Coincidence of Molecules
It’s a brisk winter evening – startlingly cold for Seattle. On a sidewalk in Capitol Hill, a group of people is huddled in front of an apartment building. There’s a quiet shuffle punctuating the crowd’s tempo – bodies shifting weight from one foot to the next, gently trying to ward off the chill. Just overhead are two windows filled with a video diptych that has a pace not unlike our own. Continuously moving over time, changing from image to image, and punctuated with evocative, fragmentary poetry. Tessa Bolsover’s Soon our bodies will be other buildings, on display at Vignettes’ Marquee exhibition series, calls upon environmental, molecular processes that evolve subtly. I have just returned to the Northwest after an intense stint in Nevada, saying goodbye to my mother, and feeling fairly certain I will not see her again. Grief is heavy on my mind. In Tessa’s project statement, she writes “In times of grief I turn to the idea of the body as a collection of materials. Our bodies exist for only a brief moment: a coincidence of molecules, soon to disseminate into countless other forms.” As I watch the video cycle through its patterned phases, I am struck by its lack of emotivity. A stick dragged across the snow. Deep sea divers swimming gracefully. Abstract macro imagery that looks like ice and snow through a microscope, yet I can’t help but see a pattern of human ears. Cells filmed through a microscope. A shadow falls upon a tree in birch forest. The camera enjoys the act of looking — the imagery inhabits real time. Through the lens of a biological perspective, I view beautiful imagery with a cool, scientific tone. I leave the night wondering if this is particular to me, or if Tessa has chosen an objective position as a strategy for the content of the work.
Erin Elyse Burns: The languorous imagery in Soon our bodies will be other buildings creates a certain calm that strikes me as reserved, almost without attachment. Will you speak to the emotional tone of your piece? Am I off in reading it as perhaps implementing the objectivity of a scientist?
Tessa Bolsover: I find a deep calm in the acknowledgement of the body as an entity within a large network. For me, observing becomes a kind of ritual to reintegrate with the strange and beautiful system of molecules of which my body is a part. I don’t see it as detachment as much as an attempt to empathize with the objectivity of the world beyond my ego.
Recently I’ve been reading a lot about the idea of Decreation (as re-defined in Anne Carson’s book of the same title), which basically means stripping away the self in order to get closer to the unknown (i.e. god). Observing the transience of materials is a way of stepping away from my mind and into my body, so to speak.
EEB: What lead you to utilize a looping imagery structure similar to the technique of phasing, as established by minimalist composers like Terry Riley and Steve Reich? Do you have a musical background?
TB: While working on this project I found the video editing process similar to the process of composing music. The concept of phasing had been floating around in my head for weeks, so utilizing an interpretation of the technique in my video looping process seemed like a natural fit. One of the main themes I was working with is the idea that molecules are constantly re-forming in various combinations, meaning that on a large scale, each object or entity can be reduced to a fleeting encounter between molecules, each following its own trajectory. Traditionally in phase music, two musicians simultaneously perform the same score at slightly different tempos, so that over time the relationship between the two players is realigned repeatedly, swaying between unison, echoing, and doubling. I wanted to extend this metaphor into my work by looping the two videos side by side at slightly different tempos so that the relationship between the two screens would change with each loop. Images and text fall in and out of unison periodically, putting the same emphasis on both order and disorder.
EEB: You work primarily in still photography – what has exploring the medium of video been like for you?
TB: I’m pretty new to making videos — it definitely had its share of challenges and opened up new ways of experimenting within time-based parameters, something I don’t usually get to do directly through my still photography.
EEB: You use both found footage and imagery you’ve captured – how do you approach this collage-like structure?
TB: Collage definitely feels like the right word for it. The footage I captured was a collection of gestures exploring the temporary physicality of my body within various landscapes. The rest of the imagery I collected through public domain archives online. Most of the videos I pulled from included little or no information on what the images were and why they were made — I found the combination of these sourceless videos and my own recordings an interesting juxtaposition and a way to contextualize the issue of interiority vs. exteriority.
EEB: Will you speak to the poetry you’ve written for this work?
TB: Writing is a huge part of my practice, although it rarely makes its way into my visual work. I wanted the text to feel like a collection of fragments, similar to the video segments. I was also thinking a lot about the way meaning is created through juxtaposition, and calling into question the extent to which we can read images like text and text like images.
soon our bodies will be other buildings excerpt, two channel video, 2017
Vignettes ‘Marquee’ installation excerpt / Seattle, Washington, February 2017
When Something Passes
A conversation between Gretchen Frances Bennett & MKNZ
Derelict, you’re not coming back, I mean that in the nicest way, rest almost sounds like a bittersweet parting note to Vignettes as we know it. And we know it most intimately in Sierra Stinson’s one bedroom apartment on the 4th floor of El Capitan. The series of one-night shows in this space came to an end on the night of Gretchen Bennett’s opening.
We pack ourselves in the unit one last time, surrounded by the chirping of Bennett’s quiet drawings, xerox copies, and sentimental ephemera; all tacked sweetly to the walls, high and low, like little clues to a lush and secretive life. In the mix, there are faint portraits, including a large, faded xerox drawing of Angela Davis, with starburst creases, like something found and kept in the box of all your priceless notes from the past. In fact, the whole show feels that way; little treasures more important for them to be touched, moved around, repinned, carried in a pocket, to feel the full life of their influence. This feeling reverberates off the wall, when Gretchen reads aloud a poem that accompanies the show, breathing clues of their significance into the room.
In this moment, I am taken back to fall of 2004, to when Sierra and I (18 and 17 years old, respectively) were meeting for the first time in Gretchen’s Foundations class at Cornish College of the Arts. It was her first time teaching at the college, and it was our very first class. She would read passages from other artists, critics, scholars, and poets, to us in the mornings. With my head usually buzzing from the anxiety of living in a new city, I remember feeling soothed then, as I do now, 13 years later. I never would have thought that I would be interviewing her today about a show curated by Sierra. But Gretchen always held us as peers, rather than students, so perhaps this is her prophecy fulfilled; or perhaps we all stayed here, in part, to hold one another up; either way I’m grateful.
MKNZ: I love a good title and this show has a great title. Can you elaborate a little on the origin of this text?
