Previously featured on Make Space back in August, Alicia now gives us some insight into her practice and process, as well as talks about her experience at ACRE Residency last summer. Check out her work IRL, along with Ellen Nielsen, Alicia Chester, Oli Rodriguez, Kate Hampel & Aiden Simon,
Curated by Alicia Eler
Opening reception: Friday, May 24, 6–10pm
3219–21 South Morgan Street
Chicago, IL 60608
MORE AFTER THE BREAK Read more…
James T. Green is a designer and artist currently based in Chicago, Illinois. His art practice builds on an interest in self-identity, online engagement and our growing dependence on technology. His design practice focuses on making great things for the greater good. Both practices work in tandem.
Green will be showing in the exhibition No Gods No Masters. at Chicago Artists Coalition along with two other HATCH Projects artists Jesse Butcher and Christopher Meerdo. The exhibition is curated by Teresa Silva and opens Friday May 10 from 6 -9pm and runs through May 30th.
Green has shown works at the Chicago Cultural Center, Filter Photo Festival and the Museum of Contemporary Art, including a residency with the ACRE Artist Residency Program. He has designed with organizations including TEDxWindyCity, Black Girls Run, and Red Bike and Green. James T. Green loves to see how art and design interact to convert spaces and create conversations.
Beacon of the ‘Hood
The convenience store is seen as the central of many African American neighborhoods. A central meeting point for various activities and products. I went out to explore how the lights of a convenience store shine during the night time hours, emulating the purpose of a beacon of a lighthouse; reminding you of where you are no matter how far you stray away.
With technology, we are able to not only archive our lives, but create new stories with the power of editing. By the stroke of a mouse, we are able to create, edit, or delete a story that did not independently exist.
Using personal archived footage from 2006-2011, I attempted to create a new dialogue from within my family, as well as exploring the role technology has in the communication efforts of my immediate and extended family.
In collaboration with Gallery 400, Make-Space talks with Jennet Thomas, one of the artists in the current exhibition “I THINK WE’RE READY TO GO TO THE NEXT SEQUENCE: THE LEGACY OF HALFLIFERS”.
Artists: 23E Laboratories, Jason Robert Bell, James Fotopoulos, Kari Gatzke, HALFLIFERS, Lauren Marsden, Jennifer and Kevin McCoy, Bjørn Melhus, Shana Moulton, Caspar Stracke and MASTERS OF TIME AND SPACE, and Jennet Thomas
Covering more than two decades of work, I THINK WE’RE READY TO GO TO THE NEXT SEQUENCE moves beyond the retrospective format to re-examine, interpret, and pay homage to the extensive body of performative video work that the HALFLIFERS (the collaborative team of Torsten Zenas Burns and Anthony Discenza) have produced since the early 1990s. Employing a lo-fi aesthetic that amplifies the qualities of videotape and forms of its playback, Burns and Discenza perform as characters inspired by genres of speculative fiction, producing a sincere absurdity that reflects on the issues of anxiety and identity in our rapidly changing technological age. Included in the exhibition are the HALFLIFERS’ re-edit of the collaborative’s entire video history into a new one-hour loop and an alternative self-portrait that catalogs key materials, sources, influences, and other touchstones in a new book entitled THE LAST KNOWN PHOTOGRAPH OF THE HALFLIFERS.
Accompanying the HALFLIFERS’ works are sculptures, videos, drawings, installations, photographs, and paintings by a number of artists who have affinities with the collaborative and who have produced new works mining the HALFLIFERS’ oeuvre. By subjecting themselves to the reinterpretations and responses of others, HALFLIFERS question their present relevancy while, at the same time, continue to be relevant through their very willingness to adapt.
Amber Ginsburg exhibited work from her ongoing project titled “Past Present Perfect” at the Chicago Artists Coalition last February in a Hatch Projects group exhibition named “Value: Assigned, Transposed, and Imagined” curated by Happy Collaborationists. During the exhibition Ginsburg started collaborating with, previously featured Make-Space artist, Marissa Lee Benedict. In the gallery the two embarked on an exploration that combined Benedict’s experiments with bio-plastic and Ginsburg’s interest in using five hundred potatoes from a piece that was already on display.
