OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Justin Morgan Kennedy

Swine is Divine
2016

Artist and educator JUSTIN MORGAN KENNEDY examines overlooked and dismissed places, resources and objects collected from both urban and rural environments. Whether in a concrete cast of a a rural Shenandoah deer path or an irregular, grid of found upholstery and imported mums, he hopes to draw our attention to what we do and don't value about our human habitats. Morgan earned his BA in Studio Art from George Mason University in 1997 and his MFA in Sculpture from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2000. He has had solo exhibitions at Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, where he was an Artist-in-Residence, in 2003 (Omaha, Nebraska) and the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts in 2008 (Wilmington, Delaware). In 2010, he was also an Artist-in-Residence at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center Arts Industry Residency. Most recently, he finished a collaborative piece called World Table with Workingman Collective at the Bascom Center for Visual Arts in Highlands, North Carolina. Morgan is an Assistant Professor of Sculpture Western Carolina University at and has relocated to Asheville, North Carolina.

OtherPeoplesPixels: “I am continually discovering the connections between ego, form and context.” Can you expand on this quote from your statement: what kinds of connections have you discovered?

Justin Morgan Kennedy: I have always been interested in the effects objects have in our understanding of place, time, memory and our consciousness as living entities. I have often questioned the potential influence of dreams on our waking lives and vice versa. What roles do memories and dreams play, and how do they contribute to a relationship between humans and their environs?

In some West African cultures, if one dreams of a memorable encounter with a stranger or lover, the dreamer will wake and render a carving of the person as a wood statue. By doing this, the dreamer hopes the new sculpture will act as a signifier and produce more dream encounters. Seeing a real world representation should incite further lucid dream encounters with this person. I personally connect with this philosophy, and it poses further questions about the role tangible form plays in our understanding of the seen and unseen world. To me tangible form and concept are linked. They inform one another. The African dream doll rite for me solidifies that objects or forms in our real waking life can inform the ethereal distant world we go during our sleep cycle—signifier and signified.  Objects and the physical dance to render or act as a bridge between the subconscious world and our waking life. I myself have had several dreams where I realized I was dreaming, woke up and drew the objects from my dreams. . . then made them.

Movement
Steel banding riveted together, wire
7 x 6 x 30ft

OPP: I’m curious about your choice of the word habitat that is in some titles and in your statement. What connotations does habitat have for you, as opposed to space, place or environment?

JMK: Websters defines habitat as:
1a :  the place or environment where a plant or animal naturally or normally lives and grows
b :  the typical place of residence of a person or a group
c :  a housing for a controlled physical environment in which people can live under surrounding, inhospitable conditions (as under the sea)
 2:  the place where something is commonly found

I like to explore the definitions of words, but at the same time see beyond their assigned meanings, especially since words are living and often take on new meanings. Habitat is about one’s experience in a particle place or environ for temporary or set periods of time. No single environ is permanent for any one culture, people or person. Time or a particular point in time (memory) should always be considered. Space, place, environ, and habitat all talk of context, but like a layer cake, they do so with greater degrees of complexity. 


Swine is Divine
2016
Wall compilation
20ft X 35ft

OPP: Could you talk about your use of live plants and upholstery in installations like Swine is Divine and Fleur #3-Delmarva and Fleur #2 Columbian Gold-Kieffer?

JMK: I am interested in the language of materials and their link to social stratification or hierarchy. Objects and materials have meaning and multiple associations. They tell stories and refer to certain human social systems. All the materials in these pieces come from specific urban contexts: Baltimore, DC or Milwaukee. I wanted to create a different take on how landscape is portrayed in art, and I aim to get the viewer to re-question their set value system.

Swine is Divine is a reflection of Milwaukee’s social diversity and social problems. Posh folks live on the northside; poor and working class people live on the south. There are industrial areas, forests popping up from the decay and segregated communities. I include paintings of pines trees not painted by me, but rather bought from ebay. I like the statement it presents: we live in a world where artifice rules, so we should use the system and make it part of the content. Also the pine trees represent fast growth, since old growth hardwoods were cut down in order to grow conifers to meet our nation’s paper demand. I also include weeds grown in a custom Victorian bowl and another with big box shop perennials. We value these purchased, mass grown flowering plants and have disdain for weeds like dandelion or clovers. Yet the weeds, which we often pay to remove, have much more uses outside the aesthetic role of their box shop competitors: as food, dye and medicine. They also attract wildlife and are often drought resistant.

Columbian Gold-Keifer grew out of my interest in adding color to my work. I thought to use something living instead of paint. Flowers have color, presence, and often require attentiveness to thrive; paint falls short in this respect. I thought of my youth working for my dad in Washington DC, selling flowers on the street corners. All the flowers we sold came from Columbia. I always thought flowers were so beautiful, but a luxury. People buy them for this reason, but behind the beauty lies hard work and a system of indentured servitude—sweat shops to a degree. I sought to explore this, so I put $500 worth of chrysanthemums in soda bottles collected from the trash cans at a local college campus. The bottles get reused but also revalued. Questions of value and perception are a constant theme in what I do.

Fleur #3-Delmarva
2007
Upholstery, period textiles, acquired paintings, steel, light, lino floor tiles, 500 imported Columbian Fiji Mums.
15ft x 20ft


OPP: Tell us about your experience of La Guerra de Acqua (2011/12), in which you carried 80 lbs of water for 12 kilometers through the Italian countryside. What was the impetus for this project?

JMK: In 2011, I was teaching sculpture in Italy. I had been there before as a young traveler and had many strong memories of a place where good food and lifestyle were highly valued. On my 2011 visit, I noticed one particular change. People no longer used glass bottles for water or beverages. Italy was one of the last holdouts of tradition in my eyes , but like America, they had made the switch to easy and disposable plastic. At the same time, it was summer in Tuscany and hot. I had made several local inquiries about swimming in one of the nearby lakes as I did in my native Virginia. I was told that locals don’t swim in lakes; that only the barbarians—like the Germani—do. Being of barbarian, Scottish decent, I relished in being a part of this lower social stratification. I realized that between these two observations a project was present and needed to be explored.

For me, being in tune or in balance with my surroundings is the utmost pursuit. The use of plastic beverage containers has greatly increased in my lifetime and as a result, our waterways have been polluted with plastic BPA polymers. So much so that plastic polymers are now classified as natural because they are found in nearly all our natural bodies of water. So the switch to cheap and easy has had a heavy price. Water is key to all life and should be used and treated with respect. Glass is heavy. It breaks, but it has nearly no negative effect on water’s make up, and the bottles can be reused time and time again if treated with care. Swimming or interfacing physically with nature helps to reinforce our relationship with it. Allowing an outdated, Roman-like mindset of judging outside cultures is ridiculous. Crotona, where I was living, is a mountain top walled Etruscan city 1000 feet above the shores of Lago Trasimeno where the barbarian Hannibal destroyed a Roman army of 80,000 men with 30,000 men and a handful of elephants.

La Guerra de Acqua
2011

OPP: Did you encounter people along the way? What happened when you reached your destination?

JMK: My idea was to go to the lake with 30 reclaimed, plastic water bottles (collected daily from a local restaurant) and a homemade backpack. I filled them with lake water to bring to the residents of Cortona. Since they would not go to the lake themselves, I would bring the lake to them. The 80 pounds of water was attached to a backpack and wired to my body. The goal was to place all the water in a large bowl in the main plaza for locals to dip their feet in. I began a day-long, 12 kilometer journey up a mountain to the town’s main plaza. People who saw me leave earlier that morning and return in the evening asked what I was doing. I responded “I am bringing the lake to the people.” 

