Interview with “(Sub)Urban” Artist Sang-Mi Yoo

This is the third installment of the (Sub)Urban artist interview series. (Sub)Urban features work by Amze Emmons, Yoonmi Nam, Benjamin Rogers, Nick Satinover, Christine Buckton Tillman, and Sang-Mi Yoo

Sang-Mi Yoo | Associate Professor of Art at Texas Tech University | Exhibiting in (Sub)Urban from October 30 to December 16, 2017 at The Stamp Gallery | University of Maryland, College Park | Interview by Sarah Schurman

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1. Let’s begin with some background: Where are you from? What made you fall in love with art and printmaking specifically? 

I am from Seoul, South Korea and currently live in Lubbock, TX. As a painting major in my undergrad, printmaking was built in our program at Seoul National University. I loved drawing industrial buildings in the outskirt of the city and the sharp and precise line in etching made perfect sense to tie in to this imagery. Also, the professor, Dong-chun Yoon who just came back from his study abroad in the US brought a fresh influence to the classroom.

2. In both Anomalous Traces and In Transition, you explore notions of home and community across cultural borders. Has the process of creating both pieces developed or changed your definition of home?

Not necessarily. The notion of home is a conceptual realm that exist in our minds. Once you depart from your original home, the home you create elsewhere is a mirror of that kind as in memory, but never the same.

3. Your works underscore surprising architectural similarities between Korea and the United States. Do you think that uniformity in living communities is caused by an individual’s instinct to blend in or the pressure from institutions and governments to conform?

Before I came to the states, I had a certain speculation on American life and individuality. Korean life is still rooted in a collective culture coming from Confucian tradition. Being different/standing out is again the norm when the culture values a modest personality. While my expectation of Western living was much of an individualized living, the the reality was much of the same due to the capitalistic markups and convenience, which is related to the government’s 1950’s suburban developments dating back to the Levittown in New York.

4. What concepts inspired your titles: Anomalous Traces and In Transition?

American tract homes and my childhood memory about New Village houses in South Korea that are from the 1960s’ economic development lead by a former president Park, Jung Hee.

5. Through Anomalous Traces’ felt material and In Transition’s draping position, both works allude to clothing garments. How does materiality engage with meaning in your works? 

The ideal home is a lure. The physical and tactile presence of felt cuts are opposite to a painter’s vocabulary of pictorial illusion in my digital prints. While the ideal home is not a tangible reality, the felt cuts are the subject of the prints indicating hollowness of house forms and shadow effect.

 

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6. Similarly, both pieces utilize vibrant colors that contrast the drab consistency of suburban homes. Is this use of color intentionally ironic or revealingly symbolic? 

The original color palette came from my artist coping system living in less saturated landscapes, such as semi-arid earthy toned Lubbock, Texas and rainy grayish Northern Ireland. As I developed the palette further, I was able to make a Korean Saekdong pattern colors used in children’s garment. The color combination is traditionally believed to combat evil spirits and brings health and long life.

7. Through your work, you question the existence of an ideal home. Even if you know it is an illusion, do you have a mental image of your ideal home?

No matter what design it is or what kind of people live in, it would be a place where my heart is. In their work, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari describe nomadic space. In this model, one navigates the vast space through relationships between elements within the space. However, being somewhere is not restricted to being in a single place. Our body is always moving on. We are potentially at any place within the region. Everywhere becomes the place.

8. Based on your travels, how do you contend that local communities give insight to the state of the global community as a whole? 

Similar to the notion of home, the perception can come from individual experiences. Without having a direct connection to the relevant parts of the world through a conversation and experience, the understanding would be limited. Although my work has a sense of dry humor, I hope to encourage a good connection though my work. 

9. How do you think Anomalous Traces and In Transition react in conversation with the other installations in (Sub)Urban? More generally, how does the context of an exhibition inform the message of your art? 

I think the exhibition showcases different facets of (Sub)urban life. The 19th century philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach said, “Man is what he eats.” This phrase is not necessarily about the consumerism, but indicates where we stand. I think Nicholas Satinover and Amze Emmons work relate my work in terms of their use of the built environment as my work deals with residential architecture.

10. Has your art always been focused on everyday subtleties and ordinary markers of home? Where do you see your art taking you regarding future projects or endeavors?  

No not always. My current work focuses on botanical elements from American public gardens. My work not deal with the man-made environment, but also the connection to colonial botany and dazzle camouflage used in WWI.

11. What do you hope that (Sub)Urban visitors take away from your work?

I am such a Modernist. I would first love the viewers immerse themselves in the installed space to enjoy the patterns, cast shadows and optical illusion. The current U.S. political climate tends to encourage us to be more territorial, creating conflicts between peoples of different racial, national and cultural backgrounds. I would like share with viewers some common visual aesthetics in my work and carefully reflect on their choices in everyday living.

Yoo’s work is included in (Sub)Urban at The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, from October 30-December 16, 2017

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Interview with “(Sub)Urban” Artist Benjamin Rogers

This is the second installment of the (Sub)Urban interview series.

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Benjamin Rogers | Artist | (Sub)Urban from October 30 through December 16, 2017 at The Stamp Gallery | University of Maryland, College Park | Interview by Cristy Ho

 Let’s begin with some background information about you. Where are you from and how did you get into creating the type of art you are making now?

I am originally from Kentucky, I lived there for the vast majority of my life but I’ve lived in Colorado for the last 2+ years with my wife and son (who is now 3.5).  It’s a long road to get to how to making the type of work I’m making now.  When I started studying painting I was really only interested in abstraction and non objectivity.  But none of my friends really believed that I knew how to paint, so I made a realistic self-portrait and got a lot of great feedback which felt really good, but I was also challenged in a different manner than I had been working abstractly.  For a number of years, I tried different ways of combining representation and non objectivity, with a variety of results.  Working this way made me interested in the contrast between dimensionality and flatness which is a theme that has really stuck with me.

In terms of imagery I was heavily influenced by David Hockney’s figurative work, although I have to admit that this influence was almost entirely subconscious, I had made several paintings before I realized how much I had borrowed from him.

Your current work is comprised of paintings of people and everyday objects that inhabit particular spaces. What do you hope to represent in your work by choosing to paint these subjects?

Each painting is in some way trying to manufacture a narrative, I have a specific narrative in mind when creating the piece but I like to create a somewhat ambiguous painting which invites the viewer to complete the narrative. The objects around the figure(s) are meant to be like attributes in a painting of a Saint, they inform the character and the narrative of that individual or group of individuals.  So in some paintings the narrative is fairly prosaic in others it is much more heroic.

More on your artistic style, I’m drawn to how the proportions of the people and objects in your work are realistic yet the bold colors you use also break your subjects into geometric forms. Is there a specific reason why you choose to intensify the saturation of each object in your paintings as opposed to using a more muted palette?

