Interview with ‘capital lives’ Artist Sydney Gray

This is the fifth installment of the capital lives artist interview series. capital lives features work by Bo Chen, Sydney Gray, Sarah O’Donoghue, Brea Soul, Christine Stoddard, and Nevada Taylor.

Sydney Gray | Photographer | Exhibiting in capital lives from May 30 to July 4, 2018 at The Stamp Gallery | University of Maryland, College Park | Interview by Rina Goldman


Can you tell me a bit about yourself, where are you from, how did you end up in Washington D.C.?

I am originally from the suburbs of Philadelphia. I am a student at the George Washington University which brought me to Washington, D.C.. I started photography my sophomore year of high school but my passion for it really developed after I tore my ACL four times in 3.5 years and realized playing sports was no longer going to be in my future.

As a student at George Washington University, how does your environment affect your photography? Is there a direct correlation between the two?

Being a student at the George Washington University has put me in a different environment then I was used to. In high school I would always complain that there was nothing for me to take pictures of for photo class because the only things in walking distance were grass trees and houses. Now, being in the city there is a wealth of interesting subjects to photograph. The people, the architecture, the streets are all available to me with ease. But my favorite type of photos to take are portraits and consistently being surrounded by other students and friends makes portraits very accessible. It also does wonders for my creative process because things feel so much more attainable being in such an open and inviting environment.

Where do you find inspiration? What about photography inspires you?

In many ways I feel I still have yet to grasp my true inspiration. For now I enjoy exploring what I can do and learn through my camera. I feel I can really capture moments and places with my camera, but I can also capture people. The pictures that were on display for this gallery for instance, I took for my photography class. I love how I was able to pair the blurbs that the subjects wrote with the pictures to truly tell the audience about who they are.

In your work, you showcase the “true beauty” of black women, what effect does being a black woman have on who you choose to photograph?

In general, I am not picky about who I take photos of. I love to capture the essence of people from various races, nationalities and ethnicities. In fact, I hope to take photos of a more diverse group of people in the future. With that being said, as a black female I feel a sense of attachment to other black females. In a way taking pictures of other black females is an extension of myself. My favorite feeling is when my subjects can truly see themselves as a strong and beautiful person no matter how they felt about themselves previously. I know that through my photographs I am changing people’s perception of themself, whether it is for a brief second or the rest of their lives I know in my heart I am making a small positive difference in their lives.

 

Confidence From Behind

Gray, Sydney. Confidence from Behind. 2017. Digital Photography.

Can you elaborate on the process of taking these photos, particularly Confidence from Behind?

Each photograph and scene had its own creative process associated with it. Confidence from Behind is probably one of my favorite photos from the grouping. It is of my roommate and it was actually taken in our dorm room. I knew we were in a safe space so I wanted to take the opportunity to push the boundaries a little. I wanted to display confidence and many times that goes hand in hand with body image so I figured let’s show some skin. On a whim I asked my roommate if she would feel comfortable asking pictures with just a jacket on and no shirt underneath it. To my surprise she said yes almost instantly. Once we finished taking the pictures I was so excited to show her the ones I really liked but she didn’t want to look at any of them. I had to push and repeat how great they looked before she finally gave in and looked at them. In that moment I was definitely struck by how my project could really help people see themselves in a new way.

 

How are these women an example of D.C. today?

When I think of DC I think so people coming from so many different places. The group of women that I took photos of represent various backgrounds. The backgrounds of those represented in the gallery include, Kenyan from Princeton, New Jersey, half Jamaican from Steven City, Virginia, and Nigerian but lived in Ohio, Texas and most recently Virginia. This just proves that the people that live in DC tend to have very diverse backgrounds and many times aren’t originally from DC itself. That is just one thing I love about living in this city, I have met people from and learned so much about various cultures that I never knew about before.

 

Flower Girl

Gray, Sydney. Flower Girl. 2017. Digital Photography

Do the flowers you’ve incorporated into two of the pieces have any specific meaning?

The idea behind the photos with the flowers was to parallel natural hair with nature.

 

 

 

Some of the pieces are accompanied by quotes from the models, how did that come about?

Originally I was not going to do this. My photo professor had suggested it early on in a general setting but I had not thought about it again until a couple of days before the project was due. After looking at all the photos as a whole I realized how strongly they oozed black beauty and Black Girl Magic. At that point I thought back to my professor’s suggestion to have quotes that accompany the photographs and I thought having my friends speak to their experience as a black female would bring the photos to life. The quotes that my friends provided exceeded my expectations. They ranged, some spoke on personal struggles, others took a humorous approach but together I believe they really embodied what it was like to be a black female.

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Gray, Sydney. Naturally Lizz. 2017. Digital Photography.
But the best part of growing up so far has been becoming more confident and growing to love the way my body looks and the skin that I have, and it’s crazy to me now that I used to hate myself so much when I was younger. Struggling with body image and acceptance isn’t uncommon, and like a lot of girls my age in America, I definitely struggled.
~Lizz

 

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Gray, Sydney. Lisa. 2017. Digital Photography.

