Interview with ‘Media Lux’ Artist Irene Pantelis

This is the third installment of the Media Lux artist interview series. Media Lux features work by Clay Dunklin, Mason Hurley, Irene Pantelis, Monroe Isenberg, and Gina Takaoka.

Irene Pantelis | Graduate Student and Artist | Exhibiting in Media Lux from April 2nd through May 19th, 2018 at The Stamp Gallery | University of Maryland, College Park | Interview by Kat Mullineaux

Khipu Reiterations 2018, Ink, Watercolor, oil paint on mylar, overhead projectors

Khipu (String and knot record) 2018, Polylactic acid filament

KM: Before we talk about your pieces in MEDIA LUX, I am wondering about your journey to this point. Where did you do your undergraduate study and what lead you to the MFA program here at the University of Maryland?

IP: I was an undergraduate here at UMCP back in the early nineties, majoring in Spanish and English. My path to the MFA was a bit of a long one. After college, I went to Georgetown Law and became a labor lawyer for about ten years. During that time, I was an artist on the side, going to lots of exhibits, traveling to see art abroad, taking classes at the Corcoran, and participating in weekly figure drawing sessions at the studio of local artist Micheline Klagsbrun. When my children were born, I decided to quit law and stay home with them. My art became more expressive and much more abstracted. As the years went on, as scary and crazy as it seemed, I decided not to go back to my legal career and take a leap into becoming a full-time artist instead. I came back to UMCP initially to take undergraduate courses, especially in digital art, but soon realized that my quest would really benefit from an MFA. I chose to do it here at UMCP because the program is very flexible and interdisciplinary, allowing for lots of experimentation.

KM: This is your second year of the program and now that you have reached the midpoint of your MFA journey, I am curious about where you and your work has evolved from–and where you see yourself going in the future. Has your work shifted from your first year in the program to the works you have currently in MEDIA LUX? If yes, how so?

IP: My work has definitely evolved since I started the MFA program. Some things remain constant, like the use of grids and organic shapes, the interest in ambiguity and hybrid, and the repetition of marks and textures. My prior work was about the process and the aesthetics of the materials, hinting at broad and hard to pinpoint concepts. The MFA has made me think harder and deeper about what the work means or conveys. It has also made me strive harder to find innovative and effective ways to create work that resonates with me but might be relevant to others. The works I have in MEDIA LUX are part of a series where for the first time I am using abstraction to explore a specific narrative or history.

KM: So,I have been staring at your pieces Khipu Reiterations and Khipu (string and knot record) for a couple weeks now from the docent desk in the Stamp Gallery. It has prompted me to Google questions about Inca culture, where you buy 3D pens, when did overhead projectors decline in use anyway–and so many more. One thing that I see as tying the two sets of pieces together is the presence of Khipu knots. Upon my own limited research, I have read that these knotted ropes/strings were used in Inca and Andean cultures to keep track of things, whether that be money, marriages or whatever. I wonder, can you say something on where your inspiration to work with these knots came from and what they mean–to you or in general?

IP: To me, a khipu is one of the most beautiful types of grids out there. Khipus blend reason with craftsmanship in a unique way. The Incas, or more properly, the Quetchuas, made khipus by tying many strings in parallel fashion to a longer, larger rope. The strings were then tied into knots, aligned horizontally. Each decimal number had its own kind of knot. The knots, the spacing and hues of the strings, and the direction in which they were spun recorded numerical data, such as zip codes and population numbers, but also mathematical and algebraic transactions on a decimal system. At the same time, the khipus were used as nemonic devices to pass down oral narratives and traditions. During the years of the Inca Empire, in the absence of the written word, the Quetchuas, who still live in the region and number about 8 million, used the khipus as part of their governance. The Spaniards burned most of the khipus in the early settlement years, so only about 600 of them survived, found in collections worldwide. The Spaniards left lots of drawings and chronicles of them, but the khipu code has not been fully decoded. Their information is still veiled and mysterious, though clearly about data and narratives that are interconnected. One of the features I love about the khipus is that most string break into several smaller ones, which in turn break down further, creating a hierarchy that visually resembles a flow chart or family tree, but also the branching of trees, the spreading of roots, the formation of rivers, and, for the Quetchuas, a corn plant. Grids have always been a key component of my images, so it was kind of natural for me to be drawn to the khipus. They are a part of my past, being from Bolivia and having a Quetchua grandmother who died when my father was still a child.

KM: There are many cultural implications attached to using a tool from a millennial educational environment and even newer technology in the 3D pen, to portray something from so long ago with so much history. Now that we have a bit more information on your relationship to these Khipu knots, I am extremely interested in the interaction between new/newish technology and a simple yet ingenious keeper of knowledge. How do you see these things interacting in your work? What is their significance.

IP: There is a play between technology, the chemistry of the materials, and the art of drawing going on. For the wall sculpture, I wanted to make a three-dimensional khipu that took on the curves of my fingers, hands and wrists. It was a meditation on the fact that so much of counting for humanity started with our fingers and hands. Data and numbers in the end are about people. I also wanted to underscore that the way the khipus were organized, while organic and hand-made, can resemble visually the way we depict data today, like a computer matrix, a data graph, or perhaps a sound wave. The khipus also make me think of our obsession with collecting information and cataloguing things in a logical manner. The 3D pen was the most versatile at creating the form I wanted and effectively hinted at a present-day significance for the object. While artificial, the material takes on a very organic, natural shape. Interestingly, the PLA filament I used is made from corn, which is a main staple of the Quetchua diet and plays a significant role in how numerical concepts are labelled or described in the Quetchua language and mythology.

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Khipu Reiterations 2018, Ink, Watercolor, oil paint on mylar, overhead projectors

KM: In your pieces the mediums you work with are what I see as genuinely unique. I thank you for the experience of seeing an overhead projector used for beauty and complexity as opposed to being just the thing my middle school math class used to teach us fractions with little plastic octagons and squares. Why did you choose to work with these projectors? Do their placement and rather chunky presence play into the work as a whole for you?

IP: Overhead projectors evoke a kind of nostalgia. They have to do with the passing down of knowledge from one generation to the next, which is in part what the khipus did. The projectors are clunky but kind of sculptural at the same time. They clash with the ethereal nature of the image they project. The image projected is always a different version, a reiteration of the image on the light box, which itself is a reiteration of something else.

