To Speak and To Be Heard

A couple of months ago I was approached by the Local IQ for an interview.  As I grew up in New Mexico, and this was the first interview I have been offered in my home state, I enthusiastically agreed.  For several days I wrote.  The questions were great, open ended, and I talked in greater detail about myself and my practice than I ever had shared with a publication before.

Today, the piece was published online, and while aspects of my interview are present, reading the article left me with a familiar disappointment that I often feel when my practice and statements are shoehorned into an easily digestible format.  While I understand a need to adhere to word count and a need to appeal to easily distracted readers, it’s difficult to read about myself as an artist who is, for example, “use to finding herself in sticky situations” or that I am, “making waves with her fun, contemporary spin on hot-button issues”.

The nature of journalistic writing is one that resists in depth explanation, which is at the root of all good art.  I think it is important to share an example of how mistranslation happens, as it does to most practicing artists at some point.

Below you will find my full interview, which I am proud of.

 

Let’s begin with your life in New Mexico. Could you tell me a little bit about why you lived here and for how long?

My parents packed my sister and me up in the winter of 1978 and moved our family from Green Bay to Albuquerque. I was 6 weeks old when we arrived, and I spent the next 17 years growing up all over and around the city. My sister and I joked that our parents must be fugitives, but in all reality they were hippies pursuing a horizon just beyond where we were. My memories of growing up in student housing at UNM, on a commune in Placitas, and in a smattering of 1970s pre-fab and rustic adobe houses in Corrales, Santa Fe, and the Northeast Heights are predominantly good. I attended Eldorado High School, yet graduated from Freedom. I went to UNM for a minute, and then spent a few years at New Mexico Highlands University and Santa Fe Community College before dropping out to pursue rock climbing and life in San Francisco in my early twenties. Since then, I’ve called Memphis, Tennessee and Milwaukee, Wisconsin home, but New Mexico is still where my heart is. I don’t see that changing no matter the time or distance.

Is there something from New Mexico that inspired you and your artwork? 

My earliest experiences definitely shaped who I am as an artist. I attribute my interest in incorporating materials and iconography from popular culture to my upbringing in New Mexico. My reasoning is pretty simple: the Cosby’s had a more consistent presence in my life than any set of neighbors we lived near. They were available as soon as the cable was installed.

Nights spent dancing to new wave and industrial music at Maxwell’s and UN offered opportunity for new friendships, no matter what school district I had relocated to. Listening to music has always been and remains a key factor in my studio practice, and those formative experiences with music in Albuquerque’s club scene influence my daily ritual today.

I began art school at New Mexico Highlands University when I was 18, and I attribute much of the studio work ethic I have to the close-knit group of friends I made while in school there. Matthew Eaton, Kirk Naegele, Joshua Woodlee, EIi Garcia, Ramona Lee, Aaron and Beth Juarros were all a few years ahead of me in the program. Each of them demonstrated a commitment to their studio practice and creative thinking. Their example fostered my own desire to both clarify what mattered to me, as well as to manifest those ideas through making things. David Lobdell was (and still is) the head of the sculpture department, and under his direction I learned how to mold and cast objects—something that I now do everyday.

Years later in 2012, my thesis exhibition for my MFA at UW-Madison drew from my experience of living between places while growing up in New Mexico. More specifically, the work emanated from my experience of feeling transient, displaced, and uprooted. Each piece in Mover featured a portrait of separation in which place and belonging mixed with apparitions of desire. The exhibition—mostly made of slip-cast porcelain, soil and moving boxes—focused on issues of fragility and fortification. Objects associated with house and home were recast as symbolic agents of crisis.

You use so many different types of mediums in each of your pieces, what is your most important artist tool? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?

Wow, that’s a hard one. Right now my 99-cent cuticle pusher from Walgreens is among the most prized possessions I use everyday. It’s just perfect for creating clean parting lines for the separable-part plaster molds that I am waist deep in. Next week I will likely be singing the praises of plastic spatulas and how silicone rubber is so easy to clean up if you just walk away from it for a few hours. If you had asked me last year while I was inter-stuffing and triple folding nearly 17,000 condoms to produce a massive portrait, I would have told you that manual dexterity was at the forefront of my arsenal.