Last month Ginsburg and Benedict met me at the CAC gallery to answer some questions about the collaboration and to show me the process of making bio-plastic in the gallery. Below you will find Amber Ginsburg talking a bit more in-depth about her pieces in the exhibition, later in the interview Marissa Lee Benedict joins the conversation about collaboration and bio-plastic, lastly the two show me how to make bio-plastic!
-Amber Ginsburg on her artwork at Chicago Artists Coalition-
Ginsburg’s “Past Present Perfect” project addresses an imagined future for dishware–exploring dishware as a relic of cultural practice of formal dining. Ginsburg considers the gallery as “a museum of the not-yet-happened, the works on display are encounters with fragments of dishware based on a future when we have forgotten their intended purpose. Abstraction implies the cognitive distance between a time when the actions around eating were understood and a future when an archaeologist attempts to interpret that knowledge.”
Amber, you talk about dishware and its intended purpose—do you consider dishware a tool? If so, how?
AG - The words you have chosen to ask about my work, “relic” and “tool”, speak directly to my interests in how objects function as cultural symbols and actors that provide agency at the same time. At one end of the timeline, which we will call the relic, the accumulation of past narratives about an object form a sequence, a kind of narrative DNA. Like memory, the knowledge that sticks tells us something about ourselves. Dramaturges, the folks that decided what objects are on view in a movie or play, have a particularly savvy sense of how dishes become symbols. In an instant we can discern era, class and sometimes even the emotional tone by glancing at the objects of the table. Dramaturges tap into our cultural understanding of dishes, the way in which we activate the “relic” memory in objects of the table.
But once in use, the role of the object changes and they simultaneously become a tool animated by the user. This is a switch in agency. As protagonists acting upon the object, we become as much the “changers” of the story as the inheritors.
Dishes, particularly more formal-ware, captured my interests as “transitional objects”. If objects can be narrators, dinnerware is at an interesting and confusing moment. Totally recognizable and a quick stand-ins for all sorts of ideas about home, family, habit and culture, they are simultaneously being booted out by the pace with which we live our lives. The way we use formal-ware is at odds with the ways we imagine their use. I am drawn to this flux in the use and understanding of dishware.
How is the work you exhibited at CAC—Toll, Drawing set for Eight, Break, and Charge—the next iteration of the Past Present Perfect projects?
AG – Past Present Perfect is an ongoing project playing with dishware, pulling out various behaviors and patterns associated with these objects. Exhibitions become moments to edit research and test new ideas. Two of the works, Drawing Set of Eight and Charge, in some form, have been exhibited before but the HATCH exhibition at the Chicago Artist Coalition also featured new works and re-orients the old. In this instance, Drawing Set for Eight is the trace, in graphite, of the actions of a formal five-course meal served at the Chicago Artist Coalition to the eight artists working with our curators, the Happy Collaborationist. It is a way of preserving a mode of dining – slow and choreographed for this group, freshly formed. This was a charmingly and somewhat awkward first date for us.
Charge, a cyanotype lit by 500 potatoes powering 100 diodes, is in its second iteration, but has changed. This work became the nexus of the show, combining elements of other works. Rather than isolate the Cyanotype, the residue or shards from breaking two person-high columns of dishes, was placed under and on the table where Charge sat. The dishes were an artifact of the 16 mm film Break. Charge also became a central element in the exhibition because it changed over the course of the exhibition. Thinking of the gallery as an auxiliary studio, the three-week exhibition became a time to contemplate and experiments with the shards and the potatoes. This was a subtle but important shift in the way I work. I have used the gallery as a site of production before, but always towards a more known outcome, like the production of 1000 replica WWI terra cotta dummy tests bomb at the Soap Factory or creating doorknob “worry stones” at the Museum of Surgical Science. In these instances, the exhibition became a site of production and accumulation through participatory skill sharing and making.
