OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Antoine Williams

Because They Believe in Unicorns (2016) Surplus WW II military tents, wood, thread, marker, collage and acrylic on Sheetrock. 120" x 48" x 120"

Both the vulnerability and the strength of the Black body are highlighted in ANTOINE WILLIAMS' ink drawings on velum, collages, paintings and black and white wheat-paste installations on white walls. Inspired by personal experiences of a rural, working-class upbringing in the South and by themes of Otherness in sci-fi literature, he presents a catalogue of nameless, faceless beings. Part human/part animal/part stereotype/part racial trope, each is a conglomeration of signifiers of race, class and masculinity. Antoine earned his BFA in Art with a concentration in illustration from UNC-Charlotte in 2003 and his MFA in Studio Art from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2014. In 2015 he was a recipient of the Ella Fountain Pratt Emerging Artist Grant, and in 2016 he was a Southern Constellations Fellow at Elsewhere in Greensboro, North Carolina. His recent solo exhibitions include The Wound and the Knife (2015) at Sumter County Gallery of Art (Sumter, South Carolina) and Something in the Way of Things (2014) at the John and June Alcott Gallery in Chapel Hill. His work is on view in Dress Up, Speak Up: Costume and Confrontation at the 21c Museum Hotel in Durham through July 2017. Antoine is an Assistant Professor at Guilford College in Greensboro and lives in Chapel Hill.

OtherPeoplesPixels: I want to be transparent that I’m a White artist interviewing a Black artist who explores the image and experience of the Black body in his work. I ask questions based on what I see, but what I see is through the sometimes-unconscious lens of Whiteness. Is there anything that non-Black viewers repeatedly misinterpret about your work? In your experience, do Black viewers see different things than non-Black viewers?

Antoine Williams: I believe that everyone brings something different when viewing the work. However due to the shared experience of most Black people there does seem to be some overlap in the response to the work. When it comes to non-Black viewers, I’m less concerned if the work is being misinterpreted but more concerned with the thought process that leads to one’s conclusion. I make the work somewhat vague and open-ended to invite a more honest response because I want to embrace the various interpretations of signifiers. It’s less about what I’m trying to tell you about my experience and more about exploring how this imagery makes you feel.

5 (2016) Ink on vellum. 14" x 18"

OPP: I feel empathetic, sad, angry and uncomfortable. I think about the way Black people have been victimized in America and how they stand up for themselves. I think about how monstrousness (i.e. otherness) is projected onto Black people by mainstream media and law enforcement and about how constantly being on the defensive affects a human. The figures are often hunched, as if in pain or preparing to fight. They have grown horns and sharp teeth with which to protect themselves. Are these figures metaphors for an embodied, emotional experience or renderings of a potential evolution?

AW: The more humanistic figures—the ones usually draped in clothing—reflect the day-to-day burdens with respect the race and class, which have become normalized. The horn protrusions can be viewed as either a weapon for either aggression or a means of protection. However, the use doesn’t matter because the horns exist as result of an environment and system that has produced them.

Some of the more animalistic figures are creatures born out of attitudes and actions around race and class. They’re a part of a contemporary mythos of the Black experience. Indifference and fear lead to policies and public sentiment that negatively affect Black people and communities of color. Policies that promote housing discrimination, mass incarceration and decades of over-policing to keep the fear of the other at bay, I believe, have lead to the high profile shootings of Tamir Rice in Ohio or just recently the deaths of Terence Crutcher in Tulsa and Keith Lamont Scott right here in my home state of North Carolina. Like the protest in Charlotte, these creatures are born out of years of animus and neglect for entire communities.

Collage series (2015) Ink and found paper on wood. 8" x 10"

OPP: You talk about the figures in your work as “creatures, hybrid-like human-animal deities.” I’m struck by the fact that these figures never have human faces or heads, unless those heads are bound or covered—sometimes by choice and sometimes by force, as in The Ain't Gots no. II (For Freddie Gray) (2016). Why no faces?

AW: There are no faces because I’m speaking about systems, not individuals. We are witnessing how the Black bodies are reacting to these systems.

OPP: In what way are they deities?

AW: These are not deities in that they are worshiped in the traditional sense, but they rule in a transitional space that exists between race and class. I do view them as gods but as god of the gaps. They are created from attitudes towards race, and class. Indifference and apathy are attributed to them.

Originally Filipino mythology got me interested in this current body of work. More recently, the H.P. Lovecraft mythos has been greatly influential to my work. Lovecraft, most well know for his Cthulhu series, is a writer of sci-fi or cosmic horror. He has created this complex mythos of gods, creatures and cultures. His work is beautifully written, yet very problematic in that Lovecraft was a racist whose views seeped into his work. He had this disdain and fear of the other. His works in a sense are a metaphor for white supremacy.

Knife and the Wound (2015) Acrylic, collage, ink, graphite on canvas. 84" x 60"

OPP: In installations, you merge three-dimensional materials—Seatbelt straps, wooden stakes, plastic sheeting, fake flowers, extension cords, beer cans and Sheetrock—with your drawings. Can you talk about what pops off the wall versus what stays flat?

AW: I merge the three-dimensional object with flat imagery to emphasize that it is, in reality, a drawing—an illusion of Black bodies. These flat representations of Black people are often how we are perceived in society. However, the three-dimensional objects invade the viewer’s space and draw them in. The actual experiences of Black people and the culture we create are often separate. Think about hip-hop and the inequities within the communities where this culture originated.

OPP: What about your placement of the wheat paste drawings hovering in the empty, white field of the gallery wall, as in Future Perfect (2015) and The Ain’t Gots (2016)?

AW: When I first started drawing these figures, they were often on a very busy and colorful surface where they could easily get lost so you would have to really work to see them as whole. In a gallery, the contrasting white surface or void is disrupted, forcing one to focus on this Black body. Plus these creatures exist in an in-between space, so the white wall supports that. Also, aesthetically I like working with the negative space created by shapes of the bodies.

The Ain't Gots no. II (installation shot) (2016) Wheat-paste, wood, seat belt straps, plastic, And1 shorts on Sheetrock. 36 'x 12'

OPP: Tell us about your most recent installation Because They Believe in Unicorns (2016). We’ve seen the form in the center of the room in other installations and drawings, but it is always attached to the head and shoulders of a human body. The representational body has disappeared, but of course it is still there in the bound, hanging form made from Surplus WW II military tents, wood and thread.

AW: The piece is installed at the Elsewhere Museum in Greensboro, NC where I did a residency this past summer. I had just finished reading The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander and wanted to look at this ideal of racial indifference, which is spoken about at length in the book. This piece was also started the week after the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. The War on Drugs and over policing which has led to mass incarceration which has created a new underclass of citizens consisting of most Black and Brown men are allow to exist not because of racial aggression but rather racial indifference or color blindness. The ideal of not seeing color or color not mattering in a nation with America’s past is a myth, like a unicorn. Belief in this myth allows for white supremacy and other racial inequities to persist.

The piece itself is an entire body. Therefore I didn’t believe having a representation body was necessary. I wanted the form and shape of the figure to reference something that was alive.The figure is my version of a unicorn; a Black person who’s blackness is not relevant. The figure is constructed of WWII tents, a reference to America romanticizing war. In this case the War on Drugs. I wanted to play with the perception of whether the figure is being elevated or hung.

To see more of Antoine's work, please visit antoinewilliamsart.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 is on view in SHOWROOM, curated by Edra Soto, at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition from September 16 - 29, 2016.

OtherPeoplesPIxels Interviews JenMarie Zeleznak

Take These Words Pulled From Me Tied To You
watercolor pencil on paper

JENMARIE ZELEZNAK’s precisely rendered wild animals hover, float, cavort and caress in empty white fields, surrounded by angular, geodesic line drawings that represent energetic halos, communication and connection with the unseen forces of the universe. For her, wolves, deer, hares and foxes—to name just a few of her subjects—are not just stand-ins for humans. They are a “medium for the expression of the self, yet they retain their own autonomy,” emphasizing a shared experience of being between humans and other animals. JenMarie received her MFA from the Savannah College of Art and Design and her BFA from Cleveland Institute of Art. In 2015, her work was acquired by the National Museum of Wildlife Art for their permanent collection. JenMarie is represented by Diehl Gallery in Jackson, Wyoming and Søren Christensen Gallery in New Orleans, and Visions West Contemporary in Denver, Colorado, where she will have her gallery debut in BOUNDLESS, opening on October 7, 2016. She teaches at Lakeland Community College and Youngstown State University. JenMarie currently lives and works at the Tower Press Building in Cleveland, Ohio.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Looking back at your archive of work, I see a trajectory of moving from expressionistic abstraction—I was completely mistaken (2007) and this is only a temporary solution (2006)—to hazy, atmospheric landscapes—Remove Me From This Deception That I Called Love and Awaiting The Burden Of Loss, both 2007— to your newer, more precisely rendered drawings and paintings of animals in empty space. These bodies of work look very different, but every piece seems to be an emotional metaphor. Please walk us through the shifts in style and content you use to explore our emotional worlds.

JenMarie Zeleznak: As an undergrad at the Cleveland Institute of Art, I struggled with drawing. When I began in 2004, they were shifting from their traditional program to something more theoretical and conceptually-based. From my perspective, the emphasis on traditional drawing and painting techniques got lost in that transition. At least I felt the effects of that. As a painting major with terrible drawing skills, I was exploring what came intuitively to me in regards to expression. With focus on process rather than image, I explored color and atmosphere in a way that allowed me to release inward expressions. These expressions tended to revolve around themes of loss, death, withdrawal and melancholy, as that was my state of mind at the time.

But after a few years, I felt burdened by the fact that I could not draw. Nothing came out how I imagined it, which was disappointing and unsatisfying. I wanted to explore another visual language that included representations of actual things. I am not sure where this desire for imagery came from, but I began to explore other subject matter like boxes that resembled graves or coffins, string-like forms that were metaphors for broken connections and animals. I remember a conversation with one of my professors during a studio visit in 2008. She asked me, if I had to chose between the boxes and other imagery or the animals, what would I choose? My answer was, well duh, of course the animals. I never looked back.