Gretchen: So the title, “Derelict, you’re not coming back, I mean that in the nicest way, rest” is in haiku form. And as I understand haiku, it’s giving great credence to a moment; letting the every-day be holy. And I love that. I wanted to talk about my inability to make objects; to face my inability to make objects. And I guess that is because, when my parents passed away, the objects from their house that I had lived with were suddenly gone. And that makes sense, of course, but now I have empirical knowledge of it and it just stopped me for a while. So, in order to start making objects again, I had to talk about the ones that stay with me, the ones that are beloved. They give me courage. And those happened to be the objects that were closest to me in my studio.
While I was exhuming these objects, I was also asking them to go away forever, in a sense. The word “derelict” is also a word for the objects that you throw overboard a ship when it is listing and you don’t want it to sink. Unlike “jetsam”, “lagan”, or other maritime words used to describe objects thrown from a ship, “derelict” are the objects you have no hope to ever see again.
M: Do you think that in the process of bringing these objects into the light for other people to observe was a process of you letting them go?
G: Yes. Definitely. Sometimes literally when they are purchased and go away. And it’s also letting go in a way that’s equivalent to acceptance. Things were kind of falling apart, disintegrating, and, with the promise of reforming later, I had to let them drift.
I was letting go of expectations as well. I was letting go of my persona as an artist. I actually think maybe I don’t have that persona anymore… yeah, I let that go.
M: That’s scary.
G: Yes. It doesn’t mean I don’t perform that persona sometimes, but when I’m performing it’s so my voice can come in louder, literally. It feels different. It feels like I’m being more myself in that moment. So yeah, the show is letting go of some things and claiming others. Maybe these objects are a threshold.
“Another Very Small Universe,” rag rug made from braided repurposed clothing from the artist and her father.
M: I think sometimes we can imbue objects with a lot of meaning when we are alone with them for a long time. Sometimes letting other people see them that does this thing where it takes the air out of them a little bit. I can become so superstitious about an object, to the point where it becomes really one-dimensional. And maybe letting it out into the world can allow other people to put their own projections onto it, which makes it a little less your own, but maybe less scary.
G: Yes. When someone recognizes something to the point of wanting to take it home, it’s such a relief to me.
M: There is a lack of preciousness to the way you chose to exhibit these drawings. They are so delicate and fragile, but also folded, crinkled, or fingerprinted in places. This give them a feeling of age, of temporality.
G: It’s interesting, right away sometimes I say that I don’t like something, that I don’t want something, and it’s a build up to wanting it or liking it. Today in the studio on my List Of Problems, I wrote, “I’m not creating drawings to comment on the act of drawing, sorry”. Both laugh. I was looking at how the photocopier draws and I wanted to collaborate with that machine, and I really became attached to the aesthetic of those shifting greys and the way they slide across the paper. I would draw in response to that relationship for a lot of the pieces. And I guess that is commentary on What Is Drawing.
I think the folding, too – I had this brief conversation with Tim Cross about how a photocopy can be a real material, and that’s how you keep those objects, by folding them. And the folds on the Angela Davis piece are this radiating starburst shape, I like that. I have this feeling that archiving is futile. Maybe that’s an adolescent thought.
M: I think that’s the mature thought. The way that you’re talking about treating these drawings sounds like performance to me. You have to let go of the idea of archiving things to make a really present performance. And they sort of share that quality. You can tell that they have a lifespan, you can tell that they are going to whither away. I feel that there is something undervalued about storytelling; sharing the idea or memory of something rather than the physical thing. That’s when you start to build mythology, you know? When something passes.
G: Oh that’s nice, I love that, “when something passes”. And passes is the perfect language for this body of work. Its an intersection for many meanings. I want to keep thinking about what archival is when I use that word.
There are artists I was paying homage to, like Vija Celmins repeating the rocks as an action of devotion. Mine were very off-hand, or deliberate to seem off-hand. And then I was thinking of Morandi, whose objects are always just coming into the light. Those all feel like they fit into the idea of the temporary. If I bring them into my studio practice, I’m letting them live even more. That’s an action of wanting something to last.
“Ruby Beach Honeymoon Rocks” Found stones. 14″ W.
“Ripple Effect.” gathered unaltered, arranged sticks from PNW tree varieties. 24″ W.
M: In your footnotes, you state “The Angela Davis drawing holds the room, just as it’s been a ballast in my studio. Many of these works are created between the photocopy and I, both of us drawing”. This is a very beautiful and relatable sentiment to me. And feels even more powerful, when standing in the room anchored by the starburst folded Angela Davis drawing, and immediately across the room is the giant, “Vesna is Spring, Venus is Venus” of you as a child, sheepishly front and center in an urban Slovakian landscape. What is the dialogue between the two pieces?
G: It started out as a historical fact and alignment of events. I started thinking about a childhood trip that happened in 1972 when I went to Eastern Europe with my family. And I started remembering that I was greatly affected by certain world events, even though not directly. Angela Davis is one of those events, along with the build up to Watergate, the Vietnam war. In that year Angela Davis was freed from jail and taken off Nixon’s most wanted list. And I saw her in the context of European publications, where her image was the only thing legible to me. So that’s where it started. And also because her image is so relevant, but her image and her person are two different things. And, how humbly for me, I have to understand that she’s walking among us. So she’s opposite this photo drawing of me when I was 12, while my self image was just forming. This was when I was forming my cultural and creative sensibilities.
M: Your poem, “A blue that keeps moving” accompanies this show. It chronicles the day you broke your knee at the beach, and the spreading of your parents’ ashes. I am reminded of Maggie Carson Romano’s show at Glassbox, with her text recalling her accident in the ocean, and the quiet pieces of her show holding a tremendous gravity as evidence to her survival and recovery after the fact. Do the pieces of this show serve as a kind of “evidence” for you?
G: I think it’s interesting to think of it alongside Maggie’s show. A lot of those choices on my part were intuitive and I just trusted that they were poetic both with the objects and with the words; in that way that poetic space is elastic. I think heavy stories sometimes need to be talked about lightly, so that you can talk about them at all…and talk about many things that you might not know you need to talk about. So I approached it in a more meandering way and ended up presenting a constellation of objects up against really substantial words.
So I would say that yes these objects are evidence for me, but that they needed to be light.
Like talking about the weather, when I really mean my knee.
