OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Gina Hunt

It's Curtains for You (close-up view of inside), 2016. Hand dyed transnet, steel, aluminum. 96" x 96" x 48."

GINA HUNT explores the permeable and reflective qualities of screens in her paintings, sculptures and site-specific installations. She draws attention to the subjectivity of visual perception in painted surfaces, including the plain weave of canvas, window screens, scenery netting and scrim. Most recently, she has moved her work out of the gallery and into the outdoors, where her multicolored screens are both discrete objects within the landscape and mediators for viewing it. Gina earned a BFA in Painting, Printmaking, and Art History (2009) and an MA in Painting (2012) from Minnesota State University. In 2015, she completed her MFA in Painting at Illinois State University. Gina completed a  2015-2016 fellowship with Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar. In 2016, she was Artist-in-Residence at Badlands National Park and at Hinge Arts in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. Beginning February 1, 2017, you can view her work in a two-person, online exhibition titled In This Place at Pleat Gallery. Weight of Light, a group exhibition curated by Melissa Oresky, will open at DEMO Project in Springfield, Illinois on March 10, 2017. There will be a gallery talk on April 6, 2017. Gina currently lives in Bloomington, Illinois and teaches Drawing at Illinois State University.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Screens are prominent in your work, both as a material and as a metaphor. Could you talk about the difference between looking through screens and looking at screens?

Gina Hunt: Fascinating question! I immediately think of how vision works and the similarities between our eyes and cameras when it comes to depth of field and the ability to focus. I am always getting pleasurably distracted by looking through window screens, fencing, and mesh barriers because of the ‘flit’ that happens between focusing on the screen and then focusing on what is beyond and behind the screen. I’ve been doing this since I was a kid, and I think this experience is really common. Looking at the same physical objects with and without a screen is a completely different visual experience. That difference, or subjectivity, between these two visual experiences blows my mind.

Chromascope (RO), 2016. Acrylic on hand-dyed cut canvas. 24" x 24."

OPP: Please talk about your repeated strategy of slashing and twisting canvas in Feedback (2015), Colorblinds (2014) and Chromoscopes (2015).

GH: I can credit the development of that specific process to two people: my grandmother and Lucio Fontana! Fontana helped me realize that a painting is a very physical object. No aspect or component of a painting is a given; every physical bit of a painting is a material choice. Fontana cut his canvases in the most elegant of ways and showed us that paintings can depict space with actual space, not just implied illusive space.

A few years ago, I was suddenly having a battle with my paintings. It was a complicated mess that dealt with illusion—but instead of going into that whole story, I will explain how I got out of it, which lead to several subsequent bodies of work. I took a few weeks away from the studio and spent full days making a quilt with my grandmother. It was a highly complicated one that we designed. While working on this, we talked about history, politics, gender, modernist painting, and physical labor. This physical engagement with the materials—the measuring, pressing, folding, cutting, stitching, and piecing was so satisfying.

When I returned to the studio, I began cutting up piles of un-stretched, painted canvas. I developed a process of making pattern-based paintings that are incredibly physical and sculptural while also presenting optical experiences based in color. Around that point, it seemed to me that Fontana was taking apart paintings. I felt like I was putting paintings back together.

Flit, 2015. Acrylic on cut canvas over canvas. 47" x 61."

OPP: Any chance the quilt as a unique form will ever enter your practice?

GH: Yes, I am certain that it will.

OPP: Are all paintings screens? Why or why not?

GH: I love this question! Screen is such a complex word with multiple definitions. As a verb, a screen can divide, separate, and conceal.  A screening is an assessment or filtering of information. As a noun, a screen can be a flat panel displaying images and data, a thin object or material which separates spaces, and a surface which allows images and ideas to be projected onto it. Thinking through all of this—Yes. I am rather certain that all paintings are screens.

Window Screen (GR), 2016. Acrylic on cut window screen mesh over painted wooden frame. 16 inches x 20 inches.

OPP: What does site-specificity mean to you?

GH: My work is dependent on where I am in the world. It is site-specific in every sense of the term.

In 2015-2016, I lived in the Middle East as a Practicing Artist Fellow. I believe that the decisions we make are dependent on context and circumstance, and this opportunity made it so clear to me. The research and work I was producing quickly became reactive to the specific place I was a part of. Unfamiliarity can be a great asset—one is able to notice details and characteristics of situations which can become worn and unnoticeable with time and exposure. 

