OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Holly Popielarz

Definitive Actions, 2015. Detail. Mixed Media.

HOLLY POPIELARZ's whimsical sculptures juxtapose play with "the uncontrollable harshness of reality." In interactive spinning wheels, she addresses the anxiety of decision-making, while other static works featuring flags are a definitive expression of challenging emotions like anger and longing. Holly earned her MFA from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston and is currently teaching drawing at Rhode Island College in Providence, Rhode Island. She has been a Lending Artist for the deCordova Corporate Art Loan Program since 2013. Her group exhibitions include shows at artSTRAND in Provincetown, Massachussetts (2014), New Bedford Art Museum (2013), The Vault Gallery at New Hampshire Institute of Art (2012) and Hudson D. Walker Gallery in Provincetown, Massachussetts (2012). Holly lives in New Bedford, Massachussetts.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What is the role of play in your practice?

Holly Popielarz: My number one material/technique is play. I try not to be too serious with art, and I aim for a lighthearted aesthetic. Making things must be fun and challenging, otherwise it’s boring. Juxtaposed with play is the uncontrollable harshness of reality. Games and play, where I look for inspiration, distract us from that. Play is similar to the physiological idea of flow, a term coined by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. Simply put, flow is when you are in the zone during any given rewarding, intrinsic activity. Whether I am thinking, drawing, painting or building with more structural materials, my favorite moments are when I am so into what I am doing, playing so freely with materials, techniques and my thoughts, that new ideas emerge. Play solves the challenges in specific pieces, and I have fun doing it. That’s good advice to remember.

Bullseye, 2015. Mixed Media. 4 x 7 x 5 inch

OPP: The titles of your recent sculptures refer to common cliches that humans dole out when trying to make sense of emotional experiences. I’m thinking of The Grass is Always Greener, Out of Nothing Grass Will Grow and Wise is She Who Lets it Sail On, all from 2015. Tell us about this work and how you choose titles.

HP: Selecting titles for art is difficult. I choose based on what is happening to me during the time of the construction and the final look and feel of the piece. The title usually is found after the sculpture is completed, but during the build I am asking myself what I want to say about what I am dealing with, and how does it relate to what other people experience? With these three sculptures, I set myself the challenge to make them look like they were formed effortlessly with little thought or fuss over everything. I selected cliche phrases or proverbs for the sculptures as titles in order to attach a narrative as a way in for the audience. The phrases are maybe not universal because all cultures have their own words of wisdom. But these titles are cliches that western people say when they are either giving advice about accepting a current situation or mutter to ourselves as reminders that this is what is available to us. I think of these sculptures as trophies.

Mad Enough To Spit, 2015. Mixed Media. 8 x 3 x 14 inch

OPP: How do you think about chance and coincidence versus control in your life as a human? How do these concepts show up in works like Definitive Action and The Wheel of Hope and Dread?

HP: I think the only control we have in life is the choice of continuing to participate. . . in whatever is in front of us. Without participation, without  “spinning the wheel” or “playing the game,” there is no opportunity for chance or coincidence to make its way around to you. The element of play encourages us to press on, accept and not regret the past, understand the present and foresee the future. Giving up on the game leads us to paralysis and stagnation, which for some leads to boredom, depression, and a foreboding sense of failure. I find it a paradox that sometimes the fact of participating leads to rejection or failure, but in order to overcome failure we have to continue to participate. Best to keep pace. This clarity comes from loads of rejections, emotional stress, conversations, research and reflection about chance and fate itself. Some days there is only fog, and I am just angry at another rejection. On a personal level the wheels are responses and coping mechanisms. But the wheel of fortune is a universal symbol uised throughout history and across cultures as a method for understanding fate. In Roman mythology, Fortuna with her wheel was the goddess of Luck, Fate and Fortune. William Shakespeare, too, incorporated Fortuna and her fate-controlling wheel as a metaphor for the fickle ebb and flow of luck and fate. Medieval tarot decks feature The Wheel of Fortune. Buddhism has the Wheel of Dharma. Across cultures and history the wheel is seen as a tool for both understanding of and distraction from tragedy.

Wheel of Hope & Dread,, 2016. Video

OPP: Does the wheel of hope and dread always end up on hope?

HP: The wheel of hope and dread does not always land on Hope. There is a just as much a chance to land on dread. The day I made the video clip on my website, I was just luckier than some days. Other days dread is circling above. I do think of rigging some of the wheels to control the outcome. Not sure if that is the “right thing to do.” I wonder if it’s fair, but I also ask myself, do I care if the participants of my sculptures get a fair chance?

Rolling City, 2012. Castors, paint brushes, sticks, styro-foam, paint, papier-mâché. 12 x 16 x 10.5 inches

OPP: Earlier works—Car (2011), Cement Roller (2012) and Rolling City (2012)—involve a different kind of wheels. Is there a connection?

