OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jeffrey Meris

Now You See Me; Now You Don't (Installation View), 2020. Plaster body cast, AC motor, steel. 

In sculpture and performance, JEFFREY MERIS investigates "the impacts of naturalization, (dis)placement and racial interpellation." He subverts the expected materiality of monuments by utilizing shopping carts, plastic crates, cinderblocks and plastic gallon jugs to draw attention to everyday, overlooked experiences. His recent kinetic sculptures explore the simultaneous invisibility/hyper-visibility of People of Color in American society. Jeffrey earned his A.A in Arts from the College of the Bahamas, his BFA in Sculpture from Temple University and his MFA in Visual Arts from Columbia University. He is a two-time Harry C. Moore Lyford Cay Foundation Scholar (2012 and 2017) and a Guttenberg Arts Artist-in-Residence (2016). In 2019, he attended Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, and is currently a studio Fellow at NXTHVN in New Haven, Connecticut. Jeffrey's work was recently included in overmydeadbody (2020), curated by Laurie Lazar and Tavares Strachan, at Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco, and his first solo project in New York will open in June 2020. In Fall 2020, his work will be included in an exhibition addressing climate change in the Caribbean at 4th Space, Concordia University (Montreal, Canada) and a NXtHVN 2020 cohort exhibition. Jeffrey lives and works in New Haven, Connecticut.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us a bit about your artistic trajectory? Have you always made art? What made you start?

Jeffrey Meris: I spent most of my formative years in the Junkanoo Shack (Studio) in my country of origin the Bahamas, where I met my mentor and Guardian Angel, Jackson Logan Burnside. Junkanoo is the premier cultural festival that involves costuming, music, folklore and dance. When I was not sitting in the front of my television drawing sketches of Sailor MoonPokemon, or Gundam Wing as a child, I was building my future with the Gaza Boyz. Jackson was the very first “artist” I knew. Formally he was an architect, and he encouraged me to study Architecture. Instead I decided to pursue Art. Through my studies, I received a residency at Popopstudios and this was the definitive moment where I knew that art would take me to my purpose in life. I’ve since attended art schools in the Bahamas and the U.S.

Now The Day is Over, 2018. Shopping cart, square hollow stock metal, nuts and bolts.

OPP: Many works have a monumental quality, but are made with distinctly un-monumental materials. Do you think of your works as monuments? If so, to what? Or to whom?

JM: Monuments in the public discourse have this odd side effect of othering, and it is specifically this otherness that I am interested in. The word monument signals a certain historic trajectory rooted in imperialist grandeur and exquisite materials such as bronze or marble,  What happens when these materials are subverted? I often consider the ways I can use everyday objects to refract a different sense of  monumentality. Shopping carts, plastics, bottles, vinyl, crates are all more significant in everyday life than an esoteric statue lost in the Ramble of Central Park. I am also interested in what scale shift and visual reorientation does to the relationship between the viewer and the known function of an object. 

Mouth to Mouth, 2019. Steel, chaise lounge, conduits, recycled bottles, resin, fiber glass, tubes. Photo credit: Roni Aviv

OPP: Tell us specifically about Mouth to Mouth (2019) and Now the Day is Over (2018), which both evoke grandeur through height.

JM: When I made Now The Day is Over (2018), I was interested in the subjectivity of a shopping cart; it acts as both a site of play, a vessel and a civilizing apparatus, the thing that facilitates an end to a hunter/gatherer lifestyle. Carving out the side panels of the shopping carts and leaving a skeleton revealed the precarious state in which production, consumption and exploitation leaves a fragile global community. 

Mouth to Mouth (2019) also uses elevation as a strategy. If an everyday object enters the sublime, are the working class people most commonly associated with that object raised up as well? This sculpture responds to the tragic capsizing of a Florida-bound ship in the Bahamas in February 2019. Thirty-five Haitian immigrants died. Elevated fifteen feet in space by an architectural steel structure above the mass of siphonic objects is a chaise lounge, indexical of the parallel economies of tourism and immigration. I was 27 when I made Mouth to Mouth; my mother was 27 when I was born. 

Light, Medium, Dark, 2017. Found crate, transparent furniture plastic, HVAC sheet metal: angle iron 40" with 1/4" holes, peanut shells blessed by mother's labor. 54" × 22" × 16."

OPP: Light, Medium Dark (2017) is a see-through monolith filled with peanut shells resting on a plastic crate.

JM: This work is a monument to my mother and her labor. Sesly would spend hours unshelling peanuts to eventually make dollar sized bags of roasted peanuts. Her hands are chapped, blistered and charred to this day from that labor, yet it is that work that provided sustenance for our family. I felt the epicness of the emptied shells because a poetic sculptural making was happening as she poured her devotion into the survival of her offspring. Her technique of roasting salted peanuts in sand to a light, a medium, or a dark roast was much similar to the way that colorism, xenophobia and sexism intersect to form the most toxic of all discriminations against Black Immigrant women. Misogynoir declares a valuation of a woman's value  based on the complexion of her skin making dangerous correlations of education, class and sexuality. Despite everything, her story is one of triumph. 

Neither For U.S., Nor By U.S., 2017. Asphalt, passport, Christian bible, clothes on wood with cinderblocks.

OPP: Let’s talk more specifically about the recurring materials you’ve mentioned: shopping carts, milk crates, plastic milk jugs, cinder blocks, metal. Why these objects, over and over again?

JM: Those are the tools that I understand the most visually. These materials act as portals for understanding larger architectural systems. The plastic gallon bottle is about the body. It signals respiratory function or malfunction. I’ve come to know the breath as being one of the most transcendent processes that nature offers. Two years ago, while I was in grad school I took a swimming class—it’s crazy to believe how unaquatic I was despite growing up in the Caribbean. Pool is to lungs as gallon jugs are to fluid. This relationship has stuck with me ever since. Not to mention that these gallon jugs are repurposed in Caribbean countries as vessels for transporting potable water. 

The concrete blocks refer to architecture and to the visual landscape in the Bahamas where a house made of concrete blocks meant upward mobility and security. Like many others, my home was constructed of T 1-11 plywood siding covered in a thin layer of concrete. Hurricanes could blow these wood paneled homes away in the blink of an eye, year after year. Like many recurring materials in my work, the concrete block has a double meaning. It symbolizes the life I am building and struggling with and the life my family and many others strive for. It simultaneously carries the legacy of Black youth culture and growing up economically challenged.

Shopping carts are probably my favorite object ever invented! They remind me of the TV robots that mesmerized me as a kid. Also, I worked in Grocery Stores, packing bags and pushing shopping carts for tipping customers. Shopping carts speak to a necessity, to those that have, need and want. The very cart that keeps the nuclear family fed can also keep the homeless sheltered. I also think of carts as elegant post-modernist objects in and of themselves, and I attempt to extend that beauty through augmentation and elevation. 

I grew to love steel in my practice because it is rigid yet flexible. Steel functions as steel yet it does only what you ask of it. Case in point: the sleek angled curves for the structure of Now The Day is Over (2018). 

The Block is Hot, 2020. Plaster body cast, AC motor, steel, cinderblock, aircraft cable, U-link, pulleys, ratchet strap. 96" x 66" x 32"

OPP: Your most recent work Now You See Me; Now You Don’t (2020) has an industrial horror movie feel, while being totally un-gory. The severed body parts—cast from your own body—in this make-shift laboratory scene evoke violence, but the lack of blood makes that violence less visceral, more symbolic. What kind of violence do you want viewers to contemplate?

JM: Now You See Me; Now You Don’t roots itself both in my own experience being Black in America and Ralph Ellison’s epic novel Invisible Man. Two years ago, I received a ticket for jumping an MTA  turnstile in New York City. I fumbled to swipe my card correctly until eventually the machine read ‘insufficient funds.’ I jumped. Two police officers arrested me and recorded my weight as 250 pounds and my height as 6'5," neither of which is true. If you could see me, you’d understand the hyperbole. I’m 6’2” and 175 pounds. 

I was acquitted after the judge ruled that I was in "the right" for my actions. Records showed that I had indeed paid yet there was a malfunction in the turnstile. In the waiting-room, almost all defendants were Black-or-Brown, unlike my alma matter where the opposite was true. In the words of Zora Neale Hurston “I felt most colored when I was thrown against a sharp white background.” There I stood, hyper-visible in this  judicial arena, yet invisible in the systems of education. Now You See Me; Now You Don’t (2019) tightropes this fine line, using the body as a vessel for the violence of racial interpellation. Through actions of self destruction these works seek to break the bondage of white society's gaze and free themselves from the burden of racist body bias and conventions. Seven sculptures are presented in this body of work. Six of the seven sculptures kinetically destroy themselves over perforated sheet metal. On My Knees (2019) is the only non-kinetic work in this series; it evokes both kneeling gesture and milk crates as monuments. 

On My Knees, 2020. Plaster body cast, steel, milk crates.

OPP: It’s been more than 3 weeks since the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic. How are you coping? How is your studio practice being affected?

JM: I’ve been super lucky to be a part of NXTHVN, co-founded by Titus KapharJonathan Brand, Board Chairman Jason Price, and led by Executive Director Nico Wheadon.. NXTHVN actually took an unprecedented approach and has offered us additional financial and institutional support in the wake of Covid. Thank you! Shout out to the entire family of studio and curatorial fellows, apprentices—especially my apprentice Aime Mulungula—staff, board members and supporters

I wake up everyday, and I am so blessed to have a studio next door from my apartment, a 30 second commute. The days get a bit monotonous but I am extremely grateful for that. I am going to hold space for all of those disproportionately affected by this Pandemic, those that can’t afford the luxury of social distancing, those that are ill and have passed. I recognize my privilege, and send my thoughts to those coping with the uncertainty. 

I purchased my very first welder back in January, and the freshness of hot welded steel is almost like taking a shot of espresso. I feel invigorated! This also gave me the time to go back to one of my earlier passions of cooking (keep in touch with my Instagram stories @jeffreymeris to see what’s on the menu), and I also made Self-Care-Saturday a thing where I make brunch, listen to my body and inner self and take care of my plants.  

