This is the third installment of the capital lives artist interview series. capital lives features work by Bo Chen, Sydney Gray, Sarah O’Donoghue, Brea Soul, Christine Stoddard, and Nevada Taylor.
Brea Soul | Multimedia artist, photographer, and designer in the Maryland DC area | Exhibiting in capital lives from May 30 to July 4, 2018 at The Stamp Gallery | University of Maryland, College Park | Interview by Grace DeWitt
Can you tell me a little about yourself? Where did you grow up, and where are you based now?
I am a multimedia artist and photographer who is dedicated to highlighting new, blossoming and vibrant artists, and the cultures of minorities in Maryland and D.C. I am originally from Trappe, Maryland, a small town located on the Eastern Shore. Since moving away to attend University of Maryland, College Park, I am now based out of College Park, MD.
You graduated from UMCP with your Bachelors this past December. What did you study, and what are you up to now?
I studied Studio Art with a minor in Art History. I currently work as the in-house graphic designer for Brentwood Arts Exchange, a contemporary art gallery in Maryland, and as a photo contributor for Capitol Standard Magazine, a magazine for young professionals in the Washington, D.C. area. I hope to move in the direction of multimedia production and directing.
Could you briefly describe your artistic practice?
I always felt like I didn’t belong, but in reality, relatable representation just lacked around me. So, in my photography and webseries, Soul Series, I choose to capture the essence of a person’s true identity and natural lifestyle. I seek modern representation of African Americans and other minority groups because I want to highlight the identities and stories of those that are still often overlook or ignored. My goal is to encourage the world to observe these races and cultures closely and then to connect in a way they have not before. I love working with color, natural lighting, composition/framing and movement. My influences include Gordon Parks and Roy Decarava, music, and cultural relativism.
What is your personal experience with D.C. at this moment? To what extent do you have ties to this city?
My personal experience with D.C. comes from my relations to its people and its culture. There is a renaissance happening in D.C and around connecting parts of Maryland that most are not ignoring, but rather, overlooking. Knowing this and a lot of the young upcoming talent that is based out of DC or close to it, I believe it’s a job of mine to constantly capture the culture: whether it’s related to art, music, fashion, or simply the lifestyles that DC produces.
How would you describe D.C., or the D.C. vibe, to people who have never been to the city?
D.C is a traditional place with a lot of history. When you visit D.C. and learn more than what is shown on TV and through articles, you learn about all of the rich culture D.C. produces. D.C. consists of a lot of creative activity, networking, and opportunity. D.C. is not as big as NY but D.C. consists of endless industries and because it’s smaller, you have plenty of room to connect, learn and grow here.
Let’s talk about your photographs in capital lives. Do you know any of the subjects personally? Were they all taken in the district?
I only know two of the subjects personally and the others I connected to through networking. This may come to you as a surprise, but only one photo was taken actually in the district. Can you guess which one? The other three were taken relatively close to Washington, D.C., in places such as Hyattsville and College Park.
Do you consider these images to be portraits of individuals, or a more collective observation of a regional city culture?
It’s hard to answer that question because it’s technically both. Although these images are simply portraits of residents/performers of the area, the people involved are important to the creative history of D.C. at this specific time. One is an upcoming wordsmith and poet who is known for his skill all over the city. The model in Liberation represents the Latino community that is being directly affected from the current state of the United States and its presidency. Kweku Collins, is a rapper/singer performed at an annual D.C. festival called, All Things Go.
I understand that the prints exhibited in capital lives are part of a larger series. What is your intent for that series?
My intent is to constantly portray the lives existing in Washington D.C. and the surrounding area, and create a series that shows who is living in D.C. and what they are doing. Basically, I want to document the current times and culture.
What was the reasoning behind the titles for Dazed 1 and Overtime 2? Were these planned images, or candid?
Dazed 1’s title stems from the expression presented by the subject throughout the entire photoshoot. A woman is shown wandering aimlessly and although she is giving direct eye contact, one can assume that there is something on her mind. Something has her distracted or stuck.
Overtime 2’s title comes from personal background of the subject and plays off of that narrative. The subject was a UMD dropout and then after a year, decided to return back to UMD. Throughout the photos from this photoshoot, he can be found in a classroom, outside on campus and walking through hallways. Wherever he travels, he is focused on the task at hand. In Overtime 2, he is seen with a black notebook and pen on campus with an alarming look. I like to believe this photograph embodies when a lightbulb goes off for a person and that usually happens after a while of focusing on a certain subject.
Can you explain what’s going on in All Things Go (Kweku Collins) 2 and Liberation 1?
In All Things Go (Kweku Collins) 2, Kweku Collins had just finished performing and starting a meet and greet. I wanted to capture his presence while meeting his fans. He is normally shown on a stage and singing so I thought it would be cool to get another perspective of him and his style. Even while not on stage, he kept the same aura and presence of light and joy with him.
In Liberation 1, I was on a mission to portray a new-found sense of freedom. I selected an aspiring model and did a photoshoot at an isolated hotel. The location was chosen for the narrative of one running away or being forced to be on the move. During the subject’s time alone, she reflects. So Liberation 1 portrays the outcome of her journey when she has finally come to a point where she is prepared and ready to take on whatever is next.
Music culture seems to be an intertwined part of some of your photography work. What part of the D.C. music scene do you interact with in your photography, and do you feel that your photography is meant to bring attention to or comment on that scene?
I find myself in rap and R&B spaces within Washington, D.C. because that genre of music is a heavy part of my own personal culture and I know more people within that space than other genres. However, I hope to break into other music scenes because although Rap and R&B is special to me, my goal is to capture creatives and artists of all sorts of backgrounds. There are a lot of talents out there and I want to capture as many as I can. I guess I just started off in a familiar space. My photography, in those scenes, serves as a way to capture timeless moments that the people never get back; but through my photography, they will never forget it.
What do you hope viewers take away from your photographs, perhaps in conversation with the other works in capital lives as a whole?