M: It reminds me of the feeling of existing in the reverb of something traumatic happening. You can fixate on something to ease your mind, which makes everything sort of dilate. When my mind is happy I’m not noticing every little thing. But then in the aftermath of a traumatic event, I can obsess over an object, and it could be anything, and then it becomes precious.
G: The object becomes a place for memory to reside.
Graphite pencil drawing on Japanese screen paper. 38″H X 72″ W. “Vesna is Spring, Venus is Venus,” a self-portrait, drawn from a 35mm slide of the artist as a 12-year-old on a seminal trip to live in Czechoslovakia.
“Windfall Alphabet (extra-lingual version),” which appropriates found fallen twig materials, in this case an extra-lingual fir font, into a human lexicon: from the order of the tree to the order of language, letters, sentence and sign.
“Garland” Color pencil drawing on hand-cut paper, tracing objects on the frontier of existence. 16″ H.
“Oregon Grape” Color pencil drawing on hand-cut paper, tracing objects on the frontier of existence. 14″ H.
Photocopy and color pencil drawings on paper, tracing objects on the frontier of existence. 11″ W. “Obama, Smoking.”
“tru truth” Photocopy and color pencil drawings on paper, tracing objects on the frontier of existence. 11″ W.
Exported: Ariel Herwitz – Marble House Project, Dorset, Vermont
Text and Photos by Ariel Herwitz
Vermont holds a special place in my heart. And returning there for the residency at Marble House Project, now in its fourth year, I was struck by the green, the lush rolling hills, the tall wild grasses and the green tint of long unused marble quarries. The residency is housed on a defunct marble quarry in a large house clad in white Danby Marble, with formal spring-fed gardens based on those originally built during the Renaissance, and amongst many outbuildings. The Marble House Project hosts up to 9 residents at a time – some visual and performing artists, as well as writers, musicians, curators, and a newly instated Chef residency – in several sessions per summer. Residents live and work on the “campus” with small private studios, have focused time for their art along with working in the gardens, weekly events open to the public, and cooking and eating with the other session residents.
I tend towards making swift work, with long periods of quiet, and then long periods of preparation, with a burst of energy in the studio. A three-week residency, though it seems relatively short, should be plenty of time for me to create a body of work. But despite what I believed to be ample time, in a region in which I am somewhat familiar, I had quite a struggle finding a rhythm. There seemed too much to be distracted by, and so much to look at and wonder about.
As I labored through different dying processes, finding as much time as I could between rain clouds to dry the yarn, I made myself slow down and think about process. I thought about endings and beginnings and how sometimes we don’t have the answers and we can’t find the correct paths, and I hoped that was ok. I hoped that getting away from my studio to restart and refresh was allowed to feel like this. That it was acceptable to struggle.
As I began to move through the work, I utilized any sunny days to work outside. It was important to me to feel a part of the landscape, even if the work I made would ultimately be inside, and removed from this location. In this way, the act of making the work, made it indelibly part of the experience of place.
Moving back and forth between my studio and the greater campus of Marble House, I experienced the solitary moments, the still moments, the moments of closing inward. Outside, the space was vast, though I was still generally alone, the space was open and full. This expansion and contraction is strongly associated with my work and process. The building of large open forms, with the eventual breaking down of shape and line. Bringing the works inside, also brought the memory of the outside, in. It gave the works the markings of dirt and grass.
The completion of the work involved a literal balancing act. Each day for three days, I set up the work, went to sleep for the night, and returned to find the piece in a jumble on the ground. This process of repetition, of creating something new from the same bones, helped me to see the work in a new way. The process, though similar to what I’ve done in the past, had a real direct relationship to the struggle to make work that I was feeling everyday.
I’ve been back in my home studio for about a week now, unpacking the work shipped from Vermont, and again beginning the process of making new form from existing lines. I feel energized and excited after the somewhat stressful three-weeks away. But certainly, there is so much generated in that struggle to find shape.
Left to Right: Joseph Brent (musician), Amanda Szeglowski (composer and dancer, Artistic Director of Cakeface), me!, Emma Heaney (author, The New Woman: Literary Modernism, Queer Theory, and the Trans Feminine Allegory), Daniel Greenberg (printmaker, sculptor), Janna Dyk (curator and artist), Devin Farrand (painter and sculptor), Tobaron Waxman (multidisciplinary)
Thanks Ariel! See more of Ariel Herwitz’ work at her website: http://ariel.herwitz.com/
Ariel Herwitz (b.1983 Atlanta, GA.) lives and works in Los Angeles, CA. She earned a B.A. in Visual Art from Bennington College in 2006, and an M.F.A. from Cranbrook Academy of Art in 2011. Her work has been exhibited throughout Los Angeles at Marine Projects, Loudhailer Gallery, Greene Exhibitions, and Ambach and Rice. She completed her first solo exhibition last fall at Ochi Projects. Her works explore through form, composition, color and texture, ideas of interpretation, understanding, and the subjectivity of the view or gaze.
Cable Griffith + Josh Poehlein on ‘The Three Freedoms’
Note: Best viewed using headphones or external speakers.
Cable Griffith: Let’s try to end at the beginning and see what happens. So let’s begin in the future. You just completed your video project The Three Freedoms. What’s coming up for you this spring and summer?
Josh Poehlein: Haha oh man, the future is… uncertain? I run a small exhibition space out of my garage in Greenwood called SAD Gallery, and it’s finally getting warm/dry enough to start thinking about upcoming shows. I have a date set for the next exhibition, but it’s not totally official yet. I also really want to do something for/with Forrest Perrine’s “Outer Space” series where artists exhibit in non-traditional/non-art spaces. We are looking at spaces and possibilities at the moment, but again nothing is nailed down.
In terms of moving forward from this piece I feel like I’m pulling threads in a way; like trying to use the end of one piece as the beginning of another. I come from a really project/series based background, and I’m trying to both honor and move beyond that. I have some ideas that involve the moving image which are directly related to this piece, and I am also exploring still-life photography that I think shares similar concerns with The Three Freedoms regarding illusion/immersion/fiction. I exhibited some early attempts at this sort of thing at SOIL Gallery in November and want to move forward in that regard.
CG: So how did SAD Gallery come about? What are your goals for the space, and how do you decide on what artwork and artists to exhibit there?
