OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews R. Mertens

Set it up and load it and you can walk away, 2015

R. MERTENS investigates the rising and passing away of technology and the human relationship to obsolescence. His installations combine the materials of recent predigital technologies—VHS tape, electrical cords, old TVs and computers—with the much older technologies of weaving and crochet, evoking monuments, shrines and ritual sites. Rob earned his BFA in Sound Art from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and his MFA in Fiber Art from The University of Oregon. In 2016, his work was included in the group exhibitions CARPA at the Museum of Contemporary Craft (Portland, Oregon), Extreme Fibers at the Dennos Museum Center (Traverse City, Michigan) and New Waves at the Museum of Contemporary Art (Virginia Beach, Virginia). His exhibition Paradoxical Acousmetres opened as part of Spring Solos 2016 at Arlington Arts Center in Virginia. Rob is currently an Assistant Professor at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where he lives.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What are the conceptual connections between the pre-digital technologies you use as materials and the fiber techniques of weaving and crochet?

R. Mertens: My initial interest in fibers came from my experience in Sound Art actually. In Chicago I worked as an intern for the Experimental Sound Studio during a period of transition for the studio. They were moving to a custom facility and I helped move equipment. Along with this I was backing up old cassette tapes to computer hard drives, this was in 2006, and home pc recording was really about to take off. ESS has an amazing collection of audio called the Creative Audio Archive which includes home recordings of Sun Ra, anyway it was this time period in which I was starting to think about how technology changes and how fibers/spun-string is often considered one of the earliest forms of technology. Thus, I’m interested in the evolution and progression of technology and record keeping.

Schematic Tapestry, 2013

OPP: It’s pretty common nowadays to think of all of our online, digital activities as being in opposition to our pre-digital lives. It often gets casually referred to as a distinct break, i.e. before and after the World Wide Web, but there are a lot of early technological precursors, as you acknowledge. Can you say more about the evolution and progression of technology?

RM: Part of my interest in technology is the moment when society shifts away from a progression, i.e. when laser disc was abandoned and VHS became the medium of choice. Those dead ends have a parallel in the natural world; species die out and leave fractions of biodiversity behind. Specifically, I find the long-coming extinction of VHS tape, 9-track tape, and the true hold out—cassette tape—to be fascinated and connected to larger notions of loss in culture.

While I was living out on the West Coast I became interested in two distinct but similar things. I learned about The Museum of Jurassic Technology in California and about Pre-Columbian Andean Khipu. The Museum of Jurassic Technology is an experimental archive founded by David Hildebrand Wilson and Diana Drake Wilson "The museum's collection includes a mixture of artistic, scientific, ethnographic, and historic, as well as some unclassifiable exhibits" (Wikipedia). It approaches those subjects from a more flexible understanding of historicity and creativity with the understanding that narratives grow and change through time. Khipu is Quechua for "knot" and is/was a record-keeping, tied cord. It’s a system of knots used to represent language and numeric values. Both the museum and Khipu influence my work in how I think about lost or eschewed narratives found in works of art. Khipu were largely destroyed by the Spanish during invasion of South America. Roughly 600 hundred from 1500 and before still exist today, and though there has been a great deal of scholarship focused on deciphering the cords, the idea that these objects carry lost meaning is potent and meaningful in itself. This connected with the construction of "true" and "flourished" archives led me to the construction of my past work.

Angelas, 2014. VHS tape, cotton, plastic, large Transducers. 15 x 9 x 1'

OPP: What does obsolescence mean to you and how do you employ it (or ignore it) in your work?

RM: The idea of obsolescence is at the core of much of my work. Working in Fibers, which is typically characterized as a craft medium, I am often confronted with the roll of function in my art, and the idea of obsolescence in regards to function seems very direct. What happens when things lose function or are made disregarding function? Does it expedite the process of becoming obsolete? Can new functions emerge out of obsolescence?

OPP: I’m gonna turn that one around on you because I think, in your practice, the answer is clearly yes. What new functions can emerge out of obsolescence? Both in general in our contemporary world and specifically in your practice?

RM: In my practice specifically I think the new function is related to identifying cultural belief structures and developing a visual understanding of why our contemporary culture is obsessed with Apocalyptic or Post-Apocalyptic narratives. The work is a sign post for discovering what we already know but aren't critical of, i.e. our impending endings. So the work is symbolic in function.

I see more specific functions emerging out of technological obsolescence in up-cycling, recycling, and a focus on sustainable systems. This is generally the conversation most people want to have around my work, taking broken and old things and recycling them as art.

Untitled Mask, 2013. Electronic components, VHS tapes, ethernet cable, electrical wire, 4-harness twill weave, crochet, macramé, needle weaving; 8’ x 8’ x 5’

OPP: Many works reference shrines, rituals and monuments. In your project statement for More Something from Nothing (2014), you state: "The line between art and spirituality in contemporary art is an often tenuous one. Spiritual Art or art about religion is generally characterized as either polemic or naive. In other words, it is didactically critical or unabashedly uncritical. I often wonder if art and spirituality can be sincerely and critically united." Have you discovered any answers since then?

RM: I’ve read some of James Elkins’ writing on this topic and that statement is speaking directly to what you’ve said. My interest stems from a Psychology of Death class I took at SAIC taught by Tim O’Donnell. In that class we discussed the ways in which humans have coped with the idea of their demise. There are common strategies people use: believing in life after death, i.e. religion; returning to nature; living on and transcending through Art; and living to create a legacy for the next generation. This has affected the way I approach my art making.

I’m an atheist making work about spirituality that is neither uncritical nor critical of religion. I am simply looking at the creative capacity of humans to develop belief structures and noticing the similarities of modernism and religion. Minimalism is often seen as the purest form of modernist principles, and I think there are some very clear parallels between Greenbergian theory and religious Fundamentalism.