When people visit capital lives, I simply hope to introduce them to people and/or cultures that are blooming here in the area and start a conversation there. Media coverage and photo documentation about Washington, D.C., is usually centered on politics, protests, sports and or fancy landmarks. I want to introduce people to people. Simple. Real people that you can learn from, bond with and or help in some type of way. I hope that in combination with the other photographs from the other artists, visitors will get a complete 360 realistic perspective of DC. For example, Bo Chen successfully and effectively captured people protesting on the streets of D.C. while my photos show the residents of D.C. Having this imagery together shows a complete image of the time right now in D.C.
Which of your photographs in capital lives do you connect with the most?
I connect with them all but if I had to choose one, I would pick All Things Go (Kweku Collins) 2 because the imagery involved is someone of color and a flower. In my opinion, a sunflower embodies a source of light. Within my photography, but more importantly within my life, I try to radiate positive energy and show others love.
What camera did you use to shoot the images in capital lives, and what are you shooting with now?
Since gifted, I have been shooting my photography through a Nikon D3400 and it’s been amazing to learn and practice on. I have plans to upgrade in the near future, either to another Nikon or Sony.
You’re also working on a webshow called Soul Series. Can you talk about the project and goals for the show moving forward?
Soul Series is an original web show that follows me, a 22-year-old spirited artist from Maryland, as I navigate throughout the DMV/DC area interviewing other artists and creatives. In season one, Brea comes across an illustrator, a fashion brand and one painter. Season two involves more musicians: ranging from a music group, a disc jockey and percussionist. The goal for the show is to constantly discover and highlight talents, in this area, who are steadfast in their skill whether its related to visual arts, music and or fashion. The biggest goal for this project is to get the show picked up by a local production company or studio, in hopes to reach a bigger audience, which could result in income, connections, and exposure for the artists and creatives interviewed.
Any future shows or projects that you would like to promote here?
Through my photography and webshow, I meet a lot of artists who are so fresh in my mind. I thought about a show I would love to curate even at the Stamp Gallery, involving a showcase of artwork by the people I have interviewed and will meet. This project would provide opportunity for those creatives to have a professional chance to exhibit their talented work.
We’ll close with a question that powered the creation of capital lives. In your own words, what do you feel lies behind the image of power?
The image of power is in direct correlation to the person that produces that image. For me, the power is in the people and that’s why it is important for me to capture D.C.’s people. People fighting for rights and succeeding in their individual lives is power to me, so I choose to show that.
Soul’s work is included in capital lives at The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, from May 30 through July 3, 2018.
For more information on Brea Soul, visit www.breasoul.com.
For more information on capital lives and related events, visit thestamp.umd.edu/stamp_gallery
This is the second installment of the capital lives artist interview series. capital lives features work by Bo Chen, Sydney Gray, Sarah O’Donoghue, Brea Soul, Christine Stoddard, and Nevada Tyler.
Nevada Tyler | Exhibiting in capital lives from May 30th to July 4th, 2018 at The Stamp Gallery | University of Maryland, College Park | Interview by Kat Mullineaux
KM: Before we start talking about your work in capital lives, I want our readers to learn a little bit about your background. Where are you from and how did you get into art?
NT: I grew up on the border of Frederick and Montgomery County Maryland, so basically farmlands. I guess I have always been interested in art. My mother always provided my sister and me with paper and markers and it was more when I was a kid that I actively explored art. I felt like art maybe wasn’t the most practical route to take in college so I studied political science. Then I realized I really wanted to do art more than politics and there is no use in not doing exactly what you want to do with your life.
KM: What is your connection to D.C.? You’re currently an undergraduate student at George Washington University–what do you study there?
NT: I’m a DMV native. Living in Maryland means visiting Washington D.C. on a regular basis. When you live in a major city or a major city is close to you, do not take that for granted. I currently live in D.C. attending GW and so now I get to explore it as much as I please. I have always loved this city. Maybe that is because I’ve spent so much time here but people think it is all business, but really, we have everything. At GW I study fine arts and communications. With fine arts though, I’ve centered my studies around more technical and new media art mediums rather than the more traditional fine arts mediums.
KM: Your photography in capital lives seems to be centered on candid, un-posed moments. What about photographing people in their everyday existence are you drawn to? Why?
NT: The moments we take for granted are the moments I aim to capture and share. We experience people every day but never take a second to really look and see. I am personally attracted to those who are blind to their own beauty. There is something curious about the oblivion they inhabit that brings them to a place of pure authenticity. The modern world is over-saturated with posed and highly manipulated photographs, creating a societal goal to constantly be poised and perfect. Where that may provide visually pleasing photographs, it is not reality. Because of this, I believe people have forgotten how to enjoy being human. I hope to make photographs that bring back an awareness of what it feels like to live life, to inspire others to stop and relish in the quirks and similarities of themselves and others, and remind everyone just how beautiful the boring parts of the human experience can be.
KM: I love how you have such a appreciation for the reality of moments. In the same vein, there is an intimacy that is tangible in your work. When viewing the photos I feel like I’m there, sitting in the room viewing a private moment–regardless of whether that is watching a man at his desk doing the same work he’s been doing for years or viewing a woman praying in an empty church pew. Is this intimacy important to you? What do you think it does for the viewers of your work?
NT: I want viewers to feel like they just entered the moment, that they just happened upon this scene, just as I did. I want them to feel the, kind of magic, I felt which made me pick up the camera and make the photograph. Intimacy is very important to me. It is difficult to describe. It is a concept I place an enormous amount of weight in my own personal life and I really try and transfer that over to my artwork. I want the viewer to create a relationship with the work. I don’t care if that stems from their personal experiences with religion or family members, whatever, I don’t care if they make up a whole story about the subject for kicks. At least a viewer stopped and thought about it, the scene, the subject, the context, the feeling. That is all I can ask for.
KM: One thing that capital lives is interested in is the identity and lives of people existing in the capital city of the U.S.A. I notice that interestingly enough there is a large amount of anonymity to the figures in your work aside from “He Pretended to be Bitter, but he Wasn’t”, which I will touch on in a moment. Is that anonymity important to you? How do you think it informs the stories you are telling through your images?
NT: Some people are not comfortable being photographed, their demeanor suddenly shifts and the moment no longer feels natural. So in a way, I sometimes need anonymity to make the shots I do. I do not aim to objectify any of these subjects, I only hope to reveal a beauty we often forget is there. Anonymity also helps viewers to create their own stories about the people they see in the photographs. There is little information, but I feel like it always just enough with the given settings the subjects are in and any expressions they may possess. I think that encourages the viewers to let their imagination run a little bit.
