OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Amanda Williams

Uppity Negress, 2017. Site-specific installation at The Arts Club of Chicago. Photo Credit: Michael Sullivan

AMANDA WILLIAMS explores the intersection of color, line and material with social, political and cultural meanings inherent in architecture and urban environments. For her well-known project Color(ed) Theory, she painted eight houses slated for demolition on Chicago's South Side in a palette derived from African American consumer culture. Her work hinges on this cultural specificity while simultaneously addressing the broader themes of impermanence, transformation and healing, as they are sited in the human-built environment. Amanda earned her Bachelor of Architecture with an Emphasis in Fine Art at Cornell University in 1997. Her numerous awards include a 3Arts Award (2014), a Joyce Foundation scholarship (2013), and an Excellence in Teaching Award (2015), for her work at Illinois Institute of Technology, College of Architecture. Amanda was named Newcity’s 2016 Designer of the Moment, was a 2016 Efroymson Fellow and has been tapped to be part of the team working on the exhibition spaces at the Obama Presidential Center. Uppity Negress, a site-specific installation for The Arts Club Garden Projects (Chicago), is on view through September 2017. Her solo show Chicago Works: Amanda Williams just opened and is currently on view at The Museum of Contemporary Art through December 31, 2017. Amanda lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Uppity Negress, a site-specific installation for The Arts Club Garden Projects (Chicago), just opened in June and will be on view through September 2017. Tell us about this new work. What about the title and form of the “fence” in relation to the site?

Amanda Williams: I am so excited by this new body of work and how it has expanded the ways in which I’m continually contemplating questions of space, race and color. The title has tangential beginnings related to sculptor Constantin Brancusi, who was an early exhibitor at the Arts Club, as well as a portion of a chapter from author, Natalie Moore’s book, The South Side. I am fascinated by the way the Arts Club garden operates as neither completely public or private. How could I use this spatial condition to consider questions of authority and access, particularly as it relates to the black female body in public space. By venturing “out of line,” the fence creates a disorienting space that allows occupants to experience this liminal social condition. The pickets of the fence disperse and eventually lead to a large banner displaying the arrest transcript of Sandra Bland interspersed with excerpts from a commencement speech given by former First Lady, Michelle Obama. The mashup charts an alternate narrative to the potential of getting out of line. 

Uppity Negress, 2017. Site-specific installation at The Arts Club of Chicago. Photo Credit: Michael Sullivan

OPP: Tell us a bit about the process of painting the abandoned houses marked for demolition in your project Color(ed) Theory. Is it a guerrilla act or a permitted one? Who are your artist assistants? Compare painting the first house in the series to painting the last one.

AW: I chose properties that were at the end of their life cycle and use the project as a way to ask questions about how and when we value architecture. Because of the temporal nature of the structures and the project, I enlisted the help of fellow artists friends and family members who wanted to support my artistic practice and also understood the stakes in working under such conditions. They were collaborators in the truest sense.

My husband Jason Burns was probably the most prolific painter. He also cleared the overgrown weeds, bushes and grass. I didn’t know what to expect when I started. The idea was to load up as much paint as would fit in our truck , or that I had the budget for, go out at daybreak and paint until someone challenged us or until we ran out of paint. By the final house, the project had gained the attention of the Chicago Architecture Biennial, and had been folded in as a part of their programming. We went from about 9 people helping to 70. It meant a lot of tiny brushes. It was a good moment to terminate the project, before it turned into something else with external agendas.

Newport 100/Loose Squares, 2015 (Overall), 2015

OPP: How do the painted houses operate in their natural environments? What kinds of responses have you heard from people who live around them? How many are still standing?

AW: Approximately half are still standing. The responses and reactions to the houses are as varied as the houses themselves. Some neighbors don’t like the project at all and think it exacerbates the issues that I’m attempting to call attention to. Many residents near the Currency Exchange and Safe Passage Houses find the color offensive. Some neighbors have described them as odd or thought provoking, while other neighbors have become friends of mine, and we’ve developed relationships that extend beyond the project’s initial intentions.

I think its important to emphasize that it’s fundamentally flawed to imagine homogeneity with words like “community” or “black people,” etc. We are often treated (and discriminated against) as a monolithic group, so its great to have a project that is not black or white, but gray.

Perhaps one of the most unique reactions came from photographer/artist, and Englewood resident Tonika Johnson. She included one of the painted houses as a backdrop to a photo composition she created for a billboard series, Englewood Rising, that offers positive images of everyday black life as a counter narrative to what we hear on the news or see tweeted by uninformed nationally elected officials. It is exciting to have my project interwoven into other local artists’ efforts to raise awareness and change the conversation. The landscapes feel more pronounced when you watch nature reclaim these voided lots.

Color(ed) Theory, Chicago Architectural Biennal, 2015. Photo Credit: Steven Hall

OPP: Most viewers—myself included—have only encountered Color(ed) Theory in the form of photography. What do the photographs do that the actual painted houses can’t. And how have the different display iterations of these photographs changed over the life of the project?

AW: The photographs do a few things. They allow the project to be read as an aggregate, you can never physically occupy or absorb them as a singular spatial body. The photographs also contextualize the houses in relation to one another. They also make the context, namely the general isolation of the structures as important to the visual story as the houses themselves. Lastly, they freeze an ephemeral moment. While this allows the project to be widely shared, I’m still not sure this is a completely desirable strategy for a project that was intentionally temporal.

Pink Oil Moisturizer (Winter; Overall), 2014.

OPP: As I was researching your work, I became aware of just how much sudden attention your work has received since the first-ever Chicago Architecture Biennial in 2015. So you’ve done a ton a interviews and received a lot of press over the last couple of years. Is there anything about your work that you don’t feel gets proper attention? What gets overlooked?

AW: The social nature of the Color(ed) Theory project overshadows a parallel thread about this as a project that is attempting to help inform my painting practice and a desire for a better formal understanding of color. There is also a levity that gets overshadowed by many. I’m always thrilled when someone laughs or smiles after reading a title of a piece, or has an ‘ah-ha’ moment related to a personal connection to the content.

OPP: It’s nice to hear you say that because I love the way the color itself both challenges and lives in harmony with the surrounding environment. It asserts itself, dominates the landscape and then just becomes another part of that space. What colors are you thinking about now?

AW: My Chicago Works exhibition at the MCA, curated by Grace Deveney, has afforded me an amazing opportunity to produce an almost entirely new body of work that contemplates several themes that emerged as a result of the response to Color(ed) Theory. Some of the narratives you’ll see emerging include gold as a signifier for social, cultural and political value associated with land use and ownership, as well as deep material explorations of salvaged building material. It has been really wonderful to continue to think through these fundamental questions in a variety of formats and media. This exploration of gold will also move beyond the MCA walls in a companion project funded by my Efroymson Fellowship, in which Golden Brick Roads will be embedded along short cuts (desire paths) in vacant lots on the City's south and near west side.