KM: Do you have a favorite medium? Do you see yourself as a technologically influenced artist or do you primarily work in other mediums?

IP: My practice is multidisciplinary. Drawing and painting are the foundation of my work, but from there I go in many directions—sound, video, sculpture. I like the mix of traditional and new media, it’s another way of exploring hybrid natures, and it the case of these pieces, of creating a bridge between the past and today.

KM: There is a simplicity to your work–a minimalism. Your use of black and white, shadow and light, is interesting to me to say the least. How do you view this minimalist aesthetic? Is it intentional?

IP: My aesthetic choices are mostly intuitive. The PLA filament and the overhead projectors were so rich as mediums that I did not feel the art pieces needed to be overly ornate. I always try to let the materials dictate the form. Minimalism is also both really old and really modern.

KM: Who and what do you see as your influences on your work?

IP: There are many, many artists I find inspiration from, as well as writers and poets. My list is very eclectic. Cezanne and Khalo are still two of my favorites, as are Homi Bhabha and Timothy Morton.

KM: Do you have any current projects you would like to tell us about?

IP: I have a solo show scheduled for December at VisArts in Rockville, MD.

KM: Looking ahead as you have one more year in this MFA program, what do you hope to do when you have reached the end of this journey? Sleep is hopefully on the list!

IP: My plan is to keep on making and showing art. I would love to do residencies and show my work in South America as well as the US.

 

The Stamp Gallery wishes Irene all the best in her future endeavors and artistic pursuits. 

MEDIA LUX runs in the Stamp Gallery from April 2-May 19, 2018.

The Stamp Gallery Hours

MON-THUR 10AM-8PM

FRI 10AM-6PM

SAT 11AM-5PM


Call for Artists EXTENDED

CALL FOR ARTISTS

Application Deadline: Sunday, April 15th

Exhibition Dates | May 30th – July 2018

ABOUT THE EXHIBITION

Washington, D.C., the political capital of The United States, is often portrayed as merely a series of federal bureaucratic institutions. These representations ignore the diverse collection of men and women living and working in the city. This exhibition is fueled by a curiosity about what it means to be a person in the nation’s capital in the present moment of global and political tension. This show seeks to question what the reality of everyday life is like for citizens of the capital of one of the most powerful nations in the world. What lies under the image of power? What does it mean to exist in a time when major political shifts trigger both movements of hate and of acceptance? How do artists engage with different identities in such a place and time?

The curator of the exhibition seeks photography (or works closely related to photography and the tradition portraiture) and text-based works (poetry, narrative, etc.) that explore the experience of existing in Washington D.C. The exhibition seeks in particular to highlight the viewpoints of young female artists whose works explore the implications of Washington, D.C. life through portrayals of individuals, families, or groups. Works might consider the disparity between larger political institutions and individual realities, the intersection of race and gender in everyday life and/or the results of gentrification.  Artists are encouraged to consider how scale and use of material can contribute their engagements with the topics described.. The works submitted should focus on the present or recent past of life in Washington, D.C. (a sort of ‘D.C. Today’) but may also examine the ways that past moments or movements live on in the present.       

The curator will select a small group of artists whose work she feels critically and creatively engages the exhibition concept outlined above to exhibit their work at the Stamp Gallery, a contemporary art space located in the University of Maryland-College Park’s Adele H. Stamp Student Union–Center for Campus Life. Any existing works must have been completed within the last 2 years to be considered. Undergraduate artists are strongly encouraged to apply. A PDF form of this call is available here

This exhibition is the Stamp Gallery’s annual undergraduate-curated exhibition. Previous shows in the series include:

  • I’m Fine: The works in I’m Fine examine and respond to the following questions How does creativity alleviate or intensify emotion? In what ways does art comment on—and participate in—mental health and self-care? To what extent is art a mouthpiece for the mind in flux or an independent and evolving entity? Curated by Stamp Gallery docents Tasiana Paolisso (B.S. Architecture ‘18) Sarah Schurman (B.A. English ‘17).
  • Paradise Now : A game of unequal circumstances and varying objectives by Baltimore-based artist Kimi Hanauer, featuring collaborations with Sydney Spann, Michael Stephens, and Nikki Lee, curated by Christopher Bugtong (Computer Science and Film Studies ’17), Grace DeWitt (Animal Science and Studio Art ’17), and Shay Tyndall (English and Mandarin Chinese ’17)
  • In Response: An exhibition showcasing the artwork of University of Maryland undergraduate students inspired by contemporary artists featured in the Contemporary Art Purchasing Program of the Adele H. Stamp Student Union, curated by Genesis Henriquez (Graphic Design ’16), Korey Richardson (Studio Art ’16), Shay Tyndall (English and Mandarin Chinese ’17)
  • Magnified : An exhibition of work by artists Chip Irvine and Michael Sylvan Robinson, curated by Carmen Dodl (Geographical Sciences ’16), Geena Gao (Information Systems and Economics ’16, and Martine Gaetan (Romance Languages ’15)

SPECIFICATIONS

The curator is looking for artwork in various media (photography and text based) with the specification that the work centers on portrayals of individuals, families, and groups in the context of the call outlined above.

The curator is also open to other media, as long as they relate importantly to photography, portraiture, and textual practices.

CURATOR

Katherine Mullineaux, B.A. English 2019: Minoring in Art History and Creative Writing, Kat is inspired by the interaction between visual creations and the written word, especially when used to examine the everyday. Born and raised in the DMV area, Kat has always been interested in what makes the city tick and loves to spend time exploring Washington, D.C. She hopes to work in the creative world continuing her employment in galleries and museums in the future.

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES

Applicants must submit:

  • Artist’s Statement about specific works being submitted
  • Link to artist’s website (if applicable)
  • Proposed works with title and short description (up to 200 words), year of production, and medium)
    • Digital documentation of work

5-10 images/files (JPEG 72 dpi), video/audio clips should be shared as a

link to a streaming site (with password information as necessary)

PLEASE SUBMIT TO :  stampgallery@umd.edu

Artists are responsible for delivering finished work to the Stamp Gallery by May 26, 2018 and for picking up their work from the Stamp Gallery no earlier than the close of the exhibition in July 2018 and no later than August 5, 2018.

