Interview with “I’m Fine” Artist Brandon Chambers

This is the third installment of the I’m Fine artist interview series.

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Brandon Chambers || UMCP ’17 || Exhibiting in I’m Fine from June 5th through July 28th, 2017 at The Stamp Gallery || University of Maryland, College Park || Interview by Cristy Ho

First, please tell us about yourself. Where are you from and when did you get into making art?

I grew up in a middle class nuclear family in a safe community of single family homes. I certainly remember it as an ideal childhood. I had friends at church, friends at school, and friends in the neighborhood. I had an older brother and a younger sister to play and fight with, and my grandparents lived a five minutes’ drive away. My mother was a doctor and my father was a teacher. Perhaps I over-idolize them, but in my mind, they represent the ideal humans, or at least humans striving towards the ideal. Hard-working, patient, nurturing, intelligent, wise…resolute.

On the last day of second grade, I vaguely remember being told that I would not see my classmates again. My parents, having prayed deeply on the issue had decided we were moving to Jamaica, where they had grown up. I had been there before on vacations to visit cousins and my great grandmother, but had never thought living there was even a possibility. We’d gone to beaches only locals would know about, and I thought that meant I knew the country.

The difference between visiting a place and living there are vast, but I learned fast. I learned to call my teachers ‘miss’ and that saying ‘God know’ is like saying ‘I swear’. I learned that electricity and water pressure are not guaranteed, and to be careful carrying hot water. I learned about hurricane season. I learned that in church, the opening prayer can last thirty minutes. I learned that a mind is all it takes to be creative. Whatever else I learned there came to me through culture and socialization, and was too subtle for me to be aware of, but nonetheless has greatly affected my way of life.

Living in Jamaica gave me the opportunity to compare and contrast different environments, different societies, different experiences of life. Jamaica is, in many ways, where I developed my sense of self. I continued my childhood in that new environment and seven years later, to facilitate my brother going to college, we moved back to the U.S. Back to Maryland.

I did not start making art at any specific time in my life, and my family was not particularly art-centered. I developed whatever skills I have over years of dabbling, and for a long time considered that to be enough. I went as far as getting an associates in science before I realized that I was going through the motions of learning, but had no real excitement in it. No drive. Perhaps it was immature, but I wanted to follow what gave me pleasure because to be the person I wanted to be, it would take real commitment rather than sporadic interest.

So I changed my major, began taking art classes at Montgomery College, got an Associates degree in Art, transferred to UMD and just continued applying myself. I can’t say I had any artistic style for most of that time. If anything, I tried to keep myself and my ego out of the work. I have been consistently making art since then.

You focus on the idea of impermanence in your work. What draws you to this concept?

Impermanence is one of those existential truths that really resonate with me both because of my personal experience and as a modern societal trend where, because there is more activity, more things begin and as a result, end. Whether it is an emotion like fear, joy, confusion or anger, a school or career you are in, your friend group or relationships, your life or your favorite television shows, we are presented with endless examples of things that reach a conclusion. Beyond the sadness and feeling of loss, though, there is also the beauty of completion and the ability to look at something as a whole rather than a work in progress.

Your video “Reviling of Pleasing Corruptions” has attracted many perplexed viewers into the Stamp Gallery. As a docent, I am often asked why you chose to drink dyed corn syrup out of Pepsi bottles. Are you warning about the substance’s adverse health effects and is there a deeper underlying meaning to this?

Rather than warning people about the adverse health effects, it was my belief that people were already aware of them. What I wanted people to reflect on was the reality that knowing something is harmful is not always enough to end the behavior. I chose dyed corn syrup and Pepsi bottles because drinking two or three bottles of Pepsi a day was one of the habits I found myself repeating, and I realized that collecting the bottles and seeing them as a whole gave me a long term perspective of the cost, not only in money but also the unseen cost my body was paying.

The deeper meaning I hoped to convey is that there are countless things we consume that negatively affect us, and like the Pepsi for me, our society often makes these things particularly easy for us to obtain. These things are packaged and marketed in a way that psychologically attracts us. They are designed to be if not physically, then mentally addictive. What’s more is that the negative effects are often unseen and easily ignored until the habit is just a part of who you are. It doesn’t help that we are in a society where people generally encourage you to be who you are rather than change.