To see more of Jeffrey's work, please visit www.jeffreymeris.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist  Stacia Yeapanis.  When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018) and Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019). Her work was recently included in the three-person show Manifestations at One After 909 (Chicago). Stacia's solo exhibition The Thin Line Between One Thing and Another was on view in January 2020 at Finlandia University.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Christopher Lin

What do you call the world? 2019. Installation.

CHRISTOPHER LIN combines organic materials—plantssoilteethhair—with synthetic and technological materials like polystyreneelectrical cords and LED lights. His sculptures and installations are thoughtful arrangements of found objects that make the familiar just unfamiliar enough to elicit contemplation. . . of climate change, of the impermanence of the body and self, and of the contemporary human condition. Christopher earned his BA at Yale University and his MFA at Hunter College. In addition to numerous group shows throughout the five boroughs, he has had solo shows at Art Bash and Ray Gallery, both in Brooklyn, as well as Thomas Hunter Project Space at Hunter College. He received the C12 Emerging Artist Fellowship in 2016 and is currently an Artist-in-Residence at the Hercules Art Studio Program. His work will be included in The Lovely Wild, curated by Jenn Cacciola and Frank Sabatté. The show opens on Sept 12, 2019 at Church of St. Paul the Apostle through Openings Collective. Christopher lives and works in lives and works in New York. 

OtherPeoplesPixels: I see an underlying buddhist perspective in your work. There are also overt references to the dharma, Zen koans, the breath and the mandala. How does Buddhist practice and/or philosophy inform your work?

Christopher Lin: Yes, there is absolutely a Buddhist influence within my work. Part of this comes from an indirect, cultural relationship. I grew up in a home with underlying Buddhist influences and observances (i.e. maintaining an altar to ancestors and burning incense), though my family never dictated my experience with religion. The other part comes from a personal desire to understand and address spirituality in my own experience. I am lucky to have been able to search for my own understanding of spirituality free from strict direction which led me to explore and define my own system of belief throughout my childhood. I identify more now as a student of Buddhism as a means to better understand abstract ideas such as the human condition. What is it that we are doing here and why? How do we make sense of this world filled with chaos, suffering, and violence? How do we find balance and equilibrium within ourselves and our environment? These are common questions amongst all people, but something that I've found is investigated more directly through Buddhist teachings.

Modern Dharma, 2016. Pencil on index cards (full transcription of Thich Nhat Hanh's "Peace in Every Step"), Buddha's Hand citrons, and lap desk. 24 x 14 x 12 inches.

OPP: There are repeated references to the body through its material castoffs, like hair and skin, and the marks it makes. In recent years, there’s been a trend in work that explores identity through the vehicle of the body, but I don’t think that’s the case here. I think your work is more about the experience of having a body, rather than the interpretations we add to those bodies. What are your thoughts on this? What keeps you returning to the body as a subject?

CL: I think this is a particularly keen reading of my use of body! I’m interested in investigating the human condition. The realization of the dissolution of selfhood and identity is a recurring theme in my works involving the body and perhaps stems from explorations of Buddhist understandings of the ego. I am more interested in how the idea of identity falls apart once we start to inspect it a little further. The molecules that make up our bodies—what we define as us—are constantly changing as we maintain our life processes through consumption and excretion, through breath and contact. What is at one instance us—our hair, our skin—suddenly becomes no longer ourselves through natural processes. And what was once another being—a plant, a cow, the minerals in the water we drink—is incorporated into our cells through consumption and integration. Furthermore we ourselves are ecosystems containing more cells of independent microorganisms numerically than our own human cells! 

Excoriate, 2015. Glue, skin, hair, and gut sutures. 1 x 48 x 36 inches.

Works like Excoriation (2015) present the self through the form of a molting, making evident the exchange of cells that were previously me but upon shedding become a spectral representation of the past. The sloughing of hair and skin cells is one reference to the nature of our temporality. Effigy (2013) is a meditation on my inevitable end. It was a way for me to contemplate the passing of time and dissolution of my own image through the slow burn of sandalwood incense. The collapse of the physical form through the burning gives way to another manifestation of scent and smoke which are briefly captured by the bell jar hung above, making evident a kind of phase change. 

Effigy (performance), 2013. Sandalwood incense, glass bell jar, rope, and pedestal.

OPP: How does “environmental anxiety” show up in your work?

CL: I try to address the current condition of environmental anxiety on a primary level through my material choices. I use found polystyrene ironically. This ubiquitous “archival material" is essentially throw-away packaging. Many works contrast organic and synthetic materials. This can be seen in 1up (2017): a dead and decayed tree on a piece of AstroTurf which appears to be resurrected by the balloon tied to it. Calcification (2018) is more direct: bleached brain coral and sand dollars are organized on a banker’s table like stacks of coins. This tableau links economy and capitalism to the destruction of organisms and habitats, pointing to the failure of our purely rational economic systems. The work poses the question: What is the value of a life, of a habitat, of an interdependent system?

Untitled (Deep Clean), 2016. Graphite on nautilus shell, cotton swabs, ear wax, and polystyrene.10 x 7 x 3.5 inches

OPP: Can you talk us through some works that address complicity and climate change?

CL: Conceptually some of my works attempt to understand levels of complicity with regards to climate change. What role do you or I play in the slow inevitable lurch towards global warming and carbon imbalance? Loaded objects like the air conditioner in Monolith (2015) point a finger at modern habituations and what we have created as our new “normal” living conditions. The ink-loaded bubble solution in Rupture (2015) and Where we begin and end (2015) draws a line between pleasure and beauty and its consequences, likening the blackness of ink to the blackness of oil. These two works depend on conscious and unconscious participation to generate this sense of complicity. Viewers actively blow bubbles to create the mural in Where we begin and end and unintentionally activate the motion sensor which controls the bubble machine in Rupture

Terra nullius, 2016. Globe, belt sander, sanding sponge, grooming table, and extension cord.

OPP: What sensation were you most hoping to evoke for viewers in your recent solo exhibition What do you call the world? (2018)? Can you talk about the symbolism in the objects included in the room?

CL: I conceived of this installation as an exploration of aspects of relativity. On the surface, it was a relative shift of gravity through the flipping of objects from the floor to the ceiling. The room was bathed in the magenta light of the grow lamps, which allowed the peace lilies to grow in an isolated, windowless environment. Viewers experienced a relative color shift after spending just 10-15 seconds in the installation. The eyes would accommodate the intense color, and the brain would adjust the sensation of color to appear normal even within the intensely pink light. One would begin to see greens in the leaves of the plants even though no green light was present in the room! When leaving the room, the color generated from regular light would appear intensely green until the eyes and brain could reacclimatize to neutral lighting. 

Conceptually I was interested in layers of artifice that allow us to perceive reality and how that relates to our contemporary experience of the world. Our brains are powerful intermediaries and interpreters of reality. What we initially find jarring in its unfamiliarity quickly becomes natural and a new normal. A grow room—one of the few ways to sustain plants in the darkness of the urban New York environment—is a strangely synthetic but natural space. I wanted to point a finger at the sci-fi artifice of the modern urban condition. The objects within the room highlight these ideas. A clock with a reversed dial runs counterclockwise such that the time is still accurately reflected. A torn quotation from a Calvin and Hobbes strip about personal gravity appears both right-side-up, yet upside-down. 

A shelf of books suspends source material and relevant readings: a NASA study analyzing and ranking various plants as air filters for space travel, The Biosphereby Vladimir Vernadsky, Vibrant Matter by Jane Bennett, The Interaction of Color by Josef Albers, and Chromophobia by David Batchelor, amongst others.

Wishing Well, 2014. Inflatable swimming pool, water, and ink. 66 inch diameter.

OPP: Your work is both poignant and clever—that’s a hard balance to maintain. Too much cleverness can tip into insincerity; too much poignancy can turn to sentimentality. I think you are able to strike the perfect balance. What do you think of this assessment of your work?

CL: Wow thanks! This is a very generous assessment of my work, and I’m really glad that you read it this way. The intention in all my work is to strike a balance between the known and the unknown. In the spirit of empathy and shared experience, I offer some familiar object or idea as an entry point, then make that starting point unfamiliar through recontextualization. I think at its core this is kind of a Surrealist move. I think the goal of artwork is to allow people a way to approach what they think they know a little differently. But it is important to start somewhere authentic, a real feeling that is deep and generative. As you said, the cleverness of an idea can often deaden a work and make it feel contrived or distant. I think this relates to the push and pull between irony and sincerity in art. An extreme on either side comes off disingenuous or disaffected. I think ultimately the goal of my work is not to find a clear or concrete answer to any of the questions I'm investigating, but to open up a topic or an idea for further personal examination. 

Too see more of Christopher's work, please visit christopherlinstudio.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist  Stacia Yeapanis.  When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations.  She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018) and Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019). Her work is included in the three-person show Manifestations, on view at One After 909 (Chicago) through July 13, 2019.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Lauren Carter

The One with the Rainbow, 2016. Ceramic rainbow, broken mug, peach pit, Shrinky-dinks, beads, toothpicks, foam tubing, hydrocal, expandable foam, acrylic paint, silicone, epoxy clay, glitter, pigment, steel rod. 26” x 16” x 14”

LAUREN CARTER transforms found objects and personal possessions into kitschy and profound assemblage sculptures. These memorials to sentimentality are both serious and silly. Her effort to preserve and honor discarded, once-loved objects shows up in the marks left by her hand in the hydrocal, silicone, expandable foam and epoxy claycast plaster that holds these works together. Lauren earned her BFA from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and her MFA with Distinction from the University of New Mexico. She has exhibited at Non-Fiction Gallery (Savannah, Georgia), Chicago Art Department, Hyde Park Art Center (Chicago) and Chicago Artists Coalition. She was a 2013-14 HATCH Projects Residentand a 2017 Center Program ArtistSurface vs. Sap, a two-person exhibition with Nico Gardner, opens March 31st at Comfort Station in Chicago. Lauren is a teaching artist at Marwen in Chicago, where she lives.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your most recent body of work, Offerings or Clusterfucks, seems to be more about material culture and its detritus than earlier bodies of work like Flux (2015) and Pre/proscribed (2012), which are more bodily and visceral. What changed?

