Interview with ‘Vox Lacunae’ Artist Kim Llerena

This is the third installment of the Vox Lacunae artist interview series. Vox Lacunae features work by Sobia Ahmad, Sera Boeno, Marta Gutierrez, Nilou Kazemzadeh, Jason Kuo, Kim Llerena, and Yuli Wang.

Kim Llerena | Artist | Exhibiting in Vox Lacunae from July 18th to August 22nd, 2018 at The Stamp Gallery | University of Maryland, College Park | Interview by Kat Mullineaux

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Part of the “Ekphrasis” series | 2012 | Chromogenic Prints | (from left to right) “I think it’s what you can seeing-beyond” Jonas said.;  Response to the sky at night’;  Irises by Vincent van Gogh, 1889

Before we get started talking about your work in Vox Lacunae, I’d like our readers to get some more information about you. Where are you from and how did you become based in Washington DC?

I grew up in Maryland but went to undergrad in New York. After a few years working at an arts non-profit, I went back to grad school for my MFA at MICA in Baltimore. From there I found teaching opportunities in D.C. and have now been in D.C. for five years.

You received your MFA in Photographic & Electronic Media from a university not too far from UMD: MICA in Baltimore. Were you always interested in photography as an artistic medium or did this interest start after your time in undergrad? Have you always been an artist?

I have been interested in photography since I was a kid. Most of my family members are artists, actually – we’ve got a painter, a print-maker, a musician, a writer, a filmmaker, and me! So, almost every medium is covered! I regretted not majoring in Photography or Art in undergrad, but I was always making my own work. I decided to pursue it seriously by going back for my MFA.

In your prints you take a 3D form of writing meant for the blind, Braille, and flatten it into 2D images that are transformed with dynamic colors, making them a feast for the eye in an ironic twist. What draws you to photography of something like the braille text in the prints from your series “Ekphrasis”?

The idea for this series emerged from a lot of thinking and reading in grad school – my program at MICA changes the way that I think about the medium. It made me more thoughtful, more critical, and more informed about its history and implications. Photography has always been characterized in dualities (art/document, truth/fiction, etc.) For my thesis project, I wanted to both address my frustrations with the medium (how it strips something from the subject, how it can never fully transcribe even though we accept it as the most truthful artistic tool) while simultaneously celebrating it (in the flattening, it creates a digestible, aesthetic, permanent art object, which is proof of this “truthful” medium’s inherent subjectivity).

 

Also, why braille? Do you have a connection to this sort of language/transcription or the blind community? Is your interest aesthetically based? Or is it both?

Right – I guess I didn’t exactly answer this question of “why Braille?” in the last question, did I? Well, in thinking of the best way to communicate this duality (powers/limitations of the medium), I thought about what subject matter would allow me to strip away its utility but in doing so create a new, previously unrelished aesthetic piece. I was thinking a lot about vision, language, text, codes… Braille came to mind. The work is less about the use of Braille by the blind community and more about what it allowed me to say about photography and 2D art-making.

I wonder then what your thoughts are on the inaccessibility of the language in your prints to most. By taking away the 3D nature of braille those that usually consume the text cannot do so, and on the flip side, those that visually consume the artworks are held out at arm’s length by most people’s lack of ability to read braille. What do you think about the distance between art and viewer? Do you enjoy the mystery that is attached to this distance?

Yes, exactly – this tension is very important to the work. Both audiences are unable to fully, completely access the work. It’s not to be cruel or to make something specifically inaccessible to a group of people. The tension is more about recognizing the role of the photograph as both limited and powerful at the same time; the Braille is a tool for highlighting an instance in which the photograph flattens something 3D to the point of rendering that thing useless, but in the process turning it into an object of purely visual admiration for someone else (presuming that most sighted people cannot read Braille, but can appreciate the patterns, colors, etc. seen in the large prints). Viewers are supposed to feel a bit tense, even frustrated, trusting that the title of the piece accurately describes what’s happening in the Braille text that they can’t appreciate verbally, but hopefully can appreciate visually.

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“I think it’s what you call seeing-beyond” Jonas said. | Chromogenic Print | 2012

I love the way your images are a series of layers. Transcription of familiar texts like The Giver in your piece “I think it’s what you call seeing-beyond” Jonas said brings in intimacy and nostalgia that surprised me. As you engage with the touch of red that begins to absorb the bottom of the image, the text depicts the character of Jonas describing the color red–something that was unfamiliar in his life of black and white. How do you think the back and forth between popular literature or whatever is being transcribed affects the visual experience of the pieces?  

You said it well – layers. That’s also what I appreciate most about the work. First I took  the text that I wanted to describe or visualize (usually it had some relation to art, photography, or vision). Then I knew that I was going to be transcribing the passage into Braille and re-photographing it, so I thought about how the colors, lighting, and printing could just hint at what was contained in the passage. For this one, the seeping of red into Jonas’ black & white life looked to me like the reddish light leak that often happens by mistake in analog photography – so I caused a light leak. (Sidenote: some of the texts were kindly printed for me the the National Federation for the Blind in Baltimore, where I had been doing research for this project, and some of them I learned to hand-punch myself.)

The colors in “Ekphrasis” (a word meaning the description of a work of art) are intense and saturated. What does this use of color do to the braille–to the language?

For me the color was another tool to hint at what was being discussed in the passages, another clue for the viewers who presumably cannot read Braille by sight – Van Gogh’s painting contains a lot of green, the night sky can take on shades of navy blue, and there really is no way to describe “Red” other than with itself…

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Irises by Vincent Van Gogh, 1889 | Chromogenic Print | 2012

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Response to the sky at night | Chromogenic Print | 2012

“Ekphrasis” was created in 2012. Would you mind telling me a little bit about what your art has consisted of since this series?

This was my MFA thesis work, and to be honest, it’s visually quite different from what I’ve been doing since then. After grad school, I started teaching and taking summer road trips – my friend, who is also an artist, and I have taken three road trips so far all around the country. Most of my work has been focused on the human relationship to place and landscape, and how we assert ourselves upon the landscape, especially in the American West.

What is on the horizon for you artistically?

I have a collaborative project with my friend and road-trip partner, Nancy Daly, opening in Tennessee in September and traveling to Florida in April. I also have a show coming up next year at BlackRock in Germantown that will be all new landscape-driven work from my most recent road trip.

Any last thoughts you would like to add about Vox Lacunae as a whole or your work in the show specifically?

It’s been a wonderful show to be a part of – everything in the show addressed the theme in a unique way, which is what made this group exhibition so cohesive and thoughtful. Thank you for including me!

Thank you very much to Kim Llerena from the Stamp Gallery. We wish her the best in all her future endeavors. 

Llerena’s work is included in Vox Lacunae at The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, from from July 18th to August 22nd, 2018.

For more information on Kim Llerena, visit http://kimllerena.com/ .

For more information on Vox Lacunae and related events, visit https://wp.me/PG50y-fi .



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