A Way, Away (Listen While I Say)—Translating Phase, 2017. Collaboration with Andres L. Hernandez. Photo Credit: Michael Thomas

OPP: Are these Gold Brick Roads connected to A Way, Away (Listen While I Say), your collaboration with Andres L. Hernandez in Saint Louis? This project applies five transformation actions—marking, subtracting, translating, shaping and healing—to 3721 Washington Boulevard, which was slated for demolition. Will you use some of the salvage bricks for the brick roads, and are those bricks also the bricks in your MCA show?

AW: The gold leafed bricks in Chicago share some themes with the gold painted bricks salvaged in St. Louis, and in hindsight will inevitably all be part of my gold color phase—I also had a Peanut Butter and Jelly phase in the 3rd grade—but they are intentionally not the same actual bricks. For A Way, Away, it was important to the premise of the project that the St. Louis bricks STAY in the St. Louis area and contribute to a new life cycle for that place. The four projects that were selected all share concepts of healing and legacy; either material or social/cultural. Andres and I recently participated in a day long charrette with the four organizations leading the projects. We have found that these formal transformations of the material also serve as metaphors and platforms for dialog about personal healing and transformation.

To see more of Amanda's work, please visit awstudioart.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), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her solo show Sacred Secular open on August 11, 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jack O'Hearn

The Health Club, 2016. Multi-Media Installation. Approximately 1400 Sq. Ft.

JACK O'HEARN seeks to amplify the social aspects of art viewing and art-making in site-specific, interactive installations. He reinvigorates abandoned spaces through nostalgia, carpentry, make-shift decoration and social exchange. With the aid of The Birdsell Project, Jack completed The Office (2014) in an abandoned mansion and The Camper (2015), a mobile installation which has been exhibited at Art Beat (South Bend, Indiana)_, The Fuller Projects at Indiana University (Bloomington) and ArtPrize 7 (Grand Rapids, Michigan). Most recently he built The Health Club (2016), an abandoned health club turned community center. The closing reception is planned for October 15, 2016, and an additional concert is booked for November 6, 2016. Learn about upcoming events by following the The Health Club on Facebook. Jack earned his BFA (2005) from Lesley University (Cambridge, Massachusetts) and an MA (2012) and an MFA (2013) from University of Wisconsin, Madison. Jack lives and works in South Bend, Indiana.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What role does nostalgia play in your work?

Jack O’Hearn: Nostalgia has this universal quality that can work really well at breaking down social barriers because the history of interior and product design are fairly consistent across a broad demographic, at least within a given country or region. My objects and materials are chosen based on personal nostalgic experiences, and I use them to create environments that I have a longing for and that I thoroughly enjoy spending time in. At first it might seem like a longing for the past, but it actually comes from of desire for a better present. I want to create unique experiences that connect people socially, and nostalgia proves very useful for this. People relate to each other immediately upon entering a nostalgic space. I enjoy spending a lot of time at my installations, meeting people and hearing their stories.

The Office, 2014. Multi-Media Installation. 10' x 10' x 16'

OPP: There is a glaring absence of the digital in each of your installations. When technology is present, it is in the form of analog television sets of an earlier era. There are no computers and no hand-held devices. Are these installations memorials to the pre-internet era?

JO: The lack of computers or hand held devices in my work is mostly due to the era of my childhood. I’ve used televisions, VHS players, portable radios and old video games, but I’ve also used hidden mp3 & dvd players that have remained invisible and unknown to visitors. I like to see visitors using their phones to text or snap photos and consider those actions a part of the piece. I think hand-held devices are part of the social fabric of our society at this point. My newest work has an mp3 hook up so visitors can share their music on the stereo to listen or dance to.

The Camper, 2015. Multi-Media Installation.

OPP: I’m thinking about the words “salvage” and “scavenge” in relation to your practice, both as processes and as subject matter. How and where do you source the objects and materials for your installations?

JO: Home improvement stores are the most frequented. It was a good day when I discovered that most of these stores carry the same wood paneling that was so popular in the 70s and 80s. That stuff really brings me back and I’ve used it a lot. I feel very comfortable with most construction materials because I was trained as a third generation tile setter. I always enjoyed the work, but hated doing it everyday without much creativity involved. I appreciated the craft, but would often be thinking about decorating or redesigning the bathrooms and kitchens I was working in.

If I’m looking for something specific I’ll shop online. For instance, for The Office I knew I wanted the Bob James album Touchdown, which featured the theme song to the 70s sitcom Taxi. That album, which was on frequent rotation as part of the installation, really captured the mood and feeling of a home office set in the late 70s or early 80s. I also frequent estate sales. Walking into a random person’s house and seeing a piece of their life left behind is fairly similar to my experience with a work of art. It really excites my imagination, and there’s also the fun of treasure hunting that goes with it.

Contact, 2013. Mixed Media Installation. Dimensions Variable.

OPP: Looking back to earlier work, New Town and Contact were distinct spaces built within traditional galleries. Even while empty, they implied human habitation. Could people enter these installations or were they unoccupied tableaux?

JO: Yes to both. Viewers could enter but weren’t encouraged to touch anything. Contact was my first installation and my graduate thesis exhibit. It was included in a thematic show alongside a group of paintings, but it actually marked my departure from paint. That installation was still very two-dimensional and was meant to be viewed like a painting, just eliminating the window effect. A friend of mine at the time commented that I was approaching installation art as a painter because I was more focused with arranging color on the walls. I was fine with that, but was intrigued to venture into space a little more.

New Town was a four-walled enclosure with a small entrance. Visitors could enter into it, but it wasn’t interactive in any way. Everything had it’s place and I wasn’t ready to allow visitors to disrupt that. As I moved on, I became more interested in visitor interaction and letting go of the idea that a work of art needed to be precious or unalterable.

Salvage Design, 2012. Wood, Screws, and Various Objects. 60" x 72" x 36."

OPP: Can you say more about the social aspects, which seem to be growing more significant in recent installations, of the temporary spaces you make?

JO: I’m really interested in finding ways to break down barriers between the viewer/visitor and the work of art. I try to design environments that generate social interaction on their own so there isn’t a very directed course of action for visitors other than to relax and enjoy one’s self. It can be a challenge just to get visitors to accept this and feel at home in a work of art. Children do it naturally because they want to touch things and are always looking for something to play with. They’re less conscious that they’re in a work of art. If I notice an adult stopping a child from touching things, I’ll tell them that everything is meant to be used or touched. This eases a lot of the tension involved in approaching a work of art and also makes for a more communal experience, and connecting people is my main goal. There can also be more solitary experiences within a social environment, like when I’m working on a laptop with my headphones at a bar or cafe. I’m trying to create spaces where people can feel comfortable in the presence of others and I keep discovering new aspects to that. Social interaction has become just as important to me as any visual aspect. With my new work, I don’t really see its completion until the social aspects take shape.

