OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Christopher Ottinger

Film strip projector, lab stands, DCX lens, ground glass, daylight filter, wood, enamel
Dimensions variable

CHRISTOPHER OTTINGER mines objects that relate to the history of media technologies in order to understand human perception and the relationships between humans and machines. He uses projection, mirrors and the guts of discarded electronics to create sculptural machines that appear to look at themselves, asking viewers to consider the presence of consciousness in technology. Christopher received his MFA from Washington University in 2011. In 2012-2013, he was in residence at BOLT, where he will remain as a mentor-in-residence for 2013-2014. In the spring of 2014, he will also be an artist-in-residence at the Media Archeology Lab in Boulder, Colorado. Christopher lives and works in Chicago, Illinois.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What is media archaeology? How does it influence your practice?

Christopher Ottinger: For some, media archaeology is about the artistic and theoretical practice of mining the technological media past in order to re-envision the technological present and to suggest alternate paths technology might take in the future. For others, it’s just media theory in a fancy hat. Personally, I think it’s a bit of both. In my own practice, media archeology frames the theoretical conversation around my work, but I tend to think of myself as more of an alchemist than an archaeologist in the studio.

OPP: To “alchemist,” would you add designer, inventor or tinkerer?

CO: Probably a mixture of the three—definitely a tinkerer, though. I like to play mad scientist and dissect old junk. That’s the fun part. There is also a fair amount of prototyping, experimentation and research that goes into the work, but I feel most like an artist when I rip the guts out of a broken video camera or an old television set and discover some new use for those objects. Perhaps taxidermist should be in there as well.

Blue Ghost and Incandescent Ghost
Installation shot from Ghost Machine

OPP: Your recent solo exhibition, Ghost Machine, in the BOLT Project Space in Chicago features three pieces that are part sculpture and part machine. In NTSC Ghost, three handheld projectors cast the image of the familiar SMPTE color bars onto a spinning screen. Blue Ghost uses a piece of glass to project the image of static from one cathode ray tube to another, while Incandescent Ghost turns an old film projector into a camera obscura that sees itself. What was the premise of the show? Could you talk about the intersection between sculpture and machine in your work?

CO: The meaning of this body of work only became clear to me recently. My brother wrote the essay for the show. He and I had been discussing the work in terms of the history of moving images and inquiries into the nature of technological objects. My brother then introduced psychoanalysis into the conversation. We started asking questions like, “what does it look like when machines think?” and “what is infancy like for a machine, from a cognitive standpoint?”

It didn’t really come together, however, until Sarah Nardi from the Chicago Reader asked me why these objects appear to be looking at themselves. It occurred to me that these objects aren’t just machines trapped in a state of arrested development. They represent machines at a very specific moment in their development as beings. These works are machines standing at the threshold of consciousness. They have not yet formulated a language with which to assert themselves as autonomous beings, but they are taking that first step.

The sculptural or furniture-like aspect of these works places them in a domestic context that is both familiar and alien. This is similar to a television set, which is both a piece of furniture and has the ability to summon ethereal worlds out of thin air.

Machines For Seeing Modify Perception (detail)
Digital print, glass, lightbox, mercury glass tumbler
Dimensions variable

Are the machines metaphors?

CO: My use of metaphor in this body of work comes from reading about object-oriented ontology. This sounds like a super nerdy branch of philosophy—which it is—but Ian Bogost’s book, Alien Phenomenology, is fairly useful in terms of ideas. In short, Bogost’s theory is that, in order to understand the nature of a thing, we must attempt to understand the thing from the thing’s perspective. Obviously, this is impossible. We’re never going to really know what it’s like to physically be a hammer or a teapot, but Bogost suggests that we can estimate that experience through a kind of productive metaphor.

My sculptures function as visual metaphors for the pre-cognitive experience of machines. Language has not yet formed. The machines are concerned only with sensation, but there is no thinking to give these sensations meaning. It’s like early childhood development research for technical objects—Melanie Klein is probably turning over in her grave right now.

Blue Ghost (Detail)
Wood, enamel, hardware, blue CFL, cathode ray tubes, electronic components, plate glass
Dimensions variable

OPP: Ghosts and machines show up repeatedly in your earlier work as well: Snow_Ghost (2008), Ghost Machine #3 (2011) and Phone Ghost (2011), to name a few. The phrase ‘ghost in the machine’ originally refers to Gilbert Ryle’s critique of the Cartesian assertion that the mind and the body are distinct from one another. In Ryle’s book, The Concept of Mind, the machine is the human body. But over the years the phrase has been recontextualized through science fiction and pop culture as a way to explore our fears about technology. There seems to be a lot of confusion online about what the phrase means, but the semantic shift is telling: what we think about technology is connected to what we think about human nature. How do you think about ghosts and machines?

CO: Whether we’re talking about Descarte or a film like I, Robot, I see the ghost that inhabits the machine as consciousness. Of course, we don’t actually have conscious machines yet, so the consciousness revealed here is more like an impression or a representation of a consciousness that’s still forming.

Nevertheless, these technological ghosts allow us to gain some insight into what experience or thought might be like for a technological object. The recurring ghost machine in my work is basically a device for conjuring a machine’s consciousness, like a technological séance. There are countless examples—Pepper’s Ghost and Robertson’s Phantasmagoria—of pre-cinematic technologies that were used to “summon” specters out of thin air. I’ve recreated some of these technologies, but made them more about media technology itself, rather than about demons or spirits.

I agree that what we think about technology is connected to what we think about human nature. That relationship is also changing. As machines become more intelligent, their natures begin to resemble our own. We are becoming more dependent on them to make sense of the world around us. Considering technologies like smartphones or augmented reality gizmos like Google Glasses, it’s not difficult to envision a time when a conversation about the relationship between human and machine is not a conversation about difference or otherness but rather about a shared ontology.

Somewhere between living and extinction (prototype)
Wood, enamel, hardware, electronic components, vinyl record, 45rpm turntable, sound

OPP: Would you tell us about a failure in your studio that led to an unexpected success?

CO: This is an interesting question because, in order to formulate a response, I would have to identify what I consider to be a success, and I’m not certain that I know what that is. But I can offer an anecdote about building NTSC Ghost. The interaction of the projectors and the rapidly spinning screen in this piece create a volumetric hologram. Originally, though, I set out to make a piece where the screen moved very slowly. Long story short, I aimed a Super 8mm projector at the motor/screen assembly one day and powered the whole thing up, not realizing that I had the motor turned to its fastest setting. For about three seconds, this miraculous image appeared on the screen. Then, the motor, its housing and the screen all went flying through my studio because none of it was bolted down. I ran out of my studio trying to avoid flying debris. Once the dust had settled, I realized this piece was—somewhat violently—telling me what it wanted to be.

OPP: What are you tinkering with in your studio at the moment?

CO: The usual: trying to figure out new ways to electrocute myself. Seriously though, mostly I’m just experimenting with some new materials. I recently got an Arduino, and I’m trying to learn how to do some basic coding for some kinetic pieces I’ve been playing with. I'm also putting a show together for Heaven Gallery in Chicago for spring 2014, so I've been doing research and doing studio visits for that. The show is still in the early planning stages, but I'm thinking it will deal with media archaeology in some way.

To see more of Christopher's work, please visit christopherottinger.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and existential significance of participating in mass media culture in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her work is on view through September 2013 in Abstracting the Seam (Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago), and she will mount a solo show titled I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Erin Wozniak

Open Wide
Oil on panel
8" x 6.5"

Permeated with the distance and closeness that exist in everyday moments of intimacy, ERIN WOZNIAK's oil paintings and graphite drawings offer the opportunity to contemplate human vulnerability. She meticulously renders the surface of the skin and the boundaries between individuals, emphasizing the body as the physical and psychological interface between one’s self and the external world. Erin received her BFA from the Columbus College of Art and Design in Ohio and studied at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. She is represented by Hammond Harkins Galleries (Bexley, Ohio), where she most recently exhibited her work in Contemporary Realism: Four Visions. In 2013, her pastel drawing Morning won “Best in Show” in the 71st Annual May Show in North Canton, Ohio. Erin lives and works in Canton, Ohio.

OtherPeoplesPixels: How is the idea of the human body as "the interface of interaction between subject and object, self and other, inside and outside" expressed in your work?

Erin Wozniak: My fascination with the body begins with mortality and the human fear of injury, sickness, aging and death. These are lurking threats to any sense of autonomy or control over one’s body or life. Exploring this vulnerability is central to my work. I am also interested in the way our bodies and minds are shaped by the people we know, the genes we carry and the society and culture in which we exist. The effects of this tangled, symbiotic relationship between inside and outside can literally be seen on the surface of the human body in the form of folds, wrinkles, scars, blemishes and tattoos. These are all markers of interactions and time, and this is where my obsessive rendering comes into play.  