It was so physically challenging—I really damaged my body—that just getting back to town with the water was a goal in itself. I believe the use of absurd amounts of labor can create a powerful, statement—romantic, but also sincere. In the end, I liked the fact that the water remained in the reused, 1-liter plastic water bottles that I collected. I displayed them in the local gallery along with a wall of images documenting the journey. I wanted to give value to the lake’s water, the discarded plastic water bottles and the romantic yet defeatist expenditure of labor that linked everything together. I hoped the viewers would come to question the reason for such a journey and see an absurd commitment to nature through sweat and physicality. The whole performance was  gesture to ignite a dialogue or conversation about that which we should regard highly.


Milwaukee Brown
2014

OPP: You’ve done several projects in which you cast outdoor spaces—Milwaukee Brown and Fascimile— to be brought into the gallery. Can you talk about the particular spaces you chose to highlight and recontextualize in the gallery?

JMK: Both projects parallel one another in terms of meaning. I am interested in reality versus illusion and how we as humans often fall back on assumptions for guidance. We grow up in particular habitats. We understand these landscapes through a combination of individual experience and teachings from stories. Most of us have never been down a manhole cover into the sewers that lie beneath, but based off movies, media and books we expect to find a series of concrete tunnels, with a stream of water, trash and the occasional rodent passing through. What if I could play with this presumption or expectation and put another particular landscape where it should not be, using the materials, process and languages associated with this new context?

Facsimile sought to reconstruct within a gallery context a rural Shenandoah deer path using typical construction materials found in interiour architecture like concrete or tiles. But instead of being flat flooring, it undulates in elevation and is a cast deer path from the Virginia countryside where I am from. So it’s half country, half urban (or human). It highlights one distant location—not important to most—by being isolated within the white cube gallery, which has great power in providing an intimate relationship with all that is placed within it.

Milwaukee Brown, still in-progress, attempts to make visible that which is hardly ever noticed, almost completely ignored. The Brownfield—representing urban blight and the causality of industry—is plot of land where no one can build because of industrial hazards once produced there. How can I take that which we do not want to see and make it not only visible, but also beautiful? This questioning of value lies at the heart of my work.

To see more of Morgan's work, please visit justinmorgankennedy.com.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Brent Fogt

Last Leg (2015), Would It Be Nice? (2015) and Edge of One (2015)

BRENT FOGT courts the unknown in an intuitive exploration of materiality, accumulation and, more recently, the tension between organic and designed form. The foundational gesture in his practice is the slow build-up and evolution of marks, evident in tiny, drawn circles, crochet stitches, cut up bits of paper or unique prints of twigs and leaves. In recent sculptures, he adds the marks of urban life (found furniture fragments) and of nature (fallen branches). Brent earned his BFA in Studio Art with Highest Honors from University of Texas at Austin and his MFA from the University of Michigan. His work has been featured in New American Paintings and Art in America and in solo shows at Terrain Exhibitions (Chicago, 2014), Austin College (Sherman, Texas, 2012), Emory University (Atlanta, 2009) and the Lawndale Art Center (Houston, 2009). He has been an Artist-in-Residence at the I-Park Foundation (2015), the Djerassi Resident Artists Program (2014), Yaddo (2013) and the Vermont Studio Center (2009). Brent has recently reviewed Chicago-based exhibitions for New City and Bad at Sports. He lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Is there a difference between the marks you make and the ones you allow to accumulate?

Brent Fogt: In all of my work, I am driven by the question: what would happen if…? I love to experiment with new processes and techniques, and when I think I’ve been repeating myself, I try to complicate the process or come up with a new one.

There is an organic quality to almost all of the work I create, whether I am making the marks or I am using a process that removes my hand from the equation. When I started making rain drawings, I was amazed at how much they looked like my Circle Drawings. By drawing circles over and over I was imitating natural processes.

What I like about work where my hand is more present—whether it is my collages, drawings or sculptures—is the presence of imperfections. A close inspection of my Circle Drawings, for instance, reveals oblong circles, overlapping lines and ink smears. The rectangular pieces of paper I cut for collages are always slightly askew, and my crochet stitches range from too tight to too loose.

Ink on paper
60 in x 96 in
2006

OPP: What’s more important in your practice: yielding to your materials or controlling them?

BF: I probably yield to my materials more than I try to control them. When I begin working, I don’t know how a final piece is going to look. Rather, I take cues from my materials. With my most recent sculptures, for instance, I think a lot about how pieces fit together. I try many combinations until it becomes obvious that, say, the V shape of this branch perfectly complements the curve of another branch.

With many of my rain drawings, I yield completely to them, not adding any extra marks. With others, I am interested in seeing what would happen if I add my own marks or transform them into collages.

The 4th & 5th Great Awakenings, detail (from inside)
Crocheted cotton
2014

OPP: Can you explain the process for your Rain Drawings and how they feed into your shingled collages?

BF: I actually wrote out the instructions for making rain drawings for some friends who were interested in making them.

a) Place some sturdy paper  in the rain (you’ll be handling it when it’s wet so the paper needs some heft).
b) While the paper gets wet, go foraging for leaves, twigs, pine needles (these work really well), grass, bark, anything organic really.
c) spread the organic materials all over the paper.
d) sprinkle ink over the organic materials and the paper. I like to start with diluted ink (the ink doesn’t have to be black; can be any color) in a 10-to-1 water-to-ink ratio.
e)Sprinkle darker ink, a 4-to-1 water-to-ink ratio.
f) Let the paper dry. If you’re outside, leaving the paper in the grass is a good idea, because air will reach the bottom of the paper and aid in drying.
g) Once the paper is completely dry, brush off all the organic materials, and you’re done!

The process is pure joy, because you never know how they are going to turn out. After a while, however, I started wondering how I could combine this process with a secondary process that was more rooted in geometry. I experimented with cutting up the rain drawings into squares and collaging them, but these first efforts seemed to reference pixels and computer screens, which I did not intend. The best solution I found was to cut the rain drawings into rectangular pieces and arrange them according to value, going from darkest in the middle to lightest on the periphery. This strategy maintained a strict geometry, but visually has more in common with weavings than computer screens. And since I placed each rectangle based strictly on value, it took color decisions out of the equation.

Grove
Ink and other liquid media, paper, gel medium
64 in x 36 in
2013

OPP: Speaking of color, it is generally—with a few exceptions—very sparse in your work. How do you make decisions about color in other projects?

BF: Color is tricky for me because I was diagnosed pretty early on in my life with mild color blindness. As a result, I don’t trust that what I see is what others will see. At times, I avoid color altogether. In my early circle drawings, I used black pens on white paper and nothing else. After a couple of years, however, when I was looking to add another variable into the work, I took tentative steps into color, using blue and green pens and some graphite.

One strategy I have is to use “found color.” With my very latest sculptures, for instance, I photographed the floors of the space where I eventually will be showing them, opened up the photos in Photoshop and used the eyedropper tool to figure out how I could mix them. It turned out that I could make one of the colors with four parts yellow, two parts light blue and one part magenta. I made that color and then mixed it with white gesso. A long time ago, I made paintings in a similar way, finding color combinations in magazines that I liked, then figuring out how to mix them. My assumption is that someone with a better color sense than I have made them, so why not try them.

Installation, Emory University, detail
Crocheted candle wicking
2009

OPP: You’ve been using crochet in your practice since 2008. Earlier installations—at Chicago Artist Coalition, at Dominican University and at Terrain—evoke other-worldly hanging plants or hives. They emphasize the capacity of crochet to grow organically as stitches accumulate. More recently in discrete sculptures like Last Leg or SonRisa, the crochet becomes a skin, bandage or clothing, stretched taut to hold found fragments of discarded furniture and fallen branches together. Can you the discuss this shift and the introduction of hard lines and angles into your visual vocabulary, which used to be dominated by circles and organic lines?