Can you elaborate on what the white cloth represents?

The white cloth represents that blank canvas of a person’s life experience. It is the untarnished mind and body. After the first sip, I spit out the dark, viscous mixture onto the cloth in disgust, but spitting it out, rejecting it, doesn’t make the cloth clean again.

The cloth is also meant to provide a sterile setting for the interaction. There is a man, his addiction, and a lack of any alternative. After spitting out the drink, after indulging and rejecting an experience, it would be great to move on to something better, something different. But, much like going to a vending machine and hoping to find something without corn syrup or without food coloring, something nutritious, there is often no real alternative, so we return to the same thing we rejected, again tarnishing the cloth.

Over time, the cloth is a giant mess, and one more round doesn’t seem like it will make much difference. There is no worry about containing the mess since it is already made, and the habit has been going on so long that in the grand scheme of things you might as well just continue.

It is important to note that while it is viscerally visible in the video, in reality, most of this is happening internally, and isn’t disgusting the people around you (or their disgust is also internal).

How did you feel before, during, and after the recording of your performance?

Directly before the performance my main feeling was relief that it wasn’t just a crazy/cool idea. There are so many times that I have ideas of things that could be created and it doesn’t happen, either because I’m too self-conscious or I spend too much time fantasizing about it rather than doing it. So yeah, it was a good feeling having everything set up since the only thing after that is the action, and I find that is the simplest part. What little anxiety I had was from worrying that I would break character or overact and ruin the shot. But that’s how creating anything is, and it was easy enough to ignore when the time came.

During the recording I really had to actively be in the moment while simultaneously being aware of composition, timing and the perspective of the camera. It was like being in a trance where, even though I saw the people and things around me, they weren’t separate from me and the performance. By the time I got 5 minutes in, I was in my own head, ready to go on, but knowing there was a lot of time to go. There was a point where fatigue, the smell, the taste, the sight and the repetition took me to a place of enlightenment, where I had a true, visceral knowing of the futility of the action. I continued with the performance after that, but it was the moment I felt I had been working towards, where I had learned or experience everything the activity had to teach.

After it was all done, I was just tired and sticky and covered in gunk naked. I had to take a shower/bath in a large sink with cold water, and wipe the corn syrup off with paper towels. But it was done, and I was relieved. More than that, it was one of the few times where I put that much physical commitment into a project, and the feeling of being a creator was overwhelming. It was the feeling of completion, where all that was left to do was to look at what I had done. I loved it.

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Moving on to your next piece, “Endless Impermanence” has a system of discolored patches and holes that are reminiscent of the visual complexity of a map. What materials did you use to create this effect?

‘Endless Impermanence’ is the result of laser-cutting into graphite grounded Bristol board. I used a combination of drawing, photography, digital painting, and digital editing to create an image in Photoshop to excavate from the paper using the laser cutter by burning into the sheets at varying depths and intensities to create the visual complexity.

Taking into consideration the abstract nature of this work, how did you know when it was finished?

‘Endless Impermanence’ is really the result of months of trial, error and success with the technique. To go too far could mean literally burning the paper away to where there is nothing substantial to present, or, after hours of working with the cutter, having a product that is a uniformed blankness. Luckily, I got to a point where I could tell on the computer roughly how far to go, and it was finished when the laser cutter stopped cutting.

More broadly, what concepts or artists inspire you?

The idea of virtual reality inspires me greatly. The possibilities fill me with as much fear as joyful anticipation. To me it represents the ability to fully have someone’s attention and have them immersed totally in the art. It brings up questions about what it is to be conscious, how vital the ‘real world’ is if the mind can be more expansive in the virtual one. I’m interested to see if the technology reaches a point where it takes effort to remain aware of which reality you are in. All these thoughts worry me, but that only hastens me to wonder and imagine more.