HP: I like wheels; they are a symbol of progress, movement and play. However there is no intended connection. The series that includes the sculptures, Car, Cement Roller, Rolling City evolved at the tail end of graduate school. I was thinking a lot about the human impact on the environment from our industrialized world. I was using economic materials, paper mache, card board, toothpicks, plaster, and acrylic paint. I was into a bric-a-brac method of construction because of my funds and really into the idea that materials can communicate and reinforce content. I doodle a bunch and during the creation of this work, even more so. While doodling, I would pick a culprit—a car, a cement roller, a cesspool, or a city itself—to reinvent and build. I thought of them as salesman samples. In the early 20th century, salesman needed portable versions of their products to show off to retailers. Most of these works have a carrying case, too. But each item pollutes our air, changes our surroundings, or is a product of our careless industrialization.

Wise is She Who Lets it Sail On. 2015. Mixed media. 14 x 5 x 12 inch

OPP: What materials you are drawn to repeatedly and why?

HP: Sculpturally, I love papier-mâché, and the way it makes me feel like a kid, I enjoy wood because of its additive and subtractive qualities and its connection to the natural world. Paint changes the surface and adds color and helps reinforce my interest in games, carnivals and sign painter aesthetics. I collect stuff—paper, shiny things, little pieces of unique wood scraps, plastic bits, metal doodads, ceramic parts—that I store for a later use. These materials are free, found and personal; each has a story. For example, a good friend gave me that ceramic piece for the “boat” in in Wise is She That Lets It Sail On. I didn’t know it was a boat at the time. He found it on a beach walk in Provincetown, Massachusetts. He gave it to me in my last few days of work at a wonderful place in Provincetown, and I was sad to see my time there to be over. I knew I wanted to use it in a sculpture someday. Then one day by playing with the strange odds and ends in my studio, I placed it on the red shelf that I had been working on. . . and I saw a boat peacefully sailing away. The boat is often a metaphor used in psychology as a way to compare human functioning and our journey through life. This ceramic piece is not altered at all only set snuggly into that hull made of museum book board, I didn’t change it, so that the viewer can wonder were it is from and where it is going.

To see more of Holly's work, please visit hollypopielarz.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Stacia created site-responsive installations for two-person show Form Unbound (2015) at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL) and SENTIENCE (2016) at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. Her work was recently included in SHOWROOM, curated by Edra Soto, at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition. Stacia is currently preparing for a two-person show with Brent Fogt at Riverside Art Center (Riverside, Illinois) and a solo show at Indianapolis Arts Center in Indiana.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Teresa F. Faris

Collaboration with a Bird ll #3
Sterling silver, wood altered by a bird
3" x 4" x 1"

TERESA F. FARIS draws connections across species boundaries: "When removed from what is intended/natural and stripped of privilege one must find ways of soothing the mind." In wearable and non-wearable sculpture, she juxtaposes chewed wood—what she views as the byproducts of a captive, rescued bird's soothing practices—with sawed, pierced and pieced metal—her own creative practice. Teresa earned her BFA from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in 1995 and her MFA from University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1998. Her 2015 exhibitions include Bright at Rose Turko Gallery (Richmond, Virginia), Adorn: Contemporary Wearable Art at WomanMade Gallery (Chicago) and The Jeweler's Journey: From the Bench to the Body and Beyond at Peters Valley Gallery (Layton, New Jersey). Her work was recently included in Digging Deep at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts (Brookfield, Wisconsin) and is currently on view until October 8, 2016 in Color Me This: Contemporary Art Jewelry at Turchin Center for Visual Arts  (Boone, North Carolina). She has been invited to participate in Shadow Themes: Finding the Present in the Past at Reinstein/Ross Gallery in September 2016. Teresa has been Associate Professor and Area Head of Department of Jewelry and Metalsmithing at University of Wisconsin-Whitewater since 2013, when she won a College of Art and Communication Excellence in Teaching Award. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your work sits in the space where jewelry and sculpture overlap. Do you identify more as one or the other? Do you conceive of specific pieces as one or the other?

Teresa F. Faris: Jewelry and sculpture both exist to intrude, adorn, alter, etc. the space that it occupies. Some work calls for being in public in a small scale (on the body) and some in a large scale; both demand that the viewer contemplate their reaction/feelings about it.

Jewelry exists with the intervention of the wearer and sculpture exists with the intervention of the landscape or walls of a gallery setting. I do not see a great divide between the two disciplines because neither is utilitarian, and both may be made by people with a material fetish. Work is assessed based on its relationship to the viewer’s body, whether it is a giant steel structure or a neck piece.

Collaboration with a Bird lV, #3
Sterling Silver, wood altered by a bird, polymer, stainless steel
3" x 4" x 2"

OPP: What’s harmful about the hierarchy of Art and Craft?

TFF: The histories and theories of both art and craft are more similar than different. Humans enjoy categorizing for the sake of ego. Through categorizing we establish hierarchies. Hierarchies are harmful when used to marginalize anyone or anything for the sake of protecting privilege. If work is made of congruous material and content, I think it is art. If there was less of a divide between art/craft, there may be more opportunity for critical analysis and progression.