BF: The hanging pieces got bigger and bigger over the years  until I started thinking about them less as otherworldly objects and more as potential containers for people. At an exhibition at the A&D Gallery at Columbia College, in fact, I invited people to get inside of them, and many did. My own experience getting inside the pieces was really interesting. I felt a real sense of calm and felt totally safe and protected.

The next step might have been to make the crocheted sculptures even larger so that multiple people could have gotten inside them. I made lots of sketches and thought I was going to move in this direction, but when I started thinking about how to create more sophisticated substructures to support the larger pieces, I changed my mind. The substructures themselves— the bones of the piece— became more intriguing.

Right around that time, I also started collecting discarded furniture. I began cutting up the furniture and combining it with fallen branches to create armatures for sculptures, playing up the tension between the mass-produced, hard-edged pieces that I was finding and the more organic shapes of the branches. The pieces you mentioned, Last Leg and SonRisa, are two of about five works in this category. As with the earlier, more organic work, I still relied on crochet as a skin to cover the bones or substructure.

The work I have underway in my studio right now represents another shift. I am leaving much more of the bones uncovered, but I am strategically crocheting or wrapping the places where the bones connect as if I were symbolically healing or repairing the sculptures.

The pieces are becoming increasingly vulnerable. They began as fully formed hives, homes, nests and have evolved into sculptures that are increasingly fragmentary, tenuous and fragile.

To see more of Brent's work, please visit brentfogt.com.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Kyle Herrington

Directions to Nowhere
Mixed media
2012

KYLE HERRINGTON creates humorously profound sculptures, cut-paper works and text-based paintings. Using the vastness of space as a symbolic background for more quotidian psychological and emotional unknowns, he explores the drama and anxiety of being an average human on planet earth in the Digital Age. Kyle graduated from Ball State University in 2006 with a BFA in Painting. He was the 2012  Artist-In-Residence at the Indiana State Museum. Recent solo exhibitions in Indianapolis include The Worst Person in the World (2014) at General Public Collective, Catcalls (2013) at the Indianapolis Center and Backyard Phenomena (2013) at Harrison Center for the Arts. He is currently developing a new series of work which he hopes to exhibit in Fall 2016. Kyle lives in Indianapolis, where he is the Director of Exhibitions at the Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You work in a variety of media: sculpture, painting, cut paper text and installation. Can you give us a brief history of your life as an artist? Have you always been so interdisciplinary?

Kyle Herrington: Growing up as a teenager, I always saw myself as a painter. I was a big TV kid, and it always seemed like every artist on television was depicted as this serious brooding painter. I went to college at Ball State University for a degree in painting, but I was very lucky that my mentor there encouraged me to work very experimentally and across disciplines. I often found myself skirting the line between sculpture and painting but always landed on the side of painting. It wasn’t until I was out of college that I found myself setting up these complicated still-lives for paintings in my studio and something clicked. I realized that instead of painting these vignettes, maybe I should just let the set-ups be sculptures. That was an important and defining realization.

I’m also a very impatient artist. I work between media and on several pieces at the same time; I like being able to switch gears if I am stumped or frustrated by a certain piece. The pieces can inform each other, have a dialogue, and mature at the same time. Sometimes a breakthrough in a sculpture can lead to a run of resolutions in a painting series or vice versa. Plus, the curator in me really likes to see different mediums living in the same space together.

Skanky Behavior
Mixed media on wood
2015

OPP: Have you always worked so extensively with text?

KH: It was around that same time that the text really started creeping into the work. I was struggling to explore ideas through images and symbols without being overt. At a certain point, I just said screw it and found it was easier to write what I was thinking about directly on the canvas. This was a huge step in finding freedom for myself as an artist. Suddenly I didn’t have to mask or disguise or romanticize what I was trying to explore. Instead I just blatantly put it out there, which also made the work a little easier for the viewer. I found this allowed me to get much more playful with the work and have more fun making it.

The End of Leisure
Mixed media
2012

OPP: I read several articles that refer to your anxieties about turning 30 as a major inspiration for your 2013 show Backyard Phenomena at Harrison Center for the Arts in Indianapolis. The End of Leisure (2012) and Party Killer (2013), for example, are sculptural tableaux that capture the aftermath of fallen meteors on scenes of leisure. I remember when impending adulthood was overwhelming. But now, you are three years older. Have you realized yet that the 30s are WAAAAAAY better than the 20s?

KH: Oh definitely! A lot of that work was a response to the reactions happening around me by my peers and colleagues about aging—I was always very ready to leave my twenties behind. A big influence of that body of work was disaster movies and these images of hoards of people running around completely falling apart and going ballistic. I felt this weird sense of calm isolation at the time while simultaneously witnessing people I went to high school with freak out about turning thirty on social media. At times it felt a bit like the movie Airplane!—completely nonsensical. So, I l decided to indulge the idea and experience of  the melodrama, and I ended up finding a bit of my own anxieties somewhere in the mix.

Three years later, I still find the whole idea relevant, especially the social media/hysterics/sensationalism thing. In a really schadenfreude way I secretly love it when Facebook or Twitter blows up into dramatics over any given thing going on in pop culture. It’s such a disgusting and simultaneously enlightening, entertaining shit show about the human condition in the 21st century. It’s less about aging itself now and more about the fact that people don’t really outgrow these insane, unfiltered sensational attitudes. It’s a really magnified focus onto someone’s character and motivations when they’re so unapologetically dramatic. Sometimes it can be over a legitimate political or human-rights stance, but just as often it’s about something trivial like a celebrity or TV commercial. Those are the nuggets of insanity that I’m drawn to: people evangelizing and going into hysterics about a paper towel ad. To me, that’s absolute gold.

Gay Club
Mixed media on canvas
2015

OPP: Works like Gay Club (2015), Send Nudes (2012) and Motivational Poster #1 (2012), seem to be about another anxiety associated with getting older. . . the insecurities of dating or hooking up in the Digital Age. Could you talk about the recurring vastness of space as the backdrop in these text-based paintings?

KH: Space has become an increasingly loaded symbol for me. It stands in for isolation, frustration, confusion, feeling lost. I never really dated when I was younger so once I started doing so in my 30s it became incredibly overwhelming at times. I joined a lot of dating websites and most times it felt like I was just speaking into these vast voids and hoping something stuck. A lot of those pieces are influenced by that. The whole process of online dating became more and more frustrating, but also more comical.

Spiderweb 3
Handcut grocery circular
2012

OPP: I’m particularly taken with your hand-cut spiderwebs from 2012. They are quite distinct from everything else you do, but some of your text-based works—Another Woman (2015) and Pizza (2015)—are also hand-cut. Can you contextualize the webs for us and talk about why you choose to create text out of negative space?

KH: The webs came from this strange compulsion I have for collecting grocery circulars. They’re pretty common litter and junk mail in Indiana and I would imagine in most suburbs. There’s something very Midwestern about them that I love. I had this ongoing collection of them and one day made the connection between this ubiquitous material and weeds or spiderwebs. Cutting them out with an X-acto knife became a very therapeutic and meditative thing for me, and they’re a nice break from the paintings and sculptures.  I also work a lot on paper so the cut-outs organically carried into those pieces with the Maury show titles. I loved the graphic qualities of those TV show titles, and I wanted to recreate that feeling and not just do handwritten text in those.

OPP: Wow! I didn’t realize those titles came from Maury! But now that you say that, I see more drama in the text that relates to that social media hysteria you mentioned. What are some other sources for text in your work? Is all the language appropriated?

