OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Loren Erdrich

The Gatherer, 2019. Watercolor and acrylic on ceramic. 4.5" x 3" x 3.75"

Water, with its soft, flexible and incisive power, is a primary material in the work of LOREN ERDRICH. She surrenders to the fluidity of raw pigments and watercolor on silk, canvas and paper in figurative works that seek to blur the boundaries between inside and outside, self and other, pleasure and pain. Loren earned her BFA at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and her MFA at Burren College of Art, National University of Ireland. In 2020, her work has been included in Mirror Eye at Ortega y Gasset Projects and Spill Over at The Delaware Contemporary. Loren has been an artist-in-residence at Jentel Foundation (Wyoming), Santa Fe Art Institute (New Mexico), Art Farm (Nebraska) and Sculpture Space (New York). Loren lives and works in New York, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: In your artist statement, you wrote that water is “the ultimate disobeyer of boundaries.” Please tell our readers why water is such a dominant force in your practice.

Loren Erdrich: I have an innate attraction water—it’s figured large in my dream life since I was a child. I've always understood and respected its immense power. As a medium, I think the draw has to do with its resistance to control. When a medium is harder to control, I am forced to remain looser, which in turn allows space for the magic of unintentional movements to occur.  Its resistance of perfection, tightness and mastery is invaluable to me. I love how it can be both hard and powerful, and soft and giving, and that it is comfortable in that duality. 

Me And You At The End Of The World, 2019. Water and raw pigment on muslin. 20" x 24."

OPP: Can you talk about the balance of control and surrender when working with watercolor? This also seems to be content on your work.

LE: At some point in my practice I began to realize that the qualities I valued in a medium mirrored what I sought as content. People would ask me what my work was about and to answer I would launch into an explanation of the way raw pigments and dye behave when mixed just with water. I fell in love with how unstable it all seemed, how I would have to corral the water, pigment and dye and coax them into recognizable forms. And that even after hours of coaxing I always had to submit to the natural drying process that occurred and shaped the final product. I felt as though I continually straddled control and mayhem, that at any minute it could teeter one way or the other. This mirrored my content. I have always sought out that moment in a transition or a transformation, when instead of being one thing, or the other, you are both. And that space of both is often gorgeously wild and powerful. It's not a comfortable space. It's messy. It's a merging point. Instead of the either/or, it's the and. It's a space that has the power to topple a world of pre-fixed categories and societal rules.

Go Away, 2018. Raw pigment and acrylic on canvas. 12" x 16"

OPP: The facial expressions on your figures are ambiguous: they may be in the throws of orgasm or they may be in intense physical pain. What’s the relationship between sexuality and suffering in your work?

LE: There was a while when I searched for that ambiguous expression; I wanted to see in others what it looked like to teeter between control and mayhem. I found this expression most readily in images of orgasm and pain, but it also appears when you laugh so hard you cry, or even when you sleep. I was looking for moments of release, when for once you are not in control of yourself, because control is impossible. As for a relationship between sexuality and suffering, as a woman in my 20s and early 30s, sexual imagery was the best way to translate my internal experience onto a page. It encompassed all the pleasure, shame, and pain I felt growing up. To me the images were about power, conflict, a search for freedom and a space to let go. The work was always about an internal landscape, an emotional language that I hoped someone else would understand. At some point sexuality became less of a primary focus in my imagery. To be sure it is still present, but now the work appears less driven by one's relationship to another, and more about one's relationship to a larger environment. 

I Give Birth To Myself, 2018. Ceramics and string. 2.5" x 2.75" x 3.25"

OPP: Talk to us about your tiny ceramic sculptures. What do these sculptures do that the 2D works don’t?

LE: I think of the tiny sculptures as 3D paintings.  I do them when the 2D work seems momentarily impossible.  I often repeat imagery that already exists in a painting or drawing. The sculptures hold space differently. With them it is less about looking at something as a spectator, and more about living in its world. In this way I think they open up another doorway into my work. Their small size may make them more easily approachable, perhaps more accessible. I know for me, as the maker, the combination of material and size allows me to take them less seriously, which I view as a positive thing.  

Me, Myself, Pretending Not To See, 2019. water, raw pigment, dye, ink and watercolor on canvas. 48" x 36"

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

LE: I’m in NYC. A few days before the order to shelter in place came out I began carrying art supplies with me when I went home. I chose colored pencils, watercolor crayons, some ink and drawing paper—things that were mobile and light. Drawing isn't usually a regular part of my practice, but I began drawing. There was so much panic, so much unknown everywhere, that I was actually able to access a sense of freedom when I began to work. I didn't ask myself what it meant or how these drawings fit into the rest of my work; instead I focused on the pleasure of the material. Of course I've inevitably ended up working with my usual themes, though I've mostly returned to an internal emotional landscape. I live in Manhattan, and my studio is in Brooklyn so I can ride my bike to my studio. I'm incredibly grateful for this. For days that have been poor weather or that I have felt particularly affected by the world's situation, I have carved out a small area at home to work in. I've been calling the drawings Isolation Drawings. Of course I didn't think I'd be drawing for this long. As the months go on, and I continue to work with this medium I've begun to understand that this experience will have a permanent effect on my practice.  

To see more of Loren's work, please visit www.okloren.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), Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019), and Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan 2020). Under Illinois' Shelter-in-Place order, Stacia has returned to remix video as a relevant and accessible medium and will exhibit an updated version of Solace Supercut in the window of Riverside Arts Center FlexSpace. Towards Luminescence: Radiant Frisson | Solace Supercut: a two-part exhibition featuring work by Chicago artists Mayumi Lake and Stacia Yeapanis runs from  May 18 – June 26, 2020.


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 Natalie Hunter

Installation view of Billows and Breathing Spaces2019. At Centre 3 for Artistic and Social Practice. Photo Credit: Andrew Butkevicius

In an era when most people only encounter photography on their digital devices, NATALIE HUNTER reminds us of the physicality of photography. But she doesn't rely on the conventions of prints framing and hanging on the wall to do it. Instead, she combines the intangible staples of film exposure—light and time—with the material aspects of sculpture. She prints on transparent film and silk, folding and bending images, pinning them to the wall in undulating waves and draping them over wood and metal and plexiglass structures. Natalie holds a BA in Visual Art with a Concentration in Curatorial Studies from Brock University and an MFA from the University of Waterloo. She was awarded a Canada Council for the Arts Research and Creation Grant in 2018 and Ontario Arts Council Creation Project Grants in 2018 and 2019. In 2019, she mounted two solo exhibitions: Staring into the sun, curated by Marcie Bronson, at Rodman Hall Art Centre (St. Catharines, Ontario) and Sensations of breathing at the sound of light at Factory Media Centre 9 (Hamilton, Ontario). Her work was also included in the group show Shaping Time (2019) at Latcham Art Centre (Stouffville, Ontario). Natalie’s solo exhibition Billows and Breathing Spaces (2020) Just opened at Centre 3 For Artistic and Social Practice in Hamilton, Ontario and will be on view through March 5. Natalie lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

OtherPeoplesPixels: It’s rare that your images are framed and hung on the wall in a conventional way. Why do you work with photography as sculpture?

Natalie Hunter: I very much look at photographs as material fluid things that are tangible objects vulnerable to the elements. There is an element of stillness in sculpture and photography that speaks to the present moment, but also the past. The negative and positive aspects of photography mirror that of sculpture and casting. Both are traces,  just in different ways.

I’m interested in the spaces we create for ourselves, both physical and psychological in nature and how they shape memory and lived experience. I entered grad school as a sculptor and started taking digital imaging and film studies courses. Working on images through the screen became incredibly frustrating for me. I would often go to the library and print transparencies of images I wanted to work with because it was cheaper than printing snapshots. But I soon found they were really lovely to work with and handle in my hands. To fold, curl, layer, arrange them on a light box or the surface of a projector. They spoke more to material process and making with my hands. I knew I wanted to eventually make my images more sculptural and scale them up. Ever since, I’ve been trying to work my way out from the wall into three-dimensional space and make images a physical, experiential encounter.

Helios (2019) Hand applied window film, light. Interior day view. Photo credit: Jimmy Limit

OPP: Can you tell us a bit about your process? How does the moment of exposure relate to the installation? Are these disconnected parts of the process?

NH: The starting point for most of my work boils down to light and time and their psychological, emotive, and material influences on space. For the past 6 or 7 years, I’ve been layering images through multiple exposures and by layering transparent photographs to make new images. This act of layering both inside and outside of the camera transcends logical ideas of time. I use colour filters, sometimes hand-made ones, to bring attention to the layers and reveal process. They separate different moments of time and leave clues as to how the images were made. And they introduce an element of chance. They affect the way light enters the camera. I never really know what the image will look like until the film gets developed.