Working with the Happy Collaborationist, the very first thing they said was “You should do what you want.” I was inspirited by their rally to action and even though there was very little time before the opening, I took them on their word and created Break, a new work produced for this exhibition. Break is in 16 mm film, a material I had wanted to test. I have been collecting research on different cultural interpretations of plate breaking for a few years, as well as collecting dinner plates. I knew I wanted to do a project that isolated and repeated plate breaking over and over, but I could not settle on the form or the material of the project. I was at a talk on a work in 16 mm film and much of the discussion centered on issues of sentimentality, the archive, and the transitional nature of 16 mm film, which Kodak has announced it will discontinue. Listening to the debates about 16mm film was like an audio mirror into various ideas I had been exploring about dishware. I knew I wanted to pair plate breaking and 16mm film as an abstract material pairing – materiality fraternal twins in parallel cultural flux.
Projected on opposite walls was the image of people approaching a column of plates and, in anyway they chose, breaking them. Never able to see the two columns at that same time, the audience looked from one wall to the other, with 150 feet of exposed 16mm film looping in the center of the room. The exposure of this multi-variant action of the break, from anger to joy is visually linked by the exposure of the film slowly wearing away as it circles through the room between the images. 16 mm film is a new material for me. Not only will Past Present Perfect continue through bio-plastic research, but I am interested in finding out more ways to play with 16mm film to talk about transience.
Toll, a sound piece pulled from Break, greeted visitors at the door of the gallery. Slowing the soundtrack from breaking the dishes, drawing out each instance, produced an unexpected result — it sounded like bells tolling.
-Marissa Lee Benedict joins the conversation about bio-plastic and collaboration-
Amber Ginsburg said she felt like she wanted to work with potatoes and dish shards at the Chicago Artists Coalition, but was not exactly sure what to do. Knowing Marissa Lee Benedict had done some experimenting with potato starch as a basis for creating bio-plastic, Ginsburg invited Marissa to join her and started milking five hundred potatoes for starch. During the exhibition the two embarked on an ongoing and rigorous exploration that will continue until Benedict and Ginsburg develop a mixture that allows them to cast the bio-plastic.
Could you briefly explain the bio-plastic project?
MLB - The bio-plastic collaboration Amber and I are beginning to embark on is exciting as it is still in a stage of research and experimentation: the point where everything has potential and exists in a state of “becoming”. Many of my collaborative partnerships begin by chance — passing conversations that reveal overlapping bodies of research, shared material interests, etcetera – and are followed up by a desire to engage a collaborator more deeply on a personal, material and intellectual level.
My interest in bio-plastic evolved a few years ago, as part of an ongoing desire I have to generate embodied knowledge (the knowledge you gain by understanding something through sensory means, by touching it, smelling it, cutting it, making it, etcetera) about seemingly abstract materials (plastic being typically one of the most industrially produced, inaccessible, formless materials that we encounter on an everyday basis). A few years ago, I began playing with a homemade potato starch bio-plastic recipe I found on the Internet, posted by a young scientist named Brandon. Although the material was engaging – in particular because it is created through a very direct, accessible, domestic process – I never found an appropriate conceptual framework with which to discuss homemade bio-plastic, so I put it aside for the time being.
Amber’s invitation to transform the potatoes from Charge has been the perfect, serendipitous overlap in our practices, and is a chance to begin the conversation anew, in a different context and with a different set of relationships to draw on.
AG – On a purely instrumental level, I have wanted to work with Marissa for some time. The bio-plastic became the calling card.
MLB – I first met Amber a little over three years ago when she gave a talk at the Sullivan Galleries on her project re⠂pur⠂pose: A Work in Material Gestures, done in collaboration with Carla Duarte and Lea Rousset. I was immediately struck by Amber’s dedication to process, dialogue, generosity, collaborative exchange and material investigation. Since that first introduction, Amber’s work has continued to inspire me, engage me and resonate with my own interest in the intersection of material, making and meaning. Over the past few years, I have had the privilege of being involved in a few of Amber’s projects as a participant, so when this serendipitous overlap in our material and conceptual interests occurred, I jumped at the opportunity to work with Amber.
Collaboration partnerships have become an integral part of my studio practice. My engagement in “duologues” (a dialogue or conversation between two persons) is an extension of my desire to engage in a dialectical practice: a method of discussing the integral, and interdependent, relationships between pairs of apparently opposite or distinct things (re/action, dis/order, dis/connection, un/known, un/certainty, etcetera). I feel each collaborative partnership I participate in provides me (and hopefully my partner) with a new set of skills, a new perspective on artistic potential and a greater engagement with the world.
