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.
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?
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?
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?
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.
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.
Behind the Scenes: Understanding the Contemporary Arts Purchasing Program and Its Role in ‘New Arrivals’ Through Committee Advisor Cecilia WichmannPosted: October 12, 2017
As New Arrivals 2017 winds to a close, I’d like to explore the exhibition’s beginnings.
The Contemporary Art Purchasing Program is the UMD initiative that brought New Arrivals to life. Thanks to six incredible students (Rachael Carruthers, Grace DeWitt, Nicolay (Nick) Duque-Robayo, Kathleen Hubbard, Damon King; Sarang Yeola) and their dedicated advisor Cecilia Wichmann, the thought-provoking, compassionate works displayed in the Stamp Gallery are permanent cultural contributions to the Student Union.
To enlighten us on the curatorial process behind New Arrivals, Mrs. Cecilia Wichmann graciously offered her reflections from the year-long program.
If you could describe CAPP or your CAPP experience in 5 words, what would they be?
Elaborating an ethics, together.
What is your favorite memory involving CAPP?
Every moment that we spent visiting with artists and looking at artworks together in person was my favorite! An intriguing dynamic developed over time as we played with the balance of looking quietly as individuals and tuning in as a group, between contemplating and sharing responses to works of art in a variety of ways. We had an amazing experience early on when we visited Morton Fine Art in DC and encountered work by Nate Lewis for the first time – all of us seemed to feel personally compelled (and right away!) so it was enormously exciting to get to look closely together and share our unfolding observations live and in detail. A similar converging energy took place as we learned about Joyce J. Scott’s brilliant work with Amy Raehse at Goya Contemporary in Baltimore.
Equally exciting were the experiences in which we all had very different takes and rates of response and found ourselves puzzling through these differences together, coming back to them in some cases as their effects sunk in over weeks or months.
We had numerous unforgettable visits to artists’ studios in DC, Mount Rainier, Baltimore, and New York. We met so many wonderful people who welcomed us into their work spaces and devoted an enormous amount of time to talking with us about their ideas and processes – Margaret Boozer and Red Dirt Studios, Cheeny Celebrado-Royer, Zoë Charlton, Nona Faustine, Taha Heydari, Phaan Howng, Joiri Minaya, Jonathan Monaghan, Sophia Narrett, Liora Ostroff, Kameelah Janan Rasheed, Paul Rucker, Joseph Shetler, Jowita Wyszomirska, as well as the MFA studios at MICA Mt. Royal School of Art and University of Maryland-College Park, and Open Studios at The Fillmore School (pilot program of the Halcyon Arts Lab). So much work of many kinds goes into preparing to welcome visitors to a studio or gallery, and we felt constantly grateful for the expertise and warm hospitality that met us at every turn, including those artists and gallerists with whom we hoped to–but could not ultimately–make a visit happen.
Getting to experience so much art, in such great concentration over time and with such dedicated individuals, amounted to a rare thing — a really complex and not always verbal conversation sustained for almost a year. For me, those moments when we shared a space with artworks and each other felt magical and life-affirming, and have changed my model of a meaningful life.
What does contemporary art mean to you? Has your definition been shaped by your experience with the program?
For me, contemporary art — art being made by my fellow human beings in the recent past or present — invites me first and foremost to consider those people who call what they do ‘making art,’ and therefore regularly consider what it means to live and work as an artist in the world right now. The answer is not singular — I think part of being an artist has to do with putting intentional thought into that question, orienting and reorienting oneself to it over time. Exploring what this profession or vocation might mean for one’s identity and vice versa, and envisioning what kinds of social obligations might therefore pertain. I admire and value that effort. And I admire and value the 2016-17 CAPP committee’s respect for and interest in artists, relatively free of preconceptions about who or what an artist is supposed to be or do.
The brilliant arts leader and advocate Deana Haggag – formerly of The Contemporary in Baltimore and now President & CEO of United States Artists in Chicago – has recently made important observations related to artists as a labor sector, including the perplexing but revealing finding of a recent Urban Institute Study that while 96% of Americans value art only 27% value artists (check out recent interviews with Haggag on this topic on the Bad at Sports contemporary art podcast, on Artspace, and on Vogue.com). My experience with CAPP taught me so much about how I might endeavor to approach my work, aware of this disconnect, so as to better advocate with and for artists.