KM: On the note of your piece “He Pretended to be Bitter, but he Wasn’t” (and the interview audio paired with it) there is a lack of anonymity. We hear “Capital Jim’s” voice and we are transported into the independent bookshop that he runs. Is this type of work a departure for you and what do you think you got out of the process? Would you like to interview more of your subjects in the future?
NT: Yes and no. I have always been interested in sound design and have worked with various programs to create sound pieces, but I never really thought about conducting interviews before. This is actually the second interview I’ve ever put together and I am really happy about how it turned out. It was a tough process. Sometimes, subjects are difficult to work with, sometimes they’re fantastic. You never know what you’re going to get. For me that is the hardest part, coming up with questions and conducting the interview. The rest is extremely time consuming, but my material is collected and then I just have to buckle down to edit an hour’s worth of material into 3 minutes and edit that to my satisfaction. I definitely would be interested in interviewing more subjects. I have been thinking about it for a while and I think I want to go about conducting interviews just for the fun of it and see where it takes me.
KM: I know you work in the medium of photography, but do you have any other favorite mediums or other artistic passions?
NT: I love writing and music. I am so enamored with the way that words and a melody can convey ideas, stories, and feelings. Writing helps me sort out my thoughts and capture sentiment, it doesn’t always come with a melody but I love it either way.
KM: What do you want to do in the future? Professionally or personally?
NT: I just want to be able to create content of all kinds, professionally and personally. I am open to all art mediums and I do feel they are all intertwined and should be explored together and that is really my plan.
KM: Finally, since it is a theme of capital lives, I wonder–what do you think lies behind an image of power?
NT: An image of power will make you stop. It will emit a weight that draws your attention. An image of power can depict anything from horrors to honorable acts. In terms of street photography, I believe an image of power must be honest. In other mediums, I believe an image of power must hold or reveal a truth. Really any image that makes you stop and stare, I think that is an image of power.
Thank you to Nevada for participating in the capital lives Artist Interview Series.
The Stamp Gallery’s summer hours are: MON-FRI 11AM-4PM
This is the first installment of the Capital Livesartist interview series. Capital Lives features work by Bo Chen, Sydney Gray, Sarah O’Donoghue, Brea Soul, Christine Stoddard, and Nevada Tyler.
Bo Chen | Exhibiting in capital lives from May 30th to July 4th, 2018 at The Stamp Gallery | University of Maryland, College Park | Interview by Kat Mullineaux
KM: Before we get into the details of your work in capital lives, I want our readers to learn a little bit more about you. Where are you from, what is your connection to D.C. and what do you study in university?
BC: I’m Bo Chen, currently fifth year senior majoring in Geographical Science and Atmospheric Science. I am an international student from China and I came to D.C. metropolitan area and the University four years ago.
KM: As an international student documenting social movements and protests in the capital city of this country, do you feel like your perspective is unique? What do you think that perspective adds to your role as artist?
BC: Everyone has a unique perspective in some way. As an international student, being able to experience the U.S. democracy first hand is very interesting. I really feel myself playing two different roles here. First of all, I am not a U.S. citizen, so that sometimes I feel like I do not, or should not, speak too much of American public policy or even public movement going on. After all I do not have a political right in this country and I can’t vote, so sometimes I am acting like an impartial observer documenting what is going on.
However, on the other hand, I am also a global citizen. The world today is so interconnected and “flat”, like what we geographers say, what happens in U.S. will greatly affect the whole world. In this way, I feel like I do have a right and obligation to express my concern. Since I am majoring in Atmospheric Science, I am especially interested and concerned with how America and the world is dealing with science and facts. I am also very interested in many social movements in U.S., as some of the problems and obstacles faced by these social movements is not unique to this country. We have similar social movements going on in my home country too, but probably taking on different forms. So sometimes I am not just an observer, and my photos could have a really strong voice.
KM: As a follow up, how do you approach protests and social movements in the D.C. area in your photographs? What is your entry point?
BC: Usually when I am documenting protests and any other events, I do it in the “street photography” style. So I treat a protest just like usual street photography session, but with more people and signs. I would roam around for an interesting moment and capture the photograph before the subject realized a photo is being taken and trying to pose. I believe in this way I can capture the true emotion and story of the subject. It is actually easier and more fun doing protest photography comparing to normal street photography, because there are so many emotional people and you never run out of interesting moments to capture, and they never get upset if you take their photograph. I usually do not communicate with a subject before a picture is taken
KM: Your pieces in capital lives blur the borders between documentary and art. Do you work in a documentary format in all your work? What about documenting life are you drawn to, either artistically or personally?
BC: I do not know a lot about art theory but I think the borders between documentary and art is always blurry. I experiment with many different photography styles and genres. I do landscape, street photography and recently portraits involving artificial lighting. I even tried abstract photography. The boundaries among all these genres are very blurry. There are times I do not know which genre folder on my disk to put a photograph into.
When I take any photograph I would always try to make it look pleasing to the eye. This is just a style I like to do, and lot of times I take a photo just for the look. When I am trying to make some personal input in my photographs, I try to make it somewhere available and visible to the audience, but I have taken many photographs that most people just do not get it.
KM: Do you think one side of that coin–art or documentation–is more important? If so, why or why not?
BC: I do believe the art side is pretty important, and sometimes even more important. When you talk about documenting with photography, you are talking about documenting through a photographer’s eyes, and the photographer’s own mind set and intuition make this documentation style photography very personal. One would argue that you cannot create a photograph out of nothing, that you have to photograph a true event that has happened before, either naturally happened or set up, and any photograph is about documentation. However, you can not underestimate the ability, of the person behind the camera, to affect the reality in the photograph. The framing, composition, editing, color grading, retouching and even choosing the subject to photograph, are totally in a photographer’s hand. Some photographers’ works are so unique; you can just tell if a photograph belongs to them.
I think the art and documentation, is always very interconnected, no matter what tool you use. Traditional art forms like painting, could be characterized as documentation. Just a simple example, stone breakers, by Gustave Courbet, is very much about documentation. I would guess if a Leica existed at that time the artist would have probably used it. In addition, modern day commissioned portrait photography, definitely replaced the commissioned portrait painting, but serves more or less the same purpose.