AG - Most of my work is collaborative. I tend to link with my collaborators in two ways. Either I work in parallel with people, studio mates or artists working on similar research and through conversation collaborative ideas emerge seamlessly. The other way is more calculating but ends up being open-ended. I often invite someone to join a project because they have a particular expertise I would like to learn. Inevitably, the specificity of the invitation melts away and the project changes and benefits from the addition. This is already the case with Marissa.
MLB – I have been talking quite a bit these days about Claire Pentecost’s proposition for the artist to act as a “Public Amateur”. In Claire’s words, the artist as Public Amateur “… becomes a person who consents to learn in public. It is a proposition of active social participation in which any nonspecialist is empowered to take the initiative to question something within a given discipline, acquire knowledge in a noninstitutionally sanctioned way, and assume the authority to interpret that knowledge, especially in regard to decisions that affect our lives.” As our world paradoxically becomes simultaneously more interconnected and more inaccessible – and the gap between abstract information and material knowledge become greater and greater – this position of the artist as a “Public Amateur” becomes an increasingly critical one, and one that is forwarded by the openess of a collaborative practice. By taking a material such as a “plastic” – which is somehow so abstract and nebulous in it’s origin (I’m thinking of Barthes’ essay in Mythologies on plastic or the 1958 documentary “Le Chant du Styrene”) - and “domesticating” it in the public sphere (in the gallery), I feel we are reasserting our right to material knowledge and history.
AG – I could not agree more with Marissa. I would add that the gathering information, social, within the sciences, in a kitchen or the laboratory all tend to be ongoing endeavors. The assumption is that the experience or the body of knowledge will be added to, passed along and/or shared. I am interested, both as a way propelling and perpetuating projects, and as away to offer agency to the audience, in providing scenarios in which things are not done. I think social scientists or domestic laboratories are useful terms for talking about projects that resist the authority of the finalized art object.
Does the process of making the bio-plastic act more of a facilitator for audience engagement and discussion than it is about making the actual product?
AG - I suspect the role of the bio-plastic will change over time. At the moment, I think it is an excellent fascinator for engaging the audience in a process and for opening up the gallery as a site of investigation. As we play, test and learn, that may change.
MLB – I couldn’t agree with Amber more. I believe the role of the material will shift over time, but I would guess that the process of making the bio-plastic will continue to take on the role of a facilitator or an intermediary: acting as a connector between Amber and myself, a conduit for audience engagement and curiosity, and — perhaps in a more literal, material way — a binder gluing together the shards from Past Present Perfect.”
-Step by step process of making bio-plastic with Ginsburg and Benedict-
Ben Murray is a painter and sculptor, who lives and works in Chicago. His work struggles to produce remembered images of places he has experienced, in an environment in a state of constant flux. He received his BFA from Herron School of Art and Design, and is a current MFA candidate at UIC (class of 2013).
Tony Lewis is an artist living and working in Chicago, IL. He is focused predominately on the activity of drawing. He received his BA from Washington and Jefferson College in 2008, and received an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the 2012. He is represented by Shane Campbell Gallery, Chicago.
The third floor of the Sullivan building at the School of the Art institute of Chicago is a white-walled labyrinth, consisting of rows of MFA graduate studios where the smell of paint and indiscernible noise emanate from behind canvas covered doorways. Steven Vainberg’s studio is near the end of the second hallway to the right. Last Sunday, my roommate and collaborator at the Plaines Project, Alex de Leon, and I stopped by to meet with Steven Vainberg and Steven Frost about their upcoming show at our space.
I couldn’t tell you what Steven Frost’s studio is like. He graduated with his MFA from the Fiber and Material Studies department at SAIC in 2010 and now lives in LA. We chatted with him via Google Hang Out from Steven Vainberg’s studio and when we talked to him, he was calling from a breezy looking patio in California, wearing a light cotton button down and sipping an afternoon bourbon cocktail. California livin’ isn’t all leisure though (or so he claimed). The two Steven’s met at ACRE this past summer and have been maintaining a consistent studio collaboration ever since.