 

Do you have a favorite piece, or one that was most exciting for you to shoot?

My favorite picture was probably confidence from behind and I would love to reshoot photos like that with better lighting and equipment. I also love the simplicity of Lisa. There also a few that were not in the gallery but part of the full project that I loved as well.

What camera did you use for the portrait photography displayed in capital lives?

I use a Nikon D750.

Are there any future projects in the works?

Currently I do not have any big projects in the works. I hope to brainstorm ideas and maybe carry them out during the summer. I have a list of places I want to have fun photoshoots at around the District however. I am also studying abroad next semester so I am looking forward to the beautiful photographs I know I will take overseas.

Finally, the last question we are asking all the contributing artists is, what lies behind the image of power?

Power can be expressed in so many different ways and it isn’t even all through people. If the subject is a person I believe power comes from within that person and it will exude from the photograph. But if the photograph is not of a person then I believe power comes from the audience. Different things make different people feel power. Overall, I do believe the right balance of power in a key to confidence and success.


Gray’s work is included in capital lives at The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, from May 30 through July 3, 2018.

For more information on Sydney Gray, visit sydneyellephotos.wixsite.com/photos.

For more information on capital lives and related events, visit thestamp.umd.edu/stamp_gallery

 


Interview with ‘capital lives’ Artist Christine Stoddard

This is the fourth installment of the capital lives artist interview series. capital lives features work by Bo Chen, Sydney Gray, Sarah O’Donoghue, Brea Soul, Christine Stoddard, and Nevada Taylor.

Christine Stoddard | Multimedia artist | Exhibiting in capital lives from May 30 to July 4, 2018 at The Stamp Gallery | University of Maryland, College Park | Interview by Rina Goldman


Can you tell me about yourself, where you come from and where you are now?

I was born to a Salvadoran mother and a New Yorker father in Arlington, Virginia just across the river from Washington, D.C. I lived there until I graduated from high school. Then I spent a year in the cornfields of Iowa before moving to Richmond, Virginia where I lived off and on for five years. Scholarships allowed me to study in France, Scotland, and Mexico during my Richmond days. I moved back to Northern Virginia for a couple of years, bouncing around Arlington, Alexandria, and Falls Church. Today I live in Brooklyn with my husband, David. Though I live in Ocean Hill, I dart across all five boroughs for art exhibitions, readings, residencies, and other events. Even though I’m based in New York City now, I’m still involved in the Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Richmond art scenes. The DMV will always be home. My husband and I still have family in Virginia and Maryland. In fact, my husband’s side even has a few UMD grads. (Go Terps!)

Right now, I work for the Art Deco Society of New York and run Quail Bell Magazine. I am also completing my art planning fellowship with the 2018 Reclaimed Lands Conference for the Freshkills Park Alliance at NYC Parks as a CUNY fellow.

You obviously have a connection to the DC area as seen in your works, Autumnal Death and “Thirty Pounds in Three Years”, how did growing up so close to our nation’s capital influence your work?

Growing up in Arlington heightened my understanding of history and politics. I saw firsthand that governments are made up of people. Almost everyone I knew as a child had parents who worked for the federal government or companies that served the government. Al Gore and Colin Powell came to my public elementary and high schools simply because my classmates’ parents worked for them. My proximity to D.C. meant I had personal connections to so many national events and figures. The September 11th terrorist attack on D.C. happened in my hometown: Arlington, where the Pentagon is actually located (not D.C.!)My senior year of high school, I interviewed First Lady Laura Bush for a feature on children’s literacy for Teen Ink, a national literary magazine.

When I go home to visit my parents and husband’s family, I still feel a strong connection to national politics. It’s not always for good, of course. I went home to visit my family for Easter and stayed in Arlington for a few days. Since one of those days was a weekday, just about everyone I knew had to go to work, so I accepted a gig to make extra money. Well, guess what gig this Arlington girl accepted? A mascot handler for the White House Easter Egg Roll! I wasn’t happy to see Trump speak that day (or ever), but I was happy that I could help bring smiles to the faces of thousands of children. Plus, I have so many strange little anecdotes from the experience. Surely those details will wiggle their way into my art somehow. You can take an Arlington girl out of Arlington, but you can’t take the Arlington out of an Arlington girl.

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Stoddard, Christine. Autumnal Death. 2016. Photo Collage.

How did it feel to photograph a place that means so much to Americans, while representing a place of sorrow and loss? Was there a specific feeling you were going for with the photo collage? What drew you to the title Autumnal Death?