Everything Was Beautiful And Nothing Hurt
watercolor pencil on paper

OPP: So you started as a painter, but now drawing dominates your practice. How did you finally tackle drawing as a medium?

JZ: I never really addressed my drawing problems until grad school. I had always considered myself a painter, not a drawer. My sketchbook was filled with words and poetry, not sketches. I absolutely refused to draw. I despised it. When I decided to apply to grad school, I found myself getting rejection after rejection—extremely disappointing considering I had just completed 5 years of art school. As a last hope I applied to Savannah College of Art and Design. I was accepted but with conditions. I had to take “remedial” drawing and painting before I was accepted into the program. I was completely baffled by this and tried to appeal it twice with no success. Little did I know, those two “remedial” courses would change my world. I met two of the most amazing professors that spoke to me in a way that I could understand; they understood my needs in a way that was almost unspoken. They were challenging, yet encouraging and supportive. I learned more about drawing and painting in a semester than I did my five years in undergrad. I found myself trading in the oil paints and canvas for watercolor pencils and paper.

OPP: What has changed since grad school?

JZ: In grad school, I became more aware of the decisions I was making to ultimately convey meaning. I noticed I had seemed to set up some strict “rules” for myself: the animal has to be approximately to scale, for relatability, which dictates the dimensions of the piece, and I only draw animals I have had a personal experience or connection with. Throughout my work, I do not desire to depict the natural world. When I take the animals out of their original contexts and into a blank space, it suggests an emotional, inward space of the mind—a space between thinking and being.

I spent a lot of time alone and isolated in grad school when I created Lovesick: The Psychological Animal body of work. My depictions of animals during that time tend to reflect my isolation and longing for connection. I actually struggled to create work for quite some time after grad school. My mental and emotional state had changed and my perspective on the world was changed as well. I spent a lot of time thinking, reading, and writing between 2012 and 2014. I knew I wanted my work to have a more “positive” feeling but I didn’t know what that looked like. I experienced a spiritual awakening in 2013 that changed my perception of the world around me. I became heavily interested in astronomy, science, spirituality and nature. I spent a lot of time looking up at the sky on a clear night. I found myself lost in the stars. I began to feel energy and almost see it manifested within the interactions of everything around me. I felt so deeply connected to everything. The Universe became my source of love, protection and guidance. I had no doubts. Around this time, my work shifted direction and the geometric shapes in various formations, which I refer to as star maps, appeared.

I Never Said I Was Brave, No. 2
watercolor pencil on paper

OPP: I was going to ask about those angular, line drawings. They make me think of 3D rendering programs or geodesic structures, and they read differently in different drawings. Some times they seems like energetic halos, as in These Dialogue Stars, No. 2 (2016); sometimes they seem like communication, language or sound, as in Talking to the Moon, Trying to Get to You (2013). How do they relate to the animals?

JZ: I appreciate your understanding that. They are connections of stars from NASA imagery. Obviously there are an infinite number of stars in an isolated image of the Universe. I try and not think too hard about what visible stars I will connect but try to place as many “dots” as I can in a random way. I then spend time copying those dots and connecting them in certain ways based on the animal gesture and imagery. Usually when I begin a drawing, I have a general sense of the placement of the star map, but that can change as I go along.

The animals in my drawings find themselves in introspective emotional and spiritual situations. The star maps serve as a visual for the invisible energy that is felt, but not seen by the animal subject. However, we as viewers are witness to both. We are onlookers of someone else experiencing something deeply or going through an emotional moment. We can see how the energy affects them. Maybe it is protecting them, or it is a fleeting moment of clarity. Perhaps they are experiencing desire or lack of desire, or they are experiencing unreciprocated feelings in a romantic relationship. Sometimes they are feeling trapped and fighting themselves, or maybe they are simply calling out in a surrender, to connect with something larger than themselves. . . calling out for help, for anyone.

The Ends of These Reaching Arms Need the Touch of Something Real

OPP: Tell us a bit about your drawing process.

JZ: There is a disconnect for me when using a paintbrush. The pencil and paper are much more satisfying and intimate, although drawing does still make me feel awkward, incapable and embarrassed at times. I feel much more vulnerable and exposed when drawing. When I begin, anxious scribbles and neurotic mark-making hastily fill in the animal form. I work with watercolor pencils in a manner both sensitive and crude, using my saliva and sweat, hands and fingers, to manipulate the material onto paper. This personal and direct connection, much like caressing or grooming an animal, gives me the intimacy I need in the work as I bring in the animal into being.

This process was essentially discovered by accident; little did I know it would become so crucial to my process. I sat down to play around with the watercolor pencils and realized I didn’t have water or a brush in my vicinity. Too lazy to get up, I just smeared it around with the lick of my finger pushing around the pigment on the paper. When I finally had a brush and water, it was not the same thing, nor did it create the same effect. It was sort of embarrassing, and I was very secretive about my process for quite some time. I never really wanted anyone to know how my drawings were made. Once I began to understand how important it was to my process and feelings about my subjects, I started to understand there was nothing to be ashamed of, in fact, it makes my work quite unique in that way.

I Was Swimming Through The Waves, For What Must Have Been Days
watercolor pencil on paper

OPP: Your titles are very poetic and they contextualize the imagery or abstraction as relating to inner experiences of the outer world. You even reuse titles. When do titles show up in your process? 

JZ: My titles are very important to me. Generally they are generated at the end after the piece is completed, though I may have some ideas in mind beforehand. I have reused a few titles from many years ago, as I still feel connected to the words in the same way even though the form is different. Lately, I find that the same feeling is often extended over multiple pieces, telling an evolving story. While I am not really a fan of the whole “No. 1, No. 2, No. 3” thing in titles, I often find myself creating a new work that is almost a continuation of the previous piece. I’m not one to just not title something or hardly give a title any thought. It could take days or weeks after finishing a piece to think of a title. I choose my words carefully and make sure they help contextualize the work for the viewer. I’ll repeat the titles in my head over days and glance over at the piece waiting for it to tell me, “yes, that’s it, that’s the one.” When it’s the right one, even if it means reusing titles, it just clicks and there’s no doubt in my mind about it. I just have to go with it.

Trying To Get Back There, No. 3
watercolor pencil on paper

OPP: Can you talk about twining and/or pairing in your work?

JZ: I understand my works as self-portraits. The imagery, when in pairs, generally speaks to confronting the self. Internal struggle is like a battle in my own head. But just as often, I think about social and romantic relationships when I pair animals. I desire love, attention, intimacy and affection from another and my life is pretty void of that. Intimacy is hard and scary—at least in my recent experiences. Some of my animals seem as though they are being rejected or have lost a connection or their feelings are left unreciprocated, though I never intentionally anthropomorphize them.

I never work from a direct source where two animals are already together. What interests me is combining two animals from different source material into a new image as if they were that way all along. It is crucial that I do not alter their expressions or gestures, so it usually takes some time to find the right pair to speak to one another. They may appear to be “twins,” but they have slight and subtle differences that make them unique. I enjoy that ambiguity. Each work can be about the self and the other or about the self and the self.

I Can Hear It In Your Sigh
watercolor pencil on paper

OPP: Using animals to explore our emotional needs as humans in relationship, whether romantic, platonic or familial, is a reminder that we are in fact animals. Our emotional needs are biological. . . part of our animal brains. But our culture often emphasizes our separateness, our superiority to animals. Why do you think this is?

JZ: Humans have created an artificial boundary between ourselves and other animals. The unique capacity of the human mind is one of the few things that separates us from other animals. This is the conceptual foundation upon which evolution has been built. We have created the illusion of control through mental concepts, embedding in the human mind that animals have no control over their own lives or minds. We have imposed so many thoughts and concepts onto the animal that there seems to be no way of viewing the animal as purely autonomous. Through eons of exploitation and misunderstanding, there is an inability to accept their condition of existence as similar to our own.

Humans have to “transform” an animal into a human being in order to attempt to understand the other. Otherwise, it just remains entirely other. We attach our own consciousness to animals and auto-affectedly respond with human emotions towards them, treating them as though they were capable of response. This is essentially an act of anthropomorphism, which perpetuates a satisfying relationship with those we desire to know but are not able to understand.

It's Almost Like We've Died Entwined In That Way We Are
watercolor pencil on paper

OPP: How do you avoid the pitfall of anthropomorphizing your subjects?

JZ: Though my depictions of animals might appear personified, I’m strictly interested in honoring actual gestures and expressions as they are documented, so as to maintain the authenticity of the animal’s condition of being. It is extremely important to me that I do not alter the gestures or expressions of my source material. I proclaim the animals as autonomous and self-referential, but also as an emblem of the human condition.

As Derrida once said, “We are not ourselves without representations that mediate us, and it is through those representations that emotions get felt.” The animal is the medium through which I attempt to articulate and reflect on my own experiences. The intimacy and empathetic nature of my process speaks to my fidelity towards the animal as emotive and autonomous, just as my fidelity towards the expression of my emotions and personal experiences speaks to the human condition. I believe it is in that duality that there is room to think about psychological and social issues concerning both the human and the animal.

To see more of JenMarie's work, please visit jenmariezeleznak.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 is on view in SHOWROOM, curated by Edra Soto, at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition from September 16 - 29, 2016.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Erin Washington

Talking Board
Chalk and acrylic on panel
18" x 24"

ERIN WASHINGTON uses imagery, text and fugitive materials to evoke a long history of human inquiry into the form and meaning of the universe we live in. Perception and permanence are called into question. Theoretical Physics mingles with tangible objects from antiquity. Art historical references are balanced by philosophical ones. Erin received a BA in Studio Art from University of Colorado at Boulder in 2005. She went on to earn a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Painting and Drawing (2008) and an MFA (2011) from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Erin's 2016 exhibitions in Chicago include solo show Useful Knowledge at Zolla Lieberman, two-person show Hand of Mouth at Roots & Culture and group show Chicago and Vicinity at Shane Campbell Gallery. She was named a 2016 Chicago Breakout Artist by New City Art. Erin lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: I think of art, philosophy, myth and science all as modes of inquiry, which should be balanced, but not privileged over one another. What do you think?