I suppose what shapes my practice is an intense material curiosity, which often leads me to working with unfamiliar materials, and calling friends who know how to coax the materials into doing the things I want. I don’t think I’ll ever be an expert in any one area or material. Perhaps then, laughter is my favorite tool, because when I’m trying new things, humor and tenacity are what get me through all of the set backs.

Why do you think that your work is so controversial?

As an artist, I strive to create work that encourages generative thinking about American cultural identity. I wouldn’t say I hedge controversy in my work, but I wouldn’t say I actively seek it out either. The very nature of the subject matter in my artwork, especially the pieces that address issues of gender, sexuality and race have always sparked debate. I never worry about the potential controversy a piece could make; rather I am more focused on bringing together material and form to instigate conversation about the complexities of contemporary life.

I believe the artwork that most specifically addresses this question is Eggs Benedict. When media coverage of that piece went viral last spring, my title transformed to “the condom pope artist” overnight, which is kind of like calling a pastry chef “a cake maker.” While all of the conversation the portrait continues to create is wonderful, working to broaden people’s understanding of my practice as an artist beyond the piece that put me on the map has been a job within itself. With that said, I feel truly fortunate for the community that has found my work through this experience.

When you are coming up with ideas for projects is the subject more important to you, or is the way it’s executed more important?

Idea and execution are equally important in my work. When I sandblast images off of found porcelain, it creates a silhouette in the preexisting image. The low relief that is cut into the plate physically manifests traditions that have been lost through changing cultural values. The cropping and scale of my large format photographic bookend prints shift the view of a common everyday object into a colorful display of architectural possibility. I suppose re-seeing the world around me is a big part of my practice. Execution and materiality are central components in making that happen.

Many of your projects are made out of “found” materials, do you find the materials first and pull inspiration from them, or do you pick your subject and then find materials?

It really depends on the project. Sometimes I’m drawn to altering objects I find. Other times materials and processes round out the overall meaning of the piece I am working on. And then there are the odd opportunities when materials find me—like last fall when a distribution company shipped 10.5 tons of condoms my way. The shipment is now being sent across the country to 20 artists, who are transforming the material into art. All of the artworks will later be shipped back to Milwaukee for an exhibition that Kim Hindman and I are co-curating called Preservatif. The exhibition opens on World AIDS Day, and all proceeds beyond the cost of the show will be donated to local organizations helping people who are living with HIV/AIDS.

Did you have to make changes to way you normally work for your new residency at the Pfister Hotel?

The greatest challenge working in the Artist’s Studio at the Pfister Hotel has been smoothly transitioning between being a working artist and engaging patrons in meaningful conversations at the drop of a hat. I am definitely getting better at it, but I do have moments where my gears stick. In addition to the incredible support this residency offers, it makes discussing what you do second nature. It’s great to be in contact with so many curious people everyday. On a daily basis, it shifts up making my work into a community experience.

Beyond the social aspect of the residency, the studio has never housed a sculptor before. Thankfully, the garage is above the studio, and I’ve been able to use an air compressor as well as a number of saws in the space. Casting large molds and working in wax in a studio outfitted for a painter has required a bit of creativity, but two months in, my projects are ahead of schedule.

What do you think the future holds for you and your artwork?

I do have a few things on the not so distant horizon. First is a solo-show opening at New Mexico Highlands University in mid-August. I’ll be giving an artist talk, so please come if you can. There are solo shows held seasonally for the Pfister AiR, and I have three upcoming exhibitions in July, October, and January.

Beyond making art, I also curate and organize exhibitions. At Your Service, is an exhibition I’m co-curating with Amelia Toelke that is currently on view at the Bellevue Arts Museum in Washington. The show will be traveling to the Houston Center of Contemporary Craft in January, and then moves on to the Clay Studio in Philadelphia where it will remain through the summer of 2015. I am also curating Engendered opening at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design in early January. This exhibition engages the contemporary experience of gender, identity and sexuality through an array of artworks made by national and international artists. And then, there is the condom show, which I mentioned earlier…

At this stage I feel like I’m planting a lot of seeds, and my hope is that good opportunities will continue to present themselves. There are days when I would really love to know how all of this is going to turn out, but when I start to think this way, I try to focus on the breadcrumb trail in front of me. My career has been an unexpected, if not somewhat wild ride. I would love to continue being able to make art at the rate I am for as long as possible.

 

 

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