ABOUT THE STAMP GALLERY

The Stamp Gallery is dedicated to the exhibition of contemporary art with an emphasis on the work of emerging and mid-career artists. The gallery supports contemporary art that is challenging and/or academically engaging and that addresses broad community and social issues. The gallery serves by providing exhibitions of social responsibility and artistic substance, as well as by offering an educational forum in which dialogue between artist and viewer and art and community is encouraged.

The Stamp Gallery is located on the first floor of the Stamp Student Union (1220 Stamp Student Union, The Adele H. Stamp Student Union – Center for Campus Life, University of Maryland College Park, 20742). 301-314-8492, stampgallery@umd.edu

Summer Hours: Monday–Friday: 11 am until 6 pm


Iconography and Power: The Intersection of Reason and Belief

At its core, Kyle Kogut’s current exhibition in the Stamp Gallery, False Monarchy, deals with the intersection of ritual and commodity in American culture. The gallery has been transformed into a gothic playground of black car dealership flags, 90s style big box set televisions, and large scale drawings of auto industry icons, all of which frame the altar, a “tar” covered tree littered with offerings that would feel at home in the back of an old Chevy pickup.

Each piece in the show, from the TVs spewing a constant stream of drone metal music, to the intricately painted car-logos-turned-ritual-objects, has an intimate connection with hyper-consumerist culture and the occult. By taking images that are so widely associated with the automotive and technological industries (the Lincoln symbol, the Dodge Ram logo on the shirt hanging from the tree, the television sets, etc.) and renaming them as ritualistic or religious iconography, Kogut is making commentary on our obsession with these mass-produced objects, and the almost religious relationship that we as a society have with the industries that create them. Through the use of symbolism, the artist reasserts the importance of icons not just in religious settings, but in daily life as well. When visitors enter the gallery, the first thing they usually notice are the old TVs set up in the center of the room. These are familiar objects — many people grew up around them when they were considered to be the height of technology in the realm of media consumption. However, due to the fact that they are producing an ominous, continuous sound that permeates the gallery space, they create an unsettling atmosphere rather than one that is comfortable and recognizable. This subversion of familiar imagery with connections to occult practices leaves visitors feeling uneasy and questioning their connections with these symbols.

On a larger scale, Kogut connects these main themes of industry power, iconography, and our obsession with mass production to the current political climate in the US. The hyper-capitalism that is so pervasive in American society is proliferated by the close relationship between our head of state and the industries that control the majority of wealth in our country. Industrialization and the creation of “big business” has always been connected to economic growth and technological advancement, however, with an ever-widening gap between the working, middle, and upper classes, many are beginning to question our dependence on large industries as the “saving grace” for the economic hardship of the average person. This concept is eerily familiar in the wake of Donald Trump being elected president on the backs of working class individuals who saw him as an icon of wealth, power, and hope. Many of the lies that so frequently permeated his campaign revolved around his connection to large industries (such as the automotive industry, among others) as a way to lift the working class out of economic despair. However, as many quickly found out after he was elected into office, many of these remarks only served to reassert the power of the upper class and those in control of these industries. The connection between industry, the working class, and the deceiving nature of certain icons is succinctly reflected in the quote that greets visitors as they first enter the gallery. Taken directly from the Satanic Bible itself, it reads

“Whenever, therefore, a lie has built unto itself a throne, let it be assailed without pity and without regret, for, under the domination of an inconvenient falsehood, no one can prosper.”

            -Antonin Szandor LaVey, The Satanic Bible

The concept of a “lie [building] unto itself a throne” reflects the current administration and its foundation of deceiving the American people by posing as a false icon of hope. While the connection to the current political climate is not as blatant as other aspects of the show, it is reasserted through the subversion of familiar imagery found throughout the exhibition, and confirms the importance of iconography in the way that people perceive an idea (whether it be religious or political). Overall, False Monarchy does a wonderful job of making people second guess our dependence on mass produced imagery as a way to communicate ideas, and shows how harmful mass consumerism and industry dependence can be when allowed to go unchecked.

 

Come visit False Monarchy in The Stamp Gallery, running now through March 17th.

For more information on this show and upcoming events, visit http://thestamp.umd.edu/stamp_gallery

Written by Erin Allen


On the Occult and Gallery Library

“Something that once had importance might be forgotten by most people but because millions of people once knew it, a force is present that can be harnessed. There might be so much significance attached to a song, for example, or a fact, that it can’t die but only lies dormant, like a vampire in his coffin, waiting to be called forth from the grave once again.”

 Anton Szandor LaVey, The Secret Life of a Satanist: The Authorized Biography of Anton LaVey

IMG_3071

This quote by the author of The Satanic Bible succinctly describes the appeal of the occult. Artifacts of a spiritual nature seem to possess hidden energies—they have the power to conjure up ideas of morality and existence, heavy thoughts that arouse a state of introspection or hostility. The appeal of the occult is the appeal of False Monarchy, but with an edgier twist. The artist Kyle Kogut marries demonic symbols with car-related objects in his artwork and immerses it all in the drone metal sounds of his guitar. The corrosive music, obsolete televisions, black slender candles and other objects of this exhibition speak of the creator’s own interactions with the occult and of the associated cultures.

The gallery as of now can be likened to a room belonging to a teenager in the midst of the ‘Satanic Panic’ of the 1980’s, complete with a tree to leave offerings at. In this curious room are curious books on well-known artists such as William Blake and Francisco Goya, individuals who were enthralled by the darker aspects of religions. There are also books on demons and other ominous beings. There is an alcove where visitors can curl up on a sofa chair and read The Satanic Bible or whatever they wish from the pop-up library. Who knows what esoteric messages might be lurking between the pages, lying dormant and waiting to be rediscovered by a gallery visitor.

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Come experience the False Monarchy exhibition and pop-up library in The Stamp Gallery, happening now through March 17th, 2018. 

Written by Cristy Ho


Call for Artists: Stamp Gallery Summer Docent-Curated Exhibition

CALL FOR ARTISTS

Application Deadline | March 31st

Notification Date | April 10th

Exhibition Dates | May 30th – July 2018

ABOUT THE EXHIBITION

Washington, D.C., the political capital of The United States, is often portrayed as merely a series of federal bureaucratic institutions. These representations ignore the diverse collection of men and women living and working in the city. This exhibition is fueled by a curiosity about what it means to be a person in the nation’s capital in the present moment of global and political tension. This show seeks to question what the reality of everyday life is like for citizens of the capital of one of the most powerful nations in the world. What lies under the image of power? What does it mean to exist in a time when major political shifts trigger both movements of hate and of acceptance? How do artists engage with different identities in such a place and time?