Erin Washington: Oh of course! By no means do I propose that one mode of inquiry supersedes another. . . if anything, I am looking at these modes of inquiry as different languages attempting to ask the same question. Some languages are better at capturing different nuances to the question; some languages elicit a different type of response or forefront a different type of preoccupation. One language may be more lyrical or poetic, emphasizing romance and pleasure while a different language may be better at discussing facts and figures and analytics, using statistics to describe an agreed upon reality. My hope is to flatten any perceived hierarchy. . . screaming into the void unintelligibly, waiting for an answer from where I do not know. . .

wormhole shape = headstone shape
Chalk and acrylic on panel
16" x 20"

OPP: Many of your two-dimensional works are chalk on acrylic on panel. I’m curious about the permanence or impermanence of the chalk: is it fixed? Either way, the implication of erasure and accumulation of meaning is still there.

EW: Another instance in which the question might be more important than the answer! One of my favorite drawings is Robert Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning Drawing. A very young Rauschenberg obtained an original drawing by Willem de Kooning and spent weeks erasing it. Erased de Kooning Drawing is powerful because of the story and because of the action. . . conservationists have taken digital photographs of the piece, and now we can Google image search and find out what the actual de Kooning drawing looked like before Rauschenberg labored over its erasure. But it's not satisfying to look at the imagery of what the drawing looked like before it became what it is now. It's satisfying to see the ghost of its former self and to think of the actions of both artists involved.

OPP: Do you think of your chalk works as palimpsests?

EW: My fondness for Erased de Kooning Drawing should imply that yes, I do think of my work as palimpsests. I like that every mark, whether preparatory or finalized, is present and available to the viewer. Some marks clearly describe a thinking mind, while others are purely in existence for the moment and only remain as ghosts of themselves. Those ghosts might not be immediately available, but as trace rewards to the careful and attentive viewer.

Perhaps another way of thinking about it could be illustrated in this anecdote: very often painters will keep rags in their studios to wipe their brushes clean between marks; this helps keeps the paint “pure” and unmuddied from pigment picked up by other pigments on the wet canvas. This is common in drawing, too. The drawer will have a scrap piece of paper handy to “wipe off” the pencil/pen, or to keep the tip at a certain sharpness or degree of angle. A friend in school started wiping off his brushes at the bottom of his painting, so he had these interesting perceptual paintings for three-quarters of the canvas and then what amounted to an abstract expressionist painting at the bottom quarter. When I asked him about why he decided to do that, he referred to the bottom quarter of the painting as “the basement.” It was his way of acknowledging that those “cleaning the brush” marks were just as important to the painting as the mannered and controlled perceptual painting marks.

Negative Positive
Blackberries and oil paint on canvas
12 " x 12 "

OPP: In earlier works, you use other fugitive materials—saliva, moss, tea, and the juice from beets, pomegranates, blackberries, cranberries and raspberries—to make marks. These works tend to be more abstract, foregrounding the materials themselves. When and why did you first start working with these organic materials?

EW: My natural inclination is to be drawn to the materiality of media. I would look at artists like Dieter Roth or Wolfgang Laib and vibrate with excitement. If you want them to, materials can help dictate meaning and form and change the context in which a viewer engages with the work.

The contextual issues we discussed have been of interest to me for a long time. There came a point in exploring these ideas when I began to question the materials that I was using—at the time I was using oil paints. After all, if you’re dealing in inquiry of perception and permanence, eventually you turn that lens on not only Art History but inward as well. . . onto your supports and materials and eventually onto yourself. In other words, it felt weird to try to make work about these ideas using the immutable tools of Painting. While in graduate school at SAIC, one of my advisors picked up on my interest in the passage of time and permanence and suggested that I pick up The Art Forger’s Handbook to study methods and techniques for mimicking aged work. The secret spells and analysis of pigments and supports really tickled the witchy part of my heart, so I started expanding my scope of materials.

Suprematism (After K.M.)
Charred bone and oil on paper
(Left image: found bone, before charring. Right image: Charred bone and oil ground into 40" x 50" paper)

OPP: How are these materials connected to your cosmology references?

EW: When looking at natural pigments, I think of their very early uses, cave paintings and rituals, for example. Using spit and burnt wood and bones and rocks and earth, humans made marks to say we are/were here and to make sense of their world. To figure out how the world began and why we are here. . . that’s one of the most basic definitions of cosmology! The pairing lined up nicely.

And yes, you are correct, the earlier work was much more abstract for a couple of reasons. I was really interested in figuring out how these materials could work, but I was also a little distrustful of imagery at the time. I was wary that images could shut down nuance. I want the artwork to operate with multiple layers of meaning. In retrospect, I think that binary is over-simplified and has flawed logic.

eternal return
Chalk and acrylic on panel
16" x 20"

OPP: In eternal return (2015) and eternal return too (2016), you use the repeated image of the ouroboros, a serpent eating its own tail. The symbol shows up in numerous ancient cultures and has associations in several philosophical, mystical and psychological systems of thought. What does it mean to you in the context of contemporary culture?

EW: Supposedly the concept of the ouroboros is represented in some shape or form in most ancient cultures to symbolize cyclical recreations, introspection and self-reflexivity. In earlier drawings, I diagrammed Shapes of the Universe and Shapes of an Expanding Universe because I am fascinated with the Oscillating Universe Theory, in which an expanding universe eventually falls apart, but then provides energy/fuel for a subsequent big-bang. This means that all matter and space is forever expanding, collapsing and expanding again (and answering that tricky question “what was there before the big bang?”). I think it has been disproved or isn’t popular among scientists, but it’s such a comforting metaphor. It’s another example of a language of inquiry stumbling upon the poetic. The ouroboros is a visual representation of an eternal return. When I started drawing them, I wound up personifying them, wondering how does it feel for them to eat their own tails? Are they terrified? Are they excited? Are they gagging?

Hand of Mouth
Metalpoint, gouache and acrylic on panel
11" x 14"

OPP: Tell us about your recent show at Roots & Culture in Chicago.

EW: The show was a two-person show with myself and former Chicago artist Ron Ewert (now Brooklyn-based). We both reference and source imagery from other contexts within our paintings/drawings, and we also both have an interest in sculpture and installation as a meta-context/narrative to prop these two-dimensional objects upon. Ron, for example, creates stripped-down wall frames without drywall, often painting these naked two-by-fours bright colors and hanging his work on the wall-skeletons.

We had a couple of Skype studio-visits and realized that we both like using a sort of lateral-thinking/oblique strategy method of generating ideas. We were collecting images and realizing that a lot of them featured hands or mouths or hands with mouths. That’s how we settled on the title of the show Hand of Mouth, and I think that weird phrase influenced a couple of pieces for both of us.

Faith in Fakes (holodeck)
Mixed media installation.
Dimensions variable.
Also on view, Ron Ewert painting.

OPP: What new work did you present?

EW:  I featured more of my collage-based work,  as well as some new metal-point drawings. About a year ago, a friend gave me some metal-point tips with the challenge, “you like drawing and weird materials, try these: they’re the Olympics of drawing!” Metal-point pre-dates graphite and lead. When you’re drawing, you’re embedding metal deposits into the surface of the support, which means you cannot erase your marks.

As mentioned earlier, Ron and I both have an interest in installation acting as a meta-context for our two dimensional work. To this end, I created a mock Holodeck to hang paintings in. It’s an installation I’ve wanted to make for a while, and I was fortunate that Roots & Culture allowed me to do that. Anyway: Faith in Fakes (holodeck) makes reference to Star Trek The Next Generation (a show of great importance to a handful of dear friends in my life). It’s a room that creates virtual reality for the crew on Star Trek, and it’s a conceit that was always confusing to me. Here is a crew of people, essentially in a utopian society in which all races are treated equally and peacefully getting along. (The original Star Trek was one of the first network television shows to feature a racially diverse cast.) They are actively bringing PEACE to the galaxy. . . and yet, they need a virtual reality room to escape utopia every now and then? Furthermore: not only are they already in utopia, they’re astronauts (every child’s secret wish)! It’s often how I feel about my studio. I get to exist in this world. . . and yet I still need to escape into my studio to sit in a room alone and make drawings. . .

To see more of Erin's work, please visit erinwashington.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 Johnathan Payne

Bound #1
Ballpoint pen and ink pen on paper
6 3/4 in. x 5 1/2 in.

The racialized and gendered body—his body—is the jumping off point for JOHNATHAN PAYNE's performance, sculpture and installation. His performances include rituals that embody endurance, self-investigation, self-care and preparation for facing the world as a human in a particular body. Coming at the same content from another direction, his Constructions—beautiful, airy, fragile curtains, meticulously assembled from shredded, colored printer paper and comic books—and ballpoint pen drawings of dense, wavy lines that evoke human hair explore the body through abstraction and materiality. Johnathan earned his BA in Art in 2012 from Rhodes College, where he was the recipient of the Sally Becker Grinspan Award for Artistic Achievement. His solo exhibitions include New Drawings (2014) at Beige, Accumulations (2013) at InsideOut Gym and DHOOOOOOM! (2011) at Jack Robinson Gallery, all in Memphis. In 2015, he collaborated with photographer D'Angelo Williams on Room to Let, created and exhibited at First Congregational Church in Memphis. He will exhibit new Constructions and collage work at 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair courtesy of Jenkins Johnson Gallery. The fair will take place at Somerset House in London on October 6-9, 2016. Johnathan currently lives in Memphis, Tennessee but will be heading to Yale this fall to pursue his MFA in Painting/Printmaking.

OtherPeoplesPixels: “Intense preoccupations with self-concept, desire, and tribalism [were] the points of departure for” Meet Me Where I’m At (2015), a solo show that included sculpture and performance. The title reads to me as a call away from tribalism, a call to see humans as individuals, not others. Can you say more about how you think about tribalism?