KH: A lot of the phrases or text I use are things I hear in the real world or on television. I keep a sketchbook full of quotes, phrases and pieces of conversations I overhear and pull from them often when I'm trying to resolve a piece. Sometimes they are directly appropriated, but other times they are mash-ups or edited versions in my own wording for better flow. I find myself really drawn to the ritual of people putting on airs or puffing themselves up. It’s this bizarre sense of extroverted or manufactured confidence that I'm pretty mesmerized by. Reality TV and talks show are a great source for this type of hyper-dramatic self-esteem. Also gay bars. I get a lot of ideas for paintings there. As gay men, I sometimes wonder if we have this ingrained flair for the dramatic. Then you add alcohol and you get the biggest display of theatrics. It’s campy and over-the-top, and I just eat it all up with a spoon. I owe a lot of my paintings to my time in gay bars.

Pizza
Mixed media on hand-cut paper
2015

OPP: What role does humor play in your work?

KH: I told somebody years ago that I liked to use humor as a nasty trick to get people engaged in my work. I felt dirty for a long time about making humorous work. I think it’s very common for artists, and especially painters, to feel pressured into holding this kind of academic reverence for what they’re making. When I first got out of school, I was making these large, very academic paintings that I was trying to show around town and I was really bored by most of them. And then I was making these little wacky funny studies in secret and I was way more interested in those. It wasn’t until I stopped looking at humor as a gimmick and as more of a conduit into serious issues that I felt like I could really pull the trigger on changing directions in my work.

Humor serves as an entry point into topics people may not otherwise talk about; it eases people into an otherwise difficult mindset. A lot of my work deals with anxiety, depression and awkwardness, but the veil of humor makes those topics more comfortable and palatable in order to spark dialogue. I saw the Wayne White documentary Beauty is Embarrassing a few years ago, and I wrote down something he said in one of my sketchbooks: “I'm often as frustrated at the world as most people are. But I think frustration is hilarious. One of my missions is to bring humor into fine art. It's sacred.” I just love that.

To see more of Kyle's work, please visit kyleaherrington.com.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Inna Babaeva

Good Morning
2015
Bathroom appliances, mirror, towel, insulating foam, paint

Sculptor INNA BABAEVA explores absurdity, commodity and value systems. She renders mass-produced home furnishings—chairs, hangers and picture frames—non-functional by adding amorphous, hyper-colored blobs created from expanding foam. The resulting sculptures are then placed back into the site where they were first purchased. Inna earned her BFA from Florida Atlantic University and her MFA from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. In 2015, her work was exhibited in Overripe at Trestle Projects (Brooklyn), De Colores at Buggy Factory (Brooklyn) and Family Ties at 500X Gallery (Dallas). In 2006, she was awarded a Joan Mitchell Foundation scholarship and has been an Artist-in-Residence at Atlantic Center for the Arts (2006) and Sharpe-Walentas Studio Program (2014). Inna lives and works in New York City.

OtherPeoplesPixels: When did you first begin to work with insulating foam?
 
Inna Babaeva: I started working with insulating foam about five years ago. I came upon using this material by chance. I was creating a site-specific installation where 400 hollow silver balls were floating in the water at a local park on the East River. To keep the balls from sinking, I filled them with this expandable foam, which is light and waterproof. I rejected a few balls for the installation because they overflowed with the foam but the shapes formed by the expanded matter looked very intriguing. It has been included in my material inventory since then. 

OPP: What do you love about the material? What are the challenges?

IB: The foam possesses a very non-conformist, almost volatile energy that fascinates me. Working with it is like having a contest. It changes volume and responds to gravity in unforeseeable manner. I have to respect and control its behavior simultaneously. It expands, often in unpredictable directions and then hardens suddenly into wacky and often provocative configurations. It is very time sensitive process since the amount of released foam and the length of time before applying the next layer are very important. It usually takes a few weeks to finish the foam part so I work on several pieces simultaneously.

Intro
2014
Mixed media

OPP: In many ways your sculpture is minimal, discrete. But your palate is not. Tell us about what you love about color and how it operates in your work.

IB: I have been fascinated with examples of modern design and architecture for a long time. I was probably twelve years old when I stumbled onto a book about Alvar Aalto. It made a very big impact on my future artistic preferences. The modernist sensibility has been always present in my work.

Color came to my work after I moved to New York City. Maybe it was an antidote to the predominantly monochromatic, slate cityscape. Or maybe it was the many hours that I spent on Canal Street searching for materials for my sculptures. Canal Street has all these industrial goods stores with plastic, metal, rubber and an enormous number of tiny shops with low grade, mass-produced accessories like sunglasses, umbrellas and hats. There is a deluge of color there, and it was irresistible.

I started using spray paints in my sculptures. It is the most exciting part of their completion, but I don’t rush into painting. I like to live with the foam forms before I know what shades they should be. It always surprises me how the shapes transform after being spray-painted and how they come to their “trippy” existence.

IKEA Invasion
2015

OPP: Was IKEA Invasion always part of the plan for your sculptures of insulation foam overtaking or sprouting from home decor objects like clocks, picture frames and lighting fixtures? Or was the intervention an idea that came after making the sculptures?

IB: About a year ago, while shopping for some household items at IKEA, I realized that almost every object there was a great beginning for a sculpture. I started buying these items—clocks, chairs, mirrors, shelves, rugs, picture frames and coat hangers—and turning them into sculptures. As I made more and more, I began to think about how an inexpensive household object augmented into a work of art steps into the different value system. Its value is increased. But what if the artwork is returned to the store location? What would happen to its value? I thought it would be a reversed Duchampian gesture to display the sculptures back in IKEA, in their original setting. During a studio visit I shared my thoughts with my friend. He said, “Why don’t you just do it guerrilla style?” So I did.

IKEA Invasion
2015

OPP: Tell us about the experience of getting the work back into IKEA. Did you stay to watch shoppers interact with your work? Did anyone try to buy it?

IB: IKEA Invasion is an ongoing project, a contemplation on the value of artistic production and how much it depends on the context of its presentation. The first time that I brought my sculptures to the store, I was a bit nervous. I rolled them, anxiously, to the show room in a shopping cart. To my surprise, no one seemed to pay any attention to me putting the sculptures on display. I spent about an hour installing, photographing and observing people’s reactions to the intervention, but everybody was just going about shopping. Only one customer seemed to be interested in my chair sculptures. “Are those for sale or just for display?” she asked a clerk passing by, who just indifferently shrugged his shoulders. He was in a rush to straighten out the showroom before the store was closed. As the announcement sounded that, “the store is now closing,” I packed my sculptures back onto the shopping cart and proceeded to the exit. It was a challenge to pass by checkout employees on the way out and explain what was in my cart and why I don’t have a receipt for any of it. Somehow, my reasoning was accepted and I got through it ok. My next installment of the IKEA Invasion may take more preparation and some legal permits, as I would like to proceed with a video documentation.

Did you ever pet a lion?
2015

OPP: Another staple material in your work is plexiglass as a substrate for painted marks, as in your series Backstories (2015).  Will you talk about my favorite piece from this series, Did You Ever Pet a Lion? I read the plexiglass paintings as campfires. What purpose do the electrical cords serve?
 
IB: Transparent Plexiglass is such a great invention. I love working with it, since it allows me to create some illusory effects. Images that are printed on a flat surface can exist in three-dimensional space. In Take a Chance, transparent plexiglass allowed me to tease the viewer with not only spatial dimensions but also with the chronology of a feathers' fall.

Did you ever pet a lion?  was born as a result of the convergence of two things that I love to do: watching ocean waters and watching a bonfire. Why can’t I look at both at the same time? I printed the images of ocean water on fabric and made pillow covers from it. Pillows are an emblem of domestic comfort for me. I printed images of bonfires on Plexiglas and attached them to pillows. The thought was to create the illusion of the fire emanating from the ocean. I attached electrical cords as a source of ignition to keep an abiding fire.  It sounds preposterous, but absurdity was always an essential theme of my work.

To see more of Inna's work, please visit innababaeva.com.