JP: SAD Gallery was something I had in mind before even moving to Seattle, in fact I think I bought the domain for it while I was still living in Chicago for grad school. People kept telling my girlfriend (now fiancée!) and I that we were going to get Seasonal Affective Disorder, so that’s sort of where the name came from. It was wishful thinking for a while until we ended up renting a place with a garage and I was able to build out the space. The space acts as a literal garage, my studio, and it transforms into the gallery a couple times a year.
My goals for the space have always revolved around connection, which means connecting with new PCNW-based artists and re-connecting with artists and friends from the past. So far there have been three shows, and each one has been a 2-person exhibition which pairs work from someone I know pretty well with work from someone that I have met out here. The plan is to continue in this mode for the foreseeable future, trying to find more interesting combinations of work while forging new relationships and connections in the area.
CG: How do you see the gallery space as an extension of your own practice?
JP: To be honest with you I actually didn’t see it that way at first. My initial thought was that it would be a good way to meet people in a city I am new to; a way to get involved in the arts community without being enrolled in school or working in a museum or gallery. Recently though I have been thinking about how my work has been influenced by the space. The process has made me look deeply at work I thought I knew well, and to approach art I am unfamiliar with in a different light. I feel like all the shows have taught me a lot about installation and reception of work, and that bleeds over into decisions I am making about my own practice.
CG: In your own artwork, what attracts you to working in terms of a project or series?
JP: I’ve been struggling with this a bit recently, trying to define what I do and what I am attracted to and why. I think there are threads that run throughout my work, but distilling them into something concise has been a struggle. I know I have always had an attraction to fiction, science-fiction specifically, but also just the ability of a work to transport you somewhere impossible, maybe “magical” if that’s not too cheesy of a term. Previously I have done projects that, in a sense, sought to create these fictional worlds; looking into the past, documents from an imaginary disaster, a first-contact story, etc. With The Three Freedoms there is that thread, there is a possibility of falling into the piece, but it’s also analytical in a way, trying to work out what the impossible looks like, how do we depict it?
CG: Is there something in particular about working in a series that feels limiting? Why do you feel compelled to work beyond that?
JP: First of all, I think there is value in working in a series, in developing a long-term body of work, and I am interested in continuing to do that sort of work in the future. That being said, a lot of times when you are working on something like that, your little sketch ideas get put to the side. Like I have this idea, probably ingrained from 7 years of photo-school, that you have to have 20+ finished pieces, all framed the same way and displayed in a group, and that is what a body of work is. But then where does this video piece go in that? And do I now have to make more video pieces to go with this one? I mean obviously the answer is “no”, haha, I’m not doing this for a client, and I make zero money on all of this, but I do struggle with these questions!
CG: I’ve experienced the video piece both as a stand-alone video online (with headphones), and as a public installation, via Vignettes. When creating it, did you have an ideal location or format for experiencing it?
JP: That’s an interesting question, sort of wondering if there is an “ideal” version of the piece, or if it can inhabit multiple spaces/iterations. I had the idea for the video for a while, and when Serrah approached me about working with Vignettes, I used that as a reason to bring it to fruition. We got in touch with Common Area Maintenance and they were down to host the opening/viewing. So there isn’t necessarily a perfect place for it, although it’s kind of funny you ask because I almost don’t even want to call it “finished”.
I know for a fact that there a lot of examples of the type of footage that I was looking for that are still out there, but there were time and monetary restraints that meant stopping at the point the piece is at now. Ideally I would pull from the film-prints of the films I am appropriating from and the master files of the tv shows, and have access to like all of Scarecrow’s database, and a team of people scouring through obscure made for tv-movies and foreign sci-fi films, and just have something that is ridiculously long, almost unwatchable all the way through, haha.
CG: It’s exciting to know of a growing number of independent, artist-created spaces around Seattle. For artists, this would seem to offer more chances to work with and to respond to interesting and new kinds of locations. Also, it’s nice to think that artists and artwork can connect maybe more directly to communities in different ways. Do you have any dream locations to work in or respond to?
JP: Yeah, I have been interested in DIY spaces for a while. Some of the best shows I saw while living in Chicago were in spaces that were not initially intended for art display. I’m pretty sure I have been to all of the less-official spaces in Seattle, and it’s exciting to see new ones pop-up as well. I would like to have shows a bit more consistently at SAD but weather plays a role, and I also use the space as my studio.
I really like the Glassbox space, and I have seen a couple shows at Two-Shelves that I thought were really cool (Max Kraushaar in particular), but I’m not sure if they are still having events there. I have some specific architectural elements I want to work with; a freestanding wall in a space, a lit and unlit room in the same space/building. Essentially anywhere with some subdivided spaces or a space that can be built out that way is something I’m interested in working with.
CG: I like to think of how an artwork has the potential to both transport you someplace else and keep you very much in the present at the same time. In terms of science-fiction, would you parallel art’s transportive power with a portal?
JP: Whoo, haha, this is a complicated one. I have been increasingly interested in exactly what you’re talking about here! I come from a photographic background, so the metaphor of art as window or portal is really strong in my mind.
Recently, I have been asking myself whether something can be an image and an object at the same time. To return to the photograph, do you have to mentally pull yourself out of the ‘image’ to consider the piece as an ‘object’ (the print surface, the mounting technique, the size, etc.), or can you hold both in your mind simultaneously? And furthermore, is there a difference when something is abstract vs. recognizable or figurative?
CG: That flux between the image and object is really interesting to me as well. I love thinking about how an object can ride the line between shouting its physical attributes while simultaneously vanishing all together, as a window.
JP: With The Three Freedoms, the predominant motion of the piece is pulling you inward. In the original film/shows the effects are meant to depict, quite-literally, portals, but since these things are inaccessible/unknowable to us, they are depicted using abstraction and usually a kind of one-point perspective. I was interested in what happens when those effects are pulled out of their narratives. When they are totally abstract, are they still immersive and transportive?
CG: I like how the piece transports me to a place of constant transportation. Sort of like being stuck in a wormhole. I get the sense that we’re being taken somewhere, but never know where the tunnel leads. But the journey is remarkable. I mean, what if you went through a crazy worm-hole through time and space, only to end up in your kitchen 10 minutes ago? Kind of anticlimactic.
Some might characterize science-fiction as escapism. Do you view it that way?
