OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Mary Grisey

Just When I Unearthed the Instinct to Soften, 2016

Transformation, both planned and accidental, is central to MARY GRISEY's installations. Working with rust as a dye, hand-woven sisal, linen and raffia and collapsed ceramic vessels, she embraces the unexpectedness of loss and decay. Informed by a metaphysical approach to materials and process, she "reveals the ruin and beauty of both the body and the psyche." Mary earned her BA in Painting and Drawing at Marist College (Poughkeepsie, NY), her BFA in Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and her MFA at York University (Toronto, Canada). Recent solo exhibitions include Cloth Dripping (2016) at Xpace Gallery in Toronto and Sung From the Mouth of Cumae (2015) at Art Gallery of Mississauga, both in Ontario, Canada. She's been an Artist-in-Residence at Artcroft (Carlisle, Kentucky), The Drake Lab: Akin Collective Studio Residency (Toronto) and Vermont Studio Center (Johnson, Vermont). Mary is based in Los Angeles, California.

OtherPeoplesPixels: What is the relationship of construction and deconstruction in your work? Are these simply processes or also content?

Mary Grisey: The relationship between construction and deconstruction comes from my interest in ruination, ephemerality and how my materials shift and change through destructive and manipulative processes. Through the cycle of loss and decay, something becomes new, and I believe there is true beauty in that.

The process of making my art becomes the content. Creating informs the work, and the meaning and content of what I’m doing develops as I make. Because of this, I never really know the title of my exhibitions until the work is 80% finished. Sometimes I never know how to fully talk about a show, until a few years later will it make sense. Working in an intuitive way has always been my strength, as if channeling some higher source, and then funneling it into the work.

For Leth, 2014. Hand-dyed sisal, rusted steel and sound. 8' x 8' x 4.' Photo credit: Thomas Blanchard

OPP: You have a pretty consistent neutral color palette of browns, blacks and reds. What influences your palette? What do you seek to evoke with it?

MG: The colors I am drawn to are informed by my interest in our natural world. Lately I have been very interested in the alchemy of rust as a dye and the exploration of ideas like weathering and time by experimenting with transformative dyes. Specifically I am fascinated with simulating water lines and traces of sediment that have been left behind. I search for abandoned rusted metal objects outside and apply them to my handwoven surfaces, creating imprints from the rust. I love experimentation-driven processes that allow contingency and accidents into the work, and I am discovering the limitations of my work by learning how to transgress these boundaries.

The use of black in my work represents weight and heaviness. It’s a mood or emotion I want to convey when I am feeling intense. Red shows up in my work from my interest with the “insides” of a body and the fragility of what makes us human. Red can represent blood or flesh, the inner-workings of the body, which we all share, and what makes us vulnerable. My color palette always returns to the confrontation with our mortality.

Cloth Dripping, 2016. Handwoven & hand-dyed linen, rope, cheesecloth, rust, acid dye, black tea, black walnut, terra cotta and sound. Photo credit: Yuula Benivolski

OPP: Tell us about the ceramic forms—which I read as some kind of holy water fonts—the sound that emerges from them in both Sung from the Mouth of Cumae (2015) and Cloth Dripping (2016).

MG: The ceramic forms emerged in my work as a way to both house the sound I am creating and to represent a feeling of sanctuary, shrine and holiness. I wanted the sounds to emerge from an unseen place as if coming up from the depth of a well, like haunted echoes.

The contrast and duality between hard and soft surfaces of the fired clay and the malleable woven fibers fascinate me. When clay is soft, you can mold it into whatever mass or form you desire, very similar to fiber. But when the clay is fired or when the fiber is woven, it is fixed in its permanent state. I love the potential of the materials before they become permanent in their set form.

The ceramic sculptures themselves are geological in form, evoking the mouth of the cave of Cumae or the Leucadian Cliffs. My way of arriving at their end form came as a sort of happy accident in the studio. Before one of the stacked pieces was fired in the kiln, it collapsed. I totally misjudged that it was fully dry—I can be quite impatient sometimes!—and attempted to move it. When it collapsed, it fell into this super beautiful, ruinous shape. So I decided that was going to be my clay-building process moving forward, which is interesting because I am following the habitual process of construction and deconstruction that I use in my textile work.