For my latest installation, I solicited help from several community volunteers. They took part physically and creatively, learning design principles and how to safely use power tools. I hope to build on this and create more opportunities for creativity in the communities I’m working in.

The Camper, 2015. Multi-Media Installation.

OPP: What keeps you working with the Birdsell Project, a unique residency in South Bend, Indiana? Has this particular opportunity changed the direction of your practice?

JO: I first got to know the cofounders, Myles Robertson and Nalani Stolz during their first exhibition at The Birdsell Mansion. When they opened the long-abandoned mansion to the public, word spread quickly. It caught the attention of local media outlets and experienced an incredible turn out from the community. That’s when the Birdsell Project was born, with the mission of opening underutilized property to the public by hosting cultural events. I created The Office for that show, which was my fourth installation and my first time allowing unrestricted visitor interaction. Towards the end of the exhibition, Myles approached me about creating a site-specific installation with an old motorhome, which would travel to various locations. It seemed like a natural next step, and The Camper generated a lot of memorable experiences. I was able to meet and talk with such a large and diverse range of people through that project.

The three of us share fairly similar ideas about art and community, which has led to a great professional relationship as well as a close friendship. The Birdsell Project was exactly what I was looking for after graduate school, even though I was not fully aware of it. I feel very fortunate that our paths have met.

The Health Club, 2016. Multi-Media Installation. Approximately 1400 Sq. Ft.

OPP: Tell us about The Health Club, which opened in August 2016. What was your vision? And how have viewers/participants been responding?

JO: The Health Club is both an art installation and multi-purpose venue that was created for The Birdsell Project’s Summer Residency. It utilizes the men’s locker room of an abandoned health and fitness facility, which is located in the basement of an historic building in downtown South Bend. I wanted to transform the space into something functional that would be a lasting contributor to the city’s cultural activity. The vision was to create an inclusive and positive environment that promotes well being through acts of generosity, creativity and play. When visitors step inside The Health Club they’re presented with an atmosphere very similar to a children’s fort or clubhouse, although some visitors have mentioned that it brings back memories of their grandparent’s basement or attic. The point is that the nostalgia of a child’s clubhouse is much more universal than recreating a specific time period such as with my previous work. It’s something that transcends age, class and gender.

The space features a performance stage as well as an art room that’s stocked with art supplies and whose walls are painted entirely with chalkboard paint. Visitors are welcome to use the stage or make art to take home or leave behind. There is also a stockpile of board games throughout the space that visitors can play. Another feature, which has been very successful, is the donation collection bin. Visitors are encouraged to bring non-perishable food items, which are eventually transported to a local collection center.
   
The Birdsell Project will be able to use The Health Club indefinitely as a venue for concerts and events to help raise funds for future endeavors. I’m currently applying for grants to help expand the space to include extra rooms, a full working restroom as well as house instruments and visual/audio equipment, all of which will allow for greater capacity and versatility. As of now, it has hosted the opening reception for the Birdsell Project Residency Exhibition, weekend open hours and several community meetings.

To see more of Jack's work, please visit jackohearn.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
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, in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia created site-responsive installations for two-person show Form Unbound (2015) at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL) and SENTIENCE (2016) at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Her work was recently included in SHOWROOM, curated by Edra Soto, at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition. Stacia is currently preparing for a two-person show with Brent Fogt at Riverside Art Center (Riverside, Illinois) and a solo show at Indianapolis Arts Center in Indiana.


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Darren Jones

WORDS ARE THE SWORD
Sword, selfie stick, vinyl text
2015

Artist and art critic DARREN JONES wields words well, cutting deeply and quickly to the point. He employs found text, accompanying imagery and site-specificity to contextualize his pithy, text-based works. Playing with homonyms, anagrams, puns, palindromes and insightful misspellings, he asks us to question the verity of contemporary cultural values espoused by advertising, religion and social media, especially the constant striving for perfection. Darren earned his BFA in 1997 from Central Saint Martins College of Art in London and his MFA in 2009 from Hunter College in New York. His most recent solo exhibitions include A Matter of Life and Dearth (2015) New York and Florida. at Index Art Center in Newark, New Jersey and Thunder Enlightening (2015) at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey. In 2016, he was an Artist-in-Residence at CentralTrak at University of Texas, Dallas. He is a regular contributor to Artforum, Artslant, Artcritical, and The Brooklyn Rail. Darren lives and works in New York and Florida.

OtherPeoplesPixels: As a visual artist who works primarily with text and as an art-critic who writes about the visual work of others, do you think there is a difference between visual thinking and textual thinking?

Darren Jones: In my case, increasingly, no. Words are the foremost source with which to foment my reactions to the world, whether in a visual arrangement for an artwork, or on a page for an article or review. In both, the aim is to describe and take a position. In art-making, there may be a greater aesthetic element or a requirement for imagery to expand the context, but the primary task is to utilize words in a manner that most effectively conveys one’s intentions. Writing an article, can be very similar to making a visual artwork. In both, one puts something down, considers it, edits it, walks away from it, comes back to it, tussles with composition, meaning, flow, etc. Writing is art-making.

ANAGRAM #1 (FIRE ISLAND)
Photographic print, vinyl text
24" x 36"
2014

OPP: What word would you use to describe the short, pithy statements in your work: aphorism, maxim, proverb, epigram, mantra, affirmation, slogan? Does it matter what we call them?

DJ: Aphorismmaximproverbepigrammantraaffirmationslogan. They are probably best described as amalgams or corrupted, dissected or perhaps alternative-truth versions of your suggestions. Anti-proverbs, anti-mantras, etc. Sometimes it is helpful to regard the darker meaning of a statement, in order to counter the unrealistically and blandly positive.

SENTENCING BEGINS #2
Sketch for arranged products
Variable dimensions
2014

OPP: I’m particularly interested in Sentencing Begins #1 and #2 from 2014, which remix product names into social commentary masquerading as advertising slogans. The Dawn of a Post-Freedom Era is dripping with sarcasm, while I Am Always Chasing Success is critical, but feels more empathetic to what I would call a primary problem of contemporary life. Can you talk about tone in your text-based works?

DJ: Tone can help to pry open a given or common phrase and tease out lesser considered meanings; while a lack of tone can allow for multiple conclusions. The deployment of tone within a work—wryness, archness, hostility, dubiousness—must be carefully considered because it can tilt the viewer to a particular response. Sometimes that might be the intention, other times less so. Tone then, in text based art, can be thought of as a tool, to enhance the piece or prescribe a characteristic to it, or when withheld, to restrict the artist’s influence on the perceived meaning of the piece.