The two artists come from different backgrounds both materially – Steven V is getting his MFA in painting from SAIC, and Steven F has fiber arts background, as well in content – Steven F’s work focuses on exploring queer history, often incorporating bright colors and a variety of materials while Steven V has a punk attitude and utilizes minimal symbolic forms in flat painted color fields in his work. Despite these different vantage points, there is a common ground between the two artists’ work. They are both exploring subculture, semiotics and their roles as egotistical males. After meeting at ACRE, they learned that they would be exhibiting at Plaines Project together and decided to collaborate, which became a starting point for them to develop work together.
Since meeting at ACRE, the Stevens have met every two weeks via skype to talk about the show. As a part of their collaboration, they made mixes for each other to listen to in the studio, the mix from Steven F to Steven V consisting of a lot of dance music, while Steven V’s mix listed mainly punk tracks. They also sent reading assignments to each other and began a tumblr page to share images that were interesting to them or related to the content of each others work. For their upcoming show they have selected their favorite images from the shared blog and are including them in a publication that will be for sale at the opening. Their tumblr, D.F.T.S.M., can be viewed here: http://drinkingfromthesnakesmouth.tumblr.com/, and contains some explicit content.
We talked to the artists about the work in their upcoming show. Every piece in the show is collaborative and consists of a range of sculpture, video, performance, installation, photography, and painting. Some of the works have been completed in the individual artists studios, but some video and photo works are being completed while Steven Frost is in Chicago this week. The work in the show takes the concept of peeing, both in act and form, as a jumping off point to explore ego, sexuality, and spirituality. The pee is seen as an expression of ego while at the same time as a release of that ego – peeing on something marks territory and status, but the act can also be release of control and a mode to build trust, as in a fetish community. The two artists try to find a tender place for the male ego in their work through this act that is at once gross and compassionate, as aptly described in Dr. Andy Campbell’s essay which accompanies the show. The peeing becomes a metaphor for their collaborative process, a symbol of trust in the artistic practice and a shared authorship of the work.
The collaboration has been beneficial to the individual studio practices of both artists. It offers a way for Steven Vainberg to step out of the bounds of his work and explore new ideas while connecting with an artist outside of the grad school bubble. For Steven Frost it has been a way for him to come back and re-examine the modes of working as a grad student and reconnect with a life style he’s been away from for a couple years. The artists described their collaboration “like a side band” to their individual practice and they plan to continue working together after this show.
Drinking from the Snake’s Mouth is an exhibition of new collaborative works by Steven Frost and Steven Vainberg. The culmination of a seven-month long dialogue initiated during their time as residents of ACRE, in rural Wisconsin, this exhibition looks at the crossroads between the tender, the holy, the profane, the creative ego, aggression, “watersports,” and punk rock through paintings, sculptures, videos, photos, and a Tumblr blog.
Coinciding with the exhibition, a small catalog –developed from a collaborative Tumblr, D.f.t.S.M [Contains Explicit Content]– will be published, including an essay by Dr. Andy Campbell (Senior Lecturer, Texas State University; Art Editor, The Destroyer Magazine).
Drinking from the Snake’s Mouth will run from April 14-28 at the Plaines Project – 1822 S Desplaines St, Chicago. The opening reception is from 4-8 PM on April 14, open hours after the reception are by appointment. To read more about Steven Vainberg and Steven Frost, check out their work previously featured on Make Space here and here.
Daniel G. Baird and Haseeb Ahmed
“Under the cover of darkness or masquerading as architectural conservators, artists Daniel G. Baird and Haseeb Ahmed collect fragments of architectural, ornamental and natural formations from around the world. They make molds on-site directly from their chosen objects. These disparate fragments are then reconciled to construct a single ‘universalized space’. For Baird and Ahmed, these installations become ‘reverse site-specific’.
For their project at Roots and Culture, the artists take inspiration from the architectural interiors of Frank Lloyd-Wright and the archive of historical artifacts at the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago to transform the gallery space into an immersive installation. A mirror of this installation will be constructed at Hedah Gallery Maastricht from April 10-June 5.
