imagine "a future after the end of white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism." Her sculptures and collages challenge the East/West binary, merging classical Greek references with the Hindu pantheon. Her performance persona is a contemporary incarnation of the Goddess Lakshmi, who seeks to restore a "culture of abundance, radical justice, and balance" to our world. Maya earned her BA in Studio Art at University of Virginia and her MFA in Sculpture at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In 2019, she presented a collaborative multi-media performance titled Schizophrene at Threewalls in Chicago, and her work was discussed in depth in Nalini Mohabir's scholarly essay “Kala Pani: Aesthetic Deathscapes and the Flow of Water after Indenture,” published in the peer-reviewed journal Asian Diasporic Visual Cultures and the Americas, 5. Maya has a creative essay in the forthcoming “Liminal Spaces: Migration and Women of the Guyanese Diaspora,” (2020) and has just completed an artist residency at Secret Land (Altadena, CA). Her work is on view through November 2020 in the exhibition What is Feminist Art? at the Smithsonian Archives for American Art in Washington, DC.  Maya lives and works in Los Angeles.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Let’s start with the sculptures and sculptural paintings from ANTI/body. Tell us about how the materials, images and found objects you choose work to collapse binaries in these works.

Maya Mackrandilal: I started this series while working on my essay, The Aesthetics of Empire: Neoclassical Art and White Supremacy. I wanted to create pieces that visually represented the interconnected global histories and futures that white supremacist mythologies attempt to erase. I selected objects, textiles, and images that reference both “Western” and “Eastern” art history, combining them together into hybrid beings that push back against the mythology of a pure, white art history untouched by the Other. In the sculptural works, I painted over and broke apart (white) plaster neoclassical sculptures and inserted flowers, extra limbs, beads, and colorful textiles which reference practices and traditions from the global South, in particular the abundance of South Asian sculptural forms and global folk-art practices. The “binaries” are probably most easily visible in the sculptural paintings that incorporate collage – I take images of classical sculptures and insert South Asian iconography, surrounding them with folk-art embellishments. For instance, in ANTI/body #4, I combine an image taken from a metope on the Parthenon depicting a centaur astride a fallen Lapith and insert a depiction of Kali in the centaur’s upper body. The centaur can be seen as a metaphor for an outsider (barbarian) who upsets the rational order of Greek culture (coded as “white” by European art historians during the 18th century) – here Kali (who in my artistic iconography is a stand-in for an uncolonized Black queer femme body) takes up the role of the barbarian, locating the tensions in our present culture when the “natural order” of white supremacy is upset by the creative resistance of people of color. 

ANTI/body #4, 2017. Mixed media on artboard (found objects, prints, spray paint, Flashe paint, acrylic paint, gesso)

OPP: What year did you write the essay The Aesthetics of Empire: Neoclassical Art and White Supremacy and what prompted it?

MM: I initially wrote The Aesthetics of Empire in 2017 in response to protests that had arisen around the country calling for the removal of white supremacist statues like the Robert E. Lee monument in Charlottesville. As a graduate of the University of Virginia, I was well aware of the Lee statue, as well as the wide array of neoclassical statues and architecture that permeate the university and the surrounding city. I was also aware of the legacy of white supremacy and the ongoing racial terrorism (often framed by those in power as “isolated incidents”) that Black UVA students, faculty, and Charlottesville residents face. I wanted to use the opportunity to extend our gaze from the obviously white supremacist histories of confederate statues to look at the ways the dominant culture uses neoclassicism to inscribe white supremacist thinking on our collective subconscious. In the essay I focused on how white Americans from the Founding Fathers to the Daughters of the Confederacy relied on neoclassicism as a dog-whistle of European cultural superiority over people of color and a justification for violence. 

ANTI/body #9 (Kalifia as Libertas), 2018. Mixed media (found objects, spray paint, Flashe paint, wire, pvc pipe, steel flange, epoxy clay, wood). 26 x 14 x 12 inches

OPP: Confederate monuments are now coming down—both pulled down by protestors and officially removed by local governments—in multiple locations. Can you reflect on your essay now in light of recent events?

MM: Looking back, I wish I had discussed more in-depth the ways that contemporary alt right and neo-nazi groups continue to use classical iconography in this way. Watching the recent toppling and removal of some of these statues (as well as their defense by the police and the deployment of federal paramilitary forces to ostensibly protect them), further supports the immense power these symbols have in our culture. I recently watched a talk with the artist Badly Licked Bear who shared that from an indigenous perspective, objects are subjects and that an act of violence against an icon of the oppressor is a sacred ritual act, an act with material significance. The part of me that is hopeful can look at these events as a spiritual cleansing of our collective, a way for us to reimagine what it means to be a community beyond the domineering gaze of the white male patriarch. What monuments can we build when we are not ensnared by the classical form and the racist/sexist ideologies that it perpetuates? How can these anti-monuments broaden and deepen our cultural memory and contribute to the psychic healing of historically oppressed groups? How could we reimagine architecture to facilitate non-hierarchical societal relationships and mutual aid? To me, the removal of these statues is the initial act in a longer project of building a society that is centered on justice, abundance, and care, and I do believe that truly radical artistic forms can support and inspire this work. 

@globalmatriarch Instagram Feed, 2017. Digital Composite.

OPP: Can you talk about how you use social media and hashtags as an art medium, not just a way to gain visibility? I’m thinking of #NEWGLOBALMATRIARCHY.