The curator of the exhibition seeks photography (or works closely related to photography and the tradition portraiture) and text-based works (poetry, narrative, etc.) that explore the experience of existing in Washington D.C. The exhibition seeks in particular to highlight the viewpoints of young female artists whose works explore the implications of Washington, D.C. life through portrayals of individuals, families, or groups. Works might consider the disparity between larger political institutions and individual realities, the intersection of race and gender in everyday life and/or the results of gentrification.  Artists are encouraged to consider how scale and use of material can contribute their engagements with the topics described.. The works submitted should focus on the present or recent past of life in Washington, D.C. (a sort of ‘D.C. Today’) but may also examine the ways that past moments or movements live on in the present.       

The curator will select a small group of artists whose work she feels critically and creatively engages the exhibition concept outlined above to exhibit their work at the Stamp Gallery, a contemporary art space located in the University of Maryland-College Park’s Adele H. Stamp Student Union–Center for Campus Life. Any existing works must have been completed within the last 2 years to be considered. Undergraduate artists are strongly encouraged to apply. A PDF form of this call is available here

This exhibition is the Stamp Gallery’s annual undergraduate-curated exhibition. Previous shows in the series include:

  • I’m Fine: The works in I’m Fine examine and respond to the following questions How does creativity alleviate or intensify emotion? In what ways does art comment on—and participate in—mental health and self-care? To what extent is art a mouthpiece for the mind in flux or an independent and evolving entity? Curated by Stamp Gallery docents Tasiana Paolisso (B.S. Architecture ‘18) Sarah Schurman (B.A. English ‘17).
  • Paradise Now : A game of unequal circumstances and varying objectives by Baltimore-based artist Kimi Hanauer, featuring collaborations with Sydney Spann, Michael Stephens, and Nikki Lee, curated by Christopher Bugtong (Computer Science and Film Studies ’17), Grace DeWitt (Animal Science and Studio Art ’17), and Shay Tyndall (English and Mandarin Chinese ’17)
  • In Response: An exhibition showcasing the artwork of University of Maryland undergraduate students inspired by contemporary artists featured in the Contemporary Art Purchasing Program of the Adele H. Stamp Student Union, curated by Genesis Henriquez (Graphic Design ’16), Korey Richardson (Studio Art ’16), Shay Tyndall (English and Mandarin Chinese ’17)
  • Magnified : An exhibition of work by artists Chip Irvine and Michael Sylvan Robinson, curated by Carmen Dodl (Geographical Sciences ’16), Geena Gao (Information Systems and Economics ’16, and Martine Gaetan (Romance Languages ’15)

SPECIFICATIONS

The curator is looking for artwork in various media (photography and text based) with the specification that the work centers on portrayals of individuals, families, and groups in the context of the call outlined above.

The curator is also open to other media, as long as they relate importantly to photography, portraiture, and textual practices.

CURATOR

Katherine Mullineaux, B.A. English 2019: Minoring in Art History and Creative Writing, Kat is inspired by the interaction between visual creations and the written word, especially when used to examine the everyday. Born and raised in the DMV area, Kat has always been interested in what makes the city tick and loves to spend time exploring Washington, D.C. She hopes to work in the creative world continuing her employment in galleries and museums in the future.

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES

Applicants must submit:

  • Artist’s Statement about specific works being submitted
  • Link to artist’s website (if applicable)
  • Proposed works with title and short description (up to 200 words), year of production, and medium)
    • Digital documentation of work

5-10 images/files (JPEG 72 dpi), video/audio clips should be shared as a

link to a streaming site (with password information as necessary)

PLEASE SUBMIT TO :  stampgallery@umd.edu

Artists are responsible for delivering finished work to the Stamp Gallery by May 26, 2018 and for picking up their work from the Stamp Gallery no earlier than the close of the exhibition in July 2018 and no later than August 5, 2018.

ABOUT THE STAMP GALLERY

The Stamp Gallery is dedicated to the exhibition of contemporary art with an emphasis on the work of emerging and mid-career artists. The gallery supports contemporary art that is challenging and/or academically engaging and that addresses broad community and social issues. The gallery serves by providing exhibitions of social responsibility and artistic substance, as well as by offering an educational forum in which dialogue between artist and viewer and art and community is encouraged.

The Stamp Gallery is located on the first floor of the Stamp Student Union (1220 Stamp Student Union, The Adele H. Stamp Student Union – Center for Campus Life, University of Maryland College Park, 20742). 301-314-8492, stampgallery@umd.edu

Summer Hours: Monday–Friday: 11 am until 6 pm


Interview with ‘False Monarchy’ Curator Raino Isto

This is the first installment of the False Monarchy interview series. False Monarchy features work by Kyle Kogut and is curated by Raino Isto. 

Raino Isto ||Curator/Stamp Gallery Coordinator|| Exhibiting in False Monarchy from January 24, 2018 to March 17, 2018 at The Stamp Gallery || University of Maryland, College Park || Interview by Sarah Schurman 

Before we delve into the curatorial process, let’s get to know you first. What is your artistic/personal background and how did it draw you to Kyle Kogut’s work?

I grew up around art–my father is a ceramics and sculpture instructor. My parents built a large studio on their property in Oregon, and my father has constructed several kilns over the years. I think growing up around artists working in all kinds of different media was what eventually led me to be interested in curating contemporary art because it can involve pretty direct collaborations with artists.

I was drawn to Kyle’s work because it resonated with me both culturally and ideologically. I grew up in the rural Pacific Northwest, in an area that is predominantly politically conservative, predominantly working-class or lower middle-class, predominantly religious, and predominantly white. One of the things that I saw in Kyle’s work was an attempt to understand the kinds of dreams that the American political system has helped construct for its working class, the ways we perpetuate those dreams, and the ways they function as slowly self-destructive urges that impede solidarity, self-consciousness, spiritual fulfilment, and so on. Car production and car ownership are the kinds of intertwined and overarching myths that both feed and destroy American communities, and yet precisely these kinds of myths are still at the heart of the current political system and its ideology. I guess the short way of putting that is that Kyle’s work seemed to be working with a set of myths, symbols, and belief systems that seemed very familiar to me because of where I grew up (even though it was on the opposite side of the U.S.).

