OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Mami Kato

Closed Beginning Opens the End (2018) Materials: eggshells, rice paper, milk paint, epoxy resin, mirror. Detail.

MAMI KATO makes elegant, material-driven sculptures with egg shells, fabric and rice stalk. Some works are architectural in scale, while others can be held in two hands. Whatever the scale, Mami's craftsmanship and responsiveness to her materials is impeccable. Mami has a BFA in Painting from Musashino University of Arts (Tokyo, Japan) and a BFA in Sculpture from Philadelphia College of the Arts (Philadelphia, PA, USA). Her work is included in the public collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Wu Tung Art Museum in Shanghai, China. Her recent three-person exhibition Over Time (2020-2021) just closed at Wexler Gallery in New York. But you can see a virtual version of the show at Artsy. Mami lives and works in Philadelphia, PA. 

OtherPeoplesPixels: You are master of your materials. Rice stalk is one of the many recurring materials. What do you love about this material?

Mami Kato: I don’t exactly remember how I started to use this material, but it came to me sometime after I moved to the US from Japan. I think that I was looking for something that I can connect to on a very personal & authentic level. The rice stalk fulfills this need, so that’s what I like about it. I grew up surrounded by rice patties, those were my playground, and I lived in a culture which deeply /widely connected to this plant.

Rice stalk has been used as a material for daily commodities in Japan which have a relatively short life span. So as an art material I had to figure out what treatment would be needed without scientific and technological testing—just because it’s too expensive and takes too long.

Big Knot (2019) Rice stalks, cotton, insulation foam, epoxy resin. 50" x 32" x 89"

OPP: Is there anything unpleasant that you have to overcome in working with rice stalk?

MK: At this point, I think that I feel confident enough to say that my care and processing make the material last long enough without any bad deterioration, but I had to go through trial-and-error. I still do because it’s a natural material so each batch is different and I have to treat each one differently.

Untitled (Rice'n'Bean) (2006) Rice stalks, epoxy resin, fabric, oil paint, ceramic tips. 24" x 33" x 18"

OPP: Could you talk about the relationship between the small vessels made of rice stalks and the large-scale works Big Knot (2019) and Umbilical Field (2011)?

MK: The series of rice stalks started small with simple forms and it became larger.

I become more capable of making bigger and/or more complex forms, but also my interests/concepts changed as my life situation changed. I feel that both types are segments that reflect nature and my cultural heritage, but bigger pieces emphasize the nature part, and smaller pieces reflect the cultural heritage part.

Flowpod (2020) Cotton cloth, bio epoxy resin, milk paint, hide glue, and pigment. 26 × 47 × 11 in.

OPP: Negative space is a significant formal quality in your work. How do you think about emptiness?

MK: When I make a piece, I’m concerned with that particular piece’s "qualia.” The qualia of that empty space would change by components that the piece has, such as size, form of the space, the connection with the rest of the piece, etc. My empty spaces are often enclosed by thin shells that have openwork, so you can see the actual form of that empty space, and also let you go in and out through the openwork. So I see that each empty space has its own texture and physicality.

Bear Follicles (2019) fabric, epoxy resin, milk paint, plywood. 34" x 17" x 33"

OPP: Many sculptures—Samara (2014) and Bear Follicles (2016), to name a few—appeared to be metal upon first glance. In actuality they are made of fabric and epoxy resin. How does the material relate to the animal forms?

MK: The works that appear as animal heads actually contain some other elements such as plant and insect forms, reference of formation of growth of life, etc.

As far as the material I chose for those pieces, I developed my own technique that allows me to make a piece very delicate & light weight, yet strong enough to hold the form itself, but I always have to keep examining and challenging the limit of this material when I design the form of the piece. The manipulation of the appearance of material of the piece, which sometimes looks like a metal, or is unidentifiable is to suspend or dodge judgement. Surface and material can be separate things. So I’d like to choose surfaces to suit the pieces rather than exposing the material.

Egg Formula (2014) Materials: eggshells, rice paper, varnish, wooden frame, gesso.

OPP: It seems that you are very responsive to the nature of your materials. Do you find the limitations of each material liberates or stifles creativity?

MK: Each material has its own uniqueness, like each person has their own character, which you would accept as is and respond to when you encounter them. But beyond that, I’m interested in revealing the material’s new side that I haven’t known about, and if I successfully made that work with the piece/concept of the artwork, it would liberate me on some level.