Once the image exists outside of the camera and becomes a physical thing, I consider the exhibition space as an element of the work. Often, the pieces change when they are installed a second or third time or from my studio to the gallery space. I need to do site visits, and I usually respond in an emotive way that speaks to a unique characteristic of a space in order to converse with it. Memory plays a big part in this. I hope to produce a kind of encounter between viewer and work that elicits memory or a sensorial response.

The sun's rays do not burn until brought to a focus (2017) Giclee print on transparent film, poplar, sunlight. various dimensions. print: 12" x 50"

OPP: How do materiality and immateriality intersect in your work?

NH: My work hovers between materiality and immaterially like most of our experiences. I use translucent and semi-translucent materials—transparent film, backlight film and silk—to manifest ephemeral, immaterial concepts like time, memory, space, light, air, breath in material ways. The physical aspects produce immaterial encounters. I use light in the exposure of my images, but also in the installation within the exhibition space. For me, light is quite kinetic. . . or it makes the work kinetic through the passage of time. 

Light is fundamental to photographic processes, and its manipulation is a material process in my work. Light is intangible, like time and memory, and it affects physical spaces. Natural light is always changing, while artificial light is static. These differences produce both stillness and subtle motion in my work. For example, my transparent film works produce latent imagery within a space when they are lit. They behave in a kinetic way when exposed to natural light, and a rather still way when illuminated with traditional gallery track lightning.

Songs of May (foreground), The sky seemed to fold in ribbons of palest sunlight, 2019.

OPP: In your recent work Breathing Spaces (2019), you printed on silk charmeuse for the first time. What led you to print on fabric instead of transparent film for the various Billows sculptures?

NH: During the opening of my solo show Staring into the sun (2019) at Rodman Hall last year, a visitor commented that, despite my works being on transparent film, they seemed to contain a kind of weight, almost like fabric. I was able to unintentionally fool a viewer into touching the work, thinking they were experiencing textile pieces, when in actuality it was a combination of the transparent photograph and it’s latent copy. This interested me a lot in terms of my investigations into perception, memory, and experience. The physicality of the work led a viewer to think they were looking at a different material. I decided to test the material properties of fabric in relation to light and to space. 

Billows, two breaths at dusk (2019) Archival pigment prints on 12.5mm silk charmeuse draped over hand shaped copper, hardware, maple, light. 34" x 52" each print, installation dimensions variable. Studio view.

OPP: Is this a new direction?

NH: I wouldn’t say that it’s a new direction in the sense that I’m abandoning my process working with light and transparent film. I see these explorations with silk as another dimension of what I’m already doing, folding space and time outside of the camera. The silk has different physical properties and absorbs light in a different way. When illuminated, the back becomes a diffused mirror image. Transparent film produces latent imagery. The silk drapes instead of folds, and you can see your body through it when draping it over your hand, for example. All of these materials and explorations are related. I was lucky to receive Ontario Arts Council Grants and A Canada Council for the Arts Research and Creation Grant, which allowed me to test new materials and experiment. I’ve made some of the largest transparent film pieces I’ve ever made, tested how images behave on silk, and worked with colour films and resins as both sculptural and image materials. Some of the large transparent pieces and works on silk are on view at Centre 3 for Artistic and Social Practice in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada from February 6 - March 5.

To Breathe Light 2/4 (2019) Archival pigment prints on backlight film mounted in double sided custom floor light box (plexiglass, poplar, LED lighting, hardware). 36" x 24" x 5"

OPP: Can you talk about abstraction versus legibility of the image?

NH: Over time my work has become more abstract. Photography has a history of being mistaken for truth. The processes and materials I am working with are true, and yet they produce something more abstract than what we would consider truth in experience. I’m really interested in the exploratory, transformative power of materials to translate everyday experiences. Memory is just as important as breathing in our human experience, and I’m interested in exploring how that manifests and transforms through time. We are all unconsciously shaped by the spaces we inhabit on a daily basis, and I know that my work is often influenced by the spaces where I spend the most time. Space is something psychological just as much as it is physical, and I want to explore both of these aspects of space in my work. 

Dappled (2019) Archival inkjet prints on backlight film draped over custom poplar and aluminum sculptures. Approximately 24" x 60" x 36" each.

OPP: I appreciate the materiality of your sculptures, especially since its rare that I see a physical photograph anymore. Has your work changed in relation to not just the emergence of digital cameras, but specifically in relation to the pervasiveness of smart phone cameras, selfies and Instagram?

NH: As an artist and educator I’m constantly grappling with the immaterial digital world we find ourselves in. I question why I make photo-based work in an age when we are so saturated and bombarded with images on a daily basis. Do I really want to add to that massive pool of images? What makes mine different? I rarely take selfies and use social media largely for circulating my art practice. For the past six or seven years, I’ve been teaching a university online digital imaging course to upwards of 250 students per term. It’s a real challenge teaching through a screen and constantly being available to students. I’m acutely aware of screens and my time with them. Truthfully I’m frustrated with them. It’s important for me to use my hands and make material work, and I’m interested in pushing my work further into the sculptural realm. 

It’s rare that we encounter a physical image anymore. I wonder how much of our memories are made up of actual experiences, or streams of images we consume in our daily lives. I want my work to be experiential and challenge the boundaries between the pictorial and physical worlds we live in. I find my more recent work makes use of both film and digital cameras. For a while I couldn’t afford a a good quality digital camera to make the images that I wanted. So I used medium format film. I still use film, but lately I’ve been using both media while layering within the camera, and I’m interested in combining them in a body of work. Both have their positives and limitations.

To see more of Natalie's work, please visit natalie-hunter.com

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist  Stacia Yeapanis.  When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations.  She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018) and Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019). Her work was recently included in the three-person show Manifestations at One After 909 (Chicago). Stacia's solo exhibition The Thin Line Between One Thing and Another just opened on January 16, 2020 at Finlandia University.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Judith Brotman

Because the Object Was of an Amicable Nature (Unless and Until Backed Into a Corner) (left) and Because the Object Spoke Both Harshly and Adoringly of You (But Never in Your Presence or Above a Whisper) (right) (2019). Mixed media.

JUDITH BROTMAN's interdisciplinary practice revolves around text, material and process. All of these are employed in the act of inquiry into the complex nature of a human life. In awkwardly elegant installations and precarious sculptures, she cultivates an aura of uncertainty and a poignant combination of anxiety and confusion with touches of resilient optimism. Her text pieces, most recently created for the context of Instagram, and audio works that address the viewer in the second-person balance the fantastical with the mundane, encouraging the viewer to think more deeply about their own, often conflicting, motivationsJudith earned both her BFA and MFA from School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her work is included in the public collections of the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), Illinois State Museum (Chicago) and the Joan Flasch Artists' Book Collection (Chicago). In 2019, Judith's work was included in A Creep that Snakes: A Tic of Words and Symbolsa two-person show with Dutes Miller and curated by Scott Hunter (Tiger Strikes Asteroid, Chicago) and Breach of Contractcurated by Paul Hopkins (Heaven Gallery, Chicago). In May 2020, her work will be included in a group show at Heaven Gallery, curated by Lauren Ike. Judith lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You gravitate towards recognizable objects one might buy at a hardware or drug store—bungee cords, wire, napkins, plastic tubing—as well as objects that look like they were once part of some functioning system. What draws you to these materials?

Judith Brotman: The work I have on my OPP website goes back about 15 years. Throughout this time, I have gravitated toward humble and/or useful materials. A very incomplete list includes such things as dead leavesbook pages, thread, wire, paper, napkins, tissues, and—as you mentioned—hardware store objects.    

As I am inordinately unhandy, I rarely know the actual functions of the hardware store objects when I purchase them. I simply gravitate to shapes, textures, colors that interest me and whose uses might be loosely implied. I believe there is a unique, visceral response to seeing something even vaguely familiar: objects that refer in some way to a lived life. Everyone recognizes a napkin and its function; I’m interested both in working with AND subverting the original function. 

I frequently combine like and unlike materials. In some of my sculpture pieces, I hope to convince the audience, even for a moment, that the transition from one material to the next is a natural one—especially when it is not! The possibility of a transformative experience is part of the content of my work, and I use material shifts/transformations as a metaphor for that.

Because Just East of Heaven is Somewhere Else (2019). Mixed media. Dimensions variable.

OPP: Have your material choices changed over the years?