KM: I want to touch on the fact that you are a photographer, for a moment. The medium of photography is unique in its versatility and revolutionary possibilities. What are you drawn to about photography over say, sculpture or painting?
BC: While photography always look easier than sculpture and painting, and it really looks like it Is something you can just do when you just started until it is too late and you are in too deep. I was first drawn into photography mostly because of its tech aspect and the gear part of it. I am not ashamed to admit I am a nerd and I am still a gear head, flooding my apartment with numerous different photography equipment. While teaching myself photography I soon found the camera as a very good tool of expressing myself. Now I would definitely get into painting if I have more time. I am starting to do some watercolor but I am not any good, yet.
I think the easiness in photography really drives me to think more outside of the picture. Everyone gets a phone that has a good camera on it and now there are even AI programs that take the photo for you. I am constantly thinking how I am taking a photograph that is unique and really my own.
KM: The composition of your images vary a good amount but there is an underlying frontality to several of them–as if you are confronting the audience with your subjects. Is that frontality a stylistic preference of yours or did that commonality just appear as you went along? Why do you think so?
BC: I think many of the feeling of the frontality really comes from my lens choice. I like using a 35mm equivalent lens, which makes you get closer to the subject but still conserves the environment in the background. 35mm lens really gives audience a feeling that they are there at the moment. I could also use a telephoto lens and hide somewhere and take pictures that still have the subject as the same size on the photo but the pictures will just feel very different and even distant in that way. Some of my submitted photos are taken with a telephoto lens or a standard zoom, I think you can see the difference in the frontality with the different lens used.
I probably just got used to the 35mm focus length because I started to like it while using it. I will definitely try other focus length in the future works and see if the frontality style can be carried in to other focus lengths.
KM: What was it like to document these protests? As a student? As an artist?
BC: It is a really fun process documenting protests. Actually these photos come from first two protests I actually went ever as there are not many protests allowed where I am from. I am really looking forward to go on more different protests, demonstrations and parades. And as a student I definitely would support the protest with which I share the same value, but I will definitely go photograph even the demonstrations that has a radically different view point or goal.
KM: Do you have any artists or movements that you would say influence your own work?
BC: In photography I am definitely influenced by the classics like Cartier Bresson, Robert Capa and William Klein. For the portraiture work I am trying to copy and learn from photographers like Lindsay Adler and Annie Leibovitz. Also probably a few hundreds of photographers on Instagram I think worth following!
For Art generally I took only one art history class and got a B-. I am still in a journey to find my own voice and style. I definitely have a lot to learn.
KM: You have a long career and life ahead of you in whatever you choose to do. So, I am curious, what do you want to do in the future, artistically or professionally–or both?
BC: I am currently trying to get into a Ph.D. program in Earth System Science and I want to become a scientist and maybe save humanity form climate change if I am lucky. While I do wish I can go further in my photography not just as a hobby. Many great people multi task and succeed in multiple fields. I would definitely go crazy if I am only allowed to do one thing.
For photography right now I just got a set of studio lighting and I am teaching myself the craft of artificial lighting. I also just got into black and white darkroom last year and I am also experimenting with large format photography. So there is a lot going on for me in photography. I just like to try new things and get inspired this way.
So if everything goes perfectly maybe I will become a climate scientist in the day and photography artist at night. Like bat man, business man in the day and fight crime at night; same thing.
Thank you to Bo for participating in the capital lives Artist Interview Series.
The Stamp Gallery’s summer hours are: MON-FRI 11AM-4PM
Clay Dunklin | Second-Year Master of Fine Arts Candidate | Exhibiting in MEDIA LUX from April 2nd through May 19th, 2018 at The Stamp Gallery | University of Maryland, College Park | Interview by Grace DeWitt
To start with some background, where are you from, and what brought you to the MFA program at the University of Maryland?
Really, I came here for location. I grew up in the middle-of-nowhere in East Texas where there is virtually no arts culture or art opportunities and then spent the last several years in Orlando, FL. Orlando is great but the contemporary art world there is still in a stage of infancy and opportunities are few. Here we sit in this nice place between Baltimore and Washington–even New York and Philadelphia are in close proximity. So there’s a lot to engage with and see. I really wanted to be someplace where I had all of that at my fingertips.
Can you briefly summarize the focus of your artistic practice?
My practice is very much project-based and contextual–I create a lot of parts but they really need to be installed and viewed together to make relationships and begin to make sense. I’m also not really media specific. I mean, my background is in drawing and I still think of all the work in terms of drawing, but my practice is not really just drawing, or sculpture, or video. It’s all of that. I guess I use whatever media feels right for the work.
Are there any artists you are following right now, or any specific artists who have inspired your work so far?
I’m really into Mark Leckey right now. He won the Turner Prize a few years ago and does video, image-based, and object-based works. He creates these great installations with found objects usually in front of a green screen. This really influenced the current piece, Catatonic Tomography Cycle, with the painting of that flat color on the wall and the flatness of the prints. His work made me think about achieving a kind of compression of the objects or alternatively a slight dimensionality as if just beginning to poke out into space. This is aided by the one-sided viewing of the work–even though there are objects it’s not really in the round like in Leckey’s work.
I’m really drawn to Jannis Kounellis’ work as well. For me, his installations sat in this really beautiful place between complexity and simplicity. Objects would be hung with rope from the ceiling or piled on the floor or he’d just fill a gallery with live horses–it was very straightforward like that. But the scale and the way he could fill a space was pretty awe-inspiring.
I also have a bit of a crush on Anicka Yi. Her exhibition at the Guggenheim for the Hugo Boss Prize was pretty fantastic. The piece Maybe She’s Born With It is like this huge inflatable plastic dome with tempura fried flowers in it. I kind of want to live in there.
I understand that you underwent a pretty extreme medical illness about this time last year, which plays a role in your work now. Did your practice focus on the body before this illness? How would you say your direction changed because of this experience?