This mixture of naturalism with an almost cartoonish color palette is directly related to what I was saying earlier about the contrast between flatness and dimensionality.  I am trying to push the imagery to be somewhere in an almost non-real place.  I really like realism, but ultimately find it somewhat boring.  So by pushing the saturation of the colors I’m and creating a work of art that is somewhere in between realism and flat graphic imagery and hopefully making a more unique contribution to the visual landscape.

Your work also appears to be very structural composition-wise and perspective-wise. On your website, you mention that you work from photographs. Do you rearrange objects in the room before taking a picture or do you rely more on shifting perspective to create the ideal composition you want for each painting?

When I work from photographs I do so in a few different ways, every once in awhile the original photograph is sort of perfect how it is, which was the case with “What did I know of Love’s Austere and Lonely Offices” and a few other painting.  Most of the time I have to make slight alterations to fit better into the composition.  Before I draw my imagery I always put down a grid that measures the ratios of the format of the canvas, so then I will move objects and figures around to ensure that they align with those compositional elements in the most effective way.  Along with this method I also invent a large portion of the objects in the room and other visual elements during the painting process, this allows me to see the canvas as an abstract picture plane and place things in the painting based on their color relationship and their conceptual connection to the figure.  This is how “The perfect romance of self reliance” was made.  The last way that I work with photographs is really based in photoshop and actually cutting things out and putting them in different places and really creating a photo collage out of several photographs and them pushing them together during the painting process to make everything seem coherent.

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What Did I know of Love’s Austere and Lonely Offices by Benjamin Rogers

Now on to your piece ‘What Did I know of Love’s Austere and Lonely Offices’, a watercolor painting based on a photograph of you and your wife weeks before your son was born as mentioned in your blog. The viewer of this piece feels a sense of being on the ground and looking up at this scene as if they were a child. Can you talk more about your emotions on entering parenthood and how it ties into the Robert Hayden poem that inspired the title of this work of yours?

I think that the best description of that time would be ambivalence.  I was really excited to be a father, but I realized it would mean that a lot of things were going to change dramatically.  My wife and I had not really even known each other at that point.  We met and started dating long distance (she lived in Minneapolis), then got engaged 5 months later and started living in the same city (Cincinnati), we were only engaged for 3 months before we got married, we moved back to Minneapolis for a teaching job I got, and my son was born 10 months after we were married.  So we really didn’t have any settling in time as a couple, and everything was really up in the air (at this time I knew my job was going to end in a couple of months and had no idea what we were going to do).  So all of that stress was mixed with being a father, which is my biological imperative that I knew would come to shape my life for the next 50 years or so.  The poem just made me think of the kind of thankless job that is being a father, providing and quietly doing things for a family that aren’t necessarily noticed or appreciated, that that is love.  It is pretty strange, because the photo was taken at this time, but it wasn’t painted until well after we left Minneapolis to move back to Cincinnati to live with my parents while I tried to find a job and then moved out to Colorado where we are now.  So my son was probably two by the time I actually painted this piece. Also, I’m not sure if I had said in my blog post or not, but this was actually taken on my 30th birthday, so there’s a little of that flavor in there as well.

I remember reading Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden as a child and how deeply the first few lines resonated with me.
Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold
 
Blueblack is somehow the perfect color to describe a father’s austere love. I really want to say that I love how you captured the shadows in this piece. You mention that you initially painted all the shadows on your body blue but covered most of it in the final image except for the shadows around your neck. Is there any other instance where you have utilized color to express the mood in this piece?
I have not ever really been interested in expressing mood through color, I guess it always seemed like a cheap trick, or a gimmick in a way, so the blueness of the male figure (me) isn’t really there to communicate an emotion or mood, but more because it seemed appropriate in the context of the colors.  This painting was really my first attempt at making watercolor painting, NOT the first time I’d used watercolors, but they’d always been used as more of a study, or a medium that I would play around with.  In fact, I had taught three semester of watercolor classes before I made this piece.  I had used it to experiment with watercolor underpainting, and really establish a cool temperature under the figure from the outset of the painting.  My thinking is that the shift in temperatures from shadow to light is what really transform a painting to be highly dynamic, so I was trying to emphasize the shadows from the beginning and see how much of that cold underpainting would show through even after layers of warmer colors were applied to make it look more “realistic”.
The wooden frame also complements this watercolor painting well. This material matches the cabinets depicted and creates a homey atmosphere. Is this your intention and how significant is having this kind of frame for your painting?
The frame was created as a way of presenting the watercolor with a glass or plexi barrier.  I have been struggling with how to present my works on paper, and I made another frame like that one for a drawing, and was really happy with it.  What is interesting is that I got into a national watercolor show and before the show opened I was informed that I needed to reframe the painting if I wanted to include my piece in the show.  The establishment for watercolor painters is very hoity toity and want things done only in particular ways, so it’s cool to get that feedback.  I was really just trying to create something neutral where the painting was floating, but it happens to match the cabinets with the elder wood.
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The Perfect Romance of Self Reliance by Benjamin Rogers

Moving on to your oil painting titled ‘The Perfect Romance of Self Reliance’, there is a packed room with various tools scattered on the floor and tools clutched in the hands of a woman who appears to be your wife. Would you say that this painting is like a snapshot of an event or more so a portrait of this person? 
This painting was kind of a collaboration between my wife (then girlfriend) and I.  She is a photographer and had moved to Minneapolis just because she always wanted to.  There was something that I really admired about this, because I would be far too worried about making enough money, not having any friends, being lonely etc.  So it was kind of meant to be an ode to her self reliance, and really display her as a hero a al Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People”.   The objects on the ground are meant to be a collection of tools that she will use to conquer any obstacles that may cross her path.  So she took a bunch of images and sent them to me, many were beautiful but didn’t quite fit my aesthetic but I thought that one was great.
What do you like about painting with oil and what do you like about painting with watercolor? Is there a medium in which you find it easier to convey your message and mood?
  Painting with oil is my favorite medium, I didn’t do it very much until I moved to Arizona for grad school.  Before that I worked almost entirely in acrylic, which was cool, but in retrospect it was very limiting.  In the humid climates of the Ohio River Valley and Louisiana, acrylic paint was really easy to work with, but in the Arid climate of Arizona it was basically impossible.  So that was really why I got into painting in oil, but when I did I really jumped in whole hog.  Almost immediately I fell in love with oil painting, and felt like I could paint whatever I wanted and was no longer restricted by the physical attributes of the medium.  That’s been my favorite ever since.  Watercolor is a different kind of challenge and makes a very different type of mark, I really like the layering process that comes with using watercolor on cold pressed paper, and how you can really build up the surface with pigment, but the physical surface is still very flat.  With oil paint you get a physical change to the topography of the painting’s surface.  Generally before I start a painting I have a personal formal challenge of some kind, and it is generally specific to the imagery that I’m working with, and that will inform the medium that I use.  For example I have a drawing titled “addressing the fourth wall” I wanted to make a piece that was nearly completely black, which lead me to make my first major charcoal drawing.  I am working on a color pencil piece right now, and I will be making a pastel piece after I finish that.  So the imagery generally provides me with a technical challenge that makes it more advantageous to use one media instead of another.  This usually works out great, but I have a piece called “Nature, Red in Tooth and Claw” That I’ve done as a graphite drawing and a watercolor and neither really feel right for the image, so I’m going to keep working with it until I get it right.
Lastly, what inspires you the most and what is your motivation for creating art?
I’m influenced and inspired by a lot of things, mostly I draw upon other art, like music, poetry, books, films, and I also draw a lot of influence from other artists and art history.  I usually try to have my compositions relate to art historical references, but in a lot of ways they are more inspired by Wes Anderson, Tarintino, Paul Thomas Anderson, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, and other cinematic references. In terms of how I conceive of a work of art, my ideas come from many places, often they are formal in nature.  Like, I will want to do a painting with a particular color harmony, prominent color, or a particular theme which references art history.  Sometimes I will have a title which will inspire a piece, sometimes I’ve finished a piece well before I have a title for it.  Most of the time I start with a particular idea, then it evolves with my concept and then evolves after the photograph has been taken.