OPP: Your work strongly conveys a sense of intimacy that leads me to wonder if you are intimate with your subjects. I don't actually need to know who the subjects are to understand the work, but I do wonder if you approach drawing strangers in the same way you approach drawing family members and friends.

EW: My paintings and drawing are an extension and reflection of my life, so it is natural for me to depict family members, not to mention the convenience and comfort. I have done commissions in the past in which I’ve drawn and painted strangers, and the act of drawing and painting is very similar whether I know the subject well or not. When I draw family members I approach the drawing as if I were drawing a stranger. Drawing and painting are acts of searching and discovering; they are methods of comprehending. Whether I’m drawing a stranger or doing self-portrait, I ask myself, “Who is this person?”

Graphite on paper
11" x 11"

Do you draw from photographs? If so, do you compose in the camera or crop images in the drawing stage? Tell us about your process.

EW: Inspiration for my work typically comes from everyday observations and evolves from there. Photography and Photoshop allow me to compose quickly, to try different points of perspective and lighting situations, and to decide whether an image works better in color or grayscale. After multiple shoots, I usually narrow down my references to a handful of photos that I will work from. Although I rely on photography, I prefer to work from direct observation if possible. Most of my work ends up being a composite of time spent working both from life and photos.

OPP: Why do you prefer drawing from life? Is it about the process or the final outcome?

EW: Viewing someone from a photograph versus studying that person in three-dimensional space is a completely different experience. Working from life allows you to respond to the physical presence of someone or something and challenges you to deal with things like shifting light, subtle movement and changes over time. I like the amount of control I have when working from photography, but the unpredictability of working from life usually helps to invigorate a drawing and is a necessary part of my process. I find working from photographs alone to be limiting. Through the lens of a camera, visual information like detail, color and value are distorted from the way we optically perceive these things. I want the final outcome of my drawings and paintings to feel like more than just a superficial copy of a photograph.

Oil on muslin over panel
11.5" x 11"

OPP: Are you familiar with the photographs of Elinor Carucci? Your work reminded me a lot of her book Closer, in which she photographs intimate moments between her and her family members. She is often present in the shot. Because the titles of her photographs confirm that the subjects are her family members, I feel more like a voyeur—although an invited one—looking at her work than I do looking at yours. I think it has something to do with the nature of drawing versus the nature of photography. What do you think?

EW: I wasn’t familiar with her work, but thank you for bringing her to my attention. Her work is very intriguing. For me, the difference between photography and drawing is that when I look at a drawing I am pulled into the viewpoint of the artist more so than with photography. With a drawing, I think about the artist, what the artist's mark-making tells me about the person they drew and how they felt about that person.  

Maybe this awareness is what makes a drawing seem physically less voyeuristic than a photograph. A photograph makes you feel as if you are right there looking at something in real life. A drawing has more artifice to it. However, the awareness of the artist that comes with viewing a drawing brings about a different kind of voyeurism—less physically jarring, but more psychological. As viewers, we enter the mental space of the artist and understand how every square inch of the subject was combed over with visual study and, in turn, every square inch of the paper was touched. This sense of touch, along with a sense of time, is what I think drawing possesses that photography cannot. More than an instant is captured in a drawing. A drawing is a compression of each moment of the ongoing struggle to capture what you are seeing and feeling on a piece of paper.  

OPP:There's something sad about pieces like Estuary and Cleft, in which the subjects seem alienated from one another. But all the pieces are about people being close to one another and about the distance that is sometimes present in closeness. Do your drawings romanticize intimacy or reveal the reality of an everyday experience of it?

EW: I’d like to think that my drawings reveal a relatable reality of everyday intimacy and that they communicate a sense of distance, desire and dependence that can be present in relationships. 

Graphite on paper
12.5" x 17"

OPP: These drawings seem sad to me, but I think that might be too simplistic. Perhaps they just make me sad. I feel both the distance and the desire in them. How would you describe the dominant mood that pervades these drawings?

I think there is a sense of sadness in trying to hold on to something, trying to hold onto a relationship or a moment in time that is constantly slipping away. A lot of my work reflects this experience. Even the process of drawing itself reflects this desire to preserve something impermanent. 

Could you talk about Open Wide? This painting strikes me as quite different from the others. The blackness inside the mouth creates a sense of horror for me, like there's nothing in there. Just emptiness. Is horror or emptiness something you were thinking about?

EW: This painting is different from others in that I strayed from reality more than usual. I often find myself completely changing a composition in response to what I feel a painting needs. In the case of Open Wide, I didn’t originally plan for the mouth to be a void. While painting and repainting the mouth, I tried painting it black, and it just worked. When I started this painting, my intention was to create a confrontational portrait of a woman that was equally powerful and vulnerable. I wanted to create a Medusa-like figure that would confront the viewer’s gaze. I think the emptiness seen inside her evokes a sense of horror because it represents darkness or the unknown.

Oil on muslin over panel
11" x 8.25"

Is there anything in-process in your studio right now that you'd like to tell us about? 

EW: I have an old painting of a wall that I started years ago. I never finished it because I lost interest. It’s a painting of an old, marked-up wall covered in chipped paint. But recently I started thinking about the wall painting in relation to a self-portrait I want to do. It’s been years since I have done a self-portrait. I started working on this painting—repainting the wall to fit seamlessly with the image of myself and mostly working from observation—probably a week after giving birth to my second child. I wanted to focus on my own image and the idea of time and change. I thought the wall would work well as the backdrop to a self-portrait, and metaphorically it makes sense.

To see more of Erin's work, please visit erinwozniak.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and existential significance of participating in mass media culture in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006, and is currently a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT Residency in Chicago.Her work is on view through September 2013 in Abstracting the Seam (Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago) and she will mount a solo show titled I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Kris Knight

Blue Ribbon
Oil on Canvas
18" x 24"

Painter KRIS KNIGHT repeatedly employs dichotomies in his narratives of rural escapism and imagination: hunter and hunted, naked and costumed, regal and common. His cast of androgynous characters embody vulnerability, alternatively concealing and revealing themselves as they play out romantic fantasies that appear both innocent and erotic. Kris graduated with honors from the Ontario College of Art and Design, Toronto. In 2013 he presented new work in a solo exhibition, Secrets Are The Things We Grow, at Mulherin + Pollard in New York and represented Katherine Mulherin Contemporary Art Projects at VOLTA NY with a solo project titled Blue Gaze.  Until June 30, 2013, his work can be seen in ROCK$THEM a group exhibition curated by Laura O'Reilly at Rox Gallery in New York. Kris lives and works in Toronto, Canada.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Do you consider your work to be portraiture in the traditional sense?

Kris Knight: The majority of my characters are based on real people—mostly friends and family—but sometimes they are come from the mass media. I start off with photo references as a template for my portraits, but then drop them halfway through the painting, often changing the sitter’s hair color and physical attributes altogether. I don’t adhere to the historical notion of the portrait, where the portrait has to be pleasing to the sitter or the patron to be deemed successful. For me, the sitter is a character that I use to help illustrate my narratives. There’s a lot more freedom when you remove the pressure of reproducing what already exists.

Loose Lips Sink Ships
Oil on Canvas
40" x 30"

OPP: Your color palette is very consistent—lots of pastels and muted tones. Why do you choose these colors? How does color convey emotion in your work?

KK: I’m really inspired by the softer palette historically found in neoclassical portraiture, especially French 18th century portraiture. I’m drawn to the pastels and the ghostly skin tones found in the work of Joseph Ducreux and Louise Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun. There is something both luscious and decaying about their palettes that I hope translates in my work as well.

I love all things French Revolution, too, especially the portraiture of the aristocracy that was done during and right before this period. The heavy, white powder make-up that was in vogue at the time gave the sitters what we now consider a ghostly look. I’m fascinated by this act of concealment. They wanted to look like porcelain, without imperfection, because having a tan meant you were a commoner, a laborer. But we now know that this white, lead-based makeup was toxic. It slowly poisoned the people wearing it. Whenever anyone performs a front of perfection, it always fails in the end. Beauty is powerful and tragic; it declines as we decay, but we never stop trying to preserve it.

Color does trigger emotional response, as well. We attach our own histories to our senses, consciously or not. I want the colors of my palette to have the same sense of contradiction that my imagery has: equally vivid and deadening at the same time.