Through that experience, in addition to following residencies I’ve been to, I have prioritized an engagement with locality and hope for my work to be responsive to where I am. My work is site-specific because I am cultivating knowledge of place (local culture, history, visual culture, aesthetics, and identity) through context-based research. I don’t want to just insert myself and my ideas; I want to collaborate with the place where I am making work. 

It's Curtains for You v2, 2016. Hand dyed transient installed in the windows of an abandoned gazebo outside of the Kirkbride buildings (formerly the Fergus Falls State Hospital) in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. Approximately 60 inches x 144 inches

OPP: You were the 2016 Artist-in-Residence at Badlands National Park in South Dakota. Please tell us about this unique residency.

GH: Yes, I just finished that residency and am still reflecting on it. I was completely surprised and thrilled to get it, as I have not seen artists physically place work within the landscape of the Badlands like I wanted to.

The Artist in Residence program at the Badlands National Park supports two artists each year, one in the spring and one in the fall. And so, I wasn't working alongside other creative practitioners, I was working alongside paleontologists, archivists, park rangers, etc. I learned a lot about the landscape and its history from each person I met. The park staff was wonderful support when I needed them but also didn't encroach on me in any way or question my concepts. Their support really impressed me. Since the projects were going to live outdoors, I decided to set up a simple shop outside of my apartment, in the park, and that is where I built most of the work.

I spent a lot of my time exploring the landscape and problem-solving how to install projects without physically interrupting the landscape in any way. Everything was paired down in terms of process, materials, and installation. I worked within limited means. I thrive when thrown into a challenge like that. The weather is entirely unpredictable there, too, which had to be factored into my material and installation decisions. I asked myself, With the materials I have available, how do I make a large-scale installation outdoors that could withstand high winds, rain, and snow, but cannot be staked into the ground or attached with most things one would typically use?

Suncatcher for the Badlands, 2016. Nylon, window screen mesh, and theater scrim stretched on four painted wooden frames, attached with metal hinges. Installed at Badlands National Park. 48” (h) x 36” (w) x 36” (d).

OPP: Aside from having to navigate the physical conditions of the landscape, how was your work there informed by your research into the region?

GH: I spent time researching the visual aesthetic traditions of Lakota culture. The challenge was then creating a bridge between this “field study” research and the physical work I created. Color and geometry were the major aspects of my research. Specifically, I was reading about Lakota star knowledge/astronomy/stellar theology and its interdependence with the landscape. There is a beautifully poetic yet literal concept called mirroring. The earth and the stars “are the same, because what is on the earth is in the stars, and what is in the stars is on the earth” (quoted from Mr. Stanley Looking Horse, father of the Keeper of the original Sacred Pipe, in Lakota Star Knowledge). One example of this is how the earth map and star map are interdependent on one another; this is described in an abstract, geometric drawing. The visual description, which has been recorded in star maps, has an inverted triangle above a reflected triangle, and these triangles meet at their apexes. They are mirrored. The inverted triangle on top symbolizes the sky, or a star, and the drawings of it look like a pointed cone that channels light.  The mirrored triangular cone on the bottom is the same but inverted. This component symbolizes the tipi (which is loaded with geometric symbolism) and earth sites. Thus, the combination of the two triangle cones is called Kapemni in Lakota, or twisting

One of the sculptural works I created drew from this knowledge and employment of geometry to channel light from the sky.  I created a triangular, three-sided form as a conduit for the sunlight and a place for the light from the sky to integrate with the ground and rocks and landscape.

Mirroring, 2016. Theater scrim, PVC mesh, and window screen mesh over (3) wooden frames, attached with metal hinges. Installed at Badlands National Park. 48 inches x 36 inches x 36 inches.

OPP: And your piece Suncatcher for the Badlands was based on research into the Medicine Wheel?

GH: Abstraction is everywhere in Lakota visual culture and is very symbolic. Another important symbol is the Medicine Wheel, which is a complete circle divided into four quadrants. Each quadrant is assigned a color (white, yellow, red, and black). All knowledge is embedded within the Medicine Wheel and the four colors are the symbolic primaries. I used the colors of the medicine wheel in the Suncatcher for the Badlands because they are the primary colors of Lakota knowledge of the universe. Color is always embedded as a conceptual component in my work. I have been working with various systems of primary colors for several years and working in the Badlands allowed me to learn more about color through a very specific cultural and regional context.

OPP: How did being immersed in this natural environment for an extended period of time affect your work?