WHERE TO LIVE AFTER DEATH
TEST FOR "PORTRAIT AS A GARGOYLE" AT CASTLE GLUME
Photograph
8' x 5'
2015

OPP:
Even in your “non text art,” text—namely the title and materials list—is often extremely important to the meaning of the images or sculptures. In Duct (2014), for example, the materials list includes various hormones, proteins and enzymes: water, prolactin, adrenocorticotropic hormone, leucine enkephalin, mucin, lipids, lysozyme, lactoferrin, lipocalin, lacritin, immunoglobulins, glucose, urea, sodium, potassium. But a few photographs—Portrait as a Gargoyle (Castle Gloom) and Self Portrait as a Ghost, both from 2012—operate in a fundamentally different way. They seem more personal, emotional and visceral, as opposed to clever and conceptual. Your thoughts?

DJ: I grew up in Scotland, which has had a direct effect on both elements of my work that you describe. Edinburgh was the center of the Scottish Enlightenment. It's a hub of excellence in education, literature, medicine, science, politics and technology. Therefore, reason, precision of thought and the succinct presentation of ideas are a part of the intellectual legacy and character of Scottish society generally. At the same time it is an unimaginably romantic, otherworldly place, steeped in bloody centuries of mythology and the supernatural. When one grows up surrounded by ancient castles and other built heritage, legends of mythical beasts and mesmerizing ghost stories, the line between immediate reality and the supernatural is porous, both are believable, both exist. To this day, Scotland’s national animal is the Unicorn!

So, I am compelled as an artist by both the incisiveness and minimalism of wit and words, that eject the superfluous, and the enigmatic draw of the unknown, the romantic and the haunted. They have largely remained distinctive threads within my practice. . . although the list of chemicals I mention in Duct (2014), while purely scientific, isn’t so far distant in sound and tone from a fantastical list of ingredients one might see described in a witch’s spell. DEEPER UNDERSTANDING
Rearranged keys on broken computer
11" x 17"
2008

OPP: I’m excited by the simplicity of the phrases and how their placement in certain sites or rendering in certain material adds complexity. Can you talk about site-specificity in works like Deeper Understanding (2008), You Will Find No Answers Here (2008), and Pumping Irony (2013)?

DJ: When words that we expect to see within environments that we have become familiar with are altered in a way that contradicts or tweaks social, religious or cultural standards that we have come to accept through repetition or resignation, they can provide a jolt to the complacencies and complicity we have surrendered to the status quo. Art which is effectively, surgically site-specific—and not merely lazily site-specific—retains great power to jar people out of their tacit acceptance of standard beliefs. In those circumstances we can see the disconnect between repetitive standards and more uncomfortable truths. The works you mention were all to do with opposing the odious righteousness of what we are taught to hope or believe in; computers are great and they work; looking muscular by going to the gym, and never giving up on your fitness goals is the optimum lifestyle choice; and religion has all the moral and spiritual aids you need to handle life’s challenges. It is about the ridiculous concept that failure is not an option. In fact that is correct, because failure is not an option, it’s a necessity.

PUMPING IRONY
Chalk on gym motivational board / digital image
5" x 7"
2013

OPP: Can you talk practically about your experience as an art writer? Do you choose what you review and pitch it to the publications you write for or do you receive assignments?

DJ: Usually, it is a case of pitching what I’d like to write about. Sometimes a wider ranging article on a particular subject, an interview with someone in the art world or a review. The privilege of writing for several publications is that they each have their own approaches and aims, so I can tailor pitches and write on a wide array of topics in various formats and lengths.

YOU WILL FIND NO ANSWERS HERE
Digital c print from text intervention
Variable dimensions
2008

OPP: Can you offer any practical advice for new and emerging artists about getting their shows reviewed?

DJ: Offering advice in the art world often isn’t helpful because there is no one way to progress or to achieve one’s aims. Some artists don’t try to get their work reviewed at all, but instead concentrate on the work itself, on making it as effective as it can be. Or an artist might try very hard to get a review by focusing on fostering relationships with as many peers, colleagues and friends in the art world(s) as possible; by nurturing contacts and connections, building and constantly expanding a network, treating the art as a serious product to be promoted, exhibited, discussed and disseminated, and by committing to the business of being an artist. What I can say generally is that success in the art world—whether getting a show, review or making money from the art—depends a great deal on who you know. Those in power in the art world would rather deny this because they want legitimacy for their opinions on what is good and bad. But this is an arrogant aim, because art is utterly subjective. Nobody’s taste is superior to anyone else’s. And so the upper gallery system is built almost entirely on the forced opinion of those with influence, propped up with incomprehensible press releases and social media saturation. It is all very insidious. . . and yet, interesting artists, who say intriguing things, do still gain attention. So persevering is worthwhile.

To see more of Darren's work, please visit darrenjonesart.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 Maria Gaspar

Making the Unknown, Known #1 (Site-Specific projects for Little Village, Chicago)
2013
Digital Rendering for sound installation proposal

MARIA GASPAR seeks to make "what is invisible more visible, what is unknown known." As a studio artist, facilitator, collaborator, performer and audio archivist, she explores power and the social and political meanings of geographic spaces, especially in Chicago’s West Side, where she grew up. In 2010, she collaborated with young residents (aged 14-21) of the North Lawndale and Little Village neighborhoods in Chicago to create a series of temporary public art projects known as City as Site. Her long-term project 96 Acres is a complex, collectively-produced portrait of the massive Cook County Jail and its effects on the surrounding neighborhood. Recently, Maria was awarded a prestigious Creative Capital Award for a set of public sound installations to further her work in Little Village. She received a Maker Grant in 2013 and was featured in the Chicago Tribune's Chicagoan of the Year in the Visual Arts in 2014. In 2015, she will be in residence at Project Row Houses in Houston. Maria is an Associate Professor at SAIC in Chicago, where she lives.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What early influences have impacted your community-engaged public art projects?

Maria Gaspar: I was greatly impacted by the work of local artists who engaged young people and residents in a creative process of art-making. In Chicago's mural movement, artists and community folks worked together to represent positive images of their neighborhoods. Spaces like bodega corner stores and community buildings became visual sites for dialogue and civil rights. I understand this work as not only having symbolic power, but also political, social and cultural reverberation. This approach continues to influence my way of translating issues around displacement, contested spaces and the politicized body. 

City As Site
(Viaduct study, Kostner Ave.)
2010

OPP: Tell us about the public interventions of City As Site.