Monument to Repetition, 2015

OPP: I 100% agree. I’m curious and interested in how Greenberg experiences midcentury abstraction and minimalism. I appreciate his first-person experience. It even fits with some of my own art-viewing experiences. The problem enters when he turns that personal experience of art into Dogma, i.e. defining “good” art as only the kind that fits his experience and his unexamined bias. So why do you think the opinion of this one man held so much weight and had such a deep and long-lasting effect on how we evaluate “good” art?

RM: Timing mostly, his philosophy was coming in at the end of modernism in a way- as art was boiling down further and further to be about itself and reduced to its essential elements, it’s no surprise that postmodernism emerged. Thus the generations of people who had devoted a life time of practice and study to modernism held on for dear life to the hard-edged box of Greenberg's ideas. Also the visual language had a lineage of 30+ years, so the historian could confidently talk about it, and humans, being the way they are, are happy if they can assuredly have something concrete to say and feel "right" about it.

OPP: Tell us about Nothing from Something, your new series “influenced by minimal and post-minimal art from the 60s-70s.” How is this influence showing up in your formal decisions?

RM: In moving to Virginia, I wanted to develop a series of pieces I could send to exhibits across the country. My starting point was looking to my art heroes: Robert Morris, Claire Zeisler, Sheila Hicks, Marina Abakanowicz and Eva Hesse. I was hoping there is an understood reference to “Making Something from Nothing” by Lucy Lippard. The sound components to these pieces reference the condition of feminism in our current culture and the confusion around what feminism means, noting the continued importance of the original text and relevance to Fiber Art education.

Paradoxical Acousmetres, 2016. Installation.

OPP: Tell us about your recent show Paradoxical Acousmetre.

RM: Paradoxical Acousmetres, as defined by Michel Chion, signifies “those deprived of some powers that are usually accorded to the acousmetre.” The Acousmetre is “the very voice of what is called the primary identification with the camera.” In cinema it is the omnipresent acousmatic voice of the narrator. Therefore, the Paradoxical Acousmetre is a narrator-creator identity, which is uninformed of the divergent path the “visual narrative” has taken from their “spoken narrative.”

In a sense it’s a continued investigation into failure and was part of the Spring Solo Series at the Arlington Art Center. I was interested in finding areas around the Center to do street performance/installations, which are linked to various laser cut Felt pieces housed in the gallery with an immersive sound installation. 

To see more work, please visit robertmertensartist.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 titled  Resist the Urge to Press Forward with Brent Fogt at Riverside Art Center (Riverside, Illinois) and Sacred Secular, a solo show at Indianapolis Arts Center in Indiana.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Marcelyn Bennett Carpenter

Turn
Elastic
2013

The stark, monochrome lines of MARCELYN BENNETT CARPENTER’s interactive, elastic installations are visually reminiscent of Minimalist sculpture. But these formal qualities belie the material qualities of flexibility and resilience. Her work entices viewers to become embodied participants, placing the sense of touch on par with the culturally-privileged sense of sight. Even her recent hand-woven drawings destabilize our habitual reliance on the visual by interrupting the image—a conceptual representation—with the tangible line of the warp. After earning a BA in Philosophy (Wheaton College, 1994) and a BFA in Drawing and Painting (University of Colorado at Denver, 1999),  Marcelyn went on to earn her MFA in Fiber from Cranbrook Academy of Art (Michigan, 2003). Recent exhibitions include Extreme Fibers (2016) at the Muskegon Museum of Art in Michigan and Touch, Touch, Touch (2015) at Arrowmont Gallery in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Her work has recently been featured in Essay’d, an online series of short essays that documents Detroit artists actively working around the city during this perplexing time of simultaneous ruin and generation. Her work is currently on view in Please Touch at the Target Gallery at the Torpedo Factory (Alexandria, Virgina) until July 7, 2016. Marcelyn lives and works in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Elastic plays a large role in your practice and shows up in so many different projects, including Snap, Tensions and various interactive installations. What was the first piece that used elastic?

Marcelyn Bennett Carpenter: During grad school at Cranbrook, I used elastic in an installation called Pinch Pots, in which I suspended little porcelain pots from elastic lines. I weighted the pots with sand and scented oil. People were encouraged to enter into the installation and play with the pots dangling on elastic. There were so many lines and pots that the pots jumped all over and would crash into the floor or into other pots. The sand sprayed out and the pots slowly were destroyed, but the elastic recovered. The sand and the broken pots were stepped on, creating sound and sensation on the feet. It was a really satisfying experience of destruction and discovery all at once. This interaction allowed for more of the senses to come into play, engaging the body more fully with the work.

Tensions: Yellow, Red, Blue
Elastic, Paper, Porcelain, felt, cotton, lead
60' x 20' x 20'
2016

OPP: What have you learned about this material over the years?

MBC: Elastic is the perfect material for creating physical art work that you can feel. . . art that you touch and play with. Its main function is to move with the body. It responds to your movements, your action, and then it recovers. It holds a variety of tensions until it is released and returns back to its original form. 

I love elastic. I love how, like many textiles, we are using it almost 24/7. Our underwear, our bra straps, our pajamas, our swimming suits, our exercise clothing, our pants, skirts, hair ties all stay with us because of elastic’s ability to respond and hold tight while our bodies are constantly moving through space throughout the day. It is really hard to break elastic.

fitting: Coral #2
Elastic
2009

OPP: Can you talk about interactivity versus performance with your elastic installations? You’ve allowed for both.

MBC: I am still learning and experimenting with interactivity, performance and even non-interaction. There are many possibilities for how the work can behave in the world. I knew the work could lend itself to rigorous interactions with dancers, so when opportunities arose to collaborate, I took them. The only way to find out was to research it  and try it.

I see interaction more as the audience playing with the work. This exists when viewers physically handle the work or when they simply move around it. When someone looks up, bends down, or cranes the neck for a different view, they are moving with the work. They are physically engaged. When they dare to touch the work and manipulate it with their hands or body, I have gotten to a whole other area of the brain for them. The more sensations the work gives them, the richer the aesthetic experience, and the more they will remember, think and feel about the work.  