Parvenu (The Historical Rise of the Art Jock)
Oil on Canvas
36" x 48"

OPP: I noticed a recurrent visual motif of ineffective masks in your 2011-2012 solo show The Lost and Found. In paintings like Mischief, Caught and My Porcelain Life, these masks hide nothing about the identities of the subjects. They are more like decorative blindfolds that obscure vision rather than protect identity? How does this relate to the title of this body of work?

KK: I’m really interested in the dichotomy of sanctuary and susceptibility, especially in costume. My characters are often wearing elements of protection—sweaters, furs, masks—that are too delicate to protect or hide anything. I want my characters to be as guarded as they are vulnerable. The Lost and Found paintings are about a group of disenchanted youths who subtly play with roles of being the hunter and the hunted. As much as the characters in these paintings try to be lost, they are very much aware of who is watching them. 

OPP: Is this about an abstract sense of voyeurism or do you have a specific watcher in mind? Are the characters complicit objects of the voyeur?

KK: In this series I definitely played with the concept of voyeurism but gravitated more towards the emotional state of what it is like to feel lost and how we come back from this place. All of my exhibition themes stem from my own experiences even though I paint other people. The Lost and Found series was my response to feeling a bit burnt out from too many deadlines. Since I graduated from art school ten years ago, I have been painting everyday, working insane hours in preparation for exhibitions. Sometimes I get overwhelmed with pressure. Sometimes I want to get lost, but I always seem to find my inspiration and my way back.  

OPP: In much of your work, it appears that everyone is getting ready to go to a masquerade ball, but no one wants to finish dressing. Could you talk about the juxtaposition of costuming and nakedness in your work? How does this relate to androgyny and representations of gender, sexuality and/or asexuality?

Lake Erie (Gold)
Oil on Canvas
30" x 36"

KK: When I first started painting professionally, I was interested in androgyny in terms of gender. Now I am more interested in creating neutrality and ambiguity in regards to mood. I like tiptoeing between dichotomies of hot and cold, especially in facial expression, atmosphere, palette and sex. Sometimes I want my characters to appear as virginal as possible, and other times I want them to appear overtly ostentatious in their sexuality. But, most of the time, I want them to fit right in between. I like confusing the viewer in the subtlest ways.

The characters I paint hide truths of who they are, where they come from and whom they love. They often put on airs of regality with elements of historical costume to mask the fact they are socially or economically the opposite. They long for the grandeur of the past and try their best to posture class, but their trashy tear-aways always give them away.

OPP: I wouldn't describe your paintings as stylistically campy, but I see and hear details that make me think of the discourse surrounding camp. Do you think of your work in those terms?

KK:  I love camp and use humor as a way to offset the seriousness in my work. My earlier works tended to be a lot more campy but now I approach camp and humor in a more subtle fashion. There are a lot of small elements of camp in my works that I find funny; these are responses to growing up gay in unromantic, small towns in rural Canada. I love a good knock-off Adidas two-stripe tracksuit, and I love a cheesy subversive title.  

Putting on Airs
Oil on prepared cotton paper
11" x 14"

OPP: In a recent interview with Parker Bruce for Gayletter.com, you mentioned having worked in galleries for years and that that was a great learning experience. You are now represented by three galleries internationally: Katharine Mulherin Contemporary Art Projects in Toronto, Spinello Gallery in Miami and Rize Art Gallery in The Netherlands. Can you offer any practical advice for emerging artists who are seeking gallery representation?

KK: I think it’s a really amazing time to be an artist because we have an abundance of resources to help get our work out. I book the majority of my exhibitions and make the majority of my sales from curators and collectors seeing my images online. This obviously wouldn’t have been possible 20 years ago. I have key professional relationships with contacts around the world who have helped build my career. Some of them I’ve never met in person, and I may never meet them. I decided to be represented by galleries in the traditional sense, but that’s not the only way of making a career as an artist today. I have many friends who have built their audiences online. They are feverishly self-sufficient and have full control over their careers, all because they are Internet and online-media savvy. Again, this would not have been possible twenty years ago. 

What’s key for an artist today is to have a good website and to have good documentation of current work. As for an artist seeking representation, it’s very much the same as applying for a job. Do your research. Seek out galleries that have a like-minded aesthetics and mandates that appeal to your own practice and where you are at in your career.  

To see more of Kris's work, please visit krisknight.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and existential significance of participating in mass media culture in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She
is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006, and is currently a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT Residency in Chicago.Her work is on view through September 2013 in Abstracting the Seam (Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago) and she will mount a solo show titled I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Adriean Koleric

Viper Sisters and The House of The Holy!!!!

Using digital and handmade techniques, ADRIEAN KOLERIC assembles collages from 1950s publications like Mechanix Illustrated and Life, Action Comics from the 1970s, and images of romantic landscapes and Nicholas Cage's head culled from the Internet. His collages are fantasy landscapes that offer an escape from hum-drum reality. Adriean is interested in democratic modes of disseminating art, including Flickr, Tumblr and street art. His most recent collage series, The Viper Sisters and The Sinister Reasoning of Abstracta!!!!, is available for purchase as at Blurb.com, an online, self-publishing platform. He has just completed his first album cover for the Edmonton-based, electronic band Zebra Pulse. Adriean lives and works in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Who are the Viper Sisters!!!!? How did the series of collages begin?

Adriean Koleric: The Viper Sisters!!!! came about around Christmas of 2012. I was pretty burnt out at the time and kept having this urge to work on a series of collages that were more scaled down than what I had been doing. I was after a somewhat punk vibe. I came up with the name first. I wanted a name that could easily have been a band’s name in the early punk movements of the 70’s. I jotted down the name The Viper Sisters!!!! and rattled off the first of 60-plus panels in minutes. It was like a three-chord composition. The three chords were character, landscape and accessory. In all honesty, this was supposed to be a one-off joke series for me to giggle about to myself. But it was pretty addictive, especially with the convoluted, Smiths-esque titles. They only enhance the experience and humor for me.

I used a number of social media outlets when posting the Sisters series. The interest especially began to grow on Flickr. From there, they began to pop up on Tumblr sites, blogs, etc. I received a lot of comments asking where the sisters were going next, who exactly are they represented, why they carried the head of Nicolas Cage. As the series progressed, people began to follow each panel as though each one was a continuation of the last. But in reality, it was one battle scene of destruction after another. These are awful characters who have no respect for life. They don’t experience remorse. Yet, somehow, viewers connected with them. I’m guessing it comes down to the escapist avenue they provide from our daily grind. It was a loose series for me that, of all the work I’ve done, reached the most people. Several galleries even approached me to show the pieces which still makes me chuckle a bit.

Viper Sisters and The Valley of Mercer!!!!

OPP: Did you turn them down? Are you more interested in disseminating work through the internet than through the gallery system?

AK: I did accept one of the gallery shows. If I’m asked, then that shows me there’s genuine interest in the work. But I hate the process of writing proposals—nine times out of 10 they are full of shit—just to appease a selection committee. Plus I can’t stand meetings, especially art-related ones. They go nowhere and are boring as hell. If I wanted a life like that, I’d have been an accountant.

I’m more interested in producing, putting it out there and moving on. If someone wants to sit there and dismantle my work, then have at it. Once it’s posted, it’s no longer mine.

OPP: You've worked in both digital and cut-paste collage. Can you talk about the differences in these methods?

AK: For me, digital is a helluva lot easier in terms of throwing a composition together. The ability to adjust the scale and tone of images and to duplicate individual components makes it more controllable than traditional cut-paste. The process is always easier, but it’s harder to walk away from the piece at the end. I just want to keep fiddling with add-ons, layers, etc. Cut-paste is a much slower and more involved process. I develop more of a relationship with the piece because I spend the majority of time flipping through pages, cutting, tossing, ripping . . . crying. I have an idea in my head, and then I have to treasure-hunt for the clippings that will help me achieve the vision. I’m always relying on the hope that I will come across that magical image which will take me to my rainbow land. It’s a damn lottery most of the time! I also find it more satisfying at the end because I am physically holding the finished product in my hands as opposed to messing about with a printer. It makes the hassle worth it.

Untitled 26, from The Life and Times of B.Sherman
2010 Digital collage

OPP: In another creative life, you were a furniture designer. What made you shift from the three-dimensional to the two-dimensional?

AK: My last furniture piece was a lamp called MONSTER. This piece was specifically designed to cater to the designer toy community and it looked like an over-sized toy with an "eye" for a lens and clean surfaces that could be a platform for artists to interpret as they saw fit. I wanted to create a vehicle that would allow me to collaborate with artists that I had been following at the time. So once I hooked up with guys like Chad Kouri and Motomichi Nakamura, the two-dimensional bug hit me hard—especially collage, a medium I hadn’t touched since I was a teen. I literally dropped all interest in furniture design and haven’t gone back since. That was eight years ago.