Closed Beginning Opens The Ends (2018) Eggshells, rice paper, milk paint, epoxy resin, mirror. 10.5" x 24" x 24"

OPP: Do you have a favorite piece by another artist? How has this piece or this artist influenced you and the way you think about your own work?

MK: I would say that my favorite piece by another artist is Iso-Daich (which means “Phase-Mother Earth” in Japanese) by the artist Sekine, Nobuo. This work is the most famous piece from Mono-ha, which is the art movement in 1960s Japan.

I only saw this piece in a picture in some art magazine when I was living in my rural hometown in Japan. During that time I was hoping to proceed my art making practice and I was still very young and needing some guidance, but I couldn’t find any artwork/artist that I could admire around me. There was, of course, no internet, and I was surrounded by very traditional or unoriginal modern style art. When I saw the picture of this piece, I thought “This is it.” This piece gave me the hope and direction I needed at that time.

Ascending Filament (2014) jute fiber. dimensions variable.

OPP: What is your favorite piece of your own work?

MK: I don’t have only one piece that stands out as my favorite, but I would say, at this time, I’m excited about Ascending Filament and my works made of eggshells

I feel that Ascending Filament is unfinished work, which gives me inspiration as to what I would do with it. It is made of teased rope fibers, so it’s very light weight, as you can imagine. This fluffed up thread can be fit in various forms of spaces and squished down when you move or store it and you can fluff it back up when you use it. It still needs some improvement to get right (texture, color and etc) for me, but because of this flexibility and logistical benefit, I feel that it will open up options to make a different group of work from others of mine.

To see more of Mami's work, please visit www.mamikato.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 Saba Khan

How Not to Be Small and Silent (2017) Installation view. 

SABA KHAN's multimedia work traffics in the language of memorial, monument and public art. From lush beaded paintings of cakes to miniature dioramas of a bureaucrat's boring office; from flashing LED signs of stereotyped "Islamic Art" to embellished textile banners honoring the mundane generator, she balances grandeur, artifice and satire in order to explore the cracks in the facade of life in her native Lahore, Pakistan. Saba holds a BFA from National College of Arts, Lahore and an MFA from Boston University, on Fulbright Scholarship. Her work was included in the 2018 Karachi Biennale and the 2020 Lahore Biennale. Her solo exhibitions include ONE (2019) at Contemporary and Modern Art Museum and Making a Contemporary Landscape (2018) at O Art Space. In 2014, she founded Murree Museum Artist Residency, an artist-led initiative in a British colonial hill-station, and in 2020 the satirical artist collective Pak Khawateen Painting Club was born. Saba lives in Lahore, Pakistan. 

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us briefly about your artistic path. Have you always been an artist?

Saba Khan: I think it is hard to say when one turns into an artist. It is usually declared by others, a title that one earns over time and with experience. 

I continued producing work after my undergrad. In Pakistan we are art educators during the day and artists by night. It is understood that most of us artists would pursue jobs in academia, where art colleges—rather than art galleries or art districts— become centers of contact and spark development of ideas and networks. However, teaching takes away a large chunk of the day and also slows down one’s practice. But both have been hand in hand throughout my career.

Big Halal Dreams (2017)

OPP: Satire and simulation are dominant strategies in your work. Tell us why? How do you use these strategies aid your conceptual agenda?

SK: Living in Pakistan is living amidst chaos. Although an outsider may view it as a monolithic, conservative, Muslim country but it is more complex and varied. With a 4000-year-old culture, while also being a young country, it intertwines and weaves many rituals, traditions and contradictions. Each day is a lived experience of navigating into the city, which is broken up into medieval, colonial, modern and new-town sections, as a time traveler through Lahore’s maze of concrete with patches of old trees and greenery. 

The country also has stark contrasts between the rich and poor. These strange experiences, interesting yet frustrating, are sometimes best translated into satirical imagery with tongue in cheek humor, rather than being didactic and self-righteous in ones’ work. 

Contemporary Islamic Art (2017) LED lights on flex print with gilded frame. 36 x 24 in

OPP: How do you use beads, crystals and flashing lights to emphasize un-flashy truths? I’m thinking about Contemporary Islamic Art (2017) and The Generator Series (2010), among others.