MM: I remember writing #NEWGLOBALMATRIARCHY in my sketchbook about five years ago. I was thinking about the possibilities of hashtags as ways to collaboratively build a concept. A hashtag can’t be owned or controlled, which makes it a point of great peril and potential (I’m thinking of men’s rights activists taking over feminist hashtags or K-pop fans taking over anti-black hashtags). I was reading about matriarchy as a political and social system, particularly in indigenous cultures, and I wondered, how could we imagine this world — a world built on non-hierarchical consensus, abundance, and respect for the land and all beings—into being within our emerging global culture? Social media seemed like a place to attempt such an intervention. It offers a built-in archive (you can search #newglobalmatriarchy on Instagram and see all the artists and projects connected with it) and a way for the idea to grow and change as people interact with it over time. I also created online accounts for my performance persona, the Goddess Lakshmi (@globalmatriarch on Instagram and TwitterGlobal Matriarch on Facebook) that allows for a virtual performance of some of these ideas through tweets and memes as well as sharing images from events. I had been focusing on the in-person Poetry and Performance Circles in LA, but with our new post-COVID lives, I’m going to be developing these accounts further, including starting a NEWGLOBALMATRIARCHY YouTube channel for the Goddess that will feature videos and livestreams from a liminal space called “The Womb Chamber” as well as future collaborative virtual projects.

#NewGlobalMatriarchy, 2016. Performance Still

OPP: Tell us about the ancient goddess Lakshmi and how you make her contemporary in your performances and photographs.

MM: Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and abundance, is an incredibly popular goddess in the Hindu pantheon. In traditional depictions, she stands on a lotus flanked by elephants, gold pouring out of her hands – the idea is that praying to her will bring money and abundance to one’s life. Within Hinduism, the divine force (which permeates all things) is divided into three aspects, the creator, maintainer, and destroyer. Each of the three aspects has a masculine and feminine form. Vishnu and Lakshmi are the masculine and feminine forms of the “maintainer” aspect of the divine, and in times of great need, these two divine beings become incarnated on Earth through avatars (Krishna and Rhada, Rama and Sita, among many others) in order to restore balance. 

When I was young, I participated in a religious ceremony where I was one of two girls selected to “stand in” for the goddess and participants made offerings to us as we sat quietly, like living statues. One of the rules was that the girls selected had to be prepubescent, meaning we had not yet had our periods. This is a product of a sexist patriarchal belief in many Hindu traditions that periods are “unclean.” When I was an adult, I started to think: perhaps a deeper reason is that if you worship a grown woman as a goddess, a woman who might have opinions, she might take the opportunity to share some of her thoughts, she might not be as docile as a child, she might start to demand power. Perhaps in times before patriarchy, it was a grown woman, a wise woman, who was worshipped as a goddess in these rituals. Looking around the world, I decided that the need was very dire for the Goddess to come to Earth to restore balance in the face of environmental destruction, thousands of years of patriarchal violence, structural racism, class oppression, and violence against queer people.

Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth, 2015. Pigment print on bamboo paper with Flashe paint and collage. 66 x 44 inches. With performances by Jacob Young and RLB

OPP: Where did Lakshmi first manifest in our world?

MM: Because she is the goddess of abundance, and her divine form would be both a reflection and a critique of the dominant culture, Lakshmi initially incarnated as a Kardashian-inspired woman making it rain as she stood atop a white man wearing a confederate flag speedo, with another white man dressed as a capitalist pig beside her on a leash. Her iconography has been updated from conventional depictions, but she maintains some of the traditional mudras (hand gestures). The performances are an extension of this initial photographic incarnation, where the Goddess entered the world – some of her excursions include: visiting the 2017 Women’s March in LA, reading poetry through a megaphone on Hollywood Boulevard, and organizing Poetry and Performance Circles at Los Angeles Valley College. Everywhere she goes, she spreads the doctrine of radical abundance and the liberation of Black, queer women, the abolition of prisons and borders, the destruction of capitalism, decolonization, and the celebration of all genders and sexualities.

OPP: You often collaborate on performance, video and social media work. How do your solo work and your collaborations inform one another? Do you prefer one way of working over the other?

MM: At its heart, my work is about imagining and materializing a better world, a world in which all women and queer people are free. This work can be deeply personal, and it is from this place that my solo work arises. But I also know that one person cannot materialize a different future, only a collective can do that. For me, collaboration is about building a network of artists who are invested in this future. This “network” isn’t about professional development (though we certainly support one another in that way), but about building coalitions between women and queer people of color, even if those coalitions are only temporary. Some of the collaborations are for a single event, where I disclose a liberated space and invite others to join me in activating that space. Other collaborations, like my work with Stephanie Graham and Scarlett Kim, are more long-term. These are creative friendships in which we explore common ideas and themes over the course of years. I enjoy this collaborative work because it allows us to very explicitly push back against the idea that an artist is an isolated genius cut off from the world. As my friend and writing collaborator Eunsong Kim recently said: the mythology of the lone creative artist and capitalism go hand in hand because it perpetuates the narrative that we don’t need structural support, communities, and education in order to be creative. Collaboration pushes back against this capitalist mythology that we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, it fully incorporates the ways that art is made in community. Even when I am alone in a studio or in my living room making art, I am supported by my family, my friends, my teachers, my ancestors, and the global community of creative people, whether they identify as artists or not. 

Lunar Mandala, 2020. Welded steel ring coated in shellac and red pigment, cast bronze calabash, palm frond fragment, textiles, fabric flowers, dried plant material, foam, beads, textile embellishments, ceramic objects, acrylic paint, spray paint, Flashe paint, glue. 3 x 105 x 105 inches.

OPP: You recently completed a residency at Secret Land in Los Angeles. Was the residency affected by Covid19? 