At the same time, I think that Kyle’s reactions to those myths and the kinds of cultural systems he uses to draw attention to them and deconstruct them are all forms of culture I’ve also had an abiding interest in: metal music, theories of horror as an existential philosophy, the demonic, metal and drone music, the occult, and so on. So that also drew me to Kyle’s work.

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I understand this is your fourth semester here as gallery coordinator. How did your prior on-campus curatorial experiences inform or diverge from the process of bringing False Monarchy to life?

I think that False Monarchy has been different than the previous curatorial experiences I’ve had–it’s been much more direct. At this time last year, I curated Collective Monument, which included both DC-based and international artists, and with the exception of Nara Park (who was local), it was much more of what I think people traditionally have in mind when they think of curating: corresponding with artists remotely, coordinating the delivery of particular works, and installing them without necessarily having the artist present and directly involved. Likewise, Unto Itself, which Cecilia Wichmann and I curated in the Herman Maril Gallery, was essentially conceived and installed with remote input from the artist, Kameelah Janan Rasheed, although she gave us a very detailed layout for installing her work. False Monarchy has been my first experience getting to see an artist produce new work specifically for our space, and it’s been very rewarding in that sense–Kyle really took seriously the possibility of having this show be an entire environment that has its own unified theme, rather than just showing a collection of work he’s recently made. False Monarchy has also been rewarding because it’s allowed me to be pretty hands-off in my approach. A lot of my ‘curating’ (with the exception of writing the catalog essay) has been simply to suggest possibilities: this might work better than that, it would be interesting to do this, why don’t we try that, etc. I think that has allowed Kyle the freedom to really say what he wants to say with the work, but also retain an element of collaboration.

In False Monarchy, the past and present blur and notions of politics, class, and consumerism intersect with mystical and religious symbol systems. How does the convergence of the contemporary and concrete with the historical and metaphysical reflect your and Kyle’s intentions for the show?

In writing the catalog essay for False Monarchy, I was reminded of this kind of paradoxical viewpoint from early modern culture, although part of the point is that this way or thinking is only paradoxical to us. The notion was that, on  the one hand, certain practices and behaviors associated with witchcraft in the early modern period were seen by some thinkers from that time as explainable by science, using materialist, empirical methods and discourses. These thinkers believed that witchcraft wasn’t primarily (or even at all) the result of mystical powers, but something that could be explained by sciences like medicine. At the same time, however, they did still believe in the influence of the devil and demons in everyday and spiritual life. I think that many people would tend to see this as contradictory–how could you not just deconstruct the entire idea of demonic influence as something that could be explained by science? For me, part of the goal of False Monarchy is to allow these different modes of believing, these different kinds of knowledge, to credibly and explicitly coexist again. In reality, of course, in our everyday lives, these kinds of seemingly contradictory beliefs–or beliefs that seem like they would be in contradiction to our habits and embodied practices–coexist all the time. False Monarchy presents the possibility that a concrete, materialist kind of social-historical viewpoint doesn’t necessarily have to exclude a mystical, metaphysical, spiritual mode of understanding. You can undertake parallel critical projects that are aimed at deconstructing dogmas in both spheres, and those projects can intertwine without one ‘way’ of believing superseding the other.

While there is a searing social commentary that underpins False Monarchy, many viewers may have a visceral–even inflammatory–response to the pandemonium of sacred and profane imagery evoked by this exhibit. How does including an exhibition of this nature in the Stamp (the face of the university) confront perceptions of social propriety, public space, private life, and secrecy?

I think that my hope for the exhibition is that people feel like they are being welcomed into a kind of space where they feel like normally they would be judged for enjoying or engaging with, but that here they will feel empowered to indulge in enjoying and exploring aspects of themselves that they wouldn’t normally, at least not in an art gallery on a college campus. At the same time, I hope they’ll become more critical, question their own absorption in certain indulgences, wonder what actually drives their behavior and their morality. That kind of self-investigation is certainly in the spirit of the Satanic references in the exhibition and in Kyle’s work, I think. I also believe that an important aspect of Kyle’s work, and False Monarchy in particular, relates to what cultural theorists call ‘overidentification’–the process of immersing yourself in ideologies, and mimicking them, as a way of acknowledging how totally they shape our lives. It’s a way of avoiding ironic distance (although it can still be very humorous). I think that this relates closely to the sort of ambiance of cult practices: you can’t analyze these kinds of practices effectively from ‘outside’, because then you never really understand what you are analyzing, and you imagine it doesn’t matter to you. You have to really give yourself over to systems of power and influence in order to make them explicit, and then you can change them, reject them, build on them, topple them.

I believe in the importance of contemporary art’s potentially confrontational role, and I think this exhibition productively uses that confrontational aspect. Certainly not all art needs to be that way, and in the Stamp Gallery certainly not every exhibition should be that way. However, I think this exhibition looks and feels different enough from what people expect when they imagine contemporary art that even if they have no opinion about the symbolism or cultural references it makes, they still feel challenged. I think that challenge is important–it makes people have a stake in the art, and take a stance on it, even if the stance is ultimately to reject it. It makes viewers have to clarify their morals, and own up to what they do or don’t participate in at a collective social level. Ultimately, we all partake in processes of consumption, in creating myths like the auto industry’s myth, or Christianity, and we all have to own up to the role we play in the violence those systems perpetuate on others and on ourselves. That’s part of what the exhibition does in a way that’s more public than people typically expect, but I think it also offers this very public space for people to feel unashamed and welcome in being, to put it simply, engaged in a kind of blasphemy. Not any single kind–I think there could be many kinds, and I think the spirit of the exhibition is true to that. There are many lies to be dethroned, to follow LaVey’s quote that serves as the wall text.

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What inspired you to include a pop up library and select its featured books? How does presenting historically censored and banned texts subvert traditional American ideals and institutions?