SK: My work took a significant turn once I came back from a two-year Master’s stint in Boston. I came back to materials which I missed and did not have access to in the USA. We have large complexes of bazaars that are a dizzying labyrinth of shops of artisans who are practicing their craft for a variety of clients. They range from electricians working on custom made LED signboards to embroiderers embellishing wedding outfits. I missed the qualities of the hand-made in the products of the west. The slight errors and unexpected malfunctions or the misread drawings/ instructions become part of the work.

Contemporary Islamic Art, a buzzing, flashy LED sign, was a commentary on the hype—or buzz—of what western art dealers would call ‘traditional’ or ’meditative’ art from the middle east and south Asia. These tropes, circulating out of context, are used to attract and sell the exoticized and faux images of art from this part of the world. Without any knowledge or research, these works are distributed in art markets as oriental pieces of fetishized ornaments.

The generator series was made on the types of generators observed around the city that were used as an alternate to frequent power cuts. During the time these tapestries were made, we were experiencing up to 18 hours without electricity from the grid. The commercial neighborhood I lived in would light up with a cacophony of generators emitting noise greater than the prescribed range in industrial zones, with smoke incessantly puffing out. Now with solar power and better government arrangements, things are not as bad.

More Prosperity (2010) Thread and buttons on fabric. 60" x 58"

OPP: Could you translate the Urdu text that hangs on the wall, highlighted by those luxurious drapes in Monuments and other Follies (2019)? 

SK: The text says: 

“Friendly Residentia Authority 
Undertaking development Inauguration 
By The Honorable Hands Of The Eminent Connoisseur 
Madam Saba Khan”

Monument and Other Follies (2019) Installation shot.

OPP: What drew you to the form of the plaque with curtains?

SK: There are hundreds of plaques around the city erected on footpaths and intersections, commemorating road constructions by local politicians. Plaques with curtains being drawn open is a regular site on the news with politicians opening mega projects or private housing schemes. The ceremonies are almost comical, because they are a repeat performance with different actors every time launching white elephant projects. Strongest commodities are the private housing schemes which are an answer to the government’s problem to housing. Large chunks of agricultural land are sanctioned over ‘for the public good’ and turned into plotted, pieces of private land by real estate tycoons, many of them falter or turn out to be fraudulent leaving behind hundreds of disgruntled and deceived civilians that fall into litigation suits for decades.

I went to a colonial bazaar to get this curtain made because I was told there was a curtain shop that specializes in ceremonial drawstring curtains. The young man helped me with the design, dimensions and also picked the official color.

Monuments and Other Follies (2019) Installation shot.

OPP: What are you choosing to memorialize/monumentalize in this body of work?

SK: The series of files in the project mimic government files; thick, rough, recycled cardboard with papers stuffed inside and tied together with a shoe-string. There are numerous monuments and decorative structures in every town commemorating unknown heroes and events or are a way to ‘beautify’ city corners. The low budget reliefs of dead men look like caricatures making the events even more unworthy of remembering. My fictional bureau for the project proposes monument-making for major, yet embarrassing historical events.

Other than the files, I constructed one monument in MDF with faux marble pattern painted on top, mimicking actual monuments that use ceramic tiles with faux marble pattern. A large folly, two adjoining staircases leading to nowhere. 

Monument for an Undecided Event (2019)

OPP: Tell us about Pak Khawateen Painting Club, a satirical collective of female artists. There doesn’t seem to be any painting in your recent exhibition of the same name.

SK: We don’t particularly paint. Instead we subvert the notion of a female artist by building large machines which don’t produce anything but generate information on power, electricity and water. 

Painting has always been a past time for upper middle-class women. In the pre-Partition era (before Pakistan separated with India), established artists would setup studios and teach women painting on the side as a means of a steady income. The stereotypical image of the ‘woman artist’ has been embedded in the collective psyche as an upper middle-class housewife painting on an easel inside her drawing room. Painting is seen as a hobby particularly for women as a pastime that doubles as a means to help decorate the walls of her husband’s home.

Pak is a short for Pakistan and also means pure (as women should be). These not so pure women of our collective, venture out into expeditions—women traveling without male chaperons is considered unsafe—entering into spaces where men make decisions for the nation on water and power. 

Pak Khawateen Painting Club: Indus Water Machines. New commission: Between the Sun and the Moon, Lahore Biennale 02, 2020

OPP: Alongside your active studio practice, you also founded the Murree Museum Artist Residency. Tell us about the residency and its location. How has the pandemic impacted the residency?