Johnathan Payne: I define tribalism as the organization of individuals who have a deep kinship over a shared culture or commonality. A fraternity, an ethnic or racial group, and a church congregation are examples of tribes to me, and such tribes were catalysts for the conceptualization of the show. I also think about tribalism in relation to time and space, and how people can go in and out of particular tribes depending on those two variables. The show was the outcome of a lot of personal existential questioning. I was beginning to question my positioning in the tribes that I deemed myself a part of but felt somewhat distant to: past and (then) present relationships, the Black/Queer community, and my then live/work space at a church, to name a few. I wanted to examine the isolation I felt as an individual in relation to certain tribes and the difference between identifying as a tribe member and actively participating as one. So, your interpretation of seeing humans as individuals and not (or, interrelation to) others is very spot on.

Partial Self-Portrait
Graphite, ink pen and India ink on paper
12 in. x 12 1/2 in.

OPP: How do self-concept and desire play into, ignite or counteract tribalism?

JP: The past, current, and future self—elements that make up a self-concept—are occasionally at odds with one another. I think this oddity with one’s self is experienced by everyone at some point or another. Usually, I process some of these inner emotions/self schemas by asking myself, “What the fuck are you doing?” or “What were you thinking?” or “Where are you going?” These questions may sound ruminative and self-shaming, but they help me be real with myself and get to the meat of my personal goals and desires. Desire is a double-edged sword for me. I’ve felt the desire to be someone I inherently am not, to be among people whose tribe I don’t have immediate access to or would have to mute or sacrifice an aspect of myself to gain access to. These inner conflicts with certain desires have negatively informed my self-concept, and have brought certain insecurities to the surface in distressful ways. Meet Me Where I’m At ultimately became an attempt to reconcile my relationship with myself, and to see myself unique to the tribes I occupy and the ones I desired to be in.
It was important for me to work across disciplines and engage in time-intensive processes to create the work. I was thinking about the body a lot, specifically a racialized and gendered body, my body. I was questioning my relationship to my body and how my body existed in space and how it was being perceived by others. Poly-consciousness is very central to my lived experience, and the show became an opportunity to explore a personal multidimensionality across materials and forms. Mental endurance, positive self-talk and perseverance are all tools I use in my daily life to push through internal drama induced by the external world. Physical fitness seemed like an appropriate vehicle to examine this self-preservation. The home workout excited me because it is rooted in self-care, but also in solitude. There’s comfort in not being seen working out, in not being susceptible to the perceptions of other gym-goers. I wanted to turn all that on its head by doing Tae Bo in a gallery, to conflate the concepts of isolation, self-improvement and the external gaze.

Meet Me Where I'm At
Live performance/installation exhibition at Crosstown Arts (Memphis, TN)
May 8, 2015.

OPP: You did a performance for the same show, in which you performed a series of secular rituals—shaving your beard and hair, doing a Tae Bo video in a gym-mat-shaped ring of tea lights, bathing, and reading floating fortune cookies followed by beer-bonging your own bath water. In the documentation, we can’t see everything that the live viewers saw. What else can you tell us that we may have missed by not seeing this live?

JP: The live performance spanned roughly one and a half hours, start-to-finish. The audience and I were both entrapped in a lot of time together. There were many sounds of feet shuffling, people conversing, and beer and soda cans popping open by mid-performance. With the exception of shaving my head, bathing, and beer-bonging bath water, most of the performance was spent with my back facing the audience. It was a very personal experience for me, and the audience’s experience was secondary to my own. Occasionally, during the duration of the Tae Bo workout, I would stop to drink water from a bottle I placed outside the tea lights. There was a bit of comicality visible to a live audience, specifically when I responded with disbelief to particularly intense exercises. Audience members cheered me on when I got tired, or when I looked like I was really struggling to perform the moves. Eventually, some of the tea lights burned out entirely.

The Tae Bo workout was projected directly onto the wall, so the scale of the video was large. It consumed me, and in a way I had to compete for the audience’s attention, because the Tae Bo video is rather dynamic to watch on its own. In the video, you see Billy Blanks in the foreground a majority of the time. The fitness studio where the video was filmed has a padded red floor, with various signs on the walls. There is a large, diverse group of people participating in the video. Many racial groups, ages, and genders are represented. There are also a variety of fitness levels represented too. But, collectively, everyone looks confident and has a strong physique. The front row contains people who are incredibly fit, and they maintain the pace of Blanks’ commands. The video was produced and distributed in the year 2000, and it definitely feels stylistically and aesthetically dated in that sense. Billy is a very lively figure throughout the video. He is encouraging, uplifting, militant and authoritative, all in one. My body language throughout the performance shifts, particularly during and after the bathing sequence. At that point, I am directly facing the audience and actively engaging with them. It was certainly me at my most vulnerable moment, but also my most powerful moment.

Meet Me Where I'm At
Performance still

OPP: A year later, what do you think about your own performance?

JP: This performance continues to be a lot for me to unpack. I think about my relationship to Billy Blanks and how his projection of Black masculinity is very divergent from my own. My attempt to mirror his appearance and keep pace with him is difficult, unsuccessful and ultimately unnecessary. I find comfort in that “failure,” in that ability to affirm Blackness across a spectrum, detached from competition and a monolithic representation. I still contemplate the line between self-care and self-medication, and my relationships to my past and current self. I continue to ask myself a lot of questions surrounding who I am and how I exist in the world. Ultimately, I think the performance challenged me to relinquish some of the internalizations that impeded me from being able to be my authentic self.

Installation view

OPP: In your Constructions (2015-present), made from both shredded comic books and colored printer paper, I’m most interested in the idea of transforming a narrative form into abstraction, even if it is an abstraction that hints at a functional object (a curtain). Can you discuss the two different papers in relation to the forms?

JP: My Constructions series developed from an ongoing interest to appropriate comic books in my work. Since 2011, I have explored the comic image and consider Ray Yoshida and his retrospective at the Sullivan Galleries at SAIC to be one of the most significant moments for me as a visual artist. Seeing the way Yoshida extracted and arranged forms from various comic books into specimen-like formations against spacious white grounds really stuck with me. In my Constructions, I make tapestry-like collages that attempt to evoke the vulnerability, complexity and tactility intrinsic to particular embodied identities. These evocations are manifested through color, pattern, and material. I play with color and pattern in different ways depending on the paper I choose.

When I shred comic book paper, the compositional and formal elements become colorful strips of pixelated, whimsical information. I then play around with these strips, creating patterned designs until I discover one that is compelling enough for me to explore further. Then, I set out to make a large scale artwork. From a distance, there is a formal uniformity to the Constructions made out of comic book paper. Yet, when viewed at an intimate distance, the comic Constructions offer a lot of complexity and detail in relation to color, line, and subject matter. I deconstruct depictions of whiteness, “justice,” heteronormativity, and patriarchy embedded in many comic books. The resulting form is not intended to be a reimagining or response to the original comic narrative. Though a familiarity exists, my goal is to transform the material into something rather unconventional.

I developed a stronger interest to play with color in my work after exploring the art of Black Abstractionists. The work of Alma Thomas, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Odili Donald Odita, Howardina Pindell and Stanley Whitney really resonates with me. So, I began to experiment with colored printer paper. I enjoyed that, similar to comic books, there was already visual information to respond to, though in this instance, it’s just flat, predetermined color. I began to use this paper as a tool to build pattern, tamper with light and shadow, and reference color field paintings and geometric abstractions. I layer warm and cool colors atop one another in an attempt to blend colors and create a visual vibrancy where the two shift rather seamlessly. I consider these particular constructions to be more broadly derivative of paintings. Also, the colored printer paper is usually stronger than the comic book paper, because of its ream weight and it being newer paper most times. So, I find that there’s a greater ability to experiment with surface texture. The surfaces of the colored paper constructions tend to buckle and bend, which reiterates the idea of vulnerable, yet resilient bodies and identities within society. I’m excited to explore both materials more in graduate school, as well as other printed material/archived publications.

Munch (detail)
shredded comic books and adhesive
96 in. x 83 in.

OPP: Tell us about your recent collaboration Room to Let (2015) with photographer D'Angelo Williams. What did you each bring to the project?

JP: D’Angelo’s MFA thesis work titled Beauty Kings stages various black men adorned with a deep burgundy turban standing in isolation within urban and rural landscapes. I was deeply inspired by this work and had the pleasure in participating as a model for him. His thesis work and my studio projects at the time were the catalysts for the show. Following Meet Me Where I’m At, I began working on a series of gestures and drawings that were intended to be somewhat dark in tonality and thematic content, so I wanted to balance that out with a project that was more participatory, colorful and playful. We decided to further investigate portraiture photography and abstract drawing together.

D’Angelo specifically brought a strong background in shooting and editing photographs to the project, and I brought a collaborative painting and drawing background. We both desired to explore color, identity and abstraction using space, material, fabrics and textiles and willing participants. We shot the photographs at First Congregational Church in Memphis, where I lived and worked as an events coordinator and a hostel resident assistant—the church runs an international traveler’s hostel called Pilgrim House. We borrowed linens and blankets from the hostel and asked guests if they wanted to pose for us. Initially, I was hesitant to ask strangers to participate. We would both approach someone, explain the themes and ideas surrounding the photos, and ask if they were interested. To my surprise, a lot of people expressed interest, and for some, it was a significant highlight of their time in Memphis. 

Rochelle on Southside Roof
Digital print
22 in. x 17 in.

OPP: What surprises emerged during the process?

JP: We worked together to drape the fabrics over the guests, making formal decisions based on the specific locations in the building and the personalities of each model. What struck me early in our project was how beautiful these fabrics looked adorned on the models. These were sheets and blankets that I’d spent a year interacting with as a staff member—washing, folding, cleaning—and I’d given them no particular mind and ascribed absolutely zero value to them. But, in reality, there was a lot of power inherent in them. That power was invisible to me, and the project really encouraged me to search for meaning where it’s (perceivably) least expected. We shot the photographs in various spaces within the church and made collaborative drawings and one shaped painting in my studio, which was also located inside the church. We exhibited the work in one of the rooms we photographed in, and opened the exhibition to churchgoers, hostel guests  and friends. It was wonderful to witness so many different people engaging with the art.