Three Loves
Elastic
10' x 5' x 18'
2005

OPP: I assume Pick-ups are meant to picked up by the viewer. How difficult or easy is it to get viewers to overcome the convention of not touching art?

MBC: I have always thought of getting people to touch the work as a design problem. How can I get the object to inherently communicate to the viewer to touch it. Fiber and ceramics lend themselves to touch naturally, and those are the main materials I work in. Half the battle is won. But the socialization to not touch in a gallery or museum is pretty strong, so often I resort to giving permission to touch on the signage. 

Luckily, I have been involved in two shows lately where all the work in the show was intended to be touchable. The title of the exhibitions were Touch, Touch, Touch and Please Touch.  I also curated a show called Handle with Care. This was a great way to go about it, and the spirit in the gallery is just terrific when people are playing and exploring art in this way.

There are other design problems: How do I allow for touch to happen and protect the work from damage? Do I control the way a viewer touches the work? Or do I allow for the destruction of the work through the interaction like in the wear and tear in my Pinch Pot installation. I have had an installation totally destroyed by dancers who didn’t understand the work’s limitations. In retrospect, I would have insisted on more practice time with the work before the performance. But work does get damaged, and I often struggle with whether I should fix it or should I let its disintegration be a part of it.

Tablescape
Porcelain, Stretch netting, and glass
24" x 48" x 40"
2015

OPP: Is it harder with small objects than installations?

MBC: For me, the large scale installations are more satisfying because they are more open-ended and engage the whole body, but the smaller works like the Pick Ups and Snaps! are fun for the fingers and create a lot of visual pleasure too! I also don’t underestimate what the imagination can fill in. One reaction I often get from the Pick Ups is that people want to taste them! It is much better for them to imagine the taste than to actually taste stretch netting and porcelain!

Tamarack (detail)
Handwoven Drawing
4' x 6'
2015



OPP: I see a formal connection between the warp of your hand-woven drawings and the taut vertical lines in Tensions and various interactive elastic installations. But the weavings are so static and discreet compared to the other projects, at least for the viewer. Is there an underlying conceptual thread between these two seemingly disparate bodies of work?

MBC: I think you hit the nail on the head. It’s all about the warp! I came to weaving after I had been creating my interactive installations for many years. I teach weaving and fiber arts full time at the Kingswood Weaving Studio at Cranbrook Schools. The verticality of the warp and the tension held by the loom were visually the same as my elastic installations! I quickly became immersed in figuring out how weaving could be integrated into my own work. My BFA is in drawing and painting, so I have been playing with how can I bring a more spontaneous, quick way of drawing and almost graffiti effect into weaving. Nothing in weaving is quick, but I found the handwoven drawings to be quicker and super satisfying for me. I am coordinating all these elements: the drawing, the string, the colors, the density of the strings. Once it is off the loom, I work back into the surface of the handwoven drawing with paint, stickers, and even embroidery. 

These works are pretty new for me; it’s been just a year. I am really intrigued by how I can draw on the wood slats, then veil the drawing in the warp. It reminds me of how my installations optically transform and even veil space. The warp does the same to the drawings. The warp appears and disappears, adding incredible depth and texture. If you look at the handwoven drawings from the side, you only see the warp threads and not the drawing. I also suspend the weavings out from the wall and paint the backs in bright colors, so there is a glow that surrounds the piece from behind. Shadows of light through the handwoven drawings are pretty incredible too. Even though space is treated two-dimensionally in the handwoven drawings, it is still about space and maybe that space is more inward than outward.

Abandon: Kingswood Parking Lot
Pencil and ink
42" x 36"
2015

OPP: Please talk about the imagery in your most recent Abandon drawings. Will these become weavings?

MBC: The imagery in Abandon is very similar formally to the psychological Rorschach ink blot tests. I built upon these tests, though, by mirroring abandoned homes and locating the psychology in the home. One of the main indicators of abandonment is the foliage around the house, which takes over almost like a creature or unstoppable “destructive” force reclaiming the space back for nature. I also thought a lot about what it means to walk away from a home, to abandon it. So many memories, relationships, so much dysfunction, as well as familial, social and financial security are held in a house. So many of our psychological experiences occur in the space of a home. I flattened and ghosted out the houses and the surrounding foliage to abstract them and allow for a more imaginative interpretation. 

For the large weavings, I have used only the tree and foliage imagery so far. I really enjoy trying to give a tree personality and employing some of the textile design structures like repeating motifs and borders as in rugs, but these structures are not woven. They are drawn and then woven. Like I said, they are pretty new works, so I won’t eliminate the possibility of the houses working their way into them in the future. 

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 Melissa Leandro

Fracturada, Monument
2015
Woven fabric, plastic, vinyl, electrical tape on linen. Heat fused
82” x 100”

MELISSA LEANDRO creates complex, sumptuous surfaces using traditional textile techniques in unconventional ways. Her diverse repertoire includes drawing, hand embroidery, machine sewing, paper-making, felting, heat-fusing and weaving, and she ultimately balances all these in a symbolic exploration of her cultural identities as both Latina and North American. Melissa lives and works in Chicago. She is currently pursuing her graduate studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, while maintaining an active exhibition record. After winning the Juror’s Award at the 57th Annual Beloit and Vicinity exhibition in 2014, her solo exhibition Recuerdos de Un Paseo is on view at the Wright Museum of Art in Beloit, Wisconsin until August 2, 2015. Her work is included in the group exhibition, Mom & Pop: Family Business in Art and Life, curated by Anthony Stepter. It opened last week at Arts Incubator at the University of Chicago and will be on view until September 11, 2015.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us a little about your history with the various techniques you use in your practice. How does each feed into the others?

Melissa Leandro: I originally began with traditional floor loom weaving and then quickly moved to weaving with the aid of a digital Jacquard loom. I also have an obsession with learning and inventing new techniques while using my hands for repetitive and methodical systems of making.