MG: City As Site was very intentionally located on the West Side of Chicago, where I could examine the spatial subtleties around landscape and power with young people within the Lawndale communities. Young people are constantly negotiating their social behaviors within the often-authoritative and oppressive realities of so-called public space and a growing hyper-surveillance normalcy, especially towards brown and black communities. Through City As Site, we created performance interventions with our bodies; mediated vacant lots by way of temporary installations; invented new stories around an isolated viaduct, inserting performance art into the architecture of a bleak space; created drawings on sidewalks using found street detritus; and staged comedic tableaus at the local public park.The most compelling experiences occurred during our daily collective walks as we interacted with architecture through improvisation, where youth made beautiful, poetic, and powerful gestures. At the same time, we also faced misperceptions around our collective walking. What we considered to be a positive and imaginative set of dérives through the city was interpreted as threatening to some strangers. Walking with youth of color became a radical, political act. 

City As Site led to my thinking around specific contested spaces in the Little Village community. In my ongoing conversations with other artists and activists in the area, we speculated about potential art pieces on the jail wall. In 2012, that speculative conversation turned into meetings with community stakeholders, including the Sheriff's Department, and that led to 96 Acres.

OPP: What’s been most challenging about 96 Acres?

MG: The jail is the largest architecture of my community and grappling with what that means on the social and political level is difficult to say the least. The project begets questions around impacted communities of color, the prison industrial complex, mass incarceration, and works closely with transformative justice approaches. Its complexity is also in its diversity of voices, including an organized 96 Acres Steering Committee and 96 Acres Education Initiative, all facets of 96 Acres that grew out of an organic conversation around the needs of the project. It includes artistic contributions from many other artists and activists around the city and beyond that creatively intervene in the Cook County Jail site using art that engages its surrounding communities. 

Tangled Brown Cloud
2011
Cut paper
24" x 18" x 7"

OPP: How does your more traditional studio practice influence the community-based work?

MG: My collective projects are durational and community-specific, which entails a lot of time and sensitivity to the conversations that surface through a very thoughtful and open set of questions. This is very different from my individual work where the durational element is in a space of solitude. That space allows me to not only make installations or objects, but also reflect and identify new questions for my work and contend with them. As someone interested in community engagement, the process through which radical community ideas emerge is the most powerful element to this work. I’m influenced Augusto Boal's Games For Actors and Non-Actors and its improvisational methodologies—performance, the body and translation intricately negotiate the gesture, personal and political histories, collaboration and participation. To me, the power lies in the orchestration of situations that create a range of provocative images, interrogate language, and generate innovative ideas. And ultimately, that the spaces I create with others are also spaces for freedom—to be, or to become—fluid spaces of reimagining.

You Think You See Things (Detail I)
2010
Latex paint, plastic sheets, aluminum paper
Dimensions Variable
Installation at O' Conner Gallery, Dominican University, River Forest, IL

OPP: Tell us about your ongoing exploration of the color brown. What does brown mean to you, formally and symbolically, and how have your explorations of it changed over the last few years?

MG: The color brown is persistent in much of my work. Originally, I was interested in the way that Chicago's Graffiti Blaster program removed graffiti by covering it in brown paint. All along my neighborhood, I saw patches of small and large brown areas that obscured signs, words or images along viaducts or buildings. The color brown was meant to cover the signs and assimilate into the architectural landscape, but instead the brown color became more visible and the small patches turned into entire sides of buildings. Along with the color, the gesture of "blasting" brown was an interesting act to me. So, I decided to do the same action in an installation at 6018 North, where I spray gunned an entire room brown—ceiling to floor. This action was meant to amplify brownness as an act of power. It was about dislocation and belonging and asserting a brown space into what is traditionally a white gallery or exhibition space. In my series of "brown outs," I've completed a series of shadowy forms that conceal and reveal themselves within interiors of buildings. The forms demarcate space and territory and rouse issues of proximity and subjectivity.

Oblation For Another Parade
2009
Muslin, Latex, Wood, Streamers, Confetti and Other Found Objects
Dimensions Variable

OPP: I was particularly struck by the documentation of Oblation for Another Parade Performance (2009) at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. It was sad and powerful to watch how few people even noticed the slow-moving group of people of color. The symbolic social and political implications about visibility and space are clear, especially in the context of MCA's First Fridays. I also ended up thinking a lot about how human beings have different capacities for spatial awareness. In crowds, there are patterns of behavior for claiming and asserting space, which may be culturally conditioned. Some people weave in and out, predicting movements of other people, while others simply plant themselves or barrel ahead, oblivious to the bodies of other people. Was there anything really surprising to you about the crowd's response or lack of response to the performance while it was happening?

MG: So much of my artistic practice has used interventionist strategies within public or private spaces. I am often examining the ways that spaces elicit a certain kind of behavior, such as within the confines of a museum. My inclination is to subvert it. I wasn't completely surprised at some of the lack of acknowledgement at the MCA because it was during the First Friday's event, which is like a museum-turned-nightclub. Most people were interested in the socializing aspect of the event, which is exactly why I wanted to create a performance that punctured that environment. The performers made a kind of shape shifting architecture that necessitated an alternate pathway. I was more interested in the ways that people were redirected around the performers and the power that the performers attained as they moved through the first floor of the museum. In addition, the performers were a mix of people, such as modern dancers, a former student who performs in professional drag shows across the city, as well as my community of friends and colleagues who were not experienced performance artists, but enthusiastic and committed to exploring this idea with me. It was a great experience, overall.

Making the Unknown, Known #2 (Site-Specific projects for Little Village, Chicago)
2013
Digital Rendering for Sound Installation Proposal

OPP: In 2013, you produced a short, audio documentary called Cook County Jail: The Visible and the Invisible, which investigated what it means to live next to one of the largest pre-detention facilities in the country. On your website are images of proposals for a series of sound installations based on the proximity of a jail. Have these proposals become a reality yet? Will these sound installations make use of audio from The Visible and the Invisible or have you continued to interview Little Village residents about the jail?

MG: The proposals are meant to provoke a dialogue about who sees the jail and who doesn't and why/why not. The idea is to place three sound installations in three parts of a major street, 26th Street (same street as the Cook County Jail), and program them with interviews and personal stories about incarceration. A version of this proposal is currently in development. For now, the audio archive is growing. On the 96 Acres website, the public is invited to upload their personal stories. At an upcoming 96 Acres exhibition at the Hull House Museum (Fall 2015), we will set up a recording table for visitors interested in contributing a personal story. I recently began a residency at the Experimental Sound Studio where I am producing a new set of audio pieces that deal with the sonic landscape of the jail vicinity. I have been documenting the informal architectures of the jail periphery the past few years, which include photos and audio of cultural events located just outside the jail walls, including a recent carnival last week. Audio is a powerful medium that transcends boundaries and geographies and grants the listener the freedom to imagine a space, people and places.

Monument to 26th Street (Side)
2009
Paper, Rubber, Wood and Found objects
Dimensions Variable

OPP: In 2014 you won a Maker Grant, which is cosponsored by Chicago Artist Coalition and OtherPeoplesPixels, you were featured in the Chicago Tribune as Chicagoan of the Year in the Visual Arts in 2014, and you were just awarded a Creative Capital Award. How have these prestigious awards impacted both your practice and your career?