Yeah, it was pretty scary actually. I had several extended stays in the hospital with this weird and kind of rare neurological disease. Most of my time in the hospital was spent just trying to figure out what this was. Then I got put on these wacky medicines that took my mind to weird places and really affected my body and how my body reacted to external stimuli. It was a wild ride for sure. I took a bit of time trying to figure out what to do with that whole experience in terms of my work and I honestly tried to avoid it. It couldn’t be helped though, it just began to creep into the studio, so I gave in and decided to just see where it takes the work. And I think a year was enough time to sort of process and be ready to talk about it. However, I don’t think it totally uprooted the direction of my practice. I’ve always been working with body as subject in some capacity–I come from a very heavy figure drawing background so I guess that is just kind of ingrained in me somewhere. I’m interested in the body as this sort of mediator between us and the world. It’s how we contextualize and make sense of everything. But I think technology is really redefining that role as we’re becoming more and more cyborgian with our phones and such. But your body still has to interface with technology so that specifically is where I want my work to be situated–that little meeting point between body and technology.
Can you share some information about the title of your MEDIA LUX installation, Catatonic Tomography Cycle?
This piece deals with my experience of being sick in a pretty overt way. Here I’m using some of the more conceptual elements of the work to steer the formal qualities and I think this becomes really evident through the title. A catatonic state is an altered mental status that can be brought on by neurological disorders. This is what I experienced several times throughout my illness. It was like being a zombie or something. I have little to no memory of those times but apparently I wouldn’t speak or even move really, like being frozen. This is referenced in the stillness of the image-based components and in the slow looping videos that maybe start to reference time as something structured in layers and less linearly. This directly relates to tomography, which is a kind of imaging used most commonly in the medical field where the whole is broken up and viewed as layers (think MRI images). Again, this is referenced in some of the actual physical medical imagery used, but, it is also labeling all of these individual components as layers or slices of the whole that still contain information about the whole, and then compressing all of that into a kind of flatness (back to the Mark Lackey reference). And cycle goes back conceptually to the cyclical nature of the disease but also formally to the looping of the videos and as an indicator of the singular installation being composed of many parts: like an opera or song cycle in music composition.
We’ve talked a little bit about how the footage in your installation touches on ideas of creation. Can you go into further detail about how the footage builds into the more complex idea of the MEDIA LUX installation as a whole?
This work has really taken on a kind of language all its own, as I think most works tend to do, and if you understand the artist as mythmaker, this language becomes inherently mythological. So I am constantly reflecting on the relationship between what is a deeply personal mythological language and a more universal one. I was reflecting on this relationship between creation and destruction and how water or fluid can act between those two modes. I think about the Grand Canyon where water has destroyed the landscape yet simultaneously created a new one or how this fluid around my brain acts as protection yet is the main antagonist in the story of my illness. Newborns emerge from a fluid incubator in what is a very traumatic process. None of this is new. But how do we reference these ideas that are inherent to our body in a relevant and deeply personal way? What kind of contemporary Athene can emerge from the fluid site of the head? The Native Americans around what is California today had a creation myth of humans being made from clay of the earth, as most cultures did, but with the added idea that the creator-god mixed spit with the earth to give humans life. So again, what does that mean for a contemporary body as a fluid site?
I’m interested in hearing more about your photographic/record-keeping processes and preferences. Could you highlight some other works of yours that applied captured imagery to installation? What are your intentions when it comes to image resolution and image manipulation in your work?
Like I said earlier, I’m interested in this intersection of body and technology and specifically how we negotiate those two as mediators between the self and the world. We’ve really embarked on a time where we’re beginning to experience everything through tech, even things we’re physically present for. Think about a concert where people snap every single song. Yes, now all of your friends can experience that too through an app on their phone but also you as the physically present viewer are experiencing a live event through compressed, digital, pixelated images and videos via your handheld device. That’s fascinating to me. It’s becoming second nature to understand our world through compressed images. So in terms of the work, I’m not intentionally after low quality images verging on pixilated abstraction just like I’m not intentionally after the most high quality images aimed at some kind of illusion. I don’t care about the illusion. If the image even slightly or in a subversive way recalls a quality of imagery experienced in the everyday then it brings it into that space of body/technology interface. It also begins to recall or make visible the process of the image-making, similar to how the process of tomographic imaging is inherently stamped on the images it produces simply because of the kind of images it produces. It’s a performative process where the thing is the action of its own doing and in this way, the images now become objects.
Thinking back to the installation at The Stamp Gallery, what drew you to the use of those dark water images, applied directly on the left portion of the installation wall?
Those images come from documentation of a previous project where I was changing or obscuring the surface of my body by applying charcoal powder. I would then wash that off and be left with this deep dark charcoal water. From that, I began to pull paper thinking that these new surfaces and objects could be made from my body sluff. So the water became a transformative site where something new could emerge–this goes back to your previous question about creation and the metamyth. I had prints of these images and it just kind of hit me that they needed to be included with this project. The water references fluid around the brain but also starts to resemble images of space. That push and pull between something recognizable and something alien interests me and speaks to cosmic or magical thinking and some of the mental imagery conjured while on medication that was making me totally loopy. The application and composition of the prints is pointing to digital glitch in a way. The long linear format of each print is kind of filmic but really isn’t about time as we perceive it. As said earlier, it’s about something layered or sliced and reassembled.
MEDIA LUX is an exhibition that presents five artists’ interpretation of, or association with, light. How does light relate to your concept in Catatonic Tomography Cycle?
Light is really a formal element here. When the decision was made to have the gallery dimly lit I thought that was great because video work is self-illuminating. For the rest of the installation I had to be more strategic about lighting. I knew the sculpture emerging from the wall was the one thing I wanted to be lit pretty intensely. Then the blue glow of the black light was again a formal and strategic color choice as it stands in relationship to the warm yellow of that spotlight. So that really was a further iteration of the colors found in the video works.
Is there any advice you have for undergraduate artists or others at the beginning of their art careers?
I think one of the biggest things that I needed to hear as an undergrad was to really invest in the learning processes. It’s easy for people who have some talent to take the time in studio for granted or to not really put themselves out there because they’re afraid of failure. Make a ton, experiment a ton, be confident even in ‘failure,’ and pull everything you can out of your instructors and fellow students. Otherwise, you’ll likely only be performing at a slightly higher level than when you started college. How much good will that have really done you?
