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.


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?


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.


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.

Interview with Black Maths Artist Adam Holofcener

Adam Holofcener || Sound Artist, Composer, Performer  || Black Maths October 31-December 10, 2016 at The Stamp Gallery || University of Maryland, College Park || Interview by Sarah Schurman 

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

Black Maths embodies a visual and auditory conversation between the works of two Baltimore-based artists. Holofcener’s quadrophonic sound installation Upresting configures field recordings from the 2015 Baltimore uprising into a new sound installation that evokes a body navigating a protest. Visitors are encouraged to speak into a microphone to experience their voice join a multitude.

To start with some context, did you grow up in Baltimore? Did your upbringing and schooling bring you to art?

That’s a good question. Well I grew up in Baltimore. Nobody in my immediate family were art makers. Definitely grew up in a sports household. I’m a white suburbanite, I wasn’t good at sports so my angst sort of channeled itself by playing punk rock music. My first engagement with art actually was somewhat through my grandfather, he grew up in East Baltimore and he got me hooked on jazz and literature. My schooling: I was extremely fortunate. I went to a school in the Baltimore called St. Paul’s school. That school was full of fascists, but the academics were really good and the guy teaching jazz there (I believe he still teaches jazz there) his name is Carl Grubbs and he was actually John Coltrane’s cousin. Carl, he’s rich, he’s as sick as can be, and he’s also sort of an artist. He was wasting his time with stupid white boys; we weren’t worthy. I feel like the combination of literature and jazz pushed me into thinking of art making in a more concrete way. Having access to intellectuals…a lot of teachers in my high school were intellectuals. Part of my neuroses got me to this point where I needed to then hear, listen, read, and see everything. Then it was just a slow matriculation on the course of avant-garde (all art media), it’s more grounded in the more bizarre subcultures out there.

Your sound installation Upresting reawakens the 2015 Baltimore Uprising in a way that invites the individual to experience collective emotion outside of its’ original context. How does Upresting explore the relationship between the individual and society?

That’s a good question. I look at all things on a continuum. On that continuum, things like the Uprising, they manifest the expression of the many and the expression of the singular all at the same time. For many of the people at the Uprising– there were a lot of people in Baltimore, they’re not from Baltimore, they don’t care about Baltimore; they weren’t gonna care about it later. Then, other people were not from Baltimore and trying to give a damn about something. For a lot of people it’s hard to separate their Ego (Ego with a capital E here): they are bringing to fruition whatever their compulsions are. Even myself to a certain extent, my whole career outside of art making has been in the public interest and I never even really did any protesting because a lot of my own pathways had put a narrative in my head that ‘well you know, you’ve got to use your skills and privilege to sort of operate within the system.’” Protesting is an extremely important part of that process, I just didn’t know if I was the one to do it. If you’re protesting I think you really need to be there as a vessel. You really need to remove your ego.  It’s definitely one of those aspects of my privilege of white male-dom…It’s hard to really work in that space where you are just a vehicle. The Uprising was such that even those who didn’t feel compelled to act that way normally, everyone just felt crazy compelled. Everyone just felt like there was there was a magnetism in that way. It was an intense feeling. Then that sort of groupthink mentality that kicks in. I thought about it a lot: so much that got me thinking about Upresting while I was in the protest, especially the really long ones that would last all day long. It really helps me, the sound that operates in the protest is what joins everyone together. This exhibition is strange for me, when I first got funding to do the piece, it was sort of a community art piece. Nowhere really did I say “Upresting by Adam Holofcener.” The piece for me has kind of come full circle because I conceived of it as this very aesthetic, intellectual thing, and then I had the opportunity to make a piece of public art about it,  and because those things interest me very much I took that opportunity. Then, when the opportunity came to bring it back into the realm of this more intense aesthetic it came back. It involved the many and the few; it gives you the opportunity to look at it from either of those perspectives. In contexts like this it’s worth diagnosing it from both sides.

People tend to dichotomize individual identity and society. Does Upresting suggest that collective voices can diverge from society’s message?

That’s an interesting question. Cecilia and I were talking about this before the exhibition. One of the things I thought a lot about is how you organize a collective message. What are the other opportunities that people have in such large numbers, you know thousands of people, to try to channel a good message at the same time. To me the most premiere counterexample is a sporting event; something like a football game. You have 60,000 people chanting in unison. They’re collectivizing their message but their message is a lot easier to package, and why I think that football games happen all the time and a protest happens a week after someone gets killed and then they  dissipate. It’s hard to chorale the thoughts of two people of any complexity, let alone 60,000. The really amazing thing about protest or trying to organize collective people, like community organizing too (God bless anyone who truly is grassroots organizing), even people from the city council and they have to have meetings where they have someone come inside and they start screaming that the cracks in the sidewalk are yelling at them. It’s hard to chorale. Complexity, obviously, an honest protest or rally or something that is trying to bottle that very nuanced magic, I think that’s what adds to the heightened, almost spiritual nature of the event, but it makes it harder to contain. A lot of people there are there for a lot of different, but converging reasons. After the sports game people can be like “we all won;” “we all didn’t”. After you leave a protest and you’re  like “what occurred?” Other times you might be like “I felt solidarity.” There’s multiplicity of feelings. It’s very important that people continue to act in that way–protest–it’s a very important part of the organizing process.

How do you think that that pairing your individual work with Antonio’s Counter Archive Project further investigates the relationship between the individual and collective? Is the message of Upresting different when in conversation with Antonio’s visual installation?