Lauren Carter: A lot, actually. Pre/proscribed is a body of work from grad school that was mostly introspective. I was examining a subconscious desire to preserve a notion of myself while unpacking ideas of othering, unmaking, loss, vulnerability, and nostalgia. My mother has a chronic illness that was directly influencing my work and research at this particular time in my life. I spent a lot of time thinking about pain and identity, and the work was really personal and kind of tough to talk about. I was also spending a lot of money making these things that were process oriented and took a lot of time to complete. So when I moved to Chicago immediately after finishing my master’s program, I figured it was a good opportunity to change my practice a bit, and make objects that are more financially and emotionally sustainable for me.

Effigies, 2015. Beeswax, pigment, hair, satin, wood. Approximately 8'w x 11'h

OPP: Was Flux the transition?

LC: Yes. I was looking for a way to continue to communicate the corporeal experience, but by utilizing symbols I found outside of my personal realm and the body. For example, I think deflated balloons found tied to mailboxes and fence posts are super loaded metaphors for loss and nostalgia. They are a kind of memorial for whatever celebratory event has passed. They’re incredibly sweet and sad things to me. It’s most likely that the person who put them up just forgot to take them down after the party, but I tend to assign sentimental meaning to just about anything. So the installation Effigies is a funeral or sorts for what those balloons signify. 

From there I started looking at flower bouquets and roadside memorials, which leads to this new work. I’ve continued to explore vulnerability and nostalgia, but now through personal items and found objects that embody ambiguous narratives of commemoration.

The One on Astro-turf, 2016. Ceramic seashell, broken ceramic lady, amethysts ribbon, beads, plastic flowers, pantyhose, broken glass flower, metal brooch, old earrings, ceramic swan, parts of a stuffed animal, picture   frame, glitter paper, a cut up old exhibition card, acrylic paint, expandable foam, marbled shelf paper, hydrocal, epoxy clay, expandable foam, wreath stand, Astro Turf. 30" x 24" x 20"

OPP: What role does kitsch play in this newer work?

LC: Formally, I use kitsch as a medium, just like the other materials I use in my work.  But I’ve been a collector of kitschy things since I was a kid, which I’m sure is something I share with many people. It started with those stupid Precious Moments figurines that I’d receive every birthday from a member in my family. Then it was porcelain dolls and unicorns. Then Treasure Trolls. . .  and the list goes on. Keeping a gift from someone is a way to preserve a memory of a person or of a specific time. And I think that we end up collecting things because objects become symbolic. No matter how tacky or worthless they may be, sometimes they’re just too precious to throw away. Because the things we collect and keep carry a lot of weight, I think of the objects I use in my work as signifiers for a universal language of sentimentality that anyone can draw from or relate to.

OPP: I imagine you shop at thrift stores. Is that true? What’s your collection process like for the found objects?

LC: Yes, very true! I have a slight obsession with obtaining other people’s discarded possessions. I’m always drawn to objects that spark my own memories or remind me of someone from my past, but I have a couple rules that I’ve made for myself when gathering materials. I’ll choose an object that has a nice form, color, or texture; but it must be mass produced, and either be broken in some way, or have some kind of obvious history attached to it. If it doesn’t prompt me to ponder who owned it and how it ended up where it is, I put it back on the shelf.

The One with all the Pearls (If You Need It), 2018. Peach had cream container, ceramic jesus, fake roses, jewelry display, tape, pearls, expandable foam, epoxy clay, silicone, acrylic paint, plastic wrap, found table. 36” x 12” x 16”

OPP: Can you talk about your repeated use of furniture as pedestals?

LC: I think of collecting as a domestic ritual of the act of remembering. Using found furniture instead of traditional pedestals reiterates that idea. The cabinet or table that supports a sculpture has its own history and is a necessary component to the work. Also, finding a piece of furniture that’s perfect for a specific sculpture is way more fun than building pedestals.

I Sincerely Appreciate the Gesture, 2017. Paper pulp from greeting cards I received from loved ones over the years, found frame, gold gilding wax. 53" x 28" x 9"

OPP: I deeply LOVE I Sincerely Appreciate the Gesture (2017), which is made from all the greeting cards you’ve received from loved ones over the years. I’m interested in the excess of it, the weight of it, the desire to both honor the gesture and to get rid of the cards. Will you talk about how you conceived of this piece?

LC: Oh thank you! You definitely described exactly what I was trying to achieve with this piece. I think a lot about honoring the vulnerability in the act of giving. I think we are just as vulnerable when we give as we are when we grieve, it just looks much different. Maybe that’s another reason it’s so hard to purge our homes of the things we don’t want, but feel obligated to keep because they were given to us with love. Greeting cards are just that. They are so cliché, but yet filled with so much thought and sentiment and history. And they’re a tricky thing for me because, in theory, they don’t take up much space. Unless you never throw them out and you end up with this burden of lugging around a box containing every card anyone has sent you in the last decade, and that box just keeps getting bigger and heavier. Which is exactly what was happening. I’ve lived in four states over the last ten years, and I’ve taken some of these cards everywhere with me.

OPP: What was the process like?

LC: I took the box to my studio, sat on the floor, read each one and ripped it up, and of course cried the whole time. I found this process pretty cathartic, and it’s probably the most important part of this piece for me. Because the content is literally in the material, I decided to create a self-portrait of sorts that honors the material made by my loved ones’ vulnerability, while simultaneously conveying the burden of sentimentality that I often feel. 

The One with the Little Owl, 2018. Ceramic owl, alligator foot, part of a stuffed animal, vase, rubber grapes, beads, rubber ball, fuzzy ball, old jewelry, expandable foam, epoxy clay, brass rod, Plastidip, acrylic paint. 13” x 11” x 6” 

OPP: You have an imminent two-person show with Nico Gardner. What can you tell us about it?

LC: Surface vs. Sap is our first collaboration together. Nico and I continuously shift between the personal and the general, the specific and ambiguous, creating new work in conversation with one another. With a primary focus on desire, ritual, identity, and the expression of human need, Surface vs. Sap addresses the power and persuasive nature of mundane, domestic objects. Our use of found or purchased items is a starting point to explore themes that ultimately result in a collaboration of both material culture and making. The exhibition features wall mounted and freestanding mixed media sculptures that engage the floor, ceiling and walls. Independently created, the works echo each other's voices through the nature of consumer objecthood, both domestic and commercial. Household artifacts lost in the hurricane of one of my arrangements is excavated and embodied into one of Nico’s new works. Simultaneously, an object in its prime depiction in one of Nico’s reliefs finds itself mirrored and absorbed into one of my clusterfucks. It should go without saying, but Nico's the Surface, and I'm the Sap.  We are incredibly excited about this opportunity to work together, where we are continually throwing wrenches into each other's practices. And we get a chance to do it again in the fall! We'll have a second, larger, exhibition with additional works at Heaven Gallery in Chicago.  

To see more of Lauren's work, please visit laurencarterart.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indiana 2017). In March 2018, her solo installation Where Do We Go From Here? will open at Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois). In conjunction, the atrium will exhibit two-dimensional artwork by artists who were invited by Stacia to make new work also titled  Where Do We Go From Here?

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Lee Lee Chan

Cluster (detail view)
Styrofoam, aqua-resin, aluminum, found brick, metal rod, paper collages, acrylic paint and pastel
50 x 15 x 11 inches

The physics of space, reflection and materiality play into LEE LEE CHAN's intuitive, compositional decisions, resulting in poetic juxtapositions of found materials, both natural and manufactured. Her background in painting informs her abstract sculptures, and her experiments with objects inform new paintings, creating an endless feedback loop between the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional. Lee Lee earned her BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2006 and her MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2009. She has exhibited at extensively in Brooklyn: Tompkins Projects (2013), Brooklyn Fireproof (2012 and 2013) and Horse Trader Gallery (2009). Other exhibitions include Overseasoned Part Deux (2014) at Artemis Project Space in York, United Kingdom, Faraway Neighbor at Flux Factory in Long Island City, New York and Geography of Imagination (2009) at Adam House in New York City. Her work will be included in the Sluice Fair in London from October 16th -18th, 2015, and works on paper are available online through The Dorado Project. After over a decade living in the United States, Lee Lee has set up her studio in Hong Kong where she was born.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Both your BFA and MFA are in painting, but your sculptural work is so spot-on. What led you to introduce the three-dimensional into your practice?

Lee Lee Chan: My transition to sculpture was not a deliberated decision; it evolved organically. When I arrived at graduate school, I was making paintings by piecing together magazine imagery with painted surfaces. However, I found this limiting and did not know how to move forward. Then I saw a picture of Frank Stella’s paper maquette for Wheelbarrow in the studio, 1986, and it left a strong impression on me. I also discovered Judy Pfaff’s installations, in which she weaved painting and architecture into dynamic spaces. This intersection of pictorial and physical experience and the idea of “collage in space” really opened up possibilities for me.

I began making tabletop-sized, paper models from magazine collages, painted paper and photographs, arranging them as a stage for my photograph work. When I began to incorporate more tangible materials such as Styrofoam, aluminum and everyday objects, these models started to have a sculptural presence and took on their own life. This hands-on process of making the sculpture had started to dominate my practice.

Having a painting background is both a bliss and curse. I instinctively think of my sculptures as objects floating in space, just like images. However, as they grew more complex and larger, I became more aware of their relationship with the physical matter as well as the space between the viewer and the objects.

Acrylic and oil paint on canvas
11 x 14 inches

OPP: Has working in sculpture changed the way you think about painting?

LLC: I usually work in discrete phases within a medium. For a few months, I only make sculptures, then the next few months I make paintings and works on paper. Moving back and forth between these media has made me more aware of the limitations and strengths of each medium. It also helps me embrace the materiality of each medium instead of forcing them to do the things that they cannot do. Coming back to painting allows me to take a step back, and I tend to discover things that I did not notice before. Reoccurring motifs always make their way through: underlying geometry, biomorphic forms, motion, light, atmospheric space. Between the parallel universes of painting and sculpture, all things were interconnected. For instance, the sense of object weight in my painting has been directly influenced by my sculpture.  And the way I use an intricate system of overlapping to create spaces in my sculpture has affected the way I construct pictorial space to look through and hold imagery in my painting. Generally, I want to generate an intimate perceptual experience that encourages the rawness of seeing.