MM: COVID-19 had a pretty big impact on this residency. I was fortunate that the studio space was single-occupancy, so I was able to social-distance and spend time working there safely. The largest negative impact was that accessing supplies became quite limited. I could not stop by the hardware store to pick something up or visit my favorite stores in the Fabric District in downtown LA. I also couldn’t invite anyone over for a studio visit. On the other hand, I had the benefit of having nothing else to do other than work remotely for my day job and then go to the studio in my free time. This made it even more like a “real” residency, where you are able to get away from your life and seclude yourself somewhere to pour everything you have into your work. Also, because of financial limitations, I have not had a studio space in ten years – I’ve been making work in my living room, my partner says it is like living with Basquiat when I’m deep into a project, so even with the negative effects of COVID, this was an incredibly transformative time for my practice. I was able to reconnect with materials I had stored in corners of my apartment since my undergraduate years and work more intuitively since I didn’t have to meticulously plan out a project ahead of time. 

Demerara Mandora, 2020. Steel (rusted and sealed with acrylic spray), jute rice sack, carved and painted calabash (gourd), chicken wire, wood, foam, spray paint, acrylic paint, Flashe paint, textiles, beads, flowers, steel screws, glue. 54 x 39 x 9 inches.

OPP: What did you make while you were there?

MM: The piece I am most excited about that came out of the residency was Demerara Mandorla. It is an assemblage work that contains references to my family history, Demerara is the name of the region in Guyana where my mother is from. The rice farm where my mother was born and raised is referenced through the rusted steel, chicken wire, decorated calabash, jute rice sack, and the teal color of the wood fragments that form the rays emanating out. The mandorla shape is a form that I used to work with quite often when I first started making art as a symbol of divine feminine power, but it is also a symbol of the union of opposites, which points to a kind of liminality or transitory state. The textiles and embellishments represent for me my multi-racial heritage and the complex histories this identity encompasses as well as the aggressive abundance of the ANTI/body series. The piece feels like a circling back, a culmination, but also a form that builds and expands, something that energizes me to keep creating. 

To see more of Maya's work, please mayamackrandilal.com.

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


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Adam Manley

Ordinary Rendition: WTRBRD, 2018. Ash, danish cord, fabric. 6' long x 30" wide x 24" tall

ADAM JOHN MANLEY makes tall, teetering structures that threaten to fall, landmarks that travel from one location to another, and beautiful torture devices that would look good in any living room. Whether located in domestic space or the landscape, his sculptures make the viewer conscious of their expectations of the site they occupy. Adam earned his BA in International Relations at State University of New York at New Paltz and his MFA in Furniture and Woodworking at San Diego State University. His solo exhibitions include Itinerant Landmarks (2014) at UW Wisconsin, Staying Put (2014) at Space Gallery in Portland, ME and Ordinary Rendition (2018) at Indianapolis Art Center. In 2020, he won First Place at the annual Materials: Hard and Soft exhibition at Patterson-Appleton Arts Center in Denton, TX. In 2021, Adam will be a Windgate ITE Fellow at The Center for Art In Wood in Philadelphia, PA. He lives and works in San Diego, CA.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Do you identify more strongly as a sculptor or a furniture maker? Does the distinction matter to you?

Adam John Manley: I personally struggle with these identities, but lean more towards sculpture and object making in my practice. As an educator, I teach furniture design, fabrication, including both traditional techniques and contemporary technologies to undergraduate students. To graduate students, I teach more conceptual practices through the lens of furniture and craft. My work tends toward large scale sculptural and mixed media practices based in wood and craft techniques. 

Itinerant Landmark: Waterfront, 2016.

OPP: It seems that you often subvert utility in some way, usually by highlighting the transience and instability of functional structures that we expect to stay in the same place. Can you talk about the relationship between utility and instability in your work?

AM: Utility and functionality are points of departure. To me, furniture and related familiar functional objects come with built-in associations that I mine and subvert in order to de-contextualize and re-contextualize. Those built-in meanings that come with, say, a chair, a sawhorse or a dining set can become confounding and allow for a re-evaluation of one’s sense of place and associations, by decontextualization. In other words, when an object closely associated with one location—and a set of memories and histories—is uprooted, melded with another object and placed in a new setting, suddenly we can imagine both that object and that place in a new light. We can place ourselves within it. We can begin to rewire our associations. I appreciate a certain precariousness coming through in these objects. We are transient, we are fleeting, we are simply passing through. I want my work to feel like it has been there forever, but also like it is out of place: to make the viewer squint and wonder how this thing fits into its surroundings, and what it means that it is there. 

Staying Put, 2014.

OPP: Adrift (2009), Rocking Chamber (Turns Everything Upside Down) (2010) and Staying Put (2014) are just a few works that people could sit in, but none of your documentation shows people using these “functional” objects. Do you want viewers to interact with them?

AM: My work operates on a number of levels, sometimes from far away in a landscape, up close in person, and at times in photographic form. I believe that the lack of humans in all of those variants allows every person to place themselves within that environment in their mind’s eye. I want the work to imply use and interaction and force each person to make their own fundamental decision as to how one would engage. Another part of this strategy, is that the work is often intended to highlight a certain melancholy mood and hint at an engagement between the person and a vast, unyielding, and at times uninhabited surrounding. The emptiness of the objects hints at a sense of the post-apocalyptic. The amalgamation of multiple familiar objects, the dislocation of those objects and the emptiness of the scenes creates an absurdist condition that makes for a moment of contemplation. 

Ordinary Rendition: PLLRY, 2018. Ash, plywood, paint. 45" tall x 36" wide.

OPP: Ordinary Rendition (2018) began, as you say, “from a thought: torture devices are furniture too.” This is a really compelling and challenging idea. First, how do you define furniture?