OPP: What kinds of collage did you make as a teenager?

AK: My collages back then were pretty crude. They were mostly made up of content from magazines I got in movie theaters as well as old Action Comics. I was fascinated by Superman, who was the primary character used in these collages. In most cases, he was in a dialogue with other popular icons of the day, including RoboCop, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character from Commando and Stallone. It was very teenage boy-masculine. The dialogue was awful. Arguments over chocolate milk were about as intelligent as it got.

OPP: How does your training in design influence your collage work?

AK: It makes me focus more on aesthetics rather than concept. The latter has never been a priority for me and always has a danger of skewing the viewers' perceptions. I want viewers to think for themselves. Ever ask a writer to draw out his/her book in order to explain it to you? Sounds silly doesn’t it?

Untitled 55, from America
Digital collage

OPP: Clearly, you are a Star Wars fan, as evidenced by your 2009 solo show Herd, featuring an army of modified and decorated imperial walkers, your series Star Wars Galaxy 5 TOPPS (2010), and all the TIE fighters, X-Wing fighters and storm troopers that populate your collages. Is fandom an important part of your work?

AK: The funny thing is that I’m not that big of a Star Wars fan. I don’t even own a single DVD copy!!

OPP: Wow! I’m actually shocked. I was certain you were a fan. What is it about Star Wars that makes it come up over and over again in your work? How much are you counting on the viewer to recognize these iconic images?

AK: For me it was all about the iconic imagery that I wanted to reinterpret. I liked the idea of taking a well-known image and making viewers look at it in a completely different way. It’s also a way to draw in viewers by providing a sense of familiarity. They recognize a few items, feel comfortable enough to enter, but then realize they are in another place. From there, I hope the thought process shifts and sheds a new light on what was once old and true to them. 

Modern Hopeful #3
Paper on Plywood
8" x 12"

OPP: Talk about the recurring visual motif of absent human heads. Sometimes the heads are replaced with with cameras, boxes, furniture, and other times, the figures are simply headless or the faces are erased. There are a lot of examples in your Sketch Card Set (2012) and in your series Paper vs. Wood (2011-13). In The Life and Times of B.Sherman (2009-2011), the heads are mostly replaced with pieces of furniture you yourself designed and parts of machines that I don't recognize. How do you think about these replacement "heads"?

AK: It really started with the B.Sherman series. I wanted to somehow preserve the work I did as a furniture designer. B.Sherman is my direct connection to my furniture design past. His ‘head’ is actually the very first piece I designed. At the time it was called "Sherman" but was later renamed "Bento." I had a string of attachments to the piece and wanted to somehow keep it alive in my work. It was a way of creating a self-portrait, and it allowed me to travel through each piece. It sounds hokey, but it really is about escapism for me. We all want that moment to change our heads and just go elsewhere for awhile.

OPP: Escapism generally has a negative connotation, as if it is solely a function of a character flaw in people who have no sense of reality or no skills at dealing with the real world. But I see it more as continuum of healthy and unhealthy behaviors. The desire to escape is a natural human impulse that we all experience at one time or another. In fact, I think fine art is as much a part of the escapism continuum as mass-media culture. What do you think?

AK: For me, art is entertainment. Entertainment is there to take us away from the daily bull. That is escapism. Well to me it is. Anyone who thinks escapism has a negative connotation is either a liar or the most dry person out there. We need to recharge ourselves every now and then. I like the idea that right now, some guy in his cubicle is reading this interview and checking out my stuff. I’ve given him a moment in his 9-5 drab day to loosen up. I, myself, have the skills to deal with the real world, but, man, there are days when I could care less.

To view more of Adriean's work, please visit thinkitem.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and existential significance of participating in mass media culture in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006, and is currently a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT Residency in Chicago.Her work is on view through September 2013 in Abstracting the Seam (Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago) and she will mount a solo show titled I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Lisa Vinebaum

New Demands? (Chicago)
Performance, Chicago
Photos: Kenny Smilovitch

Interdisciplinary artist, writer and educator LISA VINEBAUM uses the visual language of protest placards to commemorate historical struggles for workers’ rights. In New Demands?, her ongoing series of walking performances, she calls attention to the present-day erosion of these rights by reinscribing slogans back into historically significant sites of the labor movement. Lisa holds a PhD in Art and an MA in Textiles from Goldsmiths, University of London and a BFA in Fibers from Concordia University in Montreal. In her critical writings, she explores the social histories of textiles and the performance of labor in the work of contemporary artists. She will co-chair the panel "Crafting Community: Textiles, Collaboration, and Social Space" at the annual College Art Association conference (February 2014) and co-edit a special issue of "Textile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture" with Dr. Kirsty Robertson. Lisa lives and works in Chicago, Illinois.

OtherPeoplesPixels: How are your placard performances like one-person protests? How are they not protests?

Lisa Vinebaum: The performances draw on the form, rhetorics and histories of protest, but they aren’t protests. Protest is fundamentally about social change, making demands and proposing concrete alternatives. I’m concerned with raising awareness about specific issues and with commemoration, history and memory. I'm interested in performance as a vehicle for social interaction. I do understand how the performances can be read as one-person protests, but they also draw on street performance, performance art, memory studies, social practice and dialogical art, as well as discourse in gender, feminist and postcolonial studies.

I alter slogans adopted from historical protests and strikes to make them more universal. The placards reference specific events from the history of labor activism, but the work is about inscribing these histories into urban sites today, drawing connections between past and present struggles. I rely on ambiguity to allow the work to transcend protest. The slogans “On Strike for Fair Wages” or “The Right To Collective Bargaining” are easily associated with protest but not necessarily any specific one. The slogans resonate across time and are still relevant today.

Not a self-hating jew
Performance, Montreal, Quebec

OPP: Do you initiate conversation with viewers while you are performing? Which slogan elicited the most engagement and response from viewers?

LV:  I wait for viewers to engage with me. I want to leave any interaction up to them. I get the most responses when I use a Yiddish language slogan. So many people stop me to ask what language it is and what the placard says. I also get a lot of Jewish viewers who want to talk to me. They all recognize the language even if they don't speak Yiddish. Many of them also had parents or grandparents who worked in the garment industry. These placards also attract interaction from Hasidic Jews, who tend to be more insular and not have a great deal of interaction outside of their own community. The Not a self-hating jew performance got a hugely positive response, which I wasn't expecting.

OPP: Your 2011 performance Radical Jewish Emplacement was censored by campus security despite being part of an official Concordia University conference event. I love the look on your face—both irritated and amused—in the image on your website that documents the moment of confrontation with the security guard. What were you feeling at that moment? 

LV: My reaction was, “You have GOT to be kidding me!” It was so ironic. I was having a heated discussion about Israel and Palestine at the site of so much censorship on the issue—this was the exact goal of the performance—and along came Mr. Security Guard to censor it. I couldn’t believe it. The conference organizers tried to intervene, but the security guard threatened my job—I was part-time faculty at the time—if I didn’t stop the performance. I later learned that the guard lied about why the performance was stopped. The incident reinforced my views about the need for more discussion and debate on what’s going on in Palestine. There has been a lot of censorship regarding Israeli government policies and the treatment of Palestinians, not only in Montreal but also Toronto and New York and on many university campuses. It’s incredibly counterproductive.

OPP: Do you have a planned strategy for dealing with the shutdown of discourse?

LV: It’s up to me to decide when to walk away from viewers who want to talk to me. Fortunately, I haven’t had many hostile responses. Most people are very receptive and engaging. There was one instance in Montreal when a man, who clearly had some mental health issues, became enraged by a slogan on my placard and threw a garbage can. That was the only time I felt threatened and unsafe. Generally, I’m vigilant and always do a site visit or practice run in advance. Also I’m very aware that I might be stopped by the police or other authorities, in which case I’d be non-confrontational and stop the performance if needed.

Collective Bargaining
Performance, Chicago
Photos: Kenny Smilovitch

OPP: Your ongoing series New Demands? "[connects] the current crisis in timed labor to historical struggles for workers’ rights." What do you mean by the "crisis in timed labor”?