JP: Ummm, my short answer to this is ‘yes,’ but the genre is a large one, and to a certain degree all fiction is escapist. I am a legitimate fan of a wide range of science-fiction, from blockbuster hollywood films to lesser-known “hard” science-fiction stories and novels. I use the genre both to escape, and to engage on an intellectual level. The best stuff is all about the problems we encounter today anyway; identity, politics, how to build a sustainable future, how to understand those that are different from us, how to consider humanity from a different perspective, etc.
I think written science-fiction probably gets a bad rap because a lot of times the characters are pretty one-dimensional. In my mind, the world is the character, or the premise is the character, and the story is there more to show us around or give us a tour of the possibilities of this place. That’s not to say you can’t have complex characters and a complex world, but sometimes you have to read about a lone-wolf getting the girl and beating the bad guys to get a glimpse of something more interesting underneath.
I like the idea of taking an incredible journey just to end up back where you were. There is the cliché of “it’s not about the destination man”, but that actually holds true with this piece because there is none!
CG: I guess you could say that any artwork, song, or film, is something to get lost in for a while. I think we’re all after that to some degree. I mean, it’s exciting when something stops you in your tracks and completely captivates your attention from where it was a moment before. But if artwork has that power to ground you in a transportive state, then maybe it doesn’t seem so escapist?
JP: Hmm, yeah that’s an interesting point. I think it might have to do with intentionality or maybe criticality? I remember I saw Avatar in the theater when it first came out. It was the first 3-d movie I had ever seen, and I made a decision before I even went in to just fully let go. I knew from the previews that it was likely to be a “bad” movie, but I decided to treat it more like a roller-coaster than a “film.” It was totally escapist, I was consciously trying to keep critical thought at bay and just fall in. At the time, it totally worked. I really enjoyed the pure experience of escaping into this world, but I don’t even remember the film that well. I couldn’t discuss plot points, or dialogue, or any issues regarding its merits as a piece of art.
The thing I do remember though is that whole experience, how I really felt like I left this world for a bit. When I came out into the parking lot everything seemed a little dull, like I was disappointed that I was no longer flying around on another planet, fighting for true love and freedom. I was poking around online afterward and it turns out a lot of people felt that way. There were even “Post-Avatar Depression” groups popping up. I may have even talked to you about this at the opening? Haha, maybe not, I guess this was an important experience for me because it always comes up.
CG: You mentioned having 7 years of photo school under your belt. Do you remember what initially attracted you to the camera?
JP: Specifically I’m not sure what the initial attraction was. I was and always had been drawn to art classes and creativity, but I was also not super talented in terms of drawing, so maybe that was the attraction. The fact that I didn’t actually have to render something by hand to get it on paper was nice. I know I got my first “real” camera because my mom bought a Nikon SLR and she kept dropping it, and finally got frustrated and I inherited it. I think that camera is still around somewhere.
CG: How has your relationship to it changed since then?
JP: I think one of the main things is I rarely just go out and “shoot” like I used to. I actually miss that and want to start doing it again, but maybe just for the fun of it and to keep my eyes sharp. Over time it has become more and more about realizing a specific vision, be it in the studio, or out in the world. The photographic process for me has less chance than it used to. There is still discovery and little changes, but it’s rare that I make an image that I wasn’t already planning on making in some way.
The other thing that has changed is that I am now interested in making photographs, and work in general that is about the medium itself as much as it is about what it depicts. I want images that are about images, but also about something more than that. Still thinking about this one at the moment…
Exported: Eirik Johnson at Donkey Mill Art Center, Hawaii
Text and Photos by Eirik Johnson
This past February, I traveled to Holualoa, a small town in the coffee producing hills of the Big Island of Hawaii. I had been invited to participate as artist in residence at the Donkey Mill Art Center, a community arts space housed in an old farming cooperative. I arrived with broad stroke ideas for my residency, but my intention was to remain open and receptive to the place and those I met.
That notion of place was a recurring and connecting concept during my stay. Over meals and conversations with kupunas, elders from the community, I learned about the history of Holualoa; of families whose relatives had left impoverished Japan in the late 19 th Century under labor contract to work in the island’s sugar cane mills and later homestead small coffee farms in the volcanic hills of the region. I learned of the ghosts who wander subterranean lava tubes, bamboo forests and mountain ridges.
That connection with Holualoa’s past was given further context while working with a group of local teens with whom I collaborated on a series of photographic and video-based portraits. We looked at the history of portraiture in art, brainstormed visual memories, and worked together to compose and create works that connected back to my conversations with the kupunas.
Much of my residency was simply spent wandering and exploring, both in and around Holualoa, but also further afield. I watched the sunset from the Mauna Kea volcano, explored old movie theaters in Honokaa and Hawi, and discovered beach crab holes amidst tiny bits of plastic washed up from the Pacific Ocean Gyre.
During my residency, I stayed as a guest of Hiroki and Setsuko Morninoue. Both renowned artists, the Morinoues, together with their daughter Maki and her husband Geoff, were generous in aloha spirit, knowledge, and participation. Their eldest daughter Miho Morinoue helped facilitate my entire residency at the Donkey Mill and was pivotal in connecting me with the entire community.
Now, as I begin the work of looking back through photographs, editing video, and listening to audio files, I daydream of Holualoa and the smell of coffee blossoms.
Film Still of Hiroki at the Coffee Farm
Althea with Rotten Fruit
Brunch with Kupunas
wisdom of the underworld
Essay by Ben Gannon | Photographs by Sierra Stinson
Arriving at Joey Veltkamp’s February 2017 Vignettes exhibit, it was clear from the street looking into Rachel and John’s house that this show was dealing with the supernatural. Hanging in the front room window were sheer fabric panels with appliqué patches of heavily shadowed and made-up eyes announced the other-worldliness. Spirits are present and in many forms. A haunted space, like all indoor spaces at the end of winter, so charged with telekinetic and telepathic energy of its occupant(s). A haunted house, but in January (unlike October) we are familiar with ghosts, and in the January of this year the powers of naked death ascended to the leadership of the world.
Once inside and in the first room of the show there hangs, along with the sheer panels, a large black quilt. It is composed of spells and talismans, each smaller square housing a symbol of power and protection, an anchor point from which to journey into darkness. Skulls, crystals, pentagrams, the word “protect” in appliquéd ‘wood’ letters—homage to Gretchen Frances Bennett’s found stick word art.