I’m also interested in the idea that information has a lifespan of usefulness. I was really excited when I saw the promotional posters for “I’m Fine”, but at the same time, I realized that once the show is over, it isn’t really useful information, just a signifier of something that happened in the past. The same is true for the majority of emails, flyers, texts and so many other sources of information. At the risk of seeming to promote book burning, a lot of the information we have surrounded ourselves with is outdated, and beyond being useless, can at times be harmful to people who mistakenly treat it as relevant or reliable. I’m interested in the idea of being able to separate timelessly relevant truths from temporary ones.

What are you currently working on and what are your plans for the future?

Well, I’ve been working on a project where I illustrate interpersonal relationship dynamics in a hieroglyph-type aesthetic. I design a scale system that force the figures in the composition to be placed in positions where they balance the scales and cause stability, or take actions that unbalance the system. The simplest example I can give is to have you imagine a see-saw with two people on either side of it, causing it to be balanced. In order to get closer to each other, they must both move towards the center. Now imagine there are three people on the see-saw where two of them want to be together, but the third does not. What type of balance would they need to reach, or how willing are they to unbalance the system to reach their goal? I am in the early stages of this project, but my end goal is a series of simple but powerful narrative images that can give me an insight into relationship dynamics.

As for the future, I’m looking at grad programs for next year. Until then I’ll just be developing skills, and doing what each moment calls me to do.

Lastly, do you have any advice for aspiring artists?

I guess the advice I have is to start seeking out a variety of experiences to draw from. If the only animal you’ve ever seen is a cat, making art about birds becomes pretty difficult. The narrower your experiences, the less you can express, and the fewer people you can connect with.

For more information on I’M FINE and related events, visit thestamp.umd.edu/stamp_gallery


Interview with “I’m Fine” Artist Nicole Osborne

This is the second installment of the I’m Fine artist interview series.  

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Nicole Osborne || MFA at GWU ’18 || Exhibiting in I’m Fine from June 5th through July 28th, 2017 at The Stamp Gallery || University of Maryland, College Park || Interview by Christopher Bugtong

Let’s start with some background information about you. Where are you from, and what first got you into art?

I was born and raised in Gatlinburg Tennessee. I have been creating art since I could remember. I grew up within the 15 mile stretch of the Arts and Crafts community where my parents owned a shop. For as long as my mother could remember she could sit me in a corner with a sketchbook and I would be satisfied for hours.

What drove you to pursue a degree in studio art?

I knew that creating art was something that I would be doing for the rest of my life and so when I was told I had to go to college I chose the Fine Arts. Wanting to further my craft and learn more about modern and contemporary art while being in a creative community much like what I had grown up within was just instinctual for myself.

I understand that previous installations of 611 Timber Ridge RD, Gatlinburg TN 37738 have included your live performance. Has the use of prerecorded audio for the duration of this exhibition altered your perception or expression of this piece?

My first experimentation with this instillation had a performance component. The Audio is a way for myself as well as my mother to be present with the viewer. I couldn’t be there in person for the social interaction of the piece and am using the audio as my substitution as well as an instrument of bringing the viewer even further into those moments in time.

Your works in this show all invite the viewing public to participate in the artistic process. How does interactivity involve itself in your conception of these pieces, and in your artistic process in general?

I am a tactile person and am constantly being yelled at in museums for getting too close to the fine art pieces. I enjoy participating with a piece and breaking the rule of “hands-off” while in gallery and museum spaces. These pieces invite the viewers to participate or donate their own pieces of work to an ever growing representation of our societies either through the instillation of the work or the social media spaces where they can even post their interaction with the pieces if they so choose.

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While working this show, I’ve noticed that visitors of all ages—from children to the elderly—take the time to participate in So We Color and Classification of Other on Paper. Is this a surprising observation, or did you intend for those works to have a more timeless appeal?

It is really funny to think about these pieces. I had a visiting professor who was determined not to interact with these and stated that he did not like them “AT ALL”. I see it as an opportunity for the viewer to break a norm within a gallery space and invites them to be a part of a piece of artwork. I am thrilled with how well received the pieces were while being a part of this show and I plan on taking whatever pieces of donated artwork along with the piece so that it will continue to grow with time along with us.

Is there any significance to the figure depicted in So We Color and Classification of Other on Paper?