LV: I mean a general assault on workers’ rights and the massive decline in pay and benefits for workers. Ever since Ronald Reagan fired the striking air traffic controllers in 1981, there has been a concerted attempt to curtail rights—the right to unionize, to paid vacations, to health benefits, to earn overtime—that workers won during the first half of the 20th century. Working conditions have been on the decline for the past 30 years, and today companies tend to employ large numbers of part-time workers so as not to pay health benefits or contribute to retirement savings. The minimum wage has not kept pace with inflation—it should be almost $30/hour. There have been a plethora of laws and corporate policies that make it harder to join a union or maintain collective bargaining rights. In 2012, unionization rates were at their lowest in 97 years in the US. There’s also globalization, which has led to the loss of tens of thousands of good American jobs and to the creation of dangerous, low paid jobs across the developing world. Overall, there have been dramatic losses for workers while there’s been an exponential rise in the accumulation of wealth by executives.

OPP: You’ve performed New Demands? in the U.S. and in Canada. Is there a different history of protest in Canada than in the U.S. that affects the reception of the work?

LV: I’m not that well versed in the history of protest in Canada. In general, people in Canada are more passive than here in the U.S. There’s a certain “Canadian reserve” that probably comes from having been a British colony for so long. One exception is Québec (where I grew up), which was mainly colonized by France and is a predominantly French-speaking province. As in France, demonstrations and protests happen all the time. People are adamant about defending certain rights and taking to the streets to do so.

When I performed New Demands? in Montreal in 2012, there was a province-wide student strike against higher tuition fees. There were tens of thousands of people out in the streets for over two months, and it brought down the provincial government. You don’t see that happening in the rest of Canada. Also, unions are extremely powerful in Québec. McDonald’s and Walmart workers unionized there for the first time ever. Since you don’t see the same kinds of cutbacks to worker’s rights in Québec as here in the U.S., people generally take the right to unionize for granted. That difference was reflected in the responses to my 2012 performance in Montreal.  Many viewers didn’t consider the slogans on my placards to be as relevant today.

I think the response has less to do with national borders and more to do with specific, local contexts. For example, there are differences in how viewers respond to the performances in various neighborhoods within Chicago. I recently performed in New York, and no one talked to me. That was a first. In Montreal and Chicago, lots of people talk to me when I perform. Chicago has a really rich history of labor struggles. There are many more artists who explore labor issues in Chicago than there were in Montreal. I don't think people there relate to the messages in my performances in the same way; they don't see that labor rights and working conditions are under attack. It's not that one city is necessarily better or worse than the other in terms of audience. Viewers in Montreal are still very interested in the histories and strikes that I seek to commemorate in the work.

New Demands?
Performance, Montreal, Québec
Photo: Vincent Lafrance

OPP: Could you talk about your recent performances in Chicago that deal with artistic labor?

LV: For the last two iterations of New Demands?, I held a bright yellow placard that read, “Art work IS Work.” The point, which may seem obvious to those of us who are practicing artists, is to recognize art work as work. Statistically, very few practicing artists are actually paid for their labor—only the most commercially successful artists can live off making art. Most artists must work as educators, studio assistants, arts administrators, graphic designers, web designers. . . and many, many artists work in the service industry.

The terrible working conditions for part-time and adjunct faculty is an area that I’ve begun to explore in my performance work. There are large numbers of artists with MFAs and substantially fewer full-time positions. Part-time teachers aren’t paid very well and receive no health benefits, summer pay, or employer pension/retirement contributions. So working conditions for artists are incredibly precarious, especially so when you consider the general lack of respect for the arts in our society—the arts are seen as a luxury or as frivolous. So the issue of timed labor is very connected to issues of artistic labor. These performances pay tribute to the many attempts by artists to organize and unionize, including the Artist’s Union and the American Artists’ Congress of the New Deal era, the Art Workers’ Coalition of the late 1960s and early ‘70s, and W.A.G.E. (Working Artists and the Greater Economy) and Occupy Museums today.

OPP: What new performances are you planning now?

LV: As part of the Performance Studies International (PSi19) conference in June 2013, I’ll be doing two performances at Stanford University commemorating recent strikes on the campus and exploring working conditions for part-time faculty.

I’m also hoping to do a performance in London in the near future. It will explore connections between the recent fires and building collapses in the garment industry in Bangladesh and domestic sweatshop conditions for Bangladeshi immigrants in East London. This neighborhood, where I lived for five years, is a historical site of domestic textile labor by immigrant workers: French Huguenot weavers, Eastern European Jewish tailors and seamstresses, Caribbean garment workers and now large numbers of Bangladeshi women doing piecework in their homes. I’m in the initial stages of research toward a series of public performances: I want to stage larger processions using banners and possibly costumes to commemorate the strikes and actions I’ve been referencing as a solo performer.

To see more of Lisa's work, please visit lisavinebaum.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and existential significance of participating in mass media culture in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and is currently a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT Residency in Chicago. Her work is on view through September 2013 in Abstracting the Seam (Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago) and she will mount a solo show titled I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Noelle Mason

Reversed Racism
Hand-embroidered cotton
Series of 12 counted cross-stitch images of stills taken from the George Holiday video of the Rodney King beating

NOELLE MASON embodies collective trauma in time-consuming and endurance-based processes like cross-stitch embroidery, tapestry weaving, performance and skydiving. Her interdisciplinary practice juxtaposes the presence of the human body with the voyeuristic nature of surveillance video and photography, exploring the effect of such technological mediation on our responses to traumatic events and tragedies. Noelle received her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and is represented by Thomas Robertello Gallery in Chicago. She is an educator and board member at SuperTest, a non-profit organization established to facilitate the production of contemporary art related events in Tampa, Florida, where she lives and works.

OtherPeoplePixels: How does the recreation of video surveillance images in handmade embroidery and tapestry weaving address the mediation of trauma? 

Noelle Mason: I am primarily interested in the fact that we are manipulated not only by the content of the media spectacle but also by the nature of the computer and television screens through which we view it. The embroideries investigate surveillance images that are associated with traumatic events that gain traction with a mass audience. These images are forensic; they are mined after the event has already taken place. The dead eye of the surveillance camera captures images without discretion. Cartier-Bresson’s decisive moment is forgone in favor of a general and indiscriminate view. This non-human aesthetic imbues these images with a kind of perceived trustworthiness that most photographic images lack in the age of Photoshop. There is now a broader understanding of how easily the photographic image can be manipulated.

Our access to the surveillance images is most often screen-based and always editorialized. The embroideries, weavings and the stained glass works specifically address the flatness of digital imagery through a marginal shift in medium, while the installations and performances drastically re-mediate the event in question, sometimes to the point of complete obliteration. By changing the form of content and the spectators’ spatial relationship to it, I de-editorialize the images that I use. This unpacking provides an alternative space for contemplation of traumatic events and destabilizes the mediated image. 

Nothing Much Happened Today (for Eric and Dylan)
Cotton cross-stitch

OPP: What is the significance of time and endurance in this work?

NM: The Columbine, Rodney King and Loadtruck images are cross-stitch embroideries. This form of stitchery is an analog to pixilization. I wanted to digest these images one pixel at a time, to own them by remaking . . . to attempt to understand by processing them through my body, thus making me a participant in them. The Columbine image gave me tendonitis in my elbows and carpel tunnel in my hands. In a very painful and material way, it changed me as I changed it.

Time is a huge part of this work. These iconic images depict 1/30th of a second of the events that they represent, and that frame bears a timecode that contributes to it’s “truthiness.” This 1/30th of a second became something much larger and more memorable—a kind of evidence not only for the police but for the nation. The process of cross-stitch is slow, calculated and conservative. It’s deliberate in contradistinction to the messy and disposable nature of surveillance video. I wanted the viewer to feel the disorientation of two different speeds, two different senses of time smashing together. 

OPP: In recent years, the scope of content addressed in embroidery has broadened dramatically, but we have not entirely shaken off the persistent perception of embroidery as women's work. Much of contemporary embroidery challenges such culturally constructed notions, which grew out of the Victorian performance of femininity. Are your cross-stitch embroideries of surveillance images of traumatic events part of this trajectory?

NM: I very deliberately chose cross-stitch embroidery because of its historical location as a feminine craft. One of the most intriguing things about Columbine and the Rodney King beating is the performance of masculinity through clothing and accessories. The Columbine kids wore trench coats and army boots, and the LAPD wore dark uniforms and carried guns and billy clubs. In this way, these events are very much about gender performance. I’m interested in the idea of hysterical masculinity. The word hysteria is derived from the female anatomy—the Greek hystera means uterus. Hysterical masculinity is the distinctly irrational behavior of men and boys who, fearful of acknowledging their own frailties, seek to expunge "weakness" through violence and accessorizing.