JB: In more recent work (the past 3 to 5 years), my material choices have become increasingly specific. I’ve been working a lot with tissues—unused! The first two pieces that incorporated them were titled Kleenex (highly embellished) From My Mother's Funeral and Strange Object Purchased on My Last Day in Vienna and Kleenex (embellished) From My Therapist's Office. The tissues were embellished with sequins and beads and combined with other objects. Since then, I’ve been asking certain people, usually close friends, if they will give me tissues to be used in my work. I think of these tissues as carriers of the giver’s emotions; that aspect is very important to me. 

Embellishment is meant to decorate and add weight/meaning to what is considered to be a highly disposable object. On the other hand, I also consider it to be a rather absurd and compulsive gesture to heavily embellish something as fragile and disposable as a tissue; they are among my most labored pieces, although I am aware they won’t last very long. Often the tissues begin to shred even as I am working on them. Much of my work doesn’t survive more than one or two showings. I am very interested in the ephemeral and this, too, impacts my material choices.

Highly embellished Kleenex with just enough space left to absorb nine tears (2019).

OPP: I also notice a lot of wrapping, winding and twisting in wound strips of paperFrench knotstwisted wire and knotted thread. Why these actions over and over again? Do you see these actions as metaphors?

JB: I do see these actions as metaphors—even multiple metaphors. It’s important in my work to include these stitches, twists, etc., as evidence of the maker’s hand and the process of making. In past work—larger installations—the winding and twisting were often structural, used as a joining mechanism. Lately the repetitive marks have become increasingly decorative in the form of sequins, beads and stitches. I also use these repetitive gestures as a nod toward the passage of time.

Untitled (The Odyssey) (2016). All the pages of Homer's "The Odyssey"-stitched & altered. Dimensions variable.

OPP: In your statement, you speak of the “space of not knowing.” Your visual language “suggests the unfinished or incomplete, and might evoke the question, ‘What happens next?’”  How do viewers respond to “the resulting cliffhanger of uncertainty?”

JB: That’s a great question. I’m not sure that anyone, including me, loves uncertainty. Many of us try very hard to think and even construct ways to believe certainty exists. But as far as I know, it does not. I think one can develop a tolerance for not knowing or uncertainty, and I believe it makes for a richer, more complex life. 

My work has increasingly taken on a political stance. I’ve always considered my work a kind of meditation on who and what can be known, understood, undertaken and even accomplished in the context of a lifetime. In recent years, the distinction between the personal and political has blurred for me, and I see all of it as uncertain AND interrelated. 

Slow Time (2016). Mixed Media. Dimensions variable

OPP: I’m surprised to hear you use the word “political” in relation to your work, but I think I know what you mean. The inherent uncertainly of life has become more glaringly obvious in today’s political landscape. And, of course, the personal is political. Is self-reflection a political act?

JB: I'm not interested in telling people what to think as I don't believe that it serves much purpose in any real way. But I do feel that paying close attention to what/how one thinks has the capacity to impact all aspects of a lived life. . . personal & social/political. The fundamental question driving all my work is: How do you commit to the things that matter most (relationships, profession, social/political/ethical beliefs) in an uncertain world? I have more questions than answers, but a partial response is that ongoing self-reflection can be a way of better knowing ourselves and our very complicated and precarious motivations.  

The possibility, as opposed to the certainty, of transformation is also, as I mentioned, an important aspect of my work. Self-reflection, very careful listening to others, and an openness to uncertainty are pathways to transformation. 

I have been asked on occasion if I’m interested in resolving and/or concluding. I am not. My perspective is that as long as we’re breathing, we’re in flux. That is both the good and the bad news. It’s pretty great that we have the opportunity to revise and rethink over the course of an entire lifetime. But expecting our most tenaciously held beliefs will serve us well forever can be a dangerous game. 

Instagram post, 2019

OPP: You’ve worked with text for a long time in a variety of ways. For at least a year, if not more, I’ve been seeing your multiple-choice napkins in my Instagram feed, which is a refreshing pause in the stream of images. Can you talk about your choice to write in the second person?

JB: I write in the second person in most of my text-based work, including older audio pieces in which I narrate a series of mini-fictions about what will happen to “you.” I write this way as means of seeming to speak directly to each individual person in the audience.  

The multiple-choice format on the napkins implies that a response is called for with each post. I do think about the multiplicity of 'you's (friends, colleagues, students, strangers) as I write for Instagram, even though I have no idea who will be reading any particular post. I am aware of the fact that some of my close friends will read this work very differently than a total stranger might because the line is blurred between my life and a fictional persona I’ve created. 

Life In Progress (2019). Napkin, sequins

OPP: Has Instagram changed the way you think about text?

JB: Instagram has changed a lot of my thinking— period!  No one would ever recognize this from my many (many many) posts, but I have been ambivalent about it from the start. I am more interested in work that is processed slowly over time. And I have similar feelings about life; understanding is something that takes time and evolves slowly over the course of a lifetime, and only with a commitment to self-reflection. Instagram is, of course, largely the opposite: instantaneous, quickly digested and then forgotten. New and different tends to rule on social media.  

Initially, like many artists, I was posting images of my work and life. But about two years ago, I began posting the napkins. Many of the questions and answers are darkly funny and quite a few are also on the personal side. I truly had no expectations about whether or not people would respond. In fact, I most likely would have predicted they would not, perhaps because in similar circumstance, I probably would not respond. (The secret is out!) I have been amazed and actually quite moved at the number of people who have responded and consistently respond. Posting on Instagram continues to feel very experimental to me because I’m typically unable to predict what people will respond to most. I feel as if Instagram has made me braver and has encouraged me to dig deeper within THIS body of work, as the posts that are the most raw seem to get the best response. 

Instagram post, 2019

OPP: Do you create work just for Instagram?

JB: My current Instagram work (short texts written on my hands) is only meant for Instagram; I have no interest in showing it elsewhere. This is actually the first time I’ve felt that a body of work is ONLY meant for that format. Sometimes I try to push my own boundaries and post something I anticipate will not get a positive response.  My success rate of predicting is very low. 

When I talk about looking for responses to my text posts on Instagram, I’m not referring to a wish to be “liked.”  (Which, of course, we all do to some extent!)  But these posts, as opposed to most other work I do, have a performative or call/response aspect to them, and I’m very interested in seeing how far and where this interaction can go!   

My Instagram posts are, in many ways, a critique of social media even while being a part of it. I believe social media does indeed serve a useful function. But I am critical of how it overshadows real life interactions. I enjoy much that I see on Instagram and Facebook. I appreciate the opportunity to celebrate my friends’ good news and successes and to respond when something sad is posted. But I also grow weary of the posts that serve no function other than over-the-top narcissism, proclaiming a charmed existence that none of us actually inhabit. I question the “social” function of these posts. Admittedly, social media is addictive, and I spend much more time on it than I ever dreamed I would.  

Instagram feed, 2019.

OPP: I keep trying to come up with a phrase to describe the nature of the text: playful musing, philosophical inquiry, mindful observation, stream of consciousness, mindless chatter brought about by boredom.

JB: Terrific list! The only one that doesn’t personally resonate is mindless chatter brought about by boredom; I’m almost never bored. I do mean for my writing to have a humorous component, but I’m also extremely serious about the work. In that sense, philosophical inquiry is the closest to what I consider the heart of the work.  

The humor and play are ways to catch your interest. I often give away the napkins as gifts at exhibitions. I feel that if I’m really asking someone to consider and reconsider their thinking, then perhaps there should be something gifted to them in exchange. I’m not sure that any one or two napkins or texts give a strong sense of what the inquiry is or where it’s headed. That’s why the Instagram format is particularly useful for this body of work. Over time the dark humor becomes more pointed and so does the thrust toward self-scrutiny. It also becomes clearer over time and many napkins that no singular answer is ever sufficient. We are much too complex for that. 

Instagram post, 2019

OPP: In each of these, I imagine you simply jotting down your thoughts. Do you carefully craft the texts in your work or do you think them and record?  

JB: The extent of crafting depends upon which of my text-based works we’re discussing. I spend the longest time crafting and revising my audio pieces. In works like As the Story Opens and The 93 Days of Summer, I narrate how life will unfold for “you.” These are focused on uncertainty with mundane, spectacular and unsettling events transpiring over time. All the while, you are encouraged to pay careful attention despite the chaos and randomness. I have spent up to a year or more on these pieces, longer than almost any sculpture installation I’ve created. Certainly, the napkins and other Instagram pieces do not involve anywhere near this kind of revision. But I do spend more time with them than one might assume. They are meant to appear spontaneous and automatic, as if I couldn’t get my thoughts out quickly enough.  

I do, in fact, write a lot. Often my morning coffee is accompanied by jotting down whatever I’m thinking about. . . unedited. Some of this writing is kept and revised but much of it is thrown away at the end of the day. The reality is that there’s an enormous difference between my stream-of-consciousness writing and anything that’s shown or posted. Much more so than in my 3D work, I think about the reader quite a bit as I write.  