Check out (Sub)Urban in The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, happening October 30 through December 16, 2017.

For more information on (Sub)Urban visit thestamp.umd.edu/stamp_gallery.

 


Interview with ‘(Sub)Urban’ Curator Matthew McLaughlin

This is the first installment of the (Sub)Urban interview series. (Sub)Urban features work by Amze Emmons, Yoonmi Nam, Benjamin Rogers, Nick Satinover, Christine Buckton Tillman, and Sang-Mi Yoo.

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Installation view of (Sub)Urban at the Stamp Gallery. On right: Nick Satinover’s A Pink Slip Fashioned Flag (for College Park). Woodblock prints. 2017.

Matthew McLaughlin | Artist, Professor | Curator of (Sub)Urban from October 30 through December 16, 2017 at The Stamp Gallery | University of Maryland, College Park | Interview by Grace DeWitt

Let’s start with some history. I understand that you’re a professor here, at the University of Maryland, College Park. Where did you grow up, where have you studied, and what brought you to this campus?

I grew up in Greenbelt, MD, just down the road from College Park and the University of Maryland. I received my BFA in Fine Art from Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, FL and my MFA in Printmaking from Arizona State University. I became connected with UMD after meeting Professor Justin Strom at an opening and his inviting me to the campus to meet with Professor Richardson, the Chair of the Art Department. A few months later, I was contacted about my interest in teaching foundations courses for the department.

Could you talk a little bit about the curatorial process behind (Sub)Urban? Is this your first curated show? How did the exhibiting artists come to your awareness?

(Sub)Urban is my curatorial debut and I’m quite happy with its reception by the local community. My curatorial process has a strong connection with my personal interests and areas of research for my own artistic practice. My own work focuses on the human relationship to its environment, mainly focusing on suburban and urban spaces and our alterations. So for this exhibition, I was interested in bringing together artists I admire for their practice and their conceptual exploration of similar subjects to my own.

Some of these artists are friends I have gained since graduate school, like Benjamin Rogers, who went to ASU with me, and Amze Emmons, who I met through printmaking conference events. The others have been on my radar through the suggestion of fellow artists, conference exhibitions, and Instagram.

How do you feel your word choice in the show title connects to ideas about suburban and urban spaces?

I think my show title reflects on the connection that urban and suburban spaces have, even though many try to deny it. Whether the connection is through the white flight of the 1960s or the overlapping cultural connections of television, music, etc, these two spaces that try to be separate have a strong relationship, and I wanted the title to reflect that.

It seems that you provided the (Sub)Urban artists with a certain level of exhibitory freedom while curating this show. Did the decision to work in this way create any challenges for you?

The only challenge that came from this freedom was the challenge of bringing all the work together in a comprehensive exhibition, once I knew exactly what I was going to receive. When I contacted each artist, I had some specific ideas in mind, but knew there would need to be some flexibility because of availability. I have run into this issue with my own work and having it in multiple exhibitions close together, so I understood the hassle of giving them very specific requests versus generalities. Yes, there may have been a print or piece that I would have preferred, but if it was designated for another exhibition first, I was happy to get another from the same series.

You’ve mentioned in person that your practice exists in the same conceptual conversation as many of the works in (Sub)Urban. To what extent did your artistic practice play a role in the curatorial process of this show?

My personal practice and conceptual interests had a massive role in the curatorial process for the exhibition. As I mentioned earlier, all the artists in the exhibition are people I admire and have followed, in one way or another, for some time. Just as researchers in other fields read articles by colleagues at other institutions, artists pay attention to those creating art in similar conceptual and visual avenues to know what is being explored already and how it might inform their own work.

This show covers a variety of media, often within individual artists’ practices. Was it important to you to display, say, sculpture from self-described printmakers, or prints from self-described sculptors? Or did this element to the show come about organically?

This element of the exhibition came about organically as a whole, but was more specific for each artist. My intention in requesting some of Yoonmi’s Generally Meant to be Discarded sculptures was not to specifically present sculptures created by an artist traditionally trained in printmaking, but to show work that I found compelling and interesting for its conceptual and material ideas. That the exhibition has installation and sculptural works by artists with MFAs in printmaking and drawing, alongside their more traditional works, came about when I brought all the works together and realized what I had done.

Were there any subtler themes, phrases, or concepts not marketed with the show that you either intended to visualize in (Sub)Urban, or found yourself revisiting as you compiled the show?

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Yoonmi Nam’s Take Out (Thank You Thank You Thank You), from the Generally Meant to be Discarded series. Lithograph on gampi paper and cast glass. 2016.

Nothing that I intended or found before hand, but upon installation, I made some connections between some of the work that I hadn’t previously. There was a subtle theme that questioned the reality of urban and suburban spaces through the reality of Yoonmi, Christine, and Amze’s sculptural pieces. Each of these artists made work that re-created elements of urban and suburban spaces and life, but with materials that alter the audience’s interaction with them. Specifically considering Yoonmi’s Generally Meant to be Discarded sculptural series, the two in the exhibition have such a life-like quality people easily think the artist is displaying actual takeout bags and containers, but once they approach the work, the reality of the material nature of the sculptures immediately alters their relationship with it. This subtle switch brings in larger questions for the audience about their relationship with their own environments.

In your own words, what happens in terms of the viewing experience when elements of the suburbs are taken out of context, like in Amze’s Street Life Flat Pack series?

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Amze Emmons’ Street Life Flat Pack (detail) in the Stamp Gallery. UV coroplast shapes. 2016.

To me, when elements of urban and suburban spaces are taken out of context there is a sense of importance that is typically glossed over when seen on the street, but also the viewer is exposed to the item and forced to interact with and consider it from a perspective they had not considered before. Especially when this is taken to the next level, by an artist re-presenting the known item in a new material context, as with Amze’s Street Life Flat Pack and Yoonmi’s Generally Meant to be Discarded series.