Room to Let really informed my interest to explore color, tactility, materiality and abstraction, and how all those elements can represent embodied identities. Working with D’Angelo was incredibly affirming, and I found comfort where we overlapped as artists and individuals.

Untitled (Jungle)
Acrylic paint, India ink, ballpoint pen, and permanent marker on paper

OPP: In your most recent video performance Training Session (2015), you do forward rolls on a small gym mat over and over again, wearing a T-shirt that says Up Against the Wall Mother Fucker. What are you training for?

JP: I am training for sustained self-preservation against the systems within society that wish to destroy me. In Training Session, I wanted to portray a pro-Black political sentiment through embodiment, text and the urban environment. I had finished reading Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and was thinking a lot about the vulnerability inherently attached to the Black body. How, at any point, it can be extinguished and how that threat of extinction can induce an internalized violence that is both protective and self-destructive. Coates writes, “. . . this is your country. . . this is your world. . . this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.” That line really resonated with me as I strove to determine what being free in my own Black body looked like. I wanted to show myself struggling in a repetitive act, that danced the line between external and internal influencers. That in-between is a rich space to me.

I also wanted to connect this performance with a Black Power narrative. The line on the shirt is a quote from Amiri Baraka’s poem Black People. In the poem, Baraka affirms the need for Black people to make their own world by any means necessary, including violence onto white people. The poem goes:

You can't steal nothing from a white man, he's already stole it he owes you everything you want, even his life. All the stores will open if you say the magic words. The magic words are: Up against the wall motherfucker! this is a stick up... We must make our own world, man, our own world, and we can not do this unless the white man is dead. Let's get together and kill him my man.

Though I’m not a violent person, I wanted to incorporate the theme of a racial-political uprising, but on the individual level. I wore the shirt in the performance to evoke the aggressive, combative tone in the poem. I paired this loaded text with a repetitive action—the somersault, a rudimental gymnastics technique—that hinted at notions of personal development, amateurism and innocence. I also wore a wrestling ear-guard to reinforce the idea of combat sport, but also to hint to a potential opponent. Though in reality they are many in number, two “opponents” depicted in the video include the hard, overgrown externalized world around me, as well as the internalized shackles that impede me from nurturing a radically Black identity.

Training Session
Filmed October 11, 2015 in Memphis, TN.
Documentation courtesy of David Bergen.

OPP: Training Session, which was made last October, took on renewed relevance two weeks ago, with the police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. . .

JP: The recent police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and the shooting of Dallas and Baton Rouge police officers are tragic and continuous reminders of the difficult reality that is existing in a Black body in America. It’s horrible to think that images of Black people have been constructed in ways beyond our own imagining or control and that these constructions ignite such brutality and violence onto us. In her book Citizen, Claudia Rankine speaks to a particular anger: “the anger built up through experience and quotidian struggles against dehumanization every brown or black person lives simply because of skin color.” I’ve heard this anger be referred to as Black Rage, and I see a connection between it and the internalized fear I mentioned earlier. I empathize entirely with these emotions and understand the root causes behind their extreme, outward manifestations. I also am able to confront my particular vantage point, which is from a place of privilege. I understand that the way I maintain and/or channel my emotions is unique to my experience. I haven't always been the most comfortable affirming my Blackness or confronting racism in the past, but I'm unpacking that suppression in my life right now. I think all of this is visible in Training Session.

To see more of Johnathan's work, please visit johnathanpayne.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 Marcelyn Bennett Carpenter


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'

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

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
10' x 5' x 18'

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.

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

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'

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"

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 Brent Fogt

Last Leg (2015), Would It Be Nice? (2015) and Edge of One (2015)

BRENT FOGT courts the unknown in an intuitive exploration of materiality, accumulation and, more recently, the tension between organic and designed form. The foundational gesture in his practice is the slow build-up and evolution of marks, evident in tiny, drawn circles, crochet stitches, cut up bits of paper or unique prints of twigs and leaves. In recent sculptures, he adds the marks of urban life (found furniture fragments) and of nature (fallen branches). Brent earned his BFA in Studio Art with Highest Honors from University of Texas at Austin and his MFA from the University of Michigan. His work has been featured in New American Paintings and Art in America and in solo shows at Terrain Exhibitions (Chicago, 2014), Austin College (Sherman, Texas, 2012), Emory University (Atlanta, 2009) and the Lawndale Art Center (Houston, 2009). He has been an Artist-in-Residence at the I-Park Foundation (2015), the Djerassi Resident Artists Program (2014), Yaddo (2013) and the Vermont Studio Center (2009). Brent has recently reviewed Chicago-based exhibitions for New City and Bad at Sports. He lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Is there a difference between the marks you make and the ones you allow to accumulate?

Brent Fogt: In all of my work, I am driven by the question: what would happen if…? I love to experiment with new processes and techniques, and when I think I’ve been repeating myself, I try to complicate the process or come up with a new one.

There is an organic quality to almost all of the work I create, whether I am making the marks or I am using a process that removes my hand from the equation. When I started making rain drawings, I was amazed at how much they looked like my Circle Drawings. By drawing circles over and over I was imitating natural processes.

What I like about work where my hand is more present—whether it is my collages, drawings or sculptures—is the presence of imperfections. A close inspection of my Circle Drawings, for instance, reveals oblong circles, overlapping lines and ink smears. The rectangular pieces of paper I cut for collages are always slightly askew, and my crochet stitches range from too tight to too loose.

Ink on paper
60 in x 96 in

OPP: What’s more important in your practice: yielding to your materials or controlling them?

BF: I probably yield to my materials more than I try to control them. When I begin working, I don’t know how a final piece is going to look. Rather, I take cues from my materials. With my most recent sculptures, for instance, I think a lot about how pieces fit together. I try many combinations until it becomes obvious that, say, the V shape of this branch perfectly complements the curve of another branch.

With many of my rain drawings, I yield completely to them, not adding any extra marks. With others, I am interested in seeing what would happen if I add my own marks or transform them into collages.

The 4th & 5th Great Awakenings, detail (from inside)
Crocheted cotton

OPP: Can you explain the process for your Rain Drawings and how they feed into your shingled collages?

BF: I actually wrote out the instructions for making rain drawings for some friends who were interested in making them.

a) Place some sturdy paper  in the rain (you’ll be handling it when it’s wet so the paper needs some heft).
b) While the paper gets wet, go foraging for leaves, twigs, pine needles (these work really well), grass, bark, anything organic really.
c) spread the organic materials all over the paper.
d) sprinkle ink over the organic materials and the paper. I like to start with diluted ink (the ink doesn’t have to be black; can be any color) in a 10-to-1 water-to-ink ratio.
e)Sprinkle darker ink, a 4-to-1 water-to-ink ratio.
f) Let the paper dry. If you’re outside, leaving the paper in the grass is a good idea, because air will reach the bottom of the paper and aid in drying.
g) Once the paper is completely dry, brush off all the organic materials, and you’re done!

The process is pure joy, because you never know how they are going to turn out. After a while, however, I started wondering how I could combine this process with a secondary process that was more rooted in geometry. I experimented with cutting up the rain drawings into squares and collaging them, but these first efforts seemed to reference pixels and computer screens, which I did not intend. The best solution I found was to cut the rain drawings into rectangular pieces and arrange them according to value, going from darkest in the middle to lightest on the periphery. This strategy maintained a strict geometry, but visually has more in common with weavings than computer screens. And since I placed each rectangle based strictly on value, it took color decisions out of the equation.

Ink and other liquid media, paper, gel medium
64 in x 36 in

OPP: Speaking of color, it is generally—with a few exceptions—very sparse in your work. How do you make decisions about color in other projects?

BF: Color is tricky for me because I was diagnosed pretty early on in my life with mild color blindness. As a result, I don’t trust that what I see is what others will see. At times, I avoid color altogether. In my early circle drawings, I used black pens on white paper and nothing else. After a couple of years, however, when I was looking to add another variable into the work, I took tentative steps into color, using blue and green pens and some graphite.

One strategy I have is to use “found color.” With my very latest sculptures, for instance, I photographed the floors of the space where I eventually will be showing them, opened up the photos in Photoshop and used the eyedropper tool to figure out how I could mix them. It turned out that I could make one of the colors with four parts yellow, two parts light blue and one part magenta. I made that color and then mixed it with white gesso. A long time ago, I made paintings in a similar way, finding color combinations in magazines that I liked, then figuring out how to mix them. My assumption is that someone with a better color sense than I have made them, so why not try them.

Installation, Emory University, detail
Crocheted candle wicking

OPP: You’ve been using crochet in your practice since 2008. Earlier installations—at Chicago Artist Coalition, at Dominican University and at Terrain—evoke other-worldly hanging plants or hives. They emphasize the capacity of crochet to grow organically as stitches accumulate. More recently in discrete sculptures like Last Leg or SonRisa, the crochet becomes a skin, bandage or clothing, stretched taut to hold found fragments of discarded furniture and fallen branches together. Can you the discuss this shift and the introduction of hard lines and angles into your visual vocabulary, which used to be dominated by circles and organic lines?

BF: The hanging pieces got bigger and bigger over the years  until I started thinking about them less as otherworldly objects and more as potential containers for people. At an exhibition at the A&D Gallery at Columbia College, in fact, I invited people to get inside of them, and many did. My own experience getting inside the pieces was really interesting. I felt a real sense of calm and felt totally safe and protected.

The next step might have been to make the crocheted sculptures even larger so that multiple people could have gotten inside them. I made lots of sketches and thought I was going to move in this direction, but when I started thinking about how to create more sophisticated substructures to support the larger pieces, I changed my mind. The substructures themselves— the bones of the piece— became more intriguing.

Right around that time, I also started collecting discarded furniture. I began cutting up the furniture and combining it with fallen branches to create armatures for sculptures, playing up the tension between the mass-produced, hard-edged pieces that I was finding and the more organic shapes of the branches. The pieces you mentioned, Last Leg and SonRisa, are two of about five works in this category. As with the earlier, more organic work, I still relied on crochet as a skin to cover the bones or substructure.