Plaster, pigment, found lamp shade, branches, garden netting, recycled Styrofoam packaging and plastic bottle, threads, metal rod, plexi mirror and cotton rag
36 x 25 x 13 inches.

OPP: Your sculptures are often strange and wonderful juxtapositions of natural materials and recycled packaging, as in Keeper (2015) and Bower (2014). How do you decide what materials to work with? What's your collection process like?

LLC: My collection of objects has always been a reflection of my surroundings. I grew up in Hong Kong and, since I was 17, have lived in Utah, Chicago, New York City and York in the UK. Both Keeper and Bower were created during the time I lived in York. The dramatic change of environment, moving from New York City to medieval York, where I lived very close to nature, expanded my visual vocabulary. I started collecting tree bark and branches on my walks and experimented with incorporating these natural elements with ordinary objects like garden netting that I purchased from a local pound shop (the equivalent to a dollar store in the U.S.). I found the lamp shade in Bower next to a dumpster in my neighborhood.

I tend to collect objects that are mass-produced and easily accessible in everyday life: household items, commercial and industrial materials from the local hardware store, abandoned objects that to me have a pathetic quality. You could say that I collect anything that catches my eye, but then again, I consciously look for objects that do not carry any narrative or nostalgic quality. Any associated meaning gets in the way of my transforming them. The fact that these objects are so mundane and apparently without value prompts my desire to subvert this hierarchy by altering the way they are arranged and treated. Ultimately, I am interested in provoking uncertainty with these objects: how does something become valuable?

Most consistently, I use Aqua-Resin coated polystyrene packaging and plaster to build the structure for my totem-like sculptures. They look substantial but are in fact extremely lightweight, thus subverting the expectation of weight. These materials act both as surface and structure that house multiple micro spaces within the sculpture. They also reveal a trace of my process by highlighting the primacy of the handmade. Aqua-Resin and plaster create a limestone-like surface that reminds me of a construction site or ancient ruins. I guess this specific material sensibility came from my memory of growing up and working with pottery tomb figures in my parents’ Chinese antiques shop in Hong Kong. I imagine myself as an archaeologist of the present.

Found polystyrene packaging, artificial plant, aqua-resin, plaster, wood, epoxy putty and pigment
85” H x 7”W x 5”D

OPP: What’s your process like? Do you sketch beforehand or make intuitive moves as you go?

LLC: I see both my paintings and sculptures as a physical embodiment of the inside in a different form. They are a self-exploration of the subconscious.

Generally, my works do not start with sketches; rather they generate meaning through the process of making. I am completely open to the process and let my works develop intuitively. It’s a kind of a call-and-response approach, which involves ongoing subtracting and adding until an image or form slowly emerges. The decision-making is at the same time deliberate and improvisational. Ultimately, it is all about potential: I want to make known the unknown and make works that surprise me.

When painting, I usually start with a list of colors or a certain mood that I want to evoke. But, of course, everything tends to change once I actually put the paint down. Likewise, with sculpture I begin with materials or objects that trigger my imagination. I spend a lot of time looking at and playing with the relationships between them. Painting is a more direct, internalized process. With sculpture, I am dealing with the physics of actual space, gravity, weight and volume. I often rely on problem-solving experiments to better understand the properties, potential and technical issues of different materials. What are the elastic possibilities of my materials? How far can I feasibly push them? Which properties do I want to embrace? I work towards sculpture that generates its own internal logic, structure and energy, and thus functions more like an entity rather than merely an object.

Bottle Neck (detail view)
Styrofoam, aqua-resin, pumices, plaster, plexi mirrors, Lego, aluminum, recycled bottles, PVC, collages, cinder blocks, photograph collages, acrylic paint and pastel
48 x 60 x 36 inches

OPP:  What role does reflection play in your work?

LLC: I want to explore this interplay of space in my sculpture and one way of doing so is through the use of reflections. It facilitates a material shift from the exterior surface to the interior structure, blurs the boundary between inside and outside; between the actual and painted surface. My intention is not to use reflection in a highly technical way to deceive the eyes. I’m not attempting to hide its mechanisms; instead, I am interested in the junction of a pictorial way of looking and materiality of things in space.

Embedded in my sculptures are micro spaces, constructed either by Plexiglas mirror or aluminum. These materials reflect and absorb the surrounding light, generating a different sense of light for the micro space. This creates both an architecture and a landscape. I always think of the densely layered space in urban environments. In Hong Kong, for example, hidden areas exist everywhere in order to maximize space. I have always been intrigued by the way people expand their everyday, constrained surroundings in an organic and illusionistic way.

I want to offer viewers a rewarding discovery by creating work that demands more than a glimpse. I create space that you can either dive into or step back from in order to complete the whole picture. My sculptures generate new meanings depending on the angle from which viewers approach them. The aim is always the same: to evoke the fleeting moments that we encounter in daily life.

To see more of Lee Lee's work, please visit leeleechan.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia recently completed an installation for Chicago Artists' Coalition's 2015 Starving Artist Benefit and is currently working towards a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, for O’Connor Art Gallery at Dominican University (River Forest, IL). The show will open on November 5, 2015.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Lynn Aldrich

Un/Common Objects
Installation view

LYNN ALDRICH is "seeking a reinvestment in physicality." Her sculptures employ the accumulation and organization of found objects and material—often purchased from Home Depot—to reorient viewers to their experience of their bodies. She transforms the excess of mass production into an opportunity for contemplation of our relationship to consumption and its effect on the natural world. In 2014, Lynn was awarded the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship, and her work joined the permanent collection at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. She will debut a major new steel sculpture titled Future Water Feature on July 25, 2015 at Edward Cella Art+Architecture, where her solo exhibition More Light Than Heat will open in October 2015. Lynn is represented by Edward Cella in Los Angeles and Jenkins Johnson Gallery in San Francisco and New York. She lives and works in Los Angeles.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Many of your materials—garden hoses, plastic tubing, rain gutters—reference the flow of water. Could you talk about this recurring metaphor in your work?

Lynn Aldrich: I wanted to use materials that were ordinary, usually part of a middle class life, which is at times overwhelmed by products and options. From this banal bounty, I decided to select only what carried potential for a kind of revelation. Twenty years ago, we were not so concerned with water environmentally, but it has consistently been a powerful and layered metaphor for spiritual and physical renewal. So water-related materials seemed inherently capable of meeting my conceptual criteria. 

Garden hoses, brass ends, fiberglass, steel
60 x 55 x 32 inches

OPP: What other recurring material metaphors do you use?

LA: Other material choices also bear some sort of relationship to my observations of and appreciation for the natural world—light and dark and color in the landscape, flora and fauna diversity, cosmic extravagance. For example, in Constellation, I purchased lampshades in various shapes, fabrics and sizes. They already evoked metaphors associated with wonder and transcendence. The decision to fill each one with a modeled, concave center, painted to reference diverse experiences of light, seemed like a simple, direct means to reveal spiritual mystery already present in these objects.

Light Sucker
Lampshade, wood, modeling compound, gesso, acrylic, oil
20 x 20 x 16 inches

OPP: You employ the strategies of repetition and accumulation in the creation of found object sculptures. Each piece has the potential to go on and on. How do you know when each piece is done? What stops you from expanding these discrete sculptures into immersive environments?

LA: I have a sculptor’s interest in form and differences in scale relating to space. So at a certain point, the quantity of something seems to be appropriate for what the work is intended to accomplish. My artistic choice is to confront, to call the already immersed viewer out of the fog and say, stop, be still, consider this.

For me, the repetition is not about infinity, but about revealing paradoxical truths inherent to physicality – something like the New Testament’s concept of Incarnation. This is the idea that God signifies matter, the “stuff” of creation, as good, by entering history in the flesh (Jesus Christ). Artists continually explore this paradox whether they realize it or not—what is obvious and ordinary also bears worth and meaning beyond its material presence.

Seeking Sanctuary
Corrugated plastic panels, fiberglass, aluminum.
55 x 19 x 68 inches

OPP: In your statement, you refer to a “spiritual or sacred longing for revelation and authentic transcendence” that “is the profound paradox at the core of all true religion and artistic activity.” How do you reconcile that longing with our contemporary consumer society, as represented in your materials?

LA: Actually, it’s not possible to reconcile this longing, this desire beyond desiring, with being in the world – therefore we have art and religion. I am using the word religion in its original, etymological sense as from the same root word for ligament, a tie back to God. What used to be the “bounty of nature,” the extravagance we appreciated as coming from God’s provision, we now believe to be of our own making. I walk through the aisles of Home Depot and see products literally pouring down the sides. But am I in a “garden of delights” or a spiritual wasteland? Or as T. S. Eliot asks, can we experience being in the garden even though we are walking through a desert?

Sponges, brushes, scrubbers, scouring pads, mop heads, plungers, plastic gloves, plumbing parts, wood
42 x 30 x 28 inches

OPP: In 2013, you mounted a mid-career retrospective, curated by Jim Diechendt and Christina Valentine, called Un/Common Objects at Williamson Art Gallery at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. What’s it like to see work spanning two decades exhibited together? Did this lead to any insights about your own work?
LA: I can only say that it was an incredible experience. Bringing the works together (many borrowed back from collectors which I had not seen in years) and arranging them in a beautiful, spacious architecture finally produced the immersive experience you mentioned. The curators allowed a kind of “compare and contrast” placement that brought up interesting analogies I had not seen before.

Shell Collection is a work from the 90s made from T-shirts dipped in resin, in ten successive sizes from newborn to adult. The viewer peers through the waist or neck and sees a kind of infinite tunnel of “shells” implying one’s passage through life and time. Now this work could be experienced next to Wormhole, a huge nesting of fake fur in cardboard tubes made 15 years later—another compelling tunnel into infinity. I thought these connections existed as I made the work over time, but now I would walk through the gallery sometimes when no one was there and give myself a high five!

Fake fur in 10 colors, cardboard construction tubes in 16 diameters, electric light (optional)
4 x 4 x 25 feet

OPP: What role does mystery play in your practice?