I took the original photographs that I used for Autumnal Death in 2012 while visiting Arlington National Cemetery for documentary work. Then I assembled the images into a photo collage in 2015. The initial piece came about simply because I was revisiting folders of digital photos and scans on my computer and wanted to see what I could revive in Photoshop. I made several different printed versions of Autumnal Death in 2016 and 2017, including printing on canvas. It wasn’t until this year that I printed the work on paper and added pencil, pencil, and marker accents.

Photographing Arlington National Cemetery conjured all kinds of emotions. Of course it’s a place of sorrow and loss, but it’s also a place of reverence and even celebration. It’s full of tradition and people who are proud to visit the graves of their family and friends. ANC is also another national landmark that’s located in my hometown. In that sense, it feels very ordinary to me. I can’t being to count how many times I passed ANC as a kid. It was just more roadside scenery. That’s one of the reasons why I layered the headstones in the image. Remarkably for a place of such national prominence, there’s a certain banality and repetition to ANC for me. When you grow up with something, it’s quite easy to downplay or even forget it. You just don’t have the life experience to contextualize yet, no matter how book-smart you are.

The title Autumnal Death was fairly literal for me. I took the photos in the fall when the leaves were ablaze. The whole cemetery looked like it was shrouded in crimson. It was beautiful, illuminating, and ominous all at once.

Your work touches on some very intense topics, especially “Thirty Pounds in Three Years”, was there something specific that provoked you to present this poem at this point in time?

“Thirty Pounds in Three Years” is a work of fiction. It’s based loosely on family lore, as well as the story of a woman I interviewed for an article I wrote for a feminist website. My personal feelings and experience influenced the work, as well. Like many people I knew, I was unusually sluggish after Trump was elected. I ate too much, spent too much time in bed, and left my apartment as little as possible (working for home made that all too easy.) I got a lot of writing and art-making done, but I was not taking advantage of the fact that I lived in New York City. It was hard to enjoy anything. Too many activities and pastimes felt frivolous. Eventually I got out of my rut and delved into my local community. It was not easy, but I think anyone who enjoys relative comfort in life has a duty to give back to others. If more Americans cultivated a generosity of spirit in the first place, Trump never would’ve gotten elected.

In your artist statement, you mentioned layers – both physical layers, like collage, and metaphorical layers pertaining to womanhood and femininity – can you elaborate?

Stories and interrogation drive my work. I use photography and video to explore how the digital age has both empowered and silenced women, immigrants, people of color, and other marginalized voices. For every #metoo or #blacklivesmatter movement, there are trolls producing opposing hashtags. My process is one in which analogue meets digital, mimicking how our real lives and online lives overlap. I make sculptures and paintings and then photograph them to merge with screenshots from social media. I scan clippings from books, magazines, and newspapers and composite them with photographs of gutted electronics. I take video footage in my neighborhood and cut it with video footage downloaded from free websites.

Exploring feminine power and energy is integral to all that I create as an artist, both online and offline. I feel that energy and power everywhere in nature, which is one of the reasons why I am drawn to flora and fauna imagery in my work. Just as the digital age has failed to truly empower marginalized people, it has failed to solve our environmental challenges. A culture of technological obsolescence and a culture of disposability go hand in hand. We must foster a culture that allows all people and nature to thrive.

Where do you see your art going from here? Any more projects in the works?

At the moment, I just want to take it project by project. I have some firm ideas about what I want to create, but I’m still in an experimental phase. That’s one of the reasons why I decided to go back to school. I just finished my first year at The City College of New York (CUNY), where I’m pursuing an M.F.A. in Digital & Interdisciplinary Art Practice. Everyday is a new chance to try something and possibly fail in a supportive, academic environment where I’m supposed to learn. Learning often means failing and starting again. Since I’m in this experimental stage, it’s also a good time for me to try out residencies. I had completed residencies before coming to grad school, with my longest and most intense one ending just before the academic year began. I was the artist-in-residence at Annmarie Sculpture Garden, a Smithsonian affiliate in Southern Maryland. Honestly, it was one of the best experiences of my life and set me on my current path. I want my work to be playful while investigating important issues across disciplines. Artists are also researchers and communicators.

Right now, I have an artist residency at Brooklyn Public Library’s Eastern Parkway branch in Crown Heights through mid-July. I’m making sculptures and assemblages out of found and recycled materials with the public and then using them in photo and video shoots. The residency will culminate in an exhibition on July 14th. On June 23rd, I have a mini residency at the Woodstock Artists Association & Museum in Woodstock, New York. They have a program called Habitat for Artists that’s kind of funky. Artists work in a temporary, 6’x6’ studio installed in a public space and invite the community to watch them or even create a project with them. After I finish up at Eastern Parkway Library, I’m headed to Laberinto Projects in El Salvador as a visiting artist for a couple of weeks. I have some ideas for a photography and writing project in mind based upon exploring where my mother lived during the country’s civil war. We will see what comes to fruition. In August, I will begin a 6-month residency with Staten Island MakerSpace, which is partnering with organizations like the Small Business Development Center at the College of Staten Island and the NYC Business Solutions office to help artists get their ideas off the ground. The details for this opportunity are still being solidified.