The work I have underway in my studio right now represents another shift. I am leaving much more of the bones uncovered, but I am strategically crocheting or wrapping the places where the bones connect as if I were symbolically healing or repairing the sculptures.

The pieces are becoming increasingly vulnerable. They began as fully formed hives, homes, nests and have evolved into sculptures that are increasingly fragmentary, tenuous and fragile.

To see more of Brent's work, please visit brentfogt.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 Michael Paulus

American Endurance (The Creep)
12 panels, approx 25" by 90" with spacing

Interdisciplinary artist MICHAEL PAULUS works in video, painting drawing and sculpture. From his slow, lulling videos of repetitive phenomena to his pithy, layered drawings of the imagined skeletal systems of well-known cartoon characters, he expresses both awe at the natural world and criticism of the constant human drive to manipulate it. Michael's videos have been screened nationally in Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon; and Austin, Texas and internationally in Taipei, Taiwan; London, England; Banff, Canada and Basel, Switzerland. Most recently, Wind Farm was included in the Gödöllo International Nature Film Festival (2015) in Gödöllo, Hungary. Michael is currently hard at work on a collaborative, multi-media project with Glenna Cole Allee that examines "the ghostly remains of the annexed people and township from the Hanford Reach." In 2015, he exhibited work in Obsidere, curated by MicroClimate Collective in San Francisco and had a solo show called Claimed, Found and Gifted at Oranj Studio in Portland, Oregon where he lives and works.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You work in drawing, sculpture, painting and video. What’s the underlying thread tying together all your work in various media?

Michael Paulus: I’ve never had a very disciplined studio practice, investing in technique and familiarity with a chosen medium. I’m generally restlessness with sticking with one medium. I do recall very much my foundations professor Greg Skinner at Cornish College in Seattle impressing upon me to “choose the medium to suit the vision, not the other way around.” He was a conceptual artist coming out of the post-minimalist 60s.  Actually, I came back to visual art about 15 years ago after burning out on the two-dimensional image and the limitations of illusion, which brought me to sculpture after a couple-year-long hiatus, during which I was more concerned with creating audio compositions. 

The mediums do differ throughout, and the work tends to be motivated by a respect of this natural world, as well as a critical view of the awkward attempts we humans make to define and control it.

Fig. 7

OPP: You’ve drawn the imagined skeletons of 22 well-known cartoon characters in Character Study. Does personal fandom play into how you selected your subjects or is it more about the bodies themselves? Can you also talk a bit about the urge to deconstruct childhood icons?

MP: The cartoon skeletons were really an exploration and experiment to deconstruct iconic figures from my childhood. In their day, these characters were stand-ins and figureheads for many. Actually, I never had much interest in comics, and I really do not like the act of drawing, so that project was a bit of a challenge for me. I had the notion to do somewhat literal drawings of their very physical bodies (skeletons in this case) in a kind of medical or devinci-esque rendition and apply a hinged, translucent digital overlay of the flat and colorful cartoon image over the top, intentionally retaining the pixilation and artifacts that came with them when pulling the figures off internet searches. The intent was to have an onion skinning, transparent layer with the drawing underneath, like the anatomy books I paged through as a youngster with the various Mylar layers of circulatory, nervous, cardiovascular systems, till finally one is left with an opaque skeletal system, which cannot be denied.

I chose Charlie Brown and Hello Kitty first, as they were both very iconic and grotesquely distorted from the original human or animal from which they were derived. For the rest of the series I did the same. I retained the general skeletal system of whatever their actual origins were, regardless of how anthropomorphically derivative of a cutesy human they were with speaking mouths and huge eye sockets.

Vertical Migration
HD video
4min, 15 sec.

OPP: It seems you’ve been focusing on video work in the last few years. Videos like Vertical Migration (2014), Wind Farm (2014) and Dip (2013) all have a slow, contemplative quality. To me, they are all about the value of slowing down to look at what we might be missing and the beauty of cyclical repetition. Earlier videos like The Journal of John Magillicutty or: The Time Afforded To One Lucky Enough To Be Living Comfortably (2006) and The Preoccupied Occupant (2009) have all those same qualities plus humor and a little absurdity. Thoughts?  

MP: Well, I suppose I tend to look at this life a bit distanced. Both critical and amazed at what it is all about.  And I certainly like combining contrasts and the marriage of opposing elements,  kind of a ‘more than the sum of the parts’ kind of thing. 

So, yes, there are some outright absurd and comical elements in contrast to and as a kind of veil over the profound. It’s possible that I’m self-consciously masking spiritual leanings I have or constructing a retainer in case I stray too far. I grew up with contrasts in a family of Catholic faith but where science and logic was king. I am conscious of this instinct to manipulate and control the world around us: designed dog breeds, damned rivers, foie gras, binary codes. The cyclical repetition is a result of this constant. I suppose, it’s a kind of a meditative response in the face of absurdity or incomprehension.

General paranoia in our culture and surveillance flavor my recent work. I am currently working on a couple projects examining the paranoid undercurrent. One is a small but ongoing attempt to finish a video where I am matching shot for shot the opening sequence from the ubiquitous movie The Shining. I am matching the locations and the blocking of the movie’s ominous, helicopter eye in the sky intro sequence as it looks down, following the subjects as they wind up the mountain. . . but in this case looking back up at it. 

Another very multi-media project is working with artist Glenna Cole Allee on an interactive piece that examines the ghostly remains of the annexed people and township from the Hanford Reach in what became The Manhattan Project’s plutonium-producing mega-site in the scablands of Washington state—now also the notorious Superfund cleanup site. It’s a large undertaking incorporating massive stills, video, projected audio elements spoken from natives and some sculptural constructions.

Grasping Right and Grasping Left: Hands of Abraham
Watercolor on rag paper

OPP: Please tell us about your most recent body of work Claimed, Found and Gifted. What’s the significance of the blades of grass your drawn versions of the hands on the Lincoln Memorial? Why have you revisited Abraham Lincoln again after a decade?

MP: Well, I was offered an opportunity to exhibit some new work along with existing pieces so I decided to explore where my head was at 10 years prior in a show I did titled The Stars and Abraham. I found myself a bit perplexed in how I had merged the myth and popular vestige of Abraham Lincoln with astrology and its arbitrary symbolism. More to the point, of how they relate in Americana folklore and institutions for the faithful believers in both. I certainly held Mr. Lincoln in high regard since childhood for his virtue and fortitude. Most of this was drilled into children in grade school it seems.

Honestly, it was a bit of an awkward exercise with that association between the two; comparing Lincoln’s vacillation between right and wrong, this and that with the union and slavery. Anyways, I borrowed from Lincoln again. In addition to the cascading stovepipe hats upon pretzels and hotdogs, I inserted blades of very suburban, green grass clenched in the Lincoln memorial hands—just more Americana from a child’s backyard looking up at the sky. And, as a counterpoint to the somewhat austere and critical renditions involving Abraham, I created large, rag-paper fans in full, saturated, color from fabric dye as a celebration of his sensual and feminine counterpart, Mary Todd. . . or, my creation of her into this complement to him.

The exhibition title Claimed, Found and Gifted refers to the idea of American expansionism westward, manifest destiny and eminent domain. One piece, the broken and elongated pop American tchotchke black panther titled American Endurance—(the Creep) is basically the title piece.

Rorschach in loft foyer
96 Blots with designer and artist Trish Grantham.

OPP: Your painted walls resemble wallpaper in their repeated patterns of flowers and Rorschach blots, but each image is uniquely hand painting. Some are the interiors of private homes; others are in bars and restaurants. Did these folks seek you out or did you bid for the jobs? Can you offer any practical advice for artists who want to do commissioned work?

MP: I have been doing work like this for a while. I first began with commercial work in a more corporate environment, designing and building permanent art installations for the offices and conference rooms of a large company.  The patterned “wall paper” painting began really with Angle Face bar in Portland, Oregon, owned by John Taboada and Giovanna Parolari. It’s kind of a tweak on the current trend of wallpaper and repeat patterns, but with an application by hand so that each motif is unique.

Local designer Trish Grantham conceived the Rorschach blots. The Rorschach blot-inspired work I particularly like in that the context—often a residence—plays into the reception of the work. One peripherally ‘feels’ a delicate pattern of flowers surrounding you like conventional wallpaper when entering a space and then, once taking a closer look…
My fine art practice and discipline as I said earlier is lacking at times and I consider myself aligned with a design instinct more than I would have appreciated when I was younger. Do I actively search out paid work like this? Not so much. That is a great benefit of the World Wide Web really, in that it is very helpful for individuals dealing in visual images.

To see more of Michael's work, please visit michaelpaulus.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 Caroline Carlsmith

Pyritization II (In Praise of Limestone)
Poem, pyrite (FeS2)

CAROLINE CARLSMITH's interdisciplinary work is a rhizome of meaning, material and language. The impenetrable walls and poetic byproducts of translation are subjects in works that range from vinyl lettering on walls, poems written in minerals and prints of word clouds made from digitally generated lorem ipsum (a meaningless filler text used by typesetters since the 1500s). In 2009, Caroline completed a double degree in Studio Art (BFA) and Visual and Critical Studies (BA) from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and went on to earn an MFA in Art Theory and Practice from Northwestern University in 2014. She has attended residencies at SÍM Residency (Reykjavic, Iceland), ACRE (Stuben, Wisconsin) and Vermont Studio Center (Johnson, Vermont). Recent exhibitions include to be looked at and read at BKBX Gallery in Brooklyn, Archipelago (2014) at the Block Museum in Evanston, Illinois and Reading Room at Julius Caesar in Chicago. Caroline lives and works in Brooklyn.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Could you talk about text as image and image as text in your work? I'm also curious if you experience textual thinking as different than or similar to visual thinking. 

Caroline Carlsmith: Though there may well be a difference for some people between textual and visual thinking, I am not sure whether I experience it. In some ways all of my works are written, but sometimes literal writing is visible in the finished product and sometimes it isn’t. My artworks are most often the result of a constellation of ideas that are associated as I might want to associate them in a poem. If I want the impact to be simultaneous or sensory, then I make them objects.