This will be the fourth iteration of this collaborative project between the artists. The installation includes two collaborative works with Leipzig based artist Jeff Weber.”
Roots & Culture Contemporary Art Center
1034 N MILWAUKEE
CHICAGO, IL 60622
Opening Reception: April 6th, 2013 from 6-9pm
Open Hours: Thursday 4-7 pm, Friday 4-7 pm, Saturday 12-6 pm
Featuring work by Elana Adler, Jon Bocksel, Candace Hicks, Jason Kachadourian, and Adams Puryear
“To Preserve and Protect is a group exhibition featuring five artists who incorporate different time-honored trades and materials into their work, with the shared goal to revive these processes through contemporary art. This exhibition will feature ceramics, sign-painting and hand-lettering, wood-whittling, needlepoint and embroidery. While these techniques can be replaced by more convenient mechanic methods these artists prefer to sustain the craftsmanship and the mastery of skilled-hand production.
Although these techniques are historically revered as trades and reserved for commercial purposes or crafts, the exhibiting artists are creating new potential, incorporating these materials into painting, sculpture, and book arts, challenging their traditional execution.”
Booklyn Artist Alliance
37 Greenpoint Ave, 4th Floor
Brooklyn, NY 11222
Opening Reception: March 16th, 2013 from 7-10pm
Open Hours: Thursday – Tuesdays, 12 – 5pm
Maria Creyts is a Kansas City based artist whose focus spans photography, textile design, and digital medias. Her panorama format photography, or photo friezes, capture an arrangement of textile and surface designs. Maria Creyts is a graduate of Yale University School of Art. Her use of bold color, implementation of West African traditional design, and arrangement of various surface designs for her photography, attracted PatternBase to her for an interview.
First, talk about the medium and materials you work with. What made you choose these materials and medium?
My material is fabric, it’s the common element in just about everything I do. When in Nigeria last year, I was introduced as a textile artist; there’s an unusual appreciation for textiles there and I found a certain delight with the moniker there. Usually I describe myself as an artist.
Ten years ago there was a little cataclysm in my attitude toward studio: with my first Mac laptop I set out for the Big Apple where I signed up for a cell phone and lived out the summer in a Chelsea sublet while completing computer graphics courses at the School of Visual Arts. I was also producing photo silkscreen editions at the time and loved how newfound digital skills could work in tandem with the colorful, painty mess of traditional studio process.
My chief project in studio now is very long, panorama-format photography: photo friezes. I create the subject matter for these works from textiles and see the fabrics I use as a palette of color and pattern. I’m interested in introducing the “artist’s hand” into photography projects and to that end have been working with surface design methods on textiles. Through my production, I unite the realms of traditional studio with a digital approach. For me, this is a key interest.
I love to hear individual stories of what made artists choose their direction. Give a brief background on what led you to be an artist.
In high school I was recognized as an artist, it was the first time I considered myself to be an artist. I skipped lunch in favor of taking classes such as an independent study in ceramics. In that particular course I read of Ken Ferguson whose nation-wide reputation attracted me to Kansas City at 17. After completing my BFA, I went to graduate school at Yale for painting where the program calls for painters to study printmaking as well. Involvement in printmaking led me to photo silkscreen and that led to photography. Through Yale’s MFA program, I was “raised” in a culture of painters. The corridors of the Art & Architecture Building echoed with mention of Josef Albers, the color theorist and one-time Bauhaus artist, with whom some of our professors had worked decades before. I approach my work with the sensibility of a painter, color is a defining characteristic.
Your art fuses different media and functions in between media boundaries. Is there a reason why you choose to do this?
I have worked between 2- and 3-D and in a variety of disciplines ever since becoming involved with art. The inclination to integrate diverse disciplines feels natural, though it is complicated at points. I’m willing to sink teeth into tedious work or shift my mindset from solving sewing construction matters to learning specialized Photoshop techniques in the newest version of the program, and so on. My various projects are interrelated, yet the total picture is broad and you need to step back to take it all in.
Your work is presented differently through apparel in galleries and fashion shows, photos, installations and textile designs. Do people view them differently in each presentation? How so?