MG: Receiving these awards has been a tremendous honor, to say the least. Lori Waxman, who wrote about my work in the Tribune, is a person I greatly respect and admire. Her writing on my practice means a lot to me. The Maker Grant is special because it means that people in my own city have recognized my work as a Chicago artist. Whereas on a national level, Creative Capital has been supportive in funding my long-term art projects that are generally riskier and more challenging to fund. They are willing to take that long ride with me and are invested in all aspects of my creative life. This is an incredibly profound experience that is entirely new to me. I am very motivated by the opportunities and possibilities. I am also very grateful to my friends and, especially my family, that have been there for me every step of the way, and who have indeed been taking that life/art ride with me for a long time regardless of awards or recognition.

To see more of Maria's work, please visit mariagaspar.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. Recent exhibitions include solo shows 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, as well as Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, at Design Cloud in Chicago (2014). Most recently, Stacia created  When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center. Closing reception guests were invited to help break down the piece by pulling pins out of the wall.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Madeline Stillwell

Pigeon House
2011
Materials found onsite and in the city of Rennes, France
Performed at Centre Culturel Colombier (Former Military Base and Pigeon House)

American artist MADELINE STILLWELL improvises with intention in her site-specific performances. She uses her body as a drawing tool, alternately struggling against and collaborating with found construction materials and trash that she collects onsite. Her physical actions become metaphors for human experiences—breaking through barriers, climbing the walls, emerging from the rubble, rolling around in the muck, untangling oneself—making marks as she literally and figuratively works through each space. Madeline received her MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art in 2008. She has performed and exhibited widely throughout the United States, Canada and Western Europe, most recently in the group exhibitions Re-Made // Re-Used at REH Kunst Berlin and A Night in the Park at das Moosdorf in Berlin. Madeline lives and works in Berlin, where she is an Adjunct Professor in Performance at the Evangelische Hochschule Berlin.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Talk about the repeated motif of emerging from or breaking through a barrier in your performances. I think of birthing and butterflies emerging from cocoons while watching the video documentation of the performances.

Madeline Stillwell: On a visual level, I've always enjoyed the sensations that occur from seeing something pushing itself through another thing. The meeting place between opposing materials engaging in a temporary dance of overlap has always stirred something powerful in me. Ocean waves lapping against a gridded surface, for example, or wet cement swirling gently through the blades of its mixer. Ultimately, I believe we humans are never alone; we are always acting in response to nature, to culture, to circumstance, to each other. We are constantly confronted with life's given situations, and often times find ourselves struggling against the limitations of our own minds. I am fascinated by such barriers because so many unexpected possibilities can open up from finding our way through something that appears at first to be a roadblock. It is about the will to grow. Coming out on the other side of a personal, social or physical barrier can be one of the most satisfying of all human experiences.  

Pedestal Piece
2011
3-part performance
8 minute video (part 1)
Pedestal, clay, plaster, and found construction materials

OPP: How important are the specifics of the materials that you use in your performances, beyond the fact that they are often found garbage in or near the sites you perform in?

MS: The materials I collect and use for my work function as my palette. I search for materials that will bring tension and yet create a harmonious visual composition. I find myself attracted to materials that come from real life, have an industrial patina to them and contain a functionality that is in question. For example, in site-specific performances such as No more sugar for the monkey or Read? Read What?, I wanted to equalize the relationship between our discarded waste and excess and the very structures that exist to build up and accumulate such waste. In a similar way, the works Pigeon House or Pedestal Piece insert abject construction materials (dirt, rubble, mud, plastic, etc) into the gallery context. While breaking myself through a gallery wall or breaking myself out of a gallery pedestal, I call into question the structures—the white cube, for example—that exist to keep an institution erect. That said, I prefer hovering closer to parody and within the realm of human imagination, such as in my most recent videos Stasi Prison or Stick Werfen, rather than pushing my work in any specific political direction. Perhaps if I'm really honest with myself, I simply choose materials that turn me on. I am, after all, smearing them all over myself. :)

OPP: Your movements seem very intentional: when they are clunky, they seem purposefully so. When they are graceful, your performance is similar to modern dance. Are the performances choreographed or improvised?

MS: Intention plays perhaps the most important role of all in my work. I truly believe it doesn't really matter what you use, what you do or how you do it, as long as you are clear with your intentions and you are open to accepting and incorporating the unknown along the way. This is not just true in art-making. It applies to walking down the street and to living the life you want to live. It is always much easier to keep going in the same habitual patterns that feel comfortable, than it is to truly follow our intentions, incorporate the unknown and be willing to change. Because of this, I never choreograph in the traditional sense. I resist processes of memorization because I want to get away from the assumption that there is a right way of doing things. It is easy for us to fall into such mind patterns if we practice and over-practice something again and again.

For each work of art or performance, I set up a series of intentions, and the rest is improvised. I incorporate spatial intentions, like "I'm going to start here and end over there," or physical challenges, such as "I’m going to try to climb along those pipes which are five meters from the ground without falling." Also quite important are my mental structures, such as "I'm going to have a conversation with my ex," or "I'm going on a road trip with my family” or “I’m going to contemplate escape.” Finally I also set formal goals such as “I’m going to both make a sculpture and become a sculpture” or “I'm going to make a drawing in space.” 

All of this is easier said than done, however. It is difficult to stay true to your mental game when you are standing with the lights between your eyes. After a "failed" performance experience, it is often difficult for me to really know what went wrong. It usually has something to do with losing sight of the original intention or letting it slipping away. I take some comfort in sports psychology.  In this post-performance interview, I speak about the delicate balance between intention and letting go.

Aluminum Drawing Collage
2011
Cut photographs and acrylic on aluminum
80 x 100 cm

OPP: How do your background, your daily life and teaching affect your work?

MS: My early experience (ages five to twenty) with jazz and modern dance, musical theater, classical piano and vocal training allows me to think of my body and voice as natural and viable tools for art-making. My mother holds a degree in Performing Arts, one of my sisters is a dancer and choreographer and my brother is a set designer for the stage. I suppose you could also say it runs in the family. But I decided to study visual art because I've always had visions in my head that I want to manifest in a tangible way. It stressed me out to memorize choreography or lines from a play. Somehow, I didn't trust that process as much as I did the spontaneity of making a form from a lump of clay. By the end of graduate school, I realized I could communicate on multiple levels by translating movement or sound into tactile experience (and vice versa) so my current practice embodies that.