Ground Control
Wool rug made in Mexico by José Antonio Flores and Jonathan Samaniego in exchange for the amount of money it would cost a family of four to be illegally transported across the US/Mex border, ASTER
6' x 8'

OPP: Many of your pieces or bodies of work are titled with a date. Sometimes it's undeniably recognizable like 9/11/2001. Others like 3/3/1991 or 4/20/1999 didn't stand out to me as numbers, but the content of the images made it immediately clear that these are dates of national significance, too. The series of weavings and cross-stitch embroideries in 7/18/1984 depict the transportation of illegal immigrants across the U.S.-Mexican border by coyotes. But when I googled the date, I found it was the date of the San Ysidro McDonalds' Massacre, when James Oliver Huberty opened fire with a semiautomatic rifle in a McDonald's, killing 21 people and injuring 19 more. Can you talk about the connection between the massacre and the border-crossing images?

NM: I have begun grouping the date pieces under the title Human Hunting, which is a direct reference to the Huberty Shooting. All of these works are concerned with the dehumanization which is brought about by both the act of being surveilled and the aesthetics of machine vision. Each of the dates that I chose identifies a significant moment of collective trauma, and they often uncover prejudices that are bubbling just under the surface. The Rodney King beating uncovered deep-seated racism within the LAPD and across the nation as we witnessed the varied responses to the event.

The Huberty shooting was similar in that it that exposed a violent hatred toward Mexican immigrants. I also have a more personal experience of that event. My father was a San Diego police SWAT sniper. I remember watching the standoff after the McDonalds Massacre unfold on TV at my grandparents' house. At the time, I was less affected by the trauma of the event than I was excited at the possibility of seeing my father on television. Ultimately, James Huberty was killed by one of other snipers on the team. The body of work that is identified by the Huberty massacre deals specifically with immigration, surveillance and points of conflict on the U.S.-Mexico border. The Huberty massacre seemed to be an interesting vector for this work. At some point I wish to deal directly with the Huberty massacre but haven’t yet figured out how to approach it.

Drywall, electronics, lights, surveillance cameras, monitors
8' x 8' x 8'

OPP: You've done many performances that draw on the history of performance art, using your own body to explore experiences and perceptions of discomfort and endurance. The audience gets to witness and imagine what you are experiencing in interactive, durational performances like Well Hung Over: In honor of those who died in the Chicago Lager Beer Riots (2008) and Mise-en-Scene (2004). Did you perform either of these more than once? What did it feel like physically and emotionally to perform these works?

NM: I have performed all of the pieces more than once. As a classically trained actor who studied techniques derived from theatre of cruelty, I don’t have to think much about the performances anymore. There is a headspace or performance mode I occupy—much like in meditation—that helps me ignore discomfort or pain. It is important to rehearse performance art in the same way one rehearses a play. People are to some degree unpredictable; rehearsal helps the performer anticipate a variety of interactions and plan for them so as to maintain control over the image s/he is creating.

For Mise-en-Scene, I stood in darkness inside a sealed eight-foot cube, receiving electric shocks whenever a viewer pressed a large, red video game button located on the outer wall of the cube. The viewers watched what was happening inside on monitors that received a real-time feed from closed circuit, infrared surveillance cameras. The most difficult part was my inability to anticipate where or when I was going to be shocked. Up until the moment that performance began, I had thought about my body as a sculptural object. I had prepared for the pain involved, but I underestimated the psychological difficulty of being alone in the dark, unable to return the gaze of the viewer.

Gravity Study
Pinhole photography, skydiving
20" x 20"

OPP: Decision Altitude (2011), a recent series of photographs made using a pinhole camera while skydiving, appears upon first glance very different from all your previous work. It seems to lack any political or collective trauma content. Is this a break from previous work or is this a more abstract exploration of themes in your previous work?

NM: It is true that Decision Altitude is not as directly political in nature as some of the other work, but I don’t feel the need to be thematically consistent in my work. That being said, this work does have interesting intersections with my performance work, and it continues my investigation of the ability and failure of photography to represent experience. When you jump out of an airplane, the ground—and everything on it—is an indecipherable, Cartesian mess. In the time between jumping out of the plane and landing on the ground, one goes through an intense physical and psychological experience that completely defies the sterile view of the Earth from above. It is a more embodying experience than almost anything except pain, and death is always present. My intent was to capture that incomprehensible mixture of aerodynamics and adrenaline on film. Skydiving gets you as close as possible to the fantasy and freedom of unassisted human flight, but that pleasure is also peppered with the possibility of premature death.

OPP: I see what you mean about photography’s inability to communicate the complexity of the psychological, emotional and—dare I say?— spiritual aspects of the experience of diving. Any plans to incorporate video or live performance into this exploration?

NM: Decision Altitude is the beginning of an ongoing exploration into skydiving, a sport that I have become increasingly more invested in. I have begun to organize freeflyers at my local drop zone and recently set a national record for Women's Upright Vertical formation skydiving. I am currently training for the Women's Head Down Vertical Formation Skydiving World Record. I also compete on a four-way belly team with the Florida Skydiving League and will be taking my exam to get my accelerated free fall instructor rating this month.

In terms of new work, Vertical World Record is a multichannel video installation that shows the moment of stillness when a world record-breaking vertical formation skydive comes together and settles out just before it breaks apart into pieces again. Ground Rush is a parachute inflated by fans in perpetual flight. I am also working on a project called Column, which serves as an anti-monument to western architecture—the foundation of Renaissance perspectival vision. This project is essentially an airboat fan encased in a large (9' x 9' x 5') white pedestal. A column of air is pushed out through a six-foot hole in the pedestal at a speed of 150 miles per hour. A net made of stranded stainless steel wire would allow the viewer to experience this work by moving close to, touching and potentially walking through the column of wind.  I will also mount performances in which I hover within the column of wind that I hope will be completed later this summer.

To view more of Noelle's work, please visit noellemason.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and existential significance of participating in mass media culture in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and is currently a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT Residency in Chicago. Notable exhibitions include Losing Yourself in the 21st Century (Maryland Art Place, Baltimore), MP3 (The Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago), Please Stand By: Stacia Yeapanis + Readymade (Baang & Burne Contemporary, New York), Over and Over Again (BOLT Project Space, Chicago). Her work is on view through September 2013 in Abstracting the Seam (Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago) and she will mount a solo show titled I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Alex Gingrow

This one is for me personally. I mean, it's not for sale. Well, EVERYTHING is for sale, but...
Graphite and acrylic on paper
22" x 30"

ALEX GINGROW's satirical text paintings reference art gallery provenance stickers and quote gallery gossip and snippets of conversations she has overheard while working full-time as a mat cutter at a framing shop in midtown Manhattan. Individually, each painting evokes a scathing drama of indiscretion and vanity. But, as a group, the paintings reveal a persistent metanarrative of class, value and labor as they relate to art production. Alex received her MFA in painting from Savannah College of Art and Design in 2007. She mounted her first solo show, All the Money IS in the Label in 1012 at Mike Weiss Gallery. In 2014 she will participate in The Fountainhead Residency in Miami. Alex lives in Brooklyn, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: The quotes in your recent series All the Money IS in the Label range from obnoxiously pretentious to surprisingly ignorant to potentially profound. There are even moments of poetry. I easily imagine the snobby, entitled person who said "Restoration Hardware? I mean, why? My cleaning lady has that stuff" and the ignorant person who said, "So, what, what's the deal with that gallery? Do they, like, only show black artists?" But other quotes are more ambiguous because we don't have context or tone of voice to help us understand the meaning of the words. I end up really musing about who the people are and what their lives are like. Do you remember who they are once you write down the text?

Alex Gingrow: So far, yes, I can remember the context and speaker of each quote. Every piece has a story behind it. Some are long and detailed and others are as simple as an overheard conversation. As the series continues, this could change. But when I look back at my source material, I am less interested in the quotes from conversations I can’t remember. The details validate the narrative for me even if I don’t share them publicly or if they don’t come through in the finished piece.

I do sometimes take quotes out of context but only when they speak to a higher truth or injustice. And yes, there are certainly moments of poetry. Years ago, a friend told me a tale over several adult beverages. He had a studio across the way from Mary Boone’s apartment back in the SoHo days and watched her light tampons on fire and throw them from her balcony. The story was old. The event was older. But it stuck with me, and I loved it. So, Balcony Burning Tampon Tosser is an homage both to the story, to the storyteller, to Mary Boone and, most of all, to the joy that is slumming around a cozy dark bar with art friends telling wild stories, even if they are a little taller than the truth.

I love storytelling, and I come from a long line of animated storytellers. I find great joy in retelling a story for an interested viewer. There’s a moment of magic when I share a story behind one of the quotes, and the person to whom I’m speaking has a parallel story. Then we launch into a whole conversation based on a simple one-line narrative.