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


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Kalena Patton

Inflatable rubber ball, rock, chairs
2015

KALENA PATTON's carefully balances bowling balls on columns of crystal goblets, hammer heads inside porcelain teacups and workout weights on tiny, decorative vases. Her precarious arrangements of found objects hint at the profound strength of the delicate support objects, poetically drawing together physics and Feminist theory. Kalena earned her BFA (2007) from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and her MFA (2012) from Parsons, The New School for Design in New York. In the Fall and Winter of 2015, she was an Artist-in-Residence at Oxbow School of Art (Saugatuck, Michigan). In August 2015 she co-facilitated a workshop with Historian Athena Eliades at the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association’s Annual Conference in Sacramento. Titled Unsilencing Femicide in Ciudad Juárez: History and Art Making, the workshop explored art-making as a medium for understanding social injustices and gender perspectives. Kalena lives in Brooklyn, where she also works as a floral designer.

OtherPeoplesPixels: From your statement: “Loosely informed by physics, feminism, and my experience living in Las Vegas as a young woman, my practice is an ongoing exploration of the process of becoming by creating systems of objects “on the verge” while simultaneously referencing their past and anticipating the present.” Will you expand on the relationship between physics and feminism in your work?

Kalena Patton: The major link between feminism and physics is essentially the relationship between discourse and matter. I admire the writing of the physicist and philosopher Karen Barad, who suggests that discourse and matter are both part of the phenomena of becoming, setting boundaries and limitations, and, conversely, creating possibilities.

From beginning to end, I want my entire process of making and its components—objects, space, discourse, myself and audience—to embody a state of possibilities, the limitless idea of becoming, which I also relate to a feminist and agential realist perspective of understanding the world.  The intra-active relationships I develop in my sculptures are a way to question and challenge boundaries, established knowledge, and notions of the world that are helplessly mediated and hierarchical—allowing for a way to move forward from imbalanced power and value systems.

Of Course I Love You, That's Not the Question
Chair, cinder blocks, ratchet strap
2012

OPP: Do you think of your work as emotional metaphors?

KP: My work is coming from the culmination of my conceptual interests, emotional experiences, and unexpected variables in the process of making. I see the emotional layer as a point of access to lead to greater contextual inquisitiveness and consideration.

OPP: Frozen in photographs (as I experience them online), your sculptural arrangements are always “on the verge” of falling over or breaking, but they never do. The potential is forever there, and there is a certainty that they will never fall. They are forever in balance. Are balance and precariousness in essence the same thing?

KP: My experience of making is as much the art as the objects or photographs, even if I am the only person that experiences it, and in this process, I see the precariousness as a shed layer of the balance I seek in the process of making.

The precariousness in my work is what also brings awareness to the balance. I view them as different ways to understand time within the same system. Anything that is in equilibrium is not going to stay that way forever, which makes it vulnerable to imbalance and brings about a concern for when and how that shift will occur. Yet, for every shift in what may seem like an ideal balance comes the opportunity for a new state and new possibilities.

May Ate, I Will Wait (Home Series)
2011

OPP: Do you exhibit photographs of the work in the section On Site? Or are these only available to those that encountered them in the world and on your website?

KP: I exhibit photographs of my site specific works, as well as exhibit site specific pieces themselves for people to encounter (if it is safe). When viewing the sculptures in person, there is a visceral response and a tension between the viewer and the sculpture. The viewer becomes part of the work and his/her agency can affect the entire system and vice versa. In viewing photographs of the work, this anxiety and excitement is suggested, but the actual danger or fear is removed. Yet, the photographs allow access to this particular time and space that would otherwise not be accessible. The sculpture arrives in a state of stasis,  never falling, held in a quiet moment filled with its own paradox.

No, It’s Fine
Site-specific sculpture including ice, fern, cinder blocks
2014

OPP: How do you pick your materials? How do you conceive of a piece?

KP: Most of my works begin with a curiosity and awe of a specific object or space. Once I have a place or object in mind, I will go on walks with the intention of just observing the relationships of everything I see. From this I usually find something that inspires my experimentation.

With a tendency to over-analyze and fall into the tediousness of making art, I have found that my most successful works have been made with a sense of humor and self-imposed urgency. When I approach my making as a mischievous and playful act, there is a sincerity, ease and conciseness that emerges in the work—one that is often more diluted in my more premeditated pieces.

Untitled (Bowling)
Bowling ball, wine glasses, 2 mirrors
2015

OPP: You must have had some failures in terms of physics. Will you share an anecdote or two about sculptures that failed or sculptures that were extremely frustrating to execute?

KP: Absolutely! I balanced a large sheet of glass on the pointed tip of a small boulder, which in itself was impressive, I must say. I really wanted to balance a bowling ball on top of that balanced sheet of glass. I spent many hours squatting next to it, with one hand on the ball and one hand on the glass. I worked on this for days. It was extremely frustrating at first, but became very meditative and more about my experience rather than an end goal. I never did get it to balance. And I broke the glass when I was cleaning up the materials at the end of a long day.

For another piece, I was collecting large glass vases of various shapes and stacking them on top of each other to create columns.  I managed to balance them to about my own height quite a few times, as I could not leave them stacked in the studio in case footsteps nearby shook the floor. I finally stacked them to about 8 feet, which took a long time and was so quietly stressful. When I left to get my camera, I heard a massive shatter. All of the vases were broken.

Sometimes I experience relief when everything falls apart. At times I feel like I am wrestling with their desires. It can be satisfying to let them go.

To see more of Kalena's work, please visit kalenapatton.com.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Hector Madera

2015

HECTOR MADERA expertly wields colored masking tape and photo backdrop paper, creating a dizzying environment of pattern and aggressively bright colors. His masked portraiture, abject sculpture, neon banners and screen-printed pillows surround the viewer in installations that portray a frantically-fluctuating, unstable rush of emotions. Hector earned his BFA from Escuela de Artes Plásticas (San Juan, Puerto Rico) in 2004 and his MFA from Brooklyn College CUNY in 2011. His solo exhibitions include el pah-­‐pay-­‐lone (2011) at Metro: Plataforma Organizada and Papo Tiza & Co (2012) at Roberto Paradise, both in San Juan, and, most recently, Shameful acts, disgraceful episodes, grandiose moments, insignificant achievements and everything in between (2015) at Espacio 20/20 in Santurce, Puerto Rico. In 2016, his work will be included in group shows at the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture in Chicago and Brian Morris Gallery in New York and a solo show opening in May at KB Espacio para la cultura in Bogota, Colombia. Hector lives and works in New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Pattern and color has always been a significant part of your practice, but you really amped that up to 11 in your most recent solo show, Shameful acts, disgraceful episodes, grandiose moments, insignificant achievements and everything in between (2015) at Espacio 20/20 in Santurce, Puerto Rico. Why is the intensity of saturated color so important in this body of work? How does it relate to the title?
 
Hector Madera: For Shameful acts, disgraceful episodes, grandiose moments, insignificant achievements and everything in between, I created a body of work that illustrated my mental state at a particular moment in my career. Through the employment bold and colorful images, I wanted to achieve an environment where feelings of sadness, tension, anxiety, disorder, euphoria and happiness—just to mention a few—were all tangled up, creating a disparate and muddled celebration of the ups and downs of the everyday life.

2015

OPP: I can certainly see that in the framed smiley/frowny faces. Could you talk about the floor-installed works? I’m particularly interested in what looks to be balls of discarded patterned duct tape and the imagery on the pillows.

HM: These crumbled artworks in a way are rooted in two words inflao and desinflao, Spanish slang for inflated-deflated. An old friend uses these terms frequently to describe the feeling of being happy, excited, fulfilled or frustrated, down, empty. I inflate balloons that then are covered with layers of tape and ultimately with thick layers of clear acrylic. I make tiny holes with a pointy object so that the air comes out slowly. As the air releases, the acrylic hardens, preserving the final crumbled shape. When developing these artworks, I think about extracting the good out of bad situations. In many ways, it is an attempt to transform a discarded object or gesture that represents frustration or failure into something beautiful, something grand.