I know you have an installation up right now at VisArts, yolk | shell | source | system, a collaborative with another UMD MFA student, Bekí Basch. Anything else you have going on or coming up that you’d like to promote here?
Yeah! This was actually my first collaborative project and it was really the best experience. It’s a huge 70 foot long window display a couple of blocks from VisArts. So it definitely presented its own set of challenges but made for some great experimentation. We had a reception and artist talk for that on May 4th, and the installation will be up through June.
Clay Dunklin’s work is included in MEDIA LUX at The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, from April 2nd through May 19th, 2018.
For more information on Clay Dunklin, visit https://claydunklin.com/.
For more information on MEDIA LUX and related events, visit thestamp.umd.edu/stamp_gallery.
This is the second installment of the Media Lux artist interview series. Media Lux features work by Clay Dunklin, Mason Hurley, Irene Pantelis, Monroe Isenberg, and Gina Takaoka.
Gina Takaoka | Graduate Student and Artist | Exhibiting in Media Lux from April 2nd through May 19th, 2018 at The Stamp Gallery | University of Maryland, College Park | Interview by Cristy Ho
Let’s begin with some background: where are you from, where have you studied, and what brought you to study at UMD?
I am from Southern California. I got my BFA in Drawing and Painting from California State University, Fullerton. I came to UMD because I wanted to live someplace new, and Washington D.C. was a good fit for my partner’s education and career goals at the time.
You’re a tattoo artist as well as an installation artist. What aspects of these occupations do you enjoy the most?
You’ve described your artistic interests to be in “the poetic intersections between history, memory, and place.” Can you talk a little more about your experiences with moving frequently and how they’ve inspired you to create the work you make today?
I like to think of physical places as a kind of repository for history and memory, and I think that idea is rooted in the fact that I moved around so much. The chronology of my memory is organized by place, and I think that everyone experiences this to a certain extent. Because of this, place tends to be the theme that organizes my work, and I spend most of my time investigating locations of historical or personal significance. Lately this train of thought has taken me toward issues of environmental significance and the idea of “future forgotten places”.
Now, let’s talk about your artworks currently on display in the Stamp Gallery. There is imagery relating to maps in both of your artworks,Above/Below and Data Mine/Mine Data. Are these works based on any maps in particular?
Data Mine // Mine Data is a map of the locations of known abandoned coal mines from Pennsylvania to Mississippi; it basically spans the Appalachian mountain region. Above // Below is more general; I pulled satellite images from the surface of the earth, maps of underground mine workings, points from the map used to create Data Mine // Mine Data, and some abstracted images from the Hubble Space Telescope.
I really enjoy how your artworkAbove/Below sprawls across the wall. The composition reminds me a lot of one of my favorite pieces at the Hirshhorn called In Memory of Your Feelings by Mary Bauermeister. This piece as well as this particular artwork of yours consist of backgrounds that are obscured by blobs and overlain with glass. Do the scattered and covered maps in Above/Below represent how one might remember or recall places in their mind?
With Above // Below, I was interested in the idea that the various images I had been looking at, despite the fact that they represented very different types of information at drastically different scales, seemed nearly identical when their scale and context were shifted. These tiny dots that represented forgotten underground places looked like stars, and images of stars looked like a tunnel entrance viewed from beneath the earth. Each panel has layers of information from above the earth, below it, or the surface of the earth itself, arranged in sequences that don’t necessarily correspond to their usual order.
Another question I have aboutAbove/Below: How did you decide where to place each piece in relation to each other on the wall?
There isn’t a strict system that governs the arrangement of the panels; I hung them somewhat intuitively, hoping that the overall result might resemble a constellation.
Moving on to your other piece, is there a story behind why you named it Data Mine // Mine Data?
Titles are always a struggle for me. With work that is based on specific information, I always go back and forth between choosing a title that explains the whole thing, or being a little more vague. “Date Mine // Mine Data” was a working title for when I showed the piece at the National Academy of Science, and it was definitely geared toward announcing the content somewhat.
The lights splattering the walls and ceiling from inside the cube strongly reminds me of stars. In fact, the blobs inAbove/Belowalso remind me of stars as well as galaxies. Was this intentional?
There are an estimated half a million abandoned mines in the United States, and about fifty thousand of them are coal mines. When I assembled a map of them, I was struck by the fact that there were so many, it looked like they could have been stars in a night sky. I wanted that experience to come across for viewers. I’m fascinated by the notion that we this reverence for combusting elements trillions of miles away, but we’ll dig these caverns to remove elements for combustion and then happily forget those voids existing right beneath our feet.
When Stamp Gallery visitors experience your work, how do you hope they respond, or what do you hope they realize through your work?
While my work often engages with issues that are somewhat political, I’m not necessarily interested in communicating a particular stance; I’d rather generate awareness and questions that viewers can answer for themselves.
Lastly, can you tell us what you are currently working on?
The project that I’m currently working on is an inventory of different places that will disappear in the future due to sea level rise. I’m not entirely sure what the final result will be, yet.
Check out Gina Takaoka’s work in Media Lux at The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, from April 2nd through May 19th, 2018.
For more information on Gina Takaoka, visit http://www.ginatakaoka.com/
For more information on Media Lux and related events, visit thestamp.umd.edu/stamp_gallery.
This is the first installment of the Media Lux artist interview series. Media Lux features work by Clay Dunklin, Mason Hurley, Irene Pantelis, Monroe Isenberg, and Gina Takaoka.
Monroe Isenberg | Graduate Student and Artist | Exhibiting in Media Lux from April 2nd through May 19th, 2018 at The Stamp Gallery | University of Maryland, College Park | Interview by Erin Allen
Before we begin talking about these particular works, let’s start with some background. What’s your artistic background, and what brought you to study at UMD?