It feels like Christine’s Clay Paper Chain comes from a different corner of the suburban experience. Could you touch on your intent in including her work in (Sub)Urban, or the area you feel that her work covers in a show that covers so much about the suburbia as we know it?

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Christine Buckton Tillman’s Clay Paper Chain (detail), ceramic, 2017; and Self Portrait, wood stain on model airplane, 2016 in the Stamp Gallery.

I chose to invite Christine because I felt her work touched on a more interior connection with the suburban experience, similarly to Benjamin and Nick’s works. Christine is a mom and a school teacher; I felt both works spoke to that experience and its personal nature, while also relating to Yoonmi and Amze’s works through the material nature of each and allowing the viewer to question both the reality of the artwork, but also question the idea it’s presenting.

Would you consider (Sub)Urban to be a critique of suburban or urban spaces and/or their social purpose?

No, I consider (Sub)Urban to be more of a survey of urban and suburban spaces, the concepts that we apply to them, and how we relate to each environment. I look at the exhibition as a tool to expose the audience to new ideas and perspectives of spaces they know, maybe rather well, and try to engage the viewers in re-thinking their own relationship with these environments.

This show is one of few in recent history at the Stamp Gallery that features multiple artists who collectively, and vastly, span across the U.S., and even includes some who work from international backgrounds and influences. What was your intention in curating a show here that comes from so many regions?

I wanted to expose the student body to a larger idea of the art being created in the country, and I wanted a greater representation of the work being created around the concept of the exhibition. The suburban and urban experience may be considered more universally understood, but there are subtle differences from regionally specific traits that affect the culture of suburbs and urban spaces around the country. I felt an exhibition of artists that spanned a larger swatch of the country would give a better overall interpretation of the suburban/urban experience to the audience.

I also prefer to see exhibitions that bring a more varied group of artists when considering their location and background. An exhibition of local artists on a specific concept or theme can have repetitive elements that make it only relatable to that region, while an exhibition like this can connect to a large contingency of the population.

A connection within (Sub)Urban that has fascinated me is the many ways that the suburban experience is outwardly homogenized, and yet remains internally idiosyncratic. Has this show, and seeing these artists’ work all together, expanded your perspective of suburban and urban experiences in any way?

Not really, as my own work has been examining and reconsidering the nature of these spaces through those idiosyncratic characteristics that many others gloss over. But it has expanded my perspective on how these ideas can be explored, and thus it is beginning to form new ideas on approaching my own artistic practice.

The exhibition vinyl in the Stamp Gallery contains two quotes: “This world is but a canvas to our imagination” (Henry David Thoreau), and “For to Thoreau the significant relationship is not that between [hu]man and [hu]man; it is the relationship between [hu]mans and [their] environment” (JB Jackson). Could you share some insight about your inclusion of these quotes in the show?

The JB Jackson quote was the main one I wanted to use for the wall text, but I felt it would be a little hard to understand without a little context about Thoreau. So I searched for a Thoreau quote that would give the best general insight into his thinking that could be expanded upon by the JB Jackson quote.

JB Jackson is a writer who, from the 1950s forward, focused on writing about the American landscape and the development of urban and suburban spaces. He greatly influenced the development of contemporary cultural landscape studies.

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Left: Sang-Mi Yoo’s In Transition, pigment inkjet print, 2016; and Anomalous Traces, laser cut wool felt, 2015. Right: Benjamin Roger’s The Perfect Romance of Self-Reliance (detail), oil on canvas, 2014 in the Stamp Gallery.

When someone walks into (Sub)Urban, what do you hope a person will grasp from the show?

I hope they find the humor in the work, the intrigue in the material use of some pieces, but overall, gain a fresh perspective on suburban and urban spaces.

What is one thing you have learned from curating this show?

Solid respect for curators and gallerists who do this for a living. To come up with one exhibition theme, coordinate artists and the shipping of their work and then lay it all out is one thing, but to do it over and over again. Wow.

To close, is there anything else you’d like to promote here? Any current or upcoming shows you’re participating in, either as artist or curator?

I have a few new ideas for other curatorial exhibitions, but currently, I’m focusing on a residency to get a lot of work completed.

 

McLaughlin is the curator of (Sub)Urban in The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, from October 30 through December 16, 2017.

For more information on Matthew McLaughlin, visit http://www.matthewtmclaughlin.com/.

For more information on (Sub)Urban visit thestamp.umd.edu/stamp_gallery.


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.

IMFINE-Christopher_Bugtong (5)

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 “Midpoint 2017” Artist Hugh Condrey Bryant

This is the second installment of the Midpoint 2017 artist interview series.

Hugh Condrey Bryant || Second Year M.F.A. Candidate || Exhibiting in MIDPOINT 2017 from March 29 through May 22, 2017 at The Stamp Gallery || University of Maryland, College Park || Interview by Sarah Schurman

Let’s start with some background: where are you from? What brought you to sculpture and the University of Maryland’s MFA program?

I’m originally from Greensboro, NC. I attended school at UNC Greensboro and received a BFA in art with a concentration in design as well as a BFA in theatrical set design. After that I did an internship at Franconia Sculpture Park in Shafer, MN and ended up staying there for 2 years as the sculpture park manager. I met a lot of artists from all over the world at Franconia, made a lot of connections. It was there that I met Dane Winkler who just recently graduated from the program last year. When I decided that grad school was something I wanted to do I contacted Dane to inquire about Maryland. I was very interested in what they had to offer so I applied. The program is primarily studio centric and focuses heavily on developing artistic practice and the conceptual aspects of one’s work. It was everything I was looking for. The access to studio facilities here is great and the faculty’s accessibility is very helpful. I find it to be an engaging environment that has really helped me come into my own as an artist.

In all three of your MIDPOINT works, you convey a fascination with traditionally “masculine” materials. How do these gendered mediums inform the meaning of your sculptures in this exhibition and your art in general?

Growing up, my father was sort of a jack of all trades. He had a lot of experience in many different fields of trade labor and construction. He was a mason, a carpenter, a metal worker, a crane rigger, and also worked within the field of nuclear power plant construction and maintenance during the late 80s and early 90s. From a young age he taught me many different techniques in masonry, carpentry, and later metal fabrication. He instilled in me a very strong sense of self efficacy and a mentality that I could build or make whatever I wanted. Learning these things from my father created a very strong bond between us. He taught me to appreciate the craftsmanship involved in skilled labor and to enjoy the accomplishment of a job well done. The fascination I have with these materials is very much associated with those early experiences.

My father is also a very loving, caring, and emotionally intelligent individual. So I also learned from him to move through life with grace and love, the importance of being in touch with one’s emotions, and of exercising kindness and compassion with others. I may not have known it at the time, but all of this would have a very profound affect on me later in life in regard to how I view masculinity.  For me being a man is not about physical strength and stoicism as many boys are taught from a young age. I am first and foremost a human being before I am a man. To me that means understanding that there is a  spectrum of ‘gender’ that can inform one’s identity. The designation of gender does not have to define how we behave or who we are as human beings. Masculinity, femininity, and everything outside and inbetween are a great part of human energy.