The imagery used for the soft sculptures is a combination of bold graphics and colors mixed with strippers with voluptuous bodies in sensual positions and digital drawings in where I recreate psychedelic-hallucinatory-euphoric effects. These sculptures are closely linked to the strange comfort found in deliriously indulgent moments.

2015

OPP: When did photo backdrop paper and colored tape first enter your practice? Why do these materials continue to be compelling to you after all these years?

HM: I was already working with masking tape as a way to join single papers together to create a bigger support to work with. Then, during my MFA years at Brooklyn College, I decided to replace paint with colored tape. Backdrop paper showed up a bit later when I first saw the material in a thrift shop. I was very interested in its color intensity and matte finish. The paper is sturdy, acid free and fadeless. So, conservation-wise, it made complete sense to incorporate it into my practice. I first used it to create sphere-like, crumpled paper sculptures that represented discarded ideas. Now these paper backdrops have become the support of my large-scale mixed media collages.
 
It is my intention to create compelling works of art in which the presence of paper is part of the strength of the work. They say we are living in a more and more paperless society. I like to think that I am defying the perception that paper is becoming obsolete.

Salvador 2012
Colored tape, carton sealing tape on c-print
48 x 64"

OPP: What role does masking play in your practice in general? Can you also talk specifically about masked portraits like Salvador 2012, untitled 2012 (Rene) and Willem 2012?
 
HM: On a trip to Paris I was wandering around the Marche Aux Puces de Saint Ouen when I saw this book filled with close up portraits of 20th century masters, Picasso, Matisse, Serra etc. I bought it without hesitation for only one euro! A little later I decided to pay a double homage. First I selected the portraits of all the artists whom I had studied at some point. Then I covered the portraits with a mask design inspired by Los Super Medicos, my favorite tag team wrestlers when I was young.

In the masked portraits you mentioned above and in my overall practice the act of masking is equivalent to the act of painting. Through the luchador mask, I explore the themes of hiding, filtering and diffusing in order to have the opportunity to become something else. The wrestler character works as a great analogy for the life of an artist. He is in a constant struggle for survival, he can rally from behind to be victorious or simply end up beaten on the mat.

Bust of Emanuel Augustus (Collaboration with Jose Lerma)
Photographic backdrop paper
Variable
2013

OPP: You've collaborated with Jose Lerma on various monumental busts made from photo backdrop paper. How did the collaboration come about? How did it influence your solo work?

HM: The collaboration with José started in a very casual way. We are very good friends and when I moved to New York he was one of the first people I called. Since then, we were always hanging out, and he became my mentor. I guess he liked the sculptures that I was making with backdrop paper, and one night we started talking about making bigger things with the material and technique. We decided to collaborate for a works-on-paper show in Chicago. That’s when we collaborated on the Bust of John Law. This triggered all the collaborations we have done.
 
José's unique vision, mentorship and friendship has been very important in my formation as an artist. We share common interests, which influenced my practice and made our collaboration an effortless one.

Beau ca. 1610
Holographic tape, colored cardboard and acrylic on paper
22" x 30"
2013

OPP: Could you talk about your combination of cartoony vampire teeth and Elizabethan-era ruffled collars in pieces like Papo ca. 1586, Mike ca. 1628 and el primo ca. 1689 (all 2013)?

HM: These characters are based in real people whom I've met over the years and who, for one reason or the other, don't live life as everybody else. They are unique people with unique stories. I have used them in many different artworks before. In this particular series, I wanted to pay homage to these everyday characters by creating faceless portraits with ruff necks. I am interested in the effect the ruff neck creates of holding the head up high in a very proud and lordly-style pose. The teeth are inspired in my fascination for vampires and eternal life. In these works, I’m creating busts or portraits of everyday people, "unimportant people," the ones with "minor histories.”

OPP: As you answer these questions, the theme of the underdog is emerging and now I see it both in your image and material choices. Do you relate to the archetype of the Underdog?

HM: Totally. I relate to the underdog. In sports, I always end up rooting for the team, boxer or player that is labeled as the unlikely winner. My upbringing has a lot to do with this, and I believe that limitations force you to be creative. You're forced to try things you would otherwise never have attempted. . . not only in art, but in life itself.

To see more of Hector's work, please visit hectormadera.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). Stacia will create a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show opening at The Ukrainian Museum of Modern Art on February 5, 2016.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Caitlin T. McCormack

Night Glaive
2015
Photo credit: Jason Chen

CAITLIN T. McCORMACK draws connections between discarded and inherited lace remnants and the remains of baby birds, lizards and small rodents in her stiffened cotton, crochet skeletons. Her textile bones read as Wunderkammer relics thanks to the black shadow boxes and antique museum vitrines in which they are displayed. Caitlin earned her BFA in Illustration, with honors from University of the Arts, Philadelphia in 2010. In 2015, Caitlin's 2015 exhibitions included three-person show Exquisite Echoes at Gray Gallery, collaborative installation Ex Silentio at The Art Department and solo show Mnemosyne at Paradigm Gallery + Studio. She has an upcoming show with bone-carver Jason Borders at Antler Gallery (Portland, OR) in March 2016, a solo exhibit at La Luz de Jesus (Los Angeles) in June 2016 and a two-person show with Philadelphia artist Sabrina Small at The Mütter Museum's Thomson Hall Gallery (Philadelphia) in January 2017. Caitlin lives and works in Philadelphia.

OtherPeoplesPixels: When did you first learn to crochet? When did it first enter your art practice?

Caitlin T. McCormack: My grandmother was a very talented crocheter; she taught me the basics of the craft. She was actually a bit of a hard-ass, for which I'm grateful. Both of my grandparents passed away very close to one another right after I graduated from college. I inherited a large quantity of cotton thread that my grandmother and her sisters had once used to crochet all sorts of things. Crocheting initially proved to be a mindless, repetitive method of dealing with grief. I eventually found that producing excessively knot-addled, over-stitched bits and pieces allowed me to generate material with more volume than, say, a doily. My grandfather was also a skilled bird-carver, so in an attempt to create a tribute to and a synthesis of my grandparents' very separate creations, I tried to construct what evolved into the brittle, fibrous innards of a wooden bird.

Inevitable Canyon
2015

OPP: Many of your stiffened crochet skeletons are recognizable as baby birds, lizards and small rodents, but some are less mundane and more monstrous, like Night Glaive (2015) or Ianuaria (2013). Are these imagined creatures or based on actual skeletons?

CTM: I tend to base my skeletons off of animals that are indigenous to the East Coast, where I'm from—squirrels, deer, foxes, finches, and a variety of domestic animals. My memories tend to center around specific animals that were present during an incident, i.e. the cat that was at the party when this happened, or the squirrel that was sitting on the windowsill when that happened. I grew up in the woods, so animals have always been very important to me and carry kind of a totemic significance. My process involves deviating from a skeleton's authentic form, though, so once I've begun working off of a sketch that has been totally warped by my visual biases, it's hard to say what's going to happen. Sometimes what I produce is so distant from my initial intention that it feels right to incorporate additional, grotesque elements into the structure.

Slicer
2015

OPP: Lacewilds (2014) and Bound as it Were (2015) combine found textiles with your crocheted cotton string. How do you think about the connection between antique textiles and skeletons?

CTM: When I'm working on pieces in that vein, I like to imagine that a garment has disintegrated and reformed itself in the image of a tenacious animal's remains. It has a lot to do with the persistence and transmutation of memory and how innate the significance of cloth and thread can be in a person's life. I began hunting for found remnants from garage sales and flea markets in an attempt to introduce imagined histories into my work. I enjoy speculating about the possible origins of the scraps, how their undisclosed narratives might compliment or even conflict with my own experiences, and the various ancestral bonds that might still linger in the material.

