OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Anne Lemanski

Copper rod, ink on paper, leather, epoxy.
11 1/2 x 26 x 16 inches

ANNE LEMANSKI's sculptures—stretched "skins" sewn onto welded, copper-rod skeletons—alternatively evoke such practices as taxidermy, trophy hunting and skinning for fashion. Her menagerie of animals includes snakes whose skin appears to be made of butterfly wings, a fox "tattooed" in constellations, a coyote with Mexican Serape "fur" and a slew of birds decked out in various vintage papers. The skins entice visually; some beg to be touched. This honesty about sense pleasure hints at the complicated, problematic nature of the human habit of treating animals as objects. Anne has exhibited widely, including group shows at the Kohler Center for the Arts (2012), The Portland Museum of Art (2011) and the North Carolina Museum of Art (2013), where her work is included in the permanent collection. She has had solo exhibitions at the Imperial Centre for the Arts (2010) in Rocky Mount, Blue Spiral 1 (2011) in Asheville and the Penland Gallery at Penland School of Crafts (2014).  In the winter of 2015, she will be the Windgate Artist-in-Residence at the McColl Center for Art + Innovation in Charlotte, North Carolina. Her work is included in the forthcoming book The Contemporary Art of Nature: Mammals and will be featured in the Danish magazine Textiel Plus in December, 2014. Anne lives in Spruce Pine, North Carolina, where she is building a studio constructed from recycled shipping containers.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What role does materiality play in your practice?

Anne Lemanski: Working the way I do allows me to take any material I want and turn it into a sculptural piece. I am a long time lover and collector of vintage paper ephemera. I love the look of old graphics and colors. For a number of my early pieces, I utilized original, vintage paper as the skin. In more recent work, I find myself using more contemporary materials like plastic and fabrics because they speak to the content of the pieces. The little songbirds are the exception; they are vehicles for pure eye-candy, vintage paper. I become obsessed with materials. Whether I just happen to come across material and stash it for future use or if I’m looking for a something specific, I love the hunt of tracking it down. The best example of the cross section of materials I use is my piece titled A Century of Hair, 1900-1990. I used silk, acetate, rawhide, vintage linoleum, etc. Solving the challenges that present themselves when I’m manipulating an unusual material is where all the fun is.

A Century of Hair, 1900-1990
Mixed media on wood stands
Variable dimensions

OPP: Tell us about some of your stashed material that you haven’t found a use for yet.

AL: I seem to have a lot of vintage coloring books and children’s activity books— like “dot to dot"— good bit of paper-doll clothes, stamp collections, these little trading cards that used to come in packs of cigarettes and tea, tons of old maps, and drawers full of vintage photographs. The paper targets I used on a recent piece Camoufleur  had been sitting in my flat file for at least 15 years. I’m glad I didn’t use those on anything else, they were meant for that barn owl.

OPP: Any regular hunting grounds for your materials?

AL: I went to Paris last year and came back with a nice haul of paper goodies. I wish I could go there every year just to buy vintage paper. I found a few stores, and vendors at flea markets that were overwhelming. . . and expensive! And of course they only took cash, so that put a real damper on my spending spree! Ebay has become my favorite hunting ground. It is truly amazing what you can find there. I do still enjoy random junk shops, estate sales and auctions, but because I live in a rural area, those shops and sales are limited. I also like to get a good deal on stuff, it makes it that much better! I’m always looking. Friends keep an eye out for me, too.

Off Duty
Copper rod, embroidery on pantyhose, thread
Life size

OPP: Your process has two distinct parts: building of the copper rod skeletons and creating the skins. Are these processes more alike than we think? Do you always already know what the skin is going to be when you begin to build the skeleton?