I see text having various and slightly different roles in each of my current bodies of work. Titles have become increasingly important to me, so much so that I consider them as important as the images/objects. Recent installation titles such as The Ghosts From Your Past Will Be Late For Dinner (but may be on time for other meals and activities) and Because Certainty (having no tongue) Couldn't (exactly) Say clearly give an enormous amount of direction for understanding the work. 

My Instagram post today was three words written on a napkin in cursive with a Sharpie: "Can you talk.” Yes, people seemed to like it. The question is: am I making inroads into real communication or going straight down the slippery slope I’m so adamantly against?  To be continued. . .

To see more of Judith's work, please visit www.judithbrotman.com and her Instagram @judithbrotman.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist  Stacia Yeapanis.  When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations.  She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006. Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan, 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis, 2017), Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018) and Kent State Stark (North Canton, 2019). Her work was recently included in the three-person show Manifestations at One After 909 (Chicago). Stacia's solo exhibition The Thin Line Between One Thing and Another opens on January 16, 2020.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Leah Bailis

Untitled Mask, Leah Bowery Mask, Untitled Mask, all 2017. 11" x 8" each.

LEAH BAILIS' work creates meaning through an intersection of materiality, humor and textual reference. She alludes to fictional characters and famous creatives in sculptures and fiber-based works that explore the human impulse to adorn oneself. Masks, embellished clothing, accessories and wigs, all of which can transform and empower the wearer. Leah earned her BFA in Film at Bard College in 1998 and her MFA in Studio Art at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill in 2005. She has exhibited at MASS Gallery (2013), Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts (2012), Hopkins Hall Gallery, Ohio State University (2010), Lump Gallery (2010) and the Philadelphia International Airport (2008), to name a few. Her numerous solo shows at Vox Populi Gallery (Philadelphia) include Hold Me (2012), Magical Thinking (2010) and Demo (2009). Her focus of late hasn't been exhibiting work. Her two daughters, born 2016 and 2018, are her recent successes. Leah lives and works in the Philadelphia area.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Let’s talk first about the recurring subject of the house/home in your early work made with cardboard. How did your favored material relate to the content of these sculptures?

Leah Bailis: When I first started making the houses I was using photos of houses in North Carolina—where I was living at the time—as my source and wood as my material. I liked the warmth of the wood against the cool white exteriors and the tension that created. I started using cardboard for a few reasons.  It felt like a good way to show the disposable nature of the new construction I was starting to reference. It helped convey a certain fragility. . . that the walls that I built could be easily torn down, that an imposing presence was actually the thinnest of facades. The chainlink fence cage I made could have easily been torn apart. I also thought it was funny, in a pretty formal way, that something so heavy could been made of something so light.

Fence (detail), 2007. Cardboard, paint. 39" x 36" x 30"

OPP: You’ve used your links page to offer us clips for the cinematic references in many of your works from around 2010-2013. I’m thinking of works like The Resurrection of Inger (From Carl Theodor Dreyer's Ordet)Self Portrait as Dirk Bogarde as Gustav von Aschenbach (From Luchino Visconti's Death in Venice) and BEFORE WE LEFT (BADLANDS).

LB: I added these links to film clips because they were specific sources of inspiration for pieces I have made. I studied and made film in undergraduate school. When I finished school I left with a strong love for the medium as a viewer and an understanding that I wasn't cut out to make films of my own. There are certain cinematic moments that have stuck with me over many years and I decided to try to visually interpret my experience of watching these scenes. I titled all of the pieces to clearly connect them to the moments I was describing. I didn't want to be obscure. I also wanted to lead the viewer to the films that are so important to me. 

Self Portrait as Dirk Bogarde as Gustav von Aschenbach (From Luchino Visconti's Death in Venice), 2010. Digital prints. Each 16 3/4" x 12 1/2"

OPP: What gets you about these films in particular?

LB: The resurrection scene in Dreyer's Ordet made me weep audibly the first time I saw it. It also reminded me of a zombie movie. It was beautiful, strange, austere, and magical. The final scenes of Visconti's Death in Venice are so moving. The protagonist gets a make-over to try to make himself appear younger for the beautiful boy Tadzio, the object of his desire. The results are clownish, and as he follows Tadzio around the hot, Plague-infested city, his new black hair dye mixes with sweat and drips down his face. The film images are filled with death, failure, and longing for youth and beauty. A friend of mine drew my attention to the scene in Malick's Badlands where Kit shoots a football.  The football doesn't deflate, so he kicks it flat. It was a funny moment that reveals a fragility of the persona Kit has created for himself. He is acting out being a man. 

Magic Mountain, 2010. Sequins on felt. 27" x 18 1/2"

OPP: How do you think about the film-related sculptures as a group? Is it important that we think of them in relation to one another or only to their sources?

LB: There are certain groupings that are important. Magic MountainOrdet, and Death in Venice pieces were shown together and relate closely. Magic Mountain is a reference to an excerpt from Thomas Mann's book. He used the phrase Field of Dreams to describe the magic of the projected film image. I sewed the phrase with sequins in order to make a tangible representation of the grainy, flickering, projected film frame. The themes of death and longing in the other two pieces and my attempts to make concrete these fleeting filmic moments, relate back to the sequin piece. 

Another grouping that is important to me is My Kuchar, Starring and EphemeraMy Kuchar is a bath mat monument to the (now) late, great filmmaker George Kuchar. There is a moment in his film Hold Me While I'm Naked—a film in which he plays a filmmaker trying to make a film, but all of his actors abandon him—where he comes out of the shower wrapped in a bathrobe, towel turban on head. He is part aging starlet, part Rodin's Balzac, part misunderstood auteur, part overgrown child. The other pieces are imagined detritus of the life that I imagine for Kuchar's character. Ephemera is a flowered long underwear top that I've worn since I was a kid. I embellished it with gold sequins, studs and other shiny things. I imagined his character wearing this shirt under his clothes or alone in his room in his mother's apartment.  Starring  is a scrap of paper I imagined the character carrying in his pocket, repeatedly opening it to read its inspirational message, then returning it to his pocket.

My Kuchar, 201. Bath mats, plaster, styrofoam.

OPP: Would it be going too far to talk about these sculptures as fan art? I should make clear that fan art is not a denigrating term for me, although I acknowledge that many people might sneer at it. I’m very interested in fan art as a creative, engaged way of comprehending the texts we love. It emphasizes the ways that viewers of film and television are not simply passive observers.

LB: It's totally fair to be talking about my work as fan art! And not just of films.  Blue Angel and Ain't Got No/I Got are portraits of Roy Orbison and Nina Simone, respectively. They are attempts to show how much, and specifically how I love both of them as musicians and people. Re-Buiding and Corner are fan art for Gordon Matta Clark. In the end, the work is as much about the sources of inspiration as my own experience being inspired.

AIN'T GOT NO/I GOT (NINA), 2012.

OPP: Since 2015, you’ve been making masks. Before we talk about the specifics, what does the form of the mask mean to you generally? What led you to start making this series?

LB: The masks function in different ways for me. Some are protective, offering a way to watch the world without being seen. Some are transformative, an empowering way to create one's own image. Some of the masks I imagine as a destruction of the wearer’s face. I have been working with these ideas long before I started making literal masks. I even think of the small houses I made as mask-like, deadpan with with window eyes, belying the domestic drama of the house. The series of denim masks I made came out of an invitation to be part of a project for which I would have to make 50 objects. I decided instead of making literal multiples, I would give myself the framework of the denim mask to play with. I had to produce them quickly, which freed me up to improvise. It was a new way of working for me, and I really enjoyed the process.  While some of the masks came from specific sources or ideas, others are intuitive.

Untitled mask, 2017. denim, pyramid studs. 11" x 8"

OPP: Can you talk about the relationship between the simple, almost crude fabric bases and your very labored embellishment with beads, stitch or sequins?

LB: A number of years ago, I had the opportunity to see an exhibition of the Gee's Bend quilts. I was really moved by the way well-worn clothing was used in the quilts. The wear on the fabric made the the pieces so personal, connecting back to the physical life of the wearer. The Quilt Mask I made was inspired by the Gee's Bend quilters. I made it out of faded black t-shirts, mostly my own. Hand-sewing the pieces of t-shirt together, was a way to honor the well-worn t-shirt. 