Christie is just a low-class, redneck name with a fancy spelling. Might as well be Krystal. Or Tammi.
Graphite and acrylic on paper
22" x 30"

OPP: What’s the difference between storytelling and gossip? Is it an important distinction?

AG: It is an important distinction. My intent is to generate a narrative, not to spread dirty or juicy secrets. Gossip has an identifiable face, place and plot. Those are the details that hold the recipient’s attention, and I choose the word "recipient" carefully because I think gossip, by nature, is delivered. My goal is to set up the rough sketch, an outline of sorts. Then it becomes the viewer’s job to fill in the blanks according to his or her own experiences, ideas and assumptions about tone of voice. Completion of the narrative becomes a participatory event. Every title is somehow related to the correlating gallery, but the speaker is never identified. It could be the gallery owner, a collector, an artist, a passerby or even someone randomly talking about one of the artists shown by the gallery. The tone is set when the viewer decides who the speaker is. Thus, the story is completed by the viewers’ own ideas. This is why I generally don’t publicly share the genesis of the titles.

OPP: You admit in your statement that this body of work is a "sharp critique of the world in which [you] choose to maneuver." I like that you emphasize the fact that we can be both willing participants and critics of our chosen communities. Has the gallery gossip that you witness on a daily basis at your day job ever made you question your own desire to be part of the New York art scene?

AG: Oh lord, yes. Everyday. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t want to turn to some of the people I encounter at work and in the art world and ask, “Do you HEAR yourself? Do you seriously think it’s okay to BEHAVE like that?!?” I’ve realized that some people truly and absolutely do not care one iota if they come across as assholes. It amazes me. 

But! I can’t be too bitter because they are my source material. I’ve made artistic strides out of a coping mechanism. I think a lot of really good art comes from anger and spite. If the rest of the world could figure out how to channel those very natural human emotions in more creative ways, we’d probably have a more peaceful world and better art to experience.

New York does have its own special breed of viciousness. But I’m not sure that I could operate anywhere else right now. Sure, I have my moments when I need escape more than I need to breathe, but there’s an electricity to the raw brazenness of the New York art world that feeds my practice. I worry that anywhere else would seem too quaint at this point. So I take the good with the bad. The upside to the New York art world is the closeness of the community. I’ve only been here for six years and have met so many smart, talented, kind and supportive artists. I don’t ever want to take that for granted.

Graphite and acrylic on paper
22" x 30"

OPP: The fact that the people coming to pick up the artwork from the framing shop don't consider you, as a service worker, important enough to be discrete in front of reveals an implicit class discrimination and a critique of beliefs about the value of different types of labor. They likely have no idea that you are an artist who also performs a kind of labor that they do value—or at least purport to. Is there a relationship between the labor you do at your day job and the meticulous, creative labor you do when painting?

AG: I’d give anything to be able to support myself solely from my art and to be able to spend long, uninterrupted periods of time in the studio everyday. But that’s not the case right now. I will continue to punch the time clock twice a day and take my lunch at the cold metal-topped table in the drafty back corner of the shop.

I think there is a correlation between service industry workers and the emerging-whatever-you-want-to-call-the-non-Koons/Hirst/Murakami artists in today’s art world. Art has become such a commodity, such a luxury item. Maybe it’s been this way since the advent of the gallery system—and perhaps it’s better to keep fragile egos in check anyway—but the artist as an individual seems to be valued less than the monetary value of the art in the market. Here, gallerists seem way more concerned with how they’re going to sell a work, whether the materials are all archival and how quickly we can pump out new works. Artists sometimes seem like the service workers in the gallerists’ industry. But I’ve witnessed artists being treated differently in other cities and countries, where gallerists take on artists because they like the art and trust the thought processes of the artists. It’s a relationship, not a business arrangement

Man in Ambulance
Charcoal and conte crayon on paper
60" x 42"

OPP: I have to ask about Victim Series (2006-2007), a series of drawings of victims of various violent crimes or disasters. The subjects appear to all be people of color and many are children. This work is so distinctly different—both in subject matter and tone—from your deadpan, text-based work. It's so visceral and emotional and feels even more so after reading the comments of players in the New York art world. Is the satire in your new work a total break from this series or is there an underlying conceptual connection between these older drawings and the work you are doing now? 

AG: Victim Series is the body of work that I presented for my master’s thesis at the Savannah College of Art and Design. The impetus of the series was oddly similar to that of the provenance sticker series in a few ways. I was angry about the disregard many of my fellow students had for the U.S. war in Iraq. In response to an assignment to create an image that was mediated several times over, I chose to draw an image I lifted from a Canadian website of an Iraqi man recovering from wounds sustained in the war. 

Around the same time, I listened to George W. Bush give a speech on our “progress” in Iraq. During the reporters’ questions at the conclusion of the speech, someone asked the President how many Iraqis had been killed to date. His response was, “30,000, more or less.” After I listened to this speech, I got online to find a transcript because I couldn't believe what I had heard him say.  Mind you, this was 2005—before the overwhelming prevalence of YouTube and instantaneous video on the Internet. The only transcript I could find was the official White House transcript which EDITED OUT Bush's flippant "more or less." The transcript read: "30,000 Iraqis. . . and 2,140 of our own troops in Iraq."

I decided to draw his idea of more or less. Babies, children, young men and women. Bombed, killed, maimed, terrified. More or less. The works in the series are large, charcoal drawings. I wanted the images to have an engulfing presence. I used charcoal to both add to the sense of burning and soot and so that I could physically rub and blend the medium as I worked, so as to have a sense of touch and tenderness with the images. I worked on this series for a little over a year and eventually incorporated text from Bush’s speeches into the images. I had to resort to reading his speeches because I got too distractingly angry when I heard his voice. After working on these drawings for a while, I couldn’t get out from under the dark cloud of death and corruption and sadness that was my studio practice. Between that time in graduate school and my move to New York, where I no longer had a studio space that could accommodate the massive amounts of charcoal dust I was creating, I laid the series to rest. The drawings are rolled up in my studio and I look forward to showing them someday. With every political season, the context changes, but they still carry the same potency as they did when they were created. 

I am a young artist with dynamic ideas.
Graphite and acrylic on paper
22" x 30"

OPP: What have you been working on since the exhibition at Mike Weiss Gallery? Are continuing on with the appropriated text or shifting gears into something new?

AG: I am still working on the sticker series. There are about 40+ pieces in the series so far and a good many more waiting to be made. I still make myself laugh when I’m working on them, which is how I know I should keep going. That said, as evidenced by the Victim Series drawings, I tend to make major shifts every now and again. Some artists get to be known for one certain body of work, and they never really stray from it. That works for them, and it certainly works for their gallerists and collectors.

My practice depends on fresh experiments, new ideas and pushing myself outside of my comfort zone. I am working on some ideas and sketches for an interdisciplinary project that deals with personal narrative, family history and ice skating. I grew up skating and loving it, and I've recently been reexamining the sport in terms of its parallels with the art world and my own studio practice. The project—a long time in the making—will include durational video, a script and sound piece, text-based paintings, model-building and costume design. I am trying to find that sweet spot between so-personal-it’s-universal and awful, sappy, here-are-my-first-world-problems. It’s a fine, fine line. Thankfully, I have plenty of asinine and vitriolic art world quotes to commemorate in the meantime.

To see more of Alex's work, please visit alexgingrow.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and existential significance of participating in mass media culture in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and is currently a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT Residency in Chicago. Notable exhibitions include Losing Yourself in the 21st Century (Maryland Art Place, Baltimore), MP3 (The Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago), Please Stand By: Stacia Yeapanis + Readymade (Baang & Burne Contemporary, New York), Over and Over Again (BOLT Project Space, Chicago). Her work is on view through September 2013 in Abstracting the Seam (Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago) and she will mount a solo show titled I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Ian Davis

Acrylic & spray paint on linen

IAN DAVIS's allegorical paintings reveal a suspicion of the hubris embodied in Enlightenment-era notions of progress. Homogeneous hoards of men—anonymous peons, executives and soldiers—congregate in and around architectural and industrial structures that dwarf them. They gather to worship at the altar of Science, Industry and Technology, just as the religious supplicants gather to worship God. The settings include sweeping auditoriums, highway systems, dams, quarries, excavation sites, thus symbolizing the flawed belief that domination and containment of the natural world improves the human condition. Ian's work is included in several public collections, including The Saatchi Gallery in London and Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Missouri. In 2012, he was a New York Foundation for the Arts fellow and an artist-in-residence at The MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire. He is represented by Leslie Tonkonow Gallery in New York, where he will have a solo show in March 2014. Ian lives in Saugerties, New  York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Paintings like Reflecting Pool and Lemons (both 2011) represent nonwhite people, but these pieces are exceptions that prove the rule. The majority of the paintings are populated with droves of white men in business suits and dress shirts. I read this as a very intentional and highly allegorical choice. Can you talk about the conceptual reasoning behind the homogeneity of figures that congregate in your paintings?