GH: The work I created was a documentation of a sensitive awareness of and engagement with locality and landscape. I created site-specific installations during the residency, which I photographed throughout the day and in varying weather conditions. During the five week residency, I experienced nearly every possible weather scenario! The installations lived in the bright sun, dense fog, two snowfalls, and a blizzard. The projects were akin to a scientific experiment—the installations were the stable “control variable” and the weather was the “independent variable.”The prehistoric landscape was an ideal setting for light and color experiments. The landscape served as a laboratory. I was able to spend time exploring and hiking nearly every day. This led to a familiarity with the land and the light and allowed me to develop a sensitivity to the elements. I was truly collaborating with the sky, the rocks, and the sun.

To see more of Gina's work, please visit gina-hunt.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014) and the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014). She created site-responsive installations for Form Unbound (2015) at Dominican University and SENTIENCE (2016) at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Resist the Urge to Press Forward, a two-person show with Brent Fogt, is on view at Riverside Art Center (Riverside, Illinois) until April 15th, when there will be a closing reception and artist talk. Throughout March 2017, Stacia is working on an evolving, duration installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago). You can watch Witness change via live feed.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Sandrine Schaefer

Stairs to Nowhere
2009
Duration: untimed
Location: Boston, MA USA
photo by Philip Fryer

Performance artist, writer and independent curator SANDRINE SCHAEFER literally and figuratively explores the concept and experience of fitting in. Her site-sensitive live actions in public space offer the opportunity to contemplate the relationship of our bodies to time and space. In 2004, Sandrine co-founded The Present Tense, dedicated to the presentation and preservation of live action art in transient spaces. In 2012, she was a recipient of The Tanne Foundation Award for artistic excellence. Her curatorial project ACCUMULATION is on view through March 26, 2014 at Boston University’s 808 Gallery in conjunction with the group exhibition The Lightning Speed of The Present. Sandrine lives and works in Boston.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You use the term "site-sensitive" instead of the more prevalent "site-specific" when referring to your performances. Could you clarify the difference?

Sandrine Schaefer: Working site-sensitively requires an artist to surrender to the present moment and accept all of the chance encounters that come along with making work for a specific environment in real time. Site-specific work can do this too, but this it isn’t a requirement.

Organico
2012
An infiltration into a trash can in Mexico City
Duration: 57 minutes

OPP: In 2012, you spent time in Mexico and did a series of durational live actions in public space—including Ascensions, Fusions and Illusions—that grew out of your 2009 project Adventures in Being (small), which was a literal and figurative exploration of the theme of fitting in. How were the performances in Mexico an extension of that earlier project? What was different? How did time factor into these projects?

SS: When I began working on Being (small), I was measuring my body by infiltrating a wide array spaces and was not too discriminating about what those spaces were. If I thought I could fit some part of my body into a space, I would try. In the early work, I was interested in the accumulation of the project. There are two rules for Being (small): I enter the space the way that I find it, and I stay (often in sustained stillness) for as long as my body or the space allows. My intention was to work similarly in Mexico, but there were many historical and environmental elements that insisted on becoming part of the work. 

My first destination was Puebla, a place that is known for its cathedrals. Locals kept telling me that these cathedrals were “built on the backs” of the indigenous communities. It is said that the indigenous people built idols of their own deities into the churches in Puebla. When forced to pray to the saints, they were actually praying to something they believed in. I appreciated the rebellion of this story, and I found the notion of a hidden history kept alive through memory inspiring. It made me reconsider the notion of “smallness” and “being.”

A Nicho for Coatlicue
2012
Site-sensitive action with sun-burned image of Coatlicue on back, infiltration into domestic space in Puebla, Mexico
Duration: 50 minutes
Photo by Daniel S. DeLuca

OPP: What other unexpected factors changed the work?

SS: The sun has a presence throughout Mexico that I had never experienced before. It’s no wonder why early civilizations were influenced by the cycles of the sun! It had a profound effect on my body and impacted my internal clock. The work became shorter because I had to be very specific about what times of the day I was outside. I had to move at a different pace while in the sun. I wanted to actively incorporate these limitations into the work, rather than allowing them to be passive byproducts, so I started researching. 

I found that before Puebla was called Puebla, the Aztecs named it Cuetlaxcoapan, which means "where the serpents shed their skin.” I began engaging in sun rituals where I sunburned the image of Coatlicue, an Aztec serpent goddess, onto my back. I then sought out places of tension throughout Puebla: places where ruins had been built over or where buildings with different architectural styles touched. As I fit my body into these spaces, I simultaneously placed this (literally) fading historic icon into contemporary situations.