Sharing the space with the eyes and the spell quilt were a pair of pillows placed on chairs, each with a broken heart emoji, invoking the kind and tragic power of Laura Palmer, another symbol of strength and resistance. It becomes clear that wherever the journey of these artworks is headed, grounding in power is necessary and some danger is present or lies ahead.
In the next room more sheer panels hang in the windows and more eyes look out from the gauzy material. Along with the eyed panels there was a table full of small ceramic ghosts painted up like the cosmos and sitting on small, round mirror disks, the infinity of their motif reflecting into infinity. There is little distinction in Joey’s work between outer space and the underworld – vacuum and death both infinite and un-survivable phenomenon.
Binding this second room with the first was a pair of flags and a new motif for Joey’s work – a black cat appears on the flags, almost identical to each other—the latter done by memory, on opposite faces of a wall, each with the phrase Déjà Vu appearing on it, the lettering the same but the colors slightly different and the cat figure in slightly different positions. This diptych is a direct reference to the movie The Matrix, where the repeated sighting of the same black cat as an experience of deja vu is revealed to be an indicator that there has been a significant change made to the fabric of the world of the matrix. Not only a personification of the phenomena of change, the cat is our familiar and our guide while traveling through the dimensions.
Also hanging with the eyes, the cats, and the cosmic ghosts is one of three quilts of its kind in the show. Multi-tonal, textured blacks patched together, the chorus of darkness interrupted with flashes of heat and light in the form of randomly sized triangles, trapezoids, parallelograms and rhombuses of color. Two more of these burning landscapes hang on the walls leading up the stairs to the final room of the show. Akin to the blending of the underworld with outer space depicted with the ceramic ghosts, the landscapes depicted in these three quilts is both of the fire of space and the fires of hell. Accompanied by the indifferent harbinger in the form of the black cat, we are walking with Joey through the cosmic underworld.
The final space of the show, past the watching eyes and glittering ghosts and burning voids, is the bedroom upstairs. The sole artwork in the room is a quilt lying on the bed. The cats again appear; this time en masse and in distinctly different poses, on the quilt upstairs, the resident housecat Brigitte having found a comfortable spot for itself on the bed as well.
But what are the lessons from hell and the vacuum, of walking through this heartbreak simulation? Joey’s work participates strongly in the realm of the pop culture oracular, pulling in and manipulating the signs of culture of the moment, playing in their subtleties and shifting them around before casting them back in to the infinite sign constellation in the form of fabric objects with meanings made from Joey’s particular alchemy of working with sadness and elementally reconfiguring it into joy.
But all oracles have limits to their vision into the ocean of possibilities. And it is the brave or unprotected oracles that, in the midst of confusion, go deeper, towards the leveling wisdom of infinity and death, and the freedom brought forth from acknowledging that wisdom. In the face of the cruel madness and absurdity so evident in our world at this time, the reminder of our death is a reminder of our life. In the face of the infinite void of space, we are able to refocus on ourselves with a grounded perspective.
But it is not all grim contemplations of death and freedom and endless emptiness, and the cats in their various poses on the final quilt in the show remind us of that. With each change or glitch in the fabric of our worlds, with each appearance of the cat as a harbinger of change, there nonetheless remains the infinity of other worlds with other changes and glitches occurring all at once. If the wisdom to be gained from passing through hell and space is the infinite of the void, the wisdom to be gained from the multiplicity of black cats is the rich infinity of being, existence and possibility.
Through A Window, Down A Portal
Essay by Kim Selling | Photographs by Lynda Sherman and Sierra Stinson
Beginning this year was a piece of simple distinction, plain text projected over a heavily trafficked corner of a rapidly changing neighborhood. Small collective phrases like singular light bulbs, one alit each night for the birth of 2017. To create something from nothing at the turn of a linear time cycle means that all context from previous cycles have been mined to give this current one a deeper meaning before it has had a chance to play itself out. Lynda Sherman’s The Usual Window uses the peculiarly traumatic experiences of her childhood to create a scene of power dynamics, represented by her chosen avatar, text, in a way that is immediately translatable and digestible for modern viewers. You see the phrase, it is now yours, and will hopefully be used in your own illustrations of self.
These phrases can be read in any way the viewer chooses, but, in any case, are as follows:
MISBEHAVE MASTURBATE RIOT // AND FALL IN LOVE UNAFRAID
KEEP HEAD OUT OF OVEN THUMB OUTSIDE FIST // HEART OUT OF POCKET STITCHED BACK UPON SLEEVE
RAGE FORBIDDEN GLEE // AGITATE FEROCIOUS PLEASURE
CRACK SPARKLE PEEL // UNRAVEL ALTER FOMENT
glimmer gleam growl // wage and devour
And the 8th day “bonus track,” DEFLOWER THE PATRIARCHY
As a child in Bremerton, Sherman grew up in a classic prairie rambler with her family. Her bedroom window, the usual window of this show, was pink, framed by pink checked curtains and a white vinyl shade, and distinct not only in its Pleasantville-like appearance, but in its openness to the outside world. One of her neighbors, a non-descript bus driver, would take it upon himself to look through this window often, peeping at Lynda in this room and others throughout her house. She never told her parents, instead internalizing these trespasses as a child, and informing her later experiences regarding safety and consent with these early incidents of voyeurism.
Starting as a literal experience and slowly morphing into an extended metaphor, the “usual window” continues to serve as a direct illustration of Sherman’s treatment of her own body and mind as dual and separate entities. When pressed on her attitude towards herself, Sherman responded: “A lot of artists think about ‘the voyeur’ and that’s something that makes me very uncomfortable, to be seen physically. And I’m not sure if it’s because of that, but I exist mostly in my head and not my body because I don’t want to be just seen as that, and that’s the thing I can control more, is my mind. And that’s mine, that can’t be taken from me by anyone trying to insert themselves into my life or into my mind.”
Infiltration by outside actors is impossible when you’ve proved yourself capable of both severing and filling the spaces between your body and your mind. Sherman mentioned her ability to dissociate often without even realizing, operating both within and outside of herself as she goes along. She remarked on the confluence between the two states within the act of printing: “Even though you’re tuned in [to the printing process], you’re still hyper aware, and I guess that’s the only way I’m aware of my body — is when I don’t wanna have it chopped in the machine. That’s how I know where my hands are.”