Embellishment was a strategy I used with earlier clothing pieces. With Ephemera, the piece about George Kuchar, and Failure, I was thinking about motorcycle jackets—more specifically the jacket from Kenneth Anger's Scorpio Rising—and how wearers decorate them to make themselves look and feel more interesting or important. I like the idea of actively failing to appear interesting or important. I am drawn to things that are shiny. I am drawn to things that are simultaneously funny and sad. I think failure can be heroic. In a more practical way, embellishing with beads or studs or stitches, allows me to be fast and slow at the same time, gestural and labored. I like the idea of taking a long time to fail.

To see more of Leah's work, please visit leahbailis.com

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Erik Geschke

Parts and Accessories, 2019. Installation view. Carnation Contemporary.

ERIK GESCHKE's sculptures are well-crafted, clean reproductions of symbolic objects that have a relationship to Western Modernity. He deftly uses dry humor, scale and material shifts and the language of museum display to entice the viewer into seeing familiar objects in a new light. Erik earned his BFA at Cornish College of the Arts (Seattle) and his MFA at Maryland Institute College of Art (Baltimore). He attended Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 1996 and Pilchuck Glass School in 1999 and has been an Artist-in-Residence at Vermont Studio Center (2001), Sculpture Space Inc. (2002), and Djerassi Resident Artist Program (2013). Erik's numerous exhibitions include solo shows at Cornish College of the Arts, ZieherSmith GalleryPacific Northwest College of Art, Pratt Fine Arts Center, Seattle Art Museum's SAM Gallery, and Vox Populi Gallery. Most recently, Parts and Accessories was exhibited at Northeastern Illinois University (Chicago) in 2018 and Carnation Contemporary (Portland, OR) in 2019. Erik lives and works in Portland, Oregon, where he is an Associate Professor of Art at Portland State University.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What role does artifice play in your work?

Erik Geschke: Artifice plays a central role in my work. The words art and artifice share the same Latin root, ars, which means both “skill/craft” and “trick/wile.” This connection influences how I think about the nature of art and what I do as an artist. When anything is represented or recreated, the artist asks the viewer for their willing suspension of disbelief, which allows the viewer to experience something unexpected. 

The use of this strategy to lure and entice the viewer into this suspension is very fascinating to me. I make work that can be deceptive or confuse the viewer. I want them to question what they’re looking at and what exactly “art” is and what it can be. I also want the viewer to consider the relationship of the art object to the abundance of human-made and naturally occurring objects that inhabit our world.  I do this by creating copies, surrogates and simulations of these identifiable forms with shifts in scale and material transformations. I use artifice as a means for the viewer to question both their perceptions and their understanding of the physical world.

Cracks in the Stable, 2015. Aqua Resin, fiberglass, pigment, and acrylic polymer.16” x 96” x 72”

OPP: Your work is definitely in conversation with Minimalist sculpture, while eschewing the non-contingency of Modernism. How informed are you by these art-historical precedents?

EG: My work is very informed by these art-historical precedents. When I was an undergraduate student the late 80s and early 90s, it had still been a relatively short period of time since Modernist thinking had fallen out of favor. It was often viewed with skepticism or derided. My references to Modernism and Minimalist sculpture, in particular, contain equal parts reverence and irreverence. Minimalism’s paring down of elements and elimination of non-essential forms and features aligns with with both my thinking and aesthetics. But I believe its attempt at an extreme form of abstraction that’s completely objective and non-referential is impossible and therefore a bit comical. There’s something so hopelessly idealistic about it, and I like to play off that in my references to minimalism. 

Accretion, 2013. Wood, aluminum, Aqua Resin, polyester resin, fiberglass, epoxy, hardware, and acrylic. 36" x 43" x 65."

OPP: What else informs your work?

EG: My work is also informed by human-made objects and structures of utility and their inherent symbolism and history. For this, I turn to the disciplines of industrial design and architecture. The work is informed by the ways we represent both ourselves and the natural world, so forms of simulation found in both cinema special effects and museum dioramas have been influential. Humor and satire are also present in my work and I attribute this to an early interest in cartooning and underground comics. Early on, I used humor as a way to discuss darker themes. The influence of cartooning can be seen in the way I render things, the odd shifts in scale and my simplified color palette. 

Arena, 2015. Wood, alkyd enamel, flock, felt, and vinyl. 3” x 64” x 64” (Detail)

OPP: Untitled (Social Engineering) (2011) and Untitled (Invidious Consumption) (2014) are connected through the form of the geodesic dome. What does this form mean to you?

EG: Growing up on the West Coast in the 70s and 80s, I encountered geodesic domes in a variety of contexts, from countercultural music events to a futuristic architectural experiments or school playgrounds. Later I came to understand its connection to Modernist architecture through the work of architect, designer and futurist R. Buckminster Fuller. While he didn’t invent the geodesic dome, he certainly popularized it. I consider this iconic structure to be a symbol, synonymous with Modernist concepts of progress, societal ideals and utopian aspirations. 

Untitled (Invidious Consumption), 2014. Hemlock, brass, and shellac. 36” x 72” x 72”

OPP: How do the materials in each of these works change the form?

EG: Untitled (Social Engineering) (2011) directly explores the structure’s connection with the utopian aspirations of Modernism coupled with the carnage of the 20th century, the same time period in which Modernism came to prominence. It’s made of 65 cast plastic human femur bones, both left and right, creating a macabre cautionary tale, calling attention to the irony that many of these utopian aspirations led to the dystopias of war and genocide, of which the 20th Century saw many. While the theme is dark, I rendered it at the scale of a child’s jungle gym and the bones are a pale white plastic, giving the structure an unthreatening toy-like quality.

The other geodesic dome piece I’ve made is Untitled (Invidious Consumption) (2014). I knew that I wanted to create a work that dealt specifically with the Modernist rejection of ornamentation in design. The inspiration for this concept came from reading the essay Ornament and Crime by Modernist architect Adolf Loos. In his essay, Loos criticizes the use of ornamentation in useful objects. Loos went as far as describing the presence of ornamentation as immoral and degenerate; a crime. To counter this, I made the iconic modernist structure out 65 lathe turned ornamental neoclassical architectural balusters made of Hemlock and connected with brass fittings. An odd dissonance was created by making the structure out of materials with a design that alludes to time prior to the Modernist era. 

Veneer, 2018, Wood, PVC, steel, hardware, and acrylic enamel. 96” x 96” x 72”

OPP: Another recurring element is the metal structure that for me evokes a billboard in Device (2015) and Veneer (2018). How is this “support” structure key to understanding whatever element it is holding up?

EG: These pieces explore the power dynamics of architecture. I’ve made a number of pieces over the years that utilize the billboard scaffold structure. Initially, I was drawn to the aesthetics of the structure and  the literal connection between its form and function. Prior to Device and Veneer, I had placed silhouette cutouts and text on the structures.I wanted to draw a parallel between the supported fragment of architecture and a billboard advertisement. Architectural structures can imply wealth, exclusivity and dominance. Having them also operate as a façade indicates how often times these displays of power and authority are in fact thinly disguised vulnerabilities.

I developed the concept for Device (2015) during the run-up to the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, when the xenophobic rhetoric of “The Wall” first entered the public consciousness. The scaffold supports a fragment of a cinderblock wall. It calls attention to the symbolism of a wall as something that can be used to play upon the public’s primitive instincts and fear of the other. Placing it on a façade calls attention to the structure’s inherent weakness and limitation and exposes it as a mere rhetorical device. 

Veneer (2018), on the other hand, explores interior projections of wealth, power and authority through decoration with nods to Neoclassicism and its tradition. The piece symbolically represents the aristocracy. Mounted on the scaffold is a fragment of whitewashed, wainscoted, decorative wall. Its ostentatious design implies the ability to afford finery. The title alludes to the thin veneer upon which displays of wealth are often dependent. 

Parts and Accessories, Installation View, 2019, Carnation Contemporary.

OPP: Tell us about your most recent solo exhibition Parts and Accessories (Chicago 2018 and Portland 2019), which explored “issues surrounding class, dystopia, and modernity.” 

EG: When I started this body of work, I knew that I wanted to explore issues of class. Wealth inequality has reached levels that have not been seen since just prior to the start of the Great Depression. It’s reminiscent of a new Gilded Age. We are similarly seeing vast creations of wealth through rapid technological advancement in a system geared towards the consolidation of wealth into fewer and fewer hands. 

My work often employs the remaking of the recognizable and familiar. I specifically selected objects that symbolized either a sense of wealth and pedigree—an ornately wainscoted wall, a top hat, a gavel—or its opposite—workers’ hardhats, a humble throw rug or a bare suspended light bulb. I purposefully make things in an exacting way with refined surfaces that are largely devoid of expression. I do this as a way for the object to have a sense of anonymity, similar to mass-produced objects. 

Parts and Accessories, Installation View, 2019, Carnation Contemporary

OPP: Tell us about the arrangement of the objects in the exhibition space.