Weaving and stitching follow a particular pattern—over under, up and down—but intentionally causing inconsistencies in that pattern to achieve an unconventional outcome is extremely satisfying. I’d like my work to constantly generate or branch off into new ideas. My process of making and thinking through ideas never completely ends. I often go back and fourth with imagery and process by using reoccurring marks and patterns from finished or in-progress works.

At the root of my practice is a perpetual interest in considering how to create harmonious combinations of process, material and pattern within a given object or textile. Over time, I’ve developed a working method that often calls for the fusion of materials into new textiles and surfaces through processes like heat-fusing, weaving, felting and paper-making. For example, I often build up multiple layers of plastic, paper, felt, yarn and fuse them together to create a new substrate. The materials are often cheap, cast-away domestic objects, like upholstery, tablecloths and polyester fabric. Through the process of weaving, elements of the original materials are hidden, exposed and thus fragmented. I use embellishment techniques like embroidery and stitching to further build up, expose or hide pattern and color.

Recuerdo, this and that
2015
Woven cotton, electrical tape on linen. Heat fused.
44” x 64”

OPP: What role does translation—in terms of materials, media, and language—play in your practice?

ML: I’m interested in moving sourced pattern and drawn lines through multiple processes of translation. I often begin with a base process—small-scale line drawings, two-dimensional collages or cyanotype prints, for example—that is consistent and has limited freedom in its output. I create these intimate, abstract works during moments of transit, extended travel or moments of boredom, usually in a sketchbook. Then I translate them through embroidery, machine sewing, paper-making, felting, heat-fusing and weaving. I enjoy the idea that my paper pieces can move through multiple iterations until they are drastically different from their original form, both in scale and texture.

Lately, this has been through the use of cyanotype or “sun prints.” Cyanotype, a photographic printing process that uses the sun for exposure, leaves only an impression of the original object. I imprint family trinkets and mementos, fabric, lace, leaves, rocks and small sculptures, but their nuanced textures and colors are stripped away. What remains is a distorted—translated—image of shapes and lines.

From here the image is traced, photocopied, cut and collaged to create new drawings, weavings and sculptural objects that only slightly echo the original linear elements of the cyanotype. The sentimentality of these objects becomes blurred and sometimes totally lost. My titles connect the final work with its original inspiration. Spanish phrases, words and slang in my titles often refer to being on journeys, endless paths, lost in mazes. Alternatively, there are more specific cultural adjectives about character and class.

I am conflicted by being a part of two different cultures, identifying myself as both American and Latina. I struggle with bouncing back and forth between thinking and speaking in English and Spanish. I’m continually concerned that one culture is becoming more dominant than the other. My practice has become a means to seek out systems that highlight these stark differences while forcing them to coexist within the same plane.

I'll make my own
2012
Jacquard weaving
26.5" x 36"

OPP: I love your idea of language as the "warp and weft of a mixed culture." Can you expand on that as it relates to Spanglish?

ML: In Miami, it’s common for people to speak in English but regularly use Spanish words or phrases as a form of slang. Although, I don’t live in Miami any more, I still occasionally use Spanglish and process thoughts and memories in both languages. As time progresses, it becomes difficult to differentiate whether memories were in one language or another; things are lost in translation.

This mixing of languages has often lead to the creation of new slang words, which correlates to the mixing of material textures in my practice. I combine natural with synthetic, bright with muted, digital with analog, just in the same way Miami was a collision of cultures, music, food and so on. There is also a huge contrast between the rural landscapes of Costa Rica—my family’s home country—and the more urban, party town that is Miami and now my urban home of Chicago. I find comfort in merging the physical qualities of a very rural landscape with the rich, hyper extreme colors that surround me in the U.S. Through material investigation, I believe this play between local and foreign influences will impact my work for some time to come.

Waist Side
2014
Jacquard weaving, gradient stitching

OPP: What's a "gradient stitch?" Tell us how you use it in your work.

ML: A “gradient stitch” is a term I use to describe a very dense zig-zag machine stitch that requires gradated sewing thread. Every sewn inch, changes thread color, fluctuating between three-five colors in one given spool of thread. The thread has a smooth transition between each color, allowing for solid, colored lines to be “drawn” on fabric. I frequently choose colors that are vivid or neon because they give a desired effect of vibrating on the fabric’s surface. Similar to my pen drawings on paper, I use sewn stitches to draw repetitive lines, dashes and shapes. By making crucial decisions on thread color, the sewn plane is alive and in constant transition. The end results are illustrations that resemble warped and deconstructed topographical maps.

Paz
2013
Braided tapestry warp on jacquard weaving
28" x 26"

OPP: In works from 2011 like Mi Mama, Mi Papa and La Familia, there were more literal references to your family and heritage. But in recent years, you have shifted more towards symbolic abstraction. In your statement, you say, "I create an inventory of symbols connected to [childhood] memories based on abstract structures, systems of map making, topography, and landmark images." Could you highlight a favorite recurring symbol for us?

ML: One repeating symbol in my work is a cluster of linear, mountainous forms, forming landscapes. Specifically, they are hill-like shapes that stack on top of one another, often consuming the paper, woven cloth or stitched fabric I’m working on. This symbol represents my affinity for rural environments. Growing up, I spent many summers in Costa Rica. I later realized the rural, mountainous and lush landscape subconsciously influenced what I was doodling in my sketchbook. As the imagery became more pronounced, my doodling turned into a body of drawings that depicted mountains, valleys, dirt mounds, roads and river paths. Now I spend much of my time in urban cities, so my drawing practice reconnect me with surroundings that are currently quite foreign to me. My drawings shift between landscape and aerial views. The symbols have also begun to mesh urban and rural elements together. I associate squares and straight lines with urban environments, while circular shapes represent rural/natural environments.

Untitled
2015
Synthetic weaving, plastic, rubber, electrical tape. Heat fused

OPP: You've also been working with the doily as a material symbol. What does it mean to you?