SK: Murree is a small British colonial hill-station that was used as a retreat for the elite British officers to get away from the Indian heat and was also a stopover before entering into the valley of Kashmir. However, in a post-colonial era the town has become toxic with excessive construction, deforestation and overpopulation from an influx of tourists. The decay of the town, my own family histories and my father’s research book (Murree During the Raj: A British Town in the Hills by Dr. Farakh A. Khan) on its colonial era led me to study the town further by inviting artists and initiating theme-based residencies on the ecological issues. The program ends with a public exhibition in the town center and an artists’ book which became the final compilation of art projects. The book launch and reiteration of the exhibition takes place south in the port city of Karachi at AAN Gandhara-Art Space. Unfortunately, during the Covid our generous donor had to reassess his priorities and decided to sell the cottage in which I invited artists for the summer.

Drawing Room Dreams (2015) Acrylic and beads on canvas stretched on board. 9.5 x 12.5 in 

OPP: Oh no! I didn’t realize. I’m sorry to hear that. Where have you been focusing your energies instead?

SK: As I write this, I am currently traveling in remote parts of the country with the Pak Khawateen Painting Club, exploring ancient and medieval cities and British colonial and modern barrages built to control the main River Indus that cuts vertically across the country. Some sites are so removed with small, nomadic populations living with limited communication. The ancient cities are some of the oldest in the world dating back to 4000 BC to 2000 BC. The water, a life giver, has been the center for trade, agriculture, rituals and power. Our research is supported by Sharjah Art Foundation and Graham Foundation. This year we will be completing the final artwork. 

To see more of Saba's work, please visit www.sabakhan.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 Alex Schechter

How Intentions Differ (2020) Pine, OSB, Latex Paint, Carving Foam. 63” x 16” x 19”

ALEX SCHECHTER traffics heavily in material symbolism. His sculptures combine traditional woodworking methods, digital fabrication and found objects with video and animation to explore the myths of the Manifest Destiny and the Wild West. Alex holds a BA in Studio Art/Religious Studies from Grinnell College and an MFA in Sculpture from Rinehart School of Sculpture, MICA. Recent exhibitions include: Cowboys and Carpentry: Alex Schechter and Sutton Demlong at Sykes Gallery (Millersville, PA) and Its Construction Conceals:  Iren Tete and Alex Schechter at Ghost (Omaha, NE). He just completed a residency at The Hambidge Center for the Creative Arts in Georgia. Alex lives and works in Philadelphia, PA.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Before going to MICA for your MFA, you got a BA in Religious Studies from Grinnell College. How does that early focus on religion inform your art practice?

Alex Schechter: In so many ways! Religious studies has been the major heuristic for study for me for most of my career. One of the basic definitions of religion begins with identifying the “three c’s;" cultus, cosmology, and community. I find myself drawn to those frameworks as a space for most of my projects. What are the actions or rituals of this system? What does it explain? Who is involved? 

Myth Of The West (Genesis 32:22-31) (2018) Plywood, LED lighting, House Paint, Ebonized Ash Wood, Rubber, Pine, Cactus, Artificial Flower. 20”x 33”x 45”

OPP: Which system do you mean? The universe? Or something smaller?

AS: My work is primarily focused on American Mythology. As a country, I think we lack a defining national identity, with no ethnic or religious antecedents that define many (particularly european) cultures. We instead have a somewhat ad-hoc collection of symbols and rituals that form this constellation of “americanness.” I think a lot of my training, particularly when it comes to religious ethnography, helps to shape that understanding and translation of a deep ambivalence I have around my familial history as well as my personal embrace and revulsion of what it means to be American. 

I grew up on a horse ranch in rural Wyoming. In this environment, quotidian realities of daily life come into sharp contrast with the romantic idealization of the Wild West. For much of U.S. history, the West was an ordinal concept, an endless resource to compete with European culture, a blank canvas to be tamed with violence, or an escape route for self reinvention. Despite the clear and harsh consequences of climate change, the realities of colonization and genocide, not to mention the inconveniently finite nature of natural resources, the idea of the Frontier retains a perennial popularity as a Promised Land. The sculptural objects I make attempt to collapse the utopian ideals of Frontierism and the consequences of its reality.