AL: The two processes go hand in hand. The building of the copper rod framework dictates how the finished piece will look. I gather images of the animal or object I want to make and visually break it down into line and pattern. Once the skeleton is complete, I then make patterns from the form that will be transferred directly to my final material. I do not always know what material the skin will be, but it certainly helps. Knowing the character of the final skin will dictate how I build the skeleton. Every material responds differently to the contours of the framework; paper differs greatly from plastic, leather or wood veneer. The work I enjoy most is deciding what the skin will be and putting it together. That’s when things really start to take shape, and there is always a surprise in the way the material transforms once it is sewn onto the skeleton.

Monkey Goes to Bollywood
Copper rod, Bollywood lobby cards, artificial sinew
19 x 18.5 x 24 inches

OPP: Monkey Goes to Bollywood (2008) stands out as drastically different from the other animals. Tell us about the choice to use images of human beings on the monkey.

AL: Monkey Goes to Bollywood is the result of an article I read about a man in New Delhi, India, who was sitting on his terrace when four monkeys appeared. The man brandished a stick to fend off the monkeys, lost his balance and fell off the terrace to his death. The monkey represents the Hindu god Hanuman, and Hindu tradition calls for feeding the monkeys on Tuesdays and Saturdays. The feeding of and encroachment on the monkey’s wild habitat, has created an overwhelming and aggressive population of monkeys in New Delhi. This is a case that perfectly illustrates the domino effect that occurs when humans exploit animals to satisfy their needs. The exploitation of an animal species usually results in a decrease of population for that species. . . but the opposite is happening in Delhi.

The skin on the monkey is made up of Bollywood—the Hindi film industry in India—lobby cards that I purchased on Ebay from someone in New Delhi (I remember they came rolled up in a white piece of fabric, that was hand sewn shut on each end with red thread). Lobby cards are promotional materials for films, that are displayed in movie theater lobbies. I have seen about a dozen Bollywood films. They are crazy and colorful! I don’t always have a clear-cut reason for using what I do for the skin. I go with my instinct, which is smarter than my actual being. The imagery I used for the monkey just seemed like the perfect fit.

Responsible Spiller
Copper rod, vinyl, artificial sinew.
16 x 23 x 12 inches

OPP: What do you most hope viewers will feel when looking at your menagerie of creatures? Are you disappointed if viewers simply marvel at your technique and humor and don’t walk away thinking about the impact of humans on these species?

AL: I love it when people get the humor! They often don’t. I’m not making work to beat people over the heads with my ideas and opinions, which are certainly present. But I try to keep the work subtle and layered. Along with the content, I still believe in making a beautifully crafted, sculptural object. I’m drawn to formal aesthetics of line, color and pattern. It is usually my construction technique that initially draws people in. Then they take a longer look. It has taken me years to hone my construction skills, so I’m glad when someone appreciates it. Everyone brings their own emotions and politics to a piece, and a connection can happen at many different levels.

Queen Alexandra’s Flight
Digital prints adhered to wood backing, aluminum discs.
150 square feet (as installed in the Penland Gallery)

OPP: Tell us about your recent installation Queen Alexandra’s Flight at Penland Gallery? What made you shift from discreet sculptures to this narrative interaction of creatures?

AL: Queen Alexandra’s Flightdepicts a battlefield, which is the stage for the age-old story of survival. Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing is the largest butterfly in the world, and it is endangered. I created an army of butterflies and moths to aid her in flight from the attack of insect-eating birds. All of the imagery is digitally scanned and printed, and adhered to a wood backing. Everything was cut out by hand. There are 600 individual pieces in this installation. I have a desire to work on a large scale, and my usual building technique of copper rod skeleton and hand stitched skin prevents me from doing that because of the time-consuming labor. I can’t work fast enough to keep up with the pace of my ideas. So when I’m presented with an opportunity to do something large scale, it gives me the chance to work with different materials and techniques. This particular installation came at a time when I needed a mental break from the usual. Queen Alexandra’s Flight gave me new insight into my work; it will definitely lead to other pieces similar in nature.

To see more of Anne's work, please visit annelemanski.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 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 recently created a site-responsive collage installation in her hometown. NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists runs until October 12, 2014 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA. Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, is on view at Design Cloud in Chicago from July 25 - October, 24, 2014.