ML: Doilies have recently become an incredibly prominent symbol. The doily has a rich connection with home decoration, dinning and social class. I’m interested in thinking about how the doily has moved through materials; first as silk ornaments made for furniture coverings, then cotton doily placemats, to recent uses as plastic coasters and tablecloths. There is a fascinating juxtaposition between a handmade cotton doily heirloom and a mass-produced plastic, disposal doily coaster, which hints at a huge shift in class status and value for the handmade. The disposability of this symbolic object make me want to invest in it as pattern.

I have begun to weave with plastic doily tablecloths. I cut the material into strips, weave them together using a tabby construction and then heat-fuse the whole piece; the heat melts the plastic strips to form a new substrate. The imagery of the doily is fragmented and obscured by other woven-in, synthetic materials like plastic rug liners, disposable tablecloths, fabric gimp, trim and sequins. These cheap, domestic materials were a huge part of my childhood home, which was decorated with plastic dishware, textiles and furniture. My work reincarnates these utilitarian and disposable textiles into something surreal, gaudy and precious.

To see more of Melissa's work, please visit melissaleandro.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). Stacia recently completed an installation for Chicago Artists' Coalition's 2015 Starving Artist Benefit and is currently working towards a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, for O’Connor Art Gallery at Dominican University (River Forest, IL). The show will open on November 5, 2015.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Steven Vasquez Lopez

Some Strings Attached 037 (detail)
2013
Ink on Paper
9" x 12"

The snags and unraveling edges of STEVEN VASQUEZ LOPEZ's colorful, hand-drawn textiles embody the accidental beauty of mistakes, acting as a graphic metaphor for an optimistic way of viewing life's chaotic moments. Influenced by the perseverance of his seamstress mother and mechanic/welder father, he reveals the connections between drawing, textile production and manual labor in his patterned grids, which echo Minimalist painting, the weave structures of plaids and the color palette of Mexican serape blankets. Steven received his BA from UC Santa Barbara and his MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute. He is a past recipient of the William Dole Memorial Scholarship (1999, 2000), Abrams Prize (2000), Murphy and Cadogan Fellowship (2006), and the 2012 ArtSlant prize. He has exhibited widely throughout California and is represented by CES Contemporary (Los Angeles), where he had his first solo show Accidental Moments in 2014. His work is currently featured in the San Francisco-based The New Asterisk, now available in print and online. Steven lives in San Francisco.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your paintings and drawings are dense with color and pattern. Where did your love of pattern come from? What influences your color palate?



Steven Vasquez Lopez: I grew up around a lot of sewing and fabric. My mother became a seamstress at a very early age in order to earn her own money. I spent a lot of time next to her while she worked, so I have an intimate relationship with fabric swatches and pattern. Also, I went to Catholic school, where we wore plaid uniforms. Then, during high school I took some architectural drafting classes that nurtured my interested in linear and geometric drawing. Over the last five years, these influences have merged into my current work with pattern and color. Now, I continue to be influenced by plaid and color from uniforms, men’s clothing, and Mexican serapes that I see around me.

Some Strings Attached 043
2013
Ink on Paper
9" x 12"

OPP: The ink drawings from Patches and Some Strings Attached, equally recall Agnes Martin's abstract grids and woven textiles. Of course, the entire history of painting has been covering over the natural grid of the woven canvas itself. Do you have any weaving experience or interest in learning to weave?

SVL: I’m glad you mentioned that. I received my MFA at the San Francisco Art Institute, where there is a real importance on understanding the linage and history of the work you are making and ideas you explore. I’m well aware of and influenced by prolific artists like Agnes Martin, Cy Twombly and Sol Lewitt, as well as contemporaries such as Jim Isserman, Amy Ellingson and Nike Schröder, for their use of color, form and ideas as they relate to art history, culture and technology.

My domestic sewing machine and overlock/serger machine never has time to collect dust because I use both so frequently for alterations and making my own clothing. I’m obsessed with well-tailored clothing. A few years ago, my mom taught me how to crotchet. I have to be careful because I love compulsive, laborious projects, and drawing already consumes a lot of my time.

I would love to get some instruction on weaving or creating textiles on a loom. Do you know anyone in the Bay Area you can introduce me to? Haha! My work has been used with a few research projects in fashion and textiles. It would be fun to collaborate with a designer on avant-garde and conceptual textile designs. I get a lot of recommendations to put my work into fashion. For me, it would need to be the right project. Although the drawings are influenced by fashion, I don’t envision just silk-screening them onto t-shirts. It would be important for me to get my hands and understanding on the technical side of a fashion project, then develop the conceptual parameters. There is a lot of potential there. I’m sure when the right opportunity presents itself, I’ll be on board.

Shelf Life 003
2013
Ink on Paper
22" x 30"

OPP: Tell us about the process and experience of drawing so many straight lines. Free hand or ruler?

SVL: I can’t give up all my secrets! However, I will tell you that I don’t use any pencil or preliminary under-drawing. It’s all hand-drawn with ink, and it’s a one-shot deal. I like that intense precision. I’m obsessed with the notion of a human imitating a machine to produce work. It makes the drawings more personal and valuable on both a conceptual and tangible level. Also, I have to learn a formula for each pattern and repeat the math in my head as I’m drawing. I don’t write down or record any formulas. Instead, I sing the numbering in my head. All these years of drawing, I have developed an ability to measure out the spacing really accurately. The entire process feeds my obsessive-compulsive need to make laborious, challenging and meticulous hand-made work. I thrive off it. It’s fulfilling and rewarding!

Patches 008
2013
Ink on Paper
9.5" x 13.25"

OPP: On the one hand, the drawings from Patches (2013) are pure color and pattern. They evoke plaid fabric scraps and bring to mind patchwork quilts and mended clothing. But these patches seem to have personality. The more I look at them, they become blobby beings hugging one another instead of flat scraps of fabric. Could you talk about your intentions in this body of work?