This ability to give and receive your own sentience makes for compelling dictations on action. The statements put forth by The Usual Window play with directness, with providing a to-do list of constant vigilance in how you care for yourself. And Sherman separating her selves allows for her to direct her body and her mind in different but dovetailing causes. In discussing action, Sherman said: “Most of the things I print are like daily meditations, and it does start with me. It is a mental health plan.” Using these disembodied statements work chiefly as a to-do list for both the artist and the audience, clearly outlined for each desired action, to be interpreted differently by each viewer depending on their own mental and physical duplicity. “I think it’s a mental health plan, because otherwise the words just spin in my head. It’s like an energy that you can then release.”
That energy can’t exist in a vacuum; it exists within the realm of Sherman’s larger understanding of her own capacity to effect change. This faceless, body-less narrator can usher art consumers into a new understanding of themselves by virtue of its mutable and truncated message format. She claimed: “A lot of people don’t wanna have to participate in their own understanding but those that do, it could be another portal to use something differently or use something more in depth. Even though there’s so few words I think that each one of those words is its own portal that you can go into. I know that there’s some people in my own life who have such a resistance to that, they don’t even wanna go in those portals.”
Sherman’s deep-seated connection to these portals, each word she used in the show serving as their own vehicle, is more than just message-related. In response to a question about action in creative communities, she mentioned that “I see much more participation and less consumption now, sometimes literally. And I think that’s an important move, to take your own narrative back. And to see people taking their own narrative back through sadness and anger and action, also seeing people realize that it’s not an energy that dissipates into nothing.”
Choosing to take back your own narrative in these trying times (read: really all time, not just this one) involves plunging yourself into the portals of Sherman’s words, which in itself is an almost divine action of shooting for your highest potential as human. So utilizing Sherman’s statements for pointed improvement and increased agency brings us to this central question: can you truly divorce your self? Can mind and body exist separately outside each other? And is this possible without trauma being the vehicle for separation?
Trauma forces us into a compacted uniqueness. We must compartmentalize to remain above what pains us: what to keep and what to throw away, what defines us and what creates a version of us we’d rather not know. In an interpretation of a Usual Window phrase: wage war on your character, and devour what is lacking. Is such divisibility of spirit possible without the definitions of trauma? Without the trappings of guilt or overcorrection, could you ever simply be just a girl at the window?
Of course, the answer is a singular moment only to fit a framework; what matters is the process of separation, realizing one’s agency in solitude, and deciding upon a course to follow, now free (or lonely) of one’s self. Once the body is no longer there, the mind can communicate without boundaries or limitations. The weightlessness of a mind freed from its physical constraints, now able to act or project in any desired way, say, to masturbate-riot as loudly and frequently as possible. Since a freed mind can’t corporeally do that on its own, it can, at the very least, compel everyone else to in its place. So it is, in its way, a figure of universal nature, joining together all of its audience, each of whom have decided to look through the window.
Not to drag this into a Hot Topic echo chamber of neopagan trutherism from which we can never recoil, but this current time of year (typically March 20-April 1) was previously celebrated as the beginning of the new year — a separation of seasons at the vernal equinox allows the world to be born anew for the next cycle of time. This phase of year that we’re in lends itself to separation of the selves — a lifting of the metaphysical veil between soul and body — and re-commitment to physical and emotional goals.
Lynda’s piece was presented at the beginning of the Roman Calendar new year, the beginning of January, so this connection is not totally out of nowhere. A traditionally pagan tradition of this time of year was to write your intentions upon an egg, visually setting your hopes for this new year onto a symbol of impending creation and thusly, subsequent delivery. You bury the egg, and then plant seeds of your choice into the plot of dirt where the egg is buried. The seeds then suck the nutrients out of the egg as they grow into the plant they are meant to be, thereby expanding your hopeful intentions and becoming a tangible representation of how you, yourself, hope to grow.
Each day of The Usual Window, Lynda wrote her intentions on these windows, soon to become actions of hers and of ours. We must promise to and go forward with misbehaving, masturbating, and rioting, inciting delight, requiring desire, and actively deflowering the patriarchy. This is our to-do list now, the explicit actions that will spell out our future.
Derelict, you’re not coming back, I mean that in the nicest way, rest.
Gretchen Frances Bennett
Derelict, you’re not
coming back, I mean that in
the nicest way, rest.
March 20, 2017
Reading by Gretchen Frances Bennett
New drawings track faithful at-hand objects in daily life. These objects, rescued and stray, are pieced-together place holders, in an ongoing search for the things that stay for a while. A constellation of fragment drawings continually touches down on this question of what is important, yet is not overly tied to it. Artifacts are caught, as if in morning light, or Morandi non-light, just before coming into view. A glass fishing float is drawn as a small universe, tracking the containment of the studio space and objects. All questions are held in this slow drift of ephemera and photocopied parts, redrawn. An algorithm forms, following and repeating these items, which are open to changes, such as a shift in color. As I recite my devotion to these objects, I let them go.
New Lives for Broken Things
Brittany Walston interviews Melina Bishop | Photographs by Brittany Walston
When you come into the studio you might find Melina Bishop in her white work shirt, experiments on the ground, hands messy. Or she may be hunched over her desk with headphones in, working on a seemingly endless embroidery. Sometimes she’s simply writing, or rearranging the objects on her desk; museum postcards, scissors, books, her pencil sharpener next to a row of pencils—an army of tiny things laid out in the corner by the window.
Many of our conversations are had as we each sit in our studio chairs, turned around so we face each other. It was probably here that she first mentioned a residency in Iceland. (Then a far distant possibility.) At the time I probably said something like, “That sounds cool,” as the conversation moved to something else. But looking back, Iceland is a particular choice for someone like Melina. To say that she’s social would be a bit of an understatement, she’s the kind of woman whose presence radiates in a large group, intensifies in a small one. Either way, she feels like the sun. Going to Iceland didn’t mean total isolation, but it did mean leaving behind a community of artists and friends. Isolation from the familiar. Learning to be the sun for oneself.