Additionally, the performance class I now teach at university also influences my practice. The class is based around structured improvisation as a means to communicate using our bodies, voices and material. We explore experiences like talking without words, acting versus reacting, emotional versus pedestrian movement and sounds, having a conversation with only facial expressions (no voice or gesture), balancing on one another, using materials as a means to express something, drawing in space, setting an unspoken goal together in the moment and finding an end. We work both in the studio and in public urban places, including the subway, the farmer's market, a public park or the university hallway. When not performing, the students are challenged to direct each other on the spot. Each student must plan a structured improvisation and direct a small group. By the end of the course, students work together to structure and perform a piece of their own creation in front of a live audience.

On a daily basis, my physical practice, which combines swimming, biking, pilates, yoga, voice-journaling and singing, allows me to stay fit enough to use the full range of my strength as well as the full range of my imagination.

OPP: What is voice-journaling?

MS: Voice-journaling is my way of getting things expressed and off my chest. It often happens spontaneously while out in the world or when I'm alone. It helps me to clear my head and process my artwork. It's also a way to communicate with another person privately, like writing a letter without the pressure of having to send it. In this way, it's more like "writing letters" to myself. The Only Capacity, You're Gonna Love It and I Hate It Here (I Heart Michigan) all made in 2007, are videos that use excerpts of voice-journaling.

Road Trip (Machine Pipe Drawing)
2011
2-part performance
15 minute video (Part 2)

OPP: Drawing is a fundamental part of your practice. I'm thinking of performances like Road Trip (Machine Pipe Drawing) (2011) and I've Been Digging in the Garden (Untitled Wall Drawing) (2011) and your Drawing Collage, Diagram Drawings, Music Drawings and Video Drawings. Could you talk about the connection between drawing and performance in your work?
 
MS: For me, drawing is gesture-making. First comes the stage fright of the blank page, then the music starts and then you go. Just don't look back until you're finished. That way you won't over think what you're doing, and more life can result from the marks you make. A primary function of drawing by hand (or body, in my case) is to leave a mark, to act, to respond to something, to communicate. When I set the mental goal for myself of “making a drawing,” I am always curious to see what kinds of gestures are left behind because they become markers of spontaneous decision-making. Such gestures can serve as a kind of memory map of improvisation. In the same way that a photograph captures a moment in time, so does slinging a clump of clay onto a wall. Even though they have two very different results, there is an inherent risk-taking in making a mark, whether that is drawing lines on a piece of paper, stepping out onto a stage or trespassing into a construction site in order to take a photograph.  

Gesture-making, or art in general, can be seen as both a tool for finding meaning and a tool for letting go of meaning itself. While arranging and rearranging the structures we find around ourselves, the conscious and unconscious gestures we make create waves of impact in our lives. In such gestures, we recognize the threads of harmony and moments of clarity that allow us to make sense of our experiences within the chaos of an irrational world. 

Untitled (Drawing Collage White)
2012
Cut photographs, silkscreen and acrylic on paper
40 x 60 cm

OPP: You've made a lot of work in Germany, including a performance with two dancers at Temporary Home as part of Documenta 13 in Kassel (2012). How and when did you first have the opportunity to perform there? Has the reception to your work been different in Germany than in the US?

MS: I first came to Berlin for a short residency at Takt Kunstprojektraum in the summer of 2008, and I'm still here. I was instantly drawn to the tension of the city's history, and I felt a huge amount of admiration for the endurance, tolerance and freedom that exists in the city's mentality. I felt at home within a constantly changing community of international artists, and I was drawn to the aesthetics of the raw industrial spaces and materials I first found in Berlin. I am still drawn to the construction sites in Germany and to the absurd logic of how they are organized and re-organized. In the United States, construction sites are usually hidden behind walls of wood. Here they exist as living parts of the street itself, so that you can see the pipes embedded in the sand below as they are constructed. I love living in a city whose guts are exposed.

When it comes to the reception of my work, I have found German audiences to be extremely well-educated about art history and architecture, emotionally intelligent and unafraid to engage in discussion about art. This includes my university students as well. There is a true love of discussion in the German culture. German people are unafraid to offer criticism or dissent; neutrality of emotion and independence of mind are valued higher than pleasing others or being well-liked. What I appreciate most about American audiences, on the other hand, is their enthusiasm, acceptance and appreciation of the unique. Their unchained, youthful sense of history means they highly value the reinvention of the self. I find that a certain amount of naiveté in American culture actually allows for a pure and fearless go-get-em mentality when it comes to following one's vision.

Perhaps that is what drives me to invade construction sites and climb through pipes and suspend myself in a crane while Singin' in the Rain! Or perhaps I'm more German now, organizing and re-organizing until everything falls to rubble.

To see more of Madeline's work, please visit madelinestillwell.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and spiritual significance of repetition 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. Her work is on view through September 2013 in Abstracting the Seam (Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago), and she has two upcoming solo exhibitions: I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (Klemm Gallery, Adrian, Michigan) in November 2013 and Right Here, Right Now (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Brian R. Jobe

Turfside Passage (Orlando)
2013
wood, 14" zip ties, sod
Detail

BRIAN R. JOBE's sculptures and site-specific installations explore the abstract concept of endlessness through a repetition of concrete forms. He uses common building materials such as cinder blocks, wood, roofing felt and plastic zip ties to draw in space, often creating an interactive pathway for the viewer. Brian's work is currently on view in two exhibitions: a two-person show titled Alignment 2x at the Center For Emerging Media at the University of Central Florida in Orlando (closing on February 22) and a solo installation titled Channel Modules at the Covenant College Art Gallery in Lookout Mountain, Georgia (closing on March 10). His upcoming solo show Land Overlap Wyoming opens in April 2013 at the University of Wyoming (Laramie), where he will simultaneously be a Visiting Artist. Brian lives in Knoxville, Tennessee. 

OtherPeoplesPixels: For years your most prominent recurring material has been the plastic zip tie. When did you first use this material in your work? What is it about this material that continues to be so compelling to you?

Brian R. Jobe: I first introduced plastic zip ties and loop locks into my work in 2004 during grad school and worked to utilize their material possibilities in a comprehensive way over the next seven years. My last piece that used zip ties was Turfside Passage: it served as a capstone for the material, stretching it to what I felt was its most visually resolved and public end.

I grew up drawing and always loved lines. When I started using plastic zip ties, they replaced the thread and mason’s line I was using before that time. At present, I’m interested in marking space and time by creating structural contexts. Today, linear or modular materials like wood, concrete blocks or bricks extend how zip ties have functioned in the work before. These materials provide structure and mark linear paths through repetition of form. I’m interested in pathways, corridors, highways, hallways and architectural forms that are often seen as a means to an end. But I construct them to be an end in and of themselves.

Tuft vs. Turf (Governors Island)
2009
14" zip ties, stair railings
84" x 113" x 102"

OPP: Your ongoing series Tuft vs.Turf includes outdoor, site-specific installations and found object sculptures. Between 2007 and 2011, you've wrapped plastic zip ties around road markers, cattle guards, railings, fire escapes, as well as found objects like a watering can, a hand saw, a meat tenderizer, and a utility lamp. Could you explain the title of the series? What does the gesture of wrapping these objects and sites mean to you?