LA: My work has a kind of simplicity and stillness that belies the struggle and doubt I often have while making it. For example, in constructing a minimal box out of white, wood pickets titled Subdivision, I began with only one material. I was sure it would end up being white, but at every turn there were decisions to make and problems to solve. How many pickets will reach just the right scale? The points aren’t as sharp as I want, so instead of buying them, do I need to make them myself? How do I put it together and take it apart? The physicality of the thing was wearing me down. I started to doubt it would be anything more than a pile of fencing. But in the end, I felt there was a lovely mystery to the surface of a “community” of pointed wood stakes.

Author, Flannery O’Connor speaks of the necessity for the writer or artist to “maintain a respect for mystery.” We live in a material age where science and technology rule, yet there is a throbbing mystery at the core of existence. It’s the role of artists, poets, students of philosophy and theology to wrestle with this.

To see more of Lynn's work, please visit lynnaldrich.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent exhibitions include solo shows I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago, as well as Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, at Design Cloud in Chicago (2014). Most recently, Stacia created  When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center. Closing reception guests were invited to help break down the piece by pulling pins out of the wall.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Amy Santoferraro

B.B. Baskets

Trained in Ceramics, AMY SANTOFERRARO applies the spirit of that medium, which she says is "best at masquerading as other things," to whatever materials attract her attention: plastic, pool noodles, wood aluminum, foam. Her own inclination to collect informs her work in a variety of media as she tackles the themes of nostalgia, attachment, desire, value and imitation. Amy has a Bachelors of Arts Education and a Bachelors of Fine Art from The Ohio State University (1998-2004). She earned her Masters of Fine Art in Ceramics from Alfred University in 2012. She has had solo exhibitions at The Clay Studio (2009) in Philadelphia, c.r.e.t.a. rome (2013) in Italy and Add to Basket will open at MudFire in Decatur, Georgia in May 2015. She is a 2015 Spring McKnight Resident Artist at Northern Clay Center in Minneapolis and will give a lecture on her work on Tuesday, April 21, 2015 at 6:30 pm in NCC’s Library. Amy teaches Ceramics at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas, where she lives.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Ceramics as a medium is intimately connected to the history of the vessel, which is really the history of human progress. I'd like to hear you muse on vessels in general, in ceramics, in your life or in your practice.

Amy Santoferraro: At the risk of sounding like Miley Cyrus. . . vessels hold stuff, and stuff makes up our world. The vessel strongly influences my work because my practice revolves around ideas of collection and the questioning of value and sentiments associated with stuff we choose to surround ourselves with.
The vessel was my first entry into ceramics. I fell in love with creating a useful object that had a built-in guideline: if it holds water and you can drink out of it, you have succeeded! The cup remains present in my practice as a way to get the work out of the studio and into hands. I always make a “take away” or a smaller more practical, more attainable object that represents the larger work but can fit in your hand or not break your wallet.

One of my grad students recently reminded me of possibly the first use of clay to form a vessel, in which woven baskets were lined with clay to transport water from stream to home. In the BaskeTREE series I like to believe that I am quite literally flipping that idea on its head. Vintage and modern day baskets have been translated into plastic and flipped upside down to hold the now all-important junk we need for survival. . . more plastic relics of our existence.

Although I am reluctant to admit it, I am very thankful for Peter Voulkus, who was the first ceramist to buck the system and have his way with the vessel. He fought this battle 60 years ago and his work represents a sustained victory for all ceramists. Now we can both embrace and reject the idea of the vessel. That said, there is nothing sadder than an ironic teapot, but nothing quite as ballsy as a not-pot in contemporary ceramics (of course there are fantastic exceptions to this idea).

Blue/White Ware

OPP: The B.B. Baskets are so seductive. I like the malleability of those simple orbs. They can be so many things: marbles, berries, bubbles. What are they for you? Are the baskets themselves found ceramics?

AS: You nailed it! Sometimes the balls are just balls. But they are also bubbles, fruit, wishes, vomit, bubbling crud, excuses. . . pretty much anything that can build up to be overwhelming, disgusting and/or beautiful. The found baskets in this series fulfill my need to collect evidence of ceramics doing what it does best: masquerading as other objects and materials. One thing mimicking another due to nostalgia or sentiment rather than function or design, or skeuomorphism, is a huge part of my work and practice. I like to think of it as "materials behaving badly." The materials or objects at home depot, the thrift store, or in my studio are kinda like Girls Gone Wild: they reveal too much, are too fake and are too cheap. The B.B Baskets are an ongoing quest; I am always on the look out for small ceramic baskets and new B.B. colors.


OPP: What inspired this series?

AS: They started innocently enough as just airsoft BBs in a basket. My home is across a valley from Fort Riley, Kansas. The Kansas landscape mimics that of Afghanistan and Iraq in color and flatness, making it an ideal training ground for soldiers at the Army base before they head off to war. Everyday I hear and feel the rounds of firing and bombing practice while watching the neighborhood kids shoot each other with BB guns in the convenient overgrown bush hides of my yard. It is quite possibly the most surreal thing I have ever repeatedly experienced.  

I started collecting the BBs the kids left in the yard without any clear direction other than picking up and collecting the beautiful balls of color. The collection grew as the days passed, and I gradually began seeing them as material. I love that they can be so many things and don’t readily volunteer their origin story. It’s not essential to appreciate the resulting object and in no way is a statement about war or only a personal narrative.

2012 MFA Thesis Exhibition at Alfred University feels like a well-designed, but nonfunctional playground. Tell us about how you conceived of and developed this project?

AS: Again nailed it! I was thinking a lot about yards (which is now kinda wild considering the above story was two years after my thesis exhibition). Yards act as an outward expression to the world about the people who maintain them. Many of the objects featured it the exhibition are my recreation of objects you might find in yards: mailboxes, bunny hutches, decorative wagon wheels, that old camper that won’t travel and festive displays of unnecessary motion and lights.  

OPP: What about your inclusion of non-ceramic materials?

AS: Ceramics is never the only solution. My relationship with the material is best described as complicated or open. At times I am in love with it and am exclusive, but far too often I am lured by other materials because they are so very different and will never offer what clay or the ceramic surface can. In many cases I reconcile my devotion to the material because it’s what I know best and can cheaply and effectively manipulate it to work for me. There was a great fear before grad school of wasting or ruining rare, vintage, limited or oddly sourced materials because they are the complete opposite of clay, which is cheap and plentiful. This exhibition was the first time that I let those old hang-ups go. Nothing is precious in ceramics; breakages and surprises are plenty. I have found the same to be true with other materials. Bendy straws can be unbent. My sensitivity and ability to fearlessly adopt any material is a result of embracing the heavily process-oriented nuances that ceramics demand and my unwavering curiosity and desire to make everything work for me. I’m a boss.

plop block

OPP: BaskeTREE (2012) is a series of bonsai-like sculptures in bright, luscious colors. Each one seems to be a mini monument to visual pleasure. Have you ever cultivated an actual bonsai tree? How is your practice like this ancient Japanese practice?

AS: BaskeTREEs are personal landscapes. I think of them as executive desk attire and hope that they may replace mini zen gardens, finger labyrinths or those clanky ball thingies. BaskeTREEs are maintenance free houseplants but can still die. They are the longing for something to care for but not really. I am an avid succulent keeper and realize it’s easy. Bonsai might be next, but it’s a big commitment, like owning a parrot that could possibly outlive you. I am currently the heir apparent to an African Grey parrot.
BaskeTREEs are marketed and sold separately as floral arrangements. They are temporal in nature because they employ a wide variety of delicate and non-archival materials (Will floam ever die? Maybe it’ll lose its clumping quality over time. Who knows?) By using plastic, ceramic, aluminum, foam, and a variety of other materials interchangeably, I represent our disregarded and discarded junk as carefully organized and reconsidered, encouraging the celebration and questioning of a possible shelf life attached to an item for sale in a gallery. Acceptance, recognition, imitation and appropriation of these gleaned objects and materials allow a new identity to develop, a new sentiment that is a nod to the past, a charge to the future and highlights our need and affection for objects and materials. It is no coincidence that I lean towards stuff of little to no value. I beg these materials to acknowledge and engage their own artificiality and actively retain a bit of apathy in their new debut.


OPP: I love what you say in your artist statement about collections: "Collections are spectacularly selfish satisfactions that are classless and limitless. Rich, snooty museum collectors in search of obscure works of art and unemployed QVC shoppers looking for one more crystal unicorn are essentially doing the same thing as me; strategically collecting objects to organize and make sense of our surroundings through interactions with the material world." I couldn't agree more. Why do you think our society primarily raises the first up as valuable and denigrates the second as wasteful?

AS: Oh man, this is a big one to tackle. I think it really comes down to the fact that money trumps feelings. Or maybe that money is measurable and feelings are not. I came a cross a beautiful passage The Sportsman’s Complete Book of Trophy and Meat Care as a young artist, and it has shaped how I think about the questionable value of objects and feelings.

"Men collect all sorts of things for all sorts of reasons. Some dote on fine art because they have developed a very special hunger for beauty that can be satisfied only by being around or by owning, great pictures. Others collect the very same pictures purely as a financial investment. Paintings, sculpture, artifacts and all manner of other items in limited supply (some of which make a reasonable man shake his head and retire to a corner to contemplate) have been used as currency hedges in recent years.

The point, rather, is that when you actually lay it out and analyze it, practically all of our most commonly accepted collecting hobbies have less reason than that of trophy collecting by the hunter or fisherman. That’s because the sportsman is commemorating a very special moment. . .”
(Tom Brakefield, The Sportsman’s Complete Book of Trophy and Meat Care)


OPP: Do you remember your first collection? Do you have a collection that has nothing to do with your art-practice?

AS: My first collection was "shoe poison," better known as gel silica packets. I kept records of each pair of shoes that helped contribute to my coveted collection of gel silica. Diagrams, dates of purchase, sizes, colors and materials were all meticulously cataloged. Only my best friends were invited into my top-secret laboratory/closet to view it and hear of my somewhat sinister plans to poison bad guys.  

I keep a couples collection, but only add to it when I'm in a relationship. I collect ceramic dogs, but only if they are black, white or a combination of both. I collect commemorative plates, but only if they are already outfitted with a hanging device. Every collection has a caveat otherwise it'd be completely out of control. Carefully chosen and organized collecting lets me believe that I am a collector and not a hoarder.

To see more of Amy's work, please visit amysantoferraro.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent exhibitions include solo shows I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago, as well as Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, at Design Cloud in Chicago (2014). Most recently, Stacia created  When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center. Closing reception guests were invited to help break down the piece by pulling pins out of the wall.

OtherPeoplePixels Interviews John Early

Semicolons and salt shakers
Installation View

An existential thread runs through the work of interdisciplinary artist JOHN EARLY. His rearrangements of discarded car parts encountered in his everyday life, a video of his son painting the sidewalk with water and room-sized sheets of paper covered in shoe prints, scuff marks and stains from his studio floor: these all are records of ephemeral marks made by human beings. John received his BA from University of Virginia (2000) and his MFA from Washington University (2010). He has exhibited extensively in group exhibitions including shows at Center of Creative Art (2011 and 2012) and White Flags Projects (2009) in St. Louis and Whitdel Arts in Detroit (2013 and 2014). Recent solo exhibitions include Objects in mirror (2014) at The Garage in Charlottesville, Virginia and Semicolons and salt shakers (2014) at beverly in St. Louis, where John lives and works.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Could you talk about your interest in mark-making?

John Early: My interest in mark-making is a conceptual extension of drawing, which at its core is the record of a gesture. There’s something very primal and human about the act of making a mark. In reference to why he makes art, Felix Gonzalez-Torres said, “Above all else, it’s about leaving a mark that I existed.” I find that both beautiful and profound. I’m very much interested in this view of mark-making—one that frames the mark in terms of evidencing presence. Looking back, this interest has been with me for at least the past fifteen years. One piece that immediately comes to mind is from a fellowship exhibition in 2001. It consisted of scuffs and smudges made by a basketball on the gallery walls as visitors shot at a hoop I installed at the far end of the space. I think a couple of people were annoyed with this ball ricocheting everywhere, but it was a lot of fun. 

Swivel swing
Graphite and stool

OPP: Swivel swing and Standing snow angel, both 2010, invite viewers to become aware of their own arm span through mark-making. Your static-shot video Star gazing (2011) reminded me that if we are receptive to the information our senses offer, so much is going on all the time, even when it seems like nothing is happening. To what extent is your work about embodied mindfulness or noticing?

JE: My work definitely touches on those themes quite a bit, though they aren’t the impetus for pieces like those you mentioned, which often begin with simple questions. What might it look like to measure the wingspan of everyone in the world? What would it be like to watch a single ray of sunlight travel from the sun to the earth? (The duration of Star gazing—8 minutes and 20 seconds—approximates the time this would take.) Of course, such inquiries could be pursued or “answered” in any number of ways ranging from the scientific to the poetic. My approach to such wondering focuses on experiential knowledge, human scale and the element of time, which, taken together, invite new experiences of familiar things. 

Star gazing
Digital video
8:20 minutes

OPP: I've been thinking about the title of your recent exhibition Semicolons and salt shakers (2014) at beverly in St Louis. The function of semicolons and saltshakers is to bring out the existing flavor of a sentence or a dish. This is a really exciting framework for your dry-wall sculptures that emphasize the boundary between the floor and the wall. That space is always there, but somewhat overlooked unless one is painting the molding. Does my read jive with how you think about the work in that show? 

JE: I really love that read. I’d never given much thought to any associative or symbolic link between the two words. I liked the idea that a semicolon signifies a pause—which points back to the idea of noticing you mentioned earlier—and a salt shaker is a nice alliterative complement that also doubled as an allusion to the everyday. This is a prominent theme running through all the work included in the exhibition: photographs, sculptures and a video of my son painting the sidewalk with water.

The drywall pieces were scale models of the walls of my home studio. This conflation of space in which I both live and work is integral to my recent work, so I felt it was important to transpose elements of that space into the gallery. In planning out and envisioning the exhibition, none of the pieces made sense apart from the context in which they were made and currently lived. Traditional modes of display—white pedestals and wedges; wall works centered at 60 inches or whatever—often don’t work for my pieces. Even with pieces I’ve shown in multiple venues, I tend to install them differently each time they’re exhibited. Context just has such an enormous impact on how we experience any artwork. Anyway, I suppose I view all of my work as installation-based to some degree.

Objects in mirror
Found car parts

OPP: Could you talk about the difference between object arrangements like Untitled (Twain) (2013) or the various works made from found car parts from Objects in mirror (2012) and your photographs of found object arrangements like Salad Spinner (2014) or Cairns (2013)? When do you choose to exhibit a photograph of an arrangement instead of the arrangement itself?

JE: The sculptural pieces you reference are projects in which objects are gathered over time and organized in response to a particular space or context. Untitled (Twain) was part of a pop-up project I did with the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis where several of us drove around town one morning collecting interesting debris—literally anything one of us saw that piqued our interest—and created a temporary sculpture that we juxtaposed with Richard Serra’s Twain (1982). A conversation between eight huge sheets of Cor-ten steel and an arrangement of colorful refuse seemed like a nice one to have. Similarly, Objects in mirror—an ongoing project with multiple iterations—consists of collecting automobile parts I see throughout the course of my day and arranging them in the form of a midsize sedan.

The photographs are part of a series extending these interests in modest materials and ephemerality, with each image acting as a “certificate of presence” (to borrow a phrase from Roland Barthes) that bears witness to the commonplace stuff of the world by calling attention to a particular encounter with it. Because the nature of these photographed “arrangements” is typically very temporary—my son dumped out the wooden blocks and bike helmet from the salad spinner (after all, it was his creation to begin with)—I haven’t often faced the question of whether to exhibit an arrangement or a photograph of it. For the beverly exhibition, however, I did include several individual objects that were also present in photographs I showed. 

Salad spinner
Digital image

OPP: As a contributor to Temporary Art Review, you interviewed your neighbor, fellow artist Tuan Nguyen, in March 2014. You asked a really great question about how being a father has impacted his art practice. Now I want to ask you to please answer your own question.

JE: Thanks, that was such an enjoyable conversation. In the nearly five years since becoming a father, I’ve definitely experienced greater freedom in my art making. I mean, sure, part of this is due to the general posture of wonder that children have toward the world. And I don’t mean to downplay that, but I think an even larger reason for my work changing in this way is more of a practical one: I simply don’t have as much time to work in the studio as I did previously. Some of my earlier work could become a bit belabored on occasion, but I feel more freshness in my work now. I’ve been forced to be more decisive, which has been great. Giving up some of those old habits of over-thinking took some getting used to, but it’s been nice to shed that skin and transition into a new phase of making. 

First "a"
Embroidery, peach crate, roll of tape, books, and a jar of dust
Dimensions variable

OPP: What about your most recent forays into embroidery? My assumption about Maroon Alex (2014) and First “a” (2014) is that you are documenting/memorializing/making more permanent your son’s first marks, like the embroidery is a “certificate of presence.” What led you to embroider instead of photograph these?

JE: I’m not sure how this series might evolve, but the impetus to use embroidery stemmed from the practice of sewing cross-stitch patterns to celebrate and remember significant events in the life of a family, such as the birth of a child. I grew up in a home with embroidery, mainly cross-stitch, on our walls—some patterns were quite ornate and included plants, animals, the alphabet and a short sequence of numbers—so I felt a connection to the visual language of the cross-stitch. I thought it would be a fitting vehicle through which to explore commemoration and remembrance, albeit of less momentous "events" in the life of my family today. This required learning the basics of embroidery, as I had no previous experience with it at all. I liked that it made me slow down. In a world where we continuously record anything and everything, to practice a relatively slower, more limited mode of "capturing" was a nice change of pace and perspective. There are several complex early scribble drawings done by my first son that I have visions of translating into cross-stitch form, which really I'm looking forward to. But I’ve been excited about them for about a year already, so we’ll see if they materialize!

To see more of John's work, please visit john-early.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent exhibitions include solo shows I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago, as well as Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, at Design Cloud in Chicago (2014). Most recently, Stacia created  When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center. Closing reception guests were invited to help break down the piece by pulling pins out of the wall.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Courtney Puckett

Sea Lady
Metal, wire, wood, string
20 x 60 x 18 inches

COURTNEY PUCKETT’s work is an exciting collision of color, pattern and texture. Drawing on the history of the Fiber Art Movement, she employs traditional techniques such as wrapping, coiling and sewing to transform cast-off elements from furniture and domestic decoration—frames, fans, coat racks, table cloths—into unexpected abstractions. Courtney earned her BFA from Maryland Institute College of Art (2002) and her MFA from Hunter College (2007). She is a recipient of several National Endowment for the Arts project grants and has been an Artist-in-Residence at Vermont Studio Center, Buffalo National River in Arkansas and the Byrdcliffe Arts Colony in Woodstock, New York. Solo exhibitions include Mountain High (2011) at Central Utah Art Center in Ephraim, Utah and Recycled, Wrapped and Sewn (2010) at Valencia Community College’s Anita Wooten Gallery in Orlando, Florida. Courtney lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your sculptures oscillate between formal abstraction—for example, Bug (2011) or Snail Potion (2012)—and "useful" objects, as in the walking sticks and lassos. But in both cases, textile materials and the traditional fiber techniques of coiling and wrapping are center stage. Could you talk generally about your interest in these techniques?

Courtney Puckett: Before I knew about the Fiber Art movement, I studied painting. As an undergraduate, I had reached a technical level of realistic painting that no longer interested me. I could have continued in this vein and found subjects to paint or forced myself towards abstraction. But instead I made a discovery that permanently subordinated paint as a medium for me. While experimenting with alternative painting surfaces, I came across a large, ripped, black duffel bag. With the intention of painting on it, I cut it up and sewed it back together flat. But when I hung it on the wall, I knew it didn’t need paint. The form and physical material already had everything in it that I was searching for. It satisfied my desire to find an alternative approach to painting and to align myself with women artists, particularly those in the 60s and 70s who challenged the (predominantly-masculine) rules of painting. What began as an intuitive gravitational pull toward soft materials has become a intentional reframing of techniques associated with “women’s work” in order to disrupt hierarchical and categorical divisions within art.

Lasso 32
Miscellaneous fabric scraps, string, yarn
19 x 10 x 2.5 inches

OPP: Could you talk specifically about your Lasso Series (2004-ongoing) Is your attraction to this form conceptual or formal? What does the lasso as a form mean to you?

CP: I began the Lasso Series in 2004 while living in New Mexico. I recycled scraps of unused fabric and discarded components from sculptures into long, coiled ropes and hung them in groups on the wall. The lasso is a metaphor for our persistent attempts to acquire, achieve, control, fulfill, capture. But often we fail. These aren’t Wonder Woman’s Golden Lasso.

OPP: Looking at all the lassos together reminds me of Sheila Hicks' amazing book Weaving as Metaphor, in that she has a daily practice of exploring the aesthetics of one simple form—for her, the handheld loom. The variety is astounding. Sheila Hicks is probably the most well known artist who uses coiling and wrapping as a technique. Is she an influence for you?

CP: It is exciting that Sheila Hicks is receiving so much attention right now. I went straight to her work at the Whitney Biennial. However, I only found out about her work about five or six years ago. I took a bus to the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia to see her 2011 retrospective, which was the first time I saw her work in person. I was totally jazzed. At that moment, I felt very proud to make the work I make. Her work gave me the permission—that for years I thought I needed—to work primarily with fabric and textile techniques. People have suggested to me a more mixed media approach, so as to not get labeled or pigeonholed. But Sheila Hicks’s work is powerful in its embrace of fiber mediums and disregard of categorization.

Back Yard Boogie Woogie 1
Fabric, wire, wood, yarn
94 x 14 x 19 inches

OPP: What role does time-tracking play in your work?

CP: The act of recording time is not an objective. My goal is more to lose track of time and enter a meditative, quiet, contemplative zone, often with nothing to listen to but the sounds outside my studio window. Time is obviously quite evident in the process; the labor evident in the work. This is more a result of the kind of intuitive physical relationship I have with the materials and processes—cutting, pasting, ripping, knotting—than as a subject itself. I like that the viewer has access to this intimate space that rewards slower reading.

OPP: Could you talk about your drawings on graph paper? Many of them are titled “Study for . . . .” Are the drawings just plans for the sculptures or something else?

CP: The drawings are like epilogues of the sculptures; they only reveal segments of the story. Typically, I do not begin with drawing. When I get lost or am not sure what move to make while working on the sculptures, I draw. It either sends me off in a new direction or helps me find my way back to the original logic of a piece. I think two-dimensionally like a painter, and drawing really helps to flatten things out. Recently, graph paper has been the most useful blank page for working out patterns and formal systems.

Cricket Comb (detail)
Fabric, wire, wood, yarn
108 x 28 x 15 inches

OPP: Materiality is clearly a driving force in your practice. You incorporate fabric, thread, wood, wire, yarn and found textiles like table cloths and men's ties. Are you more of a hunter, seeking out specific materials for your work, or a gather, saving whatever comes your way until you have a use for it?

CP: Both roles as you describe them appeal to me. I have been scavenging thrift stores for cast-off gems since the age of twelve before vintage stores popped up everywhere. It is still one of my favorite things to do when traveling to new places. Red, White & Blue Thrift outside of Trenton, New Jersey, where I teach, is one of the best I have ever been to. I have fantasies about supermarket sweeps there. I hunt cast-offs (usually textiles) that have aesthetic value and character that can play into one of my pieces. Often, I take in the trashed furniture parts from the alleys around my live/work space in Brooklyn. It is important for me to have plentiful fabric and furniture scraps on hand for spur of the moment re-workings. I’m not a hoarder though, and I do take time to toss things back to the curb.

OPP: Could you speak generally about this reworking of cast-offs you’ve mentioned? It’s more than a practical way to get materials or a clever way to recycle. How does this relate to the “reframing of techniques associated with ‘women’s work’”?

CP: I am drawn to art that recycles waste, that makes something extraordinary out of something ordinary, that examines the detritus of everyday life and, in particular, of domestic life. One early influence for me was Art Povera. I will never forget, while studying in the south of France, seeing Dieter Roth’s boiled-over stove at a museum. This was around the time I stopped painting and started using the refuse around me. Another important influence has been my mother, an interior designer, and the home I grew up in, which was an evolving experiment in the decorative arts. There was little distinction between material object and aesthetic experience. Her resourcefulness and creativity built a colorful living space for our family and special, meaningful objects that held a kind of magic. With sculpture you can use the physical, tactile energy of things. You can also transform them. In my work, I try to reconcile the perceived inferiority of fiber and craft materials with the assumed superiority of paint, concrete, steel and the still-hyper-masculine disciplines of painting and sculpture.

To view more of Courtney's work, please visit courtneypuckett.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Stacia is currently looking forward to creating a site-responsive collage installation in her hometown. NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists opens on July 11, 2014 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Mark Zawatski

Digital photograph
16" x 16"

MARK ZAWATSKI asks us to consider the authenticity of manipulated images in his painstakingly-composed mandalas and fields of color and pattern. Each digitally-constructed photograph takes hundreds of hours to create and involves repetitive, but unique gestures of the hand, subverting our expectations of the boundary between the digital and the handmade. Mark holds a MFA in Sculpture from Yale University and BA in Art from The University of California, Los Angeles. He teaches photography at Onondaga Community College in Syracuse and Ithaca College. His work has been exhibited at the Wright Art Gallery (Los Angeles, California), Fullerton College (Fullerton, California), The Gallery at the Ann Felton Multicultural Center (Syracuse) and the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, Connecticut). Originally from Los Angeles, Mark lives and works in Syracuse, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You received your MFA from Yale in Sculpture (1999). How and when did you shift to digital photography as your primary medium? What was your sculptural work like?

Mark Zawatski: Video, installation, performance and photography were part of my sculpture experience. I also made Fluxus-like collections and cases out of plexi glass that contained manufactured objects along with unique systems of hundreds of handmade objects constructed of wax, wire, paint and foam.

In 2008, I started making photograms of manufactured objects as a way of looking at simple image-making. Man Ray’s photograms always appealed to me for their simplicity, abstraction and beauty. There’s a sense of playfulness, performance and the passage of time captured in those pictures. This led to an interest in the process of making pictures.

Digital photograph
36" x 36"

OPP: Are your composites made of photographs you actually took or are the thousands of images that go into each piece scavenged from other sources? How important is it that viewers recognize the objects?

MZ: I photographed the objects individually. Sometimes they are remnants of products I consumed or manufactured, transitory objects I acquired. I wanted to document the physical ephemera of everyday life: objects we've all seen and used many times before but probably overlooked. For example, the objects in Gothic are remnants of products I consumed over a three-year period. I limited the collection to white items made of plastic: lids from juice and milk bottles, contact lens solution caps, dish soap caps, eye drop caps and laundry soap caps.

Digital photograph
16" x 16"

OPP: How is the process of creating the fields in Local Places (2013), which are made from "hundreds of manipulations of a single disposable drinking straw" different from the process of creating the Circles and Stars (2011-2012), which include a variety of objects?

MZ: Lines is the first series made from a single photograph of a drinking straw. The image was duplicated and placed into individual columns. I continued to make more and more parallel lines, altering their color as I went. Prior to this, my photographs contained “straight” digital images with no manipulation. Ultimately, these are photographic drawings with a nod to photo history and an emphasis on process through the repetitive duplication and hand placement of each drinking straw. The lines look machine perfect, but there are subtle variations among them.

In Lines, I was interested in how appearance and meaning often don’t match up or can be misleading and confusing. They are meant to be optical illusions, fields of confusion that pull your eye in different directions. I wanted to disrupt the expectations we bring to experiencing photographs, which traditionally rely on single point perspective and lead viewers to see or believe something specific. The Lines have a conversation with Bridget Riley paintings, but the illusion is made of simple yet realistic photographs.

The images in Local Places series are made by fusing two separate line fields to create a single picture that vibrates and moves reflecting how we attempt to reconcile both appearance and meaning simultaneously. I also wanted to make a connection between what we think of as local and impersonal mass-produced culture.

Circles and Stars were even more time consuming than creating the labor intensive Lines. Each image took between one and three months to create, and in some ways could be seen as performance pieces. The largest piece is made from over 1,000 images and required many repetitive yet unique movements. It was a significant challenge for me to stay focused on the work for so long. While I was making the work, I thought about the performance and conceptual aspects of work by artists like Agnes Martin and Richard Serra. But I was also thinking about Jeff Wall and questions of truth in photography. I wanted to examine the possibility of a manipulated digital photograph being a form of authenticity.

Top of The Falls
Digital photograph
16" x 16"

OPP: Have you ever have any issues with carpal tunnel syndrome or tendinitis?

MZ: Haha. . . no, not yet. But I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve damaged my eyesight from staring at my computer screen for so long.

OPP: The compositions in Circles and Stars (2012-2013), Dots, and some pieces from Gothic (2011) reference mandalas. What brought you to that form?

MZ: A search for form led me to the circle. Maybe that’s a sculptural concern applied to photography, but a circle is a simple organizing structure. The Dots are meant to be simple pictures. Each one is composed of photographs of tiny, plastic discs. As photographs, the discs become reduced to pixels of color and are barely recognizable as actual objects. It’s the moment when a photograph becomes an abstraction.

While it wasn't my intention to reference a mandala with the circular pieces, I like how mandalas promote a meditative space both for the creator and the viewer. These pictures for me were about process. I wanted to create a photograph that would cause the viewer to do a double-take, to invite them to consider the handmade processes that go into making a digital photograph. 

Digital photograph
16" x 16"

OPP: All art manipulates the viewer, right? And all art media have authenticity. Why do you think people view digital photography as inauthentic? Do you think the average person still expects a photograph to be "true?"

MZ: Maybe it’s the simplicity of the technology that invites distrust. In just seconds and with minimal skill, a picture can be manipulated, its focus altered and its meaning changed.

The photography community still reinforces the notion that there is a truthful photography and a manipulated, false photography through competitions than ban manipulated works. I’ve heard the occasional story of a disqualified, winning photograph that is revealed to have a tiny bit of color adjustment. This is mirrored in the beliefs of most people who also make the same distinction between fake photography and real photography. But when you press people to define that boundary, when essentially all images are digital today, people are uncertain as to the criteria for digital truth. We are only a decade into consumer digital photography, and as in early photo history, people aren’t sure what they’re getting. Most people have no idea what a digital image is or how it’s created. But they can tell you that film is a piece of plastic with silver stuck to it, and that confers truth.

OPP: Does the prevalence of smartphone cameras and Instagram filters affect these perceptions at all?

MZ: Instant, online images only add to the anxiety. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we are constantly having this conversation in our heads about the real or altered nature of pictures we consume. This skepticism has become an automatic response to digital images. Not that this is new. Since it’s inception, digital photography—like early color photography—has been disdained by the photographic community. So, there’s already a built-in bias. It’s only now that the technology has become integrated into our daily lives through smartphones and online content that we are confronted with the increasing frequency of these questions. Digital pictures are confusing to decipher and interpret. It’s this uncertainty that I’m investigating.

To see more of Mark's work, please visit markzawatski.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago. Stacia is currently looking forward to creating a site-responsive collage installation in her hometown. NEXT: Emerging Virginia Artists opens on July 11, 2014 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News, VA.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Alexander DeMaria

Magazine Kora
Magazine rack, banjo strings, hand made magnetic pickup, hardware

Artist and musician ALEXANDER DEMARIA’s creative practice incorporates drawing, sound, sculpture, performance and cut paper. His intricately detailed two-dimensional works reference folklore and heavy metal culture, emphasizing an experience of adolescent escapism. In contradistinction, his recent instruments built from found objects and collaborative, improvisational performances using the instruments reveal a mature version of play, wonderment and imagination. Alexander received his MFA in painting from the Massachusetts College of Art in 2007. He has attended numerous artist residencies including The Wassaic Project in Wassaic, New York (2011), Sumu Artist Residency in Turku, Finland (2010) and Ox-bow School of Art in Saugatuck, Michigan (2009). Currently, he is in residence with his collaborator James Horgan at Raumars in Rauma, Finland until October 2013. Alexander lives and works in Providence, Rhode Island.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Music and sound are central to your art practice. Do you also have a formal music background or a music life that is separate from your art practice?

Alexander DeMaria: I have very little formal training in music, but I've played in bands for a long time, often with other visual artists and always—at least initially—as a distinct activity from our art practices.

The first real sound art project I did was Under the Same Shadow, an ongoing sound and installation collaboration with artist Owen Rundquist. The project is rooted in our mutual interest in mythology, cultural research and heavy metal. Our first exhibit was at Fountain Gallery in Brooklyn, and we have since done projects in Boston, Richmond, Virginia and at the Sumu Residency program in Turku, Finland.

We were very clear when we started the project that it was sound art, not a band (though we do now play in a band together). Middle Kingdom, another collaboration, began as a band. Jamie Horgan and I started making experimental noise music with some very basic electronics I was building: guitars, disembodied tape heads, toys, recorders, drums, scrap metal. . . really anything we could get our hands on. That project developed slowly into installation and it was only after a couple of years that we saw it as part of our art practice. Until October 2013, we’ll be in Rauma, Finland together, building instruments, constructing temporary performance spaces, organizing music shows and working with school groups on both instrument construction and musical performance.

Currently, I play in a black metal band with Owen called Anicon (along with Nolan Voss and Lev Weinstein) and record solo under the project name Ypotryll. I have an upcoming release on the Different Lands label. I also run a small cassette label myself called Mineral Tapes, which I use to publish small editions of experimental albums. I have tapes by Sashash Ulz and Invisible Path coming out very soon.

Installation with Owen Rundquist: wood, tile, stone, moss, electronics, radio, sound
75" x 116" x 86"

OPP: How do you define the difference between sound art made with musical instruments and music?

AD: I think it's mostly about the intended context and suitability of the actual recording or performance to that context. When Owen and I started making sound together, we knew that we wanted it to be experienced in a gallery or art space, not at a metal show. Even though the form of the sounds bears a very strong resemblance to more traditional musical forms, it was never intended to be experienced in traditional musical venues. By contrast, the kind of sounds that Jamie and I started with were very abstract, often droning, dissonant and noisy, but we initially intended to play them live at music events. In each case, we were looking for something unusual for the chosen context.

OPP: Your instruments made from found objects are beautiful as sculptures. Were they originally created to be played or displayed?

AD: The instruments were definitely always made to be played. Most of the Ypotryll recordings are done with these instruments. Some of them play better than others, but none of them is considered a finished piece until I've recorded some music with it.

Performance at Shoot the Lobster

OPP: When you perform publicly with these instruments, do you compose for them or is more improvisation? What do they sound like?

AD: Almost all the instruments are electric so I do use a number of effects pedals. This recording, made at a rehearsal for the performance Jamie Horgan and I did at Shoot the Lobster in New York, was made with the Yellow Two Neck, the Nomad, the Reverb Drum and the amplified Kalimba. I play everything live and use a loop pedal to layer up the sounds in real time; there’s no over-dubbing or anything. It's a really good representation of the live sound.

Also, in the photos of this particular performance you can see a group of people standing around me holding hands. The Nomad is a touch sensitive keyboard, so skin contact between the little bolts and the bike spoke at the bottom produces a note. For the performance, wires ran from the instrument to the audience. When the audience members linked hands one by one they built a big droning chord that started the set.

As for composition, I usually have a trajectory in mind for a performance and maybe some sounds that I know I want to hear, but everything is ultimately an improvisation.

OPP: What's it like to play them?

AD: Each instrument is pretty idiosyncratic. Because they're all found objects and kind of scrapped together, learning to play them is really interesting. I always think I know what it will sound like, but I'm almost always wrong. If I'm disappointed by some aspect of the sound I thought I'd find, I'm usually pleasantly surprised by something else I didn't expect.

Portraits of Pain
Cut Paper
78"x 36"

OPP: The motifs of ritual, folklore and heavy metal permeate your work, connecting the music and performance to the visual work. Many of your drawings evoke album cover art. Skulls and burial-related structures appear repeatedly, representing rituals related to death. It got me thinking of rituals associated with music. For example, the ritual of listening to a breakup song on repeat is a way to process loss. And going to a huge, blockbuster concert is as much about being connected to the other fans as it is about listening to the music. Is a jam session a contemporary ritual? 

AD: Music is connected to tons of contemporary rituals, both private and public, from listening to it in our homes to playing it on stage. The imagery in some of the drawings and especially in the work from Under the Same Shadow is definitely trying to identify some of those small rituals and relate them to specific, older cultural references like burial poles or saunas, for example. That being said, the word "ritual" has recently been over-used, particularly amongst metal bands. It seems to be used simply for dramatic effect or it is often confused with pagan or new age cliches that rob it of its power.

OPP: I know what you mean about words being over-used—and often mis-used!—but I’m also a believer that things become cliché because they are universal, because as humans we need to experience them over and over again. The cliché is a site of a shared human experience. But that’s my interpretation. I’d love to hear in your words what you love about music and why it is such a big part of your life.

AD: I agree, cliches exist for a reason and often do get at something really universal. And really, although the word gets bandied about too much, all music is a kind of ritual. There's no need to burn sage or wear a mask to make it so. I think that actually gets to your question about music for me personally. I really enjoy making all kinds of things: art, music, furniture, dinner. . . that "ritual" of creation is the most pleasurable part for me. The time that's spent working on something and figuring it out is often much more important than the finished product; sometimes it's really more beautiful. With music, that creative moment can be the entire thing and the recording, (if there is one) is simply a record of the action. Whether improvising or playing something composed, there is something fragile and uncertain about creating music that I really love.

Ink on Paper

OPP: The Forest in the Basement (2010), a series of densely-detailed ink drawings, seems to be about cycles of death and rebirth. The title evokes for me the image of a fertile, untethered wildness growing in a contained space where it shouldn't be able to grow. At first it seems awesome; then it seems sad because maybe the forest will die in the basement where there is no sunlight. Will you pick your favorite piece from this series and talk about how it relates to the title and to your overarching intentions in this body of work?

AD: The Forest in the Basement for me refers to the growth of a young person's imagination in an environment that might not be the most inspiring. The forest is a place of enchantment, magic and endless possibility and the basement refers to the spaces were I would hangout as a kid. My family had a finished room in the basement which was always where the kids would go to play, so that's part of the imagery. But I also used to love digging through attics and basements for lost treasures, which is another part of the reference. Finally, a lot of the music I've been involved with also takes place at basement shows which was a part of my thinking in the title.

Fantasy has been important to me since I was very young. In both art and music, I tend to make things that allow me to escape reality. The drawings in this series are about creating a world that I would have loved as a teenager but can still return to again and again as an adult. In a number of the drawings characters are built of many small things or have rooms hidden in their clothing. Each character's "inner bits" have a mood and feeling that represent for me that more complex network of feelings and ideas that surround the larger theme. In Age Old Hymns, for example, the character represents an adolescent image of a goddess of sex and death in a variety of really obvious ways but also in the endless maze of rooms that make up her structure. She is church-like, baroquely complicated and full of small surprises. So while the nude breasts and corpse paint have their role in setting the theme for the drawing, my hope is that all the tiny details allow the viewer to share in the intricate web of associations—desire, mystery, guilt, wonderment—that go along with that fantasy. I hope in this drawing, as in the whole series, that there is some feeling of the adolescent fantasy, and also of my adult reflections on the psychology of that fantasy and on act of imagination itself. But that feels like a really dry, academic way to put it. . . Really, I just hope people will get lost in this world with me.

To see more of Alexander's work, please visit www.alexanderdemaria.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and spiritual significance of repetition in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her work is on view through September 2013 in Abstracting the Seam (Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago), and she has two upcoming solo exhibitions: I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (Klemm Gallery, Adrian, Michigan) in November 2013 and Right Here, Right Now (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.