New Frontier (Allegory of the Cave) (2020) Film stills, Wood, Enamel Paint, Rearview Mirrors, Plastic Rabbits Feet, Hardware. 45" x 42" x 20"

OPP: How does the combination of traditional craft, digital fabrication and found objects serve your conceptual interests?

AS: As previously mentioned, I did not go to art school for undergrad. While that education was great for conceptual development and critical thinking, it meant that I have come into making in a pretty circuitous fashion. I’m trying to make things in a way that works for the idea. I’m a decent carpenter, so wood tends to be a foundational structural material for many of my objects. I’m trying to become less precious about my hand being evident in the objects I make though. 

I love craft, especially woodworking, but sometimes it feels like a crutch, or a conceptual governor. My woodworking skills tend to build towards a human sized scale. I’ve been increasingly interested in branching into other methods of fabrication (including other people doing the fabrication) because they simply allow me to do things I cannot with my skill set. My interest in digital fabrication has really accelerated this drive to expand methods of making. If I can have something milled out in an afternoon rather than carving it for weeks, i’ll take it. 

For all that, I’m pretty enamored with found objects for basically the opposite reason. I love the embodied meaning in objects that are collected or sourced.

Heavy Lift (for Sergei) (2020) Monitor, Wooden Shelf, Potatoes, Zinc, Copper, Wires, Raspberry Pi, Digital animation. 24 "x 20" x 8”

OPP: That is evident in your comprehensive material lists, which give the sense that every object or material is included for symbolic purposes. I’ve been thinking about visual synecdoche and metonymy while looking at your work. Do you think those are appropriate words to describe how you approach materials?

AS: As a kid, I was really obsessed with the nutritional labels on foods. The atomization of say, salad dressing, into its nutritional attributes and a hierarchical list of ingredients, starting with the familiar (olive oil) and descending into the esoteric and sometimes frightening (sodium benzoate) felt like a mystery. A miniature scavenger hunt at the dinner table.

I’ve seen stage magicians do the same thing, they will explain how they are going to do a trick. That there is a trap door, that there a two assistants, that it isn’t their real thumb, and yet you are still astonished by the illusion you are seeing in front of you. The whole is not just greater than the sum of its parts, it is more exciting because you know what those parts entail.

My hope is that by listing the totality of the parts used in any given piece, there is a bit of alchemy that happens. The meaning of material is not just the shape of the whole object, but the embodied meanings of each individual object play with each other in a space. I think there is a difference between house paint and automotive paint, and house paint and a houseplant. Maybe its a bit onanistic but I think the indexing allows space for the creation  of meaning beyond the title and form of the artwork. It gives a peak into process without the explicit one-to-one mapping that happens with a full statement or artist talk. I think about some of the stories of Donald Barthelme, which work to morph impressionistic accumulations of single events or actions into a holistic understanding of an event or a place in time.

Further West (2019) Laser Etched Drywall, Pine, Maple, Hardware, Plastic Boot Tray, Perlite, Cacti, Artificial Flowers. 55”x 40”x 40”

OPP: Will you pick a favorite piece and talk us through all the materials and their meanings?

AS: Sure, let's look at Further West, 2019, which was part of a body of work examining the concept of the cold war era Space Race as an extension of Manifest Destiny. I would argue that much of the American project has been oppositional and reactionary to exterior political pressure. Much of the space race, and NASA in general—which I think of as the greatest public art project of all time—was in direct opposition to the Soviet national project. This piece uses the iconography of westward expansion to look a the moon race as an extension of that process, a need to push “American Greatness” to increasingly far reaching lands.

I wrote a computer program that converted data from select sections of amateur astronomer Walter Goodacre’s 1910 map of the moon into vectors that were laser-etched onto drywall. Using materials that are traditionally used for household construction in sculptural objects creates an uncanny feeling, making a material that is so ubiquitous but we never pay much attention to precious or elevated. Thinking about the walls of the home as something that moves, or is in transition is an important thought process for me. Being untethered is both exciting and disorienting.

I always have pine 2x4s around my studio, and they’re my go-to for anything structural. This main body of the sculpture mimics the radial arms of a wagon wheel, buried in the sand, an iconic image from western films. The crutch-like leg that props up the framed wall is American curly maple. Sometimes, you need nicer wood. I’ve become increasingly conscious of being able to assemble and disassemble work easily for installation, so the hardware was a necessity for transportation. Rather than hiding these connection points, I wanted to highlight them with brass hardware. I was looking at a lot of late 19th century surveying equipment. They are beautiful machines and the contrast of brass on wood is a gorgeous look. 