I presented a first fashion collection in Kansas City’s 2012 West 18th Street Fashion Show, a popular outdoor event in the gallery district that favors an artistic approach. My presentation was a kind of performance, goals included innovating with fabric design methods and fashion sensibilities from my time in Nigeria. I love how an individual animates the garment, it’s put in motion as a component of the persona. In 2012 I focused on custom clothing design toward refining sewing skills and in conjunction with the fashion show. I always envisioned using the clothing created for the fashion show as subject matter in photo projects – this was beginning of the concept for my current exhibit, “Bespoken,” at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Some viewers feel my sewn subjects are authentic works and tend to see the photo projects as reproductions. In this show both are presented, though you never see the subject and photo side by side – which teases the audience some. The painter in me relishes composition and this is something I control through photography. Two ensembles suspended on hangers almost appear to be gallery goers, drawing a comparison between what people walk in wearing and what’s on display. The installation allows an opportunity to be enchanted by both the sewn subjects and photographs that feature them.
What is something exciting you’re working on right now?
I’m preparing a workshop in adire eleko for Fairleigh Dickinson University students. We’ll use a traditional African paste resist to pattern lengths of fabric before dyeing with the idea of creating something to wear. This is a batik-like process, and I think of batik as wearable painting. It’s a sort of art that can be presented in an informal and immediate way – you just walk in wearing it. Nigerians sometimes hand pattern over existing commercially produced prints or woven plaids. The dual design is really entrancing. This suggests transforming fabric from old clothing into, say, a hat that incorporates one’s own painterly touch.
Describe your studio space, and how you work.
My studio, ESTUDIO mariaurora, is in Kansas City’s West Bottoms about a block from three of the city’s most popular galleries, the Dolphin, Bill Brady KC, and Plug Projects. It’s on the 5th floor with a spectacular view of Oz (downtown Kansas City, Missouri). I’m there every day and generally plan my days around my interns’ schedules. My studio is open from 5:30-8pm most First FridaysMy studio is open from 5-8pm most First Fridays.
What do you do to sustain your art practice and living as an artist?
In addition to revenue from sales, commissions, and occasional grants, I teach art school online.
Lately, there has been focus on artists who live in the Midwest instead of the coasts. What led you to a Midwest city, and what do you treasure about doing so? What are the benefits and disadvantages?
For me it’s the light, I’m like the impressionist who prefers Provence. Artist Philomene Bennett once said to me that since Kansas City isn’t north, east, south, or west, possibilities are wide open. From the Nelson to the Kemper to the Nerman, our museums are open free of charge. The Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, opened in 2007, is the beneficiary of “angels” Marti and Tony Oppenheimer who are personally involved with amassing a notable portion of the collection. Collector John Hoffman organizes a monthly outing in a gesture that builds public appreciation of Kansas City’s offerings in the arts. Meanwhile Professor Vladimir Krstic and his M.Arch students envision how the city’s urban plan can be bettered district by district, and architect Charmalee Gunaratne organizes design charettes to afford services to Kansas City entities in need. Any day of the week I might chance to meet my own professor, Wilbur Niewald, whose studio is down the way from mine. In his mid-eighties, he paints daily and in weather that’s fair to middling he’s out putting an urban landscape motif on canvas on site.
Your photo friezes are an interesting mix of medias, and have been presented on billboards in various cities in the country. Explain your concept behind them.
With the printed friezes, there’s the option for a motif that stretches down the entire length of a wall in the context of a public art project or other architectural interior. The digital billboards I’ve shown on have a 7:2 aspect ratio, in terms of image formats this is an unusually wide composition that easily accommodates a length of frieze imagery. I have the digital files, of course, so I just showed my intern how to prep them to the proper specs and sent the files through the internet. It’s been a marvelous opportunity to show the work in different parts of the country, plus on an immense scale.
I used to have a studio in New Orleans, it’s a remarkable area that seeps with history. For my billboard presentation there I put together a series of “lace drawings,” photogram images I printed using a historic darkroom process that affords monochrome images in tones from dull violet to warm chestnut brown. The effect of the delicate compositions stylized through process and shown at a scale of 10’ x 35’ was magnificent.