The ongoing project—at least until I graduate—is my M.F.A. thesis. I don’t have to solidify my thesis quite yet, but it’s certainly on my mind. I’ve been researching and making smaller projects as prototypes. One is an interactive electronic book called girl with camera. You can view it here. (See if you can find the hidden elements!) We will see where my art projects take me when I graduate next May.

screen-shot-2017-12-16-at-3-06-55-pm_orig.pngYou wrote a book, Water for the Cactus Woman, can you tell me about that process and a little bit about the book itself?

I have always expressed myself through both words and images. Thus, creative writing is a strong component of my artistic practice. After successfully publishing multiple chapbooks—Jaguar in the Cotton Field (Another New Calligraphy), Mi Abuela, Queen of Nightmares (Semi-perfect Press)and Ova (Dancing Girl Press) are a few of my favorites—I felt confident someone would publish a full-length collection of mine. That someone was Spuyten Duyvil Publishing in New York City. I was floored that the publishing team suggested the book include my visual work, which was something I hadn’t proposed or even considered. The manuscript flowered into a whole other work once I began curating images and pairing them with poems. I’m very proud of the final result, which recently placed in the Danielle and Larry Nyman Family Project Award competition at The City College of New York (CUNY). The official award letter stated that “the committee members unanimously expressed their admiration for the beautiful interplay between word and image as well as for the haunting themes of family love and loss woven throughout.” The Nyman Award recognizes creative and research projects that examine the complexity of family dynamics, which is exactly what Water for the Cactus Woman attempts to do.

I think Moonchild Magazine founder Nadia Gerassimenko describes Water for the Cactus Woman quite beautifully: “Water for the Cactus Woman is an uncannily familiar story about first unrequited love: that of madre absent and grieving and that of abuela prematurely gone but hauntingly present as torrential silence and forlornness—and that of many madres/abuelas before and that of many madres/abuelas after. Water for the Cactus Woman is ‘a coyote’s last cry before the hunter’s bullet’ is ‘a drippy desert watercolor’ is ‘a dewdrop of hope.’ It is a cactus split spilling nectar, desert oasis blooming after monsoon, the sun finally shining its light on you. It is the primal thirst to love and be loved. It is the hopeful courage that self-love could fill all the heart chambers after all.” Ms. Gerassimenko also published my electronic chapbook, The Silhouette Woman, which also peels away the onion skin from matriarchal relationships.

Are you planning on writing any more books?

Yes, I have and I will! For me, it’s more of a matter of getting what I’ve written published—the plight of writers everywhere. Fortunately, I do have a few books coming out this year and next year. First up is The Tale of the Clam Ear (AngelHouse Press), which is a narrative poetry chapbook. The book is about the stories a young woman born with an ear deformity tells herself to feel powerful in this dark ocean of a world. Another book is Naomi and the Reckoning (About Editions), a novella. Naomi is about a 25-year-old woman raised in a conservative Catholic household who has trouble consummating her marriage. Yet another is Belladonna Magic (Shanti Arts Publishing), which is similar in format to Water for the Cactus Woman in that it contains poems and photo collages, but the content is completely different! The themes are different, the narrative is different, the images are different. Another title I have coming out is The Book of Quails (Clare Songbirds Publishing House), which is a children’s book about quails. It was illustrated by the talented Sami Cronk, a fellow VCUarts graduate. Luminous Press will be releasing my prose chapbook, Things I Do Well That Nobody Will Ever Pay Me To Do. I think the title says it all. The book is as funny as it is sad. Then there’s Desert Fox by the Sea, a collection of short stories coming out from Hoot ‘n’ Waddle.

I’m thrilled about all of these releases. Over the past year and a half, I’ve been publishing myself to submit my manuscripts and it’s been working. I’m hopeful that more of my manuscripts will find homes. I have a couple of other titles that are under contract, so we will see what happens.

As a final question, pertaining to the theme of this exhibition, to you, what lies behind the image of power?

What lies behind the image of power is imbalance. I’m going to link you to the artist statement for The Orgasm Archives, a project I created during my first semester at City College. You can learn more about my thoughts and creations related to heteropatriarchal power dynamics here.


Stoddard’s work is included in capital lives at The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, from May 30 through July 3, 2018.

For more information on Christine Stoddard, visit www.worldofchristinestoddard.com.

For more information on capital lives and related events, visit thestamp.umd.edu/stamp_gallery

 


Interview with ‘capital lives’ Artist Brea Soul

This is the third installment of the capital lives artist interview series. capital lives features work by Bo Chen, Sydney Gray, Sarah O’Donoghue, Brea Soul, Christine Stoddard, and Nevada Taylor.