The Mesmerist's Daughters
Mixed media
2013

OPP: Tell us about the work in your website section Illustration. Why do you refer to this work as 3D illustration instead of photography? Are these commissioned works?

CTM: I began working on those images during my time at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, where I majored in Illustration, and used that method to produce my thesis. I think I latched onto the term "3-D Illustration" because it allowed me to indulge in my desire to convey narratives and accompany text with tangible, hand-constructed elements. Using imagery from dreams as inspiration, the works are usually created just for fun. They are occasionally displayed as prints alongside their sculptural subjects. I'm also in the process of creating illustrations for a narrative written by Philadelphia poet, Chris McCreary.

Widdendream
2015

OPP: Could you talk about display in your recent solo show Mnemosyne at Paradigm Gallery in Philadelphia?

CTM: Mnemosyne was comprised of pieces evocative of taxonomical specimens, in addition to works involving found textiles, antique frames and pieces of furniture with sculptures hidden in drawers. With this body of work, I tried to provide a sense of unraveling domesticity, a familiar space that has grown foreign with the passing of time. I intended for this show to be the second installment in a cycle of three exhibits, tracing the way a memory can become warped as it deviates from its authentic, incidental roots and becomes an unrecognizable artifact of a nearly forgotten experience.

To see more of Caitlin's work, please visit caitlintmccormack.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL).

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Rebecca Potts

Radiant Color Chart, Softened
Acrylic on wood, resin adhesive, cow hide
48 x 30 x 18"

Informed by her research into metaphysical philosophy, REBECCA POTTS explores the transmutation of matter and energy as manifested in sculpture and painting. Her angular, wooden sculptures evoke webs, dome-like architecture, stained-glass windows. Most often radiating from a central point, they are portals, focus points for the attention and energy of the viewer. Rebecca earned her BFA (1998) from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro and went on to earn her MFA (2002) from Cranbrook Art Academy in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. She attended Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 2003. She has exhibited primarily in New York, including Working Artists (2015) at Academic Gallery, Abraxas at Temporary Agency (2014), Upfront at Feature Inc (2011) and New York 2111 (2011) and Scattered Logic (2009) and at The Texas Firehouse. Rebecca lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels:You make primarily wall-hung sculptures, although there are exceptions to this rule—Sandal and Matador from 2010, The Wise Will Have Passage and Casual Proximity from 2008, to name just a few. Could you talk about the wall as a space for sculpture? What draws you there more often than to the floor?

Rebecca Potts: Wall-based sculpture has more of a seductive energy; it draws you towards it. Whereas free-standing work—that you might trip over—has a bit more of a masculine, declarative energy. The fact that less than a 360 degree view is presented is also intriguing. Why? Is it holding something back, does it have secrets, is it trying to behave like a painting? The works from 2014 and 2015 are quite fragile and line based, dealing with machinations on energy and space personified. Mounting them on the wall is semi-protective, but also ensures that the encounter by the viewer happens at eye level, allowing for a projection of the self into the work.

Flamenca
Acrylic, paper mache, wood, fabric
21.5" x 21" x 12"
2011

OPP: Before 2013, you were using more found materials in your work—fabric, pieces of jewelry, sequins, corks and a glass eye—as well as plaster and clay. Since 2014, it appears that you are working exclusively with wood and paint. Earlier work seems more bodily with lots of gloppy textures, fabric folds and curved lines, while newer work feels more architectural with straight lines, angles and hard edges. Was this a conscious shift? How has this evolved over time?

RP: Found and scrap materials have always been attractive to me. I collected the corks for The Wise Will Have Passage (2008) while working in a restaurant. Sometimes I encounter things on the walk to my studio, as in Bigger There (2013). Broken pieces of jewelry or worn out clothes might find their way into sculptures, as in the belt used in Chicken Skin (2011) or the material in (E)West (2011). Working with found or accumulated materials is rich in possibilities for additive practices. It is how I innately approach art making, and is a very improvisational and reactive process. It’s a very animistic way of working. As I am creating, there is some direction from the work itself.

The shift occurred as a result of a desire to look beneath surface as my primary focus and define space in a more subtle, energetic way. The work from 2014-15 still uses that method of using units and accumulation, but employs the most basic unit: the line. I am interested in defining space that is at once structured and permeable—the cell wall, for example—or describing radiation physically. The shadows cast by these pieces both push them out and away from the wall as well as accentuate their materiality. 

The Net of Light's Origin
Acrylic on wood, resin adhesive, monofilament
26 x 28 x 17"
2014

OPP: The forms of your most recent sculptures (2014-2015) evoke a multiplicity of images: stained glass windows, shields, talismans, spider webs. The forms radiate from a central point, sometimes concave and sometimes convex. How do these forms relate to your interest in energetic transmutation?

RP: The radiant form is associated with many ideas, from the big bang to human auras to descriptions of heat or light. Heat and light are difficult to sculpt, but may be suggested, and a number of the evocations you bring up are three dimensional objects that exist primarily in a language of line. Transmutation is a transformation of material or element into another state or form. This body of work explores transformation in several ways: of energy into vector, vector into line, line into delineator of spatial boundary and skeletal structure into architecture. The same thing happens as the form casts its shadow, transforming back into something intangible but still visible. The concave versus convex aspects close off or open up the ends of the work, similar to a closed versus open circuit. Many of these pieces, such as both Radiation Gray/Gold and Radiation Yellow/Gray have central hanging elements that spin in accordance with the currents in the room, a transformation of motion occurring as a physical demonstration of time.

Solar Wedding Basket
Acrylic on wood, resin adhesive, cork, twine
26 x 30 x 5"
2015

OPP: One could view your work through a purely formal, material, or aesthetic lens. But your statement—and the links you include on your website—makes it clear that you view your work through a spiritual lens. . . something which the contemporary art world is slightly uncomfortable with, but curious about. How has your spiritually-driven work been received?

RP: I would say it works on all these levels, but would use the word metaphysical over spiritual. Metaphysics is a philosophical investigation of that which is beyond sense perception whereas spiritual speaks more to an experiential self-exploration. For the current series of work, studying the Medicine Wheel has been formally and conceptually important. It uses the four directions to correspond to various elemental, animal, human, earth and cosmic states. Through these associations one can describe existence, tell the story of time and creation, as well as achieve personal growth. It is a simple coded system loaded with symbolic information: lines, circles, spirals, vectors and colors that become increasingly complex as one's understanding of their corresponding connections deepens. This system is used in many cultures worldwide with slight variations. Another influential source was Jack Schwarz's book, Human Energy Systems, for what the form of energy might look like. Similarly Bernini's treatment of The Holy Spirit as not only beams of light but spears of gold in The Ecstasy of St. Theresa informed my ideas about representing light and energy in dimensional form. I don't see the work as dependent on these sources, though. I've had very positive response to this body of work, with and without commentary.

Untitled 2012-13
2013

OPP: Here's a slightly strange, practical question. . . there's another Rebecca Potts, who is an artist. Her work is very different from yours, and her website pops up when I google your name. Have people ever confused the two of you in a professional context? Any advice for other artists with the same problem?

RP: I am aware of her and I'm sure she is aware of me, though our paths have not yet crossed. We have never been confused in a professional context that I know of. I would say that duplicate names in professions are not unheard of, and as far as advice would go, I would say it is a very individual choice in how one approaches it. I know people who have changed their names to deal with this very problem, and at least one other person who has not. I think Rebecca Potts just sounds like a sculptor's name, right?

OPP: If I were to walk into your studio right now, what would I see?