AM: Ordinary Rendition is a still-evolving body of work that was a departure for me. Furniture includes a whole realm of structural objects, designed to interact with, support and supplement our bodies and some of the other objects that we live with and around. How is a torture device different from this? Some furniture has incredibly specific uses: a chair is made to provide a surface upon which we sit. on the other hand, a table is pretty vague. It is a flat surface; things—basically anything—go on it. Sometimes we sit at it as well, depending upon the type of table, location in a house, etc. Also, furniture has histories, both universal and personal, and not all of those histories are good, or even neutral. 

The idea to translate these objects into furniture forms was also based on the fact that we are living in a moment oversaturated with violence. Graphic violence and the destruction of the other are becoming (have become) incredibly visible, part of the landscape of our world. We can watch in nearly real time as horrific acts are committed by police, children, governments, criminals, terrorists, etc. To place these items into the home was an attempt to take that to the next (maybe logical) step. That we in fact live with this in our home. Throughout history, we have been willing to destroy the other to get what we want. This is an attempt to force an association with everyday comfort and implicate us ALL in histories and current climates of violence. This is one fundamental part of this work. It is self implication. It is a comment on complicity and how we become comfortable with things that we should not. 

1.5 Million Homes (Power Comes in Waves), 2011. Diving board, wood, mechanical parts. 4' x 12' x 3'

OPP: Tell us about your choice to create torture devices that are beautiful, sleek, even sexy.

AM: Finally, to present it as “beautiful, sleek, even sexy” is intended to further this push/pull between attraction, desire, and even lust, and repulsion. The work is presented as hip, in the way that so many design objects instill a desire for a certain lifestyle. Our search for status through objects, will often allow us to overlook where they come from, either literally (the iPhone) or historically. 

Transient Windmill (Nevada desert), 2008. Poplar, redwood, hardware.

OPP: It’s been more four months since the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic. How are you coping? How has your studio practice been affected?

AM: I have been lucky enough to maintain access to my personal studio, where I am mostly teaching, meeting with administrators about the coming semester, and conducting business as the board president of the Furniture Society. It has been really difficult to find the mental space to be incredibly creative, but those things will come. Since you sent this questionnaire, we have also come to a moment in which racist policies in this country are coming to the forefront and so, my mind is even further removed from my own work, which seems trivial when considering a world in which Black people have to worry about being murdered for existing. Add to that the stress and fear that the pandemic brings, and a general sense that I, as a white, straight, 30-something, male artist, have it incredibly good right now and always, makes for hard time to work. And rightfully so. It’s a time for searching our souls and figuring out how we change this world, all while battling an invisible virus…. anyway. That stuff is all making it a hard time to make with any kind of conviction or urgency. 

To see more of Adam's work, please visit www.adamjohnmanley.com.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Loren Erdrich

The Gatherer, 2019. Watercolor and acrylic on ceramic. 4.5" x 3" x 3.75"

Water, with its soft, flexible and incisive power, is a primary material in the work of LOREN ERDRICH. She surrenders to the fluidity of raw pigments and watercolor on silk, canvas and paper in figurative works that seek to blur the boundaries between inside and outside, self and other, pleasure and pain. Loren earned her BFA at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and her MFA at Burren College of Art, National University of Ireland. In 2020, her work has been included in Mirror Eye at Ortega y Gasset Projects and Spill Over at The Delaware Contemporary. Loren has been an artist-in-residence at Jentel Foundation (Wyoming), Santa Fe Art Institute (New Mexico), Art Farm (Nebraska) and Sculpture Space (New York). Loren lives and works in New York, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: In your artist statement, you wrote that water is “the ultimate disobeyer of boundaries.” Please tell our readers why water is such a dominant force in your practice.

Loren Erdrich: I have an innate attraction water—it’s figured large in my dream life since I was a child. I've always understood and respected its immense power. As a medium, I think the draw has to do with its resistance to control. When a medium is harder to control, I am forced to remain looser, which in turn allows space for the magic of unintentional movements to occur.  Its resistance of perfection, tightness and mastery is invaluable to me. I love how it can be both hard and powerful, and soft and giving, and that it is comfortable in that duality. 

Me And You At The End Of The World, 2019. Water and raw pigment on muslin. 20" x 24."

OPP: Can you talk about the balance of control and surrender when working with watercolor? This also seems to be content on your work.

LE: At some point in my practice I began to realize that the qualities I valued in a medium mirrored what I sought as content. People would ask me what my work was about and to answer I would launch into an explanation of the way raw pigments and dye behave when mixed just with water. I fell in love with how unstable it all seemed, how I would have to corral the water, pigment and dye and coax them into recognizable forms. And that even after hours of coaxing I always had to submit to the natural drying process that occurred and shaped the final product. I felt as though I continually straddled control and mayhem, that at any minute it could teeter one way or the other. This mirrored my content. I have always sought out that moment in a transition or a transformation, when instead of being one thing, or the other, you are both. And that space of both is often gorgeously wild and powerful. It's not a comfortable space. It's messy. It's a merging point. Instead of the either/or, it's the and. It's a space that has the power to topple a world of pre-fixed categories and societal rules.

Go Away, 2018. Raw pigment and acrylic on canvas. 12" x 16"

OPP: The facial expressions on your figures are ambiguous: they may be in the throws of orgasm or they may be in intense physical pain. What’s the relationship between sexuality and suffering in your work?