My weird color palette is generated through the remnants of other people’s discarded materials. I buy most of my paint from the “oops” section at the hardware store paint counter. They sell it for around $.50 (a pint?). It’s fun to see trends over the years of what colors people are almost-painting things.

I bought the plastic boot tray that holds the perlite—if there was a sandy desert on the moon, this is what I imagine it looking like—at a tractor supply store because I loved that shape. It is meant as a place to rest your boots when you have come in from a day of hard labor. I like the idea of this object designed for holding dirt to contain a different sort of dirt. . . in this case, a miniature desert.

I’ve been using cacti in a lot of my sculptures recently. I like the look of them and they are pretty resilient to changes in environment/don’t need to be watered very often. They also serve as a metonym for The West. I’ve been buying plants from Home Depot a lot over the last five years or so as sort of a treat for myself when I go to the hardware store. They clearly do not care about longevity for plants, and often it takes a lot of work repotting and nursing plants back to health after they are purchased. The cacti, which are non-flowering, are sold with these tiny plastic flowers hot-glued to the tops of them. I find this very funny and like to leave them on when I include a cactus in my work.

Pervasive Practitioners (2020) Ash Wood, Birch Ply, Latex Paint, Beeswax. 82” x 24” x 15”

OPP: Tell us about your newest body of work, M.E.K.A. I’m not familiar with that acronym. What does it stand for? 

AS: M.E.K.A. doesn’t really stand for anything, though sometimes I retcon titles Most Even Keep Alive? My Ego Korrupts All? But the title is more a nod to a 90s cartoon trend of creating tortured acronyms for a catchy nickname, like S.H.I.E.L.D. or M.A.S.K. And mecha is a term for a sci-fi subgenera where teenagers pilot giant robots. 

This has been an unusual body of work for me. I had a number of shows and longer-term projects put on hold or cancelled due to COVID-19. My studio practice had gone into a rut. I was fairly depressed and was having difficulty putting much conceptual rigor into anything. To justify being in the studio, I started playing around with arranging shapes and objects in an unlocked and unoccupied studio next to mine. I had made a scale model of a robot from the Gundam cartoon that I used to watch in my middle school days. I really liked the shape and the translation from the flatness of anime to a physical object. I started looking up more giant robot films and cartoons and isolating the heads from them. There was a certain challenge in replicating these cartoon shapes into something with heft and dimension. This has been an exercise in formalism, color, and installation, rather than the more conceptually driven objects I tend to make.  

The Shortest Distance Between Two Points (2020) Pine, Ply Wood, Felt, Automotive Paint, Latex Paint. 11”x 84” x 28”

OPP: I don't know. I think you are selling yourself short. You might be tapping into the collective unconscious. Either that, or I just can’t escape viewing everything made in 2020 through the politics of the pandemic (i.e. economy vs public health.) I see the robot heads as representing the dangers of relentlessly-onward-marching Progress. It seems very significant that the robots have been beheaded and are propping up the systems of objects. Your thoughts?

AS: I don't know that I'm selling myself short, as much as allowing myself to work intuitively, something I mostly only do with my drawing and illustration practice. I'm very enamored with the design of these giant robots even though have very little context for their stories or personalities—despite my visual fascination, I've watched very little anime. I'm both interested in and skeptical of this sort of science fiction, where incredible levels of technology, global and interstellar economic and political systems are all easily reduced to combat between between giant robots. How simple compared to the intertwined and endlessly complex realities of climate change and global economic collapse that we face in our daily lives.

I'm both interested in technology and skeptical of Positivism, this idea that progress is somehow linear and inherently good. A book that really caused me to rethink the understanding of technical progress was Keven Kelly's What Technology Wants (2010). Conceiving of a Technium, a "greater, global, massively interconnected system of technology vibrating around us." is both thrilling and, existentially, a bit nerve wracking. Perhaps the decapitation of these robots is a way of symbolically reestablishing a dominance over these systems, but I don't think that completely covers it. As with many of the topics I tend to fixate on, there is both a love and a revulsion that co-mingle. Even with my discomfort, I tend to want to ritualize and care for objects. In this case, I literally put them on pedestals.

To see more of Alex's work, please visit www.alexschechter.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 Laura Mongiovi

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. You can see a video walkthrough of the exhibition here. 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.