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.