LE: There was a while when I searched for that ambiguous expression; I wanted to see in others what it looked like to teeter between control and mayhem. I found this expression most readily in images of orgasm and pain, but it also appears when you laugh so hard you cry, or even when you sleep. I was looking for moments of release, when for once you are not in control of yourself, because control is impossible. As for a relationship between sexuality and suffering, as a woman in my 20s and early 30s, sexual imagery was the best way to translate my internal experience onto a page. It encompassed all the pleasure, shame, and pain I felt growing up. To me the images were about power, conflict, a search for freedom and a space to let go. The work was always about an internal landscape, an emotional language that I hoped someone else would understand. At some point sexuality became less of a primary focus in my imagery. To be sure it is still present, but now the work appears less driven by one's relationship to another, and more about one's relationship to a larger environment. 

I Give Birth To Myself, 2018. Ceramics and string. 2.5" x 2.75" x 3.25"

OPP: Talk to us about your tiny ceramic sculptures. What do these sculptures do that the 2D works don’t?

LE: I think of the tiny sculptures as 3D paintings.  I do them when the 2D work seems momentarily impossible.  I often repeat imagery that already exists in a painting or drawing. The sculptures hold space differently. With them it is less about looking at something as a spectator, and more about living in its world. In this way I think they open up another doorway into my work. Their small size may make them more easily approachable, perhaps more accessible. I know for me, as the maker, the combination of material and size allows me to take them less seriously, which I view as a positive thing.  

Me, Myself, Pretending Not To See, 2019. water, raw pigment, dye, ink and watercolor on canvas. 48" x 36"

OPP: It’s been almost two months since the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic. How are you coping? How is your studio practice being affected?

LE: I’m in NYC. A few days before the order to shelter in place came out I began carrying art supplies with me when I went home. I chose colored pencils, watercolor crayons, some ink and drawing paper—things that were mobile and light. Drawing isn't usually a regular part of my practice, but I began drawing. There was so much panic, so much unknown everywhere, that I was actually able to access a sense of freedom when I began to work. I didn't ask myself what it meant or how these drawings fit into the rest of my work; instead I focused on the pleasure of the material. Of course I've inevitably ended up working with my usual themes, though I've mostly returned to an internal emotional landscape. I live in Manhattan, and my studio is in Brooklyn so I can ride my bike to my studio. I'm incredibly grateful for this. For days that have been poor weather or that I have felt particularly affected by the world's situation, I have carved out a small area at home to work in. I've been calling the drawings Isolation Drawings. Of course I didn't think I'd be drawing for this long. As the months go on, and I continue to work with this medium I've begun to understand that this experience will have a permanent effect on my practice.  

To see more of Loren's work, please visit www.okloren.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist  Stacia Yeapanis.  When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020). Under Illinois' Shelter-in-Place order, Stacia has returned to remix video as a relevant and accessible medium and will exhibit an updated version of Solace Supercut in the window of Riverside Arts Center FlexSpace. Towards Luminescence: Radiant Frisson | Solace Supercut: a two-part exhibition featuring work by Chicago artists Mayumi Lake and Stacia Yeapanis runs from  May 18 – June 26, 2020.


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jeffrey Meris

Now You See Me; Now You Don't (Installation View), 2020. Plaster body cast, AC motor, steel. 

In sculpture and performance, JEFFREY MERIS investigates "the impacts of naturalization, (dis)placement and racial interpellation." He subverts the expected materiality of monuments by utilizing shopping carts, plastic crates, cinderblocks and plastic gallon jugs to draw attention to everyday, overlooked experiences. His recent kinetic sculptures explore the simultaneous invisibility/hyper-visibility of People of Color in American society. Jeffrey earned his A.A in Arts from the College of the Bahamas, his BFA in Sculpture from Temple University and his MFA in Visual Arts from Columbia University. He is a two-time Harry C. Moore Lyford Cay Foundation Scholar (2012 and 2017) and a Guttenberg Arts Artist-in-Residence (2016). In 2019, he attended Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, and is currently a studio Fellow at NXTHVN in New Haven, Connecticut. Jeffrey's work was recently included in overmydeadbody (2020), curated by Laurie Lazar and Tavares Strachan, at Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco, and his first solo project in New York will open in June 2020. In Fall 2020, his work will be included in an exhibition addressing climate change in the Caribbean at 4th Space, Concordia University (Montreal, Canada) and a NXtHVN 2020 cohort exhibition. Jeffrey lives and works in New Haven, Connecticut.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us a bit about your artistic trajectory? Have you always made art? What made you start?

Jeffrey Meris: I spent most of my formative years in the Junkanoo Shack (Studio) in my country of origin the Bahamas, where I met my mentor and Guardian Angel, Jackson Logan Burnside. Junkanoo is the premier cultural festival that involves costuming, music, folklore and dance. When I was not sitting in the front of my television drawing sketches of Sailor MoonPokemon, or Gundam Wing as a child, I was building my future with the Gaza Boyz. Jackson was the very first “artist” I knew. Formally he was an architect, and he encouraged me to study Architecture. Instead I decided to pursue Art. Through my studies, I received a residency at Popopstudios and this was the definitive moment where I knew that art would take me to my purpose in life. I’ve since attended art schools in the Bahamas and the U.S.

Now The Day is Over, 2018. Shopping cart, square hollow stock metal, nuts and bolts.

OPP: Many works have a monumental quality, but are made with distinctly un-monumental materials. Do you think of your works as monuments? If so, to what? Or to whom?

JM: Monuments in the public discourse have this odd side effect of othering, and it is specifically this otherness that I am interested in. The word monument signals a certain historic trajectory rooted in imperialist grandeur and exquisite materials such as bronze or marble,  What happens when these materials are subverted? I often consider the ways I can use everyday objects to refract a different sense of  monumentality. Shopping carts, plastics, bottles, vinyl, crates are all more significant in everyday life than an esoteric statue lost in the Ramble of Central Park. I am also interested in what scale shift and visual reorientation does to the relationship between the viewer and the known function of an object. 