Yes. The figure is meant to be neutral in aspect so that the viewer can allow their own interpretation of society to be placed onto the other figure. It is interesting to see the results of the interactions of colors and how I allow them to tell me whether the figure is male or female, happy or sad, and so on. It is somewhat disturbing and enjoyable to see how these figures come through in the black and white Xerox copies that are placed on the wall. While sitting in the school chair, I feel the pressure to conform to societal norms intensify. These other figures in black and white pressure me to conform, representing all of those rules of coloring inside the line instilled by the teachers from the public school system screaming in my head and the effort I put in to fight against the invisible hold it has on me. The feeling when I open the binder and realize that I am not alone in this is comforting, especially after the pressure of the chair.

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How do you see your pieces in relationship with the other works and overall theme of the I’m Fine exhibition?

I feel that the curators did an excellent job of placement. 611 Timber Ridge RD, Gatlinburg TN 37738 is both a cathartic work that is a representation of something that is lost and a way of healing while being more in the current moments of my life. It interacts well with the other pieces in the show, which I feel are cathartic in process for many artists and invite the viewer to rest for a moment. So We Color and Classification of Other on Paper are examples of the pressures that are placed on us during our everyday submergence into society and the comfort of knowing that we are not alone in this process. I believe that many of the pieces in the show are some kind of commentary of society or are a cathartic process that helps the artist to cope with the emotional onslaught of loss or disturbing revelations within our society.

Any future plans for your work and yourself? Works in progress? Upcoming exhibitions?

I am currently with the MFA program at George Washington University. I am expanding more on the Other Series and the Wall Flower Series. My thesis exhibition will be focused around the Other Series. I am continuing to enter the Other Series into shows all over but If you follow me on any of my social medias @Ozzyarts I will post when and where the next installations will be.

Before we go, is there anything you would like to highlight about your work or the show as a whole?

I really appreciate the opportunity I was given and the great results of the curators of this exhibition. As for my work I am eternally in a constant struggle against the instilled social norms that I find suffocating whenever I hear the voices in my head. This series will continue for as long as I feel uncomfortable within my surrounding standards, and I do not see those going away any time soon.

For more information on I’M FINE and related events, visit thestamp.umd.edu/stamp_gallery.


How Art Captures Time

Art has the intriguing ability of capturing certain moments in time. For instance, you may recall certain memories while watching a film, looking at a work of art, or listening to a song. This may happen to an artist when they look at their own work, which may function a bit like a time capsule. A lot of artists are compelled to create art when encountered with intense feelings or experiences. In this way, art may serve as a reminder to the artist of how things were in the past. Art tends to capture the experience of the artist through a subjective lens more so than an objective reality. Strong feelings have the tendency to distort and cloud memories, and creating art is a way for artists to navigate their emotions and make sense of the past.

Creating art can be a way to document important events. It can be similar to writing in a diary but without the confining nature of words. Consequently, art may serve as an ideal coping mechanism. An artist may choose to focus their art on their current hardships or choose to focus on occurrences that haunt their past. Artists may pour their emotions into an artwork to put their past to rest.

Artworks affect the artist who make them as well as those that view them and can relate to them, whether sympathetically or empathetically. Perhaps viewing the “I’m Fine” exhibition may stir up emotions and memories of a distant time, and cause you to reflect on your own growth.

 

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“Endless Impermanence” by Brandon Chambers

 

Written by Cristy Ho


Interview with “I’m Fine” Artist Dana Hollister

This is the first installment of the I’m Fine artist interview series.  

Dana Hollister || UMCP ’17 || Exhibiting in I’m Fine from June 5th through July 28th, 2017 at The Stamp Gallery || University of Maryland, College Park || Interview by Kat Mullineaux

Before we discuss your contributions to I’M FINE specifically, let’s get some background information about you. Where are you from, what did you study as an undergrad at UMCP, and how long have you been making art?

I’m originally from Silver Spring Maryland, so not too far from College Park. I was a studio art major with a concentration in wood sculpting as well as an honors student for the last year of my bachelors and I have been making art since I was in 8th grade. I was in an intensive art program throughout high school and continued on when I got to college.