What’s your advice to emerging artists and/or textile designers?
Guard and grow your individuality, invent your path. Art for free expression’s sake is a credo for those who aren’t especially interested in connecting with an audience.
What’s your preferred way of presenting your patterns?
My digital and freehand surface design work is intended for fabrics to be used in photo subject matter. The ideal with cycling photo friezes is a permanent installation that spans the length of a wall.
I love your use of bold colors. Are there particular patterns, textiles, or colors that you’re currently fixated on? Why?
I see paisley as being made up of so many pictorial vignettes. When working on a paisley drawn by snails’ trails in Africa, my teacher pointed out that the shapes resembled mangoes that grow on the great tree just out the studio door. Paisley designs are uncommon in Africa (though I did see a traditional design picturing snails creating the pattern). Another type of cloth you don’t see in West Africa is seersucker, an excellent hot weather fabric that comes in 100% cotton and doesn’t need ironing. Last year I block printed a design in hot wax on seven yards of grey, green, and ivory striped seersucker for a men’s suit and sewed a dress with a red sash from a fine red, white, and silver lurex pinstripe seersucker. I first became a fan of wax prints at a time when I lived in South London in what was largely an expatriate West African neighborhood, my favorites are pictorial ones; I once saw a young African woman in an outfit sewn from a wax print depicting rolling tires…
What artists are you currently inspired by? Are there any artists who have drawn your attention consistently?
Rather than any one individual, I’m really inspired by a Nigerian sensibility which includes an assertive personality, a keen sense of management, the kind of versatility that only Africans seem possessed of, an openness that makes Americans seem hopelessly aloof, and the prizing of lavish fabrics like hand-drawn batik and hand-dyed indigo, Swiss cut lace, and hand-woven aso oke. Two women who exemplify this are artists Niké Davies Okundaye and Peju Layiwola.
Artist Nataliya Bregel’s 2011 painting show, Loops and Strips, captivated me with its formats for exceedingly wide filmstrip-like compositions. Her wooden hoops suspended from the ceiling encircle the viewer’s head like oversized halos while he or she revolves within to take in the stripe of narrative painting on the inside surface. I’m an admirer of architect Joel Marquardt’s visible contributions to the Kansas City terrain that happen to include the 60 foot Kansas City Board of Trade Building mural as well as numerous public art projects, less formal in nature, that experiment with engaging an audience. Katie Coble and Jennifer Hunt’s 2011 collection presented at the West 18th Street Fashion Show seized my attention with blank, structurally convertible clothing that might suddenly spill forth fluttering, hand painted design. Photojournalist Rachael Jane’s sensitivity toward parts of Kansas City many avoid has led me to experience the black community’s uncommon warmth and showy fashion sense.
Favorite paintings from art history are ones by Sir Stanley Spencer that obsess over details of clothing, his 17 x 90 inch Promenade of Women, for example, and the flickering pattern-filled interiors of Vuillard whose mother was a dressmaker. You see an echo of what I love in a Vuillard in the paintings of Barbara Grossman.
Do you have any exhibitions coming up?
My exhibit, Bespoken (January 8 – February 8, 2013) was titled in relation to my focus on custom clothing design through 2012. “Bespoke” means custom made and often infers something created through the maker working closely with the client. I love this term both because it indicates uniqueness and for the ideas of collaboration and work completed to fill a certain need. “Bespoke tailors” in London’s Savile Row sew to measure, and having clothes made to measure is common practice in West Africa. My fashion show clothing was made to measure (particularly necessary when working with a 6’5” model), and I have lately sewn dresses to measure for myself, and for clients as bespoke projects.
Maria’s studio is open to the public for First Fridays from 5-8pm (except in cases when she’s away). It will be open this coming Friday. On March 7th, she will also present Design West Africa at Kansas City Design Week 2013 Pecha Kucha Night. It’s free, the doors open at 7:30 PM, and presentations start at 8:20 PM. It’s located in the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art auditorium on 4525 Oak Street in Kansas City, Missouri.
Interview by Guest Contributor Audrey Victoria Keiffer