SVL: After making about 30 of the abstract pattern drawing from Some Strings Attached, which is a ongoing series, I wanted to work on drawings that could be a little more organic, personal, quirky and silly. By using blobby shapes, the swatches transform into these interesting characters with personalities. I come from a very big, supportive, funny, loving Mexican family, and I wanted to use these amoebas to tell stories about the relationships with my family and friends in a vaguely narrative way. The patches are beautiful and resourceful support systems for one another, disregarding judgment based on economic elitism. I’m glad to hear that you see a few of them hugging each other. That is exactly what is going on.

Some Strings Attached 111
2014
Ink on Paper
14" x 17"

OPP: Talk about the metaphors of the snag and the unraveling edge.



SVL: Initially, I didn’t intend on any unraveling in the drawings. I needed a project that I could do while traveling so the series started without “imperfections.” I made about fifteen perfect uninterrupted pattern drawings. Then I hit some turbulence on a plane and messed up a drawing that I had been working on for about five hours. I put it aside and had to deal with the disappointment. When I pulled the drawing out a few days later, I realized that moment of disruption was the precise moment of awareness in the work. It turned out that a happy accident was my awaking into Some Strings Attached.

One metaphor is that we spend so much of our daily lives on autopilot, trying to keep life stable, predictable and consistent. This way of living is so consuming that we forget to look around and be in the moment. We need to get off our phones and devices and pay attention to the real nuances and quirks that make life special and memorable.

On a personal level, I spent a lot of my younger years making sense of diversity. A large part of the population conforms to preconceived ideas of success and lifestyle. We need to teach both our youth and “old dogs” to embrace difference. There’s nothing more boring and depressing than a homogenous culture. Self-deprecation based on the ideals and expectations of others is a disease learned at an early, impressionable age. Let’s embrace and celebrate our uniqueness, rather than oppress and demonize anything or anyone outside of our comfort zone. I’m optimistic that it’s getting better with more awareness and visibility, but there’s still more terrain to cover. A snag in my drawings can either be viewed as a mistake or a beautiful, unique moment. It’s all perspective. How do you look at life?

To see more of Steven's work, please visit stevenvlopez.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. Stacia is currently looking forward to creating a site-responsive collage installation in her hometown. NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists opens on July 11, 2014 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Joell Baxter

Magic Carpet, detail
2013
Screenprinted paper, glue
5 x 96 x 96 inches

JOELL BAXTER's practice combines screenprinting, weaving, sculpture and color theory in an exploration of visual perception and physical response. The placement of her multicolored, paper weavings-turned-sculptures on the floor evokes minimalist sculpture and interior design staples like carpets and couches, while the simplicity of the weave structure brings to mind grade school craft projects. Beginning in September, she will be an Artist-in-Residence in The Space Program at Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation. Her solo project Coverer will be on view at Real Art Ways in Hartford, Connecticut until June 27, 2014. Then it travels to Greensboro, North Carolina to be part of the group exhibition Art on Paper 2014 at Weatherspoon Art Museum from September 27-December 21, 2014. Joell lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us a little about your trajectory as an artist and your influences.

Joell Baxter: I studied painting as an undergraduate, and I still think about what I do in relation to that tradition. But I have always made work that sits between disciplines and actively engages the viewer in different modes of looking. All of my work strongly references minimalism, in terms of its approach to space and to creating a one-on-one relationship between the viewer and the work. I use very basic processes and forms that are reminiscent of grade school arts and crafts projects like weaving potholders. I want to evoke an immediate sense of familiarity, almost a muscle memory of how the work was made. But after that initial response, I hope that what at first seemed familiar becomes strange and more complex.

My most important art historical influences include: Sol LeWitt’s visually complex works created from seemingly simple ideas; Agnes Martin’s meditative focus; Josef Albers’ articulation of the relative nature of color; and Anni Albers’ writings on the historical importance of textiles as a kind of portable architecture.

Untitled (Rolled)
2011
Screenprinted paper, hand cut and woven; glue
5 x 17 x 40 inches

OPP: All the paper that you work with is screenprinted, but most of it is solid-colored paper. Is it significant that you don't purchase existing colored paper for use in your sculptures? 



JB: My decision to print all of my own paper is largely practical. I use a carefully calibrated pallet of 12 hues in 8 different degrees of saturation. It would be hard to find these 96 exact colors in a commercial paper. In more recent works—Magic Carpet and Coverer—I have been printing blends of complimentary colors, so the color isn’t solid anymore. After printing full sheets, the paper is cut down, glued into long strips and woven by hand.

I also really love the process of screenprinting. Printing flats and color-blends in particular is a very meditative act, and I find the repetitive action of flooding the screen and pulling the ink to be extremely conducive to thinking through ideas. I like the fact that, as a technology, screenprinting sits in this strange spot between handmade and mechanical. The screen and squeegee are mediating the application of color to the paper, but it still requires a very physical, human action.

Stack Overflow (detail)
2011
Screenprinted paper, hand torn and stacked; tape
1 x 72 x 72 inches

OPP: Is the color distribution in your work more influenced by color theory or intuition? Is this planned in advance of beginning a piece?



JB: I am interested in understanding how light and visual perception work together to create an experience of color. My basic mode of using color is very systematic. As much as anything, it comes from the basic color theory one learns in elementary school: the color wheel, mixing secondary colors from primary colors and mixing compliments.

In planning my work, everything is extremely orderly and can be diagrammed as a set of instructions. I typically use colors in the order of the visible spectrum, so red follows orange follows yellow, and so on. But by weaving these colors together, they start to interact and become harder to name and distinguish. This is due to the inherent nature of weaving, where color relationships are constantly alternating through the pattern of over and under. So there is a kind of glitch introduced into the plans, forcing me to let go of absolute control over the results.

Endless Day, Endless Night (for g.m.b.)
2011
Screenprinted paper, hand cut and woven; glue
2 parts, 5 x 46 x 46 inches each

OPP: Could you talk about the woven, pillow-like form you have repeatedly executed in paper and your choice to exhibit it on the floor?



JB: The pillow pieces are human in scale, about the right size to sit in comfortably, and the sunken void in the middle seems to invite the viewer in. Placed directly on the floor, they share real space with the viewer and could almost be functional. But then the opticality of the work and the fragility of the paper take over, and they become more like paintings or drawings that are holding themselves up in space. So you move between a very empathetic and physical response to the work, and a very visual one, without ever settling on one or the other.

Coverer, detail
2014
Screenprinted paper, hand-cut and woven; glue; push pins
8 x 25 x 25 feet

OPP: Tell us about Coverer, your first solo exhibition, which is on view at Real Art Ways in Hartford, Connecticut until June 27, 2014.

JB: The installation at Real Art Ways is the first opportunity I’ve been given to use an entire room, so the work has really taken advantage of that. I began with the premise creating a visual experience of color in space that viewers could enter and explore and that makes use of the architecture. 

I use the same screenprinting and weaving process as the earlier pillows, but this piece is comprised of a modular series of flat, mesh panels laid directly onto the floor and walls in an intersecting pattern. Because of the gridded structure, the work functions as a kind of marking system that measures and diagrams the room. The diagramming is destabilized by an illusion injected into the color pattern of the woven panels; the edges blur and the colors fade as they move across the space. On close inspection, it becomes clear that the color is printed onto the woven paper. But when perceived as a whole, the weaves seem almost prismatic, as if they are catching and dispersing the light or, alternatively, as if the color is emanating from them, like a digital screen. So on the one hand the work clarifies and maps the physical space, but on the other it confuses and destabilizes the viewer’s perception. I am interested in this kind of toggling back and forth between visually grounding yourself and then losing your way again.

The viewer can actually walk into the work, stepping into the voids between the woven panels. In doing so, your view is reframed with every step. While I felt that it was conceptually important to be able to enter the piece, I was surprised by how active the work feels from a distance. The work is almost cubist in the way it constructs space. Just the act of moving your eyes around makes you aware of the way the images in your mind are constantly shifting and recombining. There is a bench in the room, and when you sit still, this constant shifting takes on a filmic quality. The piece seems to keep moving, and the light seems to flicker. So a viewer can move between active and passive modes of looking or watching the piece.

The last aspect of the work that felt important and new for me was its mutability and portability. The piece conforms absolutely to the architecture, while simultaneously affecting the experience of the space. But if the site changes, the piece can adapt and the conform to its new site in a modular way, and it can repeat this process indefinitely. I will be reinstalling Coverer in the fall at the Weatherspoon Art Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina. The floors there are a different color and material, and there is natural light. It will be part of a group show, so the way that the work interacts with the space will be completely different and I am looking forward to seeing how that changes the piece.

To view more of Joell's work, please visit joellbaxter.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. Stacia is currently looking forward to creating a site-responsive collage installation in her hometown. NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists opens on July 11, 2014 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA.


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Katie Vota

Douglas Fur
2011
Cut Paper
28" x 40"

KATIE VOTA’s delicate cut-paper works appear to float off the wall, casting shifting shadows that evoke the gentle motion of leaves rustling in the breeze. The combination of material and image—paper, sometimes cut to the brink of disintegration and enlarged micrographs of the cellular structures of natural dye plants—is a testament to the simultaneous fragility and robustness of nature. Katie was an artist-in-residence at ISLAND Hill House in Michigan in 2011. Later that same year, she received a Fulbright Fellowship to study natural dyes in Cuzco, Peru. Her work is currently on view in the group exhibition Under Construction at the Indianapolis Art Center through August 4, 2013. She will be a first year MFA candidate at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the fall of 2013, and you have 9 more days to support her education by contributing to her Indiegogo campaign. Katie lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Could you explain the process behind your current cut-paper work? How is delicacy integral?

Katie Vota: I start with the most fragile thing I can think of—an idea of form and line derived from a delicate slice of plant, laid on a slide to be viewed at a microscopic level. It’s truly beautiful to think that everything in the universe is made up of such tiny pieces, of atoms, of cells. I build my images from cellular micrographs. I draw and re-draw in big, sweeping lines and gestures, preserving the essence of the plant I’m referencing. It’s the least precise, least delicate part of the process. Then, I draw again, but this time with an exacto knife.

Cutting is a painstaking, methodical process. It’s a more precise form of drawing that’s  akin to a scientific process. My space and hands must be clean—ah, the perils of working with white paper! I can’t lean on the paper at the edges of my mat or it will damage the paper’s structure. A delicacy of touch is required with cutting tools or I’ll cut too much away.

Cutting is a subtractive process. It’s like chipping away at a stone block, or relief carving—the piece emerges slowly over time. I cut a while. I hold it up and look at the reflection in the windows of my studio. I walk away, have a cup of tea or pet the cat. Then I come back and look at the reflection again. I sit down and keep working. Deciding it’s finished is about balancing the amount of detail present in the work with whether or not it will buckle in on itself because I’ve cut too much out. A cut paper piece can be too delicate.

When I exhibit these works, I hang them about an inch off the wall so that they cast shadows that change and move. Delicacy is the fragility of the paper floating away from the wall; it seems to weigh nothing, to occupy so little space. This lightness allows for intricacy in the form of a single line that moves through the entirety of a piece. The works move and sway slightly if there’s a light breeze or if you're walking past quickly. In those moments, I think of them as breathing, as if the plant within the piece has found a new life.

Hardwood
2011
Cut Paper
40" x 14"

OPP: This work is specifically based on the cellular imagery of natural dye plants, correct? How has your interest in natural dyes evolved since your 2011-2012 Fulbright trip to Peru?