Brea Soul | Multimedia artist, photographer, and designer in the Maryland DC area | Exhibiting in capital lives from May 30 to July 4, 2018 at The Stamp Gallery | University of Maryland, College Park | Interview by Grace DeWitt


Can you tell me a little about yourself? Where did you grow up, and where are you based now?

I am a multimedia artist and photographer who is dedicated to highlighting new, blossoming and vibrant artists, and the cultures of minorities in Maryland and D.C. I am originally from Trappe, Maryland, a small town located on the Eastern Shore. Since moving away to attend University of Maryland, College Park, I am now based out of College Park, MD.

You graduated from UMCP with your Bachelors this past December. What did you study, and what are you up to now?

I studied Studio Art with a minor in Art History. I currently work as the in-house graphic designer for Brentwood Arts Exchange, a contemporary art gallery in Maryland, and as a photo contributor for Capitol Standard Magazine, a magazine for young professionals in the Washington, D.C. area. I hope to move in the direction of multimedia production and directing.

Could you briefly describe your artistic practice?

I always felt like I didn’t belong, but in reality, relatable representation just lacked around me. So, in my photography and webseries, Soul Series, I choose to capture the essence of a person’s true identity and natural lifestyle. I seek modern representation of African Americans and other minority groups because I want to highlight the identities and stories of those that are still often overlook or ignored. My goal is to encourage the world to observe these races and cultures closely and then to connect in a way they have not before. I love working with color, natural lighting, composition/framing and movement. My influences include Gordon Parks and Roy Decarava, music, and cultural relativism.

What is your personal experience with D.C. at this moment? To what extent do you have ties to this city?

My personal experience with D.C. comes from my relations to its people and its culture. There is a renaissance happening in D.C and around connecting parts of Maryland that most are not ignoring, but rather, overlooking. Knowing this and a lot of the young upcoming talent that is based out of DC or close to it, I believe it’s a job of mine to constantly capture the culture: whether it’s related to art, music, fashion, or simply the lifestyles that DC produces.

How would you describe D.C., or the D.C. vibe, to people who have never been to the city?

D.C is a traditional place with a lot of history. When you visit D.C. and learn more than what is shown on TV and through articles, you learn about all of the rich culture D.C. produces. D.C. consists of a lot of creative activity, networking, and opportunity. D.C. is not as big as NY but D.C. consists of endless industries and because it’s smaller, you have plenty of room to connect, learn and grow here.

Let’s talk about your photographs in capital lives. Do you know any of the subjects personally? Were they all taken in the district?

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Installation shot of Brea Soul’s All Things Go (Kweku Collins) 2 and Liberation featured in capital lives at The Stamp Gallery through July 3, 2018.

I only know two of the subjects personally and the others I connected to through networking. This may come to you as a surprise, but only one photo was taken actually in the district. Can you guess which one? The other three were taken relatively close to Washington, D.C., in places such as Hyattsville and College Park.

Do you consider these images to be portraits of individuals, or a more collective observation of a regional city culture?

It’s hard to answer that question because it’s technically both. Although these images are simply portraits of residents/performers of the area, the people involved are important to the creative history of D.C. at this specific time. One is an upcoming wordsmith and poet who is known for his skill all over the city. The model in Liberation represents the Latino community that is being directly affected from the current state of the United States and its presidency. Kweku Collins, is a rapper/singer performed at an annual D.C. festival called, All Things Go.

I understand that the prints exhibited in capital lives are part of a larger series. What is your intent for that series?

My intent is to constantly portray the lives existing in Washington D.C. and the surrounding area, and create a series that shows who is living in D.C. and what they are doing. Basically, I want to document the current times and culture.

What was the reasoning behind the titles for Dazed 1 and Overtime 2? Were these planned images, or candid?

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Soul, Brea. Dazed 1. 2017. Digital photography.

Dazed 1’s title stems from the expression presented by the subject throughout the entire photoshoot. A woman is shown wandering aimlessly and although she is giving direct eye contact, one can assume that there is something on her mind. Something has her distracted or stuck.

Overtime 2’s title comes from personal background of the subject and plays off of that narrative. The subject was a UMD dropout and then after a year, decided to return back to UMD. Throughout the photos from this photoshoot, he can be found in a classroom, outside on campus and walking through hallways. Wherever he travels, he is focused on the task at hand. In Overtime 2, he is seen with a black notebook and pen on campus with an alarming look. I like to believe this photograph embodies when a lightbulb goes off for a person and that usually happens after a while of focusing on a certain subject.

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Soul, Brea. Overtime 2. 2017. Digital photography.

Can you explain what’s going on in All Things Go (Kweku Collins) 2 and Liberation 1?

In All Things Go (Kweku Collins) 2, Kweku Collins had just finished performing and starting a meet and greet. I wanted to capture his presence while meeting his fans. He is normally shown on a stage and singing so I thought it would be cool to get another perspective of him and his style. Even while not on stage, he kept the same aura and presence of light and joy with him.