While there may not be, for me, a difference between visual and textual creating, there is certainly a difference between the experience of the reader of a text and the viewer of a non-text-based work of art. My desire to invoke one kind of experience or another dictates whether the final product is text or text+. I tend to use images and words similarly, trying to play with their multiple meanings, placing them in congress with each other to facilitate controlled collisions.

Lorem Ipsum Dolor Sit Amet
45 inkjet prints on paper
Prints are 8.5" x 11" each
Installed at Northwestern University, October, 2012

OPP: Whether you are rendering poetry as small nuggets of pyrite as in Pyritization II (In Praise of Limestone) (2014) or Walt Whitman's Calamus as word clouds in Nobody Loves Pain Itself For Itself (2012), translation is both a strategy and a subject in your work. How do you think about issues of legibility, believability and accuracy in relation to translation?

CC: I believe there is no such thing as accuracy in translation. Every translation—be it from language to language, image to text, material to material, body to fossil, artist to avatar—presents both loss and gain. It is this transformation, or transubstantiation, that allows an idea, a thought or a figure to be carried beyond the boundaries of the original in time and space. But inevitably what is translated is not the thing itself. The “true” original is never accessible. It is what we touch when we reach for what lies beyond it. It is the thin shell of space between skin and skin when we believe we are in contact with each other. This is the space I am seeking to make visible.

I Am Now With You
Die-cut vinyl lettering

OPP: You've done numerous projects that take Walt Whitman's work as a subject or a jumping-off point. Why Walt Whitman, as opposed to any other writer? What does he mean to you as a human, as an artist? What does he mean to your work?

CC: Walt Whitman is a key figure to me in many ways. Most important is a move he makes throughout his work, in which he asks to be understood as present with the reader after his death, without his body, through the text. Whitman was an artist who wrote “himself” into his poetry, creating a fictional persona that overlapped with but did not replicate the author. When the poem claims “I am now with you,” the reader is faced with an incantation, a performative utterance, which enacts its own truth through its declaration. This form of immortality, the conjuration of one’s figure through the medium of text, which is not dependent on the living body and moves through time differently, was the one Whitman proclaimed for himself when he made statements like,

                                                   Remember my words - I may again return, 
                                                   I love you - I depart from materials;
                                                   I am as one disembodied, triumphant, dead.

For him, to escape the body and the material world was to live on, but, perversely, that living can only be enacted within a new body. And what is conjured is not a man, but something both larger and smaller: a figure.

Importantly, for Whitman this strategy is dependent on love and enacted by the reader’s succumbing to desire for his “presence.” It’s a form of seduction that results, for Whitman, in alternating forms of procreation and resurrection, or, better yet, new poems, or new works of art, that carry forward that figure and allow it to grow and change—in other words, to live.

Wax cylinder record, marble dust (CaCO3)
2 1/2" diameter x 4"

OPP: Could you talk about the significance of Calcium Carbonate (CaCO3) in its many forms?

CC: I initially became interested in calcium carbonate in its crystal form of optical calcite, which is a birefringent material that splits a ray of light into two beams. I was fascinated to encounter a naturally occurring material that had the capacity to split an image or a word viewed through it in two. It produces a doubling effect in which the “real” and “virtual” are separated but indistinguishable.

As I began to research further, however, I found multiple ways in which calcium carbonate shaped the history of the visual itself. For example, according to the fossil record, trilobites living in the prehistoric oceans saturated with calcium carbonate developed the first eyes, which were compound lenses of calcite. Later, when the oceans acidified, the bodies of the animals living in that environment and deposits from that water became chalk and limestone, or metamorphosed into marble. In forms like these, as well as gesso and lime plaster, calcium carbonate has been an integral part of human art-making as far back as we can trace it. The study of calcite also gave rise, in the 17th century, to the understanding of both the polarization of light and the polymorphism of crystals. Calcite remains the purest polarizing material in use in optical instruments today. Even now, it is still present at the expanding boundary of the visible. It is ultimately that polymorphism that attracts me to calcite. It is part of why I use chemical formulas to indicate motifs and produce associations between seemingly disparate materials in my work. I like that a material can be so many different things and somehow still be the same, remain connected or cohesive.

However, like most materials, CaCO3 is most dynamic when set against something with which it is in tension. When working on Phaedra/Phaedrus/Phèdre, for example, I was using calcium carbonate in the forms of marble powder, chalk, pearl and calcite crystal. That installation also made use of multiple meanings of the word basic, which is a characteristic of the alkaline calcium carbonate, but also a way to think about language, about the foundations of education and thought and about foundations themselves.

Installation view of Phaedra/Phaedrus/Phèdre
foreground: Phèdre, left: Basic Phaedrus, right: Citation Pearl: General Index, background: Solution

OPP: What about your use of blackboards as substrates in Phaedra/Phaedrus/Phèdre (2013)?

CC: Blackboards, in that context, were not only the typical substrate for chalk marks, but also a pedagogical tool, as well as associated with the work of Cy Twombly, whose triptych Phaedrus was recreated in chalk and marble dust on the reverse of the three blackboards in the installation. (The original paintings had been famously kissed by the performance artist Rindy Sam, who claimed she’d been so overwhelmed with love for the work that she had to physically consummate it.) Blackboards, along with champagne and the lipstick Sam had worn to kiss the Twombly, interacted with calcium carbonate as substrates, solvents, and additives. By paring down the materials involved in an installation to just a few elements, I hoped the complex relationships between them would have a greater impact.

II (Inside of a Needle Inside of an Egg Inside of a Duck Inside of a Rabbit Inside of a Chest Buried Under an Oak Tree on an Island)
Carbon ink drawing (C) on paper

OPP: What are you working on right now?

CC: I’m working on a new series of drawings right now based on a Rose of Jericho, which is a resurrection plant native to the desert of Mexico and the southwestern USA. When it’s dry it looks like a little tumbleweed and quite dead, but when you expose it to water it uncurls and grows green and is suddenly alive. The ancient city of Jericho is associated in illuminated manuscripts with a certain type of labyrinth which has seven cycles, related to its apocryphal seven walls. In these drawings, I use the Rose of Jericho, as it opens and closes, to trace paths that lead out of seven-cycled labyrinths. I'm also working on a written piece—or perhaps seven written pieces—that I hope will accompany the drawings when the series is finished.

To see more of Caroline's work, please visit carolinecarlsmith.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, opens today at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL) and runs through December 19, 2015.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Kirsten Furlong

Promise and purpose, the Ancestors' dream
Collage, ink, graphite, and colored pencil on paper
60"x 60"

KIRSTEN FURLONG explores the interplay between culture and nature and the multifaceted relationships between humans and animals in her drawings, prints and fiber-based installations. In her project Unchopping a Tree, based on the eponymous W.S. Merwin prose poem, she laments the lost lives of trees and the impossibility of reviving what has already died. Kirsten earned her BFA (1995) from the University of Nebraska in Omaha and her MFA (2000) from Boise State University in Idaho. Recent solo exhibitions include Kirsten Furlong: Repeat and Shift (2014) at Enso Arts in Boise, Idaho and Standing Still and Moving Through The Wilderness at Coconino Center for the Arts in Flagstaff, Arizona. Her work is included in Dog Head Stew | The Second Course, which just opened this week on October 19, 2015 at Gallery 239, Chadron State College in Nebraska. Another group show, Paper West, opens on November 5, 2015 at Gittins Gallery in Salt Lake City, Utah. In September 2015, she was the Artist-in-Residence at Crooked Tree Art Center in Traverse City, Michigan. She is the Gallery Director and Curator for the Visual Arts Center and a Lecturer at Boise State University. Kirsten lives in Boise, Idaho.

OtherPeoplesPixels: In your artist statement, you say, "animals serve as emblems of nature and as metaphors for human desires." It seems to me that human desires aren't that different from animal desires. What does it mean for our relationship to animals that we turn them into metaphors for our own experiences rather than imagining their experiences?
Kirsten Furlong: Animals, in many cases, carry the weight of our cultural baggage which can make it very unclear what anyone’s actual desires may be, animal or human. The most basic and necessary human desires may be for water and air, and yet we engage in activities that foul these resources and deny both humans and animals access to them.

However, a species becoming emblematic has occasionally been useful if they get our attention due to a larger narrative or problem. For example, the near destruction of bald eagles from DDT and the subsequent ban and recovery. There is such an incredible complexity of animal identities, politics and cultural identities tied to the land and species that reside therein. This dynamic takes on particular qualities here in the Western U.S. Thoughtful consideration of the experiences of animals such as wolves, sage grouse, or the giant Palouse earthworm would certainly steer our treatment of their lives in a different directions than they seem to be currently heading.

Investigations in experimental garments for animals
Inkjet print
24"x 30"

OPP: Could you tell us about your experimental garments for animals? Why do these birds need hats?
KF: The “garments” started as three-dimensional studio sketches created from hand-made and hand-stitched wool felt. The initial forms were created as protective outer-wear with architectural qualities designed for a few particular birds, insects and small mammals. These forms were intended for a project in which they would be placed in environments to be discovered by these species. The subsequent interactions, collaborations—or lack there of—would generate ideas for the future completed designs. While impatiently awaiting these collaborations and sometimes storing the forms on the head of a taxidermied chuckar partridge in my studio, their unintended, uncanny resemblance to various hats or historic head gear became apparent: dunce caps, papal mitre, bonnets, chaperons, hoods, and military gear. So, while there is no need on the bird's part for a hat, providing one points out, in an ironic way, the uniquely human need for adornments and accoutrements.

standing still - tree circle (detail)
Ink drawing on paper
30"h x 22"w

OPP: How does your use of repetitive mark-making—in the forms of drawing, cutting and sewing—in pieces like Standing Still - Tree Circle (2012), Twice: Migration (2009) and Wolf Mouth (2013) support the content of your work?
KF: My process is to mimic forms and patterns made by plants and animals: tree rings, concentric lines on seashells, woven grass in a bird nest, fractal patterns on ferns and corals, spider webs, or the meandering line of a snake. This is a way of understanding natural processes via imitation and representation using the tools of the artist —the pen, the blade, the needle. 