Another good question. I think Antonio’s work (this is my own reading of it), the photographs that he’s taking from Dubois really are attempting to not only distill the comments and the materialized form, between the whole category of people (individuals of color at the turn of the 20th century); they are primarily formulated by individuals. He’s commenting on the communal by exploring these individual presences. With my work, there’s a lot of different voices that come into play but it’s still somewhat focused on the individual experience. The opportunity for a singular voice to impress itself upon the environment that is embodying the many. When I first spoke to Antonio about working together we really thought a lot about–we both think a lot about process, these very academic ideas, sociological, anthropological, ethical, and then we were also like “how can we approach that from a unique form? A unique way of packaging that has a lot to do with conceptual processes.” My art is always based upon larger ideas and concepts. I’m not the type of person that if you gave me a cabin the woods, I’d be like “yeah!” I’d be like “I don’t know.” I don’t have an internal muse. I need to read five newspapers a day and be out with the people. I think Antonio is that way too, he’s really good at being inspired by all these amazing, ridiculous, horrifying wonderful things in the world has to inspire us. Being an artist is a very a selfish thing, you come at it from this singular solo page and then you attempt to take it back to your community and a larger whole.

By extending the life of the 2015 Baltimore Uprising beyond its temporal existence, Upresting challenges conventional notions of time. How is the ephemeral eternalized and universalized in your work?

To a certain extent I’m not sure. A lot of my practices involve improvised or aleatoric or experimental works. A computer program itself is on an improvisational journey. I think the universe operates on these types of irrefutable ephemera. I always get really nervous by anything that’s trying to put anything in stone. I really don’t want my reading of communal events or something like the Uprising to really have anything that is definitive about anything. It’s not my story to tell. Look, I’ve had these powerful experiences walking around the streets of this city that I care about and in which I live and work with a lot of other people, and I felt it this way and it was kind of ever-changing and different and to me, that’s interesting. In many ways, it’s inspired by an extremely emotionally politically and universally charged set of circumstances that demand a tremendous amount of respect from whomever is interested interacting with them. It all comes from almost the same impulse I have–it’s my kind of artistic practices. When I’m walking down the street and the car mixes with the sound of the, all the sounds mixing all the time there’s always that opportunity for you to sort, in an aural sense it’s without language so it’s tough. The mathematical complicated nature of the universe is such that when things sort of come together, to me that’s sort of like the closest that you’ll get to some kind of church of experience. Something like a protest is the closest you’ll get to a really intense of orchestra. There are so many opportunities and people and voices and places; things that are gonna make your hair stand on end. The form is very important.

What is the current relevance of Black Maths, especially post-election?

It’s really hard for me to even think about my own work right now. It’s been a little bit of a wild ride. We have our artists talk coming up and I haven’t really told anyone about the exhibition since the election. Anything I did is totally irrelevant. Even if this is possibly conceptually talking about something that might be Relevant (with a capital “r”) it doesn’t seem to be. How relevant is it? A lot of what I’m interested in…[being] on the vanguard of the newest most bizarre type of aesthetic criteria or a new media being created. I knew none of it really mattered because I disagree with most things that occur most of the time anyway. You fall really hard between “its pretty bleak” and the intense optimism–this is more important than ever people need to be thinking harder and empathizing more than ever. It’s hard to answer because everyone is still mining this particular existential crisis and will do for a long time. Something like the election is still so emotionally intense, a lot of work I was thinking about I wanted to not do anymore and I had a lot of new ideas for work I want to spend a lot of time thinking about now.

What do you hope visitors will gain or contemplate because of Upresting or Black Maths as a whole?

I think when you go to something like Black Maths, there’s part of me that’s like I don’t want to tell anybody what to do how to feel ever. What comes to mind if someone is like, really asking me. It’s one of the reason why I feel so obliged to try to utilize my privilege for other people. Black Maths does this pretty well, I think it might’ve done it better than I’ve ever done up to this point….My whole life of being an artist has just led from one continual opportunity after another to gain other perspectives. Every situation that you go in you should tear down into millions of perspectives that are attending to anything. It’s only been five years that I haven’t been outwardly hostile to my audience. I’m still on training wheels [laughs]. To me something like Upresting is just avant-garde music. It’s weird sounds doing weird stuff. It’s funny, especially coming from a music composition/performance background, I’m really used to standing in front of an audience and  people coming in with a brain that’s like “I like when people make sounds that are either difficult to listen to and I haven’t heard before, they might be out of my sonic palette,” or it’s gonna be such a difficult thing. In a gallery context people are so much more accepting. Sound is a full body experience. There is part of me now that’s thinking less that every act is a political act. It’s easier for me to be like, I want everybody to go, because if everyone doesn’t go then what’s the point. It’s a challenge because I’m never not gonna do weird shit. I’ll always never prescribe anything to anybody. Everybody’s just got to think hard about everything.

Adam Holofcener’s work is included in Black Maths in The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, October 31-December 10th, 2016. Holofcener will be joining Antonio McAfee for the Black Maths Artist Talk Saturday, December 10th at 2pm. 

Featuring Nilou Kazemzadeh


Part of the Frequency series. In the Laboratory Research Gallery.

Nilou Kazemzadeh recently received her B.A. in Studio Art Spring 2016. Her work is currently featured in the Stamp Gallery until July 29th and her show, Frequency,  is on display in the Laboratory Research Gallery in the Parren Mitchell Art/Sociology Building until June 30th. I had the pleasure of interviewing Nilou regarding her work.