Mouth to Mouth, 2019. Steel, chaise lounge, conduits, recycled bottles, resin, fiber glass, tubes. Photo credit: Roni Aviv

OPP: Tell us specifically about Mouth to Mouth (2019) and Now the Day is Over (2018), which both evoke grandeur through height.

JM: When I made Now The Day is Over (2018), I was interested in the subjectivity of a shopping cart; it acts as both a site of play, a vessel and a civilizing apparatus, the thing that facilitates an end to a hunter/gatherer lifestyle. Carving out the side panels of the shopping carts and leaving a skeleton revealed the precarious state in which production, consumption and exploitation leaves a fragile global community. 

Mouth to Mouth (2019) also uses elevation as a strategy. If an everyday object enters the sublime, are the working class people most commonly associated with that object raised up as well? This sculpture responds to the tragic capsizing of a Florida-bound ship in the Bahamas in February 2019. Thirty-five Haitian immigrants died. Elevated fifteen feet in space by an architectural steel structure above the mass of siphonic objects is a chaise lounge, indexical of the parallel economies of tourism and immigration. I was 27 when I made Mouth to Mouth; my mother was 27 when I was born. 

Light, Medium, Dark, 2017. Found crate, transparent furniture plastic, HVAC sheet metal: angle iron 40" with 1/4" holes, peanut shells blessed by mother's labor. 54" × 22" × 16."

OPP: Light, Medium Dark (2017) is a see-through monolith filled with peanut shells resting on a plastic crate.

JM: This work is a monument to my mother and her labor. Sesly would spend hours unshelling peanuts to eventually make dollar sized bags of roasted peanuts. Her hands are chapped, blistered and charred to this day from that labor, yet it is that work that provided sustenance for our family. I felt the epicness of the emptied shells because a poetic sculptural making was happening as she poured her devotion into the survival of her offspring. Her technique of roasting salted peanuts in sand to a light, a medium, or a dark roast was much similar to the way that colorism, xenophobia and sexism intersect to form the most toxic of all discriminations against Black Immigrant women. Misogynoir declares a valuation of a woman's value  based on the complexion of her skin making dangerous correlations of education, class and sexuality. Despite everything, her story is one of triumph. 

Neither For U.S., Nor By U.S., 2017. Asphalt, passport, Christian bible, clothes on wood with cinderblocks.

OPP: Let’s talk more specifically about the recurring materials you’ve mentioned: shopping carts, milk crates, plastic milk jugs, cinder blocks, metal. Why these objects, over and over again?

JM: Those are the tools that I understand the most visually. These materials act as portals for understanding larger architectural systems. The plastic gallon bottle is about the body. It signals respiratory function or malfunction. I’ve come to know the breath as being one of the most transcendent processes that nature offers. Two years ago, while I was in grad school I took a swimming class—it’s crazy to believe how unaquatic I was despite growing up in the Caribbean. Pool is to lungs as gallon jugs are to fluid. This relationship has stuck with me ever since. Not to mention that these gallon jugs are repurposed in Caribbean countries as vessels for transporting potable water. 

The concrete blocks refer to architecture and to the visual landscape in the Bahamas where a house made of concrete blocks meant upward mobility and security. Like many others, my home was constructed of T 1-11 plywood siding covered in a thin layer of concrete. Hurricanes could blow these wood paneled homes away in the blink of an eye, year after year. Like many recurring materials in my work, the concrete block has a double meaning. It symbolizes the life I am building and struggling with and the life my family and many others strive for. It simultaneously carries the legacy of Black youth culture and growing up economically challenged.

Shopping carts are probably my favorite object ever invented! They remind me of the TV robots that mesmerized me as a kid. Also, I worked in Grocery Stores, packing bags and pushing shopping carts for tipping customers. Shopping carts speak to a necessity, to those that have, need and want. The very cart that keeps the nuclear family fed can also keep the homeless sheltered. I also think of carts as elegant post-modernist objects in and of themselves, and I attempt to extend that beauty through augmentation and elevation. 

I grew to love steel in my practice because it is rigid yet flexible. Steel functions as steel yet it does only what you ask of it. Case in point: the sleek angled curves for the structure of Now The Day is Over (2018). 

The Block is Hot, 2020. Plaster body cast, AC motor, steel, cinderblock, aircraft cable, U-link, pulleys, ratchet strap. 96" x 66" x 32"

OPP: Your most recent work Now You See Me; Now You Don’t (2020) has an industrial horror movie feel, while being totally un-gory. The severed body parts—cast from your own body—in this make-shift laboratory scene evoke violence, but the lack of blood makes that violence less visceral, more symbolic. What kind of violence do you want viewers to contemplate?

JM: Now You See Me; Now You Don’t roots itself both in my own experience being Black in America and Ralph Ellison’s epic novel Invisible Man. Two years ago, I received a ticket for jumping an MTA  turnstile in New York City. I fumbled to swipe my card correctly until eventually the machine read ‘insufficient funds.’ I jumped. Two police officers arrested me and recorded my weight as 250 pounds and my height as 6'5," neither of which is true. If you could see me, you’d understand the hyperbole. I’m 6’2” and 175 pounds. 