I associate all of the aforementioned with these materials. I see the traditional link of masculinity to the skilled labor involved with steel and concrete to be an antiquated sentiment. But it is that link that I find so interesting when it comes to applying my views regarding gender to the art I create with those materials. Skill and labor are genderless and the sculptures I produce are part of that belief. I use sculpture as a means to communicate through form and express the emotional aspects of my identity.

Tell us a little bit about your artistic process. Was it drastically different for the three pieces or similar?

Within my process and practice there are two distinctly different and oppositional creative impulses. One is the tendency to control material with a great intention toward the outcome, I generally apply this to steel. The other is to accept that I have no true or absolute control over the material and therefore I must respond to the outcome once I have executed a process. That is the impulse I attribute to the ways in which I cast concrete. The former is a very tedious and time consuming process while the latter is very quick and rooted in intuition. I associate that with the intuitive and with the unconscious to a certain degree, something that is latent and must be awakened or found. I associate the tedious and sometimes overcomplicated tendency in attempting to control the material absolutely to the overly rational parts of my mind. That tendency is obsessive at times and can even become irrational, which is kind of funny to me. I try to find a balance between the two but it doesn’t always work out that way, but I think that tension is what informs the physical tension of my sculptures. Sometimes a piece or even certain parts of a piece take a lot of time to work through, which was the case with A Constantly Persistent Moment (temporal portrait) and Of Ideals & Relics. Sometimes pieces happen at a rapid pace, taking very little time. This was the case with It’s Impressive How Far One’s Neurosis Will Go to Protect Itself, which only took a day to make. What is similar for all three sculptures is that each one is subject to both of these creative impulses to some degree, but I pushed myself to be decisive and intuitive in making and responding to the outcomes of all three.

What concepts inspired your titles: A Constantly Persistent Moment, Of Ideals & Relics, and It’s Impressive How Far One’s Neuroses Will Go to Protect Itself?

All are inspired by the fluctuant nature of being. I make, respond, and contemplate.  The concepts I apply to all my work come from a place within my mind that relies on the intuitive and emotional, a place where I am illuminating the unconscious and studying the point at which the internal and external meet. All three sculptures are expressions from that place. Once something is done the title comes to me as I analyze what I’ve created.

All three works, particularly A Constantly Persistent Moment, convey the sense of being suspended in space. Does this choice juxtapose the concrete materials with their fragile positioning?

To an extent, yes. I like playing with tension. Accentuating weight and mass through tension is a process of play that I have always engaged in. The juxtaposition of these can create a interesting dialogue between sculptural forms and engage space more effectively, especially when intervening with the architecture of a space, such as the way that It’s Impressive How Far One’s Neuroses Will Go To Protect Itself does with the columns of the gallery.

It’s Impressive How Far One’s Neuroses Will Go To Protect Itself seems to be situated in a defensive position. How does the smooth base, guarded by spikes, represent the mind?

The positioning, gesture, and tension represents the unconscious constraints, limitations, and protective tendencies that occur within systems of belief we form in the mind. The title is something a friend of mine said to me one time. We were discussing the cognitive dissonance and hypocrisy that some people exhibit between their behavior/actions, their desires/expectations from others, and the systems of belief they construct. The propensity to say one thing and do another. A product of that is a protective and defensive mechanism that serves primarily to preserve the ego and avoid the pitfalls of guilt and shame. While this unconscious practice can keep the mind free of negativities regarding one’s self perception it can also form a prison built of beliefs that hinders realizations about (and improvements to) the self and the potentials of one’s existence. So… the spikes could perhaps be representative of those mental defenses that surround vulnerability. The cables an expression of the limitations and bonds that those defenses place on the mind; therefore, limiting its ability to experience growth and transformation into higher states of perception regarding how the self affects and is affected by the external world.

Was color a consideration when making Of Ideals & Relics? In what ways does its smooth, touchable texture communicate meaning?

The color is intended to exhibit softness, a kind of sensitivity. The texture coincides with that intention. The meaning I attach to that is there is strength within vulnerability. To acknowledge and accept vulnerability is to be in touch with what one’s inner strength can overcome. When one doesn’t acknowledge vulnerability it can sometimes hold one back from experiencing true and genuine connections with others. To put yourself out there is tough, but it is one way to overcome or rise above the unrealistic societal ideals and expectations that have a hold on us all. Through the material characteristics of texture and color I hope that people are inclined to interact with it, to have a more intimate and tactile experience with it. The smooth and delicate appearance is juxtaposed with the mass of the concrete, the reality that it is concrete… When the realization of what it is made out of occurs the viewer’s perception of what is possible is shaken. In a sense, I wanna drop cosmic eggs of knowledge on people’s heads, blow their minds in regard to material possibilities.

How do your three sculptures interact in conversation with each other and MIDPOINT as a whole? Do you think your work complements or questions Bekí and Jessica’s respective pieces?

With each other… I think they speak to the flexibility and openness of my approach while also communicating the multifaceted nature of the concepts I’m playing with. The mind and one’s internal emotional world are complex places. I like to think that these sculptures ride a line that exhibits both complexity of thought and simplicity of form. I feel there is also a conversation involving a sense of temporality that can be embodied in form. Whether it be a kind of potential for action to occur, a sense of stasis, or even sense of immobility.

I feel that there is a form of aesthetic or maybe visual complement to Bekí and Jessica’s work. There is a bit more visual complexity and intricacies to their work whereas my work utilizes simpler lines and shapes. I feel it may be a middle ground between what they’ve produced.

Your contributions to the MIDPOINT exhibition exude a sense of tension. Through the contradictions you explore, are you commenting on universal human experience or isolated, personal moments?

I think there is a little bit of both. I’m using concepts that work universally or at least incorporate a common thread of consensus in human experience, but I’m also using a lot of my personal perception and experience. So I’d have to say that to some degree I am commenting on both.

What and where are your sources of inspiration? Do your influences extend beyond the art world?

Hmmm… My former professor, Andy Dunnill, was a huge influence on me. He passed away a little over a year ago and that also inspired me in certain ways, especially how I think about making art. It made me realize that what I make my work about should be deeply important to me. Andy’s work and his continued mentorship post-undergrad had a profound affect on me. Even his passing and his memory continue to affect my work. I plan to dedicate the work for my thesis exhibition to him.

My friend Jemila MacEwan has also been a huge inspiration, especially in the expansion of the scope of my work and how I think about it. She is a sort of muse to me in a way. Her friendship and generosity are constantly pushing me to be a better person and artist.

Outside of that I look at the world around me and I read a lot of science fiction. The imagery that my mind creates while reading is a huge inspiration and part of how I envision things I am interested in making. Reading sci-fi has given me a library of mental imagery that I often pull from.

How does teaching and collaborating with other artists shape your artistic vision?