When looking at your artwork in this show, I can’t help but notice your dynamic choice of materials throughout your pieces. Personally,  the use of re-purposed wood in combination with light, in your piece ‘I’m Fine’ struck me. The sculpture seems to be an interesting combination of welcoming and aggressive, like saying “I’m Fine”, both making me want to get closer and warning me to stay away. Was that intentional?

Yes, it was definitely intentional. When I was creating the work I was thinking about how people with PTSD and cognitive difficulties interact with others. From personal experience when someone asked me if I was okay, my heart wanted a hug and my brain  wanted to shove them away as fast as I could. I tried to embody that as much a possible in this piece.

The prints in ‘Living with ADHD’ play with a dynamic kind of controlled chaos, combining words, images and moments of blue among black and white. How does living with ADHD affect or influence your artistic process?

To be honest ADHD is probably the reason I am an artist. Most of the work I do comes from random thoughts that I have during conversations, or readings that I have to finish. ADHD is quite frustrating, don’t get me wrong, but I have found a way to channel it into my art that helps me cope with how intense it can be.

How does your piece ‘Resilience’ comment on the road to acceptance for those who face stigmatization and struggles with mental illness/disorder?  In your opinion, how important is art in the battle against stigmatization?

Well the piece itself shows the uphill struggle that everyone with a mental disorder or illness deals with. The road to acceptance is the most challenging part because there is this thought that we must be “normal”. And “normal” people are never depressed or bipolar or have any issues that may cause relapses. No matter how untrue this is, humans will always perceive their issues in a negative light. “Resilience” represents the shaky and difficult road to acceptance but the smooth and easier  slide down to accepting yourself for who you are, rather than fighting it.

I’m my mind art is super important for fighting stigmatization because when someone looks at your art they don’t think or know that the artist is going through difficult times. The artist is just another person walking on the earth as they are. Art allows those with cognitive differences to express themselves and show their talent without being out into a category.

In ‘Living with ADHD’, ‘Resilience’, and ‘I’m Fine’ you play with unique materials including re-purposed wood, screen printing, plywood, and metal. What is your favorite medium to explore in your art? Do you find yourself drawn to unconventional materials?

My favorite material to use would have to be wood. The smell of the wood is just so natural and intoxicating that any other material just seems wrong in my hands. I grew up in a nature loving family so I try to be as environmentally conscious as possible. That means that I am drawn to unconventional materials. Being able to use throw away or discard material makes me feel like I am doing my part to re-purpose materials so they don’t find their ways into our environment.

Does your art tend to focus on your personal and internal life or do you look at the world around you and the experiences of others when creating it? Is it a combination of the two?

My art is definitely a reflection of my personal life. Most of my work revolves around how I deal with my out mental illnesses and how I cope with them in hopes that it may shed light on what people with my issues go through or help other seeking for coping mechanisms.

Is there anything or anyone that you feel particularly inspired by or influenced by? Are there any movements politically or in art history that you feel drawn towards?

The sculptors Foon Sham and Debra Butterfield are probably two of the artists that influences my current body of work the most. They taught me that I can make art about what I love and feel rather than making it just for the sake of make it.

Can you tell me something about what you are currently working on?

Currently my work revolves around my particular coping mechanism for my depression, ADHD, and whatever else I may have and not know about. My material consist of found objects from the horse farms I work for, for example horse hair that the horses  rip out themselves on the walls or water buckets.

Now that you have graduated from UMCP do you think that you will pursue any further education? In art perhaps?

I am considering getting a masters in sculpting.

Before we go, is there anything you would like to highlight about your work or the show as a whole?

Just that the show turned out really well and all the artists work were as amazing as I expected them to be!

For more information on I’M FINE and related events, visit thestamp.umd.edu/stamp_gallery.


What is the Color of Loneliness?

It is a strange question to ask, but after being exposed to Nicole Osborne’s piece So We Color, I find myself often thinking about that question and how others would answer it.

This question first came up when a group of children came in to visit. Many of the kids paid little attention to the works around them and a few of them even refused to believe that what we were showing was art. While a majority just stole glances of the art or took turns listening to Tam-anh’s film Are you better off alone?, there was boy sitting by himself, deeply involved in the coloring of Nicole’s piece. A small conversation between another docent and the boy followed:

“Why is he in a locker?” the boy asked.