As I continued my travels, I chose images relevant to the history of other locations throughout Mexico. In Oaxaca, I burned a Zapotec huipil onto my chest. In Mexico City, I burned an image designed from ruins I studied at Monte Alban onto my stomach. There was something powerful about wearing the traces of one place and bringing them into another. Histories travel through us.

Half Sadhu
2013

OPP: How does the presence of a camera, used to document your performances, affect the performances themselves?

SS: While working on Being (small), I started to view the camera as a collaborator. Although the actions I performed were rather benign, being still in public spaces can cause concern. This is intensified because of my perceived gender. The goal in all of my work is to create a pause for my audience. . . a chance encounter that inspires a shift in their perceptions about how we interact with our environment. The presence of a camera gives people permission to look. I’ve found that the more professional the camera looks, the less anxiety the encounter induces. The audience is usually more willing to engage. Being (small) intentionally has two different audiences: those who encounter the work in the present moment and those who encounter it through its documentation. But is the “art” in the live act, the photograph or video or both? This is slippery territory that performance artists of our time are navigating in different ways. For me, the art is the live act, but I also see the artistic value of the documents themselves.

For You. . . and anyone else who might be watching (1)
2013
Photo by Daniel S. DeLuca

OPP: That brings to mind recent pieces like Mirror Stage (2013) and For You. . . and anyone else who might be watching (2013), that include video-sharing technologies like the iPhone and live-cam on the Internet as integral ways for viewers to experience live actions. How have these technologies changed your work? Do you think they are changing the nature of performance art in general?

SS: Living in an increasingly documented society, it is impossible not to consider the potential and the limitations of these technologies. I certainly think that technology is changing spectatorship of performance art. These technologies are amazing in the sense that we can connect easily—almost instantly—and see documentation from pieces that might be impossible to witness live. However, no matter how thorough, documentation is not a substitute for the live piece. In Mirror Stage and For You. . . and anyone else who might be watching, I use contemporary technologies to intentionally fragment the experience of the performance in order to inspire an active dialogue about the tensions around the act of witnessing in the 21st century. 

I often work with the idea of breaking the traditional performance space by rewarding the curious viewer. This is expressed through small details that can only be experienced at a close proximately. In both Mirror Stage and For You. . . and anyone else who might be watching, I found that viewers are willing to engage a bit more intimately than in some of my other work. Perhaps the mediation of an interface reads as an invitation to interact.

Mirror Stage
2013

OPP: For you, is documentation of live performance a problem to be solved or a creative opportunity?

SS: Both. As an independent curator and archivist of performance art, I am always thinking about this. False Summit (phase 2), my collaborative project with Phil Fryer, revolved around the idea of archiving through the body and memory. There are many artists that are doing interesting work with archiving and alternative strategies for documentation. Jamie McMurry, Boris Nieslony, Márcio Carvalho and Shannon Cochrane are just a few.

My curatorial project ACCUMULATION explores documentation of art action through objects. Over the duration of this exhibition, participating artists are given one day to create a live-art piece. All evidence from their actions is left behind, challenging the following artists to incorporate these remnants into their own work. Any materials that come into the space must remain until the exhibition closes. ACCUMULATION challenges ideas about artist collaboration and simultaneously creates an innovative exhibition of experiential art documentation. This has been generative for me. 

OPP: What is The Present Tense?

SS: In 2003, action art experienced a resurgence in Boston. Inspired by the explosive movement happening around us, Phil Fryer and I created The Present Tense in 2004. It started out as an initiative that organized and produced live art events and exchanges, but quickly grew into much more. We believe that art is an access point for growth. To date, we have organized and curated dozens of art events, festivals (including the Contaminate Festival), artist exchanges and exhibitions. In 2009, we co-founded the late MEME Gallery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We have shown over 300 artists from across the globe, accumulating footage and relics from performances. We wanted to share this further, so The Present Tense launched an online archive in 2009. The goal of this living archive is to provide a permanent presence for ephemeral art that has difficulty finding space to be seen. The Present Tense challenges cultural perceptions of what art can be through its commitment to curating this often misunderstood art form.

We are celebrating our tenth birthday later this year, so Phil and I are also using this time to reflect and explore what the future of The Present Tense might look like. In 2014, the archive will include never-before-seen footage, posts by guest writers, a series of posts with the theme "Family" and artist accounts of performances that have had no witnesses.

To see more of Sandrine's work, please visit sandrineschaefer.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 her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago.