OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Jeffrey Meris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews P. Roch Smith

curley Q, 2016. 4 ½” (l) x 38” (w) x 5” (h). bronze

Toys are the foundation of P. ROCH SMITH's bronze sculptures and installations. Mass-produced, plastic toy soldiers have lost their useful appendages; their weapons, arms and legs have been replaced with dramatically larger branches, compromising their balance and their purpose. Skateboarders perch precariously on the edges of Legos, on the backs of galloping horses, and on more Legos balanced on unstable constructions of tinker toys. Still more figurines push bronze balls uphill, lift houses at their foundations and carry Legos like lumber. Roch unifies the disparate toys in bronze, mini monuments that celebrate their hard work, conflate work and play and question cultural expectations of masculinity. Roch earned his BFA from Emily Carr University of Art and Design (Vancouver, British Columbia) and his MFA from York University (Toronto, Ontario). His numerous solo exhibitions include three recent shows in Toronoto: play–replay (2013) at Earl Selkirk Gallery, equilibration (2015) and fields of play (2016), both at loop Gallery. Roch lives and works in Toronto, and you can follow his work-in-progress on Instagram @rochsmith.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Tell us about your favorite toy as a kid?

P. Roch Smith: My favorite toy was my GI Joe Air Adventurer. My two older brothers and I each got a different model one summer in the 1970s when we were in Charlottetown on holidays. It was the version with the “lifelike hair” and “Kung-Fu grip” and came with an orange flight suit. We created so many scenarios with those figures. We were always saving up money to buy new uniform kits and accessories like a Jeep and hang glider. When I was at art school in Vancouver, I started to use my GI Joe in photographs and sculptures and he became a way to speak about play, masculinity and memory. As a kid, I can remember asking my mum how to sew because I needed to fix a tear in his flight suit. The hackneyed black stitching is still there after all these years.

I think it was probably the start of my interest in the tactile—the real. Instead of representations of reality, I had the capacity to manipulate artifacts and create scaled down landscapes or playscapes. I wasn’t very graphically-minded as a kid. I didn’t (and still don’t) do a lot of drawing. But the idea of manipulating objects in real time and space was pretty liberating. 

phantoms (detail), 2007. Plaster GI Joe figures. Dimensions variable to fit gallery.

OPP: Is it your favorite toy as an adult?

PRS: There are some items which hold memory so strongly that it is tough to find a replacement. While I have collected and inherited many figures over time, my original GI Joe is still my touchstone. I have accumulated a lot of GI Joe gear over the past 20 years that I keep in crates in my studio. As a maker of objects, I think a lot about the artifacts and memories we acquire and carry. As we move through our lives we are in a continuing cycle of acquiring,  discarding, modifying and mythologizing. Respect for the real, for the integrity of the object, and the act of making are all integral to me.

This summer, I wanted to cast some bronze versions of a selection of GI Joe rifles so I took out the crates. My 11-year-old daughter, who had never seen all these figures and equipment, was kind of stunned. Her response was, “Dad, you sure have a lot of dolls” which I thought was pretty great and knocked all my theorizing down a peg.

hide & seek (no. 1), 2016. 8" (l) x 26” (w) x 48” (h). Bronze.

OPP: How do you both employ and subvert the monumentality of bronze in your recent show fields of play?

PRS: The choice to work in a reduced scale really dictates how the work might be read in terms of its monumentality or conversely its anti-heroic stature. Taking a plastic original and transforming it into bronze upsets the usual notions of value and materiality. I use an organic burnout foundry process where each original figure or branch is lost during the casting process. Each sculpture is a one-off; the mass-produced is returned to the singular. Some people categorize bronze as historically-weighted, but I view it merely as a means to an end. 

At first glance, the pieces don’t appear that impressive or imposing. With further viewing, however, viewers begin to register the level of detail and the fact that the figures are doing things that are structural (e.g. holding up a larger house form or a tree branch), and that plays with one’s expectations of what is possible. The figures need to be transformed from plastic to metal in order to do the “heroic” actions that their small scale simultaneously minimizes.

house stack - prototype, 2014. bronze and assorted hardwoods

OPP: Are you more interested in balance or precariousness?

PRS: With sculpture, balance is critical. I dislike using hidden fasteners and pins to defy gravity. However, I am continually drawn to representing moments that are precarious: an object that is just about to topple over; a figure that is straining to keep a much larger object aloft; or an object balanced in a way that strains credulity. Tentative moments capture my imagination: things at the margins; moments just before something uncertain happens; or a memory that is just outside the reaches of easy recall. I ponder how these moments might be represented in concrete form.

OPP: Do these formal and structural challenges become content, metaphor and allegory in your work?

PRS: Viewers often see the Myth of Sisyphus as an allegorical arc in my work. I am partial to Camus’ interpretation of Sisyphus as one who undertakes an honorable pursuit by completing an insurmountable task and then having the integrity to repeat the feat over and over again. It is what most people do everyday, going about their work. I often joke that everyone has to work in my studio—meaning that all the toys have to be engaged in an action that requires a great effort. My underlying ethos is that working is a supremely human condition of being and is what links us in a fundamental way.

sisyphus, 2013

OPP: You did a lot of early work using the form of the white dress shirt. Now tiny toy army men are a recurring visual motif. I see these as representing the limiting, culturally-masculine roles of businessman and soldier. Are you commenting on masculinity?

RPS: Definitely. I think a lot about how masculinity is constructed, presented and examined. Arguably clothing is one of the most immediate ways we convey identity and where we position ourselves or are positioned by others in society. We wear “uniforms” every day.

The white shirt as a marker of power is so prevalent as to be generally invisible or is seen as normative. By taking the shirt and elevating it as an artifact—whether behind a glass frame or left to decay in a forest—I was hoping to make the power of the shirt evident and visible and hopefully lead to a questioning of its effects. The white shirt is such a longstanding uniform and represents a circumscribed notion of what it is to be male. The endurance of this trope fascinates me: male political leaders, businessmen, experts and talking heads wear them as a symbol of implied credibility. But I’m not sure that this blanket respect is at all deserved.

Toy soldiers are scaled-down, idealized versions of the romanticized reality of war. There is certainly nostalgia involved as it has been a few generations since these toys have been in use as children’s play things. The contemporary equivalent of the toy soldier would be video games where gamers fight bloody online battles. While toys require imagination to function, video games are a more scripted form of play. Toy soldiers speak to the desire to “play war” but without the graphic reality of war ever intruding. It might be a universal impulse.  A few years ago I came across a photo in the paper of Syrian children “playing war” with cardboard AK-47s and RPGs, which is something I don’t think we would readily see in North America. 

The miniature invites us to be omnipotent and to imagine and control what occurs. It is within this ecosystem that I can physically alter the toys and re-imagine new narratives.  I must be honest, however, and acknowledge that playing around with the toys is a ton of fun. A lot of my work begins with, “what if I took this and joined it with that.” It is within the final resolution, however, that some themes that question masculinity emerge.

as i came upon a clearing (installation view), 2005. Bronze GI Joe figure torsos, tree branches. variable dimensions

OPP: What do these uniforms say about the societies they exist within?

PRS: I think that military dress is perhaps a more honest expression of the hierarchies and unmarked castes that exist in our lives. In the military, a uniform can be read like a book to garner a lot of information about a person’s rank, unit, valor (decorations) and service time. Of course, these judgments occur outside the military, but I would argue it is of a more insidious nature. Similar readings are made but are done so under the myth/belief that we have some modicum of equality. However there are still clear class structures which exist between blue and white collar workers. It is interesting to think that the military, which has no qualms of putting one in a hierarchical system, results in a lack of artifice, which at once flattens and spotlights the structural nature of identity.

duet (detail of right side figure), 2016. 4 ½” (l) x 56” (w) x 6 ½” (h). bronze

OPP: Bronze sticks, branches and string have been present in your work for years. Could you talk about the relationship between these organic references and the toys, especially in your most recent exhibition, fields of play?

PRS: The original idea for fields of play came from a friend at university whose hippy/anti-war parents finally relented and gave her some plastic army men to play with when she was a kid, but not before cutting off all the rifles and weapons that they originally held. Turning this story over in my head in the studio, I decided to replace the guns with branches and unify the results in bronze. Organic forms such as branches possess a beauty and formal clarity. Coming from the earth, they are an odd pairing with the mass-produced, plastic soldiers. Fusing the natural to the plastic/industrial creates at once a disconnect and a unity. My hope is that the resulting objects are hybrids that are opened for reconsideration. It begs the question whether replacing guns with branches alters the reading of the figures and their purpose.

I always have a lot of materials lying around to try out ideas. In the exhibition, I also cast yarn from inside old baseballs into bronze. String is a connector; it binds elements together. At the scale of my figures, a string becomes a rope. It becomes a means of grounding and holding the figures. The drooping ropes are a conceit in that an actual string would not fall exactly in that way but it is a close enough approximation so that the viewer believes the illusion.

slackline, 2016. 36” (l) x 60” (w) x 24” (h). Bronze and LEGO blocks.

OPP: Do you see art-making as a type of play?

PRS: As kids growing up in Canada, we used cutoff hockey sticks for all sorts of play artifacts: swords, guns, clubs, bats. Our parents often used them to prop open a window or act as a door stop for a sliding door. These examples remind me of the fluidity of objects and that the creativity of (mis)use is often more interesting than the intended purpose of the original object. I think that this type of re-purposing is what allows me to fuse the organic with the manufactured. I am pulled into the playfulness of using materials in the studio much like when I was a kid, always searching for one object that could be turned into or used as another. The genesis of so many solutions is centered in of creative play.

To see more of P. Roch Smith's work, please visit rochsmith.com.

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

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Fafnir Adamites

Felted burlap, paper, felt
11'x 8'x 6'

Using the traditional craft techniques of felt-making, paper-making and embroidery, FAFNIR ADAMITES  creates both intimate, personal memorials and large-scale, abstract monuments. Influenced by theories of inherited trauma from previous generations, she employs the forms of the hidden mass, the implied void and traced/retraced text to provide viewers an opportunity for ongoing contemplation because, as she writes, “the surest engagement with memory lies in it's perpetual irresolution.” Fafnir graduated Cum Laude from University of Massachusetts, Amherst with a BA in Women’s  Studies and Photography in 2001. In May 2015, she earned her MFA in Fiber and Material Studies from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in. Her work will be included in Materialities: Contemporary Textile Arts, juried by Namita Gupta Wiggers. The show opens on August 27, 2015 at Arrowmont School of Craft in Craft in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Fafnir lives and works in Turners Falls, Massachusetts.

OtherPeoplesPixels: One of your staple processes is felt-making. Can you briefly describe this process for those who have never thought about felt before. Why do you choose this process? What's compelling about it conceptually and/or viscerally?

Fafnir Adamites: Felt is the oldest form of fabric, pre-dating knitting and weaving. It is the process of transforming loose, unspun wool into a tight, non-woven fabric. By adding hot, soapy water to the wool and agitating it—my particular process involves rolling and hand-manipulation—the wool fibers shrink and form a dense mass. I’ve always been drawn to intensive processes in the studio. I was a black and white darkroom nerd in undergrad. There’s something about the sharp grain of a perfectly developed photograph that relates to the fine surface of a well-felted object. Processes like these suit perfectionists. They can be unforgiving to the cocky and ultimately rewarding to the person who can slow down and collaborate with the materials and tools.

Handmade felt, muslin, image transfer
Series of 6, each piece approximately 7"x 7"

OPP: What's compelling about felt-making conceptually and/or viscerally?

FA: The repetition of felt-making is part of the appeal for me. The time that’s required allows for meditation and demands physical stamina to see the process through to the end. The transformative quality of felt also intrigues me. Through the shrinking of the wool, I transcribe my actions and embed meaning into the surface of the material.

Felt is a chaos structure that is not constructed in a rigid, striated method like weaving. Felt, like paper, is a mass of unruly fibers. Deleuze and Guattari wrote about the smooth and the striated in A Thousand Plateaus. They make an interesting distinction between the infinite and open nature of felt-making and the spatially limited nature of a process like weaving which always consists of mobile and passive parts. These two distinct forms are inherently different yet wholly inseparable. The felted burlap technique that I have used in a number of recent sculptures is a combination of the smooth and the striated. The smooth, chaotic structure of the felt disrupts the rigid, striated formation of the woven burlap, creating a new beast all together. Chaos overtakes the ruthless grid.

Monument for the Irresolvable
Felted burlap, paper, plastic, air
Approximately 16' x 10' x 4'

OPP: What Conceals and Monument for the Irresolvable, both 2014, formally represent unseen masses. The viewer only has access to the shell or shroud. Both pieces make me think of the idiomatic elephant in the room. What's the elephant in the room in these works?

FA: There is no discrete thing/trauma/experience that I am shrouding or covering up. So maybe the elephant in the room is in fact the elephant in the room. My intent was to designate space for contemplation on absence. The purpose is to shift the authority or the prescription of what is to be mourned and what is worthy of our grief and attention. Pursuing a void form was one method to fill the space and avoid a reference to any particular moment in time or any kind of conclusion.

My research on the counter-monument movement in Germany helped bring me to these void forms. I am particularly interested in how the counter-monument artists approached the conundrum of representing an absence. They were not moved to find closure or seek an end point to the traumas they were memorializing. Instead, they worked with the notion that the surest engagement with memory lies in its perpetual irresolution.

These pieces are less about what is being remembered, suppressed or hidden, and more about leaving space for whatever that phantom is that haunts us. Whether you do anything about it or not, I think it’s incredibly important to acknowledge that it is indeed there.

What Conceals
Felted burlap, debris
7'x 7'x 4'

OPP: Please talk about your text-based, textile works Writing Adamites (2014) and He Was a Worker (2014), in which you use embroidery to trace written language that relates to your ancestors. How do these pieces relate to your interest in patterns, both personal and collective?

FA: This work began with my research on Transgenerational Epigenetic Inheritance. This is the theory that environmental events, traumas and anxieties can be imprinted on a person’s DNA and passed down to future generations. I’m fascinated and frankly horrified by the idea that I may be trapped within the events and emotional fallout of generations before me, that I may be pre-programmed to react and exist based not on the current positive or negative forces in my life, but by the forces that were in place decades before me.

In trying to shed some light on my own family’s history, the act of retracing became a potent symbol and method of research, meditation and intimacy. I used the writing of a family friend, poet Robert Francis, to enter their lives and search for a likeness or some shred of familiarity. Physically tracing the words that described my grandfather, his parents and siblings was an act of reverence and a way to slow down and choose to exist within a storyline that I originally saw as a hereditary trap. Retracing someone else’s words, footprints or habits by choice rather than by force can lead to a power shift.

Writing Adamites
Muslin, cotton batting, cotton thread, graphite
7'x 5'

OPP: Highlighting and obscuring are conceptual and formal strategies that overlap with one another in your work. Are these sometimes the same thing? Are they always the same thing?

FA: These strategies are definitely not static, which is part of what draws me to them. Sometimes I think I’m visually highlighting something when actually what I’m doing is obscuring it. As the maker, I can’t always pinpoint which is happening until after the fact. There’s a fluidity that exists in the searching. I’m intrigued by the way that the actions of underlining and redacting can contradict their own intended purposes. Frustratingly, clarity often eludes you when you search too forcefully. Obscuring, or allowing something to be opaque, can make it more approachable. Mucking around in the grey area ultimately dislodges something that is fundamental to a final exposure. Sometimes a guide is revealed in the process. This occurs in my work through the dislocation of meaning when words are redacted or highlighted within a text or when an image is physically altered during the felt-making process. Similarly, the visual signs of concealment are the best way to draw attention to it. 

56"x 32"x 32"

OPP: You literally finished graduate school a month and half ago. It's an experience that many artists have had, and we all know how intense, rewarding and difficult it can be. What was your experience like?

FA: Going back to school for my MFA degree at SAIC after over a decade of being out of school was a jarring experience for me. It forced me to examine a lot of my habits: as a student, an artist and a slightly misanthropic human. The advising sessions, critiques and constant examination of the minutiae of my thinking and my work was a lot like therapy. And it was just the kind of intensity that I needed. I entered knowing that I had to shed some old tendencies and blockages to be able to get deeper into the conceptual intentions of my work and to re-commit myself to my studio practice.

OPP: How does it feel to be entering the next phase of your artistic life? Are you on to new projects yet?

FA: It will take some time for me to fully process my MFA experience and reacclimate to my normal life. While I’m doing that, I have a day job at a special collections archive at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and will begin teaching felt-making and other fiber processes at Snow Farm in Williamsburg, Massachusetts. I’ve been researching for and designing a college level class which combines an intellectual investigation into the history of making and integrating traditional craft processes into fine art studio practice. I’ve also been writing an article on the marginalization of fiber art in the contemporary art world.

To see more of Fafnir's work, please visit fafniradamites.com.

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