KV: Correct. I first fell in love with the process and labor of natural dyeing during my senior year of my undergrad at MICA. I love the nuance of color found within the dyes, the presence of the hand in the work, the physical process of collecting the plants, and the staggering amount of chemical knowledge required to understand the differences between dyes. So I went to Peru on my Fulbright to expand my knowledge. I worked with 13 dye plants in the Cusco region of Peru. Although the plants were native to Peru, the colors they yielded were similar to what I could get from plants here in the States. I began to wonder: Are the cellular structures of good dye plants similar? And can I then infer whether a plant is a good dye plant by looking at its cellular structure? 

The color a dye plant yields depends on so many variables—rain fall, soil type and acidity, climate/temperature, amount of sun—that it’s hard to get repeatable results. There isn’t much research on the topic. Initially, I tried to find scientists to help me take cellular micrographs of my plants. When that proved difficult, I switched tactics and began scavenging for existing micrographs from databases that catalog plants seeing rapid effects from disease and climate change. It turns out I was right. You can see structural similarities between plants of the same family, all of which give the same color.

I’ve come to have a contextual understanding of the growing world around me, of how the actions of people affect the world. I can walk down a street and feel a sense of connectedness with my surroundings, rooted in my knowledge of local wild craft dye plants. I started examining and pH testing the soil as well as the dye baths, to better understand why I was getting color variations. I decided to start growing my own plants, including Yarrow, Coreopsis and Madder, so I could control the variables that affect color. I discovered how much I enjoyed growing things.

Being so involved with plants created a domino effect. I can’t help but care about the quality of my dirt and how the chemicals I use in dyeing effect the local water table. I think about the quality and locality of the food I eat, about giving back to the planet that sustains me and gives me the resources to use plants as dye. 

Plus, there’s something magical about the fact that many of the plants we take for granted—weeds and garden plants, for example—give us colors in infinite variation. I’m fascinated by what might have caused these plants to evolve in this way.

Broken Path Gradation
2009
Weaving with natural dyes
26"x72"

OPP: How did your older work in weaving lead to your current body of work?

KV: In the fall of 2009, about the time natural dyes began appearing in my work, I was working exclusively in weaving, manipulating structures on the loom to create large, fragile open weave textiles. There were too many structural limitations on the loom, so I started “translating” the weavings onto paper. I projected light through them and traced the shadows. Then I began cutting into the paper to create faux open weaves. Something clicked, and I began working between paper and weaving, allowing one to influence the other. The structure of the paper works would decay until it was almost unrecognizable and suddenly I’d have an "ah-ha!" moment and I would go back to the loom with something really fresh, something I never would have come to otherwise.

OPP: Could you expand on the theme of decay in your work?

KV: I approach decay as part of a cycle of transformation and recreation. Natural dyes are fragile. They fade over time with exposure to light. As I projected light through the weavings, I ran the risk of destroying the color. By using these dyes, I embed decay into the work because their colors are fugitive. Every time I show them, I have to consider how the exhibition space will affect their color. Are there windows? A skylight?

Decay and transformation show up in the site-responsive installations I’ve done. I love the freedom of someone saying “here’s this space, breathe life into it.” In 2011, I was given a chance to show in an old brewery that had since been turned into a music venue. It was dank and humid. The staircases were dark and dirty and littered with cigarette butts. The space was chilly and had high rounded ceilings; it used to hold beer casks. The paint was peeling away. I created a cut paper piece that mimicked the look and feel of the paint. I was so drawn to its faded colors and the slight greying that resulted from exposure to moisture. I suspended the piece from the ceiling and let the paper be exposed to the moisture and decay in the same way the paint had. The piece cast shadows on the walls and looked as if it belonged there, floating, sagging and swaying.When I took it down, it had to be recycled. There was nothing more that could be done for it—it had decayed past saving, but that was the point. 



Nine Types of Light
2011
Cut Paper Installation
6' x 24'

OPP: You'll be starting graduate school at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the fall of 2013. How do you feel on the verge of being an MFA candidate?

KV: I can’t decide if I’m more excited or terrified. I’m leaning towards excited. Since I finished new work for Under Construction, a group show that opened in June at the Indianapolis Art Center, I've had the time to just goof off, generate ideas and make mock-ups. This summer feels like the calm before a storm. . . the more time I spend wandering aimlessly through my sketchbook, the more I want it to start already.

OPP: Tell us about your plan to make it happen without taking out any privatized loans.

KV: SAIC gave me a financial aid package, but after scholarships and federal loans, there’s about $3,000 left. It’s not a large amount of money, but it’s not something I just have lying around. I started an Indiegogo campaign so that I won't have to take out a private loan on top of my federal loans. I’m offering editions and prints, small cut works and even some of my previously-exhibited large works as incentives. People of all different demographics and income brackets can own a piece of my work. 

Goldenrod
2013
Cut Paper
22.5" x 60"

OPP: How is crowdfunding particularly relevant to visual artists?

KV: Sometimes I feel like people in the sciences might have an easier time getting donations than those in the arts. Potential funders look at their projects and say, "yeah, curing cancer is something I can put some money towards. But what does art give people?" I had this problem in choosing a country to apply to for my Fulbright grant. Many countries only wanted scholars, scientists, doctors—people who could do physical good on the ground. But what about cultural enrichment? Isn’t that important too? 

I’ve seen friends raise money via Kickstarter and Indiegogo to do research and large-scale art projects that otherwise would have been outside their budgets. It doesn’t take much. If 100 people donate $10 each, that’s a good chunk of change.

And, as I’ve seen time and again in community arts, people like to be involved in the making of art. The ability to fund a project lets people feel connected to the work. They helped it come into being and that gives them sense of accomplishment and ownership. 

Most artists don’t have a steady cash-flow in order to make larger works, so crowdfunding allows them to dream bigger and to make those larger works a reality. As grants and art endowments continue to shrink, it will be harder and harder for artists to land the funding to make work. That’s not a great place to be, but most of the artists I know are resilient and will find a way. I think crowdfunding is going to be one of those ways. 

To contribute to Katie's Indiegogo campaign, go here.
To see more of Katie's work, visit katievota.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.