In Liberation 1, I was on a mission to portray a new-found sense of freedom. I selected an aspiring model and did a photoshoot at an isolated hotel. The location was chosen for the narrative of one running away or being forced to be on the move. During the subject’s time alone, she reflects. So Liberation 1 portrays the outcome of her journey when she has finally come to a point where she is prepared and ready to take on whatever is next.

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Soul, Brea. All Things Go (Kweku Collins) 2. 2017. Digital photography.

Music culture seems to be an intertwined part of some of your photography work. What part of the D.C. music scene do you interact with in your photography, and do you feel that your photography is meant to bring attention to or comment on that scene?

I find myself in rap and R&B spaces within Washington, D.C. because that genre of music is a heavy part of my own personal culture and I know more people within that space than other genres. However, I hope to break into other music scenes because although Rap and R&B is special to me, my goal is to capture creatives and artists of all sorts of backgrounds. There are a lot of talents out there and I want to capture as many as I can. I guess I just started off in a familiar space. My photography, in those scenes, serves as a way to capture timeless moments that the people never get back; but through my photography, they will never forget it.

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Soul, Brea. Liberation. 2018. Digital photography.

What do you hope viewers take away from your photographs, perhaps in conversation with the other works in capital lives as a whole?

When people visit capital lives, I simply hope to introduce them to people and/or cultures that are blooming here in the area and start a conversation there. Media coverage and photo documentation about Washington, D.C., is usually centered on politics, protests, sports and or fancy landmarks. I want to introduce people to people. Simple. Real people that you can learn from, bond with and or help in some type of way. I hope that in combination with the other photographs from the other artists, visitors will get a complete 360 realistic perspective of DC. For example, Bo Chen successfully and effectively captured people protesting on the streets of D.C. while my photos show the residents of D.C. Having this imagery together shows a complete image of the time right now in D.C.

Which of your photographs in capital lives do you connect with the most?

I connect with them all but if I had to choose one, I would pick All Things Go (Kweku Collins) 2 because the imagery involved is someone of color and a flower. In my opinion, a sunflower embodies a source of light. Within my photography, but more importantly within my life, I try to radiate positive energy and show others love.

What camera did you use to shoot the images in capital lives, and what are you shooting with now?

Since gifted, I have been shooting my photography through a Nikon D3400 and it’s been amazing to learn and practice on. I have plans to upgrade in the near future, either to another Nikon or Sony.

You’re also working on a webshow called Soul Series. Can you talk about the project and goals for the show moving forward?

Soul Series is an original web show that follows me, a 22-year-old spirited artist from Maryland, as I navigate throughout the DMV/DC area interviewing other artists and creatives. In season one, Brea comes across an illustrator, a fashion brand and one painter. Season two involves more musicians: ranging from a music group, a disc jockey and percussionist. The goal for the show is to constantly discover and highlight talents, in this area, who are steadfast in their skill whether its related to visual arts, music and or fashion. The biggest goal for this project is to get the show picked up by a local production company or studio, in hopes to reach a bigger audience, which could result in income, connections, and exposure for the artists and creatives interviewed.

Any future shows or projects that you would like to promote here?

Through my photography and webshow, I meet a lot of artists who are so fresh in my mind. I thought about a show I would love to curate even at the Stamp Gallery, involving a showcase of artwork by the people I have interviewed and will meet. This project would provide opportunity for those creatives to have a professional chance to exhibit their talented work.

We’ll close with a question that powered the creation of capital lives. In your own words, what do you feel lies behind the image of power?

The image of power is in direct correlation to the person that produces that image. For me, the power is in the people and that’s why it is important for me to capture D.C.’s people. People fighting for rights and succeeding in their individual lives is power to me, so I choose to show that.


Soul’s work is included in capital lives at The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, from May 30 through July 3, 2018.

For more information on Brea Soul, visit www.breasoul.com.

For more information on capital lives and related events, visit thestamp.umd.edu/stamp_gallery


Interview with ‘MEDIA LUX’ Artist Clay Dunklin

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[detail] Catatonic Tomography Cycle (2018) by second-year MFA candidate Clay Dunklin, is available for view at The Stamp Gallery’s MEDIA LUX exhibition through May 19, 2018.

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

Clay Dunklin | Second-Year Master of Fine Arts Candidate | Exhibiting in MEDIA LUX from April 2nd through May 19th, 2018 at The Stamp Gallery | University of Maryland, College Park | Interview by Grace DeWitt

To start with some background, where are you from, and what brought you to the MFA program at the University of Maryland?

Really, I came here for location. I grew up in the middle-of-nowhere in East Texas where there is virtually no arts culture or art opportunities and then spent the last several years in Orlando, FL. Orlando is great but the contemporary art world there is still in a stage of infancy and opportunities are few. Here we sit in this nice place between Baltimore and Washington–even New York and Philadelphia are in close proximity. So there’s a lot to engage with and see. I really wanted to be someplace where I had all of that at my fingertips.

Can you briefly summarize the focus of your artistic practice?

My practice is very much project-based and contextual–I create a lot of parts but they really need to be installed and viewed together to make relationships and begin to make sense. I’m also not really media specific. I mean, my background is in drawing and I still think of all the work in terms of drawing, but my practice is not really just drawing, or sculpture, or video. It’s all of that. I guess I use whatever media feels right for the work.

Are there any artists you are following right now, or any specific artists who have inspired your work so far?

I’m really into Mark Leckey right now. He won the Turner Prize a few years ago and does video, image-based, and object-based works. He creates these great installations with found objects usually in front of a green screen. This really influenced the current piece, Catatonic Tomography Cycle, with the painting of that flat color on the wall and the flatness of the prints. His work made me think about achieving a kind of compression of the objects or alternatively a slight dimensionality as if just beginning to poke out into space. This is aided by the one-sided viewing of the work–even though there are objects it’s not really in the round like in Leckey’s work.

I’m really drawn to Jannis Kounellis’ work as well. For me, his installations sat in this really beautiful place between complexity and simplicity. Objects would be hung with rope from the ceiling or piled on the floor or he’d just fill a gallery with live horses–it was very straightforward like that. But the scale and the way he could fill a space was pretty awe-inspiring.

I also have a bit of a crush on Anicka Yi. Her exhibition at the Guggenheim for the Hugo Boss Prize was pretty fantastic. The piece Maybe She’s Born With It is like this huge inflatable plastic dome with tempura fried flowers in it. I kind of want to live in there.

I understand that you underwent a pretty extreme medical illness about this time last year, which plays a role in your work now. Did your practice focus on the body before this illness? How would you say your direction changed because of this experience?

Yeah, it was pretty scary actually. I had several extended stays in the hospital with this weird and kind of rare neurological disease. Most of my time in the hospital was spent just trying to figure out what this was. Then I got put on these wacky medicines that took my mind to weird places and really affected my body and how my body reacted to external stimuli. It was a wild ride for sure. I took a bit of time trying to figure out what to do with that whole experience in terms of my work and I honestly tried to avoid it. It couldn’t be helped though, it just began to creep into the studio, so I gave in and decided to just see where it takes the work. And I think a year was enough time to sort of process and be ready to talk about it. However, I don’t think it totally uprooted the direction of my practice. I’ve always been working with body as subject in some capacity–I come from a very heavy figure drawing background so I guess that is just kind of ingrained in me somewhere. I’m interested in the body as this sort of mediator between us and the world. It’s how we contextualize and make sense of everything. But I think technology is really redefining that role as we’re becoming more and more cyborgian with our phones and such. But your body still has to interface with technology so that specifically is where I want my work to be situated–that little meeting point between body and technology.

Can you share some information about the title of your MEDIA LUX installation, Catatonic Tomography Cycle?

This piece deals with my experience of being sick in a pretty overt way. Here I’m using some of the more conceptual elements of the work to steer the formal qualities and I think this becomes really evident through the title. A catatonic state is an altered mental status that can be brought on by neurological disorders. This is what I experienced several times throughout my illness. It was like being a zombie or something. I have little to no memory of those times but apparently I wouldn’t speak or even move really, like being frozen. This is referenced in the stillness of the image-based components and in the slow looping videos that maybe start to reference time as something structured in layers and less linearly. This directly relates to tomography, which is a kind of imaging used most commonly in the medical field where the whole is broken up and viewed as layers (think MRI images). Again, this is referenced in some of the actual physical medical imagery used, but, it is also labeling all of these individual components as layers or slices of the whole that still contain information about the whole, and then compressing all of that into a kind of flatness (back to the Mark Lackey reference). And cycle goes back conceptually to the cyclical nature of the disease but also formally to the looping of the videos and as an indicator of the singular installation being composed of many parts: like an opera or song cycle in music composition.

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Detail from one of two looping videos in Dunklin’s Catatonic Tomography Cycle (2018) installation in MEDIA LUX at The Stamp Gallery.

We’ve talked a little bit about how the footage in your installation touches on ideas of creation. Can you go into further detail about how the footage builds into the more complex idea of the MEDIA LUX installation as a whole?

This work has really taken on a kind of language all its own, as I think most works tend to do, and if you understand the artist as mythmaker, this language becomes inherently mythological. So I am constantly reflecting on the relationship between what is a deeply personal mythological language and a more universal one. I was reflecting on this relationship between creation and destruction and how water or fluid can act between those two modes. I think about the Grand Canyon where water has destroyed the landscape yet simultaneously created a new one or how this fluid around my brain acts as protection yet is the main antagonist in the story of my illness. Newborns emerge from a fluid incubator in what is a very traumatic process. None of this is new. But how do we reference these ideas that are inherent to our body in a relevant and deeply personal way? What kind of contemporary Athene can emerge from the fluid site of the head? The Native Americans around what is California today had a creation myth of humans being made from clay of the earth, as most cultures did, but with the added idea that the creator-god mixed spit with the earth to give humans life. So again, what does that mean for a contemporary body as a fluid site?

I’m interested in hearing more about your photographic/record-keeping processes and preferences. Could you highlight some other works of yours that applied captured imagery to installation? What are your intentions when it comes to image resolution and image manipulation in your work?

Like I said earlier, I’m interested in this intersection of body and technology and specifically how we negotiate those two as mediators between the self and the world. We’ve really embarked on a time where we’re beginning to experience everything through tech, even things we’re physically present for. Think about a concert where people snap every single song. Yes, now all of your friends can experience that too through an app on their phone but also you as the physically present viewer are experiencing a live event through compressed, digital, pixelated images and videos via your handheld device. That’s fascinating to me. It’s becoming second nature to understand our world through compressed images. So in terms of the work, I’m not intentionally after low quality images verging on pixilated abstraction just like I’m not intentionally after the most high quality images aimed at some kind of illusion. I don’t care about the illusion. If the image even slightly or in a subversive way recalls a quality of imagery experienced in the everyday then it brings it into that space of body/technology interface. It also begins to recall or make visible the process of the image-making, similar to how the process of tomographic imaging is inherently stamped on the images it produces simply because of the kind of images it produces. It’s a performative process where the thing is the action of its own doing and in this way, the images now become objects.  

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Detail of water images, blacklight, and clay component in Dunklin’s Catatonic Tomography Cycle (2018) installation.

Thinking back to the installation at The Stamp Gallery, what drew you to the use of those dark water images, applied directly on the left portion of the installation wall?

Those images come from documentation of a previous project where I was changing or obscuring the surface of my body by applying charcoal powder. I would then wash that off and be left with this deep dark charcoal water. From that, I began to pull paper thinking that these new surfaces and objects could be made from my body sluff. So the water became a transformative site where something new could emerge–this goes back to your previous question about creation and the metamyth. I had prints of these images and it just kind of hit me that they needed to be included with this project. The water references fluid around the brain but also starts to resemble images of space. That push and pull between something recognizable and something alien interests me and speaks to cosmic or magical thinking and some of the mental imagery conjured while on medication that was making me totally loopy. The application and composition of the prints is pointing to digital glitch in a way. The long linear format of each print is kind of filmic but really isn’t about time as we perceive it. As said earlier, it’s about something layered or sliced and reassembled.

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Detail of wall sculpture in Dunklin’s Catatonic Tomography Cycle (2018) installation.

MEDIA LUX is an exhibition that presents five artists’ interpretation of, or association with, light. How does light relate to your concept in Catatonic Tomography Cycle?

Light is really a formal element here. When the decision was made to have the gallery dimly lit I thought that was great because video work is self-illuminating. For the rest of the installation I had to be more strategic about lighting. I knew the sculpture emerging from the wall was the one thing I wanted to be lit pretty intensely. Then the blue glow of the black light was again a formal and strategic color choice as it stands in relationship to the warm yellow of that spotlight. So that really was a further iteration of the colors found in the video works.  

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Detail of wall drawing in Dunklin’s Catatonic Tomography Cycle (2018) installation, available for view through May 19, 2018 in The Stamp Gallery.

Is there any advice you have for undergraduate artists or others at the beginning of their art careers?

I think one of the biggest things that I needed to hear as an undergrad was to really invest in the learning processes. It’s easy for people who have some talent to take the time in studio for granted or to not really put themselves out there because they’re afraid of failure. Make a ton, experiment a ton, be confident even in ‘failure,’ and pull everything you can out of your instructors and fellow students. Otherwise, you’ll likely only be performing at a slightly higher level than when you started college. How much good will that have really done you?  

I know you have an installation up right now at VisArts, yolk | shell | source | system, a collaborative with another UMD MFA student, Bekí Basch. Anything else you have going on or coming up that you’d like to promote here?

Yeah! This was actually my first collaborative project and it was really the best experience. It’s a huge 70 foot long window display a couple of blocks from VisArts. So it definitely presented its own set of challenges but made for some great experimentation. We had a reception and artist talk for that on May 4th, and the installation will be up through June.

 

Clay Dunklin’s work is included in MEDIA LUX at The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, from April 2nd through May 19th, 2018.

For more information on Clay Dunklin, visit https://claydunklin.com/.

For more information on MEDIA LUX and related events, visit thestamp.umd.edu/stamp_gallery.


Interview with “Midpoint 2017” Artist Bekí Basch

PRINT_03_28X34_from Reaper series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you speak about the choice in materials for Reaper?

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

How about your process in creating Core Samples?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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