To start with a little background, where are you from, and what first got you into art?

I was born and raised in Maryland. I can’t remember the specific place or time where I picked up a pencil or crayon and made a conscious decision to make “art,” but I can say I’ve always been surrounded by it and I remember enjoying it so it’s something that stuck with me.

What drove you to pursue a degree in studio art?

When I entered university I was undeclared, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to pursue art. I ended up taking two art classes, intro to printmaking and intro to painting, at George Mason University my second semester of freshman year. I really enjoyed both classes so when I transferred to The University of Maryland I declared myself as a studio art major.

Could you talk more about the relationship between your work in Drawing Board and your work in Frequency?

One show is exhibiting the midpoint of my process while the other is showing the end product. In Drawing Board, my plates,which I use to print my pieces, are being shown. In Frequency, the prints that come from the plate are on display. In Frequency, my intention was to show the viewer what could be done with just a single plate, printed over and over again.

How was the process of approaching Frequency different than the process of approaching your work in Drawing Board?

Before I completed Frequency, I focused on producing one or two satisfactory prints. Each time I printed I made sure my print would come out clean and even. In contrast, Frequency is about repetition. Before I focused on building up texture on the plate before printing, this time around my plate was simplified while the texture came in through the application of ink. For Frequency, each time I inked the plate I created variation through how much ink I would leave on the plates surface.

There appears to be a cultural charge to your work. Could you expand more on that aspect?

Outside of my house, there really wasn’t anything that I could relate myself to. There has always been a disconnect between me and my Iranian heritage. In order to bridge that gap, I use Persian imagery such as Farsi in my work. Every time I create a work that is related to my culture, I study and learn new things about Iran’s history and it makes me feel closer to that side of me that I’ve neglected until now.

Are there any particular artists, art movements, or other concepts that inspire your current work, or your art overall?

In my most recent work, I use a lot of poetry written by Persian poets such as Omar Khayyam, Forough Farrokhzad, Rumi and Sa’di. I pick poetry that I can relate to. One poem I used from Farrokhzad, titled “Gift”, she asks her friends to bring her a light and a window to her house. She expresses her longing to see a glimpse of the outside world. Or Khayyam’s poem, “Sleeping Ignorance”, and Sa’di’s poem “Bani Adam”, which expresses the human condition.


Untitled Cheragh Plates. In the Stamp Gallery.

I’ve also been inspired by the Safavid period of Iranian history. Things such as architecture, illuminations, and calligraphy were rapidly being developed in this era. Artists that inspire me, and really push me to continue creating cultural art are Monir Farmanfarmaian, Hossein Zenderoudi, and Parviz Tanavoli. They are a few of the Iranian artists who have contemporized Persian art by their usage of calligraphy and architecture.

How do you see your work in the Stamp Gallery fitting in with the concept of the show, Drawing Board, as a whole?

I think the basis of the Drawing Board is about exploration, there are a lot of pieces that show the midpoints, or stepping stones leading to other works. Whenever I create new prints, I learn new ways of approaching printing. The first prints I did in collagraph, I focused more on getting a clean even print, each and every time. This time with Frequency I wanted to experiment with leaving and manipulating the surface ink. This is what produced the cloudy/smokey look.

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

One of the biggest obstacles I face is having the viewer not be able to understand what the calligraphy says when the calligraphy is an important factor to the overall piece. In past work I tried to use English but I felt as though I was making the work too obvious. But through that piece I learned that I shouldn’t fully rely on the calligraphy, but on the way I present the work. I hope that the size and quality of the prints help express its meaning.


Part of the Frequency series. In the Laboratory Research Gallery.

Is there anything that you are currently working on that you wouldn’t mind sharing?

The work I’ve done so far, I’ve relied heavily on studying and viewing work through my laptop. I haven’t really experienced anything first hand. My work is inspired by my Persian culture, but I haven’t been to Iran for over 5 years. There is a big difference between viewing a painting through Google and actually going to the museum and experiencing the painting up close. So I’m happy to say for the rest of the summer I will be in Iran seeing everything up close. I won’t be making any work but that will come afterwards.

Any future plans for your work and yourself? Upcoming exhibitions? Graduate school?

Right now I am in route to get my Masters in Education at the University of Maryland. In terms of my work I see getting my MFA in the horizon.

Lastly, any advice for budding artists? Anything you would tell a younger Nilou just entering the arts world?

I think I need to wait 5-7 years before I can really answer this question. But if I can give any advice I would telling my younger self and young artists to just do it. You really don’t know what you can achieve if you don’t try. I think my biggest fault is that I spend too much time thinking and not enough time doing.

The Stamp Gallery is located on the first floor of the Adele H. Stamp Student Union. The current show, Drawing Board, is up until July 29th and the gallery is open Monday through Friday 11:00 AM – 6:00 PM.

The Laboratory Research Gallery is located in 3rd floor west wing of the Parren Mitchell Art/Sociology Building. The current show, Frequency, is up until June 30th and the gallery is open Monday through Thursday 12:00 PM – 4:00 PM. Learn more about the Laboratory Research Gallery by visiting their blog.

Written by Christopher Bugtong

Interview with Midpoint Artist Zac Benson

This is the last installment of the Midpoint 2016 artist interview series.