BRJ: Tuft vs.Turf concluded in 2011 when I wrapped a forklift with zip ties which sat in front of the Blue Star Contemporary Art Center in San Antonio, Texas in conjunction with my solo show Blank Tides. The name Tuft vs.Turf highlights the tension between a spatial, geographic or static context and additive, physical markings. My aim with the ties is to re-contextualize a site or object so that the viewer might see it in a fresh way, in a reclaimed and also less functional way.

OPP: I read a more pointed ecological (or maybe philosophical) message in the early site-specific installations like Tuft vs.Turf (Cattle Guard) (2007) and Tuft vs.Turf (Gate) (2008). The fact that the zip ties are manufactured, made from plastic and often neon colors highlights the intrusion of the human hand into the natural environment. It seems significant that the plastic zip tie is a particular kind of strong, but temporary binding, and that it highlights these other means (the gate and the cattle guard) of the human attempt to dominate, or bind, nature. The meaning of the human intrusion shifts when you start to bring these outdoor installations into the city, as with Tuft vs. Turf (Fire Escape) (2009) and Tuft vs.Turf (Governors Island) (2009). When I looked at these, I began to think about the permanence or impermanence of graffiti and the way it is perceived of by some people as art and others as a public nuisance. What are your thoughts on this?

BRJ: Thanks for your highly considered reading of the work. While those interpretations weren’t my original intent, I’m glad to hear your observations and how you specifically relate to the series. It is always my aim for each piece to resonate on a universal level.

The immediate, secure, auditory gratification of each zip tie’s attachment paired with the temporal flexibility of the installations informed my selection of zip ties as the primary medium for that series. My goal throughout all of the Tuft vs. Turf projects was to create fluid, repetitive marks in space in order to highlight the architectural elements being wrapped and to alter viewers’ pre-conceived expectations about the element’s functionality. The pre-fabricated quality of the zip ties echoed the fabricated quality of the gate, cattle guard and fire escape.

For the rural interventions, I saw my action primarily as a way to respond to and spotlight the structural elements of a ranch environment. Similarly, it was my intent for the urban interventions to be seen in context (i.e. at a Chelsea gallery and at an art fair) and thus eliminate any question of its legality or any potentially subversive statement it may be making.

Turfside Passage (Knoxville)
2011
wood, 14" zip ties
84" x 28" x 288"

OPP: It looks like there was a shift in your practice around 2011, when you started to explore what you refer to as "the [innate] desire to move through corridors" in interactive sculptures like Turfside Passage (Knoxville) and in Land Overlap Tennessee #1 and #2 (2012). Is this desire a metaphor or some kind of biological imperative? Is that idea based in research or observation? Has audience interaction with Turfside Passage proven your hypothesis?

BRJ: Audience interaction with Turfside Passage has been the most dynamic I’ve witnessed. The participation ranges from the more private, personal experiences viewers have when walking through it to the delight of children running and screaming through it.

In my most recent work, I’ve reflected upon a motif that’s been recurring over the past ten years. When addressing large interior spaces, my inclination has been to create installations that require people to walk a circuit. That recurring pathway form, paired with a growing interest in architecture and public art, led me to create interactive corridors. Having an architect for a father, I’ve grown up thinking about space and material from an architectural point of view. I’ve recently decided that it’s a natural step for me to act on this tendency by building public structures. In fact, as my work shifts, I feel that I’ve only just begun my studio practice. I can finally can pair the material sensibility I’ve acquired with a clear vision towards representative and actual pathways. So, the desire to move through corridors is both metaphorical and actual. 

My research into the form of pathway has often been visual and first-hand, specifically in experiencing James Turrell’s The Light Inside at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the work of Richard Serra. Images of Richard Long’s walking pieces and by the scope of Robert Smithson’s oeuvre had a profound impact on me. I saw a terrific show last summer at Casey Kaplan in New York City of Liam Gillick’s recent projects that fired up my imagination. I also love the art of Sol LeWitt, Carl Andre, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, and Agnes Martin.

Channel Modules
2012
basswood, paint, flagging tape
7.5" x 64" x 3"

OPP: Your artist statement begins, "repetition signals endlessness." This statement combined with your corridors leads me to think about the postulation of the tunnel to heaven that people who have had near-death experiences talk about. And I think about the repetitive process of wrapping the zip ties as potentially meditative and maybe even evocative of the rosary. Is there a spiritual component to your work?

BRJ: As a child, I used to lie awake at night contemplating what it means to live forever after death, and I used to wish that forever were a fixed, quantifiable number like 10,000 years. The thought of endlessness has always been a startling notion, and my use of repetition in the work is a way for me to process the concept of forever.

Repetitive work can certainly be and has been meditative. The view of my corridors as “tunnels to heaven” is one of many associations that viewers may bring to the work. Personally, I’m coming from a place of wrestling with my smallness before God, and I’m exploring how the organization of material in sculpture can signal the wave of time yet to come.

Meridian Angle
2013
cinderblock, spray chalk, welding chalk, roofing felt
51" x 195" x 386"

OPP: Tell us about the work in the two exhibitions your work is in right now.

BRJ: Both shows have different goals. My work in Alignment 2x at the Center For Emerging Media at the University of Central Florida is paired with the work of sculptor Jason S. Brown, and the two of us created a new collaborative piece for the occasion. That work, Lifted Jacked, is composed of stacked troughs of gravel situated on steel posts, cinderblocks and packing foam. The piece started by considering gravel as an alternative future currency—something we may return to later on—but it became a formal, intuitive installation that suggests interstate overpasses more than bank vaults.

The work in my solo show Channel Modules at the Covenant College Art Gallery is largely new, experimental and site-specific. I created a room-sized work titled Meridian Angle. I lined the floor with roofing felt and organized a block pathway to create an interactive corridor. I addressed the non-traditional, architectural elements of the gallery and also subdivided the space in a way that challenges the viewer's expectations. In addition, there’s a repeating, stenciled form on the wall made with spray chalk over a template. On another wall is a six-foot-wide piece, titled Gravel Modules, which suggests many of the same concepts that the room-sized installation does, except in a more condensed, straightforward way. It’s probably my favorite of the new works since it is an archetype for many future concepts.

To see more of Brian's work, please visit brianjobe.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and existential significance of participating in mediated culture in her embroidery, video, sculpture and collage works. She received her MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2006), where she will begin teaching in Spring 2013, and is currently a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT Residency in Chicago. Notable exhibitions include Losing Yourself in the 21st Century (Maryland Art Place, Baltimore), MP3 (The Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago), Please Stand By: Stacia Yeapanis + Readymade (Baang & Burne Contemporary, New York), Over and Over Again (BOLT Project Space, Chicago).