Sung From the Mouth of Cumae, 2015. Handwoven & hand-dyed linen and raffia, earthenware, sound. Dye is made from bleach and found rusty objects. Sound credit: In collaboration with Brooke Manning. Photo credit: Toni Hafkenscheid

OPP: Aside from making large-scale sculptural installation, you also have a line of jewelry called Meta. In conventional thinking, jewelry and sculpture are very different—one is art and one is craft. But both have a distinct relationship to the body. How is the body present in each of these practices?

MG: The exploration of the body is a continual force in my art practice. I think the reason why I stepped away from painting (when I first started making art years ago), was because the viewer couldn’t engage with it like installation or sculptural work. My most recent installation consisted of a series of handwoven panels hung from the ceiling in a semicircle. By suspending the work from the ceiling, it delineates space—from inside to outside—creating boundaries that define the environment, allowing the viewer to experience the work by walking inside and around it. I wanted to create architectural yet bodily pieces, in which the monumental size of this work demands one’s attention so you are confronted with it.

Right now I am thinking about the vulnerable body, as my materials—rope, dyes and rubber latex—ooze down my woven structures like intestines and skin. There is an emotional link to the liminality of inside and outside, connecting our underlying humanity and showing the sheer vulnerability of a body turned inside out for the viewer to see.

I have always been interested in body adornment and the idea of wearing an object or talisman that holds power. Creating wearable objects shifts my process into a much more limited approach because I have to consider the exact size, shape, and way the piece will lay on the body and how it will feel. Jewelry-making is more technical, whereas my art practice is much more unconscious and free.

Remains of the Ephemeral II, 2014. 30" x 5." Horsehair, hand-dyed cheesecloth and rubber latex. Photo credit: Thomas Blanchard

OPP: Do you see jewelry making as part of your art practice or as a way to earn money by selling accessible/affordable objects?

MG: Jewelry is definitely a more accessible way to make income and for people to enjoy my work, as it is affordable for most. Whether or not to separate the two practices has been a big, burning question of mine for years. I am still slightly unsure. My interest in jewelry-making and art have always ran parallel with one another. I go through stretches of focusing on them separately, but never really together. During one of my critiques in graduate school, I was asked how my art straddles craft and that question really bothered me because I don’t consider my art “craft.” Instead of letting that critique insult me, I really considered it and decided to embrace craft within my practice. My weaves are becoming much tighter, my dye process is more complex, and I am looking into technique and structure a little closer than before. Lately I have been thinking of combining the two modalities (art and jewelry) as adorning the body with my work during live performance.

Cradling: In Ruins, 2014. Found barn wood, hand-dyed and burned sisal. 6' x 5' x 4.' Photo credit: Thomas Blanchard

OPP: You were featured last year on canadianart.ca, and in a short video in your studio, you mentioned that the best advice you’ve received is that “the work needs to be coming from a place of urgency, and that without urgency, the work is meaningless.” Can you talk more in depth about this urgency?

MG: The whole topic of urgency came to me during a studio visit with a well-known artist in Toronto. I was struggling with a few different concepts in grad school and felt unsure as to which direction to pursue. I was making these really awful plaster casts of my body that were really dark, disembodied and visceral. I was working through various ideas and concepts in the studio that I felt I needed to purge, which brings me back to this concept of urgency—an important and persistent need to release without overanalyzing. Even though I didn’t end up exhibiting these plaster casts, it was important to process these ideas of urgency, otherwise I wouldn’t have arrived to the work I am creating now. Urgency is about honesty and intuition—to trust that the work is unfolding in a way that will communicate the inner workings of an artist’s unconscious. When an artist is making work strictly to sell or copy, it becomes painfully obvious that the work is coming from a dishonest place and not from deep within. It takes so much courage to make work from a place of urgency.

OPP: What’s urgent for you in your work at this moment?

MG: Right now I am working through some personal demons within my work. Every time I release a new body of work, it becomes more vulnerable. My recent foray into adding sound to my installations has given the work another sensorial element that draws the viewer further into the experience. These sounds are coming from my voice, which is quite vulnerable in itself to “expose” a part of me. In addition to the sound, one can smell the dyes from my textiles, the earth that it was buried under, and maybe the char that it was burned by. The urgency to facilitate in the experience of the viewer’s senses is important to me, so that to engage with my installations is to become a part of it, to get inside it.