I’m from Minneapolis, I lived in Portland for seven years, and then I came here for graduate school. I was working in fabrication for awhile in Portland, felt terrible about it eventually and thought “what’s missing in my life?” So I remembered that I loved making art in college, and went “oh yeah, I think I’m an artist.” That’s the whole reason I got into fabrication, because I wanted to learn how to make things so that I could make better sculptures, and I had forgotten that after I graduated. I applied for an intern residency at Franconia Sculpture Park, which is in Minnesota. It’s on the border of Wisconsin and Minnesota in Shafer. It’s this 80 acre sculpture park in the middle of nowhere, you’re driving along and then all of a sudden you see this giant circle and these colors, and these sculptures jetting up into the sky, and you’re like “what is this doing here?” I was working there and I met Foon [Sham] and Dane [Winkler]. Dane is an alumni here and Foon is a professor, and they told me about the program, told me about funding, and it peaked my interest. I had loved my time at Franconia and I felt revitalized. I hadn’t felt that type of energy from a community and from within myself for years, aside from being in college and being surrounded by that art community. So Foon and Dane and Hugh, Hugh is a sculpture park manager over there, they told me about [the program here at Maryland], and I was like yeah, I think I wanna go back to school.
Did something in particular, like your background in psychology or a specific movement, draw you to work in a Minimalist style? Have any particular artists or concepts inspired your art practice?
I think I accidentally started working in a minimalist style. I think that comes from my parents; my dad is an architect, my mom is a designer, an artist, and a professor of design, she has an MFA in design, so I think the simple and minimal, less is more idea has always just been in me. I think psychology, I hadn’t actually really thought about that too much before, but I think psychology helped me to realize how people make judgments and decisions, and how they are affected by small, seemingly insignificant, minimal things in their environment, and that actually makes them view the world in a completely different way. Whether or not we shake hands, and I have a warm hand versus a cold hand, it’s going to be a subliminal message, it’s going to go into your subconscious and make you think that if I have a cold hand, I might have a cold character and a cold personality, and I might say the exact same thing to you, but your interpretation of me is totally changed by that minute feeling. Same with taste, same with hot coffee and cold coffee. So understanding environments and little environmental changes, I think actually has played a role. But the artists that I’ve loved are all minimal. Like Robert Irwin, James Turrell, Anish Kapoor, Anne Truitt, those people are amazing. When I see that work and I’m with it, it justs hits me in a specific way, it’s not contrived. For me, I think minimalism can aid contemplation of work and reduce the static noise of everything around us and help us focus. I’m thinking about that, I’m thinking about the viewer experience, but now I’ve started calling them the participants because I’m looking into relationships in my work. Instead of an experience, I want people to be in the present moment with my work, at least I am when I’m looking at it, and I think the work calls for that, for you to understand it intuitively. But I use participant, as opposed to viewer, because participant implies that you’re participating in the work, you’re relating to the work, whereas experience implies objectifying the work, making it an experience that is to be held for the self instead of meeting the work in between.
Wood, concrete, and steel seem to be the main mediums in a great deal of your work, what got you interested in using these materials?
Lately, I think I was using wood a lot because I was most comfortable with it, and it’s just something when you love a material you have to use it. With metal, I use it for its structural purposes, and it has a specific beauty in its’ functionality and its’ strength. Cement, this is actually my first ever cement sculpture. It was fun to work with cement, I don’t know when I’ll use it again, but I use materials according to the idea, so if the relationship I’m trying to call upon involves air, maybe I’ll use some kind of air, if it involves earth, I’ll use cement. It’s basically like whatever the idea calls for, I want to use the material that most represents and works with that idea. At least that’s what I’m trying to push for. Instead of only using wood or only using steel, I’d like to use plexi maybe or possibly glass in the future.
It seems like the works currently in the gallery both incorporate movement in some way, either on the part of the viewer (in the case of the sculptures that make up The Space Between), or on the part of the performer (in the case of Habitus). Is this a theme you explore in other works as well?
I think everything that’s alive, and even things that aren’t alive, move. It’s just a part of us, it’s a part of being. It’s also interesting to see stuff move, whether it’s mechanical or organic, it’s just nice to look at movement. Whether it’s the participant moving around the sculpture, I think that’s where my psychology background comes into play too because I’m always thinking about how does a person move around the sculpture or the space, and what are they going to get from moving over here versus moving over there. Then specifically with Habitus, I think I was most interested in the movement when you don’t know that there’s a person in there. But I think it’s really important that the person’s in there, as opposed to a mechanical robot. Ultimately Habitus is about the way that movement describes specific beings. Whether it’s the way the wind pushes prairie grass around, sea anemones, all of those things, just the way they move describes what they are. So getting even more abstracted, I think I’m going to make a blanket, where maybe two people can be underneath, and I think that allows for even more abstraction because they can lay down, and they can be on their stomachs, they can be on their backs, they can roll around, they can push up their arm. It eventually becomes this landscape, which is interesting because everything in this gallery is about landscape, which is totally accidental, that we’re all kind of connected in that way.
Going off of what you were describing with the importance of a person being inside of Habitus or underneath the blanket that you discussed, do you think it would ever be an option to allow a viewer to be the person controlling the movement of the piece?
Absolutely, yeah, I really want to get into that too because not only does it provide more participation in the art, but I actually think the art really happens only for the person that’s in the suit. Otherwise, you’re experiencing the suit. You’re outside of the suit, you’re not living in it. When you’re in it, you can hear sound from up here, here, here, everywhere around you, and it sounds like raindrops and it’s peaceful, but it’s also so heavy that it’s uncomfortable, and you get so many different feelings because you’re getting sweaty and gross, but it’s also so beautiful because you’re in this nice dark space, and it’s comforting, and you just lose sense of time. Shawn [Stone], the MFA dancer who did the performance, when we were filming for the video, he didn’t know when to stop, he lost sense of time completely, and when I’ve been in there I lose sense of time too. Losing sense of time and being in the present moment, hearing those sounds really immerses you, so I really think that another kind of work would be somehow elevating a half-suit or something so that you could duck down in there and play, and understand what it’s like to be in a space like that and hear the sound, because that’s where the art happens for me. Otherwise, again, you’re outside of it, which is equally as valid because experiencing something, documenting things, and not always being in the present moment gave us science, it gave us technology, it gave us all the comforts of life. Otherwise we’d still be outside, poking fire. We wouldn’t even know how to make fire, so it’s equally as valid, equally as important, I just think there needs to be a balance.
The sculptures that make up The Space Between juxtapose Earth and space in relation to consciousness. How did you become interested in the concept of changing consciousness between different realms, and how do the materials you chose to work with each represent these different domains?
