OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Annette Isham

Woman and Landscape Still 2, 2014. Video still.

Performance, persona and endurance are driving forces in the videos and photography of ANNETTE ISHAM. With a penchant for the absurd, she explores a range of subjects, from "middle school sociology" to competitiveness to a near mystical relationship between various female protagonists and their surrounding landscapes. Annette earned her BA in Studio Art at University of Richmond (Virginia) and her MFA at The American University (Washington, D.C.). During her time as a 2012-2014 Hamiltonian Fellow, she had two solo exhibitions at Hamiltonian Gallery in Washington, DC. Her video Among the Multitudes was part of the 2019 CURRENTS New Media Festival in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Clone Corrupt, an upcoming show with artist Marie-Lou Desmeules, will open September 28, 2019 at the Anderson Ranch Gallery in Snowmass, Colorado. Annette lives and works in Denver, Colorado. 

OtherPeoplesPixels: Recent work deals heavily with the human relationship to landscape. Do you think of your current work in relation to the sublime?

Annette Isham: Yes, my work does deal heavily with the human relationship to landscape and it has connections to the sublime on many levels. Throughout my work, the functions of landscape and my body change depending on the project. In my most recent series, Among the Multitudes, I want to simulate the duality of something real and something made both in the environment and in the individual depicted, provoking thoughts of metaphysics. I am interested in the idea of dimensions congruently existing and want to suggest a world where doorways exist within the landscape, where one could be in between two places. I also want the landscape to be the habitat for an unearthly feminine form and represent a place where she visits often, coming and going whenever she wishes.

 Among the Multitudes, 2018. Video. 5:42 minutes.

OPP: Can you talk about the costume in Among the Multitudes (2018) and Such Swiftly Subside (2018), among others? Sometimes the figure evokes a sumo wrestler, sometimes a whirling dervish.

AI: I just looked up whirling dervishes, and I love that reference. The costume in the series Among the Multitudes was very exciting for me because it is my most ambitious costume to date. It was designed with the movement of my drone in mind. What I find so beautiful about drone footage is that it can change perspectives at a whim and I wanted to design a costume that could respond, multiplying and dividing just as easily. I also wanted the costume to be big and bubbly and flowing and move with the environment. These shoots are done in the middle of the wilderness, so making the suit light, flexible and functional was important. As for the look, I wanted the suit to have an overwhelming femininity to it, so I used lots of flaps, pink and flesh colored tones, curves and hair. 

 Such Swiftly Subside, 2018. Video. 5:11 minutes.

OPP: Are the movements choreographed or improvised?

AI: My movements in the performance were more or less improvised. I knew I wanted to divide and multiply so I did a lot of bending, jumping, and spinning. Sometimes I felt like I was dancing and working with the drone and sometimes I felt the need to evade the drone. I am an athlete, so having a physical relationship to all these ideas is natural and significant for me. In the performance, it important for me to exhaust my body in the moment.  And to work with the wind, the moving camera, and react to elements as they arise.

Into Another 2, 2018. Video. 1:18 minutes.

OPP: Who is the Venus of White River National Forest (2018)? What do you want viewers to understand about her? 

AI: The narrative of Venus of White River National Forest was developed right after I moved back to Colorado after spending over a decade on the East Coast. Being back out West—Colorado as the “West” is debatable to some—I started to seriously think about my relationship to the mountains, the Rockies in particular, and my relationship with pioneer history as a bi-racial woman born in the Dominican Republic. I considered romantic notions of the West and how they are currently appropriated. I began working through these thoughts by deconstructing imagery of western landscapes, after which I developed a Venus narrative that disrupted those initial notions. The Venus of White River National Forest is a blob of brown woman. She is agile, eats well and knows the land. Sometimes she is tracked and hunted. Most importantly, she can teleport to another dimension whenever she wants and has many homes.

Jane, 2017. Video Still 1

OPP: How is she different than the woman of Woman and Landscape (2013) or Jane (2013)?

AI: Jane was one of the first times I’ve dealt with landscape. Up to that point I was doing a lot of performance videos in which I would investigate every day tropes and how the façade of those tropes would work their way into our identities. I am very interested in romance, and I had just read the novel Jane Eyre and subsequently watched the movie. In my video, Jane, I wanted to create an extremely vulnerable and desperate situation for a young lady who obviously just got her heart ripped out. I thought the vastness of the Alaskan landscape would add to her desperation and foolishness. 

The series Woman in Landscape began with me taking a lot of road trips across North America. On the open road, looking out the window, I began to envision a being that could traverse the entire country in just a few steps. Stilts were made so that I would be hovering in the shot. This piece turned out different than what I initially sketched out and the series was much more about the performance than the narrative. It was about pushing my body physically, balancing on stilts on the uneven terrain of various American deserts. 

Venus of White River National Forest is different than the other characters because the narrative is a more personal interpretation of my relationship with the Western Landscape. I was also trying to offer a more magical being that is more comfortable in her surroundings.

You Can't Tell Anyone, Ever, 2013. Video still.

OPP: Some works are comedic while others are contemplative. How does ☮2U4URAQTπ (2013) relate to the recent landscape video work?

AI: ☮2U4URAQTπ seems to be the outlier, but for me it always seems to cover the basics of what I am trying to get at in my work: searching for what informs my identity while being sarcastic. I think the series ☮2U4URAQTπ relates to my most recent work because middle school individuality is just as absurd as twirling around in a forest in a suit made with dozens of breasts. I love the absurd and enjoy making absurd work because it can often reveal the most truth.

PLAY, 2015. Installation view of exhibition with Zac Willis.

OPP: Tell us about your ongoing collaboration with artist Zac Willis. I’m specifically interested in the Competition series. You are seriously funny in the various Challenge Videos!

AI: Ha! Yes, I love my collaboration pieces with Zac. We began making collaborative work in 2013 and since then have made many exhibitions, curated shows and recorded a yearlong podcast. Zac is one of my best friends, and he’s also a great artist who has many contrasting approaches to making work. He is an obsessive documentarian and an unbelievable craftsman.The inspiration for the Competition Series came from the fact that we are both very competitive in nature. What we found interesting was how familiar the rhetoric about winning, losing, giving it your all, and of course, the fans felt when comparing it to our art practices. Natural correlations were made between the competitive nature of art world communities and our performance of these various obnoxious physical feats. For us, the work really came together when we put the Competition Series in an art gallery setting. We transformed the gallery into our own personal trophy room. We filled space with promotional posters, prized competition relics and video of each competition. Zac and I are currently planning another series. I will most likely win. 

PLAY, 2015. Installation view of exhibition with Zac Willis.

OPP: You have a two-person with Marie Lou Desmeules opening on September 30, 2019 at Anderson Ranch Gallery. What can viewers expect to see in Clone Corrupt

AI: Marie Lou is a French-Canadian artist living and working in Barcelona, Spain. We met a few years ago when were both resident artists at Anderson Ranch in Colorado. Marie Lou’s process is unique in that she uses people as a medium, along with paints, wigs and other materials, to appropriate well know iconic figures. The results from this process are eerie and it brings up many questions around of the performative nature of the human condition and the role icons play in our daily lives. She has been making crazy new videos and this work will be shown alongside my new installation work in an exhibition we titled Clone Corrupt. For my portion of the exhibit, I will be combining my new video work with overlapping altered projections of the same footage. The installation Among the Multitudes will be repeating, growing and shrinking suggesting congruent doorways and replicating dimensions. 

To see more of Annette's work, please visit annettewashburneisham.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. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018) and Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019). Her work was recently included in the three-person show Manifestations at One After 909 (Chicago).