Learning is a constant thing for me. When I teach I am also learning from my students and empathizing with the way they see and perceive the world through art. Collaboration is the same way. I think learning and keeping the mind flexible and plastic is important to responding to what you make and improving upon it. The more perspectives I’m exposed to the more likely I am to maintain a mental plasticity that allows for transformation and growth in my work and artistic vision.

Tell us about any current projects or future endeavors. How has pursuing your Masters impacted the trajectory of your artistic career?

I’m really focused on developing my thesis. I want to start now because I know I’ll need a lot of time to come to a decision about the scope and ambition I want to apply to it, how big I want to make it. I have time though.

Besides thesis I’m going to participate in an arthouse residency this summer in upstate NY. I’ll be building housing+studio space for the artists that come to participate in residencies there. It’s always nice to build or make something that doesn’t have to do with my thesis work so that will be a nice distraction.

As for my Masters and how that has impacted my trajectory… I know now for certain that I want to teach. That gives me a lot of direction as to what my next steps might be and where they may lead me. I think teaching will also provide me with a means to keep pursuing my own work. If I can teach and still make art then I’m set. The future has a way of not conforming to expectations though so I try not to think too far ahead. Helps me a avoid unnecessary disappointment.

What do you hope visitors take away from MIDPOINT 2017?

I hope my work provokes inquiry and makes them ask questions. I like to ask questions or provoke people to ask their own. I’m not really interested in the answers though. As long as the work sticks in the viewer’s mind for awhile and causes them to contemplate possibilities. That’s the best I can hope for.

Bryant’s work is included in MIDPOINT 2017 in The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, from March 29 through May 22, 2017

For more information on Bryant, visit http://hughcondreybryant.com

For more information on MIDPOINT 2017 and related events, visit thestamp.umd.edu/stamp_gallery.


Interview with “Midpoint 2017” Artist Bekí Basch

PRINT_03_28X34_from Reaper series

Beki Basch, from Reaper, black and white copy shop prints

This is the first installment of the Midpoint 2017 artist interview series.

Bekí Basch || Second Year M.F.A. Candidate || Exhibiting in MIDPOINT 2017 from March 29 through May 22, 2017 at The Stamp Gallery || University of Maryland, College Park || Interview by Grace DeWitt

To start with a little background, where are you from, and where did you study as an undergrad?

I’m originally from New Jersey, and I moved to Baltimore to study at MICA for undergrad.

What brought you to the arts in your undergrad career, and why the M.F.A. program at Maryland?

I started taking an interest to arts when I was about 15-16. From that point on there wasn’t a question as to what I would study in school, so what brought me there was just a sense of knowing that’s exactly what I wanted. I point this out specifically because after undergrad, I felt weirdly bruised, and after one large-ish project, I pretty much stopped making art for several years. My newfound drive to make work comes from healing those bruises and regaining that same high school-like sense of purpose to be an artist. The M.F.A. program at Maryland (in particular) was chosen for purely practical reasons. I didn’t apply anywhere else.

Having seen your previous work, can you share a little bit about the automobiles and puffins as a source of inspiration?

My work always draws from disparate sources, but the impetus is the same and it all comes from me. Puffins comes from back when I was 16 and writing a sort of myth about an island where puffins lived and floated around in balloons. They were these symbolic perfect creatures and in my story when two birds were in love, their bodies and the balloons would join together in a sort of reverse mitosis. Puffins have grown with me and I am always finding new ways in which their existence in my work makes sense. Automobiles came into play once I started formulating a narrative for a project in which the car represented my husband. It was going to be a video of him transporting a flag up a hill during a hill climb. I have since gone in a different direction with it, but ultimately cars are so multi-faceted and ubiquitous; there will likely always be inspiration there.

Moving into your MIDPOINT 2017 pieces, do you feel that the significance of either of these objects, or any others, has changed for you over the course of your MFA?

I think when you make work, you can never consider everything at play. Even the simplest pieces reveal truths over time that you didn’t ‘plan’ for. Right now, I am really enjoying the piece NEVER LET ME GO and in taking time to appreciate it, I am able to consider if I would do something similar again and how. For example, sometimes you think something is about your love for someone else, but then realize the duality is more within yourself.

Can you describe your physical and mental process in creating Reaper, and perhaps share some insight about the items used in the piece? (The hot dog has gotten some particular attention in the Gallery).

My mental process is connected to the physical process in that creating these photos was a highly intuitive process. I tend to plan a lot and I wanted to take this opportunity to present something a bit less planned and a bit more vulnerable. There is an artist I really love who works a lot with natural history and the combination of natural materials with man-made, especially contrasting contemporary imagery. I think she was in mind when I was dreaming these up. I had a lot of material in my studio that I had used or planned to use for one thing or another and I thought of combining them in a physical 3-dimensional way; to just take an overhead black and white shot would yield interesting and effective results. The images are edited slightly, but mostly to create that shrink wrap/wet effect and to boost the contrast, and place more focus on the center of each rather than any background.

Can you speak about the choice in materials for Reaper?

There are a lot of odds and ends in my studio and it’s nice to have an opportunity to use many of them without getting too focused on their structural capabilities or any other properties. Simply composing objects and snapping a photo is a really liberating process, since I usually plan a lot and don’t often make something quick the central focus of a piece.

How about your process in creating Core Samples?

These pieces were concrete cast into trash bags into a long box each. Then I added objects and resin interchangeably to make some sunken treasures.

Never Let Me Go is currently located in the Tawes fountains. What led you to this installation decision?

I had created two concrete pieces last year that I put in the fountain for a couple of hours and took some photos and made a little photo book out of them. The book was a linear transition of photos that showed the pieces clear through the water but with their hard edges made wavy by the ripples, and then slowly progressing to images where the pieces are totally obscured by harsher waves in the water.

You’ve mentioned that your practice is project-based. Working in this way, do you ever struggle to know when you’re “done” with a project?

The short answer is yes. Before I came to UMD I was struggling a lot with never having deadlines. I was working on a project and yet watching the world sweep past me, wave by wave by wave. My sense of time was, and maybe still is, by nature, super slow. If there was nobody around and nothing to do, I would be happy just napping in a field all day. That being said, I now recognize the advantage of having deadlines and I use those to ‘know’ when a project is ‘done’ but that’s just for whatever needs to be ‘done’ at that time. I think you let the idea work itself out and then you work with it and then leave it alone, but I don’t feel like I will ever have it all figured out, and especially not by any deadline, so I just do the best I can by the time something needs to be done, and then one day, I figure something else out and work on it more, or just feel pleased by that.

Are there any other events, concepts, particular artists or art movements not yet mentioned here, that also inspire your work?

Everything. Not even sure I could list them. I see little bits of every source in everything I do. The artist I was mentioning before though is Camille Henrot. I am not particularly inspired by other artists though − it feels a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. I am of course inspired by them, but not much more than everything else out there − comedy, nature, music, mythology…

You wrote a really beautiful statement for MIDPOINT 2017, which you read at the opening reception. Without putting any words in your mouth, do you feel that that such an interaction with your audience was helpful to you, or essential to exhibiting such vulnerable work − if I may call it − as that in MIDPOINT?