RP: You would see a lot of things in progress. I tend to work on anywhere from three to five things at once, so as not to be slowed down by paint or glue needing to dry. It also helps me to work on an idea in more than one way, to see what works. Sometimes I come up with something on the fly that I want to try, and that becomes its own thing. The new pieces as a whole are more trapezoidal in nature than the works discussed above, although they still have the four directional points represented. They also are beginning to fill in a bit more with solid fields on the inner and outer planes. Though they are not finished, I am moving towards reincorporating some materials (fabric and grill cloth) that I have used before. I seem to be circling back to some previous ideas, while still remaining conceptually in the same world. It's a spiral progression, rather than a linear one!

To see more of Rebecca's work, please visit rebeccapotts.net.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed last month at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL).

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Aisha Tandiwe Bell

#decrown (in Bone)
2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

headshells
2009
clay and tempura

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

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

chameleon (detail)
2009

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

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

Chimera
2015
Photo credit: Selina Roman

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

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

Susu
Video documentation of interdisciplinary installation
2013

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

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

To see more of Aisha's work, please visit superhueman.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien,just opened at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL) and runs through December 19, 2015.



OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Art Vidrine

Sub ads (found intervention), 2015

Interdisciplinary artist ART VIDRINE is concerned with how we perceive the surrounding world and how our literal and metaphoric lenses affect the meanings we make. In photography, collage, sculpture and video, he modifies and destabilizes our existing cultural frameworks, calling into question individual agency through abstraction. Art earned his BA in Comparative Literature from the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) in 2002, and went on to earn his MFA in Fine Art from the School of Visual Arts (New York) in 2014. He was curated into Miami Projects in 2014. In 2015, his work has been included in Battle of the Masters at Open Gallery Space in New York and Plus One at Sideshow Gallery in Brooklyn, and in January 2016, will be included in Abstract Preferences at NIAD Art Center in Richmond, California. He is a participating panelist on an upcoming episode for TransBorder Art titled Discomfort, which will appear on public television (tentatively in December). Art is a contributing writer for ArtSlant and lives in Brooklyn.


OtherPeoplesPixels: How did your undergraduate degree in Comparative Literature set the stage for your photography, sculpture and video work? 


Art Vidrine: Before the degree, there was a love of literature, which was rooted in early childhood, much earlier than any affinity for visual art. From adolescence, I was attracted to what creative intelligence has to offer in making sense of the world: empathy, reflection and imagination. I mention this because no matter how driven by abstract ideas my art may be at times or how rationally I discuss it afterwards, my work still draws heavily from those human qualities I find in literature. Comparative Literature allowed me to explore multiple languages (and consequently multiple perspectives) and lots of theory. Undoubtedly, my obsession with certain themes was formalized in college, especially with that hobbyhorse of reader-response theories: audience agency.

Just for You, 2014
Wood, resin, paint, hot glue, spray foam, detergent, hardware, carpet, headphones, sound, black lights, Arduino
box - 48" x 48" x 48", carpet - 72" x 96"

OPP: Do you think there is a difference between textual thinking and visual thinking, from a process point of view?


AV: Yes and no. At their best, both textual and visual thinking defy conventional thought and form. The origin of that creative impetus is the same (an attitude), and the process is similar (channel that attitude into a communicable form). That being said, there is definitely a difference between the two, which manifests itself most acutely when talking about work with other artists. Some can ascend the heavens with a brushstroke or click of the shutter, and yet their tongues can barely get them off the ground. Textual and visual thinking are somewhat different skill sets with different vocabularies and differing dependencies on concepts. Both can be strengthened, but only up to a certain point. After that, talent and desire take over.

Parenthetically, I do think some artists read and relate to work differently than others. Some of my friends are painters for whom the brushiest brushstroke or the richest hue is like a conversation with God. They are transported in ways that I will never be in relationship to painting. They look for different things in those works than I do. Conversely, the cleverest conceptual project can send chills down my spine and leave them feeling cheated of a meaningful experience. If the difference is just a matter of picking up on nuances in the work (i.e. references, interesting decisions made when making the work, etc), then that is something that can be rectified over time with more exposure to art.

Durational, 2015

OPP: Could you talk about the categories— Agency, Perception, Abstraction and Surroundings—you use to organize the work on your website?
 
AV: These days, the art world prefers artists to have a “thing” – an identifiable, readily digestible and marketable focus, a singular purpose that can fit nicely into an elevator pitch embodied in press releases and talking points with board members and collectors. There is certainly value in sustaining a tunnel vision commitment to one thing in depth, whether it be a process or topic. But my interests do not coalesce so easily. In fact, the topics themselves that interest me do not play well with reductive boundaries, opting instead for cross-pollination. Abstraction, perception, and agency are interdependent. I elaborated on this in my graduate thesis, which anyone can read from my CV & Writings section if they need something to help them fall asleep at night.
 
Honestly, the categories on my website are really meant to make the constant themes that I return to more apparent for those who do not know me or my work. I see the thread, the relationships amongst the different media, forms, and subjects. That thread consists of three intertwined topics: Abstraction, Perception, and Agency. Work in one category could also exist comfortably in another. The choice of which work belonged where had a lot to do with what I saw as the predominate concern of each work.  Surroundings exists as a category for sharing my love for landscape and cityscape photography, which often have a hard time fitting into one of the other three categories. One’s environment unequivocally shapes how he or she experiences the three topics mentioned above. Sometimes, it’s hard to classify how.
 
OPP: What role do lenses, filters and screens play in your practice, literally and/or figuratively?


AV: The lens (mental and physical) with which we view the world is directly related to the three main themes my work addresses. I do not set out to emphasize lenses, filters, and screens as a material. That happens naturally as a result of my chosen themes.  They are merely the metaphorical conduit for a reflection on perception, and consequently perception’s influence on agency.

Intermediate, 2015

OPP: What was your process for creating Performative Utterances: A Symphony (2015), in which you translate political rhetoric into music? Why did you choose the particular speech that you chose? 


AV: I transformed Netanyahu’s voice into MIDI notes, multiplied those notes into different layers, and then assigned each layer a software instrument. I tweaked some notes—shifting octaves, changing a couple to a different note and extending the duration for some—but mostly kept them untouched. I adjusted the parameters for the instruments to achieve the sounds I wanted and gradually added in or removed instruments as the performance progresses. Who knew Netanyahu was so musically talented?
 
I chose this speech because of the theatrical nature of the spectacle. This is not to say that Netanyahu’s speech was not good or relevant. He has some legitimate concerns.  It’s just that the whole event felt like a night at the symphony or a rock concert, with adulating fans roaring, sea swells of standing ovations, a maestro’s swagger. There is even the analogous handshake with the first chair, the singer’s wipe of the mouth between songs. It made me wonder how much of the speech’s political content could be conveyed even without words, which then made me think about the long history of the relationship between music (the most abstract art form) and politics. This was as much about abstracting political content from speech to sound as it was about discovering a new way to build a symphony. I’m sure classically trained musicians will disagree with the distinction of this work as “a symphony,” “classical,” or even “music.” But I think it functions quite well as a kind of avant-garde symphony. Netanyahu was trumpeting an aggressive, antagonistic position, so I gave him (literally) the brass his speech (figuratively) conveyed.


Performative Utterances: A Symphony
2015

OPP: In your artist statement you say, "The cultural framework we inherit prescribes meaning and intelligibility to things." Then you ask, "But how does our relationship to the world alter as our conceptual frameworks are challenged? As our lives are increasingly mediated through technology, simulacra, and mass media, how does our physical, experiential grounding within the world evolve?" These seem to be the long-term questions of your practice. I'm wondering if you have any answers, or at least theories, yet?

AV: Hmmm. . . If I did, I don’t think I would need to make art anymore.

To see more of Art's work, please visit artvidrine.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien,just opened at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL) and runs through December 19, 2015.