EG: I wanted them to confront the viewer upon entering the space. They are predominately displayed facing the entrance. With these symbolic objects representing different levels of class and authority, there is purposeful hierarchy to the arrangement. Objects in front were presented low to the ground with an increase in size and scale moving towards the back of the arrangement. With the exception of one piece—a solitary disposable coffee cup—all the objects are displayed on a pedestal or platform, isolating each object and calling attention to its cultural value or commodity. This orderly arrangement references both methods of museum and retail display. 

As with any issue I choose to explore in my work, I want to avoid being overly didactic and sanctimonious. I’m not looking to provide answers for the viewer, but rather to offer them something to ponder and consider.

Plot, 2018, Aqua Resin, fiberglass, and acrylic, 4” x 50” x 72” 

OPP: What’s your experience in the studio right after completing a solo show?

EG: I’m usually focused on cleaning up the aftermath. There’s always a push to meet an exhibition deadline and especially so when it’s a solo show. No matter the level of planning, discipline and time spent in creating a new body of work, art making is an inexact science. There’s usually a rush at the end when cleaning and organization fall by the wayside. As a result, the time immediately afterwards is spent literally picking up the pieces. Having done this for a while now, there’s a bit of a ritual to the process. After months of focusing on one end goal and activity, there’s an odd sense of quietness in the studio. This quietness coupled with cleanup and organization provides a good time to think and reflect. 

Creating my work is very time intensive and involves a great deal of physical and mental energy. I always need a period of recharge afterwards. I require time away from the studio, so I prioritize self-care and rest. I’m a full-time academic with an active professional career; work/life balance is often difficult to achieve. After finishing a big show, I need to spend time catching up with friends and exploring environs outside the studio. It’s vital. 

There’s also a period of time after being in production mode where there is a shift in focus from making to promoting what has been made. My work is primarily funded through both professional and academic grants and fellowships, so I have a cycle of production followed by exhibition, promotion, and securing the necessary funds for the next body of work. I’ve been fortunate in that new opportunities always arise, new ideas always present themselves, and the cycle begins again.  

In memory of Gerald Gilbert Geschke, 1931-2019

To see more of Erik's work, please visit www.erikgeschke.com.

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


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 Sarah K. Williams

Mid-Sized Creatures: a 3-act sculptural performance for 3 performers and cello. 2017. 
Performers: Annelyse Gelman, Thalia Beaty, Ashley Williams, and Sarah Williams. Cello: Clare Monfredo. Text: Ashley Williams 

SARAH K. WILLIAMS' background is in painting and sculpture, but "perfectly still objects make [her] restless." She creates scores for sculptural performances, both performing herself and directing others. These hard-to-classify works linger in between theater, performance art and sculpture. Sarah earned her BA in Fine Arts / Art History at The College of William and Mary and her MFA in Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She was a 2017 Fulbright Fellow at Universität der Künste, Institute for New Music in Berlin. She is the founder of the Sprechgesang Institute, a "research-based platform for artists working in an in-between language of two or more disciplines." She is a 2019 Target Margin Theater Institute Fellow and has been an Artist-in-Residence at Vermont studio Center, Studios at MASS MoCA, Theater Magdeburg and Oxbow. Sarah lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: As you say in your artists statement, you “made still objects once: out of clay and plaster, wire and wood.” Let’s talk about those sculptures first. Works like Sugar Temple (2013), Act I, Scene I (2015) and Over Saturated (2015) have a sense of action in them even though they are static. It’s not they that seem like they would move, but rather that they are sites where some human ritual might be performed. How do you think about ritual, in the world and in your practice? 

Sarah K. Williams: Yes, ritual is an interesting word and not one I often use with my current work, but I can certainly see the relationship with the works you’ve mentioned. I gravitate towards symmetry, repetition, precision, memorized gestures—which I guess are all present within ritualistic activity. But ritual connotes a sense of spirituality, which I have trouble relating to. Certainly I was thinking of sites for human activity—that the piece could potentially be moved or interacted with, though I hadn’t given myself permission to work that way yet. A bit related maybe, “otherworldly” was a word that was tossed around a lot with these works, which bothered me. I’ve become much more interested in the mundane, and finding absurdity within banal activities. 

Error Fishing, 2014. Plaster, polystyrene, expandable foam, clay, tinted water, wire, hook, acrylic and watercolor paint, powdered graphite. 60" x 48" x 36"

OPP: It sounds like stillness of those sculptures was a problem?

SKW: Those pieces are on the cusp of movement. I was feeling very restless with their stillness, even though, as you mention, there is a suggestion of activity. I think we sometimes restrict ourselves too much with titles, too aware of our chosen medium or discipline. At the time, I was too aware of being a Sculptor and frustrated that sculptors make things which sit in space and should be walked around and looked at. Obviously this isn’t helpful, and it meant I was irritated the minute I walked into the studio with all these unmoving things. There was a huge disconnect because my main source of inspiration was music and theater, yet I was trying to squish it into a very small box, under the umbrella of sculpture.

Sample Objects (and their potential movements), 2018

OPP: What is a “sculptural performance?” Is this a term you coined or are you part of a lineage of other artists? 

SKW: I started using the term ‘sculptural performance’ only because it seemed like the most logical and straight-forward way to describe my work. I would describe it as performative work involving a set of invented objects within a specific aesthetic framework. Within this work, I’ve started referring to my sculptures as objects. To me, an object has a functionality to it which a sculpture doesn’t have. I want these objects to exist with a purpose, to be assigned specific characteristics and abilities. 

I wasn’t so aware of this combination of composed sound and movement with strong visual elements until spending time in Berlin. The work which I found the strongest connection to there was in the genre of MusiktheaterI didn’t even know this was a genre! Very different from what we know as Musical Theater in the U.S., these pieces weren’t compelled to follow a narrative, were often very short, experimental, abstract, absurd. To generalize, most pieces seemed to enter a visual world through music composition, while I was the other way around. Exposure to artists like Heiner GoebblesDieter Schnebel, and Mauricio Kagel made a huge impression on me. 

Absorbent Objects: for one performer and 3 objects, 2017.

OPP: You often use the language of music and theater to talk about interacting with the objects you make. There’s the Orchestra of Obsessions and Dissatisfactions (2018) and The Found Sound Research Orchestra (2017). You also create “scores” for objects. Many performances are divided into Acts. Can you talk about this merging of the performing arts with the visual arts? Does this hybridity change the venues where you share your work?

SKW: When I first moved to NYC after grad school, I was completely uninterested in looking at sculpture or painting. I knew I should be going to galleries, openings, things we’re told are necessary as emerging artists, but all I wanted to do was go to the opera. I never had a relationship with opera until my last semester in grad school when I heard Wozzek for the first time and became completely obsessed. I basically spend two solid years learning everything I could about opera. I started working for a couple of small opera companies in NY, and spent hours in the performing arts library looking at scores as drawings, as recipes, as instructions for something that could be tangible. 

There is so much great overlapping vocabulary with sound and visual: vocal color, textures in music, light and dark, hard and soft, etc. I started writing ‘scores’ for sculptures as accompanying documents which might describe how an object moves through the world. In Berlin, I began really leaning into this overlap, which is where the orchestra pieces came from. I became interested in borrowing structural frameworks from other disciplines, approaching them with my own skill sets. How can I work within the conventions of classical music, but through the lens of what I know: material, process, color, form? As I’ve been working this way, I have become less interested in traditional gallery spaces, and more attracted to hybrid spaces, collaborative venues, non-art spaces, offices perhaps. . . 

Orchestra of Obsessions and Dissatisfactions, 2018. 8 minute performance for 9 performers and 11 objects.Ffilmed at The Studios Residency at MASS MoCA. 
Performed by: Kesso Saulnier, Max Colby, Hui-Ying Tsai, David Greenwood, Hyun Jung Ahn, Paolo Arao, Jon Verney, Ashley Strazzinski, and Ashley Williams

OPP: Can you talk about the difference between performing your own work and being a director? 

SKW: I’m much more interested in directing/conducting/writing than performing. I only end up performing by default, and it’s not a comfortable role for me. However, I have to learn about a piece by doing it myself, and then sometimes it’s easier just to execute it without needing to articulate it to someone else. When I do have the opportunity to work with “performers.” I put this is quotes, because I typically work with artists who have a relationship to the types of activities the piece focuses on rather than someone with a performance background and preconceptions about what it means to perform. I often make a track with audio commands as a sort of script. Practically, this is useful because the actions don’t have to be memorized, but I’ve also been playing around with letting the audio track become a more present component to the pieces. I’ve been going to a lot of plays recently which has brought up a lot of opinions about performing versus acting. As I’ve only performed with non-performers, it makes me wonder what would happen if I immersed myself more into a theater environment. 