To see more of Mary's work, please visit marygrisey.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 shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Emily Biondo

Touch Me
A collaboration with Bradford Barr
LEDs, custom electronic boards, 2 gloves, plastic sheeting, bamboo

EMILY BIONDO explores "the awkward interstices of language, presence and human relationships." Her interactive installations, which employ light, sound and touch, often require more than one viewer to activate them, while her audio sculptures crocheted from speaker wire allow the viewer to listen in on intimate, private conversations. Emily received her MFA from American University (2011), where she received the Mellon Grant and the Catharina Baart Biddle Art Award. She has exhibited widely in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, including exhibitions at the Arlington Arts Center, Smith Center for Healing and the Arts, Blackrock Center for the Arts and The Athenaeum. Most recently, she exhibited in Gawker, a three-person show of interactive media at Harford Community College in Bel Air, Maryland, and Touch Me, a collaborative installation with Bradford Barr at Flashpoint Gallery, which included an artist talk at the Luce Foundation Center in the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Emily lives and works in Washington, DC.

OtherPeoplesPixels: Your interactive installations and sculptures use sight, sound and touch to explore connection and clashes in human communication. Do taste and smell relate to communication as well? Might these senses ever make it into your work?

Emily Biondo: Taste and smell certainly communicate, but they have more to do with memory than dialogue. When I constructed Proustian Fortunate Moment, I was obsessed with Proust's famous account of eating a madeleine and being immediately transported back to a vivid memory of his childhood. But that piece was more a visualization of his experience than a utilization of its sensory ideas. I'd LOVE to use taste and smell. I have always admired how Ernesto Neto uses fragrances to great effect in creating an experience, but I haven't yet exhausted the other senses in my work. When I do reach that point, however, smell will be the next sense I use.

Proustian Fortunate Moment
Crocheted monofilament, high-intensity lightbulb

OPP: When did you first learn to crochet and what associations did you bring to it?

EB: I associate it with my family, particularly the female members on my maternal side. I also think of the intersection of craft and comfort in the sense of doing something over and over again so familiarly that it is effortless. I learned to crochet from my great-grandmother when I was about nine. My very first crocheted piece was supposed to be a red square, and because of the erratic stitch length, ended up looking like a tiny mutilated bonnet. I learned that you could add to a crocheted piece anywhere and with any stitch, so I'd end up with elaborate free form pieces based upon my own whims. I'd end up with blankets, bikinis, cuffs, hats, etc. all without a pattern because it was easy to guess how a stitch would form a shape and layer stitches to create those forms. Years later in grad school, I'd practice layering by making complex shapes like coral, a wedding dress or a penis. Until my speaker wire pieces, the layering was used in a more utilitarian way than a visual metaphor. It helped sculpt the structure of the work.

Two Young Modern Women on a Car Trip (detail)
Audio sculpture with crocheted speaker wire

OPP: When did you first begin to crochet with speaker wire? What are the practical challenges of this material?

EB: During grad school, I had a dream that I was back in undergrad and panicking at the end of the semester. I needed one more work to complete my portfolio. After much thought, I decided to make a large, crocheted wall hanging out of speaker wire AND a cyclone out of marbles. It was such a vivid dream and I was so confident in my ideas that when I woke up, I immediately got materials to make both pieces. The marble cyclone was a (slightly messy) disaster, but the speaker wire was a raging success.

Speaker wire is a great faux-yarn because plastic is not so different from certain polyester/acrylic blends. I use a wire gauge (thickness) that is similar in weight to a strand of thick yarn and usually crochet with a whole roll of wire at hand. Downsides include the exorbitant cost of my favorite clear-coated copper, the smell, the sometimes waxy coating used to keep the wire from sticking, the heavy weight of some pieces and the logistics of wiring 100-1000 feet of speaker wire to circuits.

Two Middle Aged Sisters with Children
1800 ft of speaker wire, audio
22 x 9 x 9 in

OPP: How does crochet inform the audio components in sculptures like Bridal Shower (2010), Shrouded (Prayer Shawl) (2011) and Two Young Modern Women on a Car Trip (2010)?