This deliberate choice has made itself evident in this new body of work, Soft Logics. Weavings are connected with thin threads to panels, broken orbs are laid out and filled with sand, fabric is pieced together to form the vague shape of a garment, stains are covered with fresh clean embroidery. Everywhere, in each of these pieces, there is a sense of taking broken things and making them new. Not fixing them, or idolizing what they were, but using the broken pieces to construct a new object altogether.
Walking around the show, I made a hasty mind map. The word human branches out and connects to forms, clothing, skin, body. Loose threads connects to patchwork, which connects to covered, cleaned, corrected, connection, attempted, which reaches out to longing. Another note scratched down on the next page simply reads: Outgrowing shells and abandoning them.
It’s this thought I most see in Soft Logics, although perhaps “relinquish” would be a better word. For it’s not abandoning past shells, or past selves, but letting them go and moving forward. Growing another shell out of the same material, creating something new out of the fodder.
How do you enter your studio space each day? What’s the first thing you do when you arrive?
I like to get to my studio in the morning, when the light of day is still fresh and I am well rested (by the time that twilight hits, requiring the over-head lights to be turned on, I am usually mentally spent and ready to go home.) Commonly I arrive with too much stuff in my arms, an iced latte in one hand and a bagel in the other. I use my breakfast as an introduction to the day; a time to look around at what’s happening in the space and evaluate what task should take priority. It’s also a good time to look at notes or read through relevant research. Soft Logics, like most of my bodies of work, was directly informed by a specific essay. Language has always been an essential part of my creative process so naturally reading and writing make good catalysts for a productive day of making.
It is also hard for me to start a day in the studio without rearranging something, usually just the items on my desk but sometimes furniture pieces or the works on the wall. I am the sort of person that is incredibly sensitive to my environment and the state of my space directly impacts my state of mind. If my desk is cluttered or the floor is covered in the refuse from whatever I’ve been working on, it’s hard for me to focus on the task at hand. Cleaning, organizing and intentionally arranging things are therapeutic processes for me.
Talk to me about how being in Iceland shaped this body of work. Did anything unexpected come out of your time there?
This body of work is irrevocably tied to my experience in Iceland in so many different ways. One of the main reasons I chose the residency at the Icelandic Textile Center over any other residency that I could have applied for is that I really wanted to push deeper into my relationship with weaving. Having access to the 200-year-old Swedish countermarch looms was, of course, essential. But also being tucked away in a rather remote place with very little else to do was really conducive to this specific process because weaving is remarkably time-consuming, requiring dedication and concentration.
On a practical level most of the materials used in this body of work are Icelandic in origin. I worked with a lot of Icelandic wool in my weaving, as it is an essential part of Icelandic culture and is very readily available. Everything in Iceland is expensive except for incredibly high-quality wool. I also incorporated elements from the environment that I couldn’t have found elsewhere. On a conceptual note, extracting myself from my life and placing myself in the far-off and unfamiliar lead to a lot of self-evaluation. I think re-contextualizing yourself for periods of time can help you better understand who you are and your place in the trajectory of your own narrative. These themes became evident in the work.
Our mutual love of broken things is something that interests me. I find myself taking broken things and making sense of their brokenness, but your work seems to do the completely opposite: mining what’s broken as new material. What are your thoughts?
I also appreciate that we share a love of broken things but for such remarkably dissimilar reasons. It’s a reminder to me of what we have in common but also how differently two artists can approach the same object or concept. I like to view broken things through the lens of their potential, as if they have had a past-life but they are asking for reincarnation. I think often “brokenness” is associated with an objects inability to serve its original purpose, or at lease serve it less effectively. I like to look at such things and ask what they can do. I think this interest also relates to the over-arching conceptual theme of Soft-Logics, which is flexibility and open-mindedness of thought. This applies to all broken things— objects, people, experiences. It is easy to focus on what you perceive something “should” be, what some object should be capable of, what being in a certain place at a certain time “should” feel like. It is harder, at times, to ask what is there, what this experience does feel like and be open to the possibility that there can be multiple, often contradictory answers.
How do you interact with your materials? Can you talk about the relationship between found, natural, and created materials?
My endless and undeniable love of material exploration is at the very heart of why I am an artist and not a journalist or a therapist or something else more stable and lucrative. I have always been an extremely tactile person, as all those I come into contact with can attest to. I love speaking in haptic language and trying to translate sensation through texture and a material’s specific qualities. In my work I strive to maintain a relatively balanced relationship between found, natural and created material. I generate material because I am a craftsperson who takes joy and pride in such processes. It is important to me to weave and knit and embroider, devoting much time and energy to historically significant textile processes.
It is equally significant for me to look at the world around me through that lens of potential that I spoke about earlier, asking what is already here around us, often over-looked. I think that when we travel to unfamiliar places a layer of foreignness is spread on objects of the everyday, like rocks and sand or spoons and books. They are elements that we are accustomed to seeing but because of their slight differences they come into sharper focus. In this show, which was very much imbued with the narrative of my experience in Iceland, it was important for me to incorporate all these disparate pieces of the story. Much of Iceland is still very wild and untouched, vast areas defined only by only landscape and animal life therefore including natural elements like horse hair, sand, volcanic stone and fish leather felt essential.
This work seems to represent an intense period of self-reflection. Do you see any different themes emerging in the work you’re making now? Or maybe more specific threads that you’re following from Soft Logics?
I think when leaving Iceland one of the things I was most looking forward to was reengaging with and growing my community in Portland. I am a very relational person and while I did form some very important relationships with fellow residents, much of my time in Iceland was introspective and independent. It was healthy for me, no doubt. Nevertheless as I move forward I am looking for more connection in my practice through dialogues and collaborations. Also in the same essay that the term “soft logics” is derived from, Pennina Barnett speaks to the reciprocal nature of tactile experiences, using the line “to touch is always to be touched” which I am using as a conceptual backbone for a smaller body of work comprised mostly of abstract ceramic forms, displayed in relationship to one another. This too, in a symbolic way, will seek to speak to the communal rather than the singular.
March 17, 2017
Common AREA Maintenance
2125 2nd Ave
“Using appropriated footage from popular film and television, The Three Freedoms constructs a film of constant movement. Graphic and abstract depictions of faster than light travel, time travel, and interdimensional travel flow endlessly into one another. This winding, spinning journey inward echoes the “Phantom Rides” of early film history while imagining an improbable future.”