Fried Book of Conjugated Concerns with Sprig of Thyme: for one muttering performer with multiple concerns. 2017.

OPP: You are the founder and director of Sprechgesang Institute. Tell us about the formation of the Institute.

SKW: The first iteration of Sprechgesang Institute began in Berlin when I was doing a Fulbright there in 2016/17. As I mentioned, I was studying the overlap of opera and sculpture. I enrolled in an experimental music composition department. Between being surrounded almost exclusively by musicians/ composers at the university and my fellow Berlin Fulbrighters in Germany—very few of whom where artists—it became clear to me how refreshing and enormously valuable it was to be outside of a strict Fine Arts community. The foundation of S.I. is made up of people I met while in Germany, paired with people I know here in New York, and a few artists working long-distance. Currently we are a mixture of sculptors, painters, musicians, writers, composers, scientists, journalists, cooks—all interested in finding overlaps within our lines of work. We meet once a month over an elaborate dinner, mostly constructed of tiny sculptural snacks, we staple a lot of things, file things, take roll—it’s all very institutional. 

OPP: What’s the latest project? 

SKW: Our current project is an experimental dining event. Each Artist of the Institute is making a dish—some edible, some not—to be choreographed into a 10-course progression for two performances in mid July. We’re also putting together an accompanying cookbook full of overly-complicated recipes. 

S.I. dinner #1, 2017.

OPP: Aside from Sprechgesang Institute, what’s next for you? Any new projects in the works? 

SKW: I am still digesting a few projects I started while at Vermont Studio Center last month. I’m working on a series of short performances with objects under the theme Critical Response, structured a bit like a concept album. I collaborated with some artists there on a couple of these pieces and they continue to evolve. I’d like to get them to a point where they can be performed back-to-back in quick succession. 

I’m also a fellow at Target Margin Theater this year, which has been a great outlet for exploring the more performative side of my practice. For this, I have an ongoing investigation of gesture and other alternative methods of communication not reliant on text or object. It’s so hard for me to ignore the visual side of things, but such a worthwhile challenge! 

I also have an ongoing project called Aesthetically Complex Pies. It’s exactly what it sounds like. 

To see more of Sarah's work, please visit sarahkwilliams.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 (Indianapolis 2017) and Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018). During summer 2018, Stacia created  Renunciation Reliquary as a one-night installation for Chicago Artist Coalition's annual benefit Work in Progress and was an Artist-in-Residence at Facebook. Her solo show Practice is on view at Kent State Stark through May 4, 2019.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Sarah Beth Woods

Esther and Anonymous, 2015. Hair weave, shoe laces, aluminum. 64" x 30" x 7."

SARAH BETH WOODS employs a range of artistic methods, including sculpture, film and relational aesthetics in her research-based practice. Her sculptural objects and events celebrate the material aspects of feminine adornment—hair braiding, nails and jewelry—and their corollary social spaces. Her formative years on the Southwest side of Chicago influence her ongoing engagement with black, female aesthetics in particular. Sarah earned a BFA at Northern Illinois University and an MFA at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Her solo exhibitions include Braid & Nails (2015) at Wheaton College and Bricoleur at Azimuth Projects (Chicago, 2014). Sarah collaborated with hair braider Fatima Traore for BRAID/WORK, and they were the recipients of the 2015/2016 Crossing Boundaries PrizeEsther and Anonymous is currently on view in Focus: Fiber 2019 at Kent State University Museum in Ohio through July 28, 2019. BRAID/WORK will be part of a symposium and solo show at Bethel College (Mishawaka, Indiana) in November of 2019. The conceptual girl group The Rhinettes will perform at Experience Threewalls at 15 on June 5th, 2019. Sarah lives and works in Chicago.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Can you talk about the relationship between objects and events in your practice? How do you balance these modes of making?

Sarah Beth Woods: The majority of my training is as a studio artist. In terms of my process, that always comes first and starts with a specific material. I think of my public events as collective performances. They are an important part of the evolution of the work rather than a means to an end. Recently, events have taken the form of musical performances and collective braiding sessions.  I’m interested in the act of braiding and the labor associated with the hand work as a common denominator or language shared by different communities. These events provide pragmatic ways to engage a specific audience while collectively thinking through materials. During Shared Language, curated by Tempestt Hazel at the Arts Incubator, Fatima Traore and I were able to braid and exchange stories with women from the Academy of Beauty and Culture, a beauty school on the West side of Chicago.

What does it feel like for a girl?, 2012. Bath poufs, hair weave, ribbon, felt, clamp lights, lightbulbs, steel. 14" x 10" x 58."

OPP: What does performance mean to you—both as an art form and in terms of our various identities?

SBW: For me, performance has everything to do with process and improvisation. We all perform specific parts of our identities on a daily basis. It’s a performance because it’s not innate; it’s learned and then acted out. During the research phase of my recent 16mm reversal film Hear the Glow of Electric Lights, I became really interested in female body comportment, specifically Maxine Powell’s finishing school at Motown and the methods she employed to train the Supremes to be “lady-like.” Powell spent a lot of time training the women how to get in and out of a car gracefully, with poise and posture. This was a strategic marketing ploy that has everything to do with class and respectability politics. I’m interested in the ways these ideas are inscribed on to the body through repetition and performance. Similar to content in BRAID/WORK, there was a lot of behind-the-scenes labor that went into this process.

Kayla, 2015. acrylic nails, pom-poms, googley eyes, glitter, confetti.

OPP: Tell us about your work with Fatima Traore. How did you two first meet and start working together?

SBW: Fatima Traore and I met when she was braiding hair during the Mappy Hair Project at the Gray Center for the Arts in 2013. We started braiding together informally. On some occasions, I would paint nails while she braided. We did pop-up salons for Prime Time at the MCA, the South Side Community Art Center and the 75th Anniversary Block Party at Hyde Park Art Center. We also did work together with Tracer’s Book Club, a group of international, intersectional feminist artists founded by Chicago-based filmmaker Jennifer Reeder.

BRAID/WORK, 2016. In collaboration with Fatima Traore.

OPP: Together, you were the recipients of the 2015/2016 Crossing Boundaries Prize awarded by Arts+Public Life & the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture at the University of Chicago. What did this prize fund? 

SBW: The Crossing Boundaries Prize allowed Fatima Traore and I to complete BRAID/WORK, a collaboration that investigates the history and aesthetics of African hair braiding through a material and performative lens. We braided hair at Art on Sedgwick, a community art center located in the Marshall Fields garden apartments in Chicago's Old Town neighborhood and The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. There was a culminating reception and catalogue release at the Arts Incubator. The material components of this project—my hair sculptures and staged photographs of a fictional work space featuring Fatima braiding—were included in a show under the same name at Rootwork Gallery in 2016. The photographs were taken by Cecil McDonald, Jr.

DBL RAINBOW SWEET TWIST, 2016. Hair weave, foam, photo collage, comb, door knocker earrings, chain. 10" x 50" x 9."

OPP: What effect did this collaboration have on the work you make alone?

SBW: The experience taught me a lot about the ins and outs of collaborative risk taking, as well as potential ways to utilize institutional critique to investigate cultural paradigms embedded in the ways we look, think and critique. I’m currently reading Reversed Gaze: An African Ethnography of American Anthropology by Mwenda Ntarangwi, who examines his own lived experience as an African scholar studying anthropology in America with a focus on representation and self-reflexivity. I’m at a pivotal point with my sculptural work where I’m asking and requiring more from objects beyond their immediate purpose, especially the potential for characters or activations within narrative film.

OPP: In 2016, Mailee Hung wrote for Daily Serving about BRAID/WORK :“Woods is a white woman who spent her formative years in a primarily Black, middle-class neighborhood of Chicago, and she is highly cognizant of the dangers of appropriation her privilege affords.” How do you handle these dangers while working with “black material culture” as a white woman?

SBW: Fashion and hair style have never been static or fixed things. Style is always in the act of being appropriated, modified, or morphing into something else. Artifice brings these ideas to the surface, because it pronounces itself as artifice. It probes at the boundaries that spring up around markers of identity. I’m much more interested in creolization which actively moves against fixed identities and towards cross cultural, transcultural and hybrid forms.

The Rhinettes

OPP: Most recently, you’ve been investigating the aesthetics of the performances of 1960s girl groups. Who are The Rhinettes and how are they a “conceptual girl group,” as opposed to a girl group?