What is the importance of featuring contemporary art in public spaces (and UMD specifically?)
Contemporary artworks percolate questions, live with ambiguity, represent aspects of experience and identity otherwise papered over, invite mindful attention to the weirdness and instability of perception, engage profound ideas with humor and sly tweaking of expectations, thicken the sensory environments in which they are situated in ways that invite us to attend more carefully to the thick sensory possibilities of our own living bodies. I think these kinds of qualities make a difference to our encounters with public space, where we are more often confronted with invitations to conform to an existing plan, to accept a limited range of representations as a given or norm, and to make sense of ourselves matter-of-factly as consumers. I think it’s especially important to have contemporary artworks always on view at The Stamp – UMD’s student union – because it’s a place where we all spend time and go repeatedly to work, to eat, to connect with friends, and works of art can intersect with these contexts, calling us to slow down, return to them again and again (for a private moment or to share with someone else), to examine our own assessments of their beauty, to consider the shifting stories they might have to tell, and to register the ways in which our growing knowledge and shifting views inform these experiences as we ourselves change over time.
Written by Sarah Schurman
It is a strange question to ask, but after being exposed to Nicole Osborne’s piece So We Color, I find myself often thinking about that question and how others would answer it.
This question first came up when a group of children came in to visit. Many of the kids paid little attention to the works around them and a few of them even refused to believe that what we were showing was art. While a majority just stole glances of the art or took turns listening to Tam-anh’s film Are you better off alone?, there was boy sitting by himself, deeply involved in the coloring of Nicole’s piece. A small conversation between another docent and the boy followed:
“Why is he in a locker?” the boy asked.
“Why do you think he’s in a locker?”
“…Maybe… he’s lonely”
“What color do you think loneliness is?”
The boy didn’t respond, but instead he paused with a thoughtful look in his eyes and then silently chose a color began coloring again.
I never knew what color he chose and he left suddenly after that, taking the page with him, but this scene has left me with a deeper understanding of Nicole’s piece than when I sat in that small wooden desk and colored a picture myself. I took a shallow stab when I colored my first piece and I thought that others wouldn’t involve themselves as deeply as well. A few weeks have passed since then and now I see that many of the participants have been brave enough to share their secrets and insecurities through Nicole’s art.
I have seen and experienced art generating conversations and eliciting strong emotions, but this was the first time that I have seen art persuade its viewers to share their own personal struggles. If you come by the gallery and color a piece, perhaps you’ll learn something about yourself and discover what color loneliness is to you.
Nicole Osborne’s “So We Color” ・ Viewer Submissions
Written by Karisha Rodrigo
The bodies we use to walk through the world are fraught with challenges – one of which is our very own mind. Whatever we struggle with, whatever we conquer, our minds are their own little complications. On the other hand, our minds can be our access point to creation, to emotional connection, and to a wide array of healing experiences.
The show of the moment at the Stamp Gallery is entitled “I’m Fine” – now we’ve all said or heard that before, fully understanding its cover-up abilities. The artists featured in the Stamp Gallery have explored what it is to cope and grow from tragedy, life, and larger societal realities through art and the process of creation. Our minds can create art and art can in turn bring about some sort of peace or understanding into the absolutely wonderful chaos that is our everyday.
Even the space itself, Stamp Gallery, is a spot for pause and for reflection. Watching over the art as patrons wander in to glance at or maybe even interact with the pieces, in a way, provides a feeling of balance. They experience the power of the artist’s mind in the artist’s creations. The mind of the creator in a brief moment interacts with the mind of the patron whether or not either party knows it. From watching a video of an artist pealing and scraping plaster off of her skin to listening to a woman discuss the burning down of her home with her mother while swaying peacefully in a rocking chair, observing art creates an entry point into a different life- a different world even.
The opportunity that places like Stamp Gallery provide to learn something about you through another person’s journey is something to be reveled in. With respect to some universal narratives, it is important that we each spend time examining the uniqueness of our existences and our own processes with which we cope and grow.
Written by Kat Mullineaux
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.
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.