I was acquitted after the judge ruled that I was in "the right" for my actions. Records showed that I had indeed paid yet there was a malfunction in the turnstile. In the waiting-room, almost all defendants were Black-or-Brown, unlike my alma matter where the opposite was true. In the words of Zora Neale Hurston “I felt most colored when I was thrown against a sharp white background.” There I stood, hyper-visible in this  judicial arena, yet invisible in the systems of education. Now You See Me; Now You Don’t (2019) tightropes this fine line, using the body as a vessel for the violence of racial interpellation. Through actions of self destruction these works seek to break the bondage of white society's gaze and free themselves from the burden of racist body bias and conventions. Seven sculptures are presented in this body of work. Six of the seven sculptures kinetically destroy themselves over perforated sheet metal. On My Knees (2019) is the only non-kinetic work in this series; it evokes both kneeling gesture and milk crates as monuments. 

On My Knees, 2020. Plaster body cast, steel, milk crates.

OPP: It’s been more than 3 weeks since the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic. How are you coping? How is your studio practice being affected?

JM: I’ve been super lucky to be a part of NXTHVN, co-founded by Titus KapharJonathan Brand, Board Chairman Jason Price, and led by Executive Director Nico Wheadon.. NXTHVN actually took an unprecedented approach and has offered us additional financial and institutional support in the wake of Covid. Thank you! Shout out to the entire family of studio and curatorial fellows, apprentices—especially my apprentice Aime Mulungula—staff, board members and supporters

I wake up everyday, and I am so blessed to have a studio next door from my apartment, a 30 second commute. The days get a bit monotonous but I am extremely grateful for that. I am going to hold space for all of those disproportionately affected by this Pandemic, those that can’t afford the luxury of social distancing, those that are ill and have passed. I recognize my privilege, and send my thoughts to those coping with the uncertainty. 

I purchased my very first welder back in January, and the freshness of hot welded steel is almost like taking a shot of espresso. I feel invigorated! This also gave me the time to go back to one of my earlier passions of cooking (keep in touch with my Instagram stories @jeffreymeris to see what’s on the menu), and I also made Self-Care-Saturday a thing where I make brunch, listen to my body and inner self and take care of my plants.  

To see more of Jeffrey's work, please visit www.jeffreymeris.com.

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


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Natalie Hunter

Installation view of Billows and Breathing Spaces2019. At Centre 3 for Artistic and Social Practice. Photo Credit: Andrew Butkevicius

In an era when most people only encounter photography on their digital devices, NATALIE HUNTER reminds us of the physicality of photography. But she doesn't rely on the conventions of prints framing and hanging on the wall to do it. Instead, she combines the intangible staples of film exposure—light and time—with the material aspects of sculpture. She prints on transparent film and silk, folding and bending images, pinning them to the wall in undulating waves and draping them over wood and metal and plexiglass structures. Natalie holds a BA in Visual Art with a Concentration in Curatorial Studies from Brock University and an MFA from the University of Waterloo. She was awarded a Canada Council for the Arts Research and Creation Grant in 2018 and Ontario Arts Council Creation Project Grants in 2018 and 2019. In 2019, she mounted two solo exhibitions: Staring into the sun, curated by Marcie Bronson, at Rodman Hall Art Centre (St. Catharines, Ontario) and Sensations of breathing at the sound of light at Factory Media Centre 9 (Hamilton, Ontario). Her work was also included in the group show Shaping Time (2019) at Latcham Art Centre (Stouffville, Ontario). Natalie’s solo exhibition Billows and Breathing Spaces (2020) Just opened at Centre 3 For Artistic and Social Practice in Hamilton, Ontario and will be on view through March 5. Natalie lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

OtherPeoplesPixels: It’s rare that your images are framed and hung on the wall in a conventional way. Why do you work with photography as sculpture?

Natalie Hunter: I very much look at photographs as material fluid things that are tangible objects vulnerable to the elements. There is an element of stillness in sculpture and photography that speaks to the present moment, but also the past. The negative and positive aspects of photography mirror that of sculpture and casting. Both are traces,  just in different ways.

I’m interested in the spaces we create for ourselves, both physical and psychological in nature and how they shape memory and lived experience. I entered grad school as a sculptor and started taking digital imaging and film studies courses. Working on images through the screen became incredibly frustrating for me. I would often go to the library and print transparencies of images I wanted to work with because it was cheaper than printing snapshots. But I soon found they were really lovely to work with and handle in my hands. To fold, curl, layer, arrange them on a light box or the surface of a projector. They spoke more to material process and making with my hands. I knew I wanted to eventually make my images more sculptural and scale them up. Ever since, I’ve been trying to work my way out from the wall into three-dimensional space and make images a physical, experiential encounter.

Helios (2019) Hand applied window film, light. Interior day view. Photo credit: Jimmy Limit

OPP: Can you tell us a bit about your process? How does the moment of exposure relate to the installation? Are these disconnected parts of the process?

NH: The starting point for most of my work boils down to light and time and their psychological, emotive, and material influences on space. For the past 6 or 7 years, I’ve been layering images through multiple exposures and by layering transparent photographs to make new images. This act of layering both inside and outside of the camera transcends logical ideas of time. I use colour filters, sometimes hand-made ones, to bring attention to the layers and reveal process. They separate different moments of time and leave clues as to how the images were made. And they introduce an element of chance. They affect the way light enters the camera. I never really know what the image will look like until the film gets developed.

Once the image exists outside of the camera and becomes a physical thing, I consider the exhibition space as an element of the work. Often, the pieces change when they are installed a second or third time or from my studio to the gallery space. I need to do site visits, and I usually respond in an emotive way that speaks to a unique characteristic of a space in order to converse with it. Memory plays a big part in this. I hope to produce a kind of encounter between viewer and work that elicits memory or a sensorial response.