We were required to have a little artist talk, but the last time I did something like that, I really screwed it up, and I was working with a friend and I really screwed it up for her too. Unfortunately, I still live so much inside my head that it’s still rather difficult for me to say what I want. I am also generally in disbelief that anyone would really want to listen. Writing a statement and reading it aloud is a bit of a cheat, but I figured since this is a learning environment, it could be a good lesson for myself to try to bridge the gap between thinking-writing-speaking.

When someone walks into MIDPOINT, what do you hope that person will grasp about your work?

If there is anything, I hope it would only be that they take a minute. Putting anything in a gallery is a signal for you to take a minute. It’s important to do that anyway and just appreciate the formal and conceptual elements of everything around you, but I have specifically composed this work out of the things around me and put them in the gallery because I cared to do so. If you come in and take a minute and try to find your own entry point, you might connect with the work. But it’s okay if you don’t.

Can you tell me a little about your upcoming show at Current Space, or what you’re currently working on?

My show at Current Space is a deadline for the project I couldn’t finish before I came to school. I am mostly working on that right now. I am also slowly planning for a project in Iceland this summer where I have a one month residency coming up. It’s funny but the Current Space show has a car sculpture in it and the piece in Iceland will largely be about puffins. I swear these are not my only interests.

You’ve also mentioned to me about an up-coming expedition to Iceland you’ll be going on to work with live puffins, can you explain some more about that opportunity? Do you have any insight about how it will impact your work?

Yeah, this has been a long time coming. Like I said, the puffin thing started a long time ago for me. I don’t know why I liked them at first, to be honest, but when I learned they were Iceland’s national bird, things started to fall into place a bit more. In some ways, I expect it will be incredibly anti-climactic. You just can’t engineer these things. I have been on this side-quest to see puffins in the wild for years. I’m not an active birder or anything, I just find myself in places where puffins live, over and over and over again and never see them. You could call that fate, but who knows really. There is almost no way this upcoming trip could live up that − but I feel myself going to this happy place where I can keep myself open to beautiful experience. For example, last August I went to Maine and went on a puffin watching boat and it was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. Nobody could have planned it, but the water, the fog, everything, was silver and still and surreal. I think I romanticize certain things and then when I am in their presence I am reminded to be extra conscious of the beauty and symbolism present in everything.

More broadly, do you see your work heading in a particular direction over the remainder of your Masters, or beyond?

Sure. I have some sense of the future, but I think it’s mostly to keep myself going. Like I said, I have a problem with momentum. I just get too existential about things. I would love to keep working so I get more and more practice and I keep growing. Before I could see that I wasn’t growing much or being challenged for a long time. In some ways my lifetime goal might just be to write an artist statement that makes sense, but then again who really cares.

Lastly, any advice for undergraduate artists? Anything you would tell your younger self as you entered the arts?

Yes, of course. I am still very much that self, or at least I try to maintain it. I don’t understand this thing where art is a game you play, like some petty argument. It’s too earthly. The best thing you can do is shake off all the rules you know and start from square one every time. I think art needs to be a fulfilling, spiritual practice, and you just need to let it lead you places sometimes. I think art is an expression of the divine within, and surely everyone has that.

Basch’s work is included in MIDPOINT 2017 in The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, from March 29 through May 22, 2017.

For more information on Basch, visit www.bekibasch.com.

For more information on MIDPOINT 2017 and related events, visit thestamp.umd.edu/stamp_gallery.


Interview with Black Maths Artist Antonio McAfee

Antonio McAfee || Baltimore-based visual artist || Black Maths October 31–December 10, 2016 at the Stamp Gallery || University of Maryland, College Park || Interview by Grace DeWitt

This is the second installment of the Black Maths artist interview series.

To start with some background, did you grow up in the Baltimore area, where you’re currently based?

I moved to Baltimore when I was 9. My father was in the army so my brother and I were born in Germany; prior to moving to Baltimore, I lived in Oklahoma and Kansas.

Where did you study, and were you gravitated toward art early on, or did you have to find your way to art-making?

As a kid, I gravitated to understanding how things worked and story-telling. I started out taking apart toys and other devices (trucks, Nintendos, stereos, etc.) just to exercise my curiosity of how things worked. I also wrote stories which was something I would get absorbed in. Drawing was another activity I did quite a bit for many years, but I was mostly captivated by technology and telling stories, which plays a crucial role in how I think and work in the study. As evident in Black Maths, deconstruction and narratives really drive my current body of work, and has since college.

Art-making came into my life in high school. I went to Carver Center for Arts and Technology which is a magnet high school that allowed students to major in primes. Officially, I was in the Culinary Arts program but during my second year I saw the work of two visual art students (Justin Blische and Johnny Rogers) who were doing experimental photography, and it completely fascinated me, in part, because I have not seen much like it at the time. I wanted to learn how they made their images, so I approached the photography teacher (Charles Schwartz) about taking a class and I have been obsessed ever since. Junior year I participated in the school’s Italian Exchange Program; during this trip I went to the Venice Biennale and it blew me away. Going to galleries and museums was not a big part of my life; seeing ideas presented on a grand scale was the turning point, and I decided to dedicate my life to art.

Right after high school, I studied at Morgan State University for a year, then transferred to the Corcoran College of Art and Design to be as immersed as possible in art. Right after that I attended the University of Pennsylvania to get my MFA in photography. While at the Corcoran I worked at numerous art institutions and learned a great deal about facilitating exhibitions, collections, and programs. This experience influenced me to study Art and Culture Management at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Your work in Black Maths, the Counter-Archive Project, transforms black-and-white photographs made for the The Exhibition of American Negroes organized by W.E.B. Dubois, Thomas Calloway, and Historic Black Colleges at the Paris 1900 International Exposition. How did you come across The Exhibition of American Negroes?

In graduate school, I was on a trip to San Francisco, while there I visited my aunt who was studying at UC Santa Cruz. She gave me a chapter from the book Photography on the Color Line in which the author dedicates a chapter to analyzing the photography of The Exhibition of American Negroes. This text was eye opening because it introduced Du Bois’ involvement with photography, and thinking about archives as something I contribute to, as opposed to something that is static and set in stone.

Can you explain how you encountered the ideas of Lucy Lippard, and how your work in Black Maths resonates with Lippard’s thoughts on intersubjective time?

Lucy Lippard initially came to me in an art theory class while I was a student at the Corcoran. As a feminist theorist, she offered a critical point of view that was new and exciting to me in that context, enabling me to think much broader about representation. Ms. Lippard presented the idea of intersubjective time in her essay Doubletake: The Diary of a Relationship of an Image, in which she discusses different levels of personal attachment to a black and white photograph of a Native American family. Through stages of research into the photographer and the family Lippard developed a deepened affection for the photograph. An affection that transcended time and evolved the more she researched.