I read on your website that you attended school at the University of Tennessee for your undergrad career, what influenced your decision to join the University of Maryland MFA program?

 So after I did my undergrad at the University of Tennessee, I did a semester post-baccalaureate program just out at the University of Colorado at Boulder. After that I went to New York City worked for a year and I was applying to grad school and I came here primarily for the funding. They put you in the classroom a lot and that kind of subsidizes the tuition… kind of a tuition remission and so it was mainly because of funding but also Professor Foonsham, I kind of followed his work. Kind of wanted to work with him as well.

In addition, your website mentions that your gallery works gain influence through your personal faith as well as your engagement with society, that being said, what was the influence behind God is Greater?

 So it stemmed from when I heard about the demolition caused by ISIS to St. Elijah’s monastery and it really got me thinking because that was the oldest monastery in Iraq, I believe it’s like 1400 years old, just a little bit over 1400 years old and ISIS came in with heavy equipment to bulldoze it. I would have thought that they would have just bombed it and just gotten it over with in a second but they came in with heavy equipment. It probably took like over a week to two weeks and just destroying that history of not only the Christian faith but we’ve also heard of other destruction they’ve done. So I wanted to make a piece about that to try to figure out how do I convey what happened, what they did, just in visual form, in art form. So I decided to get Bibles that were translated into Arabic and then I laser cut just the aerial image of the aftermath onto the Bibles and trying to convey that destruction. So within the Christian faith the sincerest object is the Bible so laser cutting the destruction of that monastery onto the bibles I’m kind of recreating the monastery onto the bibles, I’m also talking about the destruction of it as well. it’s just kind of this dialogue that’s happening. But it was mainly because I heard about that story and was concerned about what was happening and I wanted to convey that concern in some way.

Do you ever feel limited by your desire to utilize “abandoned and discarded material” in your artwork? If so, why or how might this limit your work? If not, why or how does this set you apart from other artists?

No, I think it does limit me and so, therefore, speaking directly to God is Greater, I actually bought those bibles, so those actually were not reclaimed. Those were brand new. So I’m getting to the point in my work where if it is necessary to use new material, I will. With that said, going back to part of your question, I don’t know if I want to be classified as a recycled material artist or a reclaimed material artist and so, therefore, I like the ability to kind of go in between each one. Sometimes if the content of the piece allows me to use reclaimed material that I’ve found – if it speaks to it. If the reclaimed material speaks to the concept, I’ll use it. If not, I’ll go buy the material that speaks to it. So it does limit it but I don’t allow it to, if that makes sense. Because if it does, then I just go find the material that is right for the piece. But that actually just happened only about two years ago. Before I would almost never use new materials, strictly only reclaimed material. So this is kind of a new thing for me of using new material. Just about a year and a half two years ago.

What was it that drew you to work with these kinds of materials?

My first sculpture class at the University of Tennessee was kind of a special topics class. It was called Eco Art and so, therefore, you had to use reclaimed materials, you had to speak to those issues under the umbrella of environmental art and that was the first sculpture class that kind of started me on this path. Also, side note, both of my granddaddies on both sides of my family were penny pinchers so I’m kind of like that as well. Now I don’t like that as being the reason why I use reclaimed materials because you shouldn’t let that hinder you but I think that did contribute to it but mainly I think it’s because I took that eco class as my first sculpture class. Now growing in these past eighteen years, I really enjoyed the act of finding. A question I get asked a lot is, “how do you know which materials to pick up and what not to pick up?” so if I go by a dumpster and there are twenty 2x4s and I go by another one and there are a hundred chair legs, how do I know which one to pick up? And I like that process, of what stimulates me at that time because obviously I don’t pick up everything that I see that’s free. So I like that process that the material engages me in some way and therefore I respond and take it to my studio and try to implement that in my work.


The incorporation of faith can often be seen as a controversial topic, has God is Greater created any controversy? Is this the intended purpose?

I don’t know if controversy is the intended purpose. I do talk about faith in my work but actually, some of it has been controversial because I also talk about where my faith makes me stand up for issues and some of those issues are very unpopular in a contemporary sense. But dealing directly with this piece, I think everyone is onboard with the idea that if you disagree with someone or a faith or belief, you should not necessarily act harmfully on those beliefs. You can speak to them and that’s totally fine and that is where I think we all agree but if you go past speaking and act, just like ISIS did with the temple, that is when we all stand on the same plane and say, “No, that’s wrong.” So with this particular piece, I haven’t had any issues with it like other pieces I’ve done. One of my previous pieces was actually dealing with Planned Parenthood and abortion and that was extremely controversial but what I try to do is stand lightly on those issues and not stamp my feet, if that makes sense, and maybe start to have a dialogue and not an argument.

What is the meaning behind the title of your work?