I think the present moment calls for a relationship, and the relationship happens in the space between. The relationship is where we experience the mystical nature of our world, and it’s what makes the world a special place, when we’re in the present moment, not when we’re in the past, not when we’re in the future. And I think as we grow as a society, we’re getting farther and farther away from the present moment, especially with social media and always being on our phone. We’re not being with each other and we’re not being with the things around us. We lose those hints and glimpses or those moments of insight, we don’t see those poetic encounters that we might have with a specific person, with an animal, with a wall, with an artwork, with a leaf falling down from a tree and blowing in the wind. We lose those things. And those are the things that make the world beautiful. So, The Space Between is that infinitesimal space that we can exist in, but it only happens every once in awhile. We only get very small, minute glimpses of it. It might only happen for a second, it could happen for an hour if you’re meditating, if you’re in that space, if you reach that space. It takes practice. So The Space Between is kind of that idea. I did another piece titled Light House (x), and that piece let me finally understand why I’ve been making that shape. That shape, it references platonic ideas, ancient Greece, pyramids, things like that, but that’s not really why I’m making it. I made it because I like the shape, it grounds me, it makes me feel solid, it’s a physical form, and it has this presence to it. That’s why I like making it, and it feels good to make it. I can’t stop making it for some reason, it’s just one of those things. But I realized, when I did Light House, the top of it emanated this light that created these ripple effects around it to make an environment, and you would walk into the environment and you saw this almost ominous black form hovering above the ground, above it is a square of light, and you’d get sucked into the space around you. People described it as an aurora borealis, ripples, water reflections, but then you’d always be pulled back to the center of this space, which is where the big obelisk was. So you’d be constantly jumping back and forth from being with the present moment, but then realizing where the present moment comes from, and therefore losing the present moment. So the obelisk, I finally realized, allows us to be in the present moment, but at the same time we need it because we jump back and forth, it’s like an ebb and flow between physicality and the spiritual or abstract space around us. It’s a weird paradox. I’m still wrapping my head around it, I don’t know if I’ll ever figure it out, and I actually hope not to because I always want to be asking questions, instead of only providing answers.
The sound produced by the wooden spikes in Habitus is an integral part of the piece. Do you work with sound and other sensory aspects in your work often, or is this something new?
I want to engage as many senses as possible because that’s how we experience and relate to the world. I think the sound element is usually a surprise , but I find it happening in my work a lot. I’m not consciously trying to create sound work, it just happens with the work that I’m making. I think it’s more on an intuitive level. I love music, I love sound, I think I was first introduced to the power of sound when I was doing meditation in college. We would do chanting, and the vibrations that you create in the back of your nose and the center of your brain when everybody else is doing it, and the harmonies that happen, if there’s a group of ten people, these complex things happen around you and you’re just immersed in that present moment, and it vibrates your head, and you’re just lost, in a good way. So I think ever since then I’ve understood the power of sound, and actually the hyperbolic object, if you put your ear up to it, it hums. So I’ve also been playing with sculptural forms that are hollow that transform the ambient air energy into a specific frequency. It’s fun, and it’s always a surprise. And I’ll always check to see if it makes a sound . It’s also fun because you can drum on the ends, and it’s like a doumbek drum. Specifically with Habitus, I knew that the suit was going to make that sound because I had started making just the spikes as part of another sculpture, and I was playing with them. I had maybe twenty of them in my hand and I was ruffling them up and dropping them, and they were so warm, the tone. So I decided that that was something I really wanted to explore. Habitus maybe is the thing that I knew was going to be visual, I knew was going to be auditory, but with the other sculptures that produce that hum, it’s always a surprise.
The video piece that is associated with Habitus acts as a way to document the movement and sound of the wearable sculpture. Is video art something you’d like to delve more into in the future, or is it solely a way to record your installations and performances?
I’m interested in it. I think I’d want to, instead of getting into video, get into projection, and figure out how to make projection more than just a flat thing that you watch. Maybe creating a dimensionality to the projected image. Maybe projecting it onto layers of plexiglass. Let’s say we have five layers of plexiglass, and I haven’t done this so I don’t know if it would work, but the image might get bounced back and forth between the sheets of plexiglass, and then you might have a higher quality dimensionality. Yeah, which would make the thing more than just an image. That’s kind of my tiff with video and projection right now. It’s just an image. I mean it’s with sound but you’re still just watching a flat wall that’s creating this illusion. It’s still not real. There’s nothing wrong with that, but how do you push it? Film is totally good at that, you go to the movies and you’re totally immersed. So it’s not like it can’t happen, but what’s the next step? How do you keep pushing that idea?
You’ve already touched on this a bit, but how do you see your works in relation to the other pieces in this exhibition?
I see an interest in the land, and in diving deep into intuition, and just creating and making from that. With Irene’s work, she’s referencing her Columbian history and she’s making these beautiful gestural drawings, but she’s also creating these landscapes coming from those ideas. Mason is interested, at least in how I view it, in how different layers of visual stimuli can mess with your mind. I think it plays with the fallibility of our eyes. Gina is all about landscape, abandoned coal mines, constellations, mapping. Clay’s work is the landscape of the human body, and I think we’re all interested in natural phenomenon, and the beauty that happens from that.
Would you like to add anything else about the exhibition or these works? Any future plans for your work, or any upcoming exhibitions or other information you’d like to include?
Well, it was fabulous working with all of you, it was great. I think for all of our work, a lot of people are like “how do I experience this, what am I supposed to think?” All of those questions. You’re not supposed to think anything, just go to the work, relate with it, be with it, contemplate it, and you’ll get your own thing from it. All of us are creating from a specific place, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s the answer. Because there’re obviously so many interpretations of all this work. They all have so many layers, and I would say just be with it. And then future plans, I might be going to Switzerland as a part of the International Student award, I don’t know about that yet. The only thing I have solidly planned is I have a show at the Greater Reston Arts Center in late December, where I’ll be showing with four other artists. Other things are in the works, but nothing solid yet.
Monroe Isenberg’s work is included in Media Lux at The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, from April 2nd through May 19th, 2018.
For more information on Monroe Isenberg, visit https://monroeisenberg.com/.
For more information on Media Lux and related events, visit thestamp.umd.edu/stamp_gallery.