At some point a month or so before the show opened, I mentioned the possibility of a pop-up library to Kyle, since we’ve done it in the past with the help of the Art Library, and it seemed like a good way to introduce the various layers of meaning and references to visitors. Kyle liked the idea and sent me a really exhaustive list of books (we’re still waiting for several to come in from interlibrary loan, since our library doesn’t own them). I think the presence of the books in the space also emphasizes the relationship of the exhibition to ‘knowledge’ in the sense of esoteric knowledge–the idea of entering into secret truths by means of both rituals and the study of particular texts. I think it’s important to note that the texts in the library, even the occult ones, aren’t books that were explicitly banned in America in any widespread way, in some cases because they postdate the times when book banning was in vogue in the education system, and in other cases because they are simply less ‘popular’. (I think the Harry Potter books have more likelihood of being banned than LaVey, ironically enough, simply because they achieved so much . However, the idea of ‘Satanic Bible’ reading groups in elementary schools is something that has raised a significant amount of controversy recently in the debates over religion in schools.

What component of False Monarchy resonates the most with you personally? What do the symbols of occultism, counterculture, metal music, and automobiles conjure based on your past? How do your schemas differ from or relate to Kyle’s?

I think that personally the incorporation of metal music as a sort of broad aesthetic resonates most with me personally. For me, the symbolism of the auto industry is recognizable and relatable, but it isn’t quite as personal, since I didn’t grow up with it the way Kyle did; I think the same is true for the religious aspects. But I’m very much of the ‘metal is a way of life’ persuasion, and so I see in Kyle’s use of metal music as an aesthetic form not just a set of themes but also a real existential stance. Metal is meant to have a kind of transformative experience on one’s whole body, and it’s also meant to produce a certain spiritual position, I think. Like blues, which is probably the biggest influence on metal’s development as a genre, metal is a music that involves giving your soul to a certain set of dark forces. The history of rock ‘n’ roll and metal owes a great deal to the influence of the occult, and in some ways occult ideas gave metal a great deal of its purpose. That’s more than a historical accident, I think–it’s part of what makes metal more than just a genre of music. And although metal has historically been ‘available’ as cultural capital primarily to certain (male, caucasian) audiences, I think that is changing; metal is becoming more inclusive precisely as its becoming more that just a genre of music with particular characteristics, and I think that openness is crucial. Soon I think metal will really be able to capitalize on the promise it’s always had, of really uniting people around powerful occult forces. Also, it just really freakin’ rocks.

How do the title of the show and wall text enhance the themes of False Monarchy?

When Kyle and I were first discussing when specifically the show would be in the Gallery, I mentioned to him him that I was excited by the possibility of having a very kind of dark show on view a year into the current presidency. Kyle chose the title of the show from a 16th-century demonology text by a physician named Johann Weyer. The text–which is actually an appendix to a longer text, an appendix that lists the names of various demons and the practices to summon them–is called the Pseudomonarchia daemonum, the Pseudo-monarchy or False Monarchy of the Demons. For Kyle, that title reflected both the occult themes of the exhibition and made not-so-veiled reference to the Trump presidency. For the wall text, early on I suggested to Kyle that I liked the idea of just having a kind of quotation or short piece of poetry that would reflect the show, and would be a part of it, instead of just a meta-commentary on the art, which is what wall text typically provides in an exhibition. I came up with a number of possible quotes for the wall text, drawn from Aleister Crowley, William Blake, Anton LaVey, and so on, but the one we chose was always my favorite, and Kyle likewise thought it reflected the political aspect of the show most directly. I think that having the wall text as this concise, meaning-laden quote contributes to this spiritual experience you can have in the exhibition: this idea that you enter a space and are given a certain moral and existential imperative by this piece of text, which then shapes how you comport yourself in the exhibition–which of course is a kind of strategy that both sacred and secular spaces often use to form followers of their belief systems. Here, hopefully, the quote also moves people to question how they are shaped by those systems, how they are made into followers and believers.

The opening performance of False Monarchy explored ritual, collectivism, and counterculture. How was the idea for the performance art developed?

At some point during the process of creating new work, Kyle was talking about doing more video work and expanding on some earlier performances that he had done with him playing the guitar. I suggested that one thing the Stamp Gallery has been trying to do over the past few years is to have performances associated with at least some of its exhibitions, and that doing a performance at the reception or some other time during the show’s run would be a great idea, and might allow Kyle expand that aspect of his practice. Basically, Kyle took that and the rest was him–I think the only other thing I suggested was that an hour-long drone performance might be longer than some of our visitors would attend, but other than that the whole shape of the performance was Kyle’s idea. I think it was really awesome that he included other performers, including students from UMD (including the Gallery’s own Grace DeWitt), and–to me at least–it has made the feel of the space very different. Knowing that the Gallery and the exhibition were the site of this elaborate and chilling kind of ritual still (for me) gives it this grim energy and urgency.

To what extent did historical, cultural and political research play a part in your curatorial process?

I decided that the exhibition needed a catalog essay because of the fact that it makes reference to many different kinds of symbols, images, and practices, and I wanted people to have a way to learn at least a little bit about how those elements play a role in Kyle’s work. I think it’s completely possible to have a rewarding experience of the exhibition without reading that essay, but since some visitors feel affronted by some of the imagery, or at least confused, I wanted there to be something for them to consult, to give them something to start from. The research for that essay was a lot of fun–reading everything from texts about early modern demonology and witchcraft to analyses of the American automobile industry. I think the research related to the themes in Kyle’s work–and just talking to Kyle about his interests and practice–has made it clear to me how important it is to think about the layering of meanings. Some people have come into the exhibition and they are convinced it is only about one thing–Satanism, for example, or just a general anti-Christianity. What I want to do is help them see the sheer build-up of meanings and symbols that happens not just in art, but also in society, and the ways we become blind to the histories and different meanings of those signs. Understanding the multiplicities of those kinds of meanings can then help you develop practices that use those signs to produce new practices and new configurations of power.

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How does False Monarchy comment on notions of moral declinism and moral panic?

Probably the most explicit reference False Monarchy makes to moral panic is in its implicit relation to the so-called ‘Satanic Panic’ of the 1980s, when conservative America was suddenly terrified that young people were worshipping Satan, doing drugs in occult rituals, having demonic orgies, and ritually abusing children. Currently, we seem to be in the midst of several different versions of moral panic: conservatives are terrified that immigrants are bringing incompatible moral systems into America, which of course is nothing new, but it has transformed into this kind of overarching and horrible rhetoric that is playing a more explicit and visible role that at least in recent history. But there are also crises related to other kinds of moral decline and ethical decay: there’s an increased concern about ethical consumption, among other things. Personally (and I feel like I want to insert the little handclap emojis between each word) I think there is no ethical consumption under capitalism. Thus, the moral panic that is currently underway about ethical consumption is ultimately just as much the result of false consciousness as other moral panics, even if it has some redeeming characteristics that others don’t. I think that, from my perspective, at least, False Monarchy helps frame the fundamental amorality and unethical character of consumption in America (and the world), and getting to that frame of mind and action can help really set the stage for overcoming current conditions of practice and belief.

Because False Monarchy has purposeful elements of ambiguity, visitors may experience a vast range of responses when they set foot in the space. When someone enters the exhibition, what do you hope they’ll feel? 

I think the main feeling I’d like to evoke (and I think this is what Kyle has in mind too) is of entering into a kind of sacred space, of entering into a kind of cultic ritual that you can’t fully understand. I hope that people experience a kind of compulsion to try to understand what is happening, what is being referenced, what is expected of them as believers in this system. I also hope that they feel drawn to really spend some time in the space and be immersed in the exhibition–the length of the musical and video components, the level of detail in Kyle’s drawings, the number of different symbols at play, all of these aspects will reward spending a good amount of time in the space.

What was the biggest curatorial challenge you faced while planning the exhibition? Conversely, what is your favorite memory of the process?

I think there were two challenges: One was just overcoming my own doubt, the creeping worry that at the last hour someone would come and say, ‘You can’t have that in this gallery!’ This concern was totally unfounded–I’ve gotten nothing but support from everyone involved behind the scenes, and their faith in the gallery and the vision for the show–regardless of whether or not they are personally ‘into it’–has been awesome. The second challenge, and also one of the most rewarding aspects, was the coordination of the opening performance, just all the practical things. Since the ‘mood’ was very important, and not breaking a kind of imaginary facade of seriousness was really important, it was great to see Kyle and the performers pull off the performance seamlessly–just total immersion that convincingly transported you into this other kind of space. I think my favorite memory, beside the opening performance itself, was just seeing Kyle put up all this new work. Like I said above, I was really excited that he took this opportunity to really make new work just for this show, and to have it really belong to this exhibition, and that was a great thing to see.

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

I’m very much looking forward to working with the University of Maryland second-year MFA candidates on Midpoint 2018 (though I believe the show might also have a more exciting title than that). It’s exciting to see them thinking through new ways to show their work and new kinds of work that they could create that would work with our space here at the Stamp Gallery. It’s also great to see them thinking about shaping the space collaboratively, and considering ways to have their works interact spatially in new ways.

I’m starting to work on curating a small show that will hopefully happen in Laboratory Research Gallery, in the Art Department, featuring some ‘conceptual monuments’ proposed and/or documented by two members of the Congress of Conceptual Art Int’l, both of whom received their MFAs from UMD.

Finally, I have a modest work on view through February 23 in a really great show, BACK and FORTH, in the Herman Maril Gallery, curated by the students in the Art Honors program. The show is focused on the relationship between memory and objects of various kinds, and contains some really incredible works!

Opening Performance Livestream: https://www.facebook.com/StampGalleryUMD/

False Monarchy Catalog: http://thestamp.umd.edu/Portals/0/Documents/Gallery/False%20Monarchy%20Catalog%20Text_full.pdf

For more information on False Monarchy and related events, visit http://thestamp.umd.edu/stamp_gallery

 


Cars? Cults? Consumerism? OH MY!

A thought piece on False Monarchy (January 24th – March 17th)

The Stamp Gallery opens its 2018 Spring season with a solo show by the Philadelphia-based artist Kyle Kogut. The exhibition is titled False Monarchy and explores the many faceted impact of the American automobile industry on the American psyche; the most notable being our pseudo-religious commitment to consumerism as this nation’s saving grace.

Growing up in the suburbs of a major U.S. city the idea of getting a license—of having the ability to drive myself to school or my friends’ houses, being even a little independent—was constantly on my mind.  I was certainly not the only disgruntled teenager feeling such things in America. My search for independence was normal, if not cliche. That being said, I never stopped to think why that pursuit was so tied to a car. To this day I know very little about cars and have to be reminded how to check oil by my parents every time the light pops up on the dashboard. It seems so strange upon reflection that having something so specific was tied to a feeling of power for me. Not only that, but why, then, is this industry presented as the backbone of the American economy in so many political messages? Walking through False Monarchy I find myself reflecting on the American fixation more than I ever have.

It may seem odd to say, but the pieces in the show, while dark and off-putting to a degree, make me want to laugh under my breath. Not because they are at all lacking, but instead, because they bring to light the ridiculousness that saturates our overwhelming need to consume material goods and the narratives that continue such practices in our nation. I recognize the objects in False Monarchy; everything from chunky, outdated televisions playing a combination of drone and doom metal to drooping black car-dealership flags enticing patrons to come in and buy into the show for a moment or two—I’ve seen it and I know it well. I am acquainted with the objects and icons (hood ornaments brought to life on chains and in hyper detailed illustrations) that sit around the space, but I feel like I shouldn’t be. I can’t help but feel anxiety over my familiarity with such things even though they are arguably symbols of wealth and prosperity. The ensuing dissonance is no doubt from Kogut’s creation of a bizarre mirror image of the American Suburban dream: a home, 2.5 kids, the latest tech, and of course, a car.

Why use the language of the system in order to criticize it? Perhaps it seems counterproductive at first. The curator of False Monarchy, Raino Isto, created a catalog essay for the exhibition (available on The Stamp Gallery website) in which he touches on the concept of over identification as a mode of criticism.  We may over-identify with the exhibition’s content in a way that feels disturbing because of its dark nature. We want to separate ourselves but it is all too familiar. The way I deal with this concept is as follows: by seeing you, your culture or your ideals outside of yourself projected back in a slightly different mode, it becomes hard not to recognize your world in a different way.  False Monarchy acts like a mirror for Americana in that it presents the familiar in a way where everything is off—even if just slightly.

When walking through the space, you get the sense that something has happened here. There is a looming presence of past rituals being clung to for dear life by believers—who those believers are is up for the viewer to decide.

Come experience the False Monarchy exhibition in The Stamp Gallery, happening now through March 17th, 2018. 

Written by Kat Mullineaux


Interview with ‘(Sub)Urban’ Artist Nick Satinover

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

Nick Satinover | Artist  | Exhibiting in (Sub)Urban from October 30 through December 16, 2017 at The Stamp Gallery | University of Maryland, College Park | Interview by Tasiana Paolisso

 

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Beginning with some background, where are you from and what first got you into art?

I am a native of Dayton, Ohio, where  I grew up as the son of an artist.  My father holds a BFA and MFA in painting, but never pursued a career as an artist or academic.  He entered the business world, but still maintained a healthy painting practice which continues to this day.  All this is to say, I grew up in a house full of original paintings, going to museums, being supported fully in my eccentricities as a young lad who wanted to record songs and draw.  I thought I’d be a musician, but can see in hindsight I am far more driven to the solitary activity of recording as opposed to playing for people.  Art making is sort of this way too, a private activity which has a public presentation at its logical goal.
What drove you to study art and then go on to teaching students?
I began my academic journey with a computer science scholarship, which I parlayed into graphic design coursework.  After a few years of skipping classes and hanging out I decided to transfer to Wright State University and switch into studio art.  This decision was greatly informed by my father’s pathway.  I had great high school art faculty who encouraged me quite a bit also, so it made sense even though I didn’t consider it too much at the time.  After bumbling through my foundations classes I encountered printmaking.  After that first class with Jon Swindler at WSU I realized my pathway was printmaking and an academic career (I thought doing what Jon did seemed great).  It when then that I quit playing in bands, began spending all my time in the printshop and got super serious about school and showing my work.  I was awarded a Yeck fellowship through the Dayton Art Institute where I was given the opportunity to teach high school students and this confirmed my desire to pursue academia.  Grad school and jobs followed.
You focus on the ideas of memory and place in your work, what drew you to these concepts?
When I started putting together my first conceptually driven works as an undergrad, I was really attracted to the narratives of my wife’s family and their town.  They live in West Alexandria, OH, a town of about 5,000 near the Indiana border.  They are several generations of tenant farmers and factory workers and are the most earnest and hard working people I know.  I was attracted to the idea of production and labor, of the factory making parts which worked together as a whole.  This concept is still at work for me as I make prints which are copies, single component pieces that combine into a whole.  I was attracted to these concepts because I felt guilty about studying art and spending time making pictures.  Printmaking required an incredible amount of labor to create a finished product and it felt like work (heck I even used big machines like my in-laws).  In terms of space and place, to me there is no better way to discuss people than to examine their environment.  It is full of contrast and duality, past and present, and these are things which I think define our existence.
Are there any particular artists, art movements, or other concepts that inspire your current work, or your art overall?
I still look to the work of Josef Albers and other color theorists for inspiration.  Seeing how context affects color, which creates a schism between what we experience and what we know to be true is very interesting to me.  I am inspired quite a bit by writers; Raymond Carver’s short stories and the poems of William Carlos Williams.  These are guys who examine the mundane and present it in the most profound ways.  Williams’ line “there are no ideas but in things” makes a lot of sense to me — it validates my examination of the environment and the potential for the everyday to be arresting.
Are there any other mediums of artwork that you also work in?
I do quite a bit of home recording in addition to image making.  I recently recorded an album’s worth of improvised songs and sound during the month of August 2017. I completed this project by creating an edition of 50 cd-rs with a fold out screenprint poster and sleeve.  To me, tracking sounds and instruments is a lot like creating plates and layers within a print… it requires precise registration and if you pan the tracks you can simultaneously hear part and whole.  One element comes after the other.  I also do quite a bit of collaging with cut-off pieces from editioned print works.  Both of these two “side projects” are ways to work from home without a printshop.  Finally, I make very quick zines (booklets) in order to work through ideas quickly.  These zines are all standardized in terms of size and page amount and usually feature a severe restriction.  For example I made a zine using only a miller high-life 6 pack container as the source of imagery… this allowed me to think through cutting it up, manipulating it on the copier and zooming in on the textures and prints on the box.
How do you see your piece, “Pink Slip Fashioned Flag (for College Park)”, in relationship to the other works of the (SUB)URBAN exhibition?
Matthew’s curation focused on notions of suburban and domestic life and to me this speaks to ideas of banality and routine.  My work utilizes intervals of text/color to repeat two different states (work and worry) to an overwhelming degree.  This is related to my reading of Albert Camus and his idea of the “absurd life” .. that idea is that life is combined of an endless cycle of work and rest, and it is only through accepting these intervals that we can truly be satisfied with our lot.  I related to this view; cyclicality and continuum are facts of existence, they are nonnegotiable.  In my sense of the world, however, rest is replaced by worry (scarcity of resources, reliability of work, etc)… growing up in the rust belt, with family who work in manufacturing this is a truer sense of the absurd life.
Any future plans for your work and yourself? Upcoming exhibitions?
I am currently working on a solo exhibition for the Armstrong Gallery at the McLean County Arts Center in Bloomington, IL.  This will happen in summer of 2018 and will feature an entire gallery wallpapered with work similar to the one at the Stamp, but screen printed in very low-threshold colors.  On top of that wallpaper will be corresponding prints in frames.  I will also be producing some portfolio prints for upcoming conferences, and presenting a lithography demonstration at the Rocky Mountain Printmaking Alliance Symposium in Pullman, WA.  A few other things are on the horizon — my hope is to always stay busy to stave off that workman’s guilt I will inevitably feel otherwise.
Lastly, do you have any advice for aspiring artists?
Be open and examine the world around you (there is often great stuff right under your nose) .
Find inspiration in things other than your medium (you will copy less and invent more).
Travel with little money (you know, to see what happens).
Work third shift at a gas station (it will make you an empathetic person).
Find the thing you actually like to do (this seems obvious, but if you aren’t wanting to do it, you won’t)
Build your own scene ((I was better a this when I was younger) because sometimes other people are waiting for something to happen, just like you are)

 

Nick Satinover’s work is included in (Sub)Urban at The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, from October 30th until December 16th, 2017. Interview by Tasiana Paolisso. 

For more information on Nick Satinover, visit http://nicksatinover.com/


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Interview with “(Sub)Urban” Artist Benjamin Rogers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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