“Why do you think he’s in a locker?”

“…Maybe… he’s lonely”

“What color do you think loneliness is?”

The boy didn’t respond, but instead he paused with a thoughtful look in his eyes and then silently chose a color began coloring again.

I never knew what color he chose and he left suddenly after that, taking the page with him, but this scene has left me with a deeper understanding of Nicole’s piece than when I sat in that small wooden desk and colored a picture myself. I took a shallow stab when I colored my first piece and I thought that others wouldn’t involve themselves as deeply as well. A few weeks have passed since then and now I see that many of the participants have been brave enough to share their secrets and insecurities through Nicole’s art.

I have seen and experienced art generating conversations and eliciting strong emotions, but this was the first time that I have seen art persuade its viewers to share their own personal struggles. If you come by the gallery and color a piece, perhaps you’ll learn something about yourself and discover what color loneliness is to you.

 

                              Nicole Osborne’s “So We Color” ・ Viewer Submissions

Written by Karisha Rodrigo


Personal Discoveries in the Works of Others

The bodies we use to walk through the world are fraught with challenges – one of which is our very own mind. Whatever we struggle with, whatever we conquer, our minds are their own little complications. On the other hand, our minds can be our access point to creation, to emotional connection, and to a wide array of healing experiences.

The show of the moment at the Stamp Gallery is entitled “I’m Fine” – now we’ve all said or heard that before, fully understanding its cover-up abilities. The artists featured in the Stamp Gallery have explored what it is to cope and grow from tragedy, life, and larger societal realities through art and the process of creation. Our minds can create art and art can in turn bring about some sort of peace or understanding into the absolutely wonderful chaos that is our everyday.

Even the space itself, Stamp Gallery, is a spot for pause and for reflection. Watching over the art as patrons wander in to glance at or maybe even interact with the pieces, in a way, provides a feeling of balance. They experience the power of the artist’s mind in the artist’s creations. The mind of the creator in a brief moment interacts with the mind of the patron whether or not either party knows it. From watching a video of an artist pealing and scraping plaster off of her skin to listening to a woman discuss the burning down of her home with her mother while swaying peacefully in a rocking chair, observing art creates an entry point into a different life- a different world even.

The opportunity that places like Stamp Gallery provide to learn something about you through another person’s journey is something to be reveled in. With respect to some universal narratives, it is important that we each spend time examining the uniqueness of our existences and our own processes with which we cope and grow.

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Photo Series “Better” by Susannah Ward

Written by Kat Mullineaux


Too Busy for Art?

If you’ve ever been on the DC Metro or any other sort of public transit system, you recognize the peddlers at the entrances trying to whatever they have in stock—food, newspapers, flowers, etc. Their business strategy is understandable: “be in the place with the most traffic and you’re bound to sell something”; yet despite the massive flows of people coming and going, you hardly see people clamoring to buy. Why have you never stopped to buy food or flowers or newspapers? Maybe you really don’t need those things, or maybe you’re in a rush and down have time to slow down.

A similar phenomenon occurs right here in the Stamp Gallery. Although this space is located in the hub of campus life—the Stamp Student Union—our steady flow of visitors pales in comparison to the sheer volume of people who pass through this building. Understandably, not everyone who visits Stamp is looking for a gallery experience, and in fact many passersby are so absorbed in their own goals to take a look inside this space. However, experiencing art is not necessarily pursued, but discovered.

Our glass walls allow passersby to catch glances of the work hung in the gallery, and over the past few years I’ve seen people stop in their tracks, becoming engrossed in the exhibition from afar. This reaction is particularly visible in our current show, as people stop and stare at Brandon Chambers’ video piece, Reviling of Pleasing Corruptions from beyond the glass. Some of enter the space, others move on, but despite the physical barrier between themselves and the work, they all participate in the experience. For those who say they aren’t interested in art or don’t have enough time, let the artwork catch your eye the next time you walk by the Stamp Gallery; even that fleeting moment of confusion, revulsion, or awe is enough.

Written by Christopher Bugtong.