The sun's rays do not burn until brought to a focus (2017) Giclee print on transparent film, poplar, sunlight. various dimensions. print: 12" x 50"

OPP: How do materiality and immateriality intersect in your work?

NH: My work hovers between materiality and immaterially like most of our experiences. I use translucent and semi-translucent materials—transparent film, backlight film and silk—to manifest ephemeral, immaterial concepts like time, memory, space, light, air, breath in material ways. The physical aspects produce immaterial encounters. I use light in the exposure of my images, but also in the installation within the exhibition space. For me, light is quite kinetic. . . or it makes the work kinetic through the passage of time. 

Light is fundamental to photographic processes, and its manipulation is a material process in my work. Light is intangible, like time and memory, and it affects physical spaces. Natural light is always changing, while artificial light is static. These differences produce both stillness and subtle motion in my work. For example, my transparent film works produce latent imagery within a space when they are lit. They behave in a kinetic way when exposed to natural light, and a rather still way when illuminated with traditional gallery track lightning.

Songs of May (foreground), The sky seemed to fold in ribbons of palest sunlight, 2019.

OPP: In your recent work Breathing Spaces (2019), you printed on silk charmeuse for the first time. What led you to print on fabric instead of transparent film for the various Billows sculptures?

NH: During the opening of my solo show Staring into the sun (2019) at Rodman Hall last year, a visitor commented that, despite my works being on transparent film, they seemed to contain a kind of weight, almost like fabric. I was able to unintentionally fool a viewer into touching the work, thinking they were experiencing textile pieces, when in actuality it was a combination of the transparent photograph and it’s latent copy. This interested me a lot in terms of my investigations into perception, memory, and experience. The physicality of the work led a viewer to think they were looking at a different material. I decided to test the material properties of fabric in relation to light and to space. 

Billows, two breaths at dusk (2019) Archival pigment prints on 12.5mm silk charmeuse draped over hand shaped copper, hardware, maple, light. 34" x 52" each print, installation dimensions variable. Studio view.

OPP: Is this a new direction?

NH: I wouldn’t say that it’s a new direction in the sense that I’m abandoning my process working with light and transparent film. I see these explorations with silk as another dimension of what I’m already doing, folding space and time outside of the camera. The silk has different physical properties and absorbs light in a different way. When illuminated, the back becomes a diffused mirror image. Transparent film produces latent imagery. The silk drapes instead of folds, and you can see your body through it when draping it over your hand, for example. All of these materials and explorations are related. I was lucky to receive Ontario Arts Council Grants and A Canada Council for the Arts Research and Creation Grant, which allowed me to test new materials and experiment. I’ve made some of the largest transparent film pieces I’ve ever made, tested how images behave on silk, and worked with colour films and resins as both sculptural and image materials. Some of the large transparent pieces and works on silk are on view at Centre 3 for Artistic and Social Practice in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada from February 6 - March 5.

To Breathe Light 2/4 (2019) Archival pigment prints on backlight film mounted in double sided custom floor light box (plexiglass, poplar, LED lighting, hardware). 36" x 24" x 5"

OPP: Can you talk about abstraction versus legibility of the image?

NH: Over time my work has become more abstract. Photography has a history of being mistaken for truth. The processes and materials I am working with are true, and yet they produce something more abstract than what we would consider truth in experience. I’m really interested in the exploratory, transformative power of materials to translate everyday experiences. Memory is just as important as breathing in our human experience, and I’m interested in exploring how that manifests and transforms through time. We are all unconsciously shaped by the spaces we inhabit on a daily basis, and I know that my work is often influenced by the spaces where I spend the most time. Space is something psychological just as much as it is physical, and I want to explore both of these aspects of space in my work. 

Dappled (2019) Archival inkjet prints on backlight film draped over custom poplar and aluminum sculptures. Approximately 24" x 60" x 36" each.

OPP: I appreciate the materiality of your sculptures, especially since its rare that I see a physical photograph anymore. Has your work changed in relation to not just the emergence of digital cameras, but specifically in relation to the pervasiveness of smart phone cameras, selfies and Instagram?

NH: As an artist and educator I’m constantly grappling with the immaterial digital world we find ourselves in. I question why I make photo-based work in an age when we are so saturated and bombarded with images on a daily basis. Do I really want to add to that massive pool of images? What makes mine different? I rarely take selfies and use social media largely for circulating my art practice. For the past six or seven years, I’ve been teaching a university online digital imaging course to upwards of 250 students per term. It’s a real challenge teaching through a screen and constantly being available to students. I’m acutely aware of screens and my time with them. Truthfully I’m frustrated with them. It’s important for me to use my hands and make material work, and I’m interested in pushing my work further into the sculptural realm. 

It’s rare that we encounter a physical image anymore. I wonder how much of our memories are made up of actual experiences, or streams of images we consume in our daily lives. I want my work to be experiential and challenge the boundaries between the pictorial and physical worlds we live in. I find my more recent work makes use of both film and digital cameras. For a while I couldn’t afford a a good quality digital camera to make the images that I wanted. So I used medium format film. I still use film, but lately I’ve been using both media while layering within the camera, and I’m interested in combining them in a body of work. Both have their positives and limitations.

To see more of Natalie's work, please visit natalie-hunter.com

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Judith Brotman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OPP: Have your material choices changed over the years?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slow Time (2016). Mixed Media. Dimensions variable

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

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

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

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

Instagram post, 2019

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

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

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

Life In Progress (2019). Napkin, sequins

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

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

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

Instagram post, 2019

OPP: Do you create work just for Instagram?

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

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

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

Instagram feed, 2019.

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

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

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

Instagram post, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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