OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Kristyn Weaver

2011
Graphite on paper
38 x 25"

KRISTYN WEAVER courts absurdity anywhere she can, inadvertently referencing Internet memes that tap into the joy of shared ridiculousness. Her graphite drawings of cats in unexpected places and modified found object sculptures entertain, ultimately posing the question: Does art have to be so serious all the time? Kristyn received her BFA from The University of Texas at Austin (2004) and her MFA from Washington State University (2008). In 2010, she received the Austin Critics Table Award for Outstanding Work of Art in Installation. Recent exhibitions include Fakes II at the New Jersey City University Visual Arts Gallery in Newark and Man & Animals: Relationship and Purpose at Avera McKennan Hospital and University Health Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Kristyn lives and works in Brookings, South Dakota.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Talk about your interest in the absurd, both in general and in your work.

Kristyn Weaver: I have always reveled in the ridiculous and the ludicrous. I delight in silly things that don’t need to happen. Marveling at how someone’s brain conceived of something so perfect in its bizarreness. My philosophy of creation has always been that of enjoyment, both for me and for the viewer. In that, absurdity runs parallel to enjoyment. My hope is that if I enjoy something, someone else will, too. And that delight in the pointlessness connects us in a purer way than a clear message or narrative could. Art in itself is at variance with reason, yet we still endeavor to create it and seek it out.

Limp Stiletto (detail)
2005
Silicone rubber and leather
12 x 6 x 12"

OPP: A simple pleasure shared with another person is a profound human experience that is never pointless. To me, the connection is the point. It’s just an unexpected point that not everyone thinks should be the function of "capital A-Art." That’s one of the functions of entertainment, but many people want to guard the border between art and entertainment because they believe allowing that border to be fluid denigrates art. Do you think there is or should be a border between art and entertainment?

KW: In my opinion, the sooner we can get the masses to consider themselves legitimately entertained by "capital A-Art," the better. The type of entertainment that art provides inspires divergent thinking. I have always considered it to be more reminiscent of the way that we entertained ourselves as children when we were left outside to our own devices. There can simultaneously be very strict self-imposed rules and complete gratuitous freedom. It is wholly unfettered by reason, and you get out of it what you put in. That is why I aspire to make work that morphs from viewer to viewer and can be interpreted in a myriad of ways. Art is more denigrated by people choosing not to see it as a sincere form of entertainment. I find it disheartening when people feel that they have to “get it” to enjoy it. If only they could experience a moment of enjoyment without reason. The sooner that people consider themselves “entertained” by something other than Iron Man, the better.

The imagery I work with in both the drawings and sculptures is sourced from the everyday. They are populist images like cats, celebrities and so forth. Access to this subject matter is not exclusive; it really belongs to everyone. The question that I ponder when people say they don’t get it is why does the act of me creating/pairing/composing these different situations and making “Art” out of it and then placing it in a gallery change the relationship that the viewer has with it? Part of the reason I choose certain subjects/images is because they are accessible to the larger public and have the potential to attract others besides myself.

Nope... Face Down Garfield
2009
Mirror, plexi glass, contact paper, plush Garfield
42 x 29.5 x 12"

OPP: What isn't absurd?

KW: The collective absurdity. . . and ellipses. . . and cotton candy.

OPP: Speaking of absurdity, is Nope. . . Face Down Garfield a reference to Chuck Testa?

KW: Well, it is now. I had actually never heard of Chuck Testa before your question and I watched his video on YouTube. That man deserves a medal.

OPP: Instead of a traditional artist statement, you've written a treatise. In it, you first say that you don't want to use language to define your work, but then you go on to use quite a lot of words. It's very funny and also gives a clear sense of how you think about the nature of art. It feels like a piece in and of itself. How did you generate the Q&A format? Are these questions you were repeatedly asked or questions you ask yourself?

KW: I still hesitate to use words to define my work. I wish I could use images to answer these questions—insert picture of grandmother’s hands here. The work is already communicating with the viewer. Words have the potential to unnecessarily complicate things. . . but, I digress. The Q&A format came about as an attempt at a more succinct way of answering certain questions that I was asking myself. I referred to it as a treatise to add ridiculous formality to the whole stream of consciousness mess.

The Kittenseum
2007
Graphite on paper
24 x 32"

OPP: Since 2007, you've been making a series of graphite drawings of cats that have the feel of internet memes (although I don't think I've seen these particular memes anywhere). It all started with Kittenseum but continued with Staring Contests and your series of cats inserted into Steve McQueen movies. KnowYourMeme.com charts the early origins of cats on the Internet, but cites 2007 as a moment of major growth:

. . . the online popularity of cat-related media took a leap forward beginning in 2006 with the growing influence of LOLcats and Caturday on Something Awful and 4chan as well as the launch of YouTube, which essentially paved the way for the ubiquitous, multimedia presence of cats. The LOLcat phenomenon is thought to have entered the mainstream of the Internet sometime after the launch of I Can Has Cheezburger in early 2007. (Knowyourmeme.com)

Could you talk about the relationship between your drawings and the phenomena of cats on the internet?



KW: My series of cat drawings began because I had an epiphany that I should be making art that I wanted to spend time with and see happen, and not to question from where these desires stemmed or what it all meant. I think that the Internet viewing world at large had the same inclination. Cat memes fulfill our unabashed desire for release through frivolity. We don’t have to question why we like watching them or what it is that draws us to them. We can just sit and appreciate them for what they are (often for hours at a time). If I am going to put my art out there for consideration by the public, I want it to be something that is valid in its simple, joyful enrichment of the time that viewers spend with it. In summation, cats are fuzzy. I want to hug them, and so does everyone else.

Today I Cut Out the Words
2010
Newspaper
12 x 12 x .5"

OPP: In sculptural work, including your series of altered newspapers, rubber sculptures and altered school chairs, you use the repeated strategy of rendering everyday objects useless, at least in the way that they were originally intended to be used. Have you stripped these objects of function or have you created a new function?

KW: I suppose I have done a little bit of both. Most of the objects’ direct functions are to make one's life easier, and now, in their altered form, the ease of their use has been stripped. My sincere endeavor in creating these pieces is to have the objects to be viewed in a fresh way. Not necessarily in a different way than their initial pre-altered form, but just with an added dimension. It is my intention to transform them in a way that doesn’t obliterate their relevance or original form, but draws attention to something that might have otherwise gone without consideration. I want the viewer to ruminate on objects that take up space.

Lines Out
2013
Ball point pen on paper
18 x 24

OPP: It seems that that’s also what you are ultimately doing with your cat drawings and with the very notion of frivolity or absurdity. Forgive me for putting words in your mouth—and please feel free to disagree—but it’s like you are saying: “You think you know what frivolity and silliness is, but guess what, it’s something more profound than you think. Boo-ya!

KW: Perhaps it is more of a Shazam! than a Boo-ya! But yes, I suppose I want to say that the notion, desire and need for absurdity and frivolity are, in a strange way, serious and are just as deserving of one’s contemplation as anything else. The act of pondering and taking something away from a work of art doesn’t have to be only reserved for works that have somber themes. I want the joy that comes from encountering this work to be just as valid of an emotional experience as a deadpan work elicits.

OPP: What are you working on right now in your studio?

KW: Currently, I am finishing up my second drawing of cats with rap lyrics and working on another pen-swirl drawing like Jonathon Livingston Seagull (2013) where I cover the entirety of a Sculpture Magazine. This one will probably take me the better part of a year, because I can only do so much at one time before it starts to make me feel like a lunatic. I have some sculpture projects on the horizon where I’ll be working with expanding foam. I also have plans for a new series of large drawings of various exploded diagrams. In addition to that, there is a Morris Louis inspired painting that I have been dreaming about for some time, and some expressionistic paintings on paper that I envision hanging sculpturally off the wall. I haven’t really done any paintings since I was at The University of Texas for undergrad, so. . . fingers crossed on those two.

If you want to see more of Kristyn's work, please visit kristynweaver.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and spiritual significance of repetition in her cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibition I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For is on view at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) until December 6, 2013, and she is currently preparing for another solo exhibition titled Everything You Need Is Already Here (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014..


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Madeline Stillwell

Pigeon House
2011
Materials found onsite and in the city of Rennes, France
Performed at Centre Culturel Colombier (Former Military Base and Pigeon House)

American artist MADELINE STILLWELL improvises with intention in her site-specific performances. She uses her body as a drawing tool, alternately struggling against and collaborating with found construction materials and trash that she collects onsite. Her physical actions become metaphors for human experiences—breaking through barriers, climbing the walls, emerging from the rubble, rolling around in the muck, untangling oneself—making marks as she literally and figuratively works through each space. Madeline received her MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art in 2008. She has performed and exhibited widely throughout the United States, Canada and Western Europe, most recently in the group exhibitions Re-Made // Re-Used at REH Kunst Berlin and A Night in the Park at das Moosdorf in Berlin. Madeline lives and works in Berlin, where she is an Adjunct Professor in Performance at the Evangelische Hochschule Berlin.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Talk about the repeated motif of emerging from or breaking through a barrier in your performances. I think of birthing and butterflies emerging from cocoons while watching the video documentation of the performances.

Madeline Stillwell: On a visual level, I've always enjoyed the sensations that occur from seeing something pushing itself through another thing. The meeting place between opposing materials engaging in a temporary dance of overlap has always stirred something powerful in me. Ocean waves lapping against a gridded surface, for example, or wet cement swirling gently through the blades of its mixer. Ultimately, I believe we humans are never alone; we are always acting in response to nature, to culture, to circumstance, to each other. We are constantly confronted with life's given situations, and often times find ourselves struggling against the limitations of our own minds. I am fascinated by such barriers because so many unexpected possibilities can open up from finding our way through something that appears at first to be a roadblock. It is about the will to grow. Coming out on the other side of a personal, social or physical barrier can be one of the most satisfying of all human experiences.  

Pedestal Piece
2011
3-part performance
8 minute video (part 1)
Pedestal, clay, plaster, and found construction materials

OPP: How important are the specifics of the materials that you use in your performances, beyond the fact that they are often found garbage in or near the sites you perform in?

MS: The materials I collect and use for my work function as my palette. I search for materials that will bring tension and yet create a harmonious visual composition. I find myself attracted to materials that come from real life, have an industrial patina to them and contain a functionality that is in question. For example, in site-specific performances such as No more sugar for the monkey or Read? Read What?, I wanted to equalize the relationship between our discarded waste and excess and the very structures that exist to build up and accumulate such waste. In a similar way, the works Pigeon House or Pedestal Piece insert abject construction materials (dirt, rubble, mud, plastic, etc) into the gallery context. While breaking myself through a gallery wall or breaking myself out of a gallery pedestal, I call into question the structures—the white cube, for example—that exist to keep an institution erect. That said, I prefer hovering closer to parody and within the realm of human imagination, such as in my most recent videos Stasi Prison or Stick Werfen, rather than pushing my work in any specific political direction. Perhaps if I'm really honest with myself, I simply choose materials that turn me on. I am, after all, smearing them all over myself. :)

OPP: Your movements seem very intentional: when they are clunky, they seem purposefully so. When they are graceful, your performance is similar to modern dance. Are the performances choreographed or improvised?

MS: Intention plays perhaps the most important role of all in my work. I truly believe it doesn't really matter what you use, what you do or how you do it, as long as you are clear with your intentions and you are open to accepting and incorporating the unknown along the way. This is not just true in art-making. It applies to walking down the street and to living the life you want to live. It is always much easier to keep going in the same habitual patterns that feel comfortable, than it is to truly follow our intentions, incorporate the unknown and be willing to change. Because of this, I never choreograph in the traditional sense. I resist processes of memorization because I want to get away from the assumption that there is a right way of doing things. It is easy for us to fall into such mind patterns if we practice and over-practice something again and again.

For each work of art or performance, I set up a series of intentions, and the rest is improvised. I incorporate spatial intentions, like "I'm going to start here and end over there," or physical challenges, such as "I’m going to try to climb along those pipes which are five meters from the ground without falling." Also quite important are my mental structures, such as "I'm going to have a conversation with my ex," or "I'm going on a road trip with my family” or “I’m going to contemplate escape.” Finally I also set formal goals such as “I’m going to both make a sculpture and become a sculpture” or “I'm going to make a drawing in space.” 

All of this is easier said than done, however. It is difficult to stay true to your mental game when you are standing with the lights between your eyes. After a "failed" performance experience, it is often difficult for me to really know what went wrong. It usually has something to do with losing sight of the original intention or letting it slipping away. I take some comfort in sports psychology.  In this post-performance interview, I speak about the delicate balance between intention and letting go.

Aluminum Drawing Collage
2011
Cut photographs and acrylic on aluminum
80 x 100 cm

OPP: How do your background, your daily life and teaching affect your work?

MS: My early experience (ages five to twenty) with jazz and modern dance, musical theater, classical piano and vocal training allows me to think of my body and voice as natural and viable tools for art-making. My mother holds a degree in Performing Arts, one of my sisters is a dancer and choreographer and my brother is a set designer for the stage. I suppose you could also say it runs in the family. But I decided to study visual art because I've always had visions in my head that I want to manifest in a tangible way. It stressed me out to memorize choreography or lines from a play. Somehow, I didn't trust that process as much as I did the spontaneity of making a form from a lump of clay. By the end of graduate school, I realized I could communicate on multiple levels by translating movement or sound into tactile experience (and vice versa) so my current practice embodies that.

Additionally, the performance class I now teach at university also influences my practice. The class is based around structured improvisation as a means to communicate using our bodies, voices and material. We explore experiences like talking without words, acting versus reacting, emotional versus pedestrian movement and sounds, having a conversation with only facial expressions (no voice or gesture), balancing on one another, using materials as a means to express something, drawing in space, setting an unspoken goal together in the moment and finding an end. We work both in the studio and in public urban places, including the subway, the farmer's market, a public park or the university hallway. When not performing, the students are challenged to direct each other on the spot. Each student must plan a structured improvisation and direct a small group. By the end of the course, students work together to structure and perform a piece of their own creation in front of a live audience.

On a daily basis, my physical practice, which combines swimming, biking, pilates, yoga, voice-journaling and singing, allows me to stay fit enough to use the full range of my strength as well as the full range of my imagination.

OPP: What is voice-journaling?

MS: Voice-journaling is my way of getting things expressed and off my chest. It often happens spontaneously while out in the world or when I'm alone. It helps me to clear my head and process my artwork. It's also a way to communicate with another person privately, like writing a letter without the pressure of having to send it. In this way, it's more like "writing letters" to myself. The Only Capacity, You're Gonna Love It and I Hate It Here (I Heart Michigan) all made in 2007, are videos that use excerpts of voice-journaling.

Road Trip (Machine Pipe Drawing)
2011
2-part performance
15 minute video (Part 2)

OPP: Drawing is a fundamental part of your practice. I'm thinking of performances like Road Trip (Machine Pipe Drawing) (2011) and I've Been Digging in the Garden (Untitled Wall Drawing) (2011) and your Drawing Collage, Diagram Drawings, Music Drawings and Video Drawings. Could you talk about the connection between drawing and performance in your work?
 
MS: For me, drawing is gesture-making. First comes the stage fright of the blank page, then the music starts and then you go. Just don't look back until you're finished. That way you won't over think what you're doing, and more life can result from the marks you make. A primary function of drawing by hand (or body, in my case) is to leave a mark, to act, to respond to something, to communicate. When I set the mental goal for myself of “making a drawing,” I am always curious to see what kinds of gestures are left behind because they become markers of spontaneous decision-making. Such gestures can serve as a kind of memory map of improvisation. In the same way that a photograph captures a moment in time, so does slinging a clump of clay onto a wall. Even though they have two very different results, there is an inherent risk-taking in making a mark, whether that is drawing lines on a piece of paper, stepping out onto a stage or trespassing into a construction site in order to take a photograph.  

Gesture-making, or art in general, can be seen as both a tool for finding meaning and a tool for letting go of meaning itself. While arranging and rearranging the structures we find around ourselves, the conscious and unconscious gestures we make create waves of impact in our lives. In such gestures, we recognize the threads of harmony and moments of clarity that allow us to make sense of our experiences within the chaos of an irrational world. 

Untitled (Drawing Collage White)
2012
Cut photographs, silkscreen and acrylic on paper
40 x 60 cm

OPP: You've made a lot of work in Germany, including a performance with two dancers at Temporary Home as part of Documenta 13 in Kassel (2012). How and when did you first have the opportunity to perform there? Has the reception to your work been different in Germany than in the US?

MS: I first came to Berlin for a short residency at Takt Kunstprojektraum in the summer of 2008, and I'm still here. I was instantly drawn to the tension of the city's history, and I felt a huge amount of admiration for the endurance, tolerance and freedom that exists in the city's mentality. I felt at home within a constantly changing community of international artists, and I was drawn to the aesthetics of the raw industrial spaces and materials I first found in Berlin. I am still drawn to the construction sites in Germany and to the absurd logic of how they are organized and re-organized. In the United States, construction sites are usually hidden behind walls of wood. Here they exist as living parts of the street itself, so that you can see the pipes embedded in the sand below as they are constructed. I love living in a city whose guts are exposed.

When it comes to the reception of my work, I have found German audiences to be extremely well-educated about art history and architecture, emotionally intelligent and unafraid to engage in discussion about art. This includes my university students as well. There is a true love of discussion in the German culture. German people are unafraid to offer criticism or dissent; neutrality of emotion and independence of mind are valued higher than pleasing others or being well-liked. What I appreciate most about American audiences, on the other hand, is their enthusiasm, acceptance and appreciation of the unique. Their unchained, youthful sense of history means they highly value the reinvention of the self. I find that a certain amount of naiveté in American culture actually allows for a pure and fearless go-get-em mentality when it comes to following one's vision.

Perhaps that is what drives me to invade construction sites and climb through pipes and suspend myself in a crane while Singin' in the Rain! Or perhaps I'm more German now, organizing and re-organizing until everything falls to rubble.

To see more of Madeline's work, please visit madelinestillwell.com.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Alexander DeMaria

Magazine Kora
2013
Magazine rack, banjo strings, hand made magnetic pickup, hardware

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuomiosauna
2010
Installation with Owen Rundquist: wood, tile, stone, moss, electronics, radio, sound
75" x 116" x 86"

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

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

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

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

Performance at Shoot the Lobster
2012

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


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

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

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

OPP: What's it like to play them?

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

Portraits of Pain
2008
Cut Paper
78"x 36"

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

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

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

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

2009
Ink on Paper
30"x22"


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

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

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

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

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Kathryn Refi

Every Day I Was Alive, 13,636
2013
Lipstick on paper
43.5" x 55"

KATHRYN REFI Googles herself. She repeatedly counts and marks the number of days she's been alive. She searches microfilm for events that occurred on the date of her birth and uses objective methods of compiling data from her daily life, including recording sound and light and tracking her own movement on maps. This data is the source of her drawings and paintings. However, the real subject of her work is not "Kathryn Refi," but rather the mystery of existence and the noble futility of attempting to comprehend it through limited means. Kathryn graduated Magna Cum Laude from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 1997 and received her MFA from the University of Georgia in 2002. She has had solo exhibitions at Solomon Projects (Atlanta), the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art and Fugitive Art Center (Nashville). Kathryn lives and works in Athens, Georgia.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Talk about the presence of futility in your work.

Kathryn Refi: In my work, I am grasping at something I can never get a hold of. It seems like this grasping and searching is part of the human condition. Hopefully we are always struggling to better understand ourselves and the world around us, looking for meaning while simultaneously accepting the possibility that there is none to be found. I'm in a constant state of searching that has no end goal. Sometimes it feels futile but is none the less crucial. The faith in the process, maybe even in the futility, becomes a goal in itself. It is a way to combat nihilism. My work is a search for meaning in my life through quantification and visualization of certain aspects of my experience. I approach this subject from different angles and through different means to see what bits of insight I might glean.



Every Day I Was Alive, 13,556 (detail)
2012
Ink on paper
11 x 8.5 inches

OPP: I think of your work as a series of existential gestures. To be aware of futility and act anyway is a way of asserting that we exist, whether or not it yields results. Are you influenced by Existentialism or any other philosophical or spiritual modes of thinking about existence?

KR: Only in a very broad sense. I read a lot of Sartre and Camus in high school, but I haven't read any explicitly philosophical or spiritual works since then. Seriously. I'm not very interested in reading about thinking. I'd rather just be open to the world around me and do the thinking internally. I actually just looked up "existentialism" to make sure I knew what it meant. Part of me really fights any philosophical associations or terms because it starts to feel too academic, intellectual and potentially alienating for myself and my audience. I'm very wary of exclusionary references to philosophers, authors or schools of thought.

OPP: What or who has influenced your work?

KR: The single greatest influence on my work is a teacher I had during undergrad at Maryland Institute College of Art named Sherman Merrill. He was not a visual artist. The class I took with him was a liberal arts class called "History of Ideas." We studied the Protestant Reformation, U.S. expansion across the Western frontier and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He was a tyrant of a teacher, very serious, and he worked us hard. If he saw that your hand wasn't moving to take notes he would yell at you. On the first day of class he told us that when we entered his classroom we were entering the world according to him, and that everything we would be and had ever been taught was subjective. We weren't supposed to question what he was saying to his face but rather know in our minds that what he was teaching us was colored by his own life, even though we were studying historical events. On the short answer and essay exams he gave, we had to begin each answer with "According to Sherman Merrill. . ." We had points deducted if we failed to start our answers this way, even if what followed might be mostly uncontested historical information. It made such a lasting impression on me. It has affected the way I view the world ever since, strengthening my skeptic leanings. Now I move through life with the knowledge that everyone is seeing the same thing slightly differently. I am fascinated by this multiplicity of perspectives.

Searching for Kathryn...
2011
Pastel on paper
11 x 8.5 inches

OPP: In your project Searching for Kathryn Refi (2011-2012), you drew the first image that appeared as you typed your name in a Google image search bar, one image every time you added a letter. Here we see that futility of looking for oneself outside of oneself—a trap that many people are caught in in the age of social networks, selfies and Google. Who hasn't Googled themselves? I know I tend to do it when I'm at a loss or lonely. But the project also brings up a more profound truth about the nature of self: the images in that first slot change. Some of them are already different from when you drew them. Was this an intentional part of the project?

KR: Yes, I was aware of the changing aspect of the search results and how the resulting drawings are a record of a definition from a certain place and time. This feels appropriate on a historical and personal level. Yesterday's heretics might be today's sages. What was once a prescribed medicine is now a known poison. As we gain more information, our definitions of people and events change. This includes information gathered objectively through a scientific method or subjectively through personal experience. So many of our definitions are cultural. A culinary delicacy in one region may be considered inedible in another. Our definitions are always changing, which is a positive. It relates to the question of whether or not there are any absolute truths.

OPP: Are there any absolute truths. . . "according to Kathryn Refi"?

KR: I don't know at this point. I think I used to have more of a belief in/need for absolutes than I do now. I would like to say that an absolute truth would be something like "causing someone non-consensual physical harm is wrong." That's fairly certain, right? But what about in self-defense? War? There are always caveats and exceptions and very quickly the waters get murky.

November 2nd, 1975: O.J. Simpson, of the Buffalo Bills, tries to score
2010
Charcoal on paper
43.5 x 33 inches

OPP: November 2nd, 1975 is your birthday and the title of a series of drawings based on images sourced from microfilm of newspapers, the internet, and family photos of events that occurred on that date. Again, you take a common musing that most of us have had and turn it into series. As with Searching for Kathryn Refi, you use yourself as a starting point, but the project really isn't about you as an individual. What's it about?

KR: It's about getting outside of oneself and assuming a more global perspective. The date I have always defined as the date of my birth is known to others very differently, if they think about it at all. I use myself and my personal experience as starting points to explore the greater idea of the experience of life. Sometimes I worry the work could be seen as navel-gazing, so I make sure that it has an entry point for viewers that will lead them to think about their own lives.

OPP: In projects like My Address Book (2003), Color Recordings (2006), and Driving Routes (2004) you used your personal experience as a filter for compiling objective data that is translated into visual output, but these projects are less about a personal sense of identity than your recent projects. Do you see these earlier projects as fundamentally different or the same?

KR: That's an interesting question and something I'm circling around the edges of, metaphorically. I don't see the earlier work as fundamentally different, but I've recently become aware that something is changing. A shift is occurring, and my artist statement isn't quite accurate anymore. But I can't yet pinpoint what is happening or why, and I honestly don't want to right now. I'd rather just let the process unfold on its own. Even though all of my work is made within a specific framework that guides the visual imagery, I am always thinking "I have no idea what I'm doing and whether or not this is stupid." So some degree of intuition occurs before I set up the parameters of each body of work. In the midst of it, I can't make sense of it, but maybe in the future I will look back and see the greater context of how the work is developing now.

My Address Book
2003
Oil on panel
Overall dimensions variable, 8 x 8 inches each

OPP: I’m really glad you mentioned that sense that your artist statement is no longer quite accurate. I’ve had that experience many times, and I’m sure we aren’t alone. It’s so exciting to feel the deep pleasure of discovery and surrender. But it is so frustrating to have to put it into words before I’m ready, which mostly occurs because of a deadline for an exhibition proposal or a grant application. During those moments, I experience a separation between my art practice and my art career. Do you see these as distinct from one another?

KR: I would be happy if I never had to talk about my art again. (But your questions have been very considered and thought-provoking, so I haven't minded responding to them!) I get frustrated when I am expected to concisely verbally explain what my work is about. It is something that I can't put correctly into words. That is why I am a visual artist, not a writer. Sometimes even I don't know what my work is about. If I always did, I don't think making it would be as interesting for me. I understand that sometimes the viewers wants to make sure that they "get" a piece of art, but I also feel like it's not that simple. It's not a one-liner. And if the work isn't engaging for someone, that's fine, they can walk away. I think we all need to be more comfortable with not knowing.

Somewhat unfortunately, this results in me being a poor advocate for my work. As I am generally not interested in convincing people of anything, I am definitely not compelled to convince someone that my work is awesome and they should buy it or exhibit it. Because, you know, maybe they shouldn't.

To see more of Kathryn's work, please visit kathrynrefi.com.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Allen Brewer

Bette Davis
2010
Oil on panel
14" x 14"

Artist, illustrator and educator ALLEN BREWER is searching for the truth. He uses a variety of conceptual strategies to erase traditional means of personal perception and the conscious pursuit of artistic style in an attempt to get at the "thingness" of his subjects. For his Blind Drawings and Blind Paintings, he doesn't look at the substrate as he draws. For his most recent solo project VERBATIM at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, he recreated works in the museum's permanent collection based solely on the written descriptions given by museum goers. Allen has exhibited at Burnet Art Gallery at LeMeridien Chambers, The Soap Factory and Soo Visual Arts Center, all in Minneapolis. He also works collaboratively with last week’s Featured Artist Pamela Valfer. In 2012, Brewer and Valfer participated in the EVA International Visual Art Biennial (Limerick City, Ireland). For their next project, they will collaborate on a project for the Minnesota Biennial at The Soap Factory. Allen lives and works in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

OtherPeoplesPixels: For your series Carbon Drawings, you copy found vintage imagery using typewriter carbon. In reference to this series, you state on your website: "The result is a 'ghost,' devoid of any human embellishment or direct mark making. . . By eliminating my own perception of the thing, I am getting closer to its truth." Why is the truth of a thing important to you? Can you ever really find it?



Allen Brewer: Truth is something I’ve always questioned. Growing up, we are fed a steady diet of embellished truths. . . fables, half-truths and white lies. All of these are meant to soften the blow of disappointing factual realities such as our impending death, trust in others and “true love.” My attempt to find out what is real or true is hopeless. I realize that. Yet I think we can find some truths in the search, whether it’s an uncanny moment that speaks louder than the event or a unique pairing of line and form to construct a more accurate reality.

Pathetic
2010
Colored pencil
30" x 40"

OPP: The more I look at all your work which attempts to erase the hand and perception of you as the artist, the more I think about the difference between perception and interpretation. Perception is how we experience the external world through our senses and interpretation is the meaning and value we ascribe to that information. Your actions direct me toward an object or image and—to use your word— its "thingness," but, for me, the truth doesn't lie there. The truth is in the feedback between a thing and a human, in the interpretation. I always go back to thinking of you and why you, as an artist and as a human being, choose to copy or recreate one thing and not another. Do you think erasing perception highlights the role interpretation plays in meaning-making? Or are you not concerned with interpretation?



AB: I am concerned with interpretation, especially since it’s all we have to make sense of objects and events. We have a limited language that helps in this process. But, ultimately, the “thingness” attributed to such objects and events means nothing; a spiraling into Platonic theory essentially disproves the primacy of the form’s physicality over the idea of the form. By erasing—as best I can—my interpretation of the “thing,” I attempt to present a more objective idea of the “thing.” I’m interested mainly in the open-endedness of ideas, which for me, represents the truth. I seek to present an unvarnished transcription with which the viewer can find their own truth, not a myopic narrative or interpretation. Truth is a slippery subject; there are lies everywhere we look. My work deals directly with photography and text. We tend to complacently accept these two standards in media as truth, which is a phenomenon I recognize as imperfect.

VERBATIM
2013
Installation shot

OPP: Introduce us to your most recent project VERBATIM, which just closed at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA). It takes your exploration of transcription one step further by including a go-between, another level of mediation between you and the work of art you are transcribing.

AB: VERBATIM started out as a site-specific experiment with two goals: 1) to present work based solely on the museum guests’ written interpretations of artworks within the museum, free from my own agency, and 2) to use this process to further expand upon my compulsion towards mediated work. I placed description forms throughout the MIA, asking guests to isolate one artwork, write about it in detail and then turn it in for me to decipher.

Once in the studio, I read and re-read each description, forcing myself to forget my knowledge of said piece and to construct the work based solely on the literal (Platonic) meaning/idea of each written word. For instance, people tended to use overly romantic phrases and emotion when writing, which, according to my imposed rules, were unusable. Instead, I relied on descriptors and nouns that could exist as more universal systems and codes. Hierarchy also helped sort the large ideas in the descriptions from the smaller moments, which aided in the ever-growing rulebook of this project. Eventually, I realized that I was dealing with an ever changing expanding/contracting conceptual issue: language. The end result was an exhibition that mimicked the permanent collection of the MIA. VERBATIM was a reflection of famous works filtered through the barrier of language and nuance of interpretation. I’ve gained confidence and insight with this project, causing me to integrate mediation more seamlessly with intent in my work.

OPP: I'm interested in the fact that "people tended to use overly romantic phrases and emotion" when describing the works of art. It seems to imply that the museum goers who participated in VERBATIM experienced visual art more through their emotions than through their eyes. Was this a surprise to you? Does this say anything about the true nature of visual art?

AB: The responses I received—about 200 in total—were split between personal, emotional reflections and overly-analytical lists of sizes, materials, proximities and diagrams. I could tell who had art education by the writing style and word choice, but I didn't let that particular phenomenon guide my choice or which pieces to recreate. I looked for a unique voice in the description, one that exemplified the contracting and expanding nature of language itself. The way in which people write about art is revealing. Each person who took time to describe a work used their own codes and systems of description, which made my task that much more difficult. Not only did I have to decipher that code and its context, I also had to somehow address it as a universal. In hindsight, if I had another go at this project, I would ask 200 different people to describe only ONE piece, then make work based on the 200 differently nuanced descriptions, similar to Francis Alys’s St. Fabiola project. The true nature of visual art will always exist as a collection of subjective voices, giving it credence within a certain context.

Lips
2011
Oil on paper
12" x 9"

OPP: You will be collaborating with last week's OPP Blog Featured Artist Pamela Valfer for the upcoming Minnesota Biennial at The Soap Factory. How are the two of you approaching this exhibition? 


AB: ,,,—read as Comma Comma Comma— is the title of the biennial. The meaning in those marks gives freedom to presentation, installation and meaning. They literally mean (to me) “and then. . . and then. . . and then. . .” The co-curators are David Petersen and John Marks, former directors of Art of This, an artist-run venue in Minneapolis with month long exhibitions and one-night events. AOT was a space for emerging and underrepresented artists who were willing to take risks with space and presentation. There was a refreshing fluidity there, and the program included artist talks, lectures and workshops.

,,, will resemble that platform, and Pam and I have respected the approach by continuing our idea of post-studio collaboration. We are married and share a small studio, so there is no room for ego and secrets once we enter it. Our working concept is that of opposition, concerned with the slippery space between reality and meaning. That’s all I can say for now, as we are currently working and thinking. I can tell you that we are not making traditional collaborative pieces, by which I mean the passing back and forth or the simultaneous partnership of one substrate. We are each making new work that represents or embodies the concepts in our solo work,. Then we will experiment with those pieces as dialog and conflation on a shared wall in the studio—a practice space, if you will. The Soap Factory, a 12,000 square foot, uninsulated structure is 100+ years old. The wall surfaces include exposed brick, drywall, metal, wood and glass. All of these factors will guide Pam’s and my decision-making process, for it would be a shame to NOT recognize the specificity of the exhibition space.

Phenomenological evidence of natural occurrences
2012
Found objects
Installation shot of COMMON PLACE, a collaboration with Pamela Valfer

OPP: And I'll ask you the same question I asked Pamela: how has collaboration changed your solo practice?

AB: The collaborative process has reinforced the fact that perception is NOT universal. Working with Pam—or anyone for that matter—is akin to the first day of school. You show up to a group of strange faces, all with their own histories and sets of rules. In order to survive, you must make friends and be willing to be vulnerable and open to seeing the validity of their ways. You may disagree with your mates, yet you’ll see them again in the morning, so humility and flexibility keep you from killing each other. In the end, you’ll shed the idea of difference in favor of something shared. The opinions and perspectives Pamela offers make the self-questioning in my own work more meaningful. She reminds me (as I hope I remind her) that we are not islands operating in vacuums.  We’re more like an archipelago. . . a series of islands connected by a zip lines.

To view more of Allen's work, please visit allenbrewer.com.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Pamela Valfer

Set #1: Cabrini Green/Good Times (detail)
2013
Graphite on Paper
108" x 96"

Artist and educator PAMELA VALFER explores theories and experiences of contemporary hyperreality in her mash-up drawings of real and fictional landscapes and painstakingly pixelated renderings of mediated versions of actual architecture. She received her MFA from the University of Minnesota in 2002. Her work has been exhibited at Burnet Art Gallery at LeMeridien Chambers (Minneapolis), The Bindery Projects (St. Paul, Minnesota) and CUBE Centre for the Urban Built Environment (Manchester, England). Since 2007, her work has been included in The Drawing Center’s curated artist registry. Pamela also works collaboratively with Allen Brewerwhose work will be featured here on the OPP blog next week. In 2012, Brewer and Valfer participated in the EVA International Visual Art Biennial (Limerick City, Ireland). For their next project, they will collaborate on a project for the Minnesota Art Biennial at The Soap Factory (Minneapolis). Pamela lives and works in Minneapolis.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Could you talk about the exploration of hyperreality in your most recent piece Set #1: Cabrini Green/Good Times?


Pamela Valfer: The project is essentially a commentary on the cultural or subjective construction of "reality." "Reality" is not straightforward; it's complicated idea. I use Brutalist architecture from the 1950s to the mid-1970s as the tableau for this idea because it is a great metaphor for constructed idealism as it was set forth by one group of people to solve the problems of another group of people in relation to planned urban housing development. The ideas underlying these Modernist architectural designs were based in utopian thinking that impressed a kind of social engineering upon urban, low-income, city-dwelling populations. In the end, many of these buildings and communities—Cabrini Green being a perfect example—failed due to shoddy construction and high crime. Rather than focus on the building itself, I became interested in looking at the projection of this building through the television show Good Times. The source image I chose was not of the actual building, but rather of a television set based on Cabrini Green. The set itself is the subject. It is the copy of the real, constructed out of cardboard, paint and foam. This is the space where actors play out imagined scenarios from the daily struggles of the real families of Cabrini Green. These are all veneers. This is where hyperreality exists. It is the new reality; the copy becomes the original, simultaneously commenting on its own failure through the lackluster truthiness of the construction (set design, actors et al.). This is my experience of Cabrini Green, my knowledge developed topically through a pop culture edifice.

Landscape Simulation: The Shining/Gilligan's Island/Magnum PI
2012
Graphite on Paper
48" x 48"

OPP: There's a similar collision of fiction and reality in your series Landscape Simulations. These graphite landscapes pair landforms and architecture from movies with real world landmarks and/or they combine existing landforms and architecture in ways that we couldn't physically experience. One piece places Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye on the surface of Mars, as seen in a Star Trek episode. Another places the historic Checkpoint Charlie—which is actually in Berlin—in Gordale Scar, a limestone ravine in North Yorkshire, England. About the series, you say, "No hierarchical importance is placed on the notion of my 'real' experience versus a mediated one, a contemporary truism that is pervasive throughout our relationship with nature." I think the assumed hierarchy that privileges the "real" over the mediated emerges when simulation is confused with substitution. What do you think?

PV: For one, I think that "substitution" denotes a "one is better than the other" attitude and therefore becomes a  hierarchical approach. I am more interested in presenting these possibilities on equal footing because what we experience directly and what we are given to digest through the mass media culture are often inseparable. Culture shapes our reality and our reality contextualizes culture. This blending becomes interesting when it collides with our connection to nature. Many of us—myself included—are removed from a direct connection with it, so many of our ideas come from the above-mentioned grey zone. I think it is this distance that allows us to objectify and denigrate nature, dislocating our relationship further into a digestible reality.

OPP: A mediated experience of nature is not the same as a direct experience of nature, nor is it an unreal experience. Has this mediated experience of nature ever stopped you from having a direct experience of nature? How do simulations of nature enhance or detract our experiences of the natural world?


PV: Experience and reality are, in essence, tricky territories to explore. The project was born out of living in the west of Ireland for four months. Ballyvaughan, where I lived, is a small town nestled on the coast and is strikingly beautiful. It was a truly immersive experience with nature that I had never had before. During my time there I noticed that all my references for such familiarities were formed from my adolescent experiences of pop culture and not necessarily from direct experience. This got me thinking about how perception is often constructed out of constructions. If our minds are filled with constructions, then I feel it is important to know who is doing the constructing that we take as real. My pop culture recollections are as real to me as standing in a field: a point that is important to recognize. 

Landscape Simulation: Planet of the Apes/ Tatooine/ County Clare, Ireland
2011
Graphite on Paper
19" x 28"

OPP: I would agree that both experiences are wholly real, but aren’t they qualitatively different? I don’t mean that one is better than the other, just that each experience has a different quality to it. Do your pop culture recollections affect your physical experience of nature?

PV: Yes, they are qualitatively different but quantitatively the same. These pop culture memories serve as real memories amongst the many lived and fictional memories. As our new experiences are synthesized through our previous experiences, it stands to reason that, yes, past experiences—both real and fictional—contextualize the now. In terms of the physical, no; in terms of the metaphysical, yes.

OPP: Is drawing the ideal medium to explore simulation?


PV: I chose drawing specifically for its ability to mimic a simulation. I could have easily done the work with paint, for instance, but felt that drawing was the proper vehicle for my ideas. Drawing is a presentation of reality, but at the same time lacks a kind of truthiness in its atonal qualities. It presents without giving: a kind of hollow exchange. If I had executed these in paint, I feel my effort would have been too cheeky. Paint can mimic reality too closely with its seductive colors and illusionary possibilities. Drawing, on the other hand, has a built in failure to that end. It presents an idea but ends before delivering, at least in the way that I built the drawings. I endeavored to remove all personality of mark. It was important for the drawing marks to not convey a sense of self, rather to be a neutral space in which an emotional position is not asserted. I am not interested in presenting personage within the work.

Set #1: Cabrini Green/Good Times (detail)
2013
Graphite on Paper
108" x 96"

OPP: You've begun collaborating with next week's OtherPeoplesPixels' Featured Artist Allen Brewer. You've known each other for years but never collaborated until recently. How did this collaboration begin? 



PV: True. We first became open to the idea of collaborating when we had an exhibition at Occupy Space in Ireland for EVA International Visual Art Biennial in 2012. We realized that we couldn’t approach it as a standard two-person show because the exhibition site was spatially challenging. We didn’t exactly know how this would shape up. We just trusted in the process and decided to leave the possibilities open, abolishing any preconceived notions of how this would behave visually. The final decisions about the show were made in the space itself. We made our own work singularly, but, once in the space, we revisited the work with a new sense of possibility. It allowed us to see our previously constructed works with fresh eyes. We became open to new prospects and juxtapositions not previously offered with the singular work, which was quite freeing. Allen and I checked our egos at the door for sure. We ended up collaborating with each other as well as the space, often creating new works by combining already completed pieces. Rethinking and reconstructing allowed for unexpected results. This was a new experience for both of us and we were extremely happy with the outcome. It created the potential of a post-studio process.

Common Place
Two person exhibition with Allen Brewer
EVA International Visual Art Biennial, Istabraq Hall, hosted by Occupy Space, Limerick City, Ireland
2012

OPP: Has it changed your solo practice in any way?

PV: For sure. I am certainly open to more possibilities now in how I approach my ideas and work. Everything is on the table. I am no longer pigeonholed into one way of working, rather the idea leads the medium and vice versa. For instance, I am currently working on a performance project with Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit for the Mike Kelley's Mobile Homestead project. I might not have considered performance as a methodology/medium previously, so instances like this support my new vision of working.

I am also currently working on a collaborative project with Allen for the upcoming Minnesota Art Biennial at The Soap Factory. We are taking the best of our past collaboration experience and trying to push it forward one step further. We are making work both together as well as independently for the show with the idea that much of the work might shift or change once in the space. In essence, making the work on-site and once again trusting in the process over outcome.

To see more of Pamela's work, please visit pamelavalfer.com.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Erin Wozniak

Open Wide
Oil on panel
8" x 6.5"

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

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

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

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

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

Lick
Graphite on paper
11" x 11"

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

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

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

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

Strata
Oil on muslin over panel
11.5" x 11"

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

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

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

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

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

Cleft
Graphite on paper
12.5" x 17"

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

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

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

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

Tether
Oil on muslin over panel
11" x 8.25"

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


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

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

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

OtherPeoplePixels Interviews Melissa Wyman

Spring Play @ VIAF Performance Festival.
2009
Performance/ Installation

MELISSA WYMAN’s training in close contact martial arts informs her grappling performances and workshops, drawings of wrestling bodies and private Fight Therapy Sessions. Her interdisciplinary art practice involves teaching Brazilian jiu-jitsu as a method of exploring the psychological and physical relationships of the participants. Melissa received her MFA in Social Practice from the California College of the Arts in San Francisco (2008), where she was a recipient of the Barclay Simpson Award. She has created and presented work in the United States, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and Chile, and her book, Fight Therapy: A Discussion about Agency, Art and the Reverse Triangle Choke, was published in 2010. Melissa lives in Stanford, California.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Can you give us a brief history of your background in martial arts? When did you start training? What style?

Melissa Wyman: My love of movement and awkwardness in dance class lead me to martial arts. I started with aikido in 1995 and trained for about four years, and then I trained in Japanese jiu-jitsu and tai chi for a couple of years. When I moved to Japan in 1999, I was introduced to Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) and was immediately hooked. BJJ is specifically designed for smaller and weaker people to be able to deal with larger opponents. In turn, larger people learn how to grapple with smaller opponents and have the opportunity to focus on their technique rather than strength. For the last twelve years, I have been training mainly in BJJ, complimented by a little kickboxing and mixed martial arts (MMA). I’ve trained in Japan, New Zealand, San Francisco and South Korea. I took a brief break when I got pregnant, but I’ll enter competitions again when my daughter will let me train more than three days a week, maybe when she is old enough to train with me. 

Now I am back in the United States. I help instruct the Stanford Grappling Club. I also attend Women’s Open Mat organized by Shawn Tamaribuchi and Lana Stefanac in the Bay Area, which is when an awesome group of women from different clubs all over the area get together to spar. I actively competed in BJJ from 2002 to 2007 in Japan, New Zealand and the United States.
2008
Video
3min and 20sec

OPP: Since 2006, your project Fight Therapy has included performances, installations, workshops and drawings that all make use of or reference various forms of organized sparring. What was the impetus for Fight Therapy?

MW: Many forms of physical activity are therapeutic, especially sports that provide a healthy release of built up tension and give you an adrenaline boost to work with. When I train regularly, I feel more productive, more ready to participate in the world. Whether it’s boxing, kickboxing, MMA or wrestling, there is a deep camaraderie and empathy that takes place between people who ritualistically grapple, punch or kick each other by mutual agreement in a safe environment. I want my training partners to come back and train with me the next day, so we can also take care of each other. The project began when I decided to take grappling out of the gym and put it  into an art context.

OPP: Can you talk about the tension between aggression and collaboration in your work?

MW: I am very interested in the tension between aggression and collaboration and the difference between aggression and violence. I come from hippie roots with a strong belief in empathy and non-violence. I would define a violent act as one in which an organism—plant, animal, human, organization, corporation or government—acts in a way that isn’t mutually understood or wanted by its counterpart(s). Aggression, on the other hand, is energy that can be channeled, matched and worked with in various productive ways.  Most of my work is based around interpersonal relationships and communication. As someone who has been in a relationship for thirteen years and has lived in various countries during this time, I’ve learned that miscommunications and disagreements are a natural part of the human experience. But if you statically butt heads with someone, no one goes anywhere. If you can move, turn, roll and transition from one position to another, it gets interesting. Relationship building depends on the flow of both verbal and non-verbal communication between “grappling partners.” Awkward moments and transitions offer opportunities for growth.
Art vs Craft
2008
Collaborative project with artist Andrew Tosiello (Art) and action weaver Travis Meinolf (Craft), who trained with me for an intense two months before having an unchoreographed match at California College of the Arts in San Francisco.

OPP: You've conducted over 100 Fight Therapy Sessions between 2006 and 2011. How are those different from the interactive performances Costume Fight Therapy and Spring Play (both 2009)?

MW: The different aspects of the project fall under the same conceptual framework, but in practice, the Fight Therapy Sessions do something that the performance can’t and vice versa.

The private Fight Therapy Sessions take place in peoples' homes; they are always between two people and without an audience. As the fight therapist, I act as a coach. This creates a personal experience for the participants to work it out on the mat. Anyone can invite someone to do a Fight Therapy Session for any reason. I’ve had friends, lovers, ex-lovers, family members, teachers and students, and even diplomats from different countries work with one another. I provide the mats, teach grappling techniques, offer guidance and create a safe context in which people can grapple with one another. I make it possible for the smaller or physically weaker person of the pair to keep the grappling conversation going. The private Fight Therapy Sessions remain an undocumented experience and live on in conversation, thus giving depth to the project as a whole. The interactive performances are more of a spectacle with multiple participants and an audience. They are run similarly to the private sessions: I do a warm-up, teach some techniques, and then facilitate grappling between people. The grappling itself, like in the private sessions, is not choreographed. Some performances have a theme. In Costume Fight Therapy, participants dressed up in costumes that represented identities they were grappling with. This provided a group experience to “discuss”—through the physical grappling—shared issues. In Spring Play I fought my husband, Dion, in front of a huge audience in South Korea. This performance was loosely choreographed because we were telling the story of our relationship through our fighting. We actually met through Japanese jiu-jitsu in California when Dion came to visit and trained at the same place I was training. He was a New Zealander living in Japan where he was also training in BJJ. I moved to Japan and began to train at the same club. We were both teaching English at the time. After moving countries several times together, we found ourselves living in South Korea where he was working as a New Zealand diplomat. I was working on being a diplomat’s wife and an artist with odd jobs. For this performance, I wore a dress and Dion wore a suit. Feedback from the audience made me realize that the performance was also about grappling with societal expectations about gender roles.
I See 3 Asses
2012
Mixed media on paper
A collaboration with the Chicago art going public who were invited to draw on, write on, and deface my paintings.
2 X 3 feet

OPP: Collaborative Combative (2012) was part of an exhibition at Error Plain 206 in Chicago. You invited the gallery going public to collaborate with you by defacing the previously completed Fight Therapy paintings and drawings. Was this sanctioned defacement of your drawings and paintings always part of the plan? Was it difficult to watch as the collaboration/defacement began?

MW: That show was initially going to be a Fight Therapy event. Before the show, the gallery owner was advised that inviting the public to participate in a fight-related event in his space could have some legal implications. So the curator, Sarah Nelson, and I discussed other options. I decided to bring a selection of drawings and paintings and invite another kind of aggressive participation. I felt that my drawings were missing the energy that existed in the participatory work. One of the aspects of that work that I enjoy is that I create a context for things to happen. I don’t have total control over the outcome. I wanted to do this with my drawings. I was curious to see to what extent the drawings would actually be defaced. Oddly enough, it was satisfying and surprisingly rewarding to see people draw and write on the drawings. I was happy that the audience engaged with them even when what was written and drawn wasn’t complimentary. Each piece is now it’s own conversation, and I think they are all more interesting and energetic works. After agreeing that participants could sign a waiver and that I would be very clear with people that I was not a licensed therapist, I also facilitated a few Fight Therapy Sessions in the space.

2012
Participatory Combat Drawing: documentation

OPP: Animal: Collaborative Combative Drawing at Southern Exposure in San Francisco (2012) combines the participatory events with drawing in a completely new way? Can you describe what happened?

MW: This event was both a workshop and a performance. I invited a handful of Bay Area artists. Some brought their own partners. Others allowed me to pair them up. Fourteen artists were asked to come prepared with an animal that they wanted to draw; this could be a power animal or a creature with which they identified. We started the evening with a physical warm up. I taught self-defense and movement techniques relevant to the activity that they would be doing. I gave each pair a 5 x 8 feet piece of paper. The public was invited to participate with smaller paper or watch. Each piece of paper was marked lightly down the middle. The artists had 45 minutes to draw the body of the animal on their side of the paper starting at the ass (or tail) and working towards the middle of the paper. They would meet in the middle at the shoulders of the animal and stop. When the whistle blew—marking the end of the 45 minutes—the objective was for each artist to draw the head of his or her animal on the partner’s side of the paper without letting the partner do the same. So it was a visual, physical and metaphorical clashing of heads. They had three minutes to push, pull and fight with each other to get their marks down on the paper. It turned into a very high energy evening with lots of movement and some maniacal laughter. The works created stayed up for the weekend and may still be shown at a future date.

OPP: Are there any new developments in your practice? Any upcoming public events?

MW: I have a few more Collaborative Combative Drawing events coming up in August 2013. First, on August 2nd at the Steynberg Gallery in San Luis Obispo, I will have a Collaborative Combative Drawing event with local artists that will be open to the public to witness. The works will remain up for the month at the gallery. Then, on August 10th, I will do a separate workshop at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art for people who where interested in trying Collaborative Combative Drawing. Anyone can sign up. The workshop will be from 1 to 3 pm. The work will remain on display for the rest of the month. Then in the summer of 2014, my work will be in Soft Muscle, curated by Adrienne Heloise, at Root Division in San Francisco.

Currently, I'm working on ways to push and explore the Collaborative Combative concept. I've been inviting Bay Area artists to do one-on-one Collaborative Combative Coffee (and drawing) Sessions with me. These sessions are similar to the other Collaborative Combative Drawing sessions, but each one is a more personal experience between me and another artist. We discuss our work and the challenges we face in our practices, ranging from time, space, material or financial limitations to mental blocks in our creative processes. We each come up with a visual representation for one of our artistic blocks and combat draw with each other.

I've also been presenting my work at various colleges and workshopping both Fight Therapy and Collaborative Combative Drawing with the students. This model is simultaneously a cross-disciplinary ice-breaker, a physical warm up and an intervention into everyday problem-solving in personal, professional and academic settings. I plan to find more and interesting contexts to explore this platform as an art practice. Stay tuned!

To see more of Melissa's work, please visit melissawyman.info.

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


OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Emily Barletta

Untitled 40 (detail)
2013
Thread and paper
12.25 x 13.75 inches

EMILY BARLETTA’s accumulations of embroidery and crochet stitches mark the passage of time. Her recent embroideries on paper are formal abstractions that reveal a connection between organic growth and human mark-making, inviting the viewer to contemplate the relationship of the individual parts to the whole. Emily received her BFA from The Maryland Institute College of Art (2003). She is a Pollack-Krasner Foundation Grant recipient (2011) and a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellow in Crafts (2009). Recent exhibitions include Art/Sewn at the Ashville Art Museum and The Sum of the Parts at Maryland Art Place. Emily’s work is currently on view in Repetition & Ritual: New Sculpture in Fiber until May 25, 2013 at The Hudgens Center for the Arts (Deluth, Georgia). Emily lives in Brooklyn, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your recent embroideries on paper are compositionally simple and conceptually complex. They are formal abstractions made from one or two repeated gestures, but the accumulation of the stitched marks doesn’t only use repetition as a compositional element. It provides an opportunity to contemplate the nature of repetition. What does repetition mean to you?

Emily Barletta: In the recent works on paper, I have been thinking about building walls, piles and mountains. The repetitious stitch is a way for me to fill up a surface and create these imaginary structures, much in the same way they would be built in real space, by adding piece to piece. A stitch, whether it is embroidered or crocheted, equals a mark. If I accumulate enough marks of any kind I can grow a structure or build a pile. It takes time to physically pull a thread through paper or to do a crochet stitch, so this mark becomes the record of the space in time when this action occurred. With my early crochet work, the same piece by piece accumulation referenced cellular structures, molds and plants growing.

Untitled 31
2012
Thread and paper
18 x 24 inches

OPP: Why do you choose to embroider on paper instead of fabric?

EB: Over the last 10 years I’ve tried embroidering many times on fabric only to be frustrated with the result. I always wanted the fabric to be more solid and less flimsy. It was really difficult to have a thread tension I was happy with.

Sewing on paper changes the art from being an object to being a drawing or a painting. I went through a change in my thinking where I became concerned with how people display art in their homes. I looked at the art I own and display at home and thought about the sculptural and crocheted art I was making at the time. I had a hard time imagining it in someone’s home. I was also frustrated with how every single crocheted wall piece I made created it’s own dilemma of how to hang it. I wanted my work to be simpler and possibly more accessible. I wanted to be able to visualize my art on someone’s wall, but I also wanted to create something that a person would want to live with.

OPP: How does sewing on paper change the process? Is the composition preplanned or determined intuitively as you go?

EB:  I usually have a specific vision in mind when I start. Sometimes I lay a drawing on tracing paper over the real paper and poke holes through it, but the tracing paper is more of a guide than something I follow exactly. If there isn’t a drawing, then I usually fill out the paper with a base color as a guide and I pick out the colors before I start. I poke the holes as I go. I look and see where I want the stitch to be or the next several stitches and I poke the holes, sew through them and then repeat. When you sew on fabric you can just put the needle through, but if I did this with paper it would crinkle or bend, and the holes might tear. I have a strong need to keep the paper as pristine as possible.

Spill
2006
Crocheted yarn
33 x 50 x 2 inches

OPP: You mentioned your early crochet work, which is more sculptural and draws connections between our bodies and the environment. Pieces like Untitled (goiter) (2008) and Untitled (spleen) (2008) and Scabs (2008) reference the body, while other pieces reference organic forms like water, barnacles and moss. Why is crochet particularly suited to exploring organic forms? Any plans to go back to it?

EB: The form of crochet stitches is organic in nature. It makes soft curves and not hard lines. Again I had a problem with the softness of the material. Also, I was frustrated with the great amount of time it took to complete a crocheted work. For me, each piece of art leads to the next, but when I spent too much time on one, I would often lose the next idea before I would get to it. So there was a lack of flow and connectedness between my thinking and my studio practice. I have some ideas for large site-specific crocheted work I would like to make some day. If the opportunity presents itself, I may go back to it, but for now I am very satisfied with the speed and possibilities of sewing on paper.

OPP: How often is making your work grueling or monotonous? How often is it a delight?

EB: If the work feels grueling or monotonous, I give up and try something else. I am a firm believer that the act of making is supposed to be enjoyable. I think it is almost always a delight or, at the very least, relaxing.

OPP: I’ve heard a lot of viewers respond to embroidery work by commenting on the patience of the artist. Viewers who’ve never used these techniques can’t comprehend what the experience is like; they say they could never have done it. Do viewers comment on your patience? If so, is it a distraction from the content of your work or does it add to the content?

EB: I definitely get those comments about patience. I also get questions about how long it takes to make something. It can be distracting, but I think of the drawings as recordings of the passage of time, so it makes sense that other people would identify with that aspect of the work. However, the work doesn’t require patience because I love doing it.

Untitled 6
2011
Thread and paper
18 x 24 inches

OPP: There is an unfortunate but enduring cultural assumption that embroidery is women's work. This idea dates back to the Victorian era when a woman's value as a wife was symbolized by her embroidery skills, despite the fact that men and women actually embroidered alongside one another in guilds in earlier eras. Embroidery is increasingly more accepted as a significant form of art, but these gendered assumptions about materials and techniques still persist. I'm curious about your personal experience. Have you ever experienced this dismissive attitude about your chosen medium? Is it changing?

EB: The fact that I sew doesn’t come from any social, political or feminist agenda. It’s just what I enjoy doing. I have experienced this dismissive attitude. Usually it is not from inside the art world but rather from people who might not understand the art world. They relate what I’m doing to something they’ve seen in a craft context or they want to try to replicate my work as a craft project. I don’t know if there has been a shift, but I do hope to see more exhibits that hang paintings next to drawings next to something sewn. I already see that happening with several contemporary artists—Louise Bourgeois, Orly Genger, Ghada Amir, Ernesto Neto, and Sheila Hicks, to name a few—who have paved the way in the contemporary art world for fiber to be seen as an acceptable medium.

OPP: Last fall, you quit your day job to make art full-time, something most of us artists fantasize about. Congratulations! What’s hard about it that you didn’t expect? What's amazing about it? Any advice for artists who want to move in that direction?

EB: When I quit I knew it wasn’t going to be forever. I’m currently in the process of trying to find a job again. But it’s been the most positive art-making experience of my life. There honestly hasn’t been anything hard about it for me. I think it’s possible that some people could have trouble with the isolation of being alone all the time, but I really like being alone. It’s great to be able to finish work more quickly and really be present in the making process from one day to the next. My general advice is to be nice and take time to personally respond to any inquiry you get about your artwork. Networking, even if over the Internet, is really important. Also, apply for grants and shows. Do the research. You should spend as much time on the business end of running your studio as you do making art. 

To see more of Emily's work, please visit emilybarletta.com.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Norm Paris

Geode (Pistol Pete)
2011
Graphite, Forton MG, Pigment, Resin, Glass
20" x 12" x 8"

Artist, sports fan and educator NORM PARIS explores the allegories of decline present in western narratives of heroism. His sculptures and drawings frame the bodies of professional athletes like Michael Jordon and historical figures like George Washington as architectural ruins and fossils thus rethinking the myths surrounding monumentality. Norm received his BFA from The Rhode Island School of Design, where he is currently an Assistant Professor in Drawing, and his MFA from the Yale School of Art, where he was core faculty from 2003-2008. He is represented by The Proposition Gallery (New York) and his work is included in the West Collection. Norm lives in Brooklyn, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What exactly is Forton MG? It seems to be your favorite material, and you stretch its capabilities in a lot of directions. What does it offer that other sculpture materials can't?

Norm Paris: Forton MG is a casting mixture made of resin and gypsum, so it's part plastic, part plaster. There is something modern about the material’s synthetic nature; its plastic underbelly is “pop,” while its plaster-like appearance is classical. Forton is a shape-shifter, a chameleon. It is an aqueous solution that can be poured into any kind of mold, but it can also take on the properties of various metals and pigments. Lately I have been adding brass, iron and bronze powders to the mixture, which allows the cast to mimic metal. It can receive a patina just like metal can. The cast does contain metal, but the majority of the material, the binder, is something else. In that sense, it is both real and fake. Increasingly, I am using Forton in conjunction with other found materials and moving between different modes of sculpture and drawing. I want to avoid that point where material exploration becomes habit and expand the formal purview of the work.
Michael Jordan, Save The World (installation view)
2005
Forton MG, Casein, String

OPP: The figure of Michael Jordan is a repeated motif in your work, appearing first in your 2005 sculpture installation Michael Jordan, Save The World.  I'm not sure if you are a Michael Jordan fan, but I suspect your interest in basketball—or baseball or football—isn't purely artistic, aesthetic or critical. Do you identify as a sports fan?

NP: I loathed Michael Jordan when I was growing up in Cleveland, but he was unavoidable. He was the first sports figure to become a global brand. Just watch some highlights, maybe the 1988 Slam Dunk Contest, and you will find that Jordan is a Hellenistic sculptor and a performance artist. He uses the aesthetics of Michelangelo to sell himself as a god within the Arena. But at the time I was just angry that Ron Harper (guard, Cleveland Cavaliers) was nixed from the Dunk contest because of some stupid injury.

MJ’s sudden fragility by the 2002-2003 season opened the door for a lot of that work from 2005-2009. He had physically declined in a way that made sports fans uncomfortable. Jordan couldn’t follow his own script. What caught my attention at the time—besides an unexpected fit of intense nostalgia—was how the discrepancy between the ideal and the real highlighted the faulty nature of the myth surrounding MJ. While I was working on the MJ installation in my Philadelphia basement studio in 2004, it struck me that I was making these sculptures of an athlete-as-hero while the country was at war, while the Weapons of Mass Destruction crisis was in full swing. My engagement seemed out of step with what was happening. I think Michael Jordan, Save The World was an awkward attempt to come to terms with an array of public, private and political concerns. My work has changed a lot since that piece, but ultimately I am still interested in the strange fragility of these monumental figures.

So yes, I am a sports fan. But while I’m personally invested in pro sports, I’ve also become fascinated by the unstable allegories that underscore a game or a season, looking at the phenomenon the way that Roland Barthes looked at wrestling. Since the action in a game is in real time, stories are constantly created and then torn apart. Spectators—myself included—imbue players with heroic meanings only to find that this affect is obsolete a moment later. Someone dropped a ball, or missed a shot, or tore an ACL, or retired. Athletic allegories are inevitably temporary because of bodily limitations, changing circumstances and shifting opinion over time. Gravity brings us all down. Robert Smithson’s ideas about entropy don’t only apply to the earth and the ground, but also to the figure.

The Fight (detail/staff)
2006
etching

OPP: Michael Jordan: Disasters of War (2006-2009), your drawings and etchings which reference Goya's famed series of the same name, feature Michael Jordan as ALL the figures. Could you talk about this choice?

NP: I am interested in the foggy and spastic relationships in the Disasters etchings because there is no chance to settle the dilemma. The lack of closure becomes the point. I wanted to construct narratives that were not necessarily linear. And so I substituted every figure from Goya’s original compositions with Jordan; this basic rule sets the stage for a Freudian sense of conflict—he saves and maims and kills himself. I thought a lot about dark humor when I was making these prints. The gratuitous nature of them and the ridiculousness of the situation was alternately funny, inappropriate and sad. Like in Tarantino’s Inglorious Bastards, overwhelming and ironic violence is the embodiment of a complex and uncomfortable emotional space. In that film, like in these etchings, instincts of victimhood and aggression are in flux.

I tend to find icons and to replace them whenever necessary. This happens in sports but is even more pronounced in the combustible narratives of politics. Goya’s original prints were protest etchings against the Peninsular War, and the inappropriate superimposition of Jordan calls a lot into question. I was looking at a fracture or conflation between this deflated leisure myth and a larger sense of real violence. 

Tondo (The Fordham Wall Still Stands)
2010
Graphite on Paper
42" x 42"

OPP: There is a shift away from the figure. It's not absolute, but it is noticeable. Afterwards there are more sculptures of precarious structures, which may or may not be ruins of buildings that once functioned, but definitely don't now. Can you talk about this intersection of architecture and mythic heroes, which was drawn out in your solo show The Wall Still Stands (2011) at The Proposition in New York?

NP: As I finished the Disasters etchings I became more interested in the space around the action rather than the figure itself. I made the sculpture Rubble Fragment I (Mezuzah), and I realized that a piece of concrete could become the heroic figure instead of a literal classical body. I used the same substitution rule that guided the Jordan prints in the Reconstruction drawings, but architectural structures like two-by-fours and cinder blocks were the stand-in for human presence. Some of the drawings become defunct altars or shrines; others are failed utopian building projects.

I wanted to allow for a wider array of subject matter rather than harping on one obvious signifier. The architectural structures from the drawings are based on figures from sports clippings I've received from my father over the years and screen shots from old footage of baseball games, but they are heavily camouflaged. Bridge/Fortress/Hillis  began as a sculpture of the former Cleveland Browns running back Payton Hillis. Holding It Together (Pistol Pete) is based on Zurbaran's Saint Serapion. I was interested in the fragility of the structure, and its simultaneous sense of building and decay. This work explores some of the same terrain as the more overt sculptures and prints; but now I am encoding, encasing and cutting apart the source. Human form is roughly translated to architecture or rock formation. I’ve been looking at old sports writers like Henry Grantland Rice, who had a tendency to rename the heroes of the day as immovable rocks or some other monumental vision; the 1936 Fordham Rams for example, were coined the “Fordham Wall” and their offensive line was “The Seven Blocks of Granite.” This type of metaphor can be found in all sorts of places, from Percy Bysshe Shelley's Ozymandias to Pink Floyd's The Wall.
Steve/Joseph/Carpenter/Structure
2011
Forton MG
45" x 20" x 20"

OPP: What do George Washington and Caesar have in common with Pistol Pete, Michael Jordan, Vince Lombardi, Jim Brown and Arnold Schwarzenegger?

NP: I witnessed all these figures through the lens of reproduction as a primary source of aura. Growing up, the distance of the photograph, print or video, and now the internet, allowed me to fill these vessels with my own meanings. There are countless posters of Michael Jordan stuck in mid-air as if he could levitate forever. Even the painting George Washington Crossing The Delaware is a fabrication which is only loosely based on historical fact, and yet this vision is as real as it gets. These people have been worshipped, albeit in vastly different times and places. While there are qualitative differences that separate them—George Washington actually did effect the world more than Pistol Pete—I am more interested in these icons as the embodiment of an internal response to popular American mythologies. They are mostly boyhood visions of manhood, all of which are more complicated than they initially appeared.

OPP: If you absolutely had to pick—pretend the world will end if you don't—would you rather go to an art opening or a sporting event?

NP: That’s like picking a favorite child. The question presents a false choice. I can have my cake and eat it too. I was drawing on my apartment floor as I watched game 7 of the 1997 World Series

And besides, sporting events can be art. Robert Smithson always talked about how the movies that were the most important to him and his peers were the B-movies, the sci-fi movies rather than the art flicks. These cultural artifacts were the platform on which he built his work. He was also immensely well-read and informed about art history, and he was certainly a part of the art world. He was intimately invested in all of his obsessions, and he reveled in the fact that he did not have to choose. I feel the same way.

A live basketball game is a singularity. It happens in real time and only exists in that moment. I suppose the artwork is at face value more static (unless it is performative or interactive), but certainly the experience of the work is also singular since it is specific to that time and place.

While I love the community aspect of the art opening, the support for the work of friends and peers, the reality is that there is more flexibility in seeing an art show—and art openings are often the absolute worst time to view the work. The sporting event is often the ideal venue to view the spectacle. And so, from a situational and phenomenological point of view, I choose the game.

To see more of Norm's work, please visit normparis.com.

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