 So I liked it being a little ambiguous where you’re not sure. The word God is kind of ambiguous in this because you’re not sure who God is. If you’re talking about multiple belief systems or faiths as we are whether it’s Christianity or Islam. So the word God in there, God is Greater, which God? Whose God? My God? Your God? So I like the ambiguity of it but also it’s pretty direct if you do think about it in that way as well. So that’s actually where that last question comes in. I want to speak to things, to stand firm in my beliefs but not to an extent to where it ostracizes the viewer if they believe something different. So it allows the viewer to come into the title, come into the piece with still allowing me to state my beliefs…Now I can tell you exactly what the title means but I feel like that can be controversial. Personally, why I did it is I believe…so if we’re talking about the God of Christianity, I believe He is greater than this demolition. Christianity, the belief system, obviously is affected by it but in the long term, that is not shaking the faith. So if you dig into the title, you might come to that but if not, you might just be like, “who’s he talking about?” But if you look at the piece and the description, then you might come to that, though ISIS came in for a purpose: to destroy a portion of the faith, it’s actually not destroyed. The faith system is a lot bigger than one monastery or one person. Which in history, you can obviously see that with the Crusades, with what Christians did, they didn’t shake other belief systems. So you can actually see that with martyrs etcetera it actually… it makes the faith stronger. Usually, when the faith has pressure on it, it makes it stronger which is actually unusual…kind of an interesting aspect of when one belief system comes up to another. It harms it in the short term but almost benefits it in the long term which is kind of interesting.

Undergraduate students make up a bulk of the Stamp Gallery’s audience, what kind of emotions do you hope to evoke from the students regarding your work?

 I think probably two emotions. Hopefully, awareness that not only that these things are happening as we can give sort of a long list of what ISIS has done but that this one action has happened. The knowledge of this. As I was making it I was speaking predominantly just to family and they had not heard of it. I think it was actually back in 2014 that this happened and I’d just heard about it in 2016. So it’s even unusual for me, as the artist, to be making a piece that I think is contemporary like of today and it’s actually of two years ago. So it’s almost like I’m kind of late to the party. So I think awareness that this is happening and hopefully that we can do something more. And I think maybe just to engage in the piece. I hope that visually it was engaging enough that they can be like, “oh hey, this is kind of visually interesting, let’s look into it more, let’s figure out what it’s saying” So I hope to intrigue the viewer with the aesthetics of it but also hopefully to be more aware of what is happening because a couple of my next pieces are going to deal with how Christians are being targeted in other countries. Mainly right now in China so I want to bring awareness to what’s happening to people of my faith in certain areas of the world.

Are you working on any newer pieces right now? What plans do you have for your artwork in the near or distant future?

Yea, I’m working on a piece right now. So in China, in a province, the government has taken down 1200 crosses from churches and in some places have actually demolished the whole church. In one situation which I might be more direct in this piece and talk about this situation and not the umbrella view or the aerial view, just on like May the tenth I believe, the government contracted out some individuals to go demolish a church and the pastor and his wife was going to stand against it so they stood in front of the bulldozers and they actually buried the wife alive and tried to bury the pastor but somehow he escaped. So that was just like three weeks ago that this is happening that, at least I don’t think would happen in contemporary society but she was buried alive just for her faith and so my next piece will probably deal specifically with that situation and might continue to deal with situations like that or more direct faith-based work.

And is this going to be shown?

Not yet, it’s just kind of in the idea phase right now so we’ll see. Now the God is Greater piece will actually be in a show with a couple other pieces, it’s my solo show in a gallery in Greenville, South Carolina on the campus of Furman University in September.

For more information on Zac Benson, visit

Interview with Midpoint Artist C.W. Brooks

This is the second installment of the Midpoint 2016 artist interview series.

C.W. Brooks || Second Year M.F.A. Candidate || Director of the Laboratory Research Gallery || Exhibiting in MIDPOINT 2016 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 Chicago and I lived all around the Midwest. I went to Ohio State for a little while and then I got my BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, so I went back to Chicago.

I understand that you went through quite a journey to get here, at Maryland’s MFA program. What eventually brought you to, or back to, art?

Really, it was that I’ve been compelled to keep making art. The need to then continue to develop and find critical communities in which to do that brought me back here. I happened to meet one of the professors here at a curling club and he encouraged me for a year or more than to come here for graduate school and I had a bunch of other friends who were also pushing me. Finally, I just gave in. So that’s how I ended up here. Previous to this, I worked in non-profits and politics for over a decade.

You’ve mentioned before that you’ve spent many years working with tape, and I think also index cards? Correct me if I’m wrong?

Well from 2004 to 2007– all of 2004 but not all of 2007– I worked exclusively with masking tape and 10″ x 10″ sheets of Bristol board. And that was all I worked with there.  After that I felt comfortable enough to sort of open up my materials list a little more, but I do find that restraint to be very helpful, at times. Other times, we need to do something else. But, the idea of placing somewhat arbitrary limits, or the practice of placing arbitrary limits on your art-making can allow you to more fully explore subtleties of what you make or of the materials or of the idea pretty effectively, at least for me.

So is that what led you specifically to the masking tape and the Bristol board?

That was just one step in it, there were others. I think part of that is I come out of a photography background. Because in photography you are pretty limited in that you use–  when I learned photography– you used film, and paper, and you go into a really dark place and do a lot of things there. So there really is that limit, and then going out from photography into more of, for lack of a better way to put it, a drawing-based practice, one that really considers mark-making, “thingness.” It made sense for me, it was a natural step really, to just then, you know, choose carefully and then use limitations as a resource.

Would you say control is a goal of your work? Or perhaps a method?

I’d say kind of the opposite. You know within those limits, I have to worry about control less, so within the actual making of the thing I can allow the process to take place organically. I don’t have to worry about a lot of things. Most folks around here, most of the grad students around here, seem to be very contemplative in their studio practice. I’m much more, I’m very impulsive, though. And so by setting those limits up front, I’m able to allow that to happen and at least have some coherence, sometimes. But you know, then I have to self-curate in what I show people at all, let alone what I put in a show, like this one.

We kind of got into this, but do you select your materials to serve the purpose of a project, or does the project present itself out of your preliminary manipulations with the material?

I do a lot of research, is what we’ll call it, which is just screwing around with these things, sometimes I get a good piece out of that. But a lot of time I have to develop a real intimacy with a material to understand how it’s going to work. And at that point usually things become apparent to me as far as what needs to happen. And again, it is a much more impulsive process. There isn’t a lot of deliberation, or contemplation about it. And if I’m doing that it usually ends up very frustrating. That’s not a bad thing to do, it’s just not necessarily what works best for me making my most effective work.

Are there any particular artists, art movements, or other concepts that inspire your current work, or your art overall?

Certainly the conceptual artists from the 60s and 70s are very impactful. And surprisingly, I’m very interested– well, surprising to me given my other background– but I’m very interested in social practice and activist art, which I don’t think really shines to the forefront with my material work. But certainly that has had a big influence on how I approach working.

In regards to the MIDPOINT piece, would you mind talking a little bit about the title of the series? And do you consider it a series?

The title actually is just something I pulled out of a Susan Sontag essay, which she was actually quoting Nabokov, I believe. And so that’s where the title comes from, I think it is effective in explaining how these are made in that the thing exists because I have this intimacy, because I have this strong familiarity with these materials and with these ways of going about making them interact, or altering them, or manipulating them.

Where did the idea for “The Pattern of the Thing Precedes the Thing” come from?

It was just something that I think was ripe, it was something that made sense to do you know these large set of multiples you know there’s a lot of smaller works, in fact there are smaller sets as well of work that do similar things.

How did you mentally and physically go about creating the piece?

To make this piece I drove out to Winchester, Virginia. I got a room at a Motel 6, and for five days, that was what I did. I sat and worked with these materials, it was real nice, because I could go out to breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I could go to yoga, but other than that I would stay in the hotel room and work. I took my dog with me, she just likes to sleep a lot too. So that was pretty much the process. But taking myself and these materials out of their normal studio context, I was able to focus on them I think a little tighter, focus on them more closely.

I wanted to ask about that actually, I remember you saying that you felt that this project differed so much from your previous work that you couldn’t do it in the studio space, and I was wondering if you had felt that way about any previous projects?

Not really, I only really brought that [strict studio practice] back since 2013. And in 2013 even, when my primary body of work was made, I had some terrible office  job so you know on my breaks I would make some work, and you know it all had to fit any piece I made had to fit in a number 10 envelope and I would address it and mail it to a friend of mine, in part for an accountability mechanism, because I was at a point where I was ready to rebuild a practice, and a regular practice, as opposed to kind of earlier where I spent a lot of time trying to get away from art and deny that as a part of my life, ’cause wouldn’t that be easier? So, previously, it was really about trying not to do this, trying to get rid of things, and I still have issues with the material object as an element, but if you’re going to sell you kind of have to accept that. Or it helps to accept that.

Do you feel like that kind of office-life frustration maybe in some way inspired the gravitation towards the index cards at all?

I wouldn’t… I had a show in 2010 and we did an interview for that and that interview was very frustrating because all the questions the person had were about how, you know, a terrible office job blah blah blah, you know, the job I had was terrible, but working in an office doesn’t bother me very much, you know. I like the order; I keep a lot of records, and I have personal archives, and I have various tracking mechanisms in my studio that make it almost office-like.  So I wouldn’t say there’s any frustration there. And by 2013 it was sort of becoming obvious that the work I was doing I was working on both campaigns and at non-profits then, was not going to really be a long-term healthy decision.

Back to “The Pattern of the Thing,” what was the greatest challenge you experienced when creating so many pieces within the larger piece, and all with such a high level of precision– or maybe you wouldn’t call it precision?

By the time I made this piece– the word I use is intimacy– I had such a high level of intimacy with these materials that it was just a question of sitting down and doing it. I’d love to be able to do this like once a month for a year, I think it would be fascinating. But really the biggest challenge was to actually get all the pieces in place. I had a set of materials I took with me, and then when I got out to Winchester I realized I needed this and I needed that, so there was a day of driving around town trying to find things… which would be relatively easy here except the traffic would be worse. But out in Winchester was a little more challenging, even though it’s not a terribly small town. But you know, really the challenge there was to really get myself set up, get going, what was surprising is that I expected to be able to do more of this each day. Initially I planned on being there for 3 full days, I ended up being there for 5 full days. The first full day I was there I did 300 cards and then the next day, I just slept all day. I was surprisingly tired from it. And for the rest of that time I did about 200 a day. I averaged about 200 a day in the end and the last two days I was there I did 200 a day and that was very effective. And I was surprised at how tiring this was though, really.

Was there a method to how you organized the cards after creating them, or did you create them with their arrangement somehow  in mind?

They were made in the order that they are presented by row first moving from top to bottom, and then by series. Until they were hung up, I had not seen them in any sort of relationship to one another. For the most part, as I made them, I would begin a row that would establish a theme for the row, and there would also be themes for an entire set. There is one outlier to that, but it actually is not included because of space here. But I think not having that, the viewer is not really going to miss it… but I think there is a little bit of richness that is lost because the piece is technically incomplete. But I think there is still plenty to engage with there.

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

I’m hoping that they’ll just engage with the work, I think that there’s– based on conversations I’ve had with people who’ve seen it– I think that there’s a number of ways to do it. And I’m pretty willing to let people direct themselves. I think some people will kind of glance at it, and this work may not be for them, and I’m okay with that too. My real interest though, is in the subtleties of the thing, as it is now, which in some cases actually are built off of subtleties of manipulation, or subtleties that already existed, that are sort of amplified through the manipulation. So there’s a lot of different kinds of ways in, I’m not sure how other people are necessarily going to do that. For me, the making of the thing is really the primary experience. I can’t say I’ve spent that much time looking at it since, I’ve certainly spent a lot of time thinking about it. Well I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about “Okay this should have been this way and that should have followed this,” but that’s not how it happened, and given, sort of my interest in this piece as a document as well as a material piece itself, I wouldn’t be willing to reorder it.

Can I ask what you’re currently working on?

Right now I’m actually working on, well a couple of things, I’m working w some photographs, cause i still do that. and I’m working on some very large line drawings. That’s relatively new. I’m trying to figure out given what I’m doing and how I’m doing it what the process necessitates as far as inputs and outputs. and I’m just trying to form a model of how this is going to work in my mind. I’m not saying here’s a model, but that how I’m going to think of my mind working, so that I can work with this process and these materials relatively predictably. And even within a process and material set, that I feel I have well modeled in my mind, there are still, and in some cases there may even be intentional decisions to allow intentionally unexpected things to arise. A decision not to make a decision. Sometimes it is very consequential and important to make that way rather than to deliberate and then dictate every element. But there is still a decision there in saying these preconditions can exist, and it can go a number of different ways from there. But, create the preconditions and then allow that to happen. Preconditions for every one of these cards is basically the same. But the outcome is generally different. There might be a few that look very similar.

I know there’s a few that have not been altered.

Yes. And those are very similar. And you know in those cases the preconditions vary because two different material objects probably are not truly identical, whatever that means. But that’s okay.

Lastly, any advice for budding undergraduate artists? Or, anything you would tell a younger C.W. Brooks just entering the arts world?

Let me think about this for a minute… I mean as far as figuring out what work you need to be doing, often that’s a process of elimination. It’s important to engage deeply with whatever practice you are doing, but I think that it’s also valuable to switch practices every once in a while, certainly early on. And see if you actually come back to that initial practice, or that favorite practice, or discipline, you will probably have been enriched by that. When I moved from Ohio State to Chicago in college I went from working with some real capital “P” photographers, I was “zone system” blah blah blah whatever else, all the way. very quickly I was working Barbara Genevieve who is or was really a fantastic teacher and mentor and also really one of the best.. really a great artist in making semi-pornographic art and communicating activist cultural messages through it. My work is not necessarily cultural activism even though we worked very closely within a student-teacher, teacher-student, student-mentor relationship. But had I insisted that I was only going to work with more photographers, that would have been a real shame. Work with things that really make you uncomfortable.


C.W. Brooks’ work can be viewed at MIDPOINT 2016 in The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, until May 21, 2016. They will be joining the other artists of MIDPOINT 2016 in an artist talk in the Gallery on May 11, from 11am to 12pm.

For more information on C.W. Brooks, visit

For more information on MIDPOINT 2016  and artist talks, visit

Interview with Midpoint Artist Kevin Hird

This is the first installment of the Midpoint 2016 artist interview series.


Walking into the Stamp Gallery, one cannot miss the pillars of blond lumber being displayed at the end of the room. The long planks are either covered with screws and the holes made by them, or cut into small slices that together make up curved forms. As the work occupies almost half of the entire gallery, one may wonder about the messages that the wood conveys to visitors. I asked the artist, Kevin Hird, for more details about his work in Midpoint 2016.


Could you please tell me about your work that’s currently on exhibit at the Gallery?

All of the works on exhibit in the gallery are 2′ x 6′ boards, which have been extensively altered through a repetitive action—either cutting or putting screws through them. I work with found objects, so I approached the boards from that direction rather than regarding them as a material one would use to make something, but reacting to the ‘identity’ of the object. The properties of the material such as the grain and knots, and the mental associations the board carries—the concept of work and blue collar labor, the manufactured versus the natural, organic material, and looking at the interactions you would expect to take place with the boards in their typical environment, of which to me the most prominent are the two I’ve employed, cutting and screwing. Both of these actions are misinterpreted, I’ve intentionally gotten the expected relationship of the action and the material wrong and repeated to a compulsive, total, absurd degree.

While I was cutting the slices of one of the Three eight foot boards cut exactly in half, someone came up and asked what I was up to and I told him I was cutting a board in half; he was confused for a couple seconds before it clicked.

I’m not sure how clear it is, but the Eight foot boards cut in half are cut into slices of wood that are the same thickness as the saw blade, so with each cut an equal amount of board is cut into a slice and consumed by the saw.  After another pause he asked me ‘…why? That looks really tedious.’ And it really, really is.  But in addition to the other ideas inherent in this work and the material, this process retains the grain pattern of the full length of the board, but compressed into half the space. Essentially, it’s pixelating a real object. I’ve seen images of people making pixelated renditions of classical marble busts—more so what you might think of when you imagine ‘sculpture’—but it’s all process and digital technology. So this is just using a board and saw, but relating to the language and visual output of digital 3d work.


How did you decide to use wood and nails, and is there a metaphorical meaning?

I actually don’t remember what got me started on the first board. I think it was just an exploratory piece, answering for myself, ‘how many screws can you actually put into a single board? What does that look like?’ But it incorporates ideas of work and the value we place on it, the tradition of construction and blue collar jobs within my own family, so seeing this work as a little bit of a self portrait; out of this blue collar background as a building material it gets reworked and winds up in a formal art setting.

These also bring up repeatedly this tension of the materials being simultaneously a processed industrial material and a grown organic natural thing. The Better give it the old spit polish series is displayed in a format intended to reference a forest and emphasize the organic nature of the wood, while the two components of Pucker are presented horizontally on saw horses, reinforcing the other side of this and referencing the industrial/construction material side of it.

But there’s more still—the force of the screws putting pressure on the wood resulted in some areas where the wood cracked apart pretty impressively, which is particularly interesting where knots are coming out of the side of the wood. This expansion reveals sections of the knots that had been grown over, buried within the wood but now visible because of the forces they were subjected to. The circles of screws and patterning of holes left behind where they were removed have some reference both to an insect boring into the material and clusters of moss or other growths on the surface of trees. And there’s definitely a sexual component, which shows up in possible interpretations of the titles, the vertical boards (anything long and upright, somebody is going to read as phallic), and the repetitive penetrative action of screwing in and out of the surface.


How long did it take you to create and install all of the pieces? 

Installation seemed like it went really quickly, but actually took something like eight hours. I’m not entirely sure where the time went, but I know part of it was discussing placement issues with Gallery Coordinator Cecilia Wichmann and the other artists. As far as creation, it varied from within a day to make each of the three 8’ boards cut exactly in half, up to most of a month to complete one of the vertical boards.

Have you always been working with three-dimensional pieces? What do you like about them and what do you dislike about them? 

Yes, since I started making art I knew three dimensional was the way for me to go. I get much more satisfaction and sense of having physically made something when its 3D. I know, painting or drawing are also ‘physical processes’ but they don’t carry that same feel of physicality that I get in sculptural works.  So that’s definitely what I like about them, as well as being able to go out and find a physical object that starts the process and carries its own back story and implications that I feel obligated to respond to and incorporate in the work. There’s really one big thing to dislike about three dimensional work:  It’s big.  Sculptures take up a whole lot of space and don’t really store very efficiently. Smaller tabletop or handheld sculptures aren’t too bad individually, but they start to add up, and once you reach a certain scale your options quickly dwindle to either: sell the work, or take a lot of good pictures and destroy it.

What is your favorite material to work with and why?

I don’t think I really have a favorite material. Working in sculpture, and especially with a tendency toward found objects, I wind up working with new materials pretty regularly.

Is there a common theme for all of your work? Where do you get your inspiration from and how has your practice changed over time? 

There does seem to be a common thread going through much of my work of dealing with the identity of objects, altering things in small but fundamental ways, and a sense of absurdity or humor. I think part of the inspiration is definitely in the materials themselves; I think that I look at things a little bit differently than most people and through this artwork I try to show everyone these other possibilities within the things around us. That’s the other big part of my inspiration—I want to show people something new and hopefully give them a sense of wonder.

I’ve always been working sculpturally, but the work definitely changed when I started here with a little bit of a rough transition period at first when I was figuring out how exactly I wanted to work and what I wanted to work with. Before grad school I tended to have the entire piece figured out beforehand and then sit down and make it. Lately it’s been a lot more exploratory and responsive to the material

Why did you decide to attend the MFA program here at Maryland? Where did you study as an undergrad?

I got my undergraduate degree from Youngstown State University in Ohio, where I’m from.  I actually started there in another major and jumped ship to art because I was really bored with what I had started in. Fortunately that school actually had a really great art program, and equally good teachers. One of the teachers was a close mentor to me and when I told him about my MFA choices, he knew one of the faculty here and said I’d enjoy working with him, so that influenced my choice a little. Other things that helped me make my choice were UMD has a bit of a reputation as being a sculpturally-focused program, which I liked, the opportunity to work as a teaching assistant which is really valuable if you want to teach after graduation (and I definitely do), and possibly the most important factor is location. As an artist the close proximity to both all of the art museums and galleries in DC as well as Baltimore, which has a really thriving art scene, is a pretty big deal. It means that you can expose yourself to a lot more artworks and culture, which can expand your own practice, as well as there being much more options and chances of having your work shown and seen.

Where do you see your work in the future, and what does art mean to you? 

To me art is an outlet, a way to show other people something new or get them thinking about things differently. I think it also gives a unique look into someone else’s thoughts and personality. Looking at the artwork in this show, I think you can extrapolate from the artwork and learn quite a bit about the artists from the work. I think for the foreseeable future the work is going to continue being centered around the found object and the identity of things. In the future I’d like to see my work at MoMA, but I think you have to work your way up.

By Yvette Yu

Kevin Hird presents a series of investigations into the results obtainable through an expected interaction being repeated to unreasonable lengths on a common construction material.
Learn more about Hird’s work:
Questions or comments? Please reach out at


Other work by Hird:
KH Copy

Copy, bone and treat, 2014

                                                 Untitled, picture frame, electrical tape, wheels, 2014
KH jedi mind trick

Jedi mind trick, bamboo skewers, nylon strap, fasteners, 2015

KH relic

The last remaining relic of J Edgar Hoover’s eternal hunt for the perfect bourbon, wood, 2015

KH handle

Handle, handle, chair base, 2015

Images are courtesy of Veronica Nolen.