OPP: I like imagining Nature making marks in the same way an artist does, as if it is cognizant and self aware. Perhaps we should go back to the tradition of anthropomorphizing Nature itself, as used to occur in ancient myths . . . might we treat it better if we thought of Nature as a creative being deserving empathy?

KF: This is not just a belief of the past but a way of thinking that is embraced in a number of cultures, and it can have a profound impact on how one exists as a part of Nature. Many dismiss systems of thought like anthropomorphism and animism or consider them only as cultural constructs, but I think a more nuanced approach that crosses the boundaries of natural sciences and arts/humanities is where the most interesting discussions are taking place.

Unchopping a Tree #8
String and poplar tree

OPP: You just returned from a residency at Crooked Tree Arts Center in Northern Michigan. What drew you to this residency and what did you work on while you were there?
KF: I have never visited the area, and I like to invigorate my studio practice by situating it now and then in unfamiliar places. Also, I had the opportunity to teach a workshop called Image Layering with Printmaking, Painting and Drawing. I introduced a variety of techniques for mark making including frottage, chine colle' and image transfers. For the frottage process, I demonstrated how to use found textures of wood grain, stones and plants with printmaking inks and graphite on thin papers. Then I showed the process of cutting and adhering these images /patterns to thicker papers and adding additional images with transfers /drawing/painting.

This temporary move from the late summer high desert to the leafy landscape of Northern Michigan's forest preserves and great lakes provided much to investigate. The most fascinating discoveries on the shore of Lake Michigan were the unique geological features - the fossil patterns of Petoskey stones and chain coral influenced some of the drawings I worked on during the stay. The Crooked Tree program is unique in that the artist stays in a private studio and apartment adjacent to the residency hosts' home. The hosts are very knowledgeable about the area and the local flora and fauna and shared a lot of useful information about the region. I also created some site specific works related to my Unchopping a Tree series in a grove of poplars a short walking distance from the studio. I had the opportunity to visit Headlands, one of few designated International Dark Sky Parks, which has me thinking a lot about darkness and nocturnal environments as threatened natural resources.

Rings - September 2013
Tree branches
15' diameter

OPP: Do you see Unchopping a Tree (2013) as part of the trajectory of the earthworks of the 1970s?
KF: It's interesting to consider. Unchopping a Tree was inspired by a W.S. Merwin prose poem of the same name that was originally published in 1970. It’s publication and the earthworks are contemporaneous with the 1970s environmental movement and federal legislation for water, air and wilderness. They also coincide with my youth. Although I lived in cities and had no connection to wilderness or National Parks, I was still influenced by the cultural milieu of Woodsy the Owl, Smokey the Bear and collected what I could find from my backyard for “nature crafts.”
As an adult, I have visited many of the major earthwork sites of the West. If we can consider the trajectory and its many branches to include the influence of artists like Joseph Beuys and Richard Long, than perhaps what I’m doing is an offshoot from that. The major difference is the scale. Monumental alterations of the landscape like Double Negative, Spiral Jetty and Roden Crater are gigantic gestures. I tend to focus on smaller, and in some cases, nearly invisible patterns and processes. I concentrate on the details, which is what really struck me about the Merwin work. This written work essentially instructs the reader how to put back together a tree that has been cut down and all of the directives are, of course, impossible. The passages about sawdust and spider webs and nests are what really got me thinking about intricacy and what one likely wouldn’t see at all. That is the larger metaphor that moves me. When it come to the environment, we’ve gone so far down the path of destruction and removal, it seems unlikely that the damage can be undone or even sufficiently repaired.

To see more of Kirsten's work, please visit kirstenfurlong.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 Yikui Gu

Tip Toeing in My Jordans
Oil and acrylic on canvas
36 x 26 inches

YIKUI GU wants his work to be "horrifying and hilarious." His colorful, chaotic paintings, drawings and collages have the feeling of an overwhelming parade that started out fun. But now everyone's a little too drunk, desperate and on the verge of violence. Desire and longing are intensely present, and so is the anxiety the follows wanting. All this becomes a hilariously horrifying critique of capitalism, commodification and the inherent violence that accompanies the striving to always be on top. Yikui earned his BFA from Long Island University in 2005 and his MFA from Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, MFA in 2008. He has exhibited internationally, including shows at G.A.S. Station (2015, 2010, 2009) in Berlin, Ground Floor Gallery (2015) in Brooklyn, the Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art (2013), the Siena Art Institute (2011) in Siena, Italy and the Delaware Art Museum (2012) in Wilmington, Delaware. During the summer of 2015, he was an Artist-in-Residence at the School of Visual Arts in New York. His recent solo show Chance Encounters just closed at Hungerford Gallery at the College of Southern Maryland, where Yikui is an Associate Professor. Yikui lives in Philadelphia.

OtherPeoplesPixels: I won't ask you to be a poet, but I will ask you to expand on your artist statement. To you, what's horrifying and what's hilarious? Why is it important to combine these qualities?

Yikui Gu: I see horror and humor everywhere in life. It’s in almost everything we do, although we may disagree on which is which. I think those two qualities are often linked together, so it’s not that I find it important to combine them, rather I see them as already combined, pre­packaged in a way. The famous Buddhist expression “life is suffering” nicely sums up the horror, while all the petty things we do in spite of that are what is hilarious. We all age. Knowledge of our mortality can be horrifying, and when someone buys a sports car or a pair of breasts to combat that, it’s hilarious. We are all born into a world where we’re conditioned to be good worker bees, to take our place faithfully in the assembly line, and look forward to  the promise of a wonderful retirement. That’s horrifying and hilarious. Look at the art market, that place is full of horror and hilarity.

Brothers in Arms #2
Charcoal & acrylic collaged on bristol board
11 x 14 inches

OPP: Tell us about your series Lovers Melt. I get the impression that the faces are sourced from found images and then you dress them up in military garb, camouflage and, in one case matching hijabs. I mostly get that impression from God Hates Fags, which appears to have been painted and collaged on top of an image of some anti­-gay protest. In some cases, the people seem to be coming and, in others, they appear to be screaming in anger, even rage.

YG: Lovers Melt is a recent series that I began this summer. I was at a residency at the School of Visual Arts in New York for the month of June, and that’s where all those pieces were produced. I’d been wanting to combine drawing, painting and collage, and the residency was a perfect opportunity. For the series, I wanted to use images of facial expressions from staunchly patriarchal groups, be it the military, religious fanatics or cultural conservatives. The idea was to take these charged expressions of anger and misconstrue them into something sexual, something homoerotic. So the face of a screaming soldier can become the face of someone enjoying orgasm. Interestingly enough, I didn’t need to change the expressions at all, once they were positioned too close to one another, they re­contextualized themselves. It was the perfect way to mock these institutions.

Also, an aside about God Hates Fags. I think that piece perfectly sums up my thoughts to your first question. It’s both horrifying and hilarious that there are people out there who believe the omnipotent creator of the universe would experience a petty human emotion such as hate. And that’s coming from an atheist.

The Debaucherous
Oil, acrylic, and marker on canvas
42 x 42 inches

OPP: There are a lot of partial bodies that fade into the background and disembodied pairs of legs, especially in Sneakerheads. Could you talk about this treatment of the figure?

YG: I was academically trained, and my work used to reflect that more. I used to paint lots of portraits, and I was happy to show the world that I was a well trained monkey. Today its very hard for me to make a portrait or a figure in a “traditional” sense, so the disembodied quality is a reflection of that. It’s also how we all experience the world and the other people in it. On a crowded subway I may only catch a fleeting glimpse of an arm or leg, the same can be said of most of our daily experiences whether we’re shopping, dining, fucking, or at an opening. Who says a figure must be complete? And what is complete anyways?

The Game is Rigged
Oil and acrylic on canvas
36 x 34 inches

OPP: Could you talk about the recurring motifs of semi­automatic weapons and bombs? Is your work a response to violence in general, or specifically the violence of war?

YG: The imagery of weapons, bombs, soldiers, and warplanes are a response to the general violence in the world, a reflection of the world’s power dynamics, the horror part of human experience. While these images speak most directly to the violence of war, they’re also meant to suggest the ever present threat of violence in daily life. That threat permeates everything, it exists in the sexual, economic, political and social realms. It’s the source of most of the world’s power, and by extension, its problems. Additionally, most of my depictions of weapons and such are generally done in an unrealistic, almost cartoony way. This is to neuter that threat of violence, and my attempt at injecting a bit of levity into the situation, the humor if you will. Even when weapons are painted realistically, such as the bomb in I Bomb Atomically, it’s a realistic depiction of a cartoon bomb, a bomb that couldn’t ever exist (I hope).

Don't be a Dick
In-progress painting

OPP: What are you working on in your studio right now?

YG: Since returning from my residency at the School of Visual Arts, I’ve been combining drawing and collage into my paintings, which has been very exciting. While I'd always thought about doing that, the limited time in NYC gave me the perfect opportunity to try it. I’m curious to see where it goes. I’m still interested in using political, cultural and domestic imagery to explore the horrible and hilarious things that human beings do. Specifically, I'm working on an in-progress painting called Don't be a Dick. A charcoal portrait of Dick Cheney will be pasted onto the spot where the current painted version is taped. The legs with the Jordan Bred 4s are done with ink and colored pencils and also will be pasted on.

Conceptually, I'm thinking about ideas I've always thought about, especially in the series Sneakerheads. The commodification of sneakers, with blue chip brands and highly sought after releases, mirrors the art market perfectly. There are re-sellers, counterfeits and buying frenzies. This is contrasted with the pile of garbage—collaged from magazines—the legs are sticking out of. Over-packaging, waste and planned obsolescence have been on my mind. Even the readily available images I used from Ikea catalogs—a different type of detritus—further drive home the point that we produce too much crap, shitty art included. Dick Cheney is there because he's an asshole, and I'd like to mount his head and hang it in my house. He's the perfect symbol of White Privilege and pure greed, which are connected to the commodification and waste I mentioned earlier. Because of that, it won't matter if he's not recognized in the future.

To see more of Yikui's work, please visit yikuigu.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.