Ian Davis: The paintings are highly critical of humanity. I'm displaying humanity in its most vile form. I feel pretty comfortable with portraying these people as white men, since I think they deserve the lion's share of the blame given the subject matter of the work—greed, hubris, willful ignorance—and,  since I'm a white man, perhaps I'm most comfortable criticizing myself. Recently I've been thinking a bit more about the identities of the figures. It has occurred to me that the figures could in some cases just as easily be Asian men. They do all have black hair.

The homogeneity is both a formal and narrative element. I'm not interested in portraying individuals in these paintings. These are about the mass, the herd. This is about the messed up stuff that happens when a bunch of people get together and stop thinking. But I'm also attracted to pattern, and something formally magical happens when you cluster a bunch of people together all dressed alike. The way the figures interlock and interact becomes something else entirely. I keep coming back to painting rooms full of people sitting. There's something mechanical about it. It's dark in an Orwellian way.

You know, I'm a firm believer in mystery. So I hesitate to look too closely at why I'm doing something. I'm content to just find something compelling without examining it too much. When I'm doing a crowd of people and this weird line between figuration and abstraction is being blurred, it just feels appropriate. In 2005 I was at Skowhegan in Maine, and the sculptor Charles Long came by my studio. He talked about doing something and not knowing why. I think he gave me permission, or allowed me to give myself permission to not know what something means. It's not a cop out, but rather a method for getting out of your own way.

Reflecting Pool
Acrylic on linen

OPP: Are the figures in your paintings victims or perpetrators?

Generally, the people aren't really doing anything. Even when they are supposedly playing a participatory role, their main function is to act as a passive mass. Of course there are exceptions to this, but when the figures are active, they are mostly just noticing things or pointing at things. They are reactive, not active. Really they are both perpetrators AND victims, without realizing it. They ARE the problem. They have caused it, and they will be affected by it.

OPP: Pieces like Auditorium (2006), Climate (2009) and Monument (2013) remind me of the countless Nazi Nuremberg Rallies images I have seen. Are you consciously referencing these historical images? What are some points of reference in your work?

I've seen Triumph of the Will, if that’s what you mean. The images in that movie are powerfully scary, but the geometry is incredible. You can see the same geometry in images of soldiers from North Korea and of two thousand Chinese people dancing in synchronicity. It’s in Edward Burtynky's photographs of factory interiors and Busby Berkeley movies.

I'm drawn to images of large groups of people. I like the feeling of endless pattern: this vibrating, radiating thing you get when you really extend something. It happens in Bridget Riley's paintings, too . . . and also in old panoramic photographs. I think it relates to music somehow—this rhythmic, droning, trance-like pattern you get with Jimmy Reed or Booker T & the MG's.

But you know what I kept noticing in Triumph of the Will? In every long shot of an endless row of soldiers, there's always one guy who is a bit too tall. At the moment you notice that, you remember that these are actually people. It changes everything.

Acrylic on linen
60 x 65"

Many of the images you are referencing emphasize the idea of humans as cogs in a system, mindless drones who just play their parts. But the moment when you notice the tall guy is the moment when you remember that we aren’t objects. We have agency—if we choose to use it. Is that the moral message in your work? Or am I reading into it?

ID: It's not really a moral message. Generally speaking, I depict all the elements of a narrative—i.e. a bunch of scientists in lab coats sitting in an auditorium watching a reel-to-reel tape recorder on a stage—but what is actually happening is a mystery. Like De Chirico or Magritte. There's no question about what you're seeing, but why you're seeing it remains unexplained. So when I'm making a painting and there are 500 figures in the same pose with the same clothes on, each one looks different simply because I physically can't do it exactly the same way twice. You start to notice imperfections or variations, and that becomes a way to access the mystery.

OPP: I've read several reviews—one by Roberta Smith for The New York Times and one by Chris Packham for Pitch.com—in which they refer to the "cuteness" of your paintings. These were in no way negative reviews, but I found that word utterly imprecise. The word cute implies a lack of content, which is so obviously not the case. Calling your paintings cute is an imprecise way of commenting on the style. Is your painting style, which is more illustrative than realistic or expressionistic, intentional or intuitive? How does that style support your conceptual concerns?

It bothers me when words like "cute" or "whimsical" or "playful" are used in relation to my work, but what can I do if people misread them? I just figure they haven't looked at them closely. I don't think about it. I just don't care! That probably sounds nasty or something, but I just can't do anything about it. I'm not going to change what I'm doing because somebody called my work "cute."

There's probably something inherent in the way I paint that leads people down that path. Maybe they see a relationship to folk art because of the flatness and patterning. Maybe it's the scale. When I think about how I want my work to look, I think of Bruegel's epic scale, Magritte's deadpan, utilitarian paint handling and LS Lowry's sense of color. It's not a formula, but those are examples of learning from other artists by looking.

The way I paint is descriptive. I'm trying to remove gesture, to paint the way a guy who isn't trying to make art would paint—which is probably impossible. It's both intentional and intuitive. I went to art school but not graduate school. I'm not self-taught, but I wasn't given any instruction at all that led me to paint this way. I arrived at my style by making hundreds of paintings that were derivative of the things I liked looking at, including Orson Welles' films, JG Ballard's novels, Plains Indian Ledger drawings and Baker Overstreet's work. I had to figure out how to make my paintings. I think you have to invent your personal way of making a painting. That seems, to me, to be the point. It has to be your invention.

Acrylic & spray paint on linen
65 x 70"

OPP: One of the most enigmatic and evocative images is Rooftops (2012), in which a series of nearly identical rooftops are filled with hundreds of indistinguishable figures. I can't tell if they are waving for help from an overhead plane, pointing at something in the sky or trying to communicate with each other. The way the image is cropped implies that these rooftops with people on them could go on for miles . . . or forever.  It makes me think of the trope in zombie movies when the humans escape to the roof only to get stuck there with no way out. In your painting, it's like ALL the people are stuck on the rooftops. So, no one's coming to help. What's happening in this image, and what are the pink parts on the surface of the rooftops? Did you have a specific narrative in mind? 

ID: I don’t know if I should say this, but I don't consider Rooftops a very successful painting. The idea initially was to make a painting in which all the figures were reacting to something off in the distance, something outside the picture plane. I was thinking about a personal experience I had being on a rooftop in New York on September 11th. The pink shapes are supposed to be puddles of water, reflecting an acid pink-colored sky, which could indicate either something apocalyptic or a really epic sunset. I know that this painting was unsuccessful because you had to ask me what the pink parts were. I tried to convince myself that I could pull off painting the reflections in the puddles pink. And you're not the first person to ask me about this. If somebody had come into my studio while I was making this and thrown a drink into my face, I might have reconsidered. I might have painted the puddles blue instead.

Acrylic on linen
60 x 65"

OPP: Well, I respectfully disagree that it is unsuccessful. It’s one of my favorites because not knowing what the pink was kept me musing about the narrative. It evoked that mystery you've referred to. Do you have a favorite painting of your own?

Skeptics is one I really like, because I just made it. I didn't sweat and worry over it. I like the ones that happen easily, but some are a lot more pleasant to make than others. Wee Small Hours has nice light in it. I wanted to make an all blue painting. The color palette is based on a Frank Sinatra album cover. I’m pleased with the end result, but it wasn't very fun to make. It took about seven months, and that is just so long to look at one painting. Nothing should take that long. By the end, I never wanted to see the thing again. If I feel that I'm steadily making progress on a painting, then I'm enjoying it. If I'm dealing with endless weeks of doing and redoing and not really seeing any development, then work doesn't feel like it has anything to do with making art.

OPP: You’re in the middle of preparing for your next solo show at Leslie Tonkonow (New York) in March 2014, correct? Will this show have any surprises in it? Any changes in direction or content?

Right now I'm trying to figure out how to make my next show. I've been getting in my own way a lot lately, just being a bit too aware of whether things are enough of a progression to justify their existence . . . self-defeating things like that. I'm just finishing up a big painting of Bohemian Grove that depicts a bunch of industrialists looking at themselves in vanity mirrors. I'm trying to figure out how to paint things that aren't solid—things that move—like plumes of smoke, lava and fire. I hope I figure something out soon. It happens really slowly. There's always a long pause between thinking about what I want to try and getting up the nerve to actually try it.

To view more of Ian's work, please visit iandavisart.com.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Brian R. Jobe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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