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Antonio McAfee, The Trickster (In Motion), 2014, digital C-print

This mimics the engagement I have with the portraits from the American Negro Exhibition. Researching and understanding the back stories contributes to knowing the whys and whats of the portraits, which allows for personal points of entry I can relate to. Using photography to address misrepresentation and realigning it towards accurate representations struck a chord with me because being subjected to others’ expectations, assumptions, stereotypes, etc. is an on-going battle. Images are a profound way in which people understand each other, so it is pertinent for me to use that medium to counter those notions and take depictions of others to a different direction that a) deconstruct and reconstruct photographic portraiture and b) offer depictions that are influx, inexplicable, and play with static representations. It is through experimenting and remaking these images that I develop a deepening connection to these pictures, their time period, and the narrative behind their inception.

You mentioned at the Black Maths opener that a certain book also played a large role in inspiring the Counter-Archive Project. Could you go into further detail about that?

Photography on the Color Line by Shane Smith is an influential book in which the title of the project comes from. Dr. Smith outlines the context that contributed to the creation of this project by Mr. Colloway and Du Bois. To combat racist ideas and depictions of Blacks, The Exhibition of American Negroes was created to survey their middle class status from a lower social and economic status (slavery, sharecropper, etc.), using photographic portraiture as a counter move to reposition one’s self and others, to establish control of how someone or a group of people are to be seen, understood, and engaged. I think it is powerful to have a personal stake in history, in particular, a document that is locked in a time, place, idea and to take back some authority of history and rework it in a way relates more specifically that person. This process can reveal a web of connections that may not have been noticed before, ushering new directions, ideas, and relationships.

A Small Nation of People by David Levering Lewis and Deborah Willis (on display at the gallery) is also informative because it presents research conducted about the exhibition which presents more information about the people photographed and the backstory about how the exhibition came about and Du Bois and Colloway’s experience developing and exhibiting the exhibition. In general, literature plays an essential part in the ways I think about myself, others, and what I do: books from The Body in Pain: Making and Unmaking the World by Elaine Scary, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, to White Teeth by Zadie Smith.

Counter-Archive is photography-centered. Have your artistic endeavors always focused on photographic elements, or has this interest developed from projects in other media?

The core of my endeavors is photography. I also make pieces in video, drawing, collage, sculpture, and painting, but they revolve around photography and portraiture. My interest in other media developed from photography.

To what degree would you say that spontaneity, or an uncontrolled use of materials, play a role in your work?

Spontaneity plays a huge role in my process. Using glue as the initial method to alter pictures gives me a jumping off point I cannot completely control and allows for moves after that guide me in unexpected directions. It helps keep the images and process fresh, offering new challenges and problems to solve, but the more I use it the more I can understand.

“The Trickster” and the “Woman in Black” are recurring characters throughout the Counter-Archive Project. Was there a specific reason for repeating or revisiting these characters?

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Antonio McAfee, Woman in Black Cross Fade, 2014, video

While I am working on one piece questions of “what if this or that happens” come up. So, I will make many versions of the same figure because I want to see my initial idea through, but I do not want to ignore the various stages along the way, especially if they are effective images. It is a matter of paying attention to what is in front of me and letting different stages and thoughts sit for a while to see what they offer.

Could you explain what led you to the incorporation of 3D elements into Counter-Archive?

The 3D portraits are an extension of The Trickster (In Motion) which is an image of The Trickster that has been duplicated and overlapped to give the effect as if someone is looking at him cross-eyed. I wanted to enhance that effect by creating figures that seem to
vibrate, shift left and right, and turn visible and invisible. One way to achieve this was to use a 3D visual that actually did that with the assistance of red, blue, and 3D glasses.

It appears that you explored a number of photograph manipulation techniques in your series. Could you explain your process in creating El Tarta, one of the more noticeably varied works in the collection?

El Tarta is a collage that is made of fragments from the 1900 studio portraits. I use a transfer process that takes inkjet ink from dried glue –- applied to the studio portraits -– to acrylic medium. From there I glue the medium pieces, holding the ink onto paper to build figures partially from scratch.

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Antonio McAfee, El Tarta, 2016, pigment ink on paper

 

What about your process in creating The Abrupt Unmaking?

For The Abrupt Unmaking, I poured glue onto the inkjet print and let it rest there for three months. Over time, the print buckled and curled as a result of the hardening glue; then I peeled off the glue, leaving the wistful impression of a fading figure.

Can you tell me a little bit about your conceptual and physical processes in creating the three Unmaking and Making panel pieces in the show?

The process for creating the panels pieces is the same as El Tarta. After transferring the ink to acrylic medium I glue the pieces, building out the figures and simultaneously abstracting and camouflaging them amongst the black, white and grays tones of the photographs. These collages are a move towards more imaginative interpretations of these individuals, trying to see far I can push my interpretations. This process is closer to drawing than most of the work in the show. It has been a fruitful, challenging move away from the strictness of the historical aesthetic and image, to reconstruct the figures to numerous small pieces.

Were there any other particular experiences or connections that emerged from creating certain pieces in Counter-Archive that you’d be willing to share?

Woman in Black Cross Fade was an exciting, spontaneous development because I just happened to come across a three-eyed figure that had two heads blended together. I have been fascinated by three-eyes figures in Christian paintings for some time and always wanted to make some, but other pieces and techniques taking place in the studio superceded that goal. Once I came across the merged head with three eyes, I remembered immediately “I have wanted to create images like this;” it was an exciting surprise that felt like an accomplishment.

I understand that the exhibition title ‘Black Maths was a joint decision between you and Adam. Would you mind explaining a little bit about how the title relates specifically to your work in the show?

The title Black Maths comes from the idea of reworking traditions, offering visitors the chance to take in styles of images and sounds that may be familiar or established. Through experimentation, Adam and I have developed process-centered methods, i.e., our own equations, to produce pieces that are rooted in the past or a certain event but offers new interpretations to what they mean or how they function today.

When someone walks into Black Maths, what is one thing you hope that person will grasp about your work?

The abstract/inexplicable is valid and powerful in its own right. No one has to bear the burden of proving his or her existence or normalcy, which is quite often the plight of people that are categorized as “other” and not a part of a dominant culture. It is quite all right having others put in the effort to meet you halfway to understand who you are.

Do you feel that the message or significance of either the Counter-Archive Project, or Black Maths, has changed since its state at opening?

No, I do not think it changed. It has just been presented holistically to showcase the range in which the message can be seen in the array I have been working and conceptualizing it.

In close, can I ask what you’re currently working on?

I am working on an 8 1/2 ft tall portrait collage of D’Angelo as Mary Magdalene with life-size photographic sculpture cut-outs the 1900 portraits. This month I am participating in two group shows as  well.

 

McAfee’s work is included in Black Maths at The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, October 31–December 10, 2016. Read more about Antonio McAfee.

McAfee will be joining Adam Holofcener in an artists talk in the Gallery on December 10, 2016 at 2 pm. Read more about Black Maths.