OPP: What kind of critical analysis?

TFF: When the field is very small and exclusive it can be about popularity of a person rather than the importance of their work.To look critically at work we need to see beyond a person and look at the work in relationship to the present, past a future dialogue. The most important question I ask myself when making something is whether or not it adds something new and challenges existing norms. Humans make so much stuff that just takes up space and wastes resources. This could travel into a discussion about decoration and the value of that, but I am mostly interested in progression from a socio/psychological and/or technical standpoint.

480 Minutes
Sterling Silver, Wood Carved by a Bird
4" x 12" x 6"

OPP: And what kind of progression?

TFF: What we chose to wear, eat, speak, etc. makes public our socio-political voice. To have conversations about objects that challenge the norm—wearing an object partially made BY a bird—asks people to reflect on their beliefs and actions. I am interested in the way that women, animals and marginalized individuals are treated based on centuries-old beliefs and superstitions. The ideas of challenging the beliefs of anthropomorphism and de-humanization will directly affect the choice of materials that people use. 

OPP: And that brings us to your ongoing Collaborations with a Bird? Tell us what drives this work.

TFF: Working in collaboration with non-humans rather than using or representing their bodies is most interesting to me. I work to recognize contradictions and change my action to minimize them in my work. For instance, I am not interested in and do not believe in the ideas of human dominion, so I do not to use animal bones, feather, skin, etc. At the same time, I live with a captive rescued, 24 year old parrot, who I desperately try to understand without placing human expectations on her. I seek to honor our differences with mutual respect. If we leave behind preconceived ideas, misinformation, anthropomorphism, fantasy and superstition, then the only thing left to do is observe. Through observation, privileges and disadvantages become clearer. While observing both captive and free non-humans, I have witnessed them performing repetitive movements and activities, and I wonder if they find the same soothing aftereffects that I am rewarded with when working at the bench.

Collaboration With a Bird
Wood chew toy, Sterling Silver

OPP: So it is the same bird every time? I was wondering about that.

TFF: Yes. I have lived with Charmin for 22 years. Because of illness, I was forced to keep a distance from her for a period of time. During that time, she was kept in a cage and I was confined to a bed. I watched her obsessively chew wood and arrange her space in very specific ways. It was during this time that I made the connection that when removed from what is natural or intended, we ALL find ways to sooth the distress. For her, it is chewing wood; for me, it is cutting metal.

OPP: How do you facilitate this collaboration?

TFF: Parrots chew wood in the wild and in captivity as a way to sharpen their beaks and to play. Their beaks grow in a similar way to human nails. It is completely natural for a bird to maintain a sharp healthy beak. A bird uses wood and stone just as we us nail clippers. Charmin has been given thousands of wood blocks over the years and always has several in her cage (her safe and private space). I have witnessed her decorate her cage with certain color schemes, changing them daily. In the past she was given blocks that had been dyed with food coloring, so she chose the colors based on her mood. She hasn't been given dyed wood in many years but still makes very deliberate decisions about where to place the wood blocks and how to shape them. When she decides that the wood bits are "finished" or no longer interesting or functional for her, she gives them to me. Through design and process I react to the bits that I receive. 

Sterling silver, Wood Chewed by a Bird

OPP: Pierced holes and lattice work are recurrent formal motifs in your work? Are these intentional, visual metaphors or simply the results of preferred processes?

TFF: I have recently discovered that the pierced patterns that I have been making for over two decades are result of a traumatic event that I experienced as a child. The subconscious mind works in ways that help to desensitize without damaging our emotional state.

I use discarded materials that have been abandoned and viewed as worthless. Positioning them next to silver and/or gemstones offers the viewer a moment of contemplation and introspection. The process of piercing and cutting works in tandem with the content of my work. My direct experiences inform the objects I make. As my experiences change, so will the process and  materials.

Collaboration with a Bird ll #4
Sterling silver, wood altered by a bird
4.5" x 4.5" x 1.25"

OPP: What’s going on in your studio right now? Anything new in the works?

TFF: There’s always something new in the works. Exploring materials and processes is a constant in my studio. Not all things are public. Now, more than ever I am charged to continue to explore the ideas dictating the Collaboration With a Bird series.

I am also currently working on pieces for an exhibition called Shadow Themes that will be at Reinstein and Ross Gallery in New York. The show opens in September 2016. The idea is to find the present in the past. In order to do that, I needed to travel through seemingly familiar, as well as lots of unknown territory. Many of things that I do not know or understand become glaringly present when I look to the past. The spaces between what I do and do not know spark my curiosity and drive me forward.

To see more of Teresa's work, please visit teresafaris.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed in December 2015 at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL). Most recently, Stacia created a brand new site-responsive installation for SENTIENCE, a group show at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in March 2016.