EB: So for me, crochet was always an intricately layered web. As I got to college, I realized that my conception of communication had always been a palimpsest of words layered in one's mind. Crochet visually completes this metaphor. It is an actual example of the layering of words and phrases that travel in a circuitous strand to complete a monologue/dialogue, which ultimately completes the artwork.

My original plan was to simply crochet with nontraditional materials. But then I realized how speaker wire relates to text and communication, and I had to add audio into the works. Monologues/dialogues are not only metaphorically formed by the wire but electronically passed through the layered crocheted web.

Prison visitation booth, two telephones, viewing window, stools
6 x 3 x 5 ft

OPP: Painful narratives are shared through interactive installations in What I Never Said (2011), Pick Up the Phone (2011) and Lift the Seat (2011). The video Wind up (2012) also gets at one-sidedness in relationships. For me, these pieces are about how technology sometimes aids and sometimes obstructs communication and connection between human beings. What are your thoughts on technology and communication?

EB: I believe that technology IS communication. Historically, humans have always used innovations to augment communication: horn blasts, carrier pigeons, mail systems, morse code, telephones, etc. These inventions and improvements shaped the way we see, talk to and understand one another. Technology shapes our culture and defines certain generational properties of dialogue (colloquialisms, length/number of pauses, touching/no touching, eye contact, MIScommunication). Those properties have always existed in communication—it just depends on the time period and technologies present to define exactly what they are. Because of this, I find technology and communication inextricably linked and will not produce artwork about communication without using and commenting on technology as well.

Millennial translation of the following text from Russian Poetry:
"Beautiful boy, like a faun here in loneliness roaming, who art thou?
Surely no child of the woods: thine is too prideful a face.
Music that moves in thy gait, the wrought grace of thy sumptuous sandal
Tell thou art son to the gods, or high offspring of kings."

OPP: It's easy to blame new trends in communication technology—for example, texting, twitter and Facebook—for all that's wrong in the world: "kids today!" Your recent installation Headspace (2014) reveals both the disconnect and the continuity between the past and the present. Can you explain the piece to our readers?

EB: Headspace is one of my favorites. Like any creative work, books are a huge indicator of language and communication in any time period and culture. I like the idea that the millennial slang used today would be considered similar to the language used in classic literature at their respective time.

In Headspace, there is a glove attached to a pair of headphones. Each glove contains  an RFID reader and microcontroller used to “read” the book electronically. When participants swipe their hands across the classic literature installed on the wall, the headset reads an audio translation of a highlighted phrase into current 'millennial' language, including electronic slang, pop culture references and common phrases. Juxtaposing the two languages through technology relates even more how innovations can act as a bridge in communication.

I originally created this work for a show at a college campus because I wanted the audience to really understand and appreciate the translated language, particularly how it compares to works of literature that they probably are or have studied in school.

Millennial translation of the following text from English Literature
"Ion. I thank you for your greetings—shout no more,
But in deep silence raise your hearts to heaven,
That it may strengthen one so young and frail
As I am for the business of this hour.—
Must I sit here?"

OPP: How did they college students respond? What about professors?

EB: The students loved it, and I loved watching them. They'd timidly try on the equipment, look around shyly, then swipe the first book. The look of surprise, dawning comprehension, laughter, then eager anticipation for the next all in a period of 30 seconds was a common and fantastic thing to witness. I liked seeing them finish the installation then grab one of their friends and make them experience it while they watched their expression. There's always a personal and a voyeuristic aspect to my work that I highly appreciate as artist and viewer.

As for the professors, they thought it was clever, but didn't really enjoy it as much as the students. I make works first for the experience, then for the analysis, so I assumed (rightly) that the students would glean the most from it.

To view more of Emily's work, please visit emilybiondo.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 solo exhibitions include 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. Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, is on view at Design Cloud in Chicago from July 25 - October, 24, 2014. Beginning on November 7, 2014, Stacia will improvise When Things Fall Apart, an ongoing, collage installation in the Lillstreet Annex Gallery. Closing reception guests will be invited to help break down the piece by pulling pins out of the wall on December 5, 2014.