SBW: My interest in artifice and the performing body, as well as black and white cross-over appeal led me to the Supremes’ first performance of “Come See About Me” choreographed by Cholly Atkins on the Shindig television show in 1964. I’m really interested in early girl groups and their first televised appearances, as well as the technological spaces that they occupy. Politically, sonically and visually, it was an important and complex moment in American history. In 2017, I formed what I refer to as a “conceptual girl group” with Anya Jenkins, Alexis Strowder, and Yahkirah Beard, who is a professional dancer. She’s appeared on the television show Empire several times; her energy is incredible! We’re like a conceptual cover band—we don’t record or play instruments, and we only cover one Supremes' song. 

Hear the Glow of Electric Lights.16mm reversal film. 2017

OPP: How do viewers/listeners encounter The Rhinettes?

SBW: We’ve performed at Silent Funny, a mixed-use arts space on the far West side and the Jane Addams Hull House Museum during a series called Making the West Side, which aired on Can TV. The material component of the project is Hear the Glow of Electric Lights, a research-based, 16mm reversal film that I've been working on for several years. The content of the work is revealed through concealment, codes and learned body language, drawing attention to what we’ve been taught cannot simultaneously exist: beauty, power and the political. Pop culture scholar Jaap Kooijman articulated it well: “the power of the image, and in extension the Diana Ross star image, lies in its embodiment of the contradiction between fashion and politics, and its refusal to accept that those two cannot go together.” The remainder of the project is being shot and edited through 2019.

To see more of Sarah Beth's work, please visit sarahbethwoods.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 (Indianapolis 2017) and Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018). During summer 2018, Stacia created  Renunciation Reliquary as a one-night installation for Chicago Artist Coalition's annual benefit Work in Progress and was an Artist-in-Residence at Facebook. She is currently preparing for a solo show titled Practice, which will open in April 2019 at Kent State Stark.


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Emi Ozawa

This is Granny Smith, 2018. Acrylic on poplar. 52" x 52" x 13." Photo credit: Margot Geist

EMI OZAWA's skillfully crafted sculptures show thoughtful attention to line, form and color. The simplicity of her geometry—repeating circles, lines and squares—belies the complexity of her thematic concerns. In kinetic sculptures and wall-hung sculptures that change dramatically as the viewer walks past, she explores of the relationship between looking, touching and moving. Emi studied at Joshibi University of Art and Design and Tokyo School of Art. She earned her BFA in Craft/Wood at The University of the Arts (Philadelphia) and her MFA in Furniture Design at Rhode Island School of Design. She has exhibited widely throughout the U.S, in London and in Tokyo. In January 2018, Emi's solo show Follow The Line opened at Richard Levy Gallery. The gallery will also take her work to Art Miami in December 2018. Her work was included in the group show Parallax : A RAiR Connection Exhibition (2018) at the Roswell Museum and Art Center, alongside Featured Artist Justin Richel. In 2019, Emi will be an artist-in-residence at Tamarind Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she lives and works.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You studied graphic design and furniture design. How did that inform the work you make now? 

Emi Ozawa: while I was working as a graphic designer, the feeling of wanting to create 3D objects by my hand grew. I had the idea that objects could be kinetic and interactive. The reason why I started learning woodworking was to make my sculpture steady for touching and moving. I was interested in furniture as objects that have a built-in invitation to touch and move. I also wanted to learn about wood. I love the feel and the texture of this material.

Square on Square, 2010. Acrylic on apple plywood with brass. 19.75" x 20" x 3". Photo credit : Margot Geist.

OPP: What led you away from functional objects toward visual art?

EO: From the start, I was combining my sculptural ideas into furniture. I wanted my work to be inviting. You can sit, you can open a door. Its function was secondary for me. For instance, Bird tables surface is very limited. My ‘box form’ sculptures—like Wound Up(2001) and bOX (2001)—have very small inside spaces. Each piece has very unique way of opening and closing. They needed to be explained by someone present, sometimes a piece would be displayed in a case, all of this intruded on the viewer’s full experience. Gradually I felt that I wanted my work to be independent like a painting on a wall. Viewers are invited to look and have an experience of interaction without touching. Further more, I wanted to focus on surface painting more than spending too much energy with building mechanical parts and joints.

Red Bridge, 2004. Acrylic on apple plywood with brass. 15" x 15" x 2.5". Photo credit : Mark Johnston.

OPP: In your statement, you mentioned that play is a central concern of your work. Early kinetic works like Triangle Train (2009) or See Saw 2 (2002) could be touched. What makes an interactive work a sculpture versus a toy? Does that distinction matter to you at all?

EO: Yes. This distinction matters to me, but I can’t help it if others blur the line between the two experiences. Making art which applies itself to our instinct to play is the connection I am seeking. I think a toy is for the users—user-centered. That’s why a lot of toys are made safe for certain ages, for certain development, or there is a room for how to approach the toy.

Speaking about my interactive sculpture, there is a very specific way that a viewer can interact with the piece. When it’s activated, it shows a movement or a surprise which I created to share. So it is artist-centered.

Rain on Rain, 2016. (front, left and right side views). Acrylic on poplar. 48" x 28.5" x 2." Photo credit: Margot Geist.

OPP: Your wall sculptures are very much about visual perspective. They change if you look at them from different points of view. Is this pure abstraction? Or do you think of these abstractions as metaphors?

EO: I think a lot of them are pure abstraction using color and geometry, but some are developed from my response to nature. For example, I considered rain drops falling in Rain on Rain (2016), the moon in a night sky in Once in A Blue Moon (2014) and the vivid colors I see during Summer season in One Summer Day Takes a Walk (2013). I like working with squares and circles because they are my favorite language. They tend to relate, and I use them towards what you are talking about in terms of visual perspective. 

Drifting Mist (two views), 2015. Acrylic on poplar. 15" x 15' x 1.875". Photo credit : Margot Geist.

OPP: When I first looked at works like Kaki to Yuzu (2018) and Blue Line (2017), I thought of variations on the Modernist grid and the textile grid of weaving, as well as an accumulations of ladders against the wall. Then I googled Amidakuji (2016) and had a whole new perspective. Can you explain for non-Japanese speakers? 

EO: Amidakuji is a common game of chance in Japan. You just need a pen and a paper. You draw vertical lines of participants number which could be two to however many. Then add horizontal lines in between the vertical lines, write prizes or numbers at the bottom end of the line and hide that detail. Each player can add more horizontal lines. Now the game begins. Each participant picks a line. You track the path downwards from the top. Following the line, it crosses sometime with other path but never overlap. When you reach the bottom, you find the prize. When I started drawing this idea, I thought everybody knew about it. Then soon I found out it is not common in USA. As far as the purpose of the game goes, picking the shortest straw might do something similar.

Amidakuji, 2016. Acrylic on mahogany. 54" x 46.5" x 1.25." Photo credit : Jeff Krueger

OPP: How important is it that viewers understand this reference when looking at the work?

EO: I structured these three pieces based on this game and applied this rule to color these lines. I wouldn’t be making these works without knowing Amidakuji. But it can be looked at as a sculpture without its references. Though it is not a must, I mention its inspiration because it is part of it for me, as is this work’s relation to the Modernist grid you mention. It is interesting to see similarities in Mondrian’s structure and this game.    

Five Blue Circles, 2018. Paper on board. 10" x 15" x 2.5" frame.

OPP: Many recent wall sculptures are made of paper instead of wood. Is this a new material in your practice? 

EO: I have been making paper models for 30 years. It was for my furniture, as it is now for my sculpture. From drawing to paper model to wood sculpture. . . this has been my process. Paper model-making is an important step for me to see and understand three dimensional aspects before working on a piece in actual size and material. I always enjoy working with paper just like I do with wood.

I have an upcoming residency  in 2019 at Tamarind Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where there will be an opportunity for me to do some 3D lithography. Because this work will be on paper, I was looking at my paper models and drawings and started experimenting with paper towards the work as a finished art object. 

Sugar Plum, 2018. Paper, tape on board. 13" x 13" x 1.5" framed.

OPP: Can you talk about the material differences between wood and paper?

EO: Paper doesn’t have thickness like wood. Paper is foldable and flexible unlike wood. Paper is more fragile than wood. There are many differences between the two, with what you can and cannot do, yet my paper and wood pieces are alike though in different scales.

Some ideas echo in-between wood pieces and paper pieces. My newest paper pieces are inspired by my wall wood sculpture that changes its look from the different perspectives. I found it is interesting that the reverse process is happening. Adding paper to my materials, my play ground of ideas is expanding. 

To see more of Emi's work, please visit emiozawa.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 (Indianapolis 2017) and Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018). During summer 2018, Stacia created  Renunciation Reliquary as a one-night installation for Chicago Artist Coalition's annual benefit Work in Progress and was an Artist-in-Residence at Facebook. She is currently preparing for a solo show